When the Howling Commandos meet the Rats, Johann Schimdt didn’t even realize it. This was probably the second biggest mistake he would ever make. The first involved a Norse artifact of questionable properties. (Some would argue that megalomania was the biggest mistake Johann Schmidt ever made. But these things are relative after all.) Either way, Captain America and his men meet Sergeant Sam Troy and his boys. What happened next was… Well, neither the Howling Commandos nor the Rat Patrol was known for doing things quietly.
“My, he’s… Colorful.” Sergeant Jack Moffitt, His Majesty’s Armed Forces currently on loan to the Long Range Desert Patrol, leaned against his Browning contemplating the captain of the commando unit the Rats were escorting through Dietrich’s lines. Below him in the driver’s seat, Private Tully Pettigrew flipped the matchstick from the right corner of his mouth to the left. Moffitt was used to his phlegmatic partner. He correctly interrupted the movement as a strong affirmation of his own observation.
Sergeant Sam Troy, head of the Rat Patrol, bit back a smile at his man’s droll comment. “Now, fellas, let’s play nice.”
Moffitt shrugged. “I have no problems with his uniform, Troy. He’ll be a far more attractive target to the Jerries than I. Which is all one can really ask of dead weight.”
“You’re in fine form today, Sarge,” Private Mark Hitchcock commented lightly, trying to ease the older man out of his acrid mood. He leaned against the side of the jeep to look up the Brit. “They ain’t so bad, Sarge. Even the negro…”
Moffitt let out a polite cough. “I take no issue with who they are, Hitch. Merely what they are here to do.” He pursed his lips. “I’ve heard rumors among the natives about this HYDRA. They say the many headed dragon lives under the sand and eats those who wander to far from the village. We should have been investigating this a week ago. These…colorful Americans are the reason we have not.”
Troy frowned, sharing a glance with Hitch and Tully. Every man in the unit knew that connection Moffitt felt to the tribes of this desert. In some ways, the man was more native than British. He just fooled people into believing otherwise with a thin veneer of aristocratic manners. But the Rat Patrol had seen Moffitt when his blood was running high and hot, pale eyes sparkling with a killing light that thought scornfully of mercy. Innocent natives being pulled into a white man’s war was exactly the thing to get Moffitt’s blood flowing.
Tully leaned back, tipping his helmet up to make eye contact with his partner. The matchstick sent up a puff of fine sand from the force of spitting it out. “Sarge,” the moonshiner drawled, “ain’t their fault brass got their heads up their asses. Boys like that, tain’t so different from us. They don’t want babies and women disappearing neither.”
Tully Pettigrew was never free with words. He kept to himself so much even the over-educated, British Rat listened when he deigned to speak. Though no one would ever know it, Tully sometimes bit his tongue just to keep Moffitt listening. He never regretted it though, because Troy’s face every time Moffitt was beyond commanding but bent to a gently spoken word was priceless. The British Rat stopped looming and slipped into the passenger’s seat.
“Well,” Troy muttered. “Smiles for our new friends, everyone.” Tully raised an eyebrow. Moffitt merely sniffed in his most British manner. Only Hitch dug up a smile for the brightly dressed man heading the loose group of new commandos.
“Captain Steve Rogers. This is Bucky Barnes, my sergeant.” The Captain was a big man, as tall as Moffitt and wider than Troy. He irritated Troy for no particular reason. Sergeant Barnes, however, was Troy’s kind of man. His rifle shouted marksman louder than the tabs on his battered jacket. The smile was a little less reassuring, but it wasn’t like the Rats were any saner. This was a war after all.
Troy nodded. “I’m Sergeant Sam Troy. Privates Hitchcock and Pettigrew, best damn drivers in the desert. Sergeant Moffitt, on loan from the Brits, our expert on everything local.”
“Nice to meet you all.” Captain Rogers gave a smile that was far too shiny to belong in this desert.
Troy smiled back with strain around his eyes and mouth. “Load up your boys in that truck, Captain. We’ll get you where you’re going.”
Rogers looked over the jeeps and their Brownings skeptically. At least he had the courtesy not to comment. To his men he yelled, “Dum-dum. Get’em loaded up and ready to roll.”
“Let’s shake it!” Troy jumped up on the tire of the jeep and grabbed his Browning. Moffitt followed suite as the truck started rumbling down the heavily grooved road. The two jeeps fell in beside it, flying ahead and ranging behind.
In which, HYDRA shows up along with Dietrich, and the Howling Commandos realized that everyone in this desert is some kind of crazy.
For those not familiar with the Rats. They drive two jeeps each manned by a pair of men, one driver and one gunner. There is a machine gun mounted in the back of the jeep. The gunner props himself against the spare tire on the back of the jeep and rides there. This link from the youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYS1NE66tuo is the intro to the show and shows how the gunner stands.
Bucky hummed to himself while he guided the truck through the worst of the ruts. Steve hung onto edge where the window had been framed (before it was shot out) with one hand and used the other to balance his shield on his knees. From the bed of the truck, the low murmur of the rest of the Commandos playing cards set the background with the thrum of the engine. Sergeant Troy pulled up next to the window, his jeep running parallel to the truck off the road. Despite the roughness of the terrain, Troy seemed comfortable propped up on the spare tire and bracing himself on the Browning. Steve had no idea how Troy or Moffitt could look so steady in their precarious positions.
Troy waved an arm to get Steve’s attention before shouting, “Wehrmacht scout up ahead. We’re going to distract him. Just follow the map, and we’ll catch up.” The jeep groaned then roared as Troy and Hitchcock sped off, flanked by Moffitt identifiable in the cloud of dust only by his dark beret. Tully, in the driver’s seat, wasn’t even visible.
“Do you get the feeling they don’t want us around?” Bucky muttered. He’d been shooting the Rats dirty looks every time a man did a pass for no reason Steve could discern.
Steve nudged his friend with a knee. “They’re not that bad, Bucky. You heard the major, these fellas aren’t used to people. That’s all.” Troy and his men hadn’t been included in the initial briefing, despite Steve’s protests. Even being kept out of the loop, all of the ‘Rats’, as Major Finley had called them, had been polite and quiet. The two drivers wouldn’t have much to say to strange officers, but Steve hadn’t heard much of Sergeant Jack Moffitt. The tale, pale-eyed Brit hadn’t responded to Jamie Falsworth’s attempt at conversation besides the necessary politeness. Pettigrew hadn’t said anything at all except murmurs to Moffitt and Troy. Only Hitchcock had briefly engaged Gabe in chatting about baseball.
To the boys in the back, Steve called, “The patrol is going to draw off the panzer division, but keep your eyes sharp.”
“You heard the captain.” Dum-dum’s growl ended the sound of the card game.
“Steve,” Bucky’s tense statement brought Steve’s gaze back forward. In the direction the Rats had gone, dust plumed not brown but black and orange. Glancing blue lights reflected in the black smoke. “Looks like HYDRA weapons.”
Steve ran his fingers through his hair before pulling up his cowl. “They aren’t prepared for this, Buck. We have to stop them before they get slaughtered.”
With a fierce grin, Bucky spun the wheel of the truck. “Hang on then.”
“HYDRA up ahead,” Steve bellowed to the back. “We’ve got to stop them from killing the Rats. Jim get on the radio and call’em off if you can.”
In the back of the truck, Jim Morita knelt next to his radio equipment, slipping on the headset and fiddling with the dials. “Roadrunner one, roadrunner two, this is Turtle. Please acknowledge, over.” The radio hissed and spat angrily. Praying that the jeeps hadn’t already been trashed by HYDRA, Morita repeated his plea. This time there was an answer. “Turtle, this is Roadrunner two. Get the fuck out of here. These bastards have razed the town and are busy chewing up Dietrich’s division. We’re going to try to save some of them before pulling out.”
Morita leaned over towards the cab. “HYDRA engaged the local panzer division and is massacring them. Our boys are trying to hold of Schmidt long enough for some of the Krauts to get away. They want us on the run, Cap.”
As Morita finished passing on the message, a German half-track crested the hill followed by two yellow jeeps and a staff car. The half-tracks gunner was engaged in a fire fight with a much larger, beetle black crawler chasing down the little group. Schmidt’s toy loomed over the German armor like a menacing, dark insect shooting blue light that nearly took out the half-track.
Just as the crawler got a bead on the half-track, a slight figure in khaki appeared, dragging himself across the top of the crawler’s body towards the turret. The two Rat jeeps roared over the hill leaving the boom and flash of a grenade in their wake as Moffitt and Troy strafed the crawler’s wheel tracks. As Bucky floored it towards the battle, the screams of the wounded coming from the German jeeps and staff car became clear. The man on the crawler finally reached the turret. A side panel swung open to reveal a HYDRA soldier. Before the soldier could fire, Moffitt cut him down, and Hithcock pulled past the open panel so his fellow Rat, Troy, could deliver a grenade through the opening in the armored plating.
The man on turret used the distraction to pull a roll of engine tape out of his shirt and strap a circle of potato masher grenades over the stem of the gun. Balancing on his knees, he pulled all the pins at once, screaming, “Troy!” Troy’s jeep swung in front of the crawler, covered by Moffitt and the German half-track which opened up on the crawler to keep any HYDRA soldiers from taking a potshot at the saboteur.
“Jesus Christ,” Bucky breathed in amazement as the crazy man in khaki jumped off the crawler to land, scrambling, on the back of Troy’s jeep. Hitchcock started accelerating before his new passenger got a handhold, and the only reason the man didn’t go flying off was Troy’s grip on the back of his shirt.
Over the radio, Moffitt said with forced calm, “Turtle, retreat now. These things make a rather big boom when you take out those weapons on top.
Morita quickly relayed the message to the front by dint of a yell of, “Turn the hell around now, Sarge!” Steve grabbed his door tightly enough to dent the metal as Bucky turned as fast as he dared. The half-track came alongside the truck. One of the Germans shouted something at the truck, “Nicht schiessen. Nicht schiessen bitte!”
“He says, ‘Don’t fire.’,” Morita relayed to Steve.
Steve turned towards his man and ordered, “Tell him truce, please, Jim.” Morita yelled back several reassuring things to the Germans, who looked relieved.
Troy’s jeep pulled up alongside the truck as the crawler’s turrets cracked and went up in flames. Running next to Bucky’s window, it was easy to see the man who rigged the turret was a German officer. Blood trickled down his face from a head wound. He was curled in the back seat of the jeep in obvious pain. Troy had one hand his shoulder. It was a surprisingly familiar gesture. “There’s gonna be another…” Troy’s warning was cut off by a loud explosion and pressure wave that made the truck rattle like its chassis was coming apart. Another blue lit black and orange cloud rose.
“Mein Gott in Himmel,” the driver of the half-track moaned, tears cutting tracks through the dust on his face.
Tully brought the second jeep next to Troy’s. Moffitt sat in the front seat, leaning over and calling, “Hauptmann?”
“Still here, Sergeant,” the German captain reassured the Rat in clear English. “There’s an oasis five kilometers from here. I suggest we regroup and see to the wounded there.”
“It’s not on the map,” Moffitt called back.
The captain smiled wearily. “Consider it a gift, Herr Sergeant. A thank you for saving my men.”
“Stop talking, Hauptmann,” Hitchcock ordered. “We don’t know if those ribs are broken. Breathing too hard might puncture something.” With an amused smile, the captain promptly shut his mouth, cradling his midriff. Troy leaned over the other man protectively, easing him horizontal and bracing him against the jeeps sharp jarring.
Troy’s jeep took lead on their odd little convoy heading off the road into the ever shifting desert. “I say,” Jamie said from the back. “Did that Kraut just blow up a HYDRA crawler with /grenades/?”
“Oui,” came the reply from Jacques. “Barjot.”
In which the Howling Commandos realize they aren't the craziest bastards in this desert as the realities of war set in.
The oasis wasn’t anything like what Steve had imagined. Granted, most of his knowledge of deserts came from Errol Flynn films. Still, he expected something slightly more spectacular than a couple of stunted trees and a shallow, muddy pool not six feet wide.
The German armor parked in a semi-circle around the pool. Bucky pulled the truck next to Moffitt’s jeep to the which was parked out of the way at the very edge of the shade. Under the supervision of German medic (identified by the white band with red cross on his bicep), the wounded were being unloaded into the meager shade remaining.
Hitchcock had parked his jeep in the deepest part of the shadow and was tending to the German captain, who had been propped up against Moffitt’s chest to support him as Hitchcock examined his ribs. Troy walked over to the truck and leaned against Steve’s side. “Dietrich’s unit been almost completely wiped out. Maybe, two other tanks escaped. The rest of them are right here.” Troy pulled off his slouch hat and smacked it against his thigh to knock off the dust. “He used to have a full goddamn complement.”
“And why are we listening to a fucking Kraut?” Bucky demanded eyes narrow. He fingered the trigger guard of the rifle sitting across his lap.
Troy’s eyes narrowed. “Dietrich’s unit was trying to save the town those blue-fire sons of bitches were torching. There wasn’t much left besides some huts and the women, children, and those too old to fight. Thanks to that ‘fucking Kraut’ some of them got away.” He jammed his hat back on his head and headed back to the jeeps. Over his shoulder, he coldly tossed at Bucky, “Briefing in ten. We need to know everything you boys can tell us about these Amazing Tales bastards.”
“Herr Hauptmann,” the German medic wiped a bloody hand across his forehead as he addressed Steve. He was young, skinny, and brown from the desert sun. Despite his age he addressed Steve in a tone that brooked no argument, eyeing each Commando like they might suddenly start spurting from an artery. “Haben sie sanitater? Medizin?”
Morita stepped in before Dum-dum could. “He’s asking if we have a medic or medicine.”
Jamie reached for the packs before Jacques stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Non, mon copain. We cannot spare any drugs.” The Howling Commandos’ de facto medic shrugged sympathetically at his German counterpart. “Nien medizin. Ja, sanitater.”
“Why can’t we give them any sulfa or bandages?” Steve demanded softly, playing up his Brooklyn accent so that the German medic wouldn’t understand.
Jacques blew out through his nose in his most Gallic manner. Rather than making him look like an angry French man, it simply made him sneeze from the sand ruining the effect. “Six of us who need those supplies and our new friends, les rats, mon capitaine. We do not when we will see a resupply.”
Gabe shivered and muttered, “Cap, please.” The black gunner had been the one to suffer last time they ran out of sulfa and his wound had become infected. They’d carried him out of the Italian Alps as the fever sent his body into spasms and ate away at his mind. He’d been lucky. The doctor had been able to keep Gabe alive long enough for Howard to fly out a surgeon who could save the leg.
The German medic had been staring at their faces intently. He seemed to read the undercurrents, and his face crumpled making him look little more than a child playing dress up in his brother’s uniform. “Bitte, Herr Sanitater.”
“Non, fiston. I will not risk mes frères.” Jacques jaw was set severely for the usually easy-going man. Jamie twitched guiltily next to his friend.
Dietrich’s voice cracked through the air speaking sharply in German. The medic slumped, responding, “Ja, Herr Hauptmann. Kommen sie hier bitte, Herr Sanitater.”
The defeated eyes in such a young face made Steve’s heart ache. His fingers curled around the young man’s shoulders almost of their own accord. In truly atrocious German he tried to reassure the boy, “Alles wird gut.”
The kid dug up a broken smile in response. “Danke, Herr Hauptmann.” Chin up, he gestured for Jacques to follow him over to where the wounded lay bleeding and moaning in the sand as flies buzzed around their raw flesh.
“Jesus,” Bucky breathed, looking as shaken as Jamie. “They must’ve been /totaled/ if they’re begging for anything they can get.”
Dum-dum snorted. “Krauts shouldn’t have been fucking with HYDRA in the first place. If they had any Goddamn sense they would have run when they saw those crawlers.” The stub of a cigar between his lips shifted as he spat out a mouthful of tobacco juice from sucking on the thing. It landed near Jamie’s boot.
“Considering that the Captain of the division used engine tape and grenades instead of a proper shell, I’d dare say that sense might be missing from the top down,” Jamie replied sharply, nose wrinkled in distaste as he stepped away.
Dietrich’s ribs were just badly bruised, but Moffitt continued to hang onto the man until Hitch finished wrapping his chest. It was less out of concern for the wiry man’s lungs and more for the dark, ugly pouches beneath his eyes. “How long have you been playing pitch-and-toss with those behemoths?”
“More like hide and seek, my dear Sergeant.” The German officer straightened up, but his exhaustion got the better of him and left him leaning his forehead against Moffitt’s throat. Clearing his throat, he began to report. “It’s been almost six days since they hit a mobile surgery. We started trailing directly after. So, yes. Almost five days. We did manage to catch one of those black tanks alone and destroy it with panzers a day out.” He paused, slumping further into Moffitt as he shook with muscle spasms from dehydration. Tully cracked a canteen and held it up to the German’s mouth so he could sip at the water with no effort. “Thank you, Pettigrew. They hit us two nights later. I had sentries posted. Not that it did any good. They were just the first to die when the blue light came down from the sky like the wrath of heaven. It boiled our water dry in the canteens. Scorched my men to ash. I was able to salvage half the vehicles and maybe a third of the men on the run. I sent a message to command as soon as I could.” He made a hoarse, desperate noise that was supposed to be a laugh. “I was reprimanded for fleeing from Germany’s traitorous son and ordered to return to Safsaf where Oberst Wulfhelm of the SS,” he spat the title, “had assumed command of a special division which I was to join.” His hand curled around Moffitts wrist as he smiled bitterly, “I have no doubts I will be reprimanded for this latest insubordination. Tollwütiger Hund des verdammten Hitler!”
Moffitt frowned and gestured for Tully to give Dietrich more water. Troy was headed back over from where the flamboyantly named Howling Commandos were gathered. The head Rat looked angry. “And, Herr Hauptmann, how much of that five days did you spend sleeping?” the British Rat asked absently. Tully hid a smirk, turning his face away.
“Nichts.” Dietrich chuckled weakly.
“Tully, see to our friend. Hardtack and more water. Then sleep if you can get him to manage it. I need to speak to Troy.” Moffitt eased Dietrich down to as prone as one could be in the back of a jeep. Tully took over, shooing Moffitt away.
Troy frowned at Moffitt as his fellow Sergeant cut him off from the jeep. “He’s badly off, Troy,” Moffitt said pointedly. “Dehydrated, sunburned, and sleep deprived. They hit his camp not three days ago, but he dogged them two days before they tried to wipe him out. You know how he gets on the hunt.”
Easing his shoulders back form their aggressive angle, Troy sighed and leaned up against his jeep. “They were drawing him out onto the open dunes?”
“Most likely. If they’d stayed in the mountains, Dietrich would have shaved them off one piece at a time. We’ve taught him perhaps too well about how to take on a superior force.” Moffitt raised an amused eyebrow. “The SS is going after our man as well. Dietrich was ordered to join him, but I think it would be best if we kept our German close.”
“We could use a fifth man.” Troy’s replied came with a knowing smirk. “Especially one who’s handy with a fifty-cal and speaks the lingo.”
“As you say, Troy,” Moffitt replied. “I’ll get those Jerries sorted, shall I.”
Troy nodded, pushing off the side of the jeep and pulling out the first aid kit. He handed it to the other Rat. “You do that, Sergeant Moffitt. I’ll radio HQ and let’em know we’ve got prisoners. I don’t think any of them are going to argue surrender with Dietrich sleeping it off.”
German by Ravenlord.
Steve fingered the edge of his shield as he watched Sergeant Moffitt distribute the last of the Rats’ medical supplies. The briefing included Troy, the German, Bucky, Dum-dum, and himself. None of the Commandos were quite sure what the German was doing there or if the man could even understand them. His eyes were opened into slits that weren’t even wide enough to see his pupil move. The only sign he was alive was the fact he drank when Private Pettigrew pushed a canteen into his hands.
Troy spread a map over the radio, pulling a pencil out of his shirt pocket. “We’re here,” he sketched in the oasis. “This,” he pointed to a colored box not very far away, “is HQ. This,” he gestured this time to a red X much further, “is where we were supposed to be taking you. Now, assuming you actually meant to hit these Amazing Tales bastards, this is where their HQ is.”
Bucky glanced at Steve, raising an eyebrow. Dum-dum snorted, “I think the mission cover is pretty damn blown, Cap.”
“Yeah, I guess it is.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know how much you were told, but we think there’s a HYDRA installation there.”
Troy nodded, running a finger between the X and the water sources marked on the map. “How big of a camp are we talking, a fifty men? Tent city? Or just those fucking crawlers?”
“Um,” Steve tried to think how to make HYDRA factories sound believable. “Big, permanent. That’s where they built the crawler. There’ll be concrete buildings and underground tunnels.”
“That’s impossible,” Moffitt said coolly. The bloody rag he’d been using to clean his hands was carelessly tossed into the back of the jeep as he came to stand behind Troy. “That’s dunes area. There could be hundreds of feet to miles of loose, shifting sand between the surface and the bedrock. You can’t very well build a factory on that. Let alone maintain underground workings.”
Dum-dum snorted. “What the hell do you know about what HYDRA can do?”
The Rat’s lips pursed tightly. “What I know, Sergeant Dugan, is that you cannot build foundations on sand.”
The German coughed as he straightened. “What’s the speed on those crawlers?” Troy reached over to steady him as he spoke.
With a frown, Bucky offered, “Forty kilometers an hour top speed is about what we’ve seen.”
“Mein Gott,” the German muttered. “That’s about the same as one of the new tanks burning out its gearbox. This is from Europe, I assume?”
“Yeah,” Bucky muttered uncomfortably. German accents still made him twitch. All Steve could do without getting slapped away was to lean into his friend’s space a little more.
Moffitt hissed, “The new tanks being one of those monsters that got McNeel and his lot?” The German nodded with a grim smile. “Mother Mary,” the British Rat breathed.
Taking a pause for another sip of water, the German continued thoughtfully. “Conservatively, half that speed over the sand.”
“Those wide tracks’ll fuck us like they fucked McNeel,” Pettigrew reminded the man sharply.
“But the weight,” the German refuted, “will push it down like a stone into water. I’ve seen it. Tracks can only do so much to offset that much metal. They must be going only twenty kilometers per hour at most.”
Steve cut in sharply, “What does that mean?”
Troy smirked. “It means, Captain America, we can check your intel. Dietrich, where was the mobile hospital.” Once the position had been indicated, Troy marked it. “So how much fuel is on those things?”
“Why?” Steve repeated, irritation coloring his voice.
Matching his tone, Moffitt explained, “They are limited by the speed and the amount of fuel they can carry. We can estimate roughly where the base is from knowing how much fuel a crawler uses, how much fuel it carries, and the maximum speed it can go. As well as knowing the positions of the three crawlers we destroyed.”
“That won’t work,” Dum-dum interjected. “They don’t run on gas. Nothing HYDRA uses runs on gas. All of the armor we’ve ever seen from them runs on blue light.”
“Blue light?” Troy frowned. “Like the weapons?”
Bucky cut in quickly before Dum-dum could insult Troy, “Like the weapons but contained as a power source. They don’t have to recharge or change it. It just seems to last forever.”
Dietrich let out a stream of mixed Arabic and German profanities joined by Moffitt who filled in his pauses with languages Steve didn’t recognize. This was punctuated by Troy smashing his fist into the jeep in frustration. Still, the head Rat was the first to calm down. “We still know that it’s a damned impossibility that anything like a factory will be in those dunes.”
“Improbability,” Moffitt amended stiffly, rubbing a hand across his face. “If they have magic tanks, I’m not willing to rule out anything.”
Leaning over the map, Steve sighed. “We need aerial reconnaissance.”
“And where, pray tell,” Moffitt began in what could only be insubordination. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Troy who reached out to stop him.
Dietrich grabbed the Rat’s wrist and muttered, “Lassen Sie das bleiben, Unterfeldwebel. Selbst wenn er ein knallbunter Milchbart ist, er ist Ihr übergeordneter Offizier.” Moffitt settled, eyes still glittering with hostility.
“Stark?” Bucky asked Steve with a grin.
“Stark,” Steve replied with an even wider smile. “And Agent 13. I’ll need to use the radio, Sergeant Troy.”
Both officer Rats stepped away from the radio to let Steve by. Moffitt climbed into the jeep next to Dietrich and began a quiet conversation with the officer in German. Troy didn’t seem to care. So Steve didn’t pay the two of them any attention as he radio HQ and asked to be patched through to Colonel Morris.
With thanks to Ravenlord! (So Dietrich and Moffitt can snark with some privacy.)
These next two chapters are going into more detail about the German wounded. HYDRA did a number on them, and the survivors are not in good shape. If you're squeamish be careful.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Command had not been happy having to send out a three Shermans plus trucks to transport a load of German prisoners of no particular martial value. However, only three men besides Dietrich were whole enough to actually continue to fight. The rest were a gruesome group of crush and burn injuries that left three graves by the side of the oasis before the transports even arrived. The medic, Gregor Dresner as Dietrich introduced him, was adamant that the wounded be given to the Allies as prisoners. He’d been emphatic when speaking to his captain. “Wir haben weder die Chirurgen noch die Vorräte, die wir brauchen, um die Truppen in Safsaf zu verarzten. Geben wir sie in die Hände dieser Schlächter, wird ein Viertel an Schock und ein Zehntel an Infektion krepieren.” Even those with no knowledge of German understand the morbid slashing motions he made.
It was obvious that the medic would be going with the wounded. Dietrich was sure not even a direct order would stop the young man from carrying out his duties. That still left him with the two unwounded drivers. Troy had bullied them into agreeing to hand over their weapons and call themselves prisoners. The lack of consultation would have annoyed Dietrich more if Moffitt hadn’t agreed to help work around the brash American. The British Rat had drawn the two able-bodied soldiers over to the jeep while Tully and Hitch distracted Troy. Then Moffitt had vanished back into the mass of medics and wounded. Better, Dietrich was sure, to avoid Troy’s wrath should the man decide to make a scene.
Dietrich frowned at the two remaining soldiers, the Corporal who’d driven the half-track since the raid and a mechanic. “Do either of you feel that you cannot surrender?” If he remembered correctly, the mechanic, a greying man in his thirties, spoke English quite well.
The mechanic pulled his battered cap off. “Jakob hasn’t said a word since Dieter was killed during the night raid. Even then, his English wasn’t very good, Herr Hauptmann.” He patted the young driver’s shoulder with a rueful smile. His touch was gentle as he tried to direct the young man’s attention away from the distant point he’d been staring at back to Dietrich. “I have no problems leaving this killing field. Jakob and I can take care of the men. Not that the Allies could separate Gregor from his patients.”
Leaning forward so he was in Jakob’s line of sight, Dietrich tapped the man’s cheek. “Stabsgefreiter? Sie müssen mir mitteilen, ob Sie desertieren oder sich ergeben wollen." The only response was a blink as the man continued staring past Dietrich into middle distance. Examining his soldier more closely, Dietrich recognized Jakob as a gunner on one of the half-tracks. His friend, Dieter, had been a few years older than the boy and had treated the gunner like a younger sibling. More than once they’d ended up before Dietrich for some minor infraction usually involving a prank on one of their NCOs. Each time it had been harmless. Dietrich had let them off with a stern warning and hidden smile.
Dieter had been driving one of the panzers that had been hit by the strange, powerful flamethrowers on the crawlers. The men inside hadn’t been burned. They’d been cooked alive. The screams and the sight of the bodies the next day would haunt Dietrich’s dreams for the rest of his life. Even now he could still smell the hot metal and roasting meat. He glanced down at Jakob’s hands. Surely enough, the boy’s palms were scorched. Dresner’s handiwork was obvious. It seemed Jakob had tried to save his friend and failed.
