Read The Profession Online

Authors: Steven Pressfield

The Profession

ALSO BY STEVEN PRESSFIELD

The Legend of Bagger Vance

Gates of Fire

Tides of War

Last of the Amazons

The Virtues of War

The Afghan Campaign

Killing Rommel

The War of Art
(nonfiction)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Steven Pressfield

All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Crown Publishers,
an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group,
a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com

CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Pressfield, Steven.
  The profession : a thriller / Steven Pressfield.—1st ed.
     p.   cm.
  1. Americans—Middle East—Fiction. 2. Mercenary troops—
Middle East—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3566.R3944P76  2011
813′.54—dc22                            2010047384

eISBN: 978-0-307-88858-7

Jacket design by Jae Song
Jacket photograph by Benjamin Earwicker (flag)

v3.1

FOR OUR GUYS

Contents
1
A BROTHER

MY MOST ANCIENT MEMORY
is of a battlefield. I don’t know where. Asia maybe. North Africa. A plain between the hills and the sea.

The hour was dusk; the fight, which had gone on all day, was over. I was alive. I was looking for my brother. Already I knew he was dead. If he were among the living, he would have found me. I would not have had to look for him.

Across the field, which stretched for thousands of yards in every direction, you could see the elevations of ground where clashes had concentrated. Men stood and lay upon these. The dying and the dead sprawled across the lower ground, the depressions and the sunken traces. Carrion birds were coming down with the night—crows and ravens from the hills, gulls from the sea.

I found my brother’s body, broken beneath the wheels of a battle wagon. Three stone columns stood above it on an eminence—a shrine or gate of some kind. The vehicle’s frame had been hacked through by axes and beaten apart by the blows of clubs; the traces were still on fire. All that remained aboveground of my brother was his left arm and hand, which still clutched the battle-axe by which I
recognized him. Two village women approached, seeking plunder. “Touch this man,” I told them, “and I will cut your hearts out.”

I stripped my cloak and wrapped my brother’s body in it. The dames helped me settle him in the earth. As I scraped black dirt over my brother’s bones, the eldest caught my arm. “Pray first,” she said.

We did. I stood at the foot of my brother’s open grave. I don’t know what I expected to feel: grief maybe, despair. Instead what ascended from that aperture to hell were such waves of love as I have never known in this life or any other. Do not tell me death is real. It is not. I have sustained my heart for ages with the love my brother passed on to me, dead as he was.

While I prayed, a commander passed on horseback. “Soldier,” he asked, “whom do you bury?” I told him. He reined in, he and his lieutenants, and bared his head. Who was he? Did I know him? When the last spadeful of earth had been mounded atop my brother’s grave, the general’s eyes met mine. He said nothing, yet I knew he had felt what I had, and it had moved him.

I am a warrior. What I narrate in these pages is between me and other warriors. I will say things that only they will credit and only they understand.

A warrior, once he reckons his calling and endures its initiation, seeks three things.

First, a field of conflict. This sphere must be worthy. It must own honor. It must merit the blood he will donate to it.

Second, a warrior seeks comrades. Brothers-in-arms, with whom he willingly undergoes the trial of death. Such men he recognizes at once and infallibly, by signs others cannot know.

Last, a warrior seeks a leader. A leader defines the cause for which the warrior offers sacrifice. Nor is this dumb obedience, as of a beast or a slave, but the knowing heart’s pursuit of vision and significance. The greatest commanders never issue orders. Rather, they compel by their own acts and virtue the emulation of those they command.
The great champions throw leadership back on you. They make you answer: Who am I? What do I seek? What is the meaning of my existence in this life?

I fight for money. Why? Because gold purges vanity and self-importance from the fight. Shall we lay down our lives, you and I, for a flag, a tribe, a notion of the Almighty? I did, once. No more. My gods now are Ares and Eris. Strife. I fight for the fight itself. Pay me. Pay my brother.

