by Fernin

Chapter 8: Homeward Bound

Lieutenant Green sat up and winced. Did anybody get the number off that truck? He found himself looking at his hand, expecting it to be holding something... blue? It was empty. Okay. Where was he? The groggy lieutenant looked around. Hmm. Small room. One door, one window. Bed. Comfy bed.

The familiar lilting phrases of Dari filtered through the door. After a moment, someone rapped at the portal. A heavily accented voice called, “Hello? Awake, yes?”

Heart sinking, the lieutenant replied. “Yes. Bali.

“Aaah, you know some Dari! A salaam aleykum! Manda nabashen. Hob hasti?” A big—which is to say wide—Afghan burst through the door, wearing the uniform of the Afghan National Police. He clapped the shocked American’s hand in both of his own and shook it warmly, barely drawing a breath as he continued to bombard the confused lieutenant with a usual Afghan greeting salvo.

“Uh… Waleykum a salaam. You’re Afghan National Police?” Finally Lieutenant Green managed to extricate his hand. He shifted on the cot, wincing as he pulled sore muscles. What had he been doing? He hadn’t really been where his sleep-fogged memory was telling him he’d been, right..?

Bali, bali. Yes. Please get dressed! Your American friends will be here for you shortly! We call… We call OCC-P, and they call Americans, and Americans come here!” The policeman beamed.

Lieutenant Green nodded and stood unsteadily, trying to pull on his uniform. They’d left him his rifle and all his gear… probably not insurgents? And this one said that they’d called the provincial operation coordination center… “Uh… where did you find me?”

The policeman shrugged. “Very strange! Very strange. You in river, right on our patrol route! We fish you out! We call—”

“—The OCC-P, the OCC-P called the Americans, and the Americans are coming here. Right. Do you know when?” Lieutenant Green tightened the straps on his body armor and hooked in his rifle’s sling.

“Very soon! Very—Ah, there.” Afghan and American alike looked out the window as the rumble of big diesel engines filled the air. Lieutenant Green smiled and slid on his helmet. Here came the cavalry, and just in time. Much longer and this policeman would probably talk him to death.

* * *

Lieutenant Green had never thought he’d be so happy to hear the ever-present roar of jets from the Bagram Air Field runways. They sounded even louder here, in the passenger terminal. He looked up as the last four of his social security number were called. He echoed the numbers and called out, “Here! Green!”

Taking his place in the line, the lieutenant followed his fellow Soldiers out on to the hard runway of the airfield. The wide maw of the C-17’s cargo bay gaped invitingly as he scaled the ramp and took his seat in the cramped palletized seating at the center of the aircraft. Drat, he’d been hoping for a wall seat this time. Some guys had all the luck.

Mike looked to his left at the Air Force lieutenant colonel who took the seat next to him. Of course, the air crew was ever solicitous in the treatment of their fellow Airmen; the planeless pilot was already sipping on a cold Pepsi and digging through his boxed lunch. Boy, had Lieutenant Green joined the wrong service.

Lieutenant Green grinned at his fellow passenger. “Flying the friendly skies in someone else’s bird today, eh sir?”

The lieutenant colonel chuckled. “Yep… just glad to be getting home for some R&R. These six month rotations are a killer.”

Thanks for twisting the knife, sir. Lieutenant Green groped for more banalities, but what does an Army lieutenant say to someone twenty years and several ranks his senior? He looked down to comment on the flyer’s unit patch—and felt his jaw drop. It couldn’t be. He found his hand groping for the cargo pocket of his uniform and pulled out the strange book.

The book and, for some reason, a daisy-and-grass sandwich were all that remained of an adventure that was still hazy in Lieutenant Green’s mind. At least, it was hazy according to the story the debriefers had gotten. Mike had no intention of getting booted less than two years into his tour of service for being nutty as a fruitcake, thank you very much, and strange adventures with little horse people definitely qualified.

Skydancer’s little book was just where Lieutenant Green had left it. The writing was, sadly, still as unintelligible as before, but the pictures… Mike flipped to a few pages that the little blue colt had dog-eared and scrutinized the pictures, then stared at the colonel’s patch again. The body shapes were the same. He felt his throat tightening a bit. “Uh, sir… What unit patch is that? I don’t recognize it.”

The lieutenant colonel shrugged and looked down at the patch with its cheery blue pegasus lobbing an oversized bomb at the ground. “Oh, this? It’s not a real patch, just a little something we made up. Rainbow Dash. ‘Death from above! In ten. Seconds. Flat.’ Plus, my kids get a kick out of it, so there’s that. Why? Fan of the show?”

“N-no reason sir… Think we’ll lift off soon?” There were some things, Mike was sure, that he was better off not knowing. Or thinking about. Suddenly deeply, deeply regretting not sitting somewhere else, Lieutenant Green craned his neck to look out the back of the aircraft. He squinted. Was that..?

In the distance, off the end of the runway and outside the perimeter, specks of colored paper weaved and danced in the evening breeze. Lieutenant Green found a smile ghosting across his face as he watched the Afghan kites flutter in the wind. He turned around and buckled in, settling back in his seat and closing his eyes as he waited for the big troop transport to get airborne. “See you around, Skydancer.”