“EASY, ROD. I called to you.”
“Hey! Couldn’t hear you.” He recovered quickly and smiled at his friend.
“Yeah. That yellow thing you have to get rid of. It advertises you, and this isn’t the place for it.”
“Yeah, I know. All I could find,” he replied.
“Here, put this on.” Jon pulled a black parcel from under his dark, non-reflective cape.
Rodney glanced at it. “How did you know?”
“I was no more that thirty yards behind you when you entered the DMZ. You stuck out like a Dry Rider,” he said. Rod’s mind briefly recalled the motorized courier days. “Evidently I knew about a stash you didn’t.”
“Thanks again, my friend. I’m usually saving your butt, so turnabout’s fair.”
Jon chuckled at that. Right! Rod removed the yellow covering. Carefully folding it small, he hid it in a dry spot under the angle of the wall and donned the new.
“We’ve got a mission. I don’t want to do it alone, that’s all,” Jon replied.
Rod smiled at Jon again, knowing how Jon tried to downplay the extraordinary gift. “Yeah, whatever you say. Ready to go?”
The storm raged around them. Jon told him he had reconnoitered before dropping in on Rod. “We’re clear for a couple hundred yards.”
“I think most of the watchers are trying to stay dry, although,” he remarked, “if I wanted to infiltrate enemy territory, I’d pick a night just like this. We stay low.”
They started out, moving from one piece of rubble to another until they got to a large open area. It stretched for a hundred yards in front of them and afforded almost no cover at all. An occasional block or muddy stump broke the flat expanse. Worse, Rod saw no end to its spread. It reached to the perimeter fence and well down into the valley on the right.
“If I was watching,” Rod said, “I’d position myself right over there.” He pointed at a lone pile of debris he could just make out at the edge of the enemy’s side.
“I agree.” Jon nodded. “I’m pretty sure I see an opening about mid-way up the pile. See, the dark part below that out-jut there. The rain sheen gives it away. That’s the lookout.”
“Right! Highlanders work in two man teams and they use women, too. I heard that at one of the war strategy sessions. My guess is that their field of view is somewhat blocked by the rain. If we move off to the right there are several stumps and small piles of rubble. If we crawl and stop, we’ll look like so much debris.”
“Agree,” Jon replied. “We’ll move forward when the rain sheets between us and the lookout post. We’ll be on them before they realize it.”
“Got it. Let’s move. No telling how long this storm's cover will hold up.”
They drifted quickly away from the final shelter, diving to the right for thirty yards just as a curtain of rain obliterated their view of the lookout. They ran forward, very low, and when the rain curtain hit them, they dived for the ground and became part of it. They moved ten times and were halfway across the expanse when the rain suddenly stopped. They could see the lookout post clearly now. They looked up, faces inches from the ground. The sky suddenly lightened above them and turned vaguely green.
Three yards away from Rod, Jon called just loud enough to be heard above the scream of wind. “Storm better not die now or we’re cooked.”
Craning his neck, Rod gauged the roiling overcast above and made out a rapidly spinning, dark, debris-filled cloud.
Just then pressure popped their ears.
“Twister!” he yelled. “Coming this way! We’re going to have to run for it!”
“Always wanted to fly,” Jon yelled back, “Right behind you!”
The twister switched this way and that, an unpredictable march of death. The men ran for their lives toward the valley, away from the horror approaching them. A shot rang out. Jon stumbled, picked himself up and limping, ran on. The roar of wind grew until Rod wanted to scream. If there were other shots, they didn’t hit, and Rod didn’t hear them. He ran on upright, legs pumping. Glancing back, he saw Jon fall behind.
Rod doubled back. He grabbed Jon and pulled him down next to a length of girder he had just gone by. Imbedded in concrete, about eighteen inches of rusted metal poked at the sky.
“No more time,” he called. “Grab and hold!”
They both grasped the slippery metal and held on. The wind whipped and pulled at them, buffeting them, threatening to yank them into the maelstrom. Eyes wide, Rod hazarded a last look. As he stared, the tornado passed directly over the lookout. Pieces of debris arched up into the cloud and he thought he could see somebody’s legs, upside down, fluttering in the wind. Whatever wasn’t heavy or tied down left the lookout post and swirled away into the cloud.
As suddenly as it came, it ran past them. Rod watched it churn away.
“Jon, the guys in the lookout may need help. I don’t think they’re keeping watch right now. Can you run? This may be our only chance!”
“Yeah, I can run. Don’t wait for me. Neutralize whoever’s in there before they get their wits back.”
