Thilo

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 13

We were in sight of the finishing line.

We were cold, hungry, thirsty, wet though and muddy, but the adrenaline had been pumping, so we lay there looking for the next flurry of targets.

At first, these had appeared to be well separated out, and once we'd got used to looking around and spotting various tell-tale signs, apart from the lasers, we'd managed things, but then, the further into the town we ventured, so the opposition increased to the point where we began to worry about our supply of ammunition.

"How many are you down to Steve?"

"Fifteen. What about you?"

"Sixteen, and there's still around five hundred yard to cover."

"Thirty-one rounds and five-hundred yards.

We need to find some cover."

"I know, but there isn't any."

"There has to be something, otherwise no one would get through.

What about these cottages?"

"What about them?"

"They're terraced."

"They're hardly likely to have knocked through the adjoining walls?"

"What about the roofs though? If there's some kind of loft access in the first one, we could knock a hole through the roof and walk along the apex."

"Could work I suppose, but how do you propose we get back down?"

"Rip off the roof slates and hope there's another loft access, and if there isn't, we stomp a hole through the ceiling.

One other thing? I think they're using sensors to trigger the targets, otherwise how else can they be activated?

If we're like, rooftop, - no sensors to worry about, just the lasers, and we should have enough ammo to deal with them."

"Agreed. You lead the way."


We managed to get into the first of the cottages, but the staircase had all but collapsed.

We searched around, and finding a pile of old furniture, we were able to stack some bits and pieces high enough for me to hoist myself up onto the landing.

Thilo followed me, so lying flat on my stomach, I could reach down and grab his wrists, and what with him being flyweight, I managed to lift him up beside me.

Next was to find a loft hatch.

There wasn't one.

"We're somehow going to have to punch a hole through the ceiling. Have you seen anything we could use?"

"There's a scaffold pole in the other room, but it's there to prop something up."

"Show me."

Thilo walked me through into what had once been the second of two bedrooms, and wedged up against the far wall was a large sheet of steel about ten millimetres thick with a scaffold pole either side holding it in place.

"How are going to free it off? That's pretty well wedged in position."

"Yeah, but it's metal against metal at the top, metal on wood at the bottom and with that degree of weight, we'll never move it out at the base, so what if I were to take a pot-shot at the top and see if I can dislodge it?"

"Thilo? What if your shot ricochets?"

"I aim for the top of the pole, so if the shot's deflected, it'll end up in the attic."

"It's the only idea out there so go ahead works for me."

Thilo walked to the front of the metal sheet and cautiously tested the security of the poles.

He couldn't move either of them.

Next, he walked to the window, and tilting his head said, "Come over here. I'm going to try and move the one on the right. If I go for the left one, it might fly through the window, but the other one might play ball and land on the floor."

"It's your idea, so do whatever you think is for the best."

He took a breath and took aim, but then brought his gun down to rest by the side of his leg.

"Why am I so nervous?"

"I don't know. You manage to hit small laser pointers from four-hundred yards, so what's the problem?"

"If this all goes horribly wrong, it'll mean we have to walk away having not got through. I'm not in the habit of accepting defeat. We have to get across that green line!"

"Then we must give it a go. If you can't shift it after two or three tries, we both of us shoot at it simultaneously. Sod our lack of ammunition, because if this doesn't work, whichever way we look at things, we're fucked."

"Okay then. Stand back and cover your ears. This is going to be very noisy."


BOOM!

Noisy? I never realised how loud discharging a small hand gun in a confined space could be!

The scaffold pole shook and moved an inch, maybe an inch and a half but remained in place.

The second shot was slightly off kilter with the slug scudding off the pole, through the door panel and smashing a window on the other side of the landing.

The third shot did what we'd hoped. It fell sideways toward the door just as the left pole gave up the fight and buckled in the middle sending the metal sheet crashing to the floor, showering us in the years of dust that had accumulated.

Once the dust had settled and we were able to clear our eyes, behind where the metal sheet had been, was a hole about two foot in diameter leading into the adjoining bedroom in the next cottage.

We managed to squeeze through then found the same scenario being played out, - right the way down to the last cottage.

We rested here and thought about our options.

"They've planted lasers over the way; three of them I think."

"I saw them Thilo. But they can't be sure that some people might've taken a different route to get this far. If they had managed to get the other side of the road……?"

"There'd be the same on this side."

"I think so, but how much risk they pose with us up on the roof, there's no way of knowing."

"If we're right, and they're activated by motion sensors, there must also be some kind of power supply feeding them and the step motors used to rotate them. Find that power supply and disable them."

"Great idea. I'll go and see if I can find any wiring and leave you to take out those ones across the street."


After some searching around, I found a cable which was neatly tacked to the wall just above the floorboards which by tracing it forward, terminated behind a fireplace covered up by a sheet of tin which had been loosely fastened to the chimney breast.

