His right arm would not respond. Harrin struggled to open his eyes but something held them shut. Fumbling he found a gooey crust over his face. Rubbing made the pain worse but he doggedly cleared his eyes. Struggling to focus he made out a camouflage pattern covered in streaks of mud. Why were his legs up there?
Patting with his left hand he discovered he was upside down. His right arm was under his body. It felt like he was resting on gravel. He was too vulnerable like this so the first priority was getting the right way up. Teeth clenched he bent his legs and toppled sideways.
Pain and darkness.
His vision cleared. The throbbing in his head was drowned by a stabbing sensation in his gut. Above him towered a rock face and above that the stars glittered.
His last memory was still day so either they thought he was dead or did not care; he was safe enough here for a while, so second priority was to determine how rutted he was. Three limbs working. His right arm still felt slack but he felt tingling. If he was lucky it was only numb from him lying on it. Checking his torso he found an unbroken ampoule of Numb on his tags. His hand jerked away from his stomach. The surge of pain stopped a proper feel but if felt like a stomach wound. From the stickiness on his fingers it had reopened when he tipped himself over. If he took the Numb he would be able to move, maybe find his pack, or he could save the painkiller for when he could see what he was doing.
Unless days had passed this was still enemy territory, so visibility worked against him too. Finally his right hand gripped the cap of the ampoule hard enough to let him twist off the cap. Bracing himself he stabbed it down into his stomach. Black suns burnt across the night sky before a liquid chill took the pain.
* * *
"Looks like a Zilf, Sarge. Pretty battered. Maybe got caught in the blast when some flyboy took out the bridge."
Harrin took point as the squad slipped over the ridge. Jogging past the wrecked car, he took up position on the far side of the road.
"Rut that's shiny." The shout drew his attention. Sarge was standing next to the wreck holding up a cup. A golden cup covered in jewels. "Help me get this box out, lads."
Straining Sarge and Trevik manoeuvred a crate out of the back of the wreck, accompanied by a gush of slithers and clanks. Harrin's jaw dropped; the crate was literally dripping with riches. Abandoning his post he jogged back to his squad.
"There's another crate in there, Sarge," marvelled Trevik. "How much d'you reckon there is?"
"Enough for a general to spent an hour telling us we ain't pushing those mudhumpers back like his pencil says we should... or maybe a short carry to make up for all the generals we got to carry until this is over. We find some out of the way place to stash it then we can all be rich when the mud dries."
Harrin watched the faces. Sarge was suggesting looting. Someone decides to take a stand and this could turn messy.
"You four get these crates off the road and get that spill back on the crate." Sarge's bark broke the tension. "I'll see if there's anything in the front."
* * *
After the Numbrush abated he managed to push himself into a sitting position. Without the pain to muddle him up he could see that he was actually in a gully and was only a few feet deep. Even better, there was a dark mass lying several yards further along.
Recovering his knapsack he quickly pulled out a bandage. Now he could pull the tunic away without blacking out it looked like a gunshot wound just below his ceramic insert. The bullet must have clipped the plate so it went in slow.
Bandage in place he slowly eased himself into a kneeling position. His las-rifle was nowhere to be seen. He had a knife and one grenade to protect himself. So one chance at killing the first mudhumper unit who found him. He carefully peered over the rim. The gully ran across a steep slope. Behind him it dropped off before plunging over the edge of the mountain. It would be rutting hard to get out of here, but at least he knew where he was now.
* * *
Two loud bangs startled Harrin. Trevik dropped the other end of the crate and ran for the cave mouth. SP fire meant the mudhumpers had found them. Gathering his wits he dived for his las-rifle as the pleasing scorch of fire being returned echoed out.
Another bang and Trevik disappeared. Harrin decided radio silence was less help than knowing what was happening. Time stretched alarmingly before the channel opened.
"Harrin? I'm pinned down to the left of the mouth," whispered Sarge. "They've got the path covered but I reckon you could get out the right side and drop over the top of the slope if I give you cover. Break on my mark."
* * *
At some point during his crawl up the slope the wound had torn open again and it was damp enough that he wasn't going to make it home. However, thanks to the Numb he didn't feel much, and he figured he knew what happened. He had been diving for cover when the bullet hit and he rolled all the way down. If they looked over the edge later they would have assumed he went off the bottom. Just bad luck they got a shot off despite the covering fire.
Or was it? Three shots to take down three men but they missed Sarge. Sarge had been in the Zilf alone while they moved the crates. Maybe he took a pistol while he was there. Two close shots would be easy and Trevik wouldn't be expecting Sarge to shoot him. Maybe he figured bigger payout if he didn't have to share.
Calling on every tatter of stealth that remained he slid over the lip. Sarge was sitting propped up on a rock looking the other way.
"Sarge. Bet you weren't expecting to see me again."
His legs splaying beneath him, Harrin flicked his hand forward. Sarge instinctively caught the pin before looking down.
"I kept most of it because I had to carry it up the hill but I figured you deserved a share."
- Word count: 1099