CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
The din of mechanized transit in the tunnels suddenly began to subside and then the Deuce lurched as it began to slow and then stop. Ozeman rose and leaned to peer out the front glass of the cockpit and was made more confused. They weren't pulling over for another rest and they weren't at an exit, or at least that's what Ozeman thought.* * *
Cutter rose and started for the back of the truck nodding for Ozeman to follow him. Together the two moved and exited the vehicle at the back and walked around following two tanks as they slowly moved past the Deuce and continued ahead.
Then, as though like a magic trick the tanks began turning left coming suddenly into sunlight before disappearing into the wall. Ozeman was quite impressed until he and Cutter reached that point and it became obvious that this was a cave entrance, just cut on an angle.
Cutter moved to the base sentry and nodded upward, "Give me hard line, Sergeant."
Ozeman winced as he looked about, trying to adjust to the bright sunshine. They were in the open and nearly in direct light. It seemed as though they'd by-passed the usual precautions, almost as if they already new this section was secure.
The Sergeant looked upward, brought his two fists together one on top of the other and then jerked the bottom one twice. Ozeman followed the gaze realizing the survey team was already in place, so they hadn't by-passed anything.
The Corporal up the Cliffside nodded back at the Sergeant confirming the order and then looked farther up repeating the action to the lookout topside. A moment later a cable came flying from the topside perch, the Cliffside Corporal caught it and plugged it into a unit he held, then pulled a long line of cable that he eventually tossed down to the ground.
The Sergeant caught it and plugged it into his unit and then handed that to the waiting Cutter.
Cutter brought the unit to his head and spoke, "Talk to me."
The voice on the other end came through clearly. "Field clear, General. No boggies, no pre-hab."
Cutter looked out on the horizon as he listened, nodded and then handed the unit back to the Sergeant. "Keep the line open, regular reports."
"Yes, sir!" Came the enthusiastic reply.
Without hesitation Cutter walked into the sunshine while motioning the vehicles to follow. Two tanks pulled out branching off in two directions, scoping the horizon with their equipment, while vehicle after vehicle followed, shoring up the lines behind them.
Despite their distance from the Colony Ozeman couldn't help but feel that they must think this area already secure to have so brazenly come out of the security of the darkness. He followed Cutter to one of the tanks and then awkwardly climbed up after the General. From this perch they could see the valley before them.
"Now we wait." Said Cutter.
It might have been to no one in particular, certainly it seemed like a rhetorical statement, but curiosity got the best of Ozeman, and being the only other person standing with the General he decided to test the waters and see if questions were still welcome.
"What are we waiting for?" he said between gulps.
Cutter hadn't intended to go into details and almost shut the young Lieutenant down but changed his mind, as he himself had said 'you won't learn if you don't ask'.
"We're waiting for our allies to arrive." It was an ambiguous response, intentionally so. Half to see if Ozeman would pursue it, half to how he would pursue it.
Ozeman looked down, bit his lip and considered what the answer meant, or at least that's what it looked like to Cutter. When the young Lieutenant looked up the question that came out was rather unexpected, "What sort of Allies will we find in the enemy's territory?"
A loaded question, Cutter thought. The reliability issue has been often debated among the governing council of the colony, as was the trust issue and the usefulness issue. It was generally believed their Allies were hoping to use them as scapegoats for their own plans. Avoiding that was part of what he and Captain Kennedy, X had been discussing on the drive here.
"There's an old expression," Cutter began after a thought, "the enemy of my enemy is my ally."
Ozeman thought about that a moment and could see that, but still there were many other questions and anxieties which such a concept created in him. He didn't have the chance to ask however as Cutter climbed down from the tank and started back for the cave.
Ozeman rushed to follow, glancing again at the Recon Team at the top peaks on the upper lip of the cave. They hadn't abandoned the caution each previous step had involved, they must've been sent ahead somehow and he'd simply failed to notice. How much more was going on than he was aware of?
Corporal Toms, C glanced down from time to time, watching as every vehicle in their convoy came out of the tunnel, repositioned itself, turned and then re-entered the tunnel in the new sequence.
Even though the wide panoramic view before him was still such a novelty, staring at the unchanging horizon became more difficult as the midday Sun beat on Toms and he found the accompanying fatigue hard to keep at bay.
