Author: Roger Ley
‘Cadmus,’ his codename for the purposes of this mission, lay motionless on top of the dune. His ghillie skin made him indistinguishable from a clump of the scrubby local vegetation, which wasn’t surprising considering the amount of it he’d incorporated into the surface of the garment the day before. The sun beat down, and he was grateful for the thermal system that kept the outer part of the suit at the temperature of his surroundings and made his heat signature hard to detect, while at the same time keeping the inner part cool enough to prevent him frying in the midday heat. He turned his head slightly and sipped water from the tube of his hydration pack and continued to wait. He was good at waiting; it was his job to wait. He had learned this at the Royal Marine Commando Training Centre years ago, before he’d become a private contractor. When he’d waited long enough, he would squeeze the trigger and leave. The Saudi Land Forces would be onto his position within minutes but he’d be gone.
A voice spoke quietly in his ear.
“Target acquired, Cadmus, stand by for imminent completion.”
He chambered a self-steering round and prepared to take the shot. It was ironic that the three small deployable fins on the body of the bullet and the small pack of quantum electronics in its nose had relieved him of the need for accuracy. He’d calculated the approximate angle of inclination, although it wasn’t critical, and he knew the general direction of the target, four kilometres away in an open area outside Riyadh. As long as a targeting beacon was in position on the victim, the round would lock on to it and arrive seconds after he discharged it. The customer had specified a mercury-filled bullet, so he assumed it was a headshot. Old-fashioned but effective. After the bullet’s casing had penetrated the victim’s skull, the mercury would continue as a cloud of supersonic droplets, pulping their brain. No deflections off the bone and a miraculous recovery, a binary result: life if he missed, certain death if not.
He didn’t know who the target was, neither did he want to. There were other ways of getting the job done, but they all required larger, more trackable items of military hardware. He assumed that the need for deniability on the part of his customer was paramount. It was the limited range of the steerable bullet that required his presence.
“Immediate go, Cadmus.”
He fired, stood, broke down the rifle and piled it with the other equipment he was leaving behind. He triggered the timed incendiaries. All the evidence would be burned or cauterised a few minutes after he’d left, there would be no specks of DNA to trace the assassination back to him. He jogged across the sand to the motorway two hundred metres away, where a beaten-up pickup half-full of goats was parked on the hard shoulder. The bonnet was up and the driver was fiddling under it. When he saw Cadmus, he dropped the bonnet and got into the driver’s seat. Cadmus climbed into the back, thumped the back of the cab, lay down, and pulled the ghillie skin over himself. The goats began to nibble at it as the truck drove sedately away. A few minutes later, he heard the clatter of choppers passing over, heading back in the direction of his pitch. He’d been counting off seconds ever since he’d triggered the incendiaries and reckoned that they’d fire about now. He settled down and made himself as comfortable as he could for the drive to Bahrain, several hours away.
His ride dropped him at a back-street hotel. He left the ghillie skin and went inside. After a quick change of clothes in his room and a taxi ride to the airport, he boarded a commercial flight to his home in Cyprus. A substantial deposit had already been paid into his numbered Zurich bank account. He wouldn’t know if the mission had been a success until he read about it on the news screens or, if it was hushed up, when the second half of the money arrived.
Overall, I thought it was pretty well done. A clean concise tale. Quite a pleasant read.
It’s interesting that a “……….skin” suit is so common in military SF. I have seen “variskin” suits, “opdis” (optical disrupt) skin suits, you use “ghillie” skin, and I use “chameleo” skin. I have also seen “doppler” skin suits, whatever the hell that is. Convergent evoltion in writing I suppose.
Now to technicalities. The onlly way a mercury bullet would be truly effective is if it were tipped with mercury fulminate. Explosive ammo such as this was used on President Reagan and James brady. It was quite effective considering the calibre. It went under the brand of “Devastator”. Sadly it’s no longer available.
