• Published 15th Oct 2011
  • 4,440 Views, 44 Comments

Airborne - Fernin

A misnamed colt and a misplaced human Soldier find friendship despite the barriers between them.

  • ...

Chapter 1: Ambushed

Forward Operating Base Viper hadn’t made for too bad of a tour. Nestled in a strategic valley, it had seen its share of action, but for another year the Red, White, and Blue had fluttered side-by-side with Afghanistan’s Black, Red, and Green. Taking a deep breath of the cool morning air, Lieutenant Green glanced down the valley in the direction he’d soon be heading—to Bagram Airfield and, ultimately, home.

Gravel crunched underfoot as Captain O’Neil joined his subordinate in looking down the winding road. He took a long final draw on his cigarette and eyed the lieutenant for a moment before breaking the silence. “Regrets, Lieutenant?”

Lieutenant Green paused for a moment, mulling his response. “Eh. Not really, sir…”

“What, you wanted more action? You’ll have plenty more tours for that, I’m sure.” The captain chuckled knowingly, lighting another cigarette.

Lieutenant Green picked up a decent sized rock from the gravel and let fly. It sailed over the perimeter HESCO barriers and clattered down the slope. “No. More of… I don’t know. Everybody back home is probably going to say things like, ‘oh thank you for defending our freedom’ and all that. But...”

“Heh. You’re acting like we haven’t made a difference here.”

“Yes, sir. I just think... Hell, I don’t know. I—” Both officers looked up at a sudden astonished shout from up the hill.

Sergeant First Class Aldo Rodriguez jogged towards the pair. He pointed at the lieutenant in mock astonishment as he approached, his dark ballistic glasses and fire-retardant hood doing nothing to hide the massive grin on his face. “Holy crap sir, look out! It’s a day-walker!”

Grinning, Lieutenant Green struck back with a traditional counter-attack. “That’s ‘Lieutenant Day-walker, sir’ to you, Sergeant Rodriguez.”

“Sorry sir,” the non-commissioned officer laughed. “It’s just that we thought you’d gone home already! I was just here to tell Captain O’Neil that the convoy brief was in ten minutes, when what did I see but the ghoooooost of night battle captains paaaaasssstt! OooOOOoooohhhh!”

“Ten minutes, eh? All right. See you there, Aldo.” Captain O’Neil nodded to the sergeant, who waved cheerily and returned to the rumbling line of vehicles near the perimeter gate.

The captain turned back to his lieutenant. “All right, Mike. Anything else? Seems like we’re on a tight timeline for that five-hour convoy.”

“’Hurry up and wait, sir,’ like usual. See you at the briefing.” With a smile and nod, Lieutenant Green made one last pit stop at the latrine and arrived at the briefing with more than enough time to make sure his gear had been secured on his assigned truck.

A third of the way through the briefing, the butterflies started. They always did, every time Lieutenant Green rolled ‘outside the wire.’ Mike wondered vaguely if his stomach would be settled if he’d done more than a handful of patrols, but somehow he doubted that the ‘pucker factor’ ever truly went away.

When the briefing finished, Lieutenant Green did a final pass over his gear. He checked his rifle for the umpteenth time and tightened the straps on his ballistic armor. Did he still have his snacks for the trip..? Yup. Ammo? Enough water? Check and check. All right, he was ready. Opening the heavy door of the big M-ATV, he climbed up and into the crew compartment. The door swung ponderously shut, almost crushing Mike’s fingers as he fumbled with the seat belt and restraints.

Lieutenant Green tried to smile when the vehicle commander peered over his shoulder and through his gunner’s legs to give his passenger a toothy grin and a thumbs-up. The gesturing soldier gabbled something to his driver that the lieutenant didn’t catch, but it didn’t matter… the entire crew save for Green were Macedonians, so it was all moon language anyway.

Even if they had been in English, the Macedonian’s words would have been hard to catch over the bone-shaking thrum of the M-ATV’s engine. The basso vibrations rose and fell with the rhythmic idling of the truck’s diesel engine, deadening all sounds in the crew compartment. Listening to the vehicle’s ‘heartbeat,’ it was hard not to think of the big metallic beast as a living thing—but the increasingly nervous Mike tried not to dwell on that for the sake of his roiling stomach.

The tone of the idling engine changed as the vehicle commander patted his driver on the shoulder and the truck lurched into gear. If anything, it actually got louder. Hopefully the five-hour trip to Bagram would be as uneventful as the other convoys he’d taken.

Just like previous experiences with the cramped confines of the Army’s latest anti-mine technology, sitting inside the M-ATV felt a bit like being crammed into a massively over-engineered clown car. Even with only three seated passengers and the lower half of the gunner’s body in the cab, Lieutenant Green felt like he was the tenth pound of sausage in a five-pound bag. He focused on the fleeting view out the inches-thick ballistic glass of the window, relying on the tiny, distorted window to the sky to hold any latent claustrophobia at bay.

