A/N: I don't own Rat Patrol, and I don't get paid for this; it is truly a labor of love.
For Chandlia, Vixen, and Firefall, by special request.
"The Darers Go First Raid", a dog's-eye view.
It was hot, but every day was hot, just as every night brought the cold. She had long ago learned to live with the extremes of temperature, usually curling up in a sheltered place until it was safe to venture out to forage for food.
This had been her life as long as she could remember. Surely she must have had a mother, and littermates, but she couldn't remember them. An attachment to another living creature was something she had never known.
Yet her instinct urged her to find a human with whom she could form a bond. Generations upon generations of her species had evolved into a creature meant to live with man. A creature meant to share man's hardships and pleasures, to serve and protect him, to give love and loyalty, and to receive love and loyalty in return.
This was her heritage, and her hope.
But life for a little homeless dog in the desert of North Africa, particularly in wartime, was not one that fostered hope. She had been kicked, cursed, spat at, and ignored. Children had thrown sticks at her. Never had she been shown kindness.
And yet still she hoped. What else was a little dog to do?
One day she wandered into a small, long-abandoned hamlet. She found no food there, and no water, and was about to head farther afield before the heat became too intense.
The tiny village wasn't quite abandoned, though. One of man's contraptions, a big object the color of sand, squatted under a flimsy shelter of netting and branches. She picked up the fresh scent of men, and knew they must be inside the machine.
Would this be the day she fulfilled her destiny and found her home?
No one emerged from the tank, however, and she decided to go. But her ears pricked up as she heard two more of man's contraptions approaching. The machines were jeeps this time, and they eventually stopped outside the village. She waited to see what sort of men would emerge from the jeeps.
Four men climbed out but they didn't talk among themselves; instead they used their hands to gesture to each other. She watched as one of the jeep-men approached the tank stealthily. Hoping against hope for a friendly reception, she came close to the man and whined eagerly.
He hissed something in humanspeak to her, but she just cocked her head and whined some more. At least he hadn't thrown anything at her.
Then one of the men from the tank appeared, and she sensed danger brewing. She barked excitedly, and the sound of gunshots filled her ears. An object whizzed by her ear, and landed some feet away. Her new acquaintance ran forward to grab it off the ground, and he flung it back in the direction from which it had come.
Delighted, she ran after the object, hoping to retrieve it for the man. But he and his companions were on the move, running toward a ruined building. And then there was an explosion, and a piece of timber was flung through the air. She tried to run from the timber, but it knocked her to the ground and she found herself trapped beneath it.
Trapped! It was the ultimate terror for a little dog. She struggled and whined and barked, and desperately tried to wriggle from beneath the heavy length of wood.
Amid her distress she became aware of a rustling from the ruined building, as one of the jeep-men approached her in a crouching run. There was a flurry of gunshots, and he fell to the ground, clutching his knee.
She didn't understand what had happened to him, but she scented blood, and her fright and despair intensified.
Then the first of the jeep-men emerged from the ruined building and ran forward, flinging himself to the ground beside her. He took the object she had retrieved for him and set it aside, and then gently stroked her, calming her. He carefully dug the sand from around and underneath her, and slid her out from under the piece of wood.
She looked up at her rescuer in gratitude as he fondled her ears. But more gunshots frightened her, and she bolted for safety as her rescuer took her gift and hurried toward his fallen comrade.
After a few minutes, she saw her rescuer and his comrade return to the ruined building. She waited a little longer, and her rescuer came out alone, still holding her gift. Pleased, she sat down near him and whined softly to get his attention.
He shooed her away with a few brusque words of humanspeak, and she retreated and watched in puzzlement as he climbed up on the tank and dropped her gift inside!
Two men climbed out of the tank, and for a long time her rescuer and the other men sat in the shade near the tank while she dozed in a quiet corner. Finally, two more tank-men climbed out, and there were gunshots, and the men fell to the ground.
She didn't understand what had happened to them either, but this time she scented death. The ways of humans were very strange indeed to a little dog. Survival in the desert was difficult enough; why must they kill each other?
Her rescuer and his companions climbed into the tank, and it started to rumble off. She got to her feet and hesitated, not knowing if she should stay with the distressed tank-men, or follow her rescuer and the other jeep-men. She gave a last look at the tank-men, but they were too preoccupied with caring for their dead to notice a little dog.
So she set off in the wake of the tank, in search of her destiny.
A weary and dusty run later, she followed the tank into a walled area where there were other such machines. But once the tank was inside the walls there were more explosions, a terrifying number of them, and she scurried off to one side and watched fearfully.
Nearby a man was sheltering behind a collapsed wall and watching the destruction as closely as she was. When the explosions finally ceased and her rescuer's tank rumbled back out of the walled area, the man followed it. Emboldened, she came out from her hiding place and ran after him.
In the gateway of the walled area, she and the man stopped to watch the tank roar away into the open desert. She knew the tank was taking her rescuer away and she was sad to see him go. And she sadly realized that he was not her destiny, after all.
But here, right beside her, was someone else. Someone who was gazing after the tank with an attitude of defeat and despair. Someone who needed the comfort and companionship only a little dog could give. Someone who needed her.
She jumped up, trying to get his attention. He extended a hand to her absently, and she licked his fingertips.
He looked down on her from his great height, and the coldness in his dark eyes slowly warmed. He crouched down beside her and stroked her ears, and she wriggled ecstatically.
He said some words in humanspeak, kind and gentle words; she tried to talk back to him in little whines and snuffles, and he smiled.
Then he straightened, and started to walk back into the walled area. He looked back at her with a question in his eyes, and he beckoned with one hand. In that moment she knew that this man was her destiny.
Joyously, she flew to him.