- "Can a nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot."
- ―Vladimir Lenin
This story is set in South Vietnam in 1968. Heartily sick of the persterings of the Viet Cong, an extremist American patriot, a general by the name of John Robertson, began napalming hundreds of communities in North and South Vietnam if he even suspected them of having Communist sympathies. Courtesy of a sixteen-year-old boy named Ché Mai, this had unexpected repercussions for Robertson, as told in this story.
Author's note: This is a first draft. I will be doing some tidyup work along the way.
This fanfiction contains profanity and graphic themes, you have been warned.
It was everywhere.
Ché Mai barely recognised the village, his home. The foul smoke of napalm stung his eyes, he could not recognise his fellow villagers, who ran, screaming, for their lives. He barely recognised himself amidst the heat and the chaos.
All he could see was fire.
Robertson. The name which had inspired terror throughout Vietnam. Word had flooded across the land of his merciless punishments for all those whom he suspected of siding with Ho Chi Minh’s supporters. Mai and the others had always spoken highly of the communist cause, and now they were paying Robertson’s price. There was nothing for it, he ran, avoiding the fire whenever he could, until he found himself splashing through the familiar muddy water of the rice paddies. Coughing and gasping, he knelt down in the mud until his eyes and lungs were finally free of the noxious stench of the napalm.
How long he lay there, hiding among the rice fronds, he never knew. When morning finally broke, he staggered to his feet, exhausted by the night’s events. As he sloshed his way through the paddy to the great pillar of black smoke pouring into the sky of Vietnam, casting the sun’s light into a dark, murky red, only the splashing of the mud broke the silence of the day. None of the familiar chirping of the jungle birds or the happy chattering of the villagers. Only the crackling of the remnant fires accompanied Mai’s footfall.
When he entered what had once been his home village, the sheer devastation the invaders had wreaked met his eyes.
As he looked around in despair, he saw the blackened remnants of the old huts, where his friends, his fellow villagers had once lived. Of all of them, only charred, unrecognisable corpses lay around the scorched ground. Tears began welling in his eyes as he walked slowly across the devastated ground. Here, a black and white photo of a just-married couple lay in the ash, its frame splintered. There, a singed doll sat, a charred, dismembered hand still holding it by its chest.
Mai almost broke down, when something caught his eye. A large length of cloth lay in a heap to his left. Moving over to it, he realised it was a flag.
Red on top, blue at the base, with a large golden star emblazoned at its centre, it shone out of the grey ashen ground like a glowing symbol of defiance.
Standing up, Mai clenched his hands into fists. His face contorted with fury, he bellowed out a challenge that echoed through the ruined village, over the rice paddies and into the tree-covered hills beyond. Robertson would pay.
Mai slipped quietly through the thick undergrowth, his makeshift knife gripped tightly in his sweaty palm. His bandana and clothes were soaked through with sweat and water from the large, heavy foliage. His face and chest were covered in cuts and scratches. Still he persisted, following the Americans’ trail of cigarette butts and the strong smell of insect spray.
What on Earth was he getting himself into? He, a lone farmboy armed with a knife, going up against invaders with automatic rifles who were probably ordered to kill on sight. It seemed like a suicide mission.
He didn’t care.
These invaders had burned his home to the ground and reduced his family to charred husks. They would stop at nothing to see his countrymen bullied into the dirt until they begged to be allowed to join America in this war of ideals. He had seen America’s propaganda, what they claimed to be fighting for. Freedom his ass, this was tyranny.
Soon enough, the sound of voices speaking in English met his ears above the chorus of birds and insects that filled the jungle air. Mai began moving more quickly, skipping past a drowsy snake, hopping logs and sliding under vines until he came to the edge of a clearing.
Peering through the foliage, he saw several Americans sitting around a collection of tents next to a riverbank, smoking and chatting, their M16 rifles lying close beside them. Several more stood further away from the tent, rifles cradled in their hands, clearly keeping watch in case of trouble.
Mai swore under his breath, he couldn’t get close to them with only grass as cover.
After several seconds of watching the clearing, a fish jumped up from the river, probably to catch a fly on the surface or something, before plopping back under the water. He soon realised that no one had noticed the fish until it had broken the surface.
It was then that the most insane idea of Mai’s life occurred to him. If he could swim like a fish, he could enter the clearing unnoticed. Then he could take revenge on these invaders
But to do that he would need to catch them unaware, or confused.
How would he do that? Start a fire nearby as a diversion? He could burn down the whole jungle by doing that. He would be doing one of Robertson’s more laborious tasks for him. Anyway, the ground was far too wet. No, he would need to think of something else.
As he glanced upward, he saw through the canopy that a large, dark cloud was steadily filling the sky. Of course! The monsoon season was coming on, and that meant rain. Lots of it. The Americans not on watch would head inside their tents, while the rain would conceal him from sight.
Smiling grimly, he headed over to a portion of the riverbank hung over by foliage and began waiting for the rain.
It was an hour until the rain drops began falling. He prepared for the swim by untying his shirt from his left leg and pulling it back over his chest, where it would create less drag. He then waited a little longer by the river until the rain became heavy enough for his liking, when he held his knife between his teeth and slipped quietly into the water.
Silence surrounded Mai as he dropped beneath the surface of the river. Forcing his eyes open, he began swimming downstream through the murky water toward the clearing. Bug-eyed fish and sleek eels moved lazily past him as he swam in surges through the river with each pull and kick.
