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Location: Air Force Base Bravo One
Boots. Six pairs. We sit tightly in the metal black bird as it hovers above the ground, loud vibrations shake the cage, but not our cores. It is a routine now for the 5th Recon Unit – ‘The Prowling Tigers’. An air crewman in the cabin with his over-sized green helmet nods and thumbs up the pilot, and then starts to close the doors of this Sikorsky S-70A ‘Black Hawk’ helicopter. I look at the different faces of the team, snort and spit out the most vile and viscous of phlegm through the helicopter door, watching it land on to the landing pad below. The air crewman looks at me, but my cold stare stops him from making comments.
He wouldn’t understand. The unspoken rituals that us warrior men, must make to ensure the safety of the troops we lead. Every man here has his own ritual: things that need to be done to dispel bad luck, and ensure safe passage.
Sergeant Menawan; a smooth-faced tracker, sits in front of me. He is grinning with no apparent purpose whilst fiddling with a black string tied around his left wrist, a talisman to ward away evil spirits. I do my best not to look at it. He is from the ‘Dusun’ indigenous tribe, a pagan whose family still practice the dark arts of shaman-ism. I press my hand onto my own chest, feeling the outline of my own silver talisman. Protect me from the unseen evil.
The Black Hawk helicopter soars into the air, and we fly over patches of sporadic and unchecked urban development, orange and white houses below like mosaic pieces, crisscrossed by never-ending black asphalt roads. A battle to claim as much of the green and turn them into the illusions of the dream called progress.
Lance Corporal Azim is sound asleep whilst another, Corporal Jagau – our heavy weapons specialist, seems at ease reading a book.
“What’s the dumb book you’re reading?” I shout out to Jagau, the helicopter blades chopping and thundering through the air, makes me barely audible. If only they gave us onboard radio sets. I hate budget cuts.
Jagau, shows me the cover “Be the One Percent: Unlock Secrets to True Success, Real Wealth & Ultimate Happiness” and gets back to reading. I smile away, hiding my concerns for this soldier. Pep talk perhaps later or a career counsellor. Private Kilau, on the other hand, is happily listening to his music via his earphones. He smiles at me. Kilau is always smiling and cheerful, no matter what his situation. I reminisce the time I heard about his women troubles, especially when his wife rammed her car to his car when she saw him with his secret girlfriend. I often wondered how he got his wife to accept him back. Perhaps the secret is to smile away our troubles.
Fifteen minutes later, I can see through the helicopter window the houses are no more, it’s all green and trees all around. Another thirty minutes before we land. I close my eyes and recollect the conversation earlier with the commander of the base.
“Sarin, this is Dato Kassim.” I shake hands with the elder but confident man, lowering my shoulders slightly to show my respect for this man of great stature. His title Dato, is like being knighted by the Queen, except it is not the Queen of England that ‘knights’ him.
I could not help from noticing his sparkling diamond encrusted platinum ring, square with a dozen smaller twinkling diamonds in formation. He must be a businessman too.
“I have been informed that my daughter Dr. Nurul Kassim has disappeared in the Ingei jungle. Something terrible has happened to the expedition team,” Dato Kassim pushes the rims of his designer sunshades. Real men take off their sunshades when they talk to other people, it is disrespectful to do so, no matter his stature.
“There are already soldiers from the Third Battalion encamped there,” Dato Kassim’s index finger in mid air and half-pointing towards me, “But I need the best. Please, Captain Sarin. Lead your team and find her. She means the world to me.” I turn to the Commander, who nods in acknowledgment.
“Prepare your team and meet at Hangar J in 30 minutes. You will be briefed there.”
“Yes, Tuan Sir.” I salute the Commander.
“Captain Sarin, bring her home safely and I will make sure that you and your men will be taken care of, as a sign of my gratitude.”
“Don’t forget me too,” I hear the Commander laugh as I close the door behind me.
Ingei. Why? Is this the same thing that happened with my old Unit?
The sudden jerking of the helicopter interrupts my thoughts as we are thrown by unforgiving wind. I look out and see dark overcast clouds. I tap the on-board communication system.
“Pilot, how soon are we landing?”
“We can’t land at the LZ. The winds just came up out of nowhere and pushing us against the landing zone.”
“Land us safe, pilot.”
“That’s always the plan, Captain Sarin.”
The helicopter tilts 45 degrees on its side, as it goes around its original landing approach. Through the window, I see the tall rainforest trees almost touching the helicopter. Of course, this is a mere illusion, the helicopter is not that near. I wonder why can’t the pilot just land vertically, since this is a helicopter and then remember the landscape and the tall leaning trees, which can sway uncontrollably in strong winds. There’s only one way to land this helicopter. I grip the side of the hard ABS seat as I realize another more dramatic way for this helicopter to land: a crash. No, we won’t crash. The pilot is very experienced.
The Black Hawk helicopter completes the circular approach and levels out. I look ahead and through the windshield in front. I see the clearing, the landing site. Let’s land safe.
A white shadow of a giant hand of rain water and wind push the helicopter back and the helicopter loses altitude, drops down as I feel my stomach content float up half way up my throat.
Did I see a large hand pushing the helicopter? Can’t be.
The helicopter rocks backwards unsteadily, and before we fall further with this metal black bird, the pilot surges power into the helicopter blades, the Black Hawk responds and we soar up and backwards to safety.
Sergeant Menawan curses, “Looks like the Bunian people don’t want us to be here.” He leans forward and to our shock, he pulls the helicopter door open and shouts into the wind a familiar Dusun spell to ward away evil spirits. Water splatters into the helicopter as the air crewman closes the door, avoiding eye contact with Menawan. Too scared to look for confrontation with a mad Ranger.
The helicopter tilts 45 degrees on its side, trying the same approach again. Third time lucky, I pray. As we level out again to the same landing zone, Menawan pulls the helicopter door again, and shouts out unimaginable expletives into the wind. Wet thick leaves blow into the helicopter cabin, swirling inside covering out eyes and slapping our faces.
“HEY BUNIANS, I WILL SLAP YOUR FACES WITH MY BLOODY UNDERWEAR IF YOU DON’T LET US LAND!” Menawan screams maniacally. Everyone stares at Menawan in disbelief. What the hell is he on?
As though in response, the wind and the rain abruptly stops, allowing the helicopter land on to the grassy clearing more forcefully than expected.
I grab my gear and jump out of the Black Hawk helicopter as my men follow suit. In the corner of my eye, I see the pilot giving the eye at Menawan, as the air crewman sweeps the leaves from the cabin with his feet, his own expletives inaudible with the thunderous sound of the helicopter blades.
Hunching down, my men and I run across the moving sea of tall grass to safety along the tree line ahead. The helicopter soars back into the air. We are now on our own.
“Welcome back to Ingei, Captain.” Sergeant Menawan taps me on the shoulder. What does he know about my past?
With our full gear, we march to our rendezvous point nearby. We are to meet up with the army regulars, a platoon from the Third Battalion army.
There I will meet with my former Captain, my former mentor, my former savior. Former Captain Roslan. The Cursed Captain. Maybe he will tell us a different story about the killings of Ingei expedition team.
Location: Kilo Zero Nine Base Camp, Ingei Jungle. Bumi
The forward base camp, designated Kilo Zero Nine is essentially a large clearing in the jungle surrounded by rather wide trunk giant trees. I had only expected one platoon encamped there but it is more than just an encampment. There are a number of platoons present now, all from the Third Battalion Army. Someone is surely pulling strings to create a good presence here. A soldier salutes and provides me updates as my men and I are led towards his commanding officer, Colonel Falkon.
“Captain sir, have you ever met Colonel Falkon?” the private asks me.
“No. I’ve never had the pleasure, but I have heard stories about him.”
We enter a make-shift digital-camo green army tent, where wallboards have been setup inside along with a high tech military encryption radio communications equipment. Several soldiers are setting up photos and maps, whilst others are writing on white boards. There is a portable table with several sealed brown envelopes on it.
“Captain Sarin and the Prowling Tigers. Welcome to my domain!” Colonel Falkon gestures with his arms out. He is a tall man with a very fair complexion and rigid cheekbones, his moustache groomed well and thick in spite of the hostile conditions of the Ingei jungle.
We salute him immediately as we address him by his rank.
