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Trial Under Fire excerpt

The Charlie Fox prequel novella, TRIAL UNDER FIRE, goes back to a time when Charlie Fox was a regular soldier in the British Army. A radio operator out with a routine night patrol in Afghanistan, she is not supposed to be in a close-combat position. But a downed helicopter sees her unit tasked with an urgent rescue mission, and all bets are off.

With enemy forces closing in, Charlie’s skills are put to the test…

Excerpt from Chapter 4
Anybody who’s ever been in a firefight will know just how chaotic it is. Not least because the adrenaline is rampaging through your system and all your senses seem to be running at maximum revs, even though I was four months into my tour in Afghanistan at that point. This was not my first time under fire by any stretch.

I took a couple of long, deep breaths, willed my heart to slow its pounding to a steadier rhythm. I knew I would never hit anything if I allowed my sight picture to be shunted all over the place by the beat of my own pulse.

As soon as our lads opened up from concealment on the south side of the ravine, the firing intensified. I shut it out of my mind, tried not to pay attention to the battle being fought behind me. I kept one eye on the image overlaid by the illuminated reticle inside the scope, and the other open in the darkness, now strobe-lit by muzzle flash.

It was unusual for the Taliban to mount a conventional military assault, or even to hold their ground when they faced a possible pitched battle with coalition forces. Guerrilla hit-and-run tactics had served them well when their countrymen were kicking the arse of the Russians during the 1980s. And they hadn’t done too badly at kicking ours back in the mid-1800s, either.

So, either the crew of the Lynx was of importance, or the insurgents were waiting for something to happen…

When I caught another flash high to my left—southeast of our position—at first I took it for more weapons fire. I tracked right and left, hunting for another burst, but nothing came.

A padded knee hit the dirt near my shoulder.

“You see that, Charlie?” Corporal Brookes demanded. He had to lean in and yell in my ear to be heard over the crackle of the guns. “What d’you reckon?”

I lifted my head. “Didn’t see enough of it to make a guess,” I said. “Small arms, maybe? If it was another RPG, it would have hit us by now.”

“Now there’s a cheery thought. If you—”

“There!” I interrupted him. “There it is again. It’s a vehicle—headlights, look. Coming fast, if the way they’re jolting around is anything to go by.”

“The mad buggers. They’ll rip the axles out of that thing.”

“Well, let’s hope they do it sooner rather than later, then.”

I dropped my face back to the scope, saw with more clarity an old Toyota pick-up truck, the rear bed crammed with Taliban fighters. They sat packed in so close their knees interlocked together, bristling with the usual AKs, but also PK machine guns, and old bolt-action Lee-Enfields.

I’d learned to make a fairly accurate estimate of distance using the mil-dots on the SA80’s reticle against the size of a known object, like the ubiquitous Toyota pick-up. By my reckoning, they were already a little over 800 metres away, and closing as fast the terrain would allow.

Brookes was saying something but I’d tuned him out as I tried to relax behind the gun, to melt into the dirt beneath me. I tracked the pick-up as it bucked and rocked over the ground. Vague calculations ran through my mind as I tried to predict where the jolting front headlights would land next, rather than where they were now.

I tried to concentrate on a point directly between the lights, where I knew the front grille of the Toyota would be, and the vulnerable radiator behind that. I could see it clearly inside my head, a target maybe half a metre square. And I told myself it was easy as I squeezed the trigger.

The truck reared up at the moment I fired, so it might almost have been reacting viscerally to the shot, but I knew I’d missed. They had gained another twenty or so metres by now, still coming, still closing.

I was at the limit of the effective range of the SA80, but ever since the army had discovered the ability I had with a long gun, they’d encouraged me to put down thousands of rounds in training, to enter Skill-at-Arms meetings and the competitions held at Bisley.

And if I left it much longer, the men advancing would have us well within the range of their battered AK47s. The Lee-Enfields some of them carried dated back before the Second World War. Old, true, but in the hands of an experienced fighter they could be deadly at a greater distance.

“You’re never aiming for that truck are you?” Brookes said. “’Cos you’ll be bloody lucky to—”

I ignored him, fired again, a two-round burst this time as the front of the truck came down, and immediately saw from the steam hissing out into the beam of the headlights that I’d scored a hit. The driver jerked the wheel in reaction, almost overturning the vehicle. It wrenched to a stop and I caught movement as the occupants bailed out into cover, expecting my next shots to be aimed at them.

“You jammy fucker!” Brookes said, just as Captain MacLeod reappeared alongside us.

“Corporal Brookes, give us a heads-up as soon as that truck gets within—”

“Don’t think they’re going to get any closer, sir,” Brookes said. He jerked his head in my direction. “Seems like they ran into car trouble.”

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