Hide and Seek
The rest of Alpha force was not having such a relaxed time. Amber was navigating at the front with a compass and using the GPS occasionally to check they were on course. Behind her, Li pushed her shorter legs to match the group's speed; her job was to stay alert to their left and right flanks for any hazards like soldiers or wildlife.
At the rear, Hex set the pace they had to maintain to make the extraction and it was a punishing one. He felt responsible for their group and was adamant that they keep up the relentless pace. They had been walking for hours now and the landscape had begun to darken before their eyes.
The group was showing signs of fatigue though and Hex decided it was time for their first rest, he whistled and gave the halt signal. He figured with the pace they had been travelling it would compensate for any slowing from fatigue at the later stages of the journey. It was a fragile balance to forge, but he thought that they had it right.
The three friends sat down in a huddle facing outwards and immediately whipped out their water bottles. They leaned back on each other creating a comfortable seated position and an effective all round sentry.
"How long can we rest for?" Amber asked, dreading the answer.
"Ten minutes no more." The hacker decided.
Li mumbled her disapproval through a mouthful of water.
"Make sure you both get something to eat too." Hex added, focusing his attention on Amber.
"Should we get out the NVGs now, so we don't have to stop for them later?" Li asked the others.
Amber nodded her head. "Sounds like a good idea. Besides the light is fading fast, we may need then sooner rather then later."
"We are over halfway." Hex mentioned, trying to raise the group morale, when secretly he was worried by the fatigue he saw in his friends during their rest. He too, felt tired beyond belief and unfocused; he had to keep reminding himself to check the pace.
The bulky watch on his wrist beeped and he sighed in resignation, as he pushed himself to his feet.
"That's us." He declared, reaching over to pull the other two to their feet. Amber and Li grumbled, but were grateful for the help up.
The others are counting on us Li reminded herself as they set off once more, ignoring the protests her body made and the incessant urge to sleep.
Paulo awoke to find himself alone in the tent, the last light of the day spilling through the open canvas. He felt well rested and decided to get up and see where Alex and Camilla had got too. He soon found them asleep outside the cam net by a tree, surrounded by the most bizarre collection of scrappy looking clothes he had ever seen. They were leaned up against a wide tree peacefully, with Camilla's head resting on Alex's chest, his arm secure around her shoulder.
Paulo's face twisted into a grin at the adorable image and he tossed up whether or not to wake them.
An odd silhouette on the horizon decided it for him and he clasped a hand over Alex's mouth and shook him awake. Whatever reaction he had expected, it wasn't Alex's eyes flashing open with a hard glaze to them and in one smooth motion drawing his knife from it's sheath.
Paulo let go and stepped back quickly, waiting a moment until Alex became orientated to his surroundings and recognised his friend.
"Sorry Paulo.." He mumbled, embarrassed at the fright on the bigger teens face.
Paulo just held a finger to his lips and pointed to the shapes on the horizon.
Alex jumped to his feet and held a hand above his eyes to block the last rays of light.
Standing out against the background of light were people.
Blood seemed to freeze in Alex's veins, as the new development dawned on him. Pulling Paulo to the ground with him, he threw him the larger of the complete Gillie suits.
"Put that on." He hissed, before turning to wake Camilla.
The girl awoke a lot more peacefully and smiled, as the first thing she saw upon waking from her pleasant doze was Alex's face. The pleasant feeling dissipated at the worried expression he wielded and how much darker it was now in comparison to when she dozed off. Beyond him, she saw Paulo climbing into his Gillie suit and decided that she should do the same.
Satisfied with the two getting changed, Alex crouch-ran back to the tent and retrieved the friends DPM patterned daypacks. From the top of his he drew several items, the first was their pair of night vision goggles which he strapped over his head and dropped the eyepieces over his face. The world changed to an eerie pale green, as he looked out on the savannah like it was a well-lit day once again. In the grainy, pale green world he could see a line of uniformed soldiers walking in their direction, they were roughly 1500 metres away he estimated.
Cursing himself for his carelessness, Alex dashed back to the tree and frantically threw on his Gillie suit.
Looking around he didn't see his friends at all and had to quietly call out, before they moved and got his attention. They were lying prone in the shadow of the tree, facing the direction the soldiers were coming from; he passed each their daypack and set his own down.
With the second little box in his hand, he dashed back over in the direction of the Unimog before returning much slower a few minutes later.
He crawled close to his friends and whispered to them.
"We need to move further from the truck, lets crawl into that nasty looking bush over there and wait there."