Luck held, as the fastenings were only finger tight, but behind that was a small control box.

Then I heard three shots ring out, and a minute or so later, Thilo joined me.

"Just taken care of those over the road. How are you doing?"

"I'm guessing that what's inside this box controls the lasers and motors.

Have you got a pen knife?"

He did, and it took only a few seconds to get the door open.

Inside was a transformer and rectifier. The primary windings to the transformer showed two-thirty volts AC and the secondary twenty-four. The rectifier would convert the output voltage from AC to DC at a nominal load of five amps.

The wires that came off the rectifier fed a card rack, but the electronics I didn't understand, except that some of the cards had LED's either glowing of flashing at regular intervals.

I took a mini Maglite from by pack and shone it on the cards; two of them had fuses clipped in place, and hoping these were the power supplies for the lasers and motors, I gingerly pulled them out, unclipped the fuses before slotting them back into place.

So far as I was able to tell, the system was dead. No LED's and no alarms sounding.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

"Party time?"

"I guess so. Even if we've missed something, I still reckon we did okay."

"Just the small matter of totally fucking up Government property to overcome!"

"We can worry about that once we're over the line.

The stairs are okay, so let's get moving as I am desperate to take a piss!"


Making our way down the stairs, we looked for signs of past activity. Years of dust covered the floors, cobwebs hung like curtains from the ceiling, and rats seemed to be the only life that had occupied the building in many years; the place was alive with the fucking things!

Thilo tested the front door, and finding it securely locked, we looked for an alternative exit.

In the front room, two tin targets lay on the floor together with a ground level laser mounted on a tripod and pointing though the window were the only indications that the cottage had witnessed any activity for many years.

I picked up a small sheet of linoleum and dropped it in front of the sensors.

Nothing. Obviously, the control box upstairs powered all the devices in this house.

"Maybe one more laser and a couple of baddies over the road?"

"If they're running true to form, probably so. No time to get complacent.

Any more of that lino kicking around?"

"Somewhere. Let me go and take a look."

I didn't find any that was easily removed, but sitting on the floor of what once had been the kitchen was an old bicycle wheel rim.

"This might do the job.

What if we were to roll it across the street? It might be enough to set the sensors off."

"Worth a try. Who's going to roll and who's going to do the shooting?"

"I roll, you shoot. You're the far better marksman."

I left Thilo crouching under the window cill while I tried the back door. It was locked; however, the door frame was rotten, and a good, hard kick got it open enough for me to squeeze through.

I pinned myself back to the gable end of the cottage and inched towards the front of the property hoping I'd be outside of the sensors range of vision. My luck held good, so I dropped onto one knee and sent the bike wheel across the road. I hadn't factored in the lumps, bumps and stones, so the wheel wobbled from side to side making its progress more like a slalom run.

The sensors saw it, and I heard the groan of the laser's step motor, but Thilo was on the case and fired just as the two red necked targets sprang up.

He missed the laser, but caught the wiring loom sending a shower of sparks into the air. The laser was inoperable, but so were the targets, - they just stood upright rather than the two or three seconds before dropping from sight.

I went back inside.

Thilo looked annoyed.

"Do you want to know the reason why I missed the bloody laser?"

"Not especially. You hit the wiring and fused the lot."

"A fucking rat tried to climb up my leg just as I was about to pull the trigger!"

"I think it's about time we left for the green line, don't you?"

"Yes!

I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but a bath, a change of clothes and a couple of very stiff drinks would go down nicely!"


We crossed the line having not met any other obstacles, sat on the verge and waited for transport to take us back to base.

We were starting to sag. The adrenaline had stopped pumping and the cold was beginning to get into our bones, but then, after about fifteen minutes, an army truck pulled up alongside us.

"Hop up boys. At least it's warm in here.

So, how did you do?"

"Hard to tell. We don't think we got zapped by any of the lasers, and we didn't hit any friendly faces, but we did manage to fuck some gear along the way!"

"That didn't go unnoticed! Good tactics though, We were watching everything on monitors, in the comfort of our mess, drinking nice, hot coffee!"

"Bastards, all of you!"

"But you do feel a sense of achievement though, don't you?"

"Definitely, but once is more than enough."

Our Corporal come driver laughed.

I'm in the Royal Engineers, so we don't have to do all that street-to-street fighting stuff, but our squad have a day's work ahead of us tomorrow putting right what you boys succeeded in destroying!"

"Sorry about that, but we couldn't work out what else to do other than take out the lasers?"

"They're relatively inexpensive. Eighty quid each, although the two step motors are rather more, so don't go apologising."

"While we're on the subject? The gear on the south side of that last street only need to have the fuses refitted, and Thilo missed the laser on the north side, but the wiring harness took a hit."

"Again, no problem. We have to rewire regularly what with the weather being shite."