“Armes Kind,” Dietrich murmured. To the mechanic, he snapped, “Look after Jakob as well. Tell the doctors he is shell-shocked badly. He’ll need an institution, not a POW camp. I have no doubt Dresner will be insistent.” He wrapped an arm around Jakob, pulling him in tightly and feeling him shiver even in the heat. “Du hast getan, was du konntest, Sohn. Du hast keinen Anteil an dieser Schande, aber es ist das Beste, du ziehst dich vom Krieg zurück.”
Troy came over, drawn by Dietrich’s summoning hand and pained face. He glared when he saw the two men meeting with Dietrich. However, his anger only lasted long enough to take in the paternal grip Dietrich had on the youngest man. “Yeah, what’s buzzin'?”
“Jakob here will need help of the psychological kind, Sergeant Troy. I fear for his mind if he is not handled gently.” Dietrich tipped Jakob’s face so Troy could look at the boy’s eyes.
The emptiness there made Troy’s stomach turn over. “I’ll put the fear of God into our boys,” he promised. “Kid gloves and clean sheets somewhere quiet for this one.” He patted Jakob as well like he was soothing a young child. “I’ll go get your medic to clean him up.”
“Do not worry about that, Troy. Sani Dresner already saw to him.” Dietrich replied urging the boy to the mechanic. “We have a greater task at hand, planning how to destroy these monsters.”
The mechanic accepted Jakob’s arm from his officer. “I’ll look after him, Herr Hauptmann. I promise. Come, Jakob. Gregor will need to check your hands.” He tugged the boy forward, leading him over to the truck where Dresner was yelling in German at the Americans loading the wounded and waving his arms.
“That medic of yours is feisty.” Troy pulled off his slouch hat and smacked the dust off the brim as he watched the show.
Troy’s admiration made Dietrich smile. “Dresner is Bavarian. I am told it is a cultural idiosyncrasy.” The German captain’s dry tone made Troy laugh. “He is good at his job despite his opinions. Unfortunately, he is too politically inconvenient to ever leave this place.”
“Not a party member,” Troy guessed, already familiar with Dietrich’s situation.
“Yes. He was also at a Catholic Seminary before joining the Wehrmacht. More convenient for the High Command if he dies out here rather than returning home and becoming a priest.” Dietrich’s mouth twisted like he’d sucked on a lemon.
Troy smirked, “Well, no one can get him in an American POW camp.”
Once again, thank Ravenlord for the fact the German is actually correct.
Jamie hid a smile as the German medic tore another strip off an American GI for being too rough with a burn patient. Jacques and Jim had been taken turns translating the imprecations the medic had shouted at his reluctant assistants.
Jim quickly filled in the American medics, “He’s worried that the guy is going to go into shock from the pain again. There might not be enough morphine left to stabilize him.”
“Jesus,” one the American medics muttered. “Tell’em we’ve got as much morphine as these poor bastards need in the truck.”
Jim grabbed Dresner’s arm. “Wir haben Morphium. Um… Yeah. Please tell me you speak English.” The German just looked at him blankly. “Well, shit. That’s the extent of what I can manage.”
Jamie smirked, “How is it you can understand every word they’re saying, but can’t reply?”
“Hey,” the radioman snapped back defensively. “Listening to them talk is easier than speaking it myself.” Jacques and Jamie both laughed at that.
Dresner relaxed, ”Gott sei Dank.” He reached out to check the pulse of a man whose lower body was wrapped tightly in blood stained bandages. A crush victim, Dresner had explained. (Well, Dresner had shouted and Morita had explained to the American medics.) The tight bandages were to keep the fluids from the decimated tissue in his legs from getting into the rest of his body. His face crumpled as he dropped to his knees cursing.
Jamie knelt next to Dresner, “What’s wrong?”
“Shock,” the medic spat out thickly. “Ist…cold?” He reached into the bag at his side and pulled out a preloaded morphine syringe, but rather than inject the man, he stared at the drug with consideration.
Jamie gripped the injured soldier’s hand. “Come on lad, you just hang on. We’ll get you fixed up.”
“No shock.” Dresner put the morphine away. “Er verblutet.” Gently, he smoothed the man’s hair out of his eyes. “Stay,” he waved at Jamie’s hand which was tight around the cold, sweaty palm of the injured man. “Dead.” A shaky gesture indicated a short period of time, Jamie assumed.
With a stiff upper lip, Jamie leaned over his new responsibility. “Easy, lad. You aren’t alone. My name is Lieutenant James Montgomery Falsworth. I’m from London, in England. What’s your name?” When he didn’t get a response, he continued to chatter. Eventually the cold fingers clinging to his went slack.
“Is he okay,” Steve asked, looking over Jamie’s shoulder. The Commando shook his head and pulled the blanket up over the dead man’s face. “Dammit. Schimdt owes these poor bastards.”
There were tight lines of stress around Steve’s mouth which were mirrored on Jamie’s face. The Howling Commandos were rarely confronted with HYDRA’s victims. Even Dum-dum looked peaked by the condition of the German survivors. Usually the bigoted bastard didn’t even flinch when it came to dead Nazis. Jacques’ decision to keep the medical supplies suddenly seemed petty. Steve knew the Frenchman was right, but it didn’t ease the guilt as the parade of wounded were treated and put into trucks.
Jacques wrapped an arm around Jamie’s shoulders. “Il a trouvé la paix.”
“Oui, mon frère.” Jamie leaned into his friend’s grip. “It’s still a bloody awful way to go.”
Jim came up to Jamie’s other side. “I’ll be glad to see these guys go. I’m starting to feel nauseous, and I haven’t eaten since last night.” Despite his flippant words, he was white beneath his tan. When Dresner closed the truck tailgate and went climb in, Jim grabbed the younger man in a hard hug muttering something in German. Whatever he said seem to reassure the medic, who hugged back and replied, “Danke.”
As always, thanks to Ravenlord.
Colonel Phillips had radioed the coordinates to a rendezvous ten kilometers from nowhere according to Troy. Steve didn’t quite believe the man. After all, Phillips was never impractical. Howard and Peggy would be there with a plane and, hopefully, a plan to find a more concrete location of the HYDRA base. More importantly to the Rats, Phillips was bringing gasoline, water, rations, and medical supplies. There was still a long, black night between the men and their resupply though.
With the wounded gone, the oasis was quiet. There was no light except from the small, well concealed fire where Moffitt and Jamie were making tea and the glowing tip of Moffitt’s cigarette. All of the Commandos had been sternly warned to wrap up well and stay close together. Even as the day scorched every inch of exposed skin, the nights in the desert could end in frostbite and hypothermia.
The Rats’ two privates had already tucked themselves together beneath one jeep with a tarp set against the prevailing wind. Steve shivered in jealousy from his seat next to the truck’s front wheel. The night was just as cold as promised, and the day’s sweat made his uniform damp and clammy. His shield was tucked into his side to help keep him warm.
Gabe and Jim seem to have taken a tip from Pettigrew and Hitchcock. They were bundled in spare tarps in the back of the truck. Even Dum-dum had deigned to lay with his back against Gabe’s with his jacket pulled over as much as his body as he could. Jim had managed to wedge himself cozily beneath one of the benches.
“Here, drink this before you turn into an icicle.” Bucky shoved a cup of hot, tan water into Steve’s hands before throwing himself next to Steve’s uncovered side. “Jamie claims its tea. I have my doubts, but it’s hot.”
Steve took a pull of the colored water and wrinkled his nose. “How many times has he used these leaves?” The tea tasted like more like dirt than tea. Still, it flowed down his throat soothingly and spread heat to his belly and out.
Bucky snorted, shifting about until Steve gave in a lifted an arm to let the smaller man underneath to lay spine to side. “Do you really want to know the answer to that?” Steve’s dirty look made him chuckle. “That’s what I thought. Jamie, Moffit, Troy, and the German are taking the first three hours.”
“When did you slate us for?” Steve mumbled through a mouth of tea. Second exposure didn’t improve the taste.
Snatching the cup from his friend, Bucky warmed his hands on the tin cup’s sides before finishing the tea. “Middle watch with Pettigrew and Jacques. Dum-dum, Hitchcock, Jim, and Gabe have the last watch.” It struck him funny how things changed. Steve raised an eyebrow at Bucky’s chuckle but let it pass. When the two men had been growing up in Brooklyn, it was Steve who had curled into Bucky as the weather turned cold, using Bucky’s warmth to stave off the cough that dogged him during winter. One thing the Sergeant would never miss about Steve before the serum was that damn rasping sound that had convinced him more than once that Steve was at death’s door. The heat Steve now put off was an added bonus of the procedure.
“Jacques didn’t want to take watch with Jamie? Where is he anyways?” Comfortable in the pocket of warmth formed by his shield and Bucky, Steve was in no hurry to move. Still, he glanced around looking for the Frenchman.
“Jamie sent him to sleep off the work he did this afternoon playing medic. I’m pretty sure I saw him disappear underneath every piece of clothing, rag, and blanket he and Jamie had in their packs.” Bucky set the cup aside and reached above him to the corner of a trap hanging just over the edge of the truck. Pulling it down dumped a load of sand on the two men, but Steve didn’t seem to care as they dragged it over themselves.
The edge of Steve’s shield dug further into the hard packed sand. The curve made a nice place to lean into and hide from the wind. Bucky pulled his rifle firmly into his lap, twisting so his head was rested comfortably against Steve’s shoulder. He laid low on his friend’s body and neatly avoided the worst of the desert breezes. Steve’s forehead rested against his crown. It was as comfortable as they were going to get out here.
Tully shook his head gesturing for quiet. In a voice barely audible over the wind, he whispered, “Troy heard’em coming. We’ve gotta leave. Get your boys up and get that truck started. You’re heading to the rendezvous.”
Barnes rolled away from the captain, kicking the tarp to the side. “I’m on it.”
With a nod, Tully crept back to the Rats’ jeeps. Dietrich and Moffitt were manning the Brownings covering Troy where he lay up on the ridge with a pair of binoculars. Hitch was already in the driver’s seat, ready to go.
“They’re movin’,” Tully assured Moffitt as he climbed into the driver’s seat of his own jeep. “How long?”
Moffitt held up a hand and listened. “Ten minutes, maybe. We need to be gone. Hitch, go pick up Troy. If it comes to the worst, we can cover the trucks escape.”
“Do any of those men have desert experience,” Dietrich snapped, jumping down from the back of the jeep as Hitch turned over the engine.
Tully shook his head. “Not that they’ve shown.” He followed suit and started up his jeep.
The German captain nodded decisively. “I will go with them and make sure they make it to the rendezvous. Otherwise we will spend more time hunting the desert for them than fighting HYDRA.”
Reluctantly, Moffitt agreed. “As you say, Herr Hauptmann.” He reached down and pulled a Thompson out of its sheath hooked to the side of the jeep. “You’ll need this.”
Dietrich took the machine gun and cradled it with one arm. The other hand stuffed spare clips in his pants pockets. “My Luger?”
“It’s busted,” Hitch informed him. “Took that last fall worse than you. When Tully looked at it wasn’t firing.”
With an irritated growl, the officer barked, “Ist dem so?”
With a smirk that made Dietrich wonder how Troy had never boxed the boys ears, Hitch replied, “Who was there Captain, me or you?”
“Hitch,” Moffitt hissed reprovingly. “Lower your voice.” The British Rat drew his Webley revolver and offered it Dietrich butt first. “It’s only six shots, but it’s far better than nothing.”
Slinging the Thompson’s strap over his shoulder, Dietrich reached up to take the revolver. It didn’t quite fit in the Luger’s holster, but he wasn’t a gunslinger who needed a quick draw. “Danke, Sergeant. I’ll return it at the rendezvous.” Tully held out a canteen with an expectant look. That was hooked to Dietrich’s belt with a small smile of thanks.
Moffitt nodded. “Passen sie auf. Sie vertrauen Ihnen nicht. Vertrauen Sie ihnen nicht.”
Dietrich nodded in acknowledgement. He double-checked the Webley was secure and headed for the Howling Commandos at a trot.
The remaining Rats watched him until he engaged Captain Rogers. Then Tully gunned the engine and pulled out towards Troy. Hitch followed right on his tail. They’d armed Dietrich to the teeth. And experience said the captain didn’t need much more assistance than that.
German by Ravenlord. With additions from my dictionary.
In which the HCs realize why HYDRA has nothing on Dietrich.
German by Ravenlord (except for HYDRA's name).
Bucky was trying to get the engine to turn over manually when Dietrich came running up. He looked at propped up hood and said something in German that Steve didn’t recognize. When Bucky didn’t move, Dietrich grabbed his shoulder and hissed, “Get in the driver’s seat. I will fix the vehicle. Keep turning the engine.”
“Look, Kraut…” Bucky snarled raising a fist.
“The engine is cold. That’s why it won’t turn over.” Dietrich didn’t flinch of the suggested violence. “This is not Pettigrew’s engine. It has to be nurtured along. Now go start the damn truck, Sergeant!”
Steve leaned over and muttered, “Bucky, he knows more about these trucks than you. We have to get moving.” An insistent tug at Bucky’s jacket got his friend moving. The second Bucky was clear, Dietrich flung the upper half of his body into the engine compartment. Bucky got in the driver’s seat and started trying to turn over the engine the usual way.
The truck whined and the starter ground. Dietrich swore in continuous, monotone German as he struggled with something, yelling whenever Bucky stopped the starter. Suddenly, the engine coughed, Dietrich yelped, and the truck roared to life. Dietrich slammed the hood and ran to the cab, climbing in next to Steve. “Seven O’clock, Sergeant Barnes. As straight as you can. There’s a short cut to the road.”
Bucky put the truck in gear ignoring the grinding sound. The Howling Commandos rattled forward into the dark with only moonlight to see by across and the wide, white desert in front of them. When it was clear the engine wasn’t going to stall. Dietrich shoved his left hand into his mouth. The silvery light was just bright enough for Steve to see the blood running down the German’s palm.
“What happened?” Steve demanded wanting to reach out and grab the man to check the injury. Dietrich’s cross look made it clear that his attention would not be welcomed.
“The choke froze open. I cut my hand freeing it.” Dietrich spit a mouthful of blood out the window.
Behind the truck, the sharp sound of Browning fifty-cals echoed across the desert. Soon, beneath the gun fire, the hum of HYDRA armor was audible. It was close enough to make Steve nervous. Dietrich seemed to agree. “Sergeant Barnes, I would strongly suggest we go faster, now.”
Bucky snarled, swearing at the truck, “Come on you sullen bitch. Hans, if I go any faster I’ll blow a tire. It’s night. I don’t have headlights. I can’t see anything in this muck.”
“ Keiner von ihnen isst genug Möhren.” Dietrich replied acerbically. “I’m going to drive.” Steve and Bucky paused to stare at the man, who shoved the Thompson into Steve’s arms. “Do not shoot me when I go over you,” the German officer snapped. “Sergeant Barnes, I’ll take the steering first. Then slide to the side so I can reach the pedals.”
Steve pushed himself back into the seat as Dietrich eeled over him to sit practically in Bucky’s lap. With confidence that suggested he’d done this before, the German took over steering, dropping his foot to the pedal when Bucky wiggled out from underneath him. The truck groaned, and the rattling became worse as they picked up speed. The gunfire was only sporadic now like the Rats were conserving ammo.
An elbow knocking Steve’s ribs drew his attention back inside the cab. Bucky was starting to go green. When Steve looked out the windshield, he didn’t blame him. Even with his improved eyesight and reflexes, Steve wasn’t sure he could handle driving through the sandy, rocky terrain at half the speed Dietrich was going. The German had pulled his goggles down to protect his eyes from the sand being blown in through the side windows. Rather than looking intent. He looked relaxed as if he was on a weekend drive in the country. When the wind from the window changed direction, Steve caught bits of a song the German was humming under his breath. Though why a panzer officer would choose “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” Steve had no idea.
As the truck bounced over the crest of a dune, a long, darker ribbon was clear in the moonlight. An old stream bed turned into a road. Dietrich seemed to take the road as an excuse to go faster. Steve’s teeth were starting to ache from the jarring. The engine struggled less now that it wasn’t fighting sand and quieted. Dietrich’s humming was clear. He’d switched to “Lili Marleen”. A glint of his teeth suggested the same mad grin that the Rats had worn when they’d harassed the HYDRA crawlers.
From the back of the truck, Jamie shakily called out. “Are we leaving the road anytime soon, Captain? Gabe and Jim are about to be ill.”
“We will stay on this road until we meet with your plane, Herr Captain,” Dietrich informed Steve, his eyes never leaving the road. “The Rats will meet us there after losing our pursuers. His mouth thinned as he remembered how they’d left the Rats.
“What’s the numbers on whether or not they’ll actually get away from those things,” Bucky demanded.
Dietrich actually lifted his foot off the gas for moment, flinching hard, before he recovered. With a tone as dry and cold as the wind whipping past the window, he answered, “Very, very good we will see all four them again. Those jeeps can outrun anything I had to throw at them.”
Steve nudged Bucky, warning against further prodding. Dietrich seemed attached to the Rats for a fellow who, according to the briefing, kept trying to kill them. A gut feeling warned Steve that after losing over half his detachment to HYDRA and the rest being surrendered to the Allies, Dietrich was not in a state of mind that bore perceived threats well. If Bucky kept bellyaching about the Rats, the German would deck him. Steve was sure of it and clutched the Thompson tighter. “We’re staying on the road, Jamie. Tell’em to swallow, or we’ll have to stop and cover up the mess.”
An approving nod from Dietrich seemed to defuse the tension in the air. “I will get you to the rendezvous,” he reassured the two Americans. “No matter what happens to Troy and his men, you will complete your mission against HYDRA. If Drachen mit vielen Köpfen takes the Rats… I will take their place as your guide.” His face was expressionless, but the set of his shoulders was determined. He’d take them too hell and back to complete the Rats’ mission. Steve wasn’t sure whether to thank him or worry that the man was completely mad.
Troy wasn’t sure how Dietrich had destroyed the first two crawlers. Sons of bitches were armored to the teeth. The Browning’s fifty caliber rounds bounced off the metal like raindrops. Grenades barely made the tracks stutter as they turned. The raid had turned into a long race across the desert with the Rats hitting the crawlers then drawing the lumbering machines into chasing them. It worked well, even if luck and the skill of the drivers’ were all that was keeping them from being vaporized.
“Sarge,” Hitch yelled to be heard over the Browning. “Gas is gonna be an issue soon.” Troy gave him a thumbs-up and waved to catch Tully’s attention. When the moonshiner waved back, Troy circled his arm to signal retreat. Tully held up four fingers, four minutes. Troy responded with another thumbs up.
Tully leaned back and shouted to Moffitt. The British Rat stopped firing and leaned down to secure his gun. Hitch moved in to covering position so Troy could keep the crawlers off of the other jeep. Moffitt and Tully peeled away to use
the time they’d been granted.
Tully’s jeep moved to run parallel to one of the three crawlers. Moffitt was up to something nasty no doubt. Troy couldn’t see exactly what though. That evil blue light was everywhere as the turrets tried to target the two jeeps.
Luckily, the crawlers were slow even the guns. The jeeps ran circles around them. Hitch wove the jeep in and out the formation to make the crawlers seize fire or risk hitting their allies.
Tully pulled away from the crawler suddenly as the second Browning started firing again in controlled bursts. “Two minutes,” Moffitt bellowed.
“Let’s shake it!” Troy ordered, screaming to be heard over the buzz of the blue light guns and the strange throb of the crawlers’ engines. He tried to hide his relief. It had been a long dance, leading the big, lumbering crawlers into the open desert away from the Howling Commandos. There had been too many close calls either from the blue light or nearly being crushed trying to hide in a crawler’s blindspots. Still, it had bought Dietrich precious time to make tracks with the Commandos. He hoped to God they hadn’t had anymore engine trouble.
Hitch and Tully floored it towards the sand dunes. They would pull ahead of the crawlers. Then the jeeps would drop down into a low gully and follow that out of sight. It was a vanishing act they’d pulled a hundred times before on German armor. The problem was one of the crawler driver’s had wised up. The bastard had obviously adjusted to driving on sand and was pulling ahead of the other two. It was going to be tough to shake him.
What the crawler driver didn’t know was that Sergeant Jack Moffitt was an observant man. Troy smirked. One doctorate and childhood of foreign lands and archeological digs (as well as being his father’s expert in all things the old man couldn’t be bothered with) meant that Moffitt was very good at predicting things. Such as, the most nimble crawler would no doubt be the most likely to cause the Rats problems. Having move beyond academic constraints, he had then found a solution to this future issue in the form of a Lewe’s bomb. Though why the hell Moffitt had one of those laying around Troy had no idea.
The thermite dropped from where Moffitt had strapped it with engine tape. God bless the quarter master who didn’t ask how many ammo cases the Rats had to waterproof and kept giving them the stuff. Sparking orange and burning brightly in the dark, it started eating through the crawler’s track. It didn’t leave a huge hole, but it weakened the track enough the belt tore itself apart against the friction of the sand.
“Nice one,” Troy called to Moffitt. The British rat grinned and flashed a V, palm outward, back. Then, he twisted his wrist to show Troy the two fingers and the back of his hand. Laughing, Troy retaliated with his middle finger.
The two jeeps disappeared down a gully leaving nothing but tracks in the sand for the crawlers to follow. A mile later, even the tracks vanished as the wind blew the sand smooth again. The crawlers wandered through the dunes like great black roaches scattering from the light of the rising sun. The jeeps that had been harassing them vanished completely leaving the crawler drivers convinced they’d been ghosts or a mirage.
Hidden in the rocky cliffs of regs and plateaus, the Rats were still grinning. Their faces tipped up the warmth of the new light. Morning had come, and the Howling Commandos were safely away and in good hands. Hitch whooped for no particular reason other than the Rats had won the day again. Troy reached down and ruffled the kid’s hair. He was Head Rat and too dignified to start making noises of victory, but it didn’t stop him from empathizing.
“Is that your plane?” Dietrich eyed the matte tan, single prop aircraft that shadowed the truck. It occasionally pulled ahead just enough that the German had caught a glimpse of it. Steve stuck his head out the window to catch a better look. From beneath, it looked like a Fairchild Forwarder, but it moved sharp and light in the air. The Forwarder was a lumbering passenger craft. The chassis was probably camouflage for a Stark Special.
Howard’s ST aircraft could look like any plane on the outside. He always told Steve it was what was under the hood that made them special. To be sure, Steve angled his shield from the window, showing the plane the white star and red ring. The plane jinked back and forth in response. “That’s Stark,” Steve told Dietrich now absolutely certain.
Jim yelled from the back of the truck, “Stark’s on the radio. He wants to know whose driving, and if he can hire them for his stockcar team.”
Bucky shoved a hand over his mouth which did nothing to stop the chuckles from getting out. Dietrich scowled ferociously. Steve sighed, “Tell him to meet us at the rendezvous, and he can ask the man himself.”
The plane wagged back and forth as it pulled over the truck. Steve smiled despite himself. Howard was obviously as glad to see him as Steve was. The sun was coming up, and they had gotten away. There wasn’t much more anyone could ask.
The rendezvous was a flat rock plateau that rose from the desert like a great whale. Howard landed next to it, taxing up short in a way no Forwarder could ever dream off. It was a Stark Special then. Dietrich pulled the truck in behind the plane.
Peggy Carter was crawling out of a gunner’s hatch that was definitely not standard for a Forwarder. Her dark hair was tucked into a flat, British expedition cap and her skirt and heels had been switched for a man’s uniform and high boots. She still was best thing Steve had ever seen. He fell over himself, knocking his shield into his ribs, as he climbed out of the truck. She smiled at his lack of grace and moved towards him at a much slower pace than his jog. They meet halfway. She laid a hand on Steve’s arm, and he felt his heart throb so hard it felt like it was banging into his ribs.
“Thank God, Steven.” Her voice was crisp and steady if low. “We saw that Allied column burning and were afraid HYDRA had gotten you and the Commandos.”
“Nope, still here,” Bucky said cheekily. “Good to see you, Lieutenant Carter.” He’d managed to make less of a fool of himself and come over at a statelier pace.
Gabe must have heard Bucky because the rest of the Commandos piled out of the truck calling for Peggy with wide grins led by the dark man. She proffered a smile for Steve’s men. They gathered around her, taller and wider, but still managing to look like a group of school boys greeting their favorite teacher.
“Is anyone going to introduce me to my new driver?” Howard Stark demanded, coming up from behind Peggy where he’d exited the cockpit. “I didn’t even know those pieces of junk could go that fast.”
Steve turned to see that Dietrich hadn’t moved from the driver’s seat of the truck. He had pushed his goggles up so that the dust was mask-like across his face. The stress creases around his mouth and eyes were apparent in the daylight. It had been days since the man had slept properly. His men were gone, and the Rats weren’t here. “Captain Dietrich?” Steve hurried over to the door. “Hey, fella, you okay?”
The German looked at Steve blankly for a moment before his mind reasserted itself. “I’m fine, thank you. Please tell you friends not to shoot me. I am not in the mood for a firefight and will shoot back.”
“I’ll see what I can do about that. You need help getting out?” Steve actually took a step back when Dietrich fixed him with a glare that would have made a normal man cry. The German shoved open the door with focused viciousness. Then, carefully, he stepped down, steadying himself against the truck. His eyes dared Steve to say anything.
“Holy hell, a Kraut?” Howard leaned over Steve’s shoulder gaping. “Steve why is there a Nazi officer driving your truck?”
“I am not a Nazi. I am a Wehrmacht officer, thank you.” Dietrich’s sharp, clear correction had Howard raising an eyebrow. “I need to see to the truck, Captain Rogers. No one checked the fuel level before we left. The clutch is sticking as well.” Stiffly, like he was tucking away the exhaustion and weakness, Dietrich straightened and walked towards the front of the truck.
Steve shot Howard a rueful grin. “That’s Captain Dietrich. He’s got some sort of deal with the Rats. Part of it seems to be keeping us city kids alive.”
“Steve, you meet the strangest people.” Howard slung an arm around his friend’s shoulders. He had to stand on tip toe to do it. “Peggy was ready to go on warpath when we saw those burnt out trucks. We couldn’t figure out why there was an American convoy out here.”
Steve’s stomach sank. “An American convoy, with trucks and ambulances?”
Howard nodded, brows furrowed. “Yeah. And three Sherman tanks. All destroyed. Definitely HYDRA.”
“Jesus, don't talk so loud Howard.” God only knew what Dietrich would do when he found out. Steve had a feeling Troy and Moffitt would use the Commandos for target practice if they had to put down the Rats’ pet German.
Howard let himself be towed along by Steve’s rush back to Peggy and Bucky. Steve leaned over the two of them and murmured, “Peggy, that American column, trucks, ambulances, and three Shermans?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. They looked like a support unit. We were almost sure you weren’t traveling with them.”
“We weren’t,” Steve agreed. “But the German officer who’s helping us…”
“German?” Peggy snapped, her eyes darting around. Bucky smirked in agreement with her hostility.
Steve grabbed her shoulder. “He’s has a deal with the Desert Rats that are escorting us. Well, he did. His detachment got chewed up by HYDRA a few days ago. Most of them were walking wounded and worse. They were on those trucks heading back to our lines to surrender and get medical treatment.”
