CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
When Ozeman woke the next morning there was an odd tone about camp. The lack of urgency was palpable, and something he didn't expect to experience was the absence of something to do. And after the last few days, weeks, or months of intense activity Ozeman found the suddenly slow pace agitated him.* * *
They ate a large breakfast, prepared by staff in a manner that reminded Ozeman more of the final night before this excursion than any meal since. This is not to say anything was extravagant, the prep and service trays were the stripped down and uniform in appearance field units they were all familiar with, but instead of simple rations the food was properly cooked, with more care than normal and came in a variety that not only includes a selection of breads but fresh fruit. Ozeman couldn't remember the last time he had fresh fruit.
There were additional luxuries, primitive as they were. A spot shower provided everyone the opportunity to bathe in heated water, reconstituted and fed through filters after each use and heated through a series of exchangers that made use of the generators running in the tanks to keep their systems operating.
It was all very efficient and except for its recent absence, not the least bit novel to a multi-generational colony rabbit like Ozeman. But for the “millies” the chance to get these luxuries meant one of two things; either the pace was slowing down, or they weren't going to get another chance to experience something like this for a very long while. Being deep in the tunnel anyone who thought about it a moment realized it was more likely the latter than the former.
Continuing in their casual way each primed and prompted themselves as though preparing to receive special visitors, and that perhaps, was the oddest behaviour of all. Near as Ozeman could tell they were several yards below ground, deep inside a tunnel with no obvious prospects for visitors. Yet the one thing consistent between his “civvie” life and this “millie” existence was the lesson that following the pack was the next best thing to knowing what was going on, and frequently less stressful.
And he wasn't the only one following the pack. Everyone kept one eye on the direction Cutter was taking. He showered, they showered. He groomed, they groomed. He put on his dress uniform, they dug out their cleanest, best gear to wear.
By noon, everything had been cleaned and put away and the crew began to climb back into the transports, orderly and relaxed. Ozeman realized the stiffness in his body had passed and even though he was about to take the same seat he'd sat in for the last many days he knew somehow they had begun a new chapter of this adventure, and he approached it with equal freshness.
On moving the first thing Ozeman noticed was the change in the sequence of vehicles. The Deuce wasn't leading any longer. The four tanks took the lead making Ozeman wonder what sort of dignitary they were to meet that required the greeting of four large gun barrels.
The sense of urgency and excitement increased the farther they went. Apparently the convoy had fallen behind schedule because of the break so there was some discussion on how to make up time. Ozeman wasn't part of the discussion but was interested how no one mentioned that the reason for their falling off sked was because of the break. Even in the colony such a glaring impact wouldn't have been left unmentioned. Ozeman wasn't sure if this was because of Military protocols or because of Cutter.
* * *
For many on board the rocking of the Deuce once again took its toll in sleep but Ozeman was wide awake now. His mind couldn't settle on any one thing long enough to complete a thought so after a bit he rose and crawled over the assembled sprawl of slumbering uniformed crew to the cabinet just back of the vehicle's cockpit.
He'd seen it opened before and during that time spotted a few TeleLinks. As he reached for one a Sergeant looked at him sharply but on realizing it wasn't one of his “grunts” he returned to his nap. Ozeman took this as approval for him to take one of the T-Ls and return to his seat, where after figuring how to sign in, he became engrossed in a string of loosely connected reference searches for the remainder of the trip.
There was nothing in their library about these tunnels but he did find an outdated reference to Fargo. A city in the Dakotas believed destroyed in the nuclear exchange of a hundred plus years ago that drove his people below ground. He began reading about its history and layout when Ozeman noticed something he'd never seen before, a rotating icon of unfamiliar design.
In the off chance that it linked somewhere Ozeman guided the cursor to the icon and tapped it, suddenly the entire display shifted to make room for a growing sub-window on which reams of information began to scroll, most of it disputing the beliefs detailed in the main Library entry. Fargo wasn't destroyed, it was a thriving community just beyond the old territorial border. But that begged its own question, why did they have a tunnel leading to it if it was never theirs?
His confusion was disrupted by the muttering he could barely hear at the front of the vehicle. Cutter and his driver were discussing the mission, or parts of the mission, at least that's what it sounded like to Ozeman. Problem was, between the snoring of those around him, the distance, and the ambient noise of the vehicle Ozeman had no way of knowing if he was hearing everything or not.
Ozeman tried to look like he was concentrating on the TeleLink so as not to arouse suspicion while he tried to eavesdrop.
“I just don't see how our timing has any bearing on it, General.” Said the driver.
“Timing,” Cutter said with a pause, “is everything.”
Blast things that he couldn't work his way closer, he had no idea what they were timing and that last pause Cutter made almost sounded like it had whispered words in it. But that can't be right. Ozeman chided himself, he was becoming paranoid.
Still, what were they timing? The first strike? If that was the case then timing would be everything, but even the driver should see that. It had to be something that on the surface seemed less relevant. Where were they going? The rest of the convoy had continued to Fargo but they were on a branch line heading north of that. At least he thought it was north.
Damn, thought Ozeman, if only he'd fallen asleep like the others. The old phrase, he decided, was right: Ignorance, was bliss.
* * *