“Oh, come on. You know the tuna with noodles is the worst.”
Bener glanced at Savas and Kenan, who sat sorting through the gear for their latest assignment. In between counting ammunition, packing electronics and sorting protective gear, it seemed the two were squabbling about—which MRE is the least appetizing? Bener shook his head. At least they’re over the argument about which kind of coffee gives the best caffeine buzz.
That debate had lasted for over two weeks, resulting in several gallons of the beverage in question being consumed, and had tested Eser and Bener’s patience to the max. Bener bit back a smile. There are reasons the Ghazi don’t like to keep us out of the field for long.
Kenan and Savas’s discussion had devolved into a friendly shoving match. Eser, seated beside them, shot the two an annoyed glare as he snatched his laptop and scooted out of their reach. Very good reasons.
Not that they couldn’t be supremely professional when on the job. His team was one of the very best among the Ghazi troops, and had carried that distinction for several years. Unfortunately, the very best always get stuck with the hardest missions.
Bener held back a sigh as he continued cleaning and oiling his Glock. The Katiller had always been given difficult missions, ever since they had been approved for field work. That’s what happens when you’re trained by the best. And Kal had certainly been the best trainer the Ghazi had ever had.
But lately—lately our missions have been back-to-back, with barely enough time to recover. Eser had had a run-in with an overenthusiastic guard their last mission. The result was a dead security guard, an angry hacker and a deep bullet crease requiring ten staples. Those staples had come out of Eser’s thigh less than a day ago, and they were already slated to be headed out to their next assignment in a little over two hours.
I think the Ghazi might actually be trying to kill us off. Bener frowned at the thought. He and his brothers had survived a lot longer than just about every other squad. Four-man squads like theirs usually only survived for three to five years once in the field. My brothers and I have managed to live for twice that long.
Bener was actually one of the oldest known field operatives, having survived almost a decade of non-stop missions with his men. Too bad the retirement package the Ghazi has sucks. Operatives either died in-mission, or made a mistake and subsequently disappeared upon returning to base. Someday, that could be us.
Oh, he and his brothers were good, there was no denying that. But good doesn’t mean perfect. Someday, somehow, they would make a mistake. And then—Bener suppressed a shudder. I can’t let that happen. Not to my brothers. He would have to get them out before that could happen.
Unfortunately, the Ghazi tended to frown on little things like desertion even more than mistakes on missions. Nothing was ever confirmed, but some of the rumors floating around of what happened to deserters who were caught—and they were almost always caught, the Ghazi were brutally efficient that way—made even Bener’s skin crawl. But there has to be a way. There must. I mean, Kal managed it. Why not us?
A flat, well-worn pillow bounced off Bener’s shoulder. He blinked, looking over to his brothers. Kenan hefted another pillow as Savas set aside their full packs. Eser just rolled his eyes and slid even further away from the troublemakers.
The demolitions expert grinned at Bener. “Come on, Boss-man. You’re thinking too hard again. Lighten up.”
Ah, Kenan. Always the jokester, doing his utmost to keep them all going with a wink and a laugh. This family would have imploded long ago without his irrepressible sense of humor. Bener glanced at Eser as the hacker typed furiously on his laptop. A few more lines of code, and Eser gave the room a quick once-over before shooting Bener a smirk and a nod.
Bener knew that look. He’s killed the cameras. Eser did that sometimes, tricking the cameras into playing a few minutes of recorded images. It wasn’t much, but it gave his team some much needed privacy, free of the worry of judging Ghazi eyes. So long as Eser kept an eye out on the hallway surveillance, his family could have a few stolen moments to themselves.
Turning back to Kenan, Bener gave the pillow in his hands a pointed look. “Careful, brother. Don’t start something you can’t finish.”
Kenan shot him a look of wounded wide-eyed innocence. Right before he chucked the pillow at Bener’s head.
Bener snatched the pillow midair, scooping up the other one lying beside him. “That’s it, you’re in for it now!”
Kenan and Savas scrambled to get away. Eser retreated to the far corner, cradling his laptop close. All four of them were laughing as Bener chased his younger brothers around the small room. For a moment, he let himself forget about the upcoming mission, about the growing threat the Ghazi posed. No one makes me laugh like they do. His team—his brothers—were his everything. The reason he smiled, why he could keep going when everything was against them. They’re my family. And I won’t let anything happen to them.
After all, that’s what big brothers do.
Special thanks to our model, Ryan Morris. Photography by Katie Morford.