Whispers reached the dead long before the echoing sounds of the bombs and gunfire. James, Bradley, and the half a dozen others that made up the dead of the 173rd stood tense and at the ready, knowing their living counterparts were in for a rude awakening.
Gliding through the terrain, Clark came to a stop in the middle of the camp-looking at his fellow soldiers before giving a single shake of his head. The dead shifted uneasily, knowing that it meant at least a few of the camp would be joining them shortly.
It was as they were preparing that a shout from the tent caught their attention. As one they made to see what had startled the soldier, they had stationed there. Before they could call out to Bradley, a bullet echoed, closer then before, hitting a tree just beyond the tent. The camp sprung to action.
Men swarmed out of the tents, guns raised and eyes tired. The dead spread out, following the soldiers into the trees.
“Uh… James?” one voice questioned, as the form of Clark moved closer to his Sargent, “There’s an extra guy?”
“What?” he hissed between clenched teeth.
“That’s what I was sayin!”
“Wait! You talking about the twig guy? Super skinny?” Bradley asked, moving from his position besides Chaz to join the conversation.
“That,” Clark paused, scanning the group until his gaze landed on the curly haired guy that was ducked next to Dave, “one?”
“Yeah, I was standing guard, and-” he took a deep breathe, “There was crackling like lightning and a flash. This guys just popped out, sitting on the ground in nothing but a towel and blood.”
“You think he could be a commie?” Clark asked.
“If he is, they probably shouldn’t have tortured him before sending him here.” Bradley answered back dryly, “Kid looked like he had no idea what was going on and I’ve seen lesser wounds take down a soldier.”
His gaze moved to Kevin’s back, some five yards away. While Kevin had survived the bomb with nothing but scratches… the infection worked quickly to making him join the ranks of the dead.
James’ eyes were sharp, watching as the unknown man sank deeper into the foxhole with nothing but confused panic painting his features.
“Watch him for now.” He told them men sharply, before “Get back to your stations.”
They rotated like they did for everything. A habit half from soldiering and part from their need to know how their brother in arms were doing. If the members of the 173rd were anything, they were loyal.
The 173rd Airborne stuck together. Even if at first it was done unintentionally. But after an ambush that left Sargent James dead, well, he couldn’t leave until he made sure his troop made it back to safety. After all it was in a war none of them asked for. He had been replaced quickly, but this was war and while his brother’s sneered, they watched the newbie’s back. Other’s joined him in death, some moved on straight away, but most stayed even after death, in this hell hole they called war, watching. They watched as they were replaced with able bodies, till their entire unit was dead, sent home, or became the next rotation of the 173rd. They took turned, watching the troops, both in and out of war, families of those that had fallen, and generally just sticking around.
So, the continued on, watching the mysterious man with suspicion until…
It was Clark who told them, he didn’t have army tags or clothes. Kevin who floated by commenting how Chaz, Joe, and Dave had been training him- that he was an ace shot when it came to the targets. Jack came by to tell them when the guy stole from the med tent- never a lot and only what was needed the least- which didn’t mean much because everything was needed. Paul found the strange briefcase that was apparently empty. John noted that the man seemed to light up at any praise… from well anyone, which left a lot of the men with bitter taste in their mouths. John would gather any spirit close by whenever the man would begin to tell stories. It was Sammy who told them with a smile when he got his dog tags. It was Paul that came in, nearly a month after the guy showed up, “His name is Klaus.” It was James, unseen by most of the 173rd, that nodded and told the dead, “He is one of us now.”
Another brother to add to the tally. Another brother to pray stayed alive. Another brother they could lose to the war.