If it's flat…

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STANDARD DISCLAIMER: THIS THREAD IS RATED R FOR EXTREME VIOLENCE, A BIT OF FOUL LANGUAGE, and SEXUAL INNUENDO. None of it is gratuitous, it's all appropriate for context, but, you have been warned.

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This is a work of fiction and is copyrighted to the author. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.

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Author's note; This is the second story in a series. The narrator's name is Sam Hermano. If you didn't read the first story, "I will return" you can find it here on my author page at Fictionpress

or you might want to just keep on reading, as I plan to have Sam synopsize his story, the way he might if you were reading it in a regular magazine.

If it's flat, it's mined.

If it's rocky, it's covered by fire.

If it looks safe, it's an ambush.

Master Gunnery Sergeant Theodore Applewhite, Camp Johnson,NC, 1975

I was sitting in my office – really a fancy cubicle – at the Directorate of Intelligence, Langley, Virginia. I was – am - a fairly high ranking analyst in MENA – The office of Middle East and Northern Africa Analysis.

When most people think of the CIA, they think of the National Clandestine Service – what used to be called the Directorate of Operations. Those are the guys that do the HUMINT Collection – the "spies" – and all that derring-do that you see on TV and the Movies. In actuality, it's incredibly boring, tedious work, punctuated with infrequent burst of absolute terror, and even more infrequent job satisfaction for a job well done.

But, the actuality of the CIA is that the Directorate of Intelligence – the folks who analyze the collected data – is the biggest part of the CIA. Crunch the numbers, collate the information – that's what we do. That, and try to advise the folks up in DC, so that they can make the proper decisions to keep the United States in the best possible position.

Trouble is, CIA is run by humans. People with their little petty axes to grind, preconceptions, bias, that sort of thing. Some of them are great politicians, but they wouldn't know an original thought if it came up and whacked'em with a clue-by-four.

I'm pretty good at intelligence analysis – as least as far as people go. My one big failing is in understanding women – which is why I am on my fourth marriage. Well, OK, I married one woman twice – the first time we were married, I got killed in an airline hijacking.

About six months later though, after I came back from the dead, I romanced her in my new body, and married her again.

My name is Sam Hermano. My life – lives- could be described as "a long, weird trip."

Let me tell you about one of the stranger episodes on that trip…"

So, I'm sitting in my cubicle, looking at a DRAGON WATCH report. You should never read much into a codename. Fancy, descriptive codenames are a standard thing in TV and Movies, but they are computer generated by a pseudo-random selection process. There are a few words that are not allowed into the selection, and some combinations that are no longer allowed – such as Operation BANNANA SLUG or BRITTANY CLIMB. Each area of the Earth get's a letter, and operations in that geographic area are given a name starting in that letter. So, North America is "N", South America is "B", Europe is "E", etc.

This report, was from region "D" – which is North Africa, part of my AOR – area of responsibility. Sorry, we run on a lot of abbreviations. I'll try to remember to spell them out as we come to them. This one was looking at some things going on near Gibraltar and Morocco. It was interesting, I'll admit that, but the analyst had – in my opinion! – really screwed up on his interpretation of what all this meant. Trouble is, we just don't have that many Arab-speaking analysts that we trust…and even less of that small number have actually got a feel for the nuances of Arab culture.

It's a very authoritarian culture, very rule-bound. There are a lot of subtle nuances bound up in every action, and what an American might consider a "simple mistake" or a "slip of the tongue" can be perceived as a mortal insult. Part of the problem is that the Arabs themselves don't really realize that the rules exist – they have internalized them so well that it is like "water to a fish". I mean, don't get me wrong, every culture has their rules, every culture has those rules that are so internalized that people don't realize they exist.

Me? – I have an inside source. His name is Achmed – Achmed Tajiwari. I killed him when he tried to hijack a plane I was on. One of his partners shot me, but it took me awhile to bleed out. Before I died, with the help of another passenger, LCPL Mike Garza, USMC, we took out the other three hijackers and landed the plane. I died after that.

Somehow, I went somewhere, had a conversation with somebody, and wound up back on Earth, in Achmed's body. I had all the memories of being Steve Hunter, and access to all the memories of being Achmed. We had a bit of adjusting, the two of us living inside one skull, but we got things settled out eventually.

To the rest of the world, we are now called "Sam Hermano." I managed to convince Achmed that the Islamic Religious Fundamentalists – the IRFs – that he was mixed up with were not working in the best interests of Islam. Nowadays, we work together to try and affect US policy to serve the best interests of both the US and Islam. Achmed is of the opinion that trashing folks like Al Anser Al Islam (A3I) – the guys he was involved with – and the Taliban and Al Qaida – serves the best interests of Islam. I concur, and, eventually, we wound up in this job.

*Steve, is this analyst REALLY this stupid, or do you think he has been co-opted?* asked Achmed.

