Sam Green (Prequel) Short Story

I could go on and on about His Trumpkiness’s attempt to dismantle NATO, the way he stood in front of The Queen before they inspected the guard, so she had to move around him, and the follow-up submission that was the Helsinki summit. Oh, and the fall out, back-tracking and subsequent undermining of Article 5 of NATO (collective defence) with his very recent comments about Montenegro. But I won’t.

Instead, a treat (I hope). I have written a Sam Green short story. It’s a prequel to Unsuspecting Hero. It is short – about 1,000 words, and designed for magazine submission, which I am working on.

It has a happy ending. But originally I wrote a much more Sam Green ending. I have added that ending at, well, the end, so you can compare and contrast.

Let me know what you think. And have a great rest of week.

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Sam Green Short Story Prequel

C Company Ops Room, Forward Operating Base (FOB), Helmand Province

Five years ago

It didn’t look right. It just didn’t. Sam raised a finger to the screen. She drew an imaginary circle around an area of the photograph. She stared. Worry lines on her forehead were amplified by the harsh, artificial light.

There’s something here.

She dropped her hand, turned and focused on a second screen to her right. It was smaller: 24-inch rather than 32-inches of the central screen. Its image looked identical to the larger one. A top-down view of the same beige and brown landscape. Sand and rock. A few shrubs. A gravel road. A culvert helping a trickle of a stream under the road. About a kilometre square of unforgiving Afghan terrain.

Sam raised her hand to her mouth and chewed on a knuckle. A bead of sweat formed in a fold in her neck, headed south and found its way under her combat shirt. It stopped where her already damp bra met her skin. She ignored the sensation. She ignored the heat. She ignored the enveloping tiredness of 14-hour days. She ignored the noise from the other operators in the room. The squawk of radios. The distant thump-thump-thump of the medivac Chinook landing.

She was totally focused. A touch of autism, mixed in with some OCD, enabled her to ignore everything but the task. She was an image analyst. No, she was a very good image analyst. Autism gave her an almost savant ability to see detail. And her OCD the doggedness to never give up; to find order when none wanted to be found.

Her two screens were loaded with the same satellite images. Except they weren’t the same. One set was taken yesterday at midday, the second from today at 8 am. A section of Route Pelican, a supply route between the FOB and Camp Bastion. Sam’s job was to assess the route. Look for where new engineering works might be needed as the gravel and tarmac had broken away after winter rains and the relentless pounding of Army trucks and escorts. And to find anything else that shouldn’t be there.

The series of images were taken less than a day apart. The rainy season was over. There had been no military traffic on the route during that time. Nothing should have changed.

And yet …

Hang on.

Sam leant back on her chair so she could take in both screens with the slightest of movement of her head.

Wait.

She leant forward so that her face was just a couple of inches from the left-hand screen. She could make out the LED’s pixels.

Yesterday. Gravel road. Culvert. Trickle of water.

She moved to the right. Again she was close.

Same road. Same culvert. Same stream. But this time … the stream didn’t enter and exit the culvert like the earlier image. This time there was a build up of water, a large puddle, on the northern side and no water on the other.

No!

Six things happened at once.

Sam spun on her chair, her concentration on the screens broken. Her pulse rate shot up and the accompanying adrenaline joined the blood pulsating in her ears. Her pupils widened as she took in the view she had experienced day in, day out for over four months. Large tent. No windows. Outward-facing desks and monitors. Maybe 20 staff. A large map table, with ink-scrawl symbols decorating the glass top. To one side of the map was a two-man trestle table: the boss and his signals operator. Black radio handsets and a green speaker. On the other side of the map table were three white boards displaying all manner of information. Above them, hanging from the tent’s metal frame, an analogue clock and a hand-made sign. It read: Think IED!

IED. Improvised Explosive Device. Terrorist made and planted. The scourge of the battalion. They’d lost two men already to Taleban devices. An armoured Foxhound blown over by a roadside bomb, killing the vehicle’s commander who had his head out of the top hatch, his neck snapped in the tumble. A second soldier lost as a remote-controlled RPG penetrated a Mastiff with a thin jet of molten copper, slicing the man in half. A lucky shot, missing the side armour and finding one of theirs.

One of mine.

The sixth thing Sam did was scream.

‘Boss! Have we got anything on Pelican?’

Captain James looked up and across at her, and then shot a glance at the white boards.

‘Hang on. Yes. Three-Zero Charlie. Routine patrol. Three vehicles.’ He glanced back at Sam …

… who was ignoring him.

She had to find the the culvert on the map. Water either side yesterday. None today, but a pool upstream. The culvert was blocked. It was a small thing. Tiny. Could be nothing.

But it might be …

‘Potential culvert IED. At …’ Sam was on her feet leaning over the map board. Her eyes and her fingers desperate to find the grid reference of the culvert.

‘… grid one-two-seven, four-six-six.’

She stared at the Captain, who now had a hold of a handset.

‘Hello, Mike Three-Zero Charlie, this is Zero. Over.’

He looked across at Sam. She was clenching her teeth; her heart bashing strongly against her rib cage.

Are we too late?

Nothing. The whole Ops room had turned, looking in. Their stares focused on the green speaker.

‘Hello, Mike Three-Zero Charlie, this is Zero. Over!’ Louder this time from the Captain. He was almost shouting at the handset, his knuckles white as he pressed the pressel on the handset.

Nothing. A crackle.

Still nothing.

Then, ‘Mike Three-Zero Charlie, Roger. Send, over.’

As relief swept across the room, the Captain replied.

‘Zero. Potential culvert IED at …’, he glanced at his notepad, ‘Grid one-two-seven, four-six-six, over.’

Nothing. Too long a pause?

‘Mike Three-Zero Charlie, Wait …’

A further pause. The only sound in the Ops Room was the steady hum of computer fans.

The speaker broke the silence.

‘We’re just short. My lead vehicle has pulled up 50 metres from the culvert. We debussing now in all-round defence. Thanks. Wait out for a further sitrep. Out.’

The captain looked across at Sam. Their eyes met. Hers were already filling with tears.

‘Good job Sergeant Green.’

Or

‘Hello, Mike Three-Zero Charlie, this is Zero. Over!’ Louder this time from the Captain. He was almost shouting at the handset, his knuckles white as he pressed the pressel on the handset.

Nothing. A crackle.

Still nothing.

Then, ‘Mike Three-Zero Charlie, Roger. Send, over.’

As relief swept across the room, the Captain replied.

‘Zero. Potential culvert IED at …’, he glanced at his notepad, ‘Grid one-two-seven, four-six-six, over.’

Nothing. Too long a pause?

‘Mike Three-Zero Charlie, Roger. We’re …’ And then a split second of terrifying noise. A shattering explosion and an accompanying cry. The speaker seemed to momentarily shake.

Silence.

The captain looked across at Sam. Their eyes met. Hers were already filling with tears.

Oh, God. No …