"Make a wish, Stanley!" A girl's voice said excitedly, the only solitary voice in the back of the 5-tonner truck.
"It's not exactly my birthday, Vivian..." Another voice, this time someone male and older, replied, "Oh alright." Candles were blown. An audience's applause.
"What did you wish for?" The same girl asked, unabashedly curious.
"I wished for all this to be over, so that life could go back to normal... Just the three of us going to school, and Pops to work..." The same man said, distractedly.
3rd Sergeant Ka Kee lowered his Ipod, unable to watch any further. Inevitably, his eyes met Anusha's, who knew what was going on. The 5-tonner they were in rumbled as it tried its best to run along the Blue Star Memorial Highway towards Washington D.C, barely. The roads were littered with abandoned vehicles. Although Blue Star Memorial Highway was one of the less popular survivor's roads, there would always be a row of cars forming an obstacle once in a while.
"Sergeant..." Private Anusha addressed Ka Kee unnaturally-she was still unused to calling him that, considering that they were old friends since they were in Primary School. With the military improving its practice with experience and tightening their protocols due to the war, she had no choice but to go against the nature of their relationship, "I'm sure they're fine. Singapore's been doing quite well, considering..." Anusha could not bring herself to say it, but she would have continued with 'that every other country was zombie food' had she been less sensitive.
"Yeah, man, how many times did you watch that thing?" 2nd Lieutenant Fields, his squad commander, said mildly. He was one of those Americans who got trapped in Singapore-interestingly enough, he volunteered to take up Singaporean citizenship to serve in the army rather than wait for the government there to finally start drafting foreigners desperately, "Don't worry about it, I'm sure Obama's fine and all and soon you'll be on your way back home, cooking and everything." The 5-tonner rumbled again, unsteady. It didn't feel right to Ka Kee, but he decided to put it down to his paranoia.
"Yeah. I guess. Besides, I've got other babies to take care of, right?" Ka Kee said absent-mindedly as he slipped his Ipod back into his thigh pocket. A few laughters. A straggler laughed along. The rest were either sleeping or in a daze. It was a running joke, something that everyone in his squad knows, the babies referring to the newest soldiers.
Ka Kee shifted himself a little. The seatbelts were a little tight, but it was all part of the now serious Singaporean army. For the umpteenth time, his sword was getting in the way again. "Damn phallic thing..." Ka Kee muttered under his breath, making sure that no one hears it, before adjusting his sheathed sword. Unlike the ceremonial officer's sabre, the SS-3 or Singapore Sword Mark 3, was designed in the fashion of the Chinese Jian (straight sword), partly for the functionality but also due to China's influence. Unlike the traditional Jian, however, the SS-3's hilt and handle were made of hard polymer, and the whole thing was painted tactically in temasek green. There were no ornaments, as it was made with practicality in mind. Still, Ka Kee hated the thing as it meant additional training with the sword. It seemed surreal the day he had to train in it, and it was obvious everyone else felt the same way from their faces-what the government did was to marshal the martial artists of Singapore to train the entire military in its use. They had even developed a new fighting system against zombies.
"So, sir, glad to be back home?" Ka Kee decided to strike up a conversation to keep his mind off things. His memories were constantly on the edge, knawing at his heels. He needed to run a little faster. Fields looked over to him, but before he could reply, an explosion shook the vehicle they were in. Automatically, it meant only one thing, "Squad, weapons ready!"
The lead vehicle, another 5-tonner, was attacked. It had stepped on mines and RPGs were fired at it. It did not brake-no one in the front cabin survived long enough to apply it. Soon, it skidded out of control and toppled over, forcing the other vehicles in the column to halt. There were 2 other 5-tonners and the Ambassador's jeep. The 2nd vehicle was a 5-tonner, and it crashed into the lead vehicle before it could stop.
"Get the fuck out! Protect the ambassador!" Lieutenant Fields shouted as he was removing the sheath off his bayonet. Ka Kee pressed a button at the side of his helmet. Two one-way shaded plexiglass plates met over his eyes, activating. Soon, he was seeing subtle marks over his fellow soldiers-green means friendly. He turned his safety off.
"Pull off that tailgate lah!" Ka Kee shouted a follow-up order, rushing the two soldiers closest to the end of the vehicle. Even then, he was already being gentle compared to other sergeants. Soon, the bang of the tailgate against the back of the truck signalled the start of the skirmish. Ka Kee didn't even have time to reflect about what it meant to his chances of seeing his family again.
Two soldiers came before Ka Kee, scouting out the battlefield, making sure it was safe for the rest. Bullets were already whizzing around when Ka Kee set foot once again on American soil. Before his eyes, one of his squad members fell, a bullet to the knee-cap. The other guy pulled him behind the cover of an abandoned car. Ka Kee sprinted towards them, the rest of his squad behind him fanning out, taking cover elsewhere, returning fire. There were two sections of four squads of 20 soldiers in each 5-tonner, so their back and flanks were covered.
