The Red Alert Story.
by Gareth Bird

CHAPTER III
Jack woke early next morning to the sound of heavy vehicles and commotion outside. Peering through a hole in his battered resting place, he could see a small Soviet convoy on the far side of the bridge. By now, the snow had stopped falling and the wind had stopped blowing. In fact, it was one of the warmest days for some time. He tried to take a better look at the situation, but was startled by another soldier who opened up the hatch of the tank. Jack looked up at the barrel of the gun that was pointing threateningly at him. The brightness of the outside light shone in and Jack found it difficult to stare up much longer. He raised an arm to shield himself from the light as the hatch started to close. It slammed with a terrifying bang, similar to the sound of a prison door.

Outside, he heard a call from someone, followed by several footsteps and the hatch jerked open. Jack returned his arm to his shielding position to see that he was being beckoned out. Carefully, he stood himself up and was assisted out. As he stepped down onto the road, he was grabbed without warning by a tall, bearded Soviet officer who started screaming at him. Jack could not understand what he was saying, but realised that he was unwelcome. A lowly ranked soldier took Jack and threw him against the side of the tank and kicked him in the back of the legs. Jack, unable to support himself, was left to drop to his knees. The soldier pressed Jack's face up against the tank and grabbed the shoulders of his coat. He ripped them down his upper arms to his elbows.

The officer reached into Jack's coat and found the papers and started to yell at him. Jack turned to face him to try to bluff his way through, but the officer slapped his face back, still screaming and shouting at him. He then turned to consult another officer, while Jack was allowed to fall back into a lying position. All around, he could feel the stares of the Soviet soldiers, until the second officer started to lightly kick at him in an effort to make Jack stand up. He complied. The officer held the papers to Jack's face and was wanting to know something about them. Jack played ignorance and tried to show that he found them at the bottom of the bridge.

He waited for several minutes while the others talked, and eventually was marched off to the bridge. The soldier he was with pointed to the other side of the bridge and stared at Jack. Jack pointed to the bottom, trying to remain consistent in his story that the papers were down there. His reward was another slap in the face. The soldier again pointed to the far side of the bridge and shoved him forwards, then turned and left.

Jack looked over to the other side to see that at least two dozen captured Allies were on the other side, being off loaded from a truck. Jack started to walk across the remainder of the bridge and saw that some of the captured were those from the outpost in Tjost. The Tjost base was a more important base with at least fifteen or so soldiers. Jack could see just two from the group infront.

He crossed the bridge and was grabbed by a man who stamped a symbol on Jack's right hand, then was roughly ushered to the rest of the group.

"Jack!" called a man from the crowd. He was severely beaten. So much so that it took until he was less than a yard away before he recognised him as a third man from Tjost - Thomas Wright. He was bleeding all down the left side of his face and had obviously been in a lot of pain for a long while. "I hope you weren't pissing them off, 'cos they'll do this to you if you were."

A Soviet soldier called for their silence. For some reason, Jack felt that introductions and reintroductions wouldn't be right. "We're building a bridge for them." explained Sergeant Richards . He was the highest ranking man at Tjost. "It seems someone had a little party here last night, and we're here to clear it up."

Again, the soldier, waving his rifle, shouted at them

"Take a hike!" retaliated another Allied prisoner. The soldier screamed something back. "What's the point? We can't understand a fucking word you're saying! You can't understand us! We don't..."

"Shut it!" yelled Richards, as a similarly ranked Soviet calmed down his comrade.

"We don't..." repeated the prisoner, "Oh what's the fucking use?" and turned back into the crowd.

Richards turned back to Jack. "Thank God you're OK, aren't you?" Jack nodded. "Yeah, well, that idiot over there," continued Richards, flashing a glance in the direction of the prisoner, "is Martin Davies. Ignore him. He's shell shocked we think. Either that or he just has a deathwish."

"Silence!" The crowd fell silent once again, to the command of a towering Soviet officer. The silhouetted figure stretched himself up to reveal his true build. Jack could see that he was a Captain. "The bridge will be cleared." he said calmly. His English seemed as good as any foreigner Jack had met. "Now will you do it." With that, he turned and marched back across the bridge.

"That's Vorcenzacof." whispered Richards, "Whatever you do, don't get on the wrong side of him." Jack acknowledged with a nod.

"NOW!" yelled Vorcenzacof without turning, from the middle of the bridge. The group began to follow him onto the bridge, and began an orderly dismantling of it.

