Temple Blues
by Ken Dean
forum: Temple Blues
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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Temple Blues


Somewhere in the An Najaf area of southern Iraq:

       It had been in a state of rest now for millennia. Suddenly there were infidels invading its temple. This could not be tolerated. There were several blinding blue flashes. It dispatched all of the invaders quickly and violently.

       Private First Class Jordan M. Franklin was struggling to crawl on his one good arm and impossibly twisted leg. He had to get away from the terror and mayhem. The fact that he was still conscious was amazing. His right arm had been severed from his body along with his left leg. He was losing a lot of blood and wouldn't last long. Some people would have gone into shock quickly; somehow Jordan was able to hang on for a few minutes. But his death was a given fact. He was able to make out his M4 combat weapon off to the right in the sand. It had been melted out of shape by whatever bizarre force had flung it out of the temple. Beyond that he could make out the severed head of Private Desabato lying in the sand. His helmet was still on and his lifeless eyes were staring blankly into the harsh, noontime sky. There were still some low moans and guttural sounds behind him; all the men in the twenty-man squad must be dead or dying.

       He blacked out for a moment, but came to lying on a piece of exposed rock that wasn't sand covered. His entire body was descending into numbness. A half minute was about all he had left before darkness closed in. A warning had to be left for others that may come this way. And his fellow Marines would surely come looking for him and the rest of Recon One soon. Jordan used the blood that was flowing out of his severed right arm and coated his finger with it. He began to write a message on the exposed rock, clumsily scrawling out 'DO NOT GO IN'. That was all he could manage. The blackness was closing in on his vision and his ears were filled with a loud buzzing. It was over. His head fell to the ground and death overtook him like a cheetah its prey.

Al Hillah Marine outpost designation Border Watch Three:

       Colonel James Brady was sitting at his desk waiting for his breakfast. It was eight in the morning and he was going through briefs on the day's upcoming activities. Included were a disciplinary hearing on a fight between two of his Marines the night before, and some combat drill training to keep the men's edge up. There was also a memo from the deployed forces coordinator that Recon One had failed to check in at their designated time. Odd; could be communications problems. He would have Hanson check on it.

       Brady loved the corps, and liked to keep those under him on a fighting edge, ready for anything. He demanded respect from his men and they gladly gave it to him. His mix of toughness along with being fair and understanding was well known in the corps.

       There were times he didn't agree with certain assignments or deployments, such as commanding this small Marine outpost in south-central Iraq. It felt too far from the real action.

       His base was just outside the small town of Al Hillah in south-central Iraq. Brady and his men were here to patrol the surrounding area in case any unwanted traffic, weapons or insurgents might make their way north from the Iranian border. At least the locals in this area of Iraq seemed friendly, although he wasn't sure what the populace thought of his outpost and men. His assistant Hanson was given orders to have Intell recon get him a better picture on that. The people in this area of Iraq were more respectful and trouble was at a minimum, unlike Baghdad and Al Fallujah to the north.

       Brady totally believed in his nation's fight against terrorism; on that point he had to agree with his present assignment. He had often thought that it was a good thing he wasn't the President on that terrible day of 9/11. He knew he would have handled things in a much different way. And he had great admiration for the President's staff and the President himself for staying calm at a moment when emotions were running high. Brady couldn't claim the same for himself. There were several times he had talked with his peers about his viewpoints and expressed the fact that America should have used the 'Big Stick' policy, although somewhat modified. Some had agreed with his viewpoint; some hadn't. His take on the methods of that principle would have been for America to put its intelligence communities to the task (and that they had better work together on it) of making absolutely sure where Bin Laden was hiding out. Once that was accomplished, the country (let's say Afghanistan) where good old Bin L. was resting his ass would have been given the designation of being terrorists themselves. America would then missile over a nuke to an uninhabited part of that country (probably a desert or mountainous region) to get their full attention. A warning to that country would then be issued that if Big Bin wasn't surrendered over to the US in two weeks, the next nuke would be painful; your choice.

       It was actually a good thing for the world that Pax Romana (The Roman Peace) wasn't still in effect from antiquity. America would absolutely rule the world with a nuclear fist. The 'Big Stick' strategy wouldn't even apply in that scenario. It would be America's will and dominance or harsh retribution to any nation that didn't accept it. But that scenario belonged to a different timeline. Brady was daydreaming and disappointed that he didn't live in it. He had been called a war hawk before and took pride in the nickname. In this reality, the US was altogether too nice and amiable, even to those who wished it harm.

