Saturday, January 22, 2011


Charles Blake has been an operative for too long. He's sick of China. He's over the food, the smell, the pollution the incessant chatter, crowded streets and over zealous control. He's bored with looking down on a sea of Asian faces in a land so far from home. Day in, day out, covertly listening, reporting, transmitting. This is not the James Bond life he'd envisaged when he first joined.

He sits in his Beijing hotel room, listening to conversations.  A crumpled cheap, made-in-12-hours, suit jacket slumped on the bed. His creased shirt is showing perspiration stains as the ceiling fan cranks slowly above, its draught hitting the bald patch on the back of his head with sticky air.  He longs to be back home, sitting on the verandah with an ice cold beer and a red hot woman. Neither prospect will come to him soon enough. The windows are closed to keep the breath-sucking pollution from his already tarred lungs. Everyone smokes here. He's a 2 packet a day man and it's clogging up the works. He lights another and adjusts his headset.

Nothing new, trade deals, financial information, the formation of commercial alliances, the depositions of traitors, until today. Loud and clear. There's a new development and it's not a pretty one. Two voices. Now this piques his interest to the point where tiny hairs rise on the back of his neck. The prospect being both exhilarating and terrifying.  He can identify the official but not the other voice. He hears mention of Hezb-i-Islami-Gulbuddin and remembers the kidnapping of Chinese workers in Lal Masjid by extremists in 2007. Why are they talking to each other?  His multi-lingual capabilities don't fail him as he hears "uranium", "weapons grade", "Taliban" . . .it doesn't take him long to figure out that high grade uranium intended for Chinese power stations is going somewhere more insidious.

Still sensitive about recent tension over the kidnappings of Chinese workers in Swat, the agency has been concerned about China's support of militants in exchange for safe passage. It's always been feared that China might make deals with known terrorists in order to ensure the safety of it's assets.  They've already made noises about building nuclear reactors inside Pakistan but Blake knows that it's highly likely they'll also ignore the international nonproliferation guidelines and help with the development of a stronger nuclear capability. But help whom? The Taliban? Jesus, this is some revelation. He's on the blower. He wastes no time in alerting his superiors.  Investigations begin with the highest level of security. Operatives within the sub-continent are activated. Plans are made.

Amanda Fishbourne began her work with UNICEF just three years ago. A petite and pretty blonde with a heart of gold and a desire to do good in the world. All dreams and philanthropy. Finding herself in the North West Frontier Province in the border mountains of Mingora wasn't quite the snuggly brown-baby experience she was expecting.  After three years of hiding indoors from Pakistani Taliban bombing, children are returning to school. Amanda's looking forward to the arrival of her cohort. The two of them will help 88 young girls to read, write and finally become literate. All she knows is his name and whispers it longingly "Richard". She has a photograph attached to his resume. It's been a while since she's seen a white face beyond the ruddied and bloated persona of her supervisor and this face, well this body, looks pretty decent.  It's easy after six months of preparation to entertain fantasies and she frequently has 'conversations' with her yet unmet team teacher . . few of them about teaching. Untouched for a while, she has the photo pinned to her dingy mirror where on cool nights she leans a forehead, eyes closed with Richard's body metaphorically pressed against her back and fingers explore her own softness and bring her pleasure in a country so devoid.
Gul Famis 14 and bursting to attend school. But for the kindness of strangers, a new school house has been erected, books provided and a teacher supplied.  Soon she will learn the liberation of language, the power of the written word and will take her first step towards literacy.  She maintains her Islamic garb to and from the refugee camp and school, still afraid of recrimination if she should show skin. It's ultimately preferable to a life of slavery and early marriage to a man old enough to be her father.
She was only 12 when Hazadin asked her father if he could 'have' her.  She'd cried and begged but her father would have none of it. She was of marriageable age and Hazadin a good prospect. Her sister's had all been 'married off' and the burden of cost removed from the family. Gul was the last and forced into the arms of the abusive Hazadin. His arms were what terrified her, pinning her down, hands over her mouth. Strong and brutal. His arms supported the hands that beat her, the hands that groped her yet ultimately the hands that fed her.  

And so she ran. From an irate father and a misogynistic husband. Today she's beginning to see a future and a life away from the bombs and cruelty.   Government buildings long abandoned due to border incursions now form makeshift schools for children like her. Children who've fled, children who have never lived without the reverberation of violence in the background. Children who have had to grow up before their time. At last there is hope.

Lt. Cdr. Tony PolessoAPG-65 and AN/APG-73 airborne radars with long-range, all-weather, lookup and lookdown capability. Put him in heaven discussing dual UHF/VHF radios, one KY-58 secure radio, and a two-way Link 4 capability.  It's his wet dream to play with the Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) capabilities for passive detection and ranging. Yep he loves his F/A-18, its power, performance and deadly capability. His bird can fly unseen at 36,000 feet and fly at Mach 1.7. Its weapons load is awesome with two wingtip stations for Sidewinders, outboard for air to ground and two nacelle fuselage stations for AMRAMs. Today he's on a mission to prevent a nuclear trade and he's armed and dangerous with 17,000 pounds of ordinance. His map coordinates are set and he roars into the setting sun towards 35°23′N 72°11′E / 35.383°N 72.183°E / 35.383; 72.183.
The classroom is in full swing, books at the ready and eager voices singing alphabet songs while Amanda scrawls vowels upon the white board. Gul pauses, something in the air distracts her, it's not a sound or a breeze, it's something tense and disconcerting, something she's 'felt' before. Amanda too looks skyward as if the ceiling were invisible but too late. Incendiaries land and panic grips as the blast wave increases and shrapnel spits in all directions piercing skin and walls like butter. The fireball roars and due to the low ceilings, implodes within the low pressured atmosphere. Screams are silenced and rubble stills amid the descending dust. Fifteen innocents are dismembered and charred. The dreams of one pretty teacher and 30 hopeful students explode into atoms and are never realised.

PA Christine Newcome has been summoned to the Map Room to take minutes. She's been warned, that what she his about to hear must remain within the room and that only the salient points need be documented. She wipes her security card permitting her entry into the bowels of HQ. She's aware of the importance of the task and the commotion behind the door. Straightening her jacket and tight pencil skirt, she enters the frey.

The assembly is frantic. A cacophony of discussion as operatives argue over who's fault it was and how blame can be shifted. How the media should be briefed. "It's a fucking disaster, that's what it is!" yells an exasperated Nathan Grey, hands pressed hard against his cheeks in total disbelief. Heads will roll and his will be the first to sit at Madam La Farge's feet, to account for their humongous error of judgement. He's responsible for oversighting the careful selection and elimination of the target. "How could we have got it so wrong?  A teacher and fucking children?"

"But the map . . " his colleague is cut short, "Shut the fuck up you moron . . . it's out of date." Sheer disbelief behind his eyes, "We hit the wrong fucking target!"

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "The Map Says We're Fucked" 


  1. maybe a write, but i can see some work went into this. Freakin' bombs. Someone always loses.

  2. I wish this were total fiction, but somehow it seems to be all too true, all too often. The "vignette" structure adds power. Nice one, Baino.

  3. Pretty good, pretty good. Mondo typos in the Lt. Cdr. paragraph, though.

  4. Oops. Fixed apalling apostrophes