The next morning dawned brightly, and Andrew’s company was already up and moving around when he finally emerged from his bunk, even though it was very early. They had decided to breakfast late once the trailers were fully elected. Well, ‘decided’ wasn’t really the right term. It had been an order from the captain, so there was little choice but to obey. Andrew satisfied his immediate desires by finishing what was left of his meal from the night before, not a lot but enough to tide him over till they could eat properly. Some of the men were doing the same, whilst others opened another tin, probably because they had nothing left from their previous repast. A few weren’t bothering, preferring to wait till later. Most of these drew heavily on cigarettes, or took noisy slurps from their various cans of drink, while they waited for their colleagues to finish.
They were soon ready to properly erect the trailers. Many of the hydraulics weren’t working, even though the vehicles were basically new, so they had to pull up the sides and roofs by hand. Even though they’d been designed to be lightweight, it took most of the company to lift each of the trailers roofs, the solar panels on these making them quite heavy. Andrew was pleased he was supervising this rather than joining in. Although still early, and relatively cold, he could see the patches of sweat which now adorned most of his men’s shirts around the armpits and backs.
Getting the basic units into shape was the hard part. Once erected, putting up the insides was relatively easy. Most of the upper decks were designed to be 3 foot tall so weren’t affected when the trailer was collapsed. It was only really the inner walls and doors that needed to be re-erected, and the high-level cupboards that would provide storage in the kitchen and break areas.
After a couple of hours, the task was complete. The captain gave orders for the men to take a proper breakfast before clearing an area for their camp. The cold cereal was welcome, especially with the milk from the fridge. Who knew when they’d see proper milk again once their current supply ran out? They’d have to survive on powdered stuff. This was all right in tea and coffee, but couldn’t compare to the real thing as a drink or with his cornflakes! Andrew liked milk a lot, in fact it was probably his favourite drink and he had downed gallons of the stuff back home.
Milk in other countries was never the same somehow, though he had liked what he’d had in Geneva – particularly rich and thick.
Eating his cereal didn’t take long. Watching and supervising his team as they had completed the task had built up a surprising hunger in him. He could see by the way that many of the men were wolfing down their own bowls of food that the physical exercise had done the same for them.
“Ready to start clearing a new home?” asked the captain. It was a question, rather than an order.
“Pretty much, sir,” Andrew replied. “A few more minutes wouldn’t hurt though.”
“10 more minutes then, then we’ll start.” This time the captain’s voice did convey this as an order, so he passed this along to his men, while he watched the captain giving the same order to Hitu and his company.
There was little to be said about clearing the space they had decided to call ‘home’ for now. The clearing they had stopped at was already quite large, but eleven trailers and their accompanying vehicles took up a lot of space. Besides this, they needed to ensure each trailer got as much sunlight as possible, so that the solar panels could provide the power they’d need for the fridges, lights, microwaves, etc. There was no electricity supply in this remote part of the world to plug into, and the generators on the cabs used a lot of fuel if they were run for any length of time.
Felling trees was easy enough, but this had to be done very low down to avoid having to also dig out the roots. The trailers didn’t have a great deal of clearance under them, and these roots looked as if they went down a long way, so getting stumps out would be hard work indeed.
At the captain’s orders, Andrew left his company under the competent instruction of his new sergeant major and reconnoitred their immediate surroundings. He took a couple of his new troops with him for this – a chance to get better acquainted with them, and they with him.
They had passed a small village just before they stopped the previous night, nothing more than a few ramshackle dwellings lining the roadway really, and Andrew and his small team of two others walked back to these, as good a place to start as any.
They passed a few locals as they walked. At first, Andrew tried to engage them in conversation but they didn’t speak Werlderin or English, so the conversations took place mostly by signing and mime. Soon, he didn’t bother, preferring instead to just smile and nod as he passed each person.
He made a point though being particularly friendly to any children they met, giving them chocolates and sweets from the ample supply he had plundered from the trailers just for this purpose. He had been instructed to try his best to be on friendly terms with ‘the natives’ and this seemed as good a way to start as any. He could see by the looks on many of the kids’ faces that they had never, or rarely, had chocolate before. Their visages noticeably brightened as they munched on the delights they had been given. Andrew tried some himself. It was darker than the milk chocolate he was used to back in the UK, more chocolaty somehow, and he soon realised he’d have to try very hard not to become too addicted to it. It was certainly very nice.