"Cars, 30 metres ahead, Sergeant!" The not-wounded soldier tending to the guy who just lost his knee-cap shouted. Behind the hood of the abandoned Mercedes-Benz, Ka Kee raised his rifle and scoped out, seeing a head and shoulder, his reflexes quickened by the red mark over his target. No, there were three just ahead of him. The screams of the wounded soldier worried him-Ka Kee hates to neglect his soldier even if there was imminent danger.
"Wrap a hard FAD over that, Charles!" Ka Kee shouted as he hid behind cover again, shaking-he hadn't been in a real firefight at all, and he was already considered quite brave for a conscript the way he performed. Next thing he did was to talk over the radio to the rest of his squad, "how many hostile natives? Over!"
"Spotted 9 on our side, over!" It was Anusha's voice, marred by static, but Ka Kee recognised it easily.
"There's another 10 on ours, over!" Another squad from the same 5-tonner reported.
"Return fire, advance cautiously!" Lieutenant Fields shouted his command over the radio, "I want you to envelope them, over!"
"Bravo squad, follow Alpha squad-com's tactic, over!" Lieutenant Field's counterpart decided the same thing for his own squad.
Ka Kee came out of his cover, took aim at the most convenient red mark, but ducked back behind his car after he realised he was a little slower than his intended target. The bullet bounced off the hood. Taking his chance, he rose again, taking a quick aim, fired. It was a straight shot through an eye, instant death. The natives, as the Americans were ironically called these days, were mostly poorly equipped guerilla fighters avenging themselves for the tragedy that befell ASEANDE's attempt to provide humanitarian aid and law & order.
The other Singaporean soldiers were returning fire, followed by the angry natives. People started falling, and Ka Kee became afraid for both himself and his men. Another man from his squad to his right was wounded, this time through the shoulder. Then Ambriese took a bullet in the throat-he was lucky he died instantly. FOr a moment, Ka Kee could not believe that less than a decade ago, Singapore was never expected to fight a real war-how that changed so quickly Ka Kee found it hard to accept.
He looked over the hood of his expensive Mercedes-Benz cover again, this time taking a quick scan of the battlefied, and spotted at least 5 targets and red marks. The natives had lost quite a number as well. Bullets flew in his direction, and he ducked again. Then something else exploded- the car to his far right was reduced to a smoldering mess, taking another three of his squad along. He could see the burning bodies on the ground, the splattered blood, gored flesh. He felt like vomitting, and he would have, had he not remembered that he had three chevrons on his chest.
Bravo squad was having a little more luck though, that much was in the good news section. Their radio chatter indicated that they had no casualties beyond a bruise to the skull when a pistol bullet bounced off one of their number's head, and the 'squad' of natives they were facing was cut down to size by half. For a moment, a pang of guilt and regret sprang on him without warning, but he remembered that it was war, and war was unfair-Bravo squad did not have cars exploding on them, for example. Ka Kee rose again and took aim at another target across from him, and realised that the native guerilla he was aiming at was about to throw a Molotov. He squeezed the trigger of his SAR21L2 in panic... and missed.
"Look out!" Ka Kee shouted a warning to Charles and the wounded soldier before leaping out of his cover, but it was too late and too inconvenient for them. One was too wounded, and the other was tending to him. They were immolated, and it wasn't an immediate death. Charles still had time to run around screaming, and was shot down soon afterwards-at least in that way the natives were merciful. The guy with the shattered knee cap wasn't as lucky. He couldn't even stand to expose himself, and was too weak to roll or even struggle, so he died flailing his arms where he was lying down.
Ke Kee crawled to his right, very aware that he was exposed, tried to get to his feet, but another explosion knocked him back down again-it was the Mercedes-Benz. 2nd Lieutenant Fields had to pull him towards his own cover behind an SUV, where Private Anusha and Corporal Jing Long was also at. They were taking turns taking pot shots, but Ka Kee wasn't sure if they were hitting anything, but from the look on their faces, it seemed unlikely.
"We're not doing any good here, Stanley!" Fields said before taking a break and shooting one of the native guerillas, "I want you to secure the ambassador's jeep, get them out of there, no one else's doin' it! I'll-" Before he could finish, a rifle slug went through the SUV, and by cruel chance, his helmet. Ka Kee could not help but to fall over backwards, shocked.
"Stanny," Anusha gave up on calling him Sergeant. The situation helped alot with that, "We need to go, Stan." She shook Ka Kee, made sure that he woke up. With 2LT dead, the responsibility of the entire squad, or what's left of it, fell on him. Ka Kee got up again, fighting images in his mind that decided on this moment to rise from the grave, fighting hard.
"Let's go, watch my back." Ka Kee said before raising his rifle again. In a beat, he sprinted up the road from one cover to the next, firing shots that he could not tell were hitting anything or not. For split seconds, he was taking a look all around, and realised that Charlie and Delta were doing much better on the other side of the road, but Bravo on their side was barely holding on. 'The guerillas were favouring a side' the tactical part of his brain thought.
Another cover stood between him and the Ambassador's jeep-there was blood on the front windshield. Someone was killed inside, likely the driver, as the standard protocol for the VIP transport was to retreat in situations like these. "Let's go!" Ka Kee shouted before sprinting to the next cover, his rifle blazing, accidentally putting down a native with an old revolver. Somewhere behind him, there was a familiar scream. Ka Kee slid behind the next car, turning around to see what happened. Private Anusha was with him, but Corporal Jing Long held back, clutching his leaking stomach. Another disaster to add to the cesspool of disasters. Corporal Jing Long was a guy who'd been with him since retraining back in Singapore. urgently, Ka Kee fumbled for the radio sitting on his shoulder, "Just hang back there, don't move until it's over!" Once again, the sergeant was torn between helping his friend and doing his military duty. Jing Long hand-signalled for him to go on, breaking the dillemma-it was the right thing to do.
"Cover me, Sha. I'll check on the Ambassador!" Ka Kee said before sprinting towards the armored jeep. Anusha was reluctant, but she was stuck in her position. Several shots went her way, not as many but still as deadly. She rose out of cover and returned the favour. A native howled in pain, but he sounded very much alive. Ka Kee kept a low profile, visibly shaken, always afraid he would join his other friends. Most of all, he was afraid to leave Anusha alone with everyone dead. For most of his life, she had been his friend, a very dear one. They'd helped each other through school, through the difficult times, not to mention the Infection. She had few friends, so she was almost always with him whenever he needed her.
Ka Kee opened a door of the Jeep when he reached it. He could only be thankful that nothing inside was decapitated, but everyone inside was either dead or dying. The Ambassador and his staff were done for. Someone was missing though, Ka Kee could not remember who, but it hit him eventually that the US advisor, a US Navy officer who served in the USS Roanoke, was missing. The only course of action now was to hold out before the Officer in Command of the mission calls for a retreat. He had plenty of motivation to suggest it, and so he did, "Captain, I think the mission's a failure. The entire ambassador's staff is gone, we need to abort!"
"Infecteds! 100 metres north! They're running towards us!" Someone shouted over the radio. By north, it meant Charlie and Delta's side of the road. Another good motivation for Ka Kee to suggest it.
"Agreed. Expedition team, the 1st and 2nd tonners are gone, load up on the 3rd. The captain said over the radio, "Sergeant Ka Kee, it's your tonner, check the vehicle and the driver."
Ka Kee acknowledged the order and got back to Anusha, the only other able soldier on his squad left, but he noticed that she was lying against the car she was taking cover behind. She was shot, the maroon shockingly contrasting the green uniform and gear she was in. "Anusha!" Ka Kee rushed to her, checking the wound-it was a bullet to the left shoulder. She screamed when he tried to move her. Peeking around her back, he learnt that the bullet had exited through the back of her shoulder, which was a good thing, even if it did even more damage that way.
"The Infected are coming in close, 70 metres! The natives are retreating!" The same someone shouted over the radio. Against the protest of the screaming Anusha, Ka Kee stood her up, got her moving. Every step to her was pain. Looking around at Corporal Jing Long, he realised that he was lying on the ground. He was gone.
After jumping a cover or two, Ka Kee was able to spot the 5-tonner he went down from. The reward of escape had turned inward on itself. The cabin of the 5-tonner was blown apart. How these natives came across the firepower to blow their transports up beyond repair was beyond him-ASEANDE's central command and the boys in Recce must have underestimated their strength. There was no escape, "Captain, our last tonner's gone, over." At least there was notably far less bullets flying everywhere, and it was quickly diminishing as the natives decided to make a run. Ka Kee surmised that the natives were likely hoping to get at the humanitarian supplies packed in the trucks, meant for the US federal government as a token of friendship. Crates of vacuum-packed military rations, ammunition, cure packages, utilities-they would all have to be ditched now that the 5-tonners were gone.
"Then we'll run back to Raffles if we have to! Go!" The captain said over the radio, which he didn't turn off immediately as he was ordering the remaining men to fall back. He could feel what felt like a sickening punch in the stomach as it dawned upon him that Anusha can't exactly outrun the Infected anymore, and it was quite a distance, at least 8 long kilometres to be exact.
"Sir, my remaining man is wounded, she can't run! Over!" Ka Kee shouted over the radio, his first act of rebellion against higher authority.
"Ditch her then, that's an order." The captain's voice sounded notably colder even if it was over the distance of a radio with static thrown in. Ka Kee had no plans to follow that order. She had only travelled with him for 20-30 metres, and there she was, sitting, almost limp, on a car, no longer even caring whether she gets shot or not.
Ka Kee puts her good arm around his shoulder, and helped her off the road, going south-he wanted to get as far away from the rest of his platoon and the zombies pursuing him as possible. He knew it was a hunch, but he was putting his hope on the Infecteds chasing the remaining able-bodied members of his platoon. While it was starting to sound like AWOL and abandoning his platoon to their doom, Ka Kee reasoned that they could take care of themself, and he would be absolved from the charge on account of Anusha. A few kilometres down south, there was a little isolated house, two storeys high.
At first, the distance seemed daunting, but with the Infected distracted but with no guarantee of it remaining that way, it was starting to look good.