Shifting Sands

By @Maninseat11B

Shifting Sands

By @Maninseat11B

Shifting Sands Five men lost in the desert after their plane crashes, one of them is possibly a spy but which one? Who is the phantom Bedouin, is he friend or foe, is he real or just mirage? Will the reach the oasis which is their salvation or will they parish?

Chapter 1

chapter 1

  When he had begun to regain consciousness he was not in the least bit sure as to where he was at first. Everything was in twilight, though whether it was dawn or dusk he couldn’t even begin to tell as he was so confused as to which directions were which, let alone east from west. All that he knew for certain was that he was outside beneath an open sky showing a few faint stars and that his body was in a sharp throbbing pain. His head especially was hurting, but his eyes also felt full of sand, and his throat felt parched and constricted. But worst of all the weather seemed frightfully hot and airless.

  However someone familiar, dressed in the khaki shirt and trousers of a civilian, was leaning over him at that moment; Johnson wasn’t it? So no doubt he was ok after all. Still, he couldn’t quite comprehend why he felt so groggy, like he had just woken-up, or why he was in so much pain, had he been drinking too much again?

  -Martin, look at me a minute, Johnson was saying as he held his hands in front of his friend’s face, -how many fingers am I holding up?

  Martin gazed at Johnson’s hands a moment, as the fingers and the hands slowly drifted in and out of focus, before his vision finally cleared. -Three, I can see three fingers and a thumb. Martin dryly replied.

  -Good! You had such a bad concussion there Martin that for a while we were afraid that we might lose you.

  Martin now realized for the first time that he was sitting near the base of a large rounded dune of golden brown sand. They were in the desert of course, though he couldn’t recall why at the moment. -I, I haven’t been drinking too much again, have I? He cautiously asked Johnson, while feeling a bit guilty.

  -No, no, you’re alright laddie, Johnson dryly chuckled, -if only it could be as simple as all that though, then it wouldn’t be any worry at all. Still, we might yet be able to have a bit of a laugh about it later. However I’m afraid that there has been a bit of an accident and our plane has crashed in the desert, as you can see. The pilot and co-pilot were killed unfortunately, but there is still you, Godfrey, Smith, Wilson and me. We’re not sure exactly where we are, but from what the pilot was saying, just before we crashed, we are roughly some seventy kilometres south west of the Wadi Al Halfa oasis. If we can reach there within the next three or four days then we should have water and food and no doubt hook-up with a caravan to take us back to civilization, as supposedly there is a small village there.

  -But what were we doing flying out in the desert in the first place? Martin wondered more to himself than to Johnson. -And what happened to make us crash?

  -What! You really don’t remember? You must have really hit your head hard, old man. We were doing an odd spot of reconnaissance for any enemy movements, their numbers and armaments. We’re also bringing some important dispatches to HQ, including the one about the possible espionage among our group that you detected. Also Smith and Wilson were heading into Cairo for a few days of much needed R n’ R, the lucky dogs. In any case we were flying low over the dunes, to make it more difficult for enemy radar to detect us, when some freakish turbulent wind caused our port wing to strike one of the dunes, and it knocked us for a loop.

  -All of us were seated in the back, apart from you and Smith, Johnson continued, -so you went for quite a tumble and cracked your noggin. Still, Wilson sprained his ankle trying to pull you and the pilots out of the cockpit and Godfrey dislocated his shoulder somehow or another as we crash landed. It’s probably some old rugby injury of his no doubt. Oh, here comes Smith, Johnson suddenly lowered his voice; -remember to say nothing about the espionage to anyone else, as that’s only between you and me for now. It is dreadful to say but the spy might even be among us now, as doubtful as that might seem. But you are quite positive that there is one amongst our group?

  -Yes, I’m one hundred percent certain at this point. Martin whispered back as his head finally cleared a bit and he gingerly felt along the white bandage holding a wad of cotton wool to his left temple. -There is more than enough evidence of on-going espionage, but who the spy is I haven’t worked out as yet.

  -Well, it looks as if our invalid is going to be just fine after all! Johnson remarked with a grin as Smith, who was dressed in military fatigues, came into ear-shot. -Do you want to lean your weight on my shoulder, Martin old man, or do you think you can join the others on your own power?

  -Just help me to my feet a moment and I think I should manage on my own. Martin replied reaching out his hand to Johnson’s arm. -I can feel my head clearing already, and I think that was the only real injury I got.

  -Jolly good! Smith cheered. -We were just going to have some of the emergency food rations so come and join us you two. If you hadn’t recovered yet Martin we would have of course waited a few more hours, before dragging you along with us. But now that you seem right chipper again we’ll start off across the desert soon as the moon rises, which is in about half an hour I should say.

  -So how are we fixed for our supplies and rations then? Johnson inquired as they joined the others.

  -Well, we have enough rusks and dry dates to last each of us at least two days, and we each have a canteen of water as well. Godfrey dressed in his captain fatigues announced. We will also each carry one revolver and ten rounds of ammunition. Just remember that if worse comes to worse you must try to save at least one round for yourself. We have one bottle of whisky to share among the five of us, but that is strictly for medicinal needs and not for casual drinking. We have one compass, one box of matches, the two pilots’ flight jackets and three blankets.

  -We’ll definitely need the jackets and blankets for the night, Wilson who was dressed in khaki civilian style clothes remarked, -already with the sun just barely set the temperature has already dropped to a tolerable level, so no doubt it will be quite cold soon enough.

  -In that case Martin had better take one of the flight jackets, at least for tonight due to his concussion, as the cold of the desert will more likely affect him than the rest of us. Smith thoughtfully suggested. -The rest of us will then draw straws for the other flight jacket while the rest will have to keep warm in the blankets, but after tonight the jackets will go on a rotation so that everyone will get a chance to wear one until we are rescued.  

  -We’ll need the blankets when we rest throughout the day as well, Johnson calmly said, -to put up as sunshades if we can’t find any other shelter.

  -Quite so. Godfrey nodded. -Well, let’s eat our first ration now, and then we’ll get started as soon enough the moon is up; let’s not waste any more time than has already been lost. The sooner we reach the oasis then the sooner we can be rescued.

  After each of the men had eaten a bit of the hard biscuit like rusk and a few dry dates, followed by a shallow swig of warm water, they slowly began to march off on a north east heading according to their compass. They had no guarantee or even confidence that they were necessarily on the correct heading for the oasis, or that they would have the luck to actually stumble upon it amid the vast desert. But this was their only chance at survival, slim as it might be, and so nonetheless they had to take it. Meanwhile the moon had started to rise, and a few stars had begun to shine, as the last light of day vanished below the dunes on the distant horizon.

