Chapter 2: First Deployment
April 12, 1988
Captain Amaka of the Kale Air Force sat in his jeep watching the sky for the airplane that was expected any time now. He was parked between the runway and the non-functional control tower on one of the two military airbases in the country. That wasn’t quite accurate since it was actually the only airbase under government control.
As with most countries, Kale had three branches of service: Army, Navy, and Air Force. The army was the largest service of the three, more because of fighting civil wars and such, rather than defending the territory of Kale. The navy was next in size because there was just a lot of shore to patrol. The air force was the smallest of the services. Its assets were one transport plane and three low-altitude two-seat single-engine scout planes. The two helicopters were old, decrepit, and out of service until someone found the parts it would take to fix them.
He knew the air force was a joke as far as being a military organization went. They only had 117 people in the entire force, and more were officers than were enlisted men. It didn’t matter to him if people laughed. He loved to fly. Even though his plane was one of the single-engine numbers, he spent every hour he could up in the air. It didn’t matter if the mission was border patrol or ferrying dispatches, he volunteered ... much to the amusement of his older and wiser pals in the service.
This time he’d been tricked. He thought he was volunteering to fly somewhere, but he was actually on an assignment to babysit some mercenaries that President Dr. Sall had hired to fight the Lion of Kootu. He was supposed to direct them to park their plane by the control tower and then take them over to the gate at the main army base.
Mercenaries! The whole idea of bringing in mercenaries bothered him. Kale might be a poor country, but it did have a real military. They drilled just the same as every military in the world, they ran basic exercises to train, and, more importantly, they were experienced. Civil wars meant they had a lot of veterans with hardcore experience. The problem was that the leadership was corrupt and self-serving, using the defense budget to line their own pockets. No matter how well trained and disciplined they were, it meant little if the soldiers didn’t have the equipment and munitions to be effective.
As far as his expectations concerning the mercenaries, he expected to see a rag-tag group of army rejects from around the world. They would be swaggering undisciplined drunks who were good with guns. He was afraid the mercenaries would be just as bad as Okeke’s soldiers: murderers and rapists wrapped in a uniform.
The radio in the jeep crackled, “Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, this is Jade Force Aircraft T-1. We are five minutes out. Request permission to land.”
Captain Amaka lifted his hand-held radio and answered, “Jade Force Aircraft T-1, this is Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, you are cleared to land. There is no wind.”
“Thank you, Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control.”
Captain Amaka got out of the jeep. Looking through binoculars, he searched the sky for the airplane he knew was approaching. He couldn’t see it, although by now it should have been quite visible as a black dot over the horizon. Then, suddenly, it was there. He realized what had made it so difficult to see. It was flying low to the ground. The plane was painted blue on the bottom and tan on the top. It was a standard medium-sized transport plane. It was in the same family as the one owned by the Kale Air Force, only a new model. It had four large propellers on its wings, and a rear door/ramp that opened to enable loading and unloading.
The plane landed and came to a stop at one end of the runway. The plane turned around to face the length of the runaway. It paused there as if the pilot was deciding whether or not to take off again. A hatch opened on the top of the plane.
The captain climbed on top of the jeep to better see what was happening. He didn’t know that kind of plane had a hatch on the top like that. He wondered what the hatch was for, and why they would open it upon landing.
“What are they doing?” he asked himself.
A man climbed out of the hatch carrying a very large gun. It looked like a .50 caliber machine gun. It was hard to see exactly what he was doing from this distance, but it looked like he was mounting the gun on the top of the plane! The man, wearing a harness, strapped himself to the top of the plane. He tested the straps and moved the gun around, testing it.
“They’ve put a guard on top of the plane!“ Captain Amaka realized, having never heard of such a thing.
It took him a moment to realize that the gun was pointed at him. That bothered him a lot, but he guessed it made sense. He was the only one standing around there.
With the man securely strapped to the top of the airplane, it then taxied over to the area they had originally set aside for the mercenaries to use as a camp. This was going to be a problem. They weren’t supposed to park there.
He got in the jeep to head over to tell them that they were going to be quartered in some barracks over in the center of the army side of the base. Things had changed since the original agreement. General Mosi had not liked having a mercenary army where he couldn’t keep a close eye on them.
