Philip staggered to his feet and his heart immediately grew heavy, and even heavier because Captain Achor had made no mention of his failure. Like a rat that had been showered with cold water, he moved to each man waking them up with little taps in very speedy successions on their laps and a low-pitched ‘wake up – wake up – wake up’. He didn’t bother to check if that did enough to wake them up, it always did. One by one he ran through the sleeping army until they became upstanding valiant soldiers. At that point all dizziness had disappeared from his eyes, his brain abruptly translated from cozy sleep to military action. It all happened too fast that it seemed like he was still at the Africa’s borders in Wonderland, even though he was fully aware that there was a situation at hand and it was not in movies or dreams, it was real life. Captain lit up a cigarette stick and smoked a little distance away while the boys were being resurrected. He always had a packet with him in his bag and smoked only when the tension was a bit high. When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. His own version of it was ‘when the tension gets high, you get high with it’. Yea, he needed a bit of highness to stand firm before his boys and fearlessly announce to them of an impending attack. He also needed a clear head to plan their escape and if necessary a counter-attack.
The choking and relentless smell of dry tobacco swept the camp and ensured the boys something was coming, for Captain Achor wasn’t a chain smoker. Whenever he had to smoke it was pressure flaring he was actually doing, burning off unwanted pressure. He needed to be in complete control of his intellects, remember. Staff Sergeant Philip, who was a young man in his mid-twenties, used to be a medical student at the prized University of Salamandi, of the Federal Military Government of Salamandi. He had abandoned his education and returned home for two major reasons:
One – for his safety; two – to join the Secessionist Army of the Federal Republic of Rockville.
He served the army as a combatant and also rendered first aid and medical attention to injured soldiers. His knowledge of aerobics and the simple process of respiration had made him hate cigarette and smokers too. Yea, they were too foolish to be tricked by some skillful business men. To him it was all deceit. The normal respiratory process of inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly naturally helped bring down pressure, and how does the cigarette work? Same procedure, save for the nicotine, the addictive substance that ensures its prey comes back yearning for more of its poison in exchange for his valuables. Apart from the fact that he was an ardent believer in the doctrine of holiness and sanctity, the over-holy Christian as some called it, you see why he hated cigarettes and smokers too?
But Captain Achor was different, he couldn’t just hate him. He had so much respect for the man and always felt bad that he smoked, even if it was only occasionally. Why did he have to smoke at all? He thought him too wise to have fallen for such cheap tricks. But he had never approached him to tell how he felt about his smoking. He couldn’t figure out how he was going to take such words from him, so it was safer if he held his peace. Captain Achor was the kind of man that reacted based on his present state of mind, not necessarily the present condition or situation at hand. Philip had studied and understood that part of him. Sometimes they were all in high spirits over some successful territory defense or a successful raid and Achor is secluded somewhere trying to figure out or think through some things, at least that was the best they could make out of his appearance; and other times they had been battered, forced to run and lost a few men and Achor could still make jokes and tell tales of brave soldiers across the different countries of the globe. One thing that troubled Corporal Akante about the tales of brave soldiers Achor fondly told was that they usually died at the end of the story. To Akante, those stories were the embalmment of their bodies for a ‘worthy’ burial. At least Achor had made them understand clearly that they were all dead men already.
‘Boys! We are not safe here anymore. We are not safe anywhere either. But for now that we still have our lives in our hands, no one is snatching it from us, at least not without a fight…’ he paused and made a wry smile on his big and strong-faced head, that kind of smile that flattened the lips and extended its slide to just one side of the cheek, while the other side seemed as though he was angry, the kind of smile they knew him for ‘…a good one’.
‘We would move immediately from here’ he continued, ‘…and hide ourselves some kilometres away, about 8 kilometres. We would move towards two o’clock, I perceive they would be coming within the range of our five o’clock to seven o’clock’, pointing downwards to his left with his left and downwards to his right with his right, indicating the direction he expected their adversaries to attack from. The reason he had chosen to go 8 kilometres upward to his left in order to evade them completely.
‘Since they would have to gather in search of us’ He continued ‘I guess it’s only courtesy we leave them a host’ he nodded his head as if he had something cunning up his sleeves, ‘our own dear host, the battery bomb…’
‘But sir’ Rikan interrupted, ‘leaving a battery bomb there would mean someone has got to be close-by and that could be dangerous sir.’
If Achor corrected Rikan’s perspective towards danger, it would be his zillionth, no, zillion and first time of correcting his boys’ perspective towards danger. It was of no use. Matters of life and death never made much sense until they are confronted with, and regardless of how many times they have been confronted with, each and every one is a new experience.
‘What is the length of the wire we have left?’ Achor asked blandly.
‘About a hundred and twenty metres’ Rikan answered.