“At ease. There’s no need for that. I consider the 5th Recon Unit – the Prowling Tigers – as family. We are kin. After all, I did create the 5th Recon Unit some time ago.”
“It is an extreme honor to finally meet you, Colonel Falkon!”
“Good, let’s get you to up-to-date with our SITREP.”
One of his soldier approaches and starts reading from his clipboard as we move and stand around the portable table. I wonder what is inside those sealed envelopes.
“Situational Report: Forty hours ago, an Ingei Research Expedition team was attacked at their research base camp three kilometers from here, by unidentified forces using bladed weapons and incendiary projectile gunfire,” the soldier stops as Colonel Falkon interrupts him.
“Jonny, that’s an assumption, but never mind please continue with the SITREP,” Colonel Falkon waves his hand in gesture.
“The expedition had thirty persons in its register. We have identified body parts accounting for nineteen fatalities. Five members have been found alive, of which three were not at the Ingei camp site during the attack. There are six persons missing including Dato Kassim’s daughter: Dr. Nurul Kassim. The identity and the number of attackers is unknown and we are unable to make out their tracks. We are expanding our search site but will need to coordinate our logistics first. SITREP complete.”
“Thank you, Jonny. You can leave us now. Everyone, leave the tent and let me talk to these good men of my Prowling Tigers.” Once his soldiers leave, Colonel Falkon unseals a few of the brown large envelopes and yet keeps the contents away from our prying eyes.
“You have been brought here, because I believe you have a more open mind with dealing with our situation. Open your eyes and your minds to all kinds of possibilities,” Colonel Falkon with all drama pours out the contents of the envelopes as one by one color photographs rapidly fall hard on to the table, victims of a gory attack feasted in blood.
I grab one particular photo that catches my eyes, a half burnt headless corpse laying next to her assumed decapitated head, a scream frozen and eyes turned white knowing the end has arrived. A chill goes down my spine, this looks all too familiar.
“Poachers? Tiger? A pack of wolves?” Corporal Jagau murmurs unsurely.
“If only,” Sergeant Menawan replies, as beads of sweats pour down his face.
“No gunpowder residue?” Corporal Jagau asks, he knows the answer.
“Nope, Corporal. Maybe it was the poachers who had an alliance with a tiger and a pack of wolves, armed to the teeth with laser weapons?” Colonel Falkon jests, as I look at him in bewilderment. “Does it look familiar, Captain Sarin? I know you know what I mean. Take a real good look. Whatever is out there, be prepared. Settle in, and you can interview the survivors. You are not the police, you are not that smart. But if anything I still know about the Prowling Tigers is that I trust your instincts, and hence I order you to trust your instincts. Tomorrow, you will carry out your own search patterns – independent of the rest of us. You are going to love this R.O.E. Rules Of Engagement: If it attacks or you think you will be attacked, it’s game. Do you understand?”
“Yes Colonel, Sir!” we reply back in unison, but I don’t really understand. Do first, understand later. That’s the army way.
“Good. Dato Kassim is a good friend of mine. We must find the missing expedition members. Dismissed.”
Before I exit the tent, “I forgot one thing, Captain Sarin. Tomorrow, we are receiving a number of civilian volunteers. They have specific skills set. Be as accommodating as you can. Understand?”
“Yes Colonel, Sir.” Civilian volunteers? Why?
I point to a free spot near the center of the camp, “We should set up our sleeping tents there.”
We pass by soldiers from the other platoons, tired and despondent faces trying to comprehend the crime committed here. Peacetime soldiers can only accept very little horror. They start to notice us as our digital-camo uniforms are very different to theirs. They know who we are. And I can see it in their eyes that they realize what separates the men from the boys.
One of the soldiers timidly approaches us,
“Captain Sarin, Sir?”
“Sir, I have been instructed to bring you to talk to the witnesses, er… The survivors.”
“Sure. Sergeant Menawan, come with me.”
We head towards a designated tent, and I see him; in tattered and soiled clothes, huddled in a corner. He was once a man, a captain. Once my captain. My thigh starts to hurt, as my body remembers.
“Captain Roslan?” I call out his name. He slowly looks up at me. His sunken tired eyes tell me everything I need to know.
“Sarin? What are you doing here?” Roslan’s croaky voice is different from the once booming and commanding voice I remember.
“Search and Rescue mission. It’s been a long time since we met.” I approach him and put my right hand out to shake his, but he does not move his hand – it is clutching his parang.
I let my right hand drop without making a big deal, “What happened, Captain?”
“I am a Captain no more. I’m just the chef. I’m not a soldier, they call me ElKapitan now… Not Captain. I have always failed to protect.”
“Captain Roslan, you saved me and that matters to me.”
The broken man says nothing. Sergeant Menawan passes his aluminum water bottle and gestures for ElKapitan to drink. He takes a sip and stares on the green canvas floor.
“They came in much larger numbers. They played with our lives, like we were ragged dolls. And they always leave me to pick up the pieces. I couldn’t save them. Not now, not then. What is the meaning of my life?”
I don’t answer. This is loser talk, I don’t do loser talk. I am not his counsellor or therapist. I put my hand on his left shoulder, “ElKapitan, listen. I need you to tell me what happened to the missing members.”
“I don’t know. They were running towards the waterfall, I think. You might find their bodies near there.”
Menawan gives me the look and I know it’s best I leave Captain Roslan aka Elkapitan alone.
“We don’t belong here in Ingei, the jungles don’t belong to us.” I hear him before we leave him, this sorry state of a man I once revered.
“Captain Sarin, let us introduce ourselves.” Says a young man in a faded and worn out ‘Taylor Swift’ t-shirt. “I’m Mahmud. I’m the expedition’s Liaisons & Logistics Officer to my village, that’s Melilas village.” Mahmud raises his fist. I think he wants to do a fist-bump with me. I gently shake my head. I don’t do fist-bumps.
“And this is my Melilas village elected leader…” I don’t hear his name, as I can’t stop myself from wondering why this elderly man using a dark navy blue blazer and bright red shorts in the middle of the jungle. To make it worse, he’s wearing a black baseball cap. I nod in confusion.
“This is Mr. Patih and Mr. Ayang, who are both porters for the expedition team.”
“Tell me what happened at the Ingei base camp.”
“We were away, heading towards our Melilas village. You know to resupply and bring their other equipment when we saw flashes of light and thunder in the direction of base camp.”
“Lightning storm?” I ask.
“I don’t know but it was pretty bright, white and green light. The night sky was so lit so brightly, it seemed like day time.”
“White and green light?”
“Yup, well actually lots of white light and then bright white and then very, very bright green light. Strange indeed. By the time, we got there, we found so many people had died and El-Kapitan – you know – mumbling to himself.”
“Mahmud, I want you to take my team there, to their base camp tomorrow.”
“Sorry Captain Sarin, I can’t – my village needs me. I need to be there at my village to protect it. That’s what my village leader wants me to do. In any case, he has setup a protection spell around this army camp.”
“Are you going to setup a spell around your village? If so, you can come back here after you are done?”
“No, I am the protection. I’ve got the seventh sense. People tell me that bad spirits don’t like me, and they stay away from me. I’ve never seen one and apparently they can’t see me, but whatever it is, I have to listen to the boss.” Mahmud points to his boss, the elderly man with the fashion crisis: a dark navy-blue blazer, bright red shorts, and a black baseball cap.
We watch them both leave the encampment and head towards their own village.
“7th sense, my ass!” Menawan laughs out. Spontaneously I laugh out so loudly, tears come out of my eyes, and I forget why we are here in the first place. We start walking back to the others in our Unit, noticing how quickly the sun is setting. We should talk to the team and decide a plan of action.
As we are about to arrive at our tent, I find myself asking, “Menawan, what do you make of this all?”
“Captain, I don’t want to jump to conclusions, but I do believe we are dealing with some very dark forces. I can feel the jungle here has more spirits than before. We are being watched.”
“Hmmm, that bad, Sergeant? Have you got any suggestions?”
“At the moment, none. Tonight, I will reach out to the spirits and see what they say. Perhaps you should try to… pray and ask your God, Captain. It would help to have a bit of quiet in our minds.”
“Thank you for the suggestion, Sergeant. I am sure your Gods and my God will be pleased to hear those words from you. I, on the other hand, can’t stand the quiet. Sometimes, the quiet is violent.”
