He dived eagerly into the shower to wash off the dirt and sweat that had accumulated over the last few days, and was joined soon after by P. Mendez doing the same. They spoke infrequently, mainly concentrating on rubbing off the grime that had built up. They’d washed in the stream of course, but those had been cursory affairs, both men eager to be on their way again to get back to camp, and had been as much to cool themselves down throughout the day as to clean away the dirt there.

The fresh underwear felt light and comforting when he pulled it on, the rest of the uniform too. He’d been in the same outfit for several days and it felt good to be in something clean.

He was joined for the meal he took on the upper deck by both Captain Kergoat and Hitu. P. Mendez didn’t come up, and Andrew assumed he’d gone to one of the other billets to dine as he recounted his exploits of the last few days, as well as learning a few things for himself. The conversation he had with his captain and with Hitu was informal, more like the chats they’d been having over their chess games than a proper report.

Telling his story didn’t take very long. There wasn’t much to say about the journey back and he didn’t feel like going into too much detail about his questioning until he really had to. Recounting the fighting took slightly longer. The battle hadn’t lasted very long but he wanted to ensure the others would be better prepared if something similar happened again. He confessed to his own mistake of not checking out the surrounding jungle before getting his troops to prepare for the ambush they thought was to come, and made sure both men understood that the positions needed to be defendable from both sides, in case they were surprised from the rear again.

He quickly learned that all of the rest of his company had been killed, those that hadn’t died straight away showing obvious signs of having been finished off as they lay there. He assumed they’d been too badly hurt to warrant taking them back to where he and P. Mendez had. Maybe it had been thought they’d not survive the journey or perhaps that they wouldn’t be much use for the questioning that was planned.

He was shocked at the news, though not entirely surprised. He’d thought that tidings couldn’t be good when he’d first realised that none of the faces greeting them when they entered the base had been from his own company.

“You’ll get debriefed properly back at Command. When I told them you were back they said they want you and P. Mendez back there as soon as possible. They can look at that leg of your too,” the captain said. “It will probably be best to write up your report after that debrief. You never know, they might help you remember something important you’ll want to include. They are, after all, supposed to be the experts in such things.”

He agreed by nodding his head, his mouth full of hot Beef Stroganoff, its rich sauce smooth against his throat.

“Once you’ve finished eating,” continued Captain Kergoat, “I’ll get a chopper on the way.”

The captain went on to tell him that he and P. Mendez would be, for a while at least, minor celebrities. They were, after all, the first to have been captured, and then to have ecaped.

He finished his meal answering questions when they were put and commenting when he felt it was necessary, but not volunteering any new information of his own. He was deeply saddened to have lost just about his whole company, and the news was still sinking in. Also, he wasn’t at all sure that his new status as a minor celebrity would be entirely welcome. It wouldn’t be long before one of the guys he’d been with ‘outted’ him, either deliberately or through chance conversation.

The captain left him and Hitu when he’d finished eating to arrange for the helicopter that would carry him and P. Mendez back to HQ.

“Rumour is,” offered Hitu, “that you’re going to get a promotion out of this. They’re already planning to send out another company to replace yours, and as far as I know it’ll include a lieutenant in charge of it.”

He nodded. A promotion, especially one so soon after he’d been put in the field, would be welcomed but wasn’t worth the loss of his team, especially as he felt a great deal of responsibility for it himself. Perhaps his features betrayed his thoughts, perhaps not. Either way, Hitu read them correctly.

“Hey, losing the men wasn’t your fault. From what you’ve said the bad guys were there already. If you had tried to send scouts out, they’d just have attacked earlier.”

He agreed with his friend, though couldn’t help thinking that if he’d done this the unit would at least have been in one group and that the outcome might have been quite a bit different.

“Hey, you never know … next time we meet I might have to call you ‘Sir’,” said Hitu lightly.

“Only in public,” replied Andrew, with a grin.