Discussion in 'Survival Reading Room' started by DKR, Dec 16, 2016.
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12/19/2016 Copyright DK Richardson. All rights reserved.
Malcomb continued staring at both of use for more than a few minutes. He finally said "Want to repeat that, Mau-Mau?" This was in his quiet voice. One that I learned later that he could turn into whip and use to flay a person's psyche into tatters.
Mau-Mau looked back and forth a couple of times before blurting out "Come on, Sarge. The last thing I want to have to drag a green bean around with me on this patrol."
Of course, as the green bean in question I had exactly **** to say about anything. I mean, I survived Boot, but Mau-Mau had a good point. Right now I was, at best, a liability of unknown proportions. In other words, I had to prove myself, and there was the problem. Nobody in the unit was willing to take the risk. No foul, I get it. A simple screw-up and everyone could be toast.
"I'll overlook the simple fact that you're disobeying a direct order, really. Make no mistake; this patrol and the package you both will escort are real. So is the down side if you continue to be this stupid…."
In the range of all possible responses I'd ever seen, and that wasn't much, Killer was at the lowest end of Big Army thinking. Why?
"If the mutt is that damn important, why aren't the Air Commando weenies providing escort?" Mau-Mau didn't just frown, he was outright pissed.
Nobody likes being a heyboy for another unit. Especially in a hot combat zone. Air Commando runs NEOdogs, them was the rules. Everyone knew it. Hell, I'd been at the FOB for just long enough to unpack, set up my end of the hooch and even I knew that much.
Now Malcomb smiled. Smiled. "Almost a point, Mau-Mau. We…no, you both will run this op because this is my A/O. You damn well know most of the Air Commando types that run around here couldn't find their own ass out in the jungle if they were backed into a corner and got to use both hands. How many times...?"
Mau-Mau slashed his hand down. "Fine, Killer. But the green bean humps the mutt's chow. Even I have my limits"
Both of them turned to me. Holding up my hands, I said, "No sweat. How much chow can that be anyway…?" If I'd only known.
"This is it?" The mutt didn't look very remarkable. Sure, he had the oddball looking head I'd been warned about, but why the rep?
The sigh Mau-Mau cut loose was….epic. "This isn't a Cee Dee, Roscoe. This is some kind of new recon dog that the brass thinks will make a difference. Which translates into someone got a kickback from the Bandits and we got the peanut butter covered end of the stick."
While Mau-Mau was talking, the mutt kept looking back and forth, like it understood what we were saying. Finally, it walked over to a patch of shade, parked his ass, yawned loudly and promptly fell asleep.
"So, how are we supposed to tell the mutt what to do? Last I heard the Air Commando is all about their magic training…" I got cut off.
"Let me sweat that ****, will ya? Go get your kit and load up the mutts chow. We got a long hump ahead of us because we don't get a Pogo ride this time. We get to walk." He stomped off to his hooch. I guessed the discussion was over.
I like to walk. Mostly because I hate flying, I don't trust Gizmos. And Pogos are piloted by Gizmos. So, I like to walk. I went really light on gear. Half a Basic Load, two water bladders 'cause I figured the mutt would need water and my hammock. I didn't bother with a poncho. You will get soaked no matter what; the rain here is past heavy, more like walking in a pond. So, why hump the other weight?
Once I loaded up, I went back to where the mutt had crashed. "Hey, Spud. You got any gear I need to hump?" Couldn't hurt to ask. I mean, if I was humping the chow, I supposed I would get the rest of any gear.
To my surprise, the mutt look up and shook his head No.
If you're not walking, you could be sitting or even sleeping. So, I joined the mutt. At some point, I figured they would get around to telling what name our package answered to. In the meantime, the mutt was setting a good example. Who was I to ignore it?
A kick to my foot ended naptime. "Okay, you two. Up. Time to split." Mau-Mau wasn't wearing traditional camo, all he had on was cut-offs, a wife beater and some ratty looking sandals that might have been a Pogo tire at some point in time. He already had enough of a tan that he looked an awful lot like an Indig standing there.
That it was getting dark didn't surprise me. Anytime we left the compound, a million eyes were watching. The lack of a Pogo lift wasn't going to help. "I'm good. What's the plan?"
"Easy, green bean. You shut up, and follow the mutt." He looked directly at the dog. "You. Follow. Me. You wander off to piss or something, we ain't gunna stop. "
The mutt seemed unbothered. After a loud fart, he gave me the once over before trundling over to Mau-Mau. And so it began.
To Mau-Mau's credit, he took it easy in the beginning until I got a chance to sort out all the weight on my rig. Once I settled in, he hit it hard. By the time it was too dark to see, we had put several miles behind us. Mau-Mau then cut into a closely grown thicket and dropped his gear.
"We bag it here tonight and keep a listen out in case anyone too curious decided to follow us, you know?" With that, he lay down and was out like a bad bulb..
A bit more in the way of direction would have been really cool, but maybe Mau-Mau was one of those sink or swim types. I sat down, leaning my ruck against one of the bigger saplings. "Okay, Spud – you want a drink?"
The mutt's chow had a bowl-like container, so I dumped the chow out on a banana leaf and filled the container with water. After sitting the water next to the chow, I leaned back. It felt good to take a break. "Go ahead and eat. No sense in waiting for me."
I waited until Spud finished his chow before I started on mine. In between bites, I asked the mutt if he wanted first or the second watch shift. What the Hell, this dog is supposed to be bright enough to run recon, he should be able to pick up some of the load.
In response, the mutt walked over to lift a leg on Mau-Mau's gear before racking out. Good enough for me. By midnight, the moon was overhead and providing some pretty good light. The jungle noise had dropped to near silence, a good sign.
Midnight had come and gone before I stirred. If you're going to listen real hard, you need to sit still. Despite the nap yesterday, I still needed some Zs if I was going to do a long hump come daylight. I wasn't about to poke the mutt, given that his teeth were bigger than my set. So I used a piece of rind from my dinner, tossing it to land next to Spud.
He walked over to me, giving me the stink eye. "Tough shit, Spud. Your turn on deck." Before I climbed into my hammock I added, "Don't even think about pissing on my gear, I'm wise to ya." That got a huff sound, but the mutt did go over to the place where we entered the thicket before taking a seat. With no other real choice, I racked out.
I was up just as light from the sun was filling in the really black spots that makes up the gloom this deep in the jungle. Looking around, I could see that both Mau-Mau and Spud were gone, but that Mau-Mau's gear was sitting in the same spot as last night. With nothing better to do, I loaded up my gear before making a head run to the far side of the thicket. By the time I was finished with my business and had all my gear stowed, the two came strolling back.
I was now in full-on keep my piehole closed mode. If Mau-Mau wanted something, he would ask. He loaded up and with a hand gesture, we were off and running. Well, walking anyway. We quickly fell into a kind of rhythm – Mau-Mau out front, at least 10 meters ahead. Spud, just behind, would stay right on his track. A less charitable person might think Spud was worried about mines. In which case, the little assbite was holding out on me. I pulled Tail-end Charlie, walking backwards from time to time checking our six. It really didn't matter. If an Indig was following, I doubt I would see them anyway.
We started out working along a knife-edge ridge. By mid-day, we'd humped through a small gap and pressed on down the far side. Once the canopy was thick enough overhead to kill most of the sunshine, Mau-Mau stopped walking and flopped down. He didn't say spit to me, so I found a pile of moss, and followed his lead. Spud just wandered deeper into the shadows. The snoring started a few minutes later.
I dropped the mutt's bowl and splashed some water in it. I refused to believe I was any less thirsty than Spud. After I got my water squared away, I kicked back. Mau-Mau would leave when he was ready. In the meantime, I was good. If I was honest, this was nothing compared to working a harvest with a deadline and a short crew. Dinner was going to be good, I'd been picking all kinds of fruit, nuts and berries as we cut through the bush. No sense in carrying rations if you could get your Chow on the move.
My nap ended when something wet hit my ear. When I looked, Spud was standing there, his ears wig-wagging like crazy. WTF? "Okay, mutt. Give." I said this just barely above a whisper.
Spud walked in a circle, then a few feet over to stand under a tree. I crawled over to look at whatever he was looking at. A pair of eyes stared back at me. A rat. A huge rat. Worse yet, the bastard looked hungry. I back crawled to my Individual Weapon, but by now, Spud had parked his considerable ass on it. I almost said something, but there was something about his smile that told me to think more than twice about that. I didn't have a machete or even a real large knife. Hell, I was short of rocks, so just as I was going to wake up Mau-Mau, Spud huffed.
I glanced over at him. He pointed his nose at the bricks of Chow on my rig. It took a minute for me to sort out that the mutt wanted me to open one of the bricks. Okay. The rat hadn't charged, so I took the time to rip open the pac and dump the gooey mess into the bowl sitting on the ground. Spud picked it up with his teeth and moved it closer to the tree. After backing up a few steps, he crouched down.
What happened next was almost…invisible, it happened so fast. One second the rat was heading for the Chow, the next second it was hanging dead from Spud's chops. After a couple of shakes, he flung the carcass deep into the bushes he'd been sleeping in earlier. I knew I'd just learned something important, I just didn't know what.
Before I could do or say a thing, Mau-Mau was up and getting his gear loaded up. Rather than ask, I just loaded up and waited for him to press out. I don't know how many hours we humped across the little hills that made up so much of the highlands, but it was well after dark when we stopped.
I won't say I was lost, because I knew I could back-trail to the FOB. Or close enough to find it. The village down the hill from the FOB sat under a smoke column most days and the FOB wasn't all that far from there. After a bit of an internal fight, I finally asked Mau-Mau, "We crashing here?"
The answer was short. "Nope. Eat here. Move on to a better location to find our base of operations." He paused to empty the last of his water bladder before adding, "You got 20 Mikes to feed the mutt and yourself." With that, he tore into odd shaped ration pac.
I dumped some of Spud's eats into the bowl and started on my big fruit. The little stuff, I would eat on the trail. One day down, maybe two more to go. I wasn't sure if I should be ****ed that Mau-Mau hadn't shared a map, mission brief or anything else of value once we started. If he bought it, I had no clue where or how to go forward. Screw it, not my problem right now. Staying awake and walking was the problem staring me in the face…
This time around, Mau-Mau let me crash first. It seemed like just a few minutes when he kicked me in the ass. Leaning down he whispered, "All clear. The mutt is out poking around. Don't shoot him when he comes back." He didn't wait for me to say anything. He was curled up and asleep before I could take a leak. Wonderful. I also didn't understand why Spud was out. At the FOB, it seemed like it was going to be a three day walk before we even got close to the OPS area. Rather than worry, I concentrated on staying awake and keeping an eye out for rats….
The next day found us halfway up on a ridge. You know the kind, where your nose gets rubbed raw as you climb… That steep. Mau-Mau stopped and it took me a minute to see that he had found a little shelf where we could sit and not slide back down the ridge on the jungle duff. Even better, we had a view of the valley below and still had tree cover from the sun. Mau-Mau might be a world class ****, but he knew his way around the highlands.
After I got unloaded, Mau-Mau silently pointed to a spot next to him. I took a seat, and the mutt squatted next to me. The shelf extended a ways past Mau-Mau, but this gave all of us a good view. Handing me a set of optics, Mau-Mau's only comment was "Take a look and tell me what you see…." I didn't know what all he expected; maybe it was one of those Zen things he was going on about back at the FOB.
As I scanned the below Mau-Mau started talking. "Behind this ridge, well, North of this ridge system you'll find the Motagua river. It runs all the way to the Gulf. The Chinese use the river as one of their main infiltration routes. They pay off the jade smugglers and the locals are so corrupt they don't give a **** to begin with. Intell says there is major layover point here as they make their way inland to give us trouble." His tone of voice left no doubt on what he thought of the so-called analysis.
"That's just bull****, of course. Way too many people live in the river valley for them to get in and out without us knowing about it." His faith in the Army was inspiring but nothing I'd seen up to now caused me to want to share his view. He went on, "This little valley will eventually lead you down into the Verapaz, then the lowlands, giving them access to the capital. That's why FOB Brightstar sits where it sits. Or so they tell me. So, tell me what you see…."
