The transport rattled down the occasionally narrowing expanse of tunnel and the sound of so many vehicles was very nearly deafening, yet Ozeman’s head darted about peering, as best he could, through the vehicle’s front window, and then aft through the tiny glass in the back doors while the headlights from the string of moving vehicles played tricks with the irregular surface of the tunnel’s walls and ceiling.
This was only the second time in his life that Ozeman had ventured beyond the confines of the colony. A few weeks earlier he had been part of a volunteer foraging group sent above ground looking to collect plant samples, or at least that was the official story.
In reality the Colony Leaders wanted to know what the effect of above ground exposure would be on the Civilian population. They were pleased to learn that except for mild windpipe burn caused by the chill of the air all had come back unscathed if somewhat giddy.
What Ozeman hadn’t realized is that his first trip up was nothing new to the Military. In the hundred years since sealing below ground the Millies, or more specifically their Corps of Engineers, had been tunneling beyond the colony, measuring radiation readings and densities until they found the safest route away from the colony and out to the open air of un-radiated ground.
And then, because they knew their enemies were still around, they kept tunneling until a network of tunnels extending hundreds of miles from the colony were constructed.
Some led to known supplies, others to much needed resources and others still to long abandoned bunkers and stockpiles. This network kept the colony secure and supplied, even during the period in the early 22nd Century when the Aquifer dried up.
Protecting the diggers and keeping these tunnels secured was the responsibility of the Distance Recon Patrols, a task force established early on by a very wise General a long time ago.
Cutter had been assigned to the D.R.P on his first tour but the young Lieutenant he had been didn’t think as the rest did and quickly saw how the mandate for this force could be used to re-establish their sovereignty in the region. And after much politicking Cutter was able to build the support necessary to get his plan approved by the elders.
Twenty-one years later the final stages of the plan were coming to harvest. They’d even found an ancient Command Centre still tied into former allies who had remained true. A lifetime’s work was finally paying off.
But while Cutter sat up front, confident and assured of his path, Ozeman was anything but. His head flitted about taking in all the sights and sounds with an alertness that would’ve startled him were he removed enough from the present to see it objectively.
Cutter saw that in his young charge and smiled. It had been a big, yet pleasant surprise, when they exposed Civilians to the outside world and discovered the effects the fresh air had on them.
They’d been concerned that rogue bacteria might wipe them out; akin to the smallpox-laden blankets the Spanish had given the Aztecs. Instead the subjects wandered around in a daze, often falling down as though drunk.
Thankfully the Military was prepared to conduct a series of tests, specifically blood works, on each subject who had ventured up. They were looking for any signs of exposure sickness and were shocked to discover quite the opposite.
Not only was the area around the colony free of radiation, the result of a hundred years of rain, wind and weather blowing the fall out elsewhere, but their multi-generational underground habitation had bred into them a low oxygen tolerance.
The air above was so comparatively rich that anyone exposed to it for the first few times was made nearly drunk by the exposure, and once acclimated exhibited fantastic levels of alertness, endurance and strength.
It was the reason the outer vents were being opened twice, and now three times a week throughout the habitat, and a major reason that Ozeman was chosen from all the other competent technicians. He’d adapted to the increase in oxygen the fastest.
While the tunnel, despite being under varying amounts of rock, were completely open to the external atmosphere, an environment that every other participant on this mission had been exposed to nearly from birth.
Ozeman rose as the gear shifted in the truck and everyone lurched forward gently. He stared out the front at the growing hole of light unaware that they were heading directly for the tunnel exit.
It took nearly half an hour for all the vehicles to stop, for the rumbling din to die down and for the ground to cease its tremors. During this time they waited inside the truck, mere feet from the exit of the tunnel and stared in wonder at the green and blue expanse of lush ground ahead of them.
Cutter nodded to the far face of the next hill. “That shadow between those trees there, that’s the entrance to the next cave.”
The driver nodded. He’d been briefed on this mission and understood the plan. Ozeman hadn’t been briefed and didn’t understand why they weren’t continuing outside. Aside from the blinding difference in brightness between what they were used to and what was before them he couldn’t see any reason not to proceed.
Cutter turned to Major Scott, “I want the Camo Squad out there on the button. Have them check for spotters and electronics. Anything overhead too. Keep them stringed, line-of-sight, hand signals only.”
The Major nodded, rose and moved to the back of the truck, opening the door and departing. Ozeman didn’t have a clue what half of Cutter’s order meant and was glad he hadn’t received those instructions because he was sure he’d fail in his misunderstanding. Maybe, Ozeman thought, it was Military jargon.
He peered out the back as the Major led a team of Soldiers from another Truck. These guys were bulkier than most and wearing a mix of debris and netting. At least that’s what it looked like. The team snapped to attention and then on one order marched for the lip of the tunnel, stopped long enough to change their posture and then stepped out into the light where they appeared to promptly disappear.
Camo, thought Ozeman, must mean camouflage. So people who could move about without being easily seen were being sent out ahead of them to look for ‘spotters and electronics’. Okay, thought Ozeman, Cutter was being cautious and making sure that they weren’t moving into a trap or going somewhere they’d be noticed.
For the Military to sneak about meant they didn’t think they were in friendly territory. Well, thought Ozeman, of course not. The only friendly territory they had was back at the colony. Everything out here was potentially hostile. Ozeman nodded in understanding. They might be exploring but because they’d fought a war in this territory a hundred years ago they had no idea if they’d be spotted by their former enemy. Spotted, challenged, and engaged; or greeted and welcomed.
Ozeman had a new found admiration for Cutter, and nodded as his trust for this man increased ten-fold.