Bullets ricocheted off the rubble lying around them. They’d been in cover for fifteen minutes now and, every so often, a burst of fire flew over them, throwing new plumes of dust into the blazingly hot air.
The transport they were in had been flying low, sticking close to the ground to avoid detection by any automatic systems. Unfortunately, that didn’t protect them from eyesight and enemy fire, which is what had led to the transport being hit and them all bailing out.
The pilot had stayed in to try and land the thing without it being irreparably damaged. Everyone else had argued against it but there wasn’t enough time to convince him, or even to drag him out, and they’d had to jump, pulling their parachute cords as they fell. The last thing they’d seen was the transport craft spinning down, wreathed in smoke, and crashing on the opposite side of some buildings.
As soon as they were down on the ground they released the parachutes, which tumbled away in the wind. They began moving towards the plume of dark smoke which signalled where the transport had landed. They’d hustled for two minutes until they found the crash site. The transport had landed on the roof of a one storey building, causing it to partially cave in and leave the flaming wreckage sticking out of the top.
That was when the shots had started. They’d slowed down and crept up on the building, scoping out the surrounding roads and alleyways, but a spray of fire sent them scurrying for cover.
Sheltered behind a collapsed wall, they’d begun discussing what their options were. The first thing they asked was where the shots had come from. One soldier had seen the muzzle flashes; they were inside the building that the transport had crashed into. They talked about attacking the building, taking out whoever was inside and allowing them to investigate the wreckage, recovering anything salvageable and looking for the pilot.
Perhaps it was the pilot in there, somebody said. This was initially dismissed, but the argument came forth again and again until they finally began taking it seriously. If he had gotten out of the crash, they realised, he’d be disorientated. He could have been heavily injured, his vision obscured and his mind not working properly. After the crash, it was doubtful he’d be able to hear anything but a ringing in his ears. A flying piece of shrapnel or a cut to the head could stop him seeing clearly, maybe filling his eyes with blood, maybe blinding him permanently.
They decided they couldn’t be sure if it was the pilot or an enemy sat in the building, at which point they’d reached a stalemate; they didn’t want to risk shooting one of their own, nor did they want to get shot themselves, especially if it was an incident of friendly fire.
Getting his attention was the first thing they’d tried,even knowing it was likely to be futile. They’d tried radioing across calling to the pilot, tried yelling out to the building from their position, looked for something to write on and with so that they could throw a message across. None of it had worked, and the first time one of them had popped their head over the rubble, they’d been met with a burst of shots, one skimming their helmet.
In some of the soldiers, that had reinforced the opinion that they should just throw a grenade and be done with it. This triggered another argument, lasting for several minutes until the gun-ho crowd were won back over. Everybody knew the pilot. Most had met his family. Nobody wanted to be responsible for his death, accidental or not.
Somebody then mentioned that they were taking a long time over this. Other people would have seen the crash and the plume of smoke which was now spiralling skywards, and enemies were much nearer than friends. People would undoubtedly be on their way to investigate, and it was an easy guess who would arrive first.
Silence reigned as people contemplated the decision. One suggested leaving, forgetting whoever it was that was in the building and getting out of here. They wouldn’t be responsible for the pilot’s death. He’d died because of the crash, one way or the other.
Another said they couldn’t leave him there. The enemies would turn up soon and, if it was the pilot in there, then they’d as good as killed him by leaving him at their mercy. Worse, perhaps. He could be tortured until they decided he wasn’t worth the effort and put him out of his misery. They couldn’t shrug off their duty so easily, and they couldn’t pretend that their loyalty to one of their own was so easily broken.
Everybody was in agreement. They couldn’t let that happen. They didn’t know what they could let happen either though.
That was when the next burst of bullets had ricocheted off the crumpled rocks lying around them. They’d huddled down again, hugging the ground and keeping their faces away from the impacts.
When the firing stopped, after the gun blasts ceased echoing around the empty streets, they’d looked at each other once more. One asked what they could do even if they managed to get into the building. The transport was obviously trashed and their radios hadn’t got in contact with base. Even if the transport’s radio was still intact, it didn’t have a greater range unless it was in the air. The enemies would undoubtedly be here first. It didn’t matter what they did with the transport, the pilot or the man in the building.
The others stared at him as if he was mad. Of course it mattered, they said.
They went back to discussing what to do, hunkered down behind the rubble. Each time a burst of fire sounded they ducked down, crouching behind the rubble and waiting until the decisions were made for them.