At the familiar sound of his voice Amber drew back the curtain on the cubicle next to her and was shocked to see Hex with his shirt off and a pretty young nurse standing in front of him. She scowled at him and gave the nurse a scathing look too, Hex just smiled uncertainly back at her.
"Hey" he muttered sheepishly
The scowl died on her lips when she saw all the little cuts on Hex's back and flank, now she realized why his shirt was off. Small flecks of blood covered his back and side, each representing a tiny piece of shrapnel embedded in his flesh from the explosion.
Amber turned away, her face burning in shame at the jealous thoughts she had previously harbored and the embarrassment of having only came away with a few minor nicks and cuts.
"I'm sorry" she choked unable to meet his gaze.
"What for?" Hex asked quietly, reaching for her hand as she came to sit by him.
"For acting weird just now", Amber whispered finally meeting his gaze and accepting his hand gently, "I'm sorry you got all cut up protecting me. I am sorry I never-"
"Hex you're alright!" Paulo burst through the curtain to clap him on the shoulder, followed closely by Li and Alex.
As the nurse finished removing the last of the shrapnel, Hex noticed everyone was sporting bandages for various cuts, grazes and burns. Despite their protests Alpha Force had been transported to hospital for treatment along with their patients.
Overall the friends were in pretty good shape, Li and Alex had needed some bandaging done to their hands after their struggle with the corrugated iron and Hex's back was covered in superficial shrapnel wounds but that was the worst of it.
"Camilla's coming to pick us up soon" Paulo announced brightly "that is" he added with a coy smile "if Hex is finished showing off for the ladies."
Hex laughed and rebutted "I'd rather a back full of holes then that carpet of chest hair you've got Paulo."
"The holey back is way more sexy" Amber added with an eyebrow raise.
Alex stepped in before things got out of hand "Well if they are done patching you up Hex, I really think we should meet up with Camilla, she might have information about what happened."
Li couldn't help, but have a crack at Alex for that and added.
"I'm sure she was worried about you too Alex, we better not keep her waiting."
Funnily enough Li was right; climbing into the van they noticed the look of worry etched on their new friend's face. It gave way to a look of relief when all five friends were in the vehicle and apparently fine.
She turned to Alex in the passenger seat, her eyes dark and declared.
"You should have called me sooner" Her voice sounded strained, as she continued, "When I heard what happened I was sure that one of you must have been killed!"
Alex went white as paper and stared back at her; he was rubbish at this sort of thing.
"Uh we were um… pretty busy for a while there…" He stammered, feeling like an idiot. "Sorry we had you worried" he finished weakly.
"Hmmppff, I wasn't worried!" Camilla protested, pouting, "I'll let it go this time, just don't do it again okay?"
Alex looked weakly to the others for help, Li coughed something that sounded suspiciously like 'bush wedding' but Amber came to his rescue.
"Sorry Camilla we're used to operating fairly independently we'll try harder to be team players in the future."
Camilla nodded at this, seemingly satisfied.
Paulo spoke up from the backseat, asking what had been weighing on everyone's mind.
"What caused the explosions at the airport and what's going to happen to our aid mission?
Camilla bit her lip "We don't know about the explosions yet but the UN suspects sabotage. As for the aid mission we still have one plane of cargo that was getting refueled at the time of explosion, but nobody willing to go into the country now. Not to mention a large number of our support staff from the airport are still in hospital."
Hex sat quietly in the back his fingers dancing over the keys of his palmtop; he was trawling the net trying to find information on the mysterious man they had met at the airfield. He passed the small device forward to Alex and Camilla in the front.
"This is the man we saw acting suspicious around the plane and the hanger before the explosions started." He explained.
Camilla glanced down from the red light in front of her and gasped at the picture Alex held on the small glowing screen.
"My god! He was at the airfield?" She blurted out, "That is Lomada's most trusted Lieutenant; they call him the Hyena. He is an evil man directly responsible for most of the murder or torture that happens in his country." Camilla looked across at Alex, her eyes wide with shock. "I wouldn't put it past a man like this to try and sabotage our project, even if it meant killing a people."
"He obviously didn't want us to make that mission" Li grimly agreed.
"All the more reason why we must still go." Paulo stated simply.
Their driver, who was still in a state of shock, pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road. Her blond ponytail flashed as she turned to face the back. "You can't be serious?" She exclaimed incredulously, "You were almost killed and we would be going against a whole army to deliver this aid!"
Alpha force shared a knowing smile
"It wouldn't be the first time we have been in harms way" Hex sarcastically replied.
It wasn't something the group told many people about, but they had been in their fair share of scrapes in the time they had spent on several dangerous projects to help those who couldn't help themselves.
Camilla gazed at the determined faces of the five teenagers. Their effort at the airport had been nothing short of extraordinary, the doctors and paramedics had marvelled at the organization and level of care the friends had provided. The limited information she had managed to find about the teens prior to mission seemed to indicate that they had a broad skill set and a knack for getting themselves in and out of trouble.
"I'm sorry," she admitted in a low voice, "I'm going alone. Do you guys understand how dangerous this mission will be? I can't guarantee your safety when we enter the country." Camilla shook her head, looking as though she didn't want to pursue this line of thought much further.
"I understand you are a pretty talented group of friends, but I can manage this."
Alpha force struggled to hide their disappointment and shock at the turn of events.
"But Camilla we…" Amber indignantly started, before being cut of by an icy stare from the tanned blonde girl. Li patted her friend's arm in support but remained quiet.
"No I'm sorry this topic isn't up for discussion" Camilla firmly ordered, her expression softened though when she saw the disappointment that had given way to exhaustion in the faces of her friends.
