12 Brothers…new writing, unedited, incomplete…

Training started at 0500 the following morning. Ghost stood outside of the live fire range, a cup of coffee in hand and his rifle hung from a D-ring in front of him. The eleven other men walked up to him with similar setups.

“Morning,” Ghost said after he sipped his coffee. “Y’all ready to burn through some ammo?”

“Always ready,” Reaper growled. “I love shooting and blowing crap up.”

The other guys laughed and nodded. Ghost grinned and joined in the laughter. Menace put away his smile and lifted his chin toward Ashley as she made her way toward them.

“What does little girlie think she’s doing?”

“I invited her to come out and shoot, Menace. Way I figured it, if she wanted in the group, she’d need to earn her way,” Ghost said as he finished his coffee.

“It’ll take a lot more than her firing a few rounds with us to win me over, boss man.”

“That’s why she’s running every scenario with us. Consider it basic training for her and team building for us. Now, let’s get to work.”

The team split in two. Team Alpha started on pistol training with Menace taking lead. Ghost led Team Bravo. They started with advanced rifle marksmanship. After two hours of firing drills the team took a break.

Menace walked up to Ghost and passed him a cup of coffee. He sat down next to Ghost and took a sip from his cup.

“Girlie can shoot,” said Menace. “She shot Hawkeye on pistol.”

“I suppose the agency, whichever one she is claiming to be from today, taught her to use one. Still, it’s nice to know she doesn’t miss on paper targets.”

“Yeah,” Menace grunted. “Paper targets don’t shoot back though. Do you trust her?”

“I don’t trust anyone. Trust is earned in the fires of combat. I guess we will see if we can trust her when we head into Indian country.”

“Gonna be a hard lesson if we’re wrong.”

“Yeah, but at least we will know.”

“True enough.”

The men finished their coffee and grabbed their gear. They finished off the day with heavy weapons. Ghost grinned as he stood behind the .50 caliber machine gun.

“Is there anything better in life than hearing the hum of Ma Deuce as she sings the song of her people,” Ghost wondered silently as he depressed the butterfly trigger. “I think not.”

That evening, after a quiet dinner and an after-action-review, the group gathered around and cleaned weapons. Ashley joined them. She pulled up a chair and broke down her sidearm and pulled out her cleaning kit.

No one said anything, but she felt every eye on her. Menace cleared his throat and met her eyes.

“You did good out there on the range, ma’am. Have you ever seen combat?”

“As you define combat, Menace? No. I’ve always worked from the shadows.”

“You ever put down a human being?”

Ashley said nothing in response to his question. None of the men said anything, and Menace let the question drop.

“You don’t respect me, Menace. I understand that” Ashley said quietly. “But don’t question my loyalty to the mission. I’ve worked this mission long before any of you showed up here.”

12 Brothers…the story continues…unedited and incomplete…

“What’s on your mind, Ghost?”

“What aren’t you telling us, Ashley?”

“It’s lieutenant, Ghost. I wouldn’t want the men to think you are overly familiar with me. As to what I’m not telling you, there’s plenty. My job is to give you information you need to accomplish the mission. I decide what you need to know, and what you don’t.”

“These guys may not recognize a suicide mission when they see one, but I do. You need to square with us.”

Ashley looked toward the door. The men were still outside. She pulled out a chair across from Ghost and sat down.

“One of the intelligence agencies had a shot at taking out Raphael, but their agent fell to corruption. The agent is there now with Raphael. She turned on her own people. Raphael sent her and a team of hitters to wipe out the outpost they stationed her at.”

“So, they know we’re coming.”

“Yes. They know they’re marked for death, plus, they know the tactics we’ve used in the past.”

“Now the insurgents are loaded for bear,” growled Menace. The rest of the men stood alongside him. They all glared at Ashley.

“Guys, it’s still achievable. We need to come up with something they won’t expect,” Ashley said quietly.

“I’m not listening to another word out of your mouth LT,” Menace shouted.

