On the first day, once he was awake and dressed, he went upstairs to breakfast and to greet his team already there. He had long had a speech ready for this occasion – something along the lines of all being in it together, and fighting the good fight whatever was thrown at them. As he already knew all of these men, and as they only accounted for a quarter of those he now commanded, it didn’t seem appropriate now. He visited the other three trailers, to greet the troops he already knew and to introduce himself to those he hadn’t yet met.
He spent a bit longer with this last group, trying to remember their names, which he had never been particularly good at.
His new sergeant major impressed him. Sergeant Major John Smith was tall – about 6’2″ – and immensely wide. It wasn’t fat either – you could tell this just by looking at him. Andrew supposed that the sergeant major must spend a lot of time working out, but he must also surely have been born to be built like that? It wasn’t just his build that was impressive either. His eyes told a story that would probably go long and deep. Reading his file Andrew wasn’t surprised to learn that the sergeant major had been in some pretty serious situations, not just in the Werlder Force but before that in the American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. No doubt he and Sergeant Flynn would have much to talk about.
He had decided to leave the sleeping arrangements as they were. The sergeant major and Sergeant Flynn were billeted with the rest of the untried troops, while Sergeant Johanssen was with the more experienced team. He would develop a bit more team understanding by swapping about who he was dining with each night.
He discussed these thoughts with the sergeant major, who thought about it for a few seconds before nodding his agreement that this was probably a good arrangement. Andrew thought that he’d probably be asking the Sergeant Major’s opinion of a lot of things. ‘Still,’ he thought, ‘that’s why they put us new lieutenants with the experienced sergeant majors – to learn from them.’
At his briefing on that first day he finally learned for sure what their mission was.
Stop the drug lords smuggling, was the main thrust of it. A secondary goal was to secure any cocaine that was passing through to send to the various countries it was intended for anyway. At first, this didn’t make sense to Andrew, until the C.O. explained that many of the countries that were members of the World Alliance were going to decriminalise its use, and give out free to addicts. To do this, they needed a supply, and Andrew was part of the team that would provide it. By decriminalising the use of drugs, and making them available for free, it was hoped that users would commit less crime to pay the habits, so the costs would pretty much balance each other out.
At the same time, harsher penalties for dealers and smugglers, and the collapse of the market for their wares because users could obtain the same thing for free and legally from the governments bringing in this scheme, would, it was hoped, signal the end of this illegal trade and of the networks that had been supplying them up till now. It seemed a bit simplistic to Andrew, but on the other hand they had tried the ‘Just Say No’ campaign and keeping it illegal for many years, but that obviously wasn’t working. Maybe this new approach would.
Andrew would be part of the team that would detect traffickers crossing the border and intercept them. By ‘intercept’ the colonel made it pretty clear he meant ‘kill’.
“The carriers themselves probably don’t work for the drug lords,” he explained, “except that they’re forced to carry the drugs across. We’ll capture them, and their mules, so that they can’t be used again. The men ‘protecting’ them are our main target. Without these men, the drug lords will have no power back at their bases. The Venezuelan government has agreed to make it a criminal offence to carry or use any kind of gun, and we are kind of drafted into their police force, so we have all the rights we need to fire on anyone we see who is carrying.”
The plan was simple: monitor the trails into the country for any traffickers; stop these traffickers and take the drugs they might be carrying; send the drugs, and any ‘unwilling’ participants, back to base. The drugs would be sent to the various members of the Alliance who were giving them out for free, and the participants jailed for the time being – after a hearing of course, but that would be pretty perfunctory. If they were with people trafficking drugs they were deemed guilty – simple as that. It seemed quite harsh at first, but then Andrew thought of the hundreds of users who might otherwise die and his sympathies lessened.
Once they had been briefed their first task was to map the trails as they existed already. This would also give them the chance to spy out any good ambush sites and to get a feel for the type of terrain they’d be operating in.
Andrew spent the first couple of days getting his company acquainted with their new surroundings. They had been assigned to a stretch of jungle much like any other and would join with another company – Delta – under one of the new captains. He was French, by the name of Jeanne Kergoat. He wasn’t much older than Andrew – 28 or 29 probably. He had qualified five years ago as a lieutenant and earned his promotion mainly through his fighting skills against the Taliban. There weren’t many ‘Francers’ in the Werlder Force. In fact, Captain Kergoat was the first Andrew had come across. He supposed at first that maybe they were a nation that didn’t like fighting much, then thought of Napoleon and all that he had achieved and thought better of it. Napoleon’s tactics during some of his campaigns were still being taught in the Academy today, even though weapons had come a long way since Napoleon’s time.
There were few big armies left to fight – the Chinese and the North Koreans really. If China joined the Alliance it was rumoured that there’d be a moratorium on recruitment. Theirs was a big army to choose the best from to fill any vacancies, and besides the Werlder Force could be that much smaller. North Korea was different. If China joined the Alliance, ‘when’ was probably a better term, the North Koreans would lose their last remaining trading partner. Andrew doubted they’d join the Alliance willingly themselves. The ideologues in charge had things too good to consider that, even under the current restrictions on what they could and couldn’t import. He supposed they’d have to be dealt with eventually. Either they would get fed up with the state of affairs and attack the Alliance, or the Alliance would tire of having that particular thorn in its side and take them out once and for all. Andrew wasn’t sure that would work. Some nations had already tried that once, back in the mid 20th century, and hadn’t been successful. The Koreans were a stubborn race, and very difficult to defeat entirely. How the Werlder Force was expected to face a rumoured army of a million men, Andrew wasn’t quite sure. A matter best left to the politicians probably, though he himself would no doubt be caught up in any fighting, if it kicked off while he was still in the Force.