I served once beneath a great commander who asked in council one night, of me and my comrades, if we believed our calling to be a species of penance—a hell or purgatory through which we must pass, again and again, in expurgation of some crime committed eons gone.

“I do,” he said. He offered us as recompense for this passage “an unmarked grave on a hill with no name, for a cause we cannot understand, in the service of those who hate us.”

Not one of us hesitated to embrace this.

BOOK
ONE
EUPHRATES
2
ESPRESSO STREET

NINETY MILES SOUTH OF
Nazirabad, we sight a convoy of six vehicles speeding west and flying the black-and-yellow death’s-head pennant of CounterArmor. The date is 15 August 2032. In that country, when you run into other Americans, you don’t ask who they’re working for, where they’re from, or what they’re up to. You help them.

We brake beside the CounterArmor vehicles in the lee of a thirty-foot sand berm. The team is pipeline security. Their chief is a black dude, about forty, with a Chicago accent. “The whole goddam city’s gone over!”

“Over to who?” I ask. A gale is shrieking, the last shreds of a sandstorm that has knocked out satellite and VHF comms for the past two and a half hours.

“Whoever the hell wants it!”

The CounterArmor commander’s vehicle is a desert-tan Chevy Simoom with a reinforced-steel X-frame and a .50-caliber mounted topside. My own team is six men in three vehicles—two Lada Neva up-armors and one RT-7, an Iraq-era 7-ton truck configured for air defense. The outfit is part of Force Insertion, the largest private
military force in the world and the one to whom all of western Iran has been contracted. I’m in command of the group, which is a standard MRT, Mobile Response Team. The overall contract is with ExxonMobil and BP.

The CounterArmor trucks are fleeing west for the Iraq border. The Turks have invaded, the chief is telling us. Or maybe it’s the Russians. Tactical nukes have been used, near Qom and Kashan in the No-Go Zone; or maybe that’s false too. “Get in behind us,” he shouts. “We’re gonna need every gun we can get.”

I tell him our team has orders to enter the city. Five American engineers, civilian contractors, are trapped there, along with the TCN—Third Country Nationals—security detail assigned to protect them. Our instructions are to get them out, along with a technical brief they have prepared for the commanding general’s eyes only.

“You can’t go back there,” the chief says.

“Watch us.”

Nazirabad is a Shiite city of about three hundred thousand. They’re all Shiite cities in Iran. You can tell a Shiite city by the billboards and the vehicles, which are plastered with pix of their saints, Ali and Hussein. A Shiite truck or bus is festooned with religious amulets and geegaws. Reflectorized pinwheels dangle from the rearview and outboard mirrors; framed portraits adorn the dash; every square inch is crazy quilted with talismans and mandalas, good luck charms and magic gimcracks.

Anyway, that’s what we’re seeing now—forty minutes after leaving the CounterArmor convoy—as Iranian civilian cars, trucks, and buses flood past on the highway, fleeing. Comms are still out, whether from the nukes, the storm, or man-made jamtech, we can’t tell. Our orders are to rescue the engineers. Beyond that, we know nothing. We don’t know what we’re riding into or what our chances
are of getting out. This is the bitch of modern warfare. Every technological breakthrough spawns its dedicated countermeasure, with each generation getting cheaper and more accessible. X knocks out Y; before you know it, you’re back to deadfalls and punji stakes.

So we’re relieved, forty miles south of the city, when two Little Bird choppers—the kind used by the Legion, one of Force Insertion’s subcontractors—show up topside and communicate to us by line-of-sight that other friendlies are up ahead. Twenty minutes later we pick up radio traffic from Legion vehicles heading our way and, half an hour after that, two black bulletproofs—GMC Kodiaks with cork tires and gun-slit windows—roll up and brake, coated with gray dust. An operator springs down, wearing a tuxedo jacket and white linen shirt over cargo pants and boots. We can see, in the distance, the three-level overpass south of the city. The merc comes up, grinning in his black tie. My #2, Chutes Savarese, hails him.

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