Canyon:The Traveler Series Book TwoBy: Tom Abrahams
Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
Battle checked the rest of the room, which he figured was once a dorm room for the medical school or nearby university. There was a mattress on the floor. A desk was on its side. The bullet-riddled armoire blocked half of the open-air window. On top of it, Battle saw what looked like a crude detonator. He looked to his right. The wall was adorned with Arabic graffiti he couldn’t read and bullet holes he imagined were from return fire.
Battle pinched the bridge of his nose and loosened his helmet’s chin strap. The ringing was subsiding. He could hear yelling from across the street, but he resisted the urge to move to the window. It could subject him to friendly fire.
He fished around the back of his neck for his earpiece and found it, plugging it into his right ear. He pushed the button on his comms. It didn’t work. So he yelled from inside the building, hoping his voice would carry far enough.
“This is Battle! All clear! Threat neutralized!”
“Battle, this is Buck. I’m injured. Need assistance.”
Buck. Rufus Buck. That was who survived. The men liked him. He was a natural leader. He was a fellow Texan, though he wasn’t one of Battle’s favorite people. He didn’t always adhere to the rules of engagement, as they were. He liked to bend them in his favor. Still, he was American, he was a soldier, and he needed help.
“On my way.” Battle cleared the room, found his way back down the stairwell, and maneuvered through smoking debris into the street.
He crossed the crumbling asphalt to its opposite side, for the first time seeing the full impact of the IED Elmo. Bile rose in his throat. He couldn’t distinguish arms from legs or one man from another. Only the names on the ragged, bloodied strips of the digital camouflage uniforms told him who was who.
“You’re it?” Battle asked Sergeant First Class Buck. He was an enlisted man, an E-7 NCO who didn’t always play well with the commissioned officers who he considered fast-trackers.
“Roger that.” Buck was still leaning against the concrete barrier. “I don’t know for how much longer, though.”
Battle stepped to the other side of the barrier and saw the extent of the sergeant’s injuries. He had a tourniquet tied above his knee. Below his knee was a bloody mess. His foot was wonky, turned at an unnatural angle.
“I’m gonna need your help.” The sergeant was pale, his eyes sunken. Battle knew he’d lost a lot of blood. “I’ve called for help. Nobody’s coming. Our comms are busted.”
“I know. Can you walk?”
“What do you think?”
“Had to ask.” Battle scanned the debris field. “I’m guessing the medic’s kit is gone.”
Battle put his rifle on the ground and stepped over Buck. “I’m gonna carry you.”
“We’ve got no choice. I’m gonna put you on my back and carry you back to the checkpoint. Then we can get help.”
“That’s gotta be an hour away.”
“You’re not gonna make it. I’m gonna bleed out.”
“Give me a better option.”
“Go get help. Come back for me.”
“That’ll take too long,” Battle argued. “And clearly, the faction we thought was controlling this part of the city isn’t really in control. You’ll be dead before I get back.”
Buck was pointing behind Battle with a trembling, blood-soaked finger. “What about that?”
Battle turned around and saw a small wheelbarrow. It was on its side, its load of rice spilled onto the ground. He ran over and uprighted it, tested the wobbly, loose wheel, and rolled it back to Buck.
“Hang on a second,” Battle said, moving toward the remains of their fellow soldiers. For all of them, he tugged the dog tags from their necks. He carefully placed one from each set in the mouth of its corresponding soldier. He stuffed the duplicates into his pockets.
“Let’s give it a go,” Battle said, having completed the morbid but necessary task. He helped Buck into the tray, his injured leg dangling off the side.
Buck unstrapped his helmet and tossed it to the ground. “All right.” He grimaced. “Let’s do this.”
OCTOBER 15, 2037, 4:48 AM
SCOURGE + 5 YEARS
“We’re gonna leave the bodies here?” Lola asked. “Out in the open?”
Battle looked at his handiwork, his hands on his hips. “Yeah. We don’t have time to drag them outside and bury them.”
There were four bodies. All of them were grunts who’d overplayed their hands. In a matter of seconds, Battle had unloaded his 9mm Sig Sauer nicknamed McDunnough. They’d never had a chance. Their low-level existence in the Cartel’s hierarchy came to a sudden, bloody end.
He looked at the glazed, vacant stare frozen into the eyes of one of the grunts, a cheating card shark named Hedgepath, and remembered he hadn’t prayed before pulling the trigger. There hadn’t been time.
Battle stepped over to the dead man and knelt down, pulled his cowboy hat from his head, and held it to his chest.