Menawan stops in mid step, and plants his feet firmly to the moist soil. It looks as though he is examining the ground. And then I realize he is concentrating, trying to quieten himself. The first time I hear it, I am unsure if it is simply my imagination. And then I hear it again, over and over again. It is real. My unit, the 5th Recon Unit, charge towards the danger, our weapons ready to shoot. I can feel heat from the talisman on my chest. The constant screaming is coming from one of the tents in the middle of the camp.
Location: Tessenk, Hilaga City.
“This is not our doing, Lord Jahat. There is a time for our ambitions but not now,” Supreme Council Lord Glick, a tall dark-skinned leader in the Hilaga City Supreme Council, whom they usually refer to as No. 3. Supreme Council Lord Glick’s dark red iris makes him appear formidable to those who wish to negotiate with him.
“Tell us what you know, and let me make a decision on this.” Lord Jahat starts his own negotiations. I am awaiting for the signal to kill the two Hilaga Supreme Council leaders and … Ehsom, my own long lost and so-called dead brother. Will I be able to kill my younger brother, especially when I cannot afford to hesitate? There is so much at stake here. Why did he ever leave me?
“Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse,” Supreme Council Lord Glick pauses and while he takes a deep breath, he touches the ruby gold ring in his right hand. I notice how the ruby sparkles red even in the dim light. “The Supreme Council will surrender to you and grant you emergency powers – complete and total control – during this crisis. And once you have overcome our issues and our enemies, we will recognize you; Lord Jahat, as the Supreme Leader of Hilaga.”
“Are you serious?” Lord Jahat gob smacked and ponders upon this new move.
“If it must come down to this to save Hilaga, then we will. Better the city to have blood spilled from our enemies than from our kin. Besides, you are already the voice of the people. We have already lost much of our say in the City. Once you resolve this crisis, you would be unstoppable. Or we could as you said just kill ourselves right here and then,” Supreme Council Lord Sara utters in a monotonous and emotionless voice.
“And what does Supreme Council Lord Nathan think about this?”
“He was the one who came up with the proposal, he thought you would make sense of it. We cannot stop you, so we might as well embrace you – if you can be reasoned with.” Supreme Council Lord Glick holds out his hand in gesture to Lord Jahat.
“I would like to hear it from Supreme Council Lord Nathan himself.” Lord Jahat leaves Glick’s hand hanging in midair.
“You understand he is not here, simply because if you choose blood, then he’s our insurance. And if you fail, he’s our insurance too. We have placed our fates in your hands, and if you fail, then it is automatically in Supreme Council Lord Nathan’s hands. Hilaga City has plunged into chaos too many times in the past. We must find a way to move forward, even if it means sacrifices. Hilaga’s survival lies in the balance. Show us, show the people you intend to lead that you are the leader we have all been waiting for.” I can hear a trembling in Supreme Council Lord Glick’s voice.
“I will accept, if you make your declaration, right here and in front of the people.” Lord Jahat demands.
“As expected,” Supreme Council Lord Glick smiles and then produces a long red leather box from inside his Supreme Council robes, and presents it to Supreme Council Lord Sara. She holds it out for him, as Supreme Council Lord Nathan utters a few ancient verses before proceeding to open the box, unlocking the golden clasps hands. With great care – almost ceremonially, he takes out a long gold scepter with an apple size sparkling red ruby stone. I could not help from noticing a similar pattern on the shaft – adorned with small jewel ornaments. It looks like the same curly, and circular pattern found in the corridor of the Hilaga City Locked Archives Hall.
Supreme Council Lord Glick raises the Scepter high up with both of his hands, proclaiming to the angry ‘mob’ around us, “The Supreme Council grants Lord Jahat full emergency powers. Only He can free us from the attacks of our enemies. We entrust him with the Eye of Hilaga Scepter as recognition of his new emergency powers. You are all witnesses to this. The Supreme Council will await eagerly for his return to Hilaga. And upon successfully dispatching our enemies and restoring order to Hilaga, The Supreme Council will secede and recognize Lord Jahat as the Supreme Leader of Hilaga!”
The crowd starts cheering loudly, as Supreme Council Lord Glick carefully places the Eye of Hilaga Scepter into the hands of Lord Jahat, who immediately grabs it and rattles the Scepter feverishly like a newly won tournament trophy. “For Hilaga, For Unity. Kill our Enemies! Hilaga is the Light Unto the World!” Lord Jahat mesmerizes his crowd who follow him blindly.
Supreme Council Lord Sara proceeds to give me the box for safe keeping. She takes a quick glance at Azilah, and whispers to me, “Can you really trust her? You understand the meaning of her blue eyes, right?” I choose to kindly ignore Supreme Council Lord Sara. After all, it was only a moment ago, I was thinking of ways on how to dispatch her and her followers, and yes; my younger brother, Eshom too.
“Supreme Council Lord Sara, where exactly are our enemies?” Azilah asks the most obvious question.
“We have confirmation that our Sikar generators have stopped functioning – our engineers barely made it out alive. Nothing we do can restart them or make them functional. This is why we believe there are humans in our world. Our projections place the original site of the disturbance being somewhere in Azzah.”
“Azzah?” I now understand why the Supreme Council is keen to ‘promote’ Lord Jahat, get him to their dirty work – no matter the cost.
“Yes, Azzah. Do not underestimate our enemies. If Jawad the Great Conjurer is involved in this, as we have long suspected, you will face great resistance. Most of our units will join you. They will swear their loyalties to you, so Lord Jahat does not have to worry about ‘complications’.” I am amazed at how Supreme Council Lord Sara is able to say everything without any stops, completely monotonous.
“What about Hilaga City? The City is burning and there are many citizens trapped in the buildings.”
“Unfortunate, but sacrifices we must accept. The power loss is catastrophic and widespread. We are back in the Stone Age, which is why we must resolve this immediately. We will always remember those whom we cannot save.” Supreme Council Lord Glick has no issues with balancing and equating lives as easily as resolving a simple maths equation.
“You mean the ones we choose not to save?” Azilah replies defiantly.
“Right now, our priority is our protection. The heads must survive, so that the body will live for much longer. We can survive with an amputated limb, but never with an amputated head. The rest of us will protect Hilaga, in case, the humans or other forces choose to attack Hilaga City.” Supreme Council Lord Glick reasons, his voice does not betray any concern for the lost of lives.
“Very well, then we have a plan. Azzah is a few days away from here. A good forced and rapid march.” Lord Jahat jubilantly concludes.
I start rallying my Panah Kill Team Unit whilst Azilah liaises with volunteers from the crowds. Lord Jahat attends to his newly acquired elite Supreme Council units as they openly swear an oath of loyalty to Lord Jahat.
All of the units who were until recently, ready to die for The Supreme Council: The Tebnihs, The Nama Unit and the Kidon Unit.
All except Ehsom and the missing 101 Unit.
Location: Kilo Zero Nine Base Camp, Ingei Jungle. Bumi
Corporal Jagau is the first to arrive. A group of soldiers gather outside the tent where the screaming is still happening. The soldiers are apprehensive, lacking courage to confront whatever is inside.
We push through the soldiers and enter the tragic tent. Inside, a few of the men are trying to wake up one of the soldiers who is screaming constantly, they clamber on him and his green Army-issue sleeping covers. Frantically shaking him and calling his name but he does not respond. He yells names of people I do not recognize.
“Must be one hell of a nightmare,” Private Kilau jokes.
On each side of him, there is a soldier fast asleep, their faces occasionally twitching. Heavy sleepers, they’d sleep through an attack. Whoever this screaming soldier is, he must be from a wealthy family. The other two soldiers are sleeping on the ground, whilst he has his own portable bed – usually reserved for commanding officers.
“Hysteria?” I ask one of the soldiers on top of the screaming man.
“Help! He’s floating upwards!”
“What?” I look down and realize he is not a portable bed! His body is actually floating in mid-air. Impossible!
Members of the 5th recon unit and myself jump on him and try to push him down. His body is being pushed upwards. I fear he would float into the sky!
“Wake him up!” I yell.
Menawan spits on his hand, mutters something in his tribe’s language, raises his hand high up and then slaps the screamer hard. A very hard Sergeant’s slap, indeed. The screamer’s lips and mouth bloodied, and now he is missing a front tooth. Yet, the screamer continues screaming in his sleep.
