Track 11: Set It Off

My sleep was interrupted after what seemed like a short time by someone shaking me. I opened my eyes to see Joseph’s worried face peering through the darkness. “Is it my shift?” I asked blearily.

“No,” Joseph said, “but we do have a problem.” That, and the fact that I suddenly realized I could hear voices chatting in Korean, got me moving. I grabbed my G-3 and helped Joseph wake up everyone.

When we were all awake, we filed into a room overlooking the street we had come in on. “So,” I whispered, “What’s going on? Why are we crouched down?”

“Below us,” Jeong said softly, “are like a hundred North Korean soldiers.”

John peeked out the window. “Yep,” he said, ducking back down, “that’s a lot of Koreans.” He paused. “At least they don’t seem to be interested in this building.”

“Let’s make sure,” Joseph said. “Killer, you get the stairwell. I’ll get the fire escape.”

We moved to our positions. This, for me, led to a long stretch of time just watching an empty stairwell continue to be empty while the sounds of people moving around and talking in Korean could be heard from a disturbingly close distance.

To make matters worse, it also seemed like the sounds of battle I had been hearing all night were getting closer as well, although I supposed that made sense. After all, there was obviously some sort of tactical advantage to moving troops this way. Maybe there was an exposed enemy flank nearby or something.

However, this led to a situation that is strangely peculiar to modern combat: the sensation of being bored and terrified at the same time. I was waiting around for something, anything to happen, and when it did, it would probably be awful. That was my state of mind when someone tapped my shoulder.

I wasn’t exactly sure what happened after that, but the next thing I knew, I was forcing John onto the floor and shoving my M9 into his face. “Jesus Christ, Nate!” he whispered, a look of panic in his eyes, “Jumpy much?”

“Shit,” I said, getting up and holstering the pistol, “I am so sorry, man. Did I break anything?”

John shook his head. “I got a bit of a bump and my heart’s kind of palpitating, but apart from that, totally fine.” I offered my hand, John took it. “Anyway, our friends outside are starting to trickle off. There seems to be some guys who are just setting something up, though.”

Joseph, who had come out to see what the commotion was about at some point sighed. “They’re just making things so much more difficult, aren’t they? Suppose that’s their job, though.”

“I wonder…” I began, then cut myself off. “No, they wouldn’t? Would they?”

“What are you thinking, Killer?” Joseph asked.

“Well,” I said, “at some point in World War II, Stalin basically told his guys that they couldn’t retreat. ‘Not one step back.’ From what I remember, he proved how literally he meant it in Stalingrad. He’d send large groups of people down the street to soak up Nazi ammunition. Needless to say, the poor Soviet bastards would eventually retreat. However, when they got to friendly territory, their friends would machine-gun them.” I paused. “It just… seems like a kind of a desperate move. I’m not sure how desperate they are.”

“Sounds more like a vanity order,” Joseph said. He paused. “Like the kind of stunt I’d do because I’m an idiot.”

“Hey,” I said, “you got Jeong and Sunny out of Hell Semester from what they tell me. Just do what you did back then and you’ll be fine.”

He shook his head. “You don’t understand, mon, I basically told Kyle I’d shoot him if he stepped outta line. You don’t say something like that to one of Krieger’s boys.”

John shot me a look. Joseph caught it. “He talked to you about that, didn’t he? I’m gonna have to apologize to him before he gets an opportunity to cut my throat.”

“Trust me,” I said, “the plan is to shoot you if you become a liability. You realize that killing you in any other circumstance than self-defense would get us killed as well, right? Sunny and Jeong still like you as well, you know.”

Joseph shrugged. “Not sure I believe you, mon. Kyle’s already been involved in the blackest of black ops. I’ll get back to my position. You boys stay alert, you hear?”

We nodded. After he got there, John said, “Well, I’ve got to get back to the others. See you soon, I guess.” He then got back up and headed back to the room where Jeong, Sunny and Kyle were observing the Korean position.

Meanwhile, I was just waiting by the stairs for something to come up. In the meantime, since literally nothing was happening, I decided to come up with names for what I was feeling? Scareored? Boranxious? Maybe terleep, because I was terrified, bored and sleepy. Yeah, I was pretty off-task. At this point, the Koreans could have all walked by me and I’d just sort of stare at them blankly.

Eventually, I realized this. I also realized that being in this state made me completely unable to be on watch. I quickly and quietly moved to the room where Joseph was. He was crouched behind an overturned table, aiming his SCAR-H out the window.

“What do you need, Killer?” he asked, not looking up.

“I kind of am out of it,” I said. “I’m not dozing off, but I’m not really in any shape to keep this up. Sorry.”

Joseph looked at his watch. “Don’t be, mon,” he said. “You slept for only about an hour and you’ve been up for half the night. Swap with one of the others and tell them that we move as soon as the Koreans leave.”

“Sure thing,” I said. After that, it was like I had been given permission to shut down. I vaguely remember relaying this information to the others, most of them asleep. Then I kind of sank to the floor.

I was woken up a little while later by the sounds of gunfire right outside the building. I reached for my rifle, but John tackled me and covered my mouth. He whispered something to me, but the sounds of battle were so loud, I couldn’t make out a word he was saying.