Soon he began to feel the need to breathe. Exhaling a few bubbles, he looked around for somewhere to hide on the surface. Spotting a cluster of reeds, he headed up toward them. As his head broke the surface, his ears were met by the sound of a million tiny splats as the pouring rain met the river with a mighty chorus of water. As he caught his breath, he glanced over the top of the reeds, blinking past the water running down his face.
He was at the edge of the clearing. Sure enough, most of the Americans had headed into their tents to shelter from the rain. Noting another clump of reeds at the riverbank near the tents as a place he could go ashore unseen, he slipped back under the water.
When he emerged again amongst the reeds near the American tents, Mai slipped quietly up the riverbank and behind the nearest tent. As he saw a guard standing not far away, a plan began to form in his mind. Gripping his knife in his right hand, he slipped up behind the guard, steeled himself, then grabbed the man’s face and plunged the knife into his neck. The American gurgled, struggled a little, then was still.
Mai stood dumbfounded, he had just killed a man. In cold blood. He shook himself, but knew the feeling would not leave him. Moving quickly, he began dragging the body behind the tent. This done, he searched the American. He took his M16 and his M1911 pistol along with the spare ammo. Then Mai took the grenades, as he had planned on.
He had little time. Shoving the pistol in his belt and slinging the M16 over his shoulder, he took a deep breath, no backing out now, he decided to slam it in. Thinking of his dead family, he pulled the pins on all three grenades before slipping each under a tent, then he ran like hell, rain pinging onto his back, before jumping straight into the river.
An almighty BLAM split the air asunder as the grenades went off, shredding the three tents and splattering them with blood. Mai was preparing to swim for his life, when the sound of gunfire erupted from the other side of the clearing.
Bewildered, he swam back to the shore and watched as the remaining Americans began grabbing their weapons and firing back at their unexpected aggressors. As Mai caught sight of them, however, he realised the Americans were caught outnumbered and off-guard. As they began taking heavy fire, many tried to retreat into the jungle or the river, but few made it, brought down by the staccato bangs of their enemies’ guns. Mai tried to stay out of sight, but a fleeing American spotted him. He hastily unslung the M16, pointed it at the American and pulled the trigger.
With a mighty jolt the gun cracked apart in his hands. The stock disconnected as the frame all but disintegrated, sending the bullet wildly off target. His hand lunged for his pistol when a bullet struck the American’s head, causing it to explode in front of him.
The invaders had been routed. Mai watched as the remaining Americans ran in all directions. Soon, a group of men came up to him. As he turned to meet their gaze, he saw they were Vietnamese. Many wore bandanas, some sporting communist insignia, and some went bare-chested, their shirts tied around a trouser leg. All carried AK-47s in their brown-skinned arms as well as various other warlike accoutrements. As he realised who these men were, a smile crept across his face.
One of them stepped forward and said, "You,come with me.".
Mai complied, and together they regrouped with the rest of the Viet Cong. A slightly older-looking man stepped into the centre of the force before announcing,
“We have to get moving soon. The explosion may have destroyed most of any intel these bastards had, but we may find something of use.” As the fighters began moving away to search the remnants of the Americans’ camp, the man came over toward them and asked, “And who is this?” Gesturing toward Mai.
“We found him trying to kill one of the marines.” Explained Mai’s companion, “He may have a lot of explaining to do.”
The Viet Cong leader paused briefly before asking, “Who are you young man?”
“My name is Mai Ché.” Mai replied.
“And why are you here?” He continued.
“Revenge.” Mai answered. “These bastards killed my family, burned my whole village to the fucking ground! I’m going to kill them all! You hear me? I’m going to kill them all!”
“It’s ok, I hear you, stay calm.” The Vietnamese man replied, “We want the same thing. We intend to drive these invaders out of Vietnam. That aside, I presume you were responsible for the explosion?”
Mai nodded, “Yeah, I stabbed one of their guards and used his grenades. They were very effective, unlike his gun” he glanced ruefully at the cuts his arm now bore from the malfunctioned weapon.
The man snorted, “Why their government issues them with M16s is anyone’s guess! Anyway, my name is Nguyễn Văn Chiễn and I’m going to see what our boys have found. You’ll be heading back with us, we can use someone like you.” He smiled briefly at Mai then moved off to see what the search parties had procured.
Fire and ThunderEdit
“Ok team, we’ve got a job to do, grab your gear!” Nguyễn Văn Chiễn addressed the motley group of Viet Cong fighters lounging in the grimy cavern. The dirt walls were shored up with planks and lined with crates of guns, bullets, knives and all manner of lethal miscellaneous objects.
Mai grabbed an AK-47 along with two taped magazines along with the rest of the gear he’d carried since the encounter with the Americans, before hurrying up the tunnels with the rest of the team. When they reached the concealed door that led into the jungle on the surface, Văn Chiễn turned to address them,
“Ok, The Americans intend to keep pushing north, so they can get an uninterrupted supply line to break the siege at Huế city. We do not intend to let that happen, and now we go to stop it.
As we speak, a large convoy of barges and PBRs are heading up the river carrying a large cargo of supplies, soldiers and weaponry upriver to their base. They have hueys covering them from the air, which doesn’t help the situation. Now here’s the plan;
We intercept the convoy at night. Using semtex charges, we will blow most of the supply ships to hell then swim to shore and sneak off before they can shoot us to bits. Got it?”
“Sounds like a plan” Thiệu replied, nodding.