       His assistant, Second Lieutenant Robert J. Hanson, had just brought his breakfast in and sat it on his desk, being careful not to cover anything the colonel was working on. Hanson was the best assistant he had picked for quite awhile. Smart man; followed orders and respected authority. He was also a useful source of information. Brady could always count on him to follow up on the details of any briefs or memos, the overall mood of the outpost and the local populace, any current scuttlebutt, etc. The colonel would make sure that Hanson got the breaks he deserved when it came time for promotion.

       "Thanks, Hanson. I've been up since 5 AM and I am absolutely starving. Have you already eaten?'

       "Yes sir, about an hour ago." He knew where this was leading. The colonel usually asked the question as a precursor to a quick meeting to go over the day's activities.

       Hanson always found the man reasonable; all he wanted was essential info gathered concerning pertinent happenings about the outpost, men and the local populace. Not a hard job to do considering that he had the colonel's cart blanche to ask questions of anyone. He had also earned respect among the men as a right-hand man who was trying to make the base commander's job easier. And the men knew that, if asked, Hanson would put in a good word to the higher-ups about any topic that wasn't too outrageous.

       Robert wasn't stupid about the workings of moving up in the ranks. He knew if he kept the colonel happy, it would only help his overall career in the corps. It was good luck on his part that he was picked to be his assistant. Being from a poor farm family in Kansas, he was bound and determined to take advantage of any opportunity to advance his career.

       "Then go ahead and have a seat. We'll talk about today's agenda while I eat."

       "Yes, sir," he replied, taking a seat at the table.

       Brady shoved a piece of toast covered with egg and bacon into his mouth and still continued to speak. Bad habit. But Hanson wasn't about to point it out to him. In the military, that would be worse manners than the bad habit. Plus it might have negative repercussions.

       "There's one item I want to know about, since I've heard little bits and pieces from different sources. Have you been hearing any rumors about odd behavior from the locals? What I mean is, have you heard of anything out of the ordinary, peculiar, funky, etc.? And drop the 'sir'; 'Colonel' will do."

       "Yes, Colonel. There have been reports from the men on patrol here at Al Hillah that the locals have seemed quieter and more somber. The men reported they would barely make eye contact with our soldiers while on patrol, and if they did, they would quickly look away with what seemed to be pity in their expressions."

       "Pity—why have pity on us?"

       "Hard to say. But what's even more fantastic is that I've also heard reports from my contacts in Baghdad and Al Fallujah that the same conditions are being reported there, along with even more rumors of a total absence of any insurrection activity. It's amazingly quiet. No roadside bombs, suicide vehicles, or any other attacks on our troops have been reported at all in the last few days."

       "Just like that, huh? With no explanation. Seems like someone threw a switch somewhere. Okay, all that unexplainable bullcrap aside, the other briefs I received this morning are important. But the more disturbing report is the one about Recon One not checking in yet. They were sent out to check an isolated structure spotted by our satellites a few days ago in the An Najaf area. Hard to tell what could be hidden down there, especially given the isolation of the area."

       "Totally understandable, Colonel. What would you like me to do?"

       "Well, first off, the satellite image of that area is only able to make out the structure and our helicopters due to a small sandstorm in the area. So I'm thinking comm problems or trouble, maybe both. They were sending regular check-ins until shortly after they landed, right?"

       "Yes, sir, I mean Colonel."

       "What I'd like you to do is set up an exploratory mission, code name Recon Two, to copter down southwest and investigate. I want the team to be assembled from the MARSOC unit, thirty troops plus the pilot and copilot. Also make sure that max armament for both the helicopters and the troops is provided. We're not sure what happened down there. And as the Boy Scouts say, 'Always Be Prepared'. You have my authorization to conduct the mission briefing and to make sure they get airborne ASAP. I'd like to have this resolved before sundown since it's only 9 AM now. And have them check-in with Intel on the hour, airborne or ground. Clear enough, Hanson?"

       "Yes, I will get on it immediately. Anything else, Colonel?"

       "Yes, have the cook send in another breakfast. I was talking so much this one went cold.
Something else, I want you to be in charge of Recon Two. You need to get out there and get more field experience instead of waiting on me all the time."

       "With pleasure, Colonel." Hanson stood and gave a snappy Marine salute, which Brady returned.

       Hanson proceeded directly to Ops to make all the mission arrangements. He had to contact the MARSOC commander about the thirty troops he needed, get in touch with flight Ops to have the birds they would need fueled and weapons loaded, and a NAV/flight plan in order.

       He had been through basic and officer training, plus had a short tour in the more troubled parts of Iraq. Fear of the upcoming mission wasn't a real problem. There were some possibilities that the Colonel may have overlooked. If there were any Marines left alive from Recon One, they would have found a way to communicate back to the base. There was comm gear on each copter, plus at least one Marine would be carrying satellite uplink comm gear for ground communications or for reporting back to base. Either all the equipment had been destroyed, or all the Marines were incapable of using the equipment. This left open the possibility that they had all been captured or killed. There had been twenty combat-hardened troops on that mission, and they were as familiar with their weapons and tactics as wiping their own ass, so either possibility seemed a little far-fetched.

       Hanson went to the mess and grabbed an early lunch. About an hour later he had reports back from the various units that the birds were ready and armed. The troops had been briefed in part by Second Lieutenant Navis, one of his chopper pilots. He could hear the talking and joking in the briefing room before he entered.

       "Ten-Hut!!" someone exclaimed as Hanson entered the room. The men all snapped to their feet. He outranked them all, along with being mission lead.

       "At ease, men. I'm going to finish your briefing and we need to get airborne ASAP. The Colonel wants this mission completed today."

       Hanson filled the troops in on some more details.

       "The word is green for go, so everyone gear up and get out to the choppers."

       The men quickly obeyed orders and assembled out at the airfield waiting to board; the choppers were idling flat-blade fast and loud as hell. Once everyone was on board, the pilots of the five Huey choppers applied more power and angled the rotors down, biting hard into the air and lifting the birds quickly while leaving a large wake of swirling sand.

       The mission course was southwest towards the location of Recon One.

       Hanson was in the lead chopper wearing his headset and mic. Navis was one of the best pilots at the base; Hanson was glad he had chosen to fly with him.

       Navis was keeping the group on the correct heading, flying at an altitude of about two hundred feet while watching the horizon and landscape below. This was some of the more inhospitable areas of Iraq. All he could see were rolling sand dunes with an occasional outcropping of rocks.

       "Lieutenant," the pilot came over the headset, "Intel requests to speak to you personally, sir."

       "Roger that, Navis. Put them through."

       "Yes, sir, Lieutenant."

       "Lieutenant Hanson here, proceed."

       "We were told to inform you ASAP if any conditions of the mission changed, sir," the Intel radio operator began, "and there has been some new satellite data that's directly related."

       "Roger that. What's changed?"

       "The sandstorm has cleared up and the view on Recon One is crystal now. We can clearly see all four birds on the ground along with numerous bodies around the structure dressed in desert camos. What's more disturbing, sir, is that many of the bodies seemed to have been dismembered."

       Shit, Hanson thought. The satellites could pick the up the brand of a golf ball if the atmospheric conditions were right. What the hell are we getting into?

       "Colonel Brady has seen the same report, Lieutenant, and has instructed you and your Marines to proceed with extreme caution."

       "Roger that, Intel, and copy the Colonel, we will continue with the hour checks."

       "Affirmative. Intel out."

       My God, Hanson thought. What could decimate a squad of twenty Marines so easily? A bomb? Intel hadn't mentioned any signs of explosions.

       "Sgt. Navis, what's our ETA?"

       "About fifteen minutes, Lieutenant. Any changes in course or speed?"

       "Negative on that, Navis. Stick to the mission parameter."

       "Yes, sir."

       Hanson switched to allcomm so that the troops in the other Hueys could hear him.

       "This is Lieutenant Hanson. Ready-up on all your weapons and prepare to disembark once the choppers touch down. I will give further instructions then. Side-gunners in all choppers have the twenty-mil Gatling guns ready also."

       He could already see something on the horizon; at this distance it must be at least one-hundred meters high.

       "All birds, I want to make at least a two-circle pass to assess the situation."

       Hanson received an all roger on that reqluest.

       The structure was in sight now. It looked like a mosque of some sort, but with flavor of a much older architecture.

       Hanson commed through to Intel back at Border Watch Three base.

