Authors: Jack Murphy
The Russian Arctic
“I'll tell you boys what,” the mercenary said with a knowing
grin, “it smelled so bad that I almost didn't eat it.”
The room exploded with laughter as his fellow mercenaries roared
“Anyway,” he continued, “that's how I got pink eye for the
Spinning turbines hummed outside, the buzz growing louder as the
engines flared. It was one of two C-27J transport aircraft owned by
Samruk International, a Kazakhstan-based private military company the
mercenaries worked for. Outside, the C-27J screamed down the airstrip
and lifted off, its passengers successfully delivered to the remote
outpost in northern Russia.
The door swung open with a gust of arctic wind that sent
playing cards flying off an overturned cardboard box that served as a
poker table. In filed a dozen new recruits, big European and American
dudes looking to secure their slots on Samruk International's oil
security contract with American gas and oil companies in the Arctic.
The mercenaries looked at the new guys with a mixture of
curiosity and skepticism. Samruk was a multinational company, split
down the middle between Kazakhs and Westerners. Over the last couple
of years they had seen action in Afghanistan, Burma, Mexico, and
Syria. Killing was their business, and a batch of new guys could
prove to be a valuable asset to the team—a team that had taken
plenty of casualties over the last few missions. The newcomers could
also prove to be incompetent idiots who got their teammates killed.
“Lookit these new jacks,” the mercenary with a sense of humor
commented. The men shuffled by to their boss's office carrying
rucksacks, black roller bags full of tactical gear, and OD green
aviator kit bags.
“Welcome to the Thunderdome, assholes.”
* * *
“Send the first one in!” Chuck Rochenoire yelled. The former
Navy SEAL sat on a folding chair next to the door. Also sitting with
their backs to the wall were other leaders within the private
military company. Pat, Aghassi, Frank, Nikita, Kurt, and Sergeant
Major Korgan sat in on the informal board that would be the final
interview for the new recruits. New hires would begin training, and
rejects would be sent packing.
The first recruit came through the door and set his bags
down. He was tall, with dark hair and a two-day beard.
“It says here you served in Italy's counterterrorism
unit?” Pat, a Delta Force veteran, asked.
“Colonel Moschin,” the Italian responded with the
nickname for his unit. “The 9th.”
“You were a member of Task Force 45,” Pat said,
looking down at the resume in his hands. “Maurizio?”
“Yes. Also deployed to Libya and Sudan.”
“You also list military free fall and sniper operations among
Pat grilled him on technical and tactical data for a few more
minutes before looking across the room at the CEO of Samruk
International. He sat behind a desk with a mug of coffee in one hand
and a lit cigarette in the other. He nodded his head.
“Arctic, mountain, or winter warfare training?”
“High-angle sniper courses and mountain warfare courses my unit
did with the French.”
“Welcome to the team,” Pat said, shaking Maurizio's hand.
“You're on probation for three months, meaning your contract can be
cancelled at any time if you fail to perform.”
“I won't,” the Italian soldier said, clearly happy with their
The next recruit strode in as the Italian departed, and stood in
front of the desk.
“Name?” Pat asked.
The former soldier had the physique of a bull, but his muscle
mass was the type built through long, hard endurance exercise and
training. His hair was salt and pepper and his hands the size of
“Danish special operations,” Aghassi commented. “Were you
on Operation Anaconda?”
“Ja, calling in airstrikes for U.S. forces.”
“I appreciate that.”
“You were there too?” the big Dane turned to look at the
former Army intelligence operative.
“I don't remember,” Aghassi replied with a smile.
“Six rotations to Afghanistan,” Pat said interrupting
Aghassi's stroll down memory lane. “It says here you did
clandestine intelligence work out of the Danish embassy in what
The questions came hard and fast.
“We are specifically interested in your Arctic warfare
training,” Aghassi announced toward the end of the interview.
“We did plenty,” Jacob said. “Cross-training in Greenland
with Danish forces and other exercises in Switzerland, Sweden, and
Pat probed for another few minutes until the CEO waved him away.
Another new mercenary to add to the company rolls.
The next recruit walked in wearing a North Face jacket and Danner
“Nate,” Pat began. “Served in Force Recon until you guys
got absorbed into MARSOC, huh? How did that go?”
“It was a total nut roll,” Nate answered. “But we
eventually got our shit straightened out.”
“Did you go through Derna Bridge?”
“Yeah, to learn the spooky shit.”
“How many deployments?”
“Nine, including the Indonesia deal.”
“What about Arctic warfare training?”
“I did some of the mountain warfare and cold-weather training
at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in California.”
The Samruk boss took a sip of his coffee and nodded before
stubbing out his cigarette in an ashtray.
“Next!” Rochenoire yelled.
In walked another towering European.
“You served with Norway's FSK?”
“Yeah,” the Norwegian guffed.
“Dag, is it? It says here you worked in an intelligence cell
for your unit for several years. Tell me about that.”
Pat grilled him before asking about his Arctic warfare
Dag laughed. “We get plenty of that. A third of our country is
inside the Arctic Circle.”
The CEO nodded and Dag was sent out to sign his contract with the
“Bring in the next—” Chuck’s words were cut off as the
next recruit floated into the room. He had shed his cold-weather gear
once inside, opting for something more comfortable. He wore capri
pants and Vibram FiveFingers so that his little toes could stretch
out. His shirt had some ironic pop-culture reference on it that the
other men were too old to even understand.