"We're in big trouble though?"

"That would depend on your rules of engagement, but as I've just said, we just fix the things. We don't sweat our bits off learning and perfecting close armed combat. We leave that to the special forces people."

"It would be interesting to know what other routes it's possible to take? So far as we could tell, almost all other options were unworkable."

"But this was your first time through. Not only that, you didn't have a senior rank to guide you.

You made it, so just think on that."


We were dropped off outside an accommodation block where we were pointed in the direction of a shower room.

"Take as long as it takes lads. Your clean uniforms have been laid out in the changing room together with hot drinks. Once you're done, come and find me. My office is down the corridor second door on the right, then I'll take you back to the mess."


Bliss!

Never did a warm shower feel so good!

I stank like hell, my feet hurt like crazy and I felt limp with tiredness. But shower done and dressed in clean clothing, we found the office and were escorted through the building to meet up with the others in the mess.

We were greeted with cheering and a round of applause. But then Mr Collins and Major Shipton entered the room and everyone fell silent.

'Now, it's either a massive bollocking or a demand for payment for damaged ordinance. Either way we're looking into the eyes of trouble', briefly entered my head, but I was too tired to care.

We stood to attention and saluted. I tried to read Mr Collin's face, but having picked up no signals, he spoke.

"Sit yourselves down. We have things to discuss.

You made it through, and for that feat alone, you are to be congratulated, however, your tactics were…… how can I phrase this…… unconventional in the extreme.

You obliterated army property, the replacement cost of which is estimated at somewhere in the region of three and a half thousand pounds. Explain, if you're able, why you saw the need to act that way?"

I noticed a glimmer of a smile, but left it to Thilo to answer.

"Our remit was simple. We had to get across town so we could regroup. We were likely to encounter opposition in the shape of enemy targets, roadside bombs and suicide bombers, and we had to eliminate as many as we could, but limited ammunition meant choices had to be made."

"So far, so good, but you went for the laser pointers once you were about a third of the way. You caused thousands of pound's worth of damage boy!"

"The lasers were simulated snipers. Are you going to tell me that they weren't the enemy? Our mission had been spelt out right from the beginning; get through town and regroup, and I think that taking down a few lasers along the way was entirely justified.

If that pissed you off, then tough shit…… Sir!"

Major Shipton stood; his shoulders shaking with laughter. Mr Collins; also, unable to contain himself, leaned back in his chair and roared with laughter.

Major Shipton turned to us wiping tears from his eyes.

"Just kidding you! Brilliant tactics and a superb performance!

The lasers? We send squads of between six to ten men armed with M3's through there. Fully trained special forces personnel who strafe the rooftops knocking out as many of the bloody things as they can, and only then do they look for ground targets?

They are other ways of getting through. Culverts and tunnels to name but two, but for a couple of completely untrained schoolboys to do what you did is nothing short of remarkable, especially as the only weapons you were carrying were side arms!

Whilst we're on the subject of side arms? What's the tally with ammunition?"

"I'm down to six rounds and Stephen's down to eight."

"Then I'll organise enough for you both to go back to Keswick with a full payload, and while I do this, why not go through to the canteen and grab a bite to eat."


I remember sitting down on the bus next to Thilo, then oblivion until someone shook us awake.

"Come on you two love birds, we're almost back."

I opened my eyes and noticed signs for Keswick, three miles.

"That's not possible. We've only just got on."

"Two hours not including a comfort break at Westmorland services.

"Must have needed that sleep more than I realised.

What's the time?"

"A little after seven.

A nightcap and an early night? You look like the walking dead."

"I feel much worse than that, believe me. How soldiers do a ten-mile run in full combat gear, and then do what we had to do, beats me."

"Just fitter than you. All of us thought you did a sterling job, and one that will certainly set people's mind at rest about you not being able to handle those weapons."

"I think that was the general idea, but we're not too happy about having to carry them either."

"How do you think you'd feel if you ever had to use them in earnest Steve?"

"If it was a simple matter of kill or be killed, I don't think I'd have too much of a problem pulling the trigger. I might need years of consoling and therapy afterwards, but I'm rather fond of being alive, so yeah, I could kill."

"Hostage situation? They came looking for you, but took one of the younger boy's hostage until you handed yourselves over?"

"The same. No matter the situation, they'd be here with the express intention of killing me and Thilo. Get a clear shot and they'd be dead, and screw the consequences.

Why all the questions James?"

"Just trying to decide if I could do the same."

"And could you?"

"Yes. Yes, I could.

There's more though. We all had a talk following your efforts today, and all of us would pitch in if the need ever presented itself."

"That's very comforting, but why? It's different for me because I know the reason behind it whereas you don't, and until Thilo's ready to share it with you……?"

"The reasons don't matter a damn Steve. Two of our friends might be on someone's hit list, and we're going to be there to support you. End of discussion."

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