Empires: Extraction – chapter one

1 – Roche

July 11th 1995, 1440 hours, Srebrenica

‘Weapons away.’ Roche counted to three. He had the laser spot square on the T-55 with the aerial when the bombs hit. Even from a mile away the flash made him wince. He kept counting as two Dutch F-16s screamed overhead. Another five until the thunder of the detonation and the rumble that followed swept over them. As it faded, he turned back and scoped the Serbian column. They looked pretty fucked.

‘Roche? Assessment?’

Roche squinted, peering into the smoke. The surviving tanks were throwing up clouds of it, now that it was too late. ‘Four T-55s still moving. Maybe more. Six gone to tank heaven by the looks of it. I. . .’ He paused and trained the scope further up the valley. Trucks. He’d missed those before, or else they hadn’t been there. He watched a moment. ‘Thin-skinned transports a klick behind. At least a dozen. Looks like they’ve stopped for now. You want me to put the spot on them?’

‘As long as they stay where they are they’re not our concern.’ Master Sergeant Sorrel Quinn – Ketch to his men – had a knack for sounding as though he didn’t give much of a shit about anything but Roche knew better. Ketch’s sister had married a Croat. As far as Ketch was concerned, Serbs had pretty much all become cunts in ’91 and were cunts with a cherry on the top right now. When they’d first come out, back when Srebrenica had been a safe area, Ketch had been so fired up Roche had half-expected him to yomp straight up north and go AWOL until there wasn’t a Serb left anywhere in Eastern Croatia.

He was still thinking about that when Ketch kicked him in the ribs. ‘Taking a nap, Roche? Move your arse. Some airy fairy spotted a company of guns setting up on the ridge over the town. There’s weather coming in and they’d like us to take a look. In your own time mind, Trooper. No rush now.’

Roche was already on his feet. He flashed a grin at Ketch. ‘Kaboom, Sarge?’

Ketch’s eyes glittered. He nodded. ‘Kaboom.’

July 11th, 1730 hours

The rain was getting heavier. Roche watched another pair of F-16s sweep low and fast through the valley. Cloud shrouded the tops of the higher hills. Now and then it drifted across the ridge where the VRS has placed their guns, wiping them away from Roche’s scope. Seventy-sixes by the looks of them, a straightforward towed field-gun that hadn’t much changed since the Second World War. From up there they could hit most of Srebrenica but, more to the point, they’d be able to hit the Dutch at Potocari and the Bosniaks already surrounding the compound. The last estimate said more than ten thousand and that had been two days ago.

Roche watched the F-16s fly off. ‘So are they going to hit them or not?’

‘No,’ said Ketch. ‘Apparently they can’t be sure of what they’re hitting through the cloud.’

Dook paused from cleaning his M-16. ‘Airy fairies don’t need to see shit,’ he growled. ‘That’s what we’re for.’

‘They need their own eyes too. You know that.’

Roche put away the scope. They’d had the same frustration ever since they’d come out here, working with other countries as part of the UN Protection Force, and there wasn’t much point banging on about it. They could do whatever they liked but, half the time, it was pointless because their eyes had the wrong passports. The Dutch wouldn’t bomb anything that Dutch eyes couldn’t confirm as a target and they weren’t the only ones. It made for an overwhelming sense of pointlessness. UNPROFOR had acquired its own codename among D-squadron since they’d come to Bosnia: Paper Teapot.

Dook had a range-finder out, aimed at the ridge with the guns. ‘Now what?’

‘Keep the ridge in sight and hold.’

‘Just a thought, but we could keep the ridge in sight from very much closer. I mean, if we wanted to, that is. I mean, if we wanted to, we could watch them from really, really close. And then maybe be really, really careless with some C-4?’

Roche packed up the designator. Ketch considered what Dook had said and then shook his head. The fact that he’d considered it at all said enough. The ridge was crawling with VRS Drina Corps.

Around sunset, Ketch took them off the hillside into better cover for the night. ‘There aren’t going to be any more air-strikes,’ he said quietly. ‘They got a dozen Dutch hostages from the observation posts a few days back and they’ve got a couple of French pilots too.’

‘Any chance any of them need rescuing?’ asked Dook.

Ketch shook his head. ‘We stay put.’

July 12th, 0600 hours

‘Get up! Get up!’ Dook was shaking him. Roche had his M-16 in his hands even before he’d finished blinking the sleep out of his eyes but Dook wasn’t carrying and had his hands up. No threat.

