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CHAPTER SIX PART THREE
TOWARDS THE GORGE
FROM CHAPTER SIX PART TWO B
“It has to be a temperature inversion,” Tasca said as he looked up at the sun. “On my first mission to the Atacama I remember the Scavs talking about it. I think they referred to it as the breathe of the Gods.”
“If it’s all the same to you, Colonel, I’ll stick with the first explanation, Maseru said,” his voice fading into the cool breeze. As with anything that could be regarded as pleasant within the Atacama Desert, the breeze gradually faded, replaced now by the crushing, blast-furnace heat that had tested their resolve since their escape.
They pushed forward, eyes continually moving from terrain to scanners, straining for any sign of danger.
The sun’s welcomed descent began to paint the desert in intense, surreal hues of red, yellow and orange that stabbed at the darkening, cloudless sky. This momentarily lifted their spirits until the unrelenting heat, endless sand and penetrating fatigue, quickly, quietly, trampled their brief rejuvenation.
With the large outcropping now just one hundred meters ahead, Maseru stopped and looked at his time piece. “Christ,” he muttered, “it’s seventeen-hundred hours. My legs feel like two lead poles.” He turned towards the colonel and waited for him to catch up, trying in vain to ignore the fatigue that grabbed his muscles with tight, sharp, painful sensations that started in his Achilles tendons and coursed up his legs until it stopped in tight, burning knots behind his knees.
Having pulled even with his sergeant, Tasca found his legs no exception to the fatigue and pain. Do your legs hurt as bad as mine, Rambika?”
“Unfortunately, they do, sir. I’m just damn glad we’ve reached the outcropping. I don’t think my legs can go any farther.”
“I hear you, sergeant. I can’t remember being so tired.”
Without another word between them, both men shook each leg slowly, methodically in an attempt to ease the spasms of pain caused by the cramping. Tasca, finding no relief, wiped his brow. Damn this heat. At least the sun is setting, so the heat won’t be as bad. Seems like the DBS is still a good trek. He looked at his timepiece, then Maseru, nodded, but remained silent, his thoughts on the possible dangers they were sure to encounter. We have to make the drop site or we’re as good as dead. If our luck holds out, we should reach the DBS by the morning of the second day.
Maseru, finding as little relief as did his colonel from shaking his legs, carefully removed his Gunny hat. Taking a small towel from his lower front pocket, he wiped the sweat from his head, being careful not to dislodge any portion of the neural rig. Finished he looked at Tasca: “I so Goddamned, tired, sir. Just what the hell did the Alliance bury at the next site, Colonel?”
“What we’ll need to complete the mission, Sergeant. It cannot fall into enemy hands, no matter what the cost to us. If our mission goes south, we must destroy what we find at the site.”
Aren’t you glad you asked, Sergeant? “All right, but why in this God forsaken place, Colonel?”
With a tired shrug, the colonel spoke: “All I know is what we’ll be working with is probably an agent that needs an extremely dry climate and elevation over five hundred meters, which is why our endpoint is the Spines.” He looked around slowly, “And you sure as Hell can’t get any drier than this,”he said kicking at the sand half-heartedly
“Tell me about it, sir. This place eats moisture. Christ, you can’t even piss without it evaporating before it hits the ground. It’s going to be a miracle if we can keep ourselves hydrated, Colonel. Between the Goddamned sun and the sand, this place bakes us not only from above but below as well, sir.”
Tasca knew today would not be as torturous as what lay ahead. They had pushed themselves to the point beyond exhaustion. He knew Rambika’s ribs had to be hurting so his decision to give him something for the pain was an easy choice.
Tasca gave a tired shrug. “Seems that way, doesn’t it,” he said handing Maseru a small blue vial which the sergeant took with some hesitation. “What is this, sir? Some sort of stim?”
“No, it’s a mild pain killer, Sergeant. I want you to swallow it and that’s a direct order. With the stress from the heat and fatigue, I know your ribs must still hurt. The stress from humping it can’t be good for your ribs.”
“I admit they felt better after we killed the Stalkers, but with pushing ourselves in this heat…well I won’t protest, sir.” With a faint, weary smile he took the vial and downed its contents which immediately produced a scowl. “Damn! You could have warned me, sir. It tastes like burnt sulfur.”
“It could always taste worse, Rambika.”
“I don’t believe that’s possible, Colonel. Damn, next time give me a heads up, sir.”
“Well, no matter, from here on in, that’s what you’ll be taking until the imager shows your ribs have fully healed. Tasca turned to face the outcropping. “Once we’ve secured our position, we’ll rest until zero one hundred hours. By now the Kingdom has to know their stalkers are dead.”
“Of that I have no doubt, sir. I wonder how long it will be before they come after us?”
“Probably sooner than either one of us wants, Rambika. Tasca turned towards the outcropping and raised the teledars to study it. Satisfied, he lowered them until they hung about his neck. “Everything appears normal. Let get our asses over there so we can rest. God knows we’ve earned it
“True sir, but just one question before we move, Colonel. How much farther before we hit the DBS?”
Tasca unclipped his scanner and motioned for Maseru to look at it. Tapping the green section atop the scanner, a small, detailed holo-map appeared. “We are here Sergeant and we have to make it to these coordinates. Taking into account the time we need to sleep and eat, we’ll push on from here by zero one hundred thirty hours. If we proceed at a standard pace, we should make the DBS by the morning of the second day.”
“I sure as Hell hope we’ll make it before then, Colonel.” He looked about; his thoughts focused on reaching the outcropping, yet at odds with his curiosity regarding what type of creatures that called the desert home. “I just wonder what else walks about this hellhole at night.”
“Hopefully we’ll never know, Sergeant, but unfortunately my gut tells me that’s not going to be the case.”
“Nothing, personal, sir, but I hope your gut is dead wrong.”
© 2016, Raymond Tobaygo. All rights reserved.
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