I pulled the trigger. The issuing discharge was so loud that it took my hearing and my ears buzzed with tinnitus. I was used to the sensation. The first tango–a foot soldier that had been patrolling the compound’s perimeter –went down in a heap. I’d hit him centre of mass, just like I’d been trained to. There was a brief moment of suspended calm as the other guards registered the shot. And then they scattered. I looked over my scope. They were like ants from this distance. But I had a marine-issue magnifying glass and I was under orders to burn them all.
I surveyed the kill zone in my crosshairs and watched as the men ran for cover, diving behind crates or into the three decaying structures that dotted the compound. I slowed my breath and waited. I knew my next shot would reveal my position. It had to count. I spotted a tango in the window of the largest structure. He poked his head over the sill and scanned the trees with a pair of battered binoculars. I had only moments until he made me but I allowed myself a few extra seconds to line up the perfect shot–a little to the left to account for the wind. I squeezed the trigger. The window shattered and the tango disappeared, leaving only a cloud of red mist where he used to be.
I heard shots and I ducked my head as a bullet zinged by me and mud erupted where it struck the hill four feet away. I put my eye back to the scope and saw that three tangos were firing blindly into the trees. They hadn’t made me yet but I knew it wouldn’t take them long to realise that this hill was the only viable vantage point in the area. I fired and hit one of them in the chest. He sprayed bullets into the air as he flew backwards. I cocked and fired again; hit another in the arm. The last man ran for cover and I followed him with my scope. The bullet tore through his hip. If he survived, he’d never walk again.
I saw a group of tangos–at least eight of them– dash out from the closest structure and make a run for the treeline. They disappeared under the canopy before I could line up a clear shot. I was on borrowed time. It would be a matter of minutes before they reached the hill and I had only basic training in close-quarters combat. I considered retreating to the LZ for extraction but I had a mission and I intended to see it through. Or die trying.
I watched the compound through my scope for what felt like hours but I knew must have been a couple of minutes at most. I heard angry voices calling to each other in the trees just down the hill. At any moment the guards would burst through the brush and open fire. I might take out one or two of them with my sidearm but I’d be dead before I could take a third. And then I saw him: Colonel Rusev, my primary target. He ran from the largest structure towards a 4×4 that was parked in the centre of the compound. I didn’t intend to let him get to it.
I heard heavy footfall ahead and I knew I had seconds to make the shot. I trained my crosshair on the back of Rusev’s head and followed him as he moved. I ignored my racing heart and steadied my breath. I felt the trigger beneath my finger, cold and certain. I exhaled. And then I started to squeeze…
“Tim. It’s time to come inside now.” I squinted up into the face of my father.
“But Dad! I’m playing snipers!” He reached down and wrenched the plastic rifle out of my arms, gesturing toward the house at the bottom of the hill.
“In. Dinner’s nearly ready.” I got up from my prone position and grabbed for my gun, but he pulled it out of my reach.
“I was just about to blow the Colonel’s head off!” He frowned at that.
“You know, I think you’ve been playing too many violent video games. Come on, I said in.” I sloped down the hill with my hands in my pockets, kicking at the grass as I went; just another casualty in the war on fun.