I chuckled. There are days when I really wonder if I – Steve Hunter – is actually a figment of Achmed's imagination – and if I am just a part of the most full-blown multiple personality disorder ever recorded.

But I really remember being Steve, and as far as we can tell every "Steve" memory I have is consistent with what we can discover. For that matter, every "Achmed" memory is also valid. Some of those memories led to the arrest and conviction of several wanted terrorist. That bounty money makes our current lifestyle pretty damn good. Add that to our income as a retired Air Force Major, and our current pay at the CIA, and life is pretty darn fine.

But, to keep that nice job, we need to do good, effective analysis.

I've met Hamid Shabazz, man.* I told Achmed. "Speaks and reads Arabic pretty well, but he's lived all his life in Detroit.* I shook my head. *My opinion is, this is probably just what it claims to be – an exotic SCUBA adventure.* I re-read the report *Bears watching, mind you, but I doubt if these guys are preparing to attack the Gibraltar Shipyards, or trying to put limpet mines on US ships transiting the Straits.*

*I agree* said Achmed. *This fellow is seeing threats where there is only a potential threat. A full court press would only serve as bad publicity for us.*

I quickly typed in an evaluation of the analysis, and an RFI – request for information – that would put a low-level monitoring operation on "Blue Ocean SCUBA adventures" in Morocco.

There was a knock on the door of my cubicle. I looked up. My boss, Mike Scazzaro, call sign "Skittles" – was lounging against the open door.

"Yo, Shadow," he says, using my call sign, "Seventeen Hundred and the sun is over the yardarm. Unless you got something really hot there, why don't you save it for tomorrow, and let's go play some ball."

"Sounds good." I said. One nice thing about Achmed's body is that he was thirty when I schlepped in. I was fifty-five, and Sam Hermano's official age is forty five. Bottom line is, Sam is considered a forty-five year old in great shape, and our department softball team is leading the Over-Forty League.

I suppose that might be considered cheating, but as the SEALS say, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying".

"Cold Beer and Hot women!" enthused Mike.

I gave him a head tilt. "Cold Diet Pepsi and my woman will do for me."

Mike laughed. "Well, yeah, you're right, Shadow." He said. "But we got the League quarter finals tonight, and I really want to beat those asshats from Clandestine." He shook his head. "You make a big difference, my man. First time in years that a team from Analysis has had a shot at the Championship. Those Paramilitary freaks-of-nature over at Clandestine ALWAYS take the Championship."

I chuckled. Office Softball is a recognized tradition in American workplaces. But the idea of a CIA Office Softball League – that would probably just skew the HELL out of the perceptions that most people have when they think about the CIA.

I shut down my computer and grabbed my duffle bag with my softball stuff. "Let's go, man"

We headed out to the baseball diamond. My wife, Lucy, met me at the Diamond, with our granddaughter Serena. Now, I think Lucy is the most beautiful woman I have ever met. Thought so when I first met her thirty years ago, still think so today. She is tall, blonde, and slender. Definitely a member of the IBTC – if you don't know what that is, I ain't gonna explain! But also a GILF – as far as I'm concerned, and that's another acronym I won't explain.

To be fair, I understand that most guys would never even notice her in the crowd – she probably looks like a million other Soccer Moms out there – but she looks fine to me. She is the last thing I see before I go to sleep, and the first thing I see when I wake up, and that is just the way I like it.

Serena – my granddaughter – is three, and was happily drinking her juice box and munching a hot dog when I got there. She loves baseball – which is a good thing – between my ball playing in the over-40 league, and her step-father playing in his league, this time of year, she's at a softball game about four nights a week. She's insistent on starting T-ball next year, which will probably have her at a game just about every night of the week, either playing or watching.

Actually, I figure that, if she gets the habit of participating in sports, participating in activities, instead of just sitting on her butt watching a video screen, that will be a good thing. I was a high school teacher for a while, and I am really disgusted by the number of overweight, sedentary teens in the US today. That sort of docile passivity carries over into every aspect of their lives, and I fear for their future.

Serena's mom, Susan, is in her Senior Year at George Washington University for her Nursing Degree. When we moved out here, I managed to get a nice deal on a run down farmhouse away from the highway, with a bit of farmland around it. Susan and her husband Ray, and Serena, have a modular home on part of the property. Lucy and I have renovated the farmhouse, and since Lucy can now afford to be a stay-at-home housewife, she babysits Serena most of the time.

Lucy's other daughter, Jenny, has a modular home on the other side of the property. She's a Forensic Pathology Instructor for the FBI, over at Quantico, although she's been doing a bit of work over at Langley, for the Science and Technology Directorate.

It's a nice little compound, although it doesn't look like one, and if we sell it, it can be three separate parcels of land. As it stands, it sits back from the road, nice large front lawns, a nice large back lawn. The fact that there are nice open spaces which allow for interlocking fields of fire, and a good sensor net with a decent computer oversight is…incidental. I've made some upgrades to the houses that I hope we never need – like Kevlar/Ceramic composite appliqués inside the bedroom walls, that sort of thing.

