Once Upon A Sandstorm

**Once Upon A Sandstorm**

[This story was co-authored with DawnCharger. The number of hours they have had to spend convincing me that a better way to write a line was actually my idea :stuck_out_tongue: Some of the characters are ones we play in game, eg Alpharius and Faolán, The rest are persistent NPC’s that we use in many of our stories and RP’s. We hope you enjoy.]

=== Battle of Bedouin Bluff ===

Faolán slowly and carefully reaches the crest of the rise he had been crawling up. He has remained hidden by the small bushes that run along the crest as they etch out a difficult life in this cruel climate.

With great care he raises the hooded binoculars and studies the five men and women he had been following for the last two days. Their Orochi combat armour swathed in desert camouflage.

Raising the line of sight a little, he studies the small Bedouin camp for a few moments. It’s probably 1.5km to 2km from the current Roach position. Being late afternoon, and the way the squad has gathered about the officer, who is detailing something in the sand, all things point to an assault on the unsuspecting nomads tonight.

He’d been hounding the roaches ever since he’d discovered they too were searching out the Bedouin.

A couple of weeks back he had hypothesised that the missing roach drone could have been found by the Bedouin. Initially he thought that the Roaches were blaming the Bedouin for the loss of their base camp, but now wondered if some smart-arse roach had thought to tie the missing drone to the Arab nomads as well.

It was time to act.

+++

As Faolán was watching the Orochi squad. The squad leader was advising command and briefing her team for the imminent raid.

“Command, Bravo Actual,” the lead figure says, touching her right ear. “We’re a klik of the objective and holding steady. We should be secured by nightfall” The response is lost, but Viper (as she was known) seems satisfied as her hand returns to her assault rifle.

“We’re not that far out,” the man to her left (Rook) says, blowing sand out of the red dot sight. “We can make that in ten minutes if we hoof it.”

A tall, bald man smirks back as he hefts an RPD light machine gun over his shoulder. “First rule of corporate work, Rook: underpromise, overdeliver.”

“FNG,” the woman to his left agrees with Breaker. Her eyes watch the horizon as she cradles an SVD Dragunov.

“Bite me Cross, I ain’t that new. I just thought we were mercenaries, not pencil-pushers.”

“Mercenaries who work for a corporation,” answers the last of the group, a Caucasian man who looks far too well-groomed despite days in the desert. “And not just any corporation—the corporation. The company that owns the company that owns the companies that run the world.”

“Gee Hatch, I didn’t realize I signed on with Weyland-Yutani,” Rook remarks.

Cross just shakes her head. “Nerd.”

Viper waves them over. “Focus up people, you can kiss when we get back home.” Rook actually blushes under the suntan, while Breaker’s bald head gleams in the light as he throws his head back and laughs.

Viper kneels and pulls out her combat knife, drawing in the sand. “This group’s been hard as fv#< to find, and we need to get what we need before they disappear again. Their camp is set up here near this oasis and for nomads, pretty tight: regular patrols on horseback, and closer-in ones on foot. Cross’s gotten their patrol timings down, so we’ll deal with them first—quietly.”

“Any status on the objective?” Hatch asks.

Rook shows them his pad, though the significance seems lost on all but Viper. “It’s the best shot we’ve had at finding Bravo-9 yet. With their guards out and everyone asleep it should be easy enough to go in, lock things down, and turn the place inside out.”

“Aww,” Breaker coos, “you softie. Lock down what? A camp full of jihadis? “

Cross frowns at him. “Rude.”

“Stereotyping aside, Breaker’s not wrong,” Hatch points out. “These people learn to ride and shoot along the same time they learn to walk and talk. We need to clean house—"

“—and make it look like an Atenist hit, I read the briefing.” Rook glances down at his Kalashnikov and sighs; they all had some variation, but he had hoped it was just for their legendary reliability. Orochi tech was better by a mile—Chains once swore he’d test-fired it in a special-designed vacuum chamber—but they all used proprietary munitions.

“Then check the briefing twice next time, Rook.” Viper frowns briefly. “Plan A was finding it before them. Command wants the asset more than they want it quiet, so if there’s collateral damage it needs to be 7.62.”