“Captain, I don’t know what to do.” Menawan looks puzzled. A man in a white robe and a white skullcap hat pushes Menawan aside and spits in his own hand. Another slap? He then rubs the saliva on the screamer’s eyebrows whilst massaging the eyebrows. He chants a spell, or a prayer in a language I have not heard of.
The screamer stops screaming and falls to the ground, and all of us land on him. He yells out and wakes up, “I’m safe, I’m safe. I’m safe, Thank God!” The two soldiers besides him, scream out as they too wake up, jumping on their feet – confused and look frantically for shelter.
The white robe man instructs us to get them some water and sits them down.
“Who are you?” I ask the white robe ‘healer’. I notice how aged he is. Grey hair, grey beard and wrinkles all over his sun damaged skin.
“Son, I’m Mr. Gosni. I’m a ‘specialist’. I’m here to help find those who were taken by the jungle.”
A civilian volunteer, so that’s who Major Falkon was talking about.
The three ‘sleep-ordeal’ soldiers once settled, sit down with us and Mr. Gosni.
The screamer, Private Fadil tells us his ‘dream’, whilst the other two remain quiet.
“We were quite tired from the search mission today and went to sleep a bit early. I dreamt I was back in the jungle, near the giant old tree that had the strange markings. The one we had rested under and where we had our lunch break.”
“Me too,” the other two – Private Gil and Private Edin – mutter out, and then look at each other in shock.
The same dream for all three men?
“Anyway, for some reason, the three of us were there. We could hear the crunching of old leaves and loud footsteps that trembled the ground. I thought it was a giant of some kind, but it turned out to be an old man with a very long beard.”
“Yes, his white beard was so long, it touched the ground.” One of the other dreamers interjected, his voice trembling.
“He was holding a walking stick of some kind. A weird crooked piece of a tree branch. I think.”
“We asked who he was. He said he was a Bunian – one of the spirits of the jungle – sent to talk to us”.
“I asked him why. He said he wanted to know why there are so many of us, in their jungle. He reminded us that we don’t belong here.”
“I apologized to him, and told him we were looking for our people who were missing. I told him they were friends of our friends. He stroked his beard and said nothing. I asked him if he knew what happened at the Research base.”
“The old man kept quiet, but I persisted on getting an answer. I told him the faster we find them, the faster we can get home. And leave them in peace”
“The old man told me that they – the missing ones – have been taken by the jungle. They belong to the jungle now. He told us to leave them to their fates and go home. Otherwise, they will start taking the rest of us.” Fadil stammers and shivers in fear.
He then started walking to the back of the tree. We decided not to follow him. But then, I called him out, to reason with him. He slowly walked back, we could only see one side of his face. He was grinning wickedly and then he laughed. I asked him what was funny. He turned round showed the other side of his face and his body.” Private Fadil starts to hyperventilate.
Mr. Gosni taps him on the chest, “Breathe, son!”
“The other half of his face and body, it was… That half of the body was rotting, dark and – something else was in it. I don’t know what. I remember the stench, the worst stench in my life. It was pulling our breaths from us. I tried to run but my legs were so heavy. I saw them, Edin and Gil, their bodies, sunk halfway into the ground unable to breathe.” Fadil starts crying, and so do the other two soldiers. “I screamed out for help but no one came.”
Mr. Gosni pats Fadil on his shoulder, “Son, don’t worry you are safe now. I will talk to the Major and try to get you home tomorrow.”
He looks at Private Edin and Private Gil, “This dream is a reminder. We should always live life as though we would die at any moment, or even the next day. That is the truth about mortality and our lives in this world. I think this is a good time to pray and think about what you want to do to correct your lives. Best to start writing letters to your loved ones. Anything can happen to any of us. Always be prepared for death.”
The three soldiers thank and then kiss Mr. Gosni’s hand.
“Why don’t you guys rest in a different tent,” Mr. Gosni suggests, and the three soldiers leave the tent.
“Mr. Gosni, I am glad you talked about living life constantly remembering death. It will give soldiers good perspective. Be more aware and be less reckless with their life decisions. Maybe I should use some of your words for motivational training for my own soldiers.”
“Captain Sarin, it was not a motivational speech. Those men had an unseen encounter with the Papas spirit that lives in that fateful tree. An interaction between their souls and the Papas spirit without even realizing it. The dream was merely a recollection of what actually happened to their souls today. It is clear from their dream that both Private Edin and Gil – who seemed like good men – are marked men.”
“They are already dead.”
Location: Kilo Zero Nine Base Camp, Ingei Jungle. Bumi
I did not say anything back. How could those two soldiers be dead from a dream? No, he said it was a ‘soul to spirit’ encounter. How come I have never heard of this Papas spirit before? I have been in the jungle countless times. How can we defend ourselves against an experience we don’t realize is happening? Gosni should have directly told those two soldiers that they are already dead. But that would not make sense. Maybe Gosni doesn’t know what he is talking about.
“We got a Pull In at 2200hrs.” Private Kilau reminds me.
“Late night head count? In that case, tell the men to make their dinner now. I’m going to talk to the other survivors. Tell the Sergeant to join me.”
A middle-aged white woman in the jungle, in the middle of all this. She seems edgy, fidgeting with her grey-auburn hair, her eyes now dry from tears of news of the tragedy. Why has she decided a life of being in the jungle – half way round the world – when women her age should be harassing their children to get married, or upsetting their in-laws?
“You must be Ms. Fox?” I don’t know why but my voice stiffens up, as I attempt to change my accent to what I think is the closest I can to a British accent. It’s almost a reflex to do so. My people can’t stop emulating other people’s accent. I must sound like bumbling idiot to her.
“Yes, I am. You can call me Louise. Do you have a cigarette?”
“Sorry I don’t smoke.”
“Look, whoever you are. A smoker knows another smoker. Like Gay-dar with gay people, smokers have their own radar – smok-dar. Besides I can see a pack of ciggies jutting in out of your side pocket.” Louise sniffles through her large European nose, as she points me to my obvious current vice. I imagine that her large nose gives her an advantages when locating cigarette packs via scent.
I feel embarrassed at being caught out lying. Sergeant Menawan coughs intentionally.
“Louise, you’ve put me in a spot now. As a superior officer, I’m not supposed to not smoke and I should be a better example to my men.” I hand the entire pack of cigarettes and she takes a cigarette.
“I’m Captain Sarin, and this is Sergeant Menawan. We are.. Involved in search and rescue.” Best not to reveal to her our unit name.
“Two things, I find intriguing about your country. One is the number of laws you have, which remains unenforced…. Like this no-smoking business. And second thing is how whatever happens in the jungle, stays in the jungle.” Sergeant Menawan gives me the eye and leans over gentlemanly and lights her cigarette.
“See! A room full of smokers. Go on. I don’t mind. Wow, these are amazing clove cigarettes! Who needs to worry about death bringing cigarettes when we have death all around us.”
I pass one of my clove cigarette to Menawan, “I guess we can’t keep on pretending we’re non-smokers.”
He helps me light up my own cigarette, the crisp crackling of the tobacco and cloves fills the tent with the sweet aroma of cloves.
“Keeps the mosquitoes away too!” Louise laughs uncomfortably. I can see she seems much calmer.
“So Louise, tells us what happened. What did you see? How did you survive?”
“Well, just before the attack or so I was told by Mr. Vol, Mr. Vol had called me to see the thermal infrared cameras that we had installed near the camp. Mo, one of the research students, was also with us.”
“Thermal infrared cameras? Why would you be using such cameras in the jungle? That’s a bit too high tech, isn’t it?”
“Actually, it’s becoming the norm. The thermal infrared cameras don’t just see heat and help us identify hidden species, but the cameras are also triggered by motion sensors. We also have thermal infrared video cameras, but I am not sure if we had time to install it. These cameras were the pride of joy of Prof. Simon. The late Prof. Simon.”
Louise pauses. I reckon she would break down and cry her eyes out again. She does not cry, maybe she ran out of tears.
“You know what I love about these cigarettes, they stop me from crying.”
“I’m sorry, Louise. It’s a great tragedy. We are going to find the missing.”
“Yes, I hope you do. I don’t even remember what happened.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, Mr. Vol was showing me the images on the thermal cameras. One of them had a strange image, quite a rather large biped animal. Or at least that what I thought it was.”
