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I ducked back around the side of the single-storey building as a bullet lodged itself into the brick right where my head had been.

“That was stupid,” Miles, my partner at the personal security firm where we both worked, said the obvious.

I turned toward him as we hunkered down. With his desert-print BDUs, AK-47 at the ready, beige skull cap hiding his dark hair, allowing him to blend in to the hot and sandy desert, we looked identical — like the hardened warriors we were. Miles’s usually sunny personality was nowhere to be seen — dark eyes hid behind a scowl.

“I found the target,” I told him.

His eyes brightened. “Where?” Miles hated sand, hated heat, hated the desert.

“Around the corner, about 50 feet away, behind a burned car.”

Miles’s expression lightened even further. “You mean we might be able to finish this mission early and get the hell out of here? Out of my way, Dick Dick.” Dick Dick — the nickname Miles gave me when we were first partnered together four years ago. Because my real name was, unfortunately, Richard Dick. I was, quite literally, Dick Dick. Thanks, Mom.

I almost grabbed him on his way past me, thinking he was going to make a run for it and get himself killed, but he only booted me over to take my spot. “How many?” he asked.

“I only saw two, but I’d bet there’s a third hidden in the apartment complex on the corner, and a fourth buried in the sand over there, waiting to pick us off.”

Miles had taken out a small compact mirror. With his back against the building, he was using it to see what was going on behind him. “Two Red Shirts standing guard just behind a car and oh, thank you Mother Nature! You were right, Dick Dick: Sniper in the apartment building, fourth floor, second window from the left. The sun just reflected off his riffle. Sucks to be him!” Miles chortled, finally coming out of his funk. “If Red Shirt Four is out there, I can’t see him.”

I took a look around and assessed the situation. We couldn’t go around this side of the building. The Red Shirts — this terrorist cell that we were currently trying to take out — already knew we were here and would pick us off as soon as we showed ourselves.

“Ok, here’s what we’re gonna do . . . ”


I was lying on my stomach in the shade behind a giant cactus tree, peering through my rifle scope at Red Shirt One and Red Shirt Two when Miles’s all clear came through my earpiece. With the Red Shirts all focused on the west side of the building we’d been huddled behind, it had been laughably easy to crawl undetected from the other side, duck inside an abandoned house, then split up at the cactus tree. With the sniper, aka Red Shirt Three, taken out — thanks Miles! — that left Red Shirts One and Two, and the fourth I was certain was buried in the sand on the hilltop.

Thirty seconds later, right on time, Miles appeared at my elbow, as if he’d been beamed there with Starfleet technology. I would’ve jumped if I wasn’t so well trained.

Ready? I hand signalled.

Thirty seconds, he responded, lying in the same position as me. It was clear that Miles had taken out the sniper without gunfire — no shots had rung out — and before he’d had a chance to call for help: The two terrorists standing guard hadn’t reacted and were still focused on the west wall of that building.

Until — 30 seconds later — Miles’s bomb went off in the apartment building. Red Shirts One and Two dove for cover while simultaneously swinging their riffles in the bomb’s direction. And almost as soon as the sand twitched on that hilltop, I fired my riffle. Red Shirt Four went down, out for the count.

“Nice shot,” Miles commented.

“You know I never miss.”

Now was our chance: With Red Shirts One and Two focused on the apartment bomb, their backs were to us. Miles and I broke cover and with the ease of long-time partners, we fell into combat mode: He took out Red Shirt One as I took out Red Shirt Two. As we headed for our target, I turned around so we were back-to-back and I could watch our six. Just because we couldn’t see him didn’t mean there wasn’t a Red Shirt Five hiding out somewhere, waiting for us to make our move.

But we were clear — there was no further movement from the Red Shirts — and we were still clear, and then, “Yes!”

I glanced over my shoulder. Miles, grinning from ear to ear, stood with the red flag in his hand, held above his head in triumph.

A loud beep came over the loudspeakers for just a second, then, “Alpha Team wins this round.”

“Huzzah!” Miles said, always profound, before we high-fived.

Red Shirt One, aka Danny Malloy, pushed himself to his feet as his Red Shirt teammates and the rest of Alpha Team ran over to us from various parts of the desert training compound. Set up by Eric Thames — our boss — it mimicked an abandoned Middle Eastern village. “You cheated!” Danny said.

“Like hell,” I scoffed, as Red Shirts and Alpha Team congratulated each other on a game well played. There were 24 of us working for Eric’s personal security firm. Every once in a while we separated into two groups for a game of capture-the-flag, with fake guns and rubber bullets — but real C4. It was dangerous — if we weren’t careful, workplace accidents could involve the loss of important bits — but that made it interesting.

“You’re not supposed to bring in outside weapons to a training exercise.”

Miles’s WTF face was priceless. “What are you talking about?” he asked Danny.

“The C4. Don’t play dumb.”

“Dude, Eric gave Alpha Team the C4 before we started. Don’t — Hey, don’t give me that face! The Red Shirt team always has crappier weapons ‘cause real terrorists usually have crappier weapons.” He gave Danny a friendly slap on the back. “It’s more realistic for the Red Shirt team that way. It’s supposed to make you think outside the box.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Danny looked suitably contrite. As the newest member of Eric’s team, he was still trying to fit in and was probably worried he’d blown it.

“Don’t sweat it, Rookie,” said Alan, who had taken up a defensive position near Team Alpha’s flag on the other side of the training compound. He was a six-foot-six scary-looking giant who looked like he’d gone a round or 20 in the boxing ring, but who was actually one of the nicest guys I’d ever met. He put his arm around Danny’s shoulders. “You can make it up by buying us a round at the pub.”

“Beer!” Someone yelled.

Danny sighed. “Wasn’t that the agreement anyway? The losing team buys the winning team a round?”

“Beer!” Someone else yelled, until, because deep down we were all a bunch of 16 year olds, everyone starting chanting, “Beer, beer, beer, beer.”

The beep came over the loudspeakers again, silencing everyone before Eric said, “Nice job, guys! Pack it in and get back here. Debrief in 20.”

“Nice job, partner,” I said to Miles as we started walking. Everyone dispersed to gather up their gear, talking and laughing, the energy high despite the long training session.

“You, too,” Miles responded, bumping my shoulder gently, as behind us, three of our coworkers quietly chanted, “Beer, beer, beer, beer.”

No doubt about it: We were an immature bunch. But we were well-trained, as tight as brothers and always had each other’s backs.

  1. Amy, I remember this piece from class. Well done. Nice to see it published!

  2. A story needs a compelling reason to be told. A reader needs a compelling reason to read that story. I found neither here. Sorry.

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