Table of Contents
ALSO BY THOMAS W. YOUNG
The Mullah’s Storm
The Speed of Heat:
An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
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Copyright © 2011 by Thomas W. Young
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Young, Thomas W., date. Silent enemy / Thomas W. Young. p. cm.
ISBN : 978-1-101-52936-2
1. Soldiers—Fiction. 2. Afghan War, 2001—Fiction. 3. Taliban—Fiction. 4. Afghanistan—Fiction. I. Title. PS3625.O97335S’.6—dc22
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
IN MEMORY OF MY GRANDFATHER MORGAN DANIEL, OF THE LEGENDARY EIGHTH AIR FORCE
he world went away, and every part of her hurt. But nothing made any noise. Silence rang pure as the thoughts of the dead. Sergeant Major Gold knew only that some power threw her in every direction at once, flung projectiles against her in the darkness. She was so close to the explosion the sound never registered.
A moment before, the lights had been on in her office. Now her office no longer existed; nothing existed but blackness and force. No room even for fear, just shock and confusion. Then Gold’s senses began to return. Dust, grit, smell of burning. An odor like nitric acid.
The fragments of her consciousness reconnected; her mind started to function again. For an instant, she thought with purely professional interest,
So this is what it’s like to die in a bombing.
Pain behind her eyes, a keening in her ears. What was that sound? Screams.
Gold moved her fingers. Twitched her foot. Bent a knee. Everything hurt, but it all worked. She couldn’t imagine how that was possible.
She eased up into a sitting position, checked for injuries. Maybe not bad, nothing broken. She coughed, and that hurt worse. Cracked ribs, maybe. Probably a concussion. Lucky. But what about everybody else?
Gold felt for her helmet and rifle. The helmet had disappeared, but her fingers found the M-4. She wanted to fight, but she knew whoever did this was either long gone or dead with his victims. She used the weapon as a crutch to pick herself up from the floor. Then she struck her head on a collapsed beam.
This day had always been coming, she knew. The Afghan National Police central training facility in Kabul made an obvious target for the Taliban. Gold helped run the literacy program; her office on the west end of the first floor was as far from the main entrance as it could have been. That was the reason she wasn’t burned or crushed.
She coughed again, spat phlegm. Squinted through smoke, looked for the door. No door remained anywhere. But she found a gap in the wall.
Outside, Gold took a clean breath. She inhaled once more, and that felt better. Still some pain in the chest. She staggered along the wall until she reached the front of the training center.
The explosion had ripped open the concrete building, side to side, top to bottom, all four floors, like some monstrous shovel had torn an oval scoop from the front of the entire structure. A burned mass of steel lay on the ground near the blast crater, the engine block from what must have been a truck bomb. Moans, shouts, and curses came from within the rubble in Pashto, Dari, and English. Gold picked her way through broken masonry and twisted beams. She found part of a hand, with three fingers. A bloody scrap of uniform. A boot with a foot inside.
A lone fire truck sputtered into view. Its horn blared in deep, staccato bursts. Afghan and U.S. flag decals marked the new Ford with labeling that read in three languages FIRE AND RESCUE STAY BACK. A second truck arrived. Firefighters clung to the side of the vehicles, bands of yellow reflective fabric across the backs of their turnout coats.
The men pressurized a hose and opened its blast onto flames flickering thirty feet from Gold. A black spray of water and soot spattered her face. She fought tears, called names: “Hamid? Hikmatullah?” No answer but indistinguishable cries from victims hidden within the scene of destruction around her. The fires, crater, smoke, and screams made it seem hell itself had ruptured and burst up through the ground.
Gold found her way to the rear of the training center, where an exterior wall stood intact. She pulled open a door, entered the part of the building where her classroom used to be. Little remained to distinguish one room from another. Each was open to the street outside, like a dollhouse with the front removed.
“Ma’am,” called an American voice. A man in firefighting gear, maybe a civilian adviser. “Stay out of there!”
Gold ignored him. She climbed stairs exposed to the sky. The thump of helicopter rotors began to build, grew louder. A Black Hawk settled onto the grounds of the police center.
She shouted names over the noise. No reply. Water trickled from a broken pipe. Odor like car exhaust and trash fire. Then she heard a familiar voice.
The young man cried out again, and she found him. Mahsoud lay on his back in the remains of a hallway. Dust covered him, but Gold could see that his face was badly burned. He looked at her through reddened eyes. A section of wall had fallen across his legs.
“Daa kharaab dai
he said. It is bad.
Seeing him like that made her want to rage, to cry, to strike out. Be professional, she told herself. ABC. Airway. Breathing. Circulation. If he can talk to me, then he has the
. She felt the carotid artery. Pulse fast but weak. The
could be better.