A new feature here, and I’m looking for your assistance. I’m writing a series of short stories which all have a loose Climate Change/Peak Oil sci-fi flavour and this is the first: ‘Matilda Leviathan’. They are a bit of a side-line from the novel and are, obviously, loosely related. I eventually intend to publish these in an e-format (more to follow), but first of all I’d love some feedback. Can you assist? I’d be very grateful. Please feel free to leave a comment below. Any constructive criticism is very much appreciated. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the story…
Matilda Leviathan by Owen Law
So it began. The end of a sub-continent. The beginning of a new reign of terror. The monster captured, the monster unleashed.
Daybreak, and the sun was already glaring over a deep blue sea. Jesus ‘H’, thought Niles as he frantically pummelled on amongst blazing sand-dunes with his team-mates. I wish I’d taken that goddamed desk job! Twenty-five years of service, he reckoned he was long past all this now. But the organisation wanted someone with experience for this crucial mission. Unfortunately his seniority was catching up with him, a svelte but middle-aged body now screaming buckets as he pushed his way on.
Fellow CIA operatives Hughes and Sanchez – his usual SOG ‘partners in crime’ – and the interpreter trailed behind, inbetween a Navy SEAL protection team that’d been drafted in to escort them to their coastal rendezvous on the Arabian Sea. They’d left him the onerous task of escorting their ‘target’: the bedraggled and wretched Arab female they’d been sent to this country for and to bring into safe custody. That was because he was the most experienced and highest ranking. She was, and had been for a long time, his ‘baby’. It seemed only right.
But despite his strong sense of duty, Niles was now beginning to wish he’d passed the cup to some-one else. It was becoming more and more apparent why.
She looked as mad and deranged as she was reputed to be. She also stunk to high heaven! Not surprising, seeing as she’d been holed up in some putrid Karachi cellar for several days – and God knows where before that!
Wearing only the ragged looking blue blouse and jeans she’d originally been captured in, with scraggy jet-black hair that appeared as though she’d stuck her hand in an electric socket, the woman was truly as unattractive as could possibly be imagined. She was still a slim, early thirty-two year old with the trappings of having once been something like an Eastern beauty-queen. Yet it was the wild, malice-filled expression on her face that was so utterly repulsive and deeply unsettling.
Abruptly, the team came to a halt upon the Petty Officer Second Class’ command. They’d approached the side of a somewhat flattish dune overlooking a descent onto the beach. Everyone immediately went down onto one knee. The diamond formation of the SEALs surrounding the CIA team quickly formed all-round defence, their automatic weapons trained on the horizons, scanning, checking for any hostile threats.
Niles forced the prisoner down onto the deck to lessen the chances of her sustaining a hit. Immediately, she found herself swallowing a mouthful of sand that she instantly expelled back out with an indignant growl.
‘Quiet!’ he rasped in a whispering tone.
For his part, he couldn’t have cared less. It was the least in terms of ‘just desserts’ for someone like this. There was worse they could –would – do to her. Especially given the place she was eventually going to.
Niles vigorously scratched his nose as he surveyed his surroundings like a hawk. It was something he’d always done furtively since when he was a kid, a habit that’d arisen whenever he’d felt a pang of nerves. His training had allowed him to overcome most of his misapprehensions, but this annoying little habit had always remained. His mother had told him that if he persisted, he’d probably scratch it off one day! Fortunately, that’d never happened and he still retained charmingly-boyish good looks. Even with side-boards that had turned whitish-grey on a head of black hair, he still managed to make the opposite sex swoon.
Not this one though. He’d seen the hatred burning as soon as he’d clapped eyes on her. There she was, still prone in the sand, hands bound to the rear with plasti-cuffs, seething and wheezing. He was sure if she could, she’d rip them all to bits. One shot from the pistol concealed in the holster on his combined combat vest and Kevlar body armour would be enough to put paid to her. But this wasn’t like the situation with her idol and mentor from years before. She was too useful to the US Government. Shame really! Still, Niles was an inveterate professional. The ‘humint’, or human intelligence, potential was massively significant so no summary executions here.
Niles had thought about hooding her, at least to temporarily hide the ugliness. But for some reason, his morbid fascination got the better of him. After all this time of tracking, analysing and targeting, he’d finally met her in person. And it was deeply satisfying…
The SEALs communications operative was on the blower, whispering communications through his TACSAT. It’d be time to shift again. He signalled to his squad commander, the Petty Officer checking round before speaking up again.
