This section is too long and people are telling me that isn’t the way most people think so I need to rewarite:
The two German officers rushed off to the edge of the ridge to check out the column. Captain/Hauptmann Kichner spread the word for quiet. Mortars were already being set up by the Oberleutnant’s men. The British column would be a sitting duck if it got well within range before they started firing and that was surely the tactic for which they were preparing.
Such thoughts came naturally to Katherine who had an uncle who was an army general. At a time when she had expressed interest in military matters, he had talked to her about different things and shown her several weapons including mortars—like the ones now being set up. Many years ago, when she wasn’t overheated in a desert life-and-death situation, but she had always had a good memory.
The mortars were being assembled close to where she still sat on the canvas dispatch bag. Three were set up and primed as the operators went back and forth from a truck for shells.
Too bad, she thought, one of the British military prisoners wasn’t where she was now. They could probably have gotten to a mortar to fire off a warning shot. But none were close enough.
Only she was in the right position. But she was really exhausted and untrained. Having seen a mortar and lifted a shell hardly qualified as training! How could she run to even the closest mortar? No way could she lift a shell and gently, evenly, calmly drop it down the barrel.
At the moment she could hardly lift her empty hand to shade her eyes for more than a minute. No one would expect her to do anything. Not her British superiors—but then also not her German enemies. No one.
If she hadn’t used up all her strength and energy already, though, it might appear to have been set up by the powerful but unseen Spirits just for her. At another time and place, she might be able to do something. But she could barely stand. Her arms ached from the repetitive motion of tossing paper into the fire: the paper had been light, there had just been a lot of it. And she felt faint from the scaldingly hot heat which sapped her more and more with each breath she took and each additional moment she spent under this unrelenting sun.
Yes, breath. She decided to focus on breathing slowly, deeply from her belly through her nose. The way she would prepare to walk a tight rope.
Maybe if everything was set exactly. No, it would be crazy. She’d not only be risking her life but maybe also the safety of her nurses. She kept breathing. Maybe if she had a little more time to recover. But time was in short supply, as it always was.
The choice would have been an impossible one, even had she been strong enough to have a chance of succeeding.
And she wasn’t getting stronger sitting here. Even through the bag, heat penetrated up to her from the sand below.
Katherine knew she was in the right position to fire a warning shot, though. Crazy thought. She couldn’t do it. Besides if she tried, they would probably shoot her. She wondered if the British would hear the shot—no, no chance over the motors of their transports. Why was she still thinking about this? She’d already used up all the energy she had. She had no reserves to draw on!
Absolutely crazy. Both the idea and her. Her brain had obviously been affected by the sun. She had once read that people had gone crazy under the Sahara sun. She could hardly suspect that she was immune. A good brain gone bad, such a shame! She should be locked up. Oh, yeah, the Germans were planning to do just that!
Anyway, what she imagined was surely impossible. Well, almost impossible. Almost, but maybe not completely, impossible. That made it sticky. Even if it was crazy, if it was possible, maybe she should try it. Crazy ideas sometimes succeeded just because they were so unexpected.
And it seemed almost as if this had been set up for her by Those who control arrange such things to test mortals—sometimes to tempt them into horrors but sometimes to offer them something unique and rewarding, a way out of a terrible situation if they do it right. Which was this?
She had at times in the past let such opportunities pass her by and horrible things had happened. But at other times she had taken on such openings and made things worse. She must not fall victim to the hubris of thinking the spirits were on her side. They were rarely on anyone’s side for long, angles and demons were the same thing in the long run. They had their own agendas that mortals could hardly personalize with any understanding of the larger picture.
But Katherine knew she had the background and experience to actually do this—not just her knowledge of mortars, such a simple weapon to use, just carefully drop the shell down a primed tube. But her juggling abilities would allow her to deal well with controlling the shell from the pile to the tube and to drop it straight. She’d know where to put her feet due to the training with high wire acts. And even the fact that she was dead tired and everyone knew she was totally exhausted would work in her favor since people wouldn’t think she could do it even after she started running.
She couldn’t see the British column, but she assumed a column might consist of 15 to 30 men. At an outside chance, she might be able to save them. Could she give up on such a chance?
She wasn’t seeing any better way—it would be tricky if it was even possible, a snowball might have a better chance of surviving out here for a whole minute. No one would blame her for not taking such an imagined
opportunity. No one else would even assume a possibility had ever existed, not for her anyway. But she was beginning to think she might have a chance. A minimal chance but a chance. And she wanted to avoid a life filled with regrets, recriminations and sleepless nights going over things in her mind over and over again after it was too late to do anything about it as she still did for other lost opportunities in her life.
No one would ever know of the idea, or she could even tell them she had thought of it and they would say she was right not to have attempted it. But if 15 men died because she had never tried, she would have to live with that. Risking death might well be easier. But it was one of those all too common situations where she really didn’t know what to do and still had to make a choice.
Katherine went over it in her mind, back and forth considering the chances, looking for variations, picturing everything step-by-step. And in the middle of that she kept getting the thought that she was not only risking her own life but the lives of her nurses. No, Rommel’s troops wouldn’t do that. Probably. Maybe. But these same German troops under different commanders on the Eastern Front had easily killed women and children as well as other innocents.
Her mind reeled with the choices she had before her.
She did have another advantage: Even German soldiers, especially those under Rommel, might hesitate to shoot a nurse, they might need one some day. And they might not assume she had any chance, which would mean they didn’t feel threatened by anything she could do. With all the disadvantages she did have advantages as well.
She trusted herself to the precarious hands of The Spirits. She would see what the situation was when she was taken back to her nurses as she was sure she would be. Just in case she walled off her sense of fear which was great and if left unchecked might make her hesitate where she couldn’t afford to.