The next morning, the situation kind of hit us. Three days home just turned into weeks, on foot, across the wastes. We had maybe three days supplies, didn't know the land real well, and had three guys that were in no shape to travel, really. And, we suspected that we were being watched or tracked.
Everybody was still wonderin' what happened to our rides, but Sarge said it didn't matter, our job was to get home, and we needed to focus on that.
I coudn't help but feel that we was just so screwed. A couple of the grunts started to come apart. Panky was havin' none of it. Grabbed the one dude by the throat, told him to shut-up or she'd shoot him herself. He settled down, Sergeant Hand smiled a little. I don't think Panky would have done it, shot the grunt.
So the Sergeant, and Panky, who was second in command now, got everybody squared away, and we moved out. The day was long, dusty, and hot. By the end we was tired, thirsting, hungry, hurt, but nobody tried to shoot us, so it was 'bout as good as could be hoped for.
This went on for a couple of days, and then we happened on a village. This was still well north of the Confederation, so we was strangers in a strange land, and nobody trusted anybody. The local militia greeted us, mostly armed with spears, clubs, and farm tools.
Even in as bad a shape as we were, we musta looked pretty scary, with our armor and army rifles and weapons and all. And to be honest, Sergeant Hand having a metal hand and half a metal head never looked too friendly, so Panky took the lead, dropped her weapons and armor, and approached the strangers.
Maybe the weirdest thing to happen on this mission yet, Panky seemed nice. She talked to their leader, laughed, smiled, like a normal person. I ain't never seen that before. When she came back, she said that they would let us stay the night in a barn on the edge of the village, and she traded a medkit for some salted goat meat and water.
We rested in the shade, tended to our wounds and equipment, and a few of the villagers came and talked with us. They talked about the problems they have, about seeing big green men in the wastes a couple of times, about what sounded like the blockhouse soldiers, gangs, and about the "missions" from something called the "California Republic".
That night, the villagers built a big fire and they sang with us and shared their food and drink. It was like a festival back home, just smaller. Later we posted watches, rested up, and early in the morning, before it got hot, we moved out.
At this point, Sarge had rationed out about ten days worth of food. Well, maybe enough to keep us going, but wasn't like normal rations, but our real worry was water. We only carried maybe 4-5 days worth. Maybe.
We didn't find nothin' for the next three days, except for a couple of small lizards, which made for crappy eating, even though we was so hungry.
About noon on the forth day, we ran into some greenies. Only us on the recce team and Sarge had ever seen one before, and the guys was caught between scared and kind of in awe.
We watched them for quite awhile, trying to figure out what they was doing, and formed a plan. They had some kind of equipment set up, and this big truck. There was a small stream, and they seemed to be collecting dirt in these little jars or cans, and they was cutting leaves from plants growing along the river.
Then one of them stood up, sniffed the air real hard like and yelled, "I smell plague!" They all stopped what they was doing, and started looking around. All three of us on the recon team fired, and then, so did everyone else.
We were whittling them down, but they was getting us too. At some point, one of those wild grenade throws caught Lew and the LT, who also went down. We didn't know it at the time, but Wells got hit a bunch of times. He didn't make it.
Sergeant Hand was running from casualty to casualty trying to stabilize guys who got hit, make sure they was gonna be okay.
Lew finally got the greenie throwing the grenades. She thought she was going to be toast, 'cause the greenie came out from behind a boulder right in front of her, but then missed her, and she let him have it.
The last greenie was across the stream, behind a big rock; we hit him a bunch of times before he finally went down. Fortunately, he couldn't shoot for crap, cause he was shootin' like crazy, and never did seem to hit anybody.
Sergeant Hand rushed that last Greenie and got to him, just as he fell. I don't know what Sergeant Hand was going to do to that thing, but my money was on the Sarge.
Afterward, we rounded everybody up, that's when we found Wells. We had five others wounded, three pretty serious. We needed to get them back home, so they could get better treatment. Sam and the LT could walk; Panky, and two of the other guys had to be carried.
Panky didn't even fight being carried, I was really worried about her. Sam was hurting too, but wasn't in danger.
Anyway, like I said, we rounded everyone up, gathered the greenie jars and equipment, treated our wounded, and were in a hurry to get movin'.
That's when one of the grunts, who was lookin' real close at one of the dead greenies, asked about why their insides was so different than ours. Sergeant Hand said they was some kind of plant people or something. That's when the grunt looked at The Sarge, and says, "Sarge, can we eat the greenies?"
Sergeant Hands eyes got real big, and he spun around, smacked the guy across the top of his head so hard, that I though Sarge mighta killed 'em. Sarge screamed, " We don't effing eat our enemies!!! Greenies eat their enemies!! We're not like them!!!"
And then Panky, laying there half dead, said kinda under her breath, "...and they're green." The Sarge spun around, eyes still bulging, looked at Panky briefly, and stomped off.
A couple of guys snickered, somebody helped the Sarge's victim back to his feet, and after a little while, he even remembered his name again.
Maybe the most important thing was that the Greenies had that truck. A big ugly armored truck, with a cannon. Thank God there hadn't been a greenie in the turret, when the shooting started. If so, I wouldn't be talkin' to you right now.
The truck smelled bad, but it ran. Sam rigged it up so that she could fit in the seat and drive, and we were on our way home.
The remainder of our trip was pretty boring, but went pretty fast. Took two days to get home. Command was pretty upset about losing the two APCs, and at not knowing what happened to them. The Greenie truck and equipment offset that a little. But the colonel still laid into our wounded LT.
The Colonel's office door was open, and Sergeant hand just walked in and closed the door. As the door closed, I heard the Colonel angrily say, "What do YOU want", to the Sergeant. Then I swear that I could hear the Sarge yelling at the colonel. There was more yelling, and then Sergeant Hand walked out of the office, smiled slightly as he walked by me with a nod, and went out the door.
Apparently, the comms building with the big antenna still works somehow. It is getting and sending messages to places in the wastes, and to these things called sadde lights, that go around the planet? I guess its a pretty big deal, we're gonna go back real soon.
Oh, and after we got back, when the medics were tending to Panky, Sergeant Hand went over an talked to her. And she smiled again. That's two smiles in four days. Strange times.