“Bye pet? What is that? Is that the animal on your badge your pet?” Menawan asks, unsure he wants to know the answer, pointing his finger on Louise’s pangolin conservation lapel badge.
“Biped means it walks on its two feet, instead of four how like most large animals are. It almost as tall as the trees. At least that was my guesstimate. FYI, a pangolin is a quadruped, since it is on all four limbs. Most of the time. Mister, you should never ever keep pangolins as pets.”
“And then what happened?” I urge her to continue.
“I then I heard loud crashing of the trees. I wanted to stand up and head back to the camp, but there was a heaviness on my right shoulder and I blacked out until the morning. By the time, I woke up and got to the camp, Mahmud – you know the Taylor Swift fan – and the chef Elkapitan and everyone else who is alive was there. And there was..”
Louise sobs, but no tears come out. I stand uncomfortably, as I watch her sob. I want to put my arms around her and console her, but it felt so awkward. I don’t this counseling stuff.
“It was complete carnage.”
“What about the research student? Mo?”
“I don’t know what happened. I remember him with us when we examining the thermal camera images. After that, I didn’t see him. I woke up alone.”
“What about Vol? Where was he?”
“I didn’t see him until the first soldiers arrive to secure the area. Maybe he was looking for Mo. Please find him.”
We leave Louise to find Mr. Vol. Mr. Vol, is outside in the adjacent tent, chatting with some of the soldiers from the Third Battalion. Shaven bald, with a photographer’s vest, he appears very calm and chatty.
“You must be Mr. Vol. We would like to talk to you.” The other soldiers automatically leave us.
“Sure. Who are you?”
“I’m Captain Sarin and this is Sergeant Menawan. We’re here to do Search and Rescue.”
“That’s good. Special Task Platoon? One of the Recon Units?” He asks to my surprise. I reexamine his posture, it is not like the usual civilians who seem to always slouch at the shoulders. I watch the way his khaki clothes appear creased at the precise places. My instincts tell me he is no civilian. Perhaps this is army-radar, or was it Army-Dar.
“You must be ex-Mil?”
Mr. Vol formally shakes his hand firmly. “Yes. I guess once Army, always Army. Of course, I’m retired now.”
“What do retired soldiers do? I thought most go into business or take up government advisory jobs. How did you end up being a bird photographer?” I wanted to laugh, but Menawan’s uneasiness keeps me on my toes.
“It’s a complicated story, but let’s just say I’m following my passion. Someone has to protect our birds and the jungle.”
“The jungle grows back, doesn’t it?”
“No, not at all. Once it is gone, it is truly gone. We won’t know what we lost, until it is too late. Until we have lost everything.” Mr. Vol clenches his fist as he speaks.
“Okay. Thank you for letting me know about that.” I arrive to my own conclusion: these jungle protector volunteers, they are simply mad. “So what happened during the attack on the Research base camp?”
“Well, everything was fine as we were settling in for the night. It was our first night in Ingei. I bumped into Louise – the pangolin activist – and wanted to show her the thermal infrared cameras. Did I set them up right? They had just come back from the waterfall. When we were adjusting the thermal cameras, we heard a lot of noise coming from the Research base camp and then I lost consciousness. I woke up alone, and headed to the base camp to find the slaughter and our sole survivor, ElKapitan.”
Sergeant Menawan walks around Vol, and puts his palm out towards Vol as he closes his eyes. He moves his palm in a motion as though he is scanning Vol, like how airport security guards scan with a metal detector.
“Sergeant? What’s going on here?” Vol turns round, I can see the change in his face, he is offended.
“He has a lot of ‘isi’” The sergeant takes two steps back and takes out his knife. I can only assume what Menawan refers to ‘isi’ is spiritual content.
“Sang Jati? Come on, there’s no need for that pocket knife of yours.” Vol replies calmly. Menawan’s custom carbonized stainless steel knife measuring 12 inches is hardly a pocket knife.
“Proud of being a Sang Jati. Who are you really?” Menawan replies, his posture prepared to attack like a jungle cat about to pounce on its prey.
“I’m just a retired army officer, doing his best to pay off his debt. I am not going to hurt anyone. I didn’t hurt anyone at the camp. It wasn’t me.”
“What debt?” I gesture for Menawan to stand down. He does not, he takes a step further back. Whatever he felt, the spiritual content or ‘isi’ of this man must be immensely strong.
“Then tell me what really happened. What are you doing here? I want real answers. People’s lives may depend on it.”
“You have much to learn, Captain Sarin. If you open your mind, you will notice the jungle is continually talking to you. For me, they have been telling me things and hence I am in their debt. That is why I choose this path. To be one of their guardians. There’s a group of spirits who have asked me to protect Miss Fox. And I did just that.”
“Why her? You should have protected the rest too.”
“Miss Fox is a friend of the jungle. Every time she enters our jungles, the spirits of the pangolins protect her. And if they can’t protect her, they send someone like me. She protects and fights for the pangolins. As for the others, the demons that attacked the base camp are very powerful and they were in great numbers. I would have been dead just like them. You understand the term ‘mission specific’? That’s me.”
“You knew the attack was coming?” I find this confession all too shocking.
“Not until the last minute.”
“I don’t get it. Why would the Pangolin spirits want her protected?”
“That’s the problem with you grunts. You never stop to listen to what the jungle is trying to say to you. If our people were slaughtered by the millions, what would you do especially if you yourself can’t fight back?” Vol pauses, and then realizing he is asking a rhetoric question continues. “You would protect those who stand up for you. Stand up against those who threaten your very existence.”
“People are killing the pangolins by the millions? The tenggiling? By the millions?” I sound pretty ignorant for asking. I wonder if what I am hearing from him makes any sense. My stomach churns, I should have had dinner.
“As I said; Captain Sarin, you need to listen to the jungle.”
“What about the missing? What about Mo? He was with you.”
“Yes, he was with me. He was not supposed to be. I think he saw something and ran. I didn’t follow me. I had my mission. I tried to find him after the ordeal, but found nothing. As for the others, I don’t know what exactly happened. They just vanished into thin air during the attack. The spirits tell me the jungle has swallowed them whole.” Vol pauses again, he smiles at Menawan and then looks at me right in the eye. “I’ve said too much. Listen to the jungle. The good spirits will protect good men.”
Both Menawan and I say nothing, as Vol walks away, whistling an old folksong tune. “By the way, if you ever pull out a blade on me again…” He does not complete his threat, but we know.
Location: Kilo Zero Nine Base Camp, Ingei Jungle. Bumi
What exactly are we up against? How are we going to find the missing? I have a hundred questions flashing through my mind.
“Are you alright, Sergeant?” I look to Menawan who looks he has just seen a ghost.
“Thank you, Captain. I think I am. That Vol guy he could hurt us bad if he wants to.”
“You think he is one of the good guys?”
“ I don’t know, I just don’t know, Captain.” He shakes his head slowly and takes a good breather.
We meet Corporal Jagau, “Captain, we got a Pull In in 5 minutes.”
“2200hrs already? We have been busy, haven’t we?”
I lead my men for our informal head count – the Pull In. Colonel Falkon is out too. Every soldier in the camp is out here with us. As we do the head count, I notice a white flashlight in the tree line up ahead of us. The regulars – regular soldiers of the Third Battalion – notice it too and start pointing at it. A few of them shouting for the soldier in the jungle to get back into our base camp.
I look at the soldier standing at the tree line. He looks strange, he is wearing our green PT (Physical training) uniform. Green t-shirt and green shorts and holding his flashlight. Why would he be running in the middle of the night with that? Must be a silly ‘green’ Private. He is so going to be in trouble with his commander. The soldier in the green PT uniform smiles and then walks away.
Colonel Falkon shouts out to him, “Hey soldier, get back in camp for the Pull In. That’s an order!”
The soldier simply walks along the edge of the jungle tree line, as the entire camp starts shouting at him. One of the NCOs start walking towards him, but is stopped by what I think is one of the civilian ‘specialists’. Perhaps one of Mr. Gosni’s friends.
The soldier starts jogging, his flashlight dangling from his waist. He jogs round the border of the camp. We watch him with great caution, turning ourselves as he jogs faster. Our hands gripping to our guns, ready for anything that may come. I see Vol at the corner of my eye. He seems relaxed, looking at his camera and an iPad; perhaps reviewing his photos, – indifferent to our current developments.