He was pleased to learn that the other lieutenant he was assigned with was Hitu Kopapetu. Next to Paul Chang, Hitu had probably been his closest friend at the Academy. Their competing schedules probably wouldn’t allow much time for ‘fraternising’, but it was comforting to know he’d have at least one ally once they got ‘in the field’.
It was soon time to move out to their assigned destination, and Andrew felt quite excited as he gave the order to collapse the vehicles in preparation for their journey north.
The vehicles collapsed quite readily, and he marvelled at how well they’d been designed. Mind you, he hadn’t actually travelled anywhere with, or in, them yet, so he should probably reserve judgement.
The column left the encampment a little before 9 a.m. that day. His small fleet comprised the four vehicles that would house the 36 members of his company, his and his sergeant major’s offices each with a storeroom above, and the two lorries and his own jeep that carried the men not actively involved in driving the trailer cabs (two in each cab). His own fleet was echoed by Hitu’s company, and of course there was the captain’s trailer and his jeep, carrying him and one of his two batmen.
They made good time at first, although long and wide (24′ x 10′). The road out of the small town that had been their base was tarmac’d, with little motorised traffic, so they could sit in the centre of the road and move quite quickly.
The ramshackle huts which lined this street, homes to the many hundreds of people that lived there, as well as being mostly shop fronts along this main highway, reminded him very much of the Philippines, his one ‘big’ holiday before joining the Werlder Force. It had cost him nearly all of the small inheritance his grandfather had left him but it was a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, and it had been good to meet some of the people he chatted to so much on the Net.
Like there, mobile phones seemed to be everywhere. Even people without shoes seem to have them, and Andrew marvelled at just how much these gadgets had penetrated even this market. Still, putting up a tower or two to provide coverage was probably far cheaper than laying cables to the many houses they passed. Many of these looked so temporary, made from oddments of wood and metal that people had obviously found, with one or two more permanent brick or stone built structures interspersing them now and then. But probably even the ‘temporary’ looking ones were really permanent. The generally good weather would have meant that little was needed to keep out the cold, so homes could easily be less solid than back home in the UK.
He thought briefly of some of his other times abroad. Getting drunk in Grand Canaria had been his favourite. He was still drinking then, and mainly remembered the many bars he’d visited in the evenings, lined up in a ‘U’ shaped so that they almost became one, but each with a slightly different character. He had enjoyed it so much the first time, with his friend Colin, that he’d gone back almost immediately (well, three or four weeks later) with another friend, to continue the experience. His time in Mykonos had been good too. He’d gone there alone and at the end of the season, so a lot of the bars had already closed. He didn’t have a lot of incentive to do anything except to sit quietly in one of his favourite bars and chat with the owner.
Apart from that, his breaks mainly consisted of weekends at various European cities. His part-time job at the local off-licence didn’t pay enough for more, and besides, taking the time away from this job and from college studying had been difficult. Getting to and from the airport for these weekends away had been difficult at first too, his long-suffering father playing taxi driver, dropping him off and picking him up as necessary. But once his younger brother had passed his driving test, Mike had been keen for any excuse to take the car out. Andrew didn’t really like driving with Mike. He wasn’t really a very good passenger at the best of times since he had passed his test himself, but he usually took late or very early flights for cheapness so that there wasn’t much traffic around, and most of the journey of some 30 miles was motorway, satisfying Mike’s passion for travelling at speed without too much discomfort on Andrew’s part.
The tarmac soon gave out and was replaced by little more than a dirt track. Unfortunately it had rained briefly that morning – not a lot, but the ground wasn’t used to absorbing it and it lay in dirty puddles in the potholes along the track. Though the drivers tried to avoid them wherever possible, they couldn’t help driving through some, with the inevitable result that the trailers were getting stuck now and then. This slowed up their speed considerably, as the convoy had to stop and lay down something for the struggling vehicles to grip on to get out of the mud. It didn’t usually take much. A sheet of metal designed for the task under the stuck wheel was usually enough. When it wasn’t, the brute force of the men from the lorries was sufficient to free the offending wheel and get the vehicle moving again. It didn’t really take them long to get going again each time it happened but with so many trailers, and so many potholes, it happened quite often. On more than one occasion a pothole would trap more than one vehicle, making passage over that particular stretch of the journey slow going indeed.
It was getting dark again when they reached their final destination. The track they had turned down, had become little more than a footpath, and not wide enough for the cabs to negotiate much further. They found a spot which wouldn’t take too much clearance to set up the new camp and stopped there. At the captain’s instruction they didn’t bother erecting the upper floors of the trailers that night, leaving that task till they had better light to see by in the morning. This meant they had no access to the microwave ovens in the kitchens, so they dined on cold food from the rations they’d put aside for that purpose. Quite good, all things considered – ham and vegetable salad as the main course, with pears in syrup as a dessert for those who were still hungry after that. Drinks, too, were cold but the beers and cokes were welcome after their long day’s travel. Although the rain had dampened the journey at first, the sun had soon dried out a lot of the road and the trip had been very dusty for all but the lead vehicle.
When they did all retire, having eaten and drunk their fill, Andrew fell heavily onto his bunk. It never ceased to amaze him just how tiring travelling could be. He’d done little more than sit and think as his driver had negotiated his way along the rough road, with the occasional break to supervise getting a trailer out of trouble, yet he was asleep almost immediately he had got into the bed, his dreams full of the other places he had been mixed in with his expectation of things to come.