Chapter 24: Chapter 5, Episode 1: The Surreal Black Mamba
Uldi Hamarl was a place with a high concentration of sedimentary rocks. Huge red rocks were stacked up high, like a tower of books. At the bottom of the valley, rocks towered over the floor like giant mushrooms. Black Mamba couldnt close his mouth at the spectacle that nature had provided.
He felt very foreign before the dim red rocks that looked as if they had rusted over. It was a scene only imaginable in movies and novels. He felt as if he had fallen onto a different planet.
“Looks alien, doesnt it Its a sedimentary rock bed containing hematite oxide. The mushroom rocks are the result of centuries of wind whittling down the base. There is similar terrain at the Ennedy Plateau in the north-east,” the Captain, after explaining, held up a fistful of sand.
“This is Laterite sand. Its dry as of now, but it also indicates that this region had a hot and humid tropical climate. Although, the land itself is encouraging the drought currently.”
The amazing sight didnt diminish even after he heard the explanation. The hills and valleys turned dark crimson under the setting sun. It was a sight to which he couldnt become immune. Black Mamba couldnt take his eyes off of it.
“Youre not a photographer, youre a soldier.” The captain bumped his shoulder and walked down the hill.
Jang Shin laid out two sets of C-rations and collapsed next to him. The cans of beef and fish shook before Black Mambas eyes.
“Were eating from cans, again” Black Mamba complained and grabbed the can labeled “beef.”
He was tired of rations, but he had not one iota of doubt that the local food would be unhygienic.
“We have no choice. We need to pick at these cans until we get that raccoon.”
“Fry me some grasshoppers, later.”
“I already did. If you dont hurry up, theyll be rotten by the time we get back to them.”
Jang Shin tore open the C-ration can immediately. In the can, were three pouches labeled Unit A, Unit B, and Unit C. Most of the French militarys rations were designed like this.
Unit A was a meal of mixed beef and vegetables, Unit B had bread and coffee, with sauce, and Unit C had personal items such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, fork, tissue, and matches.
It was, in a word, perfect. With Unit A, B, and C, a meal could be sorted out. The main meal, appetizers, snacks, utensils, and hygiene items were all addressed. Perfection wasnt something that should be attached to round glass balls but attached to the futuristic C-rations.
Black Mamba always shivered at the human desire for comfort every time he ate the C-ration. It was made to completely satisfy the perfectionist attitude humans had towards their food. It was also why he felt like a predator every time he opened up the C-ration.
Most believed the C-ration to be the acronym for “Combat Ration.” But the “C” of C-ration was simply an indication of the different pouches.
The “ration,” a word that indicated food, could be divided into three types. The A ration referred to a natural food that wasnt processed, the B ration referred to dry foods that could only be eaten after the food was processed, and the C ration referred to instant foods without the need to cook.
For example, the A rations that were kept in the supply shed of Legion Etranger were corn, wheat, barley, rice, potatoes, cabbages, onions, celery, peppers, lettuce, beef, pork, chicken, duck, tuna, sardines, cod, grapes, melons, etc. The B rations were spices, sauces, vegetable oils, prunes, almonds, nuts, coffee, tea, cheese, and sausages.
Black Mamba completed his simple C-ration meal, then opened up Unit C to brush his teeth and examine his supplies. The rumor that they wouldnt be able to brush their teeth for over a month, during an operation, was nothing but a rumor. The modern soldier could at least maintain basic hygiene in the middle of a war zone.
The captain removed his loose gandoura and reviewed his belongings. Unease kept him from resting. He tied the Famas around his front and pushed the Dragunov to his back.
He clipped two hand grenades to his front and double-checked the magazines. He checked his pouch with the spare grenades and magazines and tied the Glock around his thigh. Even with the heavy attachments, nothing clicked around his body. It was the basic body equipment for snipers of Deuxieme Rep.
The captain found Black Mamba who was standing watch. He had also taken off his gandoura and had switched into yellow combat attire. He had equipped himself with similar weapons to the captains.
“Black Mamba. How is it”
Black Mamba was feeling unease more strongly than the captain was. His senses had been mostly sealed, but that didnt mean that his feelings had disappeared.
“What do you mean”
“I feel like a guest is coming.”
Frown lines formed on Pauls forehead.
Black Mamba didnt reply but, instead, mimicked a gun with a shake of his thumb and forefinger. The lines on Pauls forehead deepened further.
“How do you know”
“Instinct! Like your senses”
“Oui, I dont feel settled.”
The captain didnt ignore the god snipers words. When a soldier had run around enough battlefields, he developed a sixth sense for danger. He didnt believe the rookies words entirely, but there was nothing wrong with preparing.
“Mouris, number the water and rations.”
“Yes, sir. We have a fortnights worth of rations and five-to-one of water.”
“Thats plenty. A complicated situation might arise. Everyone has one days worth of rations on themselves, with water.”
“Yes, sir. Ill ration the chocolates out, too.”
“Burimer, stand watch at two-hour rotations and manage the team members.”
“Yes, sir. Ill have everyone, aside from the watch group, take a sufficient break.”
The first rule of survival within a harsh climate like the desert or mountains was maintaining strength. They had to maintain their bodys circadian rhythm with sufficient rest and sleep. The highest priority for the captain was maintaining his teams battle capabilities.