I didn't know if this was some kind of green bean test or if Mau-Mau really was trying to get me up to speed. "First, what I don't see. In the area I can observe, no villages, huts or other habitation. No fields, so, no cultivated crops." That got me a grunt. "I don't see where any trees or other large patches have been cut, but I'm not that familiar with the area, so that might mean nothing." Another grunt. "I see at least five spots where the overall…What to call it? Green? The green is a different, brighter shade. I'd have to guess bamboo, but without walking through there, hard to say exactly. I know bamboo is native to this area. Hell, the hammock hanger in my hooch is made from local bamboo. This is a different kind. And it's a lot…shinier? So, relatively new growth."
Mau-Mau sat silent for a minute before saying, "Point out the five spots. I only see three." After a few minutes, he grunted again. "Damn, good eye. That's where our smelly recon asset here is going to go looking. Killer thinks, and now I'm beginning to believe him, that they've dug into the side of the ridge in more than one spot. Barkley here is supposed to be better than us human at this ****, so…" He turned to look at the mutt. "Far side, valley. Find hole. Find all hole. Hole man big."
Spud didn't react, he just looked at me. "Ahh, you want something to eat before you head out?" I had no idea what to say, but it seemed like a good idea to at least ask if he wanted any eats. That netted me a headshake, which I took as a no. The mutt walked down to the far end of the shelf, lay down in a shady spot and in a few minutes was snoring.
I looked at Mau-Mau. "Now what?"
"Easy stuff. Sit here until the mutt gets back and we head out for the FOB." Stepping over me, he found a shady spot and lay down. "I suspect this will be awhile, so get comfortable. We're not going anywhere soon." After a few minutes, it dawned on me that Mau-Mau was racked out as well.
I took the easy way out as sleeping on duff covered stone isn't my idea of comfortable. Just a bit down slope, I found two trees that would support my hammock. I put my weapon and ruck in, before climbing in myself. It might have been a pretty sweet couple of days if it hadn't started raining that afternoon. Spud took off just after the rain started leaking through the canopy.
I'd spent a summer working the cane harvest in what remained of Florida. Wrench twisting on the harvesters was a mostly night-time effort. Rather than continue to bake in the sun, I watched a couple of locals strip palm fronds and work them into a sort shade shelter with overlapping layers. It took a while to figure out how to strip the fiber out of the split fronds, but in the end, I was sleeping in the shade. By the time true darkness fell, I had an improvised rain cover for my hammock. The leaves might have been different, the theory of operation wasn't.
Daylight brought more rain and nothing else. I didn't bother to ask Mau-Mau how long we would hang out here and I sure Hell wasn't going to offer making him a leaf shelter. He seemed happy, if not entirely dry, with his poncho. Why bother? That night the thunder was deafening, which only served to drown out the wind for a bit. We were deep enough in the jungle growth that the only concern I had was the occasional branch falling through the canopy.
I almost got ****ed over no storm warning before we took off, but on reflection decided it made no difference. We were going to be in the bush – storm or not. Laying in a hammock covered with leaves while the rain pours down does give you a lot of time to think about shit. I can see now why some people might start drinking….
As the sun set again, Mau-Mau slithered down to my little hole in the wet to whisper, "Come daylight, we leave, mutt or not." After dropping that little bombshell, he went back to his perch, one I couldn't see and assumed to be the far end of the shelf. I was all good. The rain had allowed me to refill my water bladders and the jungle would provide my meals.
The thought of us humping all the way out here only to leave without Spud...for some reason that annoyed me to no end. If I were late getting back from a recon, would Mau-Mau or the others just leave? I spent the early night trying to find the right words to tell Mau-Mau that I wasn't going to leave without the mutt or knowing why he didn't come back.
The rattle of gunfire blasted me from a good sleep. After taking a second to check me out, I fought the urge to jump out of my hammock. Instead, I look out thru a gap in the leaves to see some shadowy figures in the near-daylight working along the ridge just above the shelf. If they were shooting, they couldn't be friendlies.
I stuck the barrel of my IW out from under my little shelter, aiming just in front of what I assumed to be the leading figure. Stroking the trigger, I walked my fire back to the last of them, keeping my aim low. When the bolt locked back, I slammed another magazine into the IW. Before I could fire again, another burst of gunfire lit up the dawn.
In the ensuing silence, I heard Mau-Mau shout "You good, Roscoe?"
"Yeah." No sense in saying more, these bastards could have friends.
"Then get your skinny ass up here." That wasn't shouted.
I found Mau-Mau some distance down the shelf. He'd found a crack or something in the rock and set up his poncho to cover his little hole. I'd passed his gear, now huddled in a bundle and shredded by what I assumed the gunfire. He was looking pale, blood was running down his arm. I didn't bother to ask, just pulled the aid kit from the remains of his harness and slapped the biggest bandage in the kit on the hole in his upper arm. With that in place, I checked out the rest of him. Other than some cuts, likely from flying rock, he seemed whole enough.
"You hurt anywhere else?" I know I looked, but you can easily miss something small. Small and fatal.
"Nah. Just the arm, I'll be good in a bit. We're going to have to haul ass. They know we're here." The last came out as mostly a grunt. "Before we go, check the eff'n deaders. Get any papers, grab anything else you can stuff in your pockets." He took a deep breath. "Get me a couple of magazines, I'm out. Get at least one of the weapons." Now he was panting.
"Want me to call for an evac?" I did have some training before I got in country. Little enough, but I could operate a squawker.
"With what?" He looked past me at bits of his gear scattered along the rocky shelf. "No. Right now, we gotta unass this place. Get up me upright and over the edge of this shelf. I'll head down while you see what you can get off the deaders." He paused then. Then added, "Make damn sure they're all dead. Cut their throats or whatever. But don't leave any of them alive." At my look he hastened to add, "Returning a favor, I found a couple of our guys…" he stopped talking because he'd passed out.
Crap, now what to do first? Mau-Mau wasn't going anywhere, so I checked the deaders first. Two had large chunks of their bodies missing. The IW used frangible ammo. The slugs would explode like a bomb in soft flesh. The third guy, the one in front was just..full of holes. Mau-Mau must have got him after I missed. I grabbed everything I could, including a harness off of one that wasn't soaked in blood, then I pushed Mau-Mau over the edge of the shelf with his carbine strapped over his chest.
Pulling my hammock down didn't take long and after ditching the dog chow I rucked up. I had to be in a hurry without being in a hurry. wrapping the remains of Mau-Mau's poncho around him, I headed downhill. The rest of his gear was shredded mess, I lost few seconds before deciding to kick all of it over the side. If pressed, I would lie and say I buried it. The intel pukes were welcome to come and look for themselves.
I had to put Mau-Mau out in front of me, the slope was so steep. As it was, we both mostly bounced off of trees and the rocks sticking up out of the duff before we got to the bottom of the steepest part. When we hit bottom, I had to take a breather and think about this ****. I could just drag Mau-Mau behind me. That would be the easiest way to move him. It would also leave a nice, deep trail for the Chinese or their buddies to follow. No good.
Instead, I gathered up all of my gear, along with all the other **** I'd picked up. I started walking right toward what I assumed to be the base of operation that launched the deaders rotting back on the shelf. I kept moving until I found a nice thick clump of bamboo. Dumping everything I had in the middle left me free to deal with Mau-Mau. If I got surprised, shooting my way out wasn't going to be an option anyway. Hiding us for a while, well, that might work.
Back with Mau-Mau, I took the time to drag him to the first stream I could find. Then, I got him up across my shoulders before heading for our little bamboo hide. Once I got Mau-Mau settled in, I went back and killed all of the sign I could find leading to our hide. Checking that my IW was full and that Mau-Mau's carbine was loaded came next. Once I was satisfied with my preps, I settled down and did the next sensible thing. I took a nap.
A kick to my ass served as a wakeup call. Since it was dark, I knew it was Mau-Mau. Otherwise, I'd be real dead about now. Rolling over, I crawled up to see what he might have to say. I was sure it would be…instructive.
"You okay?" seemed like a good opening.
"I'm alive and that's good enough for now."
That he said this in a normal voice was a surprise to me. If there was anyone around…
He must have seen my expression, because he added, "I heard the little ****ers pass us twice. Coming and going I suppose. Sounded like drunk pigs wandering around in the 'ville. This batch must be all urban types. Whatever." He stopped, obviously gathering his thoughts. Here what we do next…"
It took him a good 10 minutes to wind down. My answer was simple. "No. Make that, not a chance in Hell."
"And if I object to…"
"Mau-Mau, just stop. Look. I may be the new guy, but I'm not stupid. Give me some credit..."
Slashing his hand down, he cut me off. "You've been lucky, up to now, but I'm…"
My turn. "Not going anywhere without some help. A lot of help, if you'll face reality. Press charges when we get back, I don't give a fuck. I'm not leaving. Not without at least looking for Spud. Get pissed if you want, I don't care. I'm not going to leave him behind. If I can't find him, then we can head back." I didn't yell or wave my arms. I just stated simple fact. No way in Hell was I going to leave the mutt behind, period.
"That's it?" he waited for me to speak. When I stayed silent, he went on. "Just how so you think you can even find the mutt? He could be dead, he could be…"
"Be out there hurt and wondering if he was going to die right there." I pointed at him. "If Spud was just a regular dog, I'd still do this anyway. These NEOdogs are supposed to be as smart as… Well, plenty smart. If it was you out there, would you want me to split?" The silence was deafening. "I thought so. What I'm going to do, once it gets a bit later, is head that way," I pointed southeast, "cross the river above the one green patch I pointed out. I'll work my way down to each in turn. If Spud is anywhere around, I figure he would head to the edge of the tree-line and go to ground. That's what I'd do."
"Just how do plan on finding a dog in the dark?"
"I don't, Mau-Mau. I plan on him finding me. Face it, after all the humping we did, even after the rain, I think even a skunk can smell me. If he's alive, Spud will grunt or huff or something." I held up my hand to stop any reply. "Once daylight hits, I'll find another patch of this clumping bamboo and park my ass. Come back the same way. Then and only then - we beat feet. I can carry you over the passes at the end of each of the ridges."
"You are absolutely, shithouse rat, crazy."
"That may be true, but do you need anything before I take off? I'll leave a water bladder. I'm taking a bladder and this..." I held up the weird-ass looking machete I took off one of the deaders. "I should be back before full dark tomorrow. Sooner, if Spud is up by the smallest patch…"
"Suit yourself, Roscoe. You got your next-if-kin listed?"
"See you later." With that, I was off. Finding the river was easy. Crossing was simple enough after I half emptied the water bladder. I had to sit for a few minutes on the far side. A thankfully clear sky allowed me to spot the ridge by the lack of a starfield. Once squared away, I was off again.
I have this 'bump' for direction in my head. Always have had it. Even starting in the middle of a cane field, I could drive the machines right back to the shop, every time. Out planting trees in the forest to replace the ones cut…never missed getting back to camp. Geese have this, or so I'm told. I've never wondered where I was, just where I was headed. I never bothered to try and explain this ability to folks. They won't believe you anyway. Especially the ones that couldn't find their way out of a well-lit closet… It was no one's business anyway.
I hit the tree-line a bit sooner than I thought it would take. The ground on the far side of the river was packed gravel so I made pretty good time. I was working a search line along the outside edge of the true treeline, turns out you run facefirst into fewer trees that way. Long before I got the target clump of bamboo, I got a strong whiff of something nasty. Rancid cooking oil, mixed with cigarette smoke and topped off with more than a little excrement. Not quite as bad as the 'ville – that place was fetid squalor on steroids. This just…stank.
Cutting into the trees, I sat to give this development some real thought. If I could smell the camp this far out, Spud should have gotten a clue much sooner. What I didn't know was how the mutt got trained. Get a whiff, call it good and go home? Go up the source and see how big it is? I had no clue.
I had to think back to exactly how Mau-Mau set up the deal…. Find all the holes big enough for a man or men. I didn't how the rain affected Spud. Did it kill the scent? Would he press on in the rain? This was getting harder than my complex algebra homework from Skool.
I guess Mau-Mau was right, after all. While working my way up to what I assumed to be the backside of the camp, I tripped over Spud. Literally. I tripped over something in the dark that huffed at me. I whispered, "It's all good bud, just me. 'Course, I know you know that. How bad you hurt?" After running my hands all over the mutt, all I could feel was some wicked scratches, no running blood, no broken bones or open wounds. "You want some water?" He licked my hand, so I dumped water into my cap. It was gone fast enough, so it filled it again.
