Canyon

To get the soldiers acclimated to their new environment, the regiment was ordered to march to a canyon nearby with full kit. They would then make their way up the canyon where a few exercises would take place. Evans looked longingly at the single cloud in the sky, hanging uselessly over some hill in the distance. McGilligan and Gibson both looked a bit worried, but said nothing about it when questioned. Not that Evans had much energy to question. The march to the canyon was a slog through harsh terrain. The sun beat down mercilessly, and Evans felt more sweat than man.

As the regiment got closer to the canyon, a few trees started to pop up, too gnarled to provide much shade. It wasn’t until they entered the canyon that he was able to keep himself in the shade. The canon itself was quite nice compared to the rest of the desert. It’s steep slopes blocked some of the sun, the narrowness of the canyon cut marching speed down a lot giving everyone time to rest, especially because of the third nice thing, there was a stream flowing through the canyon, which made it possible to refill canteens.

All this made the march only the worst march he had ever been on. Why in the hell would anyone ever willingly subject themselves to the desert? Yet Gibson and McGilligan both seemed perfectly fine. There were a few soldiers in other sections who looked to be from the Desert as well. And there was some Lieutenant who kept running along to the rock walls, putting a borrowed rifle against it, and taking notes. Officers are weird.

Evans walked up next to Tiscornia and grunted a few exhausted emotions at him. Tiscornia grunted back before taking off his helmet to use as a massive, heavy fan. Tiscornia composed himself long enough to give a real comment, “Why… Why did they make us wear helmets. Fucking heavy. Fucking steel.”

Evans gestured at the strange Lieutenant, “She’s fine with it.”

“What is she doing?” Tiscornia asked before putting his helmet back on and taking a swig from his canteen, “I think she’s from Apple Company.”

Evans paused to fill his canteen then take a drink, “You know anyone from Apple?”

Before Tiscornia could respond, an incredibly cheery voice spoke up from behind them, “I’m from Apple, soldiers. You have a question?”

Evans spun around in shock, staring directly into the eyes of the strange Lieutenant. He opened his eyes wide and stared for a moment before coming to attention and saluting, “Ma’am.”

The Lieutenant giggled before waving his hand down. Evans asked his question, “You… Ma’am seem to be doing something with the sides of the canyon and your notebook, Ma’am?”

“Ah,” A smile grew across her face. She waved Tiscornia and Evans to follow her and ran to the side of the canyon. The two stumbled over, where the Lieutenant was pointing at the stone, “See, this is a sedimentary rock.”

Evans sighed and started pretending to listen.

The Desert

As the train got further and further into the desert, the temperature in the train car got hotter and hotter. Even with the door all the way open, it was just about unbearable when they finally arrived at their camp, about thirty kilometers outside of Red Sands. The regiment was given the next hour to collect themselves while the officers went to a meeting.

When Evans hopped out of the car, he was unimpressed. The soil was a reddish brown with low brown scrub sticking up every few meters. To the North, there was an impossibly flat plain with no plants that eventually rose up to mountains. Everything looked dead. The only animal Evans could see was the vulture flying in the cloudless blue sky. He looked over to McGilligan, “Where are the cacti Lance?”

McGilligan responded with a smile on her face, pointing to one of the scrubby looking bushes in the distance with many arms, “Over there Sergeant. At least that’s one.” She paused a moment before pointing to a green domed cylinder about waist high thirty meters distant, “That’s a barrel cactus.”

Shaking his head and putting his arms up, he said, “No, the ones that look like this. The big ones with the big arms.”

“Saguaro’s are only to the East of here. I think I actually saw some on the train in,” She shook her head and smiled, “God, isn’t this beautiful Sergeant?”

“Everything is brown and everything is dead.”

Shaking her head, McGilligan ran off into the scrub, coming back a few moments later with her hands cupped together. She opened them slowly, letting the lizard skitter out. She smiled at Evans and sain, “See, life’s everywhere, you just have to know where to look.”

Tiscornia pointed off to the North, “Also, there’s some sheep looking things over there.”

“At the edge of the Lake?” asked McGilligan

“The Lake?” responded Evans, I see no water anywhere Lance.”

She shook her head, “No, it used to be a lake. I once encountered a Geologist when I was deep in the desert who explained it to me. Water has little bits of rock in it that are left behind when they evaporate. Because water is flat, the dry lake will end up being flat… I think it’s something like that.”

