The Parting of Ways
The Jeep following behind Alpha Force watched in confusion as a white shape had begun to emerge from the back of the truck and completely cover the rear of the vehicle. Soon the Unimog was fully occluded from their vision and they only realized at the last minute that the billowing white shape was hurtling towards them silently. They would have shot it if they had any ammunition left, instead the driver managed to swerve just in time, narrowly avoiding the great sheet.
The Technical behind them was not so lucky and did not comprehend that something was amiss until the jeep in front frantically swerved. At this point it was too late and an enormous white shape engulfed the black pickup truck. The driver screamed in terror as his vision was completely whited out and on the back his gunner screamed all the more, as the fire finally caught up to the silken chute.
Parachutes burn really fast, Paulo noted, watching the Technical disappear completely in flames behind them. Hex and Alex were also a little shocked at the suddenness that the fire engulfed the doomed vehicle and how quickly the flames grew.
Camilla hid her eyes from the scene as she considered the people inside the truck who had became trapped by the sheet and were now destined to die a horrible, painful death. She felt no remorse for the men that would have done considerably worse to her, but she just wished there could have been a better way to stop them. Maybe we didn't need to light it on fire, she considered guiltily, her bloodshot eyes had no more tears to shed for villains though.
In the cab, Li's eyes boggled in shock as she caught sight of the groups trap in the wing mirror.
"Damn!" She commented. "That's one way to slow them down."
Amber leaned across to check her mirror and her mouth opened in amazement.
"How did they manage to do that?" She exclaimed, her eyes pinned to the flaming wreck behind them.
"Still one on our tale." Li reminded her and they refocused on making it to the river.
No sooner had she said it, did the thick grasses give way to the muddy banks of a river, the banks sloped into a ten meter wide band of water. The water was the exact color of the mud and of the crocodiles lazed sleepily on the banks. Reptilian eyes sprung open as the rumbling giant of a truck approached spewing smoke and tearing up the mud under wide wheels.
Remembering Paulo's instructions for obstacle crossings, Li switched the driver settings from four-wheel drive across to diff or differential lock. This meant that the vehicles tires would all turn in unison, which significantly increased traction.
Accelerating into the upcoming water, the whole vehicle shuddered as it ploughed into the murky water and its large wheels powered it through the rising water. Water rose to almost the top of the tyres as it pushed through the water, creating a massive bow wave that frightened away the crocodiles on shore.
For a fleeting moment of terror Amber felt the vehicle come to a halt as it lost traction, before the front wheels found a solid grip in the shallower water and pulled the Unimog out. Traction and speed increased, the shallower the truck became as it passed half way and emerged on the other side. Water bucketed from the wheels and under carriage when the big vehicle cleared the water and Li switched it back over to four-wheel drive again.
Her face ablaze with excitement, she turned to her friend who wore a similar expression.
"Well I think that's the last time I hassle Paulo about liking this thing." LI admitted, patting the dash.
"It's the last time I hassle you about your driving too Li, that was amazing!" Amber conceded with a look of respect.
In the back the rest of Alpha Force breathed a sigh of relief when the wheels touched down on solid ground again. Paulo was oddly silent; he was completely gutted he hadn't gotten to do a river crossing, but at the same time was very proud of Li for pulling it off.
The spectators in the back watched as the jeep approached the river and speed up for its attempt at crossing. Before it had even entered, Paulo could see there was no way it would make it and a look of amusement crossed his face as he settled in to watch them try.
The Jeep pulled through the mud on the bank fine, but came to a dead stop no more then three metres into the water. The driver tried to put the jeep in reverse but it was in vain and he soon gave up. Sitting in the middle of the river the inhabitants of the jeep realised that their vehicle was not as efficient at crossing rivers as the Unimog. Nor was it as efficient at scaring away crocodiles it seemed, as the scaly reptiles began to drift closer to the stuck vehicle, curious and hungry.
Free of any following vehicles, Alpha Force adjusted their trajectory to head towards the extraction at Dropzone Bravo. Not even five minutes later however, the Unimog started to shudder as it drove; the engine tone alternating over the next kilometre before cutting out altogether. Li looked down at the dash and noted that various red lights that flashed back at her.
Hex climbed down from the back, and began helping his injured friends down too. Alex came first, still looking extremely pale, his skin drawn tight across his features. Every muscle trembled in him as he shakily climbed down the metal tailboard. His eyes were still very bloodshot and watering from the teargas, Hex noticed that he had a slight wheeze when he breathed.
Camilla came next, looking almost as bad as Alex; her usually glossy blonde hair was dull with dust and splayed out in all directions from her head, most of it plastered to her exhausted face. She climbed down on only three limbs since she tried to keep any weight off her bad knee. The once white bandage that encased it, was now a dull brown from a mix of the village's dusty soil and dried blood. The usually pretty girl winced in agony when she finally made it to the ground and had to tentatively use her injured leg for balance.
