“Oh, what?  Yeah, now that you mention it, I am.  Thanks.”  Tasca unhooked the bladders tube and put it in his mouth.  Finished, he looked at the sun.  “We need to push on before the condors find the zanchet.”


“I hear you, sir.  The more distance we can put between us the better.  Based on the scanner’s readout, the terrain ahead is irregular but shouldn’t pose much of a problem, Colonel.”


“Until we reach the gorge, Sergeant.”  Tasca checking his scanner was securely attached to the back of his rucksack turned and placed his hand on Maseru’s shoulder.  “All right, Sergeant, five meter interval, five hundred on five hundred off.  Go.”


Ahead lay a tortuous mix of sand and rock.  They knew the early-morning temperatures wouldn’t be a factor, gradually fading as the sun climbed overhead and released its fury at everything below.


They pushed on in silence, minutes giving way to hours, the oppressive heat forcing them to slow to a standard pace.  The heat-distorted air played with their eyes, showing the distant sand rippling like waves of brown water. Tasca realized they could not maintain their pace for much longer.  The rising temperatures combined with the weight they were carrying would slowly drain their energy.


With a sense of urgency they pushed forward until Tasca, his legs beginning to cramp ordered Maseru to stop.  “Sergeant,” he said between quick breathes, “take five and give me a readout.”


Standing, fingers interlocked behind his head, Maseru drew in a deep breath.  “Got it…sir.  Give me…a sec.”


Bent over, his hands on his knees, Tasca sucked in air until he caught his breath.  “Well?”


It’s clear, sir.  Not one damned thing behind or ahead, not even sand squid.”


“Let’s see if I can match that.”  Standing, Tasca reached over his shoulder and removed his scanner, pointing it towards the ground they had covered.  “Interesting.  There’s something above the zanchet, probably the condors.”


“No doubt, sir.” Maseru glanced at his timepiece.  “It’s zero nine thirty, Colonel.”


With a reflexive nod, Tasca stared at the mid-morning sun.  Not even zero ten hundred and the heat is oppressive.  It’s going to make for a long day.  Tasca’s gut told him, with only five hours of sleep between them, trying to maintain a decent pace in this heat could affect their mental clarity and stamina, two things they could ill afford as they pushed on toward the Latal Gorge.  Lifting his hat he ran his fingers through his hair.


“Is everything okay, Sir?”


“Just thinking, Sergeant.  We’ll maintain at standard pace for as long as possible then switch to controlled walk, stopping only when we need water.  By my calculations with rationing we should have enough water until daybreak tomorrow.  You ready?”


“As ever, sir.”


“Good.”  Tasca looked at his timepiece.  Slight change of plans, Sergeant.  We’ll push for three hours, break for twenty minutes then push until twenty-one hundred.  If we don’t detect anything, we’ll layover until zero one hundred.  The closer we can get to the mouth of the gorge before daybreak the less time the Scavs will have to lock our position.  If all goes according to plan we could reach the DBS by twelve hundred.”


“That’s a big if, sir.   No need to remind the Colonel that we’ve had our share of bad luck.”


Tasca looked down at his boots then at Maseru.  “It’s all a matter of perception, Sergeant.”


A look of amusement covered the Sergeant’s face.  “How so, Colonel?”


“If our luck had been bad, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we?  The way I see it, if we can walk away from an encounter, then our luck is pretty damn good, wouldn’t you say, Sergeant?”


“Can’t fault you logic, sir.  I’m wondering if the Scavs know just how lucky we are.”


“We’ll just have to show them how much won’t we?”  Lurking just beneath Tasca’s daring was the concern the Scavengers behavior may have changed, that they would not wait, but attack upon contact.


“That’s so reassuring, sir.”


“I’m glad I could ease your mind, Sergeant.  If you see anything on your scanner I want you to stop so we can assess our situation.”


“Even if their sand squid, sir?”


“Yes especially this.  If something is forcing them to surface and I want to know what it is. The gorge is in the middle of nowhere, so I don’t think we have to worry about waraiiths or zanchets.  We shouldn’t see any predators until we reach the dunes.” Tasca looked at his time piece.  “We’ll move out, five meter interval, steady pace until we break for water.  All right, Sergeant, make it so.”  Both realized they must keep their wits about them.  If they couldn’t the torturing heat and terrain would slowly crush their spirits, forcing mistakes that could impact the mission and more precisely their very lives.

© 2017, Raymond Tobaygo. All rights reserved.
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Author Notes




Raymond Tobaygo


Good afternoon, Craig

Thank for the read and comments as they’re always appreciated.

Take care and stay safe,


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