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In the heat: part 1

Sitting in the basin at the bottom of the Franklin Mountains, deep in the Chihuahuan Desert; between the old cities of El Paso and Las Cruces, nestled on the edge of the Rio Grande River, was the currently and heavily coveted area of Canutillo. With most of the surrounding desert resting on a rock-bed of granite, this basin was one of the best accesses to the underground aquafers.

Over a hundred years of irrigating and planting had created fertile farming and resources of salt and limestone.

All of this made it a target, but it was the water that has always been the crucial resource. Water was always worth more than blood or gold in the desert.

The California Territories had learned this lesson the hard way. Now they were trying to grabs as much land and water as possible. The West Coast nation had made bargains and threats to New Texas’ neighbors, gaining more and more ground.

Nevada joined California; it had very little to lose. Arizona had been struggling for years before it had fallen. The Navajo Nation, however, had managed to maintain control of its lands, breaking the state into pieces that were devoured by the hungry California conquerors.

New Mexico and Texas had formed together simply becoming New Texas. If New Texas hadn’t made the alliance of 2035 with the United Tribal Confederacy, the nation would not have found its feet. The supplies and trading between them had helped them both bring order to the chaos that had swept the old west.

Now, with California again trying to expand, New Texas and The UTC had no choice but to hold their lines.

The old streets baked in the high sun, turning the tar into black rivers that ran through the cracks in the pavement. The sun bleached the entire world of color, turning things into a hazy mix of shades, tans, browns, and reds. The contrast to the deep blue sky created a stark line of the horizon dividing the earth and sky. The powdery desert sand covered everything, the bits of desert scrub and tumble weeds made the empty streets the set of an apocalyptic western. The buildings, old and battle torn, only added to the effect of some aged waste land.

At the corner of La Mesa Ave and Doniphan Dr., at the start of the Canutillo Union Bridge that crossed the Rio Grande River was the hard point position for Echo 1 Squad, just outside the designated hot zone, tucked into the blown out basement of the Lonestar Title Loan building.

As the sun baked the world into a tan haze; two enlisted soldiers of the New Texas defense force held their position. They were dug in deep, enclosed by stone and concrete, re-enforced with rebar, it was both tough and much cooler. The deeper their hole was, the cooler the earth beneath.

‘At least we are fighting in the shade.’ William James thought. The difference between the light and the shade was almost twenty degrees. Often it could be the difference between fighting and heat stroke.

William looked down the empty streets, searching. Somewhere further away the advance units were in position to attack the hostile forces that were trying to make a foothold near the river.

The breeze swirled the dirt and grit into small dust devils, twirling and dancing down the streets. The soft kiss of air offered a small relief to the oppressive heat as it cooled the sweat on his face. He could feel the grit on his skin but didn’t mind.

He watched a gecko lizard crawl over the edge of concrete wall onto his side; taking shelter in the shade it provided. He heard the cry of a hawk high above, hidden by the light of the sun. William looked trying to spot the bird, but saw only the thin horse tail wisps of clouds brushed across the azure sky.

He had heard that a hawk was a good omen.

In the distance, the pair of howitzers began shelling the enemy position. Drones flew overhead to provide both support and spotting for artillery. He could feel the faintest tremble through the rocks and dirt as the shells hit the ground. He could smell the acrid scent of spent gunpowder in the smoke that blew in on the wind. It made the streets take on a dark haze that infused into the dust devils.

William peered out into the smoky streets looking for his first target.

His unit’s position at the edge of the containment zone meant they were really just auxiliary support. They were to provide cover fire and support to the deeper units so that these set of streets remained clear of enemy fire. After the combat was when their real work would begin. Waiting was the worst for him, but he knew his job.

Keep the Combat Engineer operational.

“So you gonna’ tell me about this fight you had with Sakura?” Georgina spoke from under her camo-ed helmet. William could hear the grin in her voice. Her insignia had been shaded, making it just barely visible, marking her as the combat engineer and his partner.

“You really want to talk about that NOW?” William said calmly; he had been wondering why she had been so quiet. She always chatted during missions. At first it had bothered him, but he knew it was how she stayed calm. Over time her constant chatter helped him to be calm. They had found their rhythm and he preferred it that way.

’As long as Georgina Blackwell was talking, everything was going according to plan.’

However, he wasn’t sure he really wanted to discuss this with her.

The light reflecting off a rifle muzzle alerted him to incoming from the left side of the street second before the bullets hit the wall he was peeking over.

