Folsom says: Lieutenant, with all due respect, this is impassable terrain.
I acknowledge the obvious and tell him to begin backing up.
He attempts to maneuver his canoe back, but bumps against the man behind him. I raise my hand and signal to the last man to reverse, but he's too far away and it's too dark. There's no sound but men panting and the scraping of plastic hulls against rock. Come on, come on... Folsom whispers fiercely to the man behind him... Frickin' hurry up!
Initially, I only see a single muzzle flash and a bright swift line of explosions puckering through black water. A second later, the slopes light up. The rounds that hit us tear through flesh, canoes, and gear.
I feel thankful for my body armor vest, but then I realize I'm only wearing a thin cotton T-shirt. I struggle to squeeze out of the canoe, but the lower part of my body seems fastened down somehow. Still, I contract my muscles and try to get out, but it's no use - and too late. The blow that hits me on the back of the neck catapults me around and I face Folsom just as a hole opens up where his nose should be. I'm hypnotized by the blood that gushes out of his face. He's screaming, but I don't hear him - I'm already under crimson water struggling to surface, but there's something thrusting inside my mouth and pinning me down. I begin to gag. I strike out with my hands as my vision fades...
...I can't breathe...
...I can't breathe...
...Lieutenant Frobenius... Sir...
I make out Whalen through half-closed eyes. He's thrust his head right into my bunk.
I struggle to wake. I'm moving slowly. I shouldn't have taken the sleeping pill last night. I prop myself up groggily on my elbows.
Christ. What time is it?
Just past 0100, Sir. The sandstorm's outta control and the ANA guards want to come inside. You better get up.
How bad is it?
Bad. Visibility's near zero. And the storm's made our detection systems friggin' worthless.
I try to absorb the news that the storm has knocked out our thermal sights. I've never faced a situation where that's happened before.
Gimme a moment, I tell him. I'll be there.
You better tie a cloth around your face, Whalen warns as he goes out.
I lie on my bunk for a moment, listening to the sand grains buffet the flimsy plywood walls that separate me from the storm outside. I've only had three hours of sleep, and the pill has left me stupefied. It's dark and claustrophobic inside the B-hut. I scratch an itch from one of many fleabites on my arm, but it only makes it worse. Cursing, sweaty, I slide out of the bunk and land heavily on my feet. In my haste, I knock my iPod to the ground and step on it. I fling it back on the bunk, hoping nothing's broken, and struggle into my clothes. I'm filthy, unshaven; I haven't showered in two days. Everything is dusty and covered with grit. I lace my boots quickly and shrug on my body armor vest as I head out.
Whalen's waiting for me by the entrance to the hooch with his face wrapped in a bandana that used to be white. The sky overhead is a mottled black, but the rest of the world is an eerie yellow-brown wall of sand. The hurtling grains instantly lacerate my face and hands with a million pinpricks. I follow his lead and wrap my scarf tightly around my face. The air smells of sulfur. The wind whistles fiercely in the darkness, the entire sky a dark cave filled with swirling sand. The acoustics magnify every sound.
I look around. This is bad.
We gotta ride it out somehow, Whalen says, but his voice lacks conviction.
Mitchell and Folsom are on guard shift at the Entry Control Point. Mitchell's bleeding from a cut above his eye, although it's probably not as bad as it looks.
He notices me looking at his eye and volunteers: The wind's slinging stones off the ground. It's fucking lethal, Sir, like being in the path of a slingshot!
Excerpted from The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Copyright © 2012 by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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