"Erwh," started Jack. He hadn't uttered a word for days and found it difficult to start. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Why d'they need a new bridge?" he asked a man nearby.

"Huh? Oh," he started. He took a step closer to Jack and crouched down. After a quick glance either direction, he continued in a hushed voice. "We don't know, but we think a convoy needs to cross the river."

"Well, why don't they cross it at Gatov?"

"Well, we reckon, well," he corrected himself, "Dickie reckons this convoy is too big to take that road, or something, and they need to use the main road to Warsaw." With a shrug, he turned back to his work, as did Jack.

By the evening, rain had begun to fall heavily and another convoy approached the site. Within it were a truck half-full of more POWs and a few supply trucks. The vehicles slowed down as they forced their way through the people congregated around the area and stopped short of the river gorge with hydraulic sighs. Out of the lead truck stepped a short, stout engineer. He surveyed the wreckage and nodded with respect for the amount of work carried out in such a short space of time. Turning, he gave a huge OK sign to the first two trucks. Spinning in the mud, the trucks backed up and reversed to turn around. Jack saw that inside the trucks were several large girders and more heavy duty equipment. The trucks reversed backwards.

"You!" called Vorcenzacof. "You are guiding the new bridge."

Richards and his troops were positioned at various stages down the embankment down to the river. The new POWs off-loaded the equipment and hoisted out the girders. Vorcenzacof briefly explained how the new bridge was to be erected. It was very crude, yet promised to do the job in hand. As the floodlights were set up, the POWs built up the supports.

By now, a day's warmth's worth of melted snow and ice from the mountainsides and river tributaries had turned what was a few hours ago a comparatively minor stream into a strong, swirling river, making an already difficult job and extreme task. Before even a small section of the bridge was complete, the cold had long since set in and all of the men had become tired and hungry. However, slackness was not tolerated by the Soviets and those who worked no longer were removed from the workscene and were beaten until they marched back into the river to carry on. By three o'clock in the morning, roughly one quarter of the bridge skeleton was complete. The first support was made, complete with concrete foundations, and a small section of the cross piece was being finished.

The rain and mud made the conditions impossible. At one point, due to tiredness and the negligence it caused, a girder slipped out of it position and tumbled down the embankment. The POWs jumped clear in all directions, but a few were less fortunate. They were knocked down like dominoes and, were thrown into the river below. Almost instantly, they were swept away downstream. However, two Soviet soldiers were ready to try to grab them. One of the Allies was rescued at the expense of the other two. When it became clear that they could not be recaptured, several soldiers took aim as best they could and fired into the dark waters. After hundreds of rounds of ammunition were spent, they stopped shooting, satisfied that they would not escape.

The rising river had made the thought of any more work unfeasible so the Soviet group called the end of the night's work. The POWs were rounded and loaded up, 12 to a truck. After the events of the day and night, the tiredness, the hunger and that the trucks were standing room only, led to the inevitable outburst from many of the POWs. However, in the truck ahead of Jack, he could here that things were getting out of hand. Three of them started to brawl and full blown fight had erupted in seconds. Two Soviet soldiers ran up to ease the commotion, whereupon, the three men broke up their fight and simultaneously jumped on the soldiers. Jack heard several gunshots and rifles going off, and poked his head around the canvas of the truck.

He saw that between them, two of the three men now had weapons had shot at least three Soviet soldiers and were running forward, shooting anyone in their paths. However, their spree was halted by more men who shot them dead at point blank range. Jack watched in horror as the third man, John Allen, was grabbed. Vorcenzacof marched over to Allen. He spat a few words into his face, at which, several of the surrounding soldiers began to snigger, then roar with laughter. After finishing his joking, Vorcenzacof smiled a rare grin, before giving Allen an ironic friendly slap on the face. Lowering his tone and producing a pair of dark leather gloves from his trenchcoat, Vorcenzacof muttered something to Allen's captors, then turned on his heel and marched towards his Jeep. He put on his gloves and never looked back.

Jack, however, did and saw the soldiers holding out his arms whilst a third man picked up a large rock. Maybe he was wrong, but Jack though he recognised him as one of the soldiers who took over the outpost in Dawsal. He stood up and glanced towards Jack, who threw his head back around the canopy of the truck. No-one else in the Jack's truck had seen anything, but dared not to ask Jack what had happened, as the expression on his face painted a detailed picture of the situation. They sat in silence for what seemed like an age, interrupted occasionally only by the sounds of a few soldiers talking, laughing and taking it in turns to hit Allen. Then in the deafening silence, the splintering sound of a breaking bone, followed by another. A rock hit the floor, or was it Allen? Jack heard Vorcenzacof call to the soldiers, then another thud on the ground. A knife was flipped back into its carrying position and shortly after, the convoy moved off, revealing the body of Allen, with arms bent in all directions and throat slit, slewn into the ditch at the side of the road.

By the time the trucks stopped, the familiar snow storms were again well in force. They had arrived outside a small Soviet base on the Ukraine/Poland border, which had been converted, into a POW camp. However, all was not calm as the sound of heavy gunfire was heard above the noise of the winds. Several of the Soviet soldiers who had been escorting the Allies were ordered within the complex. Behind each of the three prisoner trucks was placed a lone soldier, with his rifle pointing directly inside the truck.

A little way away, an heavy explosion ripped through the dawn sky. Two heavy tanks emerged from the darkness behind the trucks, before turning abruptly and crashing through the barbed perimeter fence. Jack's guard barely flinched as the monstrous machines came within inches of him. He just stood there. His eyes became slits as he battled against the snow for visibility, yet remained a definite stare at those under his guard. As the snow began to collect on his lightly stubbled face, he clenched his shoulders forward, trying keep the chilling wind from him.

Several minutes passed, with little more than the gunfire, shells and explosions for company. Jack, took a glance around at his guard, then, satisfied he would be under cover of darkness, tried to pull at a hole in the canvas, big enough to see through. Jack was wrong. His guard shook the snow off his rifle and stammered at Jack, but was obviously trying to shout. Jack misunderstood Russian at the best of times, let alone, when he was being addressed by a nervous, frost bitten young soldier, who could barely move his lips. This was no exception. Jack glanced at Richards, opposite, causing further reaction from the guard. He raised his weapon to point at Jack, and, had the combination of the battle and the roaring winds not been present, a string of ammunition would have been heard.

The soldier dropped down dead. Jack looked down at the corpse, then back up into the truck. His eyes met Richards' which carried no answers. Together, they looked further back into the truck. Three of the men had already got up and were bustling out of the truck.

Over the din of the events outside, the Allied men heard a familiar sound. The very same sound they had heard for little under two hours from the bridge reconstruction site. A vehicle carving its way through snow and ice, crushing down on the baron road below. However, instead of wheels, tracks; and several Armoured Personnel Carriers ground to a halt. A few Allied soldiers alighted, fully armed. They quickly set about removing any other potential resistance from the immediate surroundings.

Richards dutifully disembarked from the truck and saluted an Allied Captain who had also emerged.

"Sod that!" he shouted, as best as he could, "Get the hell inside!" at which, the former POWs scrambled out of the trucks and into their awaiting transport. Jack, waited above the corpse of his guard as his comrades and other military allies swept past. He looked down to see that boy could not have been more than fifteen. He glanced at the soldiers pushing their men into the APCs, who perhaps through no fault of their own, ignored him. With he toe of his boot, Jack scrawled a cross in the snow and climbed into one of  the vehicles. They were wrapped up in simple blankets and handed cigarettes and a few flasks of hot drinks between them. No-one spoke; no-one cared. They knew it was over; but it wasn't. They were all surprised when their APC took off through the remains of the base, not turning around and heading back into Allied territory with the rest of the APCs as they'd expected.

Outside, the sound of fighting had reduced to the occasional explosions and far less gunfire. The Gunman on the APC called an order and it slammed to a halt close to a large factory. The rear door opened allowing Jack to see the carnage left behind. Then out of the mess came a camouflaged men, who each ran for the APC. The factory exploded, yet the blast was almost self-contained. The doors were closed and the APCs sped off.

The commando sat opposite and to the right of Jack. He was wearing nearly everything an ideal soldier would wear. His whitened camo-gear and body armour was still intact. He passed a tough-looking rucksack to the gunner, who promptly removed three sets of explosives from it. Jack recognised them as standard C4 explosives as issued in training exercises, but never before hand he seen them used in the field. The commando took out his Colt-45 pistols, ejected the clips, and then with a nod of satisfaction, returned them to their weapons. Jack saw that they had still plenty of ammunition left, not including the spare clips which congested his belt. He could not help but admire this man. With neither heavy breathing, sighing nor a shiver, he had, presumably successfully, completed the mission single handily. This guy had to be good and Jack was sure of one thing; he was glad he was on their side.

