“Why’d you volunteer us for this shite gig again?” Dmitri drew his thin coat closer to insulate against the cold seeping from the rocks that composed his sniper perch.
“Stay off comms,” Charlie barked back.
A chilly wind whistled through the Sargon Pass. A shiver worked its way down Dmitri’s spine. When it finally fled, he looked through his sniper rifle scope and scanned the mouth of the pass, which was still shrouded in dark, early morning shadows.
He defiantly spoke into his comm again, “This pass is too narrow for any big fish to take. You’re not gonna impress your new friends by catching any of the minnows that come through here.”
“The hell I just say?”
For an outlaw, Charlie certainly was a stickler for the rules, a trait that had only intensified after the two decided to crew with the Vucari. Dmitri figured it’d be fun to run with the pack that had come to dominate so much territory. Meanwhile, Charlie quickly became enamored with the Vucari’s master plan to wrest control of Reis away from the UEE. Dmitri merely looked forward to the looting.
Despite their motivational differences, Dmitri and Charlie were now hunkered down on opposite sides of the Sargon Pass, hoping to ambush anyone coming from Reis. Dmitri checked the time, and wondered how much longer it would take the sun to illuminate the mouth of the pass and more importantly, provide him a bit of warmth.
Eventually, the sweet lure of a stim felt like his only salvation. Dmitri left the sniper rifle in position and slid down from his perch so Charlie wouldn’t see the vapor. He removed his helmet and plucked a pack of Kings out of his pocket. He savored the flavor as the first pull rushed to his head. It almost made everything all right.
Suddenly, a faint hum filled the air. The sound was subtle but growing closer. Dmitri scanned the sky to discover a small drone hovering no more than ten meters away. Some bugger was spying on him.
Dmitri drew his pistol. His free hand frantically felt for his helmet but couldn’t find it. He turned to look for it, then everything suddenly went black.
Distracted by the drone, he never saw Sid slip in close. She lowered her rifle then hit a few buttons on her mobi. The drone zipped to her location and landed safely. After Sid checked the kid’s pulse, she bound his hands and then searched him out of habit, finding only a half pack of Kings. He wore a patchwork of clothes and cheap armor plastered with the Vucari insignia.
Climbing up, Sid snagged the sniper rifle from its perch and hunkered behind a rock formation while inspecting it. The serial number had been filed off and the Vucari emblem crudely etched into its stock. So, the Vucari distributed meager armor but decent weapons. She made a mental note.
Confident the Vucari hadn’t assigned a single guy to guard the pass, Sid quickly scanned the other side through the sniper rifle scope. If anyone else was around, she couldn’t see them. There had to be at least one, maybe two associates staked out elsewhere. Until cleared, driving any closer could be dangerous.
“We’ve got company. Subdued one of them. Going to flush out anyone left with the drone.”
“I’ll come help.”
“Hold position. Don’t know what we’re up against yet.”
Sid launched the drone to survey the pass from above. It looked clear at first glance. Then she spotted a strange shape between two big boulders. She slowly lowered the drone over the location and saw a parked Dragonfly. That thing only seated two, so that must mean there was one outlaw left.
Suddenly, the drone’s video feed died. A gunshot echoed through the pass as the drone fell from the sky. Sid scrambled to spot the shot’s origin but it was too late. Impressive — the shooter needed only a single round to hit it.
A strange crackling sound startled Sid. She spun, weapon raised, to find no one there. She exhaled, relieved, then tracked the sound to the outlaw’s helmet lying on the ground below. It wouldn’t be long before his compatriot realized this position has been compromised. She had to move soon.
Sid slowly lifted her head with the sniper rifle at the ready. Gunfire erupted, spraying bullets all around her. She quickly ducked back to cover, but at least had a bead on the assailant’s location.
“That you firing?” Cyrus’ voice crackled in Sid’s ear.
“It will be . . . in a few seconds,” she responded while adjusting her spot behind the rock.
“I’m on my way.”
“I can handle it.” Sid raised up with the sniper rifle trained on the spot where she had seen the muzzle flash. No one was there. More gunshots peppered her location from a slightly different angle. She hit the deck before gauging exactly where they came from.
“You get him?”
“Still wasn’t me.”
“I just need—”
“Something to draw that fire elsewhere.”
Cyrus was right. Plus, it had only been small arms fire. That wouldn’t do too much damage to their ride.
“Fine. Show yourself but don’t venture too far up. For all we know, the entrance could be lined with explosives.”