“Good, let’s roll.” Chiễn said, pushing open the door and heading into the steamy jungle air.
Three hours later:
The sun was low in the sky, casting the sky a magnificent red-gold which was reflected on the smoothly rippling surface of the Huong river. The stark contrast created by the dark mountains beyond only enforced the impact of the glorious sunset.
When the Viet Cong arrived at the riverbank, Chiễn turned to address them again, “The American convoy should be here in about an hour, we have to get ready now. Fortunately, our boys in the radio room anticipated of this, and saw to it that we had something to work with.”.
Mai smiled, the “Radio room” was where they kept all the intel files, stored in ammunition boxes to protect them from mildew and other nasty fates that could befall paper. It took its name from the radios kept there for long-distance communication.
As Mai watched, Chiễn walked over to a large cluster of thick foliage along the riverbank, before grabbing it and pulling it away. As he did this, Mai realised that it was not foliage at all, but thickly adorned camo netting. When the netting was dragged off, he saw what it had been hiding from view.
A row of boats, sitting in a tiny, concealed bay.
These boats, however, had been fitted with completely enclosed decks and adapted to sit very low in the water, revealing only the hatch. They looked like miniature submarines.
Noticing the surprised expressions of some of the men, including Mai, Chiễn said, “No, they can't actually dive or take torpedoes or anything. We couldn’t get anything that fancy or we wouldn’t have had to lug the semtex all this way. No, some of us will have to hang on the outside to plant the charges. The plan is that they won’t notice us in the dark, let’s hope it works.”
An hour later, and the sun had long set. Luckily, the monsoon clouds had blotted out any moon there may have been. Bolstered by the heavy rain that had resumed, the night was dark and impenetrable.
Mai, knowing how to work a motor from his days in the rice paddies, had been given the job of driving one of the boats, Thiệu was his planter.
Soon enough, the faint sound of rock music became audible over the thundering chorus of the heavy monsoon rain. Chiễn signalled them and they began moving into their positions, Mai clambered down the hatchway of his boat while Thiệu eased his way into the water hanging on the side, a number of semtex blocks slung over his shoulder like handbags.
Once Mai was inside the boat, he pulled the hatch shut and lit the gas lamp hanging from the metal roof. The interior was dark and mucky, and bilgewater swilled around at his feet. Seeing a motor handle at the stern, next to a seat with a radio and a periscope. He settled himself down and picked up the radio.
The motor itself appeared to be an adapted outboard motor, modified to work while submerged. Mai realised that this was so that it would make very little noise and would be inaudible amongst the river convoy.
++Confirm everyone is good to go?++ Came Chiễn’s voice, distorted by the radio.
++Good to go.++ One of the Viet Cong drivers replied.
++Same here.++ Another toned in.
“Sure thing.” Mai spoke into his radio.
++Good to hear.++ Came Chiễn’s confident response, ++When I give the order, start moving.++.
The next minute was filled only by the thumping echo of the water lapping against the metal hull of the claustrophobic interior of the boat. Mai was almost relived when Chiễn hissed ++Alright... go!++ over the radio. Revving the engine, the Mai’s boat accompanied the other four as they began fording out into the Huong river.
++Mai, you take the front of the convoy I’ll take the next few down.. Ky, you’re third, Xuan, you’re taking the rear.++
One by one Mai and the other two acknowledged and began heading their respective directions. He then thumbed the side of the radio and asked, “You ok out there Thiệu?”
++I’m fine, just drive the boat Mai.++ Came Thiệu’s distorted reply.
Mai resumed peering through the periscope at the advancing convoy, now within full view.He was briefly unnerved as the spotlights on two hueys swept over the river, but he realised they would be unlikely to spot him and the others in the heavy rain. He grinned, Vietnam itself seemed to be fighting the Americans with as much vigour as his comrades.
He spoke into the radio, “Barge coming up Thiệu, peel one of the bombs.” Referring to the sticky surface on each charge, protected by a layer of film which could be peeled off. This done, he began to swing in alongside the cumbersome American craft.
++Ok... planted.++ came Thiệu’s hushed voice over the radio.
“Good,” Mai replied, “peel another bomb for this one on the left.”
And so they went until they had planted all five of Thiệu’s semtex blocks. This done, Mai headed back to shore with the rest of the team.
As he reached the shore, he began climbing out of the hatch into the beautifully fresh air of the Vietnamese night. He was greeted by the gleeful face of Nguyễn Văn Chiễn and the other team members as they regrouped in the foliage.
“What now?” Mai asked their older leader.
Chiễn turned to him with a sly grin, “I think you know the answer to that”. He replied as he procured a detonator from his belt pocket.
The heavy chugging of the convoy and the beat of the Rolling Stones on the numerous radios filled the heavy air around General John Robertson. Despite his overall good mood, he couldn’t get rid of a nasty little feeling that gnawed at the back of his mind.
He turned to see Colonel Roycewicz move in under the sheltered bridge of the boat to avoid further exposure to the incessant rain, “Sir what’s wrong? Things are pretty good from what I can tell. I mean, we haven’t had any problems with the charlies for a while.”
That’s whats botherin’ me Royce.” Robertson replied in his strong southern accent, “I’m startin’ to wonder what those slant-eyed motherfuckers are up tah.
“Hmm, you do have a point sir.” Roycewicz mused.