Settling in for the long wait, Mike let the hours pass. The slowly moving gray wall of rock gave way to blue sky as they passed out of the narrow valley and into a wider area, but was quickly replaced by more rock as they entered another narrow pass. The convoy was well out of FOB Viper’s battle space now. It wouldn’t be too much longer—another hour or two—and he would be in Bagram. The lieutenant sighed, imagining the heavenly aroma of Green Bean coffee. He made a mental note to get some the first chance he had. No wait, maybe a cigar from the Post Exchange. Or some pizza. Was the pizza place still open there? Hmm…

A sudden, ear-splitting roar and a staccato burst of gunfire jerked Lieutenant Green back to the present. The radio crackled to life and the crew of the M-ATV surged into action. The lieutenant cringed as bullets bounced off the metal hull of the crew compartment, making his door ring dully. The feet of the gunner nearly stomped on Mike’s hand as he struggled to turn with the whirring turret. The acrid smell of cordite filled the vehicle and burning hot brass casings rained down as the truck’s machine gun chattered.

The convoy was being hit by a complex ambush. Mike had never felt so useless and helpless in his life. His breath came fast and he felt even sicker than before. This wasn’t his first taste of combat, but here he was a helpless bystander. As a passenger without even a firing port to his name, he could do nothing but hug his rifle close and listen to the animated jabber of the Macedonian crew as they responded to the ambush. He could barely even see anything out the windows except for—

A massive, invisible fist slammed into the M-ATV from below, lifting the sixteen-ton vehicle off its axles. It landed again almost instantaneously as though scrambling for purchase on the narrow mountain road—but now the road was a cratered ruin of its former self. The vehicle lurched sickeningly to one side, affording Lieutenant Green an excellent view of the thundering river some hundred feet below. Then the roadway finally gave out and the truck tumbled, plummeting into the icy grip of the water below. Lieutenant Green had only moments to brace for impact. He didn’t even remember to shout “rollover!” as he grabbed desperately for the gunner’s legs to haul him into the cab—not that it would have helped.

* * *

“Hey, Mud-dancer!”

Skydancer ground his teeth and tried to ignore the voice behind him. He poked again at the surface of the Hippocrene River, watching the little fish dash away from the sky blue of his hoof. With the slow-moving water at the riverbank, the glassy surface was almost like a mirror.

The reflections let Skydancer stare down at the mirror image of the sky and clouds, pretending he was up there instead of down here in the depths of the Hippocrene River Valley. He wondered what it would be like, being able to sail across the sky as freely as the little fish zoomed around in the water. He wondered why it was that Cirrus felt the need to bother him when she was only a year older than he was. Most of all, he wondered why his mother had thought it was a good idea to name an earth pony ‘Skydancer’ even if she did like the sound of it.

Having failed to elicit the desired response, Cirrus trotted a bit closer to her sky blue target. The grayish-white pegasus filly cleared her throat. Skydancer remained stooped over the bank of the rushing river, his back to her and his blue-white tail swishing as he continued peering into the water’s depths. The pegasus felt the bile rise in her throat. Ignore her, would he? “I said, ‘hey, Mud-dancer!’ You got mud in your ears too, dirt pony?”

It was tempting to think that if Skydancer kept ignoring Cirrus, she’d go away… but of course, he knew better. Keeping his back to the filly, he spoke as though talking to the Hippocrene River instead of the annoying pegasus behind him. “I don’t have mud in my ears, Clouds-for-Brains.”

What did you just call me?” Cirrus’ hackles rose, her wings fluttering angrily.

“Nothing.” The temptation to look was just too great. Skydancer turned, grinning cheekily as he saw his would-be bully fuming in rage. Hah, that ‘cloud-for-brains’ comment had gotten Cirrus good.

“I’m a pegasus pony!” Cirrus snarled. “That means I’m better! I can do everything you can, and fly!”

“With those little chicken wings? Since when?” Skydancer waved a hoof mockingly at the underdeveloped wings on the filly’s back.

“Take that back!” Cirrus charged down the slope at Skydancer with a cry of rage. Without warning she jumped into the air, making a short, gliding leap. Her wings buzzed rapidly, giving her even more speed as she bore down on her prey. The two young ponies tumbled into the water in a splashing, snarling ball of blue and gray.

“Make me!” Skydancer gasped as his head came back out of the frigid waters. Despite the chill he could already feel a hoof-shaped welt rising on his sensitive nose. Cirrus had flown. She’d flown! She’d never done that before. It wasn’t fair!

“Dirt pony!” Cirrus dunked the blue pony’s head under the river’s surface once again. After a short struggle a hoof shot up with a spray of water, knocking the surprised filly’s head back as her teeth clicked together.

Chicken wings! ” Skydancer retorted as he surfaced from the water, spray coursing off his heaving sides. He squared up for a counter-attack, but none was forthcoming. The gray pegasus was already gone, galloping down the rocky path as fast as her legs could carry her.

Wading back to the riverbank, Skydancer hauled himself out onto the rocks and panted, gasping for breath. He was going to get into so much trouble for this…