The trip back to the FOB took another full week. We had to dodge two patrols led by little guys in funny green outfits, likely the Chinese we has gone looking for in the first place. Before hitting the camp, Mau-Mau swapped out his little carbine for his issue weapon. We stashed all the ammo, including all of my unexpended rounds. The only comment he made during this was "I'll explain later." Good enough.
The debrief lasted several more days. I was happy that Mau-Mau made me repeat everything we'd cooked up on the way back. The one fly in our ointment was Spud. The Air Commando makes a big deal of being able to 'talk' with their NEOdogs. Damn if we could figure out how. Once we'd been put through the ringer, it was as if the entire event got swept under the rug.
Big Army, who can figure them out? Anyway about a month or two later we had an good sized Air Commando team pass through the camp. Hunter/Killer types. Everyone in the FOB stayed away. The Cee Dees would scare the crap out of anyone. Monsters, the lot.
I got called out to the LZ while the team was waiting for their lift. Some Ell Tee pointed at me and asked, "You the guy that went out with one of our recon NEOs a while back?"
"Yes. I went out with the team. May I ask why it matters?"
"You may. I wanted to let you know the name of the NEO you worked with is Jake, not Spud. Our bad for not telling you guys, but Killer is a real pain…" He waved his hand, "No matter, Jake said to get you squared away. You know, in case you two pull another op."
I could only stutter, "Ahhhh Okay. Anything else?"
The ell tee looked around to see who might hear, before saying "Just that you have a pair, my man. A big pair. Going out to look for Jake wasn't necessary. Just the same, we don't forget shit like that. You ever get a hair up your ass about running with the big dogs, just say the word."
Stunned, it took me some time before I could get out a lame ass "Thanks. I'm good here. Ahh. Would you let Jake know I never told Mau-Mau about him marking my Sargent's gear?"
That got a good laugh. "Ya. Jake has a real attitude problem. But then, that's why he's one of our best recon types…" The whine of an incoming Pogo signaled an end to the meet. I headed back to the camp, wondering if I had really learned anything after all….
I just finished this up today and posted for comment, it is slightly out of order as the characters mentioned haven't been introduced quite yet. Still, looking for comments.
No longer any need to introduce those characters --- I do have to wonder why NEO did not need to be recovered, but did need to be guided in.
Roscoe went looking for Spud (Jake) because he was overdue. Roscoe asked Mau-Mau if he was hurt, would he want the rest of the squad to split without looking. This is to show that Roscoe understands - at some level - that NEO = Grunt = him.... ANd Roscoe isn't about to leave someone behind. Roscoe isn't dumb, just well-used.
Being guided out makes sense as dogs don't have thumbs - so maps would be hard to make up for anyone lacking manual dexterity. (2nd LTs notwithstanding) . Roscoe also humped the mutts chow. Less load for NEO = faster travel time.
Thanks for reading. I was wondering if this would be a place to add puppy talk or not. Right now, I think not.
Yep I'm left wondering why Spud needed to be found. If he just had some deep scratched maybe he needs dome patching up to support why he didn't find his team?
Still not sure what they were scouting for...enemy bunkers?
EDIT : just saw your answer. .. you might add a line about the map and thumbs =)
I'll do just that, and in a Roscoe smart-ass way....
And for the targets
"After a few minutes, he grunted again. "Damn, good eye. That's where our smelly recon asset here is going to go looking. Killer thinks, and now I'm beginning to believe him, that they've dug into the side of the ridge in more than one spot. Barkley here is supposed to be better than us human at this ****, so…" He turned to look at the mutt. "Far side, valley. Find hole. Find all hole. Hole man big."
I'm alive today only because field Sergeant First Class John "Killer" Malcomb thought I was worth his time to train. Or at least to keep me alive until I could pry my head out of my ass. The first time we met was on the airport tarmac for Capital City in The Gut.
The spamcan had just dumped the lot of us out onto the wet hardstand. The Bandits were still running the hose over everyone, trying to get the worst of the puke washed off. As everyone stood around like the lost and disoriented puppies were really were right then, the field First came into our lives.
In that magical way only a senior Sergeant has with communication, Killer grabbed the first Grunt he could reach. Turning the guy to point him in the direction he wanted us to go, he kicked the poor sod in the ass hard enough to lift the Grunt's feet in the air. Short, concise and unambiguous. The most perfect kind of communication. It took just a second for the rest of us to grasp the obvious and follow along.
I looked over my shoulder as we walked away. The Bandits had changed their focus, sluicing out the 'personnel compartment' with the same hose used on us. By the way, if anyone ever offers you a ride in a Transport, Supersonic, Personnel, Autonomous, Modified. That is to say, a spamcan - just shoot 'em. The only way people would go through a second trip on one of those monsters was because it's the only way out of The Gut. Just the same, I once saw two Grunts take a discharge at port of embarkation to avoid a second ride...
I digress. Once Sergeant Malcomb got the mass of flesh moving, it was a simple matter to herd us over to the repple depot. Once there, we were shown into a large metal building. Killer disappeared into a small...container. A few minutes later, it dawned on everyone our kit was stacked in the far corner. This was rapidly becoming a voyage of discovery, something new for far too many in the crowd.
Anyone can join up. If you are above room temperature, speak minimal English, and don't openly drool, you're in. Training, if that's a correct word, is both short and brutal. The brutality is by design. Those that survive or don't walk away, get an ID and blood chit, then are sent on to a gaining unit where their real training begins. I my case, my ass got shipped to The Gut. I found out later many in my initial cadre were sent to Africa. Not one of them survived.
After sorting out my kit, I wandered over to a corner. There I found a seat on a ratty looking cot. The rest of the herd pawed through the stack and retrieved their gear. That much done, many hooked up with some Tunes. Others got stoned. Quite the circus.
Two of the crowd had clearly been down this road. They quickly had their gear hung up on one of the roof support beams. After covering the kit with some kind of mesh, they stood next to an outside door. When Sergeant Malcomb reappeared, they waved to get his attention.
I watched with some fascination as the each held up one hand, fingers spread. When that got no reaction, they held up both hands, again, fingers spread. Malcomb answered by holding up a single finger, made a fist and bumped his head with the fist. The two repeated the finger and fist to head bump before bolting out the door. Good for them, but I had no idea what was just communicated.
Malcomb called out a name and disappeared back into what turned out to be a small office space. He never looked back to see if the person he called would come over. Nobody was that stupid or that stoned, at least, not yet. My turn came after nearly an hour. I was getting nervous. None that entered had exited that I could see.
Soon enough or maybe too soon, my name was called. Gathering up my kit, I headed over to the door where the field First had disappeared. Once inside, I was greeted by a bright space. A space occupied by one chair holding Malcomb and one desk. The desk supported an old school reader screen. The Sergeant held out his hand. It took a second for me to fumble out my ID chit and hand it over. It got swiped over the reader, and then while perusing the data displayed, he flipped the chit back to me. All of this without looking at me, a neat trick.
Not knowing how long this would take, I dropped my gear and took a seat on the clammy concrete floor. His first question was "Anyone tell you to take a seat?"
I was tired, hungry and had just spent too long in a puke-covered roller coaster ride down to this Hellhole. So I said the first thing that came to me. "No, Sergeant. Not knowing how long we'll be at this, I thought it best to sit. I can hear you just fine." He glanced at me, like one might look at a bug, I suppose. The next question was a surprise.
"Says here, you have an education. What happened?"
I took a second before answering that one. "I finished Skool if that's what you mean. My folks did well enough when I was younger to have a terminal at the house. The Corporation later decided they could make more money by renting out our house. Because dad worked for the same Corporation, we couldn't afford the rent. Nothing new."
"Farmcorp Amalgamated." I almost asked why it mattered, but kept my piehole closed. Never pass up a chance to keep your mouth shut. Not just good advice, in the Army, it's the best advice anyone ever gave me.
"Sharecroppers?" Now he sounded...curious.
That question hit a real nerve. "No!" I had to take a breath. It did no good to unload on a stranger, especially one that had this much power over me right now. "We were tenant workers. Then some bright bulb in Geneva decided the Corporation could do better on their cost to profit ratio. We got tossed and then they brought in sharecroppers." I didn't bother to add that it was damn near slavery the way 'croppers were treated. Not my problem, that life was now gone. Forever.
"So you joined the Army?"
"No, Sergeant. I worked as an itinerate mechanic, loader, machine tender and finally, as a labor enforcer. When that all dried up, I signed on." Now he stopped what he was doing and took a real, long and hard look at me sitting on the floor.
"No other choice, then?"
What the Hell was he getting at? "No. I had a lot of other choices. Several Corporations were hiring." That got a laugh, one that even sounded human.
"Yeah, well, fuck that. Nobody with a functioning brain is going to take work over in Africa. Not now anyway." He looked back at me. "So. What do you think you're going to get out of the Army?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Looked back at Malcomb. "I might learn a few things, maybe. At the other end, what I learn could prove to have some value. I'm a big boy. I know that if the Corporations aren't giving anything away, the Army sure as Hell isn't." At least I got fed, most of the time.
"I see. You have any questions?"
"Spit it out, I've got the rest of those..." he pointed over his shoulder, "to process and I haven't got all night."
I took a chance, "I saw those two who left..." I could see him working up to something. "They hung their gear with some kind of strap. How do I get one of those?" That caught him completely by surprise.
"Ahhh. They call 'em sticky straps or slap straps. As far as getting one... What would you do with it?"
"Use it to keep my kit up out of the mud." I had to work hard for what I owned. Why not take care of it?
He just shook his head. "You'll figure it out soon enough. You're in hooch twentysix. Feeding is open all the time. Your group leaves in the morning for FOL Brightstar. Got it?"
"Time and place for departure?"
"Crack of dawn, north portal and be ready for some...walking." He pointed to a door at the back of the space. When I walked outside, the rain had stopped and the sun was setting. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next...
Finding the feeding station was easy enough. Just follow your nose. Despite that, I loaded up on the starch and filled my pockets with whatever I could find that didn't look like it would rot overnight in the humidity. I got a couple of strange looks as I never sat my kit down. Finding my hooch was simple enough. An open sided tent with some cots, I pulled a couple together and settled in for a nap. I had the place to myself.
Getting up before dawn was simple. Downing a full canteen before racking out ensured I wouldn't miss the movement. The feeding station gave up something that looked like pancakes. I went back for more, stuffing those in my kit for something to eat later. Never miss a chance to grab some extra food, the first thing I'd learned in the Army. That and how to wait.
I'd thought we would walk over to a motor transport pool and catch a ride out to the Forward Operating Location. I'd thought wrong. After we'd been walking for two hours, Malcomb called a break. Some of the folks in the column had been bitching non-stop from the second we walked out the portal. A few others just hooked up their Tunes and humped along, nodding with the music bouncing around inside their skulls. Everyone just dropped when the halt was called.
I took a few steps off the road and took a lean against a tree, letting a branch take the weight of my kit up off the shoulders. I'd worked most of my life on a farm. Sunup to sundown, all of it hard work, no matter what you did. You didn't make any real money, but at least you could eat like a king. This walk was just another in the long days I'd had in my life and if I was honest, not really all that hard. Boring as Hell though.
After a few minutes rest, we were joined by another set of NCO's. Where they had come from, I had no idea. The three of them walked down the column, with Malcomb pointing and gesturing. When he was finished, only a few of us were left. Waiting until the mass of flesh disappeared, Malcomb started walking up the road. The road soon took a turn which headed into the hills.
The next break lasted a bit longer. This time we were joined by the two that had escaped the building last night. I still didn't bother to ask. It was clear to me that this was acceptable as Malcomb said nothing to the two; they just nodded at each other. I emptied my canteen because carrying water in your belly was easier than humping it on your kit.
The day ended when we arrived at a fairly good sized camp. Surrounded by razor wire, it sat on a good sized shelf; with the jungle pushed back a considerable distance from the wire. The next morning we were issued weapons.
When my turn came, Malcomb and second NCO just shook their heads and pointed to the side. After everyone else had picked up their ammo and headed back into camp, these two gave me the once over again. This was getting old. That we would need a weapon, and soon, had been made obvious by handing them out. D'oh, even a fool could see that much. What they wanted from me was real mystery.
