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This must be what fox hunting is like, Forrester thought, although he had never actually done it. Everybody's jacked up on testosterone and the prospect of spilling blood; like popping a virgin's cherry, there was a reason they called a successful mission "getting some".


Twelve minutes earlier, CIA/Langley had called in. They had a guy up there in Kunduz with a laser designator, painting a house where they had positively identified Said Haydar, former paymaster of the Hamburg cell, and currently believed to be number three deputy to Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Forrester had the nearest bird, and he was screaming it in at almost 225 k/ph, well in excess of its maximum speed. He knew that the Pentagon would take a Predator going down with engine failure if it meant getting this guy; hell, if they got this guy, Forrester wouldn't be surprised if the Pentagon got him a brand new Gulfstream. 

Crossing into the valley, you sure could see the results of the laser; the small mud house was lit as bright as Cortez's palace on infra red. Forrester pushed the Predator in closer. In front of the house were two men; the heat image indicated that they were probably smoking cigarettes. 

"Is that him?" Ross asked. 

"Affirmative," one of the intelligence guys said. 

"Are you sure?" 


"Who's the other guy?" Ross asked. 

The intelligence guys shook their head - they had no idea. 

"Aww, screw, for Christ sake's, find out." Ross ordered. "If this guy's Saudi royal family, I'm not going to go down in history as the guy who brought America $10 a gallon gas. Call Moishe." 

The intelligence guy picked up the phone, called "Moishe", the 24-hour open line to the Mossad operations center in Tel Aviv. After the picture was sent, intelligence knew who this was. 

"Christ, it's Mustapha al-Saqa, the butcher of Mumbai. These two are on everybody's dance cards." 

"Let's do it." Ross put his spurs in the process, and with good reason. Everybody in the room could just smell the commendations and promotions on this one. 

"Take it. Big Green." Ross ordered Forrester. 

Forrester had the Predator racing down on the deck. "Arm," he commanded. 

"Arm," Rico replied, and Forrester could feel the anticipation in his voice, his breath. 



Forrester moved to the trigger, than looked up to the screen in horror. In the upper corner of the VDT, in the back of the house, were about a half dozen kids playing with a small horse. Forrester pulled the stick up sharply, which, as he intended for it to do, broke the radar lock on the target. 

"FRIENDLIES!" Forrester screamed, and he grabbed the stick back, trying to get it back under control. 

"Friendlies, where?" Rico asked in amazement. 

"In back, up top." 

"Those kids? Aww, come on, gimme a frigging break." 

But try as he might, Forrester couldn't get back control of the Predator. It crashed and burned about 300 meters from the house; the bad guys must have known what this was and found it hilarious. Back in Nevada, everyone in the room emptied their obscenity bomb bays of everything they had ever learned on any school playfield on Earth, then, silently, fixed their gaze on Forrester, who could almost feel the cotton in his shirt being set alight. 

"Aww, Jesus, bro', what did you just do?" 

Forrester and Rico didn't speak much for the next 16 hours of their shift, actually, nobody on Red Team was in much of a loquacious frame of mind. After they had been relieved by Gold Team, Forrester saw Rico by his locker, wrapped in a towel after his shower, violating every rule in the book by smoking a cigarette. 

Forrester stood beside his locker. With nothing coming from the younger Rico, Forrester pulled rank. 

"You got something to say, first lieutenant?" 

Rico laughed at the question. "Yeah, I got something to say, Christ, Brian, how could you do it? How could you let those two go?" 

"Maybe it's just because I didn't want to kill a half dozen kids today. Ever think of that?" 

"Don't give me that shit." 

"And any order for me to pull that trigger," Forrester continued, "Would have been illegal. You know dammed effing well that's true." 

"Bullshit. Who do you think those kids were, the Brady Bunch? What were they doing 10 meters from two of the biggest targets in this theater? Those kids, 'friendlies?' What a joke. You know dammed well that our concern for collateral damage decreases in direct proportion to the importance of the targets. At the very least, those kids were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." 

"Bummer for the kids, right, to die just because who it was on the other side of the house." 

"Yeah, it was." Rico lit another smoke. "Just like it was for the kids in Dresden, in Berlin, in Tokyo, under the Eighth Air Force. Hey, man, there's no draft anymore. You came to us, not the other way around. You telling me now that you didn't think it would involve killing kids?" 

Forrester bummed a cigarette, lit it, but did not reply. Rico continued. "Did you have any thought what this would do for me, the rest of the team? You're close to your 20, but I'll never make captain now, they're gonna bounce my ass clear out of the blue at O-2. Next year, when I'm out there trying to support a family on the $29,000 the commuter airlines pay you to fly 65 hours a week between Shit Beach and Crap Valley, I'll know who to thank for it."

"And six kids will be alive." 

"Screw you! You think you're the only one with kids in there?" 

"I dunno. You tell me." 

Silence, then Rico offered him another smoke. "You know, I'd love to put a cap in your ass right now, and if the cameras weren't here (pointing to the ever-present eye in the sky camera cut into the ceiling, behind the opaque glass,) I probably would. But it ain't your fault. Maybe it's this screwed up experiment the air force is trying, using the technology to make us front line trigger pullers while still living here in the home front culture, with the wife and kids. 

"Somebody must have thought it would be a good idea. Maybe they thought the Force would keep the guys who didn't want to miss their kids growing up, like the grunts on the ground are. Maybe somebody thought that our wives would take the place of shrinks. Maybe they were just pushing the communications technology out onto the edge of the envelope." 

Forrester laughed, but he was listening. 

"It never used to be this way," Rico continued. "You had the civilians, and far away you had the guys on the front - the two didn't mix. Now, we're on the front, but we're also right in the middle of this inane civilian culture. 

"It's especially true with this culture, the kid-obsessed and feminized anti-male culture. Look at the playgrounds, with all their rubber surfaces and safe amusements, a kid would have to pull a pin on a grenade to get hurt in one. Look at the stores, with their little sports car shopping carts, or all the play areas at the malls. Christ, look at the aspirin bottles; you just try to open one of those if you're wasted. No way does this produce warriors." 

"I see you're getting full value from your distance Master's Sociology class at 'Chapman'," but even Forrester felt his words trailing off at the end. 

"It's like the guys who come home and light up a movie theater with their M-60's. They brought the war home. You brought home to the war. Same difference." 

By this time, Rico was dressed. Turning on his heels to leave, he pointed at the floor under Forrester's legs. "Uh-oh." 

Forrester looked down. "What is it?" 

"I think you're getting your period." Then he saluted, pivoted, and left.