Canyon:The Traveler Series Book TwoBy: Tom Abrahams
“We’re exposed,” Buck said in between sips of water from Battle’s canteen. “We run into any opposition, we’re both dead. Every time I see a burka or a kid carrying a backpack, I freak.”
Battle adjusted a makeshift splint on Buck’s leg that ran from his ankle halfway up his calf. He looked up at the sergeant. “How’s the pain?”
“Bad. I feel like I’m gonna puke.”
“I can’t give you more morphine. I’ve got Phenergan. It might help the nausea and amplify the morphine.”
“Where’d you get it?” Buck accepted the circular orange pill Battle held out and tongued it into his mouth, finishing it off with another swig of water. “The medic kit was obliterated.”
“I have my own stash,” Battle said. “I like to stay ahead of the game.”
Buck laughed and then coughed. “It’s a game, is it?”
“Everything is a game one way or the other, Sergeant.” Battle stood and scanned the surrounding area. “You stay here for a minute. I’m gonna check the path forward.”
Battle picked up his HK and stepped over a rusting wheel frame, walking north. It was late afternoon, he was drenched in sweat, and they were maybe halfway to the checkpoint. He pulled out a handheld GPS and tried to orient himself. The sun set early in Aleppo; he had maybe forty minutes of sunlight.
They were near the intersection of Handaseh Street and Kher Eddin Al Asadi. Behind him was what was left of the university’s civil engineering faculty building. A block north was a bank building and the Alrazi Hospital.
He knew the hospital was on the edge of Asala wa al-Tanmiya Front control. The latest intelligence was a month old. It could have flipped hands. He couldn’t risk showing up there for help and being shot on sight or, worse yet, taken prisoner.
The checkpoint was between the old Aleppo Railway station and Aziziya Square on the eastern side of the narrow Queiq River near an amusement park. It was about two and a half kilometers. In the best conditions it would take him twenty-five to thirty minutes to walk it. He had two options. He could walk north and skirt a public park. Though it would be faster, it would leave them exposed all the way to the checkpoint.
He was better off taking a straight line route east along Al Bohtory Street and then jogging north at Saadallah Al Jabri Square. If he took fire, he had places to hide. Either way, it probably was a crapshoot.
Battle turned back south toward Buck when he heard the familiar zip of a semiautomatic rifle coming from the east near the railroad track.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
A pair of shots whizzed past his head, and he dove behind the corner of a building for cover. He was maybe fifty yards from Buck.
“Buck! I’ve got incoming. Are you good?”
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Battle adjusted his grip on his rifle. His butt was resting on his heels, his weight on the balls of his feet as he leaned against the building in a narrow alleyway leading onto the main street. He couldn’t pinpoint the location of the rifle fire. Another volley zipped past him, a pair of bullets crumbling the clay brick a foot above his head.
Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!
Battle backed further into the alley. He knew somebody was spotting him and relaying location information to the shooter. The shots were too accurate for the random sniper fire they encountered.
Battle stayed low, moving back to Buck’s position. Once he’d disappeared from the alley, the gunfire stopped.
“We’re pinned?” Buck asked, the color gone from his face. His skin looked almost translucent.
Battle nodded. “Yeah. And we’re about to lose daylight. I’ve got to find another way out of here.”
OCTOBER 15, 2037, 5:09 AM
SCOURGE + 5 YEARS
Cyrus Skinner blinked his eyes open. His leg was dangling off the edge of his bed and his toes were cold. A nightlight he kept plugged into the outlet closest to the bed was dark. The power was out again.
Skinner slid his leg back under the sheet and rolled onto his back. He stared into the dark at the ceiling and sighed, rolling back onto his stomach. It was more than twenty-four hours since he’d sent Queho southeast to take care of the rancher he knew as Mad Max.
The reclusive rancher had already killed at least three of his men. He knew that for sure. There was a good chance the posse boss Rudabaugh and his posse were buzzard food. And now, Queho hadn’t come back.
Skinner grunted and reached over to a nightstand, dragging his lighter and cigarettes into bed with him. He turned onto his back and scooted up on his elbows. With a half-empty feather pillow propped between his back and the headboard, he shook a cigarette free of its package and lit it with a couple of puffs. He drew in a deep breath and held it. The familiar buzz filtered into his bloodstream and he exhaled through his nose. Smoke plumed around him. He sucked in another drag; the bright orange glow hanging from his lips intensified. It was the only light in the room.
Skinner rubbed his jaw, scratching the three-day-old growth. He had a decision to make.
Clearly Mad Max, and the woman he was keeping from them, was far more of a problem than he’d anticipated.