Figuring everything up to now was part of some kind of testing or filtering process, I'd kept my mouth shut and my head on a swivel. Now the mystery bit was past old. But I still wasn't going to say anything first. Last night at the repple depot had been something of a shock. I never talk about myself. Ever. This was now an old habit, one I'd picked up working the ag circuit. I wasn't about to say any more about myself past that which was required.
The three of stood there, staring at each other for several minutes. Finally, Malcomb walked away, heading back into the camp proper. After he'd disappeared, the man in front of me said, "Killer's right. You're quite the hard case." He looked at a gizmo on his wrist, then back at me. "You qualified on everything at training. What do you want to carry?"
I didn't know just how to take this. Choice seemed to be such a rare thing in the Army or what little I'd seen of it. Was this another test? "Ahh. An Individual Weapon. With optics, if I can get a set." His answer was about what I'd expected.
I could see he was curious, what had Sergeant Malcomb said to the guy? I took my time in the reply. "It's the only issue weapon that I know of that isn't always full auto." I shrugged. Let him figure it out.
"Fair enough. Caseless ammo or not?"
Now he had me. I had no idea what this meant. "I'm sorry. What's the difference?"
"Caseless ammo is fired electrically. Battery sits in the stock."
"Not caseless then." I quickly added, "Before you ask. I don't...care for Gizmos. I don't even wear a chron." I wasn't about to say why, that was personal. Automation…Gizmos, had held such promise back in the day. Now, they were just another instrument used by the Corporations to... I shook my head. "Besides, it means less weight to hump."
To the guy's credit, he pointed to a rack of weapons in a shelter and said "Pick one you think will work for you. These are all new. Optics are in a box at the back." With that, he went over to a small terminal and started entering data from the earlier picks made by the other green beans.
I looked at every one of the racked weapons. They were, in fact, all brand new. In the back of the rack sat a couple more IWs, and one of those already had an optic attached. I examined it closely, to see how the optic was secured. A fast look down the barrel showed it to be nearly smooth metal. Interesting, but not worth bothering the man who seemed to be busy doing so much busy work and trying hard not to look at me. Feeling like trained monkey, I took my time to look over each of the weapons on the rack. Finally, I picked one where all the parts felt like they fit together properly and added an unpowered optic. If I had to shoot at something in the dark, I was pretty well screwed by then anyway....
We all spent the afternoon at the improved range to set the sights and ensure everything worked as advertised. I was at it longer than anyone. The point of aim of my weapon kept wandering. I knew that wasn't right. The training weapons I'd used in the past had been beaten to shit and didn't have this problem. With no other option, I asked Sergeant Malcomb for help. After I explained, step by step what I'd done, he walked away without saying anything. Just before I really got pissed, he came back and dropped a box on the platform I was using to hold my weapon.
"Try this ammo. Different low bidder. Sometimes, tiny differences in the tolerances make a big difference."
As it turned out, he was right. I tightened up everything, cleaned the weapon and headed back into camp for some eats. Tomorrow, the scuttlebutt held, we would be heading for our final destination, FOL Brightstar. I'd worry about that tomorrow.
The two NCOs waited until they were alone. "Well, Skull, what'd ya think?" Malcomb put his hands in his pockets, waiting for his friend to reply.
"Dunno, Killer. I'd almost have to say too...smart for his own good. Almost. I will say it was scary watching him work that weapon. Anybody on the other end is going to be a goner, for sure. You can over think things in combat, wind up dead or killing everyone with you. Too easy sometimes."
Malcomb took his time. "Yeah, no shit. Trouble is, I'm scheduled to rotate out in a few months and I need to train up someone..." He looked at his companion... "Unless you think you want..."
"Fuck that! Between you and those damn Air Commando CeeDees, I'm already having nightmares I can't drink away. How in the Hell can you work with those....monsters?"
He chuckled. "The Air Commando guys are a bit...too tightly wrapped. The mutts are okay in my book, even if they're ugly as all Hell. Don't forget," he poked the other man's arm, "your nightmares would be worse if it was you out patrolling in the jungle instead of the Cee Dees."
"You know better than that, Killer. I'm out after this contract is up. The Union is mostly a big open sewer these days, but I know this place..."
That brought outright laughter. "Skull. Really? That place ceased to exist years ago... Everyone has this place, and they dream of going back and doing something right there. Good luck. I'm more a realist. I'm heading..."
"Out to sea. We've all heard it Killer."
"Well then, next time you head down to Capital City, let me know. I'll tag along and show you my boat…at the marina."
Neither one of them had a chance to see the boat or head for that place. And Roscoe would be witness to all of it.
End Segment John Malcomb
What does a Cee Dee look like?
Like a really bad nightmare. The dog (English Mastiff) in this image is not genetically modified. For a Cee Dee, imagine something bigger, smarter than a Cattle Dog and has an attitude.....
Would it be helpful to have this background stuff in the beginning? I think it helps clear up alot.
This story will wind up as book for sale. Thus, use of copyrighted material, used on the site under the Fair Use / excerpt rule, would not be Kosher - but licensing fees will. So, no doggie pics in the book. I'm trying to find the 'right kind' of doggie pic for the cover with a one-time license fee - and have had no luck so far. Since most of my books to date have sold for under $2.00 - it doesn't take much in the way of fees to render a self-published book an exercise in wasted time....
As for the other -
I've written this story and present it with a deliberate zig-zag ...I won't say style, but in a way where a character is mentioned or featured for the first time. Then a segment generally follows that lays out the character or fleshes out the same. I understand that some folks just refuse to read nonlinear (straight line) stories. My proofer called me names (in a nice, well-educated way) and refused to look at additional segments. "Just too crazy" - and it just might be....crazy.
This layout also may just kill all sales - or for folks that like something a bit more off-beat, make me some ducats. To date, readers that have commented fall into one of the two camps, with folks looking for the next installment far outnumbering the more conventional readers.
Which, by the way, is why I posted this here. When folks on this board comment, they tend to be verbose (very good for me) and not shy about sharing their opinion of something (very good for me) - and so, we all watch as Roscoe learns to live life with the lemons provided by a hard place to live....
Thank you for reading along and making a comment, I appreciate your time.
This story has immense potential. Keep a close eye on the movie rights.
Back in the day I had penned a short I called Justice, Inc, where a loose association of Vets could be called upon to help another Vet in trouble - think corrupt local pol or sheriff.
Suddenly, "The A Team" shows up - an almost exact clone of the story line I was working on. It had to be one of those GMTA things, but, yeah, nobody likes to get ripped.
I'd love to have this wind up as a flick... Hard to say what actor would make a good Roscoe....or Tess.
Just a fast note - I've been battling the flu for the last two weeks.
The flu has been winning so far....
I always get the peanut butter end of the stick. New kind of mission? Call Roscoe.
The brief was simple. This patrol was going to be simple. They all started off simple anyway. Follow the map, kill whoever needed killing. Hump back to the FOL. Rinse, repeat. Right.
The brief was canned by now. The drone scans had revealed some increased activity at the far end of our sector. That could mean anything from some poor Indigs clearing land to plant some crops or the damn Chinese stirring up some new shit with the locals.
Since the Chinese had already lost much of their holdings in Africa due to the plague or the related population collapse, they'd been making a play for territory the Union's backyard. That made the folks in charge of things…unhappy. The fact that the poor bastards who actually lived here got caught in the middle didn't matter to the Union or the Chinese.
I'd seen this for my entire life. You know the old saw - Mind over matter. The Union and Chinese didn't mind and the Indigs didn't matter. To anyone. Cue Roscoe.
This time I was going to provide guide services for a four man Air Commando Hunter/Killer team. Take them to the AO and then wait for them to finish their business. Why me? I don't get lost. Even after thrashing through the jungle for a couple of days, I can land you at any designated point. Call it having a good bump of direction. Or a feel for the terrain.
Whatever. I get a map and I get there. Results. That's all the Army cares about anyway. The how is mostly immaterial. If you happen to live through the whole thing – well, that's just a bonus for you….
The field First gave me the map set and my basic load of ammo just before we took off. After the incident where the green bean blew up a squad hooch, the ammo was held by the NCOs, for whatever good that did. I'd policed up enough ammo from Indigs or Friendlies that my stash outside of the FOL was pretty good sized. Mau-Mau was right, of course – one never could tell when trouble would come calling or from where…
At the beginning of my tour, a squad would hump out into the jungle. The Wizards of Smart over in Military Intelligence would provide a target area based on data gathered, or maybe just a dart toss into the map. Whatever.
Once out in the Big Green, the squad - if not totally lost, would try and find the enemy de jour. If everyone but the Indigs got lucky, the squad then would call in air or arty strikes. Eventually, The Word came down from Big Army that this...technique was becoming too expensive. Surprise.
So the Bandits came up with NEOdogs, combat dogs. The Cee Dees. Now the big idea to save on the expense was to send in Hunter/Killer teams. Smaller unit, lower cost, higher body count. Dollars divided by bodies equals win-win-win.
Didn't quite work out that way. Big Army thinking was to drop the Teams in close using Pogos. Let them do their thing, and then pull 'em out via Pogo. I’ll have to admit, the first couple of missions were successful. In as much as the Teams whacked a good number of Indigs and their advisors. Ta-Da. No need to patrol, cut back on troop levels, dollars saved.
Next couple of missions, not so much Ta, let alone any Da.. When the Pogos showed up, they got blasted out of the sky. No patrols meant the Indigs could and did get closer to the major cities and raised Hell. Once, the Indigs managed to blow up a whore house, killing a number of the in-country 'command staff'.
The whole process got reworked. Reality is funny that way. It has a way of showing even the Big Army where they might just be…if not wrong, certainly more than a bit off in their thinking. Old assumptions get thrown back in to be mixed with the latest and greatest.
So, the squads got pushed into the guide business. One or two squaddies would go out in the jungle to confirm the drone feeds. Next, they would find a good LZ and the Air Commando could go into business. That worked for a bit, but then the Indigs started watching anyplace that would make a good LZ. Once more, Pogos got blasted out of the sky.
In the end, we'd lost the Teams, the squaddies and the Pogos. That was a lot of dollars shot in the ass, not to mention the piles of dead troopers. All of which someone had to answer for. The head shed went absolute dog-shit raving nuts.
Everything old is new again. Now the Teams would land somewhere around an FOL, and a squaddie or two would lead the Team to the target zone to begin operations. This turned out to be the least cost option for the Big Army. The Teams did a good enough job, they lost fewer Pogos and when air strikes were called in, for say, a bunker or tunnel complex, they were more likely to actually hit something.
So here I was on a nice day, humping across the fields outside of the FOL and wondering when the Team would show up. It wasn't quite a game. If I saw any of the Team first, it was a bust. If they hooked up on me, I got my nose rubbed in it. Yes, quite the game.
My luck was a least consistent. My AO got all of the green beans. At least, the humans were greenies; most of the Cee Dees had been at this for a while. After I'd been humping for most of the day, I took off from the goat path I'd been following. I could 'feel' a stream was nearby and wanted to get a water refill, grab a nap and then find a place with some good trees to crash for the night.
I found water sooner than I expected. I could drain some vines to drink, but with open water I could fill my water bladders and canteen much faster. As I waited for the canteen to refill again, I found some shade and pulled out a coffeebar to snack on. Made locally, these were the best and perhaps the only good thing about The Gut. The local coffee was kick-ass strong. Boil that down and mix in some paraffin, a lot of sugar, a little flour and chocolate and you had a coffeebar. Just the thing to keep you going on a long hump.
As I sat in the shade, noshing on my coffeebar, I heard something move in the bush behind me. That was the trouble with going out solo. You might not come back. I was far enough off any path that it was unlikely to be an Indig or other two legged trouble. Four leg trouble, that was a different matter entirely.
I was ready for this. Reaching into my blouse, I pulled out a piece of jungle jerky, holding it over my head. Goat, I think it was. Two seconds later, a massive set of teeth closed over the meat and pulled it from my fingers. My fingers were still attached. So far, so good.
"I heard you." The Cee Dee walked in front of me, sat down and then showed his teeth. "Kiss my ass, mutt. I heard you crashing around in the woods. I win." Pointing, I added, "Water's over there. Should be okay for you to drink. Where's your partner?"