  Martin at this point seriously began to think about each man in his unit, and which one of them was behind the espionage. If he had been asked before all of this about the others then he would have said that they were all good chaps and fine old fellows. But of course now he knew that at least one of them was not one of the lads after all. It was all rather disturbing, especially as meanwhile Martin would have to wrongly accuse everyone, until he knew for certain beyond a doubt who the spy was. It just went against his deeper nature to break his trust, as such, with people that he worked with and especially with whom he considered as friends. 

  The only person whom Martin did still trust completely however was Johnson, and that was only because they had known each other, and one another’s family, ever since they had first been to private school at Eton, and then later to Cambridge. They had even shared a flat together at one point during that later stint. Therefore with Martin’s long history of school hood intimacy with Johnson, and his awareness of the latter’s stanch British nationalism; there was no way that he could ever imagine Johnson as the spy. Johnson, who was unmarried and in his early thirties, had his eccentricities and queer mannerisms to be sure, but he was generally a likable character mainly because of all that. Indeed being rather on the short tubby side, and not the most handsome in the crowd, perhaps his personality was all he had going for him?     

  Godfrey who held the rank of captain was the commanding officer of their small unit. Tall thin and in his mid-forties with short salt and pepper grey hair he was very much a do everything strictly by the book and must have proper discipline at all times leader. Coming from a fairly long pedigree of noble stock, Godfrey therefore felt that one of course must always be the perfect gentleman, no matter how trying the circumstance might be. Indeed, regardless of how serious or demanding the situation was, Godfrey was never one to make decisions harshly, but nor was he one to hesitate too long when action was necessary either. He always weighed the facts and options before acting on what his common sense told him. Godfrey was married and had had a daughter and a son with his wife. However they had had a falling-out a few years back, although they still managed to live quite amicably whenever they were under the same roof.

  Smith had more or less followed along a similar educational path as had Martin and Johnson, yet he had been two years behind them. Still, martin could recall having met Smith at sporting meets on at least two or three occasions, during his school years. The younger man’s short reddish brown hair had always made him stand out in a crowd. So it wasn’t as if Smith was a total stranger to Martin prior to joining the unit. Even at the age of thirty Smith was very athletic, but then having made the military his career he had little choice but to keep in perfect shape, it was also perhaps why he always wore his lieutenants’ uniform. In any case Smith was from a fairly well off family, owning a small estate somewhere in the Somerset countryside, which his older brother would inherit, and the father was or had been in politics but had never made it to the house of lords. So it didn’t seem likely that Smith was the man either.

  Wilson was the youngest of the group at twenty three, he was Welsh and had grown-up in Swansea and was the only one in the unit with a purely public school education. Like Smith he was also making a career out of the military; however he generally only wore his corporal uniform while on active duty. He had studied engineering and was wizard at anything electronic or mechanical, however communications and cracking codes were his main specialties and therefore that was his job in the unit. He was a bit of a mousy little person with wire-rim glasses and sparse black hair on his scalp; nonetheless he was trying to cultivate a weedy little moustache on his upper lip.    

 There were two other men, who were also attached to Martin’s unit, yet both had remained at the little outpost base they commanded. There was Richards who was second in command, after Godfrey, and so he had to remain in charge while the others were away. Richards, although chubby, was a good natured chap who was usually rather slack when it came to rules and regulation. He always enjoyed pulling little jokes and pranks on everyone and was known to be a habitual gambler, whenever he had half a chance. Nonetheless, he usually managed, one way or another, to keep out of any serious trouble. Richards and Godfrey had known each other from long before their current posting as they had studied together at Oxford.

  Gordon was the other man who had stayed behind at the base, although originally he was scheduled to have been on the flight with the rest of the unit, but had backed-out at the last minute. His excuse that he was too ill to fly was a bit suspicious, yet being a Glaswegian and a notorious drunkard, as well as a womanizer, it was no doubt that he was simply heavily hung over. At twenty eight he was a stout and canny person, with shocking red hair and beard, and who, as a civilian, was often over dressed and therefore considered by the others to be a bit of a dandy. Still he was ambitious, if it served his own needs, but otherwise couldn’t be bothered other than to make the least possible effort to get the job done.

  In all honesty Martin knew very little else about those men, other than what he had read in files and reports on each of them, written before they had been posted to the outpost. In addition, the men had often talked about themselves on a casual basis with Martin, and over the last twenty months he had also closely observed the men as they had been living and working at the base. But of course the words may have been nothing more than a pack of lies, and the behaviour he had seen being no different than those of an actor on stage? 

  Originally the men had been posted in the desert, on the outer edge of British colonial territory, simply to survey for petroleum and other valuable mineral deposits. However, it was also important for them to keep a foothold in the region and possibly act as a springboard base to expand their holdings if it were indeed profitable to do so. In any case it was just a lonely little base of a few wooden prefab cabins, as their barracks, and a rough airstrip at the side of a small village of four or five families near the edge of a medium sized oasis. Everything had to be flown in by the pilots Jasper and Eric from the HQ where they were stationed. This included all of their supplies, equipment, personal needs and mail, since there was very little in between their insignificant base, and village, and the other similar bases and the HQ, other than merciless desert.

  However there had been various rumours that some of the natives might be plotting a revolt and that some foreign elements were beginning to show an interest in developing oil wells and staking mining rights in the same region. Then the war had begun and so Martin and his group had suddenly become part of an outer defence unit for the colony, as well as to guard and protect the areas various natural resources. But then a few weeks ago Martin had begun to detect evidence that there was a spy among their ranks in the unit. Of course at first he couldn’t believe in the possibility and therefore he naturally wanted to deny any proof that he found. But in times of war, when one side is trying to gain an advantage over the other, then these things simply have to be suspected.

  At first it was just little things which might have otherwise have been easily overlooked or ignored, but for whatever reason they caught his attention simply out of boredom. Perhaps one of the other men might have even pointed out something unusual to Martin, around the base, the significance of which they themselves had missed, but which raised Martin’s suspicions or put him on guard. Little things like the other men occasionally displaying unusual behaviour of a suspicious nature, and then when asked about such conduct they denied their actions completely. Someone had been using the radio equipment to make unauthorized communications late at night, and during off hours during the day. The notepads for writing out messages had been used, though the last page was ripped out, but when lightly rubbed over with a pencil then unknown encrypted dispatches were discovered.   

  Of course Martin had to report his suspicions, even if later they might prove completely baseless as he was hoping, but who could he go to since lately it had seemed as if everyone had been acting guiltily to some degree. After a bit of debate he finally decided that he would run the risk of approaching Godfrey, since after all he was in command. But as Martin was about to leave the communication shack, with one of the notepads with the unknown encrypted messages, he by chance bumped into Johnson.