“And if it’s not there?”

Viper flicked the sand off of her knife before sheathing it. “Top off on supplies and move on.”

+++

Shuffling carefully below the skyline, Faolán prepares to move on the Roach patrol. While they had been studying the Bedouin patrols, he had in turn been studying their movements. Who tended to stick with who? Who tended to be a loner? Who was point? Who was on the six?

He’d been close enough at times to learn these details and their names: Rook acted as point, his Japanese-American accent standing out even among his peers. Cross, the sniper–when moving, she’d watch their six with a Soviet SVD Dragunov. Not the most accurate sniper rifle, but still effective in the right hands. Viper, the Roach Officer—a capable woman by all appearances, although she seemed to have the typical Roach sense of superiority. Breaker, the dedicated LMG rifleman who watched their six in camp when Cross was on overwatch. And lastly was Hatch, the fifth member of the squad and Breaker’s loader for the LMG.

It appeared that they had worked together for a while and certainly seemed comfortable together.

In Faolán’s mind, The woman with the sniper rifle presented the biggest risk. Her training gave her the greatest chance of picking out small discrepancies in the terrain, one of which might be him. Further, if she were still active when he engaged the squad, she could end the fight from up to 1,000 metres away, especially since her weapon was equipped with a state-of-the-art night scope. She needed to be neutralised first.

As the night deepens, Faolán changes position so he can follow the squad to their jump-off positions, carefully noting where Cross will take up her overwatch. Moving as silently as a shadow across the desert, he takes up station above and behind the concealed sniper.

She had chosen her position well; from below and forward, it was blanketed in blackness. The death she had planned to supply would be invisible to her targets. Just as it would conceal her death from her comrades. It was a drop of about 8 feet, but her body will cushion the fall and he will no longer be human when he lands.

The first she knew of the fact that the day was going to end badly was the great weight landing on her back, driving the air from her lungs. Before she can even think to try and give a warning of the ambush, there is a searing pain at the back of her neck.

And then there were four.

Moving deftly along the shadow line the great beast leaves no prints as it keeps to the rocks. His next target being the man with the pleasant Japanese-American accent. The accent that reminds Faolán of his mum. He briefly wonders if Rook had spent time in New York as well…

The point man is moving down a gully and into position to silence a Bedouin guard, giving the rest of the squad direct access to the camp. He had spent a full day watching the nomad patrols and found this glaring hole in their perimeter. He had to be feeling supremely confident.

That was, until he rounds a small curve and one of the boulders seems to move. The wolf—monster—thing closes impossibly fast and quiet, and a warning is crushed along with his windpipe.

The beast almost gently lowers the lifeless corpse to the ground before tearing the man’s throat from his body.

The dark has become impossibly silent, even deeper than the usual quietness that accompanies a desert night.

+++

Viper moves up with the rest of her squad, bracing near the Bedouin camp. She mentally counts the seconds down, not daring to even check her watch for fear of a sentry noticing the tritium hands. After an eternity of tension, silence, and seconds, she covers her mouth with one hand and presses her earpiece with the other. “Cross, we’re in position. Signal when you’re ready.”

As she waits for a reply, Viper lets her cheek rest against the stamped metal of her Kalashnikov, her training taking over. Breathe in slowly, then out; in slowly, then out; each drawing in oxygen and forcing her heart to slow just a little bit more until her finger pulses against the trigger once a second. Four, five, six, seven…

… forty-one, forty-two, forty-three…

… seventy-six, seventy-seven, seventy—

“Cross,” Viper repeats. “Viper. Signal your status.” She lets go and waits for a reply. The Bedouin sentries didn’t seem like the best in the world, but all the planning in the world couldn’t account for sheer dumb luck… Maybe she had to go silent?

Another minute of radio silence passes without even an acknowledging click. Viper trades a look with the other two. “Radio malfunction,” she says, as much to herself as to them. “Hatch, try to raise her, I’ll switch.” She presses her fingers to her ear again. “Rook? It’s Viper, what’s your status?”

Incoming fire, mortars, even a werewolf’s howl … none of it compares to the empty silence of static. Despite her training, her years in the field, the horrors she had survived, the anticipation still pressed down like a wet towel over her face. Viper feels her finger twitch faster with her heart and forces herself to take another set of breaths.

