It was odd having a voice in your head, well, not really in your head as such, but in your ear, and sounding like it was in your head.
You could truthfully say you were hearing voices.
It was the next step after going through some very intensive training, having someone else as your eyes and ears when breaching a secure compound, and avoiding the enemy.
I’d signed on for this extra training thinking one day it would land me in the thick of the action. Some of the others thought I was mad, but someone had to do it, and the fact it was quite dangerous added just that extra bit to it.
But as they say, what you learn in training, and practise in a non-hostile environment, is nothing like being in that same situation in reality.
Now on was on my first assignment, part of an elite team, packed and taken to what was to everyone else, an unspecified location, but to us, it was the point of incursion.
To rescue a government official (that was how he was described to us) who had been illegally detained in a foreign prison.
To break him out and get out without the knowledge of the prison staff, or anyone representing that government. Yes, what we were doing was highly illegal, and yes, if we were caught it was more likely than not we would be executed as spies.
We were under cover in an abandoned farmhouse about three miles from the prison. We had been brought in under cover of darkness, and had only a few hours to set up, and then wait it out until the following night.
It was now or never, the weather people predicting that there would be sufficient cloud cover to make us invisible. Two of us were going in, and two remaining strategically placed outside to monitor the inside of the prison through a system of infrared scanners. We also had a floor plan of the building in which the prisoner was being held, and intelligence supplied, supposedly, by one of the prison guards who had been paid a lot of money for information on guard movements.
To me, it was a gigantic leap of faith to trust him, but I kept those thoughts to myself.
We had been over the plan a dozen times, and I’d gone through the passageways, rooms, and doors so many times I’d memorised where they were and would be able to traverse the building as if I had worked there for a lifetime. Having people outside, talking me through it was just an added benefit, along with alerts on how near the guards were to our position.
I was sure the other person going with me, a more seasoned professional who had a number of successful missions under his belt, was going through the same motions I was. After all, it was he who had devised and conducted the training.
There was a free period of several hours before departure, time to listen to some music, empty the head of unwanted thoughts, and get into the right mindset. It was no place to get tangled up in what-ifs, if anything went wrong, it was a simple matter of adapting.
Our training had reinforced the necessity to instantly gauge a situation and make changes on the fly. There would literally be no time to think.
I listened to the nuances of Chopin’s piano concertos, pretending to play the piano myself, having translated every note onto a piano key, and observing it in my mind’s eye.
My opposite number played games of chess in his head. We all had a different method of relaxing.
Until it was 22:00 hours, and time to go.
“Go left, no, hang on, go right.” The voice on my ear sounded confused and it was possible to get lefts and rights mixed up, if you were not careful.
It didn’t faze me, I knew from my study of the plans that once inside the perimeter fence, I had to go right, and head towards a concrete building the roof of which was barely above the ground.
It was once used as a helipad, and underneath, before the site became a prison, the space was used to make munitions. And it was an exceptionally large space that practically ran under the whole of the prison, built above ground.
All that had happened was the lower levels were sealed, covered over and the new structures built on top. Our access was going to be from under the ground.
Quite literally, they would not see, or hear, us coming.
The meteorological people had got it right, there was cloud cover, the moon hidden from view, and the whole perimeter was in inky darkness. Dressed in black from head to foot, the hope was we would be invisible.
There were two of us heading to the same spot, stairs that led down to a door that was once one of the entrances to the underground bunker. We were going separate ways in case one of the other was intercepted in an unforeseen event.
But, that part of the plan worked seamlessly, and we both arrived at the same place nearly at the same time.
Without the planning, we might easily have missed it because I didn’t think it would be discernable even in daylight.
I followed the Sergeant downstairs, keeping a watchful eye behind us. I stooped at the point where I could see down, and across the area we had just traversed.
Nothing else was stirring.
As expected, the door was seamless and without an apparent handle. It may have had one once, but not anymore, so anyone who did stumble across it, couldn’t get in.
Except us. We had special explosives that were designed to break the lock, and once set, would not make a lot of noise. Sixty seconds later we were inside, and the door closed so no one would know we’d broken in.
I was carrying a beacon so that the voice in my head could follow my progress. The sergeant had one too, and he led.
“Straight ahead, 200 yards, then another door. It shouldn’t be locked, but it might be closed.”
In other words, we had no way of knowing. Our informant had said no one had been down in the dungeons, as he called them, since the munition factory closed, and had been sealed up soon after the prison building had been handed over for use.
We were using night goggles, and there was a lot of rubbish strewn over the floor area so we had to carefully pick our way through which took time we really didn’t have. It looked as though our informant was right, no one had been down there for a long time. We were leaving boot prints in the dust.
We reached the door ten minutes later than estimated. Losing time would have a flow-on effect, and this operation was on a very tight time constraint.
“Once you are through the door, there’s a passage. Turn left and go about 50 paces. There should be another passage to your right.”
“Anyone down here?”
“No, but there is a half dozen prison officers above you. Standard patrol, from guardhouse to guardhouse. Unless they can hear you through five feet of solid concrete, you’re safe.”
My instincts told me five feet of concrete were not enough, but I’ll let it ride for the moment.
The door was slightly ajar and it took the two of us to pull it open so that we could get past. Behind it was the passage, going left and right. Trusting my invisible guide was not getting mixed up again, I motioned right, and we headed down the passage.
Despite the fact we should be alone, both of us were careful not to make any noise, and trod carefully.
At 50 or so paces, the passage came into sight. The sergeant went ahead. I stayed back and kept an eye in both directions. The passage before us was the one that would take us under the cell of the captive we were sent to retrieve.
There would be no blasting our way in. The floor to the cell had a grate, and when removed, a person could drop down into the ‘dungeon’. Currently, the grate was immovable, but we had the tools to fix that.
The sergeant would verify the grate was where it was supposed to be, then come back to get me.
Five minutes passed, then ten. It was not that far away.
I was about to go search when the voice in my head returned, but with panic. “We’ve been compromised. Get the hell out of there, now. Quickly…”
Then I heard what sounded like gunshots, then nothing.
A minute later there was a new voice. “I don’t know who you are, but I’d strongly advise you give yourself up to the guards. Failure to do so within one hour, I’ll execute the two men I now have in custody.”
Ahead of me there was a sudden explosion, followed by a cloud of dust and fine debris.
Hand grenade, or mine, it didn’t matter. The sergeant wouldn’t be coming back.
Plan B it was.
© Charles Heath 2021