Day 13: Duck and Cover (and Goose)

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.

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