The Trench Rats: Part 10
RESEDA CROUCHED LOW to the ground, one hand pressed to the earth, his other hand grasping his rifle close to his side, the cold metal pressing against his ribs. All around him the other men in Echo Company crouched likewise, the long low building Silver had infiltrated lying before them. As they watched, small shapes moved back and forth, exiting and entering the building again and again, motions hurried.
Reseda--and, he was sure, the rest in his company--turned their heads silently to look at Silver. He crouched at the front of the group, shimmering cape draping over his back. When standing he was as tall as Reseda, and Reseda was taller than many of the Rats; but now he was curled in so tightly on himself that it looked as if he could slip through the tiniest of crevices. He appeared relaxed, yet his muscles were tensed for flight--not away from the building, but toward it.
"First they liquidate the personal effects, then papers," Silver continued, still in the same whisper-low voice that carried to them all. "Then prisoners."
"That's their mistake," Reseda said, before even realizing he'd said it. As soon as it was out, for some reason he felt like flushing. Yet Silver merely nodded.
"That's their mistake."
Someone fidgeted beside him. He turned to again recognize the young Rat in purple--Amaranth, he'd given as his name when Reseda had asked--shifting his gun about nervously.
"Too much for one day," he murmured anxiously. "I wish I were back home."
Reseda was about to ask him where he was from when Silver stood slightly and, waving one finger at them, loped around them and to the back. The others followed, just as silently. Charlie Company waited behind them with their dogs and birds, all animals trained to keep perfectly still. Reseda caught a glimpse of Indigo atop a Rottweiler, peering down at them. He nodded at Silver, who reached his own mount--a large, pale white barn owl--and climbed atop it.
Usually only lance-corporals and up owned "pets" of their own to ride. However, on raids such as this, it was necessary for everyone to have one.
This was Reseda's first raid. He wasn't certain what to expect, but at least it wouldn't be boring.
"Like I said," Amaranth whispered nervously, "too much for one day!"
"Relax," Reseda whispered back, locating the dog he'd been assigned to and climbing atop it, "it can't be nearly as hard as it looks."
I'm getting a lot better at lying now, aren't I?
He nearly started when something flapped and feathers just barely brushed against his arm. Turning to look, he saw the barn owl rise up into the sky with the barest rustle. Someone--Silver?--Indigo?--whistled, and within moments they were all headed toward the building, birds flying low, dogs loping close to the ground. The darkness gave them cover.
"You really think this is gonna be easy?" Amaranth, riding a dog nearby, whispered across to Reseda.
Reseda tried to answer only to hear somebody off to the other side hiss, "Shhhhhh!" Even in the dark he could see Amaranth flush with embarrassment.
"Think of it this way," a third voice whispered, and they both looked up to see the Rottweiler approaching just behind them. "Pick out one person running around that building," Indigo said, "and keep your eyes on him until we get there. That's your target. Keep your mind on that. Makes it easier to deal with 'em all if you've all got one picked out."
Amaranth bit his lip--he didn't seem to like the idea of "picking anybody out"--but turned back and scanned the building ahead anyway. Reseda did the same, and finally spotted a potential target. A man--a Nazi--came out of the building, escorting a young woman with a small purse or case under her arm.
"Shit!" Indigo's brows furrowed. "Silver didn't tell me about that!"
"Now what?" Amaranth whispered. "Do we--do we shoot her, too?"
"Huh?--nah--no, no, lemme think of something...he must've seen her before...Jeez, why does he always forget to tell me these little details..." He broke off in a stream of muttering and barely concealed curses aimed at the other Rat before finishing, "Leave the lady to me, I guess, you guys focus on the others."
"I'll take the guy out," Reseda said, without thinking. He lifted his gun.
"You? All right. Don't get too gung-ho though. Not yet, until he gives the go-ahead." He jerked one thumb up at the sky, at the barn owl hovering overhead.
The other two nodded and readied their guns. Amaranth looked around a bit more before selecting his target. Reseda kept his eyes on the man escorting the lady out and away from the building. She seemed to be talking to him, making some strange motions as they went, covering her eyes with her hand, and then covering her mouth.
He noticed now where they were going, and alarm lit through him.
"Nuts! That car!" he whispered, hoping Indigo would hear. The bigger Rat glanced down and in the direction of Reseda's pointing arm. The Nazi was leading the lady to a large car parked out front.
"If they get in there we both lose our targets!" he hissed.
