“It’s getting dark, Sir.”
“Good, everyone ready?”
“Have Grubber and Donkey take point. We follow in ten.”
I could taste the Caspian air as we moved out, but it was just in my mind. The grasslands bled out from the Barsakelmes Lake for miles before we hit sand so the going was easy enough at first. Once we got into the soft powder of the open desert we were as ready as we could be, fed and rested. The sky was clear night and silent. I remember how silent it was. No wind, no faraway echoes, just dead silence. Nobody said a word as we moved but I could feel the energy in the air.
Only mile after mile of dunes and occasional rocky outcrops met us, with foxes and insects scurrying from us as we went, but no sign of the Shining Light or any other people. I knew it wouldn’t last and once we bedded down the following dawn I sat up on watch facing west and contemplated the Caspian. There were multiple countries bordering it and it was a major hub of transport and shipping, so anything could happen. Even if we made it through the next leg then we could expect a barricade to the water, and even then, if we got aboard some vessel then it was probable we would meet resistance on the open water. We had to stay two steps ahead of the competition, so I got L2 and Longshot together and fleshed out my plan.
“Sir, if we move on this area of the coast here,” L2 pointed. “Then we’ll have a hike on our hands but the jagged terrain would almost certainly write off the chances of contact.”
“And if we hold up around that area while a detail secures a boat then we could avoid detection until the last moment.”
“Good, Tony. What about supplies? We could go in quiet and steal some goods, at that port just to the south we’re sure to find something of use.”
“That might take some swimming, Sir.”
“I can live with that, L2. What I can’t live with is getting caught and being hung out to dry. You know how vicious these bastards are. They’ll torture us all to death.”
“Amen, there’s bound to be an alcove we can huddle in for a half day or a day while someone gets to that port. What numbers can we expect, Sir?”
“Judging from the shit state of their gear and personnel so far these Shining Light boys are a poorly funded outfit so they’re probably grassroots. That means they have the support of the public, or at least enough of the them for droves of mothers to send their sons to war. Leadership will be hardened, probably veterans of other wars, and they’ll be sharp as all hell. They’ll know and use every trick in the book. They’ll spread their forces quickly across whatever area they want and take key infrastructure hard and fast with no warning. Lastly, if they get ahead of us we should be able to fight our way out, but if they surround us or pin us down for any length of time, we’re dead. This is an insurgency, not a rebellion. By now the government will have been killed off or will have left the country. So there is no law or order. This is wild country. With the Caspian as their greatest earner for the cause, I’d imagine they’ll keep most of their men near the coast, but spread out. We’re probably facing hundreds of men, maybe more.”
“We’ll have the advantage in strategy and tactics, but they’ll have the numbers and the lay of the land. Any high ground is to be avoided as their leadership will surely have had it taken it. Also, we’ll have to avoid main roads, obviously, and we’re probably going to have to spend a night or two on the shore to deconstruct the rhythms or the area before we take to the water.”
“So we won’t have vantage to scout by eye so, Sir. Will we patrolling by night?”
“Yes, L2. We’ll need to do everything on the ground, by night, including resupplying ourselves and mapping our escape.”
“And will exfiltration be by night. Sir?
“It depends. We’ll find the best opportunity and take it.”
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey