ROGUE

CHAPTER ONE

Amid the ruined buildings, the three men stalked silently, their camouflage blending them expertly into the grey brickwork of the gutted Iraqi houses. Apart from the brand new XM8 Assault rifles, they were dressed like beggars, coated in dust, invisible to the worn down populace that scurried around like frightened rats. It was an urban warzone of the worst possible kind, shells and gunfire had destroyed the tired city, ripping it to pieces and turning it into a hellish ghetto. Quietly moving through the rubble strewn alleyways, weapons trained cautiously ahead, the three Americans stopped a hundred metres from the townhouse.

Small arms fire and grenade rounds had shattered the front, wisps of smoke still rose from the devastation. There'd been a battle, and the marines had clearly missed it.

Shouldering the splintered door aside gently, Sergeant James Carver entered the building and blanched. The remains of a meal and several overturned chairs were in stark contrast to the blood that lay in dark pools on the floor and tracked up the walls as high as the ceiling. "What the hell happened here?" Carver stole a look at his second in command, the answer seemed brutally obvious. Body parts lay scattered haphazardly, almost as if rabid animals had run wild. In the corner of the room, stairs led to the second floor. Another padlocked door lay against the far wall. "What've you got for me Lt?" at the Sergeant's words, the sapper flicked the thermal goggles over his eyes and activated them. With a gentle whine they came alive and revealed the contents of the next room clearly. "One warm body, secured, looks like one of the hostages… still breathing." Carver moved to the stairs "Up it is." with a foot on the bottom step he hesitated "want to try for the mystery prize?" in response the soldier knelt and adjusted the lenses, peering through the simple wooden floor above "bingo, three, packing AK-47's, knives and pineapples." unhooking a grenade of his own, Carver let the pin fly, counted to himself and arced it onto the second floor. The three Iraqi soldiers had barely a second to respond as it rolled at their feet and exploded with a violent sunburst, blinding them totally. In a moment they were dead, several hundred rounds of US issue ammunition tearing their bodies apart.

When the adrenalin had worn off, Carver looked over the room and shook his head, "What gives? They barricaded themselves in here." The sapper shrugged. "Beats me. Why didn't they kill the hostage and leave?" At peace with the carnage around him, the third member of Carver's team trudged up the stairs noisily and lit a cigarette. "Looks like 3, maybe even 4 bodies downstairs Sarge. All messed up though, can't tell an Iraqi from a pot-roast." Sergeant Carver breathed deep and wanted to get out of the room, out of the whole damn country. "Maybe they were waiting for us…" The smell of the Iranian brand cigarettes filled the room as Captain John Chandler poked at the downed soldiers with his gun. Carver gathered his wits finally. "I don't know John, this whole thing feels wrong. Let's grab the pilot and get going." He shuddered as if something had walked over his grave. "This place isn't healthy."

When the three soldiers had left with the hostage. The shape finally moved. Invisible, but with a different kind of camouflage, it held onto the rafters of the ceiling and swung down with ease, landing near the three dead bodies with a strange clicking. Watching their body heat slowly dissipate it came to a decision and seized the foot of the nearest one. When it made contact, the electrical cloak shimmered and faded for a moment, revealing a large, almost reptilian hand. "What the hell…" the words came out filtered and horribly distorted "…isn't healthy…"With an inhuman grunt, it bounded to the ceiling, dragging the soldier easily behind it.