       "Intell, this Recon Two checking in. We are about to ingress into Recon One's area and check the situation."

       "Roger that, Lieutenant. I will put the message through to Colonel Brady. Intell out."

       The choppers were beginning to make their circle. Hanson could see the four helos from Recon One sitting off to one side, undamaged. They flew around the front and saw the horrendous mess of bodies and body parts littering the sand all around and out from the structure opening along with the Marines' weapons flung in every direction. The other men had to be getting the same view.

       "Lieutenant! What the hell happened down there?" an agitated Navis asked.

       "Just keep flying the recon circle, Navis; we'll find out soon enough," Hanson answered with a hard edge of determination and anger to his voice.

       "Roger that, Lieutenant."

       "Listen up," Hanson put out to all the birds, "Come to a hover behind the temple while I think strategy for a minute."

       Roger came back from all birds. Hanson thought back to his training for incursion scenarios.

       He again put out to all the choppers: "Marines, this is what I want to happen. Jackson and Rogers, set your two birds down towards the temple entrance with Gatling and chain guns manned and armed facing the entrance. The other three birds set down behind the temple and we will proceed from there. Every man will have his mic and earpiece on for communication. I will address further in person once we land. Pilots, stay in the choppers with rotors on flat idle just in case."

       He loved working with these Marines. They were the best of the best, special ops training and everything that went along with it. They ate 'Semper Fi' for breakfast. They would die trying to carry out the orders given them.

       The five birds settled to the ground as ordered, sand swirling all around as they touched down. The men had been in desert combat before, and instinctively knew to wear their desert gear plus goggles so that they could egress the choppers without waiting for the clouds of sand to settle.

       They quickly grouped up at the rear of the temple, at least that's what Hanson believed it to be.

       No one had said anything yet, and being combat-hardened troops, they most likely wouldn't. It was an eerie sight to see dead brothers in arms in front of the temple from the choppers on their approach in. That along with the smell of rotting flesh at ground level in the hot noonday sun was enough to make the average person toss a bagged lunch.

       Hanson kneeled in front of the group of Marines and drew in the sand a representation of the temple, their positions, etc. with a stick he found nearby.

       "Listen up. Three Hueys are on the ground behind the temple on standby takeoff if needed. The other two are facing the temple entrance with a shitload of firepower. Johnson, Brands, Oakes and Goldmayer—I want you four in back at the corners on watch for anything that might come across the desert, each soldier armed with a LARS rocket launcher and your M4 assault weapon. The rest of us are going to round the temple sides and form up two groups on either side of the hueys. I know it's a hell of a mess out front. Something inside or outside did that to our men. Concentrate on what killed our brothers and let it keep you cold and frosty, understand? Whoever did this will pay; I can assure you that. Okay, form up two groups and let's round the temple to the entrance. Go!"

       The men broke up and double-timed around the structure so they were facing the entrance in two groups. It was a large opening leading in with no door or closure. It seemed eerily dark inside. They tried not to look at their fallen comrades, but like gravity, the eyes were pulled to the travesty of death that lay on the sand.

       "Lieutenant Hanson," Sgt. Handel shouted, "I got a Marine here who made it a little further from the temple than most. Looks like he left a message."

       Hanson rushed over.

       "'Do not go in'—written in his own damn blood. Could there be a trap inside?"

       "Hard to say, Lieutenant. I don't know what kind of a trap could do this to so many men. There's not even any sign of an explosion, which would account for all the body parts and destroyed weapons."

       "Good point. I'd say we proceed with caution."

       "Allen, Goldberg—over here."

       Both soldiers responded quickly. "Yes, sir."

       "You Marines feeling brave?"

       "Sir, yes, sir!" they shouted with enthusiasm.

       "Good! I want you both to turn on your helmet mini-cams and lights, go to the entrance and each take a side. Work your way around the inside and reconnoiter. I'll be listening on headset and watching your progress on video from here. Give me a good look around with your cams."

       "Yes, sir." They proceeded towards the entrance.

       Both of them picked a side of the entrance and hung there for a few seconds, and then both turned their heads slowly to get a look inside. It was dark; the TAC lights on their helmets and M4s bit through the darkness. The room inside was quite large and looked like the inside of a mosque. They proceeded to edge along the walls, noting that they were totally covered with Arabic-looking symbols and inscriptions. The interior had a smell that was a combination of old cave and your attic stuffed with musty crap.

