Behind the windows, the siren of ambulance ruined the calm night.
With hotel breakfasts happening from eight to ten o'clock, Gromov did not intend to get up before seven. However, at two eighteen, the communication wristband, vibrating frantically, woke him up. Rather shocked, he realized the local military station had announced the battle alarm, its highest level, meaning all soldiers had to report immediately, no matter their status.
Gromov and Akane, similarly to the rest of visiting pilots, were thousands of kilometers from their home bases. "Even impossible orders are orders," thought captain, when he went for the light switch, kicking invisible obstacles away. The luggage, left in the middle of the room, resisted valiantly when hit by a naked toe.
“Crap! What a pain,” howled Gromov, jumping farther on the one leg. With lights on, he started to dress up, leaving the room ten minutes after.
Meanwhile, he was analyzing the situation. Despite the doubts he had discussed with Andrey, under normal conditions the radar systems should detect an incoming attack at least one day before, meaning the local pilots, even dead drunk, would have enough time to recover. “Why calling us, then? We are mere visitors here,” he pondered. "Of course, we are not on the vacation, but still, what can we possibly do? Act like cheerleaders or what?”
The hotel hall still dwelt in the gloom, with no one around, only the muted voices hummed behind the walls.
He knocked on the door beside his room.
“Right on my way!”
She was never the type who had no trouble getting out of the bed. Her sudden appearance surprised him. Nevertheless, she was not the second in a row as the others came out even quicker. It was the bunch of miserable existences, yawning with vehemence of feeding whales, with their hairs resembling spiked bush.
“What is it? What’s happening? Is it a mistake? Why does the bloody band keep buzzing? What should we do?”
Something was obviously wrong with many of them; they panted heavily, pale faces covered in sweat, staggering like zombies.
“I was vomiting since midnight,” declared young pilot, still in his underwear. “I know every single spot of my toilet. Not going anywhere.”
At least ten voices announced the same symptoms: nausea, uncontrollable vomiting, and dysentery. They complained about being on the verge of collapsing. Gromov suspected the unusual circumstances of battle alert might relate to a wrecked disposition of suffering pilots.
“Are you sure you aren’t just drunk?” he asked the pale pilot.
“Nope. Not that much. I can stand over three glasses of wine I swear. I feel like dying… Was about to call an ambulance for me.”
Gromov had no reason to doubt man's words. Even from the distance of two meters, the trembling of limbs was apparent, not to speak about the sheer willpower the pilot had to exercise to keep standing up as his weakened knees refused to support him. He had to lean against the door frame, probably terrified by the very idea of dressing up and leaving the comfortable bed.
They were out their mother bases, which practically left them without a commander. Nobody bothered to appoint one for them, as their presence here was only formal, without attached duties. With alert in the air and feeling sick, pilots had no idea what to do.
Gromov decided to step in.
"Listen, ladies and gentlemen,” he had to raise the voice to convey the message. “The sick stays inside. I need no puking heroes around. Leave your door unlocked and indicate them with socks or something. I’ll arrange a medical aid for you as soon as possible. The rest gathers next to the emergency exit. Understood?”
They nodded, relieved. Nobody questioned his command. Properly disciplined folks, thought Gromov, realizing bitterly that he had signed for the responsibility, being far beyond his authority.
With a slight hesitation, he went to captain Chi, the pilot who replaced his deceased female colleague.
“Captain, let’s hope we will have official orders soon. But until then, do you mind going through all hotel floors? We need to identify where the sick ones are located. The battle-ready pilots, no matter which base they had come, shall gather downstairs in the hotel lounge. Each group shall appoint its representative, who will report to me with the list of its members. Do you agree?”
“Absolutely. Anything else?”
“Since we don't understand how serious the state of pilots is, we should eliminate the possibility that someone collapsed in the room, being unable to reach the door. I need someone who will contact hotel personnel and check all rooms with their spare keys.”
“Leave it to me. I’ll manage somehow,” Captain Chi saluted with a light smile.
Gromov watched him leaving with an ominous hunch.
Born in the Czech Republic, Pavel Morava is not a native English speaker. Having been twenty-two years old, he published his first book, which did not become an international bestseller. After a few other attempts, Pavel Morava abandoned the literary career for over twenty years, during which period he has been focusing on processing of plastics, programming, and raising of children.
Recently, with more time at his disposal, he returned to the forgotten ambition, fighting a futile battle with English language, procrastination, and the tendency to give up too early.
Being vivid reader of not Anglo-Saxon origin, Pavel Morava was fortunate enough to experience books from different countries, including Czech, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Swedish, Dutch, Japanese, French, German, and English. Such a vast literary variety heavily influenced his own work, which typically relies on an one-point-of-view narrative, consecutive storytelling, and elimination of unnecessary details.
Web novels and online publishing made him reevaluate his approach to style and building blocks of the text; the result should be, hopefully, lighter, shorter, and more intelligible for reading on electronic devices.