Role Playing Related Fiction by The Company of Strangers  

Rian Van Falk

“…where you can die!”

Born in Durban, South Africa, Rian Van Falk is the child of Rhodesian parents who were forced to resettle when that country became Zimbabwe in 1980. Prior to that earlier generations of Van Falks had called Africa home since the late 1600’s. Growing up as a white child in what is considered one of South Africa’s most desirable vacation areas, he led a relatively normal suburban life, split between school, pleasure, and part-time jobs. Rian learned early on a very healthy respect for the water, though. Despite having some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the world, the coast is also equally one of the most shark infested. So while he can swim, Rian is very leery of what lies beneath the waves of any natural body of water.

After the end of apartheid in the country, there was much rejoicing. However, the standard of living slowly declined, infrastructure gradually became run down, and crime (especially against whites) increased dramatically. Rian’s life took a turn for the worse when he became orphaned at the age of 17, his parents both being killed in a botched car-jacking during a road-trip to Pretoria. With nothing to keep him at home now, and watching his country slowly descending into anarchy, Rian resolved to get out of Africa at any cost. He had no patience for the long immigration processes of Europe or North America from what is considered a relatively stable country, but the lad had an alternate plan. Gathering what little money he had left by the time he turned 18, Van Falk got a passport, and made his way to the south of France on a visitor’s permit, where he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion.

After his gruelling training at Aubagne, Rian began to second-guess his “cunning plan” to gain French and EU citizenship. This really struck home when his first posting was to 13e DBLE, based in Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa. There, he served in the demi-brigade’s reinforced mechanized rifle company, which conducted a seemingly endless series of patrols and training exercises. The monotony was broken up by attending some advanced training/specialist courses, and the occasional skirmish with bandits and smugglers on the border. Things got a fair bit livelier when the Americans established a presence in Djibouti, and joint Franco-American operations were conducted against suspected terrorist groups, warlords, and pirates in and around the Horn of Africa. It was during one such raid that Rian witnessed something particularly strange.

By this time, Van Falk had risen to the rank of caporal-chef, and was a rifle section commander. For this operation, his platoon and one other from 13e DBLE were to provide support and an outside perimeter for American Special Forces operators, who were tasked to raid a coastal village. The objective was to free several Dutch hostages whose yacht had been boarded and seized by Somali pirates. The primary job of the Legionnaires was to be a blocking force, ensuring that no one escaped, especially with the hostages in tow. Due to the terrain and the fortunes of war, Rian’s section occupied a position very close to the village itself, with a clear field of view (with night vision gear) and line of fire over the entire area. When H-hour arrived, all hell broke loose.

It began with a few ripples in the water, and then a hulking form slowly rose from the surf. Then another. And another. In all there were 16 of them. Over his earpiece Van Falk heard the voice of the captain commanding the Legion detachment that the Americans were making their approach, and to hold fire. The Americans would initiate the firefight, if there was to be any. From the briefing, Rian remembered that they were going to make a waterborne infiltration of the village, leading him to believe these would be either SEALs or Force Recon Marines. But these apparitions emerging from the sea were about a foot taller than an average man, and wearing what appeared to be almost mediaeval-looking armour that seemed to blend almost perfectly with their changing surroundings. What the hell were these things?

The few Somalis on sentry were quickly taken out by these goliaths with terrifying precision and efficiency. Rian saw one figure just point his arm in the general direction of a Somali gunman, and with the smallest of muzzle flashes that only night vision could register, the sentry clawed at his throat and crumpled to the ground. Van Falk witnessed several more incidents like this one, and like the first, not a sound had been made during the whole infiltration. Unbelievable.

It wasn’t until the whole group of these armoured wraiths had gotten through half of the village that the first unsuppressed shots rang out. Apparently some Somali had finally spotted the intruders and opened up with their AK. This was soon followed by a multitude of bursts from more AK-47s, and answered by several buzz-saw sounds that left an almost laser-like appearance in the air. Van Falk had to quickly turn his attention to controlling his section, which (with the rest of the Legion troops) had joined the firefight at this point. Then Rian saw one of the Americans (he assumed) pointing his other arm at a group of Somali pirates, cutting them in half within a second. This is absolutely insane. Jesus! Did they have miniguns mounted on their armour or what?

That was when new ordnance entered the fray. All of a sudden Rian thought he was in the middle of a Star Wars film, with what appeared to be energy bolts erupting from several locations. He saw two of these hit the armoured behemoths. While the regular rounds from the Somali weapons had bounced off of these suits, the crimson energy bolts had no trouble at all penetrating. Chunks of armour were blown out, along with steam and some gouts of blood. One American had been staggered to his knees by the hit, but was being tended to by one of his comrades. The other had been more isolated, laid out prone by the shot, and Rian’s unit were the closest friendly forces to him.

