FICTION: Silence the Demon by Lawrence Pratt

Preface

Silence the Demon was inspired by a conversation the author had some time ago with an American Vietnam veteran who expressed his wish that the late president Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) was still alive so the veteran could kill the late president. With increasingly unbridled conflict now the near-normal worldwide state of affairs, Silence the Demon reflects the thoughts and actions of a fictional veteran who has returned home after serving in a war that was based on lies put upon an all-too trusting populace by a manipulative political establishment. For many military members and veterans worldwide, the true enemies have become their domestic leaders, not a contrived, foreign threat.

That said, “Silence the Demon” is work of fiction and, with the exception of any factual historical and technical references, all persons, places, and events are fictional with no relation or intended relation to any actual person (living or dead), place, and/or event.

Silence the Demon

Sgt. Pavel Ivanov was three hours into his sentry shift at an entry point to a filthy, obscure town in one of his nation’s former possessions now reconquered and occupied by its past masters. So far, he had completed seven months, one week, and four days into a one-year tour as part of his country’s attempt to re-assert its power and influence after a terrorist assault on its capital had killed hundreds and inspired a nationwide rush of righteous and vengeful patriotism.

But what was the point of marking time when your life could be snuffed out in a moment by an unseen enemy or your risk of dying increased by an involuntary extension of your tour of duty that waited in the wings? His move from resignation to despair grew with each passing day as it became clear to even the most junior soldier that the government’s actions were just a power grab of a mineral-rich area that seemed to be a land of low-hanging fruit. Too bad no one told the locals they weren’t entitled to defend their homes as Pavel’s comrades were routinely picked off like rats at a dump.

The worst part of all the suffering and sacrifice was that it had become apparent to Pavel and his comrades that the supposed terrorist attack on the capital was accomplished by domestic security forces as a pretense for invasion. And the government continued its actions without a break in its deceptive stride.

Ivanov was now a soldier who desired more to kill his country’s leaders than the enemy they had fabricated.

#

Pavel gave a quick but intense visual scan of each person passing through the checkpoint. This particular spot was limited to foot and animal traffic so not dealing with vehicles made the sentries’ job easier – not that this impoverished backwater had many road-worthy vehicles with which to be concerned.

By this point in his tour he had learned how to readily distinguish the hostile from the benign. His unit kept a tally of potential suicide bombers they managed to stop – from men dressed as women to small children burdened with explosives. The key to survival was the ability to quickly determine a threat by the way someone walked.

So much for the wisdom of his nation’s spending billions on advanced weapons systems.

Here a soldier’s survival depended on quick eyes and a quicker willingness to shoot. Little had changed for those with boots on the ground since the Roman Empire. At least the military chain of command had no qualms about the shooting of innocent locals or any level of collateral damage.

Ivanov surveyed the queue of people waiting their turn to pass into town. He noticed a seemingly restless woman shifting her weight from one side to another. Pavel moved so he could get a closer look before she got too near to him and his comrades.

From a better vantage point, Pavel could tell that, even clad in a niqab, the woman was well advanced in pregnancy. Just as he was about to move his attention to others in line, Pavel’s eyes and those of the woman met, and the soldier’s chest tightened.

Blue eyes! The woman has blue eyes! No such woman had ever been seen in the province. Ivanov readied his weapon and alerted his comrades. The woman quickly moved out of line and into an open area away from the others and stopped when she was clear, then stared at Pavel. Although other soldiers moved to position themselves against a potential threat, she never took her gaze off of Ivanov. It was then that she pulled back the niqab’s head cover to reveal a head of blond hair that perfectly complemented her light eyes.

Pavel recognized the woman instantly – it was his beloved Simone. But, here? How? The soldier’s mind was spinning. Simone was home in the northwest territory where things were clean and cool, not here in this searing, desolate cesspool. She had just entered her eighth month of pregnancy with their first child.

Becoming more confused by the moment, Pavel and his compatriots watched as Simone disrobed to reveal a naked woman great with child, wearing a small, black bomb and holding a detonator.

“Suicide bomber,” one of the troops shouted. “Run!”

Despite training and combat experience, Ivanov found himself unable to move, but the others retreated to safety. An instant later, Simone disappeared in a rain of human debris and Pavel was thrown ten meters by the shock wave.

#

Pavel Ivanov sat bolt upright in his bed – eyes wide, heart pounding, and unable to breathe.

The demon was back. Not that it really ever left – it was simply a matter of how often and with what level of terror it made its visits. His primary task now was to find a way to begin breathing before he passed out, a rather harmless issue but he detested the lack of self control it implied.

