Date: Monday 4 February 2041ce 1500z
Location: Arizona Village, Arizona (-0700)
“It’ll be easier after this,” Greening remarked between pants.
“Just keep moving, trooper,” Wagner half-snarled two meters below him.
Carlson noted that she didn’t sounds winded, smiling at himself for having figured out her trick; Somewhen, he had determined, the sergeant had learned to shift her breathing just a moment before speaking as to disguise away any signs of exertion.
His observations revealed that she didn’t try to do this during times of strenuous situations; Wagner had either determined that it wouldn’t work at such times or saw the effort to do so unimportant in relation to the situation’s other demands. At least, that’s how Carlson had calculated that aspect of the infinite-faceted universe around him.
As with any variable, it was subject to revision upon further observations. Being the case, he was unable to deem this time anything more than how she sounded from a distance, unable to notice her breathing prior to the statement.
And he could not deny that, quite often, she really wasn’t near winded even when his own chest had grown warm from effort.
In relation to the totality of Wagner, this observation was just one variable among thousands of others; The Angle of Reno had proven herself a most interesting individual. Not that she had become an object of his obsession, the entire reality around him fed him information and facts that he was only just barely capable of consciously registering. Wagner was simply a trifecta of data: born and raised Deep Resistance, a socially idolized war hero, and his immediate commander.
At moment, however, most of his thoughts were on the stones before him. Determining which was useful for leverage and which were good only for balance was a recurring theme; So was the composition and age of the rocks. There had been enough rain to wash away the dusty deadland years ago, though long thin grooves evidenced the passage of slithers which found a deposit rich in absorbable material.
A paper he read once suggested it could take nearly a hundred thousand years for erosion in the south-west to restore what pockets of abundance they once contained without restorative intervention.
From this, he noted that what remained on the bare face before him was strictly inorganic.
At most any other location, the rock was brittle and rough, almost like coral; If you didn’t fall from a hold breaking off, you’d certainly scratch yourself up plenty from those breakages. This location, adjacent to a fallen bridge not yet replaced, had been used over and over again, worn smooth by tools, hands and boots over the last twenty-five years. Where they started their climb, a smeared semi-circle of near-pebbles were all that remained of the chunks that had fallen, crushed beneath millions of trooper boots and slowly drifting with the occasional river-current following the rains.
Such smeared semi-circles were always evidence of a clean way up, though only one’s own visual discretion gave indication of how difficult such a climb is going to be. Everyone was just glad that biomechs never seemed to learn what such a terrain feature indicated, and many biomechs were easily surrounded and disposed of while scrambling to get up the river side.
If Carlson noted any fault with the system, it was how difficult they were to climb down; Sometimes, such a path was cut too smooth, and finding a good foothold out of eye view proved somewhat unnerving.
The Invader changed the nature of the planet…
“If that foot gets any closer to my face, it’s coming off,” Wagner barked.
And so we had to relearn nature.
He pulled himself further up, imagining Greening’s characteristic gulp as he began speeding up; It was never good when the Sergeant passes you on the climb.
Wagner’s philosophy there seemed obvious to him; If she wasn’t tired, the person that started a minute before her shouldn’t be, either.
Carlson shifted and looked down.
Yeah… He’s laggin’ hard.
He returned to the task, just in time to see Dickson scurry over the top.
It didn’t take long, the incline easing off suddenly to provide improved standing balance resulting in increased speed.
Greening should be fine once he gets here.
He could also hear a truck somewhere in the distance. Another couple meters up, the incline eased again, and he was able to bear-crawl at a decent pace.
At the top, Arizona Troop 40-297 were spread out around the climbing route. Unsurprised, he observed Christensen sleeping.
“Good time, Corporal,” Lansing said with an approving smile as Carlson walked by.
“Why, thank you, Corporal,” he replied.
He noted where everyone was, passing by until reaching a point just beyond Bruce sitting furthest from the point of ascent.
There had been something to it, something about the destination.
“Eager to get there?” Bruce asked. “Still got a good month’s worth of marching.”
It’s ending sooner than that.
“Not really,” he said, knowing he sounded detached but not really caring.
It was their current route that called his attention to it, the redirection arriving via satellite merely minutes after leaving the last check point. Originally bound for AW-5, a way-marker that clearly indicated Havasu as the patrol’s final destination, they were now bound to FG-9 instead.
This change didn’t rule out Havasu but patrolling on the California-side of the river was near pointless as well as lacking in operational outposts north of Havasu. That raised the question of Boulder City, but that resulted in the same situation regarding the river and outposts.
Patrolling the riverbed itself was a bad idea; The terrain was awful, and one sudden rainstorm (now common this time of year) would likely drown a troop caught between climbing routes.
He allowed this data to attach itself to other data.
“Still got your ankles, trooper?” Lansing asked; Greening didn’t answer, presumably breathing heavily and irritable.
Wagner would be up top within a few moments.
He turned and looked at the rest of the troop; A few were napping, but those who weren’t kept casting looks to the west.
No… ‘Eager’ is not the word for what I’m feeling.
Gupta, he noted, was sitting alone, facing west directly.
It’s not the word for what any of us are feeling.
Wagner appeared at the top then, nimbly almost appearing to land as she came to her feet.
“Five minutes, troopers!” she called out loudly.
No one would complain about resting longer than her.
Data piled onto data, each piece sliding around until linking with another piece until enough pieces formed an image he could discern.
He turned west again, at the cluster of hills that hid a smooth but steady climb in elevation that didn’t end until Death Valley.
Someone thinks they’re sending us there.
He adjusted his pack, slackening the straps, then saw Wagner speaking with Lansing.
Someone thinks they’ve chosen her.
The two broke apart, Lansing going for his pack, and Wagner turned; Her eyes looked west for a long moment.
I suspect they’re wrong.
He looked westward then as well, knowing that their destination was still several kilometers away.
But the thought seemed to compel him, having to consciously stop his leg from taking a step forward as if Wagner had already given the order to resume their hike.
We’re being called.