Almost as an instant reaction, Van Falk ordered his 2iC to take command of the section, and called for his medic to link up with him immediately. Together, the two Legionnaires made a mad dash over the battlefield, zigging, zagging, and criss-crossing their way to the downed American, with fire kicking up all around them. When they reached him, both men reached down and dragged the wounded warrior to what little cover there was, and the medic went to work on the casualty. That was when it registered with Rian how surprisingly light the American was, with all that armour and equipment. He expected him to easily be twice the weight, if not more. Whatever, think about that later. He had to start putting down fire to provide what safety he could for the medic and his charge. That was when it came.

Squeezing off bursts from the kneeling position in partial cover to provide some protection for the medic and American, Rian caught a glimpse of a crimson flash from the periphery of his right eye. A split second later, he was knocked prone by the concussive force of the energy blast striking the ground a mere foot away. Looming out of the darkness and surreal shadows created by muzzle flashes, tracers, and energy weapons at night was something huge. Grey and black in colour, it looked like a hybrid of a muscle-bound 8 foot tall human, with a crab-like face and plates of what appeared to be natural armour growing in strategic places on its body. Jesus it was ugly! And headed straight for the Legionnaire and those he was supposed to be guarding.

A round from a grenade launcher went off near the beast, staggering it and spoiling its next shot at Rian, which went over the prone soldier’s head and off harmlessly into the night. The explosion reminded the Legionnaire of the grenade launcher he had mounted underneath the barrel of his own FAMAS G2 assault rifle. He wasn’t sure if he could concentrate enough rifle fire to penetrate that thing’s armour before it lined up on him again. But what he did have was a single shot of 40-mm high explosive bad attitude loaded up the pipe and ready to go. Hopefully he wouldn’t blow himself and the other two to hell, thought Van Falk, but they were dead already if he didn’t do something quick. He pulled the trigger on the grenade launcher, screaming over his shoulder to the medic “Danger close!” and put the round square in the beast’s chest, 30 feet away. The last thing Rian remembered was throwing himself prone, followed a split second later by a bright flash and a deafening boom. Then blackness.

The Legionnaire came to face down in the grass where he had taken the stunning blow. His vision was still cloudy, but his hearing was gradually clearing. Through his haze he looked out and at an odd angle (being prone) he saw the legs of two black-clad men standing over a smoking pile of whatever was left of the behemoth that had been approaching him. He couldn’t follow their conversation as they appeared to be speaking … German? There weren’t any German units operating in the area that he knew of.

He caught snippets of their talk … something about the thing (they called it a Croat or something – Kroath?) and then “acid” and “hostages” … and Dutch name, “Van Leeten” … “survivors” and “legionnaires” … “sterilized” and – oddly - “Odnung General Vereinte Nationen”, which roughly translated to ‘United Nations General Order’. Then a small groan passed his lips and the two turned toward his prone form. As they did, he saw two of the black-clad troopers carrying the one that he and the medic had gone after toward the beach. He also saw the body of the medic, his face distorted by the impact of three holes where rounds had impacted. God only knew what the back of his head looked like. Two more men picked him up and carried him in the direction of the village.

The two men parted ways; one, the obvious one in charge, headed off after the casualty, calling out to the other, “Garantieren Sie, dass man tot ist, und gehen Sie dann zur Verabredung.” The other walked over toward Rian and bent down. Being rolled gently over and having a hand placed over the lower part of his face, Rian’s vision cleared enough to see that the soldier was kneeling beside him, his right arm cocked back and the sharp edge of the combat knife catching the glint of the moonlight as he hesitated striking. Then, with a sharp plunge that was lightning fast, the black-clad trooper thrust the blade deep into the soil beside Rian’s neck. Then he stooped lower and, placing his mouth next to the prone legionnaire’s ear, whispered, “Sie speicherten meinen Bruder. Ich kann Ihr Leben nicht nehmen. Halten Sie auf stille Art und erhalten Sie von Afrika so weit entfernt, wie Sie können. Wenn Sie uns wieder antreffen, kann ich nicht für Ihre Sicherheit antworten.” He then paused and smiled slightly. “A life for a life Frenchie. Stay zafe. Leef Afrika.” With that cryptic message, the man left Rian alone and headed in the direction of the beach. The adrenaline finally left Rian and he settled once again into blackness.

