The ride in the Bradley was rough, partially due to the fact that the decision had been made to travel cross-country to shorten the distance and save time but Irina’s driving style didn’t help. She seemed fearless, not bothering to slow for anything. Small crests in the terrain became a method for her to get the heavy vehicle airborne for a brief moment.
“Damn it, woman, you’re going to beat us to death before we even get there!” Martinez shouted after a particularly rough patch of terrain.
“Now you know how I feel when I’m in a chopper with you,” Scott said without taking his attention off the forward-looking periscope.
“I fly like an angel, Tech Sergeant,” Martinez shot back. “And when I don’t, at least you don’t feel like you’ve been shaken and stirred.”
“Whatever you say, ma’am,” Scott said, rotating the scope slightly. “Irina, how are we on fuel? There’s a small truck stop on a highway at our three o’clock. Maybe four miles away.”
“We should fill up while we can,” she said, making a hard right turn without any reduction in speed.
Everything that could be tied down had been secured, but as the Bradley roared through the turn and the momentum shifted a large ammo can broke free from its bungee and slid across the floor. Johnnie Ray barely had time to jerk his feet out of the way before it crashed into the bulkhead he was seated against.
“This is bullshit,” he shouted. “That crazy bitch is going to kill us all!”
Igor turned and looked down at the smaller man. Walker flinched when Igor raised his big hand but all he did was hold his index finger to his lips in a shushing sign. He managed to make it seem more intimidating than if he’d ranted and raved. Walker lowered his gaze and leaned back in his seat.
“Thank you, Petty Officer,” Colonel Crawford was speaking to Jessica over the FSOC system. “Keep me updated.”
He gestured at Scott who had looked around when the Colonel was obviously signing off.
“What’s going on, sir?” Scott asked, terminating the connection with the satellite.
“The Russians chased the Major into Dodge City,” he said, reaching out and handing the headset to Scott. “They bit off a little more than they could chew. Two of them down and the rest heading back to base.”
“Doesn’t surprise me, sir,” Scott grinned before shooting a cautious look in Irina’s direction. It was easy to forget that she and Igor were Russian. He had grown fond of them and didn’t want to offend either by celebrating the death of their countrymen.
“Me either,” Crawford said, understanding the look Scott had given to their driver. “They still aren’t back on the road yet. Quite a few infected in the part of town where they’re hiding and they’re probably waiting to make sure the helos have actually left the area. How far are we from Dodge City?”
Scott swiveled back to his station and began clicking on the rugged laptop connected to the Bradley’s internal network. Still not comfortable with the software it took him a few moments to find what he needed.
“We’re about three and half hours away, sir. After we stop for fuel,” he said as Irina finally backed off the throttle to steer them into the truck stop.
Martinez, seated at the gunner’s station, was scanning a full circle around them. By the time she had completed her first circuit, Irina had brought them to a stop next to the hatch covers that protected the tops of the underground storage tanks. As everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the absence of the battering from her driving, Martinez performed a second, slower scan.
“All clear,” she finally called, reaching out and slapping the button that lowered the rear ramp.
Igor was already on his feet and was the first out, his rifle up and ready as he looked over the area. Martinez was right behind him, grabbing her M4 out of a rack as she headed for the door.
“Stay put,” Crawford said to Walker as he moved past him to stretch his legs.
“I’ve gotta piss,” Johnnie Ray said.
The Colonel sighed, staring at the man for a moment before finally nodding and reaching down to release the harness that held the prisoner in place. Walker’s hands were still cuffed behind his back and he scooted forward on the seat before standing and following Crawford out into the fresh air.
Martinez and Igor were at opposite ends of the Bradley, keeping watch. Scott already had the plate in the parking lot open and was feeding the hose from the Bradley’s pump through the opening.
“You going to un-cuff me General, or maybe one of the ladies can hold it for me?” Johnnie Ray leered at Irina who was walking down the ramp as he spoke.
“I’m sure Captain Martinez would love to get it in her hand,” Crawford said, not bothering to correct the man’s improper reading of his rank. “Shall I call her and her knives over?”
Walker swallowed audibly and shook his head, remembering his encounter with the Mexican beauty when they were leaving the jail. He didn’t doubt for a moment that she was more than capable of carrying out her threats against his manhood.
“OK, then,” the Colonel said after a few moments of the prisoner not responding. “I’m going to take your cuffs off and you are going to walk that way ten feet, stop, take a piss and then come right back when you’re done. You try to go one step farther and I’ll shoot you in the ass and drag you back. I don’t need you healthy when we get to Seattle, just alive.”
Unlocking Walker’s cuffs he stepped back and gestured at the open parking lot with the muzzle of his rifle. Johnnie Ray gave him a dirty look before turning and walking a careful four paces. Fumbling with his zipper, he glanced over his shoulder at Crawford who was staring intently at him with his M4 up and ready.
Irina stood next to the Colonel, also watching their prisoner as he began peeing onto the pavement. She said something under her breath in Russian then chuckled to herself.
“What’s that?” Crawford asked without taking his attention off of Walker.
“I said he must have a small dick with a pitiful little stream like that,” she said in a quiet voice.
When Walker was finished and zipped up he turned and slowly walked back to where they stood. The Colonel could tell by the look on his face that the man wanted to say something, but at the last moment he held his tongue. Irina re-secured the handcuffs and under Crawford’s watchful eye led their prisoner back into the Bradley and strapped him to his seat.
“How are we doing, Tech Sergeant?” Crawford called out, staying by the rear ramp so he could keep an eye on Johnnie Ray.
“Almost there, sir,” Scott called back. “Maybe another thirty gallons and we’ll be full.”
Crawford nodded then tilted his head when he heard a faint sound on the wind. It was a low, thrumming noise, barely even detectable, and would have been ignored by anyone who hadn’t spent time in war zones across the globe.
“Chopper!” He shouted, dashing inside the Bradley and to the gunner’s station.
Irina followed him inside but Scott kept the fuel pumping and Martinez and Igor stayed in place to watch his back. Powering up the targeting system the Colonel began scanning the horizon. Several miles to the northeast he spotted a single HIND helicopter transiting to the west. Slaving the computer system to the helo, he watched as it slowly began swinging in their direction.
“Single HIND,” he said to Irina. “Low and slow.”
“A patrol,” she answered without hesitation. “Part of a dual layer CAP after the incident where you shot down all the planes at Kirtland.”
“That’s just great,” he said. “I think they’re coming this way.”
There was banging from outside as Scott coiled up and stowed the fueling hose. A few minutes later he came inside with Martinez and Igor trailing him. Irina rattled off a quick explanation in Russian for Igor’s benefit.
“They’re definitely coming this way,” Crawford said after watching for a few more moments.
“What are you doing?” Walker shouted. “We’re sitting ducks just parked here.”
Everyone ignored him. All of them knew that the Bradley couldn’t outrun the HIND and that the helicopter carried missiles that could easily penetrate their armor.
“Are we fighting, sir?” Scott asked.
“We’re fighting, Tech Sergeant.” Crawford answered. “I’m locked on. Just waiting for the right moment and I’ll introduce him to a TOW missile. We’d better hope he can’t get a shot off first.”