His comrades nodded at him before carefully crawling a further fifty metres to hole up underneath a particularly thorny scrub. Alex moved slower then the others and seemed to leaving something behind them as he moved. They were just settling down in the bush when Alex passed the NVGs to Paulo for a look.
The Argentinean dropped the goggles down in front of his vision and was shocked to see how close the soldiers were to their position now, no further then a hundred metres away. With a cold tingle down his spine he realised that their current course would have them run straight into the Unimog.
Oddly enough, with the vision of an owl he was able to see several narrow lines that seemed to run towards the Unimog from their hiding place. He disregarded this last part with a shrug and passed the goggles to Camilla for a look.
The three friends went stock-still, as boot crunched the ground right in front of their faces.
Soldiers walked past, close enough to lean down and touch them. Men walked by so close that Camilla was sure they must be able to hear her rapid breathing or racing heart.
The three teens spirits fell, as a shout came from one of the troops and the platoon rushed towards where a man was pointing.
Hex looked at his watch, it was truly dark now and he trundled along blindly after Li and Amber, who wore the NVGs. He was finding it harder to track their progress, as they drew closer to their objective. His mind was dulled by exertion and the muscles in his legs ached from the prolonged walking. Regardless, he pushed on, knowing there was no alternative.
In front of him, Li struggled on also; she couldn't remember ever having walked so much in her life and her legs screamed at her to stop. Li knew from experience that it wasn't an option; as soon as you stopped in this state your legs seized up and starting again was almost impossible.
She tried to make the most of the advanced piece of equipment that shaded her eyes. Alex had explained to them how it worked to magnify what were small amounts of ambient light to give the wearer an illuminated view. She quietly marvelled at the technology and felt a little guilty for depriving Hex of the opportunity to have a play with the technology.
At the front Amber was fading fast, her mind screamed for sleep and the constant activity of checking the compass was the only thing keeping her awake. All her muscles seemed to burn with effort and the small rucksack on her back seemed to weigh a hundred kilos. Her legs were probably doing the best; honed by years of wandering department stores and later through running and horse riding. She glanced at her GPS and hoped the figures it showed were correct, if so they were just about there.
In the back of her mind she hoped the others were alright back in camp and a large part of her envied them sitting around cosy in the tent. They're probably having dinner about now. The thought of dinner roused her to dip into one of her pouches and retrieve a couple of high calorie snack bars to munch on.
Dinner was the furthest thing from her friend's minds, as enemy soldiers swarmed towards the camouflaged Unimog. With attention drawn away from their position, Alex dared to move and reached across for the NVGs, which he placed back on his head quickly. He could hear Paulo and Camilla breathing fast beside him, as dozens of soldiers ducked under the netting to search the truck and tent. Alex was quietly looking around the clearing and when he noticed the entirety of the platoon crowded around the vehicle, he reached underneath his jacket for his detonator.
Paulo's mind flashed in recognition, as he remembered the trails he had noticed leading to their position and he realised what Alex had done when he headed back to the truck for the second time. His eyes swung to the detonator in Alex's hand and something cold inside of him fluttered.
Concerned, Paulo clasped the boys shoulder.
"We don't have to kill them, Alex." He whispered imploringly.
Alex turned to meet his friend's eye with a sad look.
"No more killing, not if we can help it." He promised.
With that he pressed the button on the detonator.
A small bang resounded from the Unimog, barely louder then a gunshot, it was followed by shouts, as flames began to climb the sides of the Unimog and the troops fled from the cam net.
Paulo, who had been expecting some huge explosion, uncovered his ears and looked at his friend suspiciously. Alex wasn't done yet and he pressed another button on the detonator; two metres from the truck another small explosion detonated sending up a shower of dirt over the terrified soldiers.
Camilla got to detonate the next one, which was even closer then the last and caused most of the troops to turn tail and run. Paulo delightedly, detonated the last couple just for good measure, hastening the soldiers' retreat as the truck and netting burned beside them.
"A tiny piece of plastic explosives on the fuel tank and some more small charges scattered around the area." He explained with a wink.
"That was pretty smart Alex." Camilla admitted. "Now they might think we booby trapped this whole area and it may keep them away for bit."
Paulo shot Alex his cowboy grin, still exhilarated from getting to detonate something.
"Admit it though, you must have considered creating a huge bomb with all the explosives right?"
A guilty look crossed Alex's face, "I might have," He admitted awkwardly.
To his surprise, Camilla leaned across to him and kissed him on the cheek. Violently blushing, he turned to her as she explained.
"I'm so proud of you, I saw how broken you were after my apartment and never wanted you to go through that ordeal again."
