Four hours later, he heard voices in the distance, coming up the valley, accented English, a sizeable force. His scope was on them now, dressed in camo gear, small backpacks, AK47s, carrying what looked like cartridge boxes, sixteen, no eighteen, twenty, walking purposefully up the track from the entrance to the valley. Most looked Asian or African, one or two Caucasian, mainly bearded; their Kalashnikovs had small wired boxes attached and it looked like they had sensors on their torsos, so laser training equipment, but clearly live ammo too. Bingo, looked like a shooting range at the bottom just to his right, but the training kit suggested they would be practising fire and movement in the woods around him, bad news that, but not necessarily a disaster if his luck didn’t desert him.
The escape message to her was already on his phone, pre-dialled, there was enough signal up here near the top of the rise. She had said an hour, hopelessly optimistic, maybe at night if she took risks; he was budgeting at least two. Evading back to the perimeter wall, fighting them if necessary, would take at least an hour, heedful flight less than fifteen minutes. He was watching the men on the valley floor intently; these looked largely experienced, the way they moved, conversed, handled their weapons. They were on their knees now, praying, so he scanned the hillsides all around him, no, no one else about, back to them. No obvious leaders from their clothing or even behaviours. How many could he get before they worked out where he was, started to respond? Four or five, maybe six, depends which way they went. Don’t even think about it. His silenced 9mm pistol was by his right side, nine rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, plus two further spare clips beside it and one more in his tunic pocket; if they stumbled on him that was his best bet, preserve the element of surprise.
They were up on their feet again, moving up the track to commence a static live firing exercise, laying, kneeling and standing, single shots only, no automatic. The sounds rattled round the valley as if it had its own little thunderstorm, but the site was well chosen, the surrounding woodland and hill sides would muffle the noise of the shots. A keen eared listener by the boundary wall might hear the sound of distant shooting if the wind were right, but that was nothing unusual here, gamekeepers after the vermin or pigeons, if they couldn’t tell the difference between a shotgun and rifle cartridge.
He watched them closely through the scope. Yes, for the most part they knew what they were doing, bracing themselves against the kick, rounds striking around the target, some direct hits. They then moved on to fire and movement, working in pairs and fours, rushing, covering, shooting at the targets. They clearly didn’t have to pay for their ammunition. Two hours went by, they were taking a break, water and a snack, rifles slung over shoulders, standing talking. Hopefully, they were nearly done. Twenty minutes later, no they’re not, they’re breaking up into two teams of eight, while the remaining four are back on the targets.
Can’t move, just sit tight. One team of eight is heading up the slope to my right, the other up the opposite slope, both running. It looks like they unloaded their weapons and have rigged the lasers for further practice. They’re behind me now, I can hear them moving beyond the top of the rise, spreading out to commence the exercise; having them behind me where I can’t see them is the worst of all. Pick up the pistol, pull the Barrett further back under the camo sheet; if one treads on me by mistake I’ve no choice.
They’re working their way down the slope now, intermittent rushes from tree to tree in pairs, one covering, one moving, either side of me thank heavens, about a dozen feet only on the right. Breathing has ceased, the most dangerous moment, they’re level with me now, still working their ways downwards, scanning for the opposing team somewhere on the opposite slope. Yes, it looks like three pairs strung out to the left further down the slope, the furthest about a hundred yards, the nearest pair to my left, about ten yards and growing longer now. Permit myself to breathe again, then the tunic sensors of the nearest go off: he’s been hit, he falls to the ground and sits there watching as the exercise hots up. His partner is down now, and one to the left; the opposition are on this slope below me, sweeping right to left, catching this side in a pincer movement. Twenty minutes later, it’s all over; they break off, the casualties standing up, heading back up their respective slopes, but not in groups, just straggling any old how this time.
The nearest pair is almost on top of me, talking in some lingo I don’t understand, could be anything. They stop two yards below me; one voice sounds in the interrogative, takes a step further up the slope. And drops, two bullets planted silently in his chest, followed by the second. Couldn’t risk it. Where’re the others? Coming this way, the nearest pair at least, calling the others who are now on route to a well-deserved Hell. They’re twenty, fifteen yards away, can’t believe they haven’t seen the bodies yet, their camo gear must be working, twelve yards, no further. Four more silent bullets planted, two more corpses in the leaf mould. No, one’s gurgling, trying to move, not now, final shot sees to that.
New magazine inserted, start reloading the empty, two, three, four, five rounds in, damn another pair coming in to sight on my left, twenty-five yards out, twenty-two… One stops, raises an arm to point, he’s seen one of the corpses, exhale slowly, reduce your heart rate, long range but shouldn’t be a problem for you, wrist braced by the other hand and the ground beneath it. He starts to say something, the first round takes him in the mouth, the second in the heart; the second man half cries out, reaching for his slung assault rifle, but drops down with two rounds in his chest, the cry squeezing out in a gurgle.
The last pair call out an enquiry, accented English this time.
“What was that?”
They’re running over, hard targets, wait. They see the bodies and scramble to a halt twenty yards away, calling loudly, but briefly as they drop to the ground, going the same way as the others, but one isn’t quiet, he must have moved just a fraction before the rounds struck him, somewhere not immediately paralysing or terminal. Eight dead or dying targets within twenty-five yards of me, what to do? The others down in the valley or on the other hillside are calling out now, not getting any replies. Big trouble, only a couple of minutes to decide.
Movement too risky, twelve against one; if I move I lose the advantages of surprise, my defensive position.
Need to reduce the odds before I make a run for it. It’s gone to Hell so quickly, can’t believe it… Quickly crawl out a yard, grab the nearest Kalashnikov and a couple of clips: he won’t be needing it, I might later; back under the camo sheet, send the SOS text to her, it’s a count-down now. Two hours to survive.
Scan the opposite slope and valley floor. There’s been a shouted conversation between the two groups, with the upshot that the four on the valley floor are heading up the slope from my right, moving from tree to tree, not sure what’s going on. They haven’t seen anything yet, but are wary, calling out to one another, their missing comrades. Movement on the opposite slope, the other group of eight are assembling there, waiting to see what the group headed this way report. Let them get close as before, try to do it silently, or use the Barrett? They’re five hundred yards away, moving only slowly, the others will know I’m here if I shoot?
I’ve got to confuse them, keep them away, buy time. The other side of the valley is an easy shot for the rifle, the acoustics of the shot in this little valley would be confusing, difficult to identify the round’s direction of travel and trace it back to its point of origin. The four are now three hundred and fifty yards down slope to the right, exercising ever more caution. Time to put the cat among the pigeons, you were taught to be decisive, take the initiative.
The eight on the opposite slope are looking across the valley, incautiously clustered, make the most of it. The Barrett screams out, the sound of the round shattering the valley’s peace, echoing around and around, two men are down, one dead, one wounded badly by the bullet emerging from the first. Reload, observe, they’re in shock, falling to the floor, looking out panic-stricken, one calls out to the other group, who’ve frozen, are turned around, calling back. Don’t make it so easy, will you? One of the four rocks forward down the slope, torn asunder through his back, another is too slow in reacting, diving full length, and it’s done for him, lifeless on the slope.
They’re jabbering away to each other now, trying to get a fix on where, how many, what to do. The surviving pair on this slope must be flat on their faces behind the trees, awaiting the arrival of the other group of six who are now rushing down the slope from tree to tree. Don’t be impatient; your best chance is when they emerge into the clearing on the valley floor. But they’re not complete fools, they’re not just going to rush across heedlessly; some are laying down blind covering fire, joined by the two lower down this slope, bullets landing any old where on this slope, even over the top. Ignore them, you’d be damned unlucky.
The first rushes across the clearing, I didn’t have time for the shot, the second too, same again, but the third is not lucky today, his thigh’s shot away, he’s screaming, he’s out of it, leave him. Movement to my lower right; they’re starting to work out roughly where I might be, they’re moving away to my right, trying to outflank me, crawling on their bellies, sheltered by the trees and uneven ground, heading into Hell nevertheless.
Two fronts, too much to focus on, two more have made it across the clearing now while I was distracted, the final one must be there, not as courageous as the rest, hanging back, the others are impatient, working their way up the slope in front of me and to my left, two there trying to outflank me from the other side. Switch back to the right, that’s the bigger threat for the next couple of minutes, they must be near the furthest claymore mine by now. Yes, there’s a stirring of movement just below. Remote detonator is armed. An explosion, a shrill shriek cut short, another shout, a wounded man trying to roll down the slope away, just away, today’s not your day sunshine. The Barrett barks again, fully reloaded in the interval, the movement ceases, all that remains is the clearing smoke and smell of cordite, and a low murmur from the other man, too injured to contemplate flight.
Back to the others, can’t see, had the fifth one crossed?
There’s a gun barrel peeking out from behind that tree on the edge of the clearing. The four this side have gone still, calling to the others, but there’s no answer. The two in front resume their random covering fire, single shots only, trying to avoid giving away their positions, keep his head down, while the other pair circle further left, away from the first claymore, but just within range of the second outer mine. It explodes, sending high velocity ball bearings and shrapnel across its front just above ground level. Both would-be out-flankers seem to be down, wounded, but not dead, calling out; one’s well enough to start laying down covering fire. That leaves two in front of me, and the one on the other side of the clearing. Let them make the first move.
Fifteen minutes pass; the moans to my right have faded away, one of the wounded men to the left is calling more urgently in another language, pain and weakness enfolding his voice. The cover fire has slackened; they’re trying to conserve ammunition and position. There’s another sound, the crackle of radio static, they must have called for more help. How many more of them are there? How long have I got?
The one on the other slope has disappeared, movement above his last position, he’s climbing the facing hillside, hoping to get the advantage of height or withdrawing. Turning your back, bad mistake, there’s too little tree foliage this early in the season, and the steep slope is taking its toll, he’s slowing as he nears the top. A round from the rifle stops him dead, good shot considering he was lurching upwards unevenly, looked like left shoulder blade, his inner eye could see Hendricks approving smile.
But the three down this slope have a better fix on my position; shots are striking within twenty yards now. Time’s no longer on my side, how long’s passed, unbelievable, over eighty minutes.
Where did that go?
© 1642again 2018