Pavel began the recuperative routine taught to him by therapists at the veteran’s clinic where he received regular treatment and medications for his post-traumatic stress disorder. While he had managed to survive his tour of duty without a scratch to his body, his psyche wasn’t so fortunate. The daily witnessing of death and crippling injuries had taken their toll on Ivanov and thousands of his comrades.

It was barely a year since his return from deployment and nearly two years since Simone’s death. As in his dream, she was indeed into her eighth month of her pregnancy with their child. But the fates proved as unkind as the declining quality of medical care at home since the union’s demise. Conditions quickly deteriorated to those of the most impoverished African countries. Complications in the pregnancy proved to be too much for the limited care that existed in the couple’s northwest province home. Within two days of the onset of Simone’s crisis, both mother and child had perished.

For Pavel, the worst loss of the war came when news of his beloved’s death arrived at his isolated duty post, and he was not permitted to return home to be present for closure over his loss.

“A soldier’s duty is to his comrades, not the sentimentality of home,” Sergeant Major Paul O’Hara informed the grief-stricken young man. “Your personal needs will have to wait until your duty to the homeland is complete.”

It was then that Pavel Ivanov began to lay the mental and emotional foundation he would use to strike back and seek justice for Simone and all his comrades who had suffered in a war based on lies. How or where he did not yet know, but Ivanov would have his revenge.

#

Upon his return home, one of Pavel’s first acts was to visit Simone’s grave.

“I’m so sorry,” he lamented as he knelt at her headstone in the silence of the nearly empty cemetery. “They would not let me return to honor your memory.” As he laid a large bouquet of flowers on the headstone, Ivanov vowed “You and all who have suffered will be avenged.”

A firm but caring hand touched his shoulder – that of Simone’s father, Hugo Moreau. In the coming months, Hugo and his wife, Anne, would be the familial rock on which Ivanov would lean as he made his way back to a meaningful life – a life now defined by a growing need for violent justice.

Pavel began to use the skills he learned as a soldier and combat survivor to set things in motion. Not unexpectedly, he would also use what he had learned from his foreign adversaries to his advantage.

#

The Moreaus took Pavel in as if he was their own son and brought him into their utility aircraft business. The breakup of the old union resulted in a surplus of planes and the couple shrewdly figured that their small and somewhat isolated city would be an ideal hub for flying people to even smaller towns served by poor roads and unreliable rail transportation. With regulations in tatters and opportunities presented by the world’s Great Recession, they acquired a hodgepodge of utility aircraft from various places in the northern hemisphere. While an ATR 72 twin turboprop was the star of their inventory, several “Annushka” aircraft – large, sturdy biplanes that could carry up to two thousand kilograms of combined passengers and cargo two hundred kilometers – served as the workhorses of the small fleet.

“Ugly as a mud fence,” Anne would often say “but as solid and dependable as the sunrise.”

Both Moreaus had quickly qualified as pilots in the various aircraft and proceeded to hire and train others. Everyone on staff did everything from aircraft preflight and cargo loading to maintenance and piloting. “No job too big or too small,” Anne told everyone who hired on.

All done thanks to a breakdown in government supervision, accomplished without any type of licensing or certification.

“God bless pure capitalism,” Hugo often often remarked. “As long as we don’t crash, no one bothers us.”

It was into this little niche of predictability that Pavel settled to forge his vengeance. Within six months, he was doing everything up to and including copilot duties – without certification, which kept him out of the government’s database.

#

Ivanov settled back into civilian life and began to firm up his his plan. However, without the fatiguing demands of combat, the night terrors increased in their frequency and intensity. “I must accomplish my task before I completely unravel,” he constantly reminded himself until it became an unconscious mantra.

As part of his treatment at the veteran’s clinic, Pavel was enrolled in a group therapy session that met twice a week where combat veterans could open up in front of their peers. Attendance was voluntary but did come with a bit of vodka and a small cash stipend for all attendees at the end of each session. Given the condition of many returned veterans, turnout was usually quite robust. The sessions also provided an opportunity to establish friendships and support links away from the clinic.

Unknown to the veterans, a government presence was also in place to monitor such gatherings for any behaviors that might present a threat to the state or local order.

A couple of months after Pavel settled in with a group near his residence, a new member, Nathan Hansen joined. A right arm amputee, Hansen quickly became one of the group’s more outspoken members, asserting that all current war veterans were more victims of “T” and “Vice” – the two common references people had for the country’s president and his immediate subordinate – than they were the victims of those they were sent to fight.

