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CHAPTER 6 PART 2 B
FROM CHAPTER 6 PART 2 A
“Yeah, I hope you’re right, Sergeant. We’ll take a short rest,” Tasca 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 said. “Besides what other options do we have, sir? I have no intention of dying in this godforsaken shithole if I can help it. My 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 water bladder. Finished, he took out four carb wafers and slowly ate them. “Sir, this area, was it always a dessert?”
“According to the history rings, yes. They said in the past it was years between rainfalls, and when did it happened, it wasn’t much. Now they say it doesn’t rain at all. Aside from the few scattered waterholes and springs, it’s the same hellhole as it was before the great change. Just sand, dirt and rocks,” Tasca said half-heartedly. “If hell had a front yard, this place would be it.” He paused and unclamped his drinking tube. As he sipped the warm water, he made a sweeping gesture with his free hand. “And only God knows what life forms call this place home.”
“I have a strong feeling we’re going to find out, but no sense in complaining. We both signed on for the adventure, glamour, fame and the fortune,” Maseru said pushing a carb wafer into, his mouth. From past experiences he knew this mission, like many of the ones he and the colonel had completed, would present complications neither has anticipated.
“And don’t forget the travel to exotic lands and ports,” Tasca grinned. “Hell, we’ve got it made, Rambika – food, water and weapons – not to mention the most comfortable and luxurious accommodations. Then again it could be worse. We could be weaponless, with no water and a stalker pod on our trail, but then again, who’s complaining.”
Both men managed a good laugh ending with a sigh that gradually faded into a tired silence. Each man realized that there would be no room for error that any lapse in judgment could easily end with death.
The sergeant, having finished the last of the wafers, stood and stretched slowly, his focus, on the terrain between them and the gorge. “What life forms do you think live here, Colonel?”
“Well from my first two missions to this region I encountered only herbivores, but with such a large condor population to exist something or things must be feeding on them. So whatever predators live here, they must have sustainable numbers, which is bad news for us. Intel about the wildlife in the Northern wastelands is sketchy at best. If you exclude what lives in the dunes, probably two to three types of carnivores and maybe as many as five herbivores.”
“Two to three, carnivores, huh? And with our good fortune, they’re probably end up being apex predators,” Maseru grinned. Now aren’t we just the lucky ones or not, sir?” Anyway, I did read the report, Colonel. Besides these lovelies we’re bound to encounter Scavs, specifically Worlar Scavs.
“Of that I have no doubt, Sergeant. The Scav clans inhabiting this area are loyal to the Kingdom. Aside from snow rations and supplies they receive to maintain their loyalty, the Greater Kingdom has been known to use bio-genetic reconstructs to remind any clan of the consequences should their loyalty waiver.” The colonel offered a half-hearted smile. “Ready to leave all this luxury and fine cuisine, Rambika.”
“Yes, sir. Let’s see what the hell’s out there. With our luck we won’t have to wait too long.”
“Careful what you wish for, Sergeant.”
Geared to go, with the red stims placed in their uniform’s arm pockets and a full water bladder, they double-checked the scanner readout s before looking through their teledars in the direction of the gorge. “Whenever you’re ready, Rambika. Just as before, five meter interval, alternate run and walk every four hundred meters. Make it so, Sergeant.”
As the colonel watched his sergeant move forward, he smiled: Maseru moved like a man whose muscles ached less, whose ribs did not cause him to wince as he adjusted his rucksack. “Good, stay that way, Rambika,” Tasca said softly as he fell quickly in behind him, promising himself, as he studied the ground about him, not to think of the distance they had to travel before either could sleep for a couple of hours.
Even at fourteen hundred hours, the rising heat from the desert sand continued to bake their feet. This they endured in silence until a light breeze, unexpectedly kicked up, caressing their faces. They welcomed it probably more than they should have as it provided a brief respite from the scorching heat, allowing them to join in a pleasant banter as to the breezes’ origin in such a hellish terrain.
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.
© 2016, Raymond Tobaygo. All rights reserved.
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