Welcome to Solambia
Amber had closed her eyes seconds before the landing, her last thoughts hoping that Hex was going to be alright in the cockpit. Her eyes were rocked open by the sudden impact. It was like nothing she had ever experienced, it felt like the world was ending as the chaos of bending metal assaulted her ears and a shock that jarred every bone in her body tumbled her through the skeleton of the rig.
The sound of the tail rotor crumpling was Paulo's first clue the helicopter had hit the ground, the autorotation that Hex and he had executed had slowed it a lot, but they still hit the ground extremely hard. He felt the skids splinter under the bulk and velocity of the chopper and he tried to protect his head, as he was flung out the shattered canopy.
Li clutched Camilla tightly, as the pair was tossed into the hold of the helicopter when it came into contact with the ground. The remaining bags largely cushioned their fall, but the two were still separated by the impact and left dazed. Alex who had been standing beside them at impact, was thrown to the side where he smashed his head against the side of the cargo door and dropped from sight.
Hex untangled himself from the remains of his cockpit door and climbed out through the shattered canopy, his chest was moist with a large, free flowing cut and he felt battered and bruised all over. He absently pressed a hand to his bleeding chest and turned back to face the wreckage.
Hex noticed movement in the cargo hold and his eyes caught sight of Alex, climbing to his feet on the nearest side of the chopper. Rubbing his head dizzily the Northumbrian staggered over to Hex.
"Are you alright mate?" Alex asked him, sounding a little groggy.
"A few bumps and scrapes nothing major" Hex drawled back " Is everyone else okay?"
"Camilla and me are still alive" Li hollered from the cargo hold, "Sore but alive" she amended eyeing the other girl clutching her knee, bent in pain.
"Can you stay put for five minutes while Hex and me find Paulo and Amber?" Alex called back, his head aching from the effort.
"Yeah okay, we will try and sort our remaining gear then" Li shouted back over a grunt of pain.
The boys heard Amber before they saw her, the bitter cursing drawing them to a patch of scraggly bushes on the opposite site of the crash. She was caught up in a large thorny bush, her bare arms and legs a patchwork of scratches, her clothes hopelessly tangled and a pissed off scowl on her face.
"Well don't just stand there" she bellowed at the two boys indignantly, "Get me out of this bloody thing."
Her yelling seemed to aggravate the pounding headache Alex had woken up from the crash with, wincing he drew his brand new blade and held it out to Hex.
"Are you okay getting her out of there?" He asked seriously, keeping the knifes handle hovered over Hex's hand.
"Yeah I'm good" Hex assured him, "And don't worry I won't lose your new knife." He added patronizingly.
Handing the blade over with a final deadpan look, Alex staggered off to find the missing South American.
He spotted the dark haired youth limping towards him from the direction of the cargo hold, clutching his side.
"Hey" Alex yelled to him, without realising how much it would make his head thump.
Paulo glanced up from his feet to give his slightly strained cowboy grin.
"Hey Amigo, looks like everyone made it huh?" he nodded towards the sound of Amber's cursing at the other side of the wreck.
"Thanks to you and Hex" Alex shot back with a shaky grin of his own.
"We didn't drop a chair on a machine gun" Paulo laughed, cringing suddenly at the pain it caused him.
"We better regroup and assess our injuries" Alex mumbled, looking at his wounded friend in concern.
"Okay we'll gather over here" Paulo said, slumping down against a nearby tree in relief.
Alex smiled to himself despite his concern and moved to rouse Li and Camilla.
Upon stepping into the overturned cargo hold, the first thing Alex noticed was Camilla leaning against one of the walls in obvious pain. His face fell with anxiety, as she looked up upon his approach.
"What's wrong" Alex asked, worry creeping into his voice.
"It's my knee" she grimaced, nodding towards her left leg.
"I think it's dislocated Alex" Li added, perched at girls shoulder, "Should I get Paulo?" she asked nervously.
"Paulo is a bit banged up himself actually, how are you? Can you go check on him?"
"Sure," Li eagerly agreed, "My shoulder is really sore, but I don't think it's serious."
She turned and picked her way through the wreckage grabbing Paulo's Bergen as she did so.
Alex turned back to his own patient and before he could stop himself, his eyes were travelling over her long, bronzed legs. They feel so smooth, he thought offhandedly, his eyes lingering while he ran his hands up her injured leg til he got to her sore knee. Straight away he noticed the gross abnormality of a large lump that sat on the outside of the knee, curiously enough their was a distinct absence of knee-cap to be found at the front of her leg. Knowing what he had to do next, Alex raised his head to speak to her.
"I just need to have a light feel of this lump," he softly said, indicating her leg in case their was any confusion.
Camilla grinned despite the pain, "I bet that's what you tell all the girls" she joked.
