Picking his way over the terrain, Franklin found the team farther along the broader valley. The chief had pointed out a sheltered pocket set into a bluff that the mapping software indicated was on a branch wadi. There was no chance of flooding this early in the fall, so they backed up on the hardened stone floor that was surrounded by high walls. The whole place had been repeatedly scoured clean over the centuries. The pocket was left from lighter material washing away to expose solid stone. It was essentially two massive boulders on either side that nearly met at the inflow point, which was a slit into which smaller boulders had rolled to create a nearly solid wall. It would be a waterfall dropping into a sheltered shallow pool during the wet season.
The larger trucks had room to park side by side and space left over. First the crews spread out the heavy weather-proof canvas tents built into the top of the cargo boxes. Each truck had its own high tech camouflage blanket like the ones Franklin had used back at at the village. It was a smart material that would thin and stretch. The crew would pull it out by hand, tugging the edges into place to cover things. Then a small charge would be applied and it would firm up and hold itself in place. There was enough room between the trucks for the crawlers to unload and maneuver, and these camouflage sheets would join together and form one very large cover over the whole operation.
Franklin engaged in a similar task with his smaller rig hugging one wall out in front of the trucks, opposite from the small utility truck. By the time they stopped for dinner, the whole operation was virtually invisible from just outside the pocket. Over chow the chief was explaining his plan now that the boy was gone. Better that the lad not have to think about much more than just rescuing his mother. In essence, the crawlers would start their tour of duty that night by first visiting the village on the other side of the ridge. They were hoping that by nightfall the lad would have returned to ransom his mother with the boots and could get safely away from the cave. Then the crawlers would attack the cave, and perhaps collapse the thing.
Their mission had never been to simply kill the rebels; the new regime ruling this country was hoping to reconcile with at least some of them. The president wasn’t entirely a puppet, and had long served the previous government as loyal opposition. But sometimes the crawlers faced enough resistance that slaughter was about all that was left.
The crawlers were big and armored enough to withstand most small arms fire up to a direct hit from some of the grenades commonly used by the rebels. However, they couldn’t survive mortars or anything bigger. Each crawler bore it’s own heavy duty pulse cannon that could open up just about anything but a tank. There was a designated overwatch crawler, bigger than the rest, equipped with missiles that worked against both tanks and aircraft. Yet the crawlers were no bigger than small compact cars, and with a lower profile. Given that the rebels seldom had anything more than battered lightly armored vehicles and trucks with heavy plating welded around it, the bigger beast seldom fired very many missiles. However, this mission might require it to unload into the cave. Franklin would have had to drive out and meet the crawlers and watch them work from a promontory outside the village.