“I got nothing,” Hatch answers. “Cross is silent, and I tried Rook too. Radio silence from one’s a malfunction, but two…”

“Fv# me, did someone start the party without us?” Breaker growls.

Viper stops herself from slapping the back of his bald head, reminding herself that ‘stealth’ is his least favourite word. “Not this quietly. Even at this range we’d’ve heard a suppressor, or at least the tin condom that passes for one out here.”

“Knives maybe?” Hatch offers.

Breaker snorts. “Psh, yeah right. Maybe Rook got unlucky, but God himself couldn’t find Cross even with a Ctrl+F command.”

“Breaker my friend, that was positively technological of you.”

The larger man gives Hatch a one-fingered salute. Viper frowns at them as their volume rises above a whisper but finds herself lost in thought: there’s no way the locals found Rook or Cross, not like this. They would have heard something by now—even if the sentries could afford a proper suppressor, why use one? The whole point of being a sentry was to alert everyone in earshot that something’s wrong.

“Fv#,” she hisses, pressing her finger against her ear again. “Command, this is Viper—we’ve lost contact with Rook and Cross. No signs of distress but we’re assuming hostiles. We’re moving towards Bravo-9 without them.”

The two men fall silent and follow her lead. Their safeties click off as quietly as the Soviet designs allow, panning across the area as they move toward the settlement.

+++

Faolán opens his jaws and allows what’s left of Rook’s neck to drop onto the now-dead trooper. He silently melts back into the shadows as he starts his next task.

This ‘Viper’ woman is proving a problem—way too smart for her own good. Breaker is the weak link, but he also has the LMG and seems big enough to be able to control it freehand. ‘Hatch’ is a bit of an unknown; whatever his role in the group, he is a team player and with them for a reason.

Faolán circles about the remaining three as he considers his options.

The deathly silence is both bane and boon. It allows him to keep track of his prey by way of their carefully controlled breaths, probably imperceptible to human ears; the soft clink of button touching metal and the like. Conversely, it slows his movements as he manoeuvres his massive body into position.

The whisper-quiet noises from the squad pinpoint where they are, and his nose confirms who is where. His heart wants to neutralize Viper first, but his head is yelling LMG.

+++

Hatch approaches the Bedouin camp with the rest of the squad, his AK-47 sitting a bit heavier in his arms than usual. The tea and cakes were maybe a little too nice for his own good, but he keeps a careful regimen. Maybe it was the altitude? That had to be it, this far above sea level.

Naturally Breaker would give him grief about being a fish out of water, but living next to the ocean is a world of difference from growing up in rural Wyoming, where the altitude made sexual relief and ■■■■■■ asphyxiation all but synonymous. Good for the body if not the mind—but then, that’s Breaker in a nutshell.

Something catches his vision, snapping him back into the present. He squints and drops to a kneel, holding up a fist. “Viper, Hatch—I got something to my 10 o’clock. No signs of movement.”

“Copy,” Viper radios back. Hatch can’t hear as much as sense Breaker lumber into position with Viper painting the area near both of them with her own AK. “Check it, we’ll cover you.”

Hatch moves in and quickly recognizes the familiar, sweet-sick coppery scent of fresh blood. The sight of a familiar uniform and what used to be a familiar face elicits a few choice words from him.

“I need a sitrep Hatch, not Phonecian poetry.”

“It’s Rook,” Hatch answers Viper. “His throat’s—gone, like something ripped it out!”

“Someone cut his throat?” Breaker asked. “How the fv# did they—”

“Not someone, something,” Hatch interrupts. “This isn’t human work. Not this fast or this quiet.”

Viper joins his chorus of Phonecian poetry, and in the dark raises her arm to alert Command.

+++

So far so good—two down, and now Faolán has managed to silently manoeuvre his huge frame to the rear of the remaining Roach troopers. He knows he has the advantage: his eyes penetrate the darkness, aided by his powerful nose and his ears continuously on the move, all three senses pinpointing the squad positions.

