He turns to face a young man in his late 20s, wearing a dark service uniform, and a face not unlike his own.
It's not a Chirstmas tree. It's not even December. The tree shimmers in brilliant vermillion through the black haze, a ring of light from nowhere above envelopes it and the sand for a few metres around its base. It twinkles and glimmers as though viewed from far away, firing its presence at a great distance. He runs his hand through the top of it, dispersing its structure for a few moments. It sinks into the the ground slightly to reconstitute.
'Perhaps it's on fire,' the man offers. Danny notices a light twinge of a southern accent, not unlike his own. No burning bush, he thinks. We only find wood in the mess. .
Sho-bo's face looms happily above him, his wide expanse of teeth substite for the lack of heavenly bodies.
Astonished, he blows a large breath into its stump. The tree receives the blow and extinguishes with a reverse inhalation, leaving only a small blackened chute protruding from the sand. The sand around it is blackened, some of it fused into balls of darkly colored glass.
Jesse tells him he should have let it lie. They could have torched some more o' them, 'over-big land crabs.'
A convoy appears in the distance as a brown smudge on the horizon. It moves oddly, moving towards him sideways, not in the direction in which the wheels grind forward. He walks, but that takes some getting used to. It's such an odd sensation, unreal in time. Each foot, each step, enough to feel the grains of sand in his ears, the wind wispering beyond tongues and ankles. Fantasms of purple appear in his peripheral vision. He goes to scratch the end of his nose but finds his arms locked to his side with smooth pieces of metal. He cannot even struggle to struggle. His neck aches. He doesn't know if he stops, but a line of wooden outhouses prevent him from moving any further. This is the end of the convoy.
In a spasm of seconds thousands of pregnant woman standing in serpentine queues that cross and grid the layout of the compound surround him. Women from the city, full and fat in their pregnancy, but emaciated beyond starvation by their unborn children. He thinks sadly that these women will be discarded like husks after their children are born.
So many stalls, they extend linearly as far as the eye can see. Only one is open.
'Damn, this is the army.' He pushes his way through the lines to see what is causing the delay. He reaches the front of the line before the open stall. Sho-bo is sitting in it, moderately arounsed, the door wide open and his pants around his knees.
'Heh hey fry-boy .. I see you made it. We can give you the stall next door, or take any_one_you_want, go five or six down if'n you wants privacy.' He laughs and grins widely, placing his hands behind his head as he sits against the back wall of the shack.
'Man, you are fuckin' crazy! Look at all these women. They need to use the bathroom. It's like pregnant women can't hold it in _all_ that long. Open up the other stalls.'
Sho-bo laughs again. 'Heh sure they can use it, just use me while they're in it. I flush real goood.' He gyrates his hips up and down on the wooden plank.
'Shit, man. You are completely fucked-up.' A fly buzzes by his ear. He grabs Sho-bo's arm and tosses him from the stall. All around him a flood of small warm bodies press for entry into the cubicle, pushing him from all sides. It is more than he expected. His head reels with vertigo and nausea. 'Uhhn, I feel sick.' He looks through the planks on the other side of the wall and watches as distant flames clear through the
wood allowing him clear vision to the other side.
The fires in the distance have been on the fringes of the desert plain since his arrival. Their distant flickering triggers a rising sense of panic from beneath his abdominal muscles. It quickly rises through his stomach and neck turning to terror. He clenches his jaw and twists his head, making his eyes toss to the left uncontrollably.
'Shit! Where's the tank!' The same non-distictive ring of fires burns in the distance. He blinks his eyes. I am sunk in a sink, surrounded by points of light that engulf all if approached to closely. Between his shaking knees he thinks of god and the realisation that that internal scraping is probably hunger. I haven't eaten for, he checks his watch, 8 hours. He thinks of stepping on a land mine and whether his guts will fly higher on an empty stomach. 'That's the first thing that'll go through my mind... What's the last thing that will go through my mind, . . my toes, my 'nails, my knees, my ass . . .' His throat tightens from the dryness. It seemed much funnier when Sho-bo told it.
He fidgets for his compass, to no avail, but he's got that bulky GPI box strapped to his side. He knows exactly where he is, and it tells him nothing about exactly where he is. Come daylight anyone will shoot.
'Shit! Where the fuck am I?' He sweats now despite the cold. His jaw chatters despite the rivulets of sweat streaming along his temples. He feels overwhelmed. The growing buzzing in his ears nearly forces him to his knees, but everywhere a landmine, every sand devil a pressure chute. He watches as his foot slowly depresses the trigger. His heart skips a beat.
He drops his hands to his sides. This is no time to lose it, man.
This is no time to lose anything.<.i> He takes a deep breath and lets his shoulders fall. He looks to his feet and draws a big 'X' in the sand. The mark has a curious attraction. He turns around. The evening has not been windy, leaving a trail of curved
disturbances in the sand behind him.
It takes 35 minutes, 90 steps a minute, each step of his gait swings a metre plus, pushing his heart rate far above his height in centimetres.