The afternoon sun was high before Paulo had finished his rounds and seen to all the injured and sick in the small village. Illness had ranged from infection and tropical disease, to injuries caused by soldiers and the day-to-day life of living in a rough country. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Camilla was strong-headed girl with a good medical knowledge provided by the UN. He did think that maybe she came across to their patients as a little bit hard, but she wasn't put off by any of the horrible problems they saw that day and that still earned her a fair bit of respect in his books.
Paulo felt overwhelmed by what appeared to be his responsibility within the group and the lack of resources he had to provide it with. They were well stocked with basic medical supplies, but many of the patients they had seen that day required higher medical care that they simply wouldn't receive.
Alex and Amber were hauling the medical pannier back on the truck for Li to secure, when Hex opened the hard case containing the portable radio.
"Time to give a SitRep (Situation/Report)." He declared looking at his watch and turning to the group before asking. "Does anyone have anything to add to the report or any requests for our next drop?"
The friends looked at each other questioningly.
"I suppose some McDonalds is out of the question?" Li joked.
With a smirk Hex answered. "I'll take that as a no."
He removed the handset from it's hook and switched it on, got out his notebook and started writing.
"Whatcha writing their geek?" Amber teased.
The boy from London looked up annoyed. "Amateur.." He scolded. "Anytime you have to send or receive a radio message you should write it down if you have the time. It minimises errors."
"Especially since it all has to be encoded and any message they send back decoded." Hex finished with a condescending look to the ebony girl, before lifting the handset.
"Blue House, Blue House this Alpha One SitRep over." He spoke into the microphone in a clear neutral voice.
The line swung back into static, as he released the button on the side of the handset and the group waited.
A female voice emitted from the radio set moments later, the words clear despite the scratchy quality.
"Alpha One this is Blue House, reading you loud and clear. Send SitRep over."
Hex took a deep breath before launching into his SitRep. He began by giving a coded grid reference of their location, repeating the number twice to ensure the operator got the message. After another short pause he let the woman on the other end know that the first drop had been received and aid delivered to the first village.
Next reading from his notes and taking a deep breath, Hex delivered a coded message regarding the helicopter they had arrived in.
"Blue House, Blue House, be advised, Big Bird was stoned flying the coop, I say again, Big Bird was stoned flying the coop. Grid to follow."
He rattled off a second grid reference for the helicopter crash site. When this message was acknowledged he passed the headset to Camilla who moved onto the big piece of news they had; the video of the massacred village.
"Blue House, This is Alpha Sunray. Requesting urgent extraction of Mike Charlie Delta. How copy? Over"
The friends were held in suspense waiting for what seemed like an age for a reply.
The woman crackled back in reply. "Alpha Sunray, Solid Copy, Earliest extraction is at Delta Zulu Bravo. Over."
The group collectively breathed a sigh of relief before Camilla signed off with. "Blue House, Wilco. Alpha Sunray Out."
"Mike Charlie Delta? Delta Zulu Bravo?" Li asked confused, as they loaded the last of their equipment on the truck
"Phonetic alphabet for Mission Critical Data." Camilla explained "Important information that is not safe or unable to be sent over the radio. Delta Zulu Bravo is Dropzone Bravo; the location of our next supply drop, that is where and when we will get a chance to hand over the information." Her eyes sparked at this thought.
"What is this Alpha Sunray business? I thought we were Alpha One?" Paulo added scratching his head, confounded by the entire radio lingo.
"Sunray is the callsign for the commander or boss of a unit, usually a lieutenant or whatever." Alex answered leaning against the Mog and recalling his knowledge about radio callsigns.
"Wilco?" Li asked with a raised eyebrow.
"It's a shortening of Will Comply and the standard response when receiving instructions." Hex explained patiently. as he packed away the radio equipment.
"Why did you say 'I say again' instead of 'I repeat' when you were repeating the part about the crash." Amber asked curious, it did not seem odd to Paulo, who's English could be pretty dodgy at the best of times. She felt a little left behind using this militarised radio format, which seemed to have so many more conventions then the nautical and civilian radio channels she was used to working with.
Alex got this one with an enigmatic smile "The RaTel procedure is taken from the military where the word repeat is used to indicate to the artillery units to fire their big guns again at the same spot."
"Ah." Amber exclaimed taken back. "I could see how that could cause problems. So instead you do the whole 'I say again' thing?"
"Correct." Hex affirmed.
"I'll make a geek out of you yet." He teased.
Amber stuck her tongue out at him and Li rolled her eyes
"Whatever I think I'll let you guys play with the radios." She decided quickly.
The group climbed back into their dusty Unimog and left the grateful village to have its first proper dinner in a long time.
The next day passed pretty similar to the first with Alpha Force handing out supplies to a grateful impoverished population and providing basic medical care to another small village. A general feeling of peace and goodwill spread over the team as they saw the affect of their mission for the first time; starving people received food and water while the sick were provided with much needed medicine. The fact that they had to wait another day to handover the video made little difference to Alpha Force and they were content finally doing what they had set out to do in the country.
