23. Prisoner of War

October 2008

The truck stopped, and the men piled out. Two of them dragged Lana's limp body over the tailgate and dumped it unceremoniously beside a line of other bodies, some covered with canvases and tarpaulins, most not. A third man hauled Daniel to his feet.

“Come on, move,” the man said. He gave Daniel a shove towards the back of the truck. Daniel stumbled, almost falling headfirst out of the truck, but managed to get his feet underneath him in time. He dropped to his knees in the dirt, but his guard jerked him upright again. “No stopping here, come on.”

Daniel looked around him, still dazed by what had happened, only taking in the vaguest details. Men ran back and forth around him; he was aware of flickering flames on the edges of his vision. Occasional bangs and explosions registered somewhere in the back of his mind. His guard pushed him towards a group of men standing around some kind of structure or assembly in the middle of the yard.

“Ah, the man of the hour,” said one of the men, then spat into the dirt and turned his back on Daniel. A second man turned to Daniel, peered at him for a moment, then slapped him hard in the face. Daniel grunted at the pain.

“You with us now? This is no time to be zoning out,” said the man.

Daniel blinked slowly, then shook his head a little to clear it. He looked at the man, more carefully this time. This man, he realised, wasn't wearing the same blue-grey overalls as the rest of the men; he was wearing jeans and a checked shirt, and wearing a bright yellow hard hat on his head.

“You got a working radio in that thing?” the man said, nodding towards Daniel. Oh, my helmet, Daniel realised. He nodded, then found his voice.

“I don't know if it's still working,” he managed.

“Well, how about you try?” the man said. “Nothing too complicated, just let your friends know that you're down here.”

Daniel reached up and fumbled for the send switch hanging below his chin. He pressed it in and heard the hiss of static that said his microphone was active.

“Anyone receiving? Anyone receiving, come in,” he said, a wary eye on the man in front of him.

“Roger, receiving, come in.”

“I'm down, repeat, I'm down. I've been captured – I'm in the middle of the quarry. And Lana's –” his voice broke and he couldn't continue.

“What?! Shit, are you okay? Lana's what?”

“Dead,” he said, voice cracking again. “She got hit.”

The radio was silent.

“I think,” said the man in front of Daniel, “that you may want to pass on a message for me. Tell them that you're currently standing right beside an anti-aircraft gun we have just installed, and should they try attacking it you will likely be the first victim.”

Daniel thumbed his radio again. “Listen, you need to get out of here. They've got an anti-aircraft gun set up.”

“Damn. Where are you?”

“Right beside it,” Daniel said, “but forget about me, they'll probably kill me any–”

“That's enough,” the man said, swatting Daniel's hand away from the radio. He looked up. “Are your friends stupid?” he said, as a plane left the circle above and swooped down.

The men around the AA gun swung it to aim at the plane, as it came in low across the quarry. A series of noises like a truck engine turning over were matched with jets of flame shooting out of the four barrels of the gun, and the plane twitched before pulling up hard, banking and turning tightly away from the quarry.

“Fire a few straight up,” the man said, without taking his eyes off of Daniel. The men manning the gun swivelled it upright and began firing. The circle of planes suddenly widened, and a couple of planes broke from the circle and started climbing away from the quarry.

“That's got them frightened,” he said. “If you need me, just ask for Rhodes,” he said, then gestured to the man standing behind Daniel. “We got any buildings still standing?”

“The one, sir, in under the cliff,” the guard said.

“Shut him in,” Rhodes said, “and watch him.”

“Sir.” The man grabbed Daniel's shoulder and turned him towards the end of the quarry. Daniel could see a small, solid-looking shed sitting under a rocky outcrop at the far point of the workings. He was walked past the line of bodies, and when he saw Lana's still corpse sitting a little apart from the others his vision blurred as his eyes filled with tears, and he stumbled on a rock and would have fallen if his guard hadn't caught him by the elbow. “Easy now, watch where you're walking.”

Daniel shook him off angrily and wiped his eyes with the back of his wrist, but his vision blurred again. He straightened up anyway and carried on walking towards the shed, blinking back his tears.