My team – the MENA Mustangs, had won our Directorate Championship. We were playing the Science and Technology Geeks – that's the name of their team. Go figure. – for the right to play the winner of the game between the Clandestine Service Dodgers and the Support Directorate Weasels.

I know, you think of the CIA, it's all James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer, right? But we're normal guys and gals – albeit, with weird jobs! – but, off-duty, we are pretty normal people.

I went into the Men's room to change into my softball uniform. When I came out, I heard a voice yell "Hey, Sam!". I looked over. "Hey, Jenn, how's it going?"

Jennifer Johnson is one of our clerical-administrative staff. Nice lady, but more of a guy than most guys. She's our catcher, and another reason that the Mustangs are doing so well this year. She's blonde, but stocky. You'd think she was fat, except that the dunk tank says that only about 9% of her 280 pounds is body fat. But darn near every time she comes up to bat, it's a home run, and if you can put the ball anywhere near the plate before the runner gets there, he's going to be tagged out.

The Geeks – despite the name – were pretty darn good. It was a pretty even up game, all the way to the end, when we took it 12-10. They were leading us, going into the ninth inning, but I made a bases loaded home run, and that was all she wrote.

We came off the field, and some of the spouses had brought food, so we had a little impromptu picnic and celebration as the sun got close to the horizon. It was a peaceful scene. The families were sitting at the picnic tables, or in fold up chairs. The kids were running around chasing lightning bugs or chasing Frisbees or whatever.

I held Lucy and she leaned against me and sighed. "What?" I asked.

"Nothing." She said. "It just seems so surreal."

I looked at her quizzically. "How so?"

She waved her arm. "This. We're sitting here, all of us, at these picnic tables, alongside the baseball diamond, the kids are playing…it's so suburban, middle-class American that it belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting -" she shook her head, "and I'm watching the sunset as it disappears behind CIA headquarters." She looked around. "Every player on both teams has a Top Secret Clearance or higher, and most of you could tell stories to put Tom Clancy to shame – if you dared tell them at all."

I laughed. "Someday, we might just have to do that."

"Yeah, right." She snorted with a wry grin.

Mike Scozzaro walked over, and I had to blink at the man next to him. Illya Kryakvin is the Deputy Director For Intelligence, the big guy who in charge of the directorate of Intelligence. His office is right down the hall from the CIA Director, and he answers directly to the Director for our Successes and failures

I stood up and darn near saluted. Thirty years of military habit die hard. Besides that, if you read his bio – especially the classified one! – you realize that this DDI did NOT get his job for being a politically connected yes-man.

I put out my hand. "Deputy Director Kryakvin!"

"Mr Hermano." - despite the Slavic name, and being born in a town north of Kiev, Dr Kryakvin was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and has a thoroughly Scots Accent. He pronounced my name "Ermano" – with the silent H and long O and rolled R.

"So good to see you again, Sam, I caught the last inning. Nice Home Run." He looked at Lucy and put out his hand, and I believe this beautiful woman is your charming wife Lucy?"

"So pleased to meet you, Deputy Director." She said.

"I must apologize, my dear," he said to her in his very formal manner, "I am going to have to ask your husband to go on a short trip for us next week, my dear."

She sighed. "I was a military wife, " she said, "I understand." She looked at me and arched her brow. "I just wonder when he was going to tell me about it."

"Oh, please do not be made at him, m'dear," he said. "I haven't told him about it yet." He chuckled. "Mr. Hermano, Could you stop by my office tomorrow morning, say 9.30 or so.?"

He tapped his cell phone, and said, "I'm sorry, my friends, I'll need to take this call. I will see you in the morning, Mr. Hermano?" He phrased it less like a request than a command, and headed back to the Headquarters building.

I blinked, then looked accusingly at Mike. "Thanks buddy, when were you going to tell me about this?"

He gaped back at me. "Damfino, Sam. All he did was congratulate us on winning the game, and asked me to introduce him to you." He shook his head, "Dunno what this is about."

"He seems like a nice gentleman." Said Lucy. "He reminds me of somebody, but I can't quite place him.

Mike and I chuckled. "That's easy, the name gives him away."

"Huh?" said Lucy.

"NCIS" said Mike. She still looked puzzled.

"Sorry, babe," I said, "I forgot, you don't speak Russian."

"What?" she said "You're still not making sense."

"Sorry, it's a convoluted joke." I said. "If you translate his name "Kryakvin", directly into English, you get a "male Mallard Duck" – and he does have a PhD, actually two of them, one from Georgetown and one from the University of Edinburgh."

"Wow." She said "Dr. Mallard - Ducky. What a coincidence."

"Not much of a coincidence." Said Mike, "He and David McCallum were in school together. Remember the first big TV role for McCallum?"

"Illya Kuryakin – Illya Kryakvin." She said. "Wow."