  -Oh, and what have you there? Johnson had inquired with raised eyebrows as he caught a glimpse of the notepad in Martin’s hand. -Have you been inventing a new code in your spare time, so as to keep ahead of our enemies from working out our communications? Let’s see, (grabbing the notepad) hmm, well I certainly can’t work it out, and you know how good I am with such puzzles. But maybe we should try it out on Wilson, as he can work out any code and therefore would be the ultimate test.

  -This isn’t something I’ve came-up with. Martin cautiously said. -Someone else in our unit has been sending or receiving unauthorized messages like this one. I was just about to report to Godfrey as it would seem there is a spy among us.

  -Oh really! Are you certain, this is very serious if it’s true. Who do you suspect then?

  -I’m fairly certain there is a spy, Martin replied, -but I have no idea who it might be, in fact everyone lately has been acting a bit fishy, including Godfrey. But I have to report my findings in any case and hope that either I’m wrong, after all, or that the spy is caught.

  -Yes, I see your dilemma. Johnson sagely nodded. -But perhaps you should hold off on making your report to Godfrey, for a few days, as we don’t want to be too hasty in our action. We certainly don’t want to inadvertently tip off the traitor, if there is one, now do we? If you and I work together on this we have a much better chance of getting to the bottom of the situation and finding out if your allegations are true, and if so, of then catching our spy…

  -Martin, Martin are you even listening to me old chap? Smith wrapping his blanket tighter around himself, so that he looked like a Bedouin, was saying as they were walking across sand dunes beneath the pale light of the full moon on an airless bitter cold night. -I’ve had to call you three times now. You’re been going a bit off track there old man. Are you sure that you’re ok, maybe your concussion…

  -Yes, his mind is probably still a bit groggy yet. Johnson remarked as he quickly approached Martin and Smith. -Don’t worry, I’ll look after him for a while and make sure that he keeps on track. It’s not uncommon for concussions like his to have their little lapses from time to time within the first day or two of the injury.

  So with a shrug Smith went to catch-up with the other two men who were a hundred meters or so in the lead, calling over his shoulder: -Alright then Johnson, you’re the medic of our group, so whatever you say goes. But let the rest of us know if you’re going to start breaking out the medicinal whisky.

   -So, were you feeling a bit dizzy or confused, or were you just wool gathering? Johnson quietly inquired.

  -I…I don’t really know, Martin slowly confessed in a stammer, -a little bit of all of the above I guess. I mean I have been thinking over the situation since we started walking across the desert, but at the same time one minute I’m here with the rest of the unit and then we’re back at the base, and then suddenly we’re back in the desert.

  -Ah, so you have been doing some heavy contemplation over who our spy is. Johnson quickly said. -Well and good, but just don’t overdo it until your mind is in a much better state. Otherwise you might drift away from the rest of us and get lost. Nonetheless, do you think that you’re any wiser as to who it might be at this point? 

  -No, I’m afraid not. To be honest it still doesn’t seem possible that it could be anyone of us and yet it has to be someone in the unit, apart from you and me of course.

  -What about Gordon. Johnson coldly said even though he was snug and warm in the other pilot’s flight jacket. -Why do you think that he suddenly bailed out of the mission, was it really simply because of illness? What if he had another motive, like say that he was the spy and was concerned that someone might be getting wise to him, that possibly word about his espionage was being sent in the latest dispatches to HQ? In that case then maybe what happened to the plane wasn’t a freak accident but possibly sabotage?

  -Well, that does sound half reasonable, Martin slowly frowned, -and anything that sounds reasonable is a possibility. But in this case I find it highly unlikely. We both know how well Jasper and Eric always looked after their aircraft; it was like a lover or favourite mistress to them. So they were always going over ever part to make certain everything was mechanically sound. They would never leave the ground if they had the slightest suspicion of anything wrong with that machine. Besides, when were they ever at our base, or away from the plane long enough, for anyone to mess about with their engine? In any case Gordon wouldn’t have the foggiest clue as how to sabotage an air craft. Wilson certainly would, but it’s unlikely that he would crash a flight he himself was on, especially if he was about to go on leave.

  -That’s true enough I suppose. Johnson shrugged. -But still you can’t simply disregard Gordon as the spy any more than you can any of the others. Not yet you can’t. What if Gordon is being forced into being a part of the espionage due to some scandal involving a married woman and a third party is threatening to expose him to a jealous husband? It might even be that Richards is the spy, if not Gordon, perhaps he has gone heavily into debit with his awful gambling habit and so has turned traitor so as to pay off his creditors. After all blackmail and gambling debts are usually the main reasons that people betray the loyalty of their country.

  -You’re quite correct Johnson. Martin nodded. -There certainly is as much a possibility that Gordon, or even Richards, might be the spy as might any of the others in our unit. But I have a funny intuition that the spy is right here among us now in the desert!

  -How do you work that out?

  -It’s not something that I can easily explain why I feel that way, I simply do. Martin shrugged. -By the way, how much longer do you think we might be marching tonight?

  -Are you starting to get a bit tired already then old chap? Johnson half joked.

  -No, it’s not that, Martin shook his head, -I seem to be fine for the moment, and my head is clearer for the time being

  -I’d say that there might be another hour and a half of moonlight left, after that it will be too dark to safely walk. Johnson commented. -But then in the morning we might walk an additional half hour to an hour as the sun rises, until it becomes too hot. After that we’ll rest until the coolness of dusk under whatever shelter we can find or construct.

  -In that case I think I’ll do a bit more thinking on my own, if you don’t mind Johnson, just keep an eye on me from time to time to see that I haven’t become lost…

  This time, as Martin carefully observed and thought over each of the men from his unit, he was a little more attached to and focused on their present surroundings. He only saw the men as they were in relation to their current desert environment, without any of the delusional sensation of suddenly being back at the base with them. Such latter moments were doubtlessly grounded on moments of memory; whereas the imaginings of being with the men at their homes had to have been pure fantasy, since Johnson was the only one of the group Martin had ever seen in his home environment back in the UK.

  Nonetheless Martin slowly began to realize that he was having a great difficulty in keeping track of who was who among the group. Johnson was wearing the other flight jacket therefore he was quite easily recognizable. But the others were so wrapped-up in the thick woollen blankets for warmth, and looking like Bedouins out on a camel raid, that he kept confusing who was who while their heads were covered.

  But it was rather more shocking to Martin when as he was looking over the men, trying his best how to sort each one from the other, he suddenly came to the conclusion that there were five men and not four as their should have been! Of course there were five men in the desert trying to reach the oasis, but that number included him, therefore he should only be able to see four other people and yet he was counting five. There was Johnson walking only three or four meters away from him, and then Smith and possibly Godfrey were a hundred meters ahead of them, while Wilson if indeed it was him was limping a bit in the lead.

  Yet there was one more figure off to the side and a few hundred meters ahead of Martin’s position. It was a rather shadowy figure, especially as seen from such a distance beneath the moonlight, but it too was wrapped in a blanket and seemed intent on the same compass course they were on. Perhaps it was just a mirage caused by the confusion of keeping track of who was who, Martin wondered, or perhaps it was an illusion caused by his recent concussion? There was also every possibility that he had spotted a real Bedouin wandering about the desert, who had by chance had spotted Martin’s unit and was waiting to see if they were friend or foe before approaching. But there was also the likelihood that it might be a scout for a Bedouin raiding party who might be planning to attack and kill Martin and his men in an ambush.

  -Johnson, look over to the right and about two hundred meters ahead of us and tell me if you can see anything? Martin calmly inquired.

  -Just sand and sand dunes old man. Johnson dryly shrugged. -Why, did you think you saw a camel out there?

  -I thought I saw something. Martin slowly admitted while looking again but seeing nothing this time. -But perhaps it was just my imagination.

  -Ah well, I shouldn’t worry about it too much if I were you, these sorts of things happen to all sorts of chaps in the desert you know. It sometimes even happens to me. No matter, soon we’ll be resting and then you’ll be good as rain!

  Had it really just been Martin’s tired imagination after all; or had it been a Bedouin walking parallel to their position. One who had suddenly ducked down and was now hidden amid the surrounding dunes? The shadowy image had been there a minute ago, but now it had definitely vanished, if it had ever been there to begin with. Still, it was bad enough that Martin had reason to doubt one of the men, and therefore out of necessity to doubt all of them, but now he perhaps had to doubt his own senses and perceptions as well?

  Godfrey, who had been in the led after all, eventually called for everyone to rest, he then put himself and Smith on the first sentry watch, with Johnson and Wilson to take the second watch until day break arrived. For as long as he felt he could remain awake Martin kept a look-out to see whether his phantom Bedouin would reappear or not. If it did then he would do whatever was in his power to prove if it was real, or simply his tired imagination. However he only managed to stay awake for fifteen to twenty minutes once they were at rest. Nonetheless, Martin’s slumber was dreamless and when next he awoke the sky was just beginning to brighten.

  Wilson was in the middle of shaking Godfrey and Smith, waking them with a loud: -Come on ya lazy auld sods, wakey wakey rise n’ shine, you’ve had your rest and I’ve had mine!

  The men then had a few dry dates and another shallow swallow of warm water before continuing on with their desperate march. Once again all the while Martin kept a watch for the phantom Bedouin, even though especially now by the growing light of day it all really did seem more like a figment of his agitated imagination. Meanwhile the air, which had been motionless the previous evening and all throughout the night, now began to stir, gently at first, almost hesitatingly, but slowly picking-up pace and strength.

  This wasn’t a cool and soothing breeze however, but rather hot dry gusts of wind which made it seem much like being inside a convection oven. Nevertheless it wasn’t as uncomfortable as one might imagine. Indeed, if it had been a humid heat it would have been far more unbearable. In any case they only walked among the endless dunes for an hour and forty minutes before they could march no further. At that point the men, using their hands, had dug a pit into the base of a sand dune, which was neither cool nor moist, into which they crawled and then covered the entrance with the blankets.

  It was a long seemingly endless day, the men mostly sleeping, or at least trying to, partly to make-up for what they had lost out on the last night’s march, but even more so simply to pass the time. However the sand had gotten in everywhere under their clothing, especially with their walking and digging, it itched their skin in the most abrasive ways and in the most awkward places. Furthermore, despite being out of the direct sunlight, their natural body warmth, nestled together like that, was far too much in that almost suffocating narrow little space.  

  Again Martin was soon asleep. However on this occasion, perhaps due to the heat or the irritation of the sand, his slumber was quite fitful and often full of strange imagery. Often the figure which he now referred to as the phantom Bedouin made an appearance in these dreams. Sometimes the settings of such encounters were at his family home just north of London. Other times they seemed to take place at his unit headquarters, or at Jonson’s home estate. In every case the phantom Bedouin was a simple shadowy figure, wrapped from head to toe in a brown woollen blanket, which was locked in whispered conversations with Martin’s family and friends, or with the men in his unit.

  However, the moment that Martin went closer to overhear the discussion, and then the conversation would come to an abrupt end and the phantom Bedouin would fade into the shadows. While the other characters in the dream would carry on as if nothing were out of the usual. It was as if everyone was purposely ignoring and isolating him, as if hiding something from him that he should know. But then hadn’t he always felt that way to some extent? Hadn’t the other children at school teased him, and weren’t his parents always disappointed with his efforts, even his wife and daughter had left him.    

  Each time Martin woke with a start from such dreams, only to hear the snores and mumblings of the other men in their sandy little cave. They had posted no sentry, feeling it unnecessary, since during the day no nomad would be wondering about in such heat or direct sunlight; nor was it likely that they would be seen by any enemy aircraft that might fly overhead in passing. Nonetheless, Martin had the chilling sensation that they were being observed, even now while under the cover of blankets in their makeshift sand cave.

  -Are you alright, man? Godfrey at one point had inquired. -You’re as restless as a newborn colt! Though it’s not all that surprising with all this bloody sand, it makes you feel like you have St Vitus’s dance, because it certainly has me feeling that way! Well, all we can do is to sit tight and wait until evening when we march again off into the sunset. How’s your head doing now, much better I hope?

  -Oh I’m grand enough now sir and back to my chipper self. Martin said. -Soon as we’re back in civilization a pint of ale or stout will put me right.

  -Here, here, and a large whisky and soda for me! In fact all of us will hit the pub for a few, until we’re good and tight. Godfrey heartily cheered. -But I can see that something is still bothering you old chap, so let’s go out and check on the weather, and then perhaps we can have a bit of a quiet chat.

  -There is a rather serious situation with one of the men. Martin began once he and Godfrey had slipped out of the makeshift cave and then walked a bit of a distance away. -I believe that one of the men in our unit is a spy, although who it is I’m not sure. But someone has definitely been sending or receiving unauthorized communications, and on one of the note pads I discovered evidence of unknown encrypted messages. Furthermore, the last week or so several of the men have been acting in suspicious ways. I know it’s not much to go by, but it’s a hunch that I simply can’t ignore, as it feels so strong.

  -That is indeed very serious if that is the case! But it would be much better if you had some idea of who it might be. How long have you known about the possibility of this spy and is anyone else aware?

  -I’ve only been certain the last five days, and so far only Johnson knows. I’ve been planning to come forth to you with this information for a while, but I wanted to get more evidence and have a better idea of who it might be first. There is one other thing sir. I’m not certain if it was just my imagination, due to the concussion or from being in the desert, or if it was real, but last night as we were marching I saw what seemed to be a Bedouin a few hundred meters off to one side of us, walking parallel to our position. I tried to point the figure out to Johnson but at that moment the figure seemed to have vanished. I’ve been keeping an eye open for the phantom Bedouin but haven’t seen any signs. So I am wondering if it was just my imagination, but still I have the feeling that we’re being watched all the same.

