Date: Tuesday 31 December 2040ce 1820z
Location: Outpost TX-5, Arizona (-0700)
Happy fucking Near Year, apes!
It wasn’t a celebratory thought, but one of condemnation.
Including that fucking sadomasochistic bitch!
Instruments gave a reading of 7c, but it was the first time in two weeks they had access to more than just carefully rationed drinking water.
Rain, cold enough to be regarded as ‘liquid ice’, fell from the dark clouds above, and Sarge had ordered everyone out of the Outpost, proclaiming that she was done smelling everyone’s filth. On the warmer days, they had simply undressed and aired themselves out, but that was a limited solution to a steadily increasing problem. Arriving at TX-5 as a cold snap hit the region only meant they were all squeezed inside, along with the outpost’s small crew, where the enclosed space and broken ventilators allowed the odors to gradual build to the aromatic peak only possible with primates.
Out they went, then, standing in half-frozen mud being pelted by half-frozen rain. Most everyone had showered quickly, eager to get out of the cold while concerned that the rain would stop while still covered in lather.
Having been among the first to finish, Bivens was huddled within a triple-layer of wool blankets. The innermost was itself soaked, and he knew he’d be warmer of he removed it; But he also knew he’d end up freezing as he made the switch, with the new inner lining requiring more time to absorb and reflect his heat.
Better off wet…
He looked around, though, observing that nearly a quarter of the troop remained outside, Sarge among them.
Last he heard, they were flinging water-logged snowballs and clumps of mud at one another.
Everyone inside, excepting for the outpost’s crew, was similarly wrapped or mostly wrapped in the wool blankets.
Those blankets being the one thing TX-5 had in ready supply.
Uniforms, per orders, were outside, laid out to allow the water to run through them.
Gonna suck getting those back on if the heat doesn’t get fixed.
TX-5 was very much lacking in everything; Faulty electrical, intermittent heat with a broken down fan, limited water supply, dry meals that may have predated the Invasion. But, somehow, there was an entire room filled with stacks of wool blankets that had been delivered by accident some six years previous and never redirected to their intended destination.
The Outpost Watch Commander, one of the three enlisted troopers stationed at the frame-and-stucco building with a half-dozen shacks and trailers shoved up against it as makeshift additions, had even insisted that the incident be recorded in the log books.
Fuckers love their blankets here…
Rumor had it that the new Coalition Army was planning to shut down a number of outposts; He figured TX-5 was likely a candidate.
Assuming they haven’t just forgotten about this place.
They were near the Nevada border, but he hadn’t looked at a map in a while to be certain where along that line they were. But he was certain that, this far from the war zones, there was near zero likelihood of encountering a stray biomech without Nevada State Guard sniffing it out first.
“What a bunch of shit this is turning out to be,” he muttered.
He nearly jumped from his blankets, having not noticed that Hart had slid up beside him.
“We’ve gotten sunburned and frostbite in the same week,” he replied. “The heater’s working at all of five candle power, Sarge and the Swede are out there taking on half the company in a snow ball fight…”
“In the rain,” Carlson added from the other side of Hart.
“…And my dick is shriveled to the size of a string bean,” Bivens concluded.
“Yeah,” Hart said, sliding closer.
“Pretty fucked up,” Kermin complained as he slid against the wall on the other side of Bivens. “Fucking polar bears, the lot of ‘em.”
Dickson came in, shivering but standing proud, her small body covered in brilliant red welts.
“I lost,” she said, grabbing several blankets while everyone laughed.
“One thing to keep in mind,” Carlson said, “is once the door stops opening every two minutes and everyone’s dried up, our body temperature will be enough to keep this room pretty warm.”
“Any idea how long the rain’s gonna last?” Bivens asked.
“Lansing!” Kermin yelled out. “What’s on meteorology?”
Bivens couldn’t see Lansing, but heard his voice call back, “Twenty-point in the morning, clear skies.”
“Thank you!” Bivens called in reply. “At least we can put on dry uniforms.”
“Assuming she doesn’t march us out early,” Lin complained.
“We’re scheduled rest until noon,” Hart stated.
“Not her style,” Carlson said. “Push hard, rest long.”
“The trooper way,” Bivens remarked.
“What isn’t ‘the trooper way’?” Hart asked loudly.
“Whatever got the other guy dead!” a dozen troopers, Bivens included, cried back.
It was an old joke, from the days without a real military and the Resistance was just making shit up as they went about saving the world.
“Still doesn’t mean we won’t be marching out in wet greens,” Lin grumbled a moment later.
Bivens took a deep breath, relaxing as his shivering noticeably declined.
We are so fucked…
More people were coming in; Whatever their skin tone, no one was spared the telltale marks of solid impacts.
Christensen was the worst, for all his size and milky whiteness.
“Sarge is holding it alone?” Lansing asked.
“Bitch held the flank until Ball pegged me in the eye.”
The Swede began using a blanket as a towel.
That’s wool you’re scratching yourself with there, big guy.
“So how long does our Call have left?” Bruce asked while he snuggled next to Lin.
“Five weeks before retiring the Two-Nine-Seven,” Carlson replied. “Looks like Searchlight or Havasu for the ending.”
“Not Bolder City?” Bivens asked.
“Nah,” Carlson replied. “Too close. Unless we did a very large loop around.”
“You mean it doesn’t fit,” Christensen said, sprawling half-exposed a short distance away. “Still trying to figure it out, buddy?”
“Yes,” Carlson added, adding, “That’s gonna bruise,” upon seeing Christensen’s eye.
“Yep,” the Swede said with a big grin.
“Figure what out?” Bivens inquired, uninterested in Christensen’s latest badge of boyish honor.
“Oh,” Christensen replied. “Carlson thinks there’s something odd about the troop.”
The statement carried implications, Bivens noted, but also said nothing.
“Odd?” he found himself prompting.
“Being a paranoid git,” Bruce remarked. “We ain’t doing anything out here but humpin’ our asses through the desert.”
Carlson shrugged, saying, “Probably right.”
Bivens considered Carlson for a moment, who he’d judged to have been a fairly odd bird already.
“He likes a good puzzle,” Christensen said while stretching out with all his naked glory.
Aren’t you cold?
“Something like that,” Carlson said, seemingly embarrassed to be the focus of attention.
“So what’s so mysterious?” Bruce asked.
The door opened again, Wagner and Bovee staggering in.
Good! No one will open that damn hatch for a while.
He shivered a little more, then adjusted his blankets, pulling himself free of the wet one and tossing it aside. Some warmth was lost, but the dry blanket already held some heat from serving as the inner layer, and he settled down hoping to drift into a nap if possible.
He still had four months of field duty, so while most of the troop was looking forward to the road’s end, he’d likely be transferring to another troop.
Probably one heading back to the front…
The idea didn’t appeal to him.