Peggy’s eyes went wide. “Oh God.”
The Rat's return.
For those of you not familiar with a desert environ, there's a reason giving and taking water are very much a care-taking and luxury activities in this story. The real Desert Rats often lived on as little as a pint of water a day. In emergency situations, they even operated on less for brief periods. In desert conditions, doing intermittent work, the US Army currently suggests 4 gallons (32 pints) per man per day. That means our Rats can operating around 1/32 to 1/16 of what it takes to stay hydrated when they are on the move. They are always operating at a deficit. (In this story they are consuming closer to four pints a day up to this point. Mostly because Troy is sticking close to water sources to keep the HCs hydrated.) Water would have been rationed strictly, because the jeeps used water too and those vehicles drank first. To offer someone extra water meant giving up some of your allotted water. From experience I can say severe dehydration is miserable. Your stomach cramps, your joints hurt, you have a nasty headache, and you become disoriented which only gets worse as you don't get water. For a Rat to give his water to another is to risk increased discomfort for himself for the recipient's comfort.
There was already a plane at the rendezvous. Moffitt lowered his field glass and waved to Hitch and Tully. The jeeps pulled up to him. “I’d say the Commandos have met their friends. Everything looks peaceful. Dietrich is working on the truck. So it’s likely everything went well.” He swung up into the passenger’s seat of Tully’s jeep.
Troy got on the radio, calling them in as they drove towards the plateau. “Turtle. This is Roadrunner one and two. We’re coming in. Don’t shoot. I repeat, do not fire.”
A voice with an accent to match Rogers came back. “Roadrunners, this Shield Three. Turtle is with us. We’re expecting you. Welcome back.”
“That ain’t protocol,” Tully shouted to the rest of the Rats.
Troy shrugged. “Rogers’ back up is probably OSS or some other demi-civilian guys.”
The jeeps came around the far side of the plateau. Dietrich was propped up against the front of the truck. A small smile crossed his face as the jeeps parked next to him. “You’re late.”
“Traffic was bloody awful,” Moffitt replied playfully. “Bobbies everywhere. No one knowing how to drive in crowds.”
“I’m sure Pettigrew could have avoided the Watchermeister. American movies have informed me that moonshiners often outrun American law enforcement.” Dietrich left the truck to grab Troy’s forearm in greeting. “Sergeant Troy, I was starting to worry I would have to come after you.”
Troy grinned. “You should know better by now, Hauptmann. We’re always late getting home after a party.” He leaned in and gave Dietrich a hard, half-hug that ended in a slap on the back. The German officer froze, bemused at the unexpected contact.
“Moffitt used a Lewe’s bomb to take out the tracks on one of the crawlers,” Hitch informed Dietrich, chomping his gum breathlessly. “It was beautiful, Captain Dietrich. You should have been there.”
The Rats were all excited, grinning brightly and talking fast. They were high on adrenaline and victory. Dietrich let himself be pulled into their glow, patting Tully’s shoulder and grasping Moffitt’s hip to help him down from his perch on the back of the jeep when he stumbled on rubbery knees. The reserved British Rat responded with a squeeze to Dietrich’s bicep that was somewhere between affection and gratitude.
“How’d you and the new boys make out,” Tully drawled, pulling off his helmet to break out the sweaty chunks of his hair.
Dietrich shrugged, leaning on the jeep next to Moffitt. Troy was passing out stale cookies of some kind. A stash of sugars to ward off the lethargy as the excitement receded. The German took one and began gnawing as he considered his response. “That truck’s engine is trash. But we got away.” He finally settled on. Tully rewarded his answer with a swig from the canteen of cold coffee the Rats kept in the back of one of the jeeps. It had been spiked with part of someone’s rum ration and tasted like a gourmet offering to Dietrich’s deprived palate.
There was water to wash down the rum’s burn and sticky cookie bits. The Rats vacillated between sobering up and small grins growing rapidly as they realized again that they’d been successful. Dietrich couldn’t help but smile at each one when this happened. Glad to see them alive.
That long, dark drive had been filled with the Rats’ faces on the bodies of his dead men. He was going to be shot when he returned to German lines, but it felt good to fight with the Rats against a common enemy once more.
As the war progressed, Rommel was losing political ground to Hitler and his fanatics. Dietrich loved the Wüstenfuchs, was one of the man’s favored subordinates, but the Krieg ohne Hass the Afrikakorp should have been fighting was being subverted by the Nazis.
Pieces of Dietrich’s soul were being torn away with every battle Rommel lost to the Fuhrer, with every one of the moral codes his was ordered to flout. He’d heard the stories coming out of Germany. If he survived the war (A very distant possibility considering, the next time they saw him, the Gestapo would put him up against the wall and execute him.) he might be forced to put his Luger to his own head, because there were some sins that could not be atoned for. Hans Dietrich was a German officer, and a patriot from a long line of military men. He followed orders because he was a good soldier, an honorable man. At least, that’s what he told himself. So he didn’t know why he felt more like that proud Wehrmacht Captain he’d been in 1939 standing here laughing with the Rats than he did facing his own commanders.
“Sergeant Troy,” Captain Rogers, Sergeant Barnes, and two new faces interrupted the Rats’ impromptu celebration. The small officer turned out to be a woman. A ripple of surprise ran through the Rats, and Dietrich’s eyebrow looked like it was going to come off his face as high as it went. “This is Howard and Lieutenant Carter. They did the aerial reconnaissance I asked for.”
Dietrich snorted. “Don’t mince words, Captain. I recognize Howard Stark. Troy has used enough of his inventions on my men and I. Effective, all of them. Most better than our own weapons.”
Howard looked uncomfortable under the gaze of the German who was looking at him with distaste that was almost pathological. One of Stark’s new landmines had crippled Dietrich’s first lieutenant horribly. The secondary explosives in the shrapnel had killed Dresner’s predecessor when he’d gone to aid the man. The effect had been horrifying enough that even Moffitt hadn’t protested returning all the new mines to the quartermaster in exchange for the standard ones. The sickened Rats had been forgiven, but the grudge Dietrich still held against the weapon’s creator was obvious.
The woman laid her hand on the butt of the handgun hanging off her belt. She wore lieutenant’s tabs on a warrant officer’s long-sleeved khaki drill uniform and a nonstandard cap. If it weren’t for her clean face, she would easily be mistaken for an 8th armored officer, armed as she was with a British revolver, American handgun, and civilian knife sticking out of her boot. “Captain Dietrich, Sergeant Troy, Sergeant Moffitt, pleasure to meet you.” Her accent was very obviously British. She sounded as fancy as Moffitt, who recognized the posh accent as a way to cover up her much lower class origins.
“Leftenant,” Moffitt saluted politely. She was gorgeous, and he would have loved to flirt with her. Her eyes suggested if he tried anything she might very well shoot him. He’d leave the initial overtures up to Hitch and, if the private survived, then move in.
The American Rats copied their friend, as did Dietrich, greeting the woman respectfully. Being given the respect due to her seemed to make Lieutenant Carter feel less prone to violence. She took her hand off her gun. Troy glanced at Moffitt who twitched his mouth into a warning half-smile. Hitch, Tully, and Dietrich picked up on it as well. Moffitt suspected this woman was dangerous enough to warrant proper procedure. Last time he’d given Troy that smile and Troy hadn’t listened, the Head Rat had ended up on his ass in the only muddle puddle in the Sahara. The OSS agent who had put him there had brushed off her skirt and walked away like nothing had happened.
“Thank you, gentlemen.” Lieutenant Carter considered them all like a training officer. “We’ve got good news and bad news. The good is that Sergeant Moffitt saved us a wild goose chase. There was indeed no HYDRA facility where we had thought. Nor any signs of HYDRA activity in the area. The bad news is that we now have no idea where HYDRA is operating from.” She hesitated, pursing her mouth grimly. “I also regret to report that an American convoy of trucks and ambulances guarded by three Shermans was destroyed by HYDRA twenty kilometers from here.”
“No,” Hitch whispered. “No, Sarge. No.” The kid rocked back on his heels, ripping his cap off. “Sarge, we saved those Jerrys. We saved Dietrich’s boys.”
Tully turned white, reaching for Dietrich as the man’s legs crumpled. Moffitt and Tully caught him as Troy rushed forward. “Enough, Hitch,” Troy ordered sharply. “Escort the Lieutenant and her men away from here. Now!” Hitch nodded and began sheparding the others away.
Moffitt spoke in German, low and gentle. “ Herr Hauptmann, es ist nicht Ihre Schuld. Wir wissen nicht einmal, ob es sie sind. ”
“ Drei Panzer und amerikanische Lastwagen soweit draußen. Wer sonst könnte es denn sein?” Dietrich felt himself being lowered to the ground. That was a good thing because the water and food came up right after the words, splattering the rocks, jeep, and his uniform shirt. Rommel would be disappointed at his grooming standard, but sick on himself was better than accidentally getting it on the Rats. “ Ich hätte mich niemals freiwillig für die Verfolgung von HYDRA melden sollen. Ich hätte dem Erschießungskommando der Gestapo ins Gesicht blicken sollen.”
The British Rat was right in front of Dietrich, offering a damp rag the German was sure was actually his ascot. “ Wünschen Sie sich nicht den Tod an diesem Ort. Die Wüste wird Sie beim Wort nehmen.”
Troy had pulled out a canteen and was giving the water to Tully. “Hitch and I are going to grab some gasoline and check it out. You and Moffitt stay with him.”
“Troy,” Moffitt protested. “Surely you would be the better…”
The Head Rat cut him off harshly. “Moffitt, you’re the only one here who speaks German. Stay with him and keep him hydrated.”
“Yes, Sergeant.” Moffitt turned back to Dietrich, gesturing for Tully and the canteen. The moonshiner uncapped the water and tried to get Dietrich to drink some. The German turned his head away. Moffitt sighed and leaned forward to offer what comfort he could in Dietrich’s native language.
Steve watched the strange tableau of Moffitt and Pettigrew lifting Dietrich into the back of their jeep. In his grief, the German officer seemed fragile. The size of him, all skin and bone really, strung together with a little wiry muscle, was clearer without the force of his personality and the danger of a weapon. His uniform, originally neat and well-maintained compared to the Rats, was stained with blood, sweat, and vomit. The officer’s cap he’d worn had been lost sometime in the night before revealing the sun-streaks in his dark hair. He looked small, and it was obvious that Moffitt could easily manhandle his weight. Pettigrew’s help was just a formality.
“Poor bastard,” Bucky said with feeling. His eyes were haunted as he watched he two Rats prop Dietrich up in the back seat like a doll. The British Rat was solicitous, speaking softly, trying to get some reaction other than a cold, blank glare. Pettigrew took the damp rag and coaxed the officer into cleaning off the rest of his face with hissed insults. For the first time, Dietrich looked like a prisoner. A stubborn captured officer being difficult by dint of passive resistance. It turned Steve’s stomach to see the lack of life in the man who had saved the Howling Commandos not twelve hours before.
Bucky’s first unit, the 107th, had ended up much like Dietrich’s. After he’d woken screaming enough times, the sniper had told Steve about the original HYDRA raid that now made empathy so easy to feel and so hard to escape. Dietrich’s boys were lucky, and Bucky knew it. They’d all been killed outright. Not dragged to a HYDRA factory and experimented on or worked to death. Steve pulled Bucky into a hard hug. “He’ll be okay, Buck. Dietrich’s a tough bastard. All those Rats are.” Bucky gripped back, hearing what Steve wasn’t saying. ‘You’re okay. You’re a tough bastard. I love you, buddy.’
They broke apart when Pettigrew came over to speak to Peggy. The private saluted sharply despite the fact his uniform shirt was unbuttoned half-way down his chest and his five-o’clock shadow violated both American and British grooming standards. “None of us have slept in at least a day. We’re gonna have to break into the bennies to keep movin’, leftenant.”
Steve raised an eyebrow at the precise way Pettigrew pronounced Peggy’s title, obviously Moffitt had rubbed off on him. It spoke to the Rat’s instincts that he addressed her as the officer in-charge instead of Steve despite her gender.
Peggy took the report in stride. “Very well. Tell your Sergeant to set up camp nearby. When Sergeant Troy returns, have him report to me. Otherwise, catch as much sleep as you can. We’ll reconvene for strategizing at sunset.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Pettigrew saluted again before returning to the jeep. He had a whispered conversation with Moffitt. The Rats both hopped in the jeep and pulled off out of sight. Not good practice, but they obviously didn’t feel comfortable resting around the Howling Commandos.
Peggy watched their retreat. “That is by far the easiest first meeting I’ve had with any American unit.”
“Considering they’re carting around a Wehrmacht officer like he’s the patrol’s mascot,” Howard butted in, “I think you can safely say they’re the most unusual American unit you’ve ever met. Even the Commandos aren’t that bats.” The inventor still looked a little shaken by Dietrich’s gimlet-eyed stare. With the German gone, he’d felt safe to leave the safety of Jamie and Jacques’ presence. “I’ve got tents in the cargo bay. And actual food.”
Bucky actually looked like he wanted to kiss the man for a moment. “I’ll get the boys to start unloading.”
By the time Troy showed up, the Commandos had a tent up to lounge under and were busy eating their way through a case of oranges. The Head Rat looked beaten. Still, he marched up to Peggy and saluted. “Convoy was Dietrich’s men, Lieutenant. We brought back whatever tags we could find, but some of them were vaporized. No signs of any prisoners being taken. HYDRA should still be in the dark about your Commandos.”
Peggy nodded, not rising from where she had claimed a seat on an empty crate. “Thank you, Sergeant. Take some of the food and rest with your men. I assume you are within shouting distance?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Troy replied tightly, like he couldn’t believe she would think the Rats were that dumb. “Thank you.” He picked up one of the spare crates and put five oranges and some K-rations in the crate, ignoring the B and C rations completely. Tucking the crate under one arm, he grabbed a jerry can of water as well and started trekking to wherever the Rats had chosen to hide.
Here there be exposition (in German, thank you Ravenlord!). The Rats finally find out what Dietrich's been dealing with.
Tully tipped some more gasoline onto Dietrich’s shirt, scraping with a handful of sand to get the worst of the stains off. It wasn’t much, but the officer would feel better if he didn’t have to smell his men’s blood and his own shame. Moffitt had made tea with fresh leaves, a small luxury. Tully paused to take a swig from his own cup. The tea was bitter and lighter than coffee. At the beginning, Tully hadn’t been able to stand the stuff and asked for coffee each time. He was starting to like tea now. When the war was over, he’d get Moffitt to mail him some of the British black tea the other Rat hoarded so carefully.
Moffitt was dozing against the side off the jeep. Hitch had tried to curl up next to him and had been promptly shoved beneath the vehicle next to Dietrich. After being forcefully stripped of his uniform shirt and given water, the German officer had deigned to pass out from exhaustion rather than have Moffitt knock him unconscious. The two Rats had rolled him underneath the jeep to protect his bare chest and back from the sun.
“Troy, comin’ in.” The quiet warning drifted over the narrow entrance to the slot canyon where the jeeps were concealed.
Wiping the gas off his hands onto his pants, Tully whispered back. “Come on in, Sarge. Jus’ me and the boys.”
The acknowledgement was met with Troy striding through the gap. Water sloshing marked his steps. “Got some fresh fruit to go with rations and more water.”
Tully grunted, jerking his head towards Hitch’s jeep. Troy stowed the extra water in the back. The moonshiner finished scrubbing Dietrich’s shirt and laid it over a boulder to dry. By the time evening rolled around, the shirt would be ready to have the sand shaken out of it and be worn. Troy tossed him an orange which Tully set in on with his teeth. The flesh was completely ignored in favor consuming the zest first. Troy suspected Tully would eat the entire thing, including the pith, eventually.
“Is one of those for me?” Moffitt spoke softly to avoid waking Hitch and Dietrich. One blue eye was cracked open watching Troy.
“They’ll be here when you wake up, Sergeant. Get some sleep.” Troy’s order was met with a crooked smile as the British Rat took his hand off his Thompson and let himself drift off. Troy himself took an orange and settled into the back of Hitch’s jeep for a quick snack before he slept.
The sun was low and just starting to turn red when Dietrich stirred. He shivered in surprise to feel harsh weave of the tarp against his bare shoulder beneath him. “Wie spät ist es?”
“Noch nicht Zeit, um auf und vorzeigbar zu sein.” Moffit’s voice came from next to Dietrich’s thigh. The British Rat had hidden his upper body in the shade beneath the jeep. “Es gibt viel der Zeit zu essen.”
Dietrich started to demand food then stopped. His men were all dead. He’d thrown his lot in with enemies of Germany. He was a traitor, and the Gestapo wanted him dead. And all the men who’d followed him anyways were gone. Scheiße
His mouth must have moved without him realizing it. Moffitt looked at him sharply, seeming to read the guilt and the pain straight from his mind. “Schuldgefühle füllen den Magen nicht. Nicht einmal den Magen eines rachesüchigten Mannes.”
“Sie philosophieren zu viel herum für einen Mann, der nur sechs Stunden geschlafen hatte.” Dietrich flopped back onto the tarp, taking deep breaths to keep from humiliating himself by screaming or crying. Instead, he focused on his verbal sparring with the Rat. “Oder vielleicht sind Sie ein Philosopher geworden, weil es nur sechs Stunden waren.” Hitch moaned and turned restlessly, disturbed, next to him. Ruffling the golden hair, Dietrich sighed, “Gehen Sie schlafen, Bengel.” Quieting beneath the touch, Hitch mumbled something about lacrosse and settled back down. The younger man’s face hurt to look at. Hitch was barely as old as Jakob.
“Das ist die am wenigsten durchwachte Nacht, die ich seit Ewigkeiten hatte.” The British Rat wiggled out from beneath the jeep. He squinted up at the sun calculating. “Troy hat Orangen mitgebracht.” Stretching, he stood and went to collect his prize from the crate of food.
Dietrich dragged himself out into the sunlight as well. “Woher hat er hier frische Früchte bekommen?” He rubbed his shoulder absently. Being out of uniform freed him, a least temporarily, from the decision he must make. It gave him a moment to mourn among friends, even if it was silently. Moffitt shrugged without bothering to reply. “Ich schätze, es ist unerheblich,” Dietrich agreed. An orange flew towards his head. He caught it one-handed.
“Ich weiß nicht mehr als er.” Dietrich pulled out his boot knife and began to meticulously peel the orange.
The German officer finished removing the peel, frowning when it fell to pieces between his fingers. “Ich schulde HYDRA und ihrem durchgedrehtem Kommandanten eine ordentliche Tracht Prügel, Tommy.”
“Also sind Sie auf unserer Seite. Wundervoll. Es wäre eine Schande, Sie erschießen zu müssen.” Moffitt uncoiled from where he’d been waiting to pounce. The tension in his body wasn't apparent until it was gone. He’d spoken lightly, but Dietrich knew the man was deadly serious. Moffitt was pragmatic and the most lethal of the Rats. Troy was more physically dangerous, but he was bound by his concept of honor and fair play. Tully was as willing to kill as Moffitt but lacked the creativity the British Rat had. Hitch was restricted by his desire for Troy’s respect. If Dietrich had even thought about turning on the Rats, his body would have been lost to the desert aided by Moffitt’s knife. That the German did not doubt. It was strangely reassuring.
“Ich bedaure, was mit Gregor und den anderen passiert ist, Herr Hauptmann.” The Rat was openly compassionate now that the threat had passed. His own distant grief layered in his tone.
Dietrich reached up and rubbed citrus into the corners of his eyes. So there was no shame when a few tears rolled down his cheeks. “Mein Name ist Hans.”
“Jonsen. Nenn mich Jack.” Moffitt politely didn’t look directly at the other man. He snaked down from the top of the jeep to sit shoulder to shoulder with Dietrich in the sand.
“Deine Grundschule muss die Hölle gewesen sein.” Dietrich popped an orange wedge in his mouth to hide his reluctant smile. The burning in his eyes abated as juice trickled down his chin. Against his shoulder, the Rat’s presence was hotter than sunlight. A gentle reminder he would never truly be alone in this desert. They were enemies yes. Until they were not. Decent men caught up in the madness of the world.
Looking at Moffitt licking the juice off his fingers out of the corner of his eye, Dietrich corrected himself. A good man, yes, that Moffitt was. Never decent though. The Rat would stab someone in the back to save his friends and shoot a woman in cold blood to protect his country or his unit. A ruthlessness Dietrich could respect, considering Moffitt had used it to save Dietrich’s hide, indirectly, more than once. This man had survived interrogations by the SS and the Gestapo with nothing more than curses passing his lips. Sometimes those secrets he’d been protecting were Dietrich’s own.
Moffitt glanced at Dietrich like he was puzzling the man out.. “ Ich war charmant genug, dass jeder mich Jack nannte. Oder ich raufte mit ihnen solange, bis sie es taten.” His pale eyes sparkled with devilish light. A reminder that behind the public school facade was a spirit that had always been half-feral. Dietrich reached over, as he’d seen Tully do very occasionally, and grabbed Moffitt’s upper arm in his free hand, holding tight. Moffitt returned the gesture.
“It’s not polite to have conversations in languages the rest of us don’t understand,” Troy muttered from underneath his slouch hat. He’d tipped it down to cover his face while he slept in the back of a jeep. “Moffitt, coffee please.”
The British Rat rolled his eyes and broke his and Dietrich’s clasp. “Tea?” he asked Dietrich, switching back to English. The German nodded gratefully. There was a headache beginning behind his right eye, and it had been almost three days since he’d had a cup of ersatz coffee, let alone tea.
With a fastidiousness most associated with young women and their appearance, Moffitt used some shavings of TNT to make a small, smokeless fire and heat the water for the drinks. A small wooden crate filled with the necessities for drink preparation had been left nearby. He packed the tea leaves into a strainer and left them in the larger of the two containers. More negligently, a scoop of damp coffee grounds from a blue tin was put in the smaller container.
Troy stretched, propping his head correctly on his head as his sat up. “Good morning, Hauptmann Dietrich.”
“Just Dietrich, if we’re going to do this.” Dietrich held out a hand to accept the cup of tea from which had been poured from the larger container.
“Okay, Dietrich.” Troy took his cup of coffee from Moffitt and gave the other Rat a pointed look. With a put upon sigh Moffitt started towards the Howling Commandos camp for some reconnaissance. “What aren’t you telling us? You never give up this easily. Not even getting your ass beaten by HYDRA would change that. So why do you want to help us?”
The tea was pleasantly strong and not at all bitter. Probably because it had been brewed twice. Dietrich took a sip and burned is tongue. He hissed out the first few words in pain, “I killed two Gestapo officers.”
“Jesus.” Troy slumped back, covering his surprise with his cup of coffee. “Christ, Dietrich. I know you hate those bastards, but that’s suicide.”
“They murdered a woman. Oberleutnant Scholz had a native lover. A woman from one of the outer settlements where the foreigners live. She was probably part Jew. Not that anyone keeps track around here.” The memory of her dead face floated in front of Dietrich’s eyes. He grimaced. “Scholz was seen by a Gestapo officer out in town with her. The next day they dragged her out of her home for questioning, accusing her of being a spy. When they discovered she was pregnant, they beat her to death. One of them claimed to have raped her first.”
Troy pushed his hat off to run his fingers through his hair. His mouth was twisted into a pale, thin line of disgust. Dietrich could feel the tightness in his own face as he tried to keep his voice calm and even. “Scholz found out and told me. I went and talked to the girl’s family, and they confirmed she was an innocent. Stupidly in love with Scholz but harmless. I went to the officer in charge the men who’d taken her. He told me that he wouldn’t punish his men for putting down a Jewish whore. So I had Gregor Dresner lure them into our camp. I tried them on Scholz’s testimony and the statements of the girl’s family. They didn’t try to deny it. They were boasting about it.”
For the next part, Dietrich put down his tea so he wouldn’t dent the tin cup. “When they both told me they freely admitted to the crimes, I sentenced them. They didn’t even ask to see their officer, because it was impossible to them that I would actually go through with it. So I put them against the wall of a bombed out building under armed guard, and shot both of them with my Luger.”
“You’re certifiable.” Troy looked partially horrified but mostly awed. “Goddamn, you dumb Kraut, how are you not dead?”
The German let out a choked laugh that sounded more like an animal’s yelp than humor. “The HYDRA attack was reported while we were cleaning up the bodies. The Gestapo didn’t even have time to find me before my detachment was on the move. You see why I was so pleased to find you out here. I had no idea what I was going to do when we reported to Safsaf. Dresner and I would have been shot. Scholz as well if one of the crawlers hadn’t gotten him.”
“You’ve got the devil’s own luck then.” Troy sat back with a weak grin. “Well, that clarifies things. You ready to defect yet?”
Dietrich gave him a scathing look. “Ich bin ein deustcher Offizer. No matter what madness takes my superiors, I will never be a traitor.” His jaw jutted out in anger as he dared the American to force him into anything.
Troy sighed. “I know. Doesn’t mean I don’t want you as a Rat. You’re almost as good a driver as Tully and better on the Browning than Hitch.”
“Your commanders would have kittens,” Dietrich muttered, relaxing and picking up his tea again.
“They will no matter what I do,” the Rat shot back. “You still want in on blowing these Amazing Tales bastards to kingdom come?”
The German drained his cup and slammed it against the ground for emphasis. “Nautrlich!”
Tully washing Dietrich's shirt with gas and sand is absolutely historical fact. The Rats didn't waste water on washing. They used gasoline as a solvent to remove the worst of the stains and scrubbed with sand as an abrasive for the particularly stubborn messes.
Also, Dietrich's use of the word Tommy is slang for a British soldier (much like Jerry for a German). So yes, World War II in Africa was a battle between the Tommies (though this is more closely associated with WWI) and the Jerries. As far as I know, that has absolutely nothing to do with the cartoon. It's rather backwards actually, since the Rats tended to be undermanned and underpowered yet did more damage than units four times their size.
For all you fellow Rats out there, I took some liberties with Jack Moffitt's name. We know his father is named John, but Moffitt has no descriptors attached to his name (Jr, II) that I remember. Thus, I made it a variation of John. A particularly awful version so Dietrich could tease him for it.
This Peggy is my head canon for her. She's a trouble shooter who comes in and saves the HCs when they'd otherwise be buggered. It's based on my own experiences as the only woman engineer on an industrial site. A similar conversation occurred when we hired a particularly attractive new blasting contractor.
Peggy was the first to notice the Rat headed into the Commandos camp. “Gabe, incoming.” Her voice was sharp with reproof. She was perched on a crate watching Howard tinkering with the one of the plane’s props. Steve and Bucky were settled at her feet on either side rolling Steve’s shield back and forth slowly like boys playing with a hoop.
The hot sun beat down sending up a fierce glare off the sand. It meant that even in the shade of the tents and wings it was hotter than a warm day in hell. Except for Jim, Gabe, and Dum-dum standing sentry and Howard fiddling away, everyone was still as possible. Jamie and Jacques had claimed to the coolest shade beneath the Forwarder’s body.
Gabe blushed as he realized from her gesture that the movement he’d thought was the sand shifting was actually the flashes of a body between the dunes. His rifle began to track the motion. “Sergeant Moffitt, coming in.” The cool, accented voice made all the Commandos relax.
Setting down his shield, Steve called, “Come on in, Sergeant.”