Realizing he didn’t have to drive over, he put down the binoculars, picked up the handset for the radio, and then said, “Jade Force Aircraft T-1, this is Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, you are not cleared to park there.”
“Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, this is Jade Force Aircraft T-1. We are taking control of this area as per contract. Do not interfere. Do not send the jeep across the runway. We will fire.”
Captain Amaka stared at the radio wondering if he’d heard correctly. He said, “Did you say you will fire on me?”
“Affirmative, Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control. This is now Jade Force Territory as per contract.”
“Jade Force Aircraft T-1, we have quarters for you in barracks over in the center of the army side of the base.
“Negative, Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control. There have been no changes in the contract.”
“I know nothing about a contract,” Captain Amaka said.
This would teach him a good lesson about volunteering. This was supposed to be a simple assignment; just let them land, have them park next to the control tower, and take them over to their quarters. Simple, right? Instead, they threaten to shoot him, refuse to follow directions, and start talking about a contract. He wished the telephone in the control tower worked because he wanted to get in touch with his superiors. Since he couldn’t leave, and he wasn’t about to risk getting shot, he decided the best thing to do would be to watch what they did.
He picked up the pair of binoculars to watch what they were doing. The plane came to a stop in the middle of the field. The rear door lowered and four people confidently strode out. They were wearing tan armor, not regular army uniforms. They were obviously armed. They carried their rifles in a ready position. They took up guard positions around the aircraft.
Four ATVs charged out from the back of the plane and headed off in four different directions. They all seemed to get equally distant from the plane and then started driving around is if looking for something. One of them seemed to find what he was looking for and stopped the ATV. He got out and planted a flag. It was tan with a black castle on it. It wasn’t long before all four of them had planted flags. He guessed the flags marked the boundaries of their territory.
The ATVs returned to the plane and disappeared inside it. When they pulled out of the plane again, each of them was hauling a long strange-looking thing he couldn’t figure out what it was. Each of them pulled the thing to a spot about fifty feet from a flag. Each of them spent a bit of time looking around the area before they positioned their cargo just so.
The driver got out, and fiddled around with the odd looking thing. There was a muffled explosion, like a high caliber round being fired. The driver moved the ATV and hooked something onto the back of it. The driver slowly drove away. The structure slowly expanded. The driver stopped the ATV, got out, and started hammering on the structure. That was followed by another explosion. The driver attached another cable to the ATV. A second later, the structure was slowly rising from the ground. Hinged at two points on the base, it slowly opened up, transforming into a guard tower. The driver got out of the ATV, hammered some on the cross supports to lock them into place, and then went to the feet of the tower. Four explosions followed.
Wires were pulled from the legs and driven into the ground a distance away from the tower, using the same explosive drivers that had been used previously. The ten foot high tower was now held steady by eight guy wires. Without going over to it, all he could say was that it definitely looked sturdy.
The driver then climbed the tower. Minutes later, panels had been unfolded so that the observation platform was enclosed along the sides. There was a pause and then a canvas roof appeared. The driver then took a position in the guard tower.
Captain Amaka looked around. While he had been watching the one guy, the other three had erected identical towers. He had nothing to compare this to, but it seemed pretty impressive to him that four people, working alone, had set up defensive structures like that within twenty minutes of landing.
The four people who had been guarding the plane walked towards the guard towers. Upon reaching them, there was an exchange of conversation with the people in the towers. The people continued on and got into the ATVs.
Captain Amaka glanced down at his watch. He doubted that even twelve minutes had been required to set up the four guard towers. There hadn’t been a wasted move in the entire process. Nine people, including the guy on top of the plane, had set it up with five of them on guard at all times. Maybe these mercenaries weren’t a bunch of swaggering drunks, after all.
The ATVs returned to the plane. A minute later, they emerged again. This time they were pulling little trailers. Each headed off to a flag. They each stopped at a flag, got out, fiddled around with the trailer, and drove a path from one flag to the next leaving behind a swatch of white powder about two yards wide. At the distant flag, the driver stopped, fiddled with the trailer, and then headed for the plane.