The ‘soldier’ starts running faster and faster. It looks like he is sprinting. There is tension in the air, as we watch ‘him’ sprint around the camp – exactly where the ring of giant old trees are. He must have great stamina. I watch him does laps around the camp, which is impossible for even the fittest of us.
“Whatever you do, don’t tempt yourself to go near him.” Mr. Gosni startles me.
“Is he a spirit?”
“Oh yes, a very naughty and nasty Bunian. He can’t get through this camp – my friend and I have done a double protection spell – a double guris around this camp. We should be safe, but do be prepared for any surprises.”
“Come here, you son of a …! If you wanna me fight me, come here! You coward, come and fight me! Face me, one of the greatest man warriors. Prove yourself, come here you stupid son of a … ” Colonel Falkon starts going berserk, yelling in shrills and thrills. I look at his soldiers, who are in comparison, merely a huddled mass wanting to be somewhere like in the comfort of the bosoms of their mothers, wives and girlfriends.
Colonel Falkon takes off his shirt, bearing his toned muscular body. He shakes his fists violently in the air and screams expletives, daring the spirit to confront him.
The old trees sway violently in the windless night. “Is that all you got? I want more! Show me more! You are all nothings! Waiting to be trampled by the likes of me! Mere mortal flesh and blooded humans!” I start to wonder if the Colonel has been drinking. He is simply raving mad. There is a loud rumbling in the jungle, as the soldiers and ourselves grow anxious about an impending confrontation with an enemy that has supernatural powers. The ‘soldier spirit’ stops running, and we see behind him a blue light glow, throbbing and what seems like a large number of paired lights in the tree branches. Glowing eyes and so many of them. One of Colonel Falkon’s soldiers start shooting his M16A2 rifle towards the jungle, semi-auto then to full auto. Everyone else ensue and starts shooting at what seems like legitimate targets. A deafening volley of gunfire, shooting non-stop.
Members of my unit look at me – waiting for my orders. “5th Recon Unit, stand down. Rest and sleep in the open, if you can. It’s going to be a long night.”
Colonel Falkon starts cackling madly. “You don’t have the balls to come here and fight me. You bring shame to your kind! I’m going to burn this jungle and build blocks of condominiums here. I will send loads of tourists by the boat, by the planes and by the cars. Your precious jungle will be finished.” The green soldier spirit does not move. Simply smiling. I then start to notice his pale face reveals he has no eyebrows. The other platoon leaders have finally figured out they should not be firing and best to remain calm. I wonder how many bullets have been wasted.
Suddenly, there are four large bursts of flames at the tree line, followed by ear piercing screams. I cover my ears, as I watch Colonel Falkon laugh ever louder, “You stupid Fs! The only ones who have balls are your stupid ones! You are all doomed! You might as well do an all out attack! Who knows you might be able to push through our guris! You bloody stupid Fs!”
He points directly to the eyebrow-less ‘spirit’, reveals his clenched teeth and then thumps his bare chest. “Come here, you weakling! Come and kill me!”
I look towards Mr. Gosni, wondering what question I should ask him.
“Don’t worry about tomorrow. We’re going to catch that spirit and interrogate him. Do your best to rest.” Gosni pats me on the shoulder, waits for a few seconds and then walks away.
I say nothing. An interrogation of a spirit. This is whole new territory for me. I command my men to bring out their sleeping bags, we are sleeping out in the open. I look at Colonel Falkon’s soldiers, agitated and restless. These soldiers won’t sleep wink tonight. And I start to see what the enemy’s strategy is. Wear us down. They won’t be able to do any searches tomorrow. This is a war of attrition. They’ve clearly read Sun Tzu’s Art of War.
I realize now where to start our search survey tomorrow. In the mean time, I must rest and sleep. I look at Colonel Falkon, he is still ranting and doing his best to provoke the spirit soldier. I look at Vol, who takes his drinking water can and lifts up in toast to me.
I touch my silver talisman and then I say a little prayer before I sleep. I pray for a dreamless night, for my dreams are always filled with nightmares, and now the nightmares are becoming real again.
Location: Kilo Zero Nine Base Camp, Ingei Jungle. Bumi
I must be dreaming.
I am at the Kilo Zero Nine Base camp and everything is in black and white and the grey. I know this is a dream. A green tent appears in front of me. There’s only one thing to do in my dream. Indulge, and do my best to expect the unexpected.
I slowly enter the tent. In the corner, the Cursed Captain, my former captain Roslan, sits cross-legged in the corner. He seems much calmer than when I had meet him this evening. He is wearing a chef’s white uniform, starched and creased well. Not the tattered and soiled clothes I saw him in today.
“Captain Sarin, you can call me, ElKapitan. You are now a Captain and I am no longer in the Army. I’m a chef now. A good one, I must say. Do you have a cigarette?”
I reach for my pockets but it is empty, and shake my head.
“I don’t find it surprising that you’d do your best to impress a white woman who is a stranger to you And yet with me, you have no intent to appear vice-less. Didn’t I tell you to never smoke?”
“ElKapitan, I must be in a dream. You look better. I got to ask you. What exactly are we up against? Are these the same faceless giant demons that attacked our original unit, The First Recon Unit?”
“Yes, Captain Sarin. They are the ‘Orang Tinggi’ as our people would call them. I guess it makes sense to call them that since they are quite tall demons. Special Bunian enforcer units with specific kill missions. They have their factions, just as we do in our world. Their politics are like our politics too.”
“Why would they attack us? What have we done to them?”
“Sarin, it is hard to explain and understand without actual experience on the other side. On their side. Do you remember hearing their voices?”
“Yes, I still hear their screams every time I sleep at night and every time my life is quiet…” I pull myself together as I recall my lost comrades of the 1st Recon Unit.
“No, I meant the voices of those faceless demons.”
I shudder in disbelief, “The voices of the demons?”
“Sarin, each time, I fight them, I can hear their thoughts, I see their memories, feel their thirst for something I can’t comprehend. To spill our blood is never enough for them. They want something more. I don’t believe they even know what it is they want.”
“How can you know for sure? How can you really hear their thoughts?”
“The more I fight them, the more I can quieten my mind. Though I must say I am a bit broken after this fight. Sarin, quieten your mind the next time you meet and fight them. We must gather as much information as we can.”
“That’s easy for you to say. You stand a better chance of fighting them than me. I barely made it out last time. I need you, ElKapitan.” My hand naturally seek solace on his shoulder.
“I will need to recover first. Nevertheless, you don’t need me. You have everything that you need. I see your men of the 5th Recon Unit are very capable. It has been such an honor to have led you at one time.”
Before, I can say any more, I feel the tent shake violently as the green tarpaulin entrance flaps violently open. Someone enters. To my horror, I have seen him before. The eyebrow-less spirit soldier in the green PT. I search for my weapons, but I carry none. Not even my knife. I touch my chest and try to feel for my talisman but it is not there.
ElKapitan jumps up and pulls me behind him, “No, no, no. Not here. Not in his dream. That’s not fair.”
“War has never been fair. Humans, I will kill you in your dream. Both your minds will be trapped inside your own bodies, unable to speak or scream,” the spirit soldier grins, his voice sounds like three voices talking at the same time.
“This is just a dream, you can’t hurt us.”
He steps forwards slowly, as we both step back until we reach the green tarpaulin wall of the tent.
“On the contrary. Once you have seen my face, I can enter your dreams and kill you in your sleep. You should feel honored coz’ I chose you. I could not help notice that unlike the other soldiers, not only is your uniform is different from the others, but I have noticed how calm you seemed. Which means you are special. Was special. I will cherish killing you.” He is clearly enjoying this moment, savoring the moment before he kill us.
“But before I do, I’m going hurt you both very badly. Feel free to scream. There’s no one here but us.” The spirit’s jaw starts to increase in size and split wider, revealing rows of sharp and large knife teeth. His mouth begin to protrude, as his skin stretches too. He looks like a man-demon crocodile.
I desperately look for an exit, other than the obvious – which is directly behind him. I look for anything I can use to fight this spirit. There is nothing here. I gather all of my courage. I know I must fight him, even if it is the death of me. I was not born to die as a coward.
