A/N: There are a couple things about this story that are going to be different than anything I've previously posted. The first is that I'm going to be posting the chapters over time versus uploading an entire story at once. My minimum goal is one chapter a month, but it may be more frequent than that depending on my other writing projects and how quickly this one comes together. The second is that the writing group I was a part of has disbanded, so this particular work will have only been edited by me. Given that on top of that I haven't studied the VIetnam War very extensively, I welcome any PMs about errors or inconsistencies that you notice.
It seemed unnatural that there could be so much fire in the middle of a monsoon. Emmett held his helmet tightly against his head, hunching his shoulders against the cascade of explosions, as he ran towards the nearest line of trees. The slick grass and shifting weight of his pack made it difficult to stay upright, and his heart threatened to stop every time he slipped on the unsteady ground. He could barely hear the shouts of the rest of his company. Even the detonating landmines were muffled by the pounding of his own blood in his ears. When he finally reached the edge of the field, he collapsed against the nearest tree and waited for his legs to stop shaking.
Water cascaded down the rim of his helmet, and he removed his gloves to better wipe it from his eyes. The rain had come suddenly, falling in sheets that came down in such quick succession that it was damn near impossible to see. Just as soon as you cleared the water from your eyes more came to take its place. He'd seen a storm like this when his unit first arrived in Vietnam, but then they'd been able to shield themselves from the tropical storm by sheltering in the barracks.
The present afternoon's deluge couldn't have come at a worse time either. The Sergeant had been leading them on a patrol. They were looking for any encroaching Viet Cong scouts when they'd come upon one of the many fields of landmines set up by the enemy. Whole squadrons had fallen victim to the death traps before - each mine was placed so close together that if one blew, they all would - but Johnson, their explosives expert, had been able to lead them through without triggering a single one. Until the storm came, that is. Emmett had been near the rear, too far back to have seen what happened to set off the first mine. All he knew was that one moment he'd been trying to keep the rain out of his eyes and the next everything in front of him exploded.
Even now, there were fires dotting the field. A tree 50 yards away from where he crouched was consumed with flames and soon toppled over. Where were the others? Had any of them survived? Murphy and Till had been behind him, hadn't they? Maybe they'd made it out like he had. Shielding his eyes, Emmett scanned the rest of the tree line.
"Can't see a thing," he muttered. "Murphy! Till! You out there?"
They weren't supposed to raise their voices when they were patrolling for fear of giving their position away to a foe that knew much more of the terrain that the American troops, but what else was he to do? Straining to hear anything over the falling water, Emmett's heart sank as he realized no response was coming.
He didn't dare venture back out onto the field, so he walked along the treeline towards where the rest of the squad had been. It didn't take long to find them. The charred ground made their location apparent, and indicated a now-safe path. Emmett felt like he'd floated out of his body and now hovered overhead, watching someone who looked remarkably similar to him approach the bodies of his fellow soldiers to examine them for any signs of life. Most were missing limbs or parts of their face. A few he was only able to identify by their dog tags, all of which he collected. God only knew how he was going to get back to base, but it was the least he could do to try and return a piece of the men to their families.
He'd found just about everyone, when a groan drew his attention. Emmett turned towards the noise, picking his way through some tall grass that still remained.
"Jimmy!" He knelt by the sundered body of his friend.
Jimmy's parents had lived next to his folks since before both boys had been born. They'd grown up together, playing in the streets with boys who had been lucky enough to escape the draft so far as Emmett knew. Seeing his friend missing an arm and the lower part of one leg made Emmett's stomach threaten to revolt in a way that numbness had so far kept at bay. Only the pressure of Jimmy's remaining hand on his shoulder kept him in control.
"Emmett, you alright?"
"My head's too heavy. Can't seem to raise it, but it feels like I'm in pretty bad shape."
"You'll be fine if we can just get you out of here. Did you see where Sergeant is? He had the radio."
"He took the worst of the mine. No way the radio made it. Hey, Emmett, I need you to do something for me."
"My folks. I want you to tell them…"
"I will." A knot was swelling in Emmett's throat making it difficult to talk
"N-no." Jimmy coughed, "You gotta tell them something else. Don't let them know I died like this."
"Don't talk like that. You're not going to die. We're gonna get you outta here."
Jimmy's let out a weak laugh, "Don't lie to me, brother. We both know…"
His eyes glazed over and his words trailed off. Emmett shook his friends' shoulders, shouting his name. Trying to rouse him to consciousness even though deep down he knew Jimmy wasn't in the kind of sleep he could wake up from. Something snapped in Emmet's mind, and suddenly he knew only that he needed to get as far away from the carnage as possible.
Stumbling to his feet he started to run, unaware that he remained in the field instead of heading back to the relative safety of the trees. He was nearing the end of the field, his mind unable to hold on to any of the thoughts that rushed through it when suddenly a voice rang out.
Emmett stopped. He looked up, trying to identify where the voice had come from. Through the haze in his mind and the continued downpour he saw a woman standing at the end of the field. She was short and clearly Vietnamese, and yet she seemed to be speaking English, albeit with a heavy accent.
"Don't move! You'll set off the trap!"