“Royce, I’ve been shootin’ charlies in ‘Nam since the war began.” Robertson turned to face his subordinate, “If there’s one thing it’s taught me, it’s these sons-of-bitches don’t give up. They haven’t been givin’ us any trouble for a while, and I’ve got a bad feelin’ about tonight.”
It was then that an ear-splitting BOOM shook the air for what must have been miles. Robertson and Roycewicz were flung off their feet by the force of the blast as twenty barges and patrol boats, including their own boat, went up in huge blazing fireballs.
“HOLY SHIT!” Roycewicz all but screamed as his brain registered what had happened.
“Holy shit’s right Royce!” Robertson yelled over the ringing in his ears, “Get of the boat! This baby’s goin’ down!”.
As Robertson and the rest of the survivors scrambled into the water to be picked up by two PBRs, they saw just what had been done.
Over half the fleet had been reduced to blazing, sinking wrecks. Further examination revealed that Robertson’s own boat had been lucky not to have blown up outright. Robertson himself stood there on the deck of the PBR, soaking wet and almost shaking with fury.
“Slant-eyed motherfuckers, they just don’t give up!” He muttered, “Well, it’s time they learned why yah don’t mess with Robertson!”
Mai crawled through the tunnel, the steady splashing of his and the others’ feet in the shallow water echoing down the dank, claustrophobic passage, lit only by the torch Chiễn carried up front, though the wily old Viet Cong fighter could probably find his way around these tunnels in the dark.
As the tunnel finally widened into a cavernous room revealing several other groups of Vietnamese men already waiting for them. Chiễn moved over to a battered radio on a desk and spoke into the receiver “What’s the situation out there?”
Mai could not discern the reply, but the expression on Chiễn’s face meant it wasn’t good. “I got you, thanks for the heads up.”, he said, frowning, before replacing the receiver.
Turning to face the group he announced, “It seems our dear friend Robertson didn’t like what we did to his boats several days ago and now intends to take revenge. He somehow obtained our rough location and as we speak a flight of hueys is on its way to drop a force of S.O.G. operatives to kill us.”
This caused some commotion in the assembled Viet Cong. Mai was about to join the barrage of questions when Chiễn raised his hands for silence.
“I know as well as any of you that this is not good news, but I intend to prepare a welcoming committee they won’t forget in a hurry. Since they seem to plan on entering our base themselves, we should rig up some traps. A few of the claymores further in should nail a few kills, and that will make them move more cautiously. Since they will already have some men down here though, Robertson won’t risk killing them by spraying napalm down here. All the better for us.
To top it off, rigging up a few surface traps with some C4 and dynamite will deal with some of their pals up top. If we can trap them down here we’ll have ‘em by the nuts. What do you guys say?”
“Sounds like a plan Chiễn!” One of the other senior Viet Cong replied.
“Then let’s get to it men!” Chiễn ordered, followed by the Viet Cong dispersing down the tunnels in pursuit of the weapons and equipment for the defence.
Two hours later:
Mai crouched in a damp hollow at one of the tunnel mouths, claymore wire grasped in his palm, though he was prepared to draw his M1911 at any moment. Thiệu waited a few paces away, MP5 cradled in his hands, staring intently down the tunnel, Chiễn was standing nearby, walkie-talkie in one hand, Revolver in the other.
Chiễn’s walkie-talkie crackled faintly in his hand, he nodded, muttered something in reply, then turned to Mai, “They’re in the tunnels. On my mark, pull the cord.”
“I got you.” Mai replied.
Soon the loud crack of gunshots came echoing from further up toward the entrance. Mai stiffened, his hand grasping the claymore wire tightly.
“Okay...”, Chiễn whispered, “Go!”
Mai yanked the cord toward him. For a split second, nothing happened, then hell broke loose as an almighty BLAM resounded through the tunnels, leaving his ears ringing.
Further explosions went off elsewhere, muffled by the earth separating them from Mai.
Chiễn was speaking on the radio, “Okay, we got ‘em... yes... okay, hit them now!”
“What’s happening?” Mai turned to Chiễn.
“Our boys up top have started tearing up the American surface team.” Chiễn grinned, they’re using the hind.”
Mai frowned, “Wait, since when did we have a hind?”
“Long story.” Chiễn replied, “Now we have the Yankees trapped, we head up the tunnel to finish them off! Thiệu, you go and help out the others back up that way,” indicating one of the other tunnels. He then paused to grab a pump-action Trench Gun before passing a torch to Mai, “Here, I’ll take point with the shotgun. You follow behind with your pistol and the torch.”
Mai nodded, and the two began moving cautiously up the tunnel toward the Americans.
Soon they saw a torch beam flood the tunnel up ahead with bright light. Chiễn gestured to Mai to pause, before he shuffled further up, back pressed to the tunnel wall. When the man bearing the torch came into view, Chiễn fired a shot from his shotgun into the American with a resounding BLAM. Another man behind him tried to stab Chiễn, but Mai felled him with several shots from his M1911.
Chiễn waved Mai onward as the two continued up the dank tunnel. Another encounter saw a few more Americans dead. As they neared an alcove in the tunnel wall built for ambushing, Chiễn drew a sharp breath when a small object landed in front of them,
“Frag grenade! Get back!” He hissed as he flung it back up the tunnel and bundled himself and Mai into the alcove. Only a second later, a deafening explosion ripped through the tunnel, some of the shrapnel embedding itself in the earth only a few inches from Mai’s face. Breathing in unison a sigh of relief, the pair moved on.
It turned out the grenade had obliterated the last pair of Americans in that tunnel, presumably having thrown it themselves.