The Cee Dee shook his head, and then stuck his nose off to the side. After flicking his ears around, like that made any sense to me, the mutt wandered over for a drink. This mutt was the one I called Lightening, because he had a torn spot on one ear. I kept this name thing to myself.
The Air Commando types were always at least a little off bubble. At least, that's how I saw 'em. Talking to 'their' Cee Dee was, I suppose, a big no-no for non-Commando types. I get that. We have the same mindset. Personnel Other than Grunt, a pouge. I'm not going to put my nose in their business. Just the same...if a Cee Dee wants to be friendly, I'm fly with that. We have to travel together; it's nice to think I won't be dinner...
The rest of the Team showed up and I was ready to go. We went up one knife-edge ridge after another, before I finally stopped, just short of the ridgefall in front of me. This was a good place. It had some trees, plenty of vines and I would be able to stay out of the wind which was sure to come up at nightfall. I pulled out the map the field First had given me three days ago and pointed to the only spot marring the thin plastic surface.
"Here we are. Killer told me..." I never carry anything, mapwise, that would be of use to anyone other than me. "Your AO is on the far side of this ridge structure. Can't be any kind of farming operation, the terrain is just too steep. He said the best guess was a resupply point or some kind of spotter location for Pogos..." I kept my mouth shut on what I thought.
The Ell Tee leading the team was staring at his gizmo and shaking his head. "How did you do that?"
"Do what?" Like I said, their business, my business. "Are we in the wrong location? Is this a bad IP?"
"Never mind. What do you plan on doing now?" He wasn't pissed off, not quite anyway.
"What I always do, Ell Tee. I'm going to put up my hammock, hang my gear and rack out. When you come back here, I'll lead you back to the FOL." That must have hit some kind of nerve for the guy.
"What if we decide to press back on our own?
I shook my head. "It's all fly. I'll give it a day or two after all the shooting stops and then head back myself. Actually, won't be the first time I've done that. Then, when you don't show up, I'll get stuck with leading the search party." I took the time to put up a couple of slap straps and hang my hammock.
I turned back to the Ell Tee, "Your gizmos are pretty slick. But they don't, they can't show what's under this canopy." I pointed to the mass of vegetation below our resting place. "Gizmo's ain't magic. Pretty easy to step off into a sinkhole covered by brush or fall off the edge of a ridge. The last team that took off on their own...took us a full week to find the ones that were still alive."
I hung up my ruck and water bladder. "I'm not trying to tell you how to do your job. But you should know that I've been living in this AO for the last three years. Most of it out away from the camps. I have another year to go before my tour is up. Don't know or care why your highers keep moving you all around. That's your business. Mine is to get you here and back...alive. Yes?"
They took off as darkness was falling. I hit the rack. By putting my hammock far enough up in the trees, then stringing a cover over it, I avoided the bugs. Any two legged trouble would walk under me and not even know I was there. The only thing that could make this any sweeter was a good heavy rain. I'd love to have a shower, even if you'd freeze your nads off this high in the mountains.
As had become my custom when this close to a good ridgeline, I'd pulled down my gear, got everything squared away and found a nice pothole to spend the day in. These mountains were volcanic; a few went up over 4,000 meters. That was at the other end of my AO, and we rarely had to get up that high. During the day, a cool breeze would blow along and I could take it easy. The explosions started late the next day.
Things got quiet pretty quick. Good for them, the gizmos must have worked for a change. I took a nap, figuring the team would be back before full dark and we could lose some altitude prior a halt. I don't like hanging around someplace that Pogos had just pasted, that seemed to be asking for trouble.
The first Cee Dee showed up about an hour before dark, the second, not long after. I was always careful to set out some water for the Cee Dees in a square of plastic scrap I carried if we weren't located near a good water point. The human part of the team usually showed up a bit later. This time was different.
The Cee Dees didn't drink the water. They just looked at me, then turned to face the direction they'd come from. After doing this little dance twice, one got behind me and start pushing me.
"Whoa. Hold on. What's wrong?" Sometimes it take s me a second to catch on. The Cee Dees' looked at each other, ears going a mile a minute. I grabbed my load and followed. I had to figure that if pushing me didn't work, I just might be missing body parts next time around.
One Cee Dee took the lead, the other stayed by my side. Now I was starting to freak out. Cee Dees just didn't walk next to their human handler. At least, I'd never seen this kind of behavior. With plenty of nudging, we came up on the casualty just darkness fell. It was the skinny kid. The one person on the team that had, quite literally, not uttered a single word the entire time we humped up to the IP. He was in bad shape. It looked like he'd been too close to something when it went off.
I stripped his aid kit and gave him a dose of pain meds. The stuff was supposed to help with blood pressure. Most of one leg was all but gone. I used a slap strap to stop the trickle of blood left draining out. His chameleon suit had a set of auto-tourniquets in each of the arms and legs. That was all that'd kept him alive...up to now. I dropped an entire can of blood expander in him and hoped for the best. I rarely humped an IV set; the heat would quickly ruin most anything that would be of help in this situation.
Normal procedure was to do what you could and holler for pickup. Except, right now, I didn't have a radio or a squawker. And the kid was missing everything, including his weapon. His harness was empty. It was like he'd tossed everything. Now my freak-out meter was pegged. If I didn't get this kid to help and soon, he'd be a deader for sure.
I stripped out my kit. Just the water bladder and my IW would be all I could afford to carry. I made a sling out the hammock, going under the kid and over each of my shoulders. I would take off at first light. No way in Hell was I going to stumble around in the dark and hope I didn't step out into thin air.
The Cee Dees, at first, started the push thing again. I told Lightening "Sorry. I need the daylight." Pointing to my cheat, and then the kid, I added, "I'll watch this guy, you watch our ass. I only have one magazine of ammo. Make sure I don't need to use it."
The two mutts faded into the growth. I gave Junior the second dose of pain meds just before daylight. I could only hope I wouldn't be carrying a deader before the day was out. Time would tell. With the two Cee Dees walking my point, I took a risk and followed the goat trails. I made it out on the highlands before dark. As proof the Cosmos did let a little good luck drip out of its stingy grip once in a while...I stumbled over a village right at dark. The village had a working comm link and it wasn't long before a set of Pogos landed and took off with the casualty.
I politely declined transport. I now had a set of Cee Dees to worry about. I also needed to see if I could sort out what'd happened. After all, this was my mission, no matter what anyone else thought. I was out of the village before the second Pogo was airborne. No sense in tempting fate.
The next morning, I went back up on the mountain to retrieve the rest of my kit and have a look around. The Cee Dees showed back up once the village dropped out of sight. It had occurred to me, more than once as I walked away, that the folks that tore up the team very likely staged out of the village behind me.
That meant my ass was now in the breeze. I jogged up the goat trails for a ways, before cutting into the jungle. I found a nice shady spot and settled in to see who would come along looking for another set of ears to add to their collection. With only a single magazine load of ammo, I wasn't about to start shooting at anything.
Sure as the sun sets, it wasn't an hour before two skinny little bastards went boogieing up the trail. The pale green uniforms, oddball sun hats and the ugly sandals matched with what I'd been told was currently worn by Chinese 'advisors' on this end of the Gut.
By now, I'd gotten used to the idea that one of the Cee Dees would be within arm’s reach. Don't know if that was how they operated, but I sure as Hell didn't know any different. When nobody else came up the trail, I snapped my fingers to get the mutt's attention.
When he was looking right at me, I pointed to my eyes, thumped my chest and then pointed to the trail heading back to the village. I pointed at him, then up the trail where the little advisors had disappeared. Then I put my hands together and made a chomping motion.
"I got your back if you want to go get some..." I was talking to the air, as soon as I'd made the chomping motion; the Cee Dee disappeared like so much black smoke. They came back later, each carrying a sunhat. They dropped the hats at my feet. I tucked the loot into my cargo pocket and we hit the trail.
It took the better part of a week, but we found the rest of the team. I buried the remains where they were found. The families would be given a pound or two of ash and be told it was their son, husband or father. I was able to recover two of three ID chits, and bits of the gizmo set they had been carrying. The shreds of ordinance I did find seemed odd. Didn't matter, the sample would go back for examination. I marked the location of everything on my map. Someone might even look at the markings, but I had my doubts.
Early the next morning, we headed back to the FOL. I had some time to consider what to do with the Cee Dees. I had no doubt that if I walked into the FOL with the mutts, they would both be dead before the hour was out. I could hide them out in the jungle around the FOL and try to find someone in the Air Commando that could retrieve the Cee Dees. If I couldn't make that happen, I'd have to wing it from there.
When I walked back into the FOL, I was sent to talk with Sergeant Malcomb. I took the seat he pointed to and waited for it to drop in the pot. I didn't screw up, but I wasn't quite sure how the Big Army would take the entire episode.
To his credit, he didn't bother to ask if I was hungry. Back in the day, I'd hired the oldest, nastiest hooker I could find and we disappeared into the jungle for a full week. She showed me everything that was safe to eat and what to avoid. What stories she told anyone else didn't matter. I wouldn't go hungry while I was in the highlands.
"Tell me what happened, don't leave out anything, don't shade. We've got a big op coming up and I need everything you can give me."
When I dug out the Chinese hats and tossed them on his desk, he jumped like I'd dropped a live grenade instead. After his cursing slowed down, I added, "They walked right into it. I can only guess their gizmos gave them away somehow. The guy I recovered had thrown away everything on his harness, even his weapon. Did he make it?"
"He did. You'll have a visitor tomorrow, so you'll have to sit out this next op. Some kind of spook, I suspect. Wants to chat with you." He pushed the hats back across the desk. "These will make him happy. Ask for something before you give 'em up."
Before I could reply, he reached down and opened a drawer in his desk. He tossed me the package he found inside. "This came in for you. Some guy named Jones dropped it off. Air Commando type. Said they owed you big time." After a pause, he added, "Times four."
The package held a bottle of 20 year old scotch. Tomorrow was going to be no fun, I hate answering stupid questions while nursing a hangover...
Sirona. Her mother is Asclepius.
Fluffy and I had just finished working through this burg on the edge of the breadbasket. For some reason the mutt wanted to stop and see if he could find any NEOs in the area. I was ready for a break and some eats, so it was all good. He took off, wearing his helmet this time. And I scored on some massively decent meatloaf and gravy. Simple tastes mean you’re likely to be a lot happier in this life.
After knocking back some watery coffee I headed for Rosie. I settled in and started a non-flagging system check while waiting for fuzzbutt to make an appearance. If he didn’t show up by the time the systems test completed, I would start cruising around town. If anybody asked, I could honestly say I was looking for my mutt.
The display on the brain bucket showed all all goose eggs, so Rosie was ready to roll. I zipped up my jacket and worked the strap on my bucket when I felt someone touch me. I don’t like being touched, let alone by an unknown pouge… When I looked all I saw was a hooker.
Hooker top, which is to say shiny and semitransparent, a skirt split up the side. I didn’t have to look to know there was nothing underneath her skirt. The shoes were odd, definitely not hooker shoes. I didn’t bother to look at her face, I knew it would be caked with makeup...
“No sale. So, back off.”
When I went to lift her hand off my arm she said, “Mister. I need a ride out of town, real bad. I’ll do anything for a ride, you know?”
I looked up and was given another surprise. This broad was tall, more than five ten, maybe a bit more. Nasty matted hair and enough makeup to had any blemishes from drug use… “You deaf? No sale.”
Now her hand tightened on my arm enough to hurt. “I’m not joking, Mister. I need to leave right now. I can pay for a ride, if it’s money you want..” She wasn’t whining, she sounded…scared shitless.
“Pimp pissed off at you, Doll face?” Her hand tightened to the point of real pain.
“Mister, I’ve got some men looking for me and I don’t want to go with them anymore. Please. What can I do…”
The van blew up next to Rosie. The driver’s door slammed open and this suit jumped out. Not an APE, the suit was too good. Private, whoever he was. The sunglasses were a nice touch. His opening was first rate.
“Bad choice, even for scoot trash. Go away now and nothing bad will happen…”
I tried to pry the woman’s hand off my arm, intending to tell the goon she was all his… Then the dumb son of a bitch shot me.
No warning. Out came the gat and then boom, he shot me. I’m as easy going as the next guy, but just damn, that hurt. I’ve been busted in the ribs while doing labor enforcement, hurts like Hell, but you tape things up and get on with it.
