Harold Krumm, Jr. lay on this back, staring straight up. The others were still trying to catch up. In the light of the fire, they were doing their best to match his rigging on the old military cots. Most of the end stretchers were missing, so the folding cots would have been hard to use. The military had come and gone, moving their deployment lines repeatedly, and there were tons of such equipment all over the countryside. So Krumm had scrounged around the abandoned forward base and found high tension plastic strapping which had once bound the contents of military cargo pallets. Using reverse tension, he simply tied each foot of his cot to the frame member above it. Then he shoved his two A-bags under the thing to make a fairly usable bunk.
If the old barn had ever been roofed, it wasn’t much now. The gentle breeze caused the ragged woven plastic tarp to billow just a bit. Several years of sun and wind and had frayed the fabric to the point he could see some of the stars through it. Their truck was parked outside, and beyond it was the old house where the HTS slept among the local guard force. They had a roof, of course.
One of the guys turned to Krumm, and asked, “So, where does a fellow learn such effective tactics?”
He barely finished when Krumm asserted firmly, “I hate war.” The others looked at each other. Krumm never failed to mystify them. He was the only one who seemed utterly unconcerned with hardship, always able to adjust and find ways to make things work on this long and convoluted journey to their destination. He was obviously older, very mild tempered, but seldom engaged in their typical chatter. It was as if he had no interest at all in the typical guy things they enjoyed, yet suddenly acted like the warrior none of them could ever be.
“It always kills far, far more innocent folks than combatants, and the people responsible for starting wars never have to suffer.” They could taste the bitterness of his words. Yet it was war which had provided them all with high paying hazardous duty contracts, when precious few back home had any jobs at all. From what they knew, Krumm had the plum job of the group as a computer technician.
The man went on. “You didn’t seem to have any trouble turning back the attackers. Why did you even get involved? They weren’t coming at us in the first place, were they?”
“Nope.” Krumm paused a moment. “They were headed for the fuel tankers.”
There were at once several versions of “What?!”
Krumm turned to face them. “One of the guys I shot had an RPG strapped to his back. One good shot and whole village would be smoking rubble. I figure the death of a handful of tribal warriors ain’t nothing compared to a couple hundred women and children.”
The others shared quizzical expressions. “We didn’t see any tankers.”
Krumm answered, “Just as we came around the far eastern side of the village, I spotted at least a half dozen rigs behind a row of houses. Looked like they were saddling up to move.”
“Just as the sun is going down?”
Krumm turned his head back to face the tarp overhead. “Tribal warriors don’t have night vision equipment; the military has lots of it. They even have enough for the local national contract drivers who take all the risks on those fuel convoys. So those guys lay up during daylight hours, then run all night.”
“Why wouldn’t the attackers hit during the day when the drivers are asleep?”
Krumm rubbed his face with one hand. “I overheard the HTS chatting with a village elder. The attackers weren’t from around here. Probably traveled all day trying to catch the convoy before it left. They almost succeeded.”
They considered this as they tried to finish rigging their cots. Krumm closed his eyes, but didn’t sleep for a long time.