The slug of super-heated copper hit the Land Cruiser at Mach 6, punching through the light metal and Kevlar liner as if it wasn’t there. It entered just behind the driver compartment, some fifty centimetres behind the vehicle commander who was sitting in the right-hand front seat. The screaming boom of the pressure wave tossed them around inside the vehicle, like crash test dummies. The white-hot, incandescent bolt of metallic plasma was traveling at a slightly upward trajectory. It hit the ECM equipment situated behind the two front seats, blasting off part of the rear panel of the set and causing spalling of the copper slug, which screamed around the vehicle interior like angry hornets. The shard of the ECM plate went through the bulkhead behind the seats, ripped through the commander’s left thigh and embedded itself behind her right kneecap. The EFP blasted through the vehicle first aid kit and then out through the roof and window of the left side of the vehicle, scattering toughened glass across the road. The edges of the single, large entry hole and the multiple exit holes glowed red hot. By some quirk of fate, the driver was totally unharmed, physically.
Margin, who had been sitting sideways facing left towards the rear of the vehicle, had turned his face away moments before the EFP hit them. It saved his eardrums, although the spall of white-hot copper fragments burned through his smock and trousers and were agonising. He bellowed in pain and beat smouldering fragments off his clothes. He had been the furthest away from the EFP’s entry and exit tracks, and because he knew the vehicle commander was pissed off with him, had decided to sit down near the rear door, rather than engaging in small talk. His misanthropy had saved his life. And the fact there was an outlet for the EFPs exit meant that most of the force was dissipated. They would have been dead if they had been inside an armoured vehicle.
The interior was full of swirling smoke, burned gauze and medical lint. And then fire as fuel spilled from the ruptured tank started to burn. The front of the Land Cruiser was tilted back, and the back tilted forward as the EFP had effectively cut the vehicle in half. Margin rolled down and out onto the road, crouching between the two parts of the vehicle. Shreds of red Kevlar sheets were coiled on the road like the Toyota’s entrails. The inside of the cab was slick with bright red arterial blood and its coppery reek. The driver was still gripping the steering wheel with a blood-spattered face, staring vacantly through the shattered windscreen and the lance-jack was mewling in pain. He tried the passenger door, but it was jammed.
“Come on, help me get her out!” but the driver had seen too much, more than any teenager should have to tolerate. His mind had shut down with the shock.
Margin pulled the commander out through the back of the driver compartment and dragged her clear of the burning vehicle by the loops on her body armour. She screamed as her legs went over the back of the seat and thudded onto the road. He laid her against a wall near the junction and went back for his rifle and the driver. Fortunately, his door opened, and Margin pulled him out. He was incapable of autonomous locomotion and Margin steered him to where the lance-jack lay in agony. By virtue of rank, privilege and circumstances, Margin was now in charge, and he heard his father say a single word, clearly as though he were standing next to him: Duty.
He assessed the priorities, through his own state of shock. They were cut off in the middle of a hostile city. Two were seriously injured and one judging by the spreading pool of bright blood under her legs, would likely die of hypovolemic shock.
“Where’s your first field dressing?” Margin asked her.
“Top pocket, as per SOPs.”
“What’s your name?”
“Your first name and your oppo’s. I’m Chris.”
“Karen. He’s called Biff, coz he is one.”
“Karen, I’m going to get your first field dressing,” he told her then delved through the arm hole of the body armour to feel the pockets.
“I hope you’re not copping a feel, sir.,, Chris.”
He laughed in spite of their precarious position. He found it, ripped the packet open with his teeth and opened out the field dressing and the tying straps.
“You have a bit of an injury to your left leg that’s bleeding quite a lot. There’s a chunk of metal embedded in your right knee, but that’s not bleeding as much, so I don’t want to pull it out. I’m going to put this on quite tightly to slow the bleeding. Do you understand?”
She nodded. He put the gauze pad over the deep gash in her thigh and wound the straps round her upper thigh, tying them with a bow, so he could undo them to allow the circulation if the bleeding slowed. She started screaming with pain.