I guess I must have looked confused, because he began speaking really slowly, in the hopes I could read his lips. Eventually, I got what he was saying. I was right about the “no retreat” order, and as a result, the Koreans were dealing with a mutiny.

I looked down at the street to see if this was true, also making sure to record it with my camera. Below us, the Koreans had set up a roadblock consisting of a double line of sandbags and two APCs. During my quick peek out, I saw that the rear row had at least three tripod-mounted machineguns. Every single gun down there was firing, reloading, or manned by a corpse.

I noticed that there was also quite a bit of return fire as well. Luckily, the room we were in had a view up the street to where the incoming fire was. I tried to get a view out that window, but my line of sight was blocked by another building.

I sighed and turned to sit back down. Then I was struck with an idea. I motioned the other people in the room to wait there, then I slipped off to where Joseph was keeping watch. On my way, I typed a message in my cPhone’s notes app.

When I got to the room, I tapped Joseph on the shoulder and showed him my message. It read, “we can leave while they’re distracted, let’s go.”

Immediately, Joseph shook his head. I was about to ask why, then gunfire erupted below. I cautiously peeked out the window. In the alley, I could see muzzle flashes below. Apparently, if we exited now, we’d be caught in a pretty intense crossfire. I briefly wondered how that had gotten set up, then decided it didn’t matter.

Instead, I headed back to the room overlooking the cleanup crew’s position and proceeded to wait some more. Thankfully, it wasn’t that much longer when the shooting outside our hideout finally stopped.

“Do… do you think it’s over?” John asked.

“The bigger question,” I said, “is would it be a good thing if it did. For all we know, they’re going to start looking for a command post and start clearing this building.”

“Or,” John said, “they could leave because they’ve got what they came here for.”

“Guys,” Kyle said, “shut up.” He was obviously trying to sleep, leaning against a wall in the fetal position, his pack still on and his guns still hanging off him. To top it off, his eyes were closed. “We don’t want them hearing us, do we?”

“I say we should think about leaving,” Sunny said. “Even in the best case scenario, staying here is an awful idea.”

“I’ll make a note of that,” Joseph said, suddenly appearing in the door.

“Stopping here was a good idea,” Sunny said. “We just didn’t know this would happen.”

Joseph nodded. “Still,” he said, “I’m not sure we can leave. The Koreans have set up a small perimeter around the rear. They seem to be investigating something.”

“All that means,” Jeong said, also coming in, “is that if we really want to leave, we’re going to need a distraction. If we toss a couple frag grenades out the windows, hopefully, they’ll be too busy shooting at shadows to try and cut off our escape.”

“And what happens if we cause more to run around to the back?” Joseph asked. “It isn’t like they have very many places to go, or we have very many escape paths.” He sighed. “Why don’t these communist jackasses have better fire safety regulations?”

“Wait,” John asked suddenly, “do you hear that?”

We all paused, trying to hear what John was talking about. Finally, Jeong asked, “Hear what?”

“It sounds like a vehicle is moving!” John said excitedly. “They may be packing up!” He was right. From in the distance I could hear the sound of a vehicle approach. However, it sounded too far away to be our friends outside.

Sunny peeked out the window. “That’s a negative,” she said. “None of the vehicles below seem to be moving. If anything, they’re digging in deeper.”

Then the sounds stopped. “You know,” I said, “I think it was coming from the same direction as the retreating Koreans.”

We waited in silence. So did the people outside. For a while, all we could hear was the distant sounds of battle. “I think they’re waiting for something,” Joseph said. “Or maybe they’re…”

Suddenly, there was the sound of something roaring, hissing, and fizzing. From the street below, there was a blueish white flash that lit up the dark of the night unlike anything I had ever seen before. This was accompanied by a series of smaller flashes and screaming. In the meantime, the sounds of small arms fire erupted.

“That sounds like the Deets,” John said.

“We’re leaving,” Joseph said, “and on the way out, you can tell me exactly what the fucking hell Deets are.”

“Dragon’s Teeth,” everyone else said at once. I added, “John made it up.”

“Still,” Joseph said, “We’re out of here.” We followed him to the fire escape. After Joseph looked down, he said, “Killer, you’re on point. The angle’s too steep, so no overwatch. Go. Go, go, go.”

We ran down the stairs, no longer caring about sound, as any enemies would be too busy shooting at each other. All the time we were heading down, I kept expecting the enemy to show up and start shooting us to pieces. Finally, we were all down the fire escape. Joseph then pointed us further down the alleyway, then we were off.

We only got a few blocks before we had to stop. We had come to a small L-shaped bend that funneled back out onto the street. Behind us was a T-shaped intersection, with Jeong covering the way we hadn’t used. On the street in front of us was a group of Deet soldiers I had nearly blundered into. Needless to say, we didn’t want to go back out that way.

“What do you think?” I whispered behind me, only slightly pulling back from the corner. “Should we double back?”

“NOPE!” Jeong yelled, opening fire. “HOSTILES AT 3:00!”

Before I could turn around, there was a flash of light so bright and a wave of heat so intense I felt my skin on my neck burn. Behind me, John and Jeong began screaming. I guess we’d be finding out what made those flashes.


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