“I am First Recon Unit! I give my life for the First Recon Unit!” Before I could lunge and attack the spirit, I see a dark shadow behind the spirit, reappearing as someone familiar.
“I don’t think so.” The familiar voice utters out calmly.
The spirit turns round to see who is behind him.
“You? What’s the meaning of this? You have no power of me, this is his dream – not yours!”
Mr. Gosni grabs the hand of the spirit, as the tent around us starts to unravel and wrap itself around the spirit with such great speed. “If only this is an ordinary dream, but it is not. I’m afraid we have to hold you for questioning.”
“No, you can’t do this. Do you know who I am?” The spirit desperately tries to fight the tent wrap, but the more he fight, the more the tarpaulin tightens around him. He screams and yells curses towards Gosni.
“I don’t actually know who you are, but we’re going to find out. Find out Everything. Don’t you worry. I promise you a house of enduring pain.” Mr. Gosni then turns to ElKapitan, “Thank you for your help, ElKapitan.”
“No problemo, Gosni.” He replies, as I stare around my new surroundings, a bright white room.
“This is not possible! Humans are weak. How could you set this trickery up? Which of the Bunians helped you?” the spirit screams as the tent begins to cover his face.
“This is really a very homegrown technique. A dream trap. And yes, it is true that we, humans, are weak.” Mr. Gosni pats the demon on the head, as though teasing it. “But we evolve. We learn. Just like how bears can hurt and kill man; in the end, it is man that kills bear. And wipes the bear species off the face of the Earth.” Gosni smiles, as the last of the tent tarp seals the spirit. All I can hear is loud frantic mumbling.
“Where am I?” I ask them both.
“Your mind, of course. This isn’t exactly a dream. All warfare is based on deception. Sun Tzu, Art of War. You remember reading that, right?” Gosni replies.
“It’s time for you to wake up. Complete your mission, soldier.” ElKapitan snaps his fingers and I disappear.
I wake up, in full rigor sweating. What the hell was that? I look round and see my own soldiers waking up. It is almost dawn.
5th Recon Unit will conduct our search and rescue mission.
Location: Batin Village, Azzah. Ifrit.
I wake up in this strange bed, and realize I am not in my house, I am not in my home town. I am not even in my world. The reality of my unreal situation starts to set in. What is even unsettling is the dream that I just had. I don’t usually remember dreams, let alone nightmares that are so detailed. Somehow, I feel the urge to recall what I had dreamt, I become worried that I would forget as though it was an important message.
I recall myself floating and flying through the clouds, enjoying the moment. I remember the coolness of my face and my hands as I pass through each cloud. As the thick clouds become thinner, I see a beautiful modern city, with many people busy with their everyday lives. Unaware of me, small me floating and flying above their metropolitan city. I have no control on how I fly. In my dream, I was in automatic ‘flight mode’.
Through the maze of skyscrapers, I float through an open skylight of one of the most grandest buildings in this city. There are many guards here, each carrying their own staff. They do not notice me, as I zip past them, floating through their corridors.
I enter a large room, which I assume is some kind of meeting room. There are seven men sitting round a round table. Each of the men wore articulate and crease-less suits, each adorned with some kind of lapel pin. Automatically, I float into the corner of this large meeting room, floating against the ceiling – unable to move away, no matter what I do. Offering no further resistance, I choose to overhear the conversations of these seven courteous men, who turned out to kings in their kingdoms. The guards start rushing, shouting of impending danger, and yet I feel nothing. The seven kings stand up as their guards form a protective circle around their kings. Without warning, all of the guards collapse, their bodies disappearing into a fiery flame and then black ash. An elderly man dressed in a shimmering black robe calmly enters the room. I notice an oddity with him. His shadow seems to have a life on its own, and overwhelms everything behind him. He shouts at the seven kings and suddenly looks at me. The seven kings look at me.
“What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to be here.” The black robed elderly man pulls out a black sword from inside his robe and my body starts to be pulled towards him. I am floating towards him, no matter how I struggle. I hear the seven kings shouting, telling him to spare my life.
As I float too close to the elderly man, I notice his eyes are very dark, completely black. No, he actually has no eyes in his sockets! He plunges the black sword into my back and through my chest, the searing pain as I struggle to breath. I see the end of the black sword jutting out of my chest. And then I wake up, heart pounding as I continue gasping for breath – checking my chest has no wound.
Why did it seem so real?
I try my best to go back to sleep but no matter what I do, I simply can’t fall asleep. I look out of the window, it is still night. I could have sworn I had slept for a day already. I look at my watch, noticing how fast the time is going. I did sleep for more than a day! With nothing else to do, I walk out of the door, and stare at the bedroom door across mine – where Manis is sleeping. Maybe she is not sleeping. I wonder if I should knock on her door and enter it. What excuse shall I give myself for intruding into her bedroom? I imagine and practice the imagination scenario like ‘oh sorry, I thought this is the bathroom’ or like ‘I had a nightmare and I am wondering if you are safe, I was born to be your knight in shining armor – be with you and save you.’ Oh that sounds pathetic!
“Yes, it does sound pathetic. Be a man and let it all be natural, otherwise you’re like a lame stalker.” I turn round and see John, in nothing but his Union Jack boxers.
“You are awake too, John?” I point to his rather bright pair of boxers.
“Once British, always British!” John slaps his flabby tummy as I scratch my head.
“I can’t sleep, John. I think I may have overslept but it is still quite dark out there.”
“Yeah, I check on the others except you and the large doe-eye girl here – everyone else is asleep. I think we haven’t adjusted to the Azzah-Earth Time Zone Discrepancy – A.E.T.Z.D.”
“Azzah-Earth Time Zone Discrepancy, what?” I scratch my head again
“AETZD – I coined the term about fifteen minutes ago. Maybe I should simply rename it as the John Proctor Time Discrepancy – J.P.T.D. or perhaps it should called John Proctor Time Phenomenon. J.P.T.P.”
“Stop it, John. You are not making any sense.”
“On the contrary, I am making the most sense. Let’s examine the data or rather the observations we have made.”
I stay quiet and say nothing. This is too early in the morning for this. Or is it night time? I stop myself from drifting in my thoughts.
“Observation number 1: When we first arrived we could not believe we had been walking for 3 hours, and yet Johari through his own foot and steps measurement thought we had only been walking for an hour or so.” John pauses, waiting for me to say something back.
“Observation number 2: Our watches seem to be going faster than what we are used too. I think this is one of the most convincing evidence, though by right anything including powerful gravitational and magnetic fields could affect our watches.”
“Observation number 3: The Azzah boys say they are much much much older. If I recall correctly, the birthday Azzah boy said he is 70 years old, and he only looks like he is 6 or 7 years old. It would be of course interesting to be able to communicate with those in our home world and do a comparative study on the JPTDP or JPTP – which one sounds better – John Proctor Time Discrepancy Phenomenon or John Proctor Time Phenomenon?
“I don’t know John. I am wondering how we can get home. I don’t want to be stuck here for the rest of our lives here.”
“Everything happens for a reason, Adib. You should have a bit of faith.”
“You can lecture me on faith. Must I remind you about..” I make a bottle swigging gesture with my hand.
“Lapses, mere lapse, Adib. We’re allowed lapses in our faith.” John slaps his flabby tummy again. No one else is awake, so I suppose we could do whatever we want.
“Let’s go downstairs and look around, shall we? You don’t think they’ll mind would they?”
“We’re friends of the late Jawad the Great Conqueror!” John replies.
“Conjurer, not Conqueror. I suppose that would mean he could make people disappear and reappear.”
“Or things disappear and reappear… like restaurant bills disappear. That would be useful, wouldn’t it?” I drop a big hint towards John. I would love to slap or pinch his tummy, but that would not be appropriate thing between two heterosexual men. Simply not appropriate, I reiterate to myself.
“Oh come on, Adib – let’s not talk about that.” John calls out a truce, on a previous disagreement.
The wooden floor does not creak, as we head down the spiral stairs and into the ‘living-dining room’.
I appreciate how everything here is made up of wood. Even John begins to wonder about the furniture and floors and every single item on the long wooden dining table.
“Have you noticed it too?” I ask John
“Yes, there are no nails in the chair or table. Like Japanese woodcraft.”
“No, that’s not it. Everything in this house is made of wood! I didn’t notice it but even our spoons, forks and knives are made of wood! Our bowls and plates were wooden too!”
