The camp broke slowly in the morning. The ground was muddy from 36 hours of rain. Recruits and officers alike were dragging due to the lack of sleep. Nobody had slept more than a couple of hours in any one stretch.
Jason, the lucky forager, was feeling a bit hung over and his stomach was queasy. He attributed it to eating field rations for 10 days in a row.
Intestinal distress afflicted more than half of the soldiers. When in garrison their diet consisted of lots of high fiber vegetables. When on the road the field rations were compressed, rectangular wafers of grain, hydrogenated palm oil, soy and milk powder, salt and vitamins. The recruits call the wafers “Poop-tarts” because of their color and because they were topped with synthetic, fruit-flavored icing similar to a toaster pastry that was popular before Calexit.
Recruit scuttlebutt was that the wafers were produced by a facility that had specialized in producing hog feed before Calexit and that the formula was one that produced maximum, lean muscle weight gains at rock-bottom costs. In this case the scuttlebutt was 100% accurate.
The combination of no fiber, the enforced inactivity while sitting in the buses for eight or ten hours a day and restricted water supply when traveling to minimize piss-stops, the recruits’ stools quickly turned into compacted concrete.
A few of the soldiers had diarrhea. In some cases it was a reaction to the milk powder in the rations. In others it was a response to the liberal doses of laxatives the medics freely administered to the soldiers to treat the rampant constipation.
Nobody was surprised when Jason demanded a potty stop shortly before noon. Of course there was no possibility of that happening while they were in convoy.
Shortly after noon he could not hold it any longer and vast, spasming waves of diarrhea violently blasted out of his rectum, quickly saturating his trousers, flooding across the seat and wetting his seat mate before running down his legs and onto the floor.
His bus mates cursed and struck him. Even though the windows were open for ventilation the bus’s four-to-five mile per hour speed did little to encourage air exchange.
Jason barely had time to take off his trousers before another spasm hit, and then another. The watery liquid was unchecked by any clothing. It formed an imperceptible mist that wafted through the interior of the bus as the jet impacted the wet floor.
Jason was doubled over and incapable of speech. The oldest recruit deliberately kicked him several times in the head but got little response. The oldest recruit then bent over and picked up Jason’s soiled trousers and flung them at the four youngest recruits, spattering the passengers around him with the soupy liquid that saturated the garment.
“Clean up the damned mess!” he snarled at them.
The trousers were already soaked and not capable of picking up much more fluid. The oldest recruit found Jason’s duffle bag and emptied it into the puddle. “Use these to clean it up and pitch them out the window when you are done.” he said.
One of the young female recruits was mopping up the fetid liquid when she noticed that her rag was pink. “Hey,” she said, “something ain’t right.” as she held up the rag.
“Big deal.” said the old recruit. “So he is a fucking fairy. I don’t care. Just clean up that mess.”
It was a big deal because this strain of cholera had somehow picked up genetic material from bacteria called Shigella flexnary that produced multiple toxins that killed the cells lining the large intestine and cause the capillaries to leak directly out into the bowels. Whether by genetic engineering or by blind chance, the path was not important. What mattered was the the new cholera was both highly lethal and extraordinarily effective at spreading.
The youngest recruits were the first ones off the bus and they gripped the pivot pole as they bolted off the bus. Every recruit who followed them off the bus also spun around the pole.
Medics had to be called to remove Jason from the bus. Due to a lack of beds in the mobile infirmary, Jason was placed in the tent that was reserved for his group. Had they bothered to check his blood pressure or pulse they would have seen that his BP was crashing and his pulse was thin and racing. Jason was within an hour of death.
The bus driver left the windows of his bus open in the hope that airing out would reduce the smell by morning. Swarms of flies were attracted to the smell of feces and blood and thoroughly explored the bilge still puddling the floor beneath the seats. After satisfying their curiosity they then followed the tantalizing smells of chili and fruit cobbler to the officer’s mess where everybody, including the flies, were served family-style.
Had anybody been paying attention they would have noticed that about one bus in every ten had all of its windows open.
In a group of thirty-five thousand constipated soldiers even a disease as lethal as the new cholera could hide…for a little while.
There were multiple “stiffs” in camp the next morning. Senior recruits quickly diagnosed the cause as Drug Overdose. Two things led them to that diagnoses.
The dead recruits were known to be some of the most aggressive foragers and it would be them, if anybody, who found recreational drugs.
The other reason was that “Death by O.D.” was common enough that it did not trigger any paperwork. Any other causes of death created additional work for the entire chain of command.
The caravan departed behind schedule because the resistance had harassed the camp in the same manner they had the night before.
Buses that had the first wave of cholera patients the day before now found themselves with more than half the passengers symptomatic. Buses that had not hosted one of the first wave found themselves with one, two or three patients.
The first officers became symptomatic shortly before the caravan halted at the next night’s camp.