All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. All characters in this story are fictional. No similarity to persons living or dead is intentional and is purely coincidental.
Second Printing 2003
First Printing 2002
Cover Art by Baby G
Graphics and Cover Design by
Baby G and Archangel
Limitless, Dare 2 Dream Publishing
Lexington, South Carolina 29073
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Printed in the United States of America
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For most writers their books are dedicated to some inspiration, some focal point in the writer's life. For me that can only be my heart, my love, my Sam-awry. She is my inspiration.
I also dedicate this story to LL and ROC, to Lori and Barbara, to all the Amazons and Warrior Princesses of today. Whether you are a mother or sister, civilian or a service member, active duty or retired, this is for you. Without you there would be no history, no footsteps in the sand to follow. Thank you.
The day was nearly over. The setting sun made the golden sand turn dark caramel in its waning light, but even now, the heat was incredible. There was no wind, only the gently shifting sand, the deceptive beauty of this place belying its deadly nature. The stillness was broken by a figure, staggering in the heat, a woman running, stumbling, alone.
She ran on, just a few more steps, just a few more and she could stop. Her breath burned her lungs in dry pants. She felt the sweat roll down her back, between her breasts, the salt drying on her skin causing it to itch unbearably. Her head pounded, her nostrils felt on fire with every wisp of inhaled air, her muscles ached, but she ran on.
With her hat removed, the sun beat down on glossy black hair, burning her scalp and adding to her discomfort. The once neat knot of ebony hair had become loose, allowing tendrils to escape and stick to the sweat on her forehead and neck. She did not stop to wipe them away, only to brush the constant rivers of sweat from her brow, to keep the salty water from burning her eyes.
Captain Dylan Hawke ran beneath the hot October sun, away from the camp and out into the desert. Behind her, in the distance, she'd left the Army outpost, a sprinkling of tan colored tents and olive drab vehicles, low, flat and nearly invisible in the Saudi Desert. Far ahead she could see a ridge sloping upward.
Her First Sergeant, 1SG James Beckham had done recon for the area when they first arrived. He verified the location of a spring fed oasis and possibly some caves in the foothills, which she hadn't yet verified. The existence of the oasis bore examination and after a day like today, was too tempting to delay.
She swore as she stopped and fell to her knees, exhausted. The oasis, at the foot of the dune, was the only fresh water for miles around. Dylan knew that the nomads of the area stopped and drank from the cool water occasionally, but today, she had the pool to herself.
"That was so stupid." Dylan coughed the dry air from her throat.
She shook her head slowly knowing better than to run in the extreme heat. But she had needed to get away, to feel her muscles move, to spend some time in solitude.
Shifting from her knees, Dylan turned onto her rear and slid down the embankment a bit until she came to rest with her back against the side of the dune. Here, she could take advantage of the shade the tiny sand hill offered. She sat with her legs bent and her arms extended to rest on the tan knees of her BDU trousers. Bowing her head, she sucked in the sweltering air. Finally, she glanced up to watch as the sun glittered on the water, causing it to shimmer like a mirage. The oasis was a minor miracle in this part of the desert. A deep blue pool bordered on one side by steep cream colored rocky hills pitted with caves and dense brush and on the other by smooth hot sand dunes dotted with tall swaying desert palms, the center stirred by the bubbling of the underground spring. It was a dream to her tired, heated body. She was surprised at how exhausted she felt. The hot, humid summers spent in her home in North Carolina had prepared her for heat, but not for this dry, desolate waste of barren land. Every breath was like inhaling the hot sand; every blink reminded her of how fast her eyes dried and to keep her sunglasses handy. Luckily she didn't seem to burn, her naturally tanned skin simply darkened a bit more under the unforgiving sun, turning a burnished bronze.
Turning her head and unable to see past the next hill, her searching eyes saw only the vast nothingness.
'Here I am thousands of miles from home, in some God forsaken land, training green troops.'
She shook her head, in disbelief.
'I can't believe I asked for this. Next time, I'd better be more careful what I wish for.' She grinned.
'Damn, the Chinese sure knew what they were doing with that proverb. I'm sticky, hot, tired and figure I probably smell strong enough to attract any interested male camels within 100 miles. Not to mention I've got sand in places that God just didn't intend sand to go.'
That was really the main reason she was here. She rested, catching her breath and waiting for the sun to dip behind the ridge to the west and for the water of the spring fed pool in front of her to cool enough for bathing. While she waited, Dylan tried to explain to her ever-active mind the sense of urgency she still felt, her overwhelming need to leave the camp.
'I'm not sure what's going on, but I know it wasn't a sudden desire for better hygiene.'
She'd been jumpy all day, biting off the heads of any soldier stupid enough not to recognize the signs of a woman on the warpath. The hair at the nape of her neck tingled; all her instincts were on full alert, warning her. Something was wrong, she just didn't know what. All she did know was she needed to get away for a while to think. She couldn't breathe there, surrounded by millions of tons of sand. Everything seemed to be closing in on her in the camp. It really didn't make any sense; she had always been comfortable around this type of environment. The men, the activity, the smell of gun oil and gasoline; it was all…normal, safe, home to her. That thought really surprised her.
'The Army is home. ' she smiled. "Still," she thought, the smile fading, "something is not quite right." She just couldn't put her finger on it. Yet.
Dylan pushed the worrisome feeling aside and with a sigh and a deep breath, she stood. Brushing the sand off her rear she made her way to the edge of the pool. Kneeling, she extended a hand into the sun-heated water it was still overly warm.
'It's either this or let the troops know when I'm coming from the smell, which would probably arrive a good five minutes before me.' She chuckled.
Closing her eyes, Dylan concentrated, "seeing" with her other senses. This was a skill taught to her by her grandfather, the tribal War Chief of the Cherokee Nation, back in the Piedmonts of North Carolina. Her grandfather had taken the elected position quite seriously and made it a point to insure that all the young men of the tribe were taught the old ways. He once explained to her that the young people of the community needed to learn something about their heritage and themselves. He re-instated the training of young men as warriors and often took groups of them on summer-long camping trips into the hills. They dressed in traditional buckskin, carrying only bows, arrows and a small blanket. They learned to live off the land, just as their ancestors, hundreds of years before them. He instilled in them a sense of pride and self-reliance. Dylan spent more than one long hard spring begging, persuading and bribing him into allowing her to attend the training sessions. He finally, reluctantly, agreed and was both amused and proud to discover that his granddaughter out performed all the young bucks of the tribe, a feat he bragged about to this day.
Focusing inward, on her senses, she cocked her head to the side.
'Don't hear anything out of the ordinary.' She breathed deeply. 'No strange smells.' She opened her eyes. 'No startled critters, coast clear.'
She reached down and removed her tan boots and socks; being careful to stuff a sock inside each boot to prevent any crawly visitors from setting up housekeeping in her footgear. She shrugged out of her LBE [load-bearing equipment] rolling the beige suspenders neatly and laying them across the toes of the boots. Next she unbuttoned the BDU [battle dress uniform] shirt, slipping it down bronzed arms and rolling it into a neat package as well. She stuffed the rolled outer shirt into a boot top to keep it out of the sand and free of sand fleas.
'LBE, BDU, God, does the Army love acronyms? Everything gets a new name. I bet they would name bras something really weird.'
She mused to herself as she removed, first, her tan undershirt and then the beige bra.
'Hmm, FTBSG. Yep, that works. Female Tactical Boob Suspension Gear.'
She chuckled, placed the bra on top of her undershirt and removed her pistol and belt. She paused, checking the pistol to ensure the safety was on, re-holstered it, and placed it neatly across the LBE on the toes of the boots but well within lunging distance of the pool's edge. Pulling off her trousers, she reached into one of the large cargo pockets on the side of one pant leg and removed a two-inch square cake of soap and a washcloth. She stripped out of her panties, rolled the last two items up with her bra and slipped them into the other boot.
