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Maseru gave a quick salute.  With his rucksack leaning against the rock ledge, he went through the checklist.  As he checked his gunny cap and helmets connections with his neural rig, he could not help but look out over the seemingly endless vastness before him until glare of the sun off the sand forced him to wince.  Idiot, pull down your visor before you go blind.  Satisfied, he carefully opened the stim container in his rucksack and counted the number of stims.  Damn, only three red!  I hope there’s more at the next DBS.  Disappointed, he swung the rucksack about until his left arm caught the strap.  Finished, he spoke to Tasca, his voice still showing fatigue.  “Geared to go, Colonel.  Stim’s kicking in, sir.  Are there further orders?”


“No, just the usual, Sergeant . . . keep your ass wired tight and follow the designated coordinates and don’t forget to stay hydrated.  Now let’s get as far away from these feathered beacons as we can.  I want an alternate walk-run at four hundred meter intervals.  Five meter spread, laser rifle armed.  Now move out, Sergeant.”



They had put seven kilometers between themselves and the feeding condors, stopping every eight-hundred meters to check terrain that surrounded them.  Both men continued this pattern until Tasca felt they had covered enough ground to be free of any pursuit that had been attracted by the feeding condors.


The exhaustion from moving forward from their last position caught up with them and the conversation between both men dripped with exhaustion. “Sergeant… take five.  I want a visual assessment…of the terrain ahead of us.  We need to find shelter before we push on towards the gorge.”


“Will do, sir.  Christ, I thought we’d never stop.”  His teledars set to maximum, Maseru studied the ground that seemed to stretch forever.  “I can make out several boulders, one large outcropping about two k’s beyond what appears to be a partial gully with a sharp, ten-meter rise that breaks right, Colonel.”


“Anything else, Sergeant?” Tasca said pulling even with his sergeant.


“I make the distance between us the gully about three k’s, Colonel.  The boulders are scattered from left to right, which might give us partial cover until we reach it.  Once we leave the gully, we’ll be exposed until we reach the outcropping, sir.”


“Good, Sergeant.  My scanner hasn’t detected anything behind us except for the condors.  We should be all right.  If we use the boulders to our advantage, it should give us some cover. Do you agree, Sergeant?”


Maseru looked up at the clear blue sky then towards the gully.  “I don’t see a problem, sir.  Once we reach the outcropping we should have a good vantage point plus we’ll have some protection.”


“I want a full run at the closest boulder.  We’ll continue this pace until we’ve reached the last one.  Once we’re there you’ll scan the area ahead, why I do the same from behind.  If everything looks good, we’ll double time it to the outcropping.  You up for it, Rambika?”


“Good to go, Colonel.  Just say the word.”


“Make it so, Sergeant.”


They made the outcropping without incident.


Winded, hot and near complete exhaustion they methodically checked the outcropping, and finding it secure, unhooked the tube attached to their chest bladders and took a long drink.  Finished, tubes re-clamped, they removed their rucksacks being careful not to disturb the scanners.  Standing behind the far side of the outcropping, they used their teledars to search the area behind them.  Satisfied nothing was following, they focused their search in the direction of the gorge.


About eight kilometers from their position, they could make out one large and several smaller outcroppings scattered about the kilometers-wide path that led towards the gorge.  “Damn, that’s a nice little walk, sir.  I just hope nothing calls it home.”


“Yeah, I hope you’re right, Sergeant.  We’ll take a short rest,” he said as he studied the sun.  I think we can make the large outcropping by eighteen hundred hours.  Do you agree?”


“If we can maintain a good pace, I believe it’s possible, Colonel,” Maseru nodded.  “Ribs feel good and with the stim still working, it shouldn’t be a problem, sir.”


“Excellent.  Do what you have to while I make a final scan.”


With a tired half salute Rambika opened his rucksack and removed a half liter of water, which he transferred to his vest’s water bladder.  Finished, he took out four carb wafers and slowly ate them.  “Sir, this area, was it always a dessert?”

Author Notes


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