Riding shotgun in the third truck of a convoy transporting weapons, Matt Nolan held his M16A2 in his lap while scanning the horizon on all sides, and to the front.  An old Nuwal az-Zoughbi CD played from the player on the dash.  Matt's driver, Fariid, pounded his palm against the steering wheel in time to the tune Kam Layla.  He was even trying to sing along with the female vocalist, though horribly out of tune.  Matt looked over at him, chuckled, and said, "ya fariid min nou'ihi," (meaning "Fariid, you're one of a kind)," as a pun in Arabic since fariid by itself means unique.   

Fariid laughed and pounded his palm all the harder on the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to swerve a bit, then made a pun out of Matt's name, "Matt mat," (meaning  "Matt died"). 

 "A'oudh b'Allah, God forbid, let's hope not," Matt said, laughing with Fariid as he turned to stare back out the side window.  The simmering August heat caused the brownish white flat pan desert to undulate with wavy lines.   The typical desert mirage, he thought.  He could almost see an ocean of water among those rippling waves in the distant horizon.  Matt had been assigned to accompany this convoy and to oversee the transfer of the cargo of weapons to Iraqi Sunnis at the Abu Kamal border crossing.  Matt and some of his McGowan Corporation colleagues stationed at the U.S. consulate in Aleppo had been doing this for most of the summer as part of the American attempts to support the Sunnis of Iraq fighting the Iranian-supported Shi’a government in Baghdad. 

There was an eerie beauty to vastness, and forbiddenness of the open desert to the south.  A wilderness that extended all the way to the tip of the Arabian peninsula, it was a place where dust devils could rise up from the desert floor, seemingly of their own accord, then twirl and howl as they danced their way across the desert flinging dirt and sand and insects every which way.  A place of mirages, a place where the jinn and other demons of Arab mythology lurked, ready to intervene in human affairs with the first opportunity.  Matt turned from the otherworldly vision of the southern desert to scan the horizon to the front of them.  A dot appeared in the midst of the rolling mirage-like lines.

No mirage this.  Matt Nolan recognized the jet a split second before a blinding flash filled his skull.  The sound of the explosion followed as the convoy’s lead vehicle jumped several feet in the air bursting into flames.  The explosives and ammunition it was carrying went off killing all those nearby.  All the other vehicles immediately stopped.   The jet fired another missile—this one heading right for his truck.

“Jump!” he yelled to his driver as he shoved opened up his own passenger side door, adrenaline crashing through his veins like a cattle stampede.  The missile hit just under the truck’s front bumper before Matt was all the way out.  The ensuing explosion sent him flying amidst glass shards from the vehicle's window.  He hit the ground hard, sliding on his face and stomach for several yards.   But too jacked with hormones to feel pain, he gained his balance, and spitting dirt out of his mouth he sprinted for the nearest cover as three more jets screamed in from across the Iraqi border.

Iraniya!  Iraniya!  Iraniya!”  Several of the Arab drivers screamed referring to the Iranian jets as they too sought cover—all of them hoping to reach the wooded area along the Euphrates just to the north.   

One of the Iranian jets broke from the three shooting up the caravan and began strafing the fleeing men.  Matt ran in a zigzag pattern to avoid the whizzing bullets but  several of his drivers were felled, screaming.  Missing him, the jet roared by only a few yards overhead--the heat and blast of sound from the jet’s afterburner itself almost enough to kill.  The jet circled, and made another run.  Matt dived into a thicket of trees just as the jet’s machine gun opened up picking off the rest of the fleeing men.  

With the convoy destroyed the jets departed leaving wreckage, agony, and death, behind.  In the place of life there was the odor of burning vehicles, gasoline, and other equipment competing with the pungent stink of burning tires and sizzling human flesh.  Matt cursed and slammed his hand against a nearby tree.  He initially he blamed himself.  I always seem to bring death.  Survivor's guilt.  First there was an older sister his parents had brought into the world.  She died within the month--but Matt, born a couple of years later, survived and was raised as an only child.  Then there was his wife Suzan and their unborn child who were killed in a car accident.  Then there was the fiasco in Kabardinka, Russia last year where dozens of civilians were killed--yet Matt escaped unscathed.  Matt subsequently befriended the terrorist responsible for that slaughter--only to see him, too, die in front of his eyes right before he was to perform an heroic deed of atonement.  And now this.   All of his Syrian drivers and security details killed or wounded--but he escaped once again nearly unscathed.

Someone, somewhere, Matt thought, had either intentionally tipped off either the Iranians or the Iraqi Shi’a government that the arms convoy was on its way, or had inadvertently leaked the information.  There were four choices.  The Iraqi Sunnis fighting for their lives against the Iranian-backed Iraqi Shi’a government?  The Syrian Sunnis who dominated the coalition government in Damascus and provided the drivers? Someone within the American Intelligence or political apparatus?  Or else the Iranians or one of their allies had managed to hack into the secure computer systems of one of the above entities?  Matt swore that he’d find the answer to that question—and make sure the responsible party paid.