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The captain’s run. Something of a tradition. The boys go through their moves on the match field. Light work-out. Takes an hour or so. Then back for a feed and an early night.
This was Max’s gig. He was the captain. Sandy thought he’d tag along. He didn’t know many people and most of them were on the team. Jane was busy, having another session on the flight simulator. Abel was going. He wanted to be involved. Told Gunny he’d be water boy. Anything to be close to the action.
It finished up being pretty much a platoon deployment. Sandy was up front in the command vehicle, with one of the 1RR drivers and Abel. Abel had a rifle. Sandy didn’t. That sucked.
The team followed behind in a troop carrier.
A second carrier containing a troop of sentries brought up the rear. Gunny sure took security seriously. He didn’t care that they were still on the reservation. He wasn’t going to rely on General Dean’s men to provide security for his team. Especially not the day before the big game. So they were armed. Sandy had his pistol, and his knife. Abel had a rifle. Not fair that. Not fair at all.
Sandy reckoned Gunny wanted the team in war mode before the game. Cunning that. Gooch psychology.
And so here they were driving through the forest, heading towards the turbines. There were gates, and guards. The driver dealt with them.
Over to the far end of the landing area, and debus.
This time they jogged to the training area. Two of General Dean’s men were doing guard duty at the beginning of the lake road. Sandy recognized Joshua Thomas, the loosie who had kneed Nellie in the school game. Nice uniform. He had a rifle. This was starting to irritate Sandy. He’d have words with Gunny about it. Tell him what was up. Maybe after the game. Deffo after the game.
The warm up was boring. Sandy watched it for a while. But he wasn’t a watcher. Thought he might wander down to the lake. Never been there. No point in jogging.
Now that was strange. The guards were gone. Maybe not. There was a group of them coming up from the lake. They weren’t wearing the same uniform as Joshua Thomas had been. Hey, their rifles were different.
Sandy pulled his pistol from his belt holster. Safety off.
They spotted him. Two raised their rifles. Sandy dived towards a fissure in the rock and landed on Joshua Thomas. Dead Joshua Thomas. He stood up, pulling JT in front of him, poked his head around the corner and fired some shots at the oncoming invaders. Except they weren’t there anymore. Sneaky buggars had taken cover. He heard firing and bullets smacked into Joshua Thomas.
The last thing Sandy heard was “Shots fired. Intruder Alert. Facility Lock Down. Intruder Alert. Shots fired.” HAL was onto it. He’s a good bloke is HAL.
Sandy woke up. He could hear rifle fire at the ground. He stood up. Dizzy. Sat down again. Stood up again. Picked up JT’s rifle, and two spare magazines and started running towards the noise.
There were bad guys in front of him. Sandy could see four of them. Aim…fire. Aim…fire. Aim…fire. The fourth one had rolled into cover. Frig you. It’s the friggin captain’s run you moron! What do you think you’re doing? Charge! Get out here where I can shoot your ass.
Sandy saw a rifle barrel poke up over top of the rock number four was hiding behind. He dived sideways and rolled, rolled again. There’s the bad guy. Killed him dead. Good rifle.
What’s that? Two more turning back towards him. One of them lifted his rifle to fire at Sandy. Dive, roll. Fire again. Missed. But now they are both hiding.
Sandy stood in the middle of the tunnel. JT’s rifle swinging between the rocks behind which the invaders had taken cover. Pulled his pistol. Now he had two weapons and two rocks to cover. Allgood.
“Two drones now at your location, Lieutenant.”
He’s a top bloke is HAL. Sandy couldn’t see the drones, but he heard the shots, and a body fell out from behind one rock. A blood trail started running from the other.
“Drones report that the passage is clear, Lieutenant. You may rejoin your unit. I have advised Gunny. Please stay in the middle of the path. Your men are jumpy.”
Sandy holstered his pistol. He could see the field now, when he looked up.
“Sandy, fool”, and Nellie was racing towards him, with Abel behind. “You stupid, stupid boy. What you doing going for a stroll like that? I can’t leave you alone for a minute. You stupid, stupid boy.” And Sandy was enveloped in a bear hug.
“Leave him alone Nellie. He’s been shot. And look at all that blood.”
“Shot? Where? Oh, in the head. Nah, that’s the hardest part of him. Nothing to damage there. Look, the bullet bounced off. It’s at the back anyway.”
But Nellie did let him go. Both Nellies. Sandy did not feel well. He sat down again.
Now it was Gunny. Two gunnies.
“You two, carry him to the command building. Recruit Abel, I want that head wound cleaned and bandaged. Put pressure on it to stop the bleeding. Take his shirt off. Check for other wounds. And where did he get that rifle? Jeez. Citizen Nellie, make that rifle safe. Both of you stay with him until he is back at our base. Do not let him out of your sight until I relieve you.”
‘Gunny, what happened?’
“We do not know Lieutenant. We were going through some kick return sets when the alarms went off. Seconds later four of our sentries were shot and killed. Corporal Afa has been severely wounded. He will be going back on the helicopter with you. We returned fire. HAL?”
“There has been an incursion into the reservation Master Gunnery Sergeant. Two teams of navy seals. Thanks to the lieutenant’s warning the first team, the one that took the fork to the landing area did not make it to the command center lifts. The other six man team took the fork to your training area. Citizen Lieutenant Sandy killed four of them. He had the last two pinned behind rocks when the drones arrived and killed them.
General Dean is sending a full company to sweep the caves.
The med-evac helicopter is one minute out. Transport carts will be at your location in seconds.”
Both Gunnys were looking at Sandy strangely. One Gunny was bad enough. Why did there have to be two of them?
Sandy did not remember much for a while after that.
CC Afa’s groans, and a scream, as he was loaded onto the transport trolley, a golf cart really.
The wind, downdraft, from the helicopter as he was loaded onto it.
Vomiting in the helicopter. No idea where that came from. Abel wiping it up, and cleaning him off.
Worried snippets from the medics working on Afa. That sounded like Mr Bolton.
He turned his head to one side. He could see bubbles, blood bubbles, coming out of Afa’s chest.
“Scalpel… swab here… chest drain… suture forceps… five oh silk.. Central line kit… Open the bag… Give him one liter Ringers stat…I need a chest theatre…prep for emergency thoracotomy on landing…no, on landing… I will open the chest on the way to theatre… what blood do we have on board?.. do we know this patient’s type?… that’s not going to do.. give him two units of human oh negative stat through the central line…… sister… I have a sucking chest wound...two other rounds in the chest, and two into the abdomen… suspected tamponade... I want an anesthetist on the landing pad… patient is intubated… I will proceed directly to open the chest… neurologically stable. I don’t think we will need to open the cranium… If you have another surgeon available that would be helpful. There is a lot to do to save this chap…triage category expectant. I am instructed to save his life. He is a Choo.”
Didn’t sound good. Not good at all. Expectant. No, that wasn’t good.
“Yes, there is a second patient. Vitals stable. Seems to have been shot in the head. Not penetrating. Triage category minimal. He is a founder.”
Yep, Sandy thought, I sound pretty good.
The next thing Sandy heard was an argument. Nellie.
“Then we’ll stay outside. Nah, I aint leaving my rifle behind. He’s my mate and he just got shot right here on the reservation… Nah, we’re staying here. He’s not going anywhere without us right beside him…Who the frig are you… Major... Major pain in the ass… You aint the boss of me and if you aint gonna treat my mate, get your ass out of here before I shoot you.”
And then Nellie again.
“He’s asleep. What do you mean, is he in a coma? How should I know? I’m a shooter not a doctor. And I aint shot nothing yet. He got to shoot four people… You’re TOM. I saw you on the monitor. You’re supposed to be from outer space or somewhere.”
Sandy opened his eyes. There was TOM, no, two TOMs.
‘It’s OK Nellie. TOM’s allgood. He’s a doctor.’
“Nah, you’re not all there, in the head, Sandy. He’s an alien. From outer space.”
‘Just get out of the way Nellie you FOB.’
“Hey, it said on the monitor that you’re a robot. Mate, can I shoot you? Just a little bit, once or twice, for practice. I haven’t shot anyone yet, and I’m getting behind. Sandy, he’s shot four people, just today.”
“Sandy, look at me please.”
Yeah, TOM was a doctor. Sandy had to look at TOM’s finger as he moved it round and about. He had to look at the light as it moved toward him and away. His knees, and behind his ankles, and the back of his elbows got tapped with this little hammer thing. It made his legs jerk and his calves and forearms twitch. And then TOM stitched up his head. “The bullet did a little more than just graze you Sandy. It’s taken a chunk of bone out of the back of your skull, near the parieto-occipital junction. The dura is not exposed. I have applied some bone germinal matrix. You’ve got a concussion. That double vision and the vomiting, they were normal. Should go away in the next few hours. You can have something for the headache if you like.”
Nah, it wasn’t too bad.
“We’re going to do an MRI scan of your head anyway, just to make sure there is no internal bleeding”.
‘How’s Corporal Afa?’
“Not good. Mr Bolton is still operating. Been going for forty minutes now. It’s an impossible job, but he’s the best at what he does, which is battlefield trauma surgery. We’ve opened up a separate recovery ward for the platoon. There are a lot of folk up there. Let’s get your scan done and you can join them.”
“Hey Sandy man, he put polyfilla in your head.”
The scan was weird. Lying flat and moving through this cylinder thing. The best part was when Nellie wouldn’t leave his rifle outside. Nellie almost got himself choked to death as his rifle was pulled towards the machine, right up to the perspex shield, and the rifle strap was strangling him. That was cool.
TOM told Sandy he had a brain. Nellie reckoned that was a surprise, maybe it wasn’t connected to anything? And there was no bleeding.
The hospital was full of soldiers. Nellie gave his rifle to one of the 1RR sentries, and the three of them went into the recovery room. They had to change into scrubs. All three troops of 1RR were there. So was the Senator. It looked pretty somber. As they walked through the door, everyone stood up and clapped.
Sandy had no idea what that was all about. It was no clearer when the Senator stood up and said,
“Captain, we are honored to have you here.”
Sandy looked around. Who was the Senator talking to? There were a few laughs from the room.
“I’m talking to you Sandy. About the only bright spot from the evening is this video.”
There were cameras everywhere. And the ones in the tunnels had captured all the action. There was Sandy wandering towards the fork. You could see the other guys coming up from the lake. Sandy draws his pistol. Some of them raise their rifles. You see Sandy dive into the gap in the rock. Bullets hit the stone around him. Then JT, dead JT is standing, well kneeling anyway, with Sandy firing from behind him. JT is hit half a dozen times. Sandy takes one in the head and falls. You could see the bullet hit, and blood and tissue fly out.
The bad guys charge past. One of them stops at the gap and fires a couple of rounds into JT/Sandy. The bad guys move up, taking the path to the ground. Different cameras. They show the team training and the sentries watching the training, not the path. Gunny says something to Corporal Afa who runs over to the sentries.
CC Afa is hit, multiple times. It looks like he is dead. Four sentries are hit and killed.
The cameras switch back to Sandy. He staggers out of the gap in the rock. Blood is hosing from the back of his head, right side. Falls over. Gets up, sways. Takes JT’s rifle and two ammo magazines. Then starts jogging unsteadily up the path towards the field.
The bad guys come into view. Sandy raises the rifle to his shoulder. He shoots while continuing to move forward. Three bad guys down. The fourth takes cover. Sandy does not take cover, He charges, dives, rolls, shoots. Four bad guys dead. Then the scene with Sandy in the middle of the path, pistol in one hand, rifle in the other, still bleeding, covering both rocks.
“Sandy, fool. You the man.” That was Nellie.
“Citizen Master Gunnery Sergeant Shane Gooch insisted that you be promoted. He said he was not going to beat the lieutenant survival averages with you. Whatever that means.” That was the Senator.
Oh no, here’s Gunny. At least there is only one of him now.
“You may have a pistol AND a rifle, Sir. And you can keep your knife.”
“Hey, Sandy, look there’s food.” Nellie had spotted two tables.
Sandy found a chair and sat down. He was tired. And his head was sore. And Afa was getting operated on. And it was his fault. He wasn’t sure how, but maybe if he had stayed with the men, his men, he would have noticed the sentries not paying attention, and they wouldn’t have been caught by surprise. Abel sat beside him.
Nellie and Jane brought them over plates of food. Shane brought over a cup of hot chocolate. “It was a lucky day for 1RR when you joined us, Captain. And the evening is a good time to have hot chocolate.”
At 02:32 by the clock on the wall, Mr Bolton came into the recovery room. He looked exhausted.
“I’m sorry. We did all we could, but there is brain damage. I don’t think the corporal will be able to breath on his own for long. If any of you want to say goodbye, now is the time. Corporal Dave, I understand you were close. If you want to sit with him once we take the breathing tube out, for so long as it takes, you are welcome.”
Sandy stood. ‘I will sit with him too, if you have no objection Corporal.’
“We all will Mr Bolton. If you would extubate Corporal Afa and bring him here, we will do this together.”
“Very good, Senator.”
“HAL, could you arrange some mattresses and blankets please. We will sleep here tonight.”