"You guys look exhausted, lets get you back to the hotel, you can get some rest and in the morning maybe you can think about what you want to do with your remaining time in Egypt."
Alex nodded forlornly with a look of sad acceptance on his face knowing how much this mission had meant to his friends.
Hex slipped out his palmtop out of pouch trying to look indifferent and ignore the hollowness that had replaced his earlier excitement. Amber rolled her eyes at the hacker's stoic gesture and turned to look out the window. She couldn't help but wonder sadly how many people would have died today, not just from the explosion but also from the delay in much needed aid.
She also wondered about this young woman Camilla, who seemed so unwilling for their help but was determined to go herself.
Paulo's usual grinning face was stretched and silent with fatigue, he definitely agreed with Camilla that they needed some sleep. He couldn't stop yawning and Li smiled at that, despite her anger with Camilla for treating them like kids.
The van pulled up outside the hotel and a grumbling yawning Alpha force began to pile out.
"Get some sleep" Called their driver in her accented English, "I know I need some after today." She added quietly, sadly.
Alex lingered behind the others in the passenger seat beside her, turning to her with a sharp look on his young face he quietly asked.
"So you are going to try and go into Solambia on you own then?"
Camilla scrubbed her face with her hands before replying
"I guess so, someone has to." She said eventually, meeting his gaze. "We can't spare the manpower after the explosion so I'll probably enlist the help of some of the locals to get the job done."
Alex's expression was unreadable, as he leaned in closer to her and whispered
"I don't like the thought of you in there by yourself. Take us with you, it will be safer and I promise you; we won't slow you down."
Camilla found herself once again struck by the young man's maturity and quiet confidence, no wonder he was the one the rest looked to for direction. A shiver passed down her spine as she realised the proximity of his face to her own and his intense stare searching her face. Surprised by her body's reaction and reluctant to consider it's meaning, she tore her eyes from the boy's handsome face and answered him softly.
"I think it's very sweet that you are worried about me." She softly placed a hand on his chest. "But I have to stand by what I said earlier. I can take care of myself I don't need anyone's help." She uttered in a whisper, yet with a stubborn edge, she gently pushed herself back with the hand on his chest.
Feeling as though a live current had passed through his chest, Alex struggled to keep his breathing level.
"Fine. You said you were short staffed so just think about it okay?" Alex muttered quietly, reluctantly breaking contact with her and rising from his seat to follow the others.
"Alex.." she started in a whisper, but the British boy had already left the vehicle and was walking to the lobby.
Camilla sighed to herself put the van back into gear and took off again.
From the lobby Alex glanced over his shoulder to watch the van pull away, before he stepped into the elevator shaking his head sadly.
Unbeknownst to Alex he was not the only one watching the van leave; as the blond haired boy disappeared from sight, the dark skinned doorman smiled to himself and slid a cellphone from his pocket.
His gruff voice spoke into it briefly in a foreign dialect, the phone pressed to his only ear, before he slipped it back out of sight. He turned to the hotel bar where three tall African men in long coats stood casually; meeting their eyes with a hard look he held up five fingers and nodded. Then, with the same sinister grin as before, he walked from the lobby.
He would take care of the persistent girl from the UN personally.
On the 5th floor where Alpha force was staying Alex stumbled through the door to their shared room and silently climbed onto his bed. It wasn't exactly five star accommodation and Amber had complained about it the whole time they had stayed. The beds were comfortable though and that's all that mattered to Paulo.
He had collapsed onto his bed fully clothed and was snoring before Hex had even gotten his shoes off. Shaking his head with a grin creeping across his face, Hex suddenly remembered what Paulo had done that afternoon. If anyone deserved some rest it was that guy.
Unfortunately with that memory, came the images of the last breathes from an unknown man on the ground at the airfield, before his life slipped away.
Hex closed his eyes trying to block out the movie playing of it in his head and the feeling of helplessness he had felt.
Think about something else he mentally instructed himself and was provided an ample opportunity when Amber padded back from the bathroom. Her hair was tussled up in a towel and she was in her simple cotton pyjamas, Hex could smell her sweet scent infused with some blend of flowers, as she climbed into her bed opposite his.
Amber felt much better, clean and in fresh clothes, the smell of smoke had taken ages to get off her and the shower water had been black for the first few minutes. Her heart clenched guiltily as she watched Hex wince as he lay back onto his bed, his back must be killing him she thought. Pushing thoughts of guilt, fear and sadness aside, she closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come.
No such sleep would come for Li, she felt far too awake and she sat out on the balcony quietly stewing with her Ipod. Bringing aid to the remote regions of Solambia had seemed like such an important thing to do and she was crestfallen at the loss of an opportunity to help those in need.
Camilla isn't much older then us and she's going to go, Li thought unfairly. Thinking of their new friend, she suddenly remembered seeing Alex hang back as she and the others had left the van. Hmmm I wonder what that was all about? She smirked to herself, deciding to interrogate the Northumbrian about it. Pushing her head through the French doors that led back to the room, she was shocked and disappointed to see her friends already sound asleep. She smiled at the sight of her sleeping friend, the grubby Argentinean unconscious in his filthy clothes snoring away like a comatose bear.
Deprived of the opportunity for some fun, Li wandered back outside closing the curtains and French door quietly. She dropped to the floor and started alternating between a Cobra and a Cat stretch, satisfied at the clicking that issued from her back and the relief that the stretch brought her tired muscles.
Isolated by the curtains and the door, Li did not hear the quiet voice outside the hotel door counting to three in a foreign tongue.