With each subsequent meeting, Nathan became more open in his contempt for the nation’s leaders. At one session, he stated that “T and Vice are the real enemies of our country, and nothing more than the two richest members of worldwide organized crime – not our true leaders. They and all their wealthy cronies are responsible for everything from the bombing in our capital to our unjust attacks on foreign countries. All veterans need to rise up, kill T and Vice, and the nation must withdraw from all wars.”

This was far from the usual veteran griping and was met with stunned silence from the group.

“Well, Nathan,” observed Hanna Weber, the group’s therapist, “that’s a pretty extreme statement, even in a group such as ours. Would you like to rephrase your comment?”

“Not at all,” Hansen replied without hesitation. “We’re all victims of corrupt leadership that should be destroyed.”

“Alright,” Weber remarked, “perhaps it’s best we call it a day. You can all pick up your stipends on the way out.”

As the group broke for the day, members avoided contact with Hansen. They knew he had crossed a line and associating with him in the near future would be, as the local saying went, “disadvantageous”.

At the next session, Hansen was a no-show as was another, somewhat obscure member known only as Akiva, a man who always kept quietly to himself and apart from the larger group. These two vacancies continued for a couple of weeks when someone asked about their absence.

“Nathan’s informed me that these sessions weren’t meeting his needs,” Hanna replied, “so we should just move on and not expect him to return. Akiva never formally enrolled as part of the group so I can’t account for him.”

Hanna’s statement about Akiva was made looking down to her note pad and avoiding eye contact with anyone in the group – something noted by everyone in the session.

An uncomfortable silence made it clear to all that Hansen had been removed as part of a state effort to stifle dissent among veterans with Akiva acting for the authorities. Nathan’s final whereabouts were never determined.

His fellow veteran’s disappearance inspired Pavel Ivanov to seek his revenge by carrying out what his compatriot had so vocally proclaimed – the death of T and Vice. It would be the ultimate tribute to Simone, their unborn child, and Pavel’s fallen comrades.

#

Ivanov began to hone his skills in two areas of expertise – piloting an aircraft and building on the shooting proficiency he had acquired as a soldier – that would be needed to complete his task as its conception took shape in his thoughts.

The first task was simply a matter of working extra hours as a co-pilot for the business. With luck, by the time the day of reckoning arrived, Ivanov would find himself able to handle an Annushka blindfolded.

Completing the second item on his list involved a bit more creativity. As a combat veteran, Pavel was readily accepted into a local shooting club where he could improve his marksmanship skills but he would need a rifle of his own to carry out any mission that required a weapon. This proved a bit more difficult but not impossible. He again used his veteran’s contacts and exploited the country’s poor tracking of just about anything to quietly become the owner of a coveted L115A3 sniper rifle with an effective firing range of over a full kilometer. This weapon was considered by many to be the best sniper weapon in the world and would all but guarantee success in his quest.

Now it was simply a matter of continuing to perfect his skills and wait for opportunity to knock. When it did, Pavel knew it would not be a lengthy visitor.  In the meantime, there was the matter of cobbling together a manifesto about how he had come to this point in time.

#

Within three months, Pavel achieved his desired level of expertise as both aircraft pilot and sniper that would be needed for his mission. Then, unexpectedly, the break he was waiting for came like a blessing from a divine being.

In a few weeks, T would be taking his autumn vacation at a restricted spa community about twenty-five kilometers south of the airfield where the Moreaus ran their business. For two days during that timeframe, Vice would be leading a hunting party only three kilometers from town. For Pavel Ivanov, it was a perfect storm of opportunity and he used every available second to ensure all was ready for the fateful day.

The one, best time and day for Pavel to carry out his plan would be shortly after dawn on the Saturday of Vice’s visit. The man had undergone a major organ transplant in France some months back and this hunting trip was an attempt to show the world in general and his domestic political competition in particular that he was as fit and firm in his resolve as ever. Pavel would target him first in open ground with the sniper weapon.

Then there was dealing with T.

Pavel’s internet research on the despot’s personal habits indicated that T would be asleep or just rising during the timeframe that would be available for Ivanov’s mission. Eliminating T would involve the use of one of the Moreaus’ Annushka aircraft, laden with as much explosive material as the assassin could lay his hands on.

The most difficult part of Pavel’s task would be getting from Vice’s killing ground to the airfield and ensuring his plane was airborne before security forces arrived. Ivanov knew he would be able to take only one shot at Vice before all hell broke loose and the window of opportunity would begin to close on his chances of successfully dealing with T.

The formidable task would have to be prepared for with ultimate stealth and secrecy, and the clock was ticking.

