|APAGear II Archives||Volume 2, Number 1||February, 2000|
"Benaari, do I have to call in the medivac Badger to take you back to base?" Sgt. Petrush said to me in a harsh, even voice. I hated him more than ever, just for that remark.
"No sir," was all I could say. Oh, but how I hated him for saying that! I just couldn't keep a catch of emotion coming up in my reply.
It had been a rough day. We were in the middle of the Badlands, God-knows-where, it was late in the night, and it was hot. It's usually freezing during the night out here in the Karak Wastes, but due to an approaching storm, it was hotter than normal.
The 2nd platoon of the 3rd Northern Guard Youth Corps Company was out on a march in the middle of nowhere. An infantry training march. It was the middle of winter season, and it was hot. And I had failed.
I stood at attention, off to the side of the halted column of my platoon, facing Sergeant Petrush, our guest trainer. Senior Ranger Cooper was scowling as he stood next to Petrush.
"Benaari, you will keep up with the platoon!" Sgt. Petrush continued, "and I don't want to see you again!"
"Yes sir!" I replied, barely keeping my shame, and my rage in check. Sgt. Petrush hadn't seen the cause of my problems. My job on this march was to lug the 62mm mortar along with all the normal gear I had to carry. Well, the mortar was attached horizontally to the back of my combat webbing by two well-worn straps. One had broken during the last bit of running. It's hard to run with an 8-kilo anchor swinging behind you. My platoon-mates had tried helping me, even going as far as holding the mortar while I ran with it attached to me. It didn't help for long. The mental obstacle was too great, and combined with the heat, I couldn't keep going at the pace of the platoon.
"Dismissed!" Ranger Cooper said.
I turned around, and quickly marched back to the end of the column, the mortar swinging heavily, making it difficult to run properly.
I spun around, hearing the Sergeant call my name again.
"Give that mortar to someone else!"
I was devastated. He saw why I couldn't run properly, and still expected me to keep up. Damn him! This wasn't my fault! The equipment failed, and he didn't even give me a little slack!
"Y-y-yes sir!" I replied, totally devastated. Anyone assigned a support weapon in my platoon was being honoured. Now, I was being stripped of something I had worked hard for.
I returned to my column, "Zelin, Vasquez, get this damn mortar offa me, please!" I said harshly to the two guys nearest me. They turned me around, and quickly undid the remaining strap, and the mortar was quickly strapped onto Zelin's back. I jumped in line behind him, and we moved out.
When we returned to our camp a few hours later, I collapsed onto my bunk the moment I had a chance. Zelin came over to me.
"Hey, Danyel, don't feel too bad. That was a fifteen kilometer run through the Karak Wastes. Here, have the mortar back," he hefted the weapon next to my bed, and sat down on the bunk across from me, "I have bad news," he continued, "I just checked the guard duty list for tonight. You and me are on at oh-two-hunnerd," he said, softly, in his Timmins accent, as if he could soften this news up.
I just moaned softly into my bunk. Zelin kept talking.
"I tried talking it over with Drummond," he paused. Drummond was one of those maniacs who was so enthusiastic, that everyone hated him. He was also in charge of scheduling the guard shifts for that week. There was no way I could get out of it.
"Listen, we just have to patrol for an hour. No sweat. A nice, slow and easy walk around the perimeter. It'll make you feel better," he tried. I will credit him with trying.
"Fuck that! The only thing that will make me feel better is getting a chance to crack Petrush's head!" I lied. The only think that could make me feel better at that moment was an opportunity to redo the run, and do it properly. I was so ashamed.
"Well, listen," Zelin grinned as I turned to face him, "we're supposed to sleep in our battle dress, since we're guarding out in the field. So, don't get comfortable!"
Zelin walked off. I sat up painfully and sighed. My M-122 assault rifle was still slung around my neck, and rested on my lap. I opened the action, and started to clean it. I figured I'd keep myself busy, and started cleaning the mortar as well. I don't know why I bothered. We never were issued bullets in the Youth Corps, unless we were on the firing range, and we always had to clean our weapons for inspection before starting target practice. But I cleaned the two weapons anyways. I guess I was trying to keep my mind off of the undiluted feelings of shame and also trying to not collapse from exhaustion. Well, at least I succeeded in the latter.
Zelin and I leisurely make our way around the perimeter of the camp where 2nd platoon slept. The stationary guard, Sara Inuye, was standing by the mess tent, with the field radio on her back. We had already checked in twice, and were about halfway around the perimeter. It was still hot. The rocky terrain of the Karak Wastes was barely silhouetted by whatever light was present. The clouds had completely obscured the sky, and most of what we could see were just patches of black on shades of grey.
As our boots crunched down softly on the rocky ground, I noticed a black pillar off to the right, away from the camp. I stopped, and Zelin looked over at me, puzzled.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I see something out there...something that shouldn't be there," I replied.
He squinted, and then his eyes opened wide. He saw it too.
"What in the Prophet's name is that?" he whispered raggedly.
I felt a pit in my stomach open. "I don't know," I whispered back.
I crouched down, brought my rifle butt up to my shoulder, and turned my head back to Zelin.
"Stand ten meters behind me," I whispered, "if something happens, run, get Ranger Cooper, and some bullets!"
I watched as Zelin backed off slowly. I grimaced, and thought to myself, 'shit, shit, shit, shit, I have no bullets...what the hell am I doing?'
"Who goes there?" I challenged.
"It's ok, it's ok," was shouted back to me from the rocks. 'That's definitely not what I wanted to hear' I thought to myself.
"Who goes there!?" I challenged again, louder. I got into a good firing position. Why? Dammit, I had no bullets! 'But this is what they told us to do if anything went wrong on guard duty' I answered to myself.
"It's ok, it's ok," was the response. The voice was getting closer.
"No it's not," I muttered to myself. I drew back the cocking lever on my rifle, and let it fly forwards, with a loud 'clack'. I issued another challenge, "I have a weapon! Who goes there?!"
"It's ok!" was the reply I got again. I turned to Zelin.
"Go!" I whispered harshly at him. He stared back at me, wide-eyed, hesitating.
He ran, as fast as he could, and I turned back, and aimed down my sight. I don't know why. All that was going through my mind were the other members of my platoon, sleeping soundly. If this guy got past me too quickly, they'd all be dead. I flicked the safety to single fire mode.
"Stop! I have a weapon! Who goes there!?" I could feel my voice quiver. I was glued to the spot I had found. A black shadow approached slowly.
"Stop, I have a weapon..." it was barely a whisper, as I just crouched there stupidly. The shadow got close enough. I aimed down the rifle, and squeezed the trigger. There was a loud click as the hammer went down once, and the indicator on the rifle showed '00' bullets. I looked up, waiting for death.
Sergeant Petrush was looking down at me, his eyes glimmering in the inky blackness. I stood up quickly, and saluted.
"Your name, soldier?" he asked, with a softness running through his tone that I found unsettling.
"Danyel Benaari, sir," I replied, my knees shaking.
He paused, and looked me in the eye, "where's your partner?"
I gulped hard, "I sent him back to get you or Senior Ranger Cooper, sir."
He smiled. I realized right then that I had done something much harder than a fifteen kilometer march. I had been confronted with fear, and did not falter.
"Very good Danyel," he said.
|APAGear II Archives||Volume 2, Number 1||February, 2000|
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