“Sir, you’re up. Sir”
“I’m up. I’m up.”
“Sir, we’re ready to move out.”
“What time is it?”
“Nineteen hundred, Sir.”
“Thanks, Al. Take Big Tits and head out. Great job on this spot this morning.”
The second night was easier than the first because everyone knew what they were in for. With sore legs we humped down off the outcrop and onto the sands. That soft, shifting, dusty sand was hell to march in but it was better than getting overrun by Serik & Co. We all hated that we couldn’t stand and fight, but you have to pick your battles. No use in dying for nothing.
The desert came alive that night of course, all manner of fox and vermin we didn’t even know existed would scurry out of sight once we got anywhere near them. Our night vision got better on the second night too. Our eyes adjusted with dusk as it descended, until we were able to see about a hundred yards while under a cloudless black sky. The stars out there were exceptional too. When we look up now from our gardens and the street we only see about a tenth of what’s up there. Out there on the sands on those long nights, every single star was visible. It’s hard to describe how it looked, how it felt. We could see into eternity with our feet still planted on the ground. I know it gave me a certain perspective anyway.
Again we saw nobody on our travels that night, after all, most of the country was open pasture or desert. We had weeks of marching ahead of us, six if my calculations were correct, but I had a plan. I knew sooner or later we’d come into contact with someone. And if we could get our hands on transport then we’d take it, one way or the other. We needed to get water too and the watering holes and wells I had on my map were few and far between. Also, people gather at such places and where there are people there is transport, be it camels, bikes or trucks.
After another solid night of marching, Al’s birdcall came out of the darkness again. It was music to our ears. I was feeling the weight of my pack and I could see the tiredness on the faces of those next to me in line. When Al finally got us to our camp location the boys just fell into the first free place they could find and passed out hugging their rifles.
“Christ what a haul, Al!”
“You ok, Sir?”
“Aside from feeling about a hundred years old; just dandy, thanks.”
“I know. This fucking sand is a bastard.”
“Amen to that!”
“I’ll take first watch, Sir. You wanna come or stay?”
“I’m coming. What you take me for??”
Smiling, he replied “that’s what I thought, Sir.”
“Cheeky little fucker!” I smiled back as I got to my feet.
With that Al and I took first watch. As I passed by Longshot I waved him over to the other side of camp and he began watch in that area. Bar the three of us every one of my boys was out cold in two minutes or less. There’s no sleep like sleep after a march.
As we walked the perimeter I took in our surroundings. In dawn’s light the sand looked more like water, shimmering with horizontal rays glancing off of its surface. With the dunes in the distance like waves it was hospitable, but it was amazing to look at. If only it wasn’t so fucking hot it’d be heaven.
The spot my scouts picked that second night wasn’t anything to write home about, but it served its purpose. A simple dell between two small dunes nestled in a field of similar mounds. High enough to provide cover, but not so high as to threaten burial by wind while we slept. Huddled there, my boys lay close together, shielded from the wind and lying in the soft, cooling sand. They would have slept on rocks they were so tired, but at least they had some comfort. With some luck we’d find water soon, rations weren’t low, but it would do wonders for morale. As each shift came and went I sat and watched over my flock of killers, proud and privately concerned for each of them.
“Sir,” a whisper woke me.
“Yes,” I croaked.
“We have movement, Sir”
“What time is it?”
“Fifteen hundred, Sir.”
And so we crawled out of the dell and up onto the edge of a low dune. Peering out over its lip, a dark line crawled along in the sand at some two hundred yards. Out came the binoculars.
“What do you think, Sir?”
“Could be anyone…probably traders.”
“They have camels, Sir. Couldn’t we catch up with them and appropriate them beasts for ourselves.”
“Ben, we can’t just strand people in the desert. That’s not how we do things in The Service.”
“We’ll have a word with these chaps anyway. You never know, we might get something out of them. Go get Longshot, I want him watching our backs from right here. And wake the rest of the boys. Tell them to stay put in the dell, but to be ready – just in case. You wanna join me?”
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey