Aid Conflict

Village of Victims

"Okay, so we agree something isn't quite right in this place?" Alex confirmed with his team. "Lets be extra careful then and carry out some reconnaissance before we make our presence known."

"We are here to pick up some transport right?" Paulo checked with the group before pointing to the tattered corrugated iron shed in the distance, "If there is any to be had, my guess is it would be in that shed."

Camilla nodded "There's supposed to be a truck waiting here for us, that building is the only one big enough to conceal one."

"I think we need to take a closer look at the village itself too, something's happened here that maybe we be should aware of." Hex blurted out, "The first place I would look would be the church with smoke coming out the back of it."

Alex turned quickly to look at the church, damn! He hadn't noticed the thin stream of smoke trickling from its rear.

Trust Hex to spot the one anomaly in the village he thought, revising the plan that was forming in his head to collaborate this new piece of information.

"I agree with Hex." Camilla sided, noticing the smoke for the first time too. "We need to know what's going on here before we can think of leaving."

"But the shed is- " Li argued angrily before being cut off by a hand held up by Alex.

"We check out both then." He concluded. "But we do it carefully and quietly, if there is trouble here we don't want it." He finished sternly, giving Li a hard stare.

Li simmered back at the pointed glare she received; I'm not the one who stabbed a guy she thought bitterly.

"Fine!" She spat, dragging the curly black haired boy to his feet.

"Me and Paulo will do something useful; check out the shed and find our vehicle. Go look at your stupid church."

"Can you go with them please Amber?" Alex quietly asked, sadly watching the pair stalk away.

Amber looked surprised, but agreed. "Yeah sure, they might need a translator." She justified, leaving the others with a final concerned look back at them.

That's not why they need you right now Alex voiced internally, his brain buzzing.

"This way.." Hex declared pointing to a narrow alley between houses that led in the direction of the rising pillar of smoke.

Amber jogged to catch up with her two friends who were slinking their way around the low wall towards the shed; they seemed surprised to see her, but then turned and silently continued.

Li's pretty face was screwed up in fury, as she led the charge towards the dull, dusty building. Where did Alex get off implying I was the troublemaker of the group, the one most likely to use aggression over stealth? Paulo caught a glimpse of the anger in her face as they came up along side their target building and held up an arm to stop her going first.

She turned to face him directing the full heat of her glare on him. He mouthed the word no and leaned close to whisper to her.

"You're running too hot like engine at the moment, I will go first you take a moment to chill."

She met his serious expression and hers cooled off a bit realising her friend was right, she stepped aside to let him and Amber past to the door.

Paulo cracked the door open silently and held his breath as peered inside.

As they zigzagged their way through the maze of buildings nearing the church, Hex thought he heard a voice and called his friends to a stop. Crouching to reduce their profile in the alleyway, the three teens listened in silence as they heard two men talking loudly in the native tongue. Suddenly the owners of the voice appeared in the Hex's line of vision as two olive drab uniformed, men dragged a corpse past their alley. Hex felt adrenaline dump into his system, creating a metallic taste in his mouth. but the soldiers passed the group by unnoticed.

"Did you see that?" He hissed back at the two other wide-eyed teens in the alley behind him.

"What's the army doing here?" Alex spluttered in outrage.

"Maybe we should go find out." Camilla suggested darkly.

Slinking from the shadows, they emerged one by one onto the edge of the street, only to freeze in horror.

The street was littered with blood and half naked dead bodies, scattered among the dead was hundreds upon hundreds of brass shell casings, indicating the cause of so much death. Dark red holes laced the bodies and the gory irregular-shaped explosions of flesh that were exit wounds, indicated to Alex that these people were gunned down from all sides. They never stood a chance.

Camilla dropped to her knees in shock, her long legs simply giving way. Hex staggered back like he had been punched and placed a hand against a nearby house to support himself. Alex's vision swam and the wave of dizziness and nausea from the other day hit him again with full force. Beside the boys, the kneeling girl gagged loudly and forcefully vomited onto the bloody streets.

Hearing the horrid coughing kicked the boys back into focus, quickly they grabbed their ailing friend under her arms and dragged her back into the cover of the dark alley once more. Alex pulled the long hair back from Camilla's face as she continued to spit bitterly into the dust, while Hex in a state of shock rifled through his daypack.

Turning to look up at Alex with watering eyes the pale girl mumbled in a tiny voice.

"It's just like what happened to my parents."

Alex cradled her head against his chest and looked up at Hex who was still distracted.

"We've got to warn the others." He choked.

At the sound of Alex's voice, Hex stopped his search in triumph and nodded morosely.

"Yes we do, but first we need to do this" he answered cryptically, removing his hand from the bag to show Alex the small digital camcorder he had been searching for.

"The world needs to see what's happening to these people" Hex demanded tightly.

Alex smiled at the hacker's determination, even in the face of unthinkable horrors he managed a clear head and presented a solution to problems. Alex reached his hand for the small device.

"I'll do it mate." He whispered. "You go warn the others."

Hex jumped to his feet with a firm look in his eyes. "We'll meet you out by the east corner of the wall where we started?"

"Hex, be careful." Camilla croaked from the ground, as the tall boy from London sprinted off.

On the other side of the village Paulo's eyes met a completely different sight, housed in the confines of the shabby iron building was an all to familiar vehicle that brought a sense of both relief and dread to the young man. It was a monstrous twin-cab Unimog, almost identical to the one he had driven in the Sahara desert and that he had almost been buried alive in. His eyes took in the four tall wrinkled tires and the frame and canopy that housed the rear deck of the sand coloured vehicle. The Unimog 1900 was a well-utilised, hard-wearing truck that despite its age, was still used by military organisations worldwide.

Before Paulo had a chance to celebrate their luck, a small African boy in a filthy white t-shirt leapt from the roof violently swinging a machete. In too much shock to consider attacking, Paulo stumbled backwards through the doorway. This ended up saving him, as the long blade dug deeply into the wooden frame and became stuck there.

The wild looking child frantically struggled to free the heavy blade, as Li helped Paulo to his feet.

"Stop!" Amber started shouting at the kid in every different African dialect she knew until the boy turned to look at them. Holding up their hands to show they were unarmed, the friends walked the boy back into the shelter.

"Why do you come here?" The boy rudely demanded, his eyes darting to the door.

"We're here with the United Nations and the Red Cross trying to bring help to your people, but we need transport." Amber explained her arms open and her palms exposed.

The boy's dark face split in a wide grin showing yellowed teeth and bleeding gums. "UN? Red Cross? My name Mitulu. I guard truck, I guide." He announced proudly puffing his chest out.

"Pleased to meet you Mitulu." Li greeted the boy handing him back his machete and gesturing to the others. "This is Amber and I can see you've already met Paulo."

Paulo chuckled a little and clutched his side in agony.

"Stop making me laugh." He begged.

Mitulu's face suddenly changed like the waning of the moon, his smile changing to an expression of fear and worry.

"We must leave now." He insisted. "Bad things happen if we don't go soon."

"What sort of bad things? What has happened here?" Amber demanded, picking up on the panic in the boy's voice.

"The army is here." The frightened boy whispered. "They kill many, they kill us if they find us."

"The army?" Paulo said worriedly glancing at his two friends.

"We've got to get the others and get out of here fast." Li concluded, the colour draining from her face.

"One of us should go warn the others, bring them here." Amber announced, removing her pack and making for the door.

"No." Li stopped her, "I'll go, we need you here. Find out more from Mitulu."

"Paulo.." She addressed. "We need this truck ready to go by the time I return with the others."

Paulo saluted her with the oversized wrench he had picked up off a work bench before speaking.

"Can do and Li, please be careful." His eyes begged.

Li nodded at her friend and waved goodbye with her unslung arm before slinking out the door.

From his position on the roof of one of the short mud-brick houses. Alex suppressed the urge to vomit and silently filmed the carnage filled streets below him. In the alley below a very pale Camilla sat with her back against the cooling brick, wrapped in Alex's desert camo smock and carefully keeping her eyes away from the maroon splashes out on the street.

Alex swallowed nauseous as his lenses took in the scene of bloodshed beneath him, with disgust he recognised long hair and smaller frames among some of the bodies. Those bastards even killed the woman and children he raged to himself, despite noticing something unusual in the pattern of slaughter. It appeared to Alex that the men and boys murdered in the street below were either very old and decrepit or else very young and small. He pondered what had happened to the working aged males.