“Too tight! Too tight! It hurts, take it off.”
“I can’t not yet,” there was only one thing left, “Where’s your morphine autojet, Karen?”
He pulled the front of her armour away and found the plastic container on a loop of Para cord.
“God, you’re insatiable,” she said through gritted teeth.
He injected her in her good thigh and then wrote a large M with the time on her forehead with his REMFy Parker Jotter biro.
“Sit next to her, hold her hand and talk to her,” he said to the driver, then stood up to survey their situation. The vehicle was burning merrily, throwing up a plume of dense, rubbery smoke. The radio was gone, traffic was passing on the other side of the road and crowds were beginning to gather. He could hear the rattle of gunfire both in the distance and getting nearer.
“Oh, that’s just fan-bloody-dabbie-dozie,” Margin said to himself and made ready with his rifle.
He went back to the two soldiers. He was holding her hand in a distracted way, but at least he was beginning to talk, and she was still conscious, but stared at him dreamily.
“We’re fucked, aren’t we sir?”
Margin had learned a long time ago that sometimes confidence in leadership was an act. He entered stage left.
“No, we’re not. They know where we are and they’ll come and get us,” but when he looked down at her thigh and the spreading pool of blood, the cold, deathly grip of fear wrapped itself round his heart. He squatted down and used his own first field dressing as the first one had been soaked through.
He heard more gunfire coming from the east and he stared up the 4th Macroryan Main Road. Two armed men burst through the gathering crowd and were running towards the junction and the burning vehicle. They ran at a very fast pace with economical strides, their weapons high and in the aim position. The leading figure was wearing a shamegh wrapped around his head and face, the second was bearded and wore an Afghan hat. This is it, thought Margin, removed the safety catch and opened fire on the nearest man. A pathetic single round chipped the wall some feet away from the man. To be fair, Margin had an excuse, he wasn’t wearing his glasses under the ballistic goggles, which were smeared with blood and dust.
The previous November on a training area and ranges near Thetford, Margin had been doing his two-week pre-deployment training. They had dutifully fired their 120 rounds and achieved the necessary scores at 100, 200 and 300 metres. Once the weapons had been cleared, the RAF Regiment Flight Sergeant gave the assorted, engineers, technicians, movers, clerks, nurses and the odds and sods a pep talk.
“Right. We’ve done it the official way, but I want to give you all a piece of advice. You are not infanteers and never will be.”
An SAC clerk at Margin’s shoulder said in a low voice: “And neither will he be.” Margin had snickered and the Regiment SNCO stared at him with a face that could curdle milk.
“When you’ve quite finished, sir. If any of you find yourselves in a situation where you have to open fire on the Taliban, something will have gone terribly wrong. So, forget about this ‘single aimed shots’ bollocks. Keep that for the Century Range at Bisley. You need to put the rounds down quickly. A lot of them so you can suppress them and get the hell out of it. Put the change lever to automatic and fire short bursts. Maximum of four rounds. Now I never told you that but remember it. It could save your lives.”
And Margin had remembered it. But because he was a REMF, when he made ready, he had forgotten to move the change lever down from R – Rounds to A – Automatic. It was just as well. The man in the shamegh yelled at him angrily.
“STOP FIRING YOU FUCKING IDIOT!”
As he ran up the headscarf flapped open, and Margin saw a pair of the greenest eyes he had ever seen and tousled shock of ginger hair. Regressive Gene hit him on the side of his helmet with an open hand, not enough to cause damage, but enough to register disapproval at being shot at. The other man went into concealment at the junction to cover them. Margin began to give a sitrep.
“Save your breath, mate. You’ll need it,” Regressive Gene gently pulled the injured lance-jack up onto his shoulder, “You’ll have to keep up.”