Rod ran toward the lookout. He got to the back door and realized the twister had done them a favor. The door had ripped from the casing and gone the way of the cloud. Rain hit them hard, pleasant to what just occurred. Inside the lookout he found two unconscious women, both bleeding from multiple wounds of the head and body, but alive. Rod studied them. Both blond, they appeared to be in their mid to late twenties. Although not totally unattractive, the old, green, camouflage paint imitations of pre-era Army fatigues they wore did nothing for femininity.
The bigger one had a nasty gash on the right side of her head near the temple. Blood pumped freely from the wound and covered her shoulder. Rod realized that she could bleed out. He ripped a sleeve from his shirt and closed the wound with his fingers, then tied the sleeve around her head and made it tight. It bled through, but slowed the rate of flow.
Rod then turned his attention to the completely unresponsive one. Jon arrived and worked his way into the cramped surroundings.
Jon said, “I’ve got a bum leg, superficial, but it’ll slow me down. There’s a bowl below me that stayed. Get some water and we’ll wash these two people up and bring them to.”
He looked at the tear in his pants and his blood soaked leg.
“Better clean this up, too. I’ll watch them.”
“Okay. The smaller one may have a concussion. Check it out.” Rod left.
Presently he came back with a full bowl of rainwater. One of the “ladies” started to moan.
Suddenly she opened eyes filled with terror. “Gerta! I’m being sucked up. Help me!”
She looked confused and then settled back. Abruptly it dawned on her there were others in her bunker. She stared, looking for recognition, but it didn’t come. She suddenly started, trying to grab for something to use as a weapon, but Rod stopped her. He looked her in the eye.
“What is your name?”
That seemed to bring her back. “Who are you?”
“I asked first.”
She looked at him fearfully. “You’re not a Highlander!”
“No, we’re the guys you were just shooting at.”
She struggled again, but Rod held her in a vice grip.
“Calm down! You’ll open up your head wound again.”
That stopped her. She felt her temple; winced, re-focused her eyes and paled. She tried to sound brave, but Rod knew better.
“What do you want? You’re not allowed in Highlander territory.”
Rod looked at her. “We know. But first things first. What is your name?”
After a moment she said, “Gretchen” rather sullenly.
“Gretchen and Gerta, huh? Well, nice to meet you.”
Just then Gerta started to moan and slowly came awake. She suddenly vomited, missing Jon, but covering the doorway.
Rod backed off as the odor curled his nostrils. “God, what do you people eat?”
Silence! They waited. She vomited again, but seemed to gain some control after awhile. The men let her fog clear. It took twenty minutes while she held her head and moaned. Eventually her eyes were steady.
Jon finally said, “You okay, now?”
He waited. She gulped and nodded.
Rod started. “You two need to know that we mean you no harm, and that there are only two of us, and that we are here to surrender to you.”
He let that sink in. Then he resumed. He looked first at Gretchen and then at Gerta.
“I am Rod, of the Westaves and this guy you shot is Jon of the Oronokes. We are messengers. We have a critical message for your leader, Brad. We need to convince you that the most important thing you may ever do in your short lives is to get the two of us safely into his council.”
Gretchen said. “Why should we trust you? Looks like you’ve got us, not the other way around.”
“As soon as we feel you believe us enough to give us safe conduct, we will put ourselves in your complete control. After all, you shot at us; we didn’t shoot at you. Besides, we came unarmed. That should mean something. Oh, and something else, it wouldn’t have been hard to dispatch you both, if our intentions were violent. You were unconscious, remember?”
Gretchen looked at Gerta. They were trained to be skeptical in an uncertain, hard world. Greta shrugged and said her first words.
“Release us. Then we’ll talk.”
Rod and Jon released their grip on the two women. They put up their hands in surrender. They did it quicker than Gerta could reach behind her and pull out the pistol she wore in her back waistband.
She smiled, “Guess that got me. What do you think, Gretchen? They surrendered before I could even point a gun at them.”
“Looks like they are surrendering to me.” She relaxed a bit, now that they had the upper hand again.
The rain pelted everything around them. They were soaked through. If anything, since the tornado the night had become blacker still. Had the moon not been full above the thick, lowered storm clouds, none of them would have had any light to see by at all.
“Okay,” said Gerta, who now seemed in charge, “what do you have to tell Brad?”
Rod gave Gerta a blue-eyed stare. “We are messengers and emissaries from our two clans. We have no objection to your hearing what it is we have to propose to Brad, but you will not hear it before he does.”
“What if we shoot you right now?”
To be continued