This was a whole lot worse than getting hit with a bat; the pain was enough to double me up. The goon then made his second mistake. He reached across me to put the grab on Doll face. I whipsawed, slamming my brain bucket into his face. Feeling his face crunch through the helmet helped with the pain, a bit anyway. He hit the deck a second later.
I got off Rosie so I could give him a solid boot to the head. For good measure, I slammed the van door on his head a few times. You know, just till it was good and squishy. Then, I stuck my finger in the hole in my jacket. Now I was pissed.
Finding good leather jackets is nearly impossible these days. Now I was going to have to ride all the way back out to the Settlement Lands and try to con Yellow Feather out of another hide and kiss his brother in law’s ass to work it into a jacket. Again. What a pain in the ass that was going to be.
I don’t mind a little rudeness from time to time. Hell, I’ve been accused of bad table manners on occasion. But shooting someone like that and in broad daylight no less… That went way past rude. Doll face was still attached to my arm like some kind of a new organ or something.
“Look, Kiddo. If that’s your pimp, you’re good to go now. Let go of my colors and I’ll leave you sort his shit out with the pigs. Okay?”
Now wide eyed, and dancing from foot to foot, all she could say “I really, really need to get out of here. If the other guys catch me… They’ll kill me.” Then it dawned on her what had just happened. “Are you hurt bad?”
“Nah. I get shot all the time…” I tried not to shout, but it still came out a bit harshly. “Fuck yes, I got hurt. The dumb SOB just shot me.” Before I could say more, she just pointed. At the other end of the street the twin to this van just pulled onto the street, but it headed away. How long that would last was anybody’s guess. I was ready to smack Doll face with my Dilly bar to get her off my arm when fuzzbutt comes trotting up.
Didn’t even slow down, just hopped up on Rosie and took his seat. I bit off a curse and got back on Rosie. I turned the woman and said, “I’ll give you a ride up to the next burg, then you’re on your own…” My pronouncement was cut short when the first round buzzed past my noggin. I drove Rosie up on the sidewalk and squirted on out of there. I got past a corner and let my scoot have the horses. Every last one I had in the hole. Rosie didn’t disappoint, she ate ‘em up and we blew out of town like a streak of light. I kept running flat out until the over temp alarm started chiming.
By then,. I was ready to take a break and sort out the damage to my creaky ass. I didn’t even look for a road or trail, just headed across the sagebrush. There was a clump of trees in the distance, and that looked god enough for now. If the assholes that shot at me had access to drones, we were as good as cooked anyway.
End into segment
Comments desired. PM is okay.
They kicked me out of the hospital after less than a week. This time, I was literally amazed. My leg had been a mess after stepping on the mine. The medicos had the bone repaired the first day. Then, after cutting away all the mangled flesh, they sprinkled some powder over what was left and put me into a fancy rack.
The powder and some sleep made a huge difference. The IV stuck in my arm was some kind of protein gunk. I never did get to eat the entire time I was there. At the end of the week, they wrapped my leg in some foam stuff and out the door I went. After a ride to the train station, I was put on one of the Intercontinental lines. The cabin was small, but I was by myself. When I woke up again, I had arrived in Hell.
At the repple-depot, they were at least marginally decent. I had the use of a wheelchair as the Bandits dumped gear, a weapon and an odd-looking outfit into a rolling bin. I had expected to go from the depot to some kind of barracks area. What happened was they shoved my stuff into a three-wheeled cyclo and parked me on top of it. After a long drive through the blazing heat, we arrived at the Trench.
If you ever wondered what Hell looks like, I can give you a tour.
The guy driving the cyclo helped unload my gear then pointed to a small elevated hut. "This is yours until you're able to walk better, at least a little. Water boy comes by every three days, the food wallah drops off your eats daily. You report anything to the food guy. He'll make sure the report gets up the chain."
I held up my hand. "You win. Just what the **** am I supposed to do? I just got out of the hospital…"
The driver looked at me for a minute, and then laid it on me. "What more do you want? You're alive. Everyone working this end of the Trench got here via the medicos. This is what passes for physical therapy. You get your ass out of the rack, every day and watch that…" He pointed at the hole in the ground that ran off into the distance. "Anything moves, you shoot it. Nothing come up this side alive – period. This is the quiet end, as you get to moving around better, you'll head West. So, right now, your job is to start walking. What else?"
"What about my leg?" To say I was searching for a clue was being polite.
"Didn't your liaison tell you anything?"
"Musta been his day off, nobody said shit to me about anything." I wasn't angry, I was just…lost. Something entirely new for me, or at least something I have been for a long time.
The driver cursed – he even had some new stuff I'd never heard. "You came in from Africa, yes?"
"No. I stepped on a mine down in The Gut. I'd transferred direct from Africa and was in-country for less than a year…" I had to stop. Even in the daylight, the nightmare of my time in Africa could still overwhelm me, this after nearly a year.
The driver looked at a gizmo on his arm, then back up at me. "This says you were in Africa less than two weeks ago, part of…"
I held up my hand again. "I was in Nouakchott, or at least what was left of it. The Euro Federation had glassed the place over a couple of months before we arrived. We were supposed to support some kind of expedition by the Finns heading in country looking for…whatever they were looking for. I got lucky, a few of us were left behind to guard the ship." Now I had to sit, I shaking so hard.
"Things were cool for about a week after the main expedition took off. We rigged wire and mines, in layers. The in-charge was freaked about just being there. He stayed on the boat whenever he didn't have to check on something or approve placement of stuff. Not too hard to guard fused sand, you know?"
The driver was back on his rig, sitting, clearly on the edge of incomprehension about my story. "So, what happened?"
"I doubt anyone will ever know. We got some garbled radio stuff just before it hit the fan. Masses of people came boiling out of the desert. I guess they were looking to get on the boat." I put my face in my hands. "We must have killed thousands; they were stacked up in mounds. We got back to the boat, and even then, we had to shoot them in the water. The next wave was walking on the backs of the ones we'd just shot. We got away before we ran out of ammo – it was a near thing." I shook my head. "I don't think it made the funny papers. Too many people lost, too big a clusterfuck. Most of us got dropped directly at The Gut. The civs, I don't know what happened to them. Paid off I suppose."
The guy poked at the gizmo a few times before he looked back up at me. "I believe ya, man. I really do. But your record doesn't say shit about any of that." He looked back at the tiny screen, "Says here you got caught up in some machinery, nearly lost your leg." Now looking at me, he added, "Anybody that can mess with this many records, isn't anyone to piss off. I'd suggest making up a story and just getting by." He sat fully upright. "The foam stuff on your leg will fall off when the skin is fully healed – more or less. Keep your leg out of the sun for a while until the skin gets really settled. I'll try to get you some extra rations with meat or some kind of protein."
He drove off, both of us shaking our heads. It took a month, but I was walking pretty good when I got shifted to the next station down the line. This kept up until the routine was to pull a shift, walk to the next station west, crash. Get up and pull a shift, walk on. Rise, repeat.
One day, the food wallah handed me a folded sheet of paper. "What's this?"
"Your discharge. Your medical record says you're too messed up to stay in, but that you have no disabilities.
"When did I get examined? I haven't seen a medico for…"
"You been eat'n and walking for a while, guess that's all they need. Someone will be by for you in the morning. Good luck." With that, he rolled off.
I thought it was a bad joke. It wasn't. The paper he'd handed to me thanked me for my service. It had some kind of signature on it. Period. Sure enough, someone did stop by for me in the morning. The driver was wearing an Air Commando uniform and she was in a ute truck. Since my swag was limited to a single ruck, it didn't take long to leave. I was happy to note the truck had a cooler installed, the ride would at least be tolerable.
"Where are we headed?" Not that it mattered, I was being tossed with a bum leg and some credits, or at least I assumed some credits and nothing else past a heavy tan to show for my time in the Big Army.
"You got someplace you want to go? I've got an open warrant. That means I can take you to damn near anywhere in the Union." She smiled, something new for me. Not too many women worked out on the Trench, all of them were pretty damaged. "The Air Commando may be a lot of things, Roscoe. Forgetful isn't one of them. Do you have someplace you want to go?"
"Not really. I appreciate the lift. You have any suggestions?"
"Why don't you wait and see?"
With that, we drove across the desert and blasted sand of whatever place backed the Trench. When I woke up, we were pulling into a complex of buildings. Rather than ask, I was just happy to sit and enjoy the view. I had serious doubts if I'd ever get another woman this good looking to sit so close to me for a very long time to come.
The truck stopped in front of a smaller door on a wide, featureless building. "Here you go, Roscoe. You were good company and good luck."
I can take a hint. Since I got almost 20 gallons of water every three days, staying clean had never been an issue. I had to think that was the good company part. I got out of the truck and walked up to the door. It was unlocked and as soon as I opened it, the truck drove off. I never even thought to ask her name.
It was dark enough inside that it took my eyes a while to adjust. I was in a small room, the only door I could see was the one I used to enter. On the far side of the room was a hole in the wall with a tiny counter, flat and empty. On the wall next to the hole was a few pieces of paper, I couldn't see what was holding them up on the wall and it didn't matter.
I walked over to the hole and looked through. All I could see was wall after wall of giant shelving units. When I'd worked at the ag rebuild outfit years ago, the local supply warehouse had the same set up. So, why would the Air Commando drop me off at a warehouse?
I had three things that I could do about now. Grab my swag and figure out how to get out of the complex, sit on my ass and wait for someone to show up. Or… I stuck my head through the opening and let loose a whistle.
"Yo! Anyone alive back there?" Now I could feel comfortable while sitting. I wouldn't kill me to wait for a bit. Right now, it was too damn hot outside to go anywhere. Even on the Trench, I waited until well after sundown before humping up the line to my next OP. Even then, I was glad for the generous water rations.
I don't know how much time passed, life without a chron to nag you about the time is a different way to live, I'll be the first to admit. It's the way I've chosen to live, so I've gotten used to waiting for things. However long it was, a guy finally leaned out over the counter.
That got me a smile, then this - "Hello, Me. What can I do for you?"
I laughed. "I'm PFC Roscoe P. Calhoun. A proud eff'n citizen, I guess. An Air Commando type dropped me here. Now you know as much as I do."
"Roscoe? Damn, Man, I'm sorry. The word I got is that you wouldn't be here for…"
I held up my hand to stop the rush of words. "It's all good. I'm here now and see'n how it's too hot to go outside, how about you lend me a clue?"
After fiddling with something behind the wall, the guy grunted and that entire section of wall opened. "Grab your stash and come on back. Jonesie said he'd be back in a bit and I've got a couple of cold beers tucked away in the machine."
Not one to argue with an offer like that, I grabbed my swag and followed the guy as he headed into the maze of shelving. A few minutes of walking led to a fairly large open area. To one side was a battered desk and an old school soda machine. The guy snagged a set of keys out of the desk and opened the machine. In the dim light, I could see a stack of bottles under the shelving that held the soda.
The guy grabbed two and waved me over to the side. There was an alcove, a hole in the wall, in the massive shelving unit. It was invisible until you were right in front it. I took a seat on one of the comfortable chairs and took the offered beer. I didn't know who this guy was, but he sure knew how to set up a place to work.
After handing over a bottle opener he said – "Sorry for the confusion. This is Jonesie's gig, I'm just coving for him while he made a run." Sticking out his hand, he added, "Name's Norman, folks just call me Norm."
"Thanks for the beer, Norm. I was getting a little dry. Can you tell me what this is all about?"
After rubbing the back of his neck, Norm finally said, "I wish I knew. I've been working here at the complex for a long time, Jonsie just a couple of years. He's former Air Commando. Actually, everyone that works here is mostly former Air Commando. Small enough outfit that everyone knows everyone else, I guess you could say. That can help when you're looking for a gig, eh?" He took a good slug from the bottle.
"Makes sense. Just what is 'here'? I didn't see any signs or that. Is this even an installation?"
"It is and isn't. Still belongs to the Union, but it's a leased out facility. A long time ago, it was some kind of base or something. Still has a couple of big ass runways, we get the odd cargo dump from time to time. The outfit that leases the base sublet us this warehouse complex. We run a surplus disposal service for the Union. We sell what little surplus shit they have and take a cut as a commission. Mostly it's all scrap. But it pays enough to keep a few of us in the fish and chips, as they say. Anyway, the idea is that by keeping us here, the facility is maintained, so if it's ever needed in an emergency…"
"The Army would have the time to build something new in the most connected Senator's district."