  -I’ve now made a mental note of your report Martin, and it is very important that you have brought this matter to my attention. I can’t honestly say how likely your mysterious Bedouin may, or may not be, but nonetheless from now on we shall both keep a vigilant lookout for him until proven one way or the other, just to be on the safe side. However, as to one of the men in the unit being disloyal, I too for some time have had a few suspicions. But I had no idea who it is or had any evidence to back up my doubts. Do you have any of the pad sheets with the encrypted messages on them with you here?

  -Yes, I have most of the pages with me in my shirt pocket, as I was going to bring them in to HQ…oh wait, I did have them. Martin said as he then urgently checked all of his pockets, shirt and trousers. -Don’t tell me I left them in the wreckage of the aircraft or that I lost them somewhere along the way…

  -Or perhaps our spy removed them from your person while you were still unconscious, after the crash. Godfrey chillingly suggested. -Each one of us had an opportunity since we all took shifts looking after you at that time. It was Wilson who pulled you out of the wreckage. Johnson then checked your vital signs and patched you up. Next Smith watched over you while Johnson and I checked on the pilots, and at the same time Wilson looked to see if the radio equipment was in working order, which it wasn’t any longer. Finally I watched over you for half an hour while the other’s quickly buried the pilots.

  -What did happen with the aircraft, were we really flying a bit too low and got hit by a freakish cross wind which caused the wing to dip and hit a dune so that the plane went for a bit of a tumble?

  -That would seem more or less to be the circumstance of the crash. Godfrey reflectively said. -But you would have to ask Smith since he was in the cockpit with the pilots at the time. How he wasn’t even hurt is beyond me. Never mind all that for now, let’s just keep this between ourselves.

  The wind was still blowing, and fairly briskly in gusts at that, as evening finally came round once more. The men slowly ate another rusk and then the last of the dates, followed by two shallow swigs of warm water, before wearily continuing in their desperate march toward the north east. It wasn’t full dusk at that time, nor was the moon set to rise for another hour or so, still they felt it was worth the risks. Already the temperature was dropping and it would be light enough to continue for a while, and even in the darkness until the moon rose they should be fine.

  This time Smith and Wilson were wearing the two pilot’s flight jackets, while the other men made due with the blankets for warmth, this would make it a little easier for Martin to keep track of who was who. At first it had been suggested that Martin again should take one of the jackets, in case he wasn’t fully recovered from his concussion, yet soon he had convinced everyone that he was fine. Indeed, perhaps a bit of a chill breeze would further help to clear his mind and keep him focused on his thoughts.

  With the darkness the wind had died down a bit more and was less gusty. Nonetheless there was still a concern that it might produce a sand storm if it was to continue throughout the night. But at least the stars were clear and as the moon rose it appeared that the horizon was quite visible for the time being. Martin was keeping his eyes wide open, but so far there was no sign of the phantom Bedouin. But that certainly didn’t mean he was about to let his guard down. If anyone was indeed trailing them then he and Godfrey would soon catch them out, of that Martin had no doubt.

  The longer that they kept walking the more Martin scanned the horizon for the phantom Bedouin, so that eventually the other men became aware of his odd behaviour. Godfrey was the only one who knew the truth of the matter. Nonetheless, Johnson recalling back to the previous night thought that he might have a clue as to what was going on. Smith and Wilson were a bit baffled however, almost to the point of scratching their heads.

  -What’s up old chap, Smith eventually inquired, -do you see something out there, not an approaching sandstorm I hope?

  -No, nothing like that. Martin uneasily said. -I’m simply hoping to observe some of the desert nightlife.

  -Which is obviously no different than the desert life during the day? Wilson ruefully laughed. -I would be surprised if there was anything out there at all!

  For the longest while Martin hadn’t detected the slightest trace of the phantom Bedouin, nor was he beginning to think that he would, that evening. Though whether that was because the figure didn’t exist, or because whoever it was now had their guard up, he wasn’t certain. However, half an hour later and Martin thought that he sensed some motion some three hundred meters off to their left. Looking in that direction and sure enough he saw the figure of the Bedouin slinking into hiding behind a small sand dune. 

  Momentarily the phantom Bedouin might have been out of sight, but Martin felt assured that that would not be the case for long, and soon as an opportunity arose he would either prove or disprove the other’s existence. There from out the corner of his eye he kept track of the most likely position where he was certain the Bedouin would next appear. Fifteen to twenty minutes later and Martin was rewarded as sure enough the shadowy figure reappeared exactly where Martin was expecting him to. Therefore, pretending to ignore his adversary, Martin slowly approached Godfry’s position.

  -Do you see any movement between ten and eleven o’clock at a distance of about two hundred meters? Martin whispered in a conspiring tone.

  -No, I can’t really say that I do oldboy, but then your vision is probably a lot better than mine, and my night vision was never very good in any case. But is it your mysterious Bedouin that you’re seeing? How does this fishy character look, is he carrying any obvious weapons, do you think he’s alone or might there be others waiting to ambush us?

  -I can’t really see him too distinctly from here myself; he just seems to be a tall shadowy figure wrapped-up in a dark woollen blanket. He doesn’t seem to be carrying a rifle on his back from what I can see, and though it’s always possible that there might be more he’s the only one I see or have seen so far.

  -Well carry on as you were then and let me know if the situation with the Bedouin chap changes. Godfrey crisply said.

  -Yes sir, I’ll keep you informed about everything I observe about him.

  Onward they marched while Martin often checked on the progress of the Bedouin. Sometimes the figure appeared at a much further distance, other times it was much closer to the men. From time to time it would disappear altogether from Martin’s vision only to reappear a few minutes later to the right of the men. Nonetheless for the most part the phantom Bedouin seemed benign. Yet at one point, the wind blew some sand into Martin’s face, and so he had paused to clear it from his eyes. Then when he had looked once again for the Bedouin he was shocked to see that Wilson was having an intimate chat with the phantom! 

  -Sir, Sir don’t you see now! Martin urgently whispered to Godfrey as he arrived at the latter’s position. -The Bedouin is talking alongside Wilson. Surely you can see him now.

  -Bedouin, don’t be daft, that’s just Johnson talking with Wilson. Your imagination and the darkness of the night, mixed with a lack of food and water, is affecting you old boy, that’s all. Look, there are only five of us out here, not six people. So take another drink of water and try to relax a bit. Still, it’s perfectly natural to be having these sorts of illusions. Even I, every now and again, keep hearing the voices of my wife and children, and start to think that they are here with me, until I suddenly realize the absurdity of it all.

