Ad Dumayr Syria 18th February 2018
Ripley woke early and cuddled into the still sleeping James. There really wasn’t much room for two of them in the sleeping bag, but she was glad of the warmth because the early hours had been cold. She could feel his early morning erection pressing into her stomach and she gently ascertained its size with fascinated longing. She wouldn’t have a shower or even clean her teeth this morning, because she was getting into her part. She dressed quickly and gave James a gentle shake.
“Come on, stud. Time to get up.”
He groaned and opened his eyes, “Stud? Some chance.”
“I told you I’d make too much noise, but it was nice anyway wasn’t it?”
“I’ll put some water on for everyone.”
Ten minutes later he woke up Cécile with some biscuits white, processed cheese, boil in the bag beans and bacon and a mug of tea, “This is to say thanks, Ma’am.”
She sat up blinking and smiled, “Thank you, James. Since we’re all in the same boat, so to speak, my name is Cécile. But I know you do things differently in the Army, Staff Phillips pointed this out to me when we first met.”
“Phillips? Oh you mean ‘Kate Bush.’”
Cécile smiled and frowned at the same time, “Sorry James, I’m not with you.”
“You’ll have to ask him then.”
He went to go but she said to him: “She is incredibly brave, isn’t she?”
James crouched down next to her, “I wish she wasn’t. I wish she would just tell them that she’s had enough and she won’t do it. But that’s not her way, unfortunately.”
“She’s lucky to have someone like you to care for her.”
“I’m the lucky one. I have no idea what she sees in me.”
“When did you fall in love with her, James?”
“When she was sick and I had to look after her. It was never going to be hard to love her, even though she can be a right pain in the…”
“So she is lucky, isn’t she?”
He smiled shyly, “Must go and thanks again.”
“James,” he turned back, “She’s going to be all right, but somebody else isn’t.”
“How could you possibly know that?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I just do. It’s a bit of a gift, although sometimes it can be a curse.”
Ripley sought out Major Halward before he had even had a chance to have a cup of tea. His troops were moving around quietly to allow the new Blades and the aircrew a lie in. There had been much piss taking the previous night when the RAF realised that they would be sleeping on the floor of a HAS. In all honesty they had expected nothing else and contrary to popular belief, the members of No 7 Squadron’s Special Forces Flight were well used to operating in extremely austere conditions. Most of them had purchased expensive American camp beds, as well as pillows and as they told their Army colleagues, any fool can be uncomfortable. Of course it helped having a massive helicopter in which to stow their personal kit
“Major Halward, can we go outside for a chat please?”
The wind had increased and it blew dust devils across the airfield, “I’ve worked out my cover story, Paul”
She told him of her plans and he thought about it, “Bit risky,” he finally concluded.
“It is,” she agreed, “But it means I can carry weapons openly and have much more freedom of movement in the town.”
“And what happens if there is somebody in Ad Dumayr that had been where you’re supposed to have come from?”
“It’s an acceptable risk and once I’m all geared up as one of them, well we all look like ninjas anyway. But for it to really work, I’ll need some kit from our Russian hosts. Specifically an AK47, old but in good working order, a couple of hundred rounds of short 7.62mm ammo and some of their twenty-four hour ration packs.”
Halward looked at his watch, “It’s a bit early, but I’ll give Major Shwetz a call later. What are you going to do in the meantime?”
“One of the comms team is going to fit me out with a Gucci set of radio equipment so I can communicate from the town back to here. As long as it doesn’t involve shoving an aerial up my bits, then fine.”
But many a true word has been spoken in jest. A communications technician carrying a small lacon box spoke to Ripley after breakfast, “Is there somewhere private we can go so that I can fit you up with the comms equipment you’ll be using?”
“Err, there’s my sleeping lean-to over there.”
“Would you mind?”
Ripley led the way and sat on her cot. The technician had a folding chair as well as the lacon., “First of all, I apologise that there were no female technicians available to come out with us.”
