On a mission of rescue, on a mission of hope, on a mission of peace, everything is challenged.
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“Exfil in three,” my lieutenant called out.
The people weren’t nearly ready; we’d have to leave some of them behind. That was the fourth or fifth mission we’d been on to save the white people from Indian or Chinese cities.
By that time, it didn’t matter to most of the Sino-Indian people whether the white people were Slavic or not. They hated, and found an outlet for their hate. The Russians had been gobbling up their territory for forty years. They’d swoop in, take a city or province, and subjugate the original inhabitants. Chinese and Indian culture was outlawed. The people were given the worst jobs, their money was seized, their homes vandalized and burned. Some of them left, fled. They made it to family living outside of Russian-controlled territory, but they were impoverished. Millions of refugees flooded into already struggling areas. The strain became too much. The anger too great. The hurt too palpable.
The first incident was in Kumul in northeastern China. A family of white missionaries was pulled out of their home at night, marched into the city square, and beaten to death. They were British. It didn’t matter. They looked like the Russians so they were killed. The next incident happened in New Delhi. A group of tech-company executives were dining out and were pulled out of the restaurant. They survived the attack, but only barely. Then it started happening everywhere. The anger about the Russian invasions had been simmering for decades; it eventually boiled over into riots.
So they sent us in. Our job has been to collect the white residents in Sino-Indian cities and get them to safety. Usually we put them on a boat to Australia. This group was one of the last we’d get out. I don’t like to think about how many we ended up leaving there. Once the war started… Well, we didn’t really have a choice after that.
“Women and children first,” I yelled to the mob. I know it’s an antiquated idea; I don’t really care. I was in charge and that’s what I chose to do. Some of the men fought, but my soldiers ‘persuaded’ them to stop.
We loaded the children and women onto the plane. We loaded them like cargo, packing in as many as possible. Their flight would be uncomfortable, but they would survive. I had my guys tracking the number of people so we would still have room for the soldiers. We were able to load all of the women and children and about thirty of the men. The rest of them pushed and punched to try to get onto the plane. I whispered something to one of my sergeants. He addressed the crowd with his powerful voice.
“Keep fighting us and we’ll have to shoot you. That’s guaranteed. If you stop fighting you might get out alive. Place your bets, men.”
One of them bet wrong. He charged the line of soldiers while shouting nonsense. My sergeant pulled his sidearm, leveled, and fired. He’s always been a softy. The man crumpled to the ground clutching his bleeding leg. The sergeant threw a medkit in his general direction. The rest of the crowd pulled back.
I thought we were out of it. I thought it was over.
The plane took off easily enough. We banked over the city and headed south by southeast. We were in a cargo jet. Non-combatant. That didn’t matter. The rail gun took the tail off the plane. The rest was a blur. Our pilots put us down in a farmer’s field to the south of the city. They saved us at the cost of their own lives.
“Sitrep!” I called out into the blackness of the cargo hold. The only response was groaning and weeping. I shouted again, pulling out my drill-sergeant voice, a voice I hadn’t used in years, “I need a report, soldiers. That’s an order!”
“Sir,” the voice came from the right toward the center of the hold, “minor casualties. Report from the cockpit is that the plane won’t fly again. The pilots are dead. The remaining crew are getting the batteries online so we can see and open the cargo ramp.”
“Copy,” I said.
We waited a few minutes. I heard some faint sounds outside. The lights came on and I scanned the hold. There were more bruises than blood. As best I could tell all my soldiers were unhurt. The ramp started to descend. I turned to look out of the widening crack at the back of the plane. It took my mind a while to resolve what I saw into reality. There were hundreds of torches coming toward us through the fields.
“Close it!” I ordered, “Close the ramp. We’ve got incoming.”
“No can do, Major. The batteries don’t have enough juice to close it.”
“Then stop it!”
“Copy that, sir.”
After a few more seconds the ramp stopped. It still left the whole of the cargo hold open to the approaching mob, but at least they couldn’t get inside without a ladder. I hoped that they didn’t have a ladder.
“Sir,” she answered me. Izabel was one of my best lieutenants.
“Call it in. We need backup. We can hold this position for…” I did some quick figuring, “Call it twenty minutes. Copy?”
“Copy,” she went off to make the request. The UN wanted innocents out of the way so they called in the biggest, baddest military in the world. Us. The Brazilians. But we still had to go through the UN protocols to get more forces authorized. I hoped that we would last until then.
I deployed my troops around the half-open ramp. Spotters and snipers lay down at the lip of the ramp. Behind them was the rest of the small platoon I had with me. The plan — the hope — was to avoid lethal force. Our mission was one of rescue, not combat. Once the snipers found the rail gun that had been used to shoot us down I authorized them to take it out. They used their highest velocity explosive rounds and demolished the car-sized weapon.
“What are the rest of the people doing?” I asked a spotter.
“Sir, they’re milling around. It looks like the leader was on the rail gun.”
“A few, sir.”
“Old rifles, AKs and M4s; junkyard stuff, sir.”
“Copy.” I stepped back and called out to my troops, “We’ve taken out their rail gun and all they have left is ancient pea shooters. Don’t kill if you can help it. Use low-V rounds. Keep your shots to the extremities if you can. We need to hold this position until support arrives, but we don’t need to kill a bunch of people.”
“Sir, yes, sir!” they shouted back at me. Good troops.
Twenty minutes turned into twenty hours. We took shifts holding the mob off. I hadn’t held a sniper rifle or spotting scope for years, but I took a turn too. The mob would take shots at us. Most of them didn’t hit the plane, let alone the opening. Still we returned fire. We kept them under cover and pinned down.
When the support arrived I swore. I called up Dente, “Izabel, what the hell is that?”
“Sir, it’s our support.”
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“Sir, that’s all they could send in.” Her voice had a quaver to it. Mine probably did too.
“Sir?” she asked.
“How many will it carry?” I pointed to the lone helicopter approaching the field.
“That’s not a number, soldier.”
“Yes, sir. No, sir, it is not,” she did a quick tally, “It’ll hold thirty-five, sir.”
That was my platoon plus ten. I squeezed my eyes shut hoping that it would dam up the tears. Ten. Ten women and children — that part hadn’t changed — but how could I choose them?
“What’s the average weight of a person?” I asked Izabel.
“Kids don’t weigh as much as adults. How many children could we take?”
“Sir…” she turned away for a moment. I gave her that time just as she’d given me my own. “Figure eighty-four kilos as the average. We can take ten times that with us.”
“Copy that.” I hated what I had to do. But some is better than none.
I still think back to that day. Did I make the right choice? I took the ten smallest women and had them each carry two infants. Some of them carried their own. Others took babies from screaming mothers. But I was able to save thirty people instead of ten. Wasn’t that the right call? I still don’t know.
As we flew away I wanted to go back. I wanted to give up my place for another woman with two more babies. I wanted to stand and fight the angry people who swarmed over the plane and dragged out the remaining refugees. I wanted to go and fight the Russians for their crimes against the Indian and Chinese people. I wanted to fight the UN for sending only one chopper. I wanted to fight my own army for sending in only one, small platoon.
I looked down on the plane at the end of a long, dark furrow in the field. I saw the missing tail from the first attack. I saw the ant-sized people milling around it. And I could only think one thing: hurt people hurt people.