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Chris Morgan

"Is there anybody in there?" he called but there was no reply or sound.

Two weeks out of Kabul, the special ops soldier found his way carefully along a precarious mountain path. He was in search of any indication of Afghan resistance. Specifically, his goal was to locate, capture or terminate American public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden. Of course, by this time, neutralizing the objective had only symbolic significance. For seven years, the West had waged an unrepentant war against those military factions and countries it had deemed hostile to its global interests and way of life.

Since September 2001, the world had changed in ways no one could have ever imagined. From the puppet governments set up in Afghanistan early in 2002 to the terrible plagues and suitcase nukes of 2003, it had become clear to the military and civilian population of the globe that targeting any one leader of the enemy would serve only to inflame their armies and lend more credence to their cause. Certainly, the proverbial head of Osama would still bring in a huge bounty, almost two billion dollars by now, but the satisfaction the West would feel would be short-lived. They would be too busy preparing for nuclear or biological reprisals from Enemies world-wide.

The soldier was pelted by a cold rain, now unusual in this part of the world but once commonplace. Weapons of mass destruction had permanently altered weather conditions, kicking millions of tonnes of debris and dust into the atmosphere. During the day, the sky often had a pinkish hue, and unless they wore protective clothing, locals were encouraged to stay inside or underground at all times. If not, mutant strains of cancer or viral infection could develop and pose terrible dangers to those survivors, who, for whatever reason, had chosen to stay in this area of the continent. The soldier pondered this as he looked into the distance and continued to wind his way up the mountain path.

Presently he stopped. A few years ago, teams would have been sent out to do the mission assigned to him. Recently however, computer and nanotechnology had made it possible for his superiors to track his progress and provide support if necessary while minimizing the amount of soldiers sent out into the field. This had become routine protocol after the West suffered catastrophic military losses in 2005. It was no longer acceptable to send groups on scouting missions. The loss of life could be detrimental to the war effort and demoralizing to the people and governments of the West. So soldiers were sent out alone, weeks at a time, to recover leads, build intelligence and initiate covert government operations.

The soldier made his way over to the mountain wall. There was a cave directly ahead. It was time to shut down for a while. The soldier moved quickly and cautiously towards the objective, weapon drawn and stood for a moment at the edge of the cave. "Is there anybody in there?" he called but there was no reply or sound. Only the wind and the rain and bone chilling cold that reminded him how much he missed his home. He entered the cave, flashing a light inside to guide his steps and made his way into the mountain.

In some time, he found a spot to make camp and soon had a small fire burning from a collection of dry sticks and twigs he had found shoved into a hole in the cave wall. Somebody had been here at some time, he thought as the fire to burned. He laid back, flatlined his biotech computer and punched out for the day. He had a meal and read for a while -Ecce Homo, an autobiography of a German philosopher and wrote; letters mostly, although he had been writing a short story about an apartment building for his own amusement and distraction. This night, he was finishing a letter that would go back home when he ran out of envelopes. He was in the habit of binding his letters together in envelopes because it made them easier to carry and didn't fray the edges. He thought that he had picked some up at the surplus store but must've forgotten. He sighed, frustrated, and turned towards a dark corner in the cave. There in the half light, he could see an envelope. He blinked, thinking his mind might be playing tricks on him and walked over to the dark side of the cave. He could see more plainly now that someone had certainly lived there. And certainly, someone had died there as well. The bony skeleton was all that remained of this pitiful soul, a male, the soldier noted, between the ages of forty and fifty. He was in army fatigues but wore the head dress of a Muslim. He wore a watch on his right hand and some kind of bracelet on his left, odd for the fact that the left hand, considered evil in certain Islamic sects, was generally unadorned. And it was the left hand that was clutching the envelope. Looking over the skeleton, the soldier saw that the bracelet had an inscription, written in Persian. He removed it and brought it towards the fire to read it in the light. Knowing something of local and regional dialect, he sounded out the inscription, and as he did, the color drained from his face. Osama.

Stunned and unable to look away from the fire, he sat there for a long time, maybe days, not eating, not sleeping, barely breathing. Finally, he rose from where he was and returned to the skeleton. He put the bracelet back on the left wrist and reached for the envelope he had wanted in the first place. There was no letter inside the envelope but on the outside written in English was the word infidel. He looked over the remains of the skeleton and eventually decided that there was nothing that could be salvaged here. He gathered his equipment, booted up his biotech computer and punched in. The last embers of the fire were burning out as he took one last look around the cave, turned and made his way into a cold and uncertain night.

© Chris Morgan 2002

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