Soldier of Hope
“Fall back!” yelled Sergeant Julius T Montgomery into his comms mic.
There was a stench in the air, a stench that had now become familiar to the men and women fighting on Terra II; ammonia, rotten vegetation and burning; burning tic-tic flesh. They unreservedly slaughtered their own kind to get to the humans. Well go right ahead, thought Montgomery, I won’t be putting any of my squad in your line of fire. His soldiers retreated, smoothly, through the ruined town that was breaking forth in vines.
When the tic-tic first arrived, they had taken over the desert areas; their seemingly reptilian hides preferring the heat. Within a year, they had invaded cooler climes with their machines and wearing protective clothing. No-one knew where they came from, no-one knew what they were called; there had been no attempt at communication, just arrival and slaughter. They had been quickly dubbed ‘tic-tic’, from the clicking sounds they made to each other. They had scattered their vine spores throughout upon arrival. The vines grew at an exponential rate, like nothing Montgomery had seen before. The spores had wriggled and crawled into every small space before sending forth their green spears, penetrating weak points in man-made structures.
Montgomery kept one eye on the advancing machines, the other on the road as it vibrated; hairline fractures appearing beneath his feet. He and his squad were moving residents out, or attempting to, when this new wave had attacked.
“Blakely! Get those people to the shuttle! Kim and Nails, with me.”
“I’m on it serge. Move it!” Corporal Blakely responded. She signalled to the five other squaddies and moved off at speed; sheltering the terrified civilians between them.
Montgomery knew Blakely would get the citizens to safety, if it was the last thing she did. Montgomery, Kim and Nails would bring up the rear, ensuring the rest of the squad and the twenty or so civilians had moved beyond the zone perimeter, where the tic-tic and their disturbing plant life had yet to reach. He took his eye off the advancing enemy for a fraction of a second. Pain shot through Sergeant Montgomery. At first, he could not identify where he had been hit; the pain was so great. Simultaneously, a white, blinding flash caused him to automatically raise his arm to shield his eyes. He thought he could hear Nails shouting behind him. Brandon Cartwright, otherwise called Nails; because he was ‘hard as’, screamed; he shrieked like a tortured cat, and Montgomery felt his stomach somersault.
Montgomery staggered, dragging his left foot and half blinded, towards his screaming comrade.
“Nails!” he called, “Cartwright, can you hear me?”
Montgomery blinked the fug away, finding he was about to step on his radio operative, Soo Kim; or what was left of him.
“Fucking tics.” Montgomery growled. He could make out Nails lying approximately fifty metres away; but didn’t notice the dark slash in the broken road surface. Julius Montgomery plummeted over the edge of a fissure.
Montgomery opened his eyes. It was dark, eerily quiet and cold. He went through the checks and discovered that he had sustained no serious injuries, other than the one in his lower left leg. He turned on the light on his right shoulder, taking in the surrounds. Montgomery surmised that the tic-tics had fired one of their ‘white-out’ explosives, killing Lance Corporal Soo Kim instantly, whilst injuring Nails and himself; must have opened up this crack too, he mused. He directed the light up.
Corporal Blakely probably assumed he was dead. He could hear an eerie whistling high above that he recognised; there was a storm imminent; no chance of anyone coming anytime soon; if at all. Montgomery knew that his leg was broken and that he had little hope of getting out. He couldn’t call out, he might attract any remaining tics and that would certainly be the end of Julius T Montgomery.
“Okay soldier,” he spoke out loud to clear his head, to order his thoughts; to keep himself company. “Anything you can use here?” he searched about. His rifle was just beyond reach, on a tilted shelf of rock. He yanked his upper arm-guard free and using his shawl, splinted and bandaged his lower leg and ankle. That little manoeuvre had tired him somewhat; Montgomery rested his head back on the cooling rock.
Sergeant Montgomery closed his eyes. The wind was whipping up now and bits of debris began to fall and swirl down into the crevasse. He spat and squinted upwards. The sky was beginning to grow dark, twilight, Montgomery’s favourite time in the evening. The sky was the most gorgeous purple-blue, a crack of sky bordered by inky black; almost ten metres away. He would wait until the storm had passed before attempting to make a move. By the middle of the night it would be too cold for the tic-tics to be out. For now, rest.
Montgomery hauled himself to his feet, excruciating pain shot through his leg. He clamped his mouth around his uniform sleeve; stifling the yell. He immediately slumped back down suppressing the cry that threatened his tight throat. This part of the crevasse wall was almost smooth. He couldn’t put weight on his damaged foot, it was hopeless. Finally, becoming cold from being still for so long, Montgomery urged himself to action. He leant against the rock and felt about above him for a handhold, his fingers gripped something. The spear of an alien vine protruded from the rock, Montgomery gave a sardonic laugh and he heaved, scrabbling with his able foot.
“Come on Jules,” he harangued himself, “If you can just get yourself to that next ledge.”
After what seemed like hours, but he reasoned was probably minutes, he made it to the next point and then the next; slowly, steadily, catching glimpses of the starry sky; one small step at a time. Sweating and shivering in turns he crawled up through the darkness until eventually he clawed and rolled his way over the lip and onto the deserted roadway.
“No time to rest soldier.” He limped, and then crawled towards the nearest cover; vine riddled buildings with gaping windows. He kept dragging himself, experiencing the most horrific pain he had ever known. He lost count of the number of times he passed out.
“You can make it to the next building,” He urged himself, “You can make it to the zone perimeter.” Throughout the night, Sergeant Montgomery dragged himself from shadow to shadow, house to house, always alert to the possibility, no matter how small, of the tic-tics coming back; using Kim’s rifle as a short crutch.
In New Anglia Hospital Unit, Julius Montgomery was woken by the Private calling the mail deliveries. Slim data pads were distributed amongst the injured and the visitors.
“Morning Serge.” Blakely smiled at him from the utilitarian chair at his bedside. “You had us worried for a bit there.” Montgomery strained to look down the bed. “You still have it.” Blakely assured him. She gently patted his left leg. “Here.” She handed him the data mail pad. “Who did you get?”
“Um,” he was still feeling fuzzy around the edges.
“Mine’s a ten year old from Old Yorkshire, Milo Ainderby; one sister, mum and dad, hamster, likes football and fried eggs.” Blakely grinned.
“Er,” he looked at the name on the heading of his data mail. “Anya.” Montgomery replied, through dry lips. He raised the pad in his right hand; Dear Julius…
“I’ve been looking forward to getting these letters,” Blakely was saying, “It makes me feel that we’re doing some good out here, hearing what they think about us back on Earth.”
“’Course we are Corporal; always.”
“I’m really glad I put my name down for this project, connecting the Terra II soldiers with the children back home.”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’d like to read this alone.”
Corporal Blakely stood swiftly, almost to attention Montgomery thought, smiling.
Dear Julius, My name is Anya, I live in Mumbai. I am eight years old. I like maths, art and dancing. I like cartoons and using my dad’s computer to play office. I have drawn you a picture, I hope you like it. I have a cat called Mimi, she is poorly, mummy will have to take her to the vets. When I grow up I want to be a doctor. Be safe, Anya.
Montgomery looked at the drawing. It was a green and purple cat lying in a circular basket. It had a bandage around one leg. He stared through the long window at the end of the ward; soldiers passed by on foot, in wheelchairs, on crutches; men and women who had come up against the tics and paid for it. Was Terra II worth it? He took up the pad and hit Return.
Hi, my name is Julius T Montgomery. I am a Sergeant in the Unified Special Regiment on Terra II. The USR is a special group that does not fight, unless it is necessary, we go in to war zones and try to rescue the people who are trapped there. Three days ago, on a rescue and retrieval mission my unit was hit by a bomb. A piece of shrapnel stuck in my leg and then I fell into a deep hole. I was alone for a long while, but after a lot of hard work I managed to get out and made it back to my base. I was rushed to hospital. I had an operation and was feeling pretty sad, but today I got your message, I love your drawing of your cat, Mimi; it brought a smile to my face to know that a young girl in India took the time to wish good luck to someone she doesn’t even know. Thank you, Anya. You really brightened this soldier’s day. I hope you get a chance to write back and I hope Mimi recovers soon.
Take care, Julius.