The three AH-64 Apaches stole in from the dawn horizon, like squat gray sharks invading a sleeping coastline. Emerging from the sea mists over a large desalination complex, they adopted a ground-hugging V-formation, the engines masked until they crossed over the security fence. The agricultural station was three miles ahead. From the air, the ripening fields of crops were laid out in radial slices so it looked like a gigantic target had been painted onto the desert. Cruising at 145 mph, the Apaches followed a raised embankment between two of the slices along which a solitary figure, wearing flapping Bermuda shorts, was jogging back to base after his pre-dawn exercise.
His hearing distracted by the earphones of his iPod, the man was oblivious to the dark shapes that were overtaking him out of the rising sun. A brief clatter of fire from a 30MM automatic caused his body to crash to the ground. The right earphone, detached from the shattered bridge over his head, fed a tinny whisper of Borodin’s second string quartet into the disturbed air as the gunships swept onwards in what seemed an unhurried pace.
Soon visible, the central compound was a cluster of a dozen or so cinder-block buildings surrounding a massive glass and aluminum dome. The dome was the dead center of the radial plan. It was the bull’s-eye in the target.
The Apaches went through a coordinated parabolic turn to line up facing the living quarters, out of which figures were emerging in various stages of undress. The attack was directed by a clean-shaven civilian located in the front cockpit position of the lead aircraft. He clicked on a video camera to record the scene, capturing people wearing short-sleeved lab coats over otherwise naked bodies.
A single barefoot figure emerged from one of the buildings. He gazed about himself for a moment, as if in bewilderment, before running into the dubious shelter of the dome. Within moments an alarm screeched from the apex of the dome: a red beacon flashing inside the entrance. It merely heightened the panic. The air shrilled with desperate shouts and cries as the heavy M230 chain guns rattled into action, mowing the people down with implacable efficiency. The guns continued firing for about thirty seconds, after which the Apaches wheeled skyward, putting enough distance between themselves and the compound to allow the deployment of their Hydra 70 folding fin rockets. The oblong buildings disintegrated and a cascade of burning debris descended over the wrack of bloodied bodies.
In the lead Apache, the civilian spoke to the military pilot. ‘I want to make a record of the anomaly.’
The lead peeled off from the others, rising a further two hundred feet before adopting a spiral route around the fields, the boundaries of which were highlighted with razor-cut sharpness in the low glare of the sun. From time to time the aircraft hovered, the civilian directing the camera to record specific features in the fields below. The variety of crops was staggering. There were several types of maize, irrigated paddy fields of ripening rice, cereals, root crops, endless rows of small fruit-bearing trees. The “anomaly” appeared to be everywhere. The examination and recording was conducted with the same implacable precision as the killing.
The helicopter continued on its spiral mission for five or six minutes and then it rejoined the other two that were still hovering over the now blazing compound. There was a pause lasting half a minute or so: information being exchanged.
All three Apaches rose to six hundred feet so the CPGs could position their Target Acquisition Designation Sights onto the dome. From what was effectively point blank range, they each fired two Hellfire missiles into the building. Designed for the destruction of tanks and heavy armor in the field of battle, the combined effect was a massive overkill. An inferno mushroomed into the sky, against which the helicopters were reduced to gnats, tossing and pitching against the maw of red flames and black smoke.