SNOW KINGDOM CHAPTER ELEVEN PART ONE PROGRESS
Aside from seeing the odd sand squid in pursuit of its unseen prey Tasca and Maseru had covered the seven kilometers toward the gorge without incident; embracing the cool night air as a welcomed guest despite the growing feeling they may not be alone. Complicating their situation was time, once an ally but now an unrelenting foe they were powerless to stop. With their food nearly gone and just enough water for one more stop, they had to secure the DBS and with it the supplies needed to reach their endpoint.
As the first rays of the sun pushed back against the night, they stopped and gazed at the sky above the horizon, the bright sunshine and the cool morning desert air momentarily washing away the tight grip of fatigue. “How long before the condors catch the thermals, Colonel?”
“It’s zero five thirty so no later than zero nine hundred. Figure in the distance between where they roost and what remains of the zanchet, they could be over it as early zero eight thirty. If we push hard we should be able put another ten k’s between us and our current position.”
“Sounds good, Colonel.” Maseru shrugged off his rucksack and detached his scanner and pointed it in the direction they had covered. Satisfied there was nothing more than sand and a clear sky, he pointed towards the gorge. “The scanner shows nothing behind or in front of us and I hope it stays that way.” Maseru’s words belied the knowledge that this would soon change.
Tasca looked at his Sergeant. “That’s what I wanted to hear. It’s going to get hot soon so best we take a drink now.”
“Tell me something I don’t already know, sir,” Maseru said detaching the water bladder tube.
“Once we’ve covered ten k’s, we’ll break and assess our situation. If the map continues to read true, we’ll be about thirty k’s out from the gorge when we stop. If we push until twenty-one hundred then rest until twenty-four hundred, then with a bit of luck we could make the mouth by zero five hundred.”
“When do you think we’ll encounter the Scavs, sir?” There was no understanding in the Sergeant’s voice, just a dark, vicious hatred towards all Scavengers. In his youth Maseru’s family had been attacked by Scavengers and those not killed outright were sold into slavery. Had it not been for an Alliance mission deep into Sudan’s Sudd region, he would have been worked to death before he had reached puberty.
“I don’t know how close we’ll be to the gorge before we’re discovered. It’s been over twenty years, Sergeant, but based on my experiences probably two to three k’s out. If they haven’t changed their tactics, they’ll shadow us until they think they have the advantage then attack. They preferred ambush rather than a full on encounter, but again, it was a long time ago.”
Maseru, his thirst satisfied, wiped his mouth. “Sounds charming, Colonel. We survived HKs and stalkers and we’ll survive them.”
Tasca nodded. “Yes we did, but don’t let their appearance fool you. They’re tough, wiry bastards who just don’t quit. We’ve got to kill them even the wounded if we want to come out of this in one piece.” Before Maseru had become part of his command, he had fought both T’Ming and Worlar Scavengers. Of the two it was the Worlars’ fanaticism that gave him the most concern. It was these memories he tried to suppress, to keep buried deep within his psyche.
“So they’re similar to the Jacaruin Scavs we encountered a few years back?”
“To a point, Sergeant. The Jacaruin would break off the attack once they realized they were losing. The Worlar will press the fight until most of them are killed.”
“Simple solution, sir. We’ll have to kill as many of them as possible,” Maseru said through a tight-lipped smile.
“I wish it were as easy as that, Sergeant, I really do.”
“Yeah it would be nice, sir.”
“You won’t get an argument from me, Sergeant.” With a quick nod Tasca turned and stared at the sun sitting on the jagged horizon, bathing all before it in a bright, yellow light. Everything seems so peaceful, so innocent. Damn shame it won’t stay this way.
“Sir, you haven’t taken a drink. Aren’t you thirsty?”
“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.
© 2017, Raymond Tobaygo. All rights reserved.
The author has granted WritersCarnival.ca, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.