With Margin dragging the driver along, they ran back up 4th Macroryan Main Road. Regressive Gene fired off a short burst over the heads of the gathering crown to disperse them, then they ducked up a side street and into a maze of poor-quality buildings. Even though their saviour was carrying the weight of the casualty, Margin was sprinting to keep up and by the time they were led up an alley, Margin was blowing out of his arse, and it was the driver who was pulling him along. They approached a high wall with steel gates. Regressive Gene delved into his pocket and the gates slid open. They were inside a small, walled compound with a single storey building, steel shuttered with breeze-block sangers on the roof. The building was a basic but comfortably equipped dwelling of six rooms, with a single staircase up to the roof. The living area had a sofa, two chairs, television, and a coffee table. There was a PlayStation controller on the table, and someone had been reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
“Our patrol house,” the man told them, and they were joined by the second bearded man with the Afghan hat, “What about her?”
Margin went into the kitchen and moved the breakfast detritus off the table. He was feeling less sick now, but still frightened, “We’ll need two sleeping bags and a waterproof poncho. Put them on the table, then the poncho for the blood and put her on top.
“I’ll need to go on stag on the roof,” the bearded man told him, “But I’ll get them first.”
“Which one of you is the patrol medic?”
Regressive Gene laid the body gently down on the table on the poncho. “That would be Mark, but he’s not here. He’s gone to the airport with the boss, for a spot of ultraviolence with the Kiwis. You picked a shit day for sight-seeing. There have been multiple attacks all over the city and they’ve knocked out several aircraft at the airport. It’s completely sealed off.
“Did he take his medical bergen?”
“No. It’s in the storeroom.”
“Get it and I’ll come with you. I don’t want her to hear.”
“She’s out of it, mate.”
“But she can still hear,” explained Margin, “Hearing’s the last sense to go.”
In the storeroom he picked up the bergen, “What’s your name, and don’t say Soldier A.”
“I’m Mickey. Jarvis is up on the roof.”
“OK, I’m Chris, the girl is Karen and the driver’s called Biff. Listen Mickey, that young lady’s going to die if we don’t get her to hospital. She’s bleeding out, so I’m going to try my best. The Czech field hospital is a non-starter. Can you contact the Americans?”
He nodded, “Yes, through their SEAL teams.”
“Tell them we need a Black Hawk, Pedro, Dust-off to this location or as close as possible. Severe lower limb trauma that’s a Priority One and a mental trauma, Priority Two. Are you squeamish?”
“A little,” he admitted with a frown, “I’ll never eat off that table again. I’ll make the call on the radio.”
He went back through, and Margin took off his body armour and smock and was just wearing a t-shirt underneath. When he came back, Mickey looked at the angry spots and patches of burns on his right arm but said nothing. Margin went through the bergen and took out everything he would need. He washed his hands with alcohol gel and put on latex gloves.
“How long?” asked Margin, “And put these gloves on.
“At least thirty minutes flying time. More likely nearer an hour.”
“Take her boots and socks off. I need to see the capillary refill on her toenails.” Margin started to cut off the trousers with a pair of bandage scissors, starting at the inside seam, up the leg, carefully across the crotch and then down the other leg. Then he cut around the protruding fragment of shrapnel. He rolled the cut material out of the way to expose the wounds.
“Jesus,” Mickey observed, “I guess you don’t pull that chunk of steel out.”
“No. Do you know how to make a ring bandage?”
“Make one out of this triangular bandage and we’ll use it to pad the area around the knee, but first the thigh.”
Margin dreaded taking off the field dressings and sure enough the blood continued to bleed steadily. He applied a tourniquet from the bergen then checked her toes.
“Left leg is compromised. Very slow refill on her right leg. The blood in her body hasn’t enough volume so it’d drawing into the core to protect the vital organs, heart, lungs and brain. The tourniquet’s not enough. Do you know where the femoral pressure point is? You may have to delve into her intimate area, I’m afraid, Mickey, long enough for me to put on the coagulant powder and dressing.” He showed him where to press and Mickey baulked.
He opened a plastic container, “Ready? Harder, Mickey, she’s beyond modesty now.”