#

In the meantime, there was the matter of Pavel quickly completing his manifesto without it sounding like the work of a raving lunatic. Most of the text was completed by the time he became aware of his opportunity to strike, but he had to be certain that it didn’t sound anything like the rant of America’s “Unabomber”.

Largely absent of emotion, the work told the simple tale of a soldier who went to war to protect what he believed to be a homeland under threat by external forces that had attacked his nation’s capital. Soon, but far too late, he and his comrades became exposed to information that the precipitating terrorist attack was most likely the work of T, Vice, and others who looked to enrich themselves through fomenting a war based on lies and deceit. Pavel went on at some length to address the loss of his beloved Simone to a deficient medical system that neglected everyday people but provided for the likes of Vice to seek superior treatment in more advanced nations.

Next, he made a point to absolve the Moreaus of any connection to what was about to transpire, knowing that if his actions were not completely successful, they would bear the full wrath of the state. Full success would set in motion events that would likely bring down the oligarchy that T and Vice had established, and the Moreaus would be overlooked in the ensuing chaos.

Lastly, Ivanov emphasized that his efforts couldn’t have succeeded without T and Vice being in close proximity at the same time. The country’s leaders were unwitting agents of their own demise.

How ironically appropriate, the missive concluded.

Ivanov then posted the text to several social networks with distribution to be delayed until after the time he anticipated the completion of his task.

#

As the fateful day grew near, Pavel became increasingly agitated and withdrawn, a state of affairs that did not go unnoticed by the Moreaus.

“You seem distracted lately,” his father-in-law remarked one morning as the two prepared to ferry foodstuffs to a remote village.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” the younger man replied. “Thoughts of Simone are never far from the surface and lately things have been more intense.”

Hugo Moreau nodded in silent acknowledgement of their mutual loss and resentment. What Hugo had no way of knowing was that Ivanov would soon do something to avenge their collective grief.

“Just let me know if you’re not up to pilot duties,” Moreau cautioned. “With our area soon hosting an array of VIPs, we can’t risk an incident that draws negative attention.”

“I understand,” Pavel said. “I’ll make sure to keep things under control.”

#

The fortnight preceding the fateful day was a flurry of activity and anxiety for Pavel. In addition to performing his normal duties at the business, he needed to make sure all was in readiness for the appointed times and places.

Preparing to deal with Vice required that Ivanov learn where and when the hunting party would be in the moments shortly after dawn. To Pavel’s surprise, this turned out to be the easiest part of his quest – print and online media announced all the details regarding the hunt as the party would be accompanied by live television coverage of the event. Security forces divulged that a one-hundred-meter cordon of special forces members would surround the man of the hour.

Only a suicidal fool would make an attempt on Vice’s life under such circumstances.

Pavel Ivanov fit only half of that description.

Two days before Ivanov would execute his plans, all was ready. On that day, the Moreaus announced that air operations would be shut down until Vice departed the area sometime on Monday. All the staff was put on fully paid holiday until that morning.

This played perfectly into Pavel’s hands. By sunset that day, everyone was gone and Ivanov had volunteered to hang back as caretaker of the facility for the next three days. The Moreaus had unknowingly left the fox in charge of the henhouse.

#

Early Friday morning, Pavel put the finishing touches on his work.

He began the day with a last inspection of his sniper rifle and scope, then packed all the gear he would need to overnight near the spot he had selected for his shot at Vice. Ivanov would make his way to the area using the business’ motorcycle and hide in a grove of trees near his firing position. He would travel lean and cold, and everything would be left behind when he sped back to the airfield. He figured to cover the short distance before any security could determine the source of the shooting.

When this part of his preparations was complete, Pavel outfitted two Annushka aircraft – a primary and a backup – with just enough fuel to get to T’s compound and several dozen fifty-liter plastic drums of petrol in the cargo area, turning the aircraft into flying firebombs. Three of the drums were lashed together with one end of the rope leading to the pilot’s seat. They would serve as a crude fuse for the rest of the containers. Not as good as any conventional explosives he had hoped to acquire, but the airborne bomb would more than suffice.

Shortly after darkness closed in over the airfield, Pavel Ivanov loaded what he’d need for the next twelve hours, mounted his motorcycle, and headed out. In less than half an hour, he was settled into the grove of trees, confident that he had not been seen by prying eyes.

In the ensuing hours, he pondered his life and its sum of more losses than gains, and realized that his lot was the same as most who had served in T’s pointless war. In this time of aroused awareness, Pavel permitted his demon to come forth from his subconscious and allowed the nightmare to play itself out one last time. Frame by frame, he faced each moment as in the past but now as someone who would control the beast by destroying it.

