Avalanche – Snippet 26
After a glance at Untermensch, Natalya narrowed her eyes, turning her head to look at John. “Is…unexpected, Murdock, for you to be advising caution. Given your treatment of Urals, and willingness to persecute targets in the past.” Her English is getting better, that’s for sure. Still the same stone-cold bitch when she wants to be, though; you can take the Russian out of Russia, but…
John met her gaze, and replied evenly. “Things change, Commissar. That much oughta be plain. We can’t expect t’keep doin’ things the same way an’ have it work out.”
“Hmph,” Natalya said. “Repetition is fatal. If you repeat, the enemy can predict you. Better to be unpredictable. Unexpected wisdom from you, Murdock.” She raised an eyebrow. “So. In order to deploy you unpredictably, we are needing to know your limits. What are your limits?”
“At the moment, however fast Sera can get to an attack site,” he said without hesitating. “Without her there, I can’t predict the fight, an’ I run out of steam too fast.” It was only a lie by omission, but he still felt dirty saying it. He didn’t like playing things close to his vest when dealing with people that were his comrades. “I can get to the fights, but there’s a better chance of me gettin’ taken out unless she’s there with me. We can only pull off what we did in Ultima Thule if we’re together. An’ that ought to be somethin’ we don’t let the Thulians know.”
“Unacceptable,” the Commissar declared. “Why can you not carry her? That way you can both be at top speed.”
“Commissar,” Bella interjected. “Remember, they’re just flesh and blood, not a missile and a payload.”
Natalya huffed, then shook her head while pinching the bridge of her nose. “Da, da, annoying fact of life. Well, you must be finding way!”
“Easier said than done, Commissar. We haven’t tried anythin’ like that. An’…we don’t know if this new ability works like that. Not yet,” he added.
“Then what are you waiting for?” Natalya demanded. “Go! Find out!”
“Is that a dismissal, Commissar?” Sera asked mildly. Nat snorted.
“Cannot make plans without data. Bring me data!” she demanded, and made a shooing motion with her hands. John was not about to linger and give her another chance to think of something else to interrogate them about. He got up, held out his hand to Sera, who took it and did the same.
“Roger, Commissar. We’ll see what we can do.” And with that, they made a hasty retreat.
The next few days were lucky, to say the least. There weren’t any major attacks, and what few skirmishes did happen were small and easily handled by either ECHO or the military. The Thulians were definitely being a little more cautious, at least for the moment. That gave John and Sera time to try to figure out a way to get Sera flying as fast has he did. They consulted with Vickie and determined that doing their tests over the ocean would work the best for their purposes. Trying to get Sera “up to speed” over Atlanta would result in a whole mess of busted windows and another angry call from the FAA, not to mention what would probably be crowds of onlookers. And the inevitable cell-phone footage. The Everglades or some of Georgia’s national forests were an option, but that still left the chance that they’d be observed by civilians; not to mention all of the wildlife they’d likely panic. The Atlantic was their best bet; far enough out from the coast and they’d have no people to worry about—especially if Vickie guided them to get clear of any fishing boats or container ships—and the wildlife similarly wasn’t a concern. If they needed to do an emergency landing, the water would be marginally better than solid earth. Lastly, and definitely something that John was thinking more and more about…if the Thulians or anyone else decided to target them specifically, there wouldn’t be any collateral damage. Like it or not, he and Sera were on the world’s radar in a big way. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibility that someone might try to nab them or just kill them outright.
On the first day the couple took one of the CCCP’s vans from the motorpool in order to get to the coast. They could have flown and been over the ocean in an hour or two, but John was adamant. His reasoning was that, for starters, taking the van would be less conspicuous than launching from the city; there were undoubtedly eyes on them at all times, especially when they took to the air, and John didn’t want to make things any easier for the government snoops–or the Thulians–or Verdigris–than necessary. Also, neither he nor Sera knew how much practice would wear them out. It’d be a pain in the ass to fly out there, rocket around all day, and then not have enough energy to fly back to Atlanta under their own power. It took a little bit of work to figure out how to comfortably get Sera a seat in the van. In the end, they decided on putting a thick wool blanket over one of the several ammo boxes that were bolted to the floor and walls of the van; if she straddled it like a saddle, she could lean back semi-comfortably without her wings getting crushed. Bear, who had watched the pair while they fiddled around with the arrangement in the van, said that he would figure out something more permanent for them by the time they got back. John didn’t quite know whether to be grateful or fearful for Pavel’s help. Ever since Ultima Thule, he had been a little bit kinder and more generous with the couple.
“Fret not, Ural Smasher,” Vickie said, as Sera tried out various ways of sitting on the box. “He just bought a used saddle on ebay from someone south of town, and took a Ural with a sidecar out to pick it up in person.”
“Where there’s a Bear involved, there’s always cause for concern, Vic. Either for us or whoever the hell we’re fightin’.”
“I’m keeping an eye on him, but the seller is a WWII vet about as old as he is, and so as long as he doesn’t break any traffic laws he should be fine, they’ll probably get snockered over traded stories, but that’s never affected his driving…meanwhile, follow your HUD. I’m directing you to a safe-ish stretch of what passes for beach in Georgia. It’s more mud and rocks than beach, but that will keep the swimmers away.”
“Sounds good to me. Let’s get rollin’.”
As beat up as the van looked, it started immediately for John. He pulled out of the CCCP HQ garage and followed Vickie’s HUD directions out of the city; the route was a little circuitous, but it kept them off of as many of the more populated roads as possible. Once they were out of the city proper and headed towards Savannah, John rolled down the windows—the A/C was still on the fritz—and turned up the second-hand tape player that he’d helped install. Creedence and other classic rock greats played, competing with the wind to be heard. Since it was still relatively early morning, the temperature wasn’t too high, and the day was fairly pleasant for the moment. John realized that, despite everything else, he felt good.
He glanced back at Sera, who smiled at him. We are very fortunate, beloved. We do not need to shout at each other over the wind noise. We must treasure such small pleasures. They are our armor against despair.
Right you are, darlin’.
Even though they could converse quite easily through their connection, John and Sera were mostly “quiet” for the trip, simply enjoying the drive and each other’s company. Outside of the city and away from the remnants of devastation, it was almost possible to forget about the war for a little while. The Georgia countryside was virtually untouched by the fighting—the Thulians stuck to population centers and strategic targets—and the swamps and farmlands between Atlanta and the coast looked…well, normal. There were still cars on the roads, (though a lot fewer than there would have been a few years ago), and roadside stands every now and then selling produce or plants or fresh eggs. John had seen the worst side of the world between his time in the military, the Program, and while on the run. Early in the war, he found himself questioning exactly what he had been fighting to preserve. Days like today reminded him; he wasn’t fighting to keep things the same, to protect the same status quo of violence and resignation. It was to let people just be.