“Psst, Tùng, is that you?” Chiễn called out in a hushed tone.
“Don’t worry Chiễn, we’re in the clear.” Came the confident reply, “The others are mopping up the rest of the Yankees.”
Several minutes later, Mai waited in one of the upper caves while Chiễn was once again talking over the radio with the other Viet Cong leaders. Tùng’s team were on watch up above in case the Americans thought of attempting another assault. It apparently was just as well as Tùng’s voice came over the radio speaker,
++Shit! We got several more hueys inbound Chiễn!++
“Typical of Robertson.” Chiễn muttered, “Alright, thanks for the heads up Tùng!” he snatched up his revolver and turned to Mai, “You heard that. Gear up Mai.”
Mai grabbed his AK-47, rammed a magazine into the receiver, pulled back the bolt with a shunk then waited as Chiễn listened for further information. It was then that Mai saw Chiễn frown, then his eyes widened in alarm as a garbled shout came over the radio.
“Shit! They’re using gas!” Chiễn yelled, further shouts resonating down from other parts of the tunnels as though to prove it. He then grabbed Mai by the wrist and tugged him along as he began running down the tunnels, the noxious yellow gas already seeping down the tunnel behind them.
“Okay, I think we have some of the gas masks down here.” He said distractedly as they neared one of the crowded weapon storerooms. Pulling Mai with him, he began upturning boxes and rifling through the contents. Only one of them contained a single mask, presumably the others had been taken by one of the teams when they heard of the gas strike.
“Ok, we’ll find you another one further on.” He and Mai headed out and began running up the more spacious tunnel until a sickly yellow cloud came billowing into view up ahead.
“Shit!” Chiễn swore, “We’re cut off!”
“You mean we’re trapped?” Mai asked, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
Chiễn sighed, “Yes, we are trapped.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “Mai, America may say they wish to save us from the brutality of the Soviet Union, but they are little different themselves. Whether the United States or the Soviet Union wins what may turn into World War Three, people like us, people like you and me, will suffer more than any. That is why people like us fight, we fight for the freedom to solve our issues for ourselves, we fight so that we can live free of the destruction reigned upon is by foreign powers who choose to fight on our land, our home.”
He paused, “Mai, we must continue. Robertson, and he is not the only man of his kind, must be stopped. You have shown to be a true fighter. It is men like you who must continue this war, since you are the ones who have the strength to stand up for what you believe is right.”
Mai opened his mouth but no words came out. Chiễn looked up and, following his gaze, Mai saw that the gas now bore down upon them from both sides and was almost upon them.
“Quick! Do not forget what I said!” Chiễn hissed as he grabbed the gas mask and rammed it down over Mai’s head, pulling the straps tight. As Mai stood there, surprised by Chiễn’s action, he continued, “Now go! We still have a war to fight!”
He pushed Mai towards the caves up ahead. Mai turned, uncertain, to see Chiễn furiously waving him on. He nodded and ran up the tunnel into the noxious fog.
Mai blundered through the thick yellow mist, trying not to think about any effects it might have on skin contact. Hands held out cautiously in front of him, he felt his way around the gas-filled tunnel like a man blindfolded. After several minutes he almost bumped into a fellow Viet Cong fighter also wearing a gas mask. The man gestured to Mai to follow, and he complied gladly.
It turned out that the man was part of a team forging through the gaseous tunnels in search of the surface. Mai followed along, careful never to lose sight of their torchbeams as they swept the tunnels for any other survivors. Of these a distressingly small number were found alive, yet soon the much welcomed sight of sunlight pouring in through a door up ahead came into view, the shafts of light being cast in the heavy, yellow gas.
One of the Viet Cong kicked the ramshackle door down and many of Mai’s companions all but leapt for the doorway, eager to escape the hellish confines of the tunnels. Mai held back until the more desperate were clear of the tunnels and the gas before he himself attempted to escape into the magnificently clear air of the jungle outside.
Mai all but gasped in the fresh air as he tore his gasmask from his face. Many a summer ago it had seemed hot and oppressive, yet compared to the musty air within the mask it seemed as clear and fresh as a night after rainfall. Around him, many of the other men were doing the same thing, some beginning to celebrate their escape from what had seemed to be certain death, others lamenting comrades who had not been so lucky. Many more were swearing revenge against Robertson and his followers.
Now that the danger of the gas was past, their group began to search the area in order to meet up with the other groups of survivors who had escaped from different exits. Yet as he trudged through the undergrowth, Chiễn’s last moments dominated his mind, his words repeating endlessly in his thoughts, Chiễn himself urging Mai onward to complete their life’s mission.
One hour later:
Mai sat on a fallen palm tree, part of the assembly of what remained of their entire force. Thiệu sat nearby, as sullen and silent as Mai, having learnt of Chiễn’s fate. Some of their number had donned gas masks once more to delve back into the tunnels and recover their dead. Though they were still retrieving some of the bodies, Chiễn’s had already been recovered. The decision had been made to bury them, since burning them would have attracted the unwanted attention of the South Vietnamese Army or the Americans themselves.
Soon enough, however, one of the senior Viet Cong stepped into the centre of the group. Mai recognized him as Tùng. He made several gestures for attention, which he duly received. Even some of the fighters bringing up the remaining bodies stopped to listen to Tùng.
