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The Sergeant’s words made Tasca grin.  “Yeah, maybe you’re right Rambika, but we may have a few things in our favor.”


A puzzled look covered Maseru’s face.  “And they are, sir?”


“They may underestimate our abilities to survive in all of this.  Couple this with the supplies and ordinance from the drop sites and it could give us an edge they won’t expect.”


“I don’t know, Colonel.  We did kill six stalkers.  I doubt if they’re going to look at this and think we were just lucky.”


“You may be right, Sergeant, but the lack of pursuit could indicate they feel we’re not much of a threat.  Besides what good does it do to speculate?  Right now we have more important things to consider.”

“True, sir, and I don’t mean to bust your bubble, Colonel . . . but what about the Goddamned Scavs?”


Tasca let out a long, heavy sigh.  He held no illusions regarding the unrelenting savagery that would unfold once the Scavengers found them.  “That could be a problem, Sergeant.  Before we became attached at the hip, I was a young Second Lieutenant sent into this area to extract two recon teams.  Their objective was to recruit certain Scavenger Clans to work for the Alliance.  A Skipjack brought us in after nightfall to hook up with recon team Orion One.  The five of us were taken to the Northern Worlar Clan’s camp, where the team’s negotiations had been successful.  We then continued south into T’Ming territory where the bastards wouldn’t ally themselves with Orion Two because of the steady flow of large quantities of snow and ordinance they received from the Kingdom.”  Tasca paused, turned and looked at the last rays of the sun as they disappeared below the horizon.  “By the time we arrived they had killed and eaten six team members, but not before torturing them first.  We fought a fighting retreat into Worlar territory, losing three more good men, two that I entered Alliance service with.  That was the last contact we’ve had with the T’Ming.”


“For a brief moment, Maseru thought he saw a twinge of guilt-laced melancholy in the Colonel’s eyes.  “Sorry for your loss, sir.  I guess its fortunate our mission keeps us far north of the T’ming, yet why do I feel there’s a but, Colonel?”


“Ahh, perceptive to a fault, Sergeant,” Tasca said his voice heavy with fatigue. ‘The Worlar remained loyal until the Atacama Complex began its operations.  The Pegasus team that was sent in a year before us to observe the situation reported passive hostility towards them due to the snow the Worlar received from the Kingdom.  When it came time for extraction we found four bodies at the predetermined site.  All had been savaged, with what remained of the team under attack.  Fortunately we made it out safely.”


Maseru looked at Tasca and shook his head.  “And let me guess, there’s been no contact since then and yet the next DBS is located inside the Latal Gorge which is Worlar territory?”


“Ahh, as I just said, perceptive,” Tasca smiled.  “No sense in worrying about it now.  We’ll have time to do so later.  Best we find defensible positions before we rest.  I want you on the east side of this rock.  Once secure, double check your scanner then continue searching with your teledars.  Set the left lens on thermal and the right on star light.  Continue your sweep until you’re satisfied nothing’s out there . . . and don’t forget to look up now and then, Sergeant.  While you complete the search, I’ll climb to the other side and do the same, understood?”


“Perfectly, sir.  But if something is tracking us this far in, what could do so without giving away its position?”


“Best guess, Sergeant, human trackers.  We saw two groups coming and going while inside the complex.”


“True, but neither of us saw a single slider and neither did the prisoners we questioned.  My guess is the trackers’ function as security for the complex, Colonel.  Ground pursuit appears to belong solely to the stalkers.”


“I tend to agree, Sergeant.  Thank Christ we arrived at the first DBS when we did.”


“No doubt, sir.  Just another time when I saved your sorry ass.”


Both men laughed with a soft nervousness, a nervousness that belayed the presence of an unforgiving, persistent danger they would continue to face throughout their mission.


“I’ll take the first watch, Colonel once you’re finished searching the opposite side of the outcropping.


“Good.  Give me five minutes and it’s all yours, Sergeant.  Wake me at the first hint of anything irregular.”  He stared into the Sergeant’s eyes, then at his timepiece.  “It’s nineteen hundred.  Rouse me a twenty-three hundred sharp then you can rest.  Any questions, Sergeant?”


“Yes, sir, one.  What is your definition of irregular?”


Anything that approaches or circles above the outcropping.  Don’t forget . . . out here size doesn’t equate lethality.”


Maseru motioned Tasca to go.  “Contact me when your teledar sweeps are completed, sir, and I’ll come to you.”


“No, Sergeant.  Stay here and scan towards the south but don’t stand on top of this rock.  You’ll make too tempting a target.  I want you flat.  You’ll be moving from one side of the outcropping to the other, so maintain a low profile, he said, voice coarse, forceful.  “We have no idea of what moves about here at night.”

Author Notes


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