More so then the welcome of the distraction the bustle below created. Sergeant bellowed a string of obscenities that the Corporal hadn't heard since basic training as the last of the forward group attempted to turn around and join the line heading into the cave, without toppling over the General's Command Truck.
And with that vehicle's disappearance there remained only the final four vehicles, two Command Trucks and two Tanks, free and clear in the glade before the cave, free but unmoving. The plan was to get the majority of the convoy deep in the tunnel, forward facing and ready to proceed at full speed, while these four vehicles remained behind to receive their guests.
But with the last of the forward group back inside the tunnel and on their way, the pace and intensity of the traffic control subsided. Sergeant would wait a full ten minutes before ordering the remaining two Command Trucks to park only a few metres in the darkness. And as his gaze returned to the endless meeting of blue sky and brown horizon, Toms wondered how he was going to stay awake now that the distractions below were gone.
* * *
Staying awake was of immediate concern to Ozeman as well, who found his head bobbing once again between slumbers as he cozy'd in his seat on the second Duece.
Perhaps he was making up for all the lost sleep of the last few weeks, he hoped that's what is was and that he wasn't coming down with something. Ozeman couldn't recall if there'd ever been a time when he'd slept so much. At least he wasn't having those awfully intense dreams.
But the problem with his function was that during times like this there simply wasn't anything he needed to do. He had no experience at the turn arounds, had never been shown how to operate any of these vehicles and even if he had was convinced that the problems Sergeant was having getting things right would only be made worse with his inexperience involved.
No, he'd worked long and hard, harder than any of these grunts during the set up and conversions of the nukes. During which time he recalled seeing Trooper after Trooper laying about getting whatever slumber they could. Now it was his turn.
It was only the unceasing alertness of Cutter that made him question his inactivity. Even now the General sat at the center conn, just behind the driver's seat, pouring over maps and documents, preparing for something. Ozeman's brow furrowed. His station didn't give him the luxury of wandering up there to see what was going on, pity that because he was very curious.
The squawk box suddenly came to life with a short burst of words Ozeman completely failed to catch. Cutter must've understood because he rose quickly, grabbed his jacket and slipped it on as he rushed out of the Duece. Ozeman rushed to follow.
Cutter strode purposefully towards Sergeant who was at the base of the hardline connection to their lookout. As Ozeman followed he began to hear the report coming over the speaker.
“… vehicle is setting down twenty-one clicks south east from here. Sharply.”
Ozeman stood on his tiptoes trying to peer over the canopy and see the vehicle in question but couldn't. A moment later he realized it was because he didn't know which direction south east was and turned to look the same direction Sergeant was peering. He couldn't see anything and then, faintly in the distance saw a tiny dark dot nearly plummeting from the sky in the distance.
Cutter moved to a Command Tank and climbed on top of it. Sergeant followed with a clipped extension link to the communication unit which he handed to Cutter. “Feed the image down, Corporal.”
Cutter looked at the link display, flicked a few buttons which Ozeman realized were enlarging the image on the screen of a flat bottomed craft. Cutter looked at Sergeant, “I'm not seeing any weapons.”
Cutter stepped off the tank and handed the link back to Sergeant as he started back for the Command Truck, “But they could be concealed.”
Sergeant followed closely, anticipating an order. Ozeman followed not far behind, curious.
“Send a squad out, recon. Keep it small, local eyes. Outfit them with an optical comm-unit.” Cutter turned long enough for the Sergeant to nod and rush off to make it happen.
Cutter stopped at the Command Truck and peered in the direction of the craft. “This isn't what we planned, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir.” Ozeman replied plainly, unsure why he was being engaged in discussion but welcoming it none the less.
“As you lead you'll find there are times your better instincts warn you of trouble. Some call it a 'gut feeling'.” Cutter looked down at Ozeman, once again with the fondness of a mentor to his student. “Learn to trust the gut, son. It can save your life.”
Unsure if this was one of those times Ozeman nodded eagerly, “Yes, sir.”
“What does your gut tell you now?”
Ozeman stopped, licked his lips and peered down, then glanced right and left trying to read his 'gut'. He looked at Cutter earnestly, “It's a little hungry.”
Without warning Cutter guffawed. It startled Ozeman. It started Sergeant as well. After Cutter regained his composure he put his hand on Ozeman's shoulder, “Mine too. Okay then, let's get some grub.”
* * *