‘There was someone out there My Major. I could tell they were sneaking around. Maybe it was luck that blinded them too. Who set off that damn star-shell?’
This Major was used to The Corporal’s mix of respectful address to him and general hostility to anyone she had not met personally but she held responsible for some discomfort to her efforts.
‘I was not informed Corporal,’ he replied still unable to rid himself of the feeling he was always reporting to her and not the other way around ‘It was probably The Mitches. Then you didn’t encounter any reinforced or aggressive reconnaissance?’
‘No My Major. I got as far as the outskirts of the village,’ she pointed idly to the map ‘Saw some shepherds doing shepherding. Whoever was out there was doing the same as I was, I suppose. Only locals in the village and most of those all huddled up for the night,’
The Major’s aide, a lieutenant recently from some layer of higher command, still bridled at her slouch and when they were not active, hands hooked by thumbs into pockets, but The Major told him, for his own sake, she was off-limits when it came to the niceties of military convention and discipline. There was a specific reason why she worked alone, the lieutenant did not know what that was, all he had learned was no one wanted to work with Corporal Jagerin, even if she was reasonably approachable around the battalion lines.
‘I will go out again this night My Major, if you so wish,’ she offered ‘See if I can find out who is out there,’
‘You can Corporal. You will not engage in exchange of fire. You will only defend yourself if close combat arises. Now get some rest,’
‘Yes My Major,’
When she had left the command post The Lieutenant dared speak.
‘My Major. If I may ask. A soldier given orders, not to return fire, even when their life is in danger?’ he hoped from appearing to be concerned for her, he might find out something else.
‘Corporal Jagerin will not allow the situation to arise Lieutenant,’
It was a disappointing reply.
Banner Sergeant Faigai was sitting in the battalion commissary, true the construction was a rudimentary thing of plastic and metal sheets into which were fitted two folding tables and six chairs whose association with comfort was distant. The place had a coffee making machine and five containers holding sandwiches and tins of things claimed as edible, all supervised by a thick set sergeant renowned for being unsympathetic but inventive when he was in the mood for concocting hot meals . In comparison with many places Fergai had served it was luxury, particularly after three days of reports, visiting Brigade Headquarters and briefing members of scout teams on his week’s worth of exploring these Wilds. He had kept his comments about the slovosskian to a bare minimum ‘Someone from The Other Side was out there’ as for the village; ‘it’s another village, like any other, hoping we leave them alone…and watch out for those shepherds, there’s carrying guns folk,’ He swirled the black liquid masking as coffee, wondering what Jagerin had been up to.
‘Flags,’ at the familiar voice using the informal term for his rank he sat up, turning to the man, a thin, rangy fellow who had served five years and did not usually wear a wide-eyed and furtive expression, nor sound urgent, nor move that quickly to sit next to him, leaning across the table like a recruit about to confess some minor infraction.
‘What’s the hell is wrong with you Orolig? You got to take some colonel’s fresh-faced lieutenant son out on night patrol with strict orders to make sure he comes back with clean undershorts?’
‘Flags,’ the man was agitated enough to ignore the old banter ‘You’ve been out there for a full week. Did anything freaky happen. Y’know the sort, ones that don’t fit in reports,’
Faigai stiffened, of course a patrol would be sent out eventually, and he would tell himself he was not the only one trusted to go out into Neutral Wilds.
‘You urban boys. Walk out side of the city boundaries and any half acre of land with three or more bushes, a tree and five rocks is freaky,’ You had to start with banter, this time it was to draw out what had troubled another long-timer.
‘Give us time Cookie,’ Orolig said with deference to the man, who could to be fair make something edible from the inedible contents of various tins, he nodded and left to stand outside the door to block it. When scouts wanted to talk in private places were off-limits.
‘You not gonna believe this Flags. There was someone out there sniping us with small stones and pebbles. We’d got to the trail beneath the hill. There was a clink and Benz hisses out ‘My helmet. Someone bastard’s throwing stones,’ . Next thing I hear is Longshot saying the same thing. Then there was this giggle,’
‘You were sniped with stones by kids?’ Fergai was sounding he was sounding surprised, surprise was not the emotion, he was already ahead.
‘Not a kid’s voice. Lower, and like they’d been smoking too much. Then a stone clips my boot, right on the heel, another giggle. Night Owl swears he can see someone sloping off, but they stop, turn, wave and then gone, like they dropped into the earth. Lucky none of my guys panic and start shooting, we spread out to trying and keep track but they had gone. The stones though. It was a triangulating pattern. Point, Right Flank, then patrol command. Like they read us, knew we were not in true combat readiness,’
‘Did you get any prints, tracks?’
‘Oh yeah. Tracks. Bare feet. Who professionally works over a patrol with stones and giggles, goes about it in bare feet, then waves you off? There’s either someone out there trying to provoke us into shooting first, or has long gone. Still got their skills, but their mind is lost. Tonight it could be slit throats. I tell you Flags I can’t figure how to report this without sounding like a fresh intake,’
Fergai had let the the man go one, it gave him time to formulate his reply.
‘Sounds like the one I encountered might be getting cute. Which since there’s no such thing as a cute slovosskian we could have BDD trooper who has indeed long gone; maybe their commanders have let them loose to cause a ruckus. Tell your team to keep it to themselves, unless they want to look fools. Just report in you established a single scout. You due to go out tonight?’
‘OK. I’ll have a quiet word,’
The next dawn, Fitch a stocky phlegmatic fellow whose reports normally bore the words ‘Nothing’, ‘Light’ ‘There’s trouble’ or ‘You don’t want to go there without support,’ approached Faigai in a very irritable mood.
‘Somebody is fooling with us. Throwing stones and giggling. Kept dancing away. I think they are looking to provoke. If we weren’t on this Look But Don’t Shoot routine I would’ve given them a taste of triangulated fire back,’
‘That’s provoking Fitch,’ Faigai pointed out mildly ‘And giving away a position,’
‘It’d would have shoot an’ scoot Flags,’ it was a reasonable reply, if the fellow hadn’t sounded like a teenager being told to clean their room.
By then it was impossible to keep the gossip and rumours from seeping out and command concluding the seeming routine replies to be veterans trying to hide their frustration and embarrassment. Faigai said he would go out alone again, and make sure there were no damn start shells this time. He was assured, once more than no one on this side had fired off a start shell that night.
He could sense the tension, so tight you could play a strong tune on it; this would have to stop. He needed to grab hold the scruff of her neck and figure out if; This was some new BDD trick, or maybe she had long gone and was fooling with everyone….
Or gone local???
To be concluded….