Caspian Hope – Written By Stephen Fahey. Part 29

As the sun rose we drove our trucks down into a dell between some dunes and drew the silk above them, then bedded down. There wasn’t a word other than my orders for first watch. Despite the adrenaline having worn off, nobody slept. It was a sorry sight, seeing my boys cut up by the deaths of their closes friends. Masking myself, I walked amongst them. The air was thick with disappointment and anger. I remembered those feelings well from the days when I was in their shoes; afforded the luxury of pain.

“Al, how are you doing?” I asked just loud enough for a few of the others to hear.

“Sir, can’t get my head down.”

“I know how you feel. Some fucking night last night.”

“Yes, Sir. Damn shame about the boys, Sir.”

“Just remember, they wouldn’t want us crying over them, Al. They went down fighting, like any of us would want to. Like good soldiers.”

“I know, Sir. Just hate to see good men lost.”

“I know, Al. Me too. We all do. But we still have a stay focused. I need all of you to get your rest and stay sharp. God only knows if we’re gonna run into these Shining Light fucks, and if we do I want to rain down hell on them. We all do.”

“You’re fucking right we do, Sir! I’d absolutely fucking love to skin those animals alive!!” jumped in Pretty Boy.

“Here, here!” added Big Brin, still grimacing from his snake bite.

“Gentlemen, we’ll get our chance to shit all over those Shining Light nut jobs. If we’re lucky we’ll get out of here without having to. Remember, we’re headed for the Caspian. We’re not here to wrangle a bunch of lunatics. That being said, if we get a chance I promise you all, we will brutalise the scum that overran HQ and forced us on the run,” I spewed.

“SIR, YES, SIR!” came back a group response. They had all been listening. They all felt the same as Al, and me. Looking over at Longshot and Junior discussing matters in the back of one of the trucks I saw they had been watching me and both nodded to me in absolute certainty. Jesus I wish I could have done more for my boys, the hope of battle and revenge was only a temporary solution.

It worked though, and within the hour everyone bar the watch, my new sergeants and I were fast asleep. Out there in the sands I estimated we were a hundred miles from Karakoyyn, with about two hundred and fifty again to go until we got to the Barsakelmes nature reserve. That was if Gen. Serik and his boys didn’t drop in on us of course. By rights though, we were about half way to the Caspian.

I knew if we got past the nature reserve there was a town called Beyneu about a hundred miles west. Then, a further fifty miles beyond Beyneu lay a lake that was only fifty more miles from the Caspian. All in all we still had four hundred and fifty-odd miles to go. At least we had trucks for at least the next two nights, if we all lumped in together on one truck and used the fuel from both tanks in one. And, we could travel about seventy miles of that on the lakes too, if we could get our hands on some boats.

As my boys slept through the day I tried to get some rest but it was slow in coming. I got my head down around noon and slept from about two o’clock to six. As I awoke the sun was drooping into a blood red horizon. It was beautiful, just waiting to greet me as I opened my eyes. Propped up against a wheel of one of the trucks, I was met by a cool breeze and the, by then, familiar stench of body order. All of the boys and I could have done with a good wash, but there was no chance of that. None of us cared anyway.

Standing and stretching out, I watched the last few guys in the unit stir then walked over to relieve the last watch, Murphy and Toddy, who headed back to the trucks to pack up. The air was full of promise and anger; nobody had shaken off the deaths, for some of the boys it had even been their first taste. That being said, the unit was even tighter than before, it was written on our faces. We were solidified into one mind with one purpose.

Gentlemen, we’re on the move in five!” I hollered. “Junior, you’re driving this one here and I’ll join you up front. Big Brin, you’re up front with Glynn behind the wheel in the other.

And a flurry of activity began. The silk was pulled down and rolled away. Everyone heaved their packs onto the trucks and answered the call of nature one last time. Four minutes later we fired up the engines and were on our way. I had plotted a course across the open sand and with any luck we’d have made a hundred miles that night. It wasn’t to be though. About three hours out on that night, as we trundled along in the open desert, climbing and rolling down dunes, we started to run out of fuel. We’d checked and saw a good amount of fuel in the tanks, but it wasn’t even near enough. I ordered Junior to cut a length of tubing from the engine of one of the trucks and syphon whatever fuel he could into the other truck’s tank.

It didn’t last long though, once we were on the move again we didn’t get twenty miles and we were dead in the water again. Damn, it was frustrating. After all the effort the unit had put in to getting those trucks I was hard pushed to let them go, but we had to. We harvested the canvas covers and set the trucks alight. If we couldn’t have them then nobody was gonna be able to use them against us. As we walked on, with the trucks aflame behind us, I looked back. It was a wrenched sight, the dark of night dancing around the flames like demons biting at the trucks.

And so, on we marched. The sky was clear that night, clearer than I’d remembered it ever being; as if the night itself was guiding us along. Lined up and loaded with a pack each, all my boys marched through the night, my scouts ahead and our hearts resolved to the challenge. Not one of them made a sound that night. Each lost in their thoughts. The deaths and the two nights of using trucks had been a low and a high and together had shifted the focus of the unit. All my boys had now tasted battle, all of them had buried brothers together and all of them were now more hungry than ever to get to the Caspian.

That night and the next were uneventful, but the following night we stumbled upon a small unused house. Walled in as is the custom there, it afforded us shelter of sorts. No roof and no running water, it was a simple structure but it was a damn fine place to lay your head during the heat of day. There was shade enough for all of us to get reprieve from the baking sunlight and elevation enough for the watch to lie down on top of walls of the house and not have to walk out into the sand.

As we bedded down I propped my pack up against a corner and stood on it so I was face to face with Kegs as he lay along the top of a wall on watch with Toddy.

“Sir, we must be about half way to the Caspian by now are we?”

“We are indeed. There or thereabouts.”

“Do you think we’ll make it, Sir?”

“I know we will. We have some of the best lads in the whole army in this unit.”

“You ever been in the shit like this here before, Sir?”

“Yeah, once. Way back. We had been tasked to watch this real scoundrel’s base in India and we sat it out for two weeks, day in day out. This fucker had his own private army barracked in the area and we knew if he got a whiff of us he’d empty the lot of them into the jungles where we were hiding out. Needless to say, he got paranoid and hit the panic button. There were fanatics on every inch of the jungle floor for miles around so we had to skulk out a bit further each night and hold up during the day. Eventually though, they started spotting us and picking us off. Our CO got hit early on and we were got one or two at a time until it was just me and two other lads. We lay traps where we could but we barely made a dent. They just kept coming and coming.”

“What happened in the end, Sir?”

“We got caught and spent three months in a prisoner camp. Living in cages out in the open; sun, rain and rats all day and all night. It was fucking hell.”

Jesus, Sir. Your other boys make it?”

“Executed.”

Fuck.”

“Yeah, it was a dark time. Even though the powers that be saw it as a promotion maker and gave me another stripe when I got out of the hospital. I never think about it usually, just the price I paid for serving the crown, but it’s never far away. Always there, watching me while I sleep.”

“Christ, Sir. I never knew you were a POW. That’s fucked up. Some man, Sir.”

“Thanks, Kegs. I learned a lot about men and power when we were being hunted and especially when I was in that cage. Never, ever take your freedom for granted, Soldier. We’re lucky we’re only marching across this sandpit. Could always be worse.”

“Could always be worse, Sir!”

“Amen…fuck it, tea?”

“Yes, Sir. Two sugars, stir to the left.”

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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