Book: Precipice

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Katie drove fast, nearly losing control of the Jeep and crashing several times due to the tears in her eyes.  Rachel remained turned in her seat, watching out the rear window until John was no longer visible.  But she could see the helicopters and kept her eyes on the one that looked like it was circling the area where they had left him.

She was stunned at the turn of events, though as she thought about it and remembered his refusal to take a seat on the train out of Nashville she wasn’t terribly surprised.  When the helicopters were no longer visible she turned and faced front, meeting Katie’s bloodshot eyes in the mirror.

“They’re not coming after us,” Rachel said in a subdued voice.

As they raced west the terrain quickly changed to rolling and fifteen minutes after leaving John, Katie jammed on the brakes and screeched to a stop in the middle of the road.  It was quiet in the Jeep for a few moments, the sound of the idling engine all that broke the silence, then Katie began pounding on the steering wheel and screaming her pain and frustration.

Rachel let her vent, wrapping Dog into a hug and trying unsuccessfully to hold back the tears.  He pressed into her, not understanding the cause of her pain but instinctually wanting to provide comfort.  She buried her face in the thick fur on the back of his neck and sobbed.

“I shouldn’t have let him get out of the Jeep,” Katie said, sniffing back tears and wiping her nose with her sleeve.  “He didn’t have to sacrifice himself for us.”

Rachel lifted her head and looked at her but didn’t know what to say.  She felt the same way.

“What do we do?”  She asked after several minutes of quiet as they both gathered themselves.

“I have no idea,” Katie said, shifting the transmission into park and opening her door.

She stepped out, not even noticing that the sun had made it below the horizon and dusk had fallen.  The temperature was dropping, a breeze springing up out of the north that brought the cold air from the mountains with it.  Brushing some loose strands of hair out of her face, she moved to the cargo area and raised the hatch, finding and digging through her husband’s pack.

Lighting one of his cigarettes she turned and sat on the back bumper.  A moment later Rachel and Dog joined her, Rachel taking one of the smokes and lighting up as well.  She coughed when she inhaled the harsh smoke, but without the stiff drink that she really wanted this was the best substitute.

“They’ll kill him,” Katie said, no uncertainty in her tone.

“Why wouldn’t they have just killed him right there?  From watching the helicopters, I think they took him prisoner.”

“Back to Moscow,” Katie said.  “Barinov will want to watch him die.”

She threw her cigarette to the ground, the wind catching it and carrying it across the road.  Tears began flowing again and Rachel turned and wrapped her arms around the shorter woman.  They stood holding each other for a long time, struggling to control their emotions as they thought about the death of the man they both loved.

Neither knew how long they remained like that, but when Dog growled they quickly moved apart and looked around, dashing to retrieve their rifles from inside the vehicle.  Dog kept growling, looking to the southeast, but even with the night vision scopes on their rifles they couldn’t see any threats.

“We’d better get moving,” Rachel said softly.

Katie nodded and after they helped Dog into the back seat they climbed in the front and continued moving west.  Within a mile the pavement ended.  The road was now nothing more than dirt, but it had been recently bladed and wasn’t all that rougher than the crumbling asphalt they had been driving on.

Pushing on through the darkness, neither woman spoke.  They didn’t see any infected, or for that matter any wildlife either.  The part of Idaho they were crossing was desert, dry and windy and cold.  Not particularly hospitable country.

“Do you know where you’re going?”  Rachel asked after half an hour of driving across the bleak landscape.

“I know we go this way until we get into Oregon, then head for the coast.  The route directions are in… oh, shit!”  Katie exclaimed, reaching across and grabbing the phone charger dangling from the power port on the dash.

“What?”

“The sat phone.  It’s in John’s pocket,” Katie said.

Both of them stared dumbly at the charging cord for a moment.  After a bit she let it drop to swing with the motion of the Jeep and put both hands back on the wheel.

“Do you remember the route?”  Rachel asked a few minutes later.

“No,” Katie said after thinking about it for a moment.  “And I’m not so sure I even care about going to Seattle, now.”

“We can’t give up,” Rachel said in a stern voice.

“What’s the point?”

“The point is your husband just sacrificed himself to the goddamn Russians so we could live!  That’s the fucking point!  We are not going to dishonor him by curling up in a ball and waiting to die.”

Katie looked at Rachel, clearly seeing the anger flashing in her eyes.  Nodding, she reached out and took Rachel’s hand, squeezing it hard.

“Thank you,” she said.  “And I’m sorry if I’ve been a bit of a bitch.  You didn’t deserve it.”

“Hey, if the roles were reversed I probably would have shot you by now,” Rachel smiled to let her know she was kidding.

They drove in silence for another ten minutes, Katie braking to a stop when the road forked.  Each direction appeared to be equally well maintained.

“Which way?”  Katie asked, leaning forward and looking back and forth between the two options.

“What’s the name of the town?  Dick something?”

“Dickshooter,” Katie laughed.  “John thought that was a great name for a town.”

“Which way is Seattle from here?”  Rachel asked.

She was also pushing forward in her seat to get a better view.  Dog was curious why they had stopped and squirmed around until he got his head between their seats.  Katie scratched his ears while they tried to decide which road to take.

“That way,” Katie said, pointing in the direction of the road that headed to the northwest.

“Let’s go,” Rachel said.  Katie nodded and turned onto the new road. 

The terrain didn’t change.  It was still the same gently rolling, bone-dry desert they’d been driving through.  The wind was growing stronger, occasional gusts rocking the Jeep on its suspension.  Rachel glanced at the temperature readout, not surprised to see it was only in the high 40s outside the warm cocoon of their vehicle.

Eventually they entered an area defined by low hills.  The road, which had been running mostly straight, began winding as it followed a path around the base of each.  Both of them jumped and Dog whined when a large helicopter suddenly appeared out of the darkness and flew over them at a very low altitude.

It had approached from behind and until it was almost directly over the roof of the Jeep they hadn’t heard the heavy rotor.  Passing over them it continued down the road for a hundred yards before going into a hover and pivoting so that it was facing them, hanging in the air no more than twenty feet above the ground.  It was a Russian Mi-24.

Katie had slammed on the brakes when it passed over and they sat staring in shock at the massive machine that had so suddenly materialized out of the darkness.  The brilliant LED lights mounted to the Jeeps front bumper lit up the helo and they could see the pilots through the heavy windscreen.

“Fuck this!”  Katie shouted, jamming the transmission into park.

She popped her door open and jumped out, raising her rifle as she stepped away from the Jeep.  Screaming, she targeted the cockpit and began pulling the trigger in burst mode, quickly burning through a full magazine.  Rachel was yelling at her to get back in the vehicle, but she either couldn’t hear her or was beyond caring what happened.

The Hind didn’t even bobble in the air, remaining rock solid in it’s hover while Katie fired at it.  When she fired her last round it descended to the road and gently touched down.  Magazine empty, she let the rifle drop to hang on its sling and began walking forward, screaming at the top of her lungs as she drew her pistol.  Rachel got out and ran after her.

Figures could be seen climbing down from the troop compartment and Rachel’s steps faltered when she saw them clearly in the Jeep’s lights.  Turning her attention back to Katie she tackled her to the ground before she could get a shot off with the pistol.

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