Date: Wednesday 8 August 2040ce 1700z
Location: Northern Arizona (-0700)
Not rock. Clay. Hard, dry clay.
A slight crumble beneath footsteps.
Small wisps of red dust forming ankle-high clouds.
The same in every direction.
Illuminated from above.
Slowly baking the eternal plain of barren dryness.
“Shit!” someone exclaimed.
There had been a sudden jarring, the packed troopers pushed against each other as the truck bounced over a hole in the road.
Those nearest the back were jostled again as the rear tires struck the same hole.
That’s why I sit near the front, kids…
Wagner settled back into her corner, pretending to only be slightly bothered by the violent wake-up.
…While in secured territory.
That, she knew, was subjective; An arrhythmic drumming in the distance was a constant reminder that all hell could break loose should the Invaders ever change their tactics.
Sounds like just another day in The Pit.
No one used the term Grand Canyon anymore; Not since a bunch of illegal aliens moved in and tanked the property values. In some ways, it was much like Colorado was, with hives snugged up against cliff walls and within pocket canyons which made it impossible to overload their energy barriers with a proper siege. But while Colorado was a constant hunt for a high abundance of strays, The Pit was entirely sealed. The canyon proper was surrounded in its entirety by a perimeter of bunkers, with constant strafing runs by hyper-maneuverable drones keeping the canyon walls clear of climbing biomechs.
It would remain audible for quite some time, echoing over the expansive region of wide spread mountains of red rock.
She remembered her dream, making a quick mental list of its features as best she could remember them. Already, though, she knew it was one of those dreams, rarer now than in her youth. It was the sense of being there rather than a captive audience to her subconscious sorting through her personal madness. The current situation, however, prevented her from delving into her pack for her personal datapad; She’d be jostling around a handful of troopers for what, to them, would have seemed a meaningless self-indulgence.
I’ll get it later…
“Where are we?” she asked, barely cracking her eyes.
“East bound on Sixty-Four,” the trooper across from her answered.
Can’t be much further now…
“Thanks,” she replied.
She gauged his accent as being from Utah, though either soft spoken himself or from an area where migrants had relocated, bringing their own scattered mixture of pre- and post-Invasion accents.
A good number of accents around her, however, were unfamiliar; Many, she figured, were from states south of the former national boundary, the amount of Spanish mixed into their English increasing with a more southern origin. Some seemed to go the other direction, possible migrants from Oregon and Washington; She’d been hearing for some time that the children of refugees who had fled north when the Invasion started were returning south and joining one of the two coastal federal armies.
That’s why we have boot camps now…
The early influx of migrants resulted in a corresponding attrition rate among those who grew up too far from the front lines to know what combat was really like. The early model of ‘grab your weapon and get your ass out there’ worked best with those who found themselves trapped in the war, growing up as she had in abandoned mines, dead caves and the storm sewers of fallen cities.
But even with the basic training that the SWS provided, the majority of the youths around here had experienced only a shadow of what was to come. In the end, no instructor could be as ruthless or lethal as the enemy, only able to provide, at best, one simple lesson: ‘If you can’t handle us, then you sure as fuck can’t handle the Invaders.’
“KT-Seven!” someone down the row shouted. “Five minutes!”
And that’s me…
Inconveniencing her neighbors was no longer a concern; She shifted her own position and brought her pack up from under the bench. While hers was stowed quite easily, she noted how many others bulged out into the narrow aisle, full of whatever materials they were told to have on-hand when a patrol began.
Her own pack was mostly water with a medkit and a pocket dedicated solely to oral hygiene; An issued regulation datapad was tucked alongside her personal one.
“Is this your third or fourth hike, Sergeant?” the young trooper beside her asked.
“Closer to tenth,” she replied.
Most of those around her looked shocked; Some, notably those who weren’t fresh booties, were simply curious.
“Grew up Resistance,” she said. “Most of my childhood just west of here.”
“Nevada?” someone said in startled disbelief while another whistled.
“The sergeant here is Old School,” a more seasoned corporal stated.
She smiled knowingly, but it was to cover up a measure of embarrassment; It was the best she could do when finding herself the center of attention.