A bullet containing liquid mercury would not be very effective. If the hollowed bullet were lead, the mercury would simply be absorbed. If it were contained in some sort of capsule, the whole thing would become unwieldy, and have less effect than a standard hp round. I reccomend going with a frangible bullet. They are cheap, beaucoup effective, and totally untraceable. The best part is, there is no exit wound. Total energy expenditure within the “target”. Heh heh. Just have your man load his mags wearing gloves. he may not have time to police his brass.
Good luck on your book, and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster smile upon you and sprinkle you with grated parmesan, and bread sticks.
Thanks for your comments Sarge. I have to admit that I used the mercury filled bullet idea having read ‘The Day of the Jackal’ many years ago. I thought they were in general use by assassins. I didn’t check my tech and now that I have, I find that you’re right on all counts.
“The Day of the Jackal”, Frederick Forsythe. I knew I had heard of a mercury bullet used before. Great book. Good inspiration.
I just came back here after several years away. I was re-reading some of my old stories. It’s interesting how your story is similar to how I would have written it. If you’re not former combat arms, you sure as hell think like one. Keep it up.
Again, good luck with the book. The first is a pain in the ass, but a true labour of love.
I think the most interesting part is the “impossible thermodynamics of the ghillie skin”. The laws of thermodynamics cannot be broken.
While having the external temperature match the local environment could be done with a good thermal insulator and similar albedo to the local rocks (for both visible light and IR), the human body inside that is going to get hot. So add a heat pump – fluid evaporate/condense or thermocouple cooler – which is going to need a HIGH temperature side to dispose of surplus heat. And not through the gillie skin – that would be a targetting beacon at infra red! Nor downwards to the ground – IR trail if you move, cook you if you don’t.
So add an insulated internal heat sink, which would get very hot but could be discarded?
Or start with a reserve of liquid nitrogen, which would provide cooling as it was slowly released?
Neither would work long term, but perhaps if the wait turned out to be longer than planned they’d give the sniper time to build a more traditional if less perfect hide from the local vegetation.
Liquid nitrogen might be the answer if the assassin didn’t have to stay concealed for more than an hour or so. I’m sure somebody could calculate how much would be needed
Thanks for this. It’s probably a technology that, like the assassin’s target, is just over the horizon.
@ rogerley – Very well done, and from what I know this could be the shape of things to come. I’m looking forward to seeing this as a novel because this snippet flows so well.
@ rjerbacher – Where’s the science fiction? Good question… There are no bullets with quantum electronics in their noses, just computer-controlled scopes that tell the shooter when it’s optimum to pull the trigger. And, the longest recorded sniper kill was 3,540 meters, verses the 4 kilometres listed in this story by a character that feels only a slight need to aim, so that could be considered SF.
There are no ghillie suits that will change their camouflage patterns and cool the wearer while tailoring the IR signature to that of the surroundings that I know of. In the real world, you can cool something internally or match the external temperature but you can’t do both, so that could be considered SF.
Now having written all that, I’ll be the first to admit that these things are probably on the horizon, but right now they are science fiction.
Self cooling garments and heat signature material are both available now, maybe not in the same suit yet. Steerable bullets are being used today and electronically guided missiles might be too big to fit into a rifle but are current military grade weapons. So I guess this is next weeks sci-fi and I can go with that. I’m not trying to be combative I’m just trying to keep the conversation lively. Thanks guys.
I appreciate your interest rjerbacher and I’m glad you enjoyed the story.
Thank you for your compliments rjerbacher. You’re right, it’s a chapter from my novel, ‘The Muslim Prince,’ which Amazon class as a techno-thriller. I guess the sci-fi is in the self-steering bullet and the unusual, not to say impossible thermodynamics of the ghillie skin. What isn’t apparent in the story is that the ‘targeting beacon’ is an altered insect drone which is being flown by a pilot back in the UK.
OK, so first off, well written. Nice piece. Seems like a snippet of a novel that I definitely want to read. But…where is the sci-fi?