“We used to have a Geologist platoon leader. A Lieutenant Stoddart. He’s now a major or something in the Mining units. He was a bit… odd.”

“Yeah,” McGilligan nodded and said, ‘We get a few who come out to my hometown every year to do research. They’re all scruffy, make terrible jokes, and drink constantly. Half of them are Nobility but don’t act it. I occasionally acted as a local guide for their research teams. One time, I was guiding Lady Wick to a mountain. She swore constantly. Wore clothes that didn’t fit and were almost in tatters, even though she is, once again, Lady Wick. Lives in a huge estate with dozens of servants, yet spends three months out of the year living like a bum in the Desert.”

Train Stop

When the train came to a stop for breakfast and coal refueling, Evans stepped off to the side for a much needed cigarette. Lieutenant Welch walked up, looking a bit uncomfortable in her new uniform and asked, “First Squad all in the new uniforms?”

“Yes Ma’am. My two soldiers from the Western Desert say it’s a good uniform for being out there.”

“Well at least someone likes it,” Lieutenant Welch turned her head to where the company was eating breakfast, “You know Sergeant, in my count of First Platoon, I’m coming up two short for your squad. Something I need to know about?”

Evans shook his head and replied, “No. Two of my soldiers are just busy Ma’am. And they’ll be busy for lunch as well Ma’am. So no need to ask about them then.”

“Very Well Sergeant. And on a more personal note, how is Private Gibson adapting to your Squad? She was the only replacement from my old platoon to join you. And, well, she sort of idolized you.“

“She’s adapting well Ma’am. Has some new friends. Seems to be smart, and will make a good NCO someday.”

“You a pessimist then Sergeant?” The Lieutenant let off a short laugh, “You think the war is going to last that long? We’ve got the Boxers on the ropes.”

“Hey, I’ve got three kids at home and another on the way, I want to go back home as soon as possible. But I think she might stay in even after the war ends.”

“Good intel Sergeant. Once this starts to wind down, I’ll put in a word for her up the chain,” the Lieutenant nodded, “And you’re sure that your Squad is good?

“We’ll be fighting ready by the time we get to the Desert. Don’t worry Lieutenant.”

Scarves

After a few minutes, First Squad had changed into their new uniforms. Evans looked around as the soldiers tucked their old uniforms into their kit bags. McGilligan still had her scarf sitting around her neck. Evans asked, “Should you be wearing that?”

“It’s a light scarf. In the desert, you want to keep the sun off you. And your sweat will be held in the scarf and it will cool you down. If there’s a dust storm, you can pull it up over your nose so you can breathe proper. Helps you filter water. Really it’s the most important part of the outfit.”

“So you were a scarf when you’re home?” Howe asked.

McGilligan smiled as she responded, “I’ve got scarves for every dress I have. My parents hated it, because it meant I was always planning on sneaking off into the desert to read and camp. My mother said I was too focused on reading and being out in the desert and not focused enough on boys.”

“Well obviously you focused on boys enough. To be a fallen woman,” Howe said under her breath.

McGilligan’s face went red. Her eyes narrowed in anger. She started to move towards Howe, fists clenched. Johnson and Madison moved quickly to hold her back.

Gibson looked surprised, confused, and a little bit scared. She took a few steps back to put Evans between her and the action.

Evans glared at Howe and said, “Howe, I’m sure you just had a slip of the tongue.”

Indignant, Howe replied, “You know, I’m plenty interested in men, and I’ve easily managed to stay chaste. All I’m saying is that this whore is lying to us.”

Before Evans had a chance to respond, Johnson had let go of McGilligan and dashed forward at Howe. With a single swing of her fist, Howe was on the ground. Johnson knelt on top of her and kept hitting until Tiscornia physically restrained her. Evans turned around and faced the wall of the train, “Johnson, Howe. Next two meals are cancelled and you are confined to the train at all stops. And if I find out anyone else is sneaking them food, First Squad will be fasting until we reach the Desert.”

Evans turned back to the Squad. Tiscornia had let Johnson go, and she was now in the back corner, comforting McGilligan. Madison and Ollie had moved over to make sure Howe was alright. Gibson walked over to Shep, still looking confused and whispered something to her.