“Then, listen to me.”

“Why, Ghost?”

“Because Raphael is a stain on the world. He and this agent, agents, whatever, they need to die. We need to kill them.”

“Well, how do we know she’s not the agent,” someone yelled. Menace nodded his head and muttered, “yeah, that’s my next question.”

“We don’t,” Ghost remarked. “But at this point, she’s all we’ve got. If we need supplies, she’s the supplier. For now, we have to take it on faith.”

“Screw faith,” Menace replied. “I don’t take anything on faith. If she’s involved, I’m out.”

“There’s the door,” Ghost said calmly. “Thanks for nothing.”

Menace sat down in a chair and shook his head in disgust. He glared at Ashley but said nothing else. The rest of the men pulled out chairs and sat down. Ashley looked around but held her tongue. Ghost walked around the table and cleared his throat.

“This is a volunteer mission. Yes, you got selected, but you’re free to leave at any time. Don’t think that you’re vital to the mission’s success. We all could get replaced. Now, I have a suggestion, and we’ll vote on it using the ‘yea or nay’ system. Ashley is kept in the loop on training, supplies, etc. As for actual battle plans, she is kept in the dark.”

“Hold on, Ghost. You can’t….”

“Yes, I can.  They’re right. We don’t know you. Heck, most of us have no idea about each other. You’re an unknown, Ashley. And in combat, unknowns can get you killed. If you’re hell bent to run the show, I’ll take my flight home.”

Ashley leaned back and shook her head in disgust. Menace said nothing.

“So, everyone in favor of keeping battle plans secret from Ashley and the chain of command raise a hand.”

Eleven hands shot into the air, Ashley sighed and crossed her arms. She glared at Ghost. He didn’t mind, as he had often been quoted: “You can’t please everybody all the time.”

12 Brothers…new writing, unedited and incomplete…

“What is the plan,” Reaper asked.

“I’m getting to that,” Ashley said. “Raphael is intelligent, he is well-liked, and his men have sworn allegiance to him. His cause is their cause. They hail him as their deliverer. This group will not go quietly into the night.”

“So,” Menace questioned. “How is he any different from any other warlord?”

“You mean besides the fact that he unified lifelong enemies and convinced them to work together? Besides that fact, there’s no difference.”

“All I’m saying LT is that if we shoot him in the head, he can’t make any more problems.”

Ashley forced a grin at Menace and sat down at the table. The men watched her, waiting for her to show some type of weakness, they waited in vain. She took a deep breath and smiled.

“Do you think we haven’t tried before Menace? That this idea of sending men in to root him out just came to us out of the blue? Our intelligence agencies have attempted to assassinate him. They failed. Allies have tried. Again, they failed to get him.”

Menace tried to play it off, but Ashley refused to give in. She kept her voice even and calm even though inwardly she struggled to control her temper.

“Raphael is untouchable through conventional means. He controls everything, from selecting his own personal guard to creating the menus for his soldiers’ rations. The man has the undying loyalty of everyone in his army. Tens of thousands flock to his cause daily. Soon, we will have no other option than to engage in open war.”

The men stayed quiet, even Menace, and Ashley stood to her feet. She pointed at the group of men.

“You,” she said, as she made eye contact with each one, “are a last-ditch effort to avoid World War III. If this goes south, then, we’re doomed.”

“No pressure,” Ghost said. The men guffawed and Ashley grinned. The quip broke the tension. Ashley took a deep breath as she watched the men. They seemed to relax now that the ice had broken. She knew it would only be a matter of time before higher headquarters sent them in.

Ghost watched Ashley as the men talked. He knew a suicide mission when he saw it. He had gone on too many to not recognize it. Ashley shuffled some paperwork and told the men to take five.

As the men walked out, Ghost sat at the table and made eye contact with the team’s liaison. Before this team deployed, Ashley and her conspirators would give him the answers he needed.

The life of every man on the mission depended upon it.