The U.S./Mexico Border
3.58 A.M, May 1st, 2012
The first chink of the sun crept above the dusty horizon, and Private Ritchie Malone begun to make out the first lines of his crewmates in the ghostly grey light of dawn. PFC Shawn Burton, the driver, sat in his coffin-shaped compartment, staring south at the barrage that flashed on that horizon, and the vehicle commander, Sergeant Callum Johnson lay on top of the Bradley's turret, chain-smoking and gazing at the stars.
Malone looked at his watch. The glowing hands read two minutes to four in the morning. So, two minutes to go. Two minutes until Burton started the engine, and the US invasion of Mexico began. They would be amongst the first ground troops to cross the border. The Air Force and Navy had been bombing positions the length and breadth of the country for a week, and resistance was expected to be light. Of course Malone knew better than to believe anything he was told by Command, which is why he had written his will before setting out.
Meanwhile his guts were doing somersaults as he paced nervously in the dirt. He made a decision whilst trying not to piss for the fifteenth time today.
"Hmm?" Johnson replied, without moving.
"Can I get a smoke?"
The southern horizon erupted with a particularly large glow. A few seconds went by, then the muffled CRUMP of the detonation reached them, rolling across the landscape like a wave.
Johnson sat up, fished out a Marlboro and tossed it down, along with a box of matches. Malone lit the cigarette, inhaled deeply, and then coughed frantically. He had never smoked before. He was only eighteen after all, and before joining the Army had lived in the big camp outside of Houston, where nicotine was a long way down the list of priorities.
After a second the drug hit his bloodstream, and he felt his body relax slightly. Not much, but just enough to stop him bringing his meagre breakfast back up.
"Thanks, Sarge," he said, stamping his feet against the cold.
There was a sound of running water coming from the back of the Bradley. PFC Nelson Fuller, one of the two soldiers the tank carried, was relieving himself noisily against the track. The noise was drowned out by the scream of an Air Force bomber thundering by overhead. Automatically Malone looked up, and caught a quick glimpse of an A-10 Thunderbolt streaking South, keeping just a few hundred feet above the earth.
Tonight was cold and clear, stars twinkled frostily in a cobalt blue sky. A chill wind blew from the ice fields to the North. It wasn't as noticeable here at the border, but it was there, slowly creeping into your bones. He had been eleven when that ice had been laid down, and found it difficult to actually remember things being any different. Sarge was different, since he was ten years older. He could remember a time before the everlasting winter, although he never talked about it, and as far as he could make out, nobody ever asked.
Sarge was always serious, a cynic. He often got in trouble with his superiors, and no doubt would still be a PFC if it weren't for his undoubted talent and leadership abilities. Malone doubted if there was a better Brad commander in the whole division, and he thanked his lucky stars that he was on this crew. It might in the end be the difference between coming home alive or coming home in a crate. But Johnson inspired the best in his men with a mixture of praise, discipline and leading by example. Plus he always knew where to get cigarettes and booze. He knew people, knew how the wheels of the Army were greased and therefore how to get the most of it.
The radio crackled. Instantly the men of Blue Five were alert, except for the Sarge, who still lay gazing up at the night sky.
"Blue Six to Blue Troop." This was the voice of the Troop commander. This was it then. "FOXFIRE. I repeat FOXFIRE. Deployment pattern Charlie. Out."
FOXFIRE was the go word. Burton started the engine, and all along the battle line the massed tanks and Humvees of the 1st Armoured Division, one part of the vast Continental Army Command, roared into life. One top of the turret, Sergeant Johnson got to his feet and looked down at his men.
"Okay guys. Here we go. Keep your heads and do your jobs and I guarantee we will get back alive." He tossed his cigarette into the dirt and climbed into the commander's cupola in the turret. Malone clambered up into the gunner's position.
"Mike check," Johnson ordered. Four voices sang back into his headphones. "Great. Button her up." Fuller and Corporal Frank Ryder locked the rear hatch, and he and Malone pulled down their respective hatches.
Malone felt his chest constrict as he sealed himself in. But there was nothing unusual about this. He always got a touch of claustrophobia in here, but it had never been enough to distract him from his job. Besides, when they were deep in the shit, the last thing on his mind was how comfortable he was.
"Okay, Burton. Take us out." Malone felt some relief from the Sergeant's voice. It was level, steady, but with that trace of an accent which had been tempered over the years with a Texan drawl.
There was a reason for this, but it was one of the things nobody ever asked him about, and even if they did, Johnson wouldn't tell them. And there was an excellent explanation for this.
Callum Johnson was a dead man. His identity had been stolen in the chaotic days following the Superstorm. His family and friends – those that were still alive – would know the man called Callum Johnson by another name.
CJ Greenough took in a deep breath as the Bradley rocked forward. He had, he figured, one week before the world he had built for himself came crashing down. War or not, he was probably going to be shot as a traitor in seven days' time.
TO BE CONTINUED…
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello there, Sputnik here. How you doing? I presume since you reading this, you got to the end.
Since you got this far, maybe you're willing to go a little further. You see, I imagine it takes a lot of time and fair bit of effort to reach the end, and believe me, I really appreciate it. So well done.
Just one thing. You read the whole thing, yeah? So all I ask is one more little favour of you.
Please review this story, even if its only 'Bugger off' or 'XD'. You can't believe how much it means to me when I see that little word REVIEW in the subject header of my inbox, so if you enjoyed 'Odyssey' then all I ask is you take a few more minutes to tell me what you think.
So, once again, thanks for getting here, I hope you had a good time.