Telford ducked back and huddled closer to the trunk of the tree as another burst of small arms fire ripped through the foliage. Then the sound of voices, their language foreign but their frustration and anger clear to hear, as the enemy troops fanned out on the ground at their leader’s instruction and started kicking at random trees.
The chance of making it back to base was looking pretty slim. Of the other Field Surveillance Ops in Telford’s cell, two had been killed by guard dogs, and two more captured by the enemy. Telford was on his own, deep in enemy territory with the element of surprise long lost.
He flexed his limbs slightly, resisting the urge to peek or move too soon, reciting the mantras of surveillance boot camp in an effort to subjugate instinct to discipline. Training is your lifeline in the field. The field is an enemy in itself.
The baying of the dogs was lessening, and the enthusiasm of the enemy grunts for kicking trees seemed to be declining rapidly. Telford listened closely, waiting to pick out the leader’s voice again, waiting for some sign of opportunity.
There’d be no help from HQ; that was the way it worked in Surveillance. You wore the kit, and it transmitted everything back to base without any intervention on your part. Which meant no way of opening a channel to the techs in the feed-rooms for anything extraneous to military purpose … like letting them know your cell had been wiped out, and that you were next unless you got very lucky.
Telford hefted at the broadcast unit on his back in frustration. Surveillance was the ultimate grunt-work; the brass would send you out without a care about your well-being – all they wanted was details of enemy emplacements. There were plenty more where Telford came from, easily coerced into suicide missions by careful training regimes. Grunts were expendable, even more so than the self-destructing broadcast rigs. Now he understood why the unit had no veterans. If he made it out of this alive, he was damned if he’d be going back for more of the same.
From maybe fifty yards to his west, Telford heard the enemy sergeant berating his squad into assembling for instructions. Not much distance, but there might be no more opportunities after this – let alone better ones. Telford faced east, and with a strong kick of his back legs and a twitch of his tail for balance, he leapt to a wide limb of the next tree along, and kept moving. As the rustle of foliage alerted the search team below, drawing howls of fury and unfamiliar cursewords in his wake, Telford ran for freedom – hoping to live long enough to cross the border and go AWOL for good.
[It’ll be fairly obvious that this story was inspired by this news item.]