“The glass windows have glass panes.” John corrects me, but I ignore him and then realize something too. “Yes, and Jawad’s mug is probably made from a ceramic.”
Jawad’s mug is on the dining table and I pick it up. It feel it and confirm it is definitely not wood. This tall and white mug feels familiar. I turn it upside down to examine its base. I run my finger across the base and feel what I think is worn-out writing. John takes out a flashlight but the base looks clean.
“Perhaps this is a clue on how we can get back?”
“I got it, I got it. I have a UV led light here.” Using the same flashlight, John pushes a small switch and a light blue-violet light shines on the base, revealing its contents to our shock.
It reads ‘Starbucks Coffee 16 fl oz’.
“That’s not real, is it?” I am confused, as John pats me on the shoulder. I had expected hieroglyphics or Sumerian writing, not that I could read or decipher them.
“I guess that makes this one great treasure find,” John laughs and I laugh out too. I put the mug back on to the dining table. The moment I do so, I have an epiphany.
“Jawad or someone else brought this mug here.” I then correct myself. “Actually, he said it was a special gift to him, which means…”
“Someone had travelled from Earth to bring this Starbucks mug here!” We both say the same thing in chorus, laugh and then hug each other in the brief moment of insanity and joy. I take a few steps back and cross my arms to compose myself.
“Starbucks was formed in 1971, but this mug design – I bet you it can’t be more than 10 years, or even much earlier than that. I can’t wait for the Azzah boys to wake up. We have to ask them about this mug and how we can get home.”
About The Author
Aammton Alias is a practicing medical doctor. For the past 16 years, he has worked in a variety of hospitals, hospices and intensive care units. Eventually, he settled down as a family physician in a lovely, small town.
Although others only see him by the boundaries of the definition of a medical doctor, those who know him well know that he is NOT confined to that description. He is a passionate advocate for those who seek his help, and his compassion has made him an activist of various causes. He is also a writer, a poet warrior, an entrepreneur at heart and most importantly, he is a family man.
You can reach him via Twitter
My Other Books
If you enjoyed this book, try reading my other books:
Did you miss the first book?
The Last Bastion of Ingei: DAY 1
Day 1: Set in a country in Southeast Asia, three conservation activists – who are unlikely friends – continue in their struggle to save endangered wildlife from being sold and exploited, including rescuing the enigmatic ‘Pangolin’. They are unaware that they are being watched and face a great danger, an ancient enemy, once familiar to man, but now forgotten. At the same time, a Captain in the elite 5th Recon Unit is brought back to face an unspoken tragedy that no one believes happened, whilst elsewhere, recent supernatural events re-activate a secretive vanguard for human salvation: The LIMA.
Did you miss the second book?
The Last Bastion of Ingei: DAY 2
Day 2: Set in a country in Southeast Asia, three conservation activists – who are unlikely friends – continue in their struggle to save endangered wildlife from being sold and exploited, including rescuing the enigmatic ‘Pangolin’. They are unaware that they are being watched and face a great danger, an ancient enemy, once familiar to man, but now forgotten. At the same time, a Captain in the elite 5th Recon Unit is brought back to face an unspoken tragedy that no one believes happened, whilst elsewhere, recent supernatural events re-activate a secretive vanguard for human salvation: The LIMA.
The Last Bastion of Ingei: DAY 3
Day 3: Set in a country in Southeast Asia, three conservation activists – who are unlikely friends – continue in their struggle to save endangered wildlife from being sold and exploited, including rescuing the enigmatic ‘Pangolin’. They are unaware that they are being watched and face a great danger, an ancient enemy, once familiar to man, but now forgotten. At the same time, a Captain in the elite 5th Recon Unit is brought back to face an unspoken tragedy that no one believes happened, whilst elsewhere, recent supernatural events re-activate a secretive vanguard for human salvation: The LIMA.
Be The One Percent: Unlock Secrets to True Success, Real Wealth & Ultimate Happiness
Bob is ONE of the 1 Percent, the ones who have found UNLIMITED WEALTH, TRUE SUCCESS & ULTIMATE HAPPINESS. I have known Bob since I was a child. There was always something about him, but I could not figure it out. He seemed liked any other ordinary person. In fact, he kept a low profile, except to close friends and family. It was only recently that I realized Bob is not just special, he is EXTRAORDINARY, knowing the Secrets of Life and much more.
There are many other 1-Percent persons who passed through my life and yet I did not notice until now.
Let us take that journey together.
BE THE 1 PERCENT
Ask yourself these questions:
Do you want UNLIMITED WEALTH?
Do you want constant stream of SUCCESS?
Do you want to be completely and truly HAPPY?
Learn the Secrets of the REAL 1 Percent.
The 1 Percent are far richer & powerful beyond measure.
They live amongst us unnoticed, with the Secrets of Life known to them.
Living with True Success in all forms, Real Wealth that neither taxes nor burdens & have achieved the Ultimate Happiness.
They live in full Abundance, whilst the rest of us 99% still live in scarcity.
Their hearts contain the secrets to nullify the intent and the anger of those who seek to harm them.
Life is easy & fulfilling, like a beautiful dream.
Would you not want to be one of them?
Included towards the end of this book are 12 SIMPLE PRINCIPLES to practice and uphold as you begin your new journey to your new life
The King And The Minister
A beautiful children’s book about a story of a wise minister who has some important advice for the King. Will the King listen? Will the advice prevail? Suitable for preschool children to read on their own and/or for bedtime reading. Illustrations are made from original watercolour paintings.
Kids age 6-8 will also love this book
The Vessel of Our Writing Dreams: Where Do Our Ideas Come From
We are the vessels of our dreams, our ideas and yet where do our ideas come from?
Is it simply a mesh of neurons blasting out until a printout comes out?
Do we even own these ‘ideas’ that we claim to originate from us?
How do we ensure that we continue to both learn and project new ideas?
Do we immerse ourselves in an inspirational environment?
Eat healthy supplements? Perhaps dress-up and speak eloquently with a posh accent?
Why do we bother to come up with something different, when in our current ‘environment’ it may be safe to simply linger in the shadows waiting…like everyone else, who happens to be waiting for you?
The keyword here is……….‘brain atrophy’. How do you stop this brain atrophy?
Did you know that when you shine, you give others permission to do so themselves?
Dr. Aammton Alias shares his personal experiences and odd non-linear stories to help you find the answers to these urgent questions.
LET ME GO! How to Get Off Unwanted WhatsApp Chat Groups For Good
Being in a social media chat group can be quite useful and entertaining. On the other hand, having too many groups can be quite a pain in the butt – everyone underrates the stress of maintaining a presence in social media chat App groups…
And what about those who you are keen to avoid are in the same chat group as you?
Leaving a group without saying anything is considered sacrilege. What if they won’t let you leave? You leave the group and then they keep inviting you back.
You can check out anytime you want, BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE! Do you have to block every person in that group to have your peace?
Here are 1001 – funny, witty, intoxicating and annoying – ways to leave your social media chat groups!!
Have you heard of Nuke Options?
Do you want to know how you can Troll & Spam like a Pro?!
Now Everyone Can Write And Publish A Book In 3 Days
Everyone dreams of writing a book and having their book published.
Somehow, it seems like such an impossible dream…. hold on… here is a book to help you write your first book in 3 days!!
There is no hype about this. It is simply a tested and proven pathway.
If you don’t believe me, simply check my other books and their publication dates.
In this plan, I will show you how to figure out what you can write about IMMEDIATELY!
You can choose to write an eBook and if you want you can convert this into your first printed book, with almost zero money down.
This express book writing and publishing technique involves writing your eBook for Amazon Kindle and then getting it self-published into a printed book.
It is so easy to write a book now these days, I keep telling friends, family and yes, strangers that if you can talk about something, you can definitely write about it.
What are you waiting for?
Day 5: Captain Sarin leads his elite team into the 'Ingei' jungle for a special mission. Nothing is what it seems, and meeting Colonel Falkon reveals there is more to a simple 'search and rescue' mission of the daughter of a business tycoon. His past encounter with the tall faceless demon that killed his previous unit compares nothing to the enemies that want to kill him and all of humanity. Meanwhile, Adib and John trapped in another dimension, in the lost city of Azzah discover a phenomenon that changes everything.