V Plague (Book 11): Merciless, page 6
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Rachel said. “We’ll be right there.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, unable to resist stealing a glance at the two naked women as he turned and headed back to the runway.
“How long do you think he was standing there before he said anything?” Irina asked as they began brushing sand off their bodies and pulling clothes on.
“Probably long enough to have some good dreams tonight,” Rachel laughed.
Irina looked up and smiled at her. Moments later they were ready and headed for the plane. As they walked up, several of the Rangers had to look away in attempts to hide smiles.
“Oh, grow up,” Rachel said loud enough for all of them to hear.
There were some surprised looks and a couple of chuckles.
“We’ve got a change of destination,” the Ranger who had come to the beach said.
“Why?” Irina blurted.
“Hostilities have resumed between us and the fucking Russkies,” he said, unaware of who and what Irina really was. “We’re bombing the hell out of them. But that’s not why we’re heading north.”
“North?” Rachel asked in surprise.
“Yes, ma’am. The Russian plane carrying the Major went down over Ellesmere Island. Right by Greenland. There’s a survivor on the ground.”
“He survived?” Rachel shouted, stepping forward.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but we don’t know who survived. Pearl can only see a single body on thermal. It’s cloudy there. It could be one of the Russians.”
“I got ten bucks says it’s the Major. That fucker’s too mean to die.”
The Ranger who spoke up earned a look from the Sergeant.
“I’ve got twenty!” Rachel smiled at the man before turning back. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
“We’re waiting for the men I sent to the quartermaster’s building, ma’am. It’s cold there. Very. We need the right gear.”
Rachel began pacing, hope swelling in her chest. That son of a bitch! She should have known he’d find a way to escape.
“Why us? Greenland is a very long way away. How long to get there?” Irina asked, happy for Rachel, but tempering her excitement for the moment.
“3,600 miles,” the pilot said as he walked up, a large pack hanging over his left shoulder. “Us, because everyone else is busy fighting. Should take us about eight and a half hours.”
“In that?” Irina asked, pointing at the C-130.
“No, ma’am,” he said. “That would take most of a day. Navy was nice enough to leave a C-40 sitting on the tarmac, just waiting for us.”
He pointed, Rachel and Irina looking across a broad expanse of taxiways. A large jet sat gleaming in the sun.
“That looks like a commercial airliner,” Rachel said, surprised.
“That’s because without the Navy paint, you’d see it at most any airport,” the pilot said. “In the civilian world, it’s called a Boeing 737.”
After talking to Lucas Martin on the sat phone, Igor had thought about his options, then called the only number programmed into the phone. The young SEAL officer who had given it to him, Lieutenant Sam.
“Go for Sam,” the man had answered, a note of curiosity in his voice.
In broken English, Igor identified himself. Sam quickly remembered the big Russian.
“I was going to call you,” Sam said, surprising Igor. “We’re moving. Radioactive fallout coming into the region and it’s too hot to stay. Going to pick you up on our way east.”
“I need go Russia,” Igor replied. “Need plane.”
“Why do you need to go to Russia?” Sam asked suspiciously.
“Friend in trouble.”
Igor felt that was all the explanation that was needed. They spoke for a few more minutes, Sam ignoring the request for a plane. He gave Igor instructions on where to meet them as they traveled along Interstate 90, then disconnected the call.
For several minutes, Igor sat in the leather recliner. Dog’s chin was resting on his leg and he absently rubbed his furry head as he thought. He had understood perhaps half of what the American had said. But, like any Russian, he had a healthy fear of radiation after the Chernobyl disaster in his home country.
Deciding it was best to go with the SEALs and find a way to get on a plane, Igor spent close to an hour preparing to leave their new home. With Dog trailing along, he’d gone into the garage and refueled the side-by-side UTV from two, five-gallon plastic containers. Taking a moment to check the oil, he went back into the house and gathered his gear.
Packing the cargo area of the small, off-road vehicle, he added several jugs of water. Going into the back yard, he paused when Dog emitted a low growl. Igor followed his eyes and saw movement at the edge of the tree line. Thinking it was an infected, he drew his knife with a sigh and began to step forward. He froze in his tracks when an animal emerged from the forest.
It was a large cat. Mountain Lion, he believed the Americans called it. Very big and strong. At least 100 kilos. The animal stood fifty meters away and stared at the man and dog. It was a tawny color with a tuft of black fur at the tip of its long tail. Its eyes glowed yellow in the moonlight as it calmly observed them.
Halfway between them was the tree where Igor had hung the plastic bags of fresh venison from the deer he had killed earlier in the day. Had the big cat smelled the raw meat? Or was it just exploring territory that no longer teemed with humans?
Igor moved slowly, not wanting to startle the beast. Pulling the slung AKMS rifle around his body, he raised it to his shoulder and aimed at the intruder. He didn’t particularly want to kill it, but if it charged he would fire.
They remained frozen in place for several long moments. The man with the rifle, a dog standing close by his side, facing a silent terror of the night. Igor couldn’t help but chuckle when he realized that nothing had changed since the dawn of man. There were still monsters with long teeth and sharp claws roaming the dark forests.
Growing tired of waiting, Igor shifted aim slightly and fired two rounds into the ground next to the cat’s feet. Impossibly fast, the animal spun and disappeared into the trees. Igor blinked, surprised at how swiftly and silently it had vanished into the forest.
Keeping the rifle up and scanning the tree line, he moved to the base of the tree where the meat was secured. A small, red puddle was in the snow a few feet from its base. One of the bags must have leaked before the blood froze solid. That’s what had drawn the cat. Igor recognized how lucky he was to have made the trek home without being attacked by the animal.
Cutting the rope, the large collection of plastic bags dropped to the ground in front of him. Making another careful scan of the area, Igor grasped the rope and dragged the heavy bundle to the house. Dog stayed close as he moved, head turned to watch the forest, nose constantly twitching.
Igor breathed a sigh of relief when they were safely inside. Russia had its share of big cats in Siberia, and they sometimes ranged as far west as the Ural Mountains. He had encountered them occasionally when he was growing up. Wherever they lived, they were a top level predator. More than a match for a man or dog if caught by surprise.
Going through the packaged meat, Igor found the bag that had leaked the blood. The plastic zipper hadn’t been completely sealed. Pinching it tight, he hefted the now frozen meat onto his shoulder and carried it to the garage where he loaded it into the UTV. The garage was cold, only slightly warmer than outside, and the meat would stay frozen.
“We have food for our trip,” he said to Dog in Russian.
Dog’s tail thumped against the wall when Igor spoke to him. Getting an ear scratch, he led the way inside. They made the rounds, ensuring the house was secure, then both were in bed asleep five minutes later.
Igor rose early the next morning, darkness still blanketing the house. The temperature had plummeted during the night. As Igor moved about by the light of a small candle, his breath fogged in the frigid air.
Dog was still on the bed, curled into a tight ball with his nose tucked under the fur on his tail. He watched Igor for a moment, then slowly stretched to his full length and yawned.
“You are getting soft,” Igor said, smiling.
Dog ignored him and jumped off the bed. He headed down the stairs as Igor finished dressing and placing weapons on his body. When he was ready, he took another quick look around the expansive bedroom to make sure he wasn’t forgetting anything. Seeing nothing he needed, he went downstairs and shared a bottle of water with Dog while peering into the backyard.
They both needed to relieve themselves before getting on the road, and he wanted to make sure the big cat wasn’t hanging around waiting for an easy meal. The moon hadn’t set, and he was able to clearly see all of the tracks in the snow. Most of them were either his or Dog’s, but there was one set that came in from the forest to the spot where the blood had dripped. So the animal hadn’t been frightened enough to prevent it from returning during the night.
Igor opened the door and Dog pushed through ahead of him, nose up and sampling the air. He remained quiet and a moment later trotted out into the yard to take care of his business. A few minutes later they were in the garage and Igor gave the UTV a final check, then started the engine to warm it up.
Double checking the location of his spare weapons and ammunition, he waved Dog into the passenger seat. Releasing the lock, he raised the rolling door and backed out of the garage. The cold was biting, a breeze blowing from the north making it feel even colder, but in true Russian fashion, Igor ignored the weather.
Driving with the lights off, he navigated the narrow streets in the upscale neighborhood. He had thought about following the trail through the forest the SEALs had used when they’d picked up him and Colonel Crawford, but had opted to stay on the pavement. Sam had told him the conflict between American and Russian forces had escalated, and the Russians were no longer patrolling the area. So he’d decided to take the easier route.
They passed several large mansions, sitting on snow covered lawns. There was no movement, for which Igor was grateful. He was tired of fighting the infected. Didn’t want to eat into his supply of ammunition. But there were none to be seen. Nothing but dark, empty houses and abandoned cars.
Several years ago, Russian intelligence had heard a rumor that terrorists were trying to obtain contaminated material from the Chernobyl disaster site for use in a radiological bomb. Igor had been on the Spetsnaz team that was sent to Pripyat, the town that housed the workers and their families for the massive nuclear power plant.
Pripyat had been evacuated in a matter of hours when the plant’s operators realized they weren’t going to be able to prevent a meltdown. 50,000 people loaded into trucks and buses and taken to safety. Nothing left behind other than a ghost town, still full of every possession that couldn’t be carried during the emergency evacuation.
It had been a sobering mission for all of the men of the Spetsnaz squad. One of them swore he heard the voices of children crying for their parents who didn’t make it out of the reactor facility. They didn’t find any evidence to support the rumor of terrorists in the area.
Now, as Igor drove through the empty American suburb, he couldn’t help but think about the ghost town of Pripyat. Fighting against the gooseflesh that crawled up his back, he stepped on the brakes when a faint scream reached his ears. Dog was staring down a side road, ears at full mast and nose twitching. Together, they sat and watched for a few moments, waiting to see if the sound would repeat.
It didn’t, but just before Igor stepped on the throttle, a large form flowed across the street they were watching. The moon still provided a small amount of light and he recognized the shape of the big cat that had visited his house. Dog growled as Igor pressed on the gas. The animal was hunting, and he didn’t want it to decide they looked like a good breakfast.
They reached the Interstate in only a few minutes. Igor drove for another hour, the sun peeking over the mountains they were climbing when he stopped. The mile marker specified by the SEAL was right in front of them, and just past it was a narrow, snow covered track that led into the forest. Shifting the UTV into four-wheel drive, Igor turned onto it and within thirty yards pulled to a stop in a small clearing.
The area was completely screened from the freeway by dense forest, and after briefly looking around, Igor shut off the engine. Silence descended. Near perfect silence. Other than the sound of the wind in the trees, there was nothing to be heard. No morning bird song. No squirrels chattering in the trees. No small rodents moving through the undergrowth. Nothing.
Looking around carefully, Igor finally got out of the vehicle and called for Dog. They were early, and he was hungry. Gathering two armfuls of wood from piles of fallen branches, he built a small fire in the center of the clearing. Once it was crackling away, he put two of the venison steaks at its edge to thaw. When they were no longer frozen, he would put a spit through his and suspend it over the flames to cook. Dog would get his raw, but would have to wait.
In an hour they had finished their meal, Igor taking note when Dog lifted his head and looked to the west. A few minutes later he heard the sound of approaching vehicles. A faint rumble of engines and the hiss of tires, clear in the cold, mountain air. Igor had let the fire burn down and now smothered it with dirt he’d scraped up from beneath the snow.
The sound steadily approached, and Igor and Dog moved down the track to the Interstate. Staying hidden in the forest, they watched as three large American SUVs came to a stop near the mile marker post. Dog was alert and Igor had his rifle up when one of the doors popped open. He relaxed when Lieutenant Sam stepped out and looked at the fresh tire tracks in the snow.