“Talk about marking your territory.”
The ATVs disappeared inside the airplane only to emerge pulling what looked like a large long box on wheels. He watched one of them drive over to one of the flags and park the ATV inside the white lines at the point marking the corner. They driver got out and started hammering on one end of the long box. It looked like he was driving stakes into the ground through one end of the box.
The driver got back on the ATV and drove it towards the far flag. Concertina wire started emerging out of the back of the box in large unruly coils. He stopped occasionally when a bit of the box detached itself. He would drive a stake in the ground through the detached piece of the container to fix the run of concertina wire in place. After a bit, the driver stopped, drove some stakes into the ground through the end of the remainder of the box, and unhooked the box from the ATV.
The driver took off after a few seconds. He wasn’t rushing around, but he wasn’t wasting any time, either. It took three trips between the perimeter and the plane, but they quickly had a concertina fence around the entire perimeter with the exception of a length of open space near the runway. The gap was a hundred feet wide.
Captain Amaka looked at the opening wondering why they didn’t close it to something like twenty feet for a gate. Then he looked over at the plane with its engines still running. Of course, the gap was wide enough for the plane to exit the compound. The men could return to the plane and be up in the air in three minutes if they were attacked. Plus, there was the guy on top of the plane to provide cover fire if necessary.
The ATVs reappeared after another visit to the plane. This time they were hauling the same kind of trailers as the first time. They drove around the perimeter within the concertina wire leaving a trail of red paint. After another round trip to the plane, they laid out a wide line of black paint.
For the next ten minutes, the ATVs were used to unload a number of boxes off the transport plane. They put the boxes in what appeared to be a very specific order. Once the plane had been unloaded, the back door started closing. The man on top of the plane, unhooked the gun, lowered it through the hatch, unstrapped himself, and then went into the plane. The hatch closed.
His radio squawked, “Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, this is Jade Force Aircraft T-1. Request permission to taxi to north end of the runway.”
“Jade Force Aircraft T-1, this is Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, you are cleared to approach runway.”
“Thank you, Kale Mufti Base Air Control.”
The four ATVs raced towards the opening of the perimeter. Two stopped outside the perimeter, one at each side of the opening. The other two split apart racing towards the north and south ends of the runway. The drivers got out and held their rifles in their hands watching the surrounding area.
“These guys really take security seriously,” Captain Amaka muttered.
The plane left the enclosure and taxied to the north end of the runway. Once there, it slowly turned to line up with the runway.
His radio squawked, “Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, this is Jade Force Aircraft T-1. Request clearance for takeoff.”
“Jade Force Aircraft T-1, this is Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, you are cleared for takeoff.”
“This is Jade Force Aircraft T-1. Thank you, Kale Mufti Base Air Control.”
Once the plane was in the air, the drivers got back on their ATVs and returned to the enclosure. He watched fascinated for the next twenty minutes while the men erected two guard shacks, one on each end of the open portion of the perimeter. A moveable gate, in two sections went across the open portion of the perimeter. Four canvas tents were erected off to one side of the enclosure.
The four people setting things up disappeared into one of the tents for about ten minutes. They emerged, drove the ATVs to the towers, and climbed the tower. Four people climbed down and headed to the tent in the ATVs.
“I guess that was a shift change,” Captain Amaka muttered.
He was surprised when the radio in the jeep crackled, “Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, this is Jade Force Aircraft T-2. We are five minutes out. Request permission to land.”
Captain Amaka answered, “Jade Force Aircraft T-2, this is Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control, you are cleared to land. There is no wind.”
“Thank you, Kale Mufti Base Air Traffic Control.”
The four ATVs again rode out taking up defensive positions for when the plane arrived.
Five minutes later, the transport was on the runway. Within minutes it was inside the enclosure. There was a flurry of activity around the plane. It seemed to him that at least twenty people got off. Everyone of them was armed. Two more ATVs drove out of the back dragging huge rolls of canvas.