He tries not to be too smug about the fact that he has to go through Viper to get to Breaker. He also realizes that he can spend no time dealing with the all-too-clever woman because that LMG would tear him a new one if he allowed it to be brought into play.

Dropping prone, he reassesses the position. Viper and Breaker are separated from Hatch by about 10 meters and a large rocky outcrop, and directly past Breaker is a shallow erosion channel, so he will have to be fast. He needs to take out the LMG while avoiding incoming fire from Viper, and then needs to neutralize Hatch and get back to finish Viper before she can lay more controlled fire on him from her AK.

After having watched her for a number of days, he was sure she wouldn’t go for the LMG—that would waste precious seconds that she’d use to work him over with AK in her hands … assuming his initial strike hadn’t caused her to drop it.

Suddenly he moves, like an oily blackness in the deep night.

Then a small, dislodged stone rattles as it rolls down the slope, and Viper starts to turn her head to face this small intrusion into the otherwise-silent night. The thought “Fv#! … I hate this woman!” flashes across his mind as his initial bound has his rear legs coil under him.

He pushes off taking his bulk straight into the torso of the irritatingly skilful and competent Viper. Striking her chest, his weight concentrated through his front feet. He has a fraction of a second to enjoy the sound of snapping bone and of expelled air as his strike drives the wind from her lungs and his rear legs follow through to again be coiled beneath him.

No time to finish her, Breaker is already starting to swing the PKM in his direction. Faolán’s powerful rear legs push off. He needs to cover the 3-4 meters between him and Breaker before the unpleasant end of the weapon can be brought to bear.

+++

The first clue Breaker has that there’s trouble, is the muffled scream Viper lets out nearby. It’s not much—probably not even loud enough for Hatch to have heard—but from someone as controlled as their boss, it was enough.

What hair he has on his body stands on end as his fight-or-flight instincts kick in, sending adrenaline coursing through his body. He turns to face Viper, and the biggest fv#ing dog he’s ever seen in his life is leaping off her at him. The rookie scream of ‘What the fv# is that?!’ echoes through his mind, though his body is already moving to respond thanks to years of training.

“Hell if I know,” Hatch barks, “Fv#ing shoot it!”

Apparently that question had not stayed in his head after all. In his defence, it’s a fair question.

Dammit. Of course this sonuvabitch has to come in from the right—it’s a matter of one second, if that, but he has to bring his PKM around just a bit further to aim. Breaker can see that this dog has a hate-■■■■■ for him. Something in its eyes, maybe.

He should already be shooting. Yeah yeah, waste of ammo and blah blah, but he’s not paying for the rounds and he doesn’t like waiting to paint a target before his muscle memory remembers to pull the trigger. Besides, most targets have to resist the urge to dive for cover when the shooting starts.

But dammit, Viper’s in the way.

“You fv#ing shoot it!” Breaker shouts back. Thankfully Hatch’s arms are already bringing his Kalashnikov to bear along with him, but it feels like everything’s moving in slow motion.

Except that damn dog.

“Jesus fuc–” Breaker starts to say.

+++

Faolán’s rear legs push off, abusing Viper’s body yet again. His weight is projected into her chest and abdomen as the muscles convert their powerful contractions into kinetic energy, propelling him across the short distance between the damaged woman and the man with the death-dealing PKM.

Almost simultaneously his ears are assaulted by the man’s scream of incomprehension and dismay, closely followed by 10-12 rapid detonations from the PKM fired in full auto mode, the 7.62x54 cartridges spitting their deadly payload into the night.

There is no chance to go for the throat, Breaker is too fast and strong. If the man manages to deflect his leap, he will be able to continue his weapons swing, bringing it to bear before Faolán could recover and clamp his jaws about the man’s neck. The weapon must be silenced first.

Further, Hatch was still in play; he may be a little confused, but he wouldn’t be here if he weren’t a professional. Faolán can expect his AK to be asking questions shortly.

He hoped Viper would be out of the fight for a few more seconds. He didn’t know how much he’d injured the damnable woman, but he’d heard the very satisfying snap and crunch of broken bone when he’d hit and was certain he’d at the very least knocked the wind out of her.

A fraction of a second before the barrel of the dreaded LMG could be brought to bear, his powerful jaws closed on the big man’s right arm at the elbow.

