"Called it in yet?" the latter inquired. His silence prompted her to reach into her shirt and retrieve the locator beacon once more. "We've got a good window to get the choppers here."
"The snow's done. We're walking out." Shaw told her.
"I lived half my life in Telluride, and if this snow's done, then you're exactly the kind of charismatic overachiever we need in a leadership role." He stuffed the scope into his pack. Confident she had attracted the conscripts' attention, she blew the moisture from the sensors as she packed them away. "So today we're going to haul her dead weight through hostiles waiting to burn us with our own gear... I guess, to a town, stacked double-wide with tipsters, off-season mercs, so you can... maybe blow off the pick up and run for the border? Try and turn her in? They'll do the flyover, look at your log pics and want to know why you left that shady..." She nodded up toward the ruin. "You'll say you just had a feeling it was clear. They'll promote you and give these guys a ten g bar tab."
Behind her their subordinates dropped the girl into the snow and devoted themselves to his response, snorting and wiping their noses with their gloved hands. Their captive's voice issued from within the copse of black-clad legs encircling her, barely loud enough to penetrate them.
"None of us will get anywhere." she observed, examining the blood crusted on her fingers.
"Why's that?" Shaw asked of her, scowling again.
"The other things... the wolves."
"You made contact with them?"
Her laconic delivery did not moderate the impact of its substance on the conscripts; she watched their boots shift in the snow before her while they absorbed it.
"They'll kill everyone. There's ten of them to every one of you."
Josephine smirked and tightened the straps of her pack, hoisting it onto her shoulder.
"Which is why the two subs are sitting up there, waiting for us to walk into them."
"If they were here, they would have come down the hill with knives and cut your fucking heads off." Susan observed, to which Josephine smiled again, dryly.
"If they were here, that's what I'd say too."
"They cut you loose." Shaw reminded her. "Bailed... walked out right over the top of you, and it looks like that total lack of interest in your welfare's gonna work out great for them. How's that feel?"
The girl seemed to ponder his inquiry.
"Not as bad as letting you go when I should have let them hack you into dogfood." she admitted. "You fucking weasel knob end."
"She let you go? I don't remember that in your report." chuckled Josephine, adding another strip of tape to the gauze on her face.
"He was hiding behind a door." the girl informed her, watching the woman extract grim pleasure from the intelligence. "You're all fucked, alright? Just let me go."
"I know dodging contact is a thing for you, but that's not why you won't head up there, is it Nathaniel?" Josephine inquired, both hands on her hips.
Shaw fired his pack so hard at the ground that its lid lapsed open and spilled its contents onto the snow, leaving him to stand with empty hands. The conscripts backed out of his way around the girl; he dragged her to her feet and held her for a moment, unable to decide on a reprisal, then thrust her once more at them.
"Two, Three... take the hill, keep a tight line... you see something, you get low." he told them, walking away from the disturbance Susan caused by refusing the climb. Josephine strode toward her and kneed her hard onto her face.
"Walk or lose a finger."
The pale ground sloughed from under the girl's soles, pitching her into the hillside. She laboured under a slack, cygnet-hued weight that was almost visible about her head and shoulders; halting their companions, Josephine took the chain from the prisoner's tightly-cuffed hands, assuming her custody while the monastery stood in its eternal remove, neither friend nor conscious obstacle. They toiled on over the shoulder of the supporting spur, forced into a line that played out loosely until she called to it, wary of the split in their formation. Scuffed free by the boots of the advance party, a slip of snow sucked mass and pace from the incline, rushing by to the east of both women and breaking like a wave around the stout trunk of a dead pine. It shook free the white mound that had swamped the surrounding bracken, revealing the slick black rock that formed the edge of the narrow scarp beneath. The girl sprang from her haunches behind Josephine and threw herself at the drop while the chain between them flew after her and snapped tight, ripping her captor onto her back. Josephine caught the links and slid toward the defunct tree, boots slammed into the wood by the weight strung out of sight against the rock face.
It shadowed the fugitive's features as two conscripts leant out over the void, dusting her with snow and hauling on the suspending chain. She made no sound even as her wounded hands were dragged beneath her by their brutal effect of her ascent.
Flat-faced boulders parted from the ruin's footings and mottled with tea-green lichen bordered the curve of intervening ground that stretched before the walls, the steps up to the postern door terminating at its south end, the north littered with the leavings of the axe. Slumping where she was shoved, Susan drew her legs into her stomach and leant against the ledge behind her, its low rampart cutting off any view of the monastery. Splintered waste wood squealed and cracked beneath her, water tapping her shoulder from a trickle dripping off the stone. She lifted her hand to the cold flow while Josephine payed out a telescopic mirror and scanned the face of the ruin.
"I want their positions." she told her while Shaw kicked himself a berth into the ground beside her.
"Susan, we got you. We had you when you set foot in that compound... it's done. If you care, then do them right, and if you don't, just give them up." he told her.
The girl had let her head fall back against the stone but glanced toward him, then at the conscripts aligned beside her. In the face of their concerted expectation she turned away and proffered silence. Shaw seized her arm and dragged her forward, crushing her face into the shallow burn of melt and wet snow that undercut the brittle debris. She gasped a breath; he swore and held her down until Josephine looked down, pulled a humming sensor from her pocket and blew the pine dust from its display, Two reaching for his own version of the instrument and squinting at it.
"Decomp." he called, dismissing the reading and tucking it back into his clothing. Beside him, Four muttered at his chest and struggled with his garments as though something live had fallen into them, pulling back his armoured vest to inspect his belt.
"The fuck? My loc's lit up..." he cried, his suspicion confirmed by the dull red light that flashed at his waist and prompted him to look up at the sky in pavlovian alarm. Shaw checked his own, then stared at Josephine, who did not share the sentiments expressed by her companions, as charged as anything that might have emerged from their weapons. They cursed the activation of their locator beacons hotly, kicking stones and earth down the hillside in a embittered and childlike display of pugnacity. Their self-styled leader stroked a hand over his cropped head, shaking it to himself.
"What did she do?" Susan murmured, wondering at the fusion of inertia and violence surrounding her as she righted herself.
"In two fuckin hours there'll be airborne out here lighting all this up with fifties... the only things dodging shit'll be your fuckin tricks. Crazy fuckin bitch." the conscript beside her grunted, careless of whichever woman claimed offence.
"I don't know why you're still here." she admitted, laying her head down onto her knees. "It's not like they can stop you. She's mad, and he's a gutless numpty. I'd have shot them both and gotten it over with." The words cleaved swiftly to the notions already taking shape inside them. "You could have been over the river by now."
Shaw's execration was superseded by another advisory from the corps.
"I ah... shit, yeah....got decomp again." said Four, rubbing a hand across his mouth and lifting a furrowed expression from the instrument in his grasp. He turned his crouch in the direction indicated by the pulsing dial but did not dare to raise his head over the ledge, lifting it instead to mark the sun, a little past its apex in the wool-grey sky. "Fuck... it can't be rolling, we still got a fuckin tonne of lux..."
C O N T I N U E D N E X T W E E K
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce