Following orders. Honorable Mention in Honoring Our Veterans Contest, November 2019.
|Command Post Capture
The others started up the hill in small groups. He waited until they had all left and then set out on his own, already choosing the deepest cover as his route. In short, crouching runs, he progressed from bush to long grass or rocks and then to bush again, making sure that he was not seen, even at this early stage. Up ahead he could hear the shouts and screams and shots as the others began to run into the defenses.
Fools, he thought, and continued to make his way carefully up the hill. By the time he reached the height from where he had heard the noise of battle, things had calmed down and it was only the occasional shot that he heard as some last attacker went down.
He was crawling now through cover, the heat of the afternoon sun beating down on him, sweat running down his face and grass seeds working their way through his clothes until they could scratch at his skin. His face itched and the dust clogged in his throat but still he kept going, slowly, steadily, stealthily.
All was quiet by the time he had worked his way through the outer ring of defenses. It had been slow going in this area, inching his way past outposts where he heard voices, moving through thick brush without making a sound. He crawled a little faster now but still very carefully, aware that there must be a second line of defense higher up.
The slope was steep here and the scrub and trees thinner. It was only the rocks taking the place of the bushes that gave him sufficient cover to keep moving. The day grew hotter and the air became still and humid, sweat dripped from his face and mixed with the dirt he crawled through. He ignored it all and kept moving, creeping ever higher and onward.
The rifle hindered him, a weight that slowed him further as he tried to keep it close, to prevent that glint of sun against metal that might give him away. He was careful too that it did not hit the rocks that he passed, knowing that the telltale sound would be the warning the enemy needed. Onwards and upwards he crawled.
As he neared the summit, he realized that he must have breached any second line of defense without even being aware of it. He had heard nothing for over an hour now, not even distant voices. But surely, up ahead, they would have a last ring of defense, at least a few to guard the command post. He stopped in deep cover to listen and watch for movement ahead.
All was still and quiet, the hot afternoon baking the hilltop, the air shimmering from the rocks, nothing moving. He crept forward, keeping low, his rifle at the ready.
The short distance to the summit took him another quarter hour to climb, always keeping to cover and moving soundlessly through the light brush and scrub. He was tired now, hot and thirsty, but he had heard and seen no sign of guards. It looked as though the enemy thought they had beaten off the attack and now relaxed and slept in the shade.
At the summit he crept up behind some rocks to observe the command post. Carefully, inch by inch, he moved until he could see the beaten area of earth and the flag. In the center of the clearing an officer stood, looking away and down the opposite side of the hill. He stood up, left cover and walked up behind the officer, rifle at the ready.
"The post has fallen, sir," he announced.
The officer whipped around in surprise.
"Where the hell have you been?"
"Umm, attacking the post, sir," the boy replied, stating the obvious.
"Are you aware that the rest went an hour ago? And I'm left here waiting for you?"
"Er, no sir. They said to capture the post at the top of the hill and that's what I've done, sir."
"Don't be bloody silly," returned the officer. "All the blues were killed and captured hours ago. The reds won."
The boy shook his head. "No, sir, not me. They didn't get me. And now I've captured the command post, just like they told me to do."
The officer dismissed his claim with a snort. "The exercise finished ages ago. You lost."
"Well, sir, no-one said anything about a time limit. I avoided the defenses and got here. Isn't that what we were supposed to do?"
The officer threw up his hands in exasperation. "Forget it, man. It's all over and I'm not going to stand here arguing with you. Get on down to the car and I'll take you back to the school." He yanked the flag from the ground, then turned and started to march off down the hill.
The boy followed, a disgruntled look on his face. I did what they asked, he thought. Not my fault if the others were so stupid as to get caught in the first half hour. I still say I won. I did what they asked and now I'm yelled at for it.
Just no pleasing some people.
Word Count: 868
Note: When I was at school (all those years ago), there was a thing called “cadets” in which we were given basic instruction in military things. Towards the end of our training, we were separated into two teams for a war game, one to establish a strong point, the other to attempt a takeover. The guns were loaded with blanks, of course, and it was a matter of honour to own up when you were “shot”. Most of the guys were only too happy to escape the heat and exertion by getting taken out of the game early but I was an awkward cuss.