P.S.: I'm a bit behind because I've been writing these by hand and typing them out at work.
"Who is this?" he asked. "This is supposed to be a secure channel. Over." He frowned, peering into the dark jungle around him. It was a moonless night, and up above, in the breaks in the thick canopy, the stars were radiant and glowing in the midnight sky.
"Lieutenant Milner, sir. 3rd Platoon, 22nd Company. We were ambushed on the ridge, I need immediate evacuation, over." Sandor nodded slowly. He'd heard the massive fire fight from down in the valley, seen the brilliant flashes of machine guns and mortar explosions.
"Listen, Lieutenant," Sandor replied, "the valley is secure, and the attack has been repelled. You may be the only one of your troops still alive." He stepped toward the sound of engines. In the distance, miles away and through the spaces in the overgrown jungle, he could barely make out the landing boats on the shore as they beat a hasty retreat. "If you come down to where I am, I'll accept your surrender. Over."
There was a long pause, almost too long, then, "Alright. Where are you, over?" Sandor considered the question. If this Lt. Milner was caught by others, he'd probably be shot; even if they accepted his surrender, it meant Sandor wasn't going to earn a bounty. A Lieutenant these days was worth a small fortune.
"Fire a shot into the air. Over," Sandor suggested.
"No way! They'll find me before I get off this hill, over."
"Just one shot, then move downhill toward the valley. It's harder to find someone if they just shoot once. Over." Sandor was lying, of course, but it was the best option he had at this point.
The shot had clearly come from the west, on Bygrum's Hill, but it wasn't sharp enough to fix on. The jungle had deadened the report of the rifle. But Sandor had an idea. The radio was a squad-issued set, meaning that only a handful of soldiers had units and access to this particular channel. He turned back to the trench of soldiers, all killed by Chlorine gas instantly, delivered by the naval bombardment. The soldier who he'd taken the radio from was a Sergeant in A Squadron, Tiger Brigade. From his rough estimate, most, if not all, of Tiger Brigade was lying dead here at his feet. There was probably a dead scout up in the hills, then, missing the other radio.
"Okay," Sandor replied, "start walking down the east face of the hill, you'll see a spring and a waterfall on your way down; follow the river until you get to a certain rock that you can't miss. Radio when you arrive there. Out." That would be about twenty minutes. He was reluctant to give specific directions, not wanting to deliver Lt. Milner up on a silver platter. Sandor had no idea how many radios A Squadron had, nor if someone else was listening.
The battle had been brutal since the first ships appeared on the horizon a week ago. Six days of continuous shelling had taken a toll on the defenders, then the sudden gas attack that morning. It was a new, unexpected turn in the war, a horror both sides had promised to forego. But the war dragged on, and horrors became daily routine. This island wasn't thought of as being very strategically-located, but apparently the enemy had drawn up new plans.
Sandor found the Commanding Officer's personal tent and decided to take a rest. It'd been a long time since he could sit and do nothing. He put his feet up on the desk and started flipping through the papers: Troop Deployments for Island 115, Nutritional Survey of Tiger Division, Enemy Strategies, Units Identified by Naval Spotters, Development Plans for Island 115. Etcetera.
"I'm here, over."
"What does the rock look like? Over." Sandor asked.
"It's... it looks like it was painted pink, over." That was the one. Sandor-- and anyone else listening-- knew it by heart. It was the impromptu mascot of the Division, painted after a particularly rowdy night of drinking and celebrating. Sandor couldn't even remember what the celebration was for, now.
"Turn south, stick to the river, and watch out. There's infantry in that part of the jungle looking for enemy troops. Over."
"No, I don't think there is, over." Sandor looked at the radio, bemused, as if it could explain itself.
"Say again. Over."
"I think that this area is clear. I didn't hear a single person on the way here. Lots of dead soldiers, though, over." Sandor set the radio down, picturing the last few days in his head. The island was small and insignificant; the only strategic resource here was a refuelling depot at South Shore Station, perhaps 10 million barrels of gasoline reserves. The depot wasn't even intended for large ships, only medium-range patrol ships who stopped here to top off as they patrolled the straits.
The disturbing thing, thought Sandor, was that the shelling had been... unusual. It had started at each end of the island, east and west, and gradually moved to the centre. Clearly the enemy had been herding the defenders toward the valley in the middle of the island; but why? There was a fortified shelter here, and--
The gas. It had to be the Chlorine gas. Get everyone concentrated in one spot, then kill them in one shot. Sandor had been lucky, he recalled, having hidden out and waited for the shelling to pass him by. He hadn't been in the valley until just about two hours ago. If the whole brigade had been here, there couldn't have been more than two, maybe three dozen survivors on the island at most.
"You know," Lt. Milner interrupted Sandor's thoughts, "I picked up this radio thinking it was my own. I guess our radios look very similar, over." Sandor brushed aside his thoughts, clearing his mind.
"I suppose. Where are you now? Over."
"I'm at the foot of the hill, at the tree line. The river is 50 meters to my right, over."
"Okay, after about a mile, you're going to come up to the trench line on the perimeter. On the other side of the trench line is a minefield. Look for a trench that has coconuts in it; those mark the safe paths through the mines. When you're standing by the trench, you'll see a tree about 150 yards away that's painted with phosphorescent-blue striping. You can't miss it. Walk a straight line; you'll have about 20 yards on each side that are safe. Over." There was a long pause.
"Alright. I'm just going to have to trust you, I guess. Out."
Sandor picked up a file that had caught his eye: the one marked "Units Identified by Naval Spotters". Sandor had respect for these cowboys. Their job was to pilot an inflatable boat as close to the enemy ships as they dared, and for no reason other than to spot identifying markers, patches, flags, emblems; whatever the enemy was flying. Curious, he began flipping through. The cowboys had identified naval units almost exclusively; the only exception was Lt. Milner's unit: 3rd Platoon, 22nd Company - ABCD Rangefinder. He didn't know what ABCD meant, but he knew that a Rangefinder was a soldier who observed enemy movements and sent in coordinates to maximize artillery fire. Normally, Sandor had respect for these guys as well: the ones who hid out behind enemy lines for weeks at a time. Lt. Milner must have been calling in fire the whole week. But the ABCD part bothered him; usually he could rattle off the enemy's acronyms instantly.
He set the file aside and booted up the CO's laptop. Using his own passcode, Sandor accessed the intelligence files, hoping that his low clearance level would prove helpful. And sure enough, he found the list he needed. He scrolled through quickly, finding ABCD in the Clearance Level 2 sections.
Artillery-Based Chemical Dispersal.
Chemical. Lt. Milner had been calling in the gas attacks, not the artillery fire. There was honor in artillery, but none in the cowardly gas. Sandor threw the laptop against the desk and walked back out to the trenches. There before him laid hundreds of his fellow rebels. They had fought and died for their freedom. Sandor picked up his rifle and walked toward the safe lane in the minefield. Too bad, he thought. The bounty for a Lieutenant would have been a stroke of luck.