Jim stood on a hill, hands on hips, surveying the landing strip. It was done. Finished. A smooth strip of rock-free land looking oddly out of place in the hilly landscape. It looked like someone had stuck a ruler in the middle of the forest, a toy left over from a child's play. But this time there were no toys or playthings. Planes would be landing soon. Allied planes. With Allied weapons. Real weapons, not cheapshit Stens that jammed on a clip when you needed them most, not mouldy old cartridges spattered with mud. Weapons that weren't guaranteed to blow up in your face as soon as you pulled the trigger. And medical supplies. Food. Allied fighters, more OSS and SOE, Free French from England, fresh blood to strengthen their tired ranks.
For the first time, Jim actually believed they could win the war. Believed, not a childish hope that good would defeat evil, the German dragon slain with a magical sword.
His sharp eyes focused on a figure clambering up the hill towards him, and a broad grin broke over his face as he trotted down to meet it.
"They're here!" Blair threw his arms around Jim's neck hugged him madly, kissing both cheeks in joy. "The planes. They spotted them from the high hills, with binoculars," he babbled. "The Allies! Their planes are here!"
Jim followed the tugging hand back up to the little knot above the air strip. Blair pointed up to the vague black spots in the air. "See them?" he whooped. "The Allied sailplanes!"
Jim focused on the little dots, trying to see them more clearly, knowing it was a useless venture. He fancied he could hear the whisper of air from the engineless gliders being towed by the approaching planes, then his vision suddenly hyperfocused, and he could see black crosses marking the smooth sides, his hearing kicked in, he could hear the rotation of trimotors a plane the Allies no longer used.
And suddenly realised what they were. Junker Ju 53/3.
Blair was ready to make a mad dash down to the air strip and Jim jerked him back with an iron grip, screaming, even though he knew there was no hope the poor bastards down the hill could hear him. "NO! LOOK OUT!"
"Jim!" Blair was trying to pull his arm free. "What the hell are you doing?"
Jim grabbed him by both arms now, his voice low and desperate. "Look at them. Listen. Fixed landing gear. Trimotors. They aren't the Allies." And then he was running to their pathetic stock of heavy weapons, pawing for something large enough to take a plane down in flight, knowing it was too late, one had already landed.
And then the screaming started.
Beside him, Blair turned pale. Then his face turned rock hard and he was snatching up clips, running down the hill to the landing strip, Sten in one hand, clips madly bouncing and falling from his other fist.
"BLAIR!" Jim snatched up his own weapon and ran after him, cursing all half-crazed psychotic little French anthropologists with hearts as big as the world and guts to match.
Face set, Blair hauled a poor, dead corpse from behind the Vickers mounted on the edge of the airstrip and slid into the seat behind the heavy machine gun, letting loose on the black uniforms below.
Jim tore his shirt off and wrapped it around his hands, grabbing the bucking feed belt for the gun, keeping it straight to stop the chamber jamming. The hard shells quickly tore through the material and into his hands, but he ignored it, concentrating on the task.
A heavy shot nearby brought his head up, and he saw Simon and Rafe on the 13.8 millimetre, firing round after round into the sky. Three gliders fell like dead birds to crumple on the ground. But they kept coming, more and more. There were at least seven gliders on the airstrip now. With a compliment of at least forty each. Nearly three hundred SS
And they were still coming.
"BLAIR! WE HAVE TO LEAVE!" There was no way in hell they could hold out. Not with nearly half their men dead or dying, crawling away from the airstrip as bullet-ridden corpses, too far gone to even know it yet.
Sandburg either didn't hear him or didn't care, hauling the gun around in the greasy mount in a fanning motion, finger pressing mercilessly down on the firing trigger. Jim let go of the belt in desperation and it bucked wildly, jamming the gun.
With a curse, Blair leaned down to clear it and was hauled out of the seat by one bloody hand. "BLAIR!" He looked up into Jim's face. Looked at the carnage, counting numbers now, not never-ending targets. And nodded, grabbing his Sten, stumbling to keep up with the other manís longer strides as he was hauled across the rocky ground, stumbling over every one of the stones they had painstakingly dug out of the airstrip to welcome the Allies.
People around them were falling to the ground, dying, screaming. The weird blarting noise of the Schmeissers shattering the air as they ran.
Jim hauled the smaller man along behind him, then to his side, pushing him ahead, forcing him to keep going when he would have stopped, turned back into that slaughteryard to help. "RUN!"
Blair ran. Reaching back desperately to grip the shirt of the man running behind him, protecting him with his own body, clinging blindly, the two of them looking like a carnival horse as they vanished into the woods, up the high hill that snarled at their feet, catching ankles on rocks, towards the Step of the Needle.