He watched, amazed, as a canvas fence went up spanning the spaces between the guard towers. Every twenty feet they erected a pole supported by four guy wires and attached the canvas to it. The canvas fence stopped short of the open area and then angled towards the guardhouses that had been erected earlier. Poles were added to the large swing gates and canvas was run along them. With the swing gates closed he could no longer see what was happening inside the enclosure. It had taken them forty five minutes to erect the fence.
One of the ATVs left the compound pulling a little trailer. It stopped next to the guard shack. The driver got out and drove the support of a small sign into the ground. Once satisfied with the sturdiness of the sign, the driver hoped into the ATV and drove along the white line in Captain Amaka’s direction. After a hundred feet, the driver stopped and erected another sign.
Captain Amaka estimated about where the next sign would go and walked towards the spot. He looked up at the guard tower and noticed that a rifle was still pointed at him. He paused well short of crossing the runway.
The driver stopped the ATV about where he had estimated it would stop.
He called out, “Hello! Can I talk to you?”
“No speak Kaleen.”
“Do you speak Amran?”
“Yes, I do. What do you want?”
“Can I come closer?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“When you folks first arrived I was told that if I crossed the runway that you would fire at me.”
“That was the temporary border. The white line is the official border. You can approach up to it, but don’t enter it.”
He crossed the runway glancing frequently at the guard tower. It was obvious he was being watched. When he got across, he glanced at the person waiting for him. Much to his surprise, she was a very attractive white woman with blond hair. She was wearing armor. He could also see that she was also armed with a rifle, a pistol, and sword. Her hand was resting on the butt of the pistol.
“Why shouldn’t I enter the white line?”
Holding up the sign she had been about to place, she answered, “No trespassing. White line – we fire warning shot. Red line – we shoot to stop. Black line – we shoot to kill.”
He read the sign. It was in Kaleen and that was the essence of the message. There was maybe ten feet with some concertina wire between warning shot and getting killed. He glanced up at the guard tower and saw that the rifle was still aimed in his direction.
He said, “I definitely wouldn’t want to tangle with the concertina wire to get to the red line no matter what.”
“That’s why it is there,” she said.
“That makes sense.”
“What do you want?”
“I need to talk to someone in command,” he said.
“What do you need to talk about?” she asked.
“I’d rather talk to the person in charge.”
“There’s no one in charge. Tell me what you want and I’ll connect you with the correct person.”
“What do you mean there’s no one in charge? Someone’s got to be in charge.”
“We are Jade Warriors. We know what needs to be done so we do it. We don’t need someone in charge to tell us what to do when we already know what needs to be done.”
He stood there looking at her. He glanced over at the guard tower. That rifle was still pointed at him. He looked over at the guardhouse. Now that he thought about it, they’d set up that whole base without anyone ordering anyone to do anything. No one had come around to supervise that the work had been done correctly.
“Well, you’re not supposed to be here.”
“We have a contract. We were hired to be here.”
“I mean, you’re not supposed to be camped in this location. General Mosi made arrangements for you to stay in barracks on the main base.”
“Ah! This is a matter of the contract. Pen Hopo will meet you at the guard booth. You may discuss it with her.”
“Pen Hopo? What is that?” he asked.
“Pen Hopo is our negotiator and deals with all contractual issues. She will meet you at the guard booth.”
“Okay,” he said.
The woman reached over to her shoulder and pulled out a little microphone. She spoke a few words into it. He couldn’t understand a word she said except one, Hopo.
He returned to his jeep and drove over to the guard shack. It was a short enough walk to the shack, but he figured, why walk in this heat when there’s a perfectly fine jeep available? Besides, it kept him within reach of the radio in case another plane was to arrive.
Taking a chance, he drove across the runway and parked the jeep on the side of the runway near the encampment. He walked up to the guardhouse noting that it was one foot in front of the white line. He wondered what would happen if he tried to enter. Then he noticed the black line across the floor. The guard inside was wearing the same kind of armor as the woman. He was also carrying a rifle, a pistol, and a sword.
“Hello. Do you speak Kaleen?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t be on guard duty here if I didn’t,” the man in the shack answered.
“The woman putting up signs said that I needed to speak with Pen Hobo.”
“Her name is Pen Hopo. I’ve already been informed that she’s on her way here.”
“What is your name?”