Canyon:The Traveler Series Book TwoBy: Tom Abrahams
“So we’re hitting them before sunrise?” Lola asked.
“That’s the plan,” said Battle. “We’ll have the advantage.”
“They won’t see us coming. It’s always best to initiate a direct action under the relative protection of darkness.”
“A quick operation in hostile territory.”
“So this will be quick? We’ll have Sawyer back quick?”
“I don’t know about that,” Battle admitted. “We don’t know exactly where they have your son.”
Lola blinked back tears and turned away from him to stare out the window.
The Humvee, rumbling with its lights off, crossed over a narrow strip of parallel roads and rolled to a stop a few feet from the trio of horses tied to the exterior fence near the airport’s runway.
The horses grunted against the noise of the Humvee and pulled against their reins. Their discomfort strained the already weakened fence. Battle quickly turned off the engine to calm them and slid out of the vehicle.
Pico walked across the road and trudged to the horses. “Load everything?”
“Yep.” Battle loosened the saddlebags on his Appaloosa. “Everything can go in the back.”
Lola joined the men and began working on her bags. “What do we do with the horses?” asked Lola. “Are we leaving them here?”
“No,” Battle said. He rubbed his hand along the horse’s mane. It nickered. “We’re letting them go.”
“We don’t have a need for them,” Battle said, running his fingers through the animal’s coarse black hair. “We don’t know where we’re headed or how long we’ll be gone. We keep them tied up here and they could die.”
Pico waved his hands in the air. “So we just free ’em?”
Battle pulled his hand from the horse and swung around to face the dissenters. “Is this going to be a repeated issue?” He pointed at Lola and then moved his aim to Pico. “The two of you?”
Lola and Pico exchanged glances. Neither answered the question.
“Because I’m not putting up with it.” Battle’s hands were at his sides. He was flexing his fingers in and out of a tight ball. “Salomon Pico, I know you took a risk riding with me. I appreciate that. You really had no choice. And Lola, I know you’re desperate. You want your son back, I got it. However, you both have to understand that you need me. It’s not the other way around. I’ll survive out here without either of you.”
Battle released the saddlebags from his horse. He carried one of them over to the Humvee and dropped it into the open bed in the back. “So I’m not having this conversation again. You both do what I say, you live by my rules, you follow my plan. Otherwise we’ll part ways.”
Lola’s eyes hawked him as he walked back to the horse for the second bag. Pico was looking at the ground, mumbling to himself, kicking at the weeds.
Battle grabbed the bag and heaved it over his shoulder. “We good?”
Lola nodded. Pico did the same.
“I need verbal confirmation,” Battle insisted. “Yes or no?”
Lola ran her fingers through her hair and rolled her eyes. “Yes.”
Pico shrugged. “Yes?”
“That a question, Salomon Pico?”
“No,” he replied. “It’s a yes. Yes.”
“All right then,” Battle said. “Let’s load up, let the horses loose, and hit the HQ. We’re running out of time.”
JANUARY 3, 2020, 3:44 PM
SCOURGE -12 YEARS, 9 MONTHS
No fewer than twenty factions controlled varying parts of Aleppo, the most dangerous city in Syria, if not the entirety of the Middle East.
The one hundred and fifty thousand American soldiers, Marines, and sailors fighting the war were never quite sure who was on their side and who wasn’t. It seemed to change from week to week.
One of the factions, the Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front, was reportedly in control of Western Aleppo near the university and the hospital. It was one of the largest sections of the city controlled by a singular group. They called for help patrolling the zone between their checkpoint and one controlled by the hardline Syrian Islamic Front, a coalition of smaller factions that kept assimilating like-minded groups to increase its reach and power.
Battle and his men were the last of three teams tasked with a daylong, triple-shift effort to check weaknesses along the sector’s boundaries. They’d unwittingly found one when the IED exploded under their feet.
Now, Battle was burdened with carrying the lone surviving member of the patrol more than four miles back to the friendly checkpoint. The wheelbarrow had lasted exactly seven minutes before the front brace collapsed, the axle broke, and the wheel fell off. It was nice while it lasted.
While Buck wasn’t a small man, Battle wasn’t either. He held Buck over his shoulders like a fireman, one armed draped around the backs of Buck’s thighs and the other around the injured soldier’s back. The slog was slow and Battle took a break every ten minutes, resting in the relative protection of abandoned cars or behind the remnants of decimated structures.