The First of Many

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Chapter 18

Months passed with little change: Hannah was sent home, spent three months trying to scrape a living without accessing her bank account, three months training, and was, to her relief, deployed for six months to Afghanistan, where she could keep a roof over her head when it rained, even though she still couldn't have a shower longer than three minutes without Shadow turning off the hot water. She spent most of her time in the base with the twins and Teddy, training, or losing to Blade in poker.

It was near the end of her deployment when Hannah, Shadow, Blade, and Teddy were sent to raid a Taliban camp.

The night was silent and cold: Hannah found herself longing for a coat. When they arrived at their observation point over the small camp that passed for a village, Blade set up to cover from a distance, while Hannah, Teddy, and Shadow prepared to assault the village.

“All right,” Teddy muttered as they arrived. “They're well armed and well trained, but we have the element of surprise.”

Hannah stopped short. “Ted,” she said quietly, “There's nobody here.”

“What do you mean, there's nobody here?”

"I mean this place is empty. There's not even a sign that anyone was ever here. This village is deserted," Hannah said into her mic.

“That's not possible,” he answered. “We only just got this intel, Rosie. They must be hiding out. They're here somewhere.” He tapped his mic again. “Overlord, this is Reaper. We have arrived at objective. We will be assaulting target momentarily," He said.

"Roger, Reaper, I hear you. You are clear to engage," Command responded.

Hannah sighed heavily. “Fine,” she muttered. “Ignore me. You know, Ted, last time Sean ignored my hunches, we ended up looking like idiots in front of a SEAL team.”

“It’s not hard to look like an idiot in your case,” Teddy said with a chuckle.

“Jackass,” Hannah muttered.

“Blade, you have eyes on?” Teddy asked.

“Roger. No movement so far, and I’m not getting anything on thermal,” Blade answered as he viewed the village through his sniper scope.

“That’s because there’s nobody there, you moron,” she hissed. “Shadow! Where the hell are you? Don’t go ghost on me, it's fucking creepy!”

“I’m here,” Shadow muttered through his comms. “Rosie, look at the ground. You seeing what I’m seeing?”

Hannah frowned, staring at the ground. “Just tire tracks and footprints,” she said. “What’s so special?”

Shadow sighed. “How did you score so damn high on your ASVAB?” He muttered. “They’re all leading in the same direction, Rosie; Out of the village. There's nobody here; they already left.”

“Blade, inform command that we have a dried hole and call for extract,” Teddy said, resigned.

“Roger, boss-man.”

Hannah frowned at the tracks in the dust. “It was recent,” she told Shadow, “The sand’s only starting to cover it up. This was a sudden evacuation.”

“They knew we were coming,” Shadow completed, joining her. “Our Intel must have been intercepted.”

“Or poisoned,” she answered, crouching slightly as she searched the area with her scope. “They were expecting us. Might be a trap.”

“That’s what I said,” Teddy hissed. “Why do you make my ideas sound like they’re yours?”

“Because you, Teddy dearest, are a twit,” Hannah said.

“Shots fired,” Blade commented, earning him a growl from Teddy.

The evac chopper arrived, and the four mounted. “Lets go home, guys,” Teddy said.

“Yes sir, sergeant Teddy bear,” Hannah said with a grin.

Teddy groaned in desperation. “Just move it, Princess Peach.”

Hannah glared and smacked him upside the head as she passed.

“Hey!” he yelped. “What was that for?”

“What?” she asked innocently. “Shadow, did you see anything?”

“Negative, Princess.”

“The next idiot to call me princess will get his ass blown out of this chopper.”

“Yes ma’am,” the men said in unison.

The chopper lifted off with a shudder, and they flew off silently. Hannah stared down at the tire tracks that were making an obvious path towards the east.

“They were expecting us,” she told Shadow. “This isn’t the end of it, I can smell it from here.”

“You smell a lot of things,” he answered. “We should have called you bloodhound.”

There was a sudden sound of a deafening explosion, and the world erupted into flames. Her NODs turned the world bright as sunlight for a moment, and Hannah’s world went black.

She let out a shriek of fear as she was blinded, and heard other similar shouts from near her. She grabbed for the nearest living thing: A hand, was it Shadow’s? She didn’t know, and she decided she didn’t care. The world was spinning around her, and an intolerable heat seared at her leg… was she on fire? She dove for the source of the heat and beat the fire out.

“We’re going down!” The pilot shouted. “You’ve got to jump! I’ll make sure it doesn’t crash too close to you!”

“Not a chance!” Teddy’s voice answered. “You’re not dying either!”

“Someone has to pilot this thing, or we’ll all die!”

“I’ll take care of it, just go,” Teddy said as he moved to the cockpit.

“Are you sure?”

“Just go!” Teddy yelled as he took over for the pilot.

“Rosie, we’ve got to jump!” Shadow shouted.

“I can’t see!” she yelled back. “Shadow, I can’t see!”

Shadow grabbed her by the arm and led her forwards. “On my count,” he said, “jump. One foot forwards, no less. One, two… Three!”

The team, barring Teddy, Jumped from the chopper and engaged their parachutes right as the chopper slammed into the mountain.

“TEDDY!” Hannah screamed, feeling the aftershocks of the explosion. The world was still inky black around her, but she ran towards the sound of burning, tripping and scrambling over rocks and fallen tree limbs. She reached the crash site in a panic and started digging through piles of burning debris. “TED!”

“Rosie!” A voice shouted, but it was distant, faint. It was so far away, and Teddy was right there, he must be right there, waiting for her.

Her hands touched something warm and soft and slick with a thick liquid she dimly realized must be was blood.

“Ted?” She pleaded, digging him out of the rubble. “Ted, it’s all right, Ted, talk to me! I can’t see you, say something!”

No answer from the man in her arms. She fumbled frantically for a pulse, first at his wrist, then at his throat.

Nothing.

“No,” she said, softly at first, “No, no, no, no, no, NO!” She let out a drawn-out scream as she clutched at the corpse that had once been her brother.

“Rosie!” It was definitely Shadow’s voice, much closer, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and pulling her back.

“No!” she shouted. “Shadow, let me go, damn you!”

“Rosie, it’s too late for him,” he said. “We have to get back, now!”

“WE CAN’T LEAVE HIM HERE!”

“Blade’s taking him, Rose. We have to get home.”

“TED!” she screamed again, although she knew he wouldn’t answer her. “TED!”

He turned her around and held her close to him. “Hannah, please,” he whispered, much quieter. “You owe to the living, now. There’s nothing we can do for him but get home alive.”

She screamed; she fought; she begged. Shadow dragged her back to the base as a wreck of screaming and sweat.

She didn't cry.
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