Again, there is the very satisfying sound of breaking bone, this time accompanied by the coppery taste of freshly spilled blood.

+++

Christ above this thing is fast! And not just fast, but quiet—Hatch barely hears the muted smunch of something organic being crushed before Breaker’s firing.

And screaming.

It’s not just fear, it’s pain. Facing a monster the size of a car would send most people running, but having it sink its fangs into—no, through, his arm, Christ above! Hatch never thought Breaker’s voice could go that high, and he dearly wishes he’d never known what could make it happen.

He snaps his Kalashnikov up while the thing tears into Breaker’s arm. Unlike Breaker, he holds fire—it’s shaking its head so violently that it might well pull the massive man between them.

Breaker, understandably, isn’t worried about danger-close fire. “SHOOT IT, SHOOT IT!” he screams as his LMG falls away. Breaker’s yells seem to fade away as adrenaline rushes through Hatch’s veins, and his iron sights become part of his vision. He keeps track of Breaker’s body, his attacker’s mass, the motion of their bodies in this gory dance they shared.

Christ above. Only someone as large as Breaker could body-block a monster this big. He squeezes the trigger and hopes he doesn’t hit the man.

One round slams into Breaker’s back, and his cursing ends in a whuff as his breath is knocked out of his lungs with the force of a sledgehammer. Thank goodness for whatever magic material Orochi puts into these vests, normal Kevlar that thin would not stop a 7.62mm rifle around. Hatch jinks his aim just a bit, and one goes through the beast’s ear while the rest whiff above him.

The way it flinches—or rather, doesn’t—tells Hatch that it doesn’t feel the hole in its ear. But it did hear him shoot, and snapped to face him as his rifle locks open on an empty magazine. Breaker drops as the beast lets him go, though his arm’s holding together with sinews and prayers by this point.

“Christ above,” Hatch curses.

+++

Faolán had hoped to take the man’s arm and disappear into the dark in one smooth lunging attack, but the man was big … and strong … and the stupid arm just wouldn’t give. He violently shakes his head left and right, his bulk shifting slightly in the opposite direction as a counterbalance.

The satisfying crunch of bone and taste of blood is augmented by the man’s high-pitched screams of fear and anguish. The words “Shoot it! Shoot it!” Only just registering as the detonation of the 7.62x39 cartridges from the remaining man’s AK add to the cacophony of noise that has suddenly erupted 200 – 300 meters from the Bedouin encampment.

The dire wolf releases the big man’s arm at the same time that something strikes the man solidly. There is an “Oof!!” as the man falls away, his right arm folding unnaturally beneath him, held to the rest of him by a few stringy tendons. His life blood streaming from the ruined artery at the elbow.

Quickly turning to look towards the other man who’d gone to the top of Faolán’s ‘Most Hated’ list. The 7.62 bore now looked like it was the business end of a 150mm artillery piece. After a quick, mental “Oh FV#<!”, the wolf wastes no time pushing with his hind legs to disappear into the blackness and into the erosion channel he knew was there, 7.62 projectiles whizzing over his back and shoulders.

Speed and surprise remained his friend. Once entering the channel, he turns right, takes two large bounds, again turns right and leaps to where his senses tell him Hatch and his irritating AK47 will be waiting.

It must be Hatch’s lucky day. He has his head tucked in as he looks down the iron sights, barrel traversing right as he tries to pick up the silent beast’s position. Warned only by the slight increase in blackness to his right, before there is a searing pain in his shoulder as the fangs are blocked from reaching his neck by his helmet and body position.

So far, the contact has lasted less than ten seconds.

+++

Viper comes to, in a daze. A faint, pleasant numbness courses over her body as she returns to consciousness. She idly wonders why that happens—maybe it’s the body’s way of helping the mind shut down before being overloaded by sensory information. Maybe it’s some god’s way of letting things die before they suffer. Maybe it’s just head trauma inflicting a bout of philosophical musing while it’s still rebooting.

Viper’s not ready to die today. Unfortunately, that means the post-trauma coma must end, and with it the lovely numbness. She half-gasps, half-squeaks as her brain reboots and takes stock of the damage: pain jolts up like lightning from her ribs, and she feels at least one of them floating in place, detached. An attempt to sit up ends with another choked breath as her left collarbone erupts in agony.

