The Red Alert Story.
by Gareth Bird

CHAPTER II
Jack awoke late next morning part way down the mountain. By now, the small village across the valley was clearly visible. However, it wasn't what he wanted to see. Several of the small houses and huts had been destroyed or gutted by fire. Even from this distance, he could make out one of the unusual tanks he'd witnessed the night before. He checked himself over, but he couldn't tell what damage had been done due to the numbing coldness of the night. He tried to reach into his coat but it hurt too much. It was the only pain he could feel and upon closer examination, he supposed he had dislocated his shoulder. With a fit of pain he tried to straighten it, but to no avail. In fact, it just hurt even more.

He pulled himself up with his right hand on a tree branch, then felt into his coat. He found the papers that the Soviets had been so interested in. Although in Polish, he could see they were the geographical location of several outposts, similar to the one he was stationed at. They also showed the type of outpost they were and the number of infantry and weaponry assigned to them. He returned the papers to his pocket and looked for the first aid kit. Without finding it, he started to walk down the mountainside towards the river below.

Following the river, he hoped to come across the main road which would lead him to Warsaw, or at least somewhere on the way. It was nearly dark by the time he reached the bridge at Salen, but on the bridge, it was anything but dark. He could see several vehicles and infantry on, and on either side of the bridge. As he drew nearer, he could see an Allied forces light tank and an Allied Jeep who were trying to fend off two of the soviet tanks and several soldiers.

It became obvious to Jack that the Allies were trying not to attack the Soviets, but the bridge itself. A shell landed on the bridge, sending bodies flying off it and into the river below. Jack carefully crossed the river to the Allies' side, but he couldn't scramble up the steep slope on the other side.

Above him, Jack could hear that the Soviet infantry had been ordered to retreat. Then the familiar sound of the heavy Soviet tanks tried to cross the crumbling bridge. Large slabs of stone began to chip off the bridge, shattering into thousands of tiny fragments as they landed close by. The first tank was almost over when another shell hit the bridge. This time though, it was a much larger explosion. Jack could see in the distance the shape of an Allied artillery. If he could manage to walk another quarter of a mile downstream, he would be able to get the attention of the artillery as it the road meandered close to the river. He started to pass under the bridge when one of the Soviet soldiers who had fallen from the bridge heaved himself up. He shouted at Jack and fumbled around for his rifle. Jack could understand nothing the man screamed, and just started to step backwards.

The second tank started to cross the bridge and still the rifleman screamed at Jack, who raised his arms up. The rifleman was of average size, age, and presumably intelligence. In fact, he looked just as average as the next man - nothing special. Come to think of it, neither was Jack. None of these soldiers wanted to be here to fight a politician's war, yet, almost certainly, all of these average men would be killed before the day was out, let alone the war. But would anyone care? Well, their families yes. Perhaps a few good friends too. To their governments though, they were nothing more than a military funeral bill - if they were lucky. Dying like this was no way to go.

Behind the man, Jack could see the artillery ready to fire again. Again, he tried to get his enemy to lie down and cover his head, but his actions only enraged his opponent. He raised the rifle to his eye and fired at Jack. Bracing himself for the worst, Jack half screwed his eyes, but instead was amazed to find the rifle had not worked, possibly due to the fall. But immediately after, the artillery's second shell hit the bridge and rocked its delicate frame. Coupled with the weight of the heavy tank, the explosion was far too great for the bridge to withstand and a huge section collapsed. In an inferno of flame, rock, dust and snow, the second tank fell through the remainder of the debris and crashed upturned in the river.

The Soviet rifleman was nowhere to be seen, but his screams of pain were clearly audible between gunfire and gusts of wind. Still the bridge fell. What was once a great feat of engineering, was rapidly being reduced to a pile of rubble. The Soviets on the bridge ran across in single file for only a few feet in width remained. Again, another explosion. Perhaps the Allies had destroyed the tank? Perhaps not. Jack looked up to see the Soviet tank crush the Jeep in a ball of flame. The Allied tank had long since been destroyed. In the distance, he could see that the artillery, with its mission complete, was leaving. Jack made his mind up to make a run, and try to reach it before it was gone.

Climbing over the collapsed bridge, he heard something over the noise of the wind. It came from below him. The hatch of the marooned tank opened and a soldier fell out. He stared at Jack, who stared back. He was covered in blood, both his and his fallen comrades'. He raised a blackened, bleeding arm to Jack, pleading for his help. But what could he do? He could try and pull him free and do the best to save him. Yet at the same time Jack thought the best thing he could do was to make a carefully placed kick to his skull and end it all. The Soviet began choking and screaming. Jack was desperate to understand and to do something - after all this guy was only human, and so was he. With one final gasp, the raised arm became a flick of his thumb, and the concealed lighter ignited. Dropping it to the ground, the Soviet smiled to himself as the oil-covered tank and landscape went up in flames.

The explosion that followed knocked Jack back off his feet. A family of cowering birds took off from beneath the undergrowth, delirious as they burnt alive. Trying to revive himself quickly, Jack could feel his coat on fire. He hurled himself into the snow and ice. Ripping off his coat and rescuing the charred papers, Jack ran off downstream, desperately trying to find a way out of the freezing river and up onto the road.

He heaved himself out and onto the road. It was littered with corpses from both sides as well as several crushed vehicles. As the night set in once again, Jack gathered up some of the equipment left behind and climbed into the crushed light tank. He applied what little first aid he could to himself and wrapped himself up in a few Soviet coats. By now his hunger had caught up with him and he started eating anything he could lay his hands on. He settled down and reflected on the recent events, but could only conclude that what he had witnessed could only be part of a larger plan by the Soviets. What he had witnessed was merely the beginning. This time last night, Jack had reluctantly agreed to stand out on watch; now he longed for things to be how they were.


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