Vultures had begun to circle overhead and flies were starting to attack the mutilated bodies.

With a better vantage point from the roof Alex was able to see a green open-topped jeep parked on the opposite side of the village and he was able to watch the two remaining soldiers move the bodies. A large open fire burned near them, created the column of smoke by the church and the soldiers were lazily retrieving bodies and throwing them on the bonfire. Alex filmed this too, sickened by the increasing scent of decay and death.

The black smoke polluted the sky and seemed to reflect the horrible deeds that had been committed below its cloud.

Not able to take anymore, Alex leopard-crawled back along the roof to slide down at the rear of the building. He switched the camera off and stowed it in a free pouch on his belt, before turning to slide down the curved roof on his stomach. As gravity took hold and caused his body to scrape down the side, he caught a glimpse of a dust cloud on the road in the distance; a vehicle approaching. With a renewed sense of urgency, he finished his slide and crouch-ran over to Camilla.

"We've got to leave now!" He ordered pulling the girl to her feet.

Hex had made good time sprinting from the cover of the buildings to the perimeter wall, in his round about journey to find the others. The long runs he did back home had built a good level of aerobic fitness in the young hacker and he was feeling in pretty good shape, as he stealthily vaulted the low wall to plan his next move.

He spied the garage about 500 metres to the north of where he had arrived and was just readying himself for another run when he saw a long scarf of black hair trail out from behind a nearby building.

"Oi Li." He hissed in her direction and was rewarded with the surprised Asian girl jumping in surprise and turning to face him.

"Hex?" She whispered cautiously and sprinted over to where he was.

"I was just looking for you guys-" She blurted before being cut off by Hex.

"The army is here, they've killed the whole village-"

"and we've got to get out of here ASAP?" Li finished with a grim nod. "Yeah just what I was coming to tell you guys, we found our ride by the way and picked up a guide too."

"Over at the shed?" Hex queried, to which Li nodded.

"Okay I'll head back and lead Alex and Camilla over there, can you make sure everyone else is ready to leave as soon as we get there?"

"Too easy." Li replied with a wink, all past animosity forgotten with the current crisis, before sprinting off the way she came.

Hex took a deep breath Get the others; get out, what could go wrong? He tried to reassure himself unconvinced, as his mind flashed back to the explosive events of the past week. With a sense of foreboding, Hex made his way back to over the start of the housing area where he had last seen his friends.

Back in the garage Paulo had the front panel of the Unimog off and the bonnet up so he could check the motor, belts and fluid levels before they set off. After topping up the radiator level, he was satisfied, and with Amber holding the front grill in place, he locked it back on using the Mogs special turning key.

Focusing now on the canopy and tray of the truck he started tightening some of the screws holding the decking in place and increasing the tension on the canopy. With a final satisfied grunt he placed the sides back up in the rear, lifted the tailgate and bungeed down the canopy again.

Behind him, Amber was trying to calm down the African child who was becoming increasingly agitated. as they stayed in the shed. The Solambian boy was frantically tugging on her arm and insisting that they leave before the army returned.

"They kill, they take people away; then they come back to steal!" He jabbered in rapid Solambian, his voice heavy with panic.

"They search, they find us." He finished drawing his hand across his throat in the apparently international symbol for death.

Frustrated, Amber explained to Mitulu for what seemed like the thousandth time.

"We aren't leaving without our friends, they will be here soon then we can leave."

Mitulu shook his head stubbornly and turned to plead his case to Paulo when suddenly he froze in place. His dark eyes displayed apocalyptic horror, before he sprinted off to hide inside the large scrap metal bin at the back of the workshop.

"Dios!" Paulo swore, as he straightened up from tightening the wheel-nuts with a large wrench. "What the hell got into him?"

Amber shrugged and started to stride over to the boys hiding place, when she too stopped dead in her tracks not even daring to breath. Paulo's eyes widened as he too heard the noise that had given his friend pause. The rough sound of heavy boots crunching through the sand outside echoed in his head, as someone approached the door to the shed.

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