‘That’s fine. You would set the bomb and go as far as a hundred and twenty metres three o’clock. Once you they come in their numbers detonate and run for your life.’ That sounded too dangerous ‘Ermm, I mean get a hiding place before they come around. You can start doing that now. We have no time left.’
‘But-but sir, how do I know when they have come in their numbers?’ He sounded more like he was begging for a change in plan than he was inquiring for more instructions about obvious things he should know.
‘Commissioned Officer Lieutenant Rikan.’ He focused a stern look at his shaky officer. ‘You’re the highest ranking officer I have on my team, and the most experienced by all standards, you know what to do boy’
Though he had assigned a very life-threatening task to Rikan, he hoped he wouldn’t have to lose him. He was truly a very viable asset to his team. He provided the intelligence and technical support his boys needed. He had attended Nottingham University in England on a Community scholarship where studied Electrical Engineering. He joined the Salamandine Army on graduation and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and served in both combat and in technical support, before he defected and joined the Rockville Secessionist Army as a Lieutenant and was one of the brains behind the invention of the battery bomb. But then – no risk, no reward. So he had to risk putting him on the line. He was the only guy on his team he could trust with such crazy feat.
‘Alright boys, enough talking. Any questions from anyone?’ He knew they were all going to be silent. If any would have spoken, he wouldn’t have asked.
Rikan carried heavy and slumped shoulders as he carried out his possibly last order.
‘As soon as you detonate the bomb and enter hiding, let me know’ he handed him a radio. That seemed to relieve him a little.
They packed up and immediately headed two o’clock.
‘Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right now!’ Captain Soje held out his black pistol, finger clinching and almost repressing the trigger, to a shivering Andy, pointing it directly to his forehead. ‘No just tell me why I shouldn’t send you to the pit of hell right now!’ his fury was beyond control. He paced around combing his hands through his hair and then returned back to Andy and focused the lethal weapon to his cranium. He had decided Andy was not going to live an extra hour already. All he wanted was some more information, if possible, before sending him to the great beyond.
‘Sir-sir please, I-I don’t know anything, I don’t know anything’ he begged for his dear life, shivering on his knees like one who was suffering from a critical case of Parkinson’s disease.
‘Shut up!’ he screamed fiercely ‘I’d just waste you now if you don’t get talking’
‘Please sir, please sir’ he struggled to catch his breath, ‘they camped there…they camped there…’ swallowed down some saliva, ‘…as at last night and-and-and had no plan… of-of evacuating. Tha-tha-tha-that’s all I…all I know sir’
‘So who informed them of our attack?’ He questioned, staring with his eyes wide opened.
‘I-I-I don’t know sir. Sir I’m not the one sir. I-I-I’m not a traitor’
‘See who says he’s not a traitor’ He almost ran mad. He wondered why he still allowed him live a single minute. ‘I need his index finger please. Who will bring it to me? Maybe he would then know that he who has betrayed his own, can betray anyone. Please let someone get me his finger before I kill him’, breathing heavily, ‘I just don’t want him dying so easily and that’s why I’ve not planted a bullet yet in his goddamn skull!’
‘Captain! Captain!’ one of the patrolling men called out from outside the tent.
‘What is it?’ He screamed at him.
‘I’m sorry to interrupt you sir, but a body of one of our patrolling men was found hidden under one of the jeeps. It appeared his throat had been slit by a spy army.’
‘Go get me the goddamn body and if it’s true a spy came in here and made away with valuable info under your watch, you’re all gonna pay for the lives of my boys. Life for life’
The young soldier left the face of his captain with the thought of escaping camp. He was done for. Maybe he shouldn’t have reported. But he was given two heavily built soldiers for escorts. He slowly walked to his death in deep tears and regret, just at the edge of a tent under the jeep.
Captain Soje wasn’t a man of many words. As soon as it was confirmed that a spy had found his way into the camp and escaped unnoticed, they lined the remaining six of seven patrol soldiers and shot them all. Nothing was said about the sleeping watchmen positioned on the trees, it only may have resulted to their death too, and consequently, the loss of more men.
Andy was spared, but on the condition that he’d be engrafted into the Salamandine Army officially. It didn’t matter if he was their informant or not, after all, he wasn’t a double agent, he was just the middleman. The double agent would be celebrating with his ‘boss’ on their ‘victory’, and weeping for his loss. He wasn’t going to be paid a dime. The only way Soje was going to trust Andy again was if he followed them to the battle field on uniform, and if his men were to die, he would die along with them. So that very day, Andy became a Salamadine soldier as the only criteria to stay alive. Left to him, he would have called it quits – no more middleman job, no more pay, no more anything. After all, was it not for the pay that he worked as a middleman? He didn’t want any more involvement apart from his information and his pay cheque. But it was too late. He had to become a Salamandine soldier and must fight for what they believed in – Dictatorship rule, or die. Some years later, he would discover that death was the only option he had and he had failed to choose it.