Hidden not far from the pass, Cyrus stepped on the accelerator. The buggy lurched forward. It felt a bit jumpy to him, and he made a mental note to look at it once home.
Meanwhile, Sid circled to a new firing position further up, hoping her new vantage point combined with Cyrus’ arrival would end this encounter.
“Just cresting the pass,” Cyrus announced.
Sid readied her weapon and peered over a rocky embankment toward the other side, waiting for this slippery bastard to show himself again. The vehicle’s rumble echoed through the canyon, announcing its arrival. Sid kept scanning with her finger on the trigger.
A sudden movement drew her attention. She focused on the location then paused. Something didn’t look quite right. It took her a moment to realize what she was seeing. The outlaw had a massive weapon hoisted on his shoulder and aimed at the buggy.
“Rocket launcher!” Sid cried over comms.
She squeezed off a series of shots at the outlaw and saw him stagger. His movement was exaggerated by the massive weapon somehow still on his shoulder. She drew a deep breath and fired off more shots while exhaling. The outlaw finally dropped out of sight.
A moment later, an explosion erupted from the place he had fallen. Sid felt the mountainside shake and heard the distinct rumble of rocks and boulders rolling downhill. The rock formation facing where he had fallen was blasted to bits.
Moments earlier, when Cyrus heard Sid’s warning, he instinctively slammed on the accelerator, concerned that the rocket launcher might be pointed in her direction. The next thing he knew, a boom echoed through the canyon. By the time he realized what was happening, it was unavoidable.
Cyrus saw what looked like a tidal wave of rubble roaring toward him. He yanked the steering wheel hard left and the vehicle spun about ninety degrees, exposing the passenger’s side, just as an avalanche slammed into it. The impact knocked the vehicle’s wheels off the ground and blew it downhill. Once at the bottom of the pass, it continued rolling until it lost all momentum.
Sid heard the impact and repeated crunch of rock on metal. When the sound mercifully came to a stop, she trained the sniper rifle on the dissipating dust cloud at the bottom of the pass. The vehicle had ended up on its roof, battered and bruised but in one piece. From this angle, though, she couldn’t see inside the cab.
“Cyrus! Can you hear me?” she cried over comms.
Before receiving an answer, she began to run downhill. Sid felt like life was moving in slow motion. Soon she struggled for breath, the heavy armor and heart-stopping anxiety hitting her hard. She stopped to gather herself, then glanced up and across the pass. She sighed with relief at the sight of the Dragonfly still safely tucked between two boulders, its position just above the blast.
Sid commandeered the Dragonfly and sped to the crash site. Cyrus was motionless inside the upside-down vehicle. Still secured to the seat by the safety restraints, his arms limply dangled past his head. Sid grabbed his closest arm, pulled out a MedPen, and stabbed it where his undersuit was exposed.
Cyrus came back from the brink. His body filled with adrenaline and confusion as to why everything was inverted. He turned to see Sid. Slowly, the preceding series of events came back.
“You get him?”
Sid nodded her head. “You ready?”
He nodded in return. She carefully cut away the safety restraints and helped him out of the cab. Finally freed, Cyrus slowly sat up, mind and body still not in sync. Sid felt bad for thinking it, but he looked just like he did when she caught him napping in the shop.
“Hey . . . I’m gonna see if I can find where the med kit wound up.”
Cyrus sat forward and stood up. “Rally back here in five?”
She gave him a thumbs up. Cyrus wanted to smile but wasn’t sure if he could. He still felt like not all his wires were connected.
Sid climbed on the Dragonfly and carefully followed the trail of destruction, searching for anything worth keeping. Cyrus slowly circled the buggy but found nothing. It at least afforded him the chance to get his legs under him. Sid returned faster than expected.
“No luck. You probably flung it halfway home.” Sid scanned the horizon. “If we want to expand the search radius, let’s do it fast. No guarantee the previous owner of this bike didn’t inform the entire Vucari clan that we’re trying to get through that pass.”
“I’m fine. Let’s go.”
Sid eyed him, uncertain.
“The most important thing is to clear the pass before reinforcements arrive.” Cyrus pulled his custom sniper rifle from its attachment point. His heart dropped. The barrel was battered and slightly bent.
“Here . . .”
Cyrus looked up as Sid tossed him the Vucari sniper rifle. He gave it a once over. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t his.
He jumped on the Dragonfly. Cyrus’ back came to rest against Sid’s. He exhaled, laid the sniper rifle across his lap and then strapped in. Sure he was safely aboard, Sid opened up the throttles to max and concentrated on putting distance between themselves and the ambush site.