‘Okay, clear to go. Move!’
Quickly, the team took its feet again as Niles grabbed the prisoner and yanked her upwards. Her face still covered in sand, she spat again onto the floor as he shoved her forward harshly. Niles couldn’t help feeling a great sense of ‘schadenfreude’. Still, let’s focus on the task ahead, he told himself. Ambling off with the SEALs still patrolling alertly, the team made their way down the side of the dune and onto the flat section of the beach. Soon, they’d be rendezvousing with more SEALs who’d be arriving in their CRRCs on the beach. Then, away to the nuclear sub waiting off the coast and back to home turf. It seemed like it was an eternity away since the time that they’d been briefed about this mission. And yet it had only been no more than twenty-four hours. After all this time, it was almost unbelievable that years of hard and painstaking work was coming to a close…
‘Boys, we got ‘er!’
Symes was a little old-fashioned in his approach, a manner that very much reminded you of former US President George W Bush. The former Commander-in-Chief who’d instigated the whole original ‘War on Terror’ business years ago and under whom Symes had cut his teeth. A tough-looking African-American, wearing a one piece suit and rounded-glasses, he was never one to mince his words. A senior member of the CIA Executive who reported straight to the Director, he was of a high enough level to make this particular mission briefing especially important. And the target in this particular case was crucial.
‘I know you’re very well acquainted with this ‘beauty’, boys!’ he chirped sternly as the image erupted onto the 3D flat-screen behind him.
‘Abida bint Mohammed bin Ibrahim al-Khatani. Codename ‘Matilda’. Saudi national, AQ affiliate and ideological follower of Osama bin Laden. A rigid adherent to Wahabism hates the US and the West especially because of what we did to her mentor all those years ago. Has vowed total revenge ever since. You know the rest…’
Niles stared long and hard at the image. Oh yes, he knew her well. After all, he’d been tracking her for years whilst she’d been engaged in various anti-American activities. That was his job, as head of the specialist CIA unit set up to track her movements. Her actions had been deemed serious enough to merit such attention, ever since the massacre of twenty American tourists in Alexandria, Egypt, and the targeting of US military personnel in the newly liberated Libya. The worst had been the detonation of a ‘dirty-bomb’ in Paris two years ago. Adept at disguise, she had this talent – despite being an adherent of bin Laden’s extremist philosophy – to blend in and appear westernised when she chose. Those were the ones you should always watch the most, not the loud-mouths. Like the 9/11 hijackers. Nobody had suspected them. And, anyway, who’d ever envisage a woman of being so high up as to be an AQ organiser? It was a credit to his own team’s efforts and the lessons learnt since the planes had hit the towers that they’d managed to thwart her from striking the US mainland. But she’d been close. Very close.
He felt proud of achieving this much, but she’d still been out there, causing disruption. Even though the world had supposedly moved on and was now worrying about the changing climate and nuclear proliferation. Here Matilda was, still stirring things up like an elusive she- wolf. And she’d moved on elsewhere.
He’d been at the point of accepting the new, more senior post in the organisation when this came up. She’d been captured whilst trying to stoke the flames between Pakistan and India at a time when they were at each other’s throats again. Revenge for allowing her ‘idol’s death at the hands of the infidel, he suspected. So this was too good an opportunity to miss. He remained in post to lead this mission: ‘Operation Leviathan’. But it had been left up to his immediate boss to give the briefing. It was a prestige thing.
‘She was picked up today in Karachi at 0300 hours local time’ continued Symes in his thick Chicago accent. ‘Fortunately, it was the local police who took her. As you know, gentlemen, the Pakistani coup of Muslim fundamentalists, supported by the Army, has made the authorities even less friendly to us at the moment. However, the Karachi Police are a different matter. They still appreciate the support we’ve been giving them over the years. But the ISI are sniffing about, hence the reason why we need to move in soon and extract Matilda before they get their greasy little palms on her!’
‘Now I also don’t need to tell you that India and Pakistan are on the verge of an all-out war, given the current land and resources dispute fired up by the new government’s clash with the Hindu nationalists. However, initial intelligence feedback from the Police there is that she’s been trying to really stoke the flames by organising a group of suicide bombers to enter New Delhi from Kashmir and detonate a small nuclear device. We’re not sure what’s happened to the team as we’ve lost track. But the Indians are sure as hell trying to find them!