“It will probably be easier if I show you the kit while I explain,” He opened the box, which contained electronics equipment, what looked like pliers and theatrical make-up, nestling in shock-absorbing foam rubber. “This is called the Personal Comms Suite and Molar Mike, PeCoS-M for short. The problem with previous covert comms equipment, was that they needed a throat mike, earphone, wires and a transmitter. Easily found if you were searched. This can be hidden on and in your body. It will probably be easier if I work back to front.”
He picked up a curved cylinder with a diameter of half-an-inch and about four inches long, “This is the battery pack and transmitter. It is designed to fit in your groin, following the contour of the Mons Pubis. Not actually inside your body because the dense bones of the pelvis can affect the signal. However, you will probably be carrying a hidden weapon in the groin area?”
“Glock and a fighting knife,” Ripley confirmed.
“In which case, the metal of the weapons disrupt the radio waves, so it will have to be located under the curve of one of your breasts.”
He put the item back and pulled out a second, flat strip of electronics mounted in a rubberised material, about an inch-and-a-half square, “This is the relay, which picks up the signals to and from the microphone and relays them to and from the power pack and transmitter. It’s smaller than the power pack and can fit in the nape of your neck, under your hair.
“Now this is the really clever bit,” He showed her a small tube with a skeleton of wires attaching it to flat, slightly curved plate. The whole piece of equipment was about an inch square, “This is the Molar Mike. The little cylinder is attached to your teeth in the buccal, sorry, cheek area of your upper molars. You don’t have dentures do you?”
She shook her head.
“Good, otherwise this is a non-starter. The cylinder is a microphone that will pick up speech, a whisper or even a click of your tongue. The wires pass over the spaces between your teeth and the pad fits into the roof of your mouth, against the hard palate. If you push your finger into the roof of your mouth, it feels hard, then goes back into the spongy soft palate. That will make you retch, as will wearing the device until you get used to it. Obviously the mike picks up your speech, but the flat plate relays radio messages as vibrations into the bones of your skull and then into the inner ear.
“Now normally we would take an impression of your upper teeth and have an orthodontic dental technician, custom make the holding clips of the molar mike. We don’t have one, so I will have to do my best with the orthodontic pliers.”
The technician put on a pair of blue latex gloves and sterilised the molar mike with a spray, “Open nice and wide please, Ms Ripley.”
He clipped it onto her upper right last molar, in this case a seven as there were no wisdom teeth present. She swallowed and started to retch.”
“Ok, put your head forward and breathe through your mouth. Let any drool and saliva just come out,” He handed her a pot to spit in and after a minute or so, she stopped retching, “That’s good, just keep spitting out the excess saliva otherwise you’ll yak.”
“I can’t close my mouth.”
“OK, open,” He checked her mouth, “Bite together. Yeah, I see.”
The technician fished the mike assembly out and got busy with the pliers, sterilised it again and popped it back in her mouth, “How’s that?”
“Now it feels too tight.”
He gently bent the wires again and put it back in, “Now?”
“Seems OK, but eating will be difficult.”
“So will be keeping your mouth clean. Soft food only and swallowed whole rather than chewed on that side. Also, no tooth brush on that side, mouthwash only I’m afraid. Right, it stays in from now on while you get used to it. Now the next bit. Would you sit in my chair and put your head forward.”
He pulled her hair up and gently shaved the nape of her neck, “I’m going to stick the relay with plastic surgery glue to the back of your neck and cover it with an artificial skin. The glue is water soluble after a while, so no showers until the jobs done I’m afraid. I’ll need to find your skin tone with a shade guide. Hmm, quite olive.”
He cut a patch from one of the sheets of artificial skin and glued it over the electronic relay, finally blending the colours with waterproof theatrical make-up.
“And now the bit you and I’ve been dreading. Could you please get undressed from the waist up?”