       Both Marines had just about walked the distance around the circular room and were close to meeting each other. They stopped short when they came upon a shrine-like alcove in the wall that was in a direct line with the door. Looking at each other and nodding, they both trained their lights on the inside of the alcove. The brilliant reflection almost blinded them. The ledge inside the alcove was at chest level and resting there upon on a purple, velvet-looking rug was a brilliant, silver sword. It was curved sword and of a scimitar type. Everything around was dusty and musty, but the velvet rug and sword looked pristine, no dust or corrosion whatsoever.

       "Lieutenant Hanson, you catching all this?" Private Allen asked.

       "Every bit, Allen. What do you make of it?'

       "Could be silver, but it would be corroded if it had been here for a while. Stainless steel is another possibility. Hell, someone could have brought it in yesterday and sat it in the alcove. But I've never seen anything so reflective and brilliant. Whoever made this was a damn fine craftsman."

       "Go ahead and pick it up. Bring it out here for examination."

       "Yes, sir.'

       Allen set down his M4 against the wall. He slowly reached into the alcove and picked up the sword. It felt as light a feather. It couldn't be made of—there was suddenly a brilliant blue flash. The sword dropped to floor. Even though momentarily blinded by the flash, Goldberg was barely able to make out the form of Allen's body being flung up into the air and hitting the opposite wall hard. Goldberg heard an awful splat when Allen hit the wall, his body then falling on the sandy floor. Goldberg's sight was returning as he was backing away from the sword. He ran over to Allen's body, remembering to hang on to his M4.

       "Allen, Goldberg—what the hell just happened? We saw a blue flash and Allen's cam went dead!"

       "Allen's dead, sir. He was flung up against the far wall by something—hit so hard the back of his helmet and head are caved in."

       "Get the hell out here, now!"

       Goldberg wasn't listening. He was mesmerized by the sight of the sword lifting up and starting to glow an eerie blue. But then his training took over and he began to fire his M4 at it to no effect. Dropping his weapon, he had time to let out a shrill scream as the sword rushed in his direction, slicing him into several pieces.

       Outside, they heard the weapon firing and then the snuffed out scream.

       "Dear God," Hanson said, "what's happening in there? Both cams are dead now. Damn it! Marines, get in there and fire at will!"

       They all howled to run in but never had a chance. The sword had appeared at the opening, spewing out what looked like flat, blue lightning that was slicing back and forth. It had cut down the all the Marines at the opening into several pieces before they could make a move.

       Hanson screamed into his mic, "Everyone—open fire!"

       The two Hueys responded with a deafening roar of twenty-millimeter rounds from chain and Gatling guns as the side-mounted rocket launchers joined in. Likewise the four Marines in back of the temple had rushed around at the order and started firing their LARS rockets and M4s. The maelstrom had no effect on the sword or the temple. Blue sheets of lightning whipped out to cut the choppers into several pieces causing them to explode in flames. Any remaining Marines plus the four who had rushed from behind the temple were all mown down. Everyone except for Hanson, who had dropped all of his equipment and was just staring in disbelief at the massacre before him.

       The pilots in the choppers waiting in back disobeyed orders to hang back after they heard Hanson scream over the comm system. They powered up and were lifting above the temple to fly around front when they suffered the same fate as their fellow Marines and tumbled burning to the ground. The choppers from Recon One weren't left alone this time. They also were sliced to burning shards.

       The only one left was Hanson. The sword slowly floated up to him, highlights of blue flashing back and forth across the reflective surface. He tried to back away, but couldn't. Something was forcing him down to his hands and knees. He tried to resist, but to no avail. The sword lifted up, and then swiftly sliced through Hanson's neck.

       It was intelligent. It knew that if the temple had been invaded twice that more would come. It must venture forth from its resting place to seek out all infidels and destroy them.

       The true Jihad had begun.





copyright 2007 Ken Dean.

Ken Dean

My name is Ken Dean and I live in Hilliard… a suburb of Columbus, OH.

Previous publications have been The Intelligent Master, Fate, Direct Line, The Gift, The Quickest Way, and Tattoo Ink at www.silverthought.com. Also published several stories in different issues of Down in the Dirt magazine, the anthology collection Chaos Theory, both from Scars Publications (http://scars.tv.)

You may contact Ken Dean at: kdean4485@hotmail.com