CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
Slowly Ozeman made his way through the assembled until he too was standing near the lip of the tunnel. Everyone except the Camo Squad was remaining in the shade, something he hadn't noticed until one of the Sergeants stopped him from stepping forward. An intense glare from the non-com, a thrusting nod down at the line between light and dark, and even Ozeman, new to this military experience, understood.* * *
Beyond them was quite the vista, a rolling plain to the right, a lush, green sloped valley to the left, Ozeman tried to imagine what could've created this sort of geography and he decided the only thing missing was the glacier because that's exactly what it looked like. A valley after the glacier melted.
On the other side of the valley, directly across from their position was a discoloured patch of brush. It didn't take Ozeman long to piece together than the remnants of the same material were scattered about in and around the cave he was in. So, he thought, the plan would be scope the area for threats, if none were found to then send a team over to the cave opening on the other side, clear the brush and then as quickly as possible transit the valley.
But why do this during the day? Wasn't the cover of darkness better?
Without Ozeman realizing it Cutter had come up behind him and was studying the myriad of expressions rapidly crossing Ozeman's face. It was one of things that Cutter really liked about Ozeman, the naivety, everything was fresh to him, and he was readable. All the automatons that Cutter had to deal with had had their expressions bred out of them by puberty, but not this one. He was an open book, and refreshing that way.
It was causing Cutter to reconsider participating in the Progency Project, he frankly never thought he had anything to pass on, but Ozeman's fresh enthusiasm was bringing out a mentoring desire in Cutter and that too was a pleasant surprise.
Ozeman finally realized Cutter was there and looked up suddenly becoming self-conscious. Around Cutter Ozeman tried to match his peers, or at least avoid calling attention to himself through his intense desire to take in everything. It wasn't necessary.
"Go ahead and ask the questions, son."
Ozeman looked up at Cutter wondering how he could know Ozeman had questions but the General simply smiled and then peered forward calmly, "You can't learn if you don't ask."
Ozeman took a deep breath and then, as he let it out his thoughts slid into focus, "Why transit during the day, isn't the cover of night a better advantage?"
Cutter smiled, already this civilian was thinking tactically. As he nodded his voice softened from the gruffness normally associated with his speech to a more fatherly tone, it was as surprising to Cutter as it was Ozeman, "Ever since the invention of infra-red vision it hasn't been the case. In fact, because the ground cools at night the heat of our tank engines makes us more visible at night than during the day.
"The air thins at night too, which means the deep rumbling sound our tanks make will be travel farther. Someone far down range would hear them and that might draw attention."
Ozeman nodded. That made sense.
Cutter turned to him and spoke in a lower tone, "Very soon I will need you to instruct sixty-one commanders on the finer points of arming and if need be detonating those nukes. Will you be ready to show them?"
Ozeman nodded enthusiastically, "Yes, sir. General, sir."
Cutter smiled. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Good."
Then together they stood and stared at the vista waiting for nothing to happen.
Corporal Toms, C strained to get up the last few feet on the ridge. This section of the climb was the toughest and although it was his third ascent up this cliff it never seemed to get easier.
His fingers were screaming, his right foot simply couldn't find the purchase it had the last time and his heart was pounding as it strained to feed him the oxygen he needed for this final push.
Sweat beaded on his forehead, his arms were starting to cramp up, if he couldn't get his foot in place on something firm very soon he was going to fall and although the initial plummet wasn't a great distance there was nothing to stop him from rolling down the hill, nothing except Corporal Sung, J who was more than likely to step aside for fear of being absorbed by his rolling mass.
Toms' mouth opened and he gasped for breath through gritted teeth as he fought deep for the strength to continue. He had maybe three more jabs with his foot to find the tiny ledge that would give him the push he needed and then, he was sure, that was it.
Already his right arm was shaking uncontrollably. First jab, he caught part of something but his boot was going too fast to hold it. Second jab, nothing but air. Third jab, he brushed it again. Toms stopped a second and tried to regain focus. He couldn't fall, he chided himself: the mission depended on him.
They couldn't proceed until the area was secure and his falling, with the risk it might have warned any hostiles in the area to their presence, would force the entire mission back deep into the hole and into a defensive position that would cost them days in delay. His name would forever be tainted and his descendents and relatives shamed.
Slowly, deliberately, while breathing in a steady, forced calm rhythm, his right foot moved the route his mind best imagined led to the tiny plateau he so desperately craved.
Slowly, slowly, it moved, extending his leg.
Slowly, slowly, it passed without contact.
Uncharacteristically, and without concern for discovery, Corporal Toms, C let out a gritted grunt of frustration. Tears were streaming down his face as he clung to the outcropping for dear life. His right arm was holding only out of habit, he knew if he tried to flex the muscle in the slightest it would give and the entirety of his weight would be held by his tired left arm.
Then his face relaxed, his eyes widened as his vision cleared. Somehow in the exasperation and frustration his right foot had landed on something solid. He pressed into it, testing its resolve and on realizing it held didn't push his luck any further. With a skill he'd been honing since childhood Toms, C lunged over the top of the outcropping and came to rest on its plateau, where he laid until his breathing and vision returned to normal.
The sky was incredibly clear and for someone born and raised underground the concept of an unlimited ceiling was almost too much to comprehend. Toms laid there looking at the clouds as they drifted across the endless blue and then his eye caught the circling motion of an avian.
They'd been briefed about the fauna above ground. No point getting alarmed over nothing. After a moment Toms reached for the Binocs on his belt and brought them up to get a closer look.
Through the magnified lenses he saw the bird clearly, one of the hunters, raptors they were called, specifically it appeared this was an Eagle. It glided on the thermals, occasionally flapping its extended wings to stay aloft and after a few passes slowly drifted out of view.
Toms sat up as it passed from view and without aid of the binocs continued to track its progress as it made its way up the valley and eventually over the peak. What a wondrous world that such creatures existed, he thought, before gathering himself and standing.
He moved to the ledge and looked for Sung, J who hadn't moved, stiff with worry that something had happened to Toms on the ledge. He signaled with their much practiced hand motions, he was secure and ready to survey. Thus far no sign of opposition.
Sung signaled back his confirmation and then turned passing on the signal to the next in the chain. Toms turned and with the aid of the binocs began his practiced recon. No visual signs of habitation, no smoke, flags, domestic animals, fences or structures.
On further investigation he looked for signs of transit. No trails, abandoned campsites, or piles hiding refuse. He switched the binocs to another setting and began looking for heat signatures, then another setting for electronic signatures and finally radiation trails.
If anything carrying nukes had come through here in the last few days trace 'curies' would be present, unless their opposition had incredibly dense layers of shielding, but, as Toms reminded himself, they could only scan for the known.
His final scan involved an attachment that Toms didn't really understand but he assembled it as instructed and began the slow sweep. Somehow this unit was supposed to pick up sounds from hundreds of miles away, were any present. Aside from recognized ambient sounds and the mooing of some wild cattle a few miles south the area was clear.
He moved to the lip again and signaled such to his Squad. That message too made it way down the chain.
And with that Toms sat on the highest precipice he could find. His job now was to ensure the status quo remained. He would do nothing but take in the surrounding panorama, nine parts spectator/one part analyst.
Below him the Battalion would begin stirring to life. Another squad would quickly make their way between hillsides to remove the camouflage covering the other tunnel and then after securing the receiving side they'd signal for the transit from one to the next.
A much practiced exercise that, once begun, would move all five hundred vehicles from one tunnel to the next in 84 minutes. Barring the sudden arrival of anyone, that is.
* * *