The British Rat appeared like a phantom walking towards the Commandos. His beret was gone, and he seemed to flicker in and out of view as he moved through the desert with only his dark hair to mark him. The effect was eerie when he came closer and his impish smile was visible. Peggy stood stiffly still to suppress the shiver of memory as her grandmother’s stories of the faerie drifted through her conscious. When he solidified, it was obvious that he enjoyed the confused and startled looks from the other soldiers. “Leftenant,” Moffitt saluted crisply. “I’ve come to check on the water supply and work on the truck’s engine.”
Peggy raised an eyebrow. “Clever trick, Sergeant. They teach you that in the Commando School?”
With a real smile that crinkled his eyes, Moffitt answered, “No, ma’am. I spent my summers on digs with my father in these deserts for most of my young life. I taught that trick to myself.”
That got a soft chuckle from Peggy. “Very well, Moffitt. Carry on. Let me know your opinion on our water situation.”
Clicking his heels with another salute, an incredulous sight for a man with several days’ worth of stubble and mud streaked down the side of his shirt, he went over and began lifting the jerry cans of water. He lips moved silently as he worked. The math he was doing seemed to be a combination of mental gymnastics and
experience. The survey only took ten minutes. The Rat paid little attention to the Commandos laying everywhere, not engaging any of them. His report to Peggy was to the point, “Keep your lads drinking. Two gallons a day each for now, make sure they drink it. We don’t use water for washing anything but wounds out here. I’ve portioned off what the truck needs.”
“Thank you, Sergeant.” Peggy straightened the lapels of her shirt self-conscious of the large, dark sweat patches everywhere on it.
“For Britannia, Leftenant. I’ll see to the truck now.” Moffitt hesitated, seeming to gather himself under shield of restrained good manners. “If you wish to make yourself more comfortable, I’ll see to it no one bothers you, Leftenant.” Steve stiffened at the imprecation on the Commandos.
Peggy began unbuttoning her collar. “I won’t need you to defend my honor, Sergeant. But thank you for the offer.” The Rat’s eyes went very wide as she opened her uniform shirt enough to show her undershirt was very nearly sheer from sweat, enough to display the straps of her girdle. He flushed red and hurriedly averted his eyes.
“Why don’t you see to the truck now, Sergeant?” Steve’s cold warning got the man moving. The Rat saluted and headed out into the sun where the truck was parked.
Moffitt striped off his shirt and dropped it in the driver’s seat before bending over to dig out the tool kit from beneath the bench. When he found it, he popped the hood of the truck and rolled the kit out across the ground next to him. Peggy hid a leer to see that the blush was still present even though his nut-brown tan ran all the way down into the waistband of his trousers.
“You’re staring,” Steve muttered, flushing with a small spike of jealousy. Bucky smirked at his friend at got an elbow in the temple for his trouble.
Peggy snorted, “A girl can look, Captain.” She swept an appreciative eye over the seat of Moffitt’s pants as the man leaned over to reach for another wrench. “Tit for tat after all.” She wiped her kerchief across the back of her neck to clean off some of the sweat. Bucky snatched it and wet it down with his canteen. Peggy nodded her thanks and nudged her undershirt down to clean her neckline.
Bucky elbowed Steve fondly. “She’s gotta get her kicks somehow, Steve. After all, not like you’re going to entertain her.” The retaliating punch from Peggy was affectionate. So it only left a small bruise.
The blood rushing to Steve’s cheeks made his face even hotter than the air. “Don’t talk like that, Buck.”
Like she always did, Peggy soothed his discomfort. She fingered Steve’s hair briefly, not long enough to be noticed by anyone watching. But Steve could feel the cool eddy of the air around her fingers as they passed.
“It’s fine. He’s just jealous there’s nothing about him to draw my eye.” The cool edge in Peggy’s tone warned Bucky to drop that particular line of conversation.
With an apologetic smile that was more rueful than embarrassed Bucky muttered, “Sorry, Lieutenant Carter.”
Peggy softened her gaze and relaxed back onto the crates laying the damp cloth over the area from the base of her neck over the top of her décolletage. “As nice as he is to look at, I’m more curious about whom Sergeant Moffitt and his friends actually are. He wears the Scots Greys’ insignia, rides in a jeep with an American GI, and is commanded by a man wearing an Australian’s hat and American military uniform whose driver sports a mixture of Italian and American uniform pieces and a kepi of no particular origin. Oh yes, and they have a Wehrmacht officer riding with them who they depend on to be their fifth man. What’s even more interesting is that said officer actually takes the duties as seriously as if he were their fifth man.”
“I think Dietrich’s friends with Moffitt or maybe Pettigrew,” Steve offered. “Moffitt and Dietrich talk in German sometimes.”
Bucky looked incredulous. “You can’t be friends with Krauts.”
Peggy agreed. “How in the world would a British soldier, even one as lovely as that,” her nonsequitur spurred by Moffitt sopping the sweat of his shoulders with an oily rag. Steve’s hurt look brought her back on track, “Or American one for that matter make friends with a German here?”
“Well it makes a hell of a lot more sense than what the Major told us. He said that Dietrich and the Rats had been going at it since 1941. None of them act like they’ve been trying to kill each other for that
long.” Steve leaned his head against Peggy’s knee.
“You fight someone for long enough. There’s a not a whole lotta differences between friends and enemies.” Howard’s wisdom echoed through the aluminum of plane’s skin and the hidden mechanisms beneath. There was an ominous sounding pop. Howard tumbled backward holding a piece of wire. When he noticed everyone looking at him, he cleared his throat. “Well, that should take care of the rattle at least.”
“Are you okay?” Steve pushed himself to his feet. The beads of sweat that had pooled in the curves of his back all flowed down at once. He bit back a yelp at the strange feeling. Looking like a kicked puppy, Howard’s hand was extended up for help. It was easy to pull the inventor to his feet. The serum had increased his strength even beyond what his new body would allow naturally. He dusted Howard off gently.
“I’m fine.” Launching back into his first thought with no pause, Howard continued. “You saw how they closed ranks around him when he found out about his boys. There’s a mutual respect going on here. I’ve seen it from some of the business barons I’ve worked with.”
Bucky scoffed. “There’s a huge damn difference between some fellas playing dirty business and war.”
The rest of their conversation was cut short as two engines whined in the distance. Gabe shouted, “Two jeeps coming in.”
“It’s the Rats,” Dum-dum confirmed.
Peggy looked up at the sky. The sun had just touched the horizon “Early aren’t they?”
“Qu'est-ce qui se passe?”, Jacques demanded, stirring to alertness.
Jamie groaned. “ C’est les Rats. Avez vou ne entendu pas Dum-dum, mon chouchou?” His sense of humor got him a face full of sand from his friend.
The jeeps kicked up small puffs of sand as they rolled in. Troy and Dietrich each manned a Browning. They didn’t look overtly nervous. Their postures were relaxed, hanging onto the machine guns for balance rather than with intent. Moffitt ignored them in favor of swearing in Arabic at something in the truck’s engine.
When Hitchcock parked the jeep in front of Peggy and the boys, Troy jumped down, pushing his hat back with a smile that made her nervous just looking at it. “I know how we can find HYDRA.”
Chapter 17: Not Actually Fic!
I figured that I'd talked about them enough that I should post graphics so the readers would know for sure what they look like. Thus, I give you the Rat Patrol characters.
The Rat Patrol (from left to right: Moffitt, Troy, Hitch(cock), Tully (Pettigrew))
And Hauptmann Hans Dietrich:
In which Howard pulls a rabbit out of his hat, because Tony really is his son.
Peggy’s eyebrows attempted to crawl off her face as Pettigrew parked the jeep at the edge of the encampment and Dietrich dismounted, shirtless. Bucky elbowed her hard. She hissed at him and focused on Troy. “Steven, go wake the rest of your Commandos. I’d like to hear their opinions on this as well.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Steve pushed off the ground using his shield. He grinned at Howard who was watching Dietrich with a contemplative expression and seemed to be weighing whether or not to throw dignity to the wind and crawl under the plane with Jamie and Jacques. To save him from himself, Steve ordered his Commandos up and front.
Jamie was grinning despite the sand stuck to his lips and cheek. Between Howard looking relieved and hiding behind him and Jacques cursing him, he was obviously entertained. As reserved as Jamie pretended to be the man had a talent for making his own amusement. It was one of the reasons he and Jacques got along so famously. The Frenchman loved a good fight.
Gabe, Jim, and Dum-dum crowded around as well leaving a polite distance between them and Peggy at the center of the group. Troy crouched down in the sand at her feet. “We can send a man in as a native. Moffitt knows where the rumors are centered at among the locals. A man looking to get himself snatched should have no trouble doing it. Hitch and I can follow our man part of the way in and pick him up when he escapes.”
“Before we even start with the obvious problems,” Peggy said tightly, “do you even have a man who could pass as a local?”
Troy nodded. “Dietrich and Moffitt both speak the lingo.”
“But I’m the only one who can pass,” Moffitt interrupted intensely. “Troy, you can’t send Dietrich in. You know that. He may speak Arabic, but it’s
accented. No one with experience will mistake him for a native.”
“If HYDRA is as dimwitted as most SS men, it won’t be an issue,” Dietrich rejoined.
Moffitt shook his head. “I don’t know HYDRA well enough to say. Leftenant, Captain Rogers?”
Steve thought about Schmidt and Zola. They were cruel and their followers were fanatics, but the one thing HYDRA didn’t lack was brains. “They might actually notice.”
“Not that it matters which man you use,” Peggy reminded them. “Once they take your man, there’s no way he’s getting out. Sergeant Barnes can confirm this.”
Bucky rubbed a hand across his face, wincing. His captivity made him the expert on HYDRA security, but it wasn’t a position he enjoyed. “Yeah. I was held by HYDRA for a while. None of the boys who tried to escape were successful. Not even the commandos. They tagged us like at a stockyard. Except the tags triggered some kind of alarm if we went beyond a certain boundary. If you set off the alarm, they killed you.”
“What were the tags?” Pettigrew cut in. His drawl was more pronounced with the excitement of a potential raid.
Bucky fingered the long scar on his wrist absently. “Metal tubes, a little thicker than a needle and about as long. They put them in our arms. A doctor had to cut it out so we didn’t completely mangle all the muscles and stuff that make the hand move.”
“That’s a fairy tale,” Hitchcock muttered disbelievingly. “No one has that kind of stuff. Right, Sarge?” He turned to Troy and Moffitt for an explanation.
Troy looked at Dietrich, who reprimanded the private with a curt tone. “The man isn’t lying, Hitch.” More mildly he continued. “There were rumors about the things coming out of Johann Schmidt’s lab. Those tubes Sergeant Barnes described are tame compared to some of the things I heard.”
“Soldiers’ stories?” Moffitt didn’t sound convinced. His skepticism was written across his forehead.
Troy gave the British Rat’s shoulder a shake. “Soldiers’ stories start sounding real when you think about the crawlers.” Moffitt frowned but granted acceptance of Troy’s logic with a nod. Those crawlers did redefine plausibility.
“I may have a solution.” Howard stood on his toes to look over Jamie’s shoulders. “We could put a tracking device on Troy’s man.”
“Do you have something like that with any sort of useful range?” Peggy sat up straighter at the possibility of workable plan. “Get out here, Howard. We won’t actually let the Jerry kill you.” Humor laced her sharp order.
With a sneer, Howard stepped forward. “Fine.” In a sulk that would have done a child proud, he collapsed onto the sand cross-legged. “I do have something that will work. It’s a radio tracking device. If you get the receiver in range you can get a direction to the tracker.” He pulled a round metal disk half the size of a saucer out of his vest pocket. When he saw the stares he mumbled, “I was bored on the flight from France.” Shifting it to his other hand he finished, “I can use the backup radar on the plane as a receiver with a few modifications and the use of a spare radio.”
“That’s amazing,” Steve breathed, holding out his hand for the disk. Howard dropped it in his palm where it just covered Steve’s palm. It was thin, less than a sixteenth of an inch thick and flexible. “Do we tape it to someone then?”
“If you’re searched, it’ll be found,” Dum-dum pointed out. He eyed the disk with contempt and distrust.
“That’s why it goes under the skin.” Howard’s triumphant grin was tempered by the winces of from all the Commandos. “What, it’s flexible for a reason! It should conform to the muscle and move naturally. Those muscle movements are what power it so you don’t need a battery.” Disgruntle murmurs rose from the crowd of men at the thought.
Peggy held up a hand for silence. The men’s chatter tapered off. “Very well. Does anyone disagree that this is a workable plan?” There were some quiet
comments but no dissent. “We shall proceed then. Sergeant Troy, which of your men will be our bait?”
That disk looked painful. Troy raised an eyebrow at both Moffitt and Dietrich, who both shrugged carelessly. The reaction provoked a smile from the rest of the Rats more for Lieutenant Carter’s smug reaction to the two shirtless men than the twos’ carelessly masochistic natures.
“Moffitt,” Troy decided. “He’s passed as muwallad before.”
“But you’ll need the better gunner during the raid,” Dietrich parried. “Moffitt is better than I.”
Moffitt looked at the Commandos then switched to German, speaking rapidly so Morita would have trouble understanding. “Ihr Akzent wird Sie verraten, sobald Sie nur ein falsches Wort vor irgendeinem Gefangenen sagen, Dietrich.”
“Ich bin Deutscher. Schlimmstenfalls wird Schmidt mich nur hinrichten, falls ich gefangen werde. Als ein britischer Kommando wird der sanfteste Weg in den Tod für dich das Abkratzen am Fleischerhaken sein. Du warst schon einmal so nah dran, Jack. Sicher willst du nicht noch einmal dem Tod ins Gesicht blicken.” Dietrich engaged the British Rat in a staring match, challenging that memory which still made the Rat go white.
Moffitt licked his lips nervously trying to keep the Commandos from noticing his reaction. “ Ich will lieber am Fleischerhaken krepieren, bevor ich dich verdamme, Hans. Troy weiß das. Er stimmt mir zu. Ich werde derjenige sein, der gefangen genommen wird. Du wirst für mich als Schütze übernehmen.”
Dietrich’s cheeks went red as his temper began to rise in response to Moffitt's admission of friendship. “ Du bist nicht mein übergeordneter Offizier, Hans. Troy ist es. Er hat mir meine Befehle gegeben. Ich werde sie um jeden Preis befolgen.”
Walking forward so their faces were only inches apart, Moffitt lowered his voice so Morita wouldn't be able to hear any of the conversation. “ Du bist nicht mein übergeordneter Offizier, Hans. Troy ist es. Er hat mir meine Befehle gegeben. Ich werde sie um jeden Preis befolgen.”
Dietrich snarled and grabbed Moffitt’s shoulder hard to drag the taller man even closer. “ Wenn du gefangen wirst, dann knalle ich bestimmt kein Schwein ab, um dich zu retten, bevor du in deinem eigenem Blut ertrinkst.”
Moffitt’s face softened. “ Du bist ein schrecklicher Lügner.”
“Hol dich der Teufel, du widerspenstiger, halsstarriger, hirnverbrannter und hirnrissiger Halbbeduine von einem Inselaffen.” Dietrich shoved Moffitt away. The British Rat was laughing quietly as he staggered back. The German glared at Troy who raised his hands passively. “You Rats are as disciplined as parentless children running wild in the streets.”
With a chuckle, Troy agreed, “Damn straight, Kraut. Let’s go get Moffitt a disguise. Tully dig up those old Jerry shirts. Take a couple of the Commandos and go into town. Do any of you speak Arabic?” He addressed the last question to the Commandos themselves.
Jim shrugged. “I can puzzle out some of it. Probably enough to get some clothes.”
“Take Morita and… Any volunteers?” Troy looked over the rest of Steve’s men.
Bucky stood, brushing sand off his trousers. “I’ll go. Jamie?”
The British Commando nodded. “Yes. I’ll go as well. Will four be sufficient?”
“Yeah, that’ll do.” Troy reached out to take one of the crumbled balls of cloth Pettigrew was pulling out beneath a pile of rags in a crate. He shook out the cloth. It became a short sleeved Wehrmacht Gefrieter’s shirt. “Lieutenant Falsworth, this one’s yours. We’ve got an Oberstleutnant’s uniform somewhere. Corporal Morita that’ll be you. How good’s your German?”
“Passable on the radio,” Jim responded. “Not as good in person as Sergeant Moffitt.”
Troy shook his head, laughing. “Don’t bother comparing yourself to Moffitt. His father taught at the University of Munich before the war. He spoke German before he spoke English.” The Head Rat sought out his friend’s gaze. His joke earned him an eye roll.
“I spoke Arabic before I spoke English,” Moffitt correct with a wry smile. “My nanny was a Libyan woman old enough to be my grandmother. She didn’t know enough English to teach me. I wasn't fluent in German until I was six.” He’d join Pettigrew in digging through the rag box.
Dietrich frowned at Morita, “Say ‘Es grünt so grün, wenn Spaniens Blüten blühnt.’ for me.” Jim parroted it back at him. He scowled more deeply and said, “Try ‘Streichholzschächtelchen’.” This time he shook his head. “Just try to not to start any conversations. You should be fine if you keep it short.”
“Sergeant Barnes, you’re gonna be a Feldwebel.” Pettigrew tossed Bucky a shirt. “You’re about Hitch’s size. I think we got the trousers to go with that shirt. Sarge?”
Moffitt pulled out the German made pair of shorts. “We still have them. Falsworth will fit in to my Italian trouse.” He tossed the shorts to Bucky then a send pair of full trousers to Jamie.
“Corporal Morita will have to live with his own uniform bottoms. We don’t have anything that might fit him. Where did our spare goggles go?”
“We traded’em our last one for that goat a couple of weeks back,” Hitchcock reminded Moffitt. “They’ll have to do without.”
Steve grinned at Jamie and Bucky. “Get changed, fellas. At least it’s better than the time with the dresses.”
The uniforms fit well enough. Not that it mattered, Troy reassured the Commandos. Out here, everyone wore what they had regardless of origin. He also told them to sleep in the uniforms. So the cloth would crease correctly. It was all the wisdom he had to offer before the Rats took their jeeps and disappeared into the dark. Tully nodded to Peggy before they left, “If you need us, just give a shout. We’ll come running.”
Two notes here, the meat hook Dietrich refers too and Moffitt is terrified off refers to a very nasty method of execution in which you where hung with the point of the meat hook was inserted at the base of your skull and your own weight pushed the hook into your brain. Moffitt was never directly threatened with this when he was captured that I remember (fellow Rats, feel free to correct me), but it would have always been a possibility and in the back of his mind.
I imagine Schmidt wouldn't hesitate to use this method of execution on a British spy. Thus, Dietrich's rant, spurred by his own fears of Schmidt and his fear of finding Moffitt's brutally tortured corpse if things go sideways. After all, he's heard all the rumors that Troy, Hitch, and Tully don't even know about.
Third Person POV of our intrepid commandos.
I'm in the middle of writing the big action sequence and can't stand to be in Steve or Troy's head any longer. Arabic is a difficult language to decode. I threw together some phrases from an oil rig brochure I had lying around. I've also come to the revelation I will have to flesh out this story and edit it properly eventually. I've got too much material not to.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Maghwa was a small town. A hundred families and an oasis. Several smaller trading routes passed through bringing gold and livestock. There were small farms, just enough to keep the people fed. The money, what keep them fat and happy even as the war fires burned, was the merchants and soldiers who came to purchase supplies.
The four German soldiers in an American jeep raised no eyebrows as they rolled into town not long after the sun rose. Equipment and uniforms changed hands often out here. You took what you could and used it up. The desert didn’t allow for waste. Jameerah lifted a hand to her eyes to protect them from the dust stirred up by the tires. The veil over her mouth protected her throat. Her father, a cloth seller, had gotten the fine, loosely woven silk from an Egyptian merchant in trade for a new set of clothes sewn by her mother.
The soldiers parked in the meager shade of a few, squat trees. The driver stayed as the other three got out and began walking towards the cloth sellers and rag woman where Jameerah’s open-faced tent stood, pale yellow with white and gold embroidery. Rather than the food bazaar where fresh fruits and hot bread sat steaming as the smell of meat cooking rose in shimmering waves. The tallest, a thin, pale man with a line of brown hair across his upper lip, looked longingly over his shoulder towards the smells. One of his friends patted his shoulder sympathetically without breaking stride.
Soldiers didn’t buy what Jameerah’s family sold. They wanted bullets and food, sometimes medical supplies and coffee. Clothing and cloth was of little interest to them unless it was uniforms or bandages. So when the three veered towards her tent rather than going to one of the rag women she hissed between her teeth. The last a time a soldier had taken an interest in her she’d been humiliated in public as he tore her veil off. His officer had struck him for that violation, but several people had seen her bare head. The green veil she wore was her father’s attempt to make her feel better. It was the only one she owned with was also meant to cover her face.
The smallest soldier addressed her with an awkward smile and broken Arabic. “As-salam alaykum. Hal Tahadathi –linglizia?” His face was different than any other German Jameerah had ever seen. He was tan as her brothers and had crooked, almond shaped eyes that were black as her own. The oddness of face and shy blush made Jameerah relax.
The soldier muttered something in English then dug a canvas bag out of his pocket. He looked around her tent then nodded in satisfaction.
“Alt Kleidung, bitte.” The soldier waved his hands towards the used clothes that were being sold for rags or repair. They were clean, but stained and some had holes in them.
Jammeerah nodded her understanding. “Mann oder Frau?”
“Mann.” The soldier, an officer, held out three silver coins. Jameerah quickly gathered a full set of men’s clothes, the cleanest in the pile. A tan kaftan, white sirwall stained with black metal residue, and a ghoutra of light grey cotton. She wrapped them in old newspaper and tied the bundle with twine. Silver was far more than these rags were worth. She’d take some extra niceties for these customers. The bundle was taken by the dark haired subordinate.
He gave her a smile with a soft, “Danke.” She smiled back carefully. It paid to be polite to soldiers, but she didn’t want to catch his attention.
The officer asked, “Sandale?”
Jameerah pointed towards Mohammed several tents over who sold cheap sandals. The officer clicked his heels and bowed, saying “Danke, Fraulein.” Jameerah inclined her head and let out a deep breath as the left. It had been a good trade, but now her nerves were singing, and she wanted a cup of tea.
On a historical note, Morita should have asked her if she spoke French. However, not being familiar with the area, he probably wouldn't know that.
This chapter covers Moffitt actually receiving the tracker. It's not overly graphic, but reader beware.
Jacques Dernier would do the surgery to place the disk on Moffitt’s mid-back. A fire had been built. Water boiled in several pots. Dietrich’s boot knife was blade down in one pot along with a freshly sharpened straight razor out of Falsworth’s kit. A second held rags readying to be bandages. More piles of sterile rags were laid out on a tarp next to the fire. All that was left was for the sun to rise enough Dernier would have light to see clearly.
“Thank you for getting rid of Tully, Troy.” Moffitt sat on the bumper of a jeep, bent at the waist so Hitch could scrub his back with hot water, a sliver of soap, and some of the boiled rags.
Troy snorted as he carved a piece of an old leather belt into a better shape. “Well, it was either that, or the Frenchmen swallowing his teeth courtesy of Tully’s fist when you start yelling."
Poking the fire, Dietrich added darkly, “The poilu may be swallowing those anyways if he bullocks this up.”
“Just pass me the anesthetic, Hans. I’ve had worse.” Moffitt held out his hand for the ceramic jug that held the Rats’ rum ration. Dietrich sneered playfully and handed over the rum. The British Rat took a long swig. A gasp from the burn turned into a hiss as Hitch rinsed his back with hot water.
“Try not to kill anyone, Moffitt.” Troy finished cutting and twisting the leather into a protective gag. “We’ll hold you down through it, but don’t come up swinging or I’ll knock you on your ass.”
Moffitt huffed, put upon. “I won’t.” Another long tip from the rum jar, and he wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Bastard.”
Dernier walked over. His sleeves were rolled up revealing hands and forearms that were scrubbed bright red and showed brown iodine stains on fingers and palm. The disk was in his hands wrapped in clean rags soaked with clear alcohol from Barne’s flask. “You’re ready?”
“Been ready for a while, old chap.” Moffitt laid face down on a blanket Troy had stretched all the way out.
Troy and Hitch knelt down to hold down Moffitt’s legs at the knees. Dietrich went to his head to secure his arms. “Will need a fourth person,” Dernier sighed. “Capitan?”
Moffitt shifted nervously. “I’d rather not have him pinning me.”
“I’ll be gentle,” Rogers promised with forced joviality. The big, blonde man knelt down. His forearm braced across Moffitt’s shoulders. The other hand held Moffitt’s arm at the elbow.
Dietrich mirrored Roger’s position on the other side after sliding the leather roll between Moffitt’s teeth. With the Rat secured, Dernier picked up the straight razor and straddled his shoulders, facing Moffitt’s legs to get the best angle. A brown stripe of iodine outlined the entry of the disk. The first cut he made was a shallow incision that followed the curve of the muscle.
Dernier hissed to himself as Moffitt bucked. The muffled noises behind him made him purse his lips discomfort. He was a medic not a surgeon, and this proved it. The next cut separated the skin and muscle in the middle of the fatty layer. Not that there was much fat there. He had to be careful to keep from damaging anything more than the soft, filler flesh. “I need water!” Blood was welling up obscuring the view of his next cut. The wiggling of the muscles beneath him was just making the mess worse. “Bouge pas, puce!”
Dugan handed the Frenchman a cup of the boiled water, still warm. It washed away the blood long enough for Dernier to finish his gory work. His knees were digging into Moffitt’s sides to keep steady. “The disk.” Stark passed it over. It slipped in the wound with a wet, sucking noise. “Sulfa!” When the powder wasn’t immediately present he hissed, “Salop.” A dark hand appeared in his vision, Gabe Jones then, offering the open packet. The yellow powder was liberally dispersed over the wound. Before the blood could wash all of it away, Dernier took a needle and thread out of the water where it had been boiled and cooled. A neat line of black stitches closed the cut. He finished his work with a dash of clear alcohol that Barnes had brewed with an old car radiator and potatoes.
“It’s done.” Dernier scrambled off of Moffitt’s back. “Let him up. I need to bandage him.”
The Rats and Dietrich exchanged knowing expressions. They didn’t lift up so much as throw themselves away from their friend. Rogers was slow. Moffitt lay still in the sand, panting rapidly as he let the spit-soaked leather fall from his mouth. Without the hands pinning him, the small tremors shaking his entire body were obvious. Rogers reached out to soothe him, saying, “You’re fine, soldier.”
Before he could make contact, Moffitt cut him off. “If anyone else lays a hand on me, I will slit his throat.” Despite the shakiness of the words, it was clear he was deadly serious. Rogers wasn’t quite quick enough to respond. His finger brushed the back of Moffitt’s neck. Dietrich, Troy, and Hitch all lunged for their friend at once knowing they’d be too late. Rogers moved. Faster than Moffitt could throw a punch, even as he unbalanced from the Rat rolling into him.
“Mother of God,” Troy stared at Rogers. “What the hell was that?” People did not bend that way, that quickly without permanent damage in Troy’s experience.
Rogers flushed bright red like a naughty school boy. He stood up and brushed the sand off his knees hastily. When he reached down to cheek if Moffitt had survived his temper tantrum intact, Dietrich stepped between them.
“We’ll clean him up ourselves, Sanitater, Captain. Danke.” The words were hurried. Dietrich picked up the pile of clean rags with a forced smile. He knelt next to Moffitt and whispered, “So much for British stoicism, Jack.” A light touch checked the stitches to make sure no more damage had been done by the other man’s tantrum.
