A dozen soldiers turned in reaction to the barely audible words. In the distance
a great pillar of smoke pushed violently skyward and spread into the familiar fist-like
shape of a nuclear mushroom cloud.
“Merde!” whispered an ashen faced sergeant. Nervously he raised the blue helmet identifying
him as a NATO Peacekeeper and wiped at the sweat beading his forehead. In French-accented
English he asked, “How close?”
Grace Matthews, First Lieutenant, 3rd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment, shrugged.
“Madrid, maybe. Winds shouldn’t carry fallout this far north.”
The sergeant cast a skeptical eye on the short, stocky woman. “You are sure?”
“Then we must continue into France.”
Grace tore her eyes from the churning cloud and fixed the man with a dry stare. “In
due time, Sergeant Thibault.” Her look shifted to the remaining dozen Peacekeepers
and took their measure. They were clearly conflicted, their emotions ranging from
calm discipline to near panic. Facing the cloud, she considered the alternatives.
The majority of her command verged on collapse. They had been on the move for weeks,
running from a ferociously relentless enemy. Discipline was lapsing. She had to find
a way to galvanize them, to remain focused.
Corporal Ambrose, a Canadian flag stitched on the shoulder of his battle-worn fatigues,
pointed along the near-deserted highway snaking out from the distant suburbs of Pamplona.
“Someone’s coming, lieutenant.”
Grace looked. A red Mustang convertible sped toward them. She raised her binoculars.
Two occupants. Blurred motion behind the vehicle had her thumbing the focus wheel
until a black pickup truck snapped into view. At least half a dozen men stood in
the cargo bed, brandishing AK-47s.Swinging back to the Mustang, she saw the driver
pump a rifle over his head. A signal. Her eyebrows lifted when she recognized the
weapon. Lowering her binoculars she snapped, “He’s one of us. Defensive positions.
The car goes through. Standby on the pickup.”
Spurred to action, the Peacekeepers sought protective positions around the two LAV3’s
parked haphazardly across the road.