The captain remained uncomfortable even after he sent Burimer away. Black Mambas words about a visiting guest rang around his mind. The cold desert air exaggerated his unease. His senses remained on alert.
Right then, Chartres, who had gone out to search for water with Ombuti, shouted.
The team members ran forward with their canteens.
Everyones mouth fell open. An amazing sight was before them, a small ravine enough for a person to barely fit, and within it, was a clear pond.
The pond was around five feet and had no inflow or outflow.
It was an oasis pond that stemmed from an underground stream and fell back in. At Barelgazal, such appearing and disappearing ponds appeared frequently.
The team hadnt seen a body of water for two days. As soon as Bellman finished testing the safety of the water, they shoved their mouths in the pond.
Burimer glared at the pond until his eyes seemed to pop out. Some unknown fishes were swimming around. His uncontrollable desire for fishing started to rise. Smiles appeared on the faces of the team members watching Burimers frustration.
“Captain, did you give the sergeant a new command” Miguel asked in smiles.
The captain smiled bitterly.
“A fish is better than a raccoon.”
Burimer broke his magazine and pulled out the spring. He worked at the spring with his knife to make a hook and pulled out a string of nylon from his battle belt.
Sergeant Mouris shook his head; he was Burimers partner.
He still couldnt get used to that crazy person even after years of partnership. Burimer attached the thread to the Dragunovs scale, not caring about his fellow teammates gazes. He tore apart the C-ration, hooked a piece of sausage to the hook, and threw it into the pond. He immediately entered fishing mode.
Black Mamba was staring at his teams antics from atop a hill. He wondered whether Burimer could truly catch a fish.
The team members who had been watching exclaimed in surprise. Burimer threw up a fish with his Dragunov rod. Black Mamba slowly smiled. The team members patted Burimers shoulder, praising him to be a “fishing man.”
Ombuti found them pathetic. He wondered if these were the elite agents specially selected at the Deuxieme Rep, Frances best elite force. He frowned and turned around to see the captain, but the captain was also laughing. Ombuti shook his head.
The guide was worried about the situation at hand, but the captain welcomed the change to a more relaxed atmosphere. It was the difference between a head and limb. The captain had ignored the higher-ups orders to have Black Mamba focus only on combat and sent him out on patrol.
First Lieutenant Paul emphasized teamwork rather than individual strength. He was an experienced veteran. The core of success, in reality, were team tactics, and the foundation of team tactics was cooperation between team members. Rambo was but a movie. It wasnt as if he was ignorant of the elite snipers prowess, but there were always some limitations.
The sunset colored the earth with even more red. The wind from the Sahara grew stronger. Black Mamba wrapped his face tightly with the litam and took out goggles.
Guards who had spent a long time in the rear of the war zone would know, very well, the bone-deep boredom of standing watch. They had to stare at the same scenery every day, unchanging, for hours on end. There was nothing in the world that could be more boring than that.
If they dozed off and got caught by an officer, they were punished. So they couldnt doze. As a result, later on in the watch, their judgment and analytical abilities would weaken and create illusions as their consciousness and unconsciousness merged.
That was also why newcomers claimed to have seen ghosts before the rear GP or on coastal posts. And after living this way for years, they became stupider.
Black Mamba had spent seven months in a timeless cave, beyond stupidity. He had waited several hours to catch one centipede, spent one year meditating in the dark of Chun Saeng mountain, and survived a snipers training regiment that went beyond common sense. Determined enough, he could stay awake for three days without losing his acuity.
Black Mamba didnt glare out at his surroundings. He opened up his senses in a comfortable position. Just because he couldnt see, didnt mean nothing existed. All sorts of movements, by the animals and insects, were sent to his brain.
The sound of a beetle digging into the ground, the sound of a fly that was trying to climb atop a female fly, the sound of a lizard crawling on a rock, and the sound of wind cutting through the hill lingered as if they were right in front of him.
A strong smell of sweat broke him out of his trance.
“Da ge, Im here.”
Jang Shin appeared with a C-ration plastic bag. Inside it were large grasshoppers. Jang Shin shoved the bag towards him.
“Its the best for snacking.”
“Where did you find the olive oil”
“I gathered the oil from C-rations and fried it.”
It was like Jang Shin. He had gathered the oil from his teammates pouches and fried the grasshoppers.
The grasshoppers lacked sweetness compared to the ones he had eaten on the bridge. Their shells were also much harder, getting stuck between his teeth.
“Its good. Jang Shin can be a qualified chef.”
He had to say good things so that the cook wouldnt be upset.
The two men sat on the rock and ate the grasshoppers without talking.
“Da ge, I want to be your partner.”
“No. Emil will kill you with his machine gun.”
Private Emil was Black Mambas devotee and self-proclaimed bodyguard. He had given up on his Epal and taken up the Minimi when he had become Black Mambas partner. It had all been for the sake of providing cover fire. Recently, he had even been learning the Ka-Bar knife from Paul.
Even if Emil conceded his position, it was hard for Jang Shin to be his partner. As an explosives specialist, they didnt match up.
“I know I cant, but I feel like I will live if Im with da ge.”
“Are you scared of death”
“Im scared. Isnt da ge scared”
Black Mamba stared at Jang Shin for a long time. He seemed covered in fear. There were two types of reactions that rookies had before an official fight.
One was showing off baseless confidence, and the other one was being scared to the point they couldnt function. Jang Shin was the latter regarding the upcoming battle.