We didn’t expect to find a desert at the edge of the forest. We sure as hell didn’t expect to find a ship in the desert. I turned to Walker with a smirk.
“Still think this doesn’t warrant military involvement?”
“Yep,” she said, eyes ahead. “Since when did a rusted old wreck in the middle of the desert need grunts?” She flicked a glance to the other soldiers, a blurry wall of muddy fatigues by this stage.
I shrugged, the straps of my pack cutting into my shoulders. Obviously we wouldn’t have been sent if the ship wasn’t worth something special -- or dangerous -- but Walker liked to be a pessimist. Guess I couldn’t blame her; big eyes and built like an hourglass, she was half the size of the other gunners. Fuck knows how she even made it to that division. But she was a lance jack, so I guessed she was doing ok.
Sarge called a halt. Thank fuck. I dropped my kit where I stood. Sand was going to get in everything, but who cared by this stage? Most of us just dropped our shit and were half ready to bed down in the sand, tents be dammed. I checked my watch, forgetting it was broken. Can’t have been more than late afternoon. Sun was still too high. Didn’t matter to the meat shields, they learned to sleep anytime, anywhere.
It was funny watching the civvies try sort themselves out though. Even Walker sniggered as the doc tried assembling his tent off the ground, so he could place it fully formed on the sand, thus minimising the amount he got inside.
Eventually, Walker took pity on him and called a couple of the gun bunnies over help him out. I was in half a mind to join her, but fuck it. My ass needed some serious sitting on.
Of course, it was the exact opposite of that thought that landed me out here in the first place. Careful what you wish for, right?
I stared into the bucket with something like disdain. I was pretty sure the mop hated me as much as I hated it by now. The lineup of shitty chores was probably my own damn fault for nicking one of the trucks and going balls to the walls around camp, but hey, sometimes you’ve just got to get up and do shit, otherwise you go insane. Still, the shafting was not appreciated.
The Sergeant walked into the barracks and I jumped to attention.
“At ease, Bennett,” he said. I lowered my hand and dumped Mrs Mop back over by Mr Bucket.
“I need you for an op out in the west Daintree. Helos spotted something weird out in the desert.”
“You’re sending me?” I asked with a raised eyebrow. “I figured I was grounded after, you know…” I gestured vaguely in the direction of the bulldozed tree. The gnarls and knots on its face glared at me like some wrinkled old lady. Like it knew it was my fault or something. You could still see its split open trunk where I’d smashed the truck into it. You’re supposed to be able to tell a tree’s age by the number of rings inside. This one had heaps, so I guessed that made me a double ass.
The Sarge’s lips thinned. “General feeling from up top is that you’d be more use off base.”
I ran my hand over the buzzcut on the back of my head. “Uh, right.”
“Be ready by 0800 tomorrow,” Sarge said, then left.
I scooped up some red sand and sifted it through my fingers. It was hot. My ass was getting warm just sitting on it, and I wondered if maybe a tent wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Plus, we didn’t have the shade of the trees anymore. My head was starting to boil. Walker said she heard of a guy out on patrol once who forgot his hat and didn’t fill his canteen. His brain melted and started coming out his ears. I think she was probably kidding though. Hard to tell, since she never smiles.
I put my hat on just in case.
Speak of the little angel, Walker comes back over and sits with me. The civvies have all disappeared inside their respective tents now. Probably doing research or some shit. I figured we brought them for a reason.
“I think I know why we’re here,” Walker said, keeping her voice low.
“Yeah. Cause there’s a big-ass ship in the middle of a desert.”
“No. I mean I think I know why we’re here.” She looked pointedly at the grunts.
She got my interest. I leaned in a bit and matched my tone to hers. “Yeah?”
“I heard one of the researchers talking. It’s a Japanese ship. From World War Two.”
I blinked. “We’re in the outback.” Ships got dragged inland by rivers that dried up. But I figured this one had to have been made at some outback factory that got abandoned. How else did a fossil like that end up here?
“Yeah.” She lowered her voice again. “And there’re radio signals coming from it.”
My eyes slid over to the ship, the hulking monolith jutting from the sand like a rusty scab. Suddenly it seemed less dead than it had a moment ago.
“Better rest up,” Walker said. “We’re boarding at first light.”
The ship groaned like a wounded croc. Not that I’d heard crocs groan, or anything, but I figured they probably did. We moved through it as silently as possible, weapons at the ready. I stayed by Walker. She was tiny, but damn she was quick on the trigger. We crept deeper into the ship, leading the scientists, who bunched together like pack rats.
Sarge signalled a stop outside a door as gray and meaningless as the others. We moved into formation. Doc’s tracker thing said this was the place.
Guns up. Sarge reached for the handle. Time to go.