“You’re not the one who had to smell that sweaty leather,” Moffitt hissed between his teeth. “It’s not precisely pleasant.”
Troy laid a hand on his man’s shoulder. “We’re going to finish the job ourselves. So that shouldn’t be a problem. Ease up, now.” Moffitt took it a deep breath and unclenched his fists. “Get him up,” Troy ordered the others. Hands slid beneath the British Rat lifting him to his knees.
“You’re going to feel awful when you cool down,” Hitch observed with a smirk, trying to draw his officer out. He pressed a pad of rags against the line of stitches. So Troy could tie it in place with strips of cloth.
“I’d feel worse if I didn’t have that tracker when the time came,” Moffitt retorted. The familiar hands didn’t scour his nerves like Rogers’ had. He relaxed into them. “This is assuming it actually works. Troy?”
Dietrich scoffed. “Like the man would ever leave you to your fate. Stop twisting about.” He cuffed Moffitt softly to still him long enough for Troy to finish tying off the bandages. “Do you have a clean shirt?”
Moffitt laughed. “Where would we keep it? All the spares we have are German.”
“You are all a bunch of unwashed heathens,” Dietrich sighed, shaking out Moffitt’s shirt before handing it over. Troy laughed along with the other Rats, but his eyes were on Captain Rogers.
Note here, the waste of water and medical supplies on Moffitt, perfectly healthy except for the big ol' piece of metal now in his back. Yes, Troy is a paranoid bastard about his boys. It'll save Moffitt some pain later own.
As plans went, this was one of the least elegant Peggy had ever seen, and that included the time she had bullied Howard into flying over enemy territory so they could push an untested science experiment out the door to save his childhood friend.
Moffitt had taken the clothes and vanished into one of the small villages dressed as a native with only his pale eyes giving him away. Even those, she’d been told, could pass as normal from a muwallad, an Arabic child with a white mother.
Tully and Dietrich had been left to guide the Commandos as the other Rats trailed their friend. Troy had seemed reluctant to leave, but a hurried tete-a-tete with his men had led to a hissed shouting match between him and Dietrich. The Head Rat hadn’t seemed satisfied with whatever conclusion they’d come to, but Moffitt all but shoved his superior into his jeep to get him going.
All Peggy had clearly heard was the British Rat’s snarl that, “Hans’ judgment is not in question here, Troy. If it is, we’re already buggered.” That seemed to end the argument as they’d left immediately after.
The two that remained were having a whispered conversation in which Tully shrugged a lot and Dietrich made sharp, frustrated gestures. Tully looked at Steve warily, but was nodding. Dietrich called out, “We’re moving to an oasis further up in the hills.”
“Why?” Peggy demanded, making it clear in her tone she wouldn’t comply without an explanation. “We’d have to abandon the plane.”
Dietrich winced, rubbing a hand across his face. His skin was turning pink beneath his tan from the extra sun. “Yes. We would. It’s your choice, ma’am. But I would prefer to be closer to water. Especially since we do not know how long Sergeant Moffitt will be.”
“Let me speak to Howard and Steve, and see if we might have other options.” Peggy held back an incredulous giggle at the sight of a German officer clicking his heels and inclining his head to her. Every time one of the Rats spoke to her, and how strange was it Dietrich was now a Rat in her mind, she prepared herself for insubordination, arguments, and insults. And every time they treated her with more deference and respect than they did Steve.
Peggy smiled at Dietrich and walked over to where Howard was gutting the radar and radio and combing them into some sort of hybrid. “Can your plane land in those hills?”
“It can land anywhere now that I’ve got those engines fixed.” Howard wiped the grease off his hands onto his five dollar shirt. Peggy bit back a wince. Steve inclined his head emphatically as they both bit back their admonishments at the waste.
“Dietrich wants to wait at an oasis. I think he’s worried how he’s going to water all of us while Troy’s gone.” Peggy’s wry analysis drew a chuckle from both her friends.
Steve shaded his eyes and looked up at the hills. “I wouldn’t say no to an oasis. I never realized how little water is in two gallons.”
She laid a hand over his. “They aren’t frightened of you, Steven. Just unnerved because they didn’t know.” The reassurance seemed to make Steve feel a little better about startling the Rats.
Howard looked up at Steve, clearing his throat pointedly. “Well that’s settles it then. I have to land this thing in the hills.” The inventor gave his friend’s arm a manly pat to mirror Peggy’s, and she didn’t even bother concealing her laughter at the gesture. “Just let Peggy drive, okay buddy. I’m a little terrified you might get lost.”
Steve flushed. “It was once, Howard! And Bucky got us going the right way only five minutes later.” Even the tips of his ears were red. Peggy patted his hand gently, a quiet smile on her face at the reminder than all the super-soldier serum in the world couldn’t fix Steve Rogers inability to navigate outside an urban setting. The blushed evened out, and he captured her hand for a brief squeeze. Howard leaned in to conceal the contact from anyone walking by, using a wrench as an excuse.
A throat cleared nearby. Peggy quickly stepped away from Steve calling, “Yes?”
“Sergeant Moffitt just got lucky, ma’am,” Pettigrew reported. “Or unlucky maybe. HYDRA soldiers from a crawler picked up him and some goatherders. Hitch’s gonna call in our next of coordinates within the hour.” He tugged his forelock and smiled. “And, Leftenant, your boy’s a handsome fella. Congratulations, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Peggy opened her mouth, closed it, and cleared her throat. “Thank you, Private. I’d have you keep this to yourself.”
“Might go easier if ye let me tell Hitch, ma’am. It’ll keep him polite.” Pettigrew didn’t even bother averting his gaze this time, kind laughter lining the creases of his eyes. “Won’t tell anyone else though. And I’ll make him keep his yap shut.”
Steve relaxed, not even realizing the death grip he had on his shield. Peggy smiled at Rat. “That would be acceptable, Private. Do you have a girl?”
“Yes, ma’am. She’s waitin’ back home in Kentucky with my Ma and Pa for me to come home.” Pettigrew saluted. “We’ll let ya know when we get the coordinates.”
“Very well, Private. Dismissed.” Peggy saluted in return and watched the Rat leave. Her breath went out as he walked out of sight. “That could become ugly.”
Howard watched the Rat with narrowed eyes. Then he pasted on a smile, winking at Steve. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. He’s a square Joe. Right, Steven.”
“Seems steady enough to me,” Steve replied dubiously, not quite sure what his friend was actually saying.
“See,” Howard elbowed Peggy gently. “Steve even agrees. It’ll all be fine.”
The woman shook her head at both of them. “You two amaze me most days.” Laughing, she brushed his hair out of her face and squared her shoulders. “I’ll get the lads loading the truck so we’re ready to roll. Hopefully Troy is a punctual fellow, or Dum-dum is going to be complaining all the way to the HYDRA installation. Some days, I do not miss your boys, Steven.”
While square is now considered insulting, Howard calls Tully a 'square Joe' which at the time meant a normal, reliable, moral fellow. The counter-culture movement used it as a negative term which leads to its modern usage.
The Forwarder flew low to the ground. Tully looked up knowing that Stark and Jones were following that little blip on Stark’s fancy radar. He hadn’t been happy to find out that the Frenchie had used a straight razor to cut open his friend’s back and sew in a piece of metal. Nor the story Troy had told him about Rogers’ strange agility during Moffitt’s tantrum. Dietrich seemed to think that the good Captain’s speed had something to do with the US’s response to Schmidt, but he was working off half-baked rumors and suppositions from some of his more confusing conversations with Rommel. Much of which he was reluctant to share to protect any valuable military intelligence about the German offensive.
Troy himself was vehemently opposed to asking Captain Rogers directly. Mostly out of the knowledge that the Howling Commandos significantly out-numbered the Rats. If there was something not human about Captain America, it wasn’t in the Rats’ favor to press the point. Even Moffitt agreed the colorful agent of propaganda wasn’t worth pursuing openly in front of his men and friends. Though he believed that whatever Rogers was hiding was secret enough it might be dangerous to know.
It wasn’t a fun game, as Dietrich tried to tell them just enough to keep everyone alive even as they all pretended to know nothing. The stress was already showing in him. He’d waited until all the Commandos and Troy were busy before sneaking behind the jeep and vomiting several gulps of water onto the ground. Hitch had seen and told Moffitt, who’d cut loose on Troy. For a moment, Tully had been afraid he was going to have to punch a superior officer in front of Stark, Carter, and Rogers as the two Sergeants had stared each other down.
Dietrich had stepped in long enough to get both of them calmed down and to an agreement. The German officer would stay with the Commandos and watch them. If anything started looking fishy, he’d alert Troy and the rest of the Rats. None of them would say anything to Rogers or his people, but they wouldn’t trust them beyond necessity either.
Behind Tully’s shoulder, the Browning ratcheted back. The moonshiner felt a feral grin tug at the sides of his mouth. It really didn’t matter what surprises the Commandos were hiding. Tully knew that Dietrich was with them on this. The Rats would get Moffitt back. Or they’d rain bloody hell on HYDRA and anyone who got in their way .
“Tully, he’s swinging East,” Dietrich yelled over the engine noise. “We’re going to have to leave the road. Can the truck handle it?”
Tully spat out his matchstick regretfully. The box in his breast pocket was getting woefully light. “Maybe. I ain’t promisin’ nothing if the topography gets any rougher.” He couldn’t risk looking away from the road to check on the truck rattling behind them. Nothing sounded like it was breaking down immediately, which was as close to reassuring as things got in the desert.
Dietrich’s laughter was pulled away by the dusty wind. “You’ve been listening to Hitch and Moffitt argue, using words like ‘topography’.”
“They call it debatin’. It ain’t arguin’ unless Sarge loses sometimes.” Tully turn the wheel east. The jeep bounced off the road throwing up a cloud of dust as it left the hard-packed dirt. The truck followed, driven by an intent Lieutenant Carter.
Dietrich spun the Browning to cover the truck as it left the road. Its windshield and side windows had finally been busted out properly to prevent glare from being spotted by people in the distance. Tully had given Carter Moffitt’s goggles with a flirtatious smile that had been shut down by Captain Rogers looming. She wore them now with the extra strapping tied off with a piece of wire so they’d fit her head. Dietrich had showed her how to wrap the bottom half of her face in a rag to protect it from dust. The German officer was tempted to tell Troy that he’d join the Rats if they recruited Carter. She drove at a fair clip for the truck and was definitely the finest woman he’d ever seen in active service. In the passenger seat, Rogers looked queasy and cross (though he couldn’t see Dietrich). The little convoy of two didn’t appear to have any pursuers.
Swinging the gun back front, Dietrich called to Tully, “They look fine. Keep rolling.” The engine growled Tully’s response as the jeep picked up speed. The Forwarder wagged its wings overhead to indicate that Stark could see something. Cursing, Dietrich locked the gun and dropped down to hear the radio. “Roadrunner Two here, go ahead.”
“I’ve got eyes on Roadrunner One. Troy’s waving us in. Our boy is still moving but slower than before.” Stark sounded pleased with himself in a way that made Dietrich want to strangle the man. “I’m putting us down next to them.”
“Roger that, Shield Three,” Dietrich growled. “We’ll bring Turtle in.” He poked the bulky mess of wires and buttons without panels Stark had called a scrambler. The American had put one on both of the Rats’ radios as well as the trucks. He claimed it would prevent HYDRA from hearing their radio transmissions. It still felt safer to use radio protocol.
Dietrich manned his gun once again, grimacing. Tully turned the jeep to take the shallowest path up the hill. The jeep could handle these hills with some creative steering. However, he didn’t want to waste time chain-pulling the truck up the slope. Moffitt was depending on the essential Rat tactics to keep his hide intact. The hell Tully was risking their speed advantage. Carter had to keep her foot down on that pedal.
Troy ran over to his boys as soon as the jeep came to a stop. “A crawler grabbed half a dozen goat-herders and Moffitt. They headed out towards rock flats. We’ll have to wait until it gets darker to follow them.”
“Any indication they noticed he wasn’t quite what he seemed?” Dietrich demanded, pulling off his goggles and wiping the crust of sand off his face.
Troy shook his head. “No. They wore black uniforms and carried guns that didn’t look like anything I’ve seen before which shot bullets made of that damn blue light. They killed a boy who tried to fight with one shot to the chest. But none of them even looked twice at Moffitt. Bastard was smart enough to keep his eyes down for once.”
“Well that’s something. Is Stark still tracking them?” Dietrich rolled his head, trying to soothe the stiffness in his neck and shoulders form hanging to the Browning for dear life. “Did you have to hit every rock in the road?” he growled at Tully.
The Rat looked at him, unimpressed. “What road, sir?”
“Stark can still see him on his radar gizmo. You thinking we can take a bearing off the radar?” Troy pulled off his slouch hat and hung it off the butt of one of the rifles holstered on the jeep.
“You have British maps I assume?” Dietrich raised an eyebrow at Troy.
Troy smirked back. “Of course we do. Best they have. Moffitt has a Brunton pocket transit in his pack. Finally get to use that fancy German education of yours.”
With a smile, Dietrich threw up two fingers at Troy. “Halt das Maul, Vollidiot.” Tully tossed him Moffitt’s pack. The Rat’s traveled light. There was a spare pair of shorts and two pairs of socks wrapped into a small bundle. Inside was a woman’s locket, a set of British identification tags, a picture of a young boy, an Arabic knife, and the solid steel case of a Brunton packed lovingly in rags and a leather pouch. Dietrich lingered on the picture. He’d heard that the British Rat had gone quite mad when his younger brother was killed in Hitler’s blitzkrieg on London. Fortunately, he’d been spared that rampage, or Moffitt would have probably killed him out of grief. The boy was younger than he’d expected. Twelve at the oldest in the picture, which appeared recent. No wonder Moffitt had mourned so violently
Clearing his suddenly thick throat, Dietrich took the Brunton and wrapped the rest of the objects back into a bundle with care. Tully took it and slipped it back into the leather pack. “He never blamed you,” the moonshiner murmured. “It was the faceless Germans he hated. So he’d have someone to kill. He knew you’d never condone the death of a kid.”
“It is still my country’s shame.” Dietrich unwrapped the Brunton and opened it to check if it was still working.
“In this war,” Tully replied, his voice hard. “There’s plenty of shame to go around, Captain. No one gets out with clean hands. They just lie about washing’em.”
Dietrich looked up from the compass at the younger man. The Rat’s strawberry blonde was streaked with gold from the sun which fell into his eyes. It made him look like a boy despite the serious cast to his face. “Who was your father to have such a wise son?” He tried to sound wry. It came out more truthful than he wished.
“Naw, sir. I was always took after Ma.” The Rat grinned as he strapped Moffitt’s pack back down.
Troy had been standing back to keep out of the conversation. He winked at Tully, willing to let the other Rat disperse his countrified wisdom to the better educated. “I’ve got the maps. You can triangulate us while I get the bearing from Stark.” He handed Dietrich the maps, a straight-edge, protractor, and compass.
“Well equipped aren’t you?” Dietrich had to raise an eyebrow at the extensive mapping kit the Rats carried.
The Head Rat shrugged. “Moffit.” That was enough of an explanation. The British Rat had no doubt been doing some rough map-making as the Rats travelled. The British maps were probably the best in the region, but even they had serious flaws and inaccuracies. “I’ll go get those numbers for you.”
So maps... I work with them all the time. I even own a modern Brunton compass (pocket transit) which I use on the job. Bruntons were around during WW2. I'm not sure how widely they were used. Essentially, they're compasses that can take very accurate bearings using topographic maps and other fancy things. The three notable characteristics that make a Brunton are the mirror, the gunsight, and the face that E and W looked flipped, (It has to do with how you read the compass.) From what I've seen, there's not a whole lot of difference between a Brunton from the 40s and my ten year old Brunton. Not all of the old Brunton's I've seen have had the internal horizontal level I use for taking slope angles, but that's the only major difference. For the sake of argument, Moffitt's Brunton is exactly like mine until I can get some better pictures. I'm pretty sure this style is an M2 engineering issue compass of the period... American made, but let's call it a present from Troy and the boys.
The guy who formed the Rat Patrol was a damn good map maker. British maps of the desert were known to be surprisingly accurate. People often overlook the role of a good map in warfare, but an accurate map can be a make or break in desert warfare were water is scarce. Needless to say, now that Dietrich's seen those maps, he's not going back to German lines until the end of the war.
“I need the bearing and distance to where Moffitt stopped.” Sergeant Troy tapped his foot impatiently against the edge of the Forwarder’s hatch.
Howard looked up from the screen making his face as grouchy as possible. “That’s going to take some doing. You’ll be standing there for a while.” The threat didn’t seem to deter the Rat in the least. He sank down into a crouch, half way in the plane, and watched Howard work. “It wasn’t an invitation,” the inventor muttered, turning back to his screen.
Troy ignored him cleaning his nails with a pocket knife. Howard huffed. “Nert.” The soldier didn’t even deign to acknowledge the insult. “Gabe, get me a pencil and a notebook please.” Gabe tossed over the moleskin with the pencil-on-a-string attached. Howard pulled down his charts and went to work. He took the bearing and distance from the plane to where the dot representing Moffitt was currently stopped. Then he worked out the coordinates based on the planes position and the charts. A second opinion couldn’t hurt.
Smudged graphite equations covered the front of a page when Howard was done. He’d boxed the answers for clarity and resisted putting any comments next to them. The paper cut the creases of his fingers as he ripped the page out. “Here’s the vector and my estimate on the coordinates.” Troy took the paper being shoved in his face. “Now get out of here. I’m working.”
With a scoff, Troy stood and jumped out of the hatch. No doubt he’d take the numbers to that damn German for verification. Howard huffed and turned back the radar. The dot wasn’t moving. A thought came to him. If Moffitt was bedded down for the night at the HYDRA installation, he wouldn’t move for a while. There was plenty of time. “Gabe, watch the radar. I’ll be right back.”
The Commando looked at him oddly, but he put down the clipboard of flight plans he’d been fussing with and sat down in front of the modified radar. Howard smiled. Gabe was a solid kid for a negro. He was the Commandos’ pilot when Howard wasn’t around, and if he survived this war, Howard was hiring him to replace the current Stark test pilot. Sheppard could fly, but he broke as many experimental planes as he landed with a heavy hand. Gabe had a light touch with machinery and was clever enough to be his own mechanic most days. It was enough for Howard to overlook his skin color.
With the Forwarder in good hands, Howard grabbed his new toy off his private weapons rack. He’d dissembled captured Italian Berettas and used the best part of the design to keep the pistol light. Rather than nine millimeter rounds, it took heavy-hitting .45 rounds. He’d originally made it for Peggy but made a second for himself because of his trouble handling heavier handguns. With the new Stark pistol in his shoulder holster, Howard jumped out of the Forwarder.
Troy and Dietrich were pouring over their charts. The German had a Brunton and had removed his belt and holster to take bearings. Troy was sketching it in on the map. Hitchcock was no were to be seen, and Pettigrew was tinkering with the trucks engine. The Commandos were playing cards nearby, but the other Rats didn’t have a line of sight on their moonshiner.
Jamie and Jacques were playing to lose to keep Dum-dum in a good mood. They watched Howard amble towards the Rat. “Il a de mauvaises intentions,” Jamie murmured tossing down three cards out of his hand.
Howard leaned against the truck, watching Pettigrew work. It was several long minutes before the Rat bothered to stop poking one of the cylinders and pay him any mind. “I ain’t gone back on my word, Mr. Stark.”
“I know you haven’t…yet.” Howard double-checked that he was out of arm’s reach and the gun was clearly displayed. He tried to look as hard-boiled as possible.
Pettigrew wiped the grease off his fingers with a rag. “Sir, I appreciate what your trying to do here, protectin’ the leftenant and all. Just so you know. Hitch is under the truck checkin’ the breaks, and he jus’ borrowed my boot knife.”
“You may be a long way from civilization, but if you get Peggy in trouble… There’ll be hell to pay.” Howard gave up looking tough and settled for glaring ferociously. To a trained killer like Pettigrew it probably didn’t seem very threatening.
But the Rat inclined his head. “I know that, sir. That’s why I’d never say a thing. Though I’d keep that gun close at hand. You’d be best served keeping the last round for yourself if those mad scientist Jerrys catch us.” His face was kind even as Howard felt himself swallow hard. “Hitch and I’ll be doin’ the same thing.”
From beneath the truck, Hitchcock muttered, “And Dietrich and Troy are keeping two.” The comment got him a sharp kick from Pettigrew.
“You think we might get got?” The inventor glanced over at Jacques and Jamie who weren’t even bothering to pretend they were focused on the cards anymore. The Commandos calm surveillance made his stomach settle.
Pettigrew grinned. “I know we ain’t gonna get caught. We’re Rats. Now get outta sight, Mr. Stark. You’re our ace up the sleeve. We’d like ta keep you that way.”
Tully's oh so cheerful statement was a fact of life for OSS agents, SAS men, and sometimes the Rats themselves. Though frankly, one of the Rats would do the job for Howard if it came to it. Better than letting HYDRA get their hands on the US's top arms maker.
Dietrich double checked his mark on the map with Stark’s coordinates. Even on the large scale map they were almost exactly the same. They’d found HYDRA. He looked up at Troy. “We need to move. The longer Moffitt is a prisoner, the more likely it is he’ll be discovered.”
“I’ll get the boys moving. You’re riding gunner again.” Troy brushed the dust off his slouch hat. “If something happens you’ll need to get these fellas back to base.”
Lifting an eyebrow, Dietrich replied, “You are going after Jack?”
The Head Rat snorted. “Whatta ya think?”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Hitch and Tully need you there as much as the Commandos, Troy. We can’t go haring off after him.” Dietrich leaned back and waited for the explosion.
Troy flushed red with frustration. “I can’t damn well leave that pig-headed Brit to save himself! He’s always a goddamn hero. I’d bet good money he’s bleeding right now. If anyone would take that bet.”
“No one who knows him is that stupid.” The German held up a hand. “I will go for him when the time comes. That way you are assured the Howling Commandos get away. To complete your mission.”
“I wouldn’t leave you either, Dietrich.” Troy grabbed the other man’s forearm and held tight.
The German leaned in to hide his words and face from Tully and Hitch. “You may not have a choice, Troy. I didn’t wish to say anything in front of the others, but Schmidt and his pet scientist Zola were known for experimenting on prisoners of war and political prisoners alike. Schmidt once brought one of his creations to show Hitler. I was there with Feldmarschal Rommel as his attaché. Schmidt said it used to be a man. Herr Rommel didn’t believe him until he saw the pictures.” Dietrich pursed his lips at the memory trying to keep the gorge down. “If Jack has been treated that way, a bullet will be the kindest thing we can ever do for him, and I’d rather avoid that for as long as possible.”
“You’re offering to do my duty?” Troy snarled, sickened at the thought. He’d been ordered to execute Moffitt once before, had pointed the rifle at his man’s head. Fate had intervened, and he’d managed to save Moffitt instead.
Dietrich mirrored Troy’s grasp. “I’m saying, none of us will be able to live with ourselves if needs must. And I am a German panzer captain without a man or a tank who’s collaborating with American and British forces against a German national. I am also Jack’s friend, I think. Something I have precious few of left as you are the only other who managed to stay alive this long.” Sliding his hands down until he clasped both of Troy’s in his own, he looked straight into the Rat’s eyes. “I don’t want your duty, Sergeant Troy. I just want to save my friends, because I have nothing else left to lose.”
“Your life,” Troy pointed out bitterly.
Dietrich laughed. “Which isn’t worth the tin in my identification plate or the paper my death certification will be written on at the moment. As I am a traitor to Germany and a Nazi officer to the Allies. Give me this, Troy. Go tell Leftenant Carter.”
The Rat sighed deeply, returning the grip on his hands. “Fine. That isn’t permission, Jerry. I expect both your asses back at HQ when this is over.” He shoved the other man away. “You still have his Webley.” Dietrich nodded. “If it comes to it use that. I won’t have him killed by a fucking German bullet.”
Troy spat the dust out of his mouth and rubbed his face to smear the dampness around his eyes into the sweat on his cheeks. The look on Dietrich’s face told the Rat more than the German had realized. Moffitt could survive just about anything, but the thought of the British Rat with his mind and humanity stripped away was worse than anything the SS could do, had done, to him. Dietrich could imagine Moffitt without that razor sharp intellect lighting up the Rat’s pale eyes, which told Troy everything he needed to know about Schmidt’s twisted science.
When he’d straightened himself up, he got a tin cup of water from the Rats’ supply and carried it over to wing of the Forwarder where the Howling Commandos officers were resting. He offered Lieutenant Carter the water with a salute.
Carter stood with a frown. “Sergeant?” she said expectantly switching the cup to her opposite hand so she could return his salute.
“We think we’ve found HYDRA, ma’am. Permission to send a short range patrol out to verify.” Troy stood straight, at ease as he spoke to her.
Carter turned to Rogers and Barnes, consulting them. Then she turned back to Troy, “Take Bucky and Dum-dum with you . They know the most about Schmidt’s defensive technologies. Do not be seen. Do not engage unless your lives depend on it.” She saluted him crisply. “Dismissed, Sergeant.” With a smile she added, “Thank you for the drink.”
“Ma’am.” Troy saluted, turned on heel, and then relaxed into his usual loping stride. “Tully, Hitch, get those Commandos up. We’re shaking it!”
The jeeps rolled. Hitch and Dietrich stayed with the truck and plane leaving Dum-dum and Bucky manning the Brownings. The preliminary scouting run was two lone jeeps moving fast moving across the desert in the dark with their windshield down and headlights covered. They moved together across camel paths and dunes towards the dark dome in the distance.
On the ridgelines, shiny, black crawlers rumbled like giant scarabs. The jeeps continued on in the dark leaving the crawlers chasing engine noise, their prey concealed by their sand tan paint jobs.
The jeeps circled twice a mile from the dome’s perimeter. Foot patrols heard them pass. Some motorcycles tried to follow but couldn’t keep up. They were chasing a Rat Patrol. No one but Rommel’s Afrikakorp could keep up. Schmidt’s fanatics didn’t stand a chance.
“That enough for you boys to know what we’re up against?” Troy called from the driver’s seat back to Bucky.
The Commando gave him a thumbs-up. Troy turned the jeep back into the desert, not even bothering to signal Pettigrew. The other Rat knew him well enough to parallel his path, leaving in the opposite direction they had come. The long way around through the dunes would keep anyone from following them back to the others. By morning, their tracks would be gone.
Bucky slid into the passenger seat. “There’s no way we’re getting through that front door.” He pulled his rifle into his lap. “Do you think we can get one of those crawlers?”
“I’ll see what Tully and I can do,” Troy sounded positively gleeful at the thought. “Can either of you drive a tank?”
The radio crackled oddly. Peggy glanced at it then went back to cleaning her pistol. The patrol was late coming back. It was past mid-day now. The two remaining Rats didn’t seem worried even though there had been no contact. She wasn’t so certain. The radio crackled again. This time she could hear the call signs. “Shield Three, this is Roadrunner One. We’re bringing in a guest. Hold your fire.”
“Roger that, Roadrunner. I’ll tell the others now.” Peggy put down the handheld and let out a loud whistle. They were all close enough no one could miss the summons. All the men gathered around her, armed. “Gentlemen, our prodigal sons are returning. They said they were bringing a guest and requested we hold fire until otherwise notified.”