“Please tell me you are not American,” Pat pleaded.
“Whah-ut? Of course I am,” the new guy replied.
“Jesus. Throw me a bone and tell me you were one of those West
Coast SEALs or something.”
Rocheniore's eyes narrowed.
“I was Special Forces, man.”
Pat rested his face in his palm.
“Why are you guys so aggro?”
The boss slammed his coffee mug down on his desk.
“Get the fuck out of my office.”
* * *
One more time.
Harold wrung his hands as a smile crossed his face. His eyes lit
up, stars dancing around in them as he looked at the white building
behind the black iron fence. The path was clear and nothing would
stop him this time. Not like the last two attempts. This time he was
going all the way.
Harold sprang into action, launching himself at the fence. Filled
with excitement, he bounded over the fence with little difficulty and
hit the immaculately manicured green grass on the other side.
On the last two tries he was stopped on the lawn, brought
down and tackled to the ground by the bad men. But not this time.
This time he was going all the way, all the way to the big white
house where the important man lived.
His legs pumped, propelling him across the open lawn like a
gazelle. He hadn't been this excited in a long time. All the lawyers
and all the judges scolding him like a child, calling him crazy,
saying mean things about him. This time he would prove them all
And he did.
Harold sprinted across the lawn like an Olympic athlete. He had
even surprised himself with his speed, struggling to slow down before
he plowed right into the side of the white house. His hand wrapped
around the brass door knob. He twisted and the door opened.
Harold stepped inside. This was the farthest he had ever
made it. Now he just had to go and find the important man. Harold had
big ideas about economics and social issues to share with him. This
was about the future of America! Looking around, he found himself
inside an empty room filled with chairs. It looked like it might have
been set up for press conferences, with a big podium standing on a
stage at the end of the room.
But where was he?
Harold walked out into the hall. Pictures and paintings
hung on the white walls. Fresh flowers leaned out of a glass vase
sitting on an oak table.
Harold went down the hall, opening doors, finding little of
interest until he stepped into what looked like a living room.
Overstuffed leather chairs were arranged around a table. More
paintings hung on the walls. This was where the important man did
Harold smiled. The important man must be upstairs. He
walked toward the stairs, his hand caressing the wooden railing as
the sole of his shoe landed on the first step. That was when the
doors burst open and the bad men in black suits rushed him.
Harold screamed as the bad men slammed him to the floor.
* * *
“Hey,” Pat said as he stood in the doorway, “what do you
think of the new guys?”
“They're good,” Deckard said. “Except for that one guy.”
“We need all the help we can get with this Arctic warfare
business. This is a different ballgame than we're used to.”
“I think we ran a pretty good winter warfare course for our
guys,” Deckard added. “But two weeks isn't enough to understand
how to fight in this kind of terrain. The cold and the long distances
involved add up to serious issues when it comes to maneuverability.”
Deckard finished his coffee and looked inside his mug as he set it
“You want the boys to brew some more coffee?” Pat
“How do you like it?”
“The way I like my women.”
“Black and strong?” Pat joked.
“Ground up and in the freezer.”
“Holy shit,” Pat laughed. “It's good to hear you joking
again. You've been in the dumps for weeks.”
“Fuck you talking about?”
“Come on man, it's obvious to everyone that something is
“Shit,” Deckard trailed off. “I guess I've been wondering
what the hell I've been doing here.”
“This oil security contract?”
“No, the whole thing. Our entire careers.”
“I know that last one was rough,” Pat said, making a
statement rather than asking a question.
“If even our own guys are sinking to these depths, then yeah,
it makes you wonder what the hell all of this is for,” Deckard
said, referring to his last mission.
Deckard had gotten on the trail of a very dangerous group of
former SEAL Team Six operators known as Liquid Sky. They were
cold-blooded killers. Samruk International put them out of business
once and for all in the killing fields of Syria six months before.
Deckard had recovered from that mission—physically at least.
“You know just as well as I do that those guys were outliers,”
Pat warned. “Crazies who should have been put out to pasture a long
time ago. That's not who we are.”
“Then who are we, Pat? We're the guys who spent the last
fifteen years landing helicopters on rooftops and shooting dirt
farmers in the face, as if that’s even that difficult. What the
fuck for? It hasn't gotten us anywhere. We haven't made any progress
and there is no victory.”
“That's bullshit, Deckard, especially in this company. We've
gone toe to toe with some evil motherfuckers and walked away from it.
Even our own kind when they stepped out of line. I know you didn't
expect a ticker tape parade.”
“Of course not, but….” Deckard trailed off.
“You of all people should know better, Deckard. With Samruk
International, we took no shit. We got right down in the mud with the
nastiest people out there and gave them the business. Stop this
self-loathing bullshit. You're not a pussy, so don't act like one.”
“I'm not throwing in the towel, Pat, it's just that...”
“I just don't know.”
* * *
Highway 70, Missouri
Jake Reynolds leaned back in his seat, thinking that it was going
to be a long night. These types of trips didn't happen too often, but
they were the entire purpose for which the 25-year-old former Ranger
had been employed. Another nine contractors sat with him in the back
of the truck's cargo compartment. They had served in various special
operations units. A few of them were still in 19th or 20th Group, the
Special Forces National Guard components.