Every rebel needs a cause at some point. So before total self destruction, Sarah Manning joined the military. She’s a sergeant in the SAS now. They were the only option for her. They are the best. They became her family, and of course, the family motto of “Who dares wins” spurs Manning on to be better, to be stronger, sharper on the trigger and more tactical than her enemies.
They’re assisting the Canadians on a mission, bloody North Americans can’t be trusted to finish the job themselves. It should be simple, breach the safe house, disable the bad guys, get the intel, get out. Swift and easy, no traces that they were even there. Manning likes to call her squad the Ghosts.
“Lock and load, lads. Just ‘nother day at the office.”
“You ever had an office job, Sarge?”
“Never actually had a job, Ginge. Broken home, poor foster kid. Want me get my violin out?”
She winks at her boys as they gather their gear. Then it’s all business. Silence falls, weapons cock. The trek isn’t far, something in the air feels off. Sarah doesn’t like it, her instincts are perfectly tuned. Superhuman almost.
She whispers into their comms as they creep along the creek of what was once a river bed. It’s dry now, has been for years, all there is is rocks and desert and sand. The vapour-less air dries Sarah’s lips out as they move. She spots the rendezvous party before they see her. Sarah holds a closed hand up to her men and they hunker down in position, immediately taking watch.
She barks, her gun trained on the group in front, she knows it’s the meet. Can’t be too careful though, her gut is still nudging her to be extra cautious.
“Oscar, Bravo, 324.”
The call sign is good, Sarah lowers her weapon and stands to full height. Greeting their allies. Her opposite number is also a woman. How odd. The woman shakes Sarah’s hand firmly.
“You must be Manning.”
“‘Aye that’s me. That’s my squad, we’ll keep you kids save.”
“Childs. I think we can handle ourselves. You guys are just here as muscle.”
Friendly banter is common in the forces, especially between allied countries.
“Just watch yourselves, we’ve got a Yank medic, so don’t get shot or you’ll be screwed. Right, Niehaus?”
Childs calls over her shoulder to a young woman who’s gear looks too bulky on her, the girl just looks out of place. This hell hole doesn’t suit her.
“Nah, I got you guys covered. I played enough video games before I signed up to know how this shit works.”
Sarah laughs and shakes her head.
“S’abit different in the field, soldier.”
“Take a load off for 15, guys. Then we rock ’n’ roll.”
The troops meet each other, hand shakes and stories are swapped. It’s all dick swinging with the men, close encounters, heroic acts. Sarah sits on a rock and pulls the picture from her pocket as she always does before shit gets serious.
“Is that your daughter?”
The inquisitive medic appears next to Sarah.
“Yeah. Kira, she’s 8. This is my last tour and then I’m going home. Gonna be a real Mum.”
“I’m Cosima by the way.”
They shouldn’t do first names. Each second Sarah spends with Niehaus proves how much this young girl should be getting drunk at a party or tucked behind a book.
“Sorry, Second names. My bad. You’re Manning though. You’re like, a legend.”
“Yeah, man. We were stoked to hear you guys were joining us… Don’t tell the boss I said that.”
“Secrets safe with me, love.”
Sarah flicks a pebble with the toe of her boot, her body is starting to buzz, adrenaline lacing her veins.
Childs makes the call and they do as commanded. Advancing on the boarded up building in front of them. Sarah’s gun sweeps the area. No mistakes.
They stack up against the door, a kicker charge placed on the frame.
“Brace… Punch it.”
The door flies free, the soldiers move in. They’re a small group, only eight. of them. Three remain outside, the remaining five move on the compound.
Sarah shouts as the gun fire begins. She’ll never grow numb to killing someone. To ending a life. She squeezes the trigger and eliminates three targets. They’re all just men at the end of the day. The act of war is doing evil deeds in the hope that good will come of it.
The sweep from room to room. Sarah’s not sure who’s covering her back, but they’re doing well. She feels the presence behind her. Enough to be reassuring but not to be in the way. Last room. This is it, last mission, then home. To Kira.
Shouldering through the door, she takes a shot, incapacitating the last target. He falls hard to the ground and Sarah kicks the gun away.
The call is echoed through the building.
Then comes a single shot. Sarah turns and fires on the perpetrator without hesitation. He wasn’t aiming at her. But he did hit his mark.
It would be her wouldn’t it?
Cosima smashes face first into a table, and then the floor. Sarah slinging her gun back and scraping into the dirt as she drops next to the medic. The medic… which means they don’t have one. So it’s on her. No pressure.
“I need an Evac. Stat. Send the co-ordinates. Get us out.”
She rips open padding from her sack and presses it to Cosima’s side. She’s just a bloody kid. Sarah can see it in her eyes, this life, this job, it hasn’t weathered her yet. Christ, she probably hasn’t even killed.
“Niehaus, Oi. Look at me, c’mon.”
Her eyes are rolling back in her head and the gurgling sound she makes almost has Sarah panicking. But she doesn’t panic. Special forces do not panic. She compacts the bullet wound harder.
“D-did we get them?”
“Course we did. Now you don’t bloody die. There’s a pint waiting at camp for us.”
The blood is leaking through the gauze and through Sarah’s fingers.
“Where’s my bloody evac?!”
“Three minutes out, Sarge.”
Sarah knows exactly how much blood a person can lose in three minutes. She fumbles with Cosima’s dog tag for her blood type. It’s the same as Sarah’s, funny that.
“Prep A+ and have them radio back to command, she’s gonna need surgery.”
Sarah’s had men die in her arms before. She’s lost family to this hopeless battle and she refuses to do that again. Not today. Not Cosima.
“You’re ‘ite. It’s Sarah, yeah.”
“Sarah… Sarah Manning. That’s a s-strong name. M…Manning means valiant, did you know?”
“Can’t say I did.”
“I-I can’t… I’m cold… I don’t have l-long.”
Sarah can’t lie to Cosima, she’s a bloody medic for christs sake.
“Nah, it’s thirty degrees, mate. Like a tropical island or some shit.”
Cosima’s teeth chatter, and Sarah wipes some of the grit off her face with a sleeve. Even coated in yellow dust, Cosima is too pale.
“They’re here, boss. Gotta get her out.”
The evac team stretcher the medic out, Sarah wants to ride with them, to make sure she’s ok. But it’s not her place. Not her squadron. Childs nods in gratitude to Sarah as the bird flies off.
The silence follows, the ringing in Sarah’s ears slowly fading to nothing. This is the desert. There’s no wind, just absolute silence.
Sarah tugs open the velcro of her body armour and helmet, setting the bulky equipment next to her. Running a hand through condition damaged hair.
“You k, Chief?”
“‘Aye, Crownie. Just another day at the office.”
Sarah’s right hand man perches next to her.
“Next stop’s home though, Boss. We’re outta here.”
She slaps him on the arm and thinks of home. Thinks of Kira. This time in three days she’ll be picking up her girl from school.
They load up the Hercules for the exhausting flight home. Sarah buckling herself in, hardly noticing the hospital bed being locked into place in front of her.
She snaps from her daze and is met with a weakened grin.
“Hey, yourself, solider.”
“Look, I don’t even know how to thank you enough…”
Cosima is welling up Sarah gnaws at her lip to stop the same thing happening.
“Well we have a nine hour flight for you to figure it out. And you can take me for a beer when we’ve touched down.”