“As you wish, Senator.”
Afa was wheeled into the recovery ward, on a hospital bed. There was a sheet over his lower body, but the bullet wounds, three in the chest and two in the abdomen were obvious, as were the two long midline surgical incisions, closed now with stitches. They ran from his neck to under the sheet, with a gap between them, perhaps as wide as a hand.
His breathing was ragged. It took him twenty minutes to die. The gaps between breaths got longer and longer, and then there was a last sigh. Sandy knew that Afa would not take another breath. He had felt something leave the body. He looked up. Others had noticed too. Dave, Nellie, Gunny.
For the whole twenty minutes, Corporal Dave held his friend’s hand. Tears were running down Sandy’s cheeks, had been for a while. Sandy could see a pulse in Afa’s neck. His heart was still beating, although the breathing had stopped and life had left.
And then Corporal Dave was standing. He plunged fingers into two of the chest wounds, and when he withdrew them, they were bloody. He painted two lines of blood across his forehead.
“Afa, Corporal, you were my friend. I wear stripes of your blood, and I will avenge you.”
Dave bloodied his fingers again. This time he leaned forward and painted the stripes on Sandy’s forehead.
“Captain, thank you for killing those who killed my friend. I will follow you. O ta’engata pea ta’engata.”
‘O ta’engata pea ta’engata.’ Where did Corporal Dave learn Tongan? Sandy didn’t know much, but he knew that.
Nellie was next. As he was painted, “O ta’engata pea ta’engata”. Then Abel. Everyone, even Gunny and the Senator were painted in Afa’s blood. All of them repeated “O ta’engata pea ta’engata”. Forever and ever.
General Dean turned up. He took Corporal Afa’s dead hand. “I’m sorry Corporal. It was my job to keep you safe here at home.”
The Senator came forward. “Thank you for coming Dean. Captain Sandy has already killed those who were to blame for the corporal’s death. I only wish we could revive them so we could kill them again and again. We would all like a turn.”
“I suppose we should call the game off now, Senator? It’s hardly fair on your team.”
“Nah. Get off. We’re playing. Aren’t we playing?”
“Yes, Citizen Recruit we are playing. Although we need a replacement loosie.”
“I’ll play Gunny. No probs.” Abel?!
“Well, your team better get some sleep, Gunny. My men are up for this game.”
“Thank you, Citizen General. But we will be playing for Corporal Afa. O ta’engata pea ta’engata.”
Forever and ever. It sounded like a war cry, not a prayer the way Gunny said it. As soon as General Dean left, Gunny started packing the rugby league boys off to bed.
Citizen Sergeant Harley said he would sleep after the funeral. So did Citizen Sergeant Max, and Corporals Dave and Stan, the surviving Choo in the platoon. Shane wasn’t sleeping yet. The Senator said he would stay too.
They shared stories about Afa.
Dave had a good one. Afa always reckoned that one of his ord ancestors had been a bank robber. When he was finally arrested and put in prison, they never found the money. Anyway, he’s in jail and he gets a letter from his father. Son, it reads, it’s time to plant the vegetable garden, but my arthritis is playing up. I’m not sure I can do it this year. Sure wish you were here. Well, the old fella gets a letter back real soon from his son. Dad, don’t dig the vege patch. I’ve hidden the money there. The next day about a hundred police turn up. They dig and dig, but don’t find any money. The old fella gets another letter. Dad, it should be allgood to plant the veges now. They read my mail here.
Harley told of a time when Afa put one over their Gooch sergeant, Mike. The one who had been killed in China. Afa was late to weapons training. He said he’d been helping move an elephant to the zoo. The poor animal had dropped dead in twelfth street. That wasn’t why he was late. The official from the zoo, he had to record the death, but he couldn’t spell twelfth. He couldn’t spell eleventh either. So they’d had to drag the poor dead elephant over to tenth street. The ord could spell tenth.
That was funny. What was funnier was that there was no zoo on the reservation, no twelfth street, no eleventh street, no tenth street, and definitely no elephants.
More food appeared.
There were visitors.
Sandy didn’t remember much about that.
“This game meant a lot to Afa. He wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It’s a shame he won’t see it now.”
“Dave, I think we can do something about that.” The Senator stood, and put his hand on Afa’s leg. He bent it. “We’ll need to keep him cool. Is that OK by you?”
“Yes, sure. Whatever.”
“In fact, we can do better than that.” They talked for a while. Sandy was in a bit of a haze, but oh man, the Senator was a hell of a guy.