  Martin had no reply for Godfrey, for then as he recounted the number of people around him there were only four, only he, Johnson and Godfrey were wrapped up in blankets like Bedouins, no one else. On further contemplation Godfry’s rationalization made perfect sense, why would the phantom Bedouin be talking with Wilson, unless they were in an alliance. But still, they certainly wouldn’t be talking casually like that in front of the unit, as they marched through the desert.  

  A short while later and Martin then thought that the Bedouin and Godfrey were calmly walking side by side having a peaceful chat. But then he did a quick head count and realized that it could only be Johnson who was with Godfrey. Still the thought had given him a bit of a chilling start. What if there was no one whom he could trust, perhaps all the men in his unit were in league with the Bedouin? After that, whenever he saw the Bedouin, or thought that he saw the phantom, the figure was always at a distance away, but he was now a definite addition to the number of men in his group.

  Eventually the moon set below the dunes on the horizon and so Godfrey gathered the men to camp down until sunrise, therefore sentries were posted and the men had some of their rations. The other men rested yet Martin didn’t bother with sleeping, even though he was not on sentry duty. Instead he was looking for signs of the Bedouin. He was now completely convinced that the shadowy figure was not a figment of his imagination, despite the lack of any physical evidence. He was also sure that the Bedouin was connected with the spy in the unit, and was either trying to pass on or retrieve information from the spy. Lastly Martin felt that the Bedouin was showing itself to him, but not the others, purposely so as to discredit him and any report on the spy he might deliver to HQ. 

  No doubt at some point soon the phantom Bedouin would have to make contact with whoever the spy was, and then the two would be caught out. In fact Martin thought that it was strange that it hadn’t happened yet. But then perhaps the opportunity hadn’t arrived due to him and the other men. However it would surely happen before they reached the oasis, as otherwise the chance would then be lost. That was if they find the oasis of course, but the Bedouin must know where the oasis is, Martin thought. After all the Bedouin had found them easily enough, or does the spy have some way that his confederates can track him? Still, surely they wouldn’t let the men, or at least not the spy, to wander about in the desert until they die…

  Meanwhile the breeze, which had blown light, yet steady throughout the night, had begun to increase and become gusty again as the sky lightened. Every now and again dust devils would appear at the crest of the sand dunes, these mini tornadoes of sand would then sometimes sweep down the slope of these dunes towards the men. However it wasn’t quite sandstorm conditions yet, but it was clear that soon that might change. In any case it was under such conditions that the men marched once more, after having their daily rations.

  They had to find the oasis within the next twenty four hours or they would no longer have any water, and in another twelve hours after that they would be out of food. Besides, if they didn’t find the oasis within that thirty six hour period then they would have already passed it, or they had never been on the correct course to begin with, in which case soon they would certainly all be dead. The thirst and hunger were bad enough but the sand was worse. It was under their clothing and in their hair itching at their scalps, despite covering their head and face and any other openings in their clothing. It was blinding and irritating their eyes and it was getting in their mouths, grinding against their teeth and tongue, and no amount of water seemed to wash it out. Even their ears and nose were becoming stuffed-up with jagged grains of sand

  Nonetheless, almost straight away Martin detected the phantom Bedouin not far from their position, he too was braving the terrible conditions, obviously so that he could reach the spy. Perhaps the Bedouin would save the spy and then they would let the others die. Stealthily the Bedouin was working his way among the dunes, creeping under cover of the dust devils, to get closer to the men. Especially Smith or Wilson apparently, but then a moment later Martin was positive that the Bedouin was heading directly for Johnson. Once again he attempted to point out the Bedouin to Godfrey. But just as he made mention of the nomad, suddenly sand was blown into their faces leaving them half blinded for several minutes. By the time their eyes were clear the Bedouin was clearly gone.

  Where the nomad might have gone at that point was inconsequential, since just then on the horizon they saw what they had most feared to see, for swiftly coming their way was a black towering wall of sand. Indeed, it was so quick that they had had hardly any warning and had even less time to react. Like a tsunami the sand storm rolled down towards them in a most frightening thundering force.

  -Come on men! Godfrey desperately urged. -We have to get into the lee of that sand dune and huddle together under the shelter of our blankets and the jackets. Otherwise we’re lost, if we’re out in the open then the sand will soon smother us, and if we separate we’ll never find one another again. As it is we’ll have to constantly dig out way out as we get buried!

  No sooner had the men gathered together at the base of the dune, and had tried to build a shelter with their bodies and bits of fabric when the full force of the storm hit them. It was rather like being sand blasted from every direction at once. Indeed, the air was so concentrated with sand that all they were breathing were particles of silicon mica and quartz. All of that dryness was sucking the moisture from their body and their lungs, while the weight of it all crushed them down and pinned their limbs in place so that they could barely move.

  -Well, I suppose if your Bedouin chap is out there alone somewhere, then he is in a lot worse shape than us! Godfrey tried to shout above the din as the men shifted their bodies about and rearranged the blankets and jackets over their heads, so that they wouldn’t be buried by the shifting sand or have it blown through the chinks of their shelter and into their faces.

  -Bedouin chap? The other men apart from Martin replied. -What Bedouin chap, did someone see a Bedouin out there? Is that why you’ve been scanning the horizon so much lately Martin? Then we’re saved if we can find him and he can guide us to the oasis!

  -That would depend on whether this Bedouin, whom Martin claims to have seen, is real and not just a mirage. Godfrey cautiously said. -Martin says that at times this Bedouin chap has been fairly out in the open, though mind you mostly at night, and he has tried to point the fellow out to me, but I’ve seen nothing of the chap and I gather that none of you lads have either.

  -But there is a problem, Godfrey slowly continued after wiping sand from his lips, -there is a spy among us here, and if this Bedouin is real, then he may be trying to contact the spy, and therefore he would be a danger to the rest of us.

  -What, a spy among us! Smith and Wilson wondered in amazement. -Impossible, we’re all loyal citizens to the crown of Britain, right lads? Smith continued. -Even Wilson here is, despite the fact he’s Welsh. I mean you are loyal, aren’t you Wilson? 

  -Of course I am! I may not be wearing it now, but you all know that I’m loyal to the military uniform you usually see me wearing! Wilson commented irritated that he might actually be doubted. -Who is this spy and how long has he been spying on us?

  -That we don’t know yet. Godfrey replied. -However I myself have had a suspicion that there has been some espionage going on for a few months now, but I had no evidence before to go on.

  -And Martin has shown me enough evidence to convince me of the possibility of a spy. Johnson then said. -These were the remains of unknown encrypted messages that someone in our unit had been sending or receiving while using the radio equipment during unauthorized times of the day or night.

  For a moment everyone again looked at Wilson, who then quickly coloured. -It’s not me, he angrily shouted while getting sand in his mouth. -If it had been me I wouldn’t have been daft enough to leave any evidence around, nor would I need a bloody note pad to work out any encrypted message!