The tall Military Police officer stood on long, tapered legs and stretched, flexing taut muscles beneath smooth skin. Arms raised, she reached for the sun, feeling her spine pop as the vertebrate re-aligned.
"Ugh," she groaned in relief.
Unpinning her hair, she tossed the glossy length of it back over her shoulders. Letting her arms drop, she shook them as she stepped toward the gently rippling surface of the pool. She stopped to glance at the lightly shimmering reflection.
'Not bad for and old war horse.'
The woman reflected back at her from the water was tall, almost six feet, sleek, and toned. Blue-black hair had been cut into efficient bangs over raven wing eyebrows now arching as she stared into her own reflection. Long hair, released from its pins, tumbled past her shoulders, sections falling forward to conceal full firm breasts and tickling a lean muscular back before reaching the slim, tapering waist. The face shimmering up at her was striking: high cheekbones, chiseled features, and coral lips. She stared for another moment, and then shook her head, wishing again for the gentle brown eyes of her mother's people. Instead, what she saw were startling ice blue eyes, standing out sharply against bronze features, a constant reminder of her father. She shrugged sleek, powerful shoulders and stepped into the water.
'Bathing in a pool of water in the middle of the desert, who would have thought it?'
She smiled and lowered herself until she lay in the shallows. Leaning back, she let the water bear her weight, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her breasts and the warm water on her back. She soaked up the heat, letting the clear water melt away the salty sweat. Stretching her arms out, with a smile of pure bliss on her lips, she thought she probably looked like some sort of ancient primal sun worshiper. Resting the washcloth and soap on her stomach, Dylan floated, almost dozing off.
'God, this really feels great. I know there is a lot to get done today, but I really needed this.'
She thought about the things she wanted to accomplish: find a new field location with better strategic opportunity for the next field exercise, make her daily report to COL Gerry Fowler, Commander of the 159th MP Battalion, her immediate supervisor and call for more supplies. They were low on training ammo, barbed concertina wire and MRE's.
'Damn those MRE's, they should be called corks in a bag. Can't go to the field without those damn Meals Ready to Eat killing my stomach. Oh well, if there's any time left maybe Top and I can speak to some of the locals. Hopefully we can get some real food, before we go check out those caves.'
Dylan made it a rule to learn as much about the native culture and language as possible whenever she was in a foreign country. It seemed to help relax the locals when you spoke the language, especially once they found out you were a cop - and a military cop on top of it all.
'No matter where ya go in the world people just can't seem to get over the 'cop' issue. Male, female, black, white, no real biggie, they eventually adjust, but be a cop…man, then they freak for sure.' She smiled. Chuckling, she closed her eyes against the sun's nearly blinding glare.
Finally finished with her sun bathing she stood, wrapped the washcloth around the small bar of soap and began scrubbing the dirt from her now relaxed body. After bathing, Dylan rolled back into the water's warm embrace.
'Oh well, better not stay too long or they'll send out a search party looking for me. Now there's a thought.' She grinned, imagining Top's face if he ever caught her out of uniform. Literally. 'He'd probably die of apoplexy.'
She snickered, but realized that she shouldn't be so hard on her first Sergeant. He really was a competent soldier and she liked him. Lately she had relinquished more responsibility to him as the trust and mutual respect grew.
It took her some time to get over his reason for being assigned to her unit; after all, he hadn't asked to baby-sit her. The smile disappeared as she thought of her over-protective, status oriented, and self-serving father.
'Father? Hell, more like a sperm donor.'
A sneer came, unbidden, to the beautiful features. Her father had "requested" that First Sergeant Beckham be assigned to her unit and his primary mission was to keep a watchful eye on one Captain Dylan Hawke. Beckham was a well-educated, specially trained, and very highly decorated and overly qualified Military Police officer. His area of expertise Personal Security, and she was after all, the Senator's only child and a political asset to boot.
She sighed in resignation. Ever since the man rediscovered his daughter, at the tender age of fifteen, Senator Cameron was determined to be a part of her life. It had been a while, since he decided that politics were more important than family and had distanced himself from his wife and daughter.
Years ago, when he was in the early stages of his career, an interracial marriage was considered political suicide, so he told everyone that his wife had disappeared following a tragic accident. Later, when it became 'fashionable' to be associated with blacks, Native Americans and other minorities, his missing wife was suddenly "discovered", safe, with her mother and grandfather on a small reservation in the Carolina Mountains. The "mystery" of her disappearance was swept under the rug and the 'lost' family was reunited.
Initially, Dylan was thrilled to discover that, like the other kids at her school, she had a father. That, however, only lasted until she became aware of his true feelings.
He forbid her to attend her grandfather's classes, believing it was inappropriate for a young girl, insisting that she take more feminine instruction instead. He forced her into singing classes and ballet. Though she loved the singing classes, she hated her ballet instructor to no end, often driving her to tears, showing up for class in full traditional brave regalia, including loincloth. She did it all to simply piss her father off. He often dressed her up but in frilly ruffled dresses and patent leather shoes. He paraded her out for the cameras at every opportunity. During the years she'd been without him, she had dreamed of meeting him, of being his girl and doing things together. Then he entered her life and changed everything she knew. Suddenly, he wanted to be the perfect daddy with the perfect family.
She hated those early days but Dylan grinned remembering one final 'exhibition.'
Her father had been exhilarated, Dylan was turning into a beautiful young woman and he was looking forward to a family photo shoot. He contacted the appropriate newspapers, and magazines and was once again, greasing the wheels of the political locomotive.
He was on the fast track, until he discovered his little darlin' liked girls. Guess he figured having a gay daughter wasn't good for his political career.
Reflecting quietly, she thought back again to the pivotal incident.
It was the day after her eighteenth birthday. She had failed to present the appropriate, sweet little mixed breed picture her "Daddy" wanted. Instead, she showed up in tight jeans, cowboy boots and a traditional native beaded shirt. With a few "modifications": it was missing half the front and all of the back. She was eighteen and as far as she was concerned, a grown woman. She'd planned to party with her school friends. Unfortunately, she neglected to explain her plans to her father, who had arranged for a publicity photographer to take pictures of the elaborate party he'd planned. In his anger he struck her, leaving a vivid red handprint on her cheek. He then restricted her to her room without benefit of friends, presents or even so much as a hug from her mother.
That evening Dylan sat in front of her computer screen reading a hot lesbian love story, one of her favorites, Mysti: Mistress of Dreams. She sat eating chips and sucking on a Dr. Pepper glued to the screen and had just gotten to a steamy scene involving a sofa pit group when her phone rang. She jumped onto the bed, reaching for the bright red M&M shaped phone. Hoping that it was one of her friends offering to rescue her from the boredom of the four walls. Leaving the story in plain sight on the screen, she lay on her stomach, feet kicking the air, talking to her running buddy. She became so engrossed in the conversation she completely forgot she hadn't locked her door. It's amazing how fast your heart can beat and still stay in your chest. The bedroom door burst open. Her father stood there, fists balled up and firmly planted on his self-righteous hips.
"You young lady, are not allowed to have any entertainment when you are grounded, that means no phone calls and no... WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!"
He pointed to the monitor. Turning her head to look at what had caught his attention, immediately a rather graphic description of the 'activities' of the two women on the sofa jumped out at her.
Well, she'd thought of coming out with her parents but this was not exactly the way she planned to do it. She had two options and neither was good. In addition to all that, she was still angry over the slap. So, reacting instinctively to the verbal attack, she responded, as usual, without thinking.