“What sort of guest could you find out here?” Steve grumbled.
Dietrich climbed up onto the wing of the plane and pressed a pair of binoculars to his face. He looked out to where a dust could was rising on a ridge. Whatever he saw made him start belly-laughing so hard he nearly fell off until Pettigrew steadied him. Hitchcock took the glasses from him and looked as well. A wide grin spread across the Rat’s face. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Peggy took out her own field glasses and followed there gaze. A jeep ran in front of the dust cloud. In the cloud itself, the smallest of the crawler types, a six seater, could clearly be seen. The other jeep ran alongside the crawler. “Those mad buggers,” she breathed, passing the glasses to Steve. “There’s a crawler headed our way. It looks like our lads captured one.”
Jacques whistled, impressed. “Merde.”
“I think we have our entrance strategy,” Steve traded triumphant looks with Peggy and Howard.
Dum-dum was driving with the hatch open and his head sticking out, a Cheshire grin on his face. Pettigrew rode next to him so the crawler’s guns could cover the jeep. Troy and Bucky drove front with Bucky keeping the Browning on a swivel. It was obvious that Dietrich and Hitchcock were relieved. They’d been on tenterhooks since Troy had left, staying close to the truck and tinkering more to keep busy than to improve the machine. It was no wonder the Rats’ jeeps ran like new. All the Rats spare time was spent coddling them. Even the truck had shown improvement under their care.
The minute the crawler rolled to a stop, the two Rats who’d been left behind were climbing all over it. They checked the treads, the roll tracks, and the power source. Dietrich was the first to find the access panel to glowing blue module that powered the engine. He stared down at it. “Was zum Teufel? Hitch, find me a flat-head screwdriver with a rubber handle.” When the tool was passed to him, he gingerly poked the connections, trying to figure out what it was.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you…” Howard nervously stuck his head out of the Forwarder. “Last time I crossed a wire on one of those, I nearly blew up my lab.”
Dietrich pulled the screwdriver away quickly. “Don’t break anything,” he told the Commandos. “I don’t think I can fix it.” Carefully, he closed the panel. Pettigrew leaned over his shoulder looking thoughtful, but he didn’t disagree with the German’s assessment.
“We’ve driven these things before,” Steve assured the Rats. “Haven’t had too many problems yet.” Troy looked doubtful. He inclined his head slightly, recalling all of his remaining men to his side. Away from Steve.
“What’s the plan, gentlemen, lady?” Troy looked at Bucky, Steve, Peggy, and Dum-dum expectantly.
So why did the Rats accept Dietrich's diagnosis? Dietrich is a panzer captain. That means he's at least as good at fixing tanks as his tank drivers. Of the Rats, only Moffitt knows how to drive a tank. Tully might be able to fix one, but he's mostly the jeep mechanic.
In which tensions come to a head, Troy loses his temper, and Schmidt and Zola's evil acts are discussed.
Steve cleared his throat, a little hurt by Troy’s actions. “Can you sneak Jamie and Jacques in tonight to set some preliminary charges?” Troy nodded. Steve knelt down and sketched the standard HDYRA layout into the dirt. “In that case, we’ll hit at dawn. Set off some charges as a distraction, take the tank into the compound in the confusion. This is a small satellite installation. Our primary goal is to shut it down. Schmidt and his pet scientist, Zola, are suspected to be there currently. Zola developed an improved version of radar. He and Schmidt are overseeing the first implementation at this location.”
“My men and I, with Lieutenant Carter, will hit their primary power core here.” He pointed to the circle and cross he’d drawn. “Schmidt lays out all his compounds the same way. We know exactly where it is. The destruction of the power core will cause a chain reaction that will take out most of the defenses. They tend to explode. So stay back until you see that happen. You and your boys can come in on the jeeps and mop up what’s left of the outer defenses and free the prisoners who will be held here in cages. There’s a master key on the on duty officer that’ll open all the cells. The armory is next door. Arm those who are willing and able to fight and point them towards this wall to get out. You should find Moffitt there. Once those outer defenses go, we’ll place the structure charges in seven minutes. Ten minutes later, the charges go, and everything starts coming down. If we run into Schmidt or Zola, we’ll attempt capture. If that’s unlikely, we’ll try to shoot them down.”
Dietrich leaned over and whispered to Troy. The Head Rat nodded at whatever he was being told. “Where are the labs?”
“What?” Bucky stared at Troy. “What the hell do you know about that?”
“Schmidt experiments on his prisoners, right? So then if Moffitt’s not with the other’s he’ll be in the lab.” Troy looked at Peggy expectantly.
She nodded slowly. “He’s right, Steven. Zola would have suspected the good sergeant is of mixed race and may have started with him first. We’ve seen that in the past with his ‘Hybrid Vigor’ nonsense.” Bucky paled at the thought.
Steve sketched a rough diagram of the inside of the administrative building. “The lab is here.”
“Where do they put the dead?” Pettigrew asked softly.
Bucky swallowed back bile. “Zola cuts’em up on the tables in the lab. They dump the pieces in a burn pit.”
Troy’s voice caught as he said, “How often do the dump the bodies?”
“If Moffitt’s been cut up, the bits’ll still be there if that’s what you’re asking.” Bucky scowled ferociously to hide his flinch.
“Hitch, pack a tarp in the largest oilskin bag we got when we head out. Throw a trenching tool in with it.” The cold statement made Steve step back for a moment and even Dum-dum grimace. “We’ll send at least something of him back to be buried for his mother. God forbid.” Troy’s face was grim. “We won’t leave without Moffitt.”
“There’ll be enough Krauts to take us down if we don’t move fast,” Dum-dum growled.
Bucky threaded his fingers together like she was praying even as Steve opened his mouth to protest. “Dum-dum isn’t kidding. If we don’t stick to the time table we’ll get overrun.”
“But if Sarge is stuck in the lab, how do we know that we can get him out?” Hitch asked, chomping on his gum fretfully.
Peggy cleared throat. “Troy, one of your men could use a uniform from the crawler and check the lab.”
“But if he gets caught, we’ll be blown, ma’am,” Dum-dum snapped. “Moffitt’s hasn’t been there for a day. If he’s got any sense, he’ll still be with the rest of the prisoners.”
“Dum-dum,” Peggy said sharply. Her reprimand was too late. All Troy had seen was the other soldier’s sneer.
“That’s bullshit,” Troy snarled. “Moffitt found that damn hellhole for you. He’s risking everything not trying to get out now. So he doesn’t warn them we’re coming. Hell, he could be on Schmidt’s table right now, because you secretive bastards can’t get a fuckin’ aerial photo run right.”
Mouth tight, Peggy replied coldly, “Sergeant, we are not suggesting leaving your man. Right?” Her growl made Dum-dum flush and lower his eyes. “If you can get a man in with the crawler, there should be plenty of time to clear the lab.”
“Peggy, he’s got a point,” Steve interrupted, reaching out for her shoulder. “What if we send in Jamie? He’s used to infiltrating HYDRA installations.”
She side-stepped him neatly. Her eyes were still locked with Troy’s. “Steven, not now. Sergeant Moffitt is a capable soldier. He’ll be expecting to assist in his own rescue…” She was cut off as the Rat started shaking with anger and bellowing.
“Godammit, woman! Jack has the worse luck in the British Army. I’m not risking it.” Troy crossed his arms. Dietrich hissed at him as Pettigrew growled a warning at his officer. “Sorry, Lieutenant,” Troy corrected himself bitterly.
Peggy pursed her lips, biting back an admonishment for his tone, recognizing the pride he swallowed to apologize. She took small breath before speaking impassively as possible. “Be that as it may, you are still in the presence of two superior officers…”
Dum-dum spoke over her saying, “If he’s so damn talented, he can get his own ass out once things start going boom.”
“Tully, Hitch, get those jeeps filled. We’re leaving.” Troy strode over to his jeep and picked up the jerry can of gasoline next to it.
Steve stepped forward, protesting, “Sergeant Troy, this isn’t an issue. You’re getting your man back.”
“Dietrich, grab another can of water. Good fuckin’ luck taking HYDRA without us.” Troy filled his jeep and tossed the empty can into the back.
Dietrich looked at Peggy. “Leftenant, I admire your man’s pragmatism, but it won’t get you anywhere out here or with us.”
“That HYDRA outpost is the radar control for the entire African continent and southern Europe,” Peggy’s voice rose, icy and hard with anger. “If we don’t destroy it, British and American bombers will die. Not by the hands of your countrymen, but by the hand of a mad man who wants to destroy us all!”
The Rats paused their packing. Steve gripped his shield tightly by its edges in front of him. “Please. I know that you were told all you had to do was get us here, but we need your help. If Sergeant Moffitt is alive, we’ll do everything we can to get him out. But we can’t risk leaving the HYDRA radar functional.”
Dum-dum opened his mouth. Peggy closed it for him with furious look. “You are dismissed, Sergeant Dugan.” When the soldier just glared at her, she flushed with anger, reached up and straightened her hair stiffly, and barked, “Go.” He went.
Steve tried to distract the Rats from the battle of wills going own between his Commando and Peggy. “Sergeant, you would be derelict in your duty if you abandoned us.”
Troy looked him over, mouth twisted in anger. “Dietrich?”
The German sighed at his question and shrugged, his lip curling up in disdain as he watched Steve. “He isn’t wrong, Troy.” The Head Rat sniffed, looking over Steve in his modified flight suit with the pistol on his belt, holding his painted shield to the side.
“I’m not taking this bullshit from a kid who earned his rank being a Senator’s performing monkey.” Troy didn’t even bother to hide his scorn.
Steve flinched back, hurt. Bucky stepped forward, raising his fists. Tully and Hitch were moving to the back their jeeps where the Thompsons were loaded and waiting in sheaths, close to the Brownings. Dietrich’s hand was on the Webley at his side just as Troy fingered his own 1911. Steve had pulled his shield up defensively. The dry, hot desert air crackled with tension. This standoff would devolve into a firefight if something didn’t happen.
Pulling her hand away from her side arm, Peggy roared, “Enough!” The sharp word was imbued with every ounce of command she could muster. She stepped in between Troy and Steve. The men stood still around her, tense but looking less murderous “I will not have you speaking to Captain Rogers this way, Sergeant!“ From the set of her shoulders, to the straight line of her back, to the angle of her heels, Peggy pulled her rank around her like it was her dress uniform. “Am I your officer for the duration of this mission or not, Sergeant Troy?”
Troy paused, looking back at his man and the tableau of them not quite facing off against the Howling Commandos. He turned back to Peggy, releasing his grasp on his sidearm. “Yes, ma’am, we are taking orders from you.”
“Very well. Then I am asking you, will you help us?” She stood there, willing her fingers not to curl into fists. “At the moment, Sergeant, that is not an order.”
“We’ll complete the mission. If you help us rescue our boy,” Troy spat out reluctantly.
“Done. That was never in question,” Peggy said crisply, hiding her relief. Steve smiled at the Rats. None of them returned the peace offering. “Which of your men will be going in first to look for Moffitt? I can give you twenty minutes after the core is destroyed, if your men are willing to help.”
“A’ course we will,” Hitch snapped. “Sarge?”
Troy nodded. “Yeah. We’ll do whatever you need us to.”
“Which one of your men will be trying to find Moffitt on the inside?” Peggy demanded.
“I’ll go in with the crawler,” Dietrich sighed, rubbing his eyes. “They’re German. They won’t notice another German wandering around. Is the lab marked?”
“There’s fairly extensive signage inside the buildings. HYDRA shifts personnel around enough that it’s necessary,” Peggy confirmed. “All in German. Not that the language barrier will be an issue for you.”
“Looks like those HYDRA uniforms we borrowed are going to come handy after all,” Hitch cock said with forced cheeriness.
Troy agreed, “Yeah, they will. Tully, you and Hitch take Dernier and Falsworth out to set those explosives. Take the glasses. See if Moffitt’s still in those outdoor pens.”
The two Rats didn’t even bother saluting. Looking at each other before Pettigrew headed over to the Forwarder to get an another can of fuel. Hitchcock took the binoculars from the jeep Troy had fueled and slung the strap over his shoulder. Pettigrew helped Jacques load the crates of explosives and strap them down.
“Troy, if you don’t calm down, I’m going to end up shooting one of them,” Dietrich murmured. “You’d best tell Tully and Hitch that you don’t actually want those two shot and buried in shallow graves.”
Troy grunted acknowledgement. He watched Tully slide into the driver’s seat and Hitch take the Browning. Before they took off, he raised a hand to stop Tully. “Bring them both back alive, boys.”
“Yes, Sarge,” Hitch called out. He kicked the side of the jeep. “Let’s shake it, Tully.”
I knew things had to blow up as soon as Moffitt and the rest of the boys recognized Captain America at the beginning of the story. Captain America and his Howling Commandos are rumors and propaganda fodder. The Rats are long time desert commandos with a cynical view about commissioned officers and (to some extent) the war itself. Add to that the Rats' suspicions about Steve, and you a have nasty brew indeed.
In this chapter, I show all the characters as I see them at the moment. Steve is a young, inexperienced officer who still isn't quite sure about himself. Peggy is an experienced officer, but most of her experiences have been negative. Bucky is a good shot and a good friend, but he's not a leader of men. Dum-dum is old-school and unit focused. I don't think that changes much.
Troy is tired, wary, under informed, and missing Moffitt's second opinion. Dietrich is fighting the demons in his head as much as he is dealing with the current situation. Neither Tully nor Hitch have reason (yet) to express their opinions and take Troy head-on. This was probably the toughest chapter to write. Hopefully, it's semi-reasonable and coherent.
Dietrich unscrewed the cap on his canteen and took a sip. “It’s not often I am the voice of reason, Troy. Your nerves are showing.” He used the water hanging on his lips to clean the area around his mouth.
“This is bullshit, Dietrich. These wannabe SAS jerks are starting to rub me the wrong way.” Troy rolled his shoulders. “We don’t know anything about these HYDRA fellas. I thought Captain America was just some Senator’s model toy soldier. Apparently he’s real and actually involved in some OSS operational crud. Or maybe British Intelligence. Hell if I know.” Troy pulled himself up onto the back of the jeep. Dietrich held out the canteen, and he took it. The water was a welcome relief. “I don’t like Moffitt doing this. And I don’t trust that Captain America punk and his squad to care enough to get him out.”
“Neither do I, but it wasn’t our choice to make.” Dietrich sank down to sit with his back against the tire. “Whatever will be, Troy, it was never your fault. Jack would have fought until you let him do what he thought best. He trusted Leftenant Carter well enough to let her man cut him open.”
“Jack would trust anything with legs that fine and an accent from home,” Troy snorted, relaxing slowly as he accepted Dietrich’s analysis. He remembered the other concern he had and raised it with a wry smile. “Why do you go white whenever someone mentions Schmidt?” He passed the canteen back to Dietrich with an expectant look.
Dietrich snorted. “Schmidt is a Schreckgespenst to the Wehrmacht. Not even I am immune to that irrationality. He is still just a man though. An evil man, yes. But a man who won’t be clever enough to shoot our good Sergeant on sight. Jack will be fine. It will be the desert that takes him if age doesn’t.”
Troy laughed at that. “Stop trying to make me feel better.” He bumped his foot against Dietrich’s shoulder. The German smirked up at him and said nothing. “Jerry bastard,” the Rat muttered affectionately.
“sturer Narr,” Dietrich retorted with a smile.
It was a clear night. The sun was low enough the stars were starting to show. The moon was waning. A hopeful sign for the raid coming before the sun rose. The darker it was before dawn, the easier it would be to hide in. Heat rose in shimmering waves off the sand as the breeze cooled the air. For the only time since the sun had risen that morning, the desert was more comfortable than rocking chair on a porch in Greencastle, Pennsylvania on a spring evening. Or Denning outside of Munich during the early fall. The two men leaned back and watched the stars begin to twinkle to life.
In a dark room, Sergeant Jack Moffitt was looking up at the same stars as Troy and Dietrich through a skylight trying to remember how to breathe. He gulped for air and choked on the blood and spit that slid back down his throat. He blinked, too dehydrated to cry. There was a crust of blood on his lashes which fell to pieces with every muscle twitch and made his eyes itch horribly. In his peripheral vision, the rat of a man who’d left him this way was preparing another injection. Gurgling, Moffitt forced out a wad of red streaked saliva that bubbled up and rolled down his cheeks. “Yaqta omrak, ya ib asharmoota.” The curse was barely a whisper. “Yikhrib beytak.”
The man ignored him and turned holding the glass syringe half-full of blue liquid. One gloved hand probed the soft space between the Rat’s ribs. The bruising pain forced what little breath Moffitt had out. Before he could inhale again, the syringe was jammed where the fingers had been and emptied. Moffitt arched up against the restraints at his wrists, ankles, throat, and hips. He bit his tongue until he tasted blood to keep back the English words. When he let up, he screamed, “Al’ama.”
The sadistic son of a bitch who’d been alternating probing and cutting with injections didn’t even hear the words anymore. Moffitt was slurring the sharp syllables together, dizzy and cold with shock. The Rat let his body go limp against the restraints and waited for the seizures to hit again. He prayed that his gamble had paid off, because he suspected that the coming sunrise would be his last if Troy and the others didn’t come for him. The hot burn at his back where he’d torn the stitches reassured him that it wasn’t in vain. The metal was still buried in his body, molded to the muscles and hidden from the bastard who looked at him like he was a particularly interesting science experiment.
“Herr Doktor,” the monster’s voice boomed through the room. Moffitt shivered, turning his face away instinctively. He didn’t believe in God, but he was starting to believe in demons. No man had a face like that. “ Macht das Experiment Fortschritte?”
The rodent man quivered, leaning over Moffitt, waving around lamp, which glowed blue, and tugging at the skin of his specimen’s face. “ Dieses Exemplar verkraftet mehr als die anderen. Ich werde das Serum verbessern und die modifizierte Rezeptur für morgen vorbereiten. Ich werde ein neues Subjekt als Ersatz benötigen.” A finger strayed near Moffitt’s mouth. The Rat didn’t even think twice before clamping down with his teeth. His torturer screamed and tried to pull away. Like a terrier, Moffitt held tight, growling and shaking his head to dig further into flesh.
The monster stormed into view. His melted, red face made Moffitt’s stomach churn. “ Schwachsinniger Parasit!” A hard slapped slammed the Rat’s head back into the steel table with enough force a puddle of blood started to form, dribbling through his hair. The force behind was much more than a mortal man could muster, lending credence to Moffitt’s superstitious demon theory.
“Mus zibbi,” Moffitt whispered before his eyes rolled back willing the monster to understand his mocking order. The taunting wasn’t much, but it made Moffitt feel better to rebel even in that small way.
The lean body went still for the first time since the injections had begun. In the cold, blue light of the lamps, blood made his teeth glint like they’d been capped in rubies even as more red pooled out and haloed his head. A bucket of lukewarm water sloshed over his limp form washing it away. He shivered as the cool desert breeze trickled is in through the window.
You don’t dream when you’re unconscious. This is how Jack Moffitt knew he was still awake when he saw Hans and the Rats smiling at him as the room went dark. When he tried to call for them (only remembering at the last moment to use Arabic), they wavered and vanished like a mirage.
Moffitt really does have the worst luck in the British Army. That poor guy gets beaten up on the show more than the other three combined. In case it isn't clear, Moffitt is pretending to be half-English, half-Arabic. Based on what I know of Zola, this combination would attract more attention than Moffitt intended. Especially considering that Moffitt can fake native perfectly but he can't change his pale eyes at all.
When the patrol returned with Dernier and Falsworth, Troy knew that Moffitt was in trouble. Tully’s face and Hitch’s chomping told the story. The two privates parked the jeep and headed straight over to Troy without checking the engine or refueling.
“How sure are you?” Troy asked without bothering with the preliminaries.
Tully took a matchstick out of the box in his breast pocket and popped it in the corner of his mouth. “We got close enough we could count the hairs on their heads with the glasses. The compound was lit up but well. If he was there we would have seen him.”
Dietrich cursed softly rubbing both his hands across his face. “Verdammt, Jack.”
“I take it we are now dealing with the worst case scenario?” Carter’s voice caused the Rats to jump out of their skins. She walked softly on the sand for someone who’d been in the desert only a few days.
Troy recovered first, straightening his slouch hat. “Yes, ma’am. Tully and Hitch couldn’t find him in the pens with the others.”
“It will be Captain Dietrich’s show then?” She asked kindly.
“I’d feel better if he had back up,” Troy said pointedly, looking at Dugan and Barnes.
Rogers stood next to them. The three men watched the interplay between the Head Rat and their girl carefully. None of them wished to break the ceasefire and let Carter do all the talking.
Dietrich spoke up, “Captain Rogers seems like a handy fellow in a fight. I don’t suppose he would be willing to help me?”
Carter raised an eyebrow. “He is the Captain of the Howling Commandos. They can’t spare him. I’m sorry, but all of the Commandos have roles to play. They’ve considerable experience on missions like this and I am reluctant to interfere with the way they operate.”
“I don’t want Dietrich out there with his back on display for any one of those fanatics in black who has a thought in his skull to take a shot at it,” Troy snapped.
“I said I couldn’t spare any of the Commandos, Troy,” Carter said sharply, warning him to calm down. “Nor can I risk Howard. I will go with Captain Dietrich.”
There was a scuffle from the Commandos as Rogers said, “What the heck, Peggy?” Several of the other Commandos, including Dugan, Barnes, and Morita, protested as well.
She raised a hand to silence them. “We’ll discuss this in a moment, Steven, James. Sergeant Troy?”
Troy looked at Dietrich, who nodded. The Head Rat seemed to take that as confirmation, because he agreed, “That’ll work on our end. Go ahead and talk to Tully about whatever spare gear you need.” He paused and pulled his slouch hat off, holding in both his hands in front him as he addressed her. “Thank you, Lieutenant. For understanding.”
Carter smiled wearily. “I know it may surprise you, Troy, but I do fear for Moffitt as much as I do for my own men. I would gladly do anything I could to get him back to you.”
“We know,” Tully interjected gently. “It ain’t about you, Leftenant. Never was. Tempers jus’ run high out here.”
“And soldiers’ bonds run all the deeper for it,” Troy finished for him. “Those boys,” he gestured at Rogers, Barnes, and Dugan, “don’t belong in the desert. Makes it hard to trust’em.” It was the closest he would come to an apology for the position he was putting her in.
Nodding, Carter asked with forced levity, “And I belong out here, Sergeant?”
To her surprised, Dietrich answered. “If you wished to, Leftenant Carter, you could be one hell of a Rat. If you’ll pardon my language.” His sincerity was mirrored in Tully’s sure nod, Hitch’s eager concurrence, and Troy’s grudging laugh.
“I’d take that as a compliment, ma’am. Hauptmann Dietrich’s seen both sides of how we operate,” Troy said with reluctant agreement. “And he isn’t wrong.”
Carter flushed, embarrassed and flattered by the respectfully affectionate gazes on her. “I will take it as such, Sergeant. Thank you. All of you. I don’t believe I’ve ever received greater praise.”
Hitch snorted, “That’s ‘cause everyone else is too dumb to look past the fact you’re a dame.” Tully swatted his friend with a sigh. “No offense, ma’am.”
She laughed. “None taken, Private. See that it doesn’t happen again. I’ll handle the Commandos. Prepare your gear and get some sleep. Dismissed.” She received a round of lazy salutes, except from Dietrich whose heel click and salute were as perfect as ever.
“What the hell was that, ma’am,” Dum-dum demanded as she walked back over to the Commandos.
Disdainfully, Peggy looked down at him. “That was me, cleaning up your mess, Sergeant.” She looked at the three men. “Their man is a hostage to fortune at this point, gentlemen. You’ve manage to offer them no reassurances. So I did it for you.”
“They’re leveraging you against us,” Bucky growled angrily.
“Yes. I do believe they are.” Her tone was brittle but matter of fact. “They’ve been left in the dark, maybe out right lied to. And we’ve offered few guarantees for the risks they take on our orders. I don’t like it, but I’d rather help Captain Dietrich rescue Sergeant Moffitt than risk another confrontation that could end this mission before it’s begun.”
Steve didn’t say anything, rubbing the edges of his shield and not meeting her eyes. “Leave,” Peggy ordered the other two. “I’m tired. Steven, come with me.” She walked to the Forwarder and jumped through the hatch assuming, correctly, that he would follow her.
Howard and Gabe were double checking something on the charts. They looked up when Peggy said, “I need some privacy, Howard.” Her friend glanced behind her at Steve and nodded. He whispered to Gabe. Within a few minutes, the two had packed up the charts and vanished outside to sleep in the truck.
“Close the hatch, Steven,” Peggy ordered pulling the pins out of her hair and letting it dangle free, limp and crunchy with sweat and dust.
“Peggy, they’ll talk,” Steve protested.
She snorted. “Who, your Commandos? They all think your boots are under my bed already.” He blushed like a tomato at the implication. “Troy and his men could care less if I was screwing a Moroccan whore, except to regret it’s not one of them.”
“Peggy!” Steve sounded so scandalized she had to laugh.
“Oh, Steven. Sit down and put that damn shield somewhere it’s not going to poke me in the ribs.” She waited until he was seated to settle next to him and lean her head on his shoulder. He put a big, heavy arm around so gently she was almost as convinced as he was that she was made of bone china. “It’s not your fault they don’t like you, Steven. Or that you can’t get them to respect you. They’re hard men. This desert, this war, it’s made them cynical and stubborn. Too stubborn to see anything but the paint on your shield.”
“I just… Don’t take this wrong, Peggy, but they listen to you.” Steve bit his lip, squeezing her gently against his side. “I mean, I’m glad there’s someone here they take orders from, but I can’t figure out why they can’t stand me.”
She hid her smile in the dark. From any other man, she would take that statement in the worst way possible, but this was Steve. The boy from Brooklyn who had believed in and respected her since the day they met. “I’m a survivor, just like them. We’re kindred spirits fighting our own side as much as the enemy. American commandos fighting a guerrilla war under a British command who thinks their tactics unsporting. A woman fighting to be a proper soldier when none of her superiors think that women are strong enough to take care of themselves. Let alone fight a war. Then you, who needn’t struggle for what he’s owed by his rank.”
“All they see in you now, Steven, is the big, strong officer who is the apple of Allied Command’s eye but with little experience to back that up. They look at Captain America and spit in disgust without ever bothering to see Private Steve Rogers is the one who’s actually giving orders.” She tucked her fingers under his chin and lifted his face. So he looked her in the eye. “If the Rats had met you when I’d met you, they’d respect you just as much as me.”
Steve gave a shuddering sigh and leaned into her hand. “Really?”
“Yes.” She pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I’m sure of it. Now, we have enough time for a few hours’ sleep, and I am quite comfortable for the first time since I’ve come to this godforsaken place. I would take it as a favor if you would stay right there while I slept.” He laughed and pulled her half-way across his body which was even better than sitting on the floor. Her hand crept up to cover his heart, feeling the strong lub-dub beneath her palm. No one would believe that they’d spent the night just dozing next to each other, but among these men she had little reason to care.
This was war after all, and soon she would once more to the breech with a German officer to guard her back. Better that Steve have this memory of her, whole and sleepy in his arms, than none at all.
Dietrich had chosen the Oberstleutnant’s uniform from the crawler’s selection. He’d cleaned off the worst of the blood with sand and gasoline. Pettigrew had patched the bullet hole by starlight. It was a surprisingly tidy job. The uniform had belonged to one of Bucky’s victims. The bullet had entered high under the arm of the jacket, easy to conceal. With the patch, and the sides taken in, the uniform fit Dietrich like it had been made for him.
He’d ended up seated next to Peggy by the open slit which ventilated the crawler. She had donned one of the tank driver’s caps to cover her hair as well as the mechanic’s overalls which had made it through the crawler’s capture unscathed. Anyone looking in would be fooled by their optical illusion of two men in HYDRA uniform looking official. Steve had taken the largest jacket and closed it as best he could. Bucky had the other driver’s uniform, but he couldn’t sit close to the slit because his borrowed jacket was soaked in blood. Dum-dum had taken the gunner’s position in the second pair of bloody coveralls.
Gabe was driving the truck out of sight behind them escorted by the jeeps. Jacques had the radio transmitter which would detonate the explosives he and Jamie had planted the night before. They were one of Howard’s toys. A particularly handy gift for the Commandos’ demolitions experts. Jamie had been press-ganged into manning the Browning on Tully’s jeep. The British Commando was starting to turn green as the jeep bounced over the landscape. His fingers were locked on the guns handholds so tightly all the blood had left his knuckles.
Gabe had helped Howard plot a flight plan back to HQ. The only reason Bucky and Steve had okayed the inventor’s solo flight was of the lack of options. No one wanted to leave Howard unguarded, but they needed Peggy to maintain the fragile peace. Howard had been about as happy as Steve with the situation, but he was easier to shout down. He’d left with dire threats to the Rats and Commandos alike if anything happened to her.
“It’s almost four,” Peggy murmured, checking her watch by the light of the luminescent dials inside the crawler.
Steve patted her shoulder to acknowledge the warning. “Dum-dum, get ready. Jim, you’re on the radio with Gabe?”
“Yessir,” Jim replied quickly. “He and Jacques are ready sneak in as soon as the power goes. They’ve got the stuff to rig the outer radar installations to blow. Jamie says the Rats are ready as well. When Jacques sets that first charge off, we’ll all be in position.”
“Leftenant Carter?” Dietrich’s quiet request silenced everyone else in the crawler. “Are you ready?”
Peggy smiled, checking the Thompson in her lap which Pettigrew and Hitchcock had given her along with every spare clip the Rats could fit on her person without being obvious. “More than ready, Captain Dietrich.” Her heart was already starting to race with the excitement of imminent violence despite her position as the Rats’ insurance.
The Rats had happily armed her themselves one of their Thompsons. Howard had given her two spare pistols, and she had her knives. Moffitt’s goggles still hung around her neck. Dietrich had told her to keep them. Apparently, Jack Moffitt would be flattered if she accepted a gift from him even if it was by proxy. Granted, the sergeant had a truly charming substitute in the form of the German captain.
What Peggy knew was this: Sergeant Troy saluted her, obeyed her, when he hadn’t saluted the major giving him his initial orders. Pettigrew and Hitchcock asked how high when she told them to jump. Sergeant Moffitt had been the first of the Rats to treat her as officer in charge. And Captain Dietrich listened seriously and considered everything she said. She was sure that Howard and Steve’s fears were groundless. Her boys wouldn’t have to worry about her as long as she held up her end of their silent agreement with the Rats. Something Peggy anticipated doing regardless. Britain had lost enough good men, and she didn’t intend Jack Moffitt to be another.
Dietrich watched her as she smoothed her fingers across the Thompsons’ stock one last time. She gave him a fierce grin which he returned with relief. There was finally an end in sight for the German officer. A reason to let the anger and fear rippling under his skin out as violence against someone who deserved it.
He’d taken Howard up on the offer of the M12 shotgun from the Forwarder’s armory. It was one of the few unmodified weapons the inventor kept around, being the “Perfect Repeater” of riot gun design. A bandolier of shells was slung around his thin waist, pulled high and tight to keep it clear of the Webley still jammed in a Luger holster on his belt. The scattergun would be handy in the confined quarters of the HYDRA buildings.
Steve clutched his shield, keeping an eye on Peggy. Bucky sat next to him nudging their knees together. “She’ll be fine,” Bucky said quietly. “I hate to say it, but that Kraut’s as good as any one of the boys.”
“I just don’t know why she volunteered. We could have sent Jamie.” Steve tilted his head so he was whispering in his friend’s ear.
Bucky raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “She’s the best way they’ll know we’re serious about helping them get Moffitt back after Dum-dum being a jackass. You two aren’t exactly subtle Steve. Hell, none of us are around her.”
Steve knew Bucky was right. That they were covering all the things he knew but didn’t want to accept. It didn’t make him any happier. “I still don’t like,” he muttered grudgingly.
The rest of their conversation was cut short as the crawler rattled and jumped followed by a dull boom in the distance. “We’re go,” Jim reported. “Head for the compound, Dum-dum.” The sergeant grunted, hitting switches and pulling on the levers to speed up.
Like a true military operation, this sequence is turning into a hurry up and wait scenario. However, things you can look forward to in the next few chapters: Peggy being a badass, Steve punching some Nazis (Dietrich would like to remind you at this juncture that he is not a Nazi, thank you.), things going boom, and lots of (graphic) violence.
I hope you've enjoyed the story so far!
Dietrich and Carter infiltrate HYDRA.
Here there be gore. I've got another ten thousand or so words on top of this that still need editing plus a few more plot ends to tie up, but the end is in sight. So wish me luck and enjoy.
The small crawler joining a stream of other crawlers wasn’t even noticed, let alone hailed, as it rolled to the center of the compound. Two figures in uniform slipping out of the hatch to join the other black clad soldiers running about trying to figure what was exploding weren’t noticed either. They disappeared into the crowd, making their way into one of the buildings with confidence and purpose.
The crawler continued to roll to the small, well-guarded shed where blue light was visible through the high window in the dark. Several more dark figures exited the crawler. Then the crawler opened fired on the rest of the HYDRA armor and soldiers. Two of the other crawlers exploded in blue flames. Those that were still capable of it returned fire. In a matter of seconds, the small crawler was a burning hulk, and the shed was scorched, dented, and full of gaps which let out more of the blue light.
The remaining crawlers and soldiers desperately swung about, screaming on the radio, trying to figure out if everyone was who they appeared to be. In the shouting and chaos, no one noticed as the two guards on the shed were pulled into the shadows with a quiet gurgle, and a single man moved to replace them.
Dietrich strode past HYDRA soldiers running outside like he was walking through his on headquarters. Carter kept pace behind, keeping her submachine gun slung over her shoulder on its strap. One thing Moffitt had taught Dietrich was that infiltration was ten percent knowing the language, ten percent having the right costume, and eighty percent acting like you knew what you were doing. He walked quickly, keeping his eyes moving trying to find each of the signs before he had to make a turn. Continuous motion gave the illusion he knew where he was going.
The closer they got to the laboratories and chemical storage areas the fewer soldiers there were. At the end of the hall were a set of double steel doors that separated the main laboratory from the storage area. At least, that’s what the signs seemed to indicate. Two guards in black, exoskeleton like suits stood in front of the door, guns at the ready.
“Ready?” Dietrich murmured to Carter, slinging the shotgun out of the way over his shoulder and palming the small utility knife he kept in his belt. Carter nodded reaching for the pocket on her coveralls. They didn’t break stride. Carter moved to the side so Dietrich could step between the two guards and engage the higher ranking one as she flanked the other.
“Guten Tag, Stabsgefreiter.” Dietrich gave the guard his best bored smile.
The man sounded confused even behind the mask. “Gibt es ein Problem, Herr Oberstleutnant?” Dietrich didn’t give him time to puzzle out what was going on or the proper response to an unknown officer. The knife in his went through the collar that locked the mask around the base of his throat. It was aimed at a slight angle to the center of the throat and up, neatly severing the jugular before the other guard realized what was going on. Behind him, Dietrich heard the tell-tale hiss and burble of a wire garrote being used. The man Dietrich had stabbed tried to speak, his words wet and garbled. Dietrich threw himself into the man, using weight of his body to pin his victim against the door and keep the man from his reaching his strange rifle. When he stepped back, the guard fell to the floor, dead. He wiped the knife blade on his victim’s uniform shirt.
Carter had flipped her man over her body using her shoulder. Part of his spine was visible in the gaping wound the wire had left as she’d used his own body weight to cut his throat. Blood puddled the ground beneath her boots, bright red blending in with the rust red streaks that were caked all the over the cement. Surprisingly little of the mess wet the shoulder of her HYDRA uniform. “Nicely done, Leftenant,” Dietrich complimented, fingering the stiff collar which was the only thing protecting his own throat.
With a wicked smirk, Carter replied with a shallow curtsey, “Why, thank you, Captain.”
Dietrich stuck his head through the steel of doors and pulled back. “Clear.” Carter grabbed her man by the ankles and dragged the body through the doors. Dietrich grabbed his own man by the collar and followed.
Behind the doors was a long hallway lined with small steel doors about three feet wide and three feet high locked with sliding bolts. Sliding cover slits had been cut in upper part of the door just big enough to look through or slip something through. There was a distinctly medical smell to the air, like a European hospital only with the familiar smell of hot disinfectant, blood, and the sickly sweet smell of decomposition. Like someone had moved an open air field hospital into one of the white sterile buildings back in Germany.
There was nowhere to hide the bodies in the empty corridor. Dietrich opened one of the slits and checked the tiny cell beyond. It was smeared with blood and a strong stench of offal and bile drifted through, but there was no occupant. He threw the bolt and stuffed the guard’s body in the compartment. Carter’s victim went in as well, tossed carelessly on top of his partner before the door closed again, hiding the bodies from view.
“He could be in one of these,” Carter whispered. “I’ll take this side.” She walked over to the next cell and checked the slit. There were eight cells, four on each side. Dietrich crossed the hallway to check the opposite doors. The first three were empty. The last was not. He managed to get the door to one of the empty cells opened before he vomited up his K-ration and half canteen of water pre-mission meal. Quietly, he shut the door on the mess and closed the slit on the occupied cell.
Carter looked at him oddly. All of her cells had been empty. “It’s not him. Too short,” Dietrich said briefly, trying not to think about what he’d seen. She nodded and stepped around him to open the cell door. Her lip curled in disgust at the smell. Leaning over, she slit the thing’s throat. It moaned and clawed at her feebly, but she slapped it away and finished the gory job. The knife was wiped on her pant leg when she was done.
“You’re right. Too short,” she agreed when she was done. They straightened up their uniforms, checking for any obvious blood, and continued forward.
A short "Meanwhile" scene to tide you over.
Bucky was sitting on Steve’s shoulders to reach the top of the glowing blue generator that powered the installation’s outer defenses and security. He attached a wad of plastic explosives and a timed detonator. “Ten?” he asked Morita, who was busy attaching his own explosives to more accessible points.
“Works for me,” the radio man replied. He finished securing his last brick of explosive and timed the detonator for ten minutes. The radio on his back crackled. He sighed and answered, “Go ahead.”
“Roadrunners and Turtle in position,” Jamie reported. Even over the radio he sounded shaky. Pettigrew must have been driving without consideration for a Commando inexperienced in desert warfare. “We’re ready whenever you are.”
“Roger that. Ten minutes to the party,” Jim replied. He waved to Bucky and got a thumbs-up in return. The timers started clicking away.
Bucky slide down Steve’s back and picked up his rifle. “I’m going to find a better vantage point.”
Steve grinned. “We’ll be down on the ground with our backs to the barracks wall. Keep us covered.” His friend sneered playfully and disappeared into the rafters. Ten minutes was plenty of time for him to play monkey man.
“Let’s hope Lieutenant Carter’s moving fast,” Jim muttered watching him go. “All hell’s gonna break loose when the Rats get in here.” Steve patted his shoulder, not completely sure himself but not wanting to spook the other man.
The hallway turned into a T a hundred feet past the cells. One end was another set of steel double doors identical to the previous set, only without any black clad soldiers guarding it. The other door, a single wooden panel left prop carelessly open, caught Peggy’s eye. The dim blue light illuminate the edge of a desk covered in papers. Peggy hesitated. The draw of intelligence on HYDRA was almost overwhelming.
Dietrich, already used to moving in sync with Peggy, paused as well. He followed her gaze to the desk and the papers on it. Licking his lips, he spoke quietly so his voice wouldn’t travel down the corridor. “I doubt Jack would begrudge a small side venture. I’ll cover you. Just grab everything you can reach as quickly as you can.”
She nodded, sliding the Thompson off her shoulder and leveling at waist height to sweep the room. It was empty and windowless. The first stack of papers she saw where folded up and jammed down the front of her uniform. There was a map which was crumpled up and shoved down as well. Her eyes skimmed the room, but there was nothing else that looked too interesting. To be thorough, she took another stack of papers and slung her gun back on her shoulder as she folded them up.
The German was leaning casually against the door frame, gun covering the hall without looking like he was. He raised an eyebrow as she stepped up to him and started unbuttoning his shirt. It spoke to how good he was that his gun’s muzzle never wavered from covering her. “Why, Leftenant, you could have just asked.”
With a roughish grin, Peggy whispered back, “More fun this way.” She jammed the stack of papers down his shirt and patted the area over his heart gently. “Keep those safe for me.” Her fingers quickly did the buttons back up without teasing anymore. Except for the last when she brushed her fingers against his pulse. Steve’s heart was steady, slow even when hers was pounding. It was gratifying to feel Dietrich’s blood racing against her skin if even for a second.
“I shall do my best, ma’am,” Dietrich murmured in return, deadly serious as he met her eyes. His gaze strayed back to the doors. The look on his face was more grim than hopeful. He was a handsome man, and the sadness on his face made her stomach clench. Turning so she could see the doors as well, Peggy risked pressing her fingers against the side of his neck, cupping his pulse.
“Dum vita est spers est.” Her classical education had helped little in this war, but it seemed to comfort the man.
He relaxed the hopelessness from his mien, an unwilling smile tugging at his lips. “Another bloody, public school child. You and Jack.”
“Jack and I,” Peggy agreed. “Let’s go get him back then.” She lifted her hand away and brought the Thompson up to her hip again. Dietrich started moving forward again. The two soldiers walked as lightly as they could, heading for those two doors that seemed to get more foreboding with each step.
A blue flash lit up the dark down in the compound. Troy rolled away cursing and blinking spots from his vision. Jamie bit back his reminder that he’d warned the Head Rat to expect the lights and watching the compound with binoculars was a bad idea. Still, the man practically levitated into the jeep yelling, “Get your asses in the wagons, Commandos. Let’s shake it!” Jacques dove into the seat in front of Jamie as the drivers had started rolling before the remaining two Commandos could sit down. Gabe barely made it into the back seat of Hitchcock’s jeep and nearly knocked Troy off his feet.
The two jeeps moved forward just fast enough to make progress, running so close they were almost bumping together. The slower pace kept the engine noise down. Without the generator the compound was dark except for a few burning crawlers. Flashes of blue light provided brief moments of illumination like lightning strikes. Men were screaming and yelling. The acrid smell of burning metal and burnt bodies was already drifting up to the jeeps.
“Hail Mary, full of grace” Jamie muttered to himself, gripping the gun tightly, “Our Lord is with thee…”
Jacques chanted in unison, “Vous etes benie entre toutes les femmes, et Jesus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est beni...”
Pettigrew looked back at them oddly but didn’t comment. To their surprise, Hitchcock joined, “Sancta Maria mater Dei,” he repeated the Church Latin with a nasal accent, “ora pronobis peccatorbius, nunc…”
The three of them finished together. Jamie in English, “And in our time of death. Amen.” The rest of the Rats and Commandos alike, believers or not, echoed the sentiment.
To the Commandos silent, surprised look, Hitchcock answered succinctly. “Ma’s Boston Irish. I was an altar boy.”
“Less chatter,” Troy ordered ratcheting back the slide on the Browning. “We’re busting in, and Falsworth, try to make sure you’re shooting at the Jerries, okay?”
The Commando bit his tongue again. It was starting to get sore.
The jeeps gunned forward and went through one of the side gates guarded by a single crawler. Without the lights, the crawler’s crew didn’t even realize the jeeps were on top of them before Troy put a grenade thought an open hatch. The crawler rattled and screamed in the voices of a half-dozen men as it went off. Pettigrew slowed long enough for Gabe to jam two more grenades into the crawler’s treads and pull the pins. The grenades went off as the jeep pulled away revealing themselves to be Stark Specials, melting the tread and splattering the hot metal everywhere to do more damage.
Inside the chaos of the dark compound, the Brownings opened fired to devastating effect of the swarming horde of black-clad HYDRA soldiers. They’d been focused on the sudden attacks from the inside by another rogue crawler (which Dum-dum had gleefully slit two men’s throats for) even as swathes fell to the sharpshooting of Jim and Bucky. Jim had settled himself just at the edge of the crawler’s hatch, his HYDRA uniform blending in with the machine, and picked off any of the HYDRA men who tried to swarm it from behind.
The sudden flanking by the Rats’ jeeps had a dozen soldiers down before the HYDRA officers even knew what was happening. A flash of blue showed Steve Roger’s setting charges covered by Bucky’s rifle. A foot soldier with a hand held light rifle was coming up from his blind spot. Jamie yelled, trying to get Pettigrew’s attention. The enemy soldier was too close to Steve. Bucky couldn’t get a shot if the bastard was still standing.
Steve’s head jerked up at Jamie’s cry. His shield came up just in time for him to deflect the blue beam into a HYDRA gunner scrambling down from his now useless turret on the wall. The soldier who’d tried to shoot Steve didn’t have time to avoid the fist that slammed into the center of his chest. His body hit the wall with a wet smack, but the idiot couldn’t to scream before the edge of Steve’s shield caved in his temple.
Jim was off the crawler and darting along the edges of the melee, setting charges on any support columns he could get to.
Before Jamie could see anymore, Pettigrew veered the jeep away into the area where the prisoners were kept. From there it was like fish in a barrel. The Browning had received the same, tender level of care as the jeeps. It was easy to point and squeeze the trigger, watching HYDRA soldiers drop without a chance to aim. The jeeps were circling, weaving through the crowd and around each other. Jacques tossed grenades in between picking of enemy combatants who looked they were about to grow brains before they got clever.
From the cages, the prisoners screamed and yelled in Arabic. Excited or terrified, it was hard to tell over the din. Hitchcock pulled the jeep to a stop suddenly. Troy jumped out and shot a man in the head with his pistol. It took Jamie a moment to realize that was the duty officer. The Head Rat picked up the keys yelling, “Jones, get on that Browning and cover me. Shake it, Hitch! “
The jeep took off again this time with Gabe pecking away. It was easy to see why the Germans were hard pressed by the Rats. They were moving constantly, using enemy soldiers as human shields and throwing around grenades like poppers at a Christmas party. Only the drivers’ skill kept the Commandos and Rats from harming each other.
It was the work of seconds for Troy to free the prisoners, shouting in broken Arabic and herding them to the armory. Some scattered and were killed by stray shots from HYDRA weapons. Most followed Troy and happily took up the strange guns to turn on their captors. Once it was clear they had the idea, Troy abandoned them, hoping back into the jeep.
To Jamie’s surprise, they turned back to the desert. “What in God’s name, man?” he bellowed at Pettigrew. “The others are still back there!”
“Shut your yap,” Pettigrew ordered harshly. “We ain’t leaving’em. We’re jus’ gettin’ a better angle on the situation is all. Now reload that damn gun.”
Jamie looked down at Jacques, who shrugged enigmatically and helped him put a fresh belt in the Browning. Sure enough, the jeeps came around to the gate where the first crawler to be destroyed still burned. The Rats charged straight into the fray. Hanging onto the Browning, Jamie started the duck hunt all over again, his heart beating against his ribs.
HYDRA soldiers weren’t selected for their independent thinking or flexibility in combat. They were, Jamie had found, meatheads every single one. The agile, quick thinking, bloody fearless (apparently) Rats were a HYDRA foot soldier’s worst nightmare come to life.
I'm playing catch up in RL right now with my shiny new job. Thus, my brain has been elsewhere. Feel free to poke me at semi-regular intervals.
There was only starlight to illuminate the room behind the double doors. Dietrich swept the large room quickly, but there was no one standing. Two tables sat in the center of the room. One held glistening pieces of meat the German made a point of not letting his gaze linger on. The other made him gasp in relief. “I’ve got you covered,” Carter whispered. “Go on.”
Careful not to let his guard down, Dietrich crept to the table where Moffitt lay. He had to admit, it was an igneous design. Three pieces of metal welded together to make a shallow angles to each other with rectangular gutters on each side. The table itself was angled so blood would run down the surfaces and into the gutter, which emptied into a trough on the floor. Tidy. And it would have made him vomit again if his stomach hadn’t been empty.
Heavy oiled leather straps held the British Rat in place. The buckles were crusted with blood. Dietrich gagged again as his eyes finished adjusting to the low light. Moffitt was a mess. Blood and other fluids caked on his skin. He reached out and probed his friend’s neck for pulse and nearly jumped out of his skin when Moffitt moaned. “Lee, fadlek. Lee.”
“Shh. Es ist Hans, Jack. Jetzt bin ich hier, aber du must leise sein.” Dietrich breathed into his friend’s ear. His fingers tangled in the dark, curly hair. It was crusty with blood. Sickened, he leaned over to look Moffitt in the eyes, “Jetzt still. Ich muss dich von diesen Gurten zu befreien.”
Softer, Moffitt groaned, “Nakherju men hana, ahmaq.”
“Sei nicht dumm. Es paßt nicht zu du.” Dietrich ordered. He glanced back at Carter, who nodded and went to check the two doors that on the other side of the room. Leaving his shotgun propped up against the table, he began to struggle with the buckles. The strap on Moffitt’s ankles was the cleanest. So he started there. It came away easily. The one on his waist was sticky to the touch. A moist sound echoed through the room as the wrist straps came away. Moffitt moaned softly to himself in Arabic. The words were so slurred it took Dietrich a moment to recognize it as one of the prayers the tribesmen recited.
It broke Dietrich’s heart to hear the words. The Rat was reciting the Dawn surah, asking for solace with the Arab’s god. As quickly as he could, Dietrich pulled the throat strap away and lifted his friend into his arms. “Mein Gott, Jack. Was haben diese Schweine euch getan habe?”
“ Hew mebasherah khalifke.” The moment it took Dietrich to figure out what Moffitt had said was a moment too many. A sharp spike of pain ran up his shoulder as something stabbed him in the back.
“Carter!” Dietrich howled, dropping Moffitt to swing an elbow at his attacker’s face. He landed a solid blow on the man’s face, another guard in with that strange black helmet. The guard staggered back but recovered and lunged forward again. Two shots echoed through the room too close together to be from the same gun. The guard fell to the floor dead. Moffitt’s hand shook as he tried to hold the Webley steady.
Dietrich’s vision started to shimmer and flow like water was running over his eyes. He groped over his shoulder and found what the guard had stabbed him with. It was an empty syringe. “ Mit dem Teufel, das tut weh, du dummer Bastard!” The glass syringe shattered against the floor as he carelessly dropped it. “Carter, where the hell are you?”
“Busy,” the woman growled in a low alto. Dietrich looked up and felt his stomach drop. He’d been so distracted by Moffitt the scuffle behind him had gone completely unnoticed.
Lieutenant Carter stood on the tips of her toes, held in place by the Luger pressed under her chin. Behind her, holding her captive with just the gun muzzle, stood Johann Schmidt. Dietrich whispered, “Schiesse” with great feeling.
“You aren’t an American,” Schmidt noted with interest. “You’re German.”
“Ja,” Dietrich agreed but didn’t offer anything more.
Schmidt looked him over carefully. It made Dietrich’s stomach churn. He’d only met Schmidt twice. Once as Rommel’s attaché. The second time had been at a party for the upper echelons of the Nazis. Dietrich had never managed to shake the memories of sitting across from Schmidt and Gobbel feeling Frau Rommel trembling in fearful anger next to him. The question was: did Schmidt recall him?
“You’re one of the Wustenfuchs’s pet leutnants,” Schmidt finally decided sounding amused. “The half-gypsy.” His sneer was obvious.
Dietrich’s nostrils flared at the accusation. His mouth twisted up in anger. “A malicious rumor, Herr Schmidt, nothing more.” A rumor had forced Rommel to send him as far away from Berlin as possible in the middle of the night. All because a jealous peer had spit out the accusation at that Devil’s party and scared Frau Rommel half to death. “I would appreciate it if you would release my subordinate.” He glanced at Carter, who looked more enraged than frightened. Her eyes flicked to Moffitt who still had the Webley. Schmidt hadn’t demanded the Rat disarmed.
Hope made Dietrich’s heart race. Schmidt didn’t realize that Moffitt had a weapon and the faculty to use it. He must have thought Carter killed the guard. With Dietrich leaning over Moffitt, the Webley would be hidden from sight. Dietrich caught Carter’s eye and flicked his gaze to the left. She twitched her fingers in acknowledgement.
Amused by Dietrich’s gall, Schmidt laughed. The skin around his face stretched oddly. It didn’t look natural. “That is extremely unlikely, Hauptmann. I think Zola will be pleased with his replacement specimens.”
Another wave of dizziness hit Dietrich and nearly brought the tentative plan to a premature end. Luckily, Moffitt seemed to think that his friend staggering to the side was the signal to go. The Webley fired twice. Carter yelped in pain as her head cracked into Schmidt’s chin. With the gun beneath her jaw, she’d had no choice but to go up and back. Luckily for her, Schmidt was tall enough that Moffitt had a clear shot at his shoulder. Then, the Luger went off.
I would like it noted I actually worked /less/ when I was in the field. This new desk job leaves me with minimal downtime and braindead at the end of the day. Hopefully things will slow down soon. Or I'll figure out what the hell I'm doing.
Anyways, Moffitt is reciting the Dawn Surrah. I didn't include actual text, but look it up on youtube. It's my favorite to listen to. Also, Dietrich's dinner party from hell is a short story I have in the works. I need to do some more research into Rommel and the German officer corp before I can finish it.
For a moment, Dietrich was sure the woman was dead. He grabbed the shotgun and brought it up to send Schmidt to hell. To his relief, Carter was still moving. She dodged out of Schmidt’s grasp then turned on her heel to face him. There was a glimmer of metal at the tip of her boot as she kicked Schmidt in the groin so hard the man dropped his gun. He grabbed for his groin screaming. There was blood dripping between his fingers and coating the toe of Carter’s boot.
Dietrich gaped at her as he leveled the shotgun at Schmidt. “Stark Special,” she said with a smile that was more like she was baring her teeth. “Spring loaded switchblade. Behind you!”
Spinning on heel, Dietrich shot the HYDRA soldier coming up from the hallway in the chest. Behind that soldier were a dozen more. “Schiesse,” the German officer repeated viciously, expending another two shells in that direction.
Carter had reclaimed her Thompson and seemed to be battling her own horde of lackeys which had appeared from a secret passage. “Jack, müssen du laufen.” Dietrich begged his friend.
Moffitt blinked uncertainly but got to his feet unsteadily. Dietrich grabbed the man’s free hand and threaded it through his belt. “Shot anyone who sneaks up on me.” The Rat nodded. It would have to do. Dietrich started towards the lab door where Carter had already retreated.
“For the record, this is the worst plan I’ve ever had,” she informed him tartly as she jammed her Thompson through the door handles right after Dietrich tossed his back up grenade through the doors to slow down the soldiers pouring in through the lab. “I’m out of ammo.”