  -No, of course we don’t think it’s you Wilson, do we lads? Smith tried to reassure in his shock. -Besides, when you say someone in our unit you’re including Gordon and Richards right, though I can’t believe they would be traitors either, or do you seriously mean just between the five of us here? 

  -It would seem rather likely that the spy is here among the five of us right now. Godfrey solemnly said. -After all, Martin had the evidence of the encrypted messages on him, but either they have been lost or removed from his person while he was unconscious with his concussion. And if this Bedouin does exist and is trying to reach one of us, then that one person can only be the spy. However, if we do manage to survive this desert trek, then I will be making sure that HQ investigates all of us equally, including Richards and Gordon. Unless of course the spy would be so kind as to admit to his crime to us now. In which case I would try and get you a more lenient punishment of imprisonment, instead of hanging at the gallows.

  For a full minute no one moved or made any sound, apart from coughing as some sand irritated their throat. -Very well then, Godfrey coldly remarked, -you have made your decision. When you are caught you will suffer the full punishment of British law and no doubt will be executed. Meanwhile we first have to rescue ourselves by reaching that oasis and from there to civilization and HQ. But to do all that we must all work together as a team, spy or no spy. It will be difficult enough as it is with the five of us working together, never mind one of us trying to counter the rest of our efforts. And if the spy tries to make it on his own he will simply die much quicker than the rest of us.

  Unfortunately, despite the fact of not meaning to be, everyone was now rather suspicious of the rest of his companions. Someone among them was a traitor, but still it was not known whom? Oddly enough, Martin had the sense that he was doubted by the rest of them most of all, not necessarily because they thought that he was the spy, but more because they all wanted to disbelieve his accusation that anyone of them could be a spy. It was as if the spy hadn’t existed until Martin had opened his mouth to say there was one, therefore it was Martin who had brought the traitor into being.

  Well, at least Johnson and Godfrey by this point certainly believed Martin about the spy, if not about the Bedouin. Therefore Martin felt that if he could prove the Bedouin’s existence to everyone then once more he would be a trusted member of the unit. Indeed, it was suddenly very important for him to prove his trustworthiness to the others. For as long as there was that bit of doubt in the minds of the others then the spy would get away scot free.

  Meanwhile the thundering winds had begun to die down and the sand seemed to be blown around them with less force, giving every indication that the storm was almost over, and so the men came out from under their shelter. The sky was still dark however as the wall of stand continued to block out most of the sunlight, and here and there wispy dust devils of sand obscured the field of vision, but the bulk of the storm had clearly passed on. Rubbing the sand from their eyes and their mouths the men soon rejoiced, and so despite their circumstances Smith suggested that each man celebrate with a swig from the bottle of whisky. After all a drop or two of the water of life couldn’t hurt them at that point, not if there was every chance that they would all die anyway.

  However, just as Smith had finished taking his swig, he suddenly stared in wonder through the distant swirling dust devils. -What’s that over there? He inquired, almost dropping the whisky bottle, while urgently pointing towards the base of the next dune over.

  -Don’t tell me you’ve been without drink for so long old man that one sip will get you drunk now. Godfrey laughingly joked. -Or are you suffering from the DT’s? 

  -No, look, is that someone over there? Johnson said in astonishment.

  Sure enough there was a brownish human shaped figure, apparently sitting at the base of the next sand dune, the edges of the figure flapping slightly in the breeze as if wrapped in fabric or a blanket.

  -It’s just a rock or something sticking out of the sand. Wilson laughingly said. -It has to be, it can’t be human, not out here on their own.

  -A rock in this part of the desert where there are only sand dunes to be found? Martin questioned. -Besides the edges of rocks don’t flutter like that. It has to be the Bedouin; if we’re quick we might catch him and have him guide us to the oasis. 

   With that Martin swiftly charged towards the base of the other dune, followed shortly by his companions. Yet as Martin approached he noticed that the Bedouin didn’t seem to be moving, but then he saw the Bedouin was turned slightly a side of the position they were arriving from. Therefore possibly the Bedouin wasn’t aware of their coming, or had been stunned or confused by the storm, perhaps he was even hurt? Then again maybe he was shaming ignorance so that as they came closer he could ambush them.

  It was indeed a Bedouin, wrapped-up in an old brown woollen blanket, but as Martin arrived and swiftly tugged away at the loose end of the tattered fabric it reveal a dehydrated mummified body, clearly it wasn’t Martin’s Bedouin. This one had been dead for months or years maybe even, judging how the dry flesh was tight around the skull and the eye sockets empty. It was partially buried in the sand, up to the thighs, and had in fact obviously been unburied by the action of the recent storm.

  -Well I certainly doubt this old chap is going to tell us any one of us his secrets, Godfrey grimly said, -but nor will he be of any trouble to us either. Any one of us could have ended-up the same way as this lad did, and we still might if we don’t work together towards our rescue. Let’s finish having our rations and then we can march a bit more. Luckily with the sand storm blocking out the worst of the sunlight it’s not too hot, so let’s keep going until we need a break.

  Onward they journeyed, almost crawling on their hands across the hot merciless desert sands, as the struggled, lost and confused, against the gusty winds and dust devils. They were finally down to their last few swallows of insipid water and their vision was blurring from the sand. Once again they had wrapped themselves in the blankets, or had the flight jackets covering their heads, to try and keep the sand out, and so this made it difficult to tell who was who, especially amid the dust devils. But that didn’t matter very much since no one really trusted anyone else anymore, but they knew that they all had to work together equally if they were to survive.

  Nonetheless everyone seemed to be keeping their head, except for possibly Martin, he was all the more on the lookout for the Bedouin. It had become his life’s obsession to prove the nomad’s existence to the others. Indeed, often as they stumbled along in the sand Martin had seen his nemesis, yet he never called out to the others to let them know. Only by catching the Bedouin would the others finally believe. In any case, the men were slowly drifting further apart, not just socially and emotionally, but in their physical proximity as well. Yet, each time that the men fanned out too far, some preservative instinct brought them back closer together. Martin meanwhile seemed to think that he was approaching closer and closer to the Bedouin. It was as if some natural magnetite force was drawing them together; as if it was their manifest destiny that they should meet, whether that assembly was for bane or boon.

  Eventually Martin found that he was slowly approaching one of the figures wrapped a brown woollen blanket, and so he automatically assumed that it was Godfrey or Smith. In that case he would have a little chat to further convince him of the Bedouin’s existence, just a calm rational rant which couldn’t be denied. Yet, as he put his hand on the cold bony shoulder of the other man, it became quite clear that it wasn’t Godfrey or Smith, but nor was it Johnson or Wilson. Therefore it could only be the Bedouin in the flesh!   