"Well, Father, what confuses you the most? The fact that it's two women or the fact that they're enjoying it?"
Her father hit the roof. Her mother, entering the room after hearing all the screaming, saw the monitor and began to cry. Her grandfather, the only one who as far as she was concerned, may voice an opinion that mattered, stood with his arm encircling her shoulder in silent support. He seemed unsurprised and was taking it all in stride.
Following a tirade of abusive language slung thoughtlessly from both sides Dylan stormed out of the house. Her father screamed at her mother blaming her grandfather for her "unnatural" behavior. Her mother cried and her grandfather simply sat on the porch ignoring it all, smoking a pipe and waited for her to return. Hours later an exhausted miserable birthday girl dragged her feet up the walk and into the caring arms of her grandfather. He hugged her and murmured words of comfort into her hair. She had come to a hard decision on that long walk.
Though Dylan loved her mother and her grandfather, she knew that in order to live she needed her freedom. She glanced up at her grandfather through tear filled eyes and silently said good-bye. That was the last time she spoke to her father and the last day she was home. That evening she packed a small bag, and under the cover of darkness, slipped quietly out of the house. Dylan Elizabeth Cameron ran away from home.
She legally changed her name, abandoning her father's name of Cameron in favor of her mother's name, Hawke. Dylan Cameron walked into that courthouse; but a very independent Dylan Hawke walked out. She turned and headed down the sidewalk, directly behind the courthouse, and into the Army recruiting station.
The rejection of her father to her lifestyle and his use of her heritage for political gain affected her more than even she wanted to admit. She joined the Army to escape his always critical and oftentimes harshly judgmental eye, to escape a man she had once fervently prayed to meet.
She still remembered that night, the muggy pine scented air, the smell of her grandfather, the horse leather and constant scent of apple and cherry flavored tobacco. If she closed her eyes she could still smell him. She smiled at the thought.
Dylan moved up quickly in the ranks, senior Non-Commissioned Officers saw her potential and recommended her for OCS [Officer's Candidate School]. At the tender age of 21, she graduated at the top 5% of her class. When she pinned on the bars of a Second Lieutenant, virtually no one knew she was the daughter of Senator John Cameron: Senior Senator of North Carolina and closet Homophobic.
Dylan was given her choice of assignments. For women there were only two combat arms branches open, Field Artillery and Air Defense Artillery. Neither of which drew her attention. She wasn't sure of what she wanted. She just knew that she wanted to make a difference. She placed her request and kept her fingers crossed. Her MOS came back, she was a 31A, she, was a Military Police Officer.
Her assignment to the Corp meant yet another hill to climb. Women were rarely seen in the Corp, and successful minority women were few and far between. Simply put, Dylan Hawke was an anomaly. Her father's position could have made it easier in many aspects. But she had met other junior officers who had risen in the ranks on the shoulder boards of some high-ranking family member. She wanted nothing to do with that. The Army would make or break her but, either way, she would have only herself to blame or congratulate. The people who mattered to her were those she considered real soldiers and career officers. To those people the fact that she was the daughter of a US Senator would have made her life miserable. She knew that the respect she now enjoyed was all hers. She knew she had earned it on her own. It was not the result of her father's position.
Throughout her career, she had been careful to keep her relationships quiet. She enjoyed a lot of popularity with the ladies. The military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy made her lifestyle a moot point as long as she was discrete…and she was.
Lying back in the warm water of the desert oasis, the beautiful woman contemplated her career and decided that she was happy with things just the way they were. Returning to the moment at hand, she reluctantly but realistically considered her bath.
'Well, if I stay in here any longer I'll get water logged and sink.'
Dylan sighed and swam towards the shore. Reaching the bank she stood for a moment, the warm water sliding from her sleek form and glittering on her skin. Turning a smiling face upwards to the sun she thanked the silent spirits for the warm day, and walked gracefully to her clothes. Pausing by the small tan pile she shook her hands to rid them of the remaining drops of water.
That is when she realized she had forgotten one critical thing: 'Humm, no towel, drip dry.'
She reached for her clothes and dressed quickly. Dusting off her BDU's, she adjusted the pistol on her hip, and started back towards the camp. Cap less, she strolled through the deep sand letting the slight wind pick up and dry her hair.
Having finally crested the hill she paused, twisting the long glossy length of hair into a neat braid tying the end securely with a piece of leather. Standing and looking down on her home, she paused, remembering her first sighting of the camp's location. She had arrived two days earlier, selecting the site, which was just northwest of the town of Riyadh. Forty-five soldiers, including a very young Second Lieutenant, her First Sergeant, two NCO's and four Corporals had accompanied her and the enlisted men, many of which were new to the Military. Four HUMMV's, with six half-ton trucks full of men, gear and equipment all took the bumpy ride out to the site. There were also two ancient jeeps, one for her and one for her First Sergeant, which led the way. Truth be told, she still preferred that old reliable Army workhorse to the HUMMER. The old jeep was lacking in suspension as well as all the modern bells and whistles. It was very small, and as a result, it was able to get into spaces that the wider Hummer just couldn't go. It rarely broke down and had no need for special adjustments to deal with the excessive sand, just put fuel in it and go. Plus she could drive the hell out of it and not worry about lost pay for damages.
Gotta love the old 'yeep.'
She grinned, nearly skipping as she trotted down the hill and towards the camp.
The small training camp was well camouflaged, the netting and tan coloring made it nearly impossible to see from above, and difficult at best from a distance. As she approached the busy sight she could make out the shape of one large tent, which they used for briefings, meals and general operations. Nearby sat a mid-sized tent, which served as a command post and commo center. Her spacious Commander's tent was on the other side and several smaller tents encircled that. Concertina wire, its sharp, razor-like blades glittering dangerously in the sun, surrounded the perimeter, completely enclosing the site. All in all, it seemed to be a secure location.
As she approached the edge of the well organized camp she reached into her cargo pocket again, coming out with her sunglasses and headgear, each a necessity in the glaring desert sun. She entered the busy site by way of one of the two entry/egress breaks in the concertina wire, unaware of the relieved looks from her soldiers. Several had seen the Captain leave the area, and though it was not an uncommon practice for her, they were concerned when she remained gone for so long. They knew that she was more than capable to taking care of herself, but that did not stop them from worrying.
For most of her men, she was the first female commander they had ever served under. Most of the soldiers were from NATO countries. Many having never seen a woman in pants, much less one in command of a unit that actually had the firepower and killing capability of a Military Police Company. Dylan was actually the first woman who had ever been assigned to this type of unit, though she had been training troops for two years and had established an impeccable reputation for success. The protective streak in the all-male NCO ranks came out in full force. When they were informed that they were getting a new command and 'HE' was a 'SHE' they were concerned to say the least. Eventually the post commander called a special briefing of the Senior NCO in the Company and appraised them of her many skills and training. Though they read all the qualifications they were still unsure. After their first look at her the instinct to protect came out in full force. Even now, they felt the inherent need to protect her. Many still remembered their first encounter with the tall, deadly beauty.
They were all selected for a new experimental NATO training program. The installation had cleared a section of post barracks and the new NATO troops arrived early that morning. The NCO's met them and they were in the process of settling in when they were called out of the barracks to stand in formation in the hot desert sun. Everyone knew that the unit had been assigned a woman commander and were told that, though she was definitely female, due to her position, she was also definitely off limits. The First Sergeant had gone so far as to tell them, that not only was she brig bait, but she was also out of their league. This alone made the junior NCO's begin to grumble. Many voiced their opinions of females in the Army and a few made crude suggestions about positions they felt were much more appropriate for females in general, all to the chuckles and jibes of their comrades. The laughter quickly died down when they noticed the approaching First Sergeant.
The First Sergeant was trailing a tall, dark woman in tan BDU's. The first thing they all noticed was her walk. She moved with a graceful, powerful stride that gave the immediate impression she knew exactly where she was going and what she would do when she got there. The next, and far more obvious thing they noticed was her height: she was very tall and very well built. The smiles and chuckles began again but were quickly squelched when she removed her sunglasses and stared at the laughing offenders with one raised, dark eyebrow over startling crystal blue eyes. She simply stood there in front of the formation, her hands behind her back and waited.
They all felt the chill as she stared into each and every soldier's eye, or at least that's the way it felt. She gave them all a quirky half smile and, placing her balled up fists on her hips, stated in a clear, calm voice:
"All right, I know you were expecting something a little different but you got me, so let's try to get along, shall we?"
The Motor Sergeant, who was the main offender in leading the crude remarks, grunted and sneered.
"I ain't working in the field with no damned woman." He mumbled just loud enough to be heard by the tall Commander.
"You got a problem with me Sarge?"
The Captain asked, turning icy daggers towards the hulking figure of her new Motor Sergeant.
"Let's get it out in the open, shall we? Let's meet in the Fitness Center at 1800 and you can explain it to me."
The First Sergeant tried to change her mind and forewarn her that the Motor Sergeant was known as a bar room brawler, who never ever fought fair.
The beautiful woman simply said, "Good, I need the work out." Giving the First Sergeant a toothy smile that did not reach her sparkling blue eyes.
The word got out that the beautiful new MP Captain was going to 'talk' to the Motor Sergeant at 1800 and the betting was on. Dylan arrived in the gym in her green BDU's with a green and gold MP gym bag slung over her shoulder. The Motor Sergeant was there dressed in his gray ARMY sweats. Captain Hawke slipped into the women's locker room and changed into her favorite shirt. Pembroke State University was emblazoned in bright gold over the black cotton across her chest, and a pair of soft gray Army shorts hugged her slim thighs.
She stepped out of the locker room unaware that her long tanned legs were drawing admiring glances from both the male and female inhabitants. Stepping barefoot onto the blue mat in the center of the gym floor, she began to stretch.
The Motor Sergeant snickered and nudged his cronies but Dylan dutifully ignored them and continued her stretching. As she stood and turned toward the NCO the smile that played on her lips was anything but pleasant.
"Well, Sarge, you had something you wanted to talk to me about, didn't you?" She asked.
The Sergeant made a great show of flexing his shoulders and rolling his head around on his stump of a neck. Grinning at the tall, lean woman before him, he reached for her with one meaty hand and suddenly realized that he was no longer standing. As a matter of fact, his view of the world had completely shifted. He was laying, flat on his back, staring at the iron girders lining the gym ceiling while a slim foot rested on his throat and a pair of ice blue eyes looked down at him.
"You want to try that again? I don't think I quite heard you the first time."
Came the deep contralto voice from far above him. Even he could hear the laughter in it.
He rose cautiously to his feet and turned his back on her, faking confusion. It was a move he had used successfully in the past. Spinning quickly, he swung, anticipating the feel of his powerful fist striking flesh. The problem was, there was no one there. Dylan dropped quickly to a squat, allowing the arm to pass over her harmlessly, and rose as the sergeant's momentum threw him off balance. Bringing up one powerful leg, she spun and caught him on the right side of the head, staggering him. Dylan followed through with a leaping front kick taking the stunned NCO to the mat. Straddling his chest with her knees, she pinned his shoulders to the mat and a pressed a forearm into his throat.
The Sergeant looked up at the grinning MP and smiled in chagrin and defeat. Dylan folded her arms over her chest and sat back, still resting on the soldier's chest.
"Truce?" She had asked, offering a hand out.
"Beer Ma'am?" He offered grasping the hand with a grudging smile.
That was almost two years ago and she had trained several units since then. The story had been passed from training group to training group, passed on by, of all people, the Motor Sergeant. He bragged that he had been the first one to make the Captain prove herself. He took such extreme pride in that fact, that he felt obligated to defend her honor whenever he heard a slanderous remark about her, or thought he did, much to Dylan's chagrin. Now he had an excuse for the bar fights, he was defending the honor of his very own, 'Damn fine, whip ass Commander.'
Yes, they all knew how deadly she could be but were still amazed.
"How could anything that looked that good be soooo bad?"
The soldiers were confident in the ability of the Captain to protect them and they all agreed it didn't hurt one bit that the officer was easy on the eyes.
As Dylan approached the First Sergeant, she noticed he was observing a block of instructions on the use of Night Vision Devices [NVD's]. She liked him, he was a competent soldier, and she smiled, realizing, she really enjoyed working with him. Early in her career, she made it a point to know those soldiers she had close or constant contact with. In learning about her "Top" she had discovered some amusing things. The man was a Porsche junkie; he couldn't seem to get enough of them. He had a collection of small matchbox sized cars that traveled to every duty station with him. On payday, if you wanted to find him, look in the nearest bookstore or magazine stand in the car section. If you ever wanted to get on his good side, or to distract him from some unpleasant repercussions, just bring up, say a 1967 Carrera, then stand back and be prepared to be fascinated, or at least pretend to be. Off he would go, on a three-hour one-way discussion. Between his beloved collection and his habit of constantly chewing gum - he swore it kept him from smoking - he reminded her of an over-sized teenager. His chestnut hair was now liberally sprinkled with gray but his care-worn face still showed signs of the telltale freckles he sported in abundance as a child.
Noticing her silent arrival, he turned and nodded in deference to her rank. She insisted that they not salute her when out on a training mission. Her thoughts were that these men were training to provide security, and saluting a senior officer in the field also let anyone watching know that this was a superior. It would mark them as someone of rank and importance, someone for an unseen sniper to target.
"Evening' Capn." He drawled in his mid-Western accent.
"Evening Top, how are things going?" She inquired.
"'Bout as well as can be expected." He sighed in resignation.
They both turned to watch the firing of the soldiers. Wearing the heavy odd NVD's was something that took some getting use to. Still, the soldiers were doing very well.
They looked at each other and grinned, knowing this group was far more advanced than the last one they'd trained and they were silently pleased with their progress so far. It was a hidden pride they shared in secret, and they were unwilling to let the troops in on it just yet, for fear that they would get cocky and let up on their training.
"All right then, keep at it Top."
She turned her back to the troops, giving her First Sergeant a grin and a wink as she strolled off towards her tent.
She passed First Lieutenant Milner along the way. Stopping to speak to the young officer, she was pleased to note, he was checking his copy of the small map they all carried and marking off the location of the caves she was interested in. The Lieutenant was an earnest young man anxious to make an impression on the stalwart Captain. He followed her around like a puppy, looking for a home. He emulated her every move, decision and action. Milner was a fresh faced, 'California boy', he reminded Dylan of a poster child for clean living. His brown hair, streaked with red from the sun, intensified his sparkling green eyes. He was a highly educated young man having attended Clemson University in South Carolina. He was also diehard Tiger fan and simple doted on anything related to them. The youngest of three children, all boys, he was raised a Marine Corp brat. His upbringing was staunch and regimental. It was a surprise to learn he had such an outgoing personality, but his home training was all Corp. How he ended up in the Army was beyond her. The kid was amazing, it seemed that no matter where he was or what type of situation he was in, he always managed to appear freshly pressed.
'That is just too freaky for words.'
Dylan thought, shaking her head and continuing on to her quarters.
'Since the LT marked the caves on the grid map, maybe I'll take the him with me instead of the Top.'
She was still considering this as she ducked her head to enter her tent. She pulled her own map from her cargo pocket and traced an imaginary line from the camp to the hills where she had been told the caves were located. She dropped the map on the bed and turned. Grabbing her duffel bag, she lifted it to the bed and began searching for a flashlight and the ancient Bowie knife given to her by her grandfather. Suddenly that eerie sense of: 'something is wrong' returned, with a vengeance. The hackles rose on her neck and her head jerked up, as her focus immediately centered on her hearing.
"What the Hell…? A tank? Here? We didn't plan for any tanks."
Dropping the bag, she kicked it under her cot and ran from the tent, eyes frantically searching. Not seeing her Top she called to the Lieutenant.
"Milner, report! Where the devil are you? Milner!"
'Who the Hell is driving a tank through my camp?'
The rapid popping of automatic rifle fire caused a dark brow to rise.
'We're under attack! Who the fuck are these guys?'
Her eyes widened in alarm as she watched the red streak of tracers illuminating the camp in twilight, whistling through the air like strange evening birds. The sight was terrifyingly beautiful. Turning, she ducked back into her tent and snapped up her M16, she checked the magazine to verify that it was packed. She reached for the extra clip, for her 9mm, and any other ammo she could find. She stuffed it all into a cargo pocket. As she stepped back out she heard it, the rattling cough of machine gun fire nearby and realized her men were engaging the attackers. She needed to locate Top. Remembering the location of the NVD class she ducked and headed in that direction. Her feet pounded the ground and her heart raced as she searched the area for her senior NCO. Hearing the growling voice of the 1SGT, she turned on the speed and angled toward the sound. She knew she had to pass the communications tent to get there, so she made a mad dash towards it, hoping to contact Post Headquarters and call for support. She entered and saw the LT on the mic apparently speaking to HQ. His voice was rapid and clear. He appeared frightened but continued to provide information. Dylan listened as he described the attackers and the firepower he was aware of.
'My God! We are in deep shit here.'
Dylan thought, she knew better than to voice her concern.
"Good man, LT, we need some back up, we're out gunned. They have at least one 50 caliber mounted on the tank and apparently the big gun is working. I'm not sure how exactly many enemy soldiers there are. It looks like we may be on equal footing where our numbers is concerned. Our troops seem to be holding their own, but I'm not sure how long we can hold out. We don't have the ammo for a sustained fight. Give them our grid coordinates and you men get the hell out of here."
Turning to head back out she first checked for the all clear, glancing around she saw something that made her skin crawl. More enemy soldiers were coming over the rise. The attackers were definitely Arabs, some wore Eastern Block BDU's but the majority was dressed in desert robes, blacks, tans, and brown. Most wore boots with cloth leggings, their heads covered in old BDU caps or turbans. They crested the hill in ragged formation, some with sabers, others carrying vintage carbine rifles. Still others were armed with modern Tech 5 sub-machine guns. The strange hodge-podge of men and weapons seemed endless. Dylan turned back to the Lieutenant,
"Correction LT," she yelled back over her shoulder. "Were out-gunned and out-manned, at least three to one. Tell them to get their asses here pronto or there won't be a here to salvage. I'm heading to the NVD training site to get Top. Do you still have your terrain map?"
The young man nodded his hand still holding the mobile phone to his ear.
"Good, when you finish here, gather whoever you can find and destroy what you can't carry. Try to bring the portable commo equipment. I'm going to get the troops and Top and we'll regroup in the caves. You got that LT?"
She waited for the nod before she ducked and exited the tent. Running low she now headed towards the HUMMV's. That being the last place she heard Top's voice. She glanced over her shoulder, at the commo tent and watched in utter disbelief as the enemy's tank turned its big gun and let loose. The tent exploded in a flashing ball of fire. Flaming canvas drifted to the earth, like dancing scarlet butterflies.
Caught in the horrid beauty of destruction, Dylan was momentarily distracted by the shivering earth and charred smell of burning flesh.
"MILNER!!! Those mother…"
She never finished the sentence, a chilling sound stopped her: the grinding of the turret as the tank turned its smaller gun turned towards her.
'RUN!' Her mind screamed, as she turned and raced towards the Motor pool.
The First Sergeant looked up, startled by the explosion of the communication tent. He had gathered the soldiers who were training, and had taken up a secure location behind a HUMMER. He was reloading his M16 when he saw her. Jumping quickly to his feet he sprinted towards her. The instant he reached her, he tackled her, throwing her to the ground, hard.
She felt him tackle her, knocking the wind from her as she hit the ground and rolled. As soon as they stopped moving he threw himself on top of her, putting her body completely beneath him. His body jerked and shuddered as rounds penetrated his back. Feeling the jarring of the body suddenly on top of her, Dylan grabbed the man's arms and looked upward into his surprised brown eyes. The courageous NCO stared down at his Captain, a look of intense shock and pain frozen on his face, then his eyes stilled and glazed over.
Dylan grimaced as she wriggled and crawled out from beneath the dead man on her chest, realizing he had just saved her life.
Climbing to her feet, she grabbed the fallen man's rifle and looked up, her eyes widened at the sight that greeted her: chaos. She swallowed her shock and fear, gathering her strength and wits, and headed at a dead run towards the NCO's tents. Dylan knew she had two options, she could allow the fear to have full rein and run for her life or gather her courage and take action. The first was out of the question; the second was possible suicide. She looked around as she ran and allowed anger to be her guide. A red heat began to build in her heart and mind. She knew that if she gave in to it; to the hatred that was quickly growing, her actions would be irrational… and fatal. She thought back to her training and her other option, use the anger and hate. She could destroy them with it.
The tank, followed by several rough-looking soldiers in ragged uniforms, was now rolling through the center of camp, cutting down everything in its path. She ran weaving and dodging around fallen men, smoke and debris, stopping only long enough to drag a mobile radio from a dead soldier. She looked around for the remainder of her men. Spotting some by the Field Motor Pool she yelled in their direction.
"Come this way! We have to move out! Now!!"
'Got to regroup,' she thought. 'Then set up for a counter attack, if there are enough of us left to counter attack.'
"DAMN, these guys just keep coming!"
She exclaimed to no one in particular, staring in disbelief, as even more dirty enemy soldiers seemed to grow from the sand.
Having gathered the men she could find, she headed towards the low-lying hills in search of the caves the First Sergeant had mentioned earlier. Cursing under her breath for having left her terrain map in her tent. She knew she could not go back for it but she needed to get her men to safety. She concentrated on "seeing" the Lieutenant's map in her mind's eye, remembering the location he had marked for the caves. She reached down and grabbing a burned piece of tent canvas, she threw it over the concertina wire and led her remaining troops toward the center of the hills, fairly sure of where she was going.
Dylan could hear her breath coming in heaving pants; she could feel her heart thudding in her chest at the exertion and strain of the fight. Her head pounded from the sound of the cannon fire, or her own heartbeat, she could not be sure. What she was sure of; was that her eyes seemed to see everything in red and she was almost too angry to realize what she was doing. The men following her rushed through low-lying bushes, up a rocky hill and finally into the mouth of a small cave, falling to the ground inside, happy to be out of the line of fire. Dylan used the last of her strength to guard the entrance. Going in last, she staggered to a stop. Falling to her knees, her rifle was clutched tightly in one hand while the other, trembling, still locked itself around the radio. Glancing down at the gear, she noticed the radio had taken a direct hit. Now it was just an expensive doorstop. Tossing the useless equipment aside she straightened pulled herself to her feet and turned towards the cave mouth.
She stood; staring in shock as the ragged enemy herded the soldiers they captured into a group, turning the heavy turret-mounted 50 caliber towards the unarmed and utterly defenseless prisoners. Then she heard it, the distinct bark of the big 50-caliber machine gun and the horrifying screams of dying men. Her dying men.