‘Pack up, Trooper.’ Ketch was already halfway through de-camping. ‘We’re on the move.’ As soon as Roche was good, they set off at a brisk walk. It didn’t take long to realise they were heading north. Towards Potocari.

‘Recall, is it?’

Ketch snorted. ‘I see a Dutchman, I might just shoot him. No, we’re heading for Susnjari. There’s a column of Bosniaks breaking out north. If the fairies are all grounded then I suppose we’re not a lot of use out here so they want us shadowing the column. Observe, record and report.’ Ketch let out a hiss between his teeth. ‘Column looks like it’s heading across country for Tuzla. The hills are crawling with VRS. I’ll say it again. Observe, record and report. We do not engage the VRS except in necessary self-defence if we absolutely have to. No matter what they do. Am I clear? We absolutely do not get seen engaging the VRS.’

Dook snickered. ‘Roger roger. No one sees nowt.’ He pointedly checked the action on his M-16.


Roche shrugged. ‘Where I come from, I’ve seen people argue necessary self-defence over control of the TV remote.’

July 12th , 1915 hours

The Bosniak column might have had a head start but it was moving slowly and Ketch kept Roche and Dook going hard through the day until they were shadowing the front of the column. Ketch had the map on his knees while Dook had eyes on the column coming down the hill. The first Bosniaks had probably arrived a couple of hours ago. No sign of the VRS so far but there was a road at the bottom of the hill and roads in these parts belonged to the Serbs.

‘Runs from Konjevic Polje to Nova Kasaba.’ Ketch shrugged. ‘Shouldn’t be any reason for the VRS to be out here unless they know this lot are on the move.’ They always let Ketch read the names off the map because having a Croatian brother-in-law meant he had at least some chance of getting them to sound roughly the way they were supposed to. ‘Come on. I say we get across and hunker down. It’ll be sunset soon and they won’t get far in the dark. We’ll make time on them then.’

July 12th, 2005 hours

They were up on the hill on the other side of the road, so deep in cover that any VRS who came by would practically have to step on them to know they were there. Ketch was whispering on the radio. Dook and Roche had eyes on the road. Dook nudged Roche. ‘Hey. My side.’

Roche turned his scope. The road wound between fields. The slopes of the hills on either side were heavily wooded. It took Roche a moment to spot the convoy on the road.

Dook tapped his foot at Ketch. ‘We got movement on the road. Trucks and—’

Roche wrinkled his nose. At the front of the convoy was a white UN Land Rover. ‘What’s Paper Teapot doing out here?’

‘They’re decoys. Trucks captured by the VRS.’ Dook patted his M-16.

‘Observe and record, Trooper.’ Ketch settled beside them and eyeballed the road. The trucks were getting closer. ‘Shit. This is going to kick off.’

‘Air support?’

Ketch shook his head. ‘Ain’t going to happen.’

The VRS convoy stopped a hundred feet short of where the Bosniak column had been crossing the road. The Bosniaks were already scattering, the ones that had made it across bolting for the nearest trees, the ones who were coming down the hill suddenly turning. Some of them stopped, confused. Others ran back the way they’d come. A loudspeaker started shouting.

‘What the fuck?’

Ketch grunted. ‘Can’t make out half of it. I think they’re calling on everyone to come out and surrender or something like that.’

A crackle of small-arms fire rattled across the hillside. There must have been a couple of hundred VRS already spreading up the hill. Sporadic fire came back from the Bosniaks. Now and then Roche saw a muzzle-flash up in the trees but most of it was coming from the Serbs. Then the shrill whine of incoming artillery shells. Roche felt Dook cringe a little beside him but the shells came down halfway up the far hillside. Puffs of yellowish smoke burst among the trees. More trucks were coming down the road. Some buses too. They even had another couple of UN Land Rovers and Red Cross jeeps. Dook picked up his M-16 and idly pointed it at them, making quiet shooting noises. The fighting moved away from the road and the VRS pressed up into the trees. A few more salvoes of artillery whined overhead. The column, as best Roche had been able to tell, was a mix of Bosniak fighters and civilians. They were all men so he supposed they made a legitimate target to the Serbs.

By the time the first prisoners came dribbling back down the hillside, it was getting dark. Only a handful to begin with, with a couple of VRS guards; but as the night deepened, more and more came. The VRS pushed them to the back of the column of trucks blocking the road and crammed them in and then each truck turned and drove off. Hundreds of men. Roche switched to night eyes and watched. The Bosniaks looked broken and disorientated. When one of them tried to run, the VRS soldiers didn’t hesitate to shoot.

Three VRS came out of the trees with a couple of dozen Bosniaks. Something kicked off further down the slope – Roche didn’t see but he heard the shots – and the Bosniaks spooked. Half of them scattered. The other half just stayed still where they were, hands on their heads. The VRS shouted and raised their rifles and gunned down the fleeing Bosniaks. Roche couldn’t be sure whether any got away. Then he watched the three VRS come back together. They were gesturing with their guns to the Bosniaks who hadn’t run. The Bosniaks dropped to their knees. The Serbs shot them.

‘Fuck!’ Roche hissed. ‘They just. . .’

More shots rang out. Dook nudged him. ‘Down by the road.’

Most of the trucks were gone now. The VRS were herding the surrendering Bosniaks into groups as they came down the hillside and walking them back up the road but here and there they were pulling people out too. Through the scope Roche couldn’t see any reason for it or hear any of what was said but they were clearly taking people from the prisoners coming down the mountain, dragging them away behind their Land Rover and then shooting them in the head. Even though they couldn’t see the actual executions, the other Bosniaks had to know what was happening.

‘You getting this?’

Ketch growled. ‘We have to get back to Potocari. Even the cloggies can’t pretend this didn’t happen.’

‘But did you tape it?’

‘I got bits and pieces. Dook?’

Dook, who had the other camera, shrugged. ‘Some. Light’s shit.’

‘That’s because it’s night, you twat.’ Ketch snarled something in Croat, one of the mangled curses his brother-in-law had taught him before they came out. ‘I’m calling it in.’

The VRS finally moved off around midnight. When they were gone, Roche and Dook shifted out of cover and huddled beside Ketch, looking at what they’d recorded.

‘It’s shit,’ said Dook, when they’d looked at it all. ‘All of it.’

‘Fucking VRS cunts.’ Ketch sounded murderous.

‘No.’ Dook stabbed a finger at Ketch’s tape and then at his own. ‘This. This is shit. A bunch of people. Yeah, there’s a muzzle flash here and there and you can see shapes and we all know what was going down, but that’s worth less than a wank behind a bush. It’s too fucking dark. No one’s going to do a damn thing on the basis of this crap, not when they desperately don’t want to. We’ve seen as much in broad daylight in Srebrenica and fuck all happened.’

Ketch clenched his fists. ‘Fucking cloggies. Can’t wipe their own fucking arses without a nod from the Hague.’

‘Not their fault. We’ve all got our hands tied. It’s the fucking Paper Teapot.’

They sat in silence for a bit. Ketch let out a deep sigh. ‘Observe, record and report. Get your shit together. We’re moving.’

Roche slung his M-16 over his shoulder. ‘Where?’

‘Kravica. That’s where they’ll be taking them.’

July 13th, 1100 hours

They reached Kravica before dawn and took it in turns to watch. The VRS herded the Bosniak prisoners into a pair of huge agricultural sheds. However bad it had been on the road the night before, that was nothing compared to this. Ketch took the first watch and, when he woke Roche from his four hours of snooze, he didn’t head back to the little shelter they’d made out of branches and bracken down in a hollow between the trees.

‘Get some rest,’ Roche offered, but Ketch shook his head.

‘An hour ago I saw about two hundred Bosniaks come in. They were stripped to the waist with their hands in the air. A dozen VRS had guns on them. They made them run. Anyone who couldn’t, who just couldn’t, they shot them. Round there. . .’ He pointed behind the sheds. ‘They’ve taken men out there in groups all morning. Just a few at a time. You hear the shots. Can’t see it from here but they’re killing them. Fucking executing them.’ He shook his head. ‘Keep your head down, Roche, and watch for glint off the scope. If those fuckers see us up here with this going on, they’re going to get seriously shitty with us.’

Buses came and went as the day wore on. More prisoners were herded into the sheds. With the men from the night before, Roche guessed there must have pushing a thousand men held here now. By the afternoon they didn’t bother with going behind the sheds any more. It wasn’t just the VRS either – Serbian civilians were joining in. Roche saw three Bosniaks mutilated and then shot in the head, right in the middle of the road. The bodies were dumped in the river that ran beside it. The VRS weren’t even trying to hide what they were doing.

‘Going to run out of tape soon,’ he grumbled. He prodded Dook. ‘You?’

‘Same. You calling this in?’

Ketch shook his head. ‘Comms are down. Might be we’re too far north.’

‘I can get a satellite slot tonight,’ whispered Dook. They were all watching by now, any thought of sleep gone.

‘Video up-link? So we can get shot of some of this? Teapot needs to see. They can’t do nothing after this, they simply can’t. We should go back. Take what we’ve got and then come back out here again.’

‘We’re on our chinstraps here, Ketch. Go easy.’

Another truck pulled up, this time from the other direction. The driver and a fully uniformed soldier came out. A major by the looks of him. Roche laid the scope onto the truck. The major shouted some orders and the VRS who’d come out to look scurried away. When they were gone the driver opened the back of the truck and walked away.

‘What the fuck is that?’

Ketch and Dook were watching too. Roche shrugged. Two men were climbing out the back of the truck but there was something awkward about them. They looked big and ungainly, as if the truck was somehow too small, and they walked funny. Roche didn’t get a clear look at them before they vanished into the shed.

‘You get that cunt Rupert’s face?’


‘What about them others?’

‘Got what you got. Didn’t get a clear look. Politicos?’

‘Nah, they’d come in nice comfy cars, wouldn’t they? Nice Russian limos with cigars and cocktails. Fucking pricks. Keep watching that truck. I don’t know what the fuck they were wearing. Some sort of chemical suit? Fuck knows, but I don’t like it.’

July 13th, 1800 hours

Roche couldn’t say what kicked it off. One of the shed doors swung open and maybe one of the VRS who were standing around picking their noses and scratching their arses thought it was some sort of mass break-out. Roche didn’t see but he heard the first grenade. By the time he had the scope swung back on the shed, a dozen VRS were firing in through the doors. They threw in more grenades. No one tried to stop them. Others joined in. It ended after a couple of minutes with six of the VRS soldiers lined up in the doors with their rifles on their shoulders, firing. Continuous spray at first; then, after they changed magazines a couple of times, more sporadic, picking off the survivors. He heard other shots from round the back, singles and three-round bursts. Then it stopped.

‘Jesus,’ Dook spat, when the firing died away.

Ketch didn’t say a word. There weren’t any. He just shook his head. At length he stood up. ‘When it’s dark, we go down there. We go in. We film what they did.’

‘Got no tape left.’

Ketch’s face was suddenly an inch from Dook’s nose. ‘Then find some fucking tape. Use mine from last night. We take this home. Any VRS cunt gets in your way, you cut his fucking throat.’

Dook met Ketch eye to eye. ‘I don’t like it any better than you but that’s sailing our brief a bit fucking close to the wind, don’t you think?’

‘Do I look like I care?’

Dook turned to look at Roche. ‘What about you?’

Roche shrugged. He looked back at the shed and then back at Ketch and Dook. ‘I’m in.’ He shook his head and cast a warning glance at Ketch. ‘We go. But observe, record and report. That’s all.’

They waited for dark.

July 14th, 0130 hours

There might have been easier things to break into than an agricultural shed but if there were then Roche hadn’t found them. The VRS had men watching the roads but none at all round the back and it was simple to slip in through the windows. Not so simple to take in what was inside. The floor was soft and unsteady and it took Roche a moment to realise he was standing on bodies. Dead people. Bits of dead people. The sheds had been so packed that they were covered, literally, in a carpet of corpses. He heard Dook whistle softly.


‘Just what we need and get out.’ Roche fitted the low-light scope and started taping. A few minutes would be enough. One sweep and then they’d be gone and no one any the wiser. Ketch moved off through the bodies, heading for a couple of smaller rooms towards the door where the truck was still parked outside and taking the second camera with him. Roche made to go after him but Dook stopped him. Put a finger to his lips and shook his head then rolled his eyes. Ketch always had to go one step further.

Roche finished his sweep as a burst of gunfire shattered the silence. Ketch. Fuck! Then a burst of shouting outside. Serbian. He and Dook both looked, one glance, then ran, dancing over the litter of bodies with their M-16s already shouldered.

