Aftermath Episode 26
The Darkest Hour
You can see the full series of this fictional story here.
Walking back to their tent was unnerving. Each person they passed seemed to look at them as if they knew their secrets. Impossible of course, but paranoia took hold of Patty and now nothing felt safe.
“Mommy, I’m hungry,” Cathy whined.
Patty was too preoccupied to hear her daughter’s words. They arrived back at their tent and quickly slipped inside. What did he want? Did he know about Jason, about the plan, did they know she was a spy? Her was racing. She couldn’t catch her breath, so many questions, so much at stake. Her head was spinning and panic was setting in. When Cathy petitioned again for dinner, it was too much, and Patty snapped.
The words hit the child like a smack in the face. Poor Cathy, who was oblivious as all five-year-olds are to the silent worry of their parents, began to cry. Patricia tried to soften the blow, but it was too late. She watched her daughter’s shocked face twist into confusion and sobbing.
“Shhhhshhhhshhhh,” she cooed and pulled her daughter close, “Mommy’s sorry, please don’t cry.”
The tent flap opened without warning, and a soldier stepped inside. Both of them were startled, but Patricia with more grave a reason than Cathy.
“Everything alright in here?” he asked, staring at the crying child, then at Patty.
“Fine, she’s just a little tired,” Patty replied. This is the first time a patrol agent ever stopped in because of a crying baby. In fact, it was the first time she’d ever see one enter a tent, save for carrying out the dead. He wasn’t there to help, Patricia was sure of it. The soldier stepped in closer and reached a hand out to the sour faced child.
“You’re Cathy aren’t’ you?” asked the soldier. She nodded.
“Excuse me,” Patricia protested, “why are you here?”
The soldier stiffened, removed his hand from the child and set a menacing glare on Patricia.
“The commander would like to see you,” he said.
“Well, I’m about to get dinner for my daughter and I… we can meet with the commander later this evening or…”
The soldier stood and opened the tent flap, stopping Patricia short. Two more soldiers stood outside waiting to escort her. There was no need for the soldier to say Now, men with assault rifles outside sent the message quite poignantly.
I’m caught. Certainly that’s it. He used Cathy, put the pieces together. Her mind raced to what Delmar said had become of the other spy. Her legs trembled as she slowly stood up. Even as she stepped from the tent to what she was certain was going to be her death, Patty wasn’t worried for herself, but for her daughter. What would they do with her? Left alone in this camp? Let another family adopt her? Jail her? Worse? Patricia felt sick to her stomach. Surely they wouldn’t harm an innocent little girl. Would they?
Those thoughts haunted her the entire walk over to the commander’s office. It was dimly lit. She sat beneath a bare bulb, in a cold grey metal folding chair. His desk had nothing on it. No pictures of a wife or kids, not even a notebook or a pen. She was alone, but there was no doubt in her mind that several guards were just outside the door, maybe even monitoring her on video. Tell them nothing, she said to herself. But then her daughter came to mind, and she wondered if she could honestly trade the secret of Delmar’s camp for the safety of her child.
The door behind her opened sharply, and closed again with a loud bang. She didn’t turn around, she’d see his face soon enough. The commander’s boots clicked across the linoleum floor. Then he was before her, at his seat behind the empty desk, and staring at her smugly. He shook his head slightly, and then spoke slow and deliberate.
“I’m curious,” he paused, “did they really think they could plant a spy here without me finding out?”
Patricia thought about denying it, or playing dumb, but elected to say nothing.
He laughed to himself once, and reached down to the desk drawer. From it he pulled an M9 pistol and placed it squarely on the desk between them so that the barrel faced her.
“Allow me to be more direct,” he closed the drawer and folded his hands on the table inches from the weapon, “I need the names, and more importantly the location of your associates, their numbers, their firepower, their plans.”
Patty looked blankly at the commander. She didn’t even have half of that information. Even if she wanted to talk, she couldn’t. The danger in the room became palpable. She would say anything to save her daughter, that much she knew, but if she didn’t have what they wanted it might not matter anyway.
