Chapter 48 - Lost in the Desert
“I’m impressed, old man! You’ve got guts eating food from those who hate you to the bones!” Mazha raised his hand and gave the Desert Fox a thumbs up. The old man became frightened after seeing the young soldier’s actions. He threw away the rest of the food in his hands and put a finger down his throat. Vomit came out and a disgusting odor started wafting around them. Shen Yu couldn’t stand the smell and hurriedly covered her nose.
Afterwards, Shen Yu stomped over to where Tang Can was sitting and glared at him. She snapped, “You’ve got some great subordinates here!”
Tang Can smiled helplessly and walked over to Mazha and said a couple things to the soldier. After getting lectured, Mazha ran off to the side and started kicking the sand in rage. The sand flew across the rest of the group who were still eating. The other soldiers of started to complain and yelled at the young soldier.
Tang Can finally lost his grasp on his patience and flipped out at Mazha. The young soldier was sullen afterwards and the relationship between the two became strained. Mazha eyed the old man like he was his prey. When he had the opportunity, he started to torment the Desert Fox. He smiled an ugly smile at him and patted the Desert Fox’s shoulder, claiming that he saw some dirt on the man’s shoulder. But everyone could see his true intentions. The soldier’s ‘pats’ were full of force, so much force that the old man almost doubled over into the sand!
Most of them could understand Mazha’s irritable mood. No one was happy to be stuck in the Gobi desert. Furthermore, the farther they walked, the fewer rocks they saw. The little bits of green area soon disappeared and more sand dunes appeared. All of them were facing the imminent prospect of death in the future and none of them could escape fate.
Shen Yu had continued to observe the Desert Fox while they walked. She had watched him this entire time. From when he first drove the car, to when the car fell into the ditch, to when they had to abandon the car, she had kept an eye on him. She had a sneaking suspicion that the Desert Fox had a plan. When Tang Can asked the old man how much further they had to walk before they could get out, a cold smile graced his face. Shen Yu believed that a woman’s intuition was very good. Even though there was no published evidence behind it, she always trusted her own instincts.
They were no longer at the edge of the Gobi desert and seemed to be in the deep desert. It was now rare to see any rocks around. Shen Yu hollered at Tang Can. Since she didn’t have much energy left, she stood where she was and waited for him to run over.
“What’s wrong? Are you tired? If so, we can all rest for a bit!” His first thought was that she was tired, so he wanted to have everyone stop for a break. Shen Yu shook her head in response. Everyone else had to be more tired than her, since all of the soldiers were carrying something. She didn’t want the others to think her as weak.
“Don’t let the Desert Fox drink any water!” Shen Yu whispered to him.
Tang Can looked surprised. He had always thought she was the most kind out of all of them, why did she suddenly change her way of thinking? “Why?” he asked, perplexed. He wasn’t a parasite in her stomach, and he couldn’t read her mind.
Shen Yu continued in a quiet voice, “I have a feeling that the Desert Fox is deliberately leading us into the deep desert! When we’re all exhausted, he will probably try to escape. So, we can’t give him water. When he’s thirsty, he’ll have to lead us to a water source!”
Women always paid attention to the fine details! Tang Can also never trusted the old man but he never thought that the Desert Fox could have such a scheming mind! After hearing Shen Yu’s advice, he almost wanted to slap himself for being so stupid!
Tang Can immediately started to follow her advice. The desert was blistering hot at noon, and it was easy for people to sweat under these conditions. Before long, the Desert Fox was thirsty beyond belief. He asked the soldiers for some water but everyone ignored him. He persisted, continuing to beg for water. But no one paid any attention to him. Finally, his face sullen, he licked his cracked lips and ground his teeth silently as he continued to lead them forward.
Shen Yu’s idea had great results! After everyone persisted forward for another couple of hours, they finally saw an oasis ahead of them. Ecstatic, everyone went forward, energy renewed at the sight of hope. A cluster of shrubs soon showed up.
When they got there, Shen Yu didn’t see any water and was disappointed. Tang Can and Mazha, however, were old hands at this and knew what to do. They guided the other soldiers to take out some shovels and start digging in the sand around the shrubs. After they dug about four to five meters deep, water slowly appeared. Later on, Shen Yu learned that the oasis was formed around some groundwater filtering up through the sand, which made the available water very clear. However, most of the water that came up was heavily salted due to evaporation. So it was necessary to desalinate before they could drink it. Desalination can be done via different methods and the different methods required different types of technology. One way would be to use a series of filters to conduct reverse osmosis. Another was to distill the water using soil to separate the salt.
Right now they didn’t need to use soil to filter as they still had some desalinating agents with them. Those who had to stomach to drink the water drank it down, the rest of it was stored in their canteens for later.
It was now dusk and the sun was setting. The oasis not only had water but also had vegetation around. The vegetation had a benefit of blocking the wind and sand in the area.
Tang Can ordered them to dig a ditch for them to settle into for the night. The walls of the ditch would be able to block more sand and wind from them and provider some shelter. The shrubs in the area proved to be invaluable. They poured some gasoline over the branches and tried to light them on fire. At first, they refused to burn. But after the moisture evaporated from the branches, the fire started. Everyone crowded around the fire as it became cold in the desert at night. No one was divided anymore in an effort to get comfortable. Even Mazha sat next to the Desert Fox without a word in complaint.
Shen Yu sat next to Tang Can and neither of them said anything. The rest of soldiers joked merrily around the fire.
She wasn’t sure when she fell asleep but in the middle of the night the cold woke up her up. Mazha suddenly started yelling as well.
The Desert Fox had run off! Mazha’s curses peppered the area like firecrackers and she felt like the sky would start trembling soon!
Before they settled down to sleep, Mazha had tied up the Desert Fox using his shoelaces and belt. Unfortunately, it was in vain as the old man had still somehow escaped! When the old man ran, he not only took a lot of food and water, he also took Mazha’s shoelaces and belt with him. The soldier no longer had a belt to hold up his pants and had to hold them up with his hands. Tang Can took off his shoe laces and joined them together. He gave the combined laces to the soldier for him to use in place of a belt. The string was too thin to work well as a belt. If he tied it too loose, his pants would fall down. If he tied it tightly, it would cut into his skin and cause him pain. Mazha was so frustrated that his face had turned as red as a tomato. He ranted complaints throughout this whole time. The soldier vowed to find the Desert Fox again and to skin him as punishment!
Finally Tang Can couldn’t take the noise anymore and ordered Mazha to stop. It was useless to continue complaining.
Shen Yu looked at Tang Can and then looked at the vast desert around her. A feeling of helplessness crept out and panic started to settle into her heart. Was she really doomed to die in this desert?
Without the Desert Fox to guide them, Tang Can could only do his best in directing them. Using his intuition, he decided to go east. In the day, it was easy to find directions in the desert using the sun. They went in the direction of the rising sun to go east.
At noon, Mazha suddenly hollered and said that he saw footprints in the distance. Maybe they had found the others! Everyone was overjoyed at the prospect of getting out of the desert. However, after following the footsteps for a while, they didn’t meet up with anyone. Shen Yu looked at the footprints and started to think that they seemed familiar. She stepped into the footprints and they matched her foot completely. Everyone realized that they had been walking in circles!
“We hit a ghost wall” hollered Mazha suddenly.
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