"Good work." said the gunner as he finished removing the detonators from the explosives. "But you only needed to blow the Command Post.". From beneath the balaclava, Jack could see a smile developing on the commando. "I bet you could use a drink!" laughed the gunner, who had now taken a seat, "But this is all we've got." he finished, passing a flask. The commando removed his balaclava.

"Thanks, Carter." she said.

Jack was just as surprised as everyone else in the APC who wasn't asleep. She took a gulp from the flask and looked up at the staring eyes. "What?" she asked. She looked around her to see three or four pairs of eyes. "Oh please!" she snapped, slamming the top back on the flask. "Have you guys never seen a woman before?"

"Not 'round here." started one.

"Certainly not one in that uniform!" finished another. The APC rocked with laughter. Jack started to laugh, but it hurt his chest, and began to cough.

"Why don't you fucking grow up?" she retaliated.

"Yeah! Leave off her, " chirped Davies, "She's obviously not in the mood for jokes."

"Thanks." she replied sternly.

"I mean its obviously that time of the month..." finished Davies.

That was the final straw, and she stood up and hurled the flask at Davies, and pulled out one of her pistols.

"Hey Tanya!" called Carter, "Easy!"

Tanya returned her pistol to its holster. "Yeah well," she started, sitting down again. "You better watch your mouth!" she shouted at Davies. "That goes to all of you." she finished, glancing left to right.

"That's something you can't do so easily, 'cos you're fucking great nose gets in the way!" joked Davies.

"Hey, now I mean it..." started Carter.

"What'd'ya mean?" continued Phillips, the second man. "Her mouth's so fucking big, they can see it in Moscow!"

Again, the APC roared. "Quiet!" shouted Carter over the din. "Now! Quiet! I thought you guys were supposed to be tired, hungry and in lots of pain? It doesn't look like that to me!"

The noise abruptly stopped. "Hey, Tanya, I'm sorry, you know, I..." stared Phillips.

"Just shut the fuck up! OK?" was the reply.

Again, the APC fell silent. "What's his problem?" asked Carter pointing at Jack. He was bent over clutching his chest as he had been for some time. "Hey, are you OK?" Jack sat up.

"Yeah, I think so." Although he hadn't really noticed it before, Jack had become genuinely concerned for his health. He hadn't eaten for two days and thought that perhaps he'd broken a few ribs, or something. "Yeah, I'm OK." he repeated. He looked around. Opposite him, sat Wright, who still had his face cut and bruised. He wasn't complaining and he looked in far worse shape, so who was Jack to complain.

"I think you guys should get some rest. It's now nearly 7am and I bet you've had shit all sleep. We'll be at Catovic later and you'll be on the first boat to the nearest Allied H.Q.," informed Carter, "assuming of course there's still one left..." he finished, lowering his voice.

Jack settled back as best he could and contemplated what happened. A few hours ago he was standing knee deep in snow and mud on the banks of a swelling river. Now he'd been rescued. But there was something that was bothering him. How did the APCs and their crew know about the POW camp that had not infact been baptised with its first inmates? The more he thought of it, the less sense it made. Why sent a commando in to blow up a base? Was it merely a distraction to free them? No, the commando was there for a specific reason. She was there to blow up the Command Post. And the APCs? Maybe they were tagging along for the ride. Maybe the allied POWs were not set out to be released. Maybe their commanding officers didn't know about these men. Or maybe they didn't care; why should they risk more men and vehicles recapturing prisoners which could turn out to be liabilities. Jack drew one last breath on his cigarette, before dropping it to the floor and crushing it.

Jack awoke in his transport. Stretching out, he stifled a yawn with the palm of his hand, before clutching his chest. With his free hand he rubbed his eyes. The first thing he noticed was that they had stopped, yet they were still moving. The rear door was partially open and Jack saw that they were in an LST. At last he was going home. He hardly had the strength to keep his eyes open and subsequently dropped back into his sleeping position. Pulling his blanket over his shoulders, he tried to return to sleep. Blanking out the surrounding noises, he buried his head deeper into his collar. He gave a quick shiver and yawned again.

It wasn't until he was sitting next to Jack before he felt his presence. He spoke.

"I expect you'll be wanting some of this and this." Jack heard as a couple of small boxes rattled. He opened his eyes again and turned to his new neighbour. He shook the boxes again and flashed a reassuring smile. "It's OK.," he continued, "We'll soon have you up and about."

He was a Field Medic, observed Jack, who was still rattling a box of first aid equipment and food supplies. The Medic asked where it hurt whilst he opened the boxes. Jack took a bite of something that he could not recognise. It tasted vile, but it was edible, so he thought. He was about to explain that his chest hurt when he was shot. He froze for a few seconds. "There we are." said the Medic surprisingly cheerily. Jack looked over his arm to see the needle coming out. "Tetanus." explained the Medic. "It's a killer, and you'd better believe it! So then, where's it hurt?" he repeated.

"I, er, well, sort of here, I suppose." replied Jack, gesturing to his chest. The Medic bent down to his kit bag, then immediately produced a set of surgical equipment. After cutting back Jack's shirt and applying some dressing to his wounds, he shot up and thrust out his hand.

"Where are my manners?" he asked without warning. "I'm Robins. Call me George. It's not my name, but it's what they all call me!" he chuckled with just a hint of a snigger. Jack raised his hand and they met with a firm shake. "And you must be Number #65!" Jack looked at his hand that was still being shaken. The blue ink from the Soviet stamp nearly matched the colour of his hand. "Or is it Number #59?" laughed Robins, turning his head upside down, dropping his beret.

"Rivers." replied Jack, as Robins tried to replace his beret.

"I don't know which one we're on, but I know that we're now heading for the coast and we'll be out in open sea pretty soon, where we'll rendezvous with a larger vessel to take you back to England." informed Robins, whilst he began to scribble on a clip-board.

"No, I mean that's my name - Jack Rivers." clarified Jack.

Robins laughed that same annoying laugh for the third or fourth time. "Heh, heh. I know. 'Just a little joke. " Robins indicated he'd finished writing with a defiant full stop, which Jack supposed had probably damaged the nib.

Jack looked down the list of neatly typed names and the scrawled mess under the heading Medic's Report. "Who's the chick?"

"Hmm?" was the reply. Robins didn't look up; he carried on re-reading what he'd written. Jack began to rub his hands together and was about to speak when "I wouldn't keep rubbing your hands with those blisters! Why don't you sit on them? You'd be surprised just how much heat is lost through that area of your body!" suggested Robins. He obliged, and felt the warmth of his blood in his hands once more. "Well," started Robins. "You may have a couple of cracked ribs, or maybe just bruised. I don't really know." He pointed to the illegible document. "So I've recommended that immediate surgery, well," he corrected himself, "surgery on the other vessel anyway," he returned to his natural tone of voice, "is probably not crucial. There are lots of others in worse shape than you." Robins paused for a second. "So, like I said, I've put down that you'll be OK if they just get you in a proper lying down position. See?" Robins tapped his finger back on the clipboard again to refocus Jack's attention on the paper.

"Yeah." lied Jack. He waited for a moment as Robins returned his things to his bag. "Er, as I was saying, er," he started. "Who's that woman?"

"Woman? You wish!" Jack cringed as Robins laughed again.

"Her!" he explained, gesturing down the APC. Jack was surprised. He looked up the other way. He stood up and started to march to the door.

"Woah!" called Robins, "I thought you were supposed to be hurt!" joining him. Jack poked his head around the back doorway. He could see Richards talking to Carter. There was no sign of Tanya.

"She was here!" he stammered.

"Well she's not any more." Jack turned and stared at Robins, who just managed to refrain from laughing.

"Davies!" called Jack walking back into the APC. "You remember her don't you? Davies?" Jack began to shake him.

"Forget him! He's wasted!" laughed Robins, nodding towards the empty hip-flask on the floor.

Jack stared hard at the flask whilst he tried to concentrate on the previous night. He was sure the commando called Tanya had joined them at the would-be POW camp, yet the more he thought about it, the less descript his memories became. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe he'd dreamt it all up. Maybe the only reason those APCs were around was to rescue them, and not to fulfil some mission to obliterate a Soviet base. Robins collected his things and returned them to his bag, and after apologising for banging elbows with Jack, he turned and marched off towards Richards. Jack sat down again, and wrapped himself back up in his blanket. He settled back against the wall side of the truck but knew he wouldn't be able to sleep.


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