Sierra Tango Yankee X-Ray

The water gleamed like dull steel beneath the moonlight, rippling softly against the creaking wooden boat. He was tempted to touch it, to swirl his hand through the inky lake, but something held him back. He feared it would feel like oil, slick and viscous between his fingers, as though its fathomless depths were choked with the decay of long dead creatures.

Corporal Rendell left his hand where it was, holding the edge of the ramshackle vessel, only a few inches above the foreboding liquid. He watched the sluggish motion of the ripples, the dancing glitter of the pale light on its surface, telling himself there was no movement in the deep shadows beneath it. The tiny boat rocked only slightly, listing gently from side to side. He had the impression it was moving, but with no frame of reference except the soft ripples against the wood it was hard to tell. To his right, the water stretched for maybe a hundred yards before vanishing into a bank of thick fog, drifting unhurriedly on a breeze he could barely feel. To the left, the same. Illuminated by the moonlight, the mist floated by like a broken ghost for whom eternity had lost all meaning, obscuring his vision on all sides.

All except one. Opposite him in the tiny boat sat another man, staring expressionlessly out over the near-motionless water. Like him, he wore a uniform, combat fatigues and black boots, but he was younger than Rendell. He looked only about eighteen. It was too dark to properly make out the insignia or pattern of his uniform, but Rendell assumed it was from a unit based out of Fort Tranchdale like his. Rendell regarded the young soldier, wondering if his own jaw was clenched that tightly. He made an effort to relax it, realising as he did so that he had no idea how he’d arrived at this place.

He started as though waking from a dream, jerking the boat and sending it rocking more violently. He looked around again, at the water and the fog. At the boat, which he immediately identified as a fishing vessel used by the tribesmen in the village down by the base. He blinked at it, his breath coming in short rasps. With an effort of will he closed his eyes and counted, breathing deeply to calm himself. When he opened his eyes, he noticed the other soldier looking at him, his face partially hidden in the shadow cast by the moonlight.

“How did we get here?” Rendell said, looking around again. He rubbed at his head with one hand, the other moving to grip the splintered wood of the aged fishing boat again. It was an unconscious motion; he didn’t have a hangover.

“I think you know,” his companion replied simply. He had a touch of a Southern accent, a trace of West Virginia perhaps.

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