“Enjoy your last moments of torment,” he spoke quietly to the apparition in the silence of the night. “In short order, you will be no more.”

Facing east, Ivanov watched as the dark horizon showed the first signs of an approaching grey. He checked his motorcycle to ensure all was ready for a speedy escape, applied camouflage paint to exposed skin and moved into position. A short time later, he was settled with his weapon loaded and mounted into a field bipod.

Now it was a matter of waiting.

It was but a few minutes until Pavel heard the sound of loud voices and machinery. No animals would die in this hunt as the quest for noisy publicity began to rule the day – a day that would end very shortly for three men – two of worldly importance and one whose life had been rendered invisible.

Ivanov’s quarry appeared in range shortly after sunrise which illuminated Vice in full light. The man paused for a photo a short distance from his party and Pavel took his shot.

The most certain chance for a “kill shot” was to aim for the center of the subject’s body mass. The single bullet Ivanov fired was not quite that certain, missing the selected target area. But barely an instant after pulling the trigger, Pavel witnessed Vice’s head disappear in an explosion of blood, bone, and brain.

“Yes!” Pavel shouted, savoring his victory for only the briefest of moments, knowing he still had half of his quest to complete. As he sprinted back to the grove of trees, sounds of anger and terror reached his ears. Moments later, he was speeding back to the airfield knowing full well he had but a few minutes to get his aircraft airborne.

With most of the area still asleep, he was able to return to the airfield quickly and without incident. Ivanov dumped the motorcycle on the side of the hangar and moved to open the cavernous doors. Despite their size, the roller system made the doors easy for one person to move. Pavel entered the primary aircraft and quickly made his way to the gas canisters in the cargo area, removing the caps from the three that had been pre-rigged as fuses.

Less than sixty seconds later, the aircraft’s engine roared to life and the plane was on the runway accelerating for takeoff. As Pavel lifted clear of the field and guided the craft towards its intended target, he noticed three security vehicles with flashing blue lights turning into the compound.

“Too little, too late, fascists,” Ivanov muttered as he steadied his craft for the short flight that would end T’s life as well as his own.

Despite T’s attempt to tout the country’s military prowess, Pavel knew full well that no interceptors would be available to stop him. His flight would be the most significant by a lone pilot since Germany’s Mathias Rust landed his Cessna in Moscow’s Red Square.

#

Pavel turned his craft south and leveled out about a thousand meters above the ground. He pushed the throttle forward and quickly obtained an airspeed that would cover four kilometers per minute, putting his target barely six minutes away. Navigation was provided by the most practical means the assassin could obtain – a simple road map that clearly called out the private compound where T would be rising to face the day. Pavel had memorized the relevant contents of a second, detailed map of the compound and would soon begin his final descent into the target house.

As he began the last minute of flight, Ivanov pulled the rope to the three open gas canisters, tipping the containers, and spilling fuel into the cargo area. When the plane hit T’s residence, the gathering fumes would ignite the remaining containers and take out every residence on the block.

A given degree of collateral damage was inevitable, but that was something T would fully understand.

A few moments later, Pavel brought the aircraft throttle to idle and began a minimal powered glide towards his objective.

#

Still unaware of Vice’s death and the impending fate that awaited, T had been awake for a short time and was in the upstairs bath, beginning his daily shaving ritual. Hearing a soft rustling of breeze, he turned towards the window, expecting to enjoy a view of autumn leaves being spun by the wind in the soft dawn light. Instead, his vision was filled with the image of an aircraft very close and headed directly towards him.

His eyes met those of the pilot and T’s first thought was that he had never seen such homicidal range in a man. T’s next thought was that if he wanted to live, he needed to flee but found himself unable to do so.

#

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have shown that people “freezing” in the face of new or unexpected dangers is quite common and can be traced to the inability to process a great deal of potentially lethal information in a short amount of time. If a lethal event transpires faster than an individual can process and respond to any related information, the individual dies.

Such was the fate for T on this otherwise pleasant autumn day.

#

Pavel Ivanov locked eyes with T and took the utmost pleasure in seeing that the despot’s last moments of life would be spent in unescapable terror. The last thing T saw was the face of a man smiling with the resolve of lethal justice.

An instant later, Pavel’s demon fell silent.

fine_art_amer_head_shot

Lawrence Pratt is a retired Silicon Valley technical author who spends his time writing short stories and enjoys freelance photography, travel with his wife, light gardening, and time with an energetic Dalmatian.

www.miroerarts.com

If you enjoyed Silence the Demon, leave a comment and let Lawrence know.

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