Just as they came into the village, he led his team east, into the jungle itself. There was a trail, of sorts, to follow here, but even this was overgrown and seemed not much used. Progress was quite slow, and slowed further still once they turned off and headed north again, back towards camp. They picked their way through trees and vines trying to find the easiest path, but very often they needed to use the machetes they’d brought with them to cut through particularly tangled vines that there seemed no way around.
Not far from camp they encountered a small stream. This would be useful. Their toilets were chemical, and their showers and washing machines had a ‘recycle’ facility, that the captain had already ordered be engaged, but even with these measures the water tanks wouldn’t last very long. Refilling them from the stream would be arduous, but better than nothing if supply trucks didn’t reach them in time.
They had seen very little of any local wildlife in their trip, limited to the old lizard or spider in the branches they were passing, or cutting, and once Andrew thought he spied a snake slithering off into the safety of the dense undergrowth that lay beneath all of the taller trees, nothing bigger. They hadn’t tried to be particularly quiet on this trek; there had seemed no need, so Andrew wasn’t really all that surprised. Their slow and noisy progress had given plenty of time for any larger animals to move back into the security of the surrounding jungle.
By the time they returned to the encampment, work there was nearing completion and many of the trailers had already been manoeuvred into their final spots.
He waited, while Hitu reported to the captain what he had found. He’d had a similar mission to fulfil, taking the western side of the encampment, but had decided to head straight into the forest and come back up the road from the village. Hitu hadn’t found anything of note, unsurprisingly, though had startled a wild pig in the midst of unearthing a succulent root to chew on. Andrew added his own findings, once Hitu had finished, giving almost with pride the coordinates of the stream they’d found.
“Good,” said the captain, “that will be useful later. We’ll recce to the North this afternoon, so we know what’s ahead of us, then we’re probably set to start our mission proper tomorrow.”
They lunched on warm food, using the microwaves to heat up the various tins they opened, but ate outside as the day was very pleasant.
Andrew was happy to hear the contentment in his team’s voices as they chatted about this and that while they ate. Conditions, and pay, weren’t exactly great in the Werlder Force, so it was good to know that morale seemed high, for now at least.
Of course, these things were relative. You got paid the same whether you came from the more affluent countries – like the US and Europe – or the poorer countries in Asia, South America and Africa. To people from these countries, the WA$25,000 they got each year was probably a fortune, and no doubt much of it would be going back home to help support families still there. Like Andrew, the men seemed proud and grateful to have made it through selection and to have secured a place in this elite body.
The expeditions that afternoon were led by the two sergeant majors from the Companies. They took more men with them this time – a full team of eight from each Company. Partly they didn’t know exactly what to expect but mainly because there was little else for them to do at the camp, which was now pretty much finished.
Andrew spent most of the afternoon chatting with Hitu, as well as spending time in his now finished office, reading the personnel files of the troops he had inherited so that he better understood each of their strengths and weaknesses.
He dined with these new men that evening, while Sergeant Johanssen joined another team, to put faces to the names he had been reading about that afternoon. Later he returned to his own trailer, and was joined by Hitu. They sat at a small table in the upper deck and quietly discussed the various men they had inherited, and their mission ahead, while his team drank more beers and sat on the sofas, watching some action movie on the TV and DVD player provided. He wondered briefly how long the batteries would hold out, but the sunlight was strong, the days quite long, and their position good, so recharging the cells shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
It was quite late when they finally turned in, though the captain’s light was still burning brightly in his own office. No doubt he too was reading up on his new troops, including his two new lieutenants. Andrew wondered a bit at the loneliness that would no doubt develop for the captain. It was a truism that rang out particularly in an outpost like this, where the captain had no ‘equals’ to confide in. He could, of course, discuss many things with Hitu and Andrew, but needed to keep a certain distance to maintain their respect, just as he and Hitu needed to with the men serving under them.