The engine began the throttle down, the speed of the truck gradually reducing.
“Trooper coming through!” the corporal called.
Feet squeezed up against the bench; Some made the poor decision of trying to push an overstuffed pack further under the bench, the boots proving a greater obstacle than the packs were to begin with.
“All right, out of the way, folks,” she spat half-playful as she began to maneuver her way to the rear of the truck.
Two other troopers, sitting in the next row, had begun moving back from the midway seats. The one at lead was thin and nimble, sliding through the aisle without much problem. The later, however, was broad of stride and shoulder alike, his passage nearly qualifying as assault and battery against the poor troopers that sat between him and the rear of the truck.
Mine or another’s…?
She saw that their packs weren’t overstuffed, though that made little difference given the circumstance of the moment.
When the truck stopped, the thin trooper motioned for her to go first.
Rank or chivalry?
She hopped down, where a station corporal was waiting for her.
“Sergeant,” he said as he raised his datapad, adding, “Corporals” as the other two climbed down. “Welcome to KT-Seven. Datapads, please.”
The truck sat idling, the driver waiting for final confirmation.
A moment later, data was exchanged between the four datapads, with all the usual sound effects; The truck shifting into gear and pulling away evidenced the participation of the driver’s datapad as well.
“First Sergeant, Corporals,” the welcoming corporal said with a nod. “Provisions is standing by. I’ve got the three of you, with cots, until oh-five-hundred.”
So, they are mine.
Her datapad issued a notice, as did those of the two beside her.
Sounds like transfer orders to me.
Transfer orders didn’t have their own sound; Her guess was based on their timing. Transfer orders were always human-approved, regardless of how intelligent they were making computers these days. The delay between arrival at the outpost and the receipt of troop assignment was about right for that.
The two corporals, however, pulled up their datapads; Meanwhile, the welcoming trooper had continued without missing a beat.
“Command tent is there,” he said with a point, “the mess tent’s the large one behind it. Medical is the white tents over there. Over this way, the transient tents.”
That was their queue to follow.
“You’ll be in tent eight. One other trooper in there.”
“Another one of mine?” Wagner asked.
“Doubt it. Outbound; Will be jumping on the truck you just got off on its way back.”
“Lucky bastard,” the larger man said.
“Two-nine-seven,” the thinner corporal said.
“What?” the larger guy said.
“Our troop number.”
“I saw that.”
These two are going to be a real joy on the road…
“If you need more than a few items from provisions,” their guide resumed, “use the datapad to request them. They’ll prep the gear for you to pick up.”
“There that many here?” Wagner asked.
“Preliminary buildup,” the guide answered. “This place held no more than two-dozen troopers a month ago. The Engineering Corps should be arriving next week to start construction of the more permanent structures.”
They’re not seriously going try an offensive here?
She didn’t ask the question aloud; If it wasn’t in the news, then the corporal likely didn’t know either.
“And here’s your tent,” the guide said. “Chow opens in twenty.”
“Thank you, Corporal.”
“Thanks,” the other two intoned.
“Sergeant, Corporals,” the guide said, then turned and left.
Never got his name…
Manning a sniper nest in Colorado was very different; She’d be gone weeks, months once, without seeing another living human. And if she couldn’t make contact without giving away her position, then she simply didn’t make contact.
The last week, however, had been a steady flow of faces and voices and names.
It was the thin one.
“Are you Sergeant Wagner?” the muscular one asked.
He pronounced it wrong.
The face of the other one twisted in shock.
And that one knows who I am.
“Arizona Four-Zero dash Two-Nine-Seven,” she said.
Flagstaff Command had already given her the troop’s designation that morning.
“That’s us,” the larger said, holding up his datapad.
She wasn’t certain why, but the two of them struck the memory of a comedy team from long ago.
“Let’s stow away, first,” she said. “Two-Nine-Seven isn’t official until morning, anyways.”
“Aye, Sarge!” the larger said.
She lifted her pack and went into the tent, noticing the two didn’t immediately follow; A quick side-glance revealed that it was the thinner one holding the other back.
“Don’t you know who she is…?” she heard being asked.
I bet that one can pronounce it rightly.