Six Hours Previous. The Azbuin Valley. It’s been nearly six days worth of hiking up, down, and through some of the most treacherous mountain sides in the world and finally he reaches his objective. Not only battling the elements, but dodging the Taliban. And putting up with the cold. But that’s what he signed up for, he thought to himself. It was exactly this kind of thing that made it all worth it. The culmination of years of hard work and dedication to be considered one of the very best. Even if it meant having to sit dead still for hours on end in the same position waiting. Which is what he has been doing now. But it was nearly go time and he was prepared. Soon, the mission would be complete, at least his part of it. And he could get the hell out of there and back to the rest of his buddies.
He checked his watch one final time, right on time. He slowly unlatched the safety switches on the laser designator and flipped the power on. The beam was infrared and could only be seen with night vision, but he still kept his free hand over the lens for now. You never know what kind of left over Soviet surplus gear the Taliban have. He took another look through the scope of his range finder at the target; a cave system that contained a holy site thousands of years old. Though, it likely just contained weapons now. But the target wasn’t his concern, just the mission. He checked his watch one more time, again, right on time. Things were going as smooth as possible, which never seemed to happen.
One final adjustment of his laser designator and he was ready to target for the drone, which was set to strike in just under one mike. He removed his hand from the front of the lens and lined up the position directly on the front of the cave systems entrance. The air strike would be coming in from just above him and would likely wake up every Taliban fighter from here to Pakistan. He noticed a few meandering about at the entrance of the cave while he sighted the location for the drone. It couldn’t have been more than a few seconds before impact. Just a few more seconds before the entire compound was turned to rubble and ash. Just a few…more…
BOOM! Right on time. The explosion lit up the night sky like the grand finale of a rock concert and sent shrapnel, molten rock, and everything else not attached to the deepest parts of the Earth flying for miles. It was a bigger blast that even he expected, with lots of the drifting ash heading for the village down in the valley. “Well, shit, that wasn’t part of the plan.” he mumbled to himself. He packed up the laser designator and got himself mentally prepared to hump it back to the exfiltration site. He had to hurry as to not get caught up in any Taliban patrols as they would likely be on high alert now following the airstrike. The last thing he needed was to be caught alone by a pack of wild dogs after a whole lot of them just got neutered.
He started back on the slow, deliberate stalk back to the safety of his exfil site with the lingering thought of why the explosion from the drone was so much larger than it should have been. Was there more munitions in the cave than originally thought? That wouldn’t really explain the drifting ash though, and the spread of the blast. Maybe they changed the type of drone, last minute, he thought to himself. Seems like an odd thing to do, and not tell him though, but then again, it is the military. It’s not his problem now, and if Afghan civilians end up suffering because of it, well then it’d just be more in a long list of them. He had more important things to think about and a bigger mission to prioritize. Taking out the enemy was at the top of that list; and he helped take down a lot of them tonight.
Down in the valley, the violence of the blast was just subsiding. The shock wave came from out of nowhere and leveled everything. Dead silence was broken in a blink of an eye and was replaced with the crippling pain and agony of heat and destruction. Those who survived the initial explosion were likely so disoriented that they never made it to safety once the searing hot ash descended down the mountain into the village. But something was different about this ash, it was much different than the usual type that came after Coalition airstrikes. It wasn’t just the kind produced by the destroyed mountainsides. It was something more sinister; more deadly as well.
When the villager’s awoke from the blast came out of their homes they were horrified to see this wall of ash coming down upon them. A fiery cloud of red and black swirling with fury and rage that could only have come from God himself. When it reached the edge of the village, it swallowed the first few huts and completely torched them. The people inside of the buildings were next to be overcome, turning them into outlines of human form not unlike those left behind at Pompeii. Everyone in the village began running for their lives, grabbing children in their arms and attempting to flee with whatever they could. The ash was no longer burning people alive, but was rather engulfing them completely. One by one, until the entire village was blanketed and swept away by a wave of darkness.
Hours later, a group of Taliban fighters ascended on the village from the east. They approached after hearing news of the ancient cave system having been bombed and wanted to see the damages. Salvaging whatever left over was something the Taliban had gotten used to in the many years of this conflict and figured that even if it was just a few munitions, it was better than nothing. They were not prepared for the amount of destruction they were about to see though once they entered the valley. It appeared as though half of the entire mountain had been gutted and deposited in the valley. The village had been covered in a heavy layer of dust and most of the buildings and homes had been nearly collapsed. The leader of the fighters tells his men to spread out and search the village for any survivors.
“God is great! God is great!” came the cries of one of the commanders men in his native tongue as he stumbled upon a family of villagers huddled together next to a collapsed wall. A mother, with two young children. They had clearly been dead for hours, as their skin had an ugly shade of blue and green tint. Their eyes were sunken, and their skin looked to be peeling off at the corners of their lips, eyes, and fingernails. It was a wretched sight to see, even for a battle hardened member of the Taliban. The bodies seemed decomposed and shriveled up and yet could have only been dead for only a few hours.
They continued to make their way through the village, slowly and quietly as to not disturb the dead. The entire village had been covered in that odd colored ash and it appeared as though not a single survivor had made it out alive. Men, women, children; all of them lost. The commander laughed to himself on the inside at the idea that ‘they were the bad guys’ when the Americans were responsible for such horrible acts as this. That’s when it hit him, that maybe his commanders could spin this to help gain support for the Taliban in the country. He pulled out his cell phone and began recording video, though there wasn’t much to be seen in the dark as he only had his flash light to shine on the bodies and the destruction of the buildings. He didn’t dare speak as he knew that the propaganda agents would rather fill in the blanks with their own spin. But his film debut didn’t take long, as off in the distance he heard the familiar sound of American helicopters and was alerted by one of his men that they could see lights coming down the road off in the valley. Now was the perfect chance for a revenge ambush.
He ordered his men to quickly retreat out of the village and head up into the opposite cliff face in order to be able to fire down on to the Americans once they entered the village. As he was leaving, he noticed what he thought was one of the villagers moving down a small alleyway. The rest of his men kept running, but he stopped to get a better look. He had to squint to make out the detail, but it appeared to be an older man. He looked as feeble, and as wretched as the bodies they saw before. The man struggled to get to his feet, and looked to have trouble maintaining his balance and he released a deep, gurgling blood filled moan. And uneasiness came over the commander, and he clutched his AK-47 tighter to his chest. The fear of God came over him and he bolted towards the direction the rest of his men went running. He had no intention of sticking around and finding out what was wrong with the villagers.
A battle was about to break out. Between the Coalition, the Taliban, and something much more sinister. Something that no one could have ever imagined. Whether brought on by science, centuries worth of something buried unleashed, or God himself, the world was about to change. An already dangerous battlefield was about to become all the more wicked for everyone involved. The war rages on regardless and those who find themselves trapped in the middle with nowhere to turn will have to turn to themselves. But that may end up being what dooms them all first. It is human nature, after all.