Alex forced a nervous smile for her and lightly touched the lump; sure enough it was bone, her patella to be precise. Even his gentle touch to the area was enough to make her stiffen up in pain.
It was definitely dislocated.
Alex took a deep breath remembering his sports first aid training, "I can fix this," He confidently said to the girl in agony at his feet. "But you are going to have to trust me okay?"
Camilla stared up into his pale, unwavering eyes, if there's anyone I trust it's him, she thought. "Okay I trust you Alex," is all she said.
"Good close your eyes for me, that's a good girl." He whispered, gently grasping her heel in one hand and pausing his other over her abnormal kneecap.
Alex took a deep breath and in one smooth movement straightened her leg at the same time he flicked the kneecap towards the inside of her leg. Camilla screamed for an instant then remarkably, most of the pain went away. She peered down nervously to find her two knees looking much the same; one was however starting to swell noticeably though.
"Thank you" she breathed and pulled him down into a tight hug, which for once, Alex didn't mind made his head pound.
Outside Hex had cut away the last of the bush ensnaring his friend and Amber was finally able to move. Straight away she yanked the boy from London into a constricting embrace, burying her head into his shoulder. Before he could say a thing, Amber had pulled away her hands covered in blood and a shocked look on her face.
"Hex you're bleeding" she whispered, her lip trembling with emotion.
He looked down at her worried expression with his opaque face.
"Oh yeah that. It's just a scratch," he muttered, disregarding the idea.
"Like hell it is!" She cried, looking in horror at his blood soaked shirt, "Get your shirt off and let me have a look."
Hex sighed to himself, knowing there was no point in arguing and peeled off his shirt, exposing a deep cut about fifteen centimetres long running across his shoulder and onto his chest. Amber gasped at the sight of the chest she quietly adored, marred by the jagged red band that was still slowly oozing blood.
"We've got to find Paulo," she declared softly, as Hex placed a hand on the wound and she led him off to find their friend.
Li stared at the angry purple mark that stretched across Paulo's lower ribs on his right side. No wonder he looks so sore, she sympathised, gently touching the bruise; she felt bones move in crepitation under the skin.
"Broken" she announced solemnly, admiring the stoic mask he had held while she examined him.
"Dios!" He spat, "No wonder it hurts so much to move, or talk, or breath."
With a troubled expression he pointed to his Bergen and mumbled "Li, please get me out the stethoscope you got me for my birthday."
Li did as she was asked and withdrew the listening device, the cowboy hat key chain hanging from it jangled as she handed it to him. She liked that he kept it on there, a little joke they shared.
Paulo tested it in his own ears before passing it back to Li "I need you to listen to my breathing and make sure it sounds the same on both sides." He instructed.
Anxiously, Li did as she was told, listening at various points he pointed to on his bare chest. When she was finished she took the buds out of her ears and announced somewhat unsure, "It all sounded the same to me Paulo."
Immensely relieved, Paulo slumped back against the tree. Good, he thought, my lungs must still be intact; it's just the pain making it harder to breath.
"I demand to look at your shoulder now then Li, I can see it's hurting you." He spoke to her sternly, as a parent would to a child; she had initially refused insisting that he surrendered to the first examination.
Li painfully shrugged her arm out of her sleeve and crouched so he could see it better, as always she felt moved by the caring tender look Paulo had in his eye when he tended to the injured. Or maybe that was just for me? She wondered.
"You have broken your clavicle." He exclaimed almost at once and set about folding a sling from his trauma kit.
"My what now?" Li joked, knowing full well he meant her collarbone.
"We could use a bandage too, if you got one spare" Amber jibed, having suddenly appeared and helping herself to some gauze over Paulo's shoulder, before turning back to Hex who was standing nearby.
"You getting your pilots license anytime soon Paulo?" Hex quipped relieved to see his friend alive.
"That might need stitches Hex" Camilla noted mildly, wincing as she hopped over to the group using Alex as a crutch.
"Looks like we all made it in roughly one piece" Alex stated, looking more then a little relieved.
"Some welcome to the country" Hex muttered darkly, glaring over at the crushed Technical.
"Welcome to Solambia.." Amber agreed ominously.
The ramshackle group gathered around the destroyed Technical with their Bergen's and all the other supplies they were able to salvage from the chopper. Two unexploded jerry cans of water and a slightly squashed carton of 24-hour rations had been the result of a short search of the area.
A map was spread out across the bonnet of the ruined truck and the friends were gathered around it. Having used topographical landmarks, Amber had conducted a resection to work out where they had ended up.
Amber pointed to a spot on the map, "Ok this is where we are at the moment and that's where we need to go" Taking the grid bearing, Hex converted it into a magnetic bearing and passed the new number to Amber. Twisting the compass until it was set to their new bearing, she pointed past the group.
"We go that way" She finished decisively, giving Hex an approving nod.