‘Matilda herself has kept stumm, although the Karachi boys have been trying to work on her. But they’re more than happy to hand her over to us before the ISI get down there. Given the circumstances, we need to ship the target out pretty sharpish and get her to a friendly base in Kuwait so we can ‘debrief’ her as soon as possible. If we can pass the info we need to our Indian friends, then chances are we can prevent a regional disaster. Or at least slim the chances.’
‘I take it she’ll be on a one way ticket to ‘Gitmo’ after that, Sir?’ enquired Hughes, Niles’ team-mate and sub-ordinate. Sat in close proximity to his unit commander, he wore the usual ‘deriguer’ operational field kit of khaki fatigue trousers and open neck shirt-sleeves. Similar to Niles and all the others.
‘You bet your sweet ass, Hughes! But that’s the last thing we need to worry about at the present time, seeing as we’ve got to get her out first. Karachi is a primary target should things really go critical, seeing as there’s a major naval base. You guys are taking a hellava risk, but we’ve got the best SEAL team in to escort you. Unfortunately, Pakistan is currently operating a ‘no-fly’ zone over its territory due to the confrontation. And we can’t rely on the US Consulate there to help as the State Department is already evacuating its staff from the area. Hence the main reason as to why you guys are going in. Besides, she’s your ‘baby’, you lucky gents you!’
The quip instantly raised a chuckle from his audience. Raising his eyebrows ironically, Symes continued.
‘Quick, easy and clean surgical extraction. You’ll deploy from a sub off the coast of the Arabian Sea, rendezvous with our contacts in the local Police and take possession of the target from the safe house where they’re keeping her. After that, you’ll liaise with the sub again a few miles west along the coast and get your asses out of there quick. Any questions thus far?’
There were none. Niles reflected briefly on Operation Leviathan as Symes continued on with his briefing. Bit risky, especially if the ISI did catch up with them. All the same, she had to come in soon. There was a so much at stake here…
The details of the mission had still played on his mind as they ran from the dunes to sandy beach. Without a doubt, the most dangerous thing he’d ever done. So much for it being easy! And he’d seen some serious scrapes during his time, but this one was hairy. Problem was, since they’d made landfall the previous night and took possession of Matilda, things had hotted-up into a live shooting war on the Pakistan-Indian border and the disputed territory of Kashmir. Any moment soon, it could go nuclear. And, as far as they knew, the Indians had made no progress in finding the suicide team looking to target their capital. Matilda had done her work well. She was aiming to bring conflagration on the entire region, despite the fact that an Islamic coalition was now in power in Islamabad. She’d never forgiven the Pakistanis for allowing her leader to be ‘murdered’, for not having done enough to protect him.
Airborne extraction would have been much better, but at least they had light-refracting cloaking devices to conceal themselves, if they’d been spotted after the drop-off from the unmarked police vehicles.
Never mind, they were on the homeward stretch now. Moving into a trot the team headed towards the point where the SEAL landing craft had come to rest, the hulk of the nuclear sub having surfaced in the distance. Floating like a silent whale in a deep-blue sea of calm, it now proffered something of great value to him and his team-mates – reassurance and safety. The SEALs continued to form the outer cordon of security, weapons in their shoulders and still trained on the distance in overwatch. Hopefully, it’d all be plain sailing from here…
The Petty Officer called a quick listening halt. Something of a soldier’s sixth sense had alerted him. Niles and the others stopped on command, turning briefly to their rear flank. Back towards the sand-dunes, from whence they’d came. The SEALs’ weapons already trained in that direction, the silence was ominous. Was there something there?
A single shot ringing out from the dunes and flitting past the prisoner provided the answer. It hit the sand, sending up a small plume a few feet in front of Matilda, although she showed little reaction. A rain of expletives from Niles’ team, the Petty Officer shouted out his orders to his men.
‘Incoming! Cover off!’
Immediately, the SEALs returned fire as the CIA operatives and their interpreter ran towards the landing craft to escape the ensuing fire-fight. Niles pushed Matilda forward and activated both his and her cloaking systems, his colleagues replicating. The systems booted in, the refracting light quickly concealed their presence. As they moved, the SEALs fired and manoeuvred behind whilst switching to cloaking, so as to confuse the hostiles. In the distance, their comrades had already disembarked from their CRRCs to provide yet further covering fire from the sea. Whoever it was in the dunes, they weren’t perturbed by the sudden invisibility of their targets. They continued to shoot in the direction of where they thought the Americans had disappeared.