The blood flow slowed to a trickle, then Margin applied the powder and then the coagulant impregnated field dressing, “Good, you can retrieve your hand and just apply gentle but firm pressure to this pad over the dressing.”
He finally made a secondary survey of the casualty aware that he was in danger of becoming fixated with the obvious injury. Margin carefully unclipped the waist fasteners and opened up the Osprey’s Velcro. Then he undid her smock and lifted the t-shirt, checking carefully. There was no other injuries or suspicious swelling that could denote internal injuries. He pushed his hand under her body, pulled it out and checked for blood. Worried about her ragged, noisy breathing he tried to insert a Geudel airway, but she started to choke and retch, so she wasn’t fully unconscious, “I’m so sorry, Karen,” Her distress was like a kick in the balls. Apart from only responding to painful stimuli, she had a pale and clammy skin. Her pulse was fast and weak, and her lips and fingernails were blue with cyanosis. She was going to die of hypovolemic shock, and he was responsible. He thought he could feel his father close by.
It’s all very well your feeling sorry for her and for yourself, but what do you propose to do about it?
“I need to get some fluids into her, Dad.”
“What?” Mickey questioned.
“But I’m not current. I haven’t done this for over ten years.”
If she survives, she can sue you.
“It’s like riding a bike. You never forget everything,” Mickey told him, slightly puzzled.
He’s right, you know.
The best site would have been the external jugular vein, but he had never performed the procedure and only seen it carried out once, in much more of a clinical environment. Margin grabbed a cushion from the sofa and put it under her right arm. He looked at the veins on the back of her hand, but they had closed down. The Cephelic vein in the crook of her elbow looked more promising and he tapped the area, and applied a small, rubber tourniquet, four finger widths up from the site.
“Mickey, could you please make a fist of her hand and flex the arm downwards.”
He found the vein with difficulty and swabbed the area with an alcohol swab. He took the cannula out of the sterile packaging, flushed it with a syringe of saline drawn from the fluids set, opened the wings and removed the needle covering. He stretched the skin on her arms to make the site more prominent. Mickey was watching with fascination, still holding her hand, “Shouldn’t you say at this point, you might feel a small prick?”
He inserted the cannula at a slight downward angle towards the shoulder and gently advanced it until a flashback of blood was seen in its hub. He advanced a further 2mm until the cannula was in the vein, removed the needle and taped it in place, finally removing the tourniquet. He doubted there would be a sharps box so he put the needle in an empty coke can then flushed the cannula again with saline, looking for local tissue swelling. There wasn’t any which was a relief, otherwise he would have to start again. Margin connected an extension then a litre bottle of Haemaccel which he handed to Mickey.
“Hold this up and squeeze gently, very gently, because we need to get the fluids in quickly. I’ll find a stand.” He fashioned a drip stand from a couple of wire coat hangers, his Leathermans and Para cord, “That’s good, she’s had about 300 millilitres. I’ll hang the fluid bottle and see to her other knee. Could you get an ETA for the Black Hawk and where it can land?”
“About 400 metres out back. We’ll have to carry her in the poncho as the boss and Mark took the vehicle. Jarvis will have to cover us.”
Mickey came back after making the radio call, “Ten minutes inbound. We’d better prepare to move. Can you help to carry her?” he asked the driver who nodded.
“Two on the head and arse, one on the feet. That’s your job, Biff. I’ll put a loop on the bottle and carry it round my neck.” Margin said and put on his smock and body armour and rear slung his rifle.
Mickey yelled up to colleague and they lifted her in the poncho, the blood slopping across the table and floor, then they were out of the building and compound and headed towards waste ground at a steady trot. They could hear the helicopter coming in and the trooper called Jarvis ran on ahead and threw a smoke grenade. The Black Hawk circled once above them and then came into land into wind, its rotor blades chopping the purple smoke into ribbons. The three on the poncho crouched down and waited for the crewman to wave them forward. There were crewmen posted on the miniguns on each door, covering the landing site.
