Snapping the loaded cartridge in its place, he reflected on the whole scenario that unfolded over the last 6 hours.
The longest 6 hours in his whole life.
He was touring in the Pihsrow unit, the infantry’s “Storm Troopers”. Busting tanks and breaking enemy lines, they were the advance team specially trained to pave the way for the bulk of the infantry to progress in battle.
Scanning the area that they were planted in, it took nothing longer than awhile for them to realize it wasn't the enemy tanks that were advancing. Rather, it was the infantries, the footmen that were chugging ahead. Clearly the Pihsrow unit was no match against the sheer number of enemy troops, so they headed back to base.
But he was left behind to spy and scout.
'You should be safe here colonel,' the Captain told him before he left with Pihsrow squadron. 'The enemies will never be able to find you here.'
Unfortunately, the Captain was terribly wrong.
“Captain, I’ve been spotted,” he radioed urgently after running helter skelter from a scout unit. “Request emergency removal, I repeat, requesting urgent removal.”
What came from the other side of the radio shocked him to the core.
'Pihsrow unit is out of enemy base and is back in base.' He could recognise that was the Captain's voice. They left me behind!
Desparate, he franktically called through the radio shouting and yelling into the receiver that he was of the Pihsrow unit and was left behind, still behind enemy's lines and required back-up or a transport out. Situation was worsening, enemies were approaching and he was locked in a tight spot and…
“THERE HE IS!”
Gunshot. Another shot. And another shot.
Branches and leaves cracked at the impact of the bullets that skid past him, turning them into shrapnel and darts. He turned back to see probably a couple of dozens of troops running towards him, yielding Kalashnikov rifles in their hands. Aiming at him, a few half-kneeled and pulled their triggers. He didn't need a warning or a command to know what to do. Dodging the gunfires, he jumped over a huge rock between some tropical trees, threw the radio down and turned around to face the enemy. Pulling his trigger at the enemies, he saw a distant figure collapsing.
One down. He pulled his trigger again. Another down.
But the enemies just seemed to keep coming. There he was, in the middle of the thick tropical rainforest that ressembled the Vietnam battlefields in 1969, a single Pishrow soldier against the hundreds of enemy forces. Coming in wave after wave, he wondered how long his rifle can last him. He realised that his bullets were limited, and he too realised that even if he made sniper one-shot-kills, he will not be able to last long.
Throughout the whole duel, the radio kept blaring updates of the enemy movements. Apparantly the enemies were approaching Zanotopia base in his direction, and there will be waves of footmen coming in by the hour. He checked his watch to see how long he has been in there. 5 hours. How much longer? How long can he hold?
He took down one more enemy and crouched behind the rock, waiting for his next prey. But the firing ceased. No more gunshots. The quiet of the valleys returned to the smoke-filled forest. He turned around, and apart from lifeless bodies, there was no one left alive but him.
But he knew another wave of soldiers would be coming in no time to come.
For a moment, he wondered how he managed to survive. Scores of soldiers falling dead feets away from the rock he stood behind. He sustained superficial wounds and bruises with no serious harm done thus far.
Then it was darkness that crept into his soul. The darkness of alone. The darkness of fighting alone when his companions are safe and sound back in their base. I was left behind and left alone. His unit abandoned him on the grounds that he would be safe from his hideout only to discover that it was a sabotage.
The shadow of betrayal, the night of deception... It could not have been felt or experienced greater than that very moment.
His army deserted him. Despite the number of calls he made to base via radio, still no one responded to him. Why aren't they responding? Why aren't they hearing me? He questioned the Zanotopia code. The code of the Zanotopian military that 'No man will be left behind'. It was a promise that the Sergeant, the President's son once said to the unit while they were still fighting in the mountainous desert terrain. He promised that no soldier, dead or alive or injured, will be left in the battlefield. He even demonstrated it in front of his very eyes when he ran out to rescue the wounded soldier.
I shouldn’t, he reprimanded himself. But how could I believe them again? How can I believe in them anymore?
He, at that point of time, had no such assurance.