Ripley complied. Now was not the time for false modesty, but it was cold.
“Which would you prefer? Left or right?”
“The right one’s slightly smaller, so do that one.”
“Would you lift your breast up please?”
He fitted the curved transmitter/receiver and moved it until it conformed to the natural shape of her body, switched it on, put the glue in place and held it while the glue set.
“It feels quite heavy.”
“You’ll get used to it and the artificial skin will hold it more firmly,” The technician applied the skin, make-up and surveyed his handiwork. You can’t see it. That’s good. Thank you and get dressed. Bye the way, you’re now live. Would you say something please?”
Ripley pulled on her Norwegian shirt, “Testing, testing, one, two, three.”
She heard a voice literally inside her head and jumped in shock “Fowre, fifea, sixa.”
“I can hear something. It’s weird, like a voice but not like I’m hearing it, more feeling it.”
“It will become clearer as you get used to it, but we can hear everything from you very clearly. I’m afraid that from now on, every single thing you say, every hiccup, every burp will be monitored, either by us here or by an aircraft over Jordan to beam down to us. From 18:00 local tonight, either a Rivet Joint or a Raytheon Sentinel will be in the air, listening to you. You can talk to the operators at any time. Just speak. If you are in a situation where you can’t speak, click three times with your tongue. To answer questions, one click is yes, two clicks no. I hope you don’t talk in your sleep.”
Ripley looked at him, “That’s decidedly creepy.”
“We’re going to be your guardian angels. And the apparatus sends constant GPS pings, accurate to within five metres every ten seconds, so we’ll know where you are at all times.”
“I feel safer already,” she said.
Major Shwetz drove over to the dispersal at 09:00. He looked at the two Chinooks with professional interest and then walked over to where Halward and Ripley were waiting. Ripley was now dressed in a niqab, minus the head covering and the gloves. It had been brought over in the helicopters and it had been made to look dirty and distressed. The Russian looked at her with a strange expression on his face, close to contempt.
“Major, this is Ripley. She will be going alone into Ad Dumayr in an undercover role and she requests a few items from you.”
“Major Shwetz, I need certain things for my cover story,” she explained, “An AK47, an old one with a wooden stock, but it must be serviceable and accurate and I’ll need four magazines. About three hundred rounds of ammunition for the AK. Some of your individual twenty-four-hour ration packs, three should do it. A set of Russian webbing with four ammunition pouches. The older the better and bloodstained would be good, but not essential, plus a small backpack. Around three hundred US Dollars’ worth of Syrian Pounds, which I can exchange with you for a Half-sovereign.”
The Russian officer looked at her with a baffled expression, “Do you seriously intend to go into a town which is under attack by Syrian ground forces, our air force and is an ISIL stronghold? Alone?”
“That’s the general idea, yes major. You may not have noticed, but I look the part, don’t you agree?”
“Will you wish to fire the AK?”
“Yes, I’ll rig up a target against the sides of the HAS. Don’t worry, I won’t shoot at your aeroplanes.”
The Russian looked at Halward, “You would send a woman alone in there? You must be mad. We would never dream of sending a woman of ours into there.”
“Major, Ripley is the equivalent of your FSB Spetsnaz. But we need your help to give her a fighting chance of getting in and out alive. Will you help us?”
“Of course. Those are my orders. But I think you are foolhardy in wanting to take that man alive. We could bomb the town and kill him.”
“But our orders are to capture him,” Halward explained, “And in any case, Ripley would still have to go in and pinpoint his position, unless you have any of your women who have balls as big as Ripley’s.”
“I will find the items you have requested,” Shwetz agreed, “Will you need to drive to the town?”
“Not into it. We’ll drop Ripley off and she can make her way on foot. We’ll use the pick-up. Thank you, major.”
