The night sky was dark but clear. Only this far out in the country was so many stars visible. Other than a few crickets and nocturnal mammal, the owl was very pleased with his roost in the highest tree. He hooted proudly and his large yellow eyes admired the last sliver of the moon before it would become the new moon the following night. He stretched his wings and knew that it was about time he found himself something to eat. He flew down the mountain to a shorter tree. Then he saw a perfect snack a small field mouse had stopped to scratch his belly. His muscles tensed as he prepared to dive for his meal but he was interrupted by a sound breaking through the night sky.
Pft-pft-pft. It was loud and getting closer. The owl looked for a second to see if he could see what was making the noise and then the second later he turned back to his food it was gone. Then around the side of the mountain came a large metal bird with its wings spinning around on top of it. Pft-pft-pft. The noise got louder as the bird got closer. The owl prepared himself to fight but when he realised just how large the strange other bird was he dove for cover in the nearest trees.
Paloma sat with her back to the wall of the helicopter, her knees drawn to her chest. Her partner Xander sat next to her. They were the last of five two-man teams scheduled to drop into the jungle at the most ungodly hour of the morning.
Xander stifled a yawn and tossed back his forth energy drink for the night.
“Those things will kill you,” Paloma said, repeating it three times before he finally heard her over the chop of the blades. He laughed and crushed the can with his hand.
“Are you ready?” yelled the third person in the helicopter.
“Been waiting all night,” Xander yelled back. Paloma swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. Xander stood up first and the rappel master checked his harness, helmet and gloves for the tenth time since they were assigned the mission. Before Paloma found her feet Xander was off over the edge. The rappel master checked Paloma’s gear. She threw her deployment bag holding all the gear she would need on the ground and the weight to hold the rope down. She sat down in the doorway with her legs hanging over the edge of the helicopter. Her heart raced, her mind reeling with all kinds of scenarios; ,the dominant one revolving around the rope snapping and her ending up smashed up on the ground below.
“You wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t do it,” the rappel master confirmed.
She took a deep breath and turned the 180 degrees to stand on the skids of the helicopter: guide hand on the rope in front and break hand is holding the rope in the small of her back.
The rapell master nodded and pushed away with her legs, the ropes sliding through her hands.
The sky flew past her as she descended.
But when she heard the loud clang of that whoosh hitting the bottom of the helicopter she knew it was not the night air. There were a few more loud clangs. She knew that she had to start using her break hand or she was going to hit the ground with an almighty thud. She applied it as little as she needed to; knowing that the quicker she got to the ground the quicker that the helicopter could get to safety. She was only a few feet from the ground when the rope above her went slack. The ground came up to greet her much faster than it had in any drill she had done before. She tried to pull herself into a ball to keep from breaking any ankles or wrists. The wind was knocked out of her when she hit. When she opened her eyes she could see the helicopter disappearing into the night sky. She groaned as her lungs finally took in some air.
“Xander?” she called out. She unclipped her harness and coiled her rope hoping that Xander was doing the same. She still couldn’t stop the images of him impaled by a tree branch or torn apart by bullets from popping into her head. She stuffed the rope hastily into her bag and shrugged the pack onto her shoulders. “Xander?” she called again in nothing more than a stage whisper. There had been people shooting at them and she wasn’t sure how many shooters there were or how close they were. She pulled out her M9 handgun ready in case the shooters were nearby. She started her search for Xander hoping that he was ok. She heard a groan and headed towards the sound. “Xander?” she called again. Then she saw him lying on the ground covered in blood. She held her gun in front of her doing a quick sweep of the area. Just as she was about to take a step out into the small opening that Xander was lying in she was grabbed around the shoulders and thrown to the ground. Before she could get up a young man who probably still got checked for ID in a bar straddled her and held his rifle to her throat. Paloma kicked her legs about trying to free herself and the young man lifted the rifle and used the butt of it to lift the visor on her helmet that she hadn’t realised was still down.
While the young boy yelled to his friends in his language she knew that he was surprised to see a woman. She reached her hand for the gun that she had dropped as she was thrown to the ground. She finally managed to close her hands around her weapon and pulled it up as she squeezed the trigger. The shot let everyone in the area know their position but the bullet straight through her attackers’ forehead stopped him from hurting her. His nearby friends opened fire on her. She didn’t hesitate to return fire and the four shooters all dropped to the ground. Paloma hadn’t undergone years of training to miss a target. As soon as she was sure the area was clear and there were no more nearby shooters she crouched at Xanders side and saw that he’s been hit twice in the upper thigh.
“Shit,” she muttered.
“Wash that mouth out young lady,” Xander joked with a forced grin.
“Do you think you will be able to walk?” she asked. He put his arm out for her to help him to his feet. He groaned as the pain seared through his body as soon as he put weight on his leg. She helped him hobble over to fallen tree to sit down on. She wrapped his leg as best as she could with the limited items in her packs first aid kit.
“You’ll have to leave me here and come back later,” he told her.
“No way in hell,” she snapped. “We are sticking together and we are completing this mission.”
“Do you even know where our attack point is from here?” he asked.
“Of course I do. Did you hit your head on the way down?”
Paloma helps Xander to his feet and the two of them hobble together towards a campsite set up in a valley. Xander did his best to hold back his cries of pain with each step he took but Paloma knew that he was struggling. She knew she had to get him closer to site then when they were close enough she would be able to leave him so she could complete the mission. Xander started getting slower with every step. Paloma stole a sideways glance at him and saw that he looked very pale. Her concern grew as he started to lean on her more and he started to stumble as well. Paloma could see that they weren’t too much further from the site and figured now was probably the best time to travel on alone. Paloma found some cover for him and leant him against a tree. She made sure his wound was well wrapped and he had a trail bar and enough ammo to defend him. Just as she was about to leave he grabbed her arm and pulled her closer.
“Paloma,” he whispered between gasps.
“Yes Xander?” she replied.
“There’s something I been meaning to tell you but I’ve always been too shy… “He started.
“Oh Xander keep it for when we get home,” she told him.
“I don’t think I’ll make it home,” he groaned.
“Don’t be stupid,” Paloma replied as she kissed his forehead gently and headed off at a brisk jog towards the target location. On her travels she fished the out the suppressor for her M9 and attached it along the way. The last thing she needed was a gunshot to give away her location this close to the grounds.
When she reached the perimeter of the complex she scrambled her way up the face of the rock wall that separated her from the inside of the place. She flattened herself to the top of the wall to slide under the razor wire strands along the top. She was showered by chips from the stone wall as bullets flew around her. Lucky not one of them hit her. With three shots she took down all three gunmen shooting at her. She crouched low and raced towards the closest building to her. As she rounded the corner she came face to face with the barrel of a gun. She grabbed it and almost threw its owner to the ground before she realised that it was one of the other guys from her unit. She recognised him as a guy the others called Banana. The guys were often giving each other nicknames some she understood and some she didn’t. Banana had the misfortune of the last name Hammock. She saw that his partner Razor was right behind him. The three of them didn’t need to exchange a single word. They knew what they were here for and where they had to go. They make their way to the next building over under the cover of darkness without being spotted by the roaming spotlight. The door is surprisingly unlocked and they head inside down a long dark hallway.
They check a number of doors making sure that the rooms are clear. Suddenly without any warning they are being shot at from behind. Paloma turns and double taps the shooter in the heart but she’s too late. She looks to Razor who is on the ground and when she noticed what was left of his head she knew that he was gone. She motions for Banana to keep moving. Even though she knows he is hurting emotionally. All the pairs had been training together for months and most were selected due to previous work together she knew that Razor and Banana had been working together a very long time. The two of them finally made their way to the end of the hallway and found what they were looking for. The room was dark with a few lit candles flickering across the room. There was a little red light blinking in one corner which indicated to the two of them that there was a camera. Then they saw who they had come for. The hostage. Only she wasn’t alone. The leader of this team of enemies they had been sent to take out had an arm around her neck and a gun to her head. The hostage whose name they knew was Hillary was badly beaten and was crying hysterically. Her captor growled at her and mumbled something in his own language. He unloads one bullet into the front of Hillarys shoulder. She screamed and tried to collapse to the floor but he held her up.
Paloma raises her weapon to take a shot at the enemy and he shoots Hillary in the knee cap. He pulled her in front of him to use as a shield. Banana drew a deep breath and waited for Paloma to take a shot. He knew that she was the top of the class for marksmanship with any weapon. She pulled the trigger and let out a sigh as the bullet sailed a few inches above his head and embedded itself in the wall. Banana could feel his jaw drop but knew this was one of those on the field mishaps that the two of them would never speak of again. The enemy leader held his weapon to Hillary’s temple and pulled the trigger showering him with her blood. He grinned at Paloma and before he could even take aim Paloma had put a tight grouping into his forehead. She dropped her empty magazine to the floor and reloaded and took out the three guards in the room before Banana had even had the chance to shoot one of them.
“Let’s go,” Paloma snapped as she led the way out of the building. Banana stopped to say a quick prayer over the body of his buddy but didn’t have time for much as Paloma kept walking. They had a Rendezvous point that they needed to get to and the time window for communication with their ride out of here was only short.
“To the rendezvous?” Banana asked.
“I’ll meet you there,” she replied. “I have to get Xander.”
She ran off at a brisk jog, climbed the wall and made it back to Xander in no time. She couldn’t see him where she had left him but there was more blood than there should have been from his injuries. She searched around the tree quickly and then when she was about to give up and head straight to the rendezvous point she sees him.
“Poor Xander,” she whispered to herself. His body was torn throw with bullets so much that he looked like a colander. He also been strung up a tree by his feet and his throat slit like an animals. She didn’t have the time for a prayer or any farewell tears. She turned away as quickly as she could and picked up her pace to make it in time. When she got there she saw only three people standing there. There were two members of the team and one hostage. That meant the team had lost seven members and four hostages. Banana had the radio in his hand. Paloma watched the time tick by ever so slowly. Finally she gave the signal to him and he turned it on. It crackled to like and the familiar voice of their command leader came through.
“Team Foxtrot do you read?” he asked.
“Yes sir we do,” Banana replied.
“How many are there?” asked the leader.
“Three of us and one hostage,” Banana replied. The radio is silent for what seems like an hour.
“Did you do some damage to their numbers?” he asked. Paloma takes over the radio.
“We sure did sir. I took out about 15 on my own,” she told him.
“Good job Bird,” he said. She had never been too fond of her own nickname. A lot of the unit thought it was because she was the only female in the unit so bird had stuck. But it had begun with her name because Paloma is Spanish for dove. But for the first time she was happy to hear it.
“How far away is the helicopter?” she asked. There is another uneasy silence. “Sir?”
“We cannot legitimise sending it back into that warzone for only four of you,” his voice full of guilt.
“That’s not true,” Banana cried taking the radio back off Paloma. The enemy started firing upon them again. The three of them put their backs together with the hostage in the centre of them. They take down another ten shooters that advanced on them. After a few minutes they have all changed magazines once.
“This is my last,” Banana admits.
“Same,” adds the other guy. Who she thought she remembered the boys calling Moses. More enemy soldiers advanced on them and they all did their best to hold them off and protect the hostage. Even though they knew it was all for nothing. Abandoned by their own in enemy territory even if they did make it through the night they would never be able to get anywhere. They all look to Banana as the unmistakable click indicated that he had fired his last bullet. There is a long gap between any more soldiers advancing. They managed to fend off plenty more soldiers and then Moses ran out of bullets as well. After one more magazine Paloma is also out. After ten minutes without any more advancement from soldiers they start to think of ways to get out.
“Let’s face it,” the hostage piped in for the first time. “We’re going to die here.”
“Abandoned by our own country. What a sorry way to go,” Banana added.
“It makes sense,” Paloma said.
“I thought I would die as more of a hero,” Banana mused.
“I should have told my wife I loved her before I left,” Moses mused. Paloma doesn’t respond.
“I wish I’d had the chance to get married,” the hostage piped in.
“I have no regrets,” Paloma smiled as she pulled out her two reserve pistols and crossing her arms over she manages a double head shot on two people at the same time.
“Who’s team are you on?” the hostage cries.
“My own,” Paloma replies as she heads off into the darkness. “Are you in?” The hostage looks around the darkness surrounding her and then follows Paloma into an uncertain future.
Word count- 2992