Ross Howard

Ross Howard was born in Sydney. A seasoned traveller, he has published a number of travel books, with a focus on Central Asia and the Middle East. Kafiristan is his first work of fiction and draws upon elements of those journeys and experiences.

A graduate of the Australian National University, his career has encompassed a range of senior positions in government and industry in both Australia and overseas.


Chapter One
MAY 2000

The green glow shadowed Jack Penner’s face as he leant toward the screen. His eyes flicked to the time indicator and he glanced at Pete Thompson on the next console. It was close to shift’s end and concentration was flagging. They were flying an MQ-9 Reaper drone across the mountainous Afghan landscape of the Hindu Kush. Intelligence had said the Taliban were active in the area, but so far no success.

Penner was the pilot, Thompson the sensor operator. Both qualified pilots, they had been seconded to the Combat Systems Unit for a year, but the rumours said it was going to be a long time before they were back to flying aircraft.

Penner’s eyes moved back to the screen and what he saw jerked him upright. “What the fuck?”
Thompson swung around and peered at the live feed. They saw a boy standing beside a pattern of rocks that formed an arrow.

The colonel, who had materialised behind Penner, said, “Take a closer look.” As Penner, re-focused the high-powered camera, more expletives emerged from the three men. They saw the arrow was beside a separate group of rocks spelling the English word ‘TALIB’. The boy lifted his head as if he knew he was being watched.

“Let him know we’re here,” said the colonel.

The small group fell silent. This was a breach of protocol but Penner didn’t hesitate and flashed the strobe. The boy became animated, pointing in the direction of the arrow. There was no doubt; this kid in the remote mountains was talking to them.

Penner shook his head. “What’s this all about? How does a kid out here know the English word for Talib?”

The colonel’s response was quiet and to the point. “It doesn’t matter. It’s obvious he wants us to find ‘em.”

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