Finally Paulo slowly climbed down, like Camilla he was only using three limbs while he carefully held his broken hand to his body to avoid knocking it during his descent. His breathing was rapid and shallow still due to the pain from his broken ribs. Of all of their friends, he was probably the worst off and in the most pain. Curiosity and duty overcame his pain however and he slowly walked around to the front of the vehicle where Li and Amber had lifted the bonnet.
After a brief inspection he walked around to the rest of the Mog at a crouch, inspecting the undercarriage and lines that ran along the side of the vehicle. The whole rear and undercarriage was a mess of raw metal, shredded wires and tubes, the complete length of it was littered with bullet holes. He stopped just behind the cab where Hex was knelt with a serious look on his face.
The hacker lifted his hand to show the fuel and various fluids that were covering his fingers, before then gestured under the vehicle. Paulo took one short look at the catastrophic damage before straightening with a sad nod.
"I can't fix this." He adamantly admitted. "We took a lot of rounds and have multiple systems damaged, it is miracle we made it through the river really."
"So now what?" Amber asked the group. "We have got just under forty kilometres to go to the extraction point and no vehicle to get there.."
"We could easily get a helicopter in here." Li gestured around the flat grassy plains. "So lets call them up and move our extraction point."
"I don't think that's going to be possible." Camilla called from the rear of the Unimog and she limped over with the hard green case that contained the radio. A cluster of large holes penetrated the container leaving little doubt that the radio was unusable.
Alex's heart dropped a little lower with each new development.
"So it looks like we are walking after all?" Amber announced glumly, looking like she wanted to cry.
"It's going to be tight." Hex concluded looking at his watch apprehensively. "It is 1305 now and the bird is due at 2030 we would really need to be hoofing it."
Alex looked around at the group seriously. "I don't know if we can make that kinda speed as a group."
Paulo shook his head sadly in defeat. "I don't think I could make it guys, I struggled with five hundred metres getting back to the Mog."
Camilla lowered her head in shame. "My knee is still pretty bad actually, I would just slow you guys down."
Li put her good arm around the downcast girl's shoulder.
Alex's eyes blazed with a quiet determination. "We split up then, send one fast group to meet the chopper and bring it back here to pick up the wounded."
Hex nodded in agreement matching the other British teen's hard stare. "Yeah! Me, Alex and whoever else feels strong enough, makes a break for dropzone."
Amber saw the hope in Hex eyes and knew she must go with him. "Count me in." She decided.
The effects of the teargas were starting to fade because of the small dose she was exposed to and she was relatively unscathed aside from that.
Beside her, Li shrugged her bad shoulder experimentally, seemingly satisfied she piped up.
The pain wasn't too bad when it was slung and apart from that she felt in pretty good shape having had no exposure to the tear gas.
In a small voice, that seemed to shake the group all the same, Alex weighed in.
His comment was followed by a dead silence while the shocked group glanced over at their friend. Seeing their eyes upon him, he sighed heavily and looked at his feet before elaborating.
"I'm not up to it." He explained. "I still haven't been quite right since the crash and this tear gas almost put an end to me. As much as I want to go, I would just slow you down."
Alex was the strongest endurance athlete among them; he always seemed to be able to go just a little bit further or a little bit longer then the rest of the group. His rangy physique meant his strides seemed to carry him further with each step and he was always there to support the others and help push them ever onwards.
The loss of Alex on the massive tab to the DZ was a knock to the morale of everyone in the group.
The silence stretched as the friends stared at the teen from Northumbria, completely lost for words. Camilla broke from the group and limped over to wrap a supportive arm around his waist.
Hex was the first to overcome the blow to the group's morale; he looked at his grey-eyed friend with something resembling pride. For Alex to admit that took a fair bit of courage, he thought.
Amber seemed to read his mind as she answered in a strong voice.
"Don't worry Alex, we won't let you down, there's three of us still going and we will make it."
At her words, a small glimmer of appreciation managed to push past the shame in Alex's face. He nodded in approval, they had a lot to prepare for the extraction group and not much time to do it in.
First they added their current location on the GPS unit so the group could return and find them. Next they loaded the light rucksacks the group would carry, they divided the food and water so they had something to keep them going and leaving the rest of it with the group that was staying. A small first aid kit was placed in Amber's rucksack and two pairs of night vision goggles were given to the group. With all their laces firmly tied and their pack straps tightened, the extraction group turned to farewell their friends.
The girls all shared hugs, as Hex clasped Paulo's good hand and then Alex's right.
"Keep them safe amigo." Paulo said with a firm pat on his friend's shoulder. Before wandering off to farewell Li.
"Thanks Hex." Alex spoke earnestly, relieved that the reliable hacker from London was there to be strong in this time when he couldn't.
"Don't worry about it Alex, we'll come back with the chopper." He reassured him before adding with a wink. "You'll live."
Alex chuckled at the private joke and clapped Hex's shoulder firmly before letting him pass.
Behind them Amber pulled Camilla in close and whispered in her ear.
"Look after Alex okay?"
"Always." Camilla reassured her with a squeeze and let her go to face an amused Li who had heard the exchange.
Paulo smothering the small Asian girl in a giant one-armed hug saved her from a taunting comment.
With the farewells all done the extraction team turned and briskly walked off into the distance.
With his friends fading into the distance, Alex considered what needed to happen next for those that were staying behind in the dry midday heat. He eyed the Unimog sitting out conspicuous in the grassland and decided that should be the first order of business.
"Paulo?" He called to the Argentinean who was still watching his friends disappear into the distance.
"We need to cam up the Unimog as quick as we can, it stands out too much if anyone comes looking for us."
Paulo nodded tiredly and headed to the side of the truck as Alex climbed on the roof and passed him down the cam poles and netting. Camilla reluctantly climbed to her feet and helped Paulo spread the net and peg in the corners. It took about twenty minutes but the group managed to erect the cam net shelter and put up the tent inside it too. Alex walked outside to survey the scene and was pleased with the dull mound the truck now presented as.
Hours passed with Paulo flopped down on his bed in the tent asleep and the other two finding ways to keep themselves busy.
Just outside the tent Camilla sat leaned against the truck in clean clothes with a small basin of non-drinking water and a washcloth trying to clean herself up a bit. The water was soon a dirty brown colour as she wiped most of the filth off her face and out of her hair. She changed the water in the small basin and peeked her head inside the tent to check that Paulo was truly asleep. Camilla carefully peered through the gaps in the netting and discerned the form of Alex slumped against a tree in the shade. Satisfied she would not be disturbed, she wet the cloth before proceeding to clean the rest of herself with it under her clothes.
A whore's bath as it was colloquially called in the forces.
She had barely started, when Alex suddenly appeared at the opening of the netting, he stopped in mid-step with a look surprise and embarrassment and Camilla quickly whipped the cloth out from under her shirt.
Damn he can move quietly, she cursed in embarrassment, while he stared with his jaw dropped.
"Field bath.." She mumbled embarrassed, as he quickly broke from his paralysis and averted his gaze from her.
"Ah, don't mind me." He muttered quickly disappearing to the back of the Unimog, where she heard a ripping noise. Curious, she dropped her washcloth and pushed off the Mog to her feet. Limping around the corner, she saw Alex cutting away with his knife at some of the excess scrimmage that hung off the side of the Unimog.
"What's that for?" She asked puzzled.
Alex looked up in surprise.
"Just a precaution, its me keeping busy really.." He assured her.
"Against what?" Camilla demanded, crossing her arms across her chest and giving him a perilous look.
Alex gulped at the scrutiny and stopped what he was doing to answer her.
"Well we didn't make it very far from the river, the army is probably still searching for us, so I decided to make some stuff."
"What kind of stuff?" She further inquired in the same tone, her eyes demanding an explanation.
Jeez I can't keep anything from her can I? Alex realized.
"I've just been making some jackets and things that will help us blend in more if we have to." He explained guiltily.
She laughed out loud having expected booby traps, a tiger pit or something equally dangerous.
This further seemed to confuse Alex more and in an effort to appease her he asked.
"Do you want to help?"
Pleased for something to do Camilla eagerly agreed.
"So the first thing we do is create a long poncho out of scrim like this." He demonstrated, using the blade to cut out a basic shape and a neck hole, leaving a strip to tie around the waist.
The two sat in the shade of a tree about twenty metres from their camp with a bundle of resources Alex had collected.
"Then we stitch and tie small bits of scrim and camo net. Finally we add bits of the natural landscape like the long grass or bits and pieces of the plants or trees."
Camilla looked at the finished product that Alex held up for her to see, it looked like a long earthen coloured mat that had been sewn into a long scruffy coat. She could see he had already fashioned one coat and that he had added an overlayer of the material to a couple of pairs of their khaki trousers. There were also three modified hats that now looked like bushy hoods made out of the dry fauna itself.
Sceptically, Camilla turned to the boy who wore an energised grin.
"Does it really hide you very well?" She asked carefully, expecting his enthusiasm to fade.
Instead the teen's grin doubled.
"If you stay still..Want a demonstration?" He asked, before donning a full suit to look like a living bush and gesturing for her to turn around.
After ten seconds she turned to find Alex nowhere in sight.
Amazed, she stood and looked around the clearing to the scraggly bushes and across the knee-high grass that surrounded her.
"Alex?" She finally called in defeat glancing all around her.
The ground in front of her suddenly moved, causing her to leap back.
"You called?" Alex asked coolly with a smarmy look on his face as he stood up not two metres from her. The smarmy look was wiped from his face when she slapped him hard on the arm for scaring her.
Impressed despite herself, the girl admitted. "Okay that was pretty awesome."
Alex's smile flourished under the praise.
"My dad taught me how to make them, it's called a Gillie suit, it works like magic as long as you stay still. Man we used to have the best games of hide and seek." He reminisced.
Camilla chuckled as she settled down to create her own suit that would render her virtually invisible.