Dietrich snorted, “I cannot disagree with you there.” He took off the bandolier and handed her the shotgun. Moffitt was listing against his back ready to collapse. Prying the Webley out of the Rat’s fingers took several precious seconds, but once Moffitt was disarmed, Dietrich draped the man’s arm over his shoulder in the walking-wounded position.
The three of them started down the hall at a jog. “It would be lovely if you could never mention Schmidt holding me at gunpoint to anyone,” Carter muttered.
“Only if you could avoid telling Troy that I was distracted by Moffitt,” Dietrich replied. He could feel his collar itch with the heat of embarrassment. Everything must have affected him more than he realized if just seeing Moffitt alive could cause him to leave all commons sense behind.
“We have a deal, Captain.” She shot a soldier coming around the corner in the head without missing a beat. “Now, let’s bugger out of here.”
Troy was the first to notice the two figures in black with a third in light colored native clothing between them. “Hitch, seven o’clock.” The jeep turned sharply, heading for the odd group. Captain Rogers was cutting over as well. Carter was wielding the shotgun Troy was fairly sure Dietrich had started with. The jeep was less than a hundred feet away when a crawler rolled up and blocked them from view.
With access to the jeep cut off, Peggy started moving for the half circle of Howling Commandos bottlenecking HYDRA lackeys at the entrances to the barracks which opened up to a single courtyard. “Behind,” she bellowed at them, grinning when Steve and the others dove for cover. Fifty feet away her stomach dropped out as she heard the crawler’s gun begin to crank towards her, Moffitt, and Dietrich.
Steve ran towards them at a dead sprint as they all tumbled to the ground to avoid the first volley. The round flew over the three of them and hit the courtyard. Peggy swore a blue streak that made Steve blush even as he brought up his shield to deflect some of the rifle rounds the men in the crawler were aiming his way. “Shotgun,” Dietrich shouted, letting Moffitt slide to the ground and holding up his empty hands.
She threw the weapon to him before diving for Moffitt. All the breath rushed out of Steve’s lungs at once. The weapon exchange had taken precious seconds. What Peggy hadn’t seen was the reason the German needed the shotgun. A streak of blue light glanced over her back. It was the first time Steve had ever heard her scream.
Dietrich yelled, “Sie Hurensohn,” and killed the man who’d had to put his head and upperbody out of a hatch to take the shot.
“Peggy!” Steve bellowed throwing his shield to crack power source attached to the crawler’s gun.
Breathlessly, Peggy called out, “I’m fine. I’m fine.” She scrambled on her hands and knees that last few feet to Moffitt, pulling her pistol out of her boot. “Get your fucking arse up, soldier,” she snarled, tugging at him. Moffitt stirred at the order, trying to find his footing. His pupils were two different sizes and both blown wider than they should have been naturally. “Get up,” Peggy repeated. “Goddammit! Get up, Jack. I can’t bloody lift you, you lard-arsed bugger.”
Ignoring the screaming heat along her spine as her back flexed, she wedged herself underneath his chest, trying to support him on the way up. He finally seemed to find his balance, shaky as a new born lamb but standing with only a hand on her raw, sticky shoulder for support. Another scream itched in her throat at the contact. Instead she hiss, “Move,” with far more venom than she intended. Troy. She needed to get Moffitt to Troy. Then she could kill some of these bastards and scream all she wanted.
The movement seemed to jar Moffitt into awareness, because he slurred out, “What the devil is going on, Lieutenant?”
“This is a bloody rescue, Sergeant,” Peggy informed him, biting back the hysterical urge to laugh. “Keep moving.”
Peggy's foray into krav maga is not my fault. My sister suggested it as a joke, and I was physically incapable of letting that scene go. Plus, it makes me warm and fuzzy to think she's the reason that creepy bastard will never reproduce.
Steve was clearing a path around the edge of the of the crawler smacking anything that got in his way with his shield and doing far more damage to the crawler’s crew with his pistol than was reasonable for a normal man. Peggy dragged Moffitt toward him intently. If she could just get the wounded man there, Steve could cover the both of them. She squeezed a few rounds off from her pistol, aiming at the ventilation slots.
There was no return fire. So she may have gotten lucky. They finally made it into range of Steve’s shield when Moffitt jerked away with more strength than she realized he had left. Dietrich screamed, “Goddammit, no!” Peggy turned towards Moffitt, raising her pistol to cover him, confused. Then she saw the wounded HYDRA soldier lying on the ground with his rifle propped up and angled low straight at Steve’s unprotected back.
“Behind you, Cap,” Peggy screamed, raising her pistol and pulling the trigger. She killed the man. So many rounds hit his head that there was nothing left of his face. Not before he manage to get off one shot. Moffitt fell over, clutching his stomach. Steve had turned just in time to see the Rat take a round for him.
Dropping her empty pistol, Peggy dropped to her knees and pulled out a knife. She shrugged the coveralls off her shoulders and cut her undershirt off. The material was gritty with sweat and dust against her fingers. Blood and clear fluid seeped out of the raw, red and black wound on Moffit’s stomach. The cooked pork smell made her wretch as she pressed the rag to it. “Troy,” she didn’t bother trying to conceal the panic in her voice as she shrieked for the Head Rat. “Troy!”
Peggy’s palms were damp with fluids coming out of the wound. She stared down numbly at her countryman remembering the charming smile he’d worn when he’d first seen her, the gleam of the sun off his tanned skin as he worked on the truck. In the blue light of the compound he looked like a corpse despite the pulse she could just feel beneath her fingertips. The muscles she’d been admiring were raw and pink with clear striations at the edges of the wound the rag didn’t cover. His mouth was swollen and trickled blood from thick, raw, cracked lips. There was nothing of the polite, respectful, handsome sergeant in the mass of blood and broken flesh she was so desperately trying to save.
Dietrich’s face appeared in her line of vision. His face was drawn back, teeth bared, roaring in German. The grief was already burning in his eyes. She shook herself out of her daze, cursing her inattention. Using what was left of the shirtsleeves, she tied the bandage to Moffitt. “Take him to Troy,” she ordered the German. Her lips smacked strangely as her entire face had gone numb. “Steven, it’s time to go. Everybody to the jeeps!” It took almost more strength than Peggy had to rip the shotgun from Dietrich’s hands.
Steve had battered some more HYDRA soldiers to the ground. She met his eyes over the edge of his shield and saw the horror there. There wasn’t any time for it. The jeeps pulled around the edge of the now burning crawler. Dietrich had obviously been busy. Commandos were piled in with the Rats, overloading the jeeps. Moffitt’s limp body was passed up into Troy’s waiting arms. Jacques leaned over the man immediately as the Head Rat cradled his man cussing and railing against fate. Feeling as deaf and cold as Jack Moffitt would be, Peggy dispatched another enemy combatant with a shot to the head with the Webley she pulled from Dietrich’s belt.
Steve was up in the jeep pulling Bucky in after him. For some reason when he held out his hand for her, she stared at it blankly. Her fingers were already grasping for another weapon. A warm arm went around her bare stomach. Dietrich held her close and reached out to grasp Steve’s hand. With a heave, Steve pulled both of them easily into the overcrowded jeep.
Tully glanced back as he drove into the dim light of dawn. He had Commandos hanging onto every handhold they could find. Hitch was in the same predicament as they bumped across the sound towards the truck in their straining jeeps. Sitting in the back seat, Dietrich was shaking next to Lietuenant Carter. He’d wretched bile over her and was apologizing in German, but she didn’t seem to hear him or notice Captain Rogers trying to wipe it off her. One of her hands was locked around the Captain’s leg. The other still wielded the shotgun she’d taken from him against all comers. Her expression made Tully shiver. It was the same look Moffitt had worn when he’d found out that his kid brother had died in a London bombing.
Sergeant Barnes was half-way out of the jeep. Rifle out to cover their escape even as Falsworth strafed anyone who tried to tail them. Roger’s grip on Sergeant Barnes ‘belt was the only thing keeping the rifleman from falling off and begin left in the desert.
As planned, the jeeps stopped where the truck had been parked. The Howling Commandos barreled out of the jeeps. “We’re going back to the oasis,” Troy called out. “Falsworth you stay on the gun. Rogers, you’re on the other Browning. Barnes, you’re driving the truck. Morita, shotgun on the truck. Dernier, we’re taking Moffitt in the truck. You’re treating him on the way.”
As he finished, the horizon lit up with blue light and orange and red fireballs. The ground rumbled a breath later. “Radio in mission accomplished, Morita,” Troy said wearily. “Let’s shake it.”
“Leftenant?” Tully asked softly, turning to look at her. Her coveralls were still hanging opening. He averted his eyes from the lines of her gridle.
“I’m fine, Private. Take lead on the column. We’ll regroup at the oasis,” Carter replied obviously an automatic response. Dietrich had equipped himself with on the Thompsons. His was face white and drawn. And, just like Carter’s, perfectly dry.
Their ragged column bumped a dusty trail back into the dark desert as fast as they dared. Everyone’s ears strained for sounds of pursuit. The hum and rumble of crawlers echoed softly across of the barren landscape, barely audible over the screaming engines of the columns vehicles. Rogers and Falsworth racked the Brownings and stared out at the far horizon, but nothing ever appeared. Tully couldn’t help the deep sigh of relief as the oasis came into view. There was no signs that anyone had been to the small pool after they’d left.
Troy and the other Rats had piled blankets onto a mound of soft sand to keep Moffitt comfortable. Jacques finished stripping the man, cutting off the rags left of his native cloths with a knife. Troy himself crouched nearby, holding Moffitt’s hand and watching every move Jacques made intently. Dietrich had been ordered to the side and sat in a semi-circle with Hitchcock and Pettigrew, who was doing his own triage on Peggy’s shoulder wound.
Moffitt didn’t look like he was breathing. Jacques pulled what was left of Peggy’s shirt away from the wound with a wet noise. Hitchcock flinched and Pettigrew turned white. The wound actually looked worse in the dim morning light. The fact the British Rat still had a pulse seemed like a miracle. Jacques took a deep breath and pressed the rag down again, reaching into his bag to find sulfa and a bottle of rotgut. He found the rotgut, but swallowed weakly when his fingers found only one package of sulfa.
Peggy sat still beneath Pettigrew’s gentle ministrations, watching Jacques work, scrubbing at her fingers with a damp rag, unembarrassed by the amount of skin she was showing. The smell on her hands had made even Dum-dum gag from several feet away. Steve, bright red, stood nearby ready to pass her fresh clothes when her wound was dressed. The other Commandos were spread apart, watching from a distance as the Rats prepared themselves.
“How is he, Doc?” Troy asked anxiously as Moffitt moaned in a language the Frenchman didn’t recognize. Troy responded by reaching out and smoothing the crusted, dark curls with his free hand while the medic considered his patient.
Jacques lifted Peggy’s makeshift bandage once more and swallowed hard. “Not good, Sergeant. If I had antibiotics, plasma, and ether I might be able to help. As we are, he will not make it.”
“He made it this far,” Hitchcock protested. “Sarge is a fighter.”
Jacques sighed, looking at the young man, both young men, who watched their officer with hope in their eyes. The German had already realized the reality of the situation. He stared at his friend’s face obviously trying to burn it into his memory while the man was still breathing. “I will do my best, but I make no promises. Even if he makes it to a hospital, he is so badly injured that he will be a crippled,” Jacques sighed. To Troy he added, “You should find his tags now, Sergeant Troy. So we can properly mark the body.”
Troy looked towards the jeeps reluctantly. Dietrich hurriedly moved forward to take the Head Rat’s place at Moffitt’s side, going so far as to lift the British Rat’s head into his lap after padding it with his HYDRA jacket. Jacques tore open the packet of sulfa and sprinkled it all over the wound before applying a field dressing. The pressure made Moffitt shift and moan, his eyelashes fluttering as he stirred towards consciousness.
Dietrich smoothed his thumbs through the grime on the Rat’s cheeks, rubbing at the other man’s temples like he was soothing a child. “Shh. Jack, be still” he pleaded softly. “Geh schlafen, und träumen Großbritannien.” His palms framed the gory visage tenderly crooning in German until the Rat settled.
Steve understood just enough German to understand what the other officer was actually saying. His empty stomach twisted up on itself. He’d seen soldiers die before, but no soldier had died for him. To keep from thinking about it too hard, from losing what little command presence he had left, he focused on Peggy.
“Cap,” Jim crouched waved his arm from where he was crouched by the radio. “The Colonel is on the horn, and he ain’t happy.”
Peggy waved Steve away, pulling up the coveralls and buttoning them shut. Her hands were shaking as she carefully smoothed the front. Steve rocked nervously on his heels as he watched her check her hair. She’d used a dab of axle grease from one of the jeep cans to smooth her bob back into shape. A tap on his shoulder had Steve jerking around. Pettigrew stood behind him, a small canvas satchel in one hand. “I’ll help ‘til you’re done. Already saw to her wounds. This ain’t much different.”
Steve hesitated, but the young Rat gave him a crooked smile. “Sarge always said that British officers were useless without their batman,” Pettigrew said just loudly enough for Peggy to hear, the teasing weak and thin but still enough for a small smile from the woman even if it lasted for just a few seconds.
Steve relaxed and stepped to the side to let the Rat pass. “Thanks, fella,” he said quietly before jogging over to Jim, who was starting look frantic as he stalled the Colonel.
Tully had given her a shaving mirror so she could put her make up on. The Rat hadn’t said anything when she’d asked for one, but his eyes had been understanding, digging through the bag for a sliver soap to wash off the dirt and sweat before applying foundation. She could hardly afford weakness now, in front of all the men. The clean lines of her armor, her uniform, and warpaint, red lipstick and dark eyeliner, had been stripped away with worry for Moffitt. If they were to get out of here alive, Peggy had to be a proper officer.
The Rat took away her damp and soapy rags to be rinsed, the picture of an officer’s personal serving man in a torn, stained American uniform. In the back of the now empty truck, Peggy changed out of the coveralls and back into her uniform. She pulled out the small, metal cigarette case out of her breast pocket. If anyone else asked it was her back up supply. The top slid off revealing a small powder pact, rogue, and a small supply of other essentials. Swallowing done the bile, Peggy looked in her mirror and started to apply her face with the clever little brushes Howard had made for her. With each neat stroke her mien became more stoic. No one could ever question her resolve.
Tully took the coveralls when she was done. He paused before he left to store them somewhere. From the top of her grease heavy hair to her bright lips to the way her pants were bloused over her boots to keep the sand out, he looked at her. Finally he said, “Ma’am,” in his quiet, deferential way. Peggy bit her lip to keep from crying, because, while Tully would never tell, she didn’t want to waste anymore make up. She swept her tongue across her lower lip as she took hold of herself again. Her lipstick tasted like bitter wax.
“We need a doctor, Colonel,” Steve insisted quietly. “Sergeant Moffitt is dying out here. Jacques just doesn’t have enough supplies to help him.”
“We’ll barely have enough room on the plane for you and your men. Let alone some dumb grunt that was stupid enough to get himself shot, son.” The radio crackled, distorting Colonel Phillip’s voice, but his tone was still perfectly clear.
Steve forced himself to relax his fingers before he crushed the microphone. “Sir, if you don’t send a doctor and supplies with the plane and take Sergeant Moffitt back with us, I’ll walk home. And you can explain that to the Army.”
There were several minutes of silence. Steve’s stomach churned with nerves. He glanced over at the Rats, who were crouched around their injured friend keeping watch. Dietrich kept patting his friend’s face and chattering in German to keep the injured man quiet. Tear tracks stood in sharp relief in the dust on Hitchcock’s cheeks. And Troy watched Steve warily, like he expected the Commandos’ captain to turn on his men.
“When did you grow a backbone?” the Colonel finally growled. “I’ll arrange for a doctor and supplies to come with the plane. They’ll be expecting your sergeant, if he makes it that long.”
Relief flooded Steve’s chest making it easier to breathe. “Thank you, sir. We’ll be ready.” He handed the radio back to Jim and took a deep breath as he stood. The Rats looked surprised to see him approaching. Steve stopped far enough away that none of them would perceive any motions he made as a threat. Regretting his uniform didn’t have handy pockets to jam his nervous hands into, he looked at Troy. “I just talked to the Colonel. He’s sending medical supplies and a doctor with the plane coming to pick us up. Sergeant Moffitt can fly back to HQ with us.” The words were as neutral as he could possibly make them. The Rats didn’t need to know that Steve had leveraged his role as Captain America to get that concession. They’d already made their distrust perfectly clear without anything feeding it.
A ripple ran through the Rats, quiet looks and bright smiles. Their shoulders straightened with hope. Troy grinned widely. It was the first expression not laced with cynicism that Steve had ever seen from the man. “You hear that, Jack my boy. You’re goin’ to be just fine,” Troy told his man, his fingers clenched tightly around Moffitt’s. “You just keep breathing. Dietrich?”
“He can hear us,” the German assured Troy. His fingers were resting over the big vein in the British Rat's neck. “His heart is less erratic. Gut, Jack.”
“Tully, get Moffitt a bag packed. He’ll want his things at the hospital.” Troy cleared his throat as he spoke, tilting his face to hide his eyes with the brim of his hat.
Pettigrew nodded and moved to kneel next to his friend. He took Moffitt’s other hand and gave it a brief squeeze before he left. “We’re all right here, Sarge. You don’t go nowhere. We’re all right here waitin’ for ya to get better.” Brushing the sand off his knees, he headed back to the jeeps to dig out Moffitt’s rucksack. As he passed Steve, the moonshiner gave the Captain a soft, crooked smile and murmured, “Thank ya, Cap.” Steve nodded awkwardly, trying to keep himself from blushing.
The sun was finally over the horizon, heating up the air of the oasis and making the dark seem like a pleasant dream. Tully had pulled the jeeps around and set up a tarp to form an impromptu sunshade for Moffitt. Troy had passed out tin cups for water and let his boys gorge themselves on it.
Moffitt needed water as well, but Dietrich’s attempts to give him sips out of the cup hadn’t worked. They’d had to roll the injured man on his side to stop him from choking on the first few drops. Hitch had dug into the rag box once again to find the cleanest piece. Troy brought it, along with a cup of water, beneath the shade. He passed them to Dietrich. “Try this instead.” Dietrich nodded and dipped the rag in the cup. When some of the water had been absorbed, he pressed the edge to Moffitt’s mouth. The sensation of moisture made the British Rat’s lips part. “He probably remembers this from when he was shot last time,” Troy sighed with wry fondness.
Dietrich shook his head in exasperation. “Meisten Männer Angst vor dem Tod, Jack, ” the German scolded his friend absently. He was just happy to see Moffitt sucking weakly at the cloth to draw out the water.
“Dietrich, I need to know what the hell happened back there. Lieutenant Carter’s been the color of old milk since you got back, and you’re not much better.” Troy’s voice held a note of command.
The other man shifted uncomfortably, pursing his lips in disgust. “Schmidt caught us. Leftenant Carter doesn’t wish it to be spoken of.”
“Jesus,” Troy breathed, sitting back on his heels.
“I was stabbed in the back with a syringe. It made me sick and nearly got all of us killed. Schimdt was holding Carter at gunpoint. If Jack hadn’t found his wits long enough to help us, we would have been captured.” Moffitt shifted and moaned. Dietrich murmured nonsense at him in German until he quieted.
“Carter was able to subdue Schmidt long enough for us to escape, but it was a close thing.” His lips curled up as he remembered the rotten looking hand around Carter’s bicep. “He’s gotten worse since I last saw him. The experiment he did on himself left him looking like a dead thing and madder than the fanatics in Hitler’s inner circle. His face is less a horror, but his mind is in pieces.”
Troy ignored the last comment in favor of the important point. “What the hell was in the syringe?”
“Probably a sedative of some kind. It made me feel dizzy, and Schmidt said that his pet monster wanted better specimens,” Dietrich shrugged it off. “Whatever it was, I didn’t seem to be badly effected after a few minutes.”
Troy still seemed unhappy, but he let it pass. “Is Carter okay? Did he threaten her?”
Dietrich snorted. “He put a gun beneath her chin. So she put a knife in his…” He gestured vaguely towards his lap. “I would not ever wish to anger her,” he finished with feeling.
A little pale, Troy nodded, “Won’t argue that one, buddy. Are you sure that whatever the hell was in the syringe is gone?” Dietrich nodded, starting to look irritated with the concern. “Christ. You and Moffitt have the Devil’s own luck.”
“I resent that.” The raspy, dry whisper was muffled by the damp cloth still covering Moffitt’s mouth. Pale eyes were opened to slits, looking up at the two men.
Moffitt’s eyelashes fluttered as he tried to force his eyelids all the way open. “ Ja, Hans. Ich bin gut. ”
“You are an awful liar,” came the fond response, echoing Moffitt’s own from two days ago.
“Telling someone your fine, when there’s no way in hell that’s true is still gonna get you punched,” Troy warned the other Rat. “Even if you do it in German.” He winced as Moffitt choked out a wet cough. Dietrich dipped the rag back in the cup and offered some more water. “How bad is it?”
Moffitt sucked the rag dry before spitting it out. “What are my chances for finding a doctor before the day is out?”
“Thanks to Captain Rogers, damn good,” Troy answered. “HQ is sending a bird to pick up Lieutenant Carter and her boys. There’ll be a doctor on board as well. You’ll be going back with them to the hospital.”
“In that case,” the British Rat rasped dryly, “I think I’ll survive somehow.”
Troy snorted. “I’ll find some morphine.”
“No!” The force of the refusal had Dietrich pushing Moffitt’s shoulder back down. “No, Troy. No more morphine.” Moffitt was adamant, shaking in the grip of his two friends.
Dietrich glanced at Troy, worried. “Jack, this is no time for a stiff upper lip. If you’re in pain…”
“It’s not enough pain to be worth being insensate again,” Moffitt replied weakly, drained by his outburst. “The pain is negligible, Troy.”
Troy doubted that was true, but Moffitt was as close to panic as the Head Rat had ever seen. Remembering his own experiences at the hands of a vicious SS commandant, Troy could sympathize with Moffitt’s desire to stay clear-headed. “Fine. But you just shout if you need it.”
Tully and Hitch wandered over. They’d been drawn by Moffitt’s weak shouts. “Sarge?” Hitch asked apprehensively.
“He’s awake,” Dietrich reassured him. “Would you two like to sit with him?”
Hitch scrambled over to look at Moffitt’s face with a mad grin. “Sarge!”
More self-contained, Tully knelt next to Dietrich. “Get some sleep, Captain. You too, Sarge,” he looked pointedly at Dietrich and Troy. “We’ll be here.”
“Thanks, Tully.” Troy slapped the moonshiner’s shoulder. “Sergeant Moffitt, no trying to order these two to let you do something idiotic.”
“Bugger off, Troy,” Moffitt hissed petulantly. Laughing, Troy and Dietrich took their leave more out of respect for the privates’ need to see their sergeant was still with them than a desire to leave Moffitt’s side.
Tully huffed, shaking his head in exasperation. “Don’t get worked up, Sarge. It’ll do those hurts no good. Hitch, get the Sarge’s uniform out of the jeep so we can get him changed. Won’t do for him to show up looking like a golliwog. Doctors’ll toss him outta of the hospital.”
With a reluctant grumble, Moffitt relaxed and allowed the other two Rats to manhandle him out of the rags of his native clothing and back into his uniform. Tully wasn’t wrong about the medical staff. Civilian casualties were often tossed to the side the minute their rescuers left in there were wounded soldiers.
When Tully lifted the bandage off the raw wound on Moffitt’s chest, he frowned deeply. “Hitch…” The other Rat leaned over. A look of troubled confusion ran across his face.
“What’s wrong?” Moffitt pushed himself onto his elbows to see what had caused that reaction.
Tully laid a clean bandage over the wound before Moffitt could get a good look. “Nothin’, Sarge. Just wasn’t as bad as I thought. Lay back down now before you make it worse.” The moonshining Rat had never been a good liar.
Moffitt let the two press him back down. “Tully,” he layered his tone with a sharp warning to try to conceal the fear.
“It’s a lot less nasty,” Hitch reassured his sergeant quickly. “That’s all. Shot must have just grazed you. There’s a lotta dry blood, but it’s nowhere near as bad as Dernier thought.”
“That’s rather reassuring,” Carter’s dry voice drifted from behind one of the jeeps. “Captain Dietrich informed me that Sergeant Moffitt might not be decent. I apologize if I startled you.”
The Rats made the appropriate noises to reassure her she’d done no harm. Hitch promptly offered her a canteen and some of the flat ration crackers. She politely decline, choosing to sit on the bumper facing them instead. “And how are you doing, Sergeant?”
“I shall survive, Leftenant,” Moffitt replied promptly, showcasing his best stiff upper lip. “Were you injured?” He gestured limply the stiff way she held herself.
She smiled blankly back. “It’s just a nasty scratch, Sergeant. Thank you for your concern.” Hitch and Tully quickly finished their fussing under her silent supervision. The two younger Rats withdrew quietly just out of hearing range at her nod.
“If you’ll excuse my cheek, leftenant, that’s grim face for a happy occasion,” Moffitt rasped quietly.
“Perhaps not as happy as I would wish,” Carter sighed, lifting a hand to rub her eyes then stopping just short so she wouldn’t smear her make-up. “Your wound is better?”
“Yes,” Moffitt replied, confused by the question.
Carter bit her lip before speaking. “That’s good, sergeant.” She slid off the bumper to kneel next to him, running her fingers through his matted hair. “I had thought you’d died in my arms. It’s a relief to be proven wrong.”
He reached out and weakly curled his fingers around her wrist. “What aren’t you saying, ma’am?”
“Do you remember the experiments?” The question emphasized the forced smile on her face. Only her grip on his curls kept him from jerking away and pulling his wound.
Dull white beneath his tan, Moffitt stilled his jerking before Carter ripped his hair out. “Leftenant, I can’t…”
“Breathe, lad,” Carter ordered sharply. Her other hand grip the edge of his jaw and dug in deeply into the flesh to keep him from biting his tongue. “Don’t you dare move, soldier. If you make that wound any worse the doctors won’t be able to help you.” She waited until he’d settled before continuing. “Don’t tell anyone about the experiments, Sergeant. Tell them it was just torture. Or they will take you from this desert and give you to Captain Rogers where they can keep an eye on you.” Her nails stopped just short of digging bloody crescents into what undamaged skin was left on his face.
Moffitt’s eyes were wide, the blue-gray rings perfectly apparent even the shade. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Your wounds weren’t as bad as we thought. It was just the shock,” Carter continued, her voice intense.
Moffitt swallowed and repeated obediently, “It was only a bad graze. It was the shock that nearly did me in.” There was naked fear on her face. Fear for him. “What about the others?”
Carter managed a crooked smile. “Everyone knows that you were lucky, except for that nasty shock.” Moffitt relaxed back, wincing at the pain in his jaw. Carter had a marksman’s grip. Moffitt suspected he might have a scar from her thumbnail where his earlobe attached.
“Thank you, Leftenant,” he said quietly. “For everything you’ve done for us.”
Her face closed off as surely as if a portcullis had been slammed down. “I have lost far too many countrymen, Sergeant Moffitt, and have far too few friends to lose any more.” Her fingers slid over his and the other hand combed through his hair as she pulled away.
Obediently, Moffitt slid back down and closed his eyes. Carter let out a quiet, amused huff repeating the combing motion.