The clanking and rattle of the chains being removed woke him with a start and for a moment he couldn’t remember where he was. Then as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and he could just make out the machinery around him he remembered. A shiver went down his spine at the thought he might be about to be discovered, he could feel his heart beating in his chest like it was trying to escape the same as he was. He felt around the hatch looking for a latch, but there was none which meant there was no chance of him opening it and leaping out, catching whoever was there by surprise and making a run for it. He was now at their mercy as his mind ran through all the possibilities, but all he could come up with was hiding again and hoping they didn’t find him.
He could hear loud noises and a rumble from somewhere outside and felt the machine rock on the wagon almost knocking him off his feet. Then it happened again. He decided to hide and clambered back onto the girder he had used before but this time as he went to lie down, the whole machine jerked and then the gears began to turn all around him and he could feel the machine begin to move. There was no question of hiding now all he could think about was hanging on because if he didn’t he would be chewed into fine meat by the gears. The machine was definitely moving now shaking and juddering as it went. His arms and legs were wrapped around the girder trying desperately to keep hold. The noises were getting louder now and seemed to be everywhere but his focus was on a smaller noise, the click, click, click of a chain running over a sprocket just a hands width from his ear, the smallest misplaced move and he knew he would lose an ear at the very least.
Why had he climbed into this thing, what was he thinking? He heard a rattle against the machines plating, then another and then there was a loud bang and suddenly there was more light as several holes were punched through the iron. The machine lurched almost throwing him into the gears but somehow he hung on. For a moment the machine stopped moving and he forced himself to let go of the girder and climb back down to the relative safety of the floor. Then he was thrown sideways as the machine made a turn and there were more loud noises. He wedged himself into the frame around the hatch which seemed like the only thing he could do. Another loud noise and this time a bigger hole appeared in the plating and one of the gears began to scream as if in pain and the machine shuddered violently which made him think for a moment that it was going to fall over, but it didn’t it just came to a sudden stop that catapulted him from the frame sending him flying into a shaft which he hit first with his shoulder and then with his head.
“Do you think he can hear us?” said a voice he didn’t recognise.
"Hard to say,” another replied.
“He’s very lucky, if they hadn’t opened the hatch before shredding the machine he wouldn’t be alive today.”
“There was no identification on him?”
“No, none, but that happens in war, things get lost, how he ended up in that part of the machine is anyone’s guess.”
“Would have been understandable if he was in the gunners pod or the driver seat, but….well, as you said things happen in war. Mind you the state the rest of the machine was in he wouldn’t have made it if he had been in either of those places.”
“He’s in remarkably good shape considering what he has been through, just a bump on the head and some cuts and bruises, a little shrapnel here and there.”
“Can’t tell with head injuries though, sometimes they completely lose their memory, can’t even remember their name.”
“Well you know the rules any soldiers injured are given a medal and pension and sent to live in one of the villages in the mountains as a reward for their sacrifice.”
“Did you see that? I think he is trying to open his eyes. Hello, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” he said in a raspy voice that almost sounded foreign to him.
“I’ll get you some water; it’ll be easier for you to talk then.”
He sipped on the water while taking in the room around him. It was painted all white and everything was so clean.
“Your luck to be alive,” said the man who had got him the water,” Do you remember your name, where you are from, anything?”
“No, “he said hesitantly, “I can’t remember anything.”
“Well, don’t worry sometime it takes a while to come back.”
“And sometimes never,” mumbled the other man just loud enough to be heard.
“Where am I?” he asked.
“Convalescence Hospital, don’t worry we are far from the front lines, perfectly safe here. Next stop for you is a pension and new home in one of the mountain villages, wish it was me, but we all have our jobs to do and you have done yours,” the man said smiling encouragingly at him.
A pension and a life in a mountain village as reward for being a soldier was more than he could ever have dreamed. He would take whatever name they gave him and he wouldn’t be going back to tell the others what was on the other side of the wall. He was beyond all that now, beyond the filth and grime and noise and back breaking work, but more than everything, he was beyond the wall and whatever it took he was going to be happy.