As they left a second grateful village in their wake, Paulo sat in the back of the Unimog exhausted, but pleased with a hard days work. Despite the sorry sights of kids deformed by explosives, adults bearing machete or bullet wounds and rampant preventable disease, Paulo decided he still preferred it to being shot at or fighting for his life.
Aside from the good they were doing, Camilla was also pleased to be driving rather then walking, it gave her a chance to rest her injured knee. She was also pleased with the overall change in mood that had occurred since picking up the supplies. Despite the misery they saw daily in the villages, spirits were high as they worked to help the ailing people.
We need a stronger UN presence to make a real difference here she decided, still not happy with meagre supplies and minimal healthcare they could provide. It's just temporary she reminded herself, as she stared out at the shadows stretching longer over the golden grasslands.
Alpha Force was used to the night routine now of camouflaging the truck up and starting with dinner and night duties. Sentry had also become an accepted part of stopping, although it was always conducted with much grumbling, especially since Alex had decided to switch back to a dual sentry roster. The only one exempted from sentry duty was their young guide Mitulu despite his protests.
The mornings were always easier though and the next morning the group packed up in record time, opting to eat their breakfast on the move. With the third and final village of the supply run as their target, the group of youths crossed all terrains with ease in their capable truck. Paulo was quite jealous and a little disappointed that his injured hand exempted him from driving duty; today it was Li's turn to drive.
With her arm shrugged out of its sling, Li drove with her good arm for the majority of the journey, the flat expanse of the plains meant that there was little steering or gear changes required. The terrain was not as flat as it appeared though, it actually undulated frequently in little ridges and hills. These were registered only as small bumps by the passengers, as the Unimog's large wheels powered over top it all. Every little jolt was agony for Li with her fractured clavicle however and she gritted her teeth as she pushed on.
Amber's taunting Asian driver jokes certainly did not lessen her pain. That is so not fair! She fumed. Okay so I accidentally turned the indicators on and didn't realize for a while and maybe I can't see over the dashboard very well, but hey I think it's going alright.
All jokes were forgotten as the Unimog traversed a small hill and revealed on the other side a village much larger then the previous two. This village had several large wooden buildings in addition to the smattering of huts and small houses.
Mitulu piped up from his seat. "This is Naione the largest village for miles, they have school, hospital and my brother lives here." He chattered excitedly.
This small town was a true hive of activity and their vehicle was soon spotted. Rather then waiting at a distance and approaching on foot they kept driving straight into the village, as the villagers waved and beckoned.
"They knew we were coming." Amber excitedly noted, waving back to the people. "They know about us!"
"Word travels quickly here, regardless of the isolation." Camilla shrugged.
"Maybe the army knows about us too then." Hex muttered darkly.
"You might be right, we should be extra careful from now on." Alex suggested, as the truck pulled to a halt, overwhelmed by the crowd that had gathered around it.
When the friends exited the truck a great cheer went up among the community. This time when they unloaded, eager dark hands were waiting to catch every single supply before it even hit the ground. The food and water was quickly dispensed and soon Alpha force sat on a nearly empty truck.
"We should carry these medical supplies across to the hospital." Paulo put forward, rising from his seat on the container and grabbing a handle. Alex grabbed the other end and the two slid it to the end of the truck and climbed off.
"Heck, I'll come for a walk." Camilla decided. "I've always wanted to see the hospital."
"I've got a SitRep to send." Hex explained staying where he was and opening the hard green case.
"Well we're not staying here to get bored by code-boy and his gadgets. Come on Li lets go meet Mitulu's brother." Amber drawled.
The two groups set off, leaving their Signaller to send a message.
Hex didn't mind too much, he would prefer to send the codes in peace rather then explain every little nuance to his friends. He couldn't be in cyber space at the moment but this was the next best thing. Twiddling with the dials before checking the connectivity and leads he withdrew his palmtop and typed out the short message he wanted to send. He then ran the message through coding software he had recently created that translated his words into the code and format he would need to say it over the radio. Foolproof he grinned.
The pannier was heavy and an awkward shape for the boys to carry; carried low it bumped against your legs, lifting it higher was made difficult by the single thin handle at each end. Paulo and Alex manhandled the thing to the hospital as best they could, they were both drenched in sweat by the time they arrived at the derelict wooden building. Four burly nurses met them at the door and took the crate off their hands with many mumbled thanks.
With nothing else to do, the three friends wandered into the hospital to have a look around. The hospital consisted of one large room with about ten tattered beds spread out around the room and a separate smaller room into which, their pannier disappeared, that they could only assume was a store room. A tired looking, pale doctor didn't even look up from his patients, as the disheveled teens entered, with a trace of annoyance he briskly called out.
"I'm sorry we have no free beds at the moment you will have to wait for treatment."
"We aren't actually here for treatment." Alex answered, a little bit taken back.
The doctor's head snapped up at the sound of the English accented voice and his eyes widened. Pushing his short fringe of brown hair out of his eyes he stood up and turned to the friends.
"My god you are the aid group sent by the UN? Word had spread of your work."
