Shorty zips past, heading for the B-huts. GET AWAY, DOG! someone shouts. The dog's howling like crazy but the sound merges with the storm. Tracers light up the darkness. The enemy's aim is so precise, they have us pinned down. They must have started moving into position as soon as the storm began. Ahead of me, Grohl and Spitz are working away methodically with the .50, spitting rounds. I can hear them swearing. The two ANA flank them, firing away with M-4s until one of the guns jams. The man spits into the breech of the gun, trying to clear it, but it's no use. He throws it away, loses his nerve, and sprints past me for the brick-and-mortars. He doesn't make it. I take over his position, firing short bursts. Whalen pulls me down behind the Hescos. You wanna die young? he snarls. His face is red with exertion; his bandana's fallen off. The other ANA starts, then slumps to his knees. I grab him by the vest and pull him down. The ground is littered with empty shells. Things are happening too fast.
The air clears momentarily, and I glimpse Connolly to my left standing behind Mitchell and Folsom, screaming grid coordinates into his radio. I shout to him and race over through incoming rounds. He stands up, fires a round, ducks down.
We're in a fucking shooting gallery! he screams. And I can't even call in the birds!
No shit, Sir, I yell back. They'd wipe out in this storm.
Where'd they come from?
They must have used the ratlines down the mountains.
Figures. Okay, I'm going to circle round to the back. See how things are with Ellison.
He flicks a glance at me. You should've woken me the moment you suspected a fucking TIC situation, Lieutenant. We'll talk later. A mortar shell thuds into the Hescos just as he takes off. He stumbles, catches himself, and runs on. White phosphorus residue from the shell washes over the ground. I watch him disappear from sight, then take up position beside Mitchell and Folsom. I'm seething from his rebuke, partly because he's right. I should've had Whalen wake him.
I glimpse a dark silhouette dart past the wire. Mitchell screams at the same time: THEY'RE PAST THE WIRE!
Folsom starts cursing. Their M-240's jammed up. The barrel's smoking.
Come on, come on... he says urgently. Frickin' come on... He manages to get the gun working again.
I aim and empty my M-4. The silhouette staggers back and falls against the wire. I realize I've run through all my ammunition save one magazine.
I hear the distinctive snap of a bullet inches away.
Folsom jerks back, then turns almost lazily and crumples into my arms. There's a hole where his nose used to be. Blood spews out. I try to hold him up, but his head lolls to one side and his eyes slide back in their sockets. He's gone. A gust of sand sweeps over us.
I lay him down and slide in next to Mitchell, feeding him the belt. His hands are raw, sweaty. He stares at Folsom.
Keep going, I tell him. Just keep going.
He steadies the M-240, stolid, workmanlike. For a cherry, he's holding up all right. He glances at me and shouts: This is nuts!.
I can feel my adrenaline pumping. Don't think about it, I yell, then begin to cough. There's sand between my scarf and my mouth. A thick coating of dust sheathes my face. I'm having difficulty breathing. I clear my throat and spit. I'm slathered in Folsom's blood.
Two more ghostly apparitions cross the wire. The M-240 stutters, then jams again. Mitchell struggles with the breech of the gun. It's coated with sand and grit. I snatch up my M-4 and aim at the enemy. Before I can fire, one falls, claimed by a Claymore, but the other seems to float right through the sandstorm while coolly firing an AK-47 with one hand. A jagged line of bullets rips up the Hescos. Dirt smacks me in the face. Then Mitchell clutches his elbow and yanks back from the M-240. He's hit. Another bullet slams into his chest but his body armor saves him. Even so, he spins around. Blood belches down his arm. He squats on the ground in a stupefied daze. I'm about to yell at him to fall back when our senior medic, Doc Taylor, comes loping up. I empty my last magazine to give him cover, then catch the 9 mil that Doc throws at me. I've lost sight of the other militant, but a fire team sets up beside us and starts blazing away with an LMG. All around, every man in the company is emptying magazines into the darkness. The noise is deafening, the crack of guns somehow amplified by the howl of the storm. Red tracer ribbons stream back and forth, forming an illuminated web overhead. Incoming bullets spark off surfaces. We're taking heavy fire, and it's concentrated, accurate.
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