The road passed rapidly beneath their wheels. Jason rode point with his son close behind. The plan was still forming in his mind, but whatever happened next he knew he had to get to the command center. Their disguises should hold, at least to get passed the front gate. The uniform was a bit big for Jim, but the sun had gone down and they were out of options. Thankfully no one had tried to radio them yet. That would throw another damn wrench in the plans, Jason thought. He had no idea when or how or even if Delmar and his soldiers were going to attack, but he needed to be there if they did. He gunned the throttle and the DDTF four-wheeler shot ahead along the dark road.
They pulled over on the edge of the town a short distance from the command center. All together, they’d managed to salvage an impressive set of weapons and ammo for what lay ahead. Body armor too, which made Jason feel slightly better about having his son in combat.
“What’s the plan dad?”
It was a question he’d been asking himself and hadn’t fully answered it yet. He wished he knew where Delmar and his men were. He wished they had the bus, had more men, anything! If that goddamn sniper hadn’t… an idea came to him.
“The church,” he said, “You’re going to the church.”
“What?” Jim asked.
“The church is down the street from the main gate, you should also be able to see into the tent city. I need you there, to cover me.”
“Dad, you can’t go in there alone.”
“I’m not, you’ll have my back.”
“But nothing, you asked for the plan, and that’s it, that uniform is too big anyway, they’d spot us right away.” Jason was only half sure of this, but all sure that he didn’t want his son walking in to the lion’s den with him. Not while he was making it up as he went.
“I’ll go in alone” Jason explained, “tell them we got ambushed and that the other rebels are still out there. I’ll tell them enough that they’ll send out another squad, try to thin them out a bit inside.”
“What if they don’t believe you?”
“That’s what you’re there for.”
“What are you going to do when you’re in there?”
“I’m going to make the only move we have left,” Jason said, “I’m going to find that commander and have a little chat.”
The gate was fast approaching, and Jason gunned it even harder. Riding up with caution would be a dead giveaway that he wasn’t who he was pretending to be. Jim was securely in the bell tower of the church. The steeple wasn’t as high as Jason had remembered or hoped, but Jim had a clear view of the front gate at least. He drove directly up to the first set of guards and began shouting.
“Ambush, by the gas station, lots of’em, heading this way!” The guard tried to calm him down, but Jason really sold it. He showed them the bullet that had gone through his radio so he couldn’t call it in, told them that the rebels were marching on the camp, and they needed to send a force to meet them on the road. The guard relayed the information and waited to be advised.
Jim watched from the bell tower, his crosshairs centered on the head of the guard closest to his father. There were several other visible guards, two manning the .30 caliber machinegun boxes that flanked the gate itself. Those would be his next targets if he had to fire. He knew that he should probably take them out first, but he wanted to protect his dad above anything else. The guard standing directly next to him seemed like the biggest threat. He wondered if he had what it took to take aim under machinegun fire. He silently prayed he didn’t have to find out.
Jason waited at the gate growing more anxious with each second. The guard looked him up and down, but didn’t give any indication of suspicion. Jason tried not to look around too much. He tried to seem as if he’d passed through the gates a hundred times before. The guard stared at him now, and Jason was thankful for the helmet that shielded his face.
The sound of the helicopter’s engines firing up came from behind the wall, and Jason knew it that they’d taken the bait. Something came over the radio, and the guard waved Jason inside. He throttled the four-wheeler as the gates slid parted. Groups of soldiers were scrambling for their gear to go meet the Jason’s non-existent rebel forces.
Just as he entered the compound a massive explosion knocked him off of his bike. The ground shook and men began to shout. The chopper? Was Jason’s first thought, but soon the smoke began to swirl under the wind of its rotary blades. Jason picked himself up in a daze, the world around him a mass of chaos, coming to him through blurry eyes and ringing ears.
He turned back to the gates, and saw the .30 cals opening up into the dark streets ahead, while other men pointed and shouted orders. He shuffled back to the gate. For a second he wondered if he had somehow conjured up an actual invading rebel army with his mind. And then he remembered that Delmar was still out there, and apparently was making his move. What did he blow up?
Jason leaned on the door of the gate, and had to hold on tight to keep from collapsing to his knees. There, across the street and down the block, was a smoldering pile of rubble that just minutes before had been the church.