Further encounters were not much different from the first. The groups coming down were smaller, and they didn’t have to send out both companies together again, one on its own being enough to ensure they had superiority of numbers.

These expeditions were led by either Hitu or Andrew, depending whose was the ready company when the call came in. There was a pause between the first encounter and the next. Andrew expected that the person who’d sent out the first crew had been waiting for them to return, wondering what was taking so long. Each subsequent attempt to get drugs through used a different one of the trails over the border. The trains were of different sizes from the first, and appeared at different times of the day. They got no calls at night. The sensors were far less able to detect movement then, so some trains could in fact have been getting through. Andrew thought not though. The trails were hard enough to negotiate by daylight and with just men. How much harder it would be at night whilst trying to lead mules!

One or twice, both companies had needed to be out at once, and once they’d had to let a trail be covered by a third company from beside them when both teams were committed elsewhere.

The last train they’d encountered had been mainly escorted by children. He’d been somewhat relieved not to have to tackle this one himself, the call coming in whilst Hitu’s was the company waiting to be the first responders. The surveillance cameras had shown clearly who they’d be up against, and the captain had told Hitu he would have to make the final choice on how to engage. The priority was the same though – minimum casualties among their own forces, none if this was possible. In the end, he’d shot the adults in the party and the children had given up immediately, without any of them trying to fire the weapons they’d been carrying. Andrew wondered if using these kids had just been another tactic tried by the drugs baron responsible, or if they’d taken out so many of his men now that he only had kids left to send. Andrew thought probably the former. His and Hitu’s companies had taken out more than a hundred traffickers now, with similar numbers being reported by the other companies along this stretch of the border, but he’d heard that the barons controlled thousands of men, not hundreds, one of the reasons a direct assault would be very difficult. The days became almost mundane again, though their sporadic trips into the field to kill ‘bad guys’ could never really be thought of in such terms.

Spending so much time at the encampment he was nearly always there during Anne’s weekly visits to restock. Usually she flew in alone, there being not much to bring, though once or twice she was accompanied by Lieutenant Pedersen. Each time, they’d take the opportunity to drink a coffee or two together, before she headed back to her base. They took to having their coffee in his office, the kitchen in his billet now more often than not already being occupied. The topics of their conversations weren’t really private but he nonetheless felt more comfortable with the privacy his office provided.

During their last encounter, she’d taken his hand across the desk at one point. He’d drawn in a deep sigh, before launching into the conversation he’d thought all along was more or less inevitable.

“Anne,” he’d said, gently and in a low voice, “you do realise I’m gay, don’t you?” A reply wasn’t as long in coming as he’d been expecting.

“I’d more or less gathered,” she’d said. “I’ve been sending out ‘signals’ pretty much since we first met and you haven’t responded. I’ve enough self-confidence, and experience, to know that if you were straight, we’d have slept together by now!” She smiled almost wistfully at him. “It won’t be a problem, will it?”

“Not for me, it won’t,” he responded. “If you’re OK with it …”

“It doesn’t bother me one little bit,” she said. “I’ve got acquaintances back home who are. Not really close enough for me to call friends but people I know quite well. We’ve always got on well enough.”

“Good … and let’s keep this particular juicy bit of gossip about me between ourselves, OK?”

She smiled, and nodded that she understood. Being gay in the Werlder Force was of course completely acceptable, in theory at least. The ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy of the Americans obviously hadn’t worked, and when the Force had first been set up, it had been made as inclusive as possible. Outside the Force, being gay was really no big deal now. Even in it, there were rarely problems caused by such things. Life in an infantry division was a bit different though. Communal showers for example. It didn’t bother him, but might make some of his men uncomfortable if they knew.

There was a kind of ‘group thought’ that many straight men had, that gay guys must want to bed every man they see. It probably stemmed from their own desire to bed pretty much every woman! Straight men seemed so much less fussy than gay men were, possibly because opportunities were harder to come by. Andrew, for sure, ad never really had trouble getting sex when he wanted it. Of course, not everyone was blessed with his good looks. Whenever he heard this kind of comment he wanted to scream that it wasn’t true – a fallacy, just like the fallacy that if you were gay you were probably a child molester too. He wanted to yell that most of these people were straight, or would at least consider themselves to be such, even if it was predominantly boys that were their victims rather than girls. Sometimes he did actually yell this. Not since he’d been in the Werlder Force of course, but back at Uni and at college.

He grinned at her, relieved that this revelation wouldn’t cause a rift in the friendship that had grown between them. He wondered how often he’d have to have this conversation. He wasn’t by nature stereotypically gay either by how he spoke or how he acted, so most people wouldn’t realise unless and until he chose to tell them. He’d often wondered if this made it harder or easier for him than for his dark skinned colleagues. If you were black, or asian, this wasn’t usually a fact that could be hidden. Either people accepted you or they were openly hostile. There was certainly no need to wait until judging the time right, then leaning across and confiding ‘by the way, I’m black. That won’t be a problem will it?’

You also didn’t have to contend with ‘black’ or ‘paki’ jokes. People rarely told them at all now of course, but never in Andrew’s experience in the presence of a black or asian member of the crowd they were talking to. Gay jokes on the other hand were still quite acceptable. Actually Andrew found many of these very funny, so no effort was needed to respond with the expected laughter. On the other hand of course you couldn’t choose not to reveal a skin colour if you felt it wasn’t the place to do so, something which Andrew could easily do about this aspect of his private life. He guessed that both sides of this particular coin had their advantages and disadvantages.

He spent most of his time playing backgammon or Risk wit Hitu, and engaging Captain Kergoat in chess. These latter games had become so long now that he’d had Anne bring in a speed-chess clock. They often had two games going at once, a longer one where they’d take sometimes a couple of days over each move – though this was usually only when he got called away on more urgent matters – and the quick speed games they played when they got together.

The camp was run by the captain. Well, by his batmen really, his only contribution being in providing the names of the men he’d selected for guard duty. The captain had reintroduced this particular task now that they were spending so much time in the camp and that they were, after all, fighting. He also made sure his written reports of any encounters that he led were of a high standard. These might get circulated to other senior officers and in any event would follow him around for a long time as his career developed.

Each sunlit period dragged by and night times passed no more quickly. Lounging around most of the days meant he wasn’t really tired at night and slept fitfully, often waking for no real reason.

The days became weeks, and the attempts by traffickers to cross the border seemed to all but dry up.