Leaning on the rock, he heaved and pant as he changed the cartridges of his rifle. Pulling out the empty cartridge, he reached for the loaded one in his pocket only to realise that his hands were shaking so badly that he could no longer feel much with his hands. The firing of his rifle the whole morning probably took a toll on him. He lowered his gun to allow his mind to wander for a while. He saw the face of his girlfriend Nire. He was supposed to wed her after dating for more than 10 years until the war broke out. He was called to serve in the military and they had to postpone their wedding. The war lasted for 3 years, and he last heard from her almost 2 years ago.
Does she still remember me? His eyes became moist at the thought. The days where he would be dodging bullets and mortars, the times where he had to dash across vulnerable open fields with no cover and snipers camped on every side, the only thought that held him alive and breathing was the mere thought of seeing his darling again. But where was she?
He heard the rumours. Even his brother called him up to tell him that Nire might not wait for him after all. His heart shattered and broke, but he couldn't do anything. It was war and it was battle. There was no time for emotions or love.
Not then, not now.
Wiping away his tears, he realised that it wasn't the time either for softness or tears. He was no longer serving the Zanotopian army, he was no longer fighting to protect his country. He was fighting to stay alive. It was a brutal. It was survival for the lone soldier against the incoming waves of troops besieging him.
They’re back. The marching tremors resonated from the ground. Just as he was about to turn back and aim, the tree by his side exploded and burst into flames, the impact throwing him off the ground. A searing pain tore through his face and shoulder, and he could even smell the odour of burnt flesh. He looked into the reflection of his watch and saw that half of his face were remnants of a fire. Grimacing in pain, he grabbed his gear and ran in opposite direction.
It felt like he just ran a marathon before he reaching a cliff. No further land from there, and the only thing across that edge were the mountains over the valley. One more step and he will be left alone in the ravine.
He found himself a spot where he could hide and crouch for a while as he recollected all remaining energy he had. He was badly injured and his face was half blown off. He was down to the final cartridge of rounds and his four limbs to do the job. The enemies that trailed him were now in range.
I will survive. He raised his rifle and aimed at a figure. His fingers fastened around the trigger and he heard a gunshot, but it wasn't his. The enemy fired before him, the bullet burrowing its way merciless into his right arm. He rolled back in great agony and instinctively pressed on his wound to stop the bleeding.
That's it. I'm a dead meat. Lying on his side, he dragged his rifle with one hand while pressing the wounded hand to the ground. Energy was draining out from his wound along with his warm blood. He could vaguely see a disarray line of enemies forming ahead of him. They were shouting and yelling in their secret codes as they raised their guns. He couldn’t hold himself together any longer, and he slumped into the ground.
There was a noise, pure loud and deafening. Where was it coming from? The enemies raised their guns towards the sky. They aren’t aiming for me. They opened fire. But the very same soldiers were all getting shot. They collapsed right before his blurred eyes, one by one. The line of enemies were breaking. Some even turned back and ran away.
Someone, something, was shooting them from behind. He rolled over his back to check on what thing saved him.
An Apache chopper. Armed with heavy machine guns and missiles, generously spewing 20mm bullets at the enemy line. The enemies and their Kalashnikov were pathetically futile against the Apache’s artilleries.
A dozen black troops armed with heavy weapons ran up to him and knelt in front of him, forming a human shield.
'Colonel, we're the Reyarps, and we're here to take you home.' The leader introduced himself calmly.
The Reyarps! The elite safe-and-rescue unit. The pride and prestige of the Zanotopian army, the squadron that made the worst enemies shudder and tremble. The team that never failed, ever. The squadron famed for having the best soldiers, the fastest runners, the swiftest attackers, the most powerful weapons and the smartest soldiers in it.
The leader took his helmet off and knelt beside him. His face, unmistakable.
'Sergeant?' his eyes turned wet. He came back for me, just as he promised. 'But… but… you didn't tell me through the radio…'
'Colonel, if we radioed back that we were coming for you, we would have jeopardised our hideouts and our positions.' He said wrapped a bandage tightly over his arm. 'You have my word, I will leave no man behind.
The Reyarps lifted him onto a stretcher. A lot of commands came from the Sergeant. 'Radio Headquarters to have the bronze mask ready by evening, we’re turning back to base. Over.'
'Colonel, we've just received word from your girlfriend,' one of the pilots with those huge sunglasses and fully covered earpiece looked over his back to him to report. 'Nire's waiting for you in base.'
In the darkness, he knew for sure, he was never forgotten.