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Target Terror: The Scope of Justice: Chapter One

       Last updated: Monday, June 28, 2004 23:51 EDT



    “Sergeant Monroe, right face,” came the voice on the radio. SFC Kyle Monroe did so, and waited for further instructions. He knew what they’d be: the sniper trainee was clearly visible. But he was damned sure going to be letter of the regulation fair to the student who was about to fail this exercise. The observer at the end of the range had to make the call, Kyle was only a marker for him.

    But this kid was as obvious as a hooker in church.

    Kyle sighed, feeling old again. He had fourteen years of service, and still felt physically capable and flexible. He hadn’t slowed down when he hit thirty, the way everyone said happened. Inside he felt worn, though. It wasn’t the years getting to him, but the mileage. But he had all his hair and none of it gray, a taut physique and clear eyes. After tours in Bosnia and the first Gulf, Ranger and Airborne Schools as well as Sniper and a few miscellaneous radio courses, he felt that his physical condition was still decent and quite an accomplishment. He’d feel a hell of a lot better if he could lose the guilt over that event in Bosnia, which was something everyone said wasn’t his fault. It felt that way to him, though. It didn’t help that he had been an instructor here at the school since then. It was mere coincidence; they needed some of the best snipers to teach others, and everyone said he was that good. But he couldn’t escape the timing. It felt like a punishment, no matter how much he really did like teaching the kids.

    “Three meters,” he was told, then, “left face,” which he did, leaving him facing the boots of Corporal Samuel Merrick, clothed in a shredded burlap ghillie suit and hidden in deep weeds.

    At least he imagined he was hidden in deep weeds. “Two meters forward and tell Merrick he’s a corpse,” was the next radio transmission.

    “You got ‘im,” he confirmed for Staff Sergeant Dick Rogers, who was one of the “targets” the students were trying to “shoot.”

    “Stand up, Merrick, you’re dead,” Kyle said. Merrick sighed, heaving himself up as if a pile of weeds suddenly assumed human form. “Figure out what you did wrong?” he asked.

    Merrick said, “The sun came out.”

    The boy was exasperating. “Sun came out, my ass. Relying on the light is luck. If you rely on luck here, you’ll rely on luck in combat. Dead! Get me? Dead!”

    Merrick looked slightly chagrined, but Kyle was still talking. Merrick likely wasn’t cut out to be a sniper. He could shoot, he could hide, he could observe, but he just couldn’t coordinate them with the patience required to be a true professional. He even took it lightly, wearing a grin.

    “I’m not smiling, Merrick,” Kyle said yet again. “Look there!”

    The kid was a bit more attentive now. He turned to look behind him, where Kyle was pointing. Predictably, he let his heavy M-24 rifle—a highly modified Remington 700 in 7.62mm NATO—swing across his legs as he turned. It tangled with his right boot and his ghillie suit. He hopped, recovered, and stood.

    “See that?” Kyle snapped, pointing at the tall growth of the range. “There’s a very clear Corporal Merrick-shaped rut through the weeds there. Anyone can tell you crawled through here. And it’s a straight line. Prey don’t move in straight lines, only hunters. So what will anyone seeing this think?”

    Without waiting for an answer, he continued, “Then, you shifted the branch you used as a rifle rest. And when you shot, you blew that stalk in two. See?”

    Merrick looked, and finally gave evidence of remorse. That had been really stupid. Any one of the errors was bad. All of them together were inescapable. He’d screwed up.

    Kyle’s problem student nodded, turned, and headed for the trucks. He was done for the morning, and the loss of points wouldn’t help his final class score.

    Kyle wasn’t sure if the kid needed a girlfriend, a thousand pushups or just a couple of years to mature. He was all hyped on the glamour of being a sniper, and didn’t want to hear about the slow, boring infiltrations. Those were in bad weather, bugs, dirt and with the risk of being discovered and shot.

    Kyle Monroe knew about all of that personally. It hit him again right then, that pain that wasn’t fading. Bosnia. He and his spotter had been a bit too eager to advance on a target. End result, SFC Jeremy Reardon dead, a Serb sniper’s bullet through his head. The funeral had been closed casket, and Kyle really hadn’t cared to discuss it with Reardon’s pretty young wife and seven year old son, who was old enough to understand death, but not old enough to understand why.

    He snapped back to reality. This time it was nausea, washing over him as he massaged the scar on his right arm. Other times it was fear, sweats, anger. And he’d be drinking tonight, fighting with himself over whether to not drink, drink enough to relax, or just burn brain cells with alcohol.

    In the meantime, Captain Schorlin, the school commander, was over there watching, and the expression on his face indicated he wanted to talk. Kyle hitched at his load carrying harness and headed in that direction. The other instructors and the French observer were looking at him too, and he knew why. Normally, everyone snickered and laughed at inept movements, strange twists of fate or sheer forgetfulness. There was enough stress in the class, and they tried to be relaxing when counseling. Kyle had been rather brusque.

    Schorlin looked at him levelly. It wasn’t unkind, just appraising. As Kyle approached, the blond-haired young man—he was only thirty—said, “I think you need to ease off just a bit on the kid, Kyle.”

    “He needs to grow up, sir,” Kyle replied. “Or he’ll wind up dead and taking people with him.”

    “We have time,” the captain said, sounding relaxed and unperturbed. “And you know I won’t let him graduate if he can’t hack it.”

    “So I’m helping him with that.”

    “Yes,” Schorlin agreed, “and making him think he can’t hack it. At this point, we’ve gotten rid of the bad ones. He just needs encouragement and some sarcasm. Remember when you could be sarcastic without being mean?”

    Kyle had to grin at that, though it was a sickly grin. “Yes, sir. So what’s up?”

    “We’ve got a meeting tomorrow. It might mean an assignment for you.”

    Kyle was immediately defensive. Were they trying to shuffle him off? “But I like it here, sir. Is something wrong?”

    “Yes, but not with you. It’s TDY only, I’m told, which is good, because we need you here. They want you to help with a problem elsewhere. But General Robash has the details. So be at the classroom at 0900. Look sharp. BDUs and beret,” the captain said, pointing at Kyle’s headgear, which, like his own, was a standard BDU cap. It worked better in the field than the beret, and both men, despite being Ranger trained, took it as a point of honor not to wear the Monica, as it was deprecatingly called, unless they had to.

    “Yes, sir,” Kyle agreed, controlling the slight grimace he felt. He resented how the black beret he’d earned the hard way was now being worn by everyone and his brother…and sister. He realized it hadn’t always been a Ranger symbol, but it had become one, and then it had been taken away and trivialized.

    He turned his attention back to the broad terrain and work. There was a twitch of grass. It was Sergeant Brendt, moving too eagerly. From the radio came Sergeant Rogers’ voice, “Sergeant Monroe, left face, ten meters.” Rogers had spotted another one. Kyle sighed and went back to the task at hand.

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