Niles kept hold of Matilda. If he let go, she could easily disappear from his vision with the device that was masking her presence to the hostiles. All the same, he had the infra-red function in the retinal-imaging contact lenses he was wearing. A single thought command activated them, and the thermal image of Matilda allowed him to still see her. He just hoped that whoever was shooting at them didn’t have the same kit. More bullets zinged around them. If only they’d been able to move at night, as originally planned! As usual, some communications cock-up meant that they weren’t able to RV until just after dawn…
They were only another ten metres from the landing craft when a round sped through Matilda’s spine from the rear, piercing the remainder of her torso and the cloaking device controller hanging around her neck. As she slumped to the ground, her image broke and was exposed for all to see.
‘Jesus!’ exclaimed Niles as he hit the deck on top of her.
‘Sanchez, get your ass over here now!’ he hollered, as he attempted to grab hold and turn Matilda’s body round so that he could lift her with the help of his oppo. At the very least, they could try and get her to the craft if she expired, whilst hopefully not exposing himself as a target. Sanchez turned and ran back towards his superior, Niles watching as his team-mate’s thermally-enhanced outline approached. Abruptly, he came to stop.
Behind Niles, from the direction of nearby Karachi, came an instant and brilliant white flash that engulfed the city and filled the entire sky. Sanchez screamed. He’d been looking straight into the incision. Everyone immediately dropped onto the sand, a SEAL pushing the still howling Sanchez to ground. Although the explosion was over three miles away, the effects would be felt very quickly. This was it. It had begun…
Niles stayed riveted to the body of Matilda. Within seconds, the shockwave of the blast arrived, a powerful, horrific wind blowing overhead and around him. Sand blasted against his skin, raking his nerves in the unbearable heat. He gripped his prisoner’s torso tightly as he shuddered, inwardly screaming. It lasted for a minute or so, although it seemed like an eternity. He remembered his training, about staying prone with his mouth wide open, head down and covered. He expelled as much air as possible from his lungs, so that the pressure wouldn’t rupture them. And it certainly felt immense, like a huge, megaton weight was bearing down on him. On and on it went. Hell on earth. Inside his head he screamed…
Then it died away. Covered in dust and sand, he moved slightly then lifted his head. The shooting had well and truly stopped now. Dazed and disorientated, his arms smarting bright-red, Niles took to his feet uneasily and looked around. Sanchez was still whimpering and moaning, still protected by the prone body of the SEAL who’d jumped him. Other members of the party were also on their feet now, equally as shell-shocked as he was. EMP had disrupted their cloaking devices and they were now fully visible. But Niles couldn’t focus on them at this point. Instead, he was drawn towards the horizon. To where Karachi had once been…
The ghoulish yet defining symbol of the nuclear age manifested before him: a mushroom cloud – the result of a ground-burst attack on the city – rising ominously. Megadeath. Radiation and sickness to follow. The escalation had boiled over and it was now all-out war. He hoped he’d never have to experience it for real. But it was, indeed, very, very real.
He looked down briefly at the motionless body of Matilda on the floor. She’d long since expired, eyes open yet lifeless. Blood oozing from a bullet exit wound mixed with sand and dust. A mocking, sneering smile on her face, maybe as a result of the fact that she’d finally got want she wanted? What would that be? There was no smell of roses in the air, only the acrid smell of burning. Maybe it was something else?
Niles looked up again at the unfurling cloud. But it was more than just the configuration that caught his attention. It was something else. It began to morph, change. Into another thing. Something even more malevolent. The plume changed, reconfigured, as did the head and the base. Into something like a beast, huge and scaly with a long neck. A vicious head with horns, its front claw rising. A biblical monster, like something out of the ‘Book of Revelation’. Leviathan. But its face was human. Female. And the sneer and iron glare were horribly familiar. It looked straight at him. It was Matilda. And she opened her mouth and roared at Niles, ferocious and blood curdling.
Niles screamed and screamed. Then he screamed some more. And some more after that…
Matilda Leviathan had what she’d wished….
© 2011 Owen Law