"Pretty much. In the meantime, I get to eat regular. You're old enough to know that ain't always the case…"
"I worked the ag industry before I joined up with the Army, so yeah, I know. Things any better now?"
"Some. The Chinese and the Union have agreed to leave The Gut…someday. Until that happens, I guess it really means the regular types are out and the spooky guys are in, for now."
That made a lot of sense. My return to The Gut had pretty much been an endless head trip trying to figure out what the Hell was going on. I'd thought it was because I'd pissed someone off or they were trying to hide anyone who'd been in on the Africa debacle. What Norm just told me made as much sense as anything else. I'd been doing the guide thing for some sketchy looking characters. Once I'd dropped them off at the IP, they expected me to leave. I was on my way back to an FOL after dropping off a couple characters when I stepped on the box mine.
I took another good swallow from my beer. "So.. Who is this Jonsie? I never worked with anyone…"
Norm interrupted with "Why don't you ask him yourself?"
I followed his finger to see it pointing to a tall, thin man walking up to us. Clad in a one piece overall, he looked the part of an Air Commando type. Before I could say anything, Norm was out of his seat and headed out toward the door, waving to the stranger as he left. I finished off my beer, just in case this guy wasn't cool with Norm's approach to life.
"Hey! Roscoe! You got in early, that's great. You want another beer?"
Things were looking up, whoever this guy was, he had me on his side already. "Thanks. I would."
After a side trip to the machine, the guy joined me in the hidey-hole. "I see you met Norm." He handed me a cold bottle, "and he's got you started off on the right foot. Let me say thanks for coming on by…"
"Some nice Air Commando lady dropped me off here. Otherwise I would still be walking around trying to figure out what the Hell to do…"
"Yeah. About that. I was the one that got you an early release. Darlene was nice enough to offer to bring you here and …"
I put down my bottle and held up my hand. "Whoa. What?"
Yeah. This is going to be something of a long story. Sit back and I'll fill you in. What were you told while you were out on the Trench? Anything?
"Nobody said dick to me. The guy that dropped me at the first OP told me my records had been screwed with and the best, the smartest thing I could do was shut the fuck up and keep my head down until I could get cut loose. Otherwise, the whole set up seemed focused on keeping people from talking with each other. The only people I saw regularly were the food wallah and the water boy and they changed every few weeks. Thought they might have been Bandits."
He snorted. "Not hardly. The food and water gang are, for the most part, GID. Global Intelligence Directorate. Guess they wanted to see if you would start talking about your time in The Gut or the Africa thing."
"If I did?"
You were sent to the Trench for a reason. Start talking and nobody would miss you, the Trench is deep enough…you know."
I was shocked. I'd thought the deal with the Trench was to kill off anyone they could and then dump the ones that survived. This was an entirely new story line to consider.
"And you know this because…?"
"I spent nearly a year on the Trench myself. Look, I told you this would be a long story. Rather than bounce around, let me lay it all out, then you can ask whatever questions you want. Okay?"
When Jonesie finished talking, it was all I could do to keep breathing. I was also convinced that I had been deaf, dumb and blind the entire time I was in the Army. How could have missed so much?
"Take your time, Roscoe. That was a lot I just dumped on your plate. It overwhelmed me the first time I connected all the dots." He took a big hit on is beer. "Even now, after I've had all this time to chew on it, it can still throw me for a loop."
"Your story explains a lot. If it ever gets out…"
A thundercloud passed over Jones's face, "It won't get out, at least not soon. Just so you know, you start talking about this…"
"Nobody will find any pieces. I get that. What I don't get is the why… Why would the GID sell out everyone?"
He shook his head, "Roscoe, don't mistake stupidity for anything else but stupidity. The wankers running the GID thought they had an understanding with the Chinese. The Gut had been divvied up, so everyone could have their bits. Then the Union military could pull out. Now I'm convinced we, or the GID, were double-crossed. The big op was supposed to be a cakewalk. Everyone goes out. Nobody finds any Chinese. Ta-da, we declare victory. Everyone goes home; we keep the pieces we want and so on. The only snag was the Chinese didn't see it that way."
"So, the gizmos didn't cause…"
"Yes and no, Roscoe. You can track or locate a troop by the electronics carried, but you have to have a damn good idea of where to look. The GID gave away the operations locations, to ensure the Chinese wouldn't be found and all they did was define the areas for the Chinese to attack. You were there; you know how bad the losses were. It was just luck that we were able to keep control of the major cities."
"And now the fighting is all over, not just The Gut. What happens next?"
"The reality is this; the Chinese simply can't keep pouring resources into our backyard. Our supply lines are much shorter, so, eventually, they will have to give up. I suspect they will make another try to retake their colonies in Africa. They are a lot closer, by almost half and they have made some serious investments over too many years to completely walk away."
"Do they stand a chance?"
"I can't say, Roscoe. I don't think anyone can. The Asian Union could lose a billion troops and still be overcrowded. If they will try is the only question, and I don't even think it's a question. They need those farms, even if they have to run them with their own people."
I had to shake my head. "What happened to the Cee Dees? I didn't see any on my last tour… Has the Union given up on them?"
"You'd better have another beer, this isn't going to be easy…"
I had to sit back after this last bit. "So you spent a year on the Trench, just to help the Cee Dees cross over?"
"Some of us could see the end was near, at least for use of the Neodogs. We started filing combat loss reports and sending the Cee Dees north. We were able to get a few back in cargo flights. Mostly the small ones, tunnel dogs, sniffers and the like. The big guys had to work their way north on their own.
"Good Lord, where in the world…"
"We have an Association. It owns a couple of good sized sheep operations out in the desert west. It isn't a soft life, but the men working it are happy for the isolation and the Cee Dees we did get back have a good enough place to live. A place where they don't have to look out all the time. The Settlement Lands aren't that far away if they have to do have to find some cover."
"So, the Union gave up on Neodogs?"
"Not completely. Though rumor has it the Bandits have been pitching something new."
"What the Hell would that be?"
"Don't know Roscoe. Nobody does. Anyone that asks… Well, just don't ask." Jonesie stood and stretched. "All of this is interesting, but not the reason I asked Darlene to bring you up here. I have something to show you." With that, he walked off.
I emptied the bottle in my hand and followed. I was a bit wobbly, it had been long enough since I'd been able to even find something to drink…the four beers pretty much had me on my ass. The walk was short, just around a couple more of the massive stacks of shelving. He stopped in front of several pallets of what looked like scrap.
I took a closer look. I spotted a couple of cyclco tires, a set of handlebars… Then it hit me. I was looking at several motorcycles broken down into pieces and put on pallets.
"I talked with Mau Mau a while back, Roscoe. He said you often talked about how you put your own scoot together and traveled around before joining up with the Army. I can sell you all this scrap for a single credit. Interested?"
I couldn't answer, I was crying too hard to even speak…
this was good have no comments
I dont know what to make of the tale of the woman jumping on the bike, it doesnt go anywhere, we see Rosco's character in other places.... not sure how this one fits... seems like fluff unless you have some more about why the woman is running.
its not clear to me why Jonsie took an interest in Rosco, got him an early release and got him parts for Rosie. That is alot to do for a guy you don't know....
"I spent nearly a year on the Trench myself. Look, I told you this would be a long story. Rather than bounce around, let me lay it all out, then you can ask whatever questions you want. Okay?"
======== needs more of a transition here, the change is too abrupt, Im expecting a paragraph or 10 to explain the poltics of the world, you do it in snipits later but this is an opportunity to explain the politics in full which usually sets a book up for all the more sublte hints about why a ficticious world runs how it runs. =======
When Jonesie finished talking, it was all I could do to keep breathing. I was also convinced that I had been deaf, dumb and blind the entire time I was in the Army. How could have missed so much?
if you find a couple you want, I know someone who can do computer pencil drawings that are decent that might fill in if you like
The photo earlier of the man and woman with the horse & Dog. Drop everything but the man and dog - and put the man in any kind of uniform.... = Cover Art. It would have to be for book credit (turns out empty pockets) as this is a no budget operation.
Big dog in jungle
Big dog killing steer
Big Dog and just about anything.
Fluffy is an oversized Terrier mix with a big head - could be fun for an artist.....
Thanks for the comments!
Looks like I goofed and did a partial post
Fluffy and I had just finished working through this burg on the edge of the breadbasket. For some reason the mutt wanted to stop and see if he could find any NEOs in the area. I was ready for a break and some eats, so it was all good. He took off, wearing his helmet this time. And I scored on some massively decent meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy.
Simple tastes mean you’re more likely to be happier in this life. Mostly...
After knocking back some watery coffee I headed for Rosie. I settled in and started a non-flagging system check while waiting for fuzzbutt to make an appearance. If he didn’t show up by the time the systems test completed, I would start cruising around town. If anybody asked, I could honestly say I was looking for my mutt.
The display on the brain bucket showed all goose eggs, so Rosie was ready to roll. I zipped up my jacket and worked the strap on my bucket when I felt someone touch me. I don’t like being touched, let alone by an unknown pouge… When I looked over, all I saw was hooker.
Hooker top, which is to say shiny and semitransparent, a skirt split up the side. I didn’t have to look to know there was nothing underneath the skirt. The shoes were odd, definitely not hooker shoes. I didn’t bother to look at her face; I knew it would be caked with makeup…
“No sale. So, back off.”
When I went to lift her hand off my arm she said “Mister. I need a ride out of town, real bad. I’ll do anything for a ride, you know?”
I looked up and was given another surprise. This broad was tall, more than five ten, maybe a bit more. Nasty matted hair and enough makeup to hide any blemishes from drug use… “You deaf? No sale.”
Now her hand tightened on my arm enough to hurt. “I’m not joking, Mister. I need to leave right now. I can pay for a ride, if it’s money you want...” She wasn’t whining, she sounded…scared ****less.
"Pimp ****ed off at you, Dollface?” Her hand tightened to the point of real pain.
“Mister, I’ve got some men looking for me and I don’t want to go with them anymore. Please. What can I do…”
The van blew into the space next to Rosie. The driver’s door slammed open and this suit jumped out. Not an APE, the outfit the goon was wearing was too good. Private, whoever he was. The sunglasses were a nice touch. His opening was first rate.
“Bad choice, even for scooter trash. Go away now and nothing bad will happen…”
I was busy trying to pry the woman’s hand off my arm, intending to tell the goon she was all his… Then the dumb son of a bitch shot me. No warning. Out came the gat and then boom, he shoots me. I’m as easy going as the next guy, but just damn, that hurt. I’ve been busted in the ribs while doing labor enforcement, hurts like Hell, but you tape things up and get on with it.
This was a whole lot worse than getting hit with a bat; the pain was enough to double me up. The then goon made his second mistake. He reached across me to put the grab on Dollface. I whipsawed, slamming my brain bucket into his face. Feeling his face crunch through the helmet helped with the pain, a bit anyway. He hit the deck a second later.
I got off Rosie so I could give him a good boot to the head. For good measure, I slammed the door on his head a few times. You know, just till it was good and squishy. After that, I stuck my finger in the hole in my jacket. Now I was ****ed. My armor shirt had saved me, but the jacket was ruined.
Finding good leather jackets is nearly impossible these days. The hole meant that I now was going to have to ride all the way back out to the Settlement Lands and try to con Yellow Feather out of another hide and kiss his brother in law’s backside to work it into a jacket. Again. What a monumental pain in the ass that was going to be.
Look, I don’t mind a little rudeness from time to time. Hell, I’ve been accused of bad table manners on occasion. But shooting someone like this and in broad daylight… That went way past rude. Despite my climbing off Rosie, Dollface was still attached to my arm like some kind of a new organ or something.
“Look, Kiddo. If that’s your pimp, you’re good to go now. Let go of my colors and I’ll leave you sort his **** out with the pigs. Okay?”
Now wide eyed and dancing from foot to foot, all she could say “I really, really need to get out of here. If those other guys catch me… They’ll kill me.” Then it dawned on her what just had happened. “Are you hurt bad?”