“Robertson has dealt us a major blow this day.” He spoke, head bowed, “Many of us will never see the end of this war. Yet the war isn’t over, and we still have our bit to do. We all know what we signed up for when we joined the fight.” His gaze swept over the Viet Cong as he said this. For the first time since Chiễn had spoken his parting words, Mai felt some of the persistent vigour the man had inspired in him return.
“The conflict in Hue City is quickly becoming a turning point for the war at large, and is our chance to make our mark on its outcome. The latest intel confirms that Robertson will be overseeing his contribution to the battle personally. He is probably already in the city.”
Tùng paused to let this settle in, then continued, “Doubtless many others will attempt this, but while he is exposed to such a dangerous environment, it is a chance as good as any to exact vengeance and have a true influence on the outcome of this war. I for one say it is a chance we take!”
This last pronouncement started a wave of affirmation among the assembled Viet Cong. Many openly stood up and announced their support. Some even began taking up their weapons.
Thiệu leaned over to Mai and asked, “Well, what do you think?”
Mai paused, then replied, “I say we go. If we get Robertson it will be a victory in itself. He must be stopped.” He stopped to pick up his AK-47, “Come on, we’re heading out.”
Wrath and RuinEdit
Robertson hefted his M1 Thompson, savouring the feel of solid American workmanship. Despite the fact that the weapon was considered obsolete by many, this particular gun had been through hell many times overand proven its effectiveness and solidarity as often. Robertson smiled wanly at the memories of the devastation he and his loyal Marines had fought their way through back on Okinawa and Peleliu before that.
Looking out the second floor window of his makeshift headquarters, the vista before him now would have shocked many, but the sight of total war was nothing new to him.
The afternoon over Hue City looked more like Doomsday, with the red light cast by the thick cloud of smoke that hung over the scene. Explosions accentuating things by illuminating the normally dark silhouettes of the buildings. Helicopters engaged in a hundred lethal dances in the skies while whole companies battered one another into bloody oblivion in the streets below.
The Communists just refused to give up.
He and his attendants were briefly deafened as a flight of hueys thundered overhead, their miniguns opening up into a nearby force of North Vietnamese soldiers.
“Glad to see the flyboys got their shit together!” he muttered as his Marines rushed in to send the remaining NVA packing. Turning to Roycewicz he ordered, “Royce, patch me through to Major Bryant. I want control of that square.” indicating a large plaza about a kilometre away.
“But sir,” Roycewicz replied, “We’re overstretched as it is, and I get the impression those SVA reinforcements aren’t going to be here as soon as they’re telling us.”
Robertson paused, “Alright, tell Bryant to hold position until the SVA get here. If they don’t, we call in the hueys.” As Roycewicz nodded his acknowledgement Robertson returned his attention to the battle raging on before him. It wasd then that an American voice crackled over the radio with the words,
++Shit! Vietcong! Coming up the street from the river!
Robertson grimaced,this one was going to be tough.
Mai had just enough time to register the shout when a nearby comrade crash-tackled him through a nearby doorway just as what must have been a LAW rocket slammed into the street, blasting chunks of asphalt everywhere.
Picking himself up, Mai peered out the doorframe at the fighting outside. He and the rest of the Vietcong had fought all the way up the street from the river. While their surprise attack had caught the Americans off guard, the superior numbers and firepower they had levelled at the Vietcong had seriously damaged the momentum of the attack.
++Vietcong force, this is Lieutenant Nguyễn Chai of the North Vietnamese Army.++ A voice came over Mai and his comrades’ radios, ++We have confirmed Robertson’s position and you’re getting close. We have a hind on the way to clear a path to him for you. We’ll keep the SVA reinforcements off your asses while you kill him.++
++Confirm that Chai, not too soon!++ came Tùng’s response, then he announced, ++Hold it together people, we have NVA support on the way!++
Mai hefted his AK47 and fired a few rounds up the street at the Americans before ducking back behind cover. For the umpteenth time, he wondered if he would actually leave the city alive. He had been involved in a raid on an American camp, helped to cripple an enemy fleet on the Huong river and fought off an S.O.G. team in the tunnels, but those skirmishes now paled in comparison to the devastation he was seeing now.
Soon a huey came thundering in overhead, its miniguns letting rip with a deafening buzz as it began tearing up the Vietcong at a terrifying rate. Mai dived back indoors as the road nearby was further churned up by the lethal rain of bullets. Thiệu, leaping from the cover of a car, followed him in.
“Shit!” Thiệu swore, “How the fuck are we supposed to hold up against this!?”
“The NVA air support.” Mai replied distantly.
It was then that something slammed into the huey, followed by it exploding in the sky, lighting up the buildings around before tumbling to the street a blazing wreck. The Americans faltered, and then began running full pelt as the orchestrator of this destruction, a hind helicopter with a red star painted on the side, thundered into view and began shredding the fleeing Marines with its nose cannon. With a triumphant shout, the Vietcong surged forward.
++This is Captain Chinh.++ came a voice over the radios, ++Looks like we got here just in time, heard you could use some help down there.++
++You got that right!++ Came Tùng’s reply, ++Keep on ‘em!++
++Confirm that, raining hell.++
The Vietcong continued to push forward to Robertson’s position, the Americans being unable to stand up to Chinh’s hind as it peppered their positions with bullets and blasted them with rockets. Soon, Lieutenant Chai announced that if they were where they said they were, they were right outside Robertson’s makeshift command building.
“The ratbastard is just in there...” Thiệu whispered, “So damn close, looks like we’ll get to kill him after all.”
