Friday, July 8, 2011

Chapter Thirteen

Leptis Magna Roman Ruins,
Al Khums, Libya

Mike liked the FLIR binoculars Angus’s people had equipped him with.  Thermal images leapt into view as he lay in blackness amongst the ruins.  These binoculars had a digital camera feature – so every few minutes he’d quietly click on images of the hardware hiding beneath columns, arches and portals.
The pro-Gaddafi forces had billeted military hardware amongst the ruins to insulate themselves from NATO air strikes.  Public opinion, already edgy, would turn hot if images of spoiled antiquities were splashed across the front pages of the world.  Furthermore, NATO troops were not supposed to be "on the ground" in Libya.  Right.
This is a shitty job.  Mike thought to himself.  He chuckled when he realized the irony of that. He was crouched in the Roman latrines -- the most central spot to observe from.
Mike made another tally on his tablet and looked back through the FLIR.  Outfits like the one Angus MacFadden fielded were becoming the norm.  Blackwater had one of the best-equipped armies in the Near East and North Africa.  MacFadden’s, though smaller, followed that trend.  It was all too convenient for governments to hire these private forces to do the work they needed, but must disclaim.  We’re called "contractors" now, thought Mike.  It makes us sound like homebuilders or plumbers.  But that's semantics. We're mercenaries.
Mike’s job, however, was not offensive.  He was in Libya to gauge which side, in this civil war, had the upper hand.  Satellite photos and drones had their places.  But nothing, in Mike’s mind, replaced boots on the ground.  Angus had agreed and chartered the fishing boat from Alexandria that had dropped Mike here two nights ago. 
He slipped the FLIR binoculars back into their neoprene case and scouted his surroundings. Other inhabitants of the ruins would not be pleased to find him peering in on them.  A sliver of moonlight allowed his naked vision to look around, giving him a wider field of view than he could get through the binocs.
An engine started up somewhere.  That was all the distraction Mike needed to get out unobserved.  Like a ghost of empire past, he slipped quietly through the ruins and made his way back to the beach.  Arriving, he checked his watch, then made himself comfortable amongst some rocks.  He looked seaward, re-checked the time, settled resignedly into his niche, and listened to the waves.
Why am I here?  Why Libya, now?  The pay is amazing and it's about the only thing I'm good at after 21 years in the Corps.  But that's not what I am asking myself -- is it? 
Why does Angus want me here – or better, why does whomever paid Angus’ outfit want someone like me here, at considerable expense, gathering intelligence on Gaddafi’s forces?  It sure as hell isn't to scope out a potential golf course location.  Though …
No, there was only one thing worth fighting for, and knowing about here in this flea-bitten backwater:  Oil.
Mike had studied quite a bit about a topic called "peak oil" in his spare time.  Since his divorce six years ago, he had more spare time than he’d rather.  A DOD memo, or as the former SECDEF termed it, a "snowflake," had crossed his desk when he was billeted at Quantico.  Most memos hit the circular file. Mike detested paperwork.  This one[1], however, had piqued his interest. By 2012, surplus oil production could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 mbd.
Mike gazed seaward, still didn't see the infrared beacon for his extraction boat.  He glanced at his watch for the nth time, knowing all the while he was still early by 10 minutes.  He scanned his rear area with the FLIR binoculars, saw nothing and put them back into the case.  The engine turned off with a familiar cough – where have I had heard that before?
The only noise now was the slapping of the waves on the pebble beach.  His thoughts returned to that report.  If that report was right, we’re screwed.  Without a consistent supply of oil the entire US, scratch that, the entire global economy would grind to a halt.
That's why I am here.  Libya was not a huge producer of oil.  But what it did produce could mean the difference between barely enough, and shortages.
Hell, I'm sitting on a rocky beach in the middle of the night, risking my ass so some hedge fund can bet the right way in the oil markets.  
Something caught his eye out at sea.  Maybe it was an odd wave, maybe not.  He withdrew the FLIR set and scanned the horizon.  Yes!  A boat was coming.
He started to pry himself up from his niche and felt every tendon and muscle creak and groan.  Back in Mike's salad days he and his buddies would yell "oo-rah!" as they ran past the pain.  Now what do I yell? Mike wondered. "Hedge funds"?
Just as he crouched to rise a spotlight pinned him from the boat.  A command voice with a too-familiar accent barked at him.
“Stand up with your hands in the air!  You are surrounded and there is no possible means of escape.”  An Arabic voice echoed the command, but Mike was not paying it attention.
Shit!  There aren’t supposed to be American forces in Libya!
Mike stood statue still with his hands up.  I really need a new line of work.

[1]            page 24,

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