* * *
Ashlee leaps over a slight depression in the snow. When she lands, her foot sinks and she tries flailing her arms to maintain balance and forward momentum. Flailing wasn’t an option, however, she hugs a CheyTac M-200 tight against her chest, cursing herself for being in a situation best left to amateurs. This was a race across a field of white, but in this race, the loser dies.
“Damn it, cue ball, where’s my air support?” Ashlee yells.
The static in her ear reminds her that she’s far out of her operational authority. There’s a delay in Quentin’s response – a response she doesn’t hear as branches of a pine tree shudder and drop their accumulated snow. The crack of a rifle soon follows.
“If I survive this mission, cue ball,” she hisses as she flops into a snow bank, “we gonna have a conversation about intelligence gathering.”
She feels the impact on her body armor before hearing the shot. The ChayTac is torn from her grip as opposing forces spin her body. She lands, and slides on her stomach down a soft slope.
“I’ve got.” She breathes in deep, trying to compartmentalize the pain.
“Eyes on the.” Another stab of pain, following a terse intake of mountain air.
“Target,” she finishes with a grunt as she lands after launching off a mogul.
Her right arm is numb from fingertip to shoulder. I’ll need to finish this with my off hand, she thinks as her target stares, mouth agape at the madwoman sliding toward him.
Her right shoulder impacts the man in the mouth, droplets of blood staining the packed snow. Fueled by training and reflex, she brings her knees up and they land with her crouched on his chest.
She reaches across her body for her KA-BAR, but the sheath is positioned for right-handed retrieval. The man slams both his fists on the sides of her head.
Everything goes quiet as Ashlee staggers back from the impact. Quentin is saying something, but she only feels the vibration from her earpiece. His excited chattering means nothing in her sensory-deprived state.
She crabwalks back and staggers to her feet. The man is built like a heavyweight boxer – all arms and shoulders. His face and ears pink from frigid exposure. His eyes focus on her as he draws a pistol and aims.
Ashlee watches helplessly as she senses the slight depression of a trigger. Despite the ringing in her ears, she hears the bark of a pistol. It’s familiar, like the embrace of a lover.
The man falls back, rapidly expanding red just below his hairline. Ashlee looks down to her right hand and sees her Beretta, gasses escaping the end of its barrel.
She still can’t hear Quentin, but she speaks aloud anyway. “Tango down. Get me the fuck outta here.”
She walks to a clearing and sits on the powdery ground, awaiting extraction. Her right hand still grips her Beretta, fatigue threatening to supplant consciousness, and she waits.
Next: A Million Birthdays