"Okay we've got a direction, order of march?" Camilla asked turning to Alex.
The blond haired boy still seemed a little out of character since the crash, but turned to Amber and asked "You're not too injured from the crash to take point for the first leg?"
Amber glanced down at the bandages on her bare arms and legs that concealed her multitude of scratches. "Na, I'm all good Alex. I'm tough!" She drawled nonchalantly.
"Hex, are you alright to be her pace setter?" He added with an appreciative grin.
"I'll manage." He nodded, poking his tongue out at Amber who was pretending to be horrified at the prospect.
"Sorted," Alex sighed, "Paulo and Li follow on from them, then you Camilla and I'll be Tail End Charlie."
Paulo chuckled briefly before cringing in pain, it always amused him to hear Alex intermingle the soldiering lingo he picked up off his dad and war books into conversation.
"Yes Sgt" he joked, throwing him a loose salute as the group stepped off.
They had only been walking for less then twenty minutes when Alex gave the two-noted whistle used to get attention in the bush and signaled a halt. He dropped Camilla's arm from around his shoulder, which she had been using as a crutch and took a deep breath. Alex bounded up to the front of the group, his head exploding, he turned to Hex and Amber.
"Look behind you guys" He scolded and they looked back to see Li cradling her injured sides arm, Paulo struggling along looking very short of breath and Camilla heavily limping at the rear.
"I know we are trying to make some ground fast, but we're all pretty beaten up here, you've got to slow it down a bit."
Hex and Amber looked guiltily at each other and nodded.
"A squad only moves as fast as its slowest man." Alex reminded them, before slowly trotting back to the rear to help Camilla along.
They set off again at a reduced pace, Amber keeping their bearing and Hex counting their paces to measure distance. Hex spoke to Amber's back bobbing along in front of him.
"Hey, do you think Alex looked a bit worse for wear when he stopped us before?"
In front of him, Amber nodded her head and without taking her eyes from the compass and murmured back.
"Definitely. I'm sure he's not letting up on how bad he's feeling, but he looked like he is suffering."
At the back Alex truly was suffering, he felt terrible. His head felt like it was splitting in two, his stomach was turning and he kept going only for the sake of his friends. He noticed Camilla slowing as her limp became more pronounced, he kept seeing Paulo stumble further ahead and Li seemed to lack her usual grace and agility. Even Amber and Hex at the front seemed to be rapidly slowing.
We can't keep this up, he realized in defeat and despite the fact it had only been an hour since he last called a halt, he gave the whistle again and gave the broad facing palm signal to his friends as they turned. This method of communication meant that they greatly reduced the amount of noise they produced when moving and given the tactical situation it was a fair consideration.
Alpha force gathered in together, each hiding their shock at seeing each other so bedraggled looking.
"Alex, we can't go on like this." Camilla finally spoke up, looking at the boy downcast.
"I know. We are too beaten up to make much progress like this, we will stop and make camp here for the night." He decided, watching the fading light in the distance. Relieved, Paulo shrugged off his Bergen and sat down trying to get his breath back. Camilla did the same, stretching her sore leg out; the knee was quite swollen now.
Alex suddenly turned to a nearby tree for support and retched violently, before just as suddenly, quietly walking off with a bundle from his Bergen. Li looked quite shocked at this, as did Hex and Amber who shared a look, before the three of them followed after him.
A pale Alex was busy spreading out a large tan, canvas tarpaulin on a flat piece of ground and knocking in pegs with the back of his knife. He turned as his three friends approached and addressed them in a raspy voice.
"This will be the guys tent, Li the other tent is in your bag and will be for the girls. Find a nice flat piece of earth nearby to set it up."
Puzzled, he looked up to see his three friends silently staring at him.
"What?" He asked, "Oh yeah, don't forget to clear the ground of any sticks or rocks first." He added helpfully.
"Alex…" Li started, staring at him with huge eyes.
"You don't look so well, go back and sit down with the others, we got this." Amber said softly.
"What?" Alex blanched, "I've got a bit of a headache, but I'm fine and we got so much stuff to do." He protested.
"Go back and see to Camilla and Paulo, we can handle this." Li told him, with a pat on the back.
"She's right mate, go take a rest." Hex affirmed, an unusual softness to his voice.
"Sometimes the hardest part of being the leader is admitting when you need some help." He added sagely.
Alex placed a hand on his good friend's shoulder and simply nodded in defeat, his eyes blurry with tears of gratitude and shame. He trudged back over to where the other two injured party members sat and dropped down between the pair, closing his eyes wearily.
Amber looked over at Hex warmly, he could be pretty caring and sensitive sometimes, she thought.
Hex caught her mushy expression and cocked and eyebrow.
"Well the female tent isn't going to put itself up ladies." He sarcastically noted with an amused expression, as he resumed pegging the first tent.