By early afternoon Ripley had fired sixty rounds with an AK47, that was old enough to have been used by Che Guevara, but it was accurate enough at three hundred metres after she adjusted the front sight. Shwetz had included an adjustment tool and a cleaning kit. The webbing and rear sack wasn’t bloodstained but it was convincingly dirty and had two water bottles.
Back in the HAS, Ripley inspected the four cardboard twenty-four ration packs and opened one. There were three tins, one of stewed meat and two meat and vegetables. She would only eat them in extremis. There were white hard-tack biscuits, powdered milk and jam, multivitamin drops, tea with sugar, caramel sweets, a can opener, windproof matches and a pack of paper napkins or lavatory paper to be more precise. The troopers crowded round her, eager to see Russian field rations. There were also four, round hexamine blocks and a flat, stamped metal stove.
“How the hell does this work?” she asked.
Cohen took it off her, “These flaps fold down to make the legs, these four flaps fold up to rest your mess tin or tin mug on. But remember to pierce the tins before you put them in the water and be careful, it may get hot.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
By the early evening, Ripley got the feeling that James was avoiding her. She went to look for him and found him outside, sitting on the HAS’s side blast wall. They shared a cigarette.
“Please don’t be like this, James. You knew it would have to happen sooner or later.”
“I can’t bear it,” he said in a voice choked with emotion.
“You’re not making this any easier,” She hugged him and he put his head on her shoulder, “Don’t you dare start grizzling, James.”
“Please stay safe until we come and get you.”
“I’ll stay safe for you and think about you all the time. Every word I say will be listened to and they’ll know where I am all the time. Come and feel my radio power pack,” she said guiding his hand inside the niqab, “See, it’s even got its own tuning button.”
He kissed her and reluctantly removed his hand.
“Oh well, show time,” she said, “Goodbye, Sir Tristan, bravest and most chaste of the Knights.”
“Goodbye Scheherazade. I shan’t wave you off.”
Ripley put on her head veil, combat gloves, and collected her rifle and all the kit. Warrant Officer Hogan was driving the pick-up with Shippers riding shotgun. She got in the back and Halward spoke to her briefly.
“For God’s sake, no risks please. And make sure you’re there when we come in.”
“Paul, will you please promise me one thing. If I should go down in that place, will you please collect whatever is left of me? Some time. Perhaps the future, like the RAF crew.”
“No man or woman left behind, remember.”
“Whatever you may think, I want to go home to England. What you see is a disguise, a form of protection. I love my country and would like to be buried in the graveyard of Scampton, just down from the pub, or Coningsby, opposite the Fuel dump, or even Earlham Commonwealth War Cemetery in Norwich. Under a simple, white headstone, with the bones of those young men brought home by their aircraft and crew, their brothers. Technically I’m still in the RAF and I reckon I should be a sergeant now for pension purposes, although I’m whatever my handlers want me to be. This is important. No trappings of Islam. Just that simple white stone with the RAF Crest on it.
Halward suddenly and unashamedly felt his eyes burn. He held her hand and squeezed it, “Promise,” he said hoarsely.
“See you later, Paul.”
The pick-up followed a Russian vehicle to the main gate and headed out onto the main road. They stopped about five kilometers west down the highway and Ripley jumped down.
“God’s speed, Ripley,” Hogan said in a whisper, because he had heard her cry from the heart to Halward, “Please stay safe for all of us.”
“Goodbye, Mr H. Better have the pile ointment handy, Shippers. Have you seen the rubbish I have to eat?”
Shippers refused to look at her. He had heard it as well.
The pick-up turned in the road and headed back east. She watched the red tail lights disappear, slung the AK47 and trudged east. There was a tiny crescent of the waxing moon and the stars were brilliant. Her breath misted in front of her and she could feel the comfort of the Glock and the knife on her right and left thighs respectively. The terror had gone, replaced with cautious intensity. She was going into the depravity of a man-made hell and presently she saw the first of the corpses lying by the side of the road.
© Blown Periphery 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file