"NO!" Dylan yelled as she lunged towards the mouth of the cave.
The shocked surviving soldiers tackled and held her to the ground, despite her valiant struggle.
A Corporal, placing his hands on either side of her face, shouted:
"NO Ma'am, no, you can't go out there! You can't help them. You can't help them now. You have to help us! Do you hear me? We need you! We need you, Captain!"
Dylan stopped struggling. She stared at the young NCO and realized he was right. Getting captured or killed would do no good.
Dylan lowered her head knowing that any rescue attempt was useless. The men were dead.
"Let me up," she said. "Now!"
Struggling to her feet again, she staggered back to the mouth of the cave. Her insides rolled with tension as her eyes took in the sight. She stepped farther outside, clutching onto the rock face as she leaned forward emptying her stomach into the small bushes near the cave's entrance. Even with her eyes closed, she could still see the ragged bleeding bodies everywhere. Smoke rose from the burning camp as tents were searched, evacuated and set afire. More men in ragged robes began yelling at the arsonists and the flames were quickly doused. That did not stop the cheering sounds of jubilation and triumph coming from the rag tag group of invaders.
Dylan watched it all, her eyes roaming the devastation. Tan BDU's splattered with blood, the torn cloth shifting gently in the light breeze of early evening, the enemy searching the still warm bodies. She heard the rough sounds of the victors, her shaken mind unable or unwilling to translate. Her throat still burned from throwing up, her mouth was parched from gasping the dry air and her eyes hurt from holding back tears. Her head was pounding from the fear, anxiety and hatred she was feeling - all at the same time. The smell of burning flesh and gunpowder singed her nostrils as she inhaled great lungs full of foul air. Fists balled in tension and rage at her sides as she stared at her camp, her men, and her home: all violated.
The faint sound of footsteps caught her attention; there was movement in the bushes below. She watched as three figures emerged, two were dragging a blackened third between them. As they approached, Dylan recognized the red sun streaked hair of the Lieutenant.
"We need some help here." She bellowed over her shoulder, rushing forward to help.
Two young troops were dragging the fallen man; they were battered and filthy. The shock and strain of their flight was evident on their faces.
Dylan reached them first. Relieving one of the soldiers of his burden she reached down and grabbed the young Milner under the arm, seeing for the first time the horribly burned face, the tattered remains of his uniform and the blank stare in his green eyes.
Locking her jaw in determination, she strained as she lifted the dead weight and moved forward. Other troops from the sanctuary came and lifted the young mans legs as they shuffled forward finally reaching the safety of the cave.
Laying the Officer down gently on the powdered sand, Dylan called over the only remaining medic. The Corporal bent over the young man examining his wounds, then lifted sad eyes.
"Sorry Ma'am, he's gone."
Dylan glanced back down, then out again at the camp. Terrorists laughed as they kicked and prodded the bodies of the dead soldiers, unaware of the piercing blue eyes that were watching and planning.
The sun finally set and Dylan sat staring silently into the small fire in the back of the cave. The men sat nearby cleaning the virtually useless weapons. They didn't talk, they didn't whisper, they were silent in their shock. They were using shirts, undershirts and even caps to rub the dirt off of the weapons. It didn't do much good but it gave them something to concentrate on rather than think about the death below at the foot of the hills. They had almost no bullets but they still struggled to remove every speck of dust and sand. It wasn't a matter of making sure they were functioning properly, after all, what good were guns without bullets and the escape had used up nearly all of theirs. Still they continued, gaining some small measure of comfort in the routine as they silently watched and waited for the Captain to tell them what to do.
Dylan had not moved, had not so much as blinked, in what seemed like hours. Slowly she stood, her head bowed, her eyes half closed in slits, staring down into the fire. Finally, she turned and moved to squat near a pile of equipment. Methodically searching the gear, she pulled out two grenades, attaching them to the suspenders of her LBE. Standing, she adjusted her holster and pistol then jumped up and down, settling the additional equipment and checking for rattles. Looking up, she motioned for the Corporal. Squatting again, she picked up a canteen and poured some of its contents onto the dark dirt at her feet. Waiting a few minutes she stirred the mixture with two long fingers. Flattening the ground with the edge of her hand, she began to form a terrain map.
"Corporal, I'm going down there to try and find out what's going on. I'm gonna see if I can contact Headquarters and get us some help."
Pointing at the hill she formed on the rough map, she continued.
"This is our present location. There is a small oasis…here," she stated, pointing to a small indention. "I'm going down and recon the enemy. If I can, I'll call for fire on the camp. You keep the men here - out of the possible impact zone. If, for some reason I'm not back by 2200 hours, take the men and head for the oasis. When you get there, stock up on water and head east. There is a small village about 30 clicks from here. If you travel steady and slow, you should make it by early evening. Make sure to brief the Colonel on what happened and send back help. Any questions?" She asked.
His mouth open in shocked surprise, the Corporal looked into piercing blue eyes, then down at the map. Shaking his head in resignation, he muttered.
"No Ma'am…damn stubborn woman."
An eyebrow arched in well-practiced intimidation.
"What did you say Corporal?"
Dylan heard the statement but asked anyway.
"Uh, Good luck Ma'am." He stuttered, embarrassed at having been caught and knowing there was no convincing the woman to change her mind. He stood and turned to gather some of the more experienced troops to work out the route.
Dylan poured more water on the temporary map. Reaching over, she scooped a handful of ash from the edge of the fire and added it to the gooey mud, stirring it again until it formed a soft paste. She watched her hand as if it were attached to another's body. She remembered the lessons taught by her grandfather and unconsciously began to hum an ancient Indian chant, swaying back and forth as she streaked the high planes on her face with the thick, black mud.
As the soldiers watched their commanding officer, a vacant look glazed Dylan's face. Having covered her face with the black mud, she closed her eyes and sat crouched for several minutes. Slowly she stood and turned to face them, her blue eyes startling in the now nearly black face. The chill that radiated from her eyes sent shivers up more than one spine. Making eye contact with each individual, Dylan watched as every soldier nodded his head in silent acknowledgement and understanding. They knew the raiders that remained in the camp were not prepared for what was about to happen, and they each fully understood she was going to do whatever it took to accomplish the mission. The eerily synchronized nod was their acceptance as well as a silent tribute to her courage. The atmosphere inside the small refuge shifted dramatically. Once filled with a sense of desperation, fear and despair, it now pulsed with hope and the burning desire for vengeance.
Dylan moved wordlessly to the mouth of the cave. Turning briefly, she stared back into the faces of her young troops and smiled. Then, Captain Dylan Hawke disappeared into the darkness.
Dylan thought as she moved, like a shadow, through the small bushes at the foot of the hills.
Pausing to get her bearing, she moved to the outer edge of the camp. The demolished concertina wire had been pushed aside by the enemy for better access. Cautiously, she stopped again to mentally count and place the location of each of the enemy perimeter guards. Her senses caught the sound of voices to her left. Slowly she made her way towards them. Standing near a bolder by a crushed pile of concertina, two men were peeing and arguing over a hand held land sat radio. Eyes narrowing on the radio Dylan silently slipped up behind the nearest soldier, waiting for his comrade to turn away and adjust himself. With little effort she reached up and wrapped her arm around the barrel chest of the first man. Quickly grabbing his chin, she jerked his head at an impossible angle, snapping his neck. His friend, hearing the loud 'snap' turned to face a blue-eyed demon, it was the last sight he saw. With this point in the enemy perimeter open and the radio secure, Dylan now had an escape route. Grinning, she bent at the waist as she ran towards her tent.