  Grabbing his nemesis tightly by the arm so that he couldn’t get away, Martin then clutched at the rough woollen fabric covering the man’s face, for he knew that once the Bedouin was exposed then so should the spy. Indeed, as he pulled the cloth away from the face, Martin loudly called out to the others, so that they might see at the same time, and then they would know the spy as well. Yet, as the blanket came away from the nomad’s face, Martin saw that it was only Johnson after all. But then amazingly Johnson’s face suddenly changed to Martin’s own dehydrated and dirt covered face grinning back at him! No, it all had to be a hallucination or mirage of some sort, he thought, as he became quite dizzy and started to fall to the sand in a swoon.

  The next thing that Martin knew was that Johnson was patiently standing over him, giving him a sip of whisky from the bottle after loosening Martin’s blanket, and asking if Martin was ok. Nevertheless all the while Johnson was giving his old friend a rather odd and somewhat sad look. Something like what a weak and pathetic being you are, you are the lowest of the low, and yet I’m still willing to help you all the same because obviously you are in need of it. However, and having half recovered, Martin then quickly got onto his feet and coolly pulled his revolver on Johnson.

  -I know who you are now, Martin hissed, -I know what you’ve done, you’re the spy! All of you are spies, every one of you in the unit. Even I am the spy, perhaps even more so than all the others? But of course one nation’s traitor can then be another nation’s hero and contrary, isn’t that so. I can call you a spy, or you can call me a spy, but are we not all spies in a time of war, we go on reconnaissance missions to find out enemy positions along with their strengths and weaknesses, and isn’t it the same thing. Loyalties and friendships, just like the desert sands, can shift this way and that, what can I say other than sorry if I disappointed you?

  -Martin, try to calm yourself down, you’re not thinking straight. Johnson gently tried to assert. -I don’t know if it’s the dehydration, or the heat, or maybe still the effects of you banging your head in the crash, but you have become delusional. You don’t really mean what you are saying, now put the gun away and let’s talk reasonably here. After all no one here wants to harm you. Not even the spy, I’m sure. And I know that that you wouldn’t want to hurt any of us.

  -But I know who the spy is now, Martin getting ready to squeeze the trigger on Johnson said, -I am the spy! But don’t think that I betrayed you, because I didn’t, not really, it was more your expectations, which I have no control over, which let you down. You shouldn’t have trusted me as you did; it’s as simple as that.

  Suddenly there was the loud report of a revolver firing and Martin shuddered, before swiftly dropping to the sand, his chest bleeding with a fatal wound. Smith was standing there, five meters away, with his revolver in his shaking hand still pointing to where Martin had been standing, his face in a grimace of regret and self-loathing. The other men meanwhile were simply standing around in a dumbfounded wonder and shock.

  -You all saw that I had to do that, Smith nervously said; -you saw that he was going to shoot Johnson, if one of us didn’t shoot him first. Besides, he admitted to being the spy, therefore he deserved what he got.

  -Yes, yes, quite right old man. Godfrey slowly remarked as he recovered. -I suppose it did have to be one or the other. But still it’s a deuced shame, even if he was indeed the spy it would have been better for him to have been put on trial. But what’s been done has been done. One of you men grab his canteen, if there is anything left in it, and someone else check for his food rations, or anything else of use, as we might need them for our own survival. It seems a terrible thing, but we’ll have to leave the poor chap like that, for we haven’t the time or the strength to bury him. Eventually he’ll be mummified and buried like his Bedouin friend was no doubt in any case. So come on lads, let’s find that oasis…

  -I don’t know, there’s still something I find rather odd about the whole thing. Johnson commented to Godfrey after they had been walking on for a while. -I have no doubt that Martin had gone quite daft in the head at the end there, and that there was a good possibility that he would have shot me, unless I could have brought him back to his senses. But he was completely erratic. At first, while he was still unconscious he was mumbling about what a terrible person he was and all these vile things he had done, and that he was a spy who betrayed all his friends, or it sounded like he said those things. But then when he came to, Martin was saying that I was the spy, then that everyone in the unit was a spy, and then finally he was back to saying that he was the spy. Surely he didn’t mean it literally, it must have only been part of his delusion, and I certainly could never imagine him being a spy.  

  -Nor could I old chap, I never really thought the lad had it in him, to be honest. Godfrey sighed. -Still you never know with their kind. Nonetheless I understand that he was having a bit of a difficult time for a while. Didn’t his wife leave him with their daughter to be with another man, and wasn’t it his father who had committed suicide after being caught embezzling all that money? Could something like that have made him turn traitor?

  -Yes, I suppose, but all of that was a few years ago and he had seemed to have fully recovered before joining the unit. But I guess our current circumstance brought all of that stress back on him, it’s funny the way that a survival situation can make a person snap.

  -Yes indeed, Godfrey nodded, -but as to him admitting to being the spy I think you’ll find that’s quite natural in these cases. It’s sort of like these Kleptomaniac chaps, if you catch my meaning; they have this terrible compulsion which makes them want to steal. They know that it’s wrong and they don’t want to do it, but the sickness in their brain gives them no other choice, therefore they purposely make mistakes so that they will be caught. They know that that is the only way they will get help to stop the addition and possibly get a cure.

  -Martin in many ways was no different. Godfrey continued. -He obviously had a similar compulsion, since after all spying is the stealing of information; it was something which he couldn’t control. Of course his injury in the crash may have confused him, he knew there was a spy and logically he knew the spy had to be stopped, but he didn’t want the spy to be him, not any more. Yet at the same time he didn’t really want any of us to be punished for something he did. Therefore all this time he had been in a mental struggle, which eventually caused him to snap, but still even until the last he was full of denial. Blaming first you as being the spy, then everyone else, before finally admitting the truth.

  -But what about this Bedouin of his, Johnson wondered, -do you think he really exists and is following us even now?

  -No, the Bedouin was obviously a part of Martin’s delusion, caused by his mental conflict; it was nothing more than a moral projection of his own inner personality. That’s my theory in any case, and what we shall tell them at HQ, if we ever arrive there safely.

  -Perhaps, Johnson sighed, -but I still feel as if something isn’t quite right. After all I’ve known him for most of his life and I still can’t begin to imagine…

  -No, we never can, can we. Godfrey sadly shook his head.

  -So, that time before his concussion, when he had me completely convinced that he was hunting out the spy and was going to report to you about it, that was all just red herrings to make it seem as if someone else was the spy?

  -Of course it was all lies. Just like any professional performer on stage, Martin had slipped perfectly into a role, one which I’m sure no one could have told from the real Martin. After all it is easy to make people believe what they want to believe. The problem is that his concussion made him temporarily forget the real Martin, and therefore he became completely lost in the role he had been playing, and that was his eventual undoing.

Pokhara, 30/08/2014

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