"Silver hasn't given the go-ahe--" Indigo managed to get out, before Reseda brought his gun up to his shoulder, aimed as carefully as he could, and fired.
The man stopped in his tracks, hand going to his breast before crumpling to the ground. The woman jumped away from him with a short scream. The others coming and going from the building froze for just a moment, glancing around wildly, before bubbling into action.
The barn owl beat its wings and soared forward, talons reaching out.
"SHIT!" Indigo bellowed. Reseda cringed. "You got any idea what you just DID? Man, when this is over, he's gonna have BOTH of our necks!!"
"Can't be helped now, just hurry up and get in there and find another target! I guess you give the go-ahead this time!"
Reseda had no chance to reply. The Rottweiler plunged forward, Indigo scrambling from its back and down to its side, hanging off the small rope ladder used to climb it. Around him, the rest of the dogs and birds burst into action, his own included. Within seconds they were reaching the building--he saw Indigo reach out toward the woman and seize her arm, dragging her screaming up with him, before the two were lost from his sight. A bullet just missed his shoulder and he realized the raid must be on. He pressed himself close to the dog's back, scanning the scene, now filled with more Trench Rats than Nazis, but the number began to even out as the enemy swarmed from the building, shouting and brandishing guns.
"EASY!" Amaranth screeched. "He said it would be EASY!"
Actually, I said it couldn't be as hard as it looked but I stand corrected!
A loud RINGING suddenly filled his ears and his head vibrated. He cringed and clamped his hands to his ears to make certain he was all right. He felt the dent in his helmet from the ricochet and just barely had time to thank God before a dog--this one with a Nazi atop it--came straight at him.
With a startled gawk he pulled his revolver from his belt and shot him. The soldier slid back and disappeared from sight as the dog ran on into the fray.
Holstering the revolver and bringing up his rifle again, Reseda once more started scanning the crowd. In the dark he was grateful for the Rats' distinctive capes and helmets, though he knew it made them easy targets. He looked around for Amaranth, hoping the poor guy was all right.
Something fired past his shoulder and he gaped at the body tumbling just inches past him. From above, a familiar voice shouted, "Private, do you want to get your ass killed today?"
"No, Sir!" Reseda shouted in return, biting back his humiliation and spurring the dog forward. As if eager to go, it obeyed immediately, tongue lolling and teeth snapping at anyone who got in the way.
The long building bobbed closer and closer in his view. More soldiers scurried from it, and though his arm jostled constantly and the gun banged continually against his jaw, he kept his eye to the sight and started firing.
Bullets sprayed the two or three men in front and they collapsed, staining each other dark. He finally caught sight of Amaranth, his dog zooming wildly away, bawling at the top of his lungs before lobbing a grenade back at his pursuer. A second later both the Nazi and the dog he rode on were obliterated, bits and pieces raining down upon them. Reseda shuddered and jerked away as something wet smacked his arm.
"Whoo-OO!" Indigo howled, back in the fight. "Good arm, Private!"
Amaranth's face had gone sickly pale. He barely managed to nod before leaning abruptly over to the side and vomiting.
Reseda turned away. There was no way he was going to deal with that when he had people to kill. Right now one option was looking a lot more appealing than the other.
He saw a flash of white above him, and followed the owl as if it were his flag being carried into battle.
After the initial fray, the rest of the fight was relatively short and onesided. It didn't take a genius to figure out how it would end. Reseda had barely anything left to do but shoot the remaining few soldiers who fought back or tried to escape before what survivors there were had been rounded up, dozens of guns pointed at their heads. Silver and several others entered the building undeterred. Indigo stood before the remaining Nazis, cracking his knuckles and grinning. Reseda stared at him uneasily.
"Shoe's on the other foot now, isn't it?" the big Rat said, grin growing and eyes narrowing. None of the Nazis made eye contact. "Not so easy to be the big bad guy when somebody moves in who's bigger than you, eh?"
He took a menacing step forward and Reseda automatically stepped forward with him, grabbing his arm. "Sir!"
"Huh?" Indigo blinked and looked down at him, completely innocent. Then he gave the Rat a patronizing smile. "Eh, don't worry, kid, I was only toying. Nothing serious. Besides," and he turned to grin at the Nazis again, "what's so bad about a broken Nazi appendage here and there?"
One of the soldiers swallowed audibly.
Reseda muttered between clenched teeth, "I don't think that's one of the accepted rules of war, Sir."
Indigo's voice became sulky but he turned away. "Eh, you think too much..."
Reseda could swear the captives let out their breath.
Several moments later the other Rats came out of the building, some of them carrying boxes of papers and other things that rattled. Reseda watched them walk past. Silver carried the prisoner list Reseda assumed he had taken before, and he handed it to one of the other Rats before sending him to check off the survivors from the list. He then turned to the rest of them, planting his hands on his hips and giving a glare so withering Reseda felt like sinking into the ground.
"Who gave the command to go?" he demanded, looking at each and every one of them.
No one spoke. Silver waited a moment before adding, "There was an express command not to move ahead until I said so. Someone will tell me who broke this command!"
Reseda swallowed, throat tight and dry. He felt his fingers twitch, hand getting ready to rise, before Indigo let out a small uncomfortable cough and raised his own hand sheepishly.
Reseda whirled to gape at him. Silver looked just as surprised. "Indigo?" he inquired.
"Yeah, eh, well..." Indigo coughed again, lowering his hand. "Y'see...you know how I tend to get when I see Nazis...and, well, I got that way, I guess..."
Silver's eyes narrowed. "This is no excuse, Lance-Corporal. I thought you out of everyone would have known better than that."
"I know, I know..." The big Rat looked ready to shrink into a tiny ball.
"Because of your action, they may actually have had time to liquidate more than they already had." He finally turned away from them all and Reseda felt like leaning on something to regain his strength. Something in Silver's glare just seemed to sap it all out of him. "They've already killed a handful. I knew this mission wouldn't be a total success, but now they may decide to change their whole approach."
"Sorry," Indigo said, reproachfully.
Silver reached his owl and waved his arm. "Echo Company, we head back. Prisoners come with us."
"Charlie Company!" Indigo shouted. "Round up the survivors and get out your med kits. We're gonna need 'em."
The other Rats fell into motion, Echo Company herding the few remaining Nazis back toward their mounts, some of the members of Charlie Company heading into the building again to retrieve any who were left. Reseda watched them for a moment before following Indigo as he headed back to his dog to get his med kit.
He caught up and tugged on the Rat's elbow. Indigo glanced down at him, puzzled, before saying, "Ah, it's you."
"What did you do that for?"
"Taking responsibility for my actions! Why did you do that?"
"Oh." Indigo shrugged. "Me, I could handle it. You, you're still a newbie...I don't exactly think you need Silver ripping you a new one this early in the game."
"He's all mouth anyway. The only thing he could do is yell at me."
"Yell?" Indigo guffawed. "All right, if you're a sucker for pain...maybe all he does is yell, but he scares even ME. Have you ever seen him snap somebody's neck like a pretzel stick?"
Reseda fought not to swallow convulsively. He did remember the sickening snap and the sight of the Nazi tumbling into the trench right beside him...
"That's not the point," he found himself saying. "I'm the one who broke the command. I should be the one to take responsibility for it."
Indigo peered at him before shrugging again. "Well, fine by me, if you're the upright sort and all." Reseda turned to head back to his own company before Indigo added, "That is...if you'd like him to ream you for lying..."
He whirled around again. "What? I never did that! YOU'RE the one who lied!"
A third shrug. "Maybe so, but you went along with it. Maybe you didn't mean to, you were surprised and all, but do you think he cares about that? Silver's not picky about who he decides to thrash out. Me, I just try to keep him happy so my neck isn't next."
"He wouldn't do that," Reseda said, voice suddenly quiet. And his mind echoed, for emphasis, He WOULDN'T do that...
Indigo grinned. "Oh yeah? You don't sound too convinced, newbie...maybe, if you keep telling yourself that, someday you'll believe he's really a sweet guy and all." He shouldered his rifle. "Though you might want to watch out that you don't get killed before then...I heard he tends to bite off people's heads when they go dying on him, too...just some advice, and all." He turned back to his dog and climbed up, digging around in his pack for his tools while Reseda stared up at him.
He's not some kind of monster, his mind kept repeating, as if he needed to be convinced. He's just an asshole.
He cringed and forced himself to turn back. No denying who THAT was.
At first he couldn't see Silver, but then felt a breeze as the owl flew overhead. "I said ECHO COMPANY move out! Last thing I knew you were included. When we reach HQ I'll gladly let you transfer to Charlie Company. Until then, head back!"
Reseda ground his teeth. "Yes, Sir," he muttered, locating his dog and pulling himself up.