William pulled his head down as the bullets shattered against the stone of their reinforced cover. An explosion sent rock and rubble flying; debris and hot shrapnel rained down over their position. The gecko lizard raced past his face and scurried for cover into a hole under the wall.

Lucky bastard’, William thought.

“That’s right, now’s perfect.” Her calm voice was audible even with the ambient noise. He really worried about Georgina sometimes.

“That’s a football- bat, George! Care to explain?” William replied with a calm exacerbated tone, still relaxed as they spoke.

Clockwork chaos continued inside the perimeter of the containment zone, as the forward units engaged with the hostiles half a dozen blocks away. They should barely see any enemy forces out here.

William retook his position as Georgina fired back towards the left. The sounds of small arms fire could be heard as they watched down the street. The operation had begun almost 10 minutes prior. It was possible that the enemy would try to come through this position to out flank their forward units.

They had laid down some claymores for those that might get too close and had rigged the bridge as well.

He fired for effect to his right to force some encroaching hostiles back behind cover; the bullets tearing into the ground to their left exactly where he intended them too.

“People are honest in live fire… can’t lie and shoot shit at the same time. Don’t change the subject.” She didn’t even pause in firing her weapon as she explained. She kept her eyes on her target. Her stance was relaxed as she leaned against the edge of the cover.

She had left a number of misdirection traps in the streets but it would just be better to keep them from walking this way at all.

Williams helped her lay down cover fire for a medic pulling the wounded to safety of the Old church down the street. They both made sure to alternate fire so that there was never a time without bullets smashing against the cover the hostiles had taken shelter behind.

As usual she was right, it was a waste of time to argue with her and it did require too much concentration to lie.

“Fuck me running George… I don’t know.” He pulled the trigger, felt the recoil kick into his shoulder as the 3-round burst went down range, and he felt some comfort in the physical push of the weapon.

He continued, his voice calm as he controlled his breathing for his next shot, letting his breath go out in a long slow five count as he squeezed the trigger.

“It was Fugazi.” He answered finally, trying to convey the frustration and confusion he felt.

Static came over the radio and they both listened for their designation.

The radio-man’s voice broke the static; “Bravo two this is Alpha one, take the south-end corridor, Acknowledge over.”

A different voice answered. “Alpha One this is Bravo two, taking the south end corridor over”

Georgina kicked dirt at him with the toe of her boot and gave a nod. “Charlie Mike” she snapped before looking back at the terrain. They refocused on their position and William sighed.

’Charlie Mike… ‘continue mission’ yeah right… spilling my private life to you, Georgie, is NOT our mission here.’ He grumbled in his head.

William continued with a frown. “Back at the CHU, I make sure she is secure and start to leave and she goes ballistic.”

Georgina looked over at him with surprised. “You engage?”

William gave a bark of laughter but didn’t smile. He knew better then to engage in hand combat with Sakura. “Fuck no. Do I look suicidal?”

He could hear the gears in Georgina’s brain working. He knew she would ask but waited for it anyway. Knowing when to move and when to wait is important when working with a team.

Georgina never let him down. “So?”

William felt the irritation and confusion from the fight return as he fired. The irritation made his muscles tight and the recoil hurt a little. Sakura confused him, just when he thought he had a handle on her she did something unpredictable.

She got under his skin in a way he couldn’t explain. It didn’t always bother him, sometimes she really helped him find his center. But whenever he would find his footing, she would trip him up again.

“She threw her fucking shoes at me,” he said grumpily.

Georgina started laughing as she pinned down a sniper trying to take nest in a bit of crumbling building. Despite her laughter she was able to shoot so close to him that he quickly backed off that position, allowing a unit of their soldiers to move from one covered position to another.

His jaw tightened as her laughter needled his pride. He knew George was probably the smartest person he knew but sometimes she was a real pain in the ass.

She knows full well that Sakura is a five foot, highly trained, incredible deadly, freakin’ ninja!

“Those things had fucking three inch heels. That shit hurt.” He said defensively. “I don’t know what her malfunction is.”

“Wow Will, you are the dumbest smart person I know! I bet you don’t even know why it went sideways,” She said still grinning.

He rolled his eyes and glared out at the street. “Well, Miss Genius, why don’t you explain it to me?”

“Cause the unflappable William James gets ruffled by the little Sakura; I live for this shit, its better than soaps.”

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