Someone screams, and for a second Viper thinks her voice changed. She looks over to see that … beast, latching onto Hatch, its teeth digging into him, stopped short of ripping his head off by armour and luck.

Breaker’s Phoenician poetry kicks into high gear as he reaches for LMG. “Hang tight, hang tight!” he yells, jerking just a bit as Hatch blind-fires his Kalashnikov. He can see that it’s caught between Hatch’s body and the beast’s, but instinct is hard to overcome. Breaker grabs the barrel of his LMG in his left hand and then almost stumbles as the butt remains firmly on the ground. “What the fv#?!” he growls. “The fv# did you do to my rifle, you mangy sonuva…”

He trails off as he sees his perfectly intact LMG, and his mangled arm still half-attached to the grip. He blinked owlishly and seemed lost for colourful words, only managing a quiet “Oh.”

Hatch’s rifle falls silent as he struggles under the beast, locking open on an empty magazine. All weapons ineffective—and worse, the local camp woke up. Shouting and gunfire echo off from it in close proximity, and a few rounds kick up sand dangerously close by.

The pit falls out of Viper’s stomach as she realizes what’s left of her team is seconds away from death. Biology comes to her rescue as the hairs on her body stand on end, almost guiding adrenaline through her veins. The pain’s still there but it’s distant, like the ringing in her ears after that one day on the EOD range. She struggles through it as she reaches for her sidearm out of instinct; she’s glad she left her M1911A1 in Condition One—round chambered, full magazine, hammer cocked, safety on—because if she had to do more than flick the safety off with her thumb in this state, she might as well have thrown it at the beast.

A faint, metallic click sounds, and as she squeezes the grip to depress the grip safety, she takes aim. This thing has a taste for flesh; let’s see how it likes lead.

The recoil of the weapon sends fresh hell up her arm and into her battered body, but the .45 ACP hollow point soars true.

She hopes.

+++

A relative quiet falls after the AK ceases discharging. The screams of the being he is savaging remain, full of fear and panic.

As luck would have it, his jaws have caught the man’s helmet above and a piece of composite body armour below. The wound to the poor sods neck and shoulder are still terrible … just not as fatal as Faolán had planned.

Trying to further rend the man’s flesh by shaking his head violently from side to side saves the young wolf’s life once again. At first, he doesn’t hear the report of Viper’s .45 firing, but he feels the searing pain of the 230-grain jacketed hollow point as it skids across his right shoulder. His vision glared over from the muzzle flash that shatters the darkness only a few meters away.

The sudden pain has reality crash down on his awareness. The previously adrenaline-suppressed cracks of Bedouin rifle fire burst into his consciousness and small tufts of dirt are thrown up by their inaccurate strikes about the area.

It was time to go, but not before turning his now blazing sapphire eyes on Viper. He projects an image of a large dire wolf tearing out the woman’s throat, accompanied by a deep, rumbling growl. The inherent magic of the growl is intended to fill the woman with fear and little doubt that this was to be her fate.

The blue-flamed eyes blink shut and there is a softening of the returned darkness as the now silent beast slips away.

+++

Hatch is pleasurably surprised to find he’s still alive when the weight lifts and the violent jerking of his body ceases. He goes to call out but all that comes out is a soft groan as the ends of the bones of his fractured jaw rub together. The tight chin strap that had saved his life by keeping his helmet in place was not without cost.

There was still sporadic fire incoming from the Bedouin, but it was lessening. He doesn’t know why. His right shoulder is a mass of pain, and he doesn’t really want to look at the injury he can imagine.

He knows that these few seconds of joy at surviving whatever the fv# that was, had to end. A few test movements tell him that he still has control of the limb. Further he could hear the soft groans coming from Breaker and the short staccato breaths coming from Viper.