“Then let’s go!” Mai replied as Chinh unloaded several rockets into the building, collapsing the entire top floor in a billowing cloud of smoke and dust.
++Okay team,++ Tùng announced, ++The remaining Yankees are protecting a lieutenant general and a war hero to them at that, this is going to be a tough fight. But this is the man who burned our kinsfolk and our homes, who poisons our land and slaughters our people. For a long time now he has gone without rebuke, for a long time he has carried out his despicable whims at our expense. Now, I say we return the favour!++
At this Mai, Thiệu and all the Vietcong raised the heavens with an almighty shout as they charged forward -guns, blades and bare fists pounding the air with the prospect of Vengeance- to Robertson’s command post.
Mai emptied his AK47 through the doorframe before him into the Americans holding out in the room ahead. True to Tùng’s word, they were not giving up. They returned fire and Mai ducked as several bullets whizzed over his head. Thiệu lobbed a grenade into the room which blasted it to hell, peppering the walls with blood and shrapnel. The pair nodded, then charged in to finish off the surviving Marines.
Just then, a man, an American, ran down a corridor up ahead. Mai had just enough time to notice the man’s uniform and Thompson submachine gun. He was accompanied by another officer and three tough-looking Marines carrying CAR-15 assault rifles.
”Damn, it’s Robertson!” Mai hissed, “Come on Thiệu! Let’s finish this!” he called out as he charged after the fleeing Americans. Thiệu needed no further encouragement either, firing several shots down the corridor in pursuit, felling one of the Marines.
Robertson, realising his danger, turned and sprayed a volley of shots with his Thompson. Mai and Thiệu leapt for cover, the bullets very narrowly missing them. Having bought valuable seconds for his retreat, Robertson rounded a corner and disappeared from view.
“Quick Mai! We can’t let the fucker escape!” Thiệu shouted as he resumed the charge, Mai hurtling down the corridor close behind him. Soon they came to a balcony, Robertson had nowhere to avoid their fire. Mai took aim at the American general.
It was then that a loud, rapid thumping noise became audible. Looking to his side, he saw a huey helicopter level out beyond the balcony. Thiệu immediately opened fire on it, however it was an RPG rocket which struck the huey’s tail, sending the helicopter thundering into the balcony, smashing it to pieces. Mai had just enough time to realise the concrete floor was collapsing beneath him before a piece of masonry struck his head and sent him spiralling into unconsciousness.
When he came to, he was able to discern that he was lying on a pile of rubble, the wrecked huey suspended halfway through the smashed wall, its ruptured engine leaking a puddle of fuel onto the floor. Looking over toward the wreckage, he saw Robertson a few paces away pulling himself out from under the huey’s nose, now apparently having lost his Thompson in the rubble.
“ROBERTSON!” A familiar voice roared nearby, and Mai turned to see Thiệu pushing Roycewicz’ bullet-ridden body aside as he vaulted down from the collapsed balcony, MP5 in one hand, to confront their enemy. Realising his peril, Robertson’s hand flew to his belt and whipped out a Magnum revolver. Thiệu brought his MP5 to bear at almost the same instant, but it was Robertson who shot first, planting a .44 calibre bullet in Thiệu’s chest and dropping him to the floor.
Mai felt a surge of fury wash through him, driving the dazedness right out of him, his goal now crystal clear in his head once more. Robertson would pay.
Pulling himself to his feet, he lunged at Robertson, grabbing his hand holding the revolver and slamming it into the wall. With Robertson’s grip weakened, Mai snatched the Magnum out of his hand and smashed the butt of the weapon across his Robertson’s face, sending him sprawling against the wrecked huey.
“I’m going to kill you!” Mai shouted at him as he slammed his foot into Robertson’s chest and began punching his face with each sentence, “You burned my family! - My home! - You killed my friends - My comrades! - Now you’re going to pay! - Now I’m going to kill you - You motherfucker!”
“Yah really think I give a shit yah slant-eyed commie!?” Robertson spat blood back at Mai, “I set out to win this war, and nothing will stop me! I don’t care how many I have to shoot, burn or cut to pieces as long as victory is in sight! I don’t fail my country!”
Mai stepped back, holstering the revolver and pulling a small box from his belt pouch, “You know Robertson, there is one thing you of all people should know about a war like this.” He fumbled with the box briefly, pulling out a small, toothpick-like object, “When you play with fire, you get burnt!”
With this, Mai struck the waterproof match he had pulled from the box and tossed it into the puddle of fuel at the front of the huey, the puddle in which Robertson was lying. As he saw this, Robertson’s eyes widened in horror just in time to register the puddle of liquid erupt into flames, which then set about consuming him in fire. He began screaming and thrashing in pain as his uniform began to burn and his skin to blacken as the fire ate away at his flesh. As Mai watched his enemy die, he noticed an expression in Robertson’s horrified, dying gaze, something that was not just agony.
It was disbelief.
Mai then realised why Robertson had behaved so confidently throughout the war, what he had meant by not, “failing his country”. The possibility of defeat had simply never occurred to him. To Robertson, a war could get harder and harder, and he would have to bring more and more resources to bear, but he had never once realised that he might actually lose.
All of a sudden Mai felt drained. Ever since he had first set out from his ruined village, this was the goal he had his sights set on. Killing the Marines, joining the Vietcong, going to Hue City, all had been steps to this one goal, Vengeance. Now that he had reached it, he felt tired, confused even.
