“How’s things on the western front, Bint?”
“All quiet, Sir.”
“Brought you a cuppa…here.”
“I got a job I’ll need doing when we get to Karakoyyn and thought you might like a crack at it?”
“Sir, whatever you need. All the boys and I are ready, Sir.”
“Good. But this is gonna taken a light touch and nerves of fucking wrought iron.”
“All the inhabitants of Karakoyyn are outsiders. Every one of them is someone from somewhere else. So they don’t take too much notice of a fresh face, as long as looks a little like the right kinda face…”
“And you need my handsome features to seduce the animals up there in Karakoyyn?”
“I just need you to get in and out without getting killed. Sound like some fun?”
“I could give it a whirl, Sir”
“Good. You’ll be on distraction duty with Big Brin.”
“Sounds good to me, Sir.”
“Good,” I said, standing to go.
“Thanks, Sir,” he smirked evilly.
“Go on and fuck off with yourself, Bint. I only asked cuz everybody else said no!” I lied with a smile.
True to form, he just turned back to the west.
Walking off to the north I took up a position of my own and began to search the horizon. If those Shining Light lunatics were making their way south then we would have already had contact with them by then, but we were in the middle of the desert and they were likely to stay on the roads and just assume control of the open sands. Still, I took my own shift on watch and turned in after another hour or so.
When the heat of day became too much to sleep in I awoke. It was only around midday and almost all the unit was awake under silk canopies. Looking around I saw Longshot still asleep.
“Jesus, he could sleep anywhere that one,” I threw out there to the group.
“Ha, like a baby, Sir.”
“Like a drunk baby, Glynn.”
“He has the right plan though. We all need our rest. It’s gonna be busy up in Karakoyyn.”
“Sir?” asked Glynn.
“I’ll tell you all this now, gentlemen. Karakoyyn is the only water around here for hundreds of miles. Traders, bandits and herdsmen all come together there. And there is no law. They’ll cut your throat if you fuck with them and they’re all armed. We’re going in there and taking whatever we want and nobody is gonna stop us. Bint, “sleeping beauty” here, Simon and Junior are gonna go in first and sabotage engines so we won’t be followed out, then they’ll light fuel tanks in the south western end of the settlement and fall back to provide long range cover. Once the fuel tanks go up we’ll draw the main force into a crossfire-ambush that’s Big Tits is gonna run at the same location. Meanwhile, Pretty Boy, Al and Big Brin will attack from the west while I infiltrate from the north east with Thumbs and Toddy. Then we’ll come back around to collect everyone once we’ve got transport and drive east before doubling back south west again toward the Barsakelmes nature reserve.”
“Jesus, Sir. We’re gonna have us a party?”
“You bet your arse we are!”
The atmosphere climbed as the realisation sank in, each man went quiet as he revelled inside himself in the knowledge of impending action. It felt great to be able to lift my boys up from the gloom of constant heat and marching. It reminded me of all the times my own CO had given me the good news in my earlier years. For a fighting man there is nothing more satisfying than being told you’re going into battle. I just wished I had more men to put in the field.
As the day wore on more and more of us fell back asleep. Heat or no, the declaration of action had settled the hearts of my boys. By the time evening arrived word had been put around. The whole mood on the march that night was invigorated. I fell back from taking point and discussed the plan with Big Tits, Thumbs and Longshot as we moved. They were great guys, each had experience in various campaigns in various theatres and their advice was invaluable. We tweaked the details en route and by dawn we had sealed our strategy airtight.
“Right, gents, you know the drill. This will probably be our last day before we make contact so I want you all to get a good rest. Stay hydrated and eat your rations slowly. Be vigilant, gents. I need every single one of you at two hundred percent fighting fit. I know you’re hungry for this, I am too, but we have to be patient.”
“SIR. YES, SIR!” came a strong unified response.
“Have at it, gentlemen.”
Turning away to walk the perimeter I took in the morning air alone. Over and over I replayed the attack in my mind, imagining everything that could go wrong. Simulating the failure of each element and the effect of such an event on the other elements involved in the action. There was no perfect system to use, but we were adaptable and willing to go all in against any sized force. I swear my boys were like sleeping dragons that day. I could feel the energy pouring from them as they no doubt dreamt of the fight ahead. I remember those sleeps, the peace born of the war that rages within; it’s one of the few things I’ve always missed since I got my commission, not that I’d go back.
As the sun rose in the east, and as the cloudless sky began to hide the stars above, I wrote my dear Anna again. She had always been my inspiration and had supported me all these years – as I had her. If I was to die the next day – although I knew she knew how I felt about her already – I wanted her to have a record and to know how I felt before we went into battle. I didn’t want her to live on wondering about my final action. And so I penned a heartfelt and honest leaf. I told her we’d lost Ben and Floppy and we’d had to resort to theft to survive. I told her of how I was about to put the lives of my boys in danger so we could get a couple of trucks, if we were lucky. And I told her of my fears, the fears I never showed to anyone but her, the fears only she could help me with. Then I told her what to do if she got this letter and the news of my death. I told her about the biscuit tin buried under the ornamental turtle in the garden. I told her my favourite memories of our love, of which I thought of many times each day. I told her my faults and of my failings as a man and as a husband. And I told her if I was to fall, it would be her I thought of in my final moments – of her hands on my face and her lips next to my ear; whispering her love to me.
Folding the letter as the sunrise burst its bloody redness into yellows and whites I took a moment for myself. Looking out across the sand, facing east, I closed my eyes and let the heat of the sun shine on my face, warming me. For all I knew it could be my last.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey