Chapter 14: The Flight
“Tiponi, when we get to the boat, I want you to come with us.”
Tiponi turned to look at Kerri as they approached Darren’s camp through the thick undergrowth. “With?”
“Not far,” Kerri hurried to reassure her. “I’d just feel better if we could chopper you back up to your village, rather than making you climb all the way back up there by yourself. Not with—”
“Shit—shit! Kerri! Do NOT approach the boat. Get away from the camp!”
Cold prickles shot across Kerri’s face, making her lips go numb. “Jim?”
“Run, Kerri! He’s there! I don’t know how he got there so fast, but—” Then his voice went suddenly distant, as if he were covering his microphone with his hand. “No, tell them not to wait, I can see them on Darren’s cam, he’s looking right at them! Tell them to move!”
“Jim? Jim, what’s going on?” In the distance, the sound of a boat revving met her ears, and then—
“Jim!" A rifle shot rang out over the sound of the boat, then screaming. Another shot… “...Oh God…”
“Kerri, get out of there—NOW!”
Kerri didn’t hesitate after that. Grabbing Tiponi by the arm, she sprinted back into the trees, calling out in a strangled whisper for the others to follow.
Gunfire and screams followed on their heels, driving them faster and deeper into the trees. Kerri’s heart was thundering out of control and tears were turning to icy streaks on her wind-chapped face.
She ran until her lungs burned and her legs felt on fire. Stumbling to a halt, she staggered to the side and braced her back against a large tree, breath heaving.
Tiponi stood hidden a few paces away from her, not nearly as winded, gripping the bone handle of her knife. Searching her other side, Kerri counted the others with her.
One, two… Where was the third?
Chancing it, Kerri inched her gaze out from around the wide trunk, searching for the last member of her supply team.
She found him about fifty yards back, hunched over his knees and panting near to gagging. Be quiet, you idiot… she silently berated him, struggling to control her own breathing even as she thought this.
“Kerri.” Jim’s voice was barely a whisper in her ear, but she still jumped, sucking in her breath and thumping her head back against the tree as she closed her eyes.
Not trusting her situation enough to speak, she lifted her hand and gave two quiet taps against her earpiece, nodding her HeadCam as she did.
“Kerri, Bugout’s gone. He got all of them.”
Tears welled and Kerri sucked back a sob, nodding her head again.
“I’ve got a second chopper coming. One of them’s heading for Bugout station, the other I’m sending directly to you. When you hear it coming, make for the clearing, hear?”
She nodded for a third time, checking the sun in the sky. It wasn’t long after noon, but they would lose their light early in these dense trees, shaded on all sides by tall peaks.
“Good. Darren’s in the forest. After… a-after he-uh, finished… he headed east out of the camp. I don’t know what direction you’ll be coming in from, so be careful.”
Kerri’s breathing stopped.
Jim must have heard. “Kerri?”
Not knowing what else to do, she just nodded for a final time, a small sound escaping her throat.
“…Shit… Kerri, be careful.”
Looking over at Tiponi, Kerri lifted her arm and mimed moving forward again. Tiponi caught the motion and nodded, searching the area ahead of them as they prepared to move again.
Turning the other direction, she motioned the other three to do the same, leaning around the tree to make sure the one in the rear saw her.
“Dammit! Kerri, I see you! He’s behind you—RUN!
“Run!” she cried, not caring if she was heard now.
They tore off into the trees, dodging branches and leaping over deadfall as they ran. Kerri gritted her teeth as a scream rang out behind her and she pushed her legs even harder, leaping a frozen creek and skidding down the scree on the other side of the embankment. Vegetation whipped at her face, but she raced on, adrenaline pushing her past the fire in her lungs.
A crash behind her jerked her gaze around as she ran, and she saw one of the last two team members trip over a loose rock. The man running next to him slowed, turning on instinct to help him up.
Darren loomed up in the distance, his silhouette leaping down off the rocky crags above them. She didn’t need Jim’s shouted warning as it leaped through her earpiece, but she cried out to her men behind her, “Move! Run for the trees!” They spun, wasting precious time as they searched behind them. “MOVE!”
And whether they saw Darren moving among the low rocks or not, Kerri wasn’t sure, but before she sprinted ahead again, the two hurried off in the other direction, back into the trees. No screams rose from the forest, and that knowledge, while a comfort in the dim recesses of her mind, also kept her pushing forward, haunted by the knowledge that it was she Darren was hunting.
They came to a stream, its waters swift enough that it hadn’t frozen over yet. Both Tiponi and Kerri rushed into its current, racing the shallow water as it meandered down through the trees. Tiponi was in the lead, and when Kerri watched her suddenly disappear over a ledge, she didn’t hesitate. Reaching the edge, Kerri leapt with all her strength, arms windmilling and legs pumping as she worked to keep her balance through the fall. She dropped about six feet, heart in her head, before splashing down into a shallow pool, just managing to keep her feet.
Icy water soaked the bottom of her pants, seeping down over the tops of her waterproof snow boots. She stared around, ignoring the icy sting.
Tiponi was gone.