Tùng’s voice over the radio jolted him from his reverie, ++Shit! We got SVA inbound on the western flank! Return fire team they’re onto us!++
“Roger that!” Mai replied shakily, “Tùng, good news, Robertson’s dead.”
++Great news, but we’ll have to celebrate later!++ Came the reply,++Now you and the others had better get moving. Lieutenant Chai has promised to cover our asses on the way out.++
++On my way!++ Mai answered as he began picking his way out of the ruin.
When he reached the street, he saw the rest of the Vietcong steadily falling back, firing into the South Vietnamese as they went. Yanking the pin on his last grenade, he hurled it up the road before sprinting for cover behind a wrecked car.
++Come on people!++ We gotta get to the boats!++ Tùng called out.
They battered their way down the streets of the dying city, firing round after round into the SVA and hugging what cover they could to escape the hail of bullets that their enemies returned. Many of them had given up any real expectation of leaving the city alive, yet soon the, in the circumstances, inspiring sight of the Huong River came into view.
++Come on! Just a little further and we’ll be out of here-++ Tùng began triumphantly announcing before faltering as they spotted something else.
“Shit!” One of the Vietcong shouted, “SVA! Loads of them! They’re going to cut us off!”
Mai sighed, he had not seriously expected to survive this ordeal anyway. So that was his life. Sixteen years in the countryside with his family and friends, then recent events following their deaths. Now in Hue City, he supposed it would end. Maybe he would become a martyr, the boy who gave his short life for what he believed in. Maybe they would all become fallen heroes, having died on their mission to slay a hated foe. Well, he thought, a martyr should set an example to all his fellows. Even in death they could aid the fight.
“Go down fighting my friends!” he bellowed as he opened up with his AK47 on the South Vietnamese. With a roar, they all began making their final stand. The SVA faltered at first, having presumably expected the Vietcong to surrender. However they quickly realised that they would have to do this the hard way and resumed the assault. Soon the Vietcong began to fall to the ground as the superior firepower of their enemy took its toll.
When less than half their original number remained, fighting to the last, The South Vietnamese stopped advancing. The Vietcong also stopped firing, surprised at this turn of events. Soon, shouts of alarm began erupting from the SVA force as they began firing in the opposite direction. The deafening booming of RPGs soon accompanied the staccato chorus of gunfire as they blasted into the South Vietnamese, who by this stage were already retreating from the advancing NVA.
++Did you think I’d let you down Tùng?++ Came a familiar voice over the radio, ++You’d better get moving, we’ll hold off any more of those bastards. Good luck comrades.++
++Thanks Chai!++ Tùng replied happily, ++Quickly everyone, to the boats! Let’s get the hell out of here!++
Mai and the other Vietcong needed no encouragement and began heading straight for the PT boats on the river. Soon they were speeding along the river away from the burning city, celebrating the death of their most hated enemy. When the remaining Vietcong learned of who had dealt the killing blow, Mai became the subject of much avid attention and praise of his exploits until he was finally able to explain that he needed to get some sleep.
Indeed, he slept all the way, despite the noises of heated battle and the boat’s not-so-quiet engine. When he finally awoke, Tùng was seated next to his bunk.
“So, you’re awake.”
“I- I guess so.” Mai replied blearily as he sat up from the bunk, “Where are we?”
“North Vietnam. We figured the Americans would be trying harder than ever to kill us off so we decided it would be best to avoid South Vietnam for the time being. We’ll be doing what we can to help out from here. Besides, the villagers nearby were more than welcoming when they learnt about what you did to Robertson.”
“So we can relax for now?”
“Presumably. The Yankees are still caught up in Hue City and things look to stay that way for a while, so they probably won’t push north anytime soon.”
“The war isn’t over yet, but we can rejoin it in due course if we need to.” Mai mused, “Well, I suppose we should get started, so what needs doing?”
Mai and the rest of the force of Viet Cong he now led watched from the rooftop of a six storey building as the other Viet Cong and NVA marched through Saigon, advancing unhindered toward the Independence Palace just a few blocks away. After the South Vietnamese Army’s last stand outside the city had been crushed, Communist troops had entered the city, but the bloodbath the World had anticipated never happened. Mai had dealt with a few troublemakers but otherwise there had been no problems.
One of the his men, a young boy of about eighteen, eagerly called out and gestured toward the Independence Palace. The North Vietnamese Army were massing around its locked gates, but hurriedly made way as one of their tanks drove up to deal with the issue. A resounding cheer went up from Mai, his men and the entire Communist force watching as the tank crashed through the gates and promptly mangled them under its tracks.
Mai thought back to when he was little different to that young member of his team, seven years ago. Was it seven years? It felt more like a lifetime ago. It was almost like his old life in the village, before Robertson had napalmed it, had happened to someone else.
To the men around him, he was a hero. They never seemed to tire of his tales of the Battle of Hue City and the deeds of Chiễn, Thiệu and the others who had not lived to see this triumph. The engraved .44 Magnum he had borne at his side since Hue City was the object of much admiration among them. At the time, his enemy’s weapon had seemed a fine trophy, and he still believed it was. He kept it as such and carried it with his other weapons, yet he had never fired it once, nor did he ever intend to. The idea simply felt wrong.
But now it was over. They had won. The shadow of Imperialism and War had passed from Vietnam. Hopefully they would set an example to the World, that no matter how big your enemy is, no matter what they can call upon, they are not invincible.
And an example of just how strong a people can be when they stand up for themselves.