CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
Ozeman was the most junior person present in the body of the lead truck as it raced through the tunnel. He wasn't sure if they were in a hurry to get to something, or away from something, but he knew they were in a hurry.* * *
The loud whine of the combo-drive engine powering the truck made simple conversation near impossible, so most just sat there waiting. Most, but not all. Cutter and Yuri sat around the tiny map table just aft the front cabin and reviewed this part of the mission. Ozeman was sure he wasn't invited to that discussion. In fact, he wasn't sure why he wasn't passed to the second vehicle with the other juniors.
It gave him a chance to size up their new friends. A ragged, scruffy bunch, so alien in appearance compared to everyone from the colony that Ozeman's first instinct was not to trust any of them. But, he thought, their smells indicated they'd been roughing it for a while, which could contribute to their looks. Perhaps after a chance to clean up they were no different than themselves. Perhaps, but Ozeman doubted it.
Some muttered to each other in a language that Ozeman vaguely recognized but couldn't hear clearly enough to make out until the truck began to slow again. He rose and peered through the front window as they passed what looked like a work crew in the tunnel.
A work crew? He didn't recall them when they came up. What were they doing?
The truck continued ahead, at the direction of Sergeant, who was giving hand signals from further down the tunnel, then stopped.
Their guests seemed more confused by the sudden stop than Ozeman was. Cutter rose and moved to the side door, opening it to speak with the Sergeant. This part, though muffled, Ozeman could hear well.
"Everything is in place, General. Sixteen charges going 200 metres down the tunnel ahead of the bend."
"Excellent, Sergeant." Cutter's voice seemed well pleased, a tone he hadn't heard since their guests had arrived, "Get your men in the other vehicles and signal radio silence before we proceed."
Sergeant acknowledged and then left, Cutter turned to Yuri's men, "It is vital that everyone deactivate any radio devices for the next several minutes. Unless they want to die."
With that Cutter returned to his seat, "Carry on Corporal."
The driver nodded and restarted the truck which began to slowly proceed down the tunnel. Ozeman's brow furrowed, charges meant explosives, groups of them lining the tunnel meant Cutter intended to bring the tunnel down, behind them Ozeman assumed. But that would cut off their escape? Oh, he thought, it would also keep anyone from following them into the tunnel. Should the curious people return with investigators this action meant the trail would end here. Ozeman smiled in appreciation, the "old man" as some of the non-coms called Cutter, really planned ahead.
The last of the Soldiers ran and jumped on the sideboards of the final vehicle, the second, backward aimed tank, and quickly scurried through one of the hatches inside. He turned and gave the thumbs up to the Tank commander once the hatch was re-secured.
The Tank Commander nodded, "Count off."
The driver called their mark and then counted the distance from it through the intercom. At one thousand metres the driver pressed both hands firmly on the Tank's horn filling the cavern with the clarion call of a thousand angry geese.
The driver of the lead Truck rolled the window up as he slowed the vehicle to a stop, the four vehicles behind them did the same.
After receiving thumbs up from the tank driver the Tank Commander called to no one in particular, "Fire in the hole," and depressed the trigger.
Nearly a kilometer behind them a series of charges detonated one after the other bringing down tones of rock and debris in a shower of dirt and dust. The duststorm rushed through the tunnel enveloping the four vehicles as the pressure of the explosion thrust a few tones of debris in all available directions.
Ozeman clutched the hand rail at his seat worried that maybe they weren't far enough forward, weren't in a safe enough position, worried that the rumbling of the ground beneath them was a sign the whole of the tunnel was about to collapse around them.
Fortunately he was in the hands of demolition experts and after a fashion both the earthquake and sand storm abated. The driver refreshed his view with a few quick wipes of the window blades and then restarted the truck, which began to unevenly climb over the slight accumulation of debris.
A moment later the convoy was once again in motion.
They continued for several hours, well beyond the time they would normally have parked, but when the group stopped Ozeman saw why it had taken so long. The convoy was back where they were that morning. The widened space in the tunnel, still outfitted with the shower and makeshift mess hall, fired up and stocked thanks to the vehicles that had gone ahead of them earlier in the day.
All climbed out from their respective vehicles, long overdue for a stretch, with some desperate for the more comfortable reliefs of nature's call. As with the morning everyone deferred to Cutter's lead as he proceeded to the wash area and freshened up, then behind the divider to change, then to the “garbage truck” as the mobile kitchen was called, before sitting down at a table in the eating area.
Unlike the night before they left, this mess was less structured and more democratic. Soldiers still tended to stay amongst themselves, but not out of protocol, simply because they were breaking bread with friends.
Ozeman found himself following Cutter to his table, but out of curiosity about their guests he choose to sit at the table behind Cutter, facing them. There was still something not right about these people, Ozeman simply couldn't figure out what it was.
They were strangers, but everyone here was a stranger to Ozeman. They had different customs and culture, but so did all the millies he was now with. He couldn't quite place it, but there was something.
The meal concluded quickly enough, and while the Privates cleared the tables of dirty dishes Viktor pulled from his kitbag a folded board and two bags of figurines. Yuri waited until he set them up and then followed Cutter to the board and the two commanders sat and analyzed the board.
Curiosity overtook Ozeman who rose and moved to the end of the table watching as Cutter and Yuri began to take turns in a game that was only mildly familiar to him.
Yuri glanced at Ozeman, while moving his King's Bishop into position opposite Cutter's Queen's Pawn 3, “This your rabbit?” He said, referring to Ozeman.
“The term is bunnies.” Cutter said unappreciatively, “And yes.”
Yuri rarely took his eyes off Ozeman, “He doesn't trust us... yet.”
Cutter glanced at Ozeman and acknowledged the suspicious gaze on the young Lieutenant's face, “You are a world different than he's familiar with.”
* * *