Date: Monday 30 August 2040ce 1100z
Location: East of Snowflake, Arizona (-0700)
He stepped forward with his left foot, the bottom of his boot scraping against the loose gravel that lay wind-strewn across the cracked blacktop that had once been Concho Highway.
He stepped forward with his right foot, producing the same scraping sound
No one complained about the noise; EiS reported no non-human activity for nearly ten kilometers and everyone was dragging their ass.
Then no fucking clue.
He hadn’t been certain about signing on as a Lifer for his second contract, opting instead to renew for three years. Now the end of that contract approached, and he was uncertain what civilian life would bring. He had also taken to beating himself up for only renewing for three years, having hit the maximum rank a non-lifer contract allowed.
You’d be sergeant by now…
He shot a narrow glance to his left, seeing the Troop Leader looking as exhausted as himself.
And you’d have called it a night already.
They were scheduled to arrive at their next checkpoint by noon, but the Sarge talked everyone into a consensus to keep going through the night; They were certain to be sore and near collapse, but they’d get an extra seven hours of hot meals and warm sleeping accommodations.
We are the Ghost Troop… Our march unhindered by our deaths.
“And there it is,” Spacey said.
“Damn,” Yager muttered. “Place is huge.”
Outpost IK-2 had come into view finally, and Lansing had to agree with Yager’s assessment. IK-2 was a sprawl compared to most of the outposts he’d seen on his two tours, being nearly three hundred meters in diameter and surrounded by a high shield barrier. Vehicles could be seen coming and going from the west and south; The northern road was as empty as their own.
“Why’s it called ‘The Seventy-Seventh’?” Holmes asked.
“Something about an old television show,” Jones answered.
“I thought it had something to do with a concrete floor?” Bovee remarked.
“Not because it’s the seventy-seventh hospital,” Hawkens added.
That was IK-2’s primary purpose, a military hospital that treated front-line evacuations from the Tuscan, Phoenix and Albuquerque fronts; Lansing couldn’t think straight enough, though, to remember which explanation for the outpost’s unusual nickname was closest to correct.
At the moment, he didn’t really care either.
Does anyone really care?
That everyone had a datapad which could easily enough access the answer which remained in their packs while they debated through the fog of exhaustion, pain and malnutrition indicated that no one really did care all that much.
He was just glad to see the coming and going of aerial craft was non-existent at the time; He took that as a sign that the three war zones were momentarily quiet.
“An hour,” Sergeant Perri said. “Tops.”
It was obvious that the Troop Leader was attempting to motivate himself as much as everyone else.
And it did work, for a time.
Before a quarter of the distance had been crossed, sore feet and muscles, and the body’s unrelenting demand for sleep, began to weigh heavily upon them again.
Been at this all of my life… Do I even have a life without it?
He continued moving, shuffling along like everyone else, watching the camp come ever closer until, at last, the sight of two troopers standing before the gate greeted them.
One was a guard, weapon in hand; If he was trying to look intimidating, Lansing was too tired to notice.
The other, with datapad in hand, would be a clerk from the Provisions Office.
Sergeant Perri dug through his pack for his own datapad; It had been a while since he’d last used it.
“Arizona Field Troop Four-Zero dash Two-Six-Two,” he intoned as the troop came to a half-stumbled halt.
“Welcome to the Seventy-Seventh,” the guard replied.
“Hello, Sergeant,” the Provisions Clerk said.
He was of cheerful disposition, acting completely unbothered by his early wake up; His slightly disheveled uniform and unshaven face indicated that there was some bother involved, but trooper etiquette insisted that he smile and welcome the troop arriving from the wasteland with open arms.
We’re all apes here…
“How many in the troop?” asked the clerk.
“Sixteen, Corporal,” Perri stated.
“And sixteen expected,” the clerk replied. “Glad to see everyone made it. I’ll escort the troop to the transient tents. They Duty Officer needs you to sign in… That building right there.”
Smaller outposts were simpler; The Provisions Officer performed the Duty Officer’s job.
“Understood,” Perri said. “You’ve got them, Corporal.”
“Aye,” Lansing replied, the troop and himself moving already to follow the Provisions Clerk.”
The walk ended at about fifty meters.
“And here we are, Troopers,” the clerk said. “All tents house four, and all of these are empty. Assign cots among yourselves; After you’re signed in, register your tent on the base network. Your datapads should connect one your Troop Leader has finished Check In. Mess opens in one hour, but newly arrived troopers are welcome to eat with the ongoing watch, thirty minutes early.”
“Thank you, Corporal,” Lansing replied, sounding cheerful despite his eagerness to collapse in a pile with his gear, beds with mattresses be damned.
The clerk fully understood; Everyone in uniform marched at least once during their service, and no one made it past Private First before doing so.
Most of us corporals have been out here twice…
The two saluted; Not the smart, snappy salute enlisted give officers, but the casual respectful salute troopers pass between one another in acknowledgement.
“Woot!” Holmes called out. “Pick ‘em out, folks!”
They separated for different tents. There wasn’t really a ‘better’ tent to pick from, but everyone was eager to find a cot and call it quits for the next 48 hours. The only deciding factors were which tent was closest and were there already four people heading into it.
It seemed only fitting that, as he began to rest on the floor next to his intended bunk, boots unlaced but still on, that he’d hear Sergeant Perri calling from outside.
“Holmes, West, Bovee, Lansing,” Perri’s voice shot out. “Get your asses out here.”
What the shit..?
He pushed himself onto his feet and staggered outside, paying no head to his laces.
Others came out, curious about what the Sergeant’s beef was.
“The Two-Six-Two thanks you for your service, troopers.”
“We’re detached?” Holmes asked.
“Do I stammer, Corporal?” Perri snapped at him. “You four need to grab your shit and grab a tent together. But first, get your damn datapads so we can confirm your transfer.”
“Don’t need to be such a dick, Perri,” West remarked as she turned towards the tent she was occupying. “I’m the only one in here.”
Lansing understood her last remark to mean that they wouldn’t have to displace anyone to claim it as their own.
A few moments later, pack on his shoulder and datapad in hand, Sergeant Perri confirmed his detachment.
His new orders were vague.
IK-2 TRANSIENT, ATTACHMENT PENDING
Why’d they pull us off one patrol to sit and wait for another?
Once the three had joined West in the tent, that turned out to be a popular question.
It wasn’t until they sat together in a group in the mess hall, next to their old troop but clearly no longer part of them, that their actual orders came through.
“So,” Holmes began, ever eager to make a wager, “anyone not thinking we’re staying together?”
Would be my luck…
“Not taking that bet,” Bovee replied.
They began pulling out their datapads.
“Two-Nine-Seven,” West said.
“Arriving in twelve hours,” Bovee added, confirming her orders to be the same.
“Think they’ll have a layover?” Lansing asked, hoping they didn’t suddenly get reduced to one day of rest.
“What are the odds?” Holmes asked.
This guy needs to sit down with a Counselor…