Ah, whatever. Not gonna make 50k but who cares…it’s an excuse to write crap!
More below the fold…
Within an hour they were ready to go, with four soldiers loaded into each vehicle. Sjostad and Atara were in the Humvee, along with a cranky medic named Dartagnan and a quiet, sullen specialist named Jensmore, who sat in the right rear seat at the CROWS-2 (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station, version 2) station. The interior of the vehicle was cramped and, unsurprisingly, was covered in a thin layer of sand. The tan painted cabin seemed a little claustrophobic to Atara, and the engine sounded positively bronchitic – the truck was probably twenty years old and who knows where it’d been during that time.
In the trunk of the Humvee was a hardened green plastic case, three feet by three feet and about twelve inches thick, that contained the precious N-virus counterserum – enough doses to stem the tide of the infection and to ensure the survival of the American soldiers at the front. Such a small thing, and yet so vital…so many lives were in their hands. It was better not to think about it.
But think about it she did – because there wasn’t anything else to do for the first part of their journey. Despite the Iranian incursion the previous night, there wasn’t expected to be any resistance until after they crossed the border. A pair of Apache Longbow helicopters from Kandahar would accompany them as far as the border crossing near Zabol to make sure they at least made it that far – but after that, they were on their own. Their dark angular forms, weaving back and forth across their path, were a comfort to Atara but they also made her lonely – a reminder that their companionship was only temporary and fleeting.
Kandahar…Atara had stayed there, briefly, before her assignment to FOB Rhino and TF Pontiac; the city had come a long way since the Second Afghan War, and now looked like many other booming Third World metropolises, with cars and smoke and people everywhere. The city was beautifully positioned, at the tail end of the Hindu Kush, the majestic range swimming in the haze just beyond the city and the Arghanadab valley stretching away to the south. Spring was just arriving when she came to the city, with the mornings still cold and the afternoons pleasantly warm and plants beginning to grow and bloom down in the valley. But there was tension there, too – just a month before, the city of Herat in the north had been struck by one of the new Iranian SRBMs (short-ranged ballistic missile) with a bioweapon payload (a variant of the Z-virus, it was assumed). Luckily, the weapon was relatively ineffective, but it showed a frightening new capability and aggressiveness on the part of Iran. Kandahar, too, was well within range of the new missiles, and the people there knew it.
Sadly, it was a feeling all too familiar to Atara – it reminded her of Tel Aviv, the fragile normality shattered so often by the piercing wail of the air raid sirens. The constant tension, the sliver of attention always directed skyward, the sick empty feeling in the pit of her stomach when the sirens howled…That tension, among other reasons, drove her parents to move the family to the Negev when she was a girl. They said they did it for all the girls – three of them in all – but it was too late for Atara, who was already thirteen when they moved. The nightmares, waking up in a cold sweat, the razor-thin temper – those things had already set and had never left her since.
The rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush were now distant to the north and to the east lay Kandahar, nestled in the green valley, miles away from this rocky, sandy, flat waste that basically no one called home.
The smooth voice of one of the Apache pilots broke Atara’s thoughts. “This is Remington Zero-One Alpha, checking in on channel six. What’s your callsign down there, over?”
Sjostad replied since he was already wearing the radio headset. “Remington 01A, we’re Balto Zero-Niner down here, over.”
“Roger that, Balto 09 it is. How’s the ride down there?”
Without hesitation, he replied, “Shitty as always, Remmy 01.” And he was right – the Humvee’s suspension was probably clapped out, since it was transmitting every dip and pebble directly to the passengers. Atara was staring to wish she’d brought a mouthguard to keep her teeth from slamming together on the rougher patches.
“We’ll try to make sure the ride doesn’t get any worse, then. Remmy 01A out.”