Eyes Over Baghdad

By N. B. Hankes

I tapped the cold, steel button to mark the coordinates. “Hey, Jackson,” I said, pulling the mouthpiece close to my lips. “Are you seeing this?” I imagined him stirring to life. His freckled cheeks and gap-toothed grin suddenly illuminated by the pixelated reflections of Baghdad’s Al Rasheed district.

The headset crackled to life. His desk lies just a few unspooled lines of coax away from my perch inside an air-conditioned steel box resting on top of a circa mid-aughts Humvee.

“Yeah, we’re tracking in here. Any weapons?”

“Not that I can tell, no. It’s just the one guy.” Some unfortunate son of Allah sat crouched along the roadside, the eyes and ire of Uncle Sam taking a sudden interest in the contents and fate of his soul. “Looks like he’s digging in the ditch there. Is the Battle Captain tracking any of this yet?”

“Yep,” Jackson reported. “You think this fuck is planting an EFP?”

“Hard to tell, man. Probably. He’s all hunched over. Could be rigging up some wiring.” The official report would read somewhat differently. More legalistic, less degenerate: Military-aged male observed outside after curfew hours. He was spotted, via unmanned aerial vehicle imagery, disturbing the earth alongside Route XXXXXXXXX–an area marked by a recent rash of Explosively Formed Projectile attacks on U.S. personnel.

“None of us in the command center see a shovel or anything else like that. But Air Cav just called in a couple of Apaches for some firepower, just in case.”

“Can you get us into lower airspace, man?” The difference in image quality between 3,000 and 6,000 feet could save lives.

I leaned back from the screen and opened the door behind me. Even in the dead of night, the oppressive desert heat rolled in.

“Not likely. The entire AO is stacked up tonight.”

“Well, I should get a better angle when the plane comes around. Let me know if the Battle Captain needs me to do anything.” I scanned the surrounding area, looking for any indication of wiring or disturbed earth. The white-hot glow of burning trash confused things a bit.

“Oh shit, he just got up,” I called out. “He’s moving southwest towards Dora market.”

“We’re tracking in here. Shit’s getting tense. Battle Captain said the Apaches found our target. They’re standing off but within range. He’s ready to call for fire. What’s the word on that hotspot?”

“Yeah, I see it.” I leaned in and squinted at the monitor. A bright-white heat signature radiated from the man’s previous location. I zoomed in. The image flipped between white-hot infrared and black-hot I as worked toward the best picture quality possible. The hot patch flickered from white to black and back again until the outline was obvious.

I laughed.

“Hey, Jackson . . .”


“Dude just took a shit.”

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“It’s not a bomb. I know that.”

“Hey, ah, sir.” Jackson’s nasal-tone voice cut through the mounting tension in the command center. “We think the guy just took a shit.”

The headset crackled.

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