His training kicks in ABCDE: Viper is dying right now, and he’d seen the thing tear Breaker’s arm from his body—he’d be bleeding like a waterfall from the ruined Brachial Artery. He was a big boy and hopefully has 1-2 minutes before he irreversibly bleeds out. Viper on the other hand…

He glances to what’s left of Breaker’s arm and shakes his head. Christ above…

Focus, focus.—this is still a combat zone. He slams a fresh mag into his AK and then moves to Viper. He can only just make her out, slumped against the outcrop of rock. Her right hand is in her lap still clutching her 1911. She is unconscious and her breaths are coming in short sharp intakes.

He expertly feels for her trachea and finds it pushing hard to the left, stripping back her kit and feeling down her side he can feel the bubbling of air infused tissue through her shirt. He can also feel that her whole left chest wall is moving independently.

Flail chest and tension pneumothorax. Without another though he gets a large bore cannula and feels for the notch at the top of the sternum, finds the second intercostal space and slides his finger to a point about midway around, without further assessment he stabs the cannula into the woman’s chest and is greeted with a soft hiss as the trapped air is released.

A small self-satisfied smile forms as he checks her pulse and feels it both slowing and growing in strength as the pressure on her heart is eased. A very cursory secondary assessment reveals no more immediately life-threatening injuries. At least nothing that won’t give him the couple of minutes to save the big bald man’s life … again.

Moving to Breaker’s side, Hatch finds this man unconscious as well. He is laying in a pool of bloody mud, but he is still breathing freely if shallowly. He retrieves the small pneumatic tourniquet and wraps it about the man’s arm above the ragged stump, inflating it to 150 mmHg.

A second small device is wrapped about the left arm, and he presses a button. He watches the small LED screen and chews his lip, quietly cursing under his breath.

Breaker’s BP is only 75/40, pulse a rapid 120. Only his peak physical condition is keeping him alive, and that was not going to last without fluids and extraction.

“Christ above,” Hatch curses again. He takes a second to work out the next step, with the medical situation ‘stabilized’. What are the Bedouin doing? He risks a look over the bank and can see from here that their camp is a beehive of activity. They’re bugging out, thank the gods for superstition.

He takes a breath and goes to clench his teeth, bad mistake as the pain lances. Sliding back down the back to sit in Breaker’s bloody mud puddle, he touches the small earbud. “Command, Bravo 5.”

“Bravo 5, this is Command,” a voice chirps into his ear. “What is your SITREP? Over”

“Compromised and in need of CASEVAC. Bravo 1 and 3 are WIA, Bravo 4 is KIA, and Bravo 2 MIA but presumed dead.”

There is a lifelong pause of about two to three minutes before an answer comes through. “Bravo 5, CASEVAC will be on site in 15 minutes. If you’re ambulatory, prep smoke.”

“Copy Command. Out.”

Fifteen minutes… He looks at Breaker—the big man won’t survive that long without something more. Hatch breaks out a line and a vein expander kit. He quickly searches the bleeding man’s Cubital Fossa for a vein, finding a small one. He confidently inserts a small 25G cannula followed by a wire guide. Over this he slides a dilator so the vein will accept a large 8G cannula.

To this he connects a 500ml plasma expander. A ‘He-Pack’, a technological marvel for combat medics. The real name is HeamSynth, developed by the Vali Corporation and presently only issued to frontline Orochi units. It is a combination of a traditional Plasma Expander fluid pack combined with an experimental protein to increase the amount of oxygen the fluid can carry to the vital organs.

Even then, he only has three. He squeezes the bag to push the contents of the first ‘He-Pack’ into the big man rapidly, over about 1-2 minutes. That leaves him with two. Watching the LCD screen his efforts are rewarded with a small but significant increase in Breaker’s BP. Hatch sighs, he is still uncertain if he can keep the big man alive until the CASEVAC can get to them.

He sits back, taking a moment to catch his breath, and to watch over his charges while fingering a smoke grenade. Green smoke, he idly notices. Rook’s favourite colour. “Christ above… What a fv#<ing mess.”

Looking back at Viper, he thinks “I better stop her chest from flapping in the wind.”

As he is pushing himself up, he notices something that’s survived his scurrying between Viper and Breaker … a large animal print. He lays a cannula alongside it for scale and quickly snaps a photo before the print is destroyed by the incoming CASEVAC unit.

Next: Colour Me Purple - Part 1

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