CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
“What?” Ozeman couldn't believe what he was hearing and dismissed it even as Sergeant repeated the instructions. * * *
“You are to transfer to the second truck for the remainder of the leg. Your gear has already been transferred,” Sergeant said, professionally but with authority.
Looking across the tunnel at the lead truck, Cutter's truck, and the assembly of New Soviets that congregated around it Ozeman felt every nerve in his being scream a warning of danger. These people, their new allies, didn't have their best interests at heart, and would easily sacrifice the colony itself for their own, unstated aims. Someone who saw this had to be there to protect the General.
“I want to speak with the General.” Ozeman demanded as he started to push past Sergeant.
This civilian had forgotten his place, thought Sergeant, and despite the field commission that's exactly how he saw the nuclear technician. He stepped in front of Ozeman and spoke in a deep resonating voice of authority, the same he used to browbeat new Privates, “It would not look well on you to openly question the General's orders.”
Ozeman stopped, taken quite aback by the tone of Sergeant. He looked up and for a moment was once again the nervous little technician that outranked no one in the colony. For his part Sergeant didn't say another word, he curtly turned and marched off to his next name, leaving the rabbit standing there.
Was it something he had said or done, Ozeman thought. Something that had offended the General and banished him to the second vehicle. Ozeman was sure he'd never know but reminded of his place in the grand scheme he sulked off to the second truck and climbed aboard.
Tepu Solinoff's expression brightened widely as the young colony tech climbed into the back of the second truck. He rose and welcomed the boy, “There he is!” Ozeman had only been casually introduced to everyone when they came aboard, but couldn't remember this one's name.
Solinoff pulled him into their group, the Lieutenants for each of the teams, “We let the important people work out our futures, while we will sit and chat and be friends.”
Friends? Ozeman had no interest in any of these people but as he tried to rise and move to another part of the truck Tepu pulled him back.
“Relax,” Tepu said slowly, “We serve at the pleasure of the State, or in your case the Colony, but it is not our place to know where or why, only to serve!”
The others in the truck cheered at this sentiment. Ozeman looked at them, were they really no different than he, the footsoldiers, or pawns of other people's plans.
Tepu reached behind himself, pulling a flask from his kitbag and holding it up for the others to see, “Nothing a few minutes with an old friend won't solve, eh?”
The group cheered warmly as the flask was opened and handed around for each to swig a sip. It came to Ozeman who looked at it wondering what it was. He brought it to his nose and pulled it back quickly as soon as the sharp vapors pierced his sinuses. His reaction caused an eruption of laughter from the rest.
Tepu nudged him, “Sip little Rabbit. It'll warm your toes and help you forget your worries!”
A colony person was raised to follow the herd so Ozeman was immediately at a disadvantage to refuse the drink, alternately he had never had alchohol and didn't know what effect it would have on him. But then, as he thought, what did it matter? He'd already been banished to the second truck. Perhaps his part of the mission was complete and slowly he'd be relegated further back, maybe even sent home.
Ozeman looked at the flask again, completely oblivious to the chants of encouragement coming from the assembled and then he parted his lips, brought the flask to him mouth and took a big gulp, which he half choked on much to everyone's delight.
The flask continued its rounds as the vehicles started up and continued their transit through the tunnels, back to the mains and zero hour.
Two vehicles ahead Cutter and the rest reviewed the next stage of the mission. Zero hour would start the clock and from there on they'd be at war.
* * *
When the four vehicle convoy concluded its transit back up the branch line to rejoin the main tunnel they also caught up with the rest of that convoy, the vehicles which had led the way out of the tunnel at the pick-up point and turned around.
In the middle of this intersection was a large table made up of several pieces, at the center of which was a large video screen and before it a pool of light.
As they climbed from the vehicles Ozeman couldn't fathom what the equipment was for and with the hangover last nights plying had brought on he couldn't look directly at it without experiencing a piercing pain in both eyes.
All were gathered around it though and Ozeman followed his fellow riders to where they were supposed to stand and waited as Cutter and the New Soviet leadership reviewed a final set of instructions, which, once confirmed were loaded into a program and packed for transmission to the rest of the army.
Ozeman then realized the table was a modular version of the command conference table from the off-shoot colony they'd visited on the way here. It was hard-linked to a socket in the side of the tunnel that instantly connected them with any other comm unit similarly linked up. Theoretically every command squad from the colony to the field could be in communion at this moment. Ozeman suspected that was indeed the case.
A Captain turned to Cutter and began counting down from five, which prompted the General to move to the pool of light and stand facing the monitor and then, as the Captain's hand silently finished the countdown the General waited a moment and began to speak.
“Good Morning.” Cutter began, it neither felt good nor morning to Ozeman despite what he knew to be true, “At this moment datapacks are transmitted to each of you detailing your part of the next phase of this mission. You will have no more than one hour to review that material before beginning stage three.”
Cutter motioned to the scruffy assortment of men that represented their leadership. “Our friends in the New Soviet have provided us with detailed intelligence on two opponents currently moving into this region. The first is our former enemies in America. Their weapons and armaments are nearly matched with our own although their numbers are far greater. The second is a new enemy that has designs on this region.”
An assortment of images flashed on the display, familiar looking tanks and trucks on one side, oddly curved and nearly harmless looking ones on the other. “Neither side will be seeking to engage the other first. It is our job to provide that spark.”
“Each of you have various timetables for the next stage but understand that you are neither to be late or early for Marker One.”
On the display before them various lines continued out from nearly the center, stopping at different points across a map detailing the territory of Buffalo Commons, a term Ozeman had never heard before. As the last of the lines came to a halt everyone of them flared.
“From Marker One on you each will have different assignments with the same goals: Avoiding detection while our enemies destroy each other, ready to secure the Heartland once their battle is done.” That too was a phrase Ozeman had never heard before.
“In the end we will resume our rightful place topside in a soverign land under our control, exactly as our ancestors intended.” Cutter paused and saluted the screen, on the display various snapshots of each of the tank commanders was seen saluting back, “Good luck, Godspeed!”
The whole display instantly began to shut down, no point wasting power Ozeman thought. Crews of soldiers moved in quickly and began to disassemble everything, taking the components back to their respective vehicles. In minutes the tunnel was back as it had been before, and not a moment too soon as the first of the vehicles powered up and began to move off.
Ozeman watched as Cutter was congratulated by the New Soviets. He hoped Cutter would look for him as he walked back to his vehicle and climbed aboard. It didn't happen. Perhaps he'd completed his part of the mission after all.
Ozeman turned and followed his group back to their vehicle and climbed in. He plunked himself in a jumpseat ready to resume his place in the world, already looking wistfully on the last few weeks of importance as one would a wonderful vacation during the flight home.
It wasn't dejection that overtook him but resignation. He'd been nobody before this, he'd been nobody most of his life, returning to it wasn't so bad. Well, it wasn't unfamiliar anyway.
* * *