Time: Current. Location: Niger. Mission: Humanitarian.
Dr. Ellen Chang, working for Doctors Without Borders, is trying to curtail a Hepatitis E outbreak among the desolate villages north of the Nigerian city of Agadez. It is a rough region, sparsely populated with hopeless villagers, bandits, and now, al Qaeda, fleeing from the success of American forces based in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.
Abardek village was the last stop before the team would head back to the drone base outside Agadez. Exhausted, Ellen had treated seventy-three patients so far. There were another seven waiting in Abardek. Ellen saw each one in turn. The hardest to see were young children. The look of hopelessness and hunger in their eyes was almost unbearable. Ellen frowned as her mind drifted home for a minute. So many people in her generation had no idea how damn lucky they are.
People protest over such stupid stuff, Ellen thought. They should experience a little of this life. Life or death, out here, was real.
After Ellen treated the last patient, Norman threw her medical kit into the back of their old Land Rover. At least the hot and dusty day was drawing to a close. Bram stood nearby, keeping a vigilant eye on the surrounding desert. Ellen hadn’t met any mercenaries before this and didn’t know what to expect. He seemed quiet and polite enough, very professional, but there was a detachedness in him that discouraged much in the way of pleasantries.
What makes a man do what he does? Ellen wondered. God, it was hot!
It was so hot and dry that you didn’t even sweat very much. Or at least, it didn’t seem like it. Any sweat evaporated immediately. Ellen took a sip of water from the bottle she held in her hand. She always carried one; hydration was vital in Niger.
And to think I volunteered for this shit! She almost laughed.
Ellen suddenly became aware that Bram was waving her frantically toward the Land Rover. He was yelling something as well. But with his Dutch accent, it was hard for her to make out his words. Then from nowhere, Norman grabbed her arm.
“Come on, Ellen! Run! We’ve got to go now!” Ellen heard shots being fired and turned to see Bram on one knee, firing the Galil Ace assault rifle he never went without. Her eyes looked in the direction the gun pointed, spotting a group of pickup trucks racing toward their location.
Needing no more urging from Norman, she turned and raced the few yards to the Land Rover. Ellen climbed into the passenger seat as Norman jumped into the driver’s seat and pressed the ignition switch. The Land Rover’s old engine sputtered to life. Norman threw the transmission into gear and spun the wheel, swinging around to pick up Bram. Bullets were flying everywhere. Ellen could now see men standing in the back of the speeding pickups firing their weapons. As the Land Rover moved toward him, Bram dashed toward it, reaching for the rear passenger side door as Norman momentarily hit the brakes. Reaching back, Ellen tried her best to help him in. Bram was halfway into the back when several AK-47 rounds tore into his back. Ellen screamed as his blood splattered over her arms and face.
“Get the fuck out of here,” Bram yelled as he fell back, several more bullets striking his body. He was dead before he hit the sand. Norman stomped the accelerator, heading for the road that led back to Agadez. Bullets slammed into the side of the Land Rover. A pickup truck cut wildly across their path. Instinctively, Norman swerved to avoid hitting the smaller vehicle. The Land Rover skidded to the left, glancing off the side of an old mud-walled hut and careened wildly in the opposite direction. Norman fought to regain control of the Land Rover, correcting for the skid. He overcompensated. The Land Rover flipped over onto its passenger side. The last thing Ellen felt was her head hitting the windshield hard. Everything went dark.
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