Mick was half-way across the river when the downpour hit. Seconds later an odd rumble beneath his feet made him glance upstream. He had a moment to realize that there was a wall of black water hurtling towards him, before he - still attached to his forty five kilogram pack - was sucked into a churning, whirling hell. No oxygen, not even sure which way was up. His rifle was ripped out of his hands by the torrent.
It was three am.
Somewhere in a river in the depths of the Liquica district of East Timor.
And he was about to drown.
The need for oxygen began to nag.
His webbing vest, loaded down with ammunition, and the backpack were making it almost impossible to get to the surface. He tried to drag the backpack off, but something cannoned into the side of him with bruising force, knocking the remaining air out of his lungs and sending his arm numb and clumsy.
He broke the surface and dragged in a desperate breath before being sucked back underwater.
Finally the backpack came off and he struggled upwards again. In the manner of flash-floods, the torrent was ebbing around him and it was easier to surface this time. He tried to get his bearings, but it was pitch black. The gush of water eased more, solid ground scraped beneath his boots. He kicked sideways, found his feet, and within seconds managed to crawl onto the muddy shore. Panting heavily. He was torn between frustration that he’d just potentially screwed up their mission and relief that he was out of the water and not dead.
Below his elbow his left arm felt prickly and strange.
The cloud cleared as quickly as it’d appeared and a huge gibbous moon lit the area. He pushed himself up to sitting and examined the damage as best he could. Blood - he could smell its sharp metallic odour - and quite a lot of it. Black on his fingers. His forearm had been laid open from his elbow to his hand, and a gash spiraled across the veins of his wrist.
He downgraded ‘not dead’ to ‘not dead yet.’ Aware that in the Timorese tropical climate a wound like that would fester incredibly quickly, if he didn’t bleed to death first.
It started to throb and sting, and the pain inexorably gathered momentum.
He dragged off his soaked shirt, wadded it up and held it against the wound as best he could. He needed help. The rest of his team would find him, eventually. But the terrain between here and them was steep, covered in thick jungle and likely swarming with Indonesian patrols. It could take a while.
He paused. Listened. Sniffed the air. He could smell smoke. Wood smoke. He scanned the area more carefully, and sure enough, he could see a distant dim glint of a light, barely perceptible against the bright moon. He dragged himself up to his feet, and stumbling in the flat moonlight, made his way towards it. Could be a village. Could be the Indonesian Army. Both had numerous pitfalls.
What he hadn’t been expecting was a nunnery.