“Nah. I get shot all the time…” I tried not to shout, but it still came out a bit harshly. “**** yes, I got hurt. The SOB just shot me.” Before I could say more, she just pointed. At the other end of the street the twin to this van just pulled onto the street, but it headed away. How long that would last was anybody’s guess. I was ready to smack Doll face with my Dilly bar to get her off my arm when fuzzbutt comes trotting up.
Didn’t even slow down, just hopped up on Rosie and took his seat. I bit off a curse and got back on Rosie. I turned to the woman and said, “I’ll give you a ride up to the next burg, then you’re on your own…” My pronouncement was cut short when the first round buzzed past my noggin.
I drove Rosie up on the sidewalk and squirted on out of there. I got past a corner and let the scoot have the horses. Every last one I had in the hole. Rosie didn’t disappoint, she ate ‘em up and we blew out of town like a streak of light. I kept running flat out until the over temp alarm started chiming.
By then, I was ready to take a break and sort out the damage to my creaky ass. I didn’t even look for a road or trail, just headed across the sagebrush. There was a clump of trees in the distance, and that looked good enough for now. If the assholes that shot at me had access to drones, we were as good as cooked anyway.
I thought Doll face had a grip on me when we blew out of that that one goat burg, but when we hit the dirt, she wrapped her legs around me. I've never worn a human rucksack, this was something entirely new for me.
We got to the trees just as Rosie went into recursive cooling protect mode. In other words, she went from Rosie to a massive lump of carbon-carbon, titanium and spun neodymium. I went into blackout mode.
I woke up in the dark. Not that I don't operate in the dark most of the time, my clue-bag has been empty for far too long. The sun was down, I was laid out on my swag and fuzzball was sitting right next to me. My gut felt like someone had used it for batting practice. And Doll face was nowhere to be seen. Just as well, I was in a fairly bad mood.
Before I could sit up, a soft voice came out of the darkness. "Don't sit up yet. You have a couple of cracked ribs, I'm trying to find some kind of tape to use to get you wrapped up." After a pause, she added, "Why don't you have a hole in your gut? I saw the goon shoot you point blank...?"
I felt my side, the broad was right, I could feel a couple of..."How do you know that?" I asked. She sighed. Seriously? We just blew out of town with bullets flying and she sighs.
"First. I'm sorry. I had no idea they would hurt an outsider. I got you comfortable and gave you the once over. You know, just in case? Rufster showed me where you keep your eats. If you're feeling a little better, would you like some noodles now?"
"Pardon me? Rufster?"
"The NEOdog you travel with. Pretty nice little moocher, for a Terrier base. Anyway, do you want some noodles? They're nice and hot..."
She finally came into my view. I could at least see she'd cleaned up a bit. As for the rest, I couldn't handle all that right now. "No. Right now I could use a good shot of booze and a long nap."
Rather than say anything, she pulled off my boots and started rubbing my feet. I didn't say anything, that felt so damn good that I must have passed out again. The sunlight woke me. That or I really needed to take a piss.
Either way, I got up and wandered over to the edge of the clump of trees to do my thing. I found Doll face and Fluffy on the other side of Rosie, crashed out on my hammock. The rest of my swag was back on Rosie, even though my bedroll was laid out. So my hooker was neat, I'll give her that.
I took a few minutes to look Rosie over. I'd been pretty hard on her and if I'd managed to break something, there would be Hell to pay to get a replacement part. As the self-test finished, I could breathe a sigh of relief. I'd need to clean a carbonized reformer before the fuel cell would be completely up to speed, but that was just a few hours of careful scraping on a slow day. What I would do next was the bigger issue.
I found a comfortable tree and started on my last coffeebar. If the goons in town were willing to shoot at me that meant, at least to me, they would still be looking for Doll face. I had no doubt that they would also be pretty pissed at me for reworking their buddy's noggin. That left me few options. Travel with fuzzbutt was hard enough; having Dollface on board would make it nearly impossible. As I sat ruminating on everything, she walked up to me.
"Good morning, Roscoe. Are you feeling better this morning?"
My blood turned to ice. How the Hell did she know my name? Before I could go into a full blown panic, she sat in front of me.
"I owe you for the noodles. Since you didn't eat any, I didn't want them to go to waste... I hope you don't mind." She reached out and touched my foot. "I want to thank you for yesterday. You didn't have to...help." She took a breath, "And for the record, I'm not a hooker. At least, that's not what I want to do. Those men..."
I held up my hand. "Save the bullshit for someone who will buy it. I don't care. If that's what you have to do to eat regularly, it's what you have to do. I don't judge on that." Now I gave her The Look. I'd spent real time perfecting that look while in the Big Army and sometimes, it even worked.
She smiled. "You most certainly can believe what you want..." She held out one arm, pointing to her wrist. You'd have to be blind to miss the scarring. "You're bright enough to know that having restraints on for weeks at a time will leave a mark." She leaned back a little bit, "It's when they force your arms behind your back, put on the cuffs, and then tie your neck to a post..."
"Okay. You win. Not your choice, I get it."
She smiled at me. Smiled. "Roscoe, you have no idea. Not a clue." She patted my foot. "Rufster tells me you aren't brain damaged, just a little...slow on the uptake sometimes. That makes perfect sense. Sometimes, long term combat vets have a different worldview that can impede their grasp of...more mundane things. "
"Just who the... Who are you, Lady?" My freak-out meter was pegged. Getting shot at is one thing, this was...some kind of voodoo.
She laughed at that. "See? All this time together and just now you think to ask my name. Says a lot for your immediate action priority stack. Just so you know, you're doing just fine. My name is Sirona. I never found out if I'd been given a last name and it doesn't seem important."
"You speak...use positional language?" I was feeling damn inadequate right about now. What she said next blew my mind.
"Nothing so... crude. NEOdogs... Well, all genetic manipulations have a communication interface. It's the only way the science staff can truly evaluate...improvements or failures." She tipped her head to the side. "Are you okay? You seem to choking on something..."
I took a couple of deep breaths. "Where the Hell are you from?"
Fluffy walked up and sat next to Sirona. As she rubbed his ears, she simply said "Why... The same place your friend came from."
"NO! Not possible. When the NEOdogs showed up, they passed laws against messing with humans..."
"Yes. Laws were passed. The laws had an exception for the military." She stood up and dropped her clothes. Then she pulled off her hair. "Roscoe...please. Look at me."
She was hairless. Completely hairless. Tiny breasts, everything else seemed real enough. She turned around, before sitting back down. "I assure you that I am a fully functional human female. I may look different, just as you look...different, but I am a human. Just the same as you."
She had me right there. "Okay. Tell me the story, the short version. Because then we got to get gone. Those goons will be looking..."
"Maybe they will, maybe they won't. It's not them I'm worried about. It's their bosses we need to worry about." I must have been doing my fish imitation again, because she added this bombshell. "The project leader ordered that I was to be destroyed, a failed experiment. The goons stole me, used me... Made me do things for money..."
"Destroyed? But why?" I was past confused.
"They wanted a male, I turned out...wrong. I'm not certain the Corporate head shed is even aware that I exist. Once I get discovered, the real money makers are at risk. And that means..."
"You have to do more than just disappear. You can't even...exist." My whole world just rolled over and landed with a thump. If I'd had bad feelings for Corporations in the past...
"Roscoe. Just carry me up to the next town, as you'd planned. I'm not making my problem your problem..."
"Too late for that, Sweetie. Those goons got a good look at me and Rosie. I mashed up one of their buds. That alone puts me in the cross-hairs. No, we have a problem, so I guess we best figure out something before it gets...ugly." She started crying. I could see the tears rolling down her cheeks. I almost joined her. But crying wouldn't solve anything. Only by killing her off would my problems go away... I had to kill her, very publicly as well, nothing less would do. I started crying then...
* * * * * * *
Since Rosie was up for it, we headed cross country. At some point we'd hit a trail or double track. The track would lead to a road and by then, we would be far enough away from the goons. I could try and do a few things to improve our chances of making it to the Settlement Lands.
Those vast wastelands were so poor, not even the greediest of the Corporations wanted anything to do with the area. And if the Corporations wanted nothing to do with the area, the Union was even less interested. This lack of interest offered a slim chance for Sirona. If we lived long enough to make it that far.
I dropped Sirona and Fluffy off way out of town. I also left my swag with them, just the tank bag stayed on Rosie. I added the forward brush guards to my swag to try and change Rosie's profile. It would either work or not. Rosie was different enough, I don't know if I could do much to mask her identity.
I have no idea how you measure women's clothing. Inches, sizes, something. I settled for hands. I ran my hands all over Sirona. Up one side and down the other, around her waist, chest, legs, everything. With any kind of luck I could find a used clothing outlet, failing that, I could always steal something off a line someplace. Everyone used air drying these days. Sometimes, on a sunny day, it looked like a parade had come to town, with all kinds of things flying in the breeze.
I parked the old brain bucket in the tank bag and put on my polarized shades. These were large enough to hide most of the scarring around my eyes. They would also block any scanners watching the ATMs in town. I had enough ducats to buy a few items, I'd hit the cash machine on the way out of town.
I hit the jackpot. When I entered the only place it town that offered used clothing, I was met by a dude with full sleeve tats and most of his face inked up. Just like regular dogs sniff at each others butts, Vets scope out tats. Sure as shit, the guy had a massive tat with the 6th SF blaze on one arm, and The Gut splashed across his hand. In other words, a total poseur. A wannabe. Just the same, this POS made my task easier. I let him tell me all about his time in the Gut as I wandered around the place and picked up some things. I paid in cash, at a discount even and then got the Hell out of the place before I hacked up a Technicolor yawn.
I'd rolled everything before I walked out. The bundle went on the pillion and I was gone before the store owner had finished waving. It took a while to find an unconnected ATM and while I rarely did this, I emptied it out. I stuffed the ducats into my jacket and made for the door. The first dude made his move just as I hit the door. I knew a lot of places had layabouts that watched the ATMs like a hawk. I'd been so focused, I missed him entirely. My bad.
This guy was easy. I pulled the door back a bit and braced it with my boot. He bounced off the Perspex. I didn't have the time to dance with the goof, so I gave him a boot to the head and walked over to Rosie. The second guy came out from around the side of the building. This one had a piece of pipe out and swinging. Normally, I'd have smacked him with the Dilly bar and left someone else to pick up the pieces. Right now, I didn't want to leave any trash behind.
I held up my hand. "How much?" The mook was shocked. I guess he thought the pipe would get me to give up my stack. Dumbass.
"I asked how much. How much for you to leave me alone?" The answer was about what I had expected, but until you ask, you'll never know...
"Gimme all of it!"
Greedy bastard. Then it hit me, the clerk must have given this guy the high sign. That meant we would have company, a lot of company, if I stuck around too long. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the last of the roll I'd used at the clothing store. Mostly little stuff with a few large on the outside. I held it up before tossing the roll over to mook number one. He'd just sat up after finishing his nap. I rode off as the two were arguing over the windfall. I'm pretty sure the guy with the pipe would walk away with everything, all things considered.
I spent the next hours cussing myself out for being the fool. All the while heading out of town the long way, before cutting back to where I'd left my passengers. When I finally pulled back up to my starting point I found...nothing. No swag, no dog, no Sirona. Just some scuffed up dust and a whole lot of questions. I took a minute to cuss, just to clear my mind, you know.
I kicked Rosie up on the center stand and walked off for a bit. Walking in a spiral, I was happy enough to see no tire tracks other than Rosie's. With the footprints I'd seen, no Pogo had landed. The downdraft would have not only erased any prints, the ground was soft enough to have produced a crater.
I was left with facing the fact that a skinny, half naked woman and a dog had just boosted my swag and walked off. Without leaving a trace. I'd been alone and in the shit before, but still...this was a new low, even for me.
END segment Sirona.
This is the full segment - my apologies for the short post.....
Haha...yeah, it did seem a bit...abbreviated.
I like how this is fleshing out, zig-zags and all...
...must be something with terriers? lol
a nice short story pete had on TB2K, VERY NICE STORY short...Pete said i could repost here
I am always interested in scenarios for TSHTF.
GREAT STORIES BY FLEATAXI
So Sue Me
Survival Fiction, By Jerry D Young.
Asia-Off-Grid submitted a new resource:
When A Plan Comes Together - When A Plan Comes Together, By Jerry D Young
Survival Fiction, By Jerry D...
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