"Thank you doctor." Camilla replied humbly. "But we have done very little so far, we came here to see if we could help at all."
"How rude of me." The man exclaimed suddenly. "I'm doctor Neeve"
He shook hands with the three as they introduced themselves.
The doctor gestured down at Paulo's splinted hand. "Would you like me to take a better look at that for you? If we switch on the generator out back we could even do an X-ray." He suggested kindly.
Paulo nodded eagerly and decided to find out more. "A generator? It runs on diesel?"
The young doctor laughed and his faint American accent slid into his speech. "When it does work! I'm a doctor ,not a mechanic and we never seem to have any fuel."
Camilla's sapphire eyes light up at this. "We have plenty of fuel back at the truck we can bring you a Jerry can or two." She offered.
Doctor Neeve's jaw dropped.
"Really?" He exclaimed.
Paulo had taken a liking to the tired looking doctor and added his offer also.
"I can have a look at this generator for you too, see if I can get her running any smoother."
The young doctor was speechless at the teens that had stumbled in offering to fix all his problems at once.
Camilla started slowly for the door to go and retrieve some fuel for the good doctor, when she felt a hand fall on her shoulder. She pivoted to find the grey eyes of Alex staring back at her.
"I'll get the fuel." He suggested quietly.
"It's fine, I can manage a couple of Jerries." Camilla replied an edge of disapproving creeping into her voice.
"I'll get them." Alex insisted again calmly.
Camilla threw his arm off her shoulder angrily and met his eyes with a stubborn glare.
"Look Alex," She growled at him in a heated tone.
"At first I thought it was sweet of you trying to protect me, but I'm getting a bit fed up here. I'm a big girl, I can look after myself and take just as much as anyone else here..."
A hurt shade flashed across the Northumbrian boy's face for an instant before it became something a little softer and he stepped in a little closer to the hot tempered blonde, dropping his voice to a hushed whisper.
"I'm not trying to baby you here Camilla, I'm just worried about you okay? You are still limping around on that leg of yours and you aren't telling any of us the half of how much it hurts. I wanted you to stay here so the doctor can have a look at it."
A cold wave of shame doused the flames of anger that had flared in the girl, as she listened to the words of the first person she had cared about in so long. He only wants what is best for me and I tried to tear him to bits, she realized in shame. Her eyes narrowed shrewdly though, as she remembered her original reason for deciding to get the fuel in the first place.
"What about you?' She accused, but in a far gentler voice then before. "You are still getting the dizzy spells and blurred vision aren't you? That's why you're not doing any of the driving isn't it?"
His grey eyes gave away the truth, as he quickly averted her gaze. Camilla slid a hand up to his cheek and turned his face, forcing him to meet her eyes again.
"You don't always have to be the strong one Alex." She softly pleaded with him.
Alex pulled away from her hands and looked away trying to throw his opaque expression back up again. After a few seconds he had gathered his strength and resolve again and looked back at the girl with his slate eyes.
"I'm going." He declared, resolute. "When I come back I'll get the doctor to look at me, but only if he's seen you first." Alex added.
He centred his courage and planted a light kiss on her forehead and turned on his heels to stride from the room. Camilla stood stock still, her feet planted in place, as her trembling hand drifted up to the cool spot on her forehead where his lips had touched her skin.
"Damn him.." She breathed with a mixed expression on her face, as she closed her eyes and tried to steady her heart rate.
Li and Amber strolled through the village waving to the happy villagers as they tried to locate the house that Mitulu had disappeared into. Amber had wanted the chance to clear the air with Li, but neither seemed to want to start the conversation so they walked in silence instead.
Their journey ended up taking them right to far side of the village where they found Mitulu and a larger boy standing out in a large fenced field. Uneven mounds littered the ground; stumps and stick protruded at seemingly random intervals. The field was sheltered from the savannah plains by a rickety looking fence and a large berm. The berm, which looked like a large hill of soil, surrounded the whole Northern side of the village and blocked out a view of the surrounding landscape.
It's a graveyard! Li realised with a shudder as the two figures in front of them stood with bowed heads in front of the mounds. Mitulu turned as the girls approached and in a reserved voice he introduced his brother, before gesturing at the ground.
"Our parents." He glumly explained.
The two girls nodded silently before bowing their heads in respect for the dead.
Amber ended up breaking the silence.
"How did they… go?" She awkwardly asked the boys. Without turning around they replied.
"Mother died giving birth to our little sister and our father was disappeared six months ago by soldiers. He refused to let the army take us away and begged they take him instead." The brother grimly answered.
As if responding to the sad words being spoken the wind kicked up into a howl and blew the acrid dust through the graveyard. Mitulu dropped to his knees suddenly and Amber stepped forward to hug him.
With a jump like she had been electrocuted Amber withdrew her hands as they closed on something wet and sticky. Turning the boy in her arms shocked, she suddenly saw the three dark holes in his chest and abdomen. The boys eyes faded like light moving further down a dark tunnel and Amber dropped the boy in horror and disbelief.
Her world collapsed, as the ground in front of her stitched with bullets and the air became filled with hot lead.