When consciousness returned, Rian found himself on a stretcher on a Super Puma helicopter, being airlifted out of the area. The medic beside him noticed he was awake and muttered something into his headset mic. Then he turned to Rian, “Stay still, my friend. We will soon have you back at the base so that the medicos can see to you.” Rian blinked and then tried to speak, but all that emerged was a dry rasping sound. The medic leaned over with a bottle of water, giving Rian a cool refreshing drink. His voice was still not up to normal standards yet, but he asked anyway, “What happened? Did we win? What happened to the rest of the platoon? I saw one of my men…”

The medic sighed. Then grimly stared out the open door of the helo. Then he looked back at Rian and dropped his gaze, shaking his head sorrowfully as he did. “No. We didn’t win today. The bastards must have had some sort of huge bomb they were using as leverage with the hostages.” He sighed again and looked up at Rian. “Everyone bought it. The bad guys, the hostages, the American strike force,” again another lengthy pregnant pause, “And the entire Legion detachment… except for you.” He looked Rian straight in the eye. “You are the only one we found alive.” He gave Rian a sad look, and then the burp of his radio distracted his attention from his patient.

The only one alive? Out of almost a hundred NATO forces? Rian turned and looked out the door of the helo. Just what the hell had happened at that village?

Sterilized, the black-clad trooper in charge had said. Shit they don’t mess around, he thought. Later study of the area revealed that it had been levelled by a bomb constructed as an explosive mixture (fuel oil and fertilizer) roughly twice the size of what had been used at the Oklahoma Federal Building in 1995. The entire village and a good few hundred yards around were gone. Just… gone. The pirates must have been crazy to even think of using one, and something must have gone drastically wrong.

But Rian knew different. He knew it wasn’t the pirates that had exploded the device. But he didn’t feel confident in telling anybody about the details once he was back on his feet. He just kept his mouth shut and went with the official story. Rian was troubled, but able to maintain a good front, so as to not arouse suspicion from his fellow Legionnaires, especially the officers. He still had a year to go in the Legion, and didn’t want to screw up and risk his French citizenship.

Over the course of the next year, he took part in many other raids on Somali warlords and pirates. On each of these he felt nervous and anxious; he was becoming jumpy and it took all his self-control not to wig out and run from the field. He shuddered to think about running across those strange armoured behemoths again. Even more, the thought of crossing paths again with the black-clad Germans freaked him out as well. Those bastards - although apparently “good guys” - were fucking ruthless. He just put his head down and did his job; working as well as he could to get through his remaining enlistment time.

No, he just had to wait it out and he would be a French, and by extension, European Union, citizen, and not have to worry about this anymore. Of course there was a niggling in the back of his mind that kept suggesting that he should be worrying about hostile things with energy weapons involved with terrorists here on Earth being policed by super soldiers in balck. Screw it, he thought. It wasn’t for him to deal with it. It was way above his pay grade.

Upon discharge from the Legion, Rian bounded around Europe for a couple of months, looking for work. Unfortunately, economic times were getting tougher, and it was hard to find legitimate employment that was appealing. Given his limited skill set, the most promising prospects were with private military companies (PMCs), but most of these organizations had extensive contracts in Africa, which was the last place that Van Falk was interested in going to. No, if he wanted decent employment, he figured his best chances were on the other side of the Atlantic. So gathering his savings, he went to the local American Consulate, and obtained a work visa (it was surprisingly easy for him). It was at this point that he also got a tip from a military contact and friend that HBO was doing a Foreign Legion miniseries based on the book “A Mouthful of Rocks,” so Rian might check out that angle.

Trying to put his disturbing memories behind him, when Van Falk reached the States, he did some poking around and followed up the lead his friend had given him. HBO was indeed doing that miniseries, and had hired on Dale Dye’s company, Warriors Inc, to provide technical assistance and military type extras. Making his way to California, Rian managed to obtain a contract position as a military instructor for the actors, technical advisor on Legion specific details for the screenwriters, and do extra work during the filming itself. The miniseries stars Viggo Mortenson, Sean Bean, Jean Reno, Leonardo Di Caprio, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, Scarlett Johansen, and Natalie Portman. With filming now complete, Rian’s contract is coming to a close. The only thing left to do now is wait for the editing, and the cast/wrap party to take place.

“You saved my brother. I cannot take your life. Keep quiet and get as far away from Africa as you can. If you encounter us again, I cannot answer for your safety.” – Unknown German

“You men joined the Legion in order to die! Well, I'm going to take you to a place where you can die!” (Vous, légionnaires, vous êtes soldats pour mourir et je vous envoie où l’on meurt!)

– General François Oscar de Négrier, Algeria, 1883 addressing the 2nd Battalion of the French Foreign Legion prior to their embarkation for Indo-China.


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