‘The truck!’ Dook ran after Ketch. Roche ran for the back doors. Pre-deployment had taken them through the Serbian inventory and how to use most of the weapons and vehicles they might come across but in the end, a truck was a truck and this one started first time. Roche left the engine running and jumped back out. Three VRS were racing along the road from the other end of the shed, straight for him. He dropped the first with a three-round burst, perfect centre-mass, and clipped the second as he dived for cover. The third vanished into the shadows between the shed and the road. Roche fired another couple of bursts to keep him from poking his head back out and shooting back. Dook was running out of the shed now, dragging Ketch after him. On the far side, by the main encampment, lights were coming one, big bright searchlights. Ketch didn’t look hurt. Didn’t look like he wanted to come either though. He was shouting something. ‘Did you see it? Did you? What the fuck was it?’ He didn’t have his rifle but he was holding something else. In the dark, Roche had no idea what.

‘Go go go!’ Dook bundled Ketch into the back of the truck. Roche jumped in the front again and gunned the engine. Fucking clusterfuck. He pulled onto the road. North meant deeper into VRS territory. South meant going past the front of the sheds and the bulk of the VRS camp. There must have been a full company of them and they were slow and stupid but they were waking up. Better than driving head-on into a column of T-55s, though. Roche turned south and floored it past the sheds. Automatic gunfire rattled the night. He could see the muzzle-flashes. Assault rifles at first and then someone opened up with what sounded like a 12.7mm DShK. A bullet pinged off the bonnet and he heard several more hit the truck. One of the headlights died. From the back he could hear Dook and Ketch laying down suppressing fire, burning through magazines as fast as they could, aiming back at the lights and at any muzzle-flash they saw. Took about twenty seconds before they were past the sheds and driving in the pitch black but it felt a bloody sight longer; then they were away and the truck was still running. Half a mile down the road Roche killed the lights, turned off into a field and jumped out. Roads were no good here, crawling with VRS. They needed to be up in the hills and in the trees. He ran round to the back.

Dook was fucked. Someone had got lucky and half his side was missing and there wasn’t anything anyone was going to do to make it better. He wasn’t quite gone but by the time Roche had seen how bad it was, he’d already stabbed him full of adrenaline. Ketch was fucked too but not the same. He was just staring, glassy-eyed, going on about the clown, the scary clown, whatever that was.

‘Give me a fucking hand here! Shit!’ Roche screamed in Ketch’s face and got nothing. He pulled Ketch out of the way and started trying to get Dook out of the truck. That was when he saw how bad it was and that Dook wasn’t going anywhere. He stopped. Out across the quiet of the night he could see lights on the road. VRS.

Dook grabbed his arm. ‘Roche. There was something there. Ketch saw it. There was stuff. . .’ He closed his eyes. ‘Wasn’t human, Roche. Then it vanished. Fucking vanished into thin air.’ His breathing was fucked but then he did have one lung half hanging out the side of him. ‘Get him back. Fuck the tapes. He’s got. . .’

The lights outside were getting closer. Roche took Dook’s hand and put a grenade in it and then pulled the pin. There was enough of Dook left to know he understood. He could hear the engines. He squeezed Dook’s hand over the grenade, grabbed Ketch, turned and ran and didn’t look back.

August 29th, 0900 hours

For some reason he had to go over the whole crap of Srebrenica again for the umpteenth time. The scuttlebutt had it that the Serbians had dropped a handful of mortar shells on the Markale market in Sarajevo and NATO had finally had enough of it. So Roche patiently answered all their questions like he’d already done three times before, right up to the end, how it had been Ketch’s call to go into the sheds and how he’d backed Ketch up. They kept on about that but Roche didn’t see much pointing hiding it, nor about how he’d left Dook with a live grenade in his hand. Dook was already fucked. At least he got to go the way he wanted. And then yomping across the hills with Ketch who did everything he was told but otherwise wasn’t there any more, mumbling on about the Scary Clown in the room at the back of the shed. Roche hadn’t made head nor tail of it then and couldn’t now.

‘But you didn’t see any of this alleged material?’

Roche shook his head. A load of high-tech gadgets? Sounded Russian, probably. Or he supposed it must be. Like the thing that Ketch had carried away from the shed. By the time they’d reached Potocari, Ketch had lost it. Claimed it simply dissolved into water in his hand in the night but that couldn’t be right. Truth was, Roche had never seen it that clearly in the first place. He was starting to wonder if it had ever been real.

‘No sir,’ he said. ‘I went to the truck. Dook went to get Ketch.’ And they both said they’d seen something that made no sense but Dook was dead now and Ketch had been shipped off to the funny farm. Roche shook his head again. ‘No sir, I didn’t see anything like that at all. Just a lot of dead Bosniaks.’

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