We pounded our way east, the air flowing through the two open side doors still refreshing but that would change quickly as the sun continued to bake the ground below. Colonel Crawford sat behind the door gun, maintaining a constant scan as we progressed. The man seemed to be enjoying himself, a tight smile on his face as he traversed the barrel back and forth.
I scooted to the opening when he turned his head to look at me and pointed at the ground beneath us. We were passing over a small town cut into nearly four perfect quarters by the intersection of two highways, making it look like a compass rose. A few infected were stumbling around the deserted streets but what caught my attention was a large building on the southern edge of the east-west highway.
A tall communications tower soared over the structure. A high-security fence glinted in the morning light, surrounding the entire property. There was a scattering of vehicles in the rear parking lot, several of them obviously civilian but there were eight neatly aligned police cars pulled tight against the back wall. Had to be either County Sheriff or State Police.
“Martinez, remember where this town is. We’re coming back,” I called over the intercom.
“Copy, sir. Got it located as best I can,” she replied a moment later. I looked forward to see her scribbling on a paper map with a grease pencil.
By now we had already moved beyond the boundary of the small burg and nothing but open prairie was visible. Leaving Crawford to his fun I scooted back to sit next to Katie, Dog shifting position to put his head in my lap. He tolerated air travel but really didn’t like it and was looking for some comfort.
“What was that all about?” Katie shouted after reaching out and lifting one of the headset’s cups off my left ear.
“Looks like a police station,” I shouted back. “We need a fast car to get to Idaho. I was worrying about being caught out in anything not as stout as a truck. The cops might have an SUV or a cruiser that has been reinforced. Going to go check them out as soon as we find Scott.”
Katie nodded and released the ear cup to slap back in place against the side of my head. She smiled when I gave her a dirty look. I smiled back, happy to be with her even if she was being a pain in the ass.
“Got Scott on the radio,” Martinez called over the intercom almost fifteen minutes later. “We’re probably five minutes from his position.”
“Are we coming into a hot LZ?” Crawford almost sounded like he wanted there to be targets at the Landing Zone so he could cut loose with the door gun.
“Sorry, sir. The area’s clear.” I guess Martinez had picked up on it, too.
He didn’t say anything else and a few minutes later I felt our speed drop as Martinez began descending. Moving back to the side door I stuck my head out and looked down. Ahead and to our right a Bradley sat on the top of a small hill, one figure on top of the turret and two more on the ground next to the lowered rear ramp.
As we descended I recognized Igor’s big frame standing on top of the vehicle, keeping watch on their surroundings. Tech Sergeant Scott and Irina waited at the rear, shielding their eyes from the dust and debris as Martinez set us down fifty yards away. Unhooking Dog’s tether I jumped down and waited for Katie to join me.
We met Scott and Irina half way and I waved a greeting to Igor who had stayed on top of the Bradley. He waved back then continued keeping watch on the area. Dog ran up to Scott and Irina, giving each of them a quick greeting, then lifted his nose and headed for Igor when he recognized him. The two had become fast friends when we were in Texas and when Igor saw him coming he climbed down to pet him.
“Good to see you, sir.” Scott said. “Was starting to think the worst might have happened.”
“Not very likely, Tech Sergeant. At least not yet,” I grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. Irina stepped forward and embraced me, placing a kiss on each cheek.
“I’m glad you survived. And this is her?” She asked, stepping back and smiling at Katie.
I made the introductions, taking a moment to explain to Katie what Igor and Irina were doing there. She thanked each of them for having helped me then looked over her shoulder when she saw Scott come to attention. Crawford walked up with Martinez at his side.
“Relax, Tech Sergeant,” he waved a dismissive hand. “You and your team did an outstanding job.”
Scott smiled and stood easier. Martinez pushed past me, walked up to him and wrapped him in a big hug. He looked embarrassed but when she didn’t let go right away he grinned sheepishly. Finally releasing him she turned to Irina and surprised the woman by embracing her tightly.
Greetings and introductions out of the way I led the group over to the Bradley and we settled in on the shady side as I brought them up to speed. It took more time than I wanted to spend, but everyone needed to be on the same page.
“So you’re going to haul ass to Idaho while we poke along behind you. That pretty much sum it up, sir?” Scott asked.
“Yep,” I said. “Spotted a police station this morning on the way here and I’m going to have the Captain take me there. Should be able to get a fast car and maybe pick up a few weapons and some more ammo.”
“I’ve got a shit ton of 5.56 in the Bradley if you want to take some,” Scott offered. “But what do we do about comms if you take the only sat phone?”
“I thought you had an FSOC?” Crawford asked.
“Yes, sir. We do, but it’s not working.” Scott shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll take a look,” Martinez said, standing and starting to climb the outside of the Bradley’s hull. “I trained on them with the manufacturer’s tech rep when the first units came in.”
While Martinez worked on the laser comm gear, I stepped inside the vehicle and spotted the ammo cans of loaded mags Scott had been talking about. There were five waterproof, metal cans strapped down to the floor and I took two of them. That left them with only 3,000 rounds, but my sole protection was going to be thin sheet metal. They’d have the Bradley’s armor and its other weapons if they ran into any problems.
“How we doing, Captain?” I shouted to Martinez when I walked back out into the open.
“Almost got it, sir.” She said without taking her attention off of the device she was working on with a small multi-tool.
“Are you kidding me?” Scott yelled up at her. She ignored him for almost a minute. Straightening, she collapsed the tool and smiled down at him.
“There’s a motion stabilized gimbal that keeps the laser locked on its target,” she said. “It has a tendency to get stuck if the unit is torqued down tighter than spec. The gimbal was binding so I adjusted the tension on the mounting bolts. Give it a try.”
Scott stared back at her with his mouth open for a moment before heading inside to activate the system. A minute later he stuck his head back out and told us it was working and locked on to a satellite. Martinez pretended to dust her hands off then climbed down and joined us.
“OK, we’ve got comms,” I said, heading for the Huey with the pair of ammo cans. “Captain, make sure Scott knows where we’re going and let’s get in the air. I’m not going to wait for them to show up. You can wait and they’ll pick you up.”
“I’m coming with you,” Crawford said, falling in next to me. “No reason for her to be waiting by herself. Just in case.”
While I strapped the ammo cans down and got Dog back into the Huey, Martinez showed the paper map she’d marked up to Scott. Katie and Crawford climbed aboard, and then Martinez came running as Scott, Irina and Igor disappeared inside the Bradley.