One of the medics waved them in and helped lift the casualty onto the helicopter and a stretcher. Margin did a swift handover, shouting above the engines, “Roadside IED on vehicle. Female is a Priority one, GCS of four. Upper and mid-leg trauma, both legs. Severe blood loss but now controlled. Morphine administered at 09:10. Coagulant powder and dressing administered to left thigh. Shrapnel injury to right knee, foreign object still in place. She has so far been given 750 millilitres of Haemaccel. Other casualty severe mental trauma and shock, but recovering and responsive. GCS of fourteen. Get on board, Biff.”
“You should go as well.” Mickey yelled in his ear.
“No. I need to report to their bosses and mine as well. My fuck-up.”
The American medic gave the thumbs up and they moved away and crouched down as the Black Hawk pitched up and roared over their heads. They jogged back to the patrol house and Margin cleaned up the mess in the kitchen, mopping the floor, bagging the blood-soaked swabs and the giving set.
“You’ll have to stay here for a while, Chris, until we put the lid back on this city. You look like you could use a cup of tea.”
Hancock. I’ve got lunatics laughing at me from the woods….
“Thank you, Mickey. That would be grand.”
Mickey replaced Jarvis on stag, and the two of them chatted while Margin saw to the burns on his arm and leg the best he could, while Jarvis helped. In places the metal had burned into the flesh and would have to be dug out later. He cleaned and dressed what he could and took some opiate-based pain killers.
“Looks nasty, squadron leader.”
“Chris. Mickey said you’re all right. He said you saved that girl’s life.”
“We don’t know yet. I hope so, Mr Jarvis.”
She will be all right, his father said in his head.
It was dark when they heard a vehicle outside the compound and the gates opening. Two men came in, lugging assorted weapons and belts of ammunition. Their faces were grimy with sweat, and they reeked of explosive and firearms residue. Margin recognised them immediately and they looked at him incredulously.
“What the hell’s he doing here?” demanded the merchant banker.
“It’s a long story, boss,” Jarvis told him and explained.
“On our fucking dinner table?”
He was a warrant officer and looked at Margin quizzically, “And you used our patrol bergen?”
“Yes, I used your fucking patrol bergen. Sorry pal, my mistake. I should have just let her fucking bleed out all over your nice sofa and PlayStation. Bill me for it!” Margin was almost shouting.
There was a very long pause. The warrant officer stared at him and then he smiled. “Calm down, sir. I guess we’ve both had a long, tiring day.”
“I need to get back to ISAF HQ. Is there any way of contacting them as I guess you have the situation out there in hand?”
“I’ll drive him.” Offered the Comanchero with the asymmetric face. “Get your kit,” he peered at his rank slide and name tag on the blood-smeared his smock, “Squadron Leader Margin.”
“I’ll come with you,” Jarvis offered.
Outside, Margin went to go in the back seat, but the Comanchero shook his head and opened the front passenger door. As they drove through the now quiet city, the driver asked a few questions, “You were in the vehicle when the IED went off?”
“Yes. It was an EFP because there was nothing much left of the 4×4.”
“Weren’t you injured?”
“Some burns caused by the spalling inside the vehicle. Nothing they can’t deal with in the HQ’s MTF.”
“And you cannulated the casualty in the arm? You were lucky to find a vein. Why didn’t you use a central line?”
“I couldn’t risk it. I haven’t put in a cannula for ten years and I’m not even a current medic anymore.”
The driver huffed then chuckled, “You’ve got a lot of balls. What if it had gone wrong?”
“She would have died anyway. We should never have gone out, but I insisted, so I was responsible. I had to try.”
The vehicle pulled in at the turning circle before the first security checkpoint of the headquarters.
“Mind the gap,” said the driver, while Margin climbed out with his kit and rifle, “Hey, Squadron Leader. Good drills and skills.”
“Thank you, errr…?”
He watched the unmarked Q-car pull back out onto the one-way system.
Edge? What a strange name, Margin thought.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file
© Chris Downes/Blown Periphery 2023