Entering through the rear opening, she quickly searched her now scattered gear. In their haste to find valuables the enemy had overlooked the small pile of clothing and blankets folded and shoved under her cot. Under the blanket, was her tan backpack that carried additional equipment, reaching under the cot, she pulled out the pack. She remembered the bandoleer of spare M16 ammo and a small solar powered radio battery; going through the remaining gear she quickly located her grandfather's bowie knife, a box of MRE's and another clip for her 9 mm. Slipping the knife in its sheath to her LBE, she stuffed the remaining equipment and ammo back into the pack. Slipping her arms through the straps and buckling the belt around her waist she took a final look around. With a sigh of regret she pulled the pin from the first grenade. She was about to roll it under the cot when she heard the rustle of canvas. Her head jerked up and she stared at the front entrance as the canvas flap was drawn back. Standing there was a handsome, dark-eyed Arab, his sharp features back-lit by the burning fires behind him.
Glancing up and down her body, his eyes stopped on the second pass, at her nametag.
"Well, the hawk has returned to her roost. Welcome, Little Hawk."
Dylan drew herself to her full height and glared at the stranger with narrowed, angry eyes.
"Are you the bastard who's leading these animals?"
The man bowed at the waist, arrogantly touching his hand to his forehead then flicking it outward in a taunting salute.
"May I introduce myself? I am Sharif Kadine, and you, beautiful woman, are my prisoner."
He smiled and reached for her.
"I think not, asshole." Dylan replied.
Tipping her head slightly to one side and lifting a single dark eyebrow, the warrior quietly held up the grenade. She relaxed her hand and allowed the spoon to fly off with a chiming: 'ping.'
"See you in Hell, dick head." She smiled broadly and tossed the now live grenade to him.
Kadine caught it, purely out of reflex and stood, gaping at her.
Dylan turned, still smiling, and raced from the tent, glancing back in time to see the man throw himself out of the entrance just as the tent exploded into a fiery ball of flames and canvas.
"Damn, missed him!" She exclaimed.
Now on borrowed time, she ran straight to the tank, the steel behemoth still resting rested near her quarters. She stopped by the tread and, pulling the pin, placed her last grenade - shoving it into the rubber matting of the left tread. She heard the sound of rifle fire as dirt jumped at her feet. She scrambled, dodging bullets, the shouts of the enemy ringing in her ears. Smiling, she turned, heading towards the oasis, knowing that she would be followed and hoping to lead them off her trail.
That's when she heard it, the sound of cheering. Glancing over her left shoulder, she looked up. Through the shadows of night she saw her men, standing in the bushes at the mouth of the cave. She noticed the frantic Corporal, trying to get the men back inside. Behind her, mixed with the sounds of rifle fire, she heard him. Kadine was laughing; loudly, insanely, laughing.
'Aw shit,' she thought. 'They think this is some kind of game. They just gave away our location.'
Hearing the explosion of the second grenade, she desperately hoped it would drown out the sounds of her men. In desperation she headed towards the cave, frantic to reach it, knowing that the young soldiers were in terrible danger. Their youthful exuberance had targeted their position. Arms pumping and feet flying, she dodged bushes as she scrambled to reach the cave, diving in just as she heard the explosion of the big gun on the tank. Cursing silently she realized that the grenade had stopped the tanks capability to maneuver, but had not been powerful enough to kill it. It still had the ability to fire.
The rocks resting above the mouth of the cave exploded violently, throwing sand and broken shards into the cave. A second round hit the ground directly in the front of the cave.
'Damn, they're bracketing our location!' she thought.
"Get back, get to the rear of the cave! Get down NOW!"
She screamed when she felt the air rush by her as a third round whipped past her head and into the rear wall of the sanctuary, it didn't explode but threw enough rock and dirt to kill anything within reach. Another round slammed into the roof of the cave entrance shattering the opening. The ground trembled and the air filled with dust. Dylan felt herself being lifted and thrown backward into a wall of stone. She was vaguely aware of her head and shoulder slamming into the rock, a bright white light flashed behind her eyelids. Then, there was nothing.
The almost blessed nothingness was temporary; soon it was followed by the sound of buzzing like a thousand bees.
"By God, I hurt. Where…what happened?"
Her head throbbed, her ears rang and her side was on fire. Half buried under a pile of rocky debris, Dylan drew her legs up and tucked them close to her bruised body. The movement caused her side to ache. Slowly she brought her feet beneath her and stood on shaking legs. The ringing in her ears grew louder and the ground swayed beneath her as she reached out blindly for the wall. Her vision cleared gradually, as she looked around. Her men…broken, bloody, dead…all of them were dead. Silently she fell to her knees, pitching forward, as the world again, went mercifully black.
As she surfaced again, Dylan began to remember the events of the past few...what was it? Had it been hours, minutes, or days? Holding a shaking hand to her head in a vain attempt to stop the world around her from spinning, she stood. Staggering from body to body, feeling for a pulse, she was to be disappointed again and again. She gathered the dog tags from the bodies, one from each, leaving one to identify the remains. As she wandered through the destruction she gathered body parts, arms, legs, even boots with feet still in them, placing some near the appropriate remains, shoving some into place on mangled bodies and stacking others, that she couldn't ID, into a pile at the rear of the cave.
Dylan stopped often to empty what little remained in her stomach, finally ending with dry heaves when there was nothing else left. She continued, her mind not yet fully grasping that her efforts were in vain. The parts would not reattach. The men would not stand even if she shoved their feet back onto the mangled legs. Still she continued. Finally the last body, the Corporal, his eyes locked open in shocked amazement, stared at her. The expression on his mangled face reached deep into her subconscious.
Her brain finally kicked in, and the numbing shock became a gripping, indescribable terror.
She had to get out! Still clutching the bloodied dog tags, she scrambled towards the entrance. The explosion had virtually sealed the cave. The terrorists had not bothered to break through the barrier that sealed the entrance. Noticing a small opening at the top of what was the mouth of the cave, she began to climb. The smell of burnt stone and charred flesh, the sickeningly sweet metallic smell of fresh blood and the putrid smell of urine and feces were heavy in the air. Dylan was frantic to escape.
By the time she reached the tiny opening she was babbling and incoherent. She forced her bruised, bloodied and battered body through the jagged hole, pushing desperately to escape she finally felt the cool air of the night caress her face. Lacking even the strength to stop herself, she rolled down the other side of the mound of stone and landed in a heap at the bottom. Dazed, but alive, she staggered to her feet and began walking.
Night had fallen and the shifting sands stilled as if resting for the next day. A light sweet breeze filled the air but no sounds were heard except the faint whisper of cloth shifting in the still heated air. A tiny oasis sparkled in the night, the water reflecting the twinkling stars on its black surface.
A figure sat on the crest of the dune looking past the water, out into the desert, quietly staring across the darkness of the sand. If not for the gentle breeze moving the cloth and lifting the cloud of black hair, she may have been mistaken for a long forgotten statue, half buried in the sand, abandoned by some ancient desert tribe.
Icy blue eyes focused on an unseen target somewhere in the distance, imagining her objective. Three years had gone by. Three years since the rabid animal had visited insanity upon her life, laughing maniacally as her world blew apart around her. Now she guarded this portion of the desert and sought out the man responsible for her nightmares.
For the past three years the people of the area had lived in peace and security, protected by a being they considered almost mythical. Here, in the hot desert sand, the myth sat alone - watching, remembering, planning and waiting for the moment when justice would at last be served and rest would come for the memories.
Dylan thought back to the day they'd found her. Even now, the memories were sketchy. They discovered her near the oasis, torn, bloodied and unconscious. For three days she'd remained that way. With no thought of reward and little thought of the possible dangers involved, they, the people of the desert, cared for her, dressing her injuries and seeing to her needs, but she did not wake. The tall stranger screamed and mumbled in her sleep but her eyes did not open. On the fourth day, she awoke.
