PAGES 5                    WORDS 930


Tired, hot and near exhaustion, both men reached the outcropping without further incident and having secured it, allowed themselves a brief respite before preparing for a much needed lay-over.  Shielding his eyes Tasca looked toward the west and squinted at the sun sitting on the horizon like a huge menacing red orb.  He knew only minutes remained until the waning light would give way to a full moon that would bathe the desert with an eerie glow.   Satisfied for the moment that nothing followed, Tasca sat down and slipped off his rucksack.  “All right,” he said, detaching his scanner, “let’s activate the holo map and see where the hell we are.”  As he studied it, a slight smile spread from the corners of his lips.  I’ll be damned.  Those are the cliffs, all right.  All we have to do is navigate through the widening gully to our left, make our way up the gorge and locate the meglar pulse.  Yeah, sounds real simple, Castille, real simple.  Finished reading the map he looked up at his sergeant and motioned him to look at it.


As they looked at the map, Tasca was the first to speak.  “Your thoughts, Sergeant?”


“So that’s where the next DBS is located, but no matter which way you cut it, sir, it’s still another long hike through hell.”


“There’s no way around it, Sergeant.  Unfortunately, it’s one of many we’ll make before we reach our missions endpoint.  My gut tells me once we reach the DBS; it won’t take long for the Scavengers find us.  It’s imperative we unload the container and get the hell out of there ASAP.”  He looked up at the darkening sky, then at his sergeant.  “All right, enough gloom and doom.  Best ready ourselves.  You know the drill, Sergeant.”


“Like the back of my hand, sir.”


“Good.  Do it.”


Nodding his agreement, Maseru went back to the task of setting his scanner to its maximum range to detect any movement towards the outcropping.


Finished with the map, Tasca took his scanner and slowly climbed to the top of the outcropping opposite of his sergeant’s position.  Okay, where to put the damned thing, Castille.  Taking a few steps to his right he came across a small ledge.  Satisfied with it, he secured the scanner, setting it to a 180 degree retiring arc.  Pleased both scanners provided a 360 degree arc he raised the teledars to his eyes and searched the area they had covered.  Content there were no immediate threats, he climbed down and waited for Maseru.


“See anything of interest, Colonel?” Maseru said, as he made his way down towards Tasca.


“Not a damned thing, Sergeant.  There are no signs of human trackers, Verifiers, HK’s or stalkers.  Something should be on our trail, but nothing is,” he said his voice laced with fatigue.


“And you’re complaining about this, Colonel,” Maseru said shaking his head.  “Hell, I think it’s about damn time we caught a break, sir.  I really hate looking over my shoulder.”


“A break out here, in all of this?  I wouldn’t hold my breath, Sergeant.  It just doesn’t feel right.  Something or someone should be in pursuit…and they’re not.  I’d like to know why?”


“Well it might not be that odd, Colonel.  The day before our escape, I overheard three prisoners that work with the stalkers talking about rumors the stalkers might be shipped to an area far north of the complex.  But as to why and when they didn’t seem to know.  If this is true, it would explain why we haven’t seen any stalkers. I’d bet my back pay we destroyed the complex’s HK contingent.  But as to why there’s no sign of any Verifiers, I can only guess that they were sent north with the stalkers, sir.”


Tasca pressed his lips together tightly.  “Maybe, Sergeant, but I still don’t like it, not one damned bit.  I can’t believe the Kingdom’s newest hydroponics complex would be without the resources to track us.”  He shook his head.  “Just doesn’t add up, unless they have automated trackers we didn’t see while we were prisoners.”


The prisoners never mentioned anything about that, sir.  “However it’s a massive complex, and I estimate, despite our weeks inside, we probably didn’t explore more than sixty percent of the complex, Colonel.”


Tasca took a long sip of warm water from his chest reserve.  “Hell, even the older prisoners transferred from other complexes never mentioned any type of automated tracking system,” he said, pausing to take another sip of water.


“Maybe the Kingdom thinks we won’t survive all of this, Colonel.” He spat to his left and looked out over the sand and rock surrounding the outcropping.


Could be, Sergeant, but after we survived the stalkers, I doubt that’s the reason.”


“I don’t know, Colonel.  Our endpoint places us between two wastelands.  They might figure we’ll be killed by predators or Scavs that call this damned place home.”


“Possibly, Sergeant, but I don’t think the Kingdom will wait for this to happen.  Once they get their shit together, they’re going to come after us hard.”


“As always, your insights are so depressing, Colonel.”


The sergeant’s words brought a slight grin to Tasca’s face.  “Yeah, maybe you’re right Sergeant, but we may have a few things in our favor.”


“And they are, sir?”


“They may underestimate our abilities.  The supplies and ordinance from the drop sites could give us an edge they don’t expect.”


“That may be it, sir.  “I don’t mean to bust your bubble, Colonel . . . but what about the goddamned Scavs?”


Author Notes


Tim Hillebrant


Hi Ray,

Great continuation here, and it’s nice to touch bases with Tasca and Maseru again. It feels like there’s some nice tension building going on, and we’re getting down into the meat of things. The story is a good one. Solid premise, believable characters, and completely readable. The imagination that went into this still stuns me, even now.

Caught a nit- 1st paragraph, 2nd line- Shielding his eyes(,) Tasca looked toward the west and squinted at the sun sitting on the horizon like a huge menacing red orb. (add comma)
Same issue on the last line of the same paragraph- Finished reading the map(,) he looked up at his sergeant and motioned him to look at it.

Well done, sir!!


Raymond Tobaygo


Good afternoon, Tim

Thanks for catching the nits and for your input as they are always appreciated. Again, yiur input helped make my day.

Take care and stay safe,


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