CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
Several hours later the engorged convoy stopped at the end of another cave. While the camo-squads did their job of ensuring there were no prying eyes around, Yuri Lexamsky stood at the cave opening enjoying both the fresh air and the heat of mid-day.* * *
Ever since the explosion and recovery of the Starbus and the intended implosion of the tunnel General Cutter had been far more cautious. And wisely so Lexamsky thought, if either the explosion or the collapse had attracted anyone’s attention their enemy would be more vigilant and the movement of any cluster of vehicles would certain draw attention.
Then there was the issue of the Network troops, which were increasingly on patrol in the lands between the colony and the American border. ‘Winning the peace’ as they put it, completely unaware of the gathering storm being prepared for them. The colonial army hadn’t met any of them yet, but Yuri knew they were around.
And this transit was going to be more difficult than the others, riskier because the engineers who had continued this leg had gone the extra effort of making sure the continuation wasn’t line of sight to this exit. There were few instances of this in the network of tunnels, but by design the builders had wanted to make it impossible for anyone who had accidentally discovered one leg of the tunnel system to trace it all the way back to the colony.
Continuing as they were towards Fargo meant that very soon they would effectively run our mountains and foothills. After this next leg the battalion would cross a nearly open plain for almost three kilometres, until they reached a dip in the rolling plain that provided access to a well concealed tunnel which would carry them another thirty kilometers underground, deep underground. Yuri shuddered at that thought but the idea was to get a force well behind the approaching American forces.
Most of the reassembled convoy would cross this valley, circle around the ridge and proceed across the plain to the next and final tunnel. The remaining five vehicles would travel down valley, through a series of ridges, where they would meet up with other flanks of this force in a final coordination of resources before Zero Hour and the push.
Unfortunately for Yuri, it was decided the night before that he would ride with the larger group, travel with the Colonel in charge as they made to and waited to spring their rear flank ambush on the Americans. He understood the decision, it made sense and he had the most experience with these old tanks and the tactics of their opponent, but it meant he was relying on others to attend to a growing concern.
Cutter and the majority of his New Soviet comrades would be in the five vehicles moving down the line and although Yuri understood his part in the plan ahead it meant he was relying on others to attend to a growing concern of his… the Rabbit.
The others had decided this was the best opportunity to remove a threat to their plans, in a way that would avoid suspicion. He stood at the lip of the cave and waited until his brother Viktor approached.
"Everything is in place?" He asked non-chalantly.
"Da." Viktor said flatly, "We can trigger any time." Viktor’s head didn’t move and his expression didn’t change either.
"Good." And with that Yuri walked away.
They’re barbarians, Ozeman thought as he huddled at the back end of the transport. For days now he’d been first hand witness to the New Soviet rank and file that was travelling with him. As out of place as he’d felt when he was first thrust into the midst of the Military at least his new brothers behaved in predictable ways he was familiar with.
But these New Soviet, they were raucous and uncouth, they belched and spat and yelled and tussled. They were all the things he’d never seen people be before and Ozeman couldn’t imagine any group behaving that way in the Colony for long. Certainly the Constabulary would’ve broken them up days ago.
Nor would this behaviour have been tolerated among the soldiers he’d become part of, the Military Police would’ve stepped in at the first push, but these men were like children, shoving and yelling and laughing, guzzling beverage and consuming supplies as though they were on a vacation.
None of it helped by the “bullets” that Pyotr Ryumin kept emptying into the kettle which actually appeared to contain a concentrated alcohol mix that quickly fermented as it boiled and grew quite potent as it cooled. It certainly explained much of the rowdy behaviour and further convinced Ozeman never to go near the stuff again, at least not the crude chemical cocktail these Russians brewed.
So, like the rest of his fellow soldiers, Ozeman K huddled at the back of the transport in a dour pout waiting for the loud assembly to tire itself out, or the door to crack open for a rest and injection of fresh air. And when it did those from the Colony rushed out of the transport as though it were on fire for their desire to escape the cabin’s cigarette smoke and noise was as dire indeed.
Yet Ozeman’s response to the Captain’s order that he accompany the second vehicle as it followed Cutter down the line as part of the five was to salute and respond, “yes sir!” Ozeman was confident that Cutter wouldn’t appreciate the behaviour of these guests, and increasingly sure that the General would dismiss the hooligans once he had the opportunity to make a report to the General on what was being done, and SAID, by their so-called allies.
"Stuck with us a few more days, eh Rabbit?" Tepu Solinoff said gregariously as he reached around Ozeman’s neck and manhandled him playfully.
"We’ll have you speaking Russian by the time we’re done!" Boasted Golov between sips of their poison.
As the transport resumed motion and the cabin began to sway on the uneven group the cluster of New Soviet huddled closer, and it seemed closer to Ozeman. Golov offered Ozeman the flask, which he refused.
"Come Rabbit!" Tepu yelped laughingly, "It gets cold out here at night and you’ll need the steam to continue."
Ozeman pushed the flask away forcefully, refusing to have anything to do with the foul beverage.
"Toast success with us!" Pyotr pleaded, "It is Russian tradition."
Ozeman shook his head forcefully, "I don’t like how it makes me feel. No thank you."
His compromise was to drink a glass of water, for those who didn’t know the master plan it was acceptable because it stopped the time wasting on the pass around of the flask, but Ozeman didn’t catch the look of frustration passed between Solinoff and Golov.
* * *
Hours later, as nighttime fell on the plains, the caravan of five lone vehicles came to a halt on some high ground near the banks of a small river. There was very little tree cover to count on so Cutter nodded for the Sergeant to break the guard into shifts and place them where they had their best views, then the assembled gathered around a campfire, set because it would match thousands more throughout the Commons, and broke bread.
Ozeman was hopeful he’d have a chance at Cutter this night, but the General remained sequestered with the bulk of the New Soviet leadership, deep in discussion about the coming days. He looked around at the small camp, those who were down the slope at the water’s edge, those who were climbing into tents, somehow able to sleep out in the open like this, and those wandering around the camp, either enjoying the chance to stretch their legs or on patrol.
He took a deep breath and sighed peacefully. In the stillness of the air, the quiet of the night, he saw his people and realized finally that there were no differences between Millie and Civvie. They both lived ordered lives and did their part to better the colony. He knew he had to protect that.
Without the clutter and cacophony of their guests Ozeman was able to view their situation from outside. If this were a game of Chess, he thought, are we little more than the first row of pawns in a match between the New Soviet and the Network?
And if that were the case, were the Americans the pawns of the Network? Were they both toy armies caught in the middle of a struggle between Superpowers?
Something about that just didn’t ring true. What if this wasn’t Chess, Ozeman thought. What if this was Quadress?
Could this be a four player game where one player, before the game, convinced a second player to focus their attack on a third, on the promise of teamwork; while also convincing a fourth player to attack both the second player and third.
If it were then each player would sacrifice key assets in an attempt to destroy the others player only to have the first player swoop in on the remnants after all the hard work was done and finish them off.
Could it be that the Americans were in the same boat, equally unaware of their part?
Yes, Ozeman realized with a sudden flash of clarity. The New Soviet were agitating both sides of this conflict, with America and the Colony being their fodder in a larger struggle against the Network.
Then, with an equally similar flash, a blunt object struck the back of Ozeman’s head and he tumbled down the bank of the river without another thought.
Problem solved, Golov thought as he dropped and kicked the errant tree branch down the slope after Ozeman’s body.
* * *