"So that's why you took the fuse off me this afternoon?" He probed.
Camilla nodded shyly, her eyes down. "We're supposed to be working as a team right? That means we share our burdens."
"But Paulo was right too, we shouldn't have to kill people to get a job done. I don't expect to place that burden on my friends."
Paulo was pleased with this summary but felt obliged to add to it. "Just for the record; it was an accident what happened to the soldier back in the shed with me…"
Alex put a hand on Paulo's shoulder, as their faces were light by the mighty blaze.
"Hey no one blames you for anything there Paulo, you were defending yourself and Amber. That soldier would have done worse to both of you, he was stopped the only way you could."
Paulo felt as though a weight was lifted from his shoulders, by the quiet understanding of his friend.
"I would have done anything just to stop the guy, I was so desperate." Paulo admitted forlornly.
"I know the feeling brother." Alex sighed. "I felt the same way at Camilla's flat."
"But you know what bothered me most about the whole killing thing?" Alex continued. "I felt nothing."
"Nothing?" Camilla asked gently, troubled by the idea.
"I didn't feel a thing the moment that knife left my hand." He answered softly, a conflicted expression drowning his face. "Nothing." He spat.
Camilla's eyes betrayed concern, but her voice was level as she pressed him about it.
"Tell me about it." She pleaded.
Alex stared off into the middle distance "I felt angry and desperate before I killed him; concerned about your safety and I felt relief afterwards when we got away. But the moment I hit him and watched his life ebb away? Nothing. Nothing at all. Afterwards I felt guilty, but not for what I had done, but more like for what I hadn't felt: I felt guilty for not feeling guilt, sorrow or remorse. Subhuman for not being affected by the event."
Paulo spoke up again, as Camilla searched out Alex's hand. "After my battle I was just so horrified with myself. I had ended another creature's life. It is a complete contradiction of what I've always tried to do, which is help and fix things; animal, man or machine."
Camilla reached to squeeze the other boy's hand too as she listened to the uncertain tone in his voice.
"You did the right thing Paulo, you were defending yourself and Amber." She reassured him.
"And Alex, you were just rescuing me, god knows what that creep would have done if you hadn't stopped him. It was a sign of how human you are that you care so much that you are prepared to do anything in order to save those you care about." She finished with a warm look at the teen from Northumbria, who still looked edgy.
Paulo had to break things up before it became uncomfortable for him in the hide.
"Uhh I hope the others are having more luck then we are." He mumbled.
Miles away, the rest of Alpha force was trudging along, their spirits at an all time low, when Amber stopped in her tracks and looked at the GPS unit.
"We are here." She said in weary disbelief.
Li did a quick double take to make sure she had heard her friend right.
"You mean at the extraction point?" She excitedly asked.
Amber turned, her face illuminated by the glow of the GPS screen and nodded. The three friends promptly dropped to the ground exhausted. Hex heard the two girls doze off almost immediately and he had to fight the urge to do the same. His eyes were heavy when he checked his watch; they had made it with just four minutes to spare. Shaking the sleep from his head, Hex reached into his daypack and fished out a red chemical break light.
This kind was special because the chemicals mixed to give off a signature that could be picked up by infrared scopes, thus making it easier for the helicopters to see then a regular light source. It was also a lot more tactical and didn't give away their position to the low-tech army in the area, like a light would.
In the distance he heard the faint low rumblings of a helicopter and he cracked the short chemical stick and started shaking vigorously, mixing the compounds and causing a faint red glow to start.
The noise grew deafening in his ears, as he looked up without seeing the machine, the wash of the rotors that flattened the grass around him indicated it was almost directly overtop. Snatching the NVGs off Li's head, he suddenly saw the large chopper in full daylight, as it slowed to a hover in a clearing fifty metres away.
Li and Amber were roused by the noise and Hex helped them to their feet so they could move to the chopper together.
In the hide next to him, Alex and Camilla had fallen asleep again, huddling close for warmth in the cold night air. Paulo shivered quietly as he scanned the land in all its radioactive green majesty. A blinding light rapidly approaching, caused him to shut his eyes tightly, while the goggles amplified the brightness almost a hundredfold and washed out. He pushed the NVGs off his eyes and looked towards the light source.
Fear shot through him in icy waves when he heard the barking of dogs and the shouting of men.
Beside him, the other two hidden teens jerked awake by the noise and seized up in place.
"They've got dogs?" Alex blanched. "Damn takes our camo out of the equation a bit."
He checked his watch quickly; taking stock of the situation; 2035- Hex and the others should be on their way by now. Hopefully they make it here before the trackers do…