Dog growled softly, which surprised Igor as he should have remembered the SEAL. Lowering his rifle, Igor stepped into view.
“Ready?” Sam asked.
“Gear,” Igor said, nodding towards the forest.
He trotted down the trail, Dog following, and quickly gathered all of his belongings. When he returned to the side of the freeway, Sam was waiting with the rear hatch of one of the vehicles open.
Igor stepped behind and tossed his pack and bundle of steaks inside, surprised to see Dog remaining near the edge of the forest when he turned. He called to him, but Dog wouldn’t approach the idling vehicle. Moving to the passenger door, Igor opened it and whistled for Dog, gesturing for him to get in. As he waved, he turned his head and saw the woman sitting in the rear seat.
“Ty che, blyad?” He blurted in Russian, meaning “what the fuck?”
As he spoke, he leapt backwards and brought his rifle up, aiming at Nicole.
“No!” Sam shouted, leaping forward and placing himself between Nicole and the muzzle of Igor’s rifle. “She’s OK!”
He held his hands out towards Igor as he spoke. Several other doors had popped open and four SEALs were now standing outside the vehicles, rifles pointed at Igor’s head.
“Lower your weapon,” Sam said, gesturing towards the ground.
“What fuck? She infected!” Igor said, not wavering.
“No, she’s not,” Sam said, waving for his men to lower their weapons.
After a long pause, they obeyed. Igor cut his eyes around, then leaned to the side to see around Sam. The fear on Nicole’s face convinced him more than anything the SEAL could have said. Slowly, he lowered his rifle and moved to stand next to Dog.
“We ride in other car,” he said, placing his hand on the back of Dog’s neck.
I stumbled several times, but somehow managed to keep my feet underneath me. The wind howled in my ears and I could no longer hear the helicopter. I wasn’t about to assume that it had moved on. That damn strobe needed to be shut off before they found me.
As I ran, I couldn’t help but second guess myself. What if this really was a rescue party? Then I dismissed the thought. There wasn’t anyone left in the world that was flying helicopters other than us
Reaching the strobe, I yanked it free of the rock it was tied to and began trying to open the protective cover on the base. I didn’t want to damage it, not knowing if I might need it later. But my cold, stiff fingers didn’t want to cooperate. I fumbled with the device for what felt like far too long.
Finally, I gave up and used the knife to pry the cover off. Beneath was a small switch, and using the tip of the blade I moved it to the off position. Glancing at the strobe through night vision to make sure it was really off, I shoved it into a pocket. And none too soon.
I looked up as a large helicopter passed directly overhead at no more than a couple of hundred feet of altitude. Watching it, I cursed when I recognized the shape of a Russian Hind. I stayed in place for a moment, wondering if they’d spotted me.
Did they have FLIR? Even if they did, maybe the layers of clothing I was wearing had hidden me from their instruments. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to hide from thermal imaging. The human body is almost always a different temperature than the surrounding environment.
But this was an exceptional circumstance. I was wearing several thick layers. No skin other than a thin strip for my eyes was exposed. With the wind, maybe any body heat that made it to the surface layer of my clothing was immediately cooled enough to make me invisible. Or maybe they didn’t have FLIR. Maybe.
Whatever the reason, they weren’t turning to come back to my location. Instead, the big helo came into a hover a couple of hundred yards away, the pilot fighting the gusts. Slowly it descended until the landing gear brushed the ground. The troop door opened and six figures jumped out, quickly spreading into a wide semi-circle.
I flattened my body against the frozen tundra, more worried about night vision on the soldiers than FLIR at the moment. The Hind gained altitude and began a slow orbit of the area. It passed over me once without slowing or deviating. This confirmed for me that they either didn’t have thermal sights or my theory about the layers of clothing was correct. Either way, the helo wasn’t spotting me. But that didn’t help conceal me from the squad of soldiers that was slowly walking in my direction.
DIRK PATTON SERIES:
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