They were on us before we had time to flinch, the doors wide, dragged to the ground to the shouts I could barely make out for their volume. The soldiers seemed to call for an answer, expecting us to say something, but I couldn’t understand the question, their energy masking the words. I kept quiet, trying to protect my hand, then I rolled, dragged around to see the barrel of the rifle in my face, voice blaring, spit raining down as shouted for me to call him out, his view fixed onto my left eye then my right.
“Clear,” came a voice from the other side of the van, strong and confident, but with a question.
“Clear,” the guy said still leaning over me, but his brow told me he wasn’t sure. Then I got it. Although we’d been in the van, Ryan driving and we’d slowed when asked, despite all this they couldn’t be sure we were still human. Perhaps they thought this would be their first experience.
Was it disappointment I read on the soldier’s face?
“I’m okay,” I said, the words timid, voice trembling as I guarded my hand. His brow evened out, his expression falling as he stood upright to draw the long gun around the horizon.
“Clear,” he called again and I heard Ryan’s voice, his hand reaching down to help me from the ground.
“I’d keep your voice down,” he said in a light tone, his brow low as he turned, looking me up and down, mouth forming silent words. I nodded, confirming I was fine.
“What do you know?” said the soldier rounding on us. Ryan moved to block his path, raising his head high like a strutting stag. I smiled within, letting a flutter of laughter rise from my chest as he drew himself up to protect me.
“More than you, it would seem. They can’t drive,” he said, his words slow, head tilting to the side. The soldier narrowed his eyes, leaning forward, looking like he’d done this in a hundred bars around the world, when the other arrived at his side, pulling him away to a huddle for words we couldn’t hear. As he turned back mid conversation, his face lit up as he saw me, eyes widening as the rest of his features narrowed.
He stepped forward, keeping his eyes on mine, a slight smile on his lips, flinching a look at Ryan who flashed a raise of his brow as the soldier stepped past. Stopping a pace away, he brushed his hand through his short blonde hair, narrowing his eyes as he wiped his hand across his mouth.
“Private Jordain,” he said and held his hand out. I smiled, looked to Ryan whose eyebrows were lower than I’d ever seen, looked down to my right hand still ballooning and pushed out my left. Jordain swapped his hands after sucking through his teeth when he saw my injury and gently shook my hand. “Has anyone looked at that?”
“Jess,” I replied shaking my head.
“Can I?” he said and I nodded as my eyes fell on the camouflaged bag strapped to his belt with a dark olive cross in the centre.
I sat back in the passenger seat with my legs dangling out of the van while Jordain took great care checking out my hand, tracing the bones from my wrist to my finger, lightening the pressure each time I winced. As he examined, I watched out across the horizon, the other soldier scouring, his eyes through the rifle’s sight.
“Have you seen any?” I said. His hands paused and he looked me in the eye, shaking his head. “You’ll know when do you, there’s no mistaking.”
“I don’t think it’s broken,” he said, keep it elevated. I laughed. “If you can,” he added. The other soldier called at his back. Ryan cursed.
“They’re attracted to noise. They’ll be here soon. The gunfire,” he said catching my eye. I nodded, jumping down from the seat as we stood in a square, our backs to each other, covering all points of the compass.
“Why weren’t you evacuated?” said Jordain.
“We’ve got a job to do,” I said.
“What job?” said the other soldier and I turned just as Jordain jabbed him in the back with his elbow, pointing to the three burgundy letters on the side of the van. “Oh,” he replied, turning, his eyebrows raising as if he’d caught my eyes for the first time. “Oh,” he said again.
“Where are you going?” Jordain said.
“St Buryan Hospital,” I said after a pause, holding my breath for their response. Their reply was instant, but not with words. I heard them turn, Ryan and I twisted around and we all faced each other. I could see the tension in Ryan’s fists, could feel mine in the rising beat in my chest, but their rifles still pointed to the ground, their faces open, surprised at my words.
“That’s our FOB,” Jordain replied, the other nodding.
“FOB?” Ryan replied.
“Forward operating base,” I said, the words flowing out, leaving the soldiers to nod, trying to hide their surprise.
“But there may be a problem,” the other soldier said. The pair looked at each other, faces turning stern. Jordain stepped back, sweeping his eyes across the horizon before returning to the square.
“Our Oppos went back to collect more concrete blocks in the HIAB, but we’ve lost contact with them and Buryan.”
“When was this?” Ryan said, stepping closer toward the group. The two soldier’s looked at each other, Jordain pulling up, twisting his wrist to look at a bulky metal watch.
“Three hours ago,” he replied, his eyes catching on mine.
“You should come with us,” I replied, seeing Ryan flinch at the words. The soldiers exchanged glances, turning back when I spoke. “One question though?” I said, looking to the unfinished wall. “Were you building it to keep them in or out?”
As my words finished, the wind blew across my face. I didn’t need to look to the break in the wall, the breeze carrying with it the rancid answer to my question.
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Reading out of sequence, here’s the rest of Season Two.
Not read Season One? Here it is.