Ambush by Phil Temples

Phil Temples tells the story of a multicultural platoon in Nicaragua fighting an enemy with so-called Rambos on their side.

The late afternoon sun begins to set over the dense tree line where the jungle gives way to the sprawling, bombed-out suburbs of Managua. Mac glances at his toolkit. The display reads 43 degrees. The humidity is near one hundred percent.

"Sarge, can we stop? It's hotter than a motherfucker." The query comes from Mac's second-in-command, Corporal "Mad Dog" Ajanlekoko.

"Yeah, sure."

Mac hoped to make another ten klicks today, but it makes little sense to push the men in this heat. He figures they'll need some semblance of fighting strength once they arrive at their destination in Las Uñas.

"Jonesy, you scout the perimeter. Afolabi - you take first watch. Pup, you're with me. The rest of you guys, hang here."

Mac wants to explore the abandoned parking garage ahead. If it checks out okay, they will bivouac on one of the garage's higher levels. Pup is Private Bobby Lowell. Mac has no idea why the young, clean-cut, Harvard-educated man is out here in the middle of nowhere, fighting in a guerrilla war in which none of them have a dog in the fight. Bobby Lowell traces his lineage back through twelve generations of Boston Brahmins. One night he made the mistake of revealing this fact to Mac. Mac supposed Pup was attempting to make conversation or to ingratiate himself with his CO by bringing up their common city of origin. It was the wrong approach. Mac is the son of Irish immigrants who, upon arriving, settled in the slums of the North End; and later, Dorchester. Pup's ilk, on the other hand, lived high on the hog on Beacon Hill or in Lexington, or wherever-the-fuck rich people lived in Beantown back in the day.

Mac makes a sign to Pup to go left and up; Mac heads to the opposite stairwell. Mac gets through his door just fine, but Pup's door was rusted over long ago. Pup makes the mistake of giving it a hard yank.


It gives off a loud, scraping noise that can be heard for two klicks.

"Goddammit!" Mac mutters under his breath. No element of surprise now.

Fortunately, it doesn't matter - the parking garage is abandoned. Jonesy joins them and climbs to top level. He scopes out the surroundings with his sniper rifle and confirms nothing is moving in the vicinity. Mac feels a bit more at ease. He prides himself in the fact that he's never lost a man to an ambush. He's certainly witnessed his share of wounded and dying in straight up firefights, but no ambushes.

Vince heats up some K-rations over a portable sterno stove next to an old '37 Honda Superfortress. The vehicle was stripped long ago of wheels and parts. The soft padding from its rear door panels hangs down on the ground. From the looks of it, rats have been chewing on it. Mac's platoon - minus the lookout - are gathered around waiting for the grub. It's their first hot meal in almost a week. The chicken dish looks pretty good. At least, Mac thinks it's chicken, but he's only guessing since the labeling on the packaging has long ago rubbed off. These days, almost anything meaty the soldiers consume tastes like chicken.

"Remember that tapir we trapped a few weeks ago?" asks Mad Dog.

"Yeah. It squealed like a pig -"

"Until you gutted it."

"It tasted like chicken."

"Damn straight. Eatin' a tapir is better'n eatin' a rat, that's for sure."

"What are you talking about, dumbass?" remarked Private Zhang Li. "A tapir is a big rat."

Li's comment elicited hearty laughs.

"Hey, Mad Dog - where you from, anyway?" The question came from one of the newer platoon members, Jesus Hernández.

"Greater London."

"London? No, man. I mean, where's your roots?"

"Hell if I know. Zambia, or Timbuktu or some shit."

"Mad Dog, your name - Ajanlekoko - you know what it means, right?" Pup asked.

Mad Dog stared blankly at him.

"It's a Yoruban word. They speak the language in Benin and Nigeria. It means 'Dog chasing wolf.' Just sayin'."

Mad Dog spits on the asphalt next to where he sits.

"It means, 'Dog chasing fucking Panda bear!'" he replies, angrily.

"Hey, I didn't mean to -"

"I HATE those cock-sucking Rambos!"

The men eat in silence for a few moments.

Mac feels the need to address the elephant in the room. Some of his platoon members are new to Blue Shield Mercenary, GmbH. Several have never actually been in a close-up firefight and the vast majority have never fought an honest-to-God alien soldier from another world. Mad Dog has. He lost two of his closest buddies to the Rambos.

"Listen up!" Mac announces. "I don't know what you've heard about them, but the Rambos are the meanest, orneriest, most despicable form of life in the galaxy. They fight for Black Scorpion, Limited. Unlike the human mercenaries they fight alongside with, the Rambos fight for one reason and one reason only - bloodsport. Money don't mean shit to them."

"Do they speak English?" one soldier asks.

"They speak better English than you, Janson."

A few of the men chuckle.

"Most of them are multilingual. I met one that spoke sixteen different Earth languages. They're smart motherfuckers. They're big and they're afraid of nothing. If they kill you, they'll take your scalps or your thumbs for souvenirs. The good news is, they bleed and die just like us. So, make sure they die first."

After a moment, someone says, "If you call that yellow puke they have in 'em blood."

The platoon arises at daybreak, breaks camp, and proceeds west toward the city. The men march in loose formation for almost seven kilometers until they reach the outskirts of Las Uñas. All around them are burned-out homes, commercial buildings, damaged trees, debris - the remnants of a once-prosperous suburban community of a hundred thousand inhabitants.


Mac and the others scurry for cover. Jonesy, who is on point, makes a hand signal with two fingers to his eyes indicating he has seen enemy movement. He holds up three fingers indicating three hostiles. Mac motions to his men to spread out and find cover.

After ensuring everyone is in place, Mac takes out his binoculars and peers at the terrain ahead.


He spots a Rambo bent over a puddle of stagnant water. The Rambo is poking a stick at something. Mac zooms in and sees the object of the alien's attention - there are several brightly-colored butterflies fluttering about. It's not as though the Rambo is trying to hurt them; rather, Mac thinks he's simply attempting to coax them onto the stick. One butterfly actually climbs onto the branch momentarily before taking flight. It lands a meter away.

Mac's attention is drawn to two other Rambos near the first. They're cavorting around, alternately hopping on one foot - then two - atop a pattern of squares carved on the ground. It looks to Mac as though two large, fluffy Panda bears are playing a game of hop-scotch.

What is this nonsense! Rambos don't play children's games.

Just then, a horrifying thought flashes through Mac's mind.


Mac jerks to his left, just in time to see a giant Rambo stab Pup from behind and take his scalp. Then all hell breaks loose. Automatic gun fire erupts from multiple locations. Mad Dog turns on Pup's killer, aims, and blows the alien's head off with a single round from his high-caliber assault weapon.

"ON YOUR FLANKS!" shouts Mac.

But it's too late. Mac's platoon is pinned down and heavily outnumbered. Both human and Rambo mercenaries attack his men relentlessly from all sides. Six of his men go down within seconds. Mac has led them straight into an ambush.

The minutes seem to stretch into hours. As Mac exhausts his last round of ammo, a Black Scorpion corporal calmly walks up to Mac and shoots him point-blank in the chest, torso, and abdomen.

Before Mac loses consciousness, he glances up at the man's uniform. It reads "O'Malley." Mac feels a small sliver of gratitude, knowing that his victor is someone who has no need for souvenirs.


  1. Hint of a bleak bleak world

  2. Yikes - What did the butterflies mean? More Predator more than Rambo.

  3. I think the butterflies and hopscotch were diversionary tactics. Very clever. A good military scifi.
    — D. Henson

  4. nice pacing! I like the glimpse you gave us of this world