They knew instantly that she was different. She possessed the evil eye, blue eyes, glazed with hate. They feared her but were more afraid to abandon her in the greater fear that she would curse them. Now they knew that she had been sent, not to curse them but to curse Kadine - the man who raped their daughters, stole their food and beat down any resistance. She was their answer from Allah. She killed the men of Kadine. In return, they provided her with food, clothes, and when needed, medical attention. They ran messages to the nearby villages for her and dutifully turned over the men she captured alive to NATO authorities, those few she let live. They knew her only as 'Hawk'; for that was the name she gave them.
Whenever the rebels attacked, a silent killer appeared, like a dark apparition, bearing down upon their enemy. She fought with dead eyes, feeling nothing and remembering only the smell of scorched stones, burned flesh and the faces of soldiers long since dead.
For three years, Dylan hunted Kadine. Only a handful of his most loyal soldiers stood between her and the mad man now. She knew it would be over soon, he was desperate.
Dylan stood. Brushing off her trouser bottoms, she turned and retraced her steps to her camp in the foothills near the oasis. She always returned here after battle to recover, to bathe her wounds in the cool waters of the small spring fed pool. She thought of the time before, when the desert people found her. Though she remembered very little clearly, she recalled the hands that cared for her, healing her body but not her mind. Now, whenever she needed a retreat, a quiet place to fight the demons in her soul, she returned to this place.
She thought with a grim smile. 'Soon I can finish it. Then what?'
Adjusting the black robes around her, Dylan squatted near her small campfire and stirred a pot of shepherds stew; the aroma of cooking mutton filled her senses, distracting her from her thoughts. She adopted the dress favored by the natives, and used them to blend in whenever she needed to go into the nearby village. Though her height and eye color were impossible to hide, she did make a more convincing native in the robes.
She smiled grimly thinking back to the MRE's that were a mainstay during those early days.
"I still hate those damn things."
She muttered to herself, reaching into her small bag for a pinch of salt. She hummed to herself as she slowly sprinkled the salt into the stew, staring as it dissolved. She knew she wasn't the best cook in the world, but it was edible…sometimes.
Some days her memories were vivid, memories of the events before Kadine. Other days, like today, were more…difficult. She started the morning early, a headache waking her to the predawn light. Her sleep, even more disturbing than usual. She relived the explosion in the cave again and again, but last night was different. Last night she heard different screams, a woman's screams. At first she thought they were her own, but in the dream she was searching for someone, the screaming woman. In the dream, the woman's voice was as familiar to her as her own and she knew the woman was in danger and that she, Dylan, would do whatever was necessary to protect her. The woman screamed Dylan's name and, in the dream, reached out to her. In desperation to reach her, the soldier woke sitting straight up with her hand outstretched, the woman's name still on her lips. But now, in the light of day, she could not remember it. Dylan closed her eyes and tried desperately to recall the details of the dream, but all she could see was a face surrounded by a veil of blonde hair and the impression of green eyes. Frustrated, she sat with her head in her hands, cursing under her breath at the fates that put her here, so far from everything she knew.
Taking a deep breath she stood and slipped silently to the edge of the camp. Her appetite gone, she paced in the fading light. Finally, stopping on the crest of the dune, she stared out, again, at the distant hills, unmoving, the light breeze catching her black flowing robes. She reached into a hidden pocket and wrapped her hand around a string of bent metal dog tags, rubbing them and remembering.
She returned to the camp and sitting on a small boulder near her small fire, drew a large Bowie knife from a sheath hidden in folds of her leggings. With a glazed look on her face she mindlessly began sharpening the knife in long even strokes, staring into the flames. She knew better than to dwell on the memories. Instead, she used the anger to drive her on. Remembering that terrible time again, saved her sanity, giving her a target on which to focus her soul wrenching pain and hatred.
Kadine was the one who gave the orders for the attack on her unit. He'd initiated the entire mission. Her hatred of the madman fueled her methodical destruction of his empire, but it also made him desperate; he needed men and money to rebuild. Now his greed brought him here, close to her.
Lura stared out the window of the decrepit 747, watching the ground creep closer. Everything in sight was one monotonous color: tan. The ground was tan, the runway was tan, and the people were tan. She smiled at that thought.
'Hell, if I stare long enough I bet the sky will turn tan.' She chuckled to herself.
She shifted uncomfortably in the seat, tightening the ancient seat belt and brushing the wrinkles from her travel worn trousers. She really hated flying but she would do anything for this story, even fly to god knows where, in an overcrowded excuse for an airplane, with a nearly nonexistent air conditioning. To make matters worse, she was seated next to an older man who seemed to think she was a lounge pillow, taking every opportunity to lay his head on her shoulder while attempting to wrap his arm around her waist. Rolling her eyes towards the ceiling, Lura sighed and, faking a stretch, politely elbowed the offender in the nose, gasping in mock surprise at the grunt of pain from the man. She smiled and stared at him until he turned away, only to lean on the shoulder of the passenger on his other side.
Turning back to the window, Lura stared out at the barren landscape that flowed below her. It took every bit of her charisma to talk her boss into allowing her to take this trip, but she knew a story when she heard one and this, was definitely a story.
'God, it had better be a story. I sure have a lot riding on this. Only eight months left to prove myself. Why did I make that stupid deal with Mother? Maybe I should have just worked my way through school like I threatened to do. Sometimes tradition and money can bite donkey's butt.'
She mused still staring out the window.
'Mother and her Southern ideas will be the death of me yet. Well, more likely the death of my career if I don't make this work. Only eight measly months between the career I've always dreamed of and being a frigging Romance Writer in the nauseatingly grand tradition of Knights on white horses and wussy females waiting to be rescued. Not! I can't think about that right now. I have to think about the Hawk. He exists. I know he exists. Why else would I be so damned obsessed?
That was a question she asked herself over and over again, but she couldn't come up with a legitimate reason for her bull doggedness about getting this story.
For years the people of this region spoke of a mythical being they called 'Hawk'. Now, thousands of miles from home, she actually had the chance to investigate the stories.
She remembered how she harped day after day at the editor for ticket money and support to go to ground zero and investigate the legend, and day after day he turned her down. The guys back in the newsroom laughed at her, offering to pay the travel expenses for her next story, a trip to Loch Ness to find the Monster. She'd laughed along in good humor. She grinned remembering how she waived her ticket at them as she strolled out the door toward the waiting cab. That was two long weeks ago. Now, just beneath her laid the deserts of Saudi Arabia, a country fought over for as long as humans could remember. She was about to touch down in a land bathed in mystery, steeped in history and, she hoped, holding the key to her future.
'Could I have come up with a place more different than home? This dry, hot unending tan is such a sharp contrast to the cool soothing greens of Virginia. Here there's sand as far as the eye can see, where at home there'd be rolling hills and ivy covered walls. The genteel southern charm of Virginia verses the harsh, brutal reality of this barren wasteland. So why do I feel so torn? Virginia's always been home for me. My head tells me it still is but my heart is telling me something else.'
She opened her journal and reviewed her notes.
'The Hawk', is believed to be the spirit of an ancient warrior, returned to once again protect the people from marauding killers. He is said to protect the innocent from the horrors of the roaming armies of terrorists who called themselves holy soldiers. The people describe him as incredibly tall, with cold blue eyes that could penetrate the bodies of the wicked and steal their very souls. If one believed all the locals said, this being was amazingly strong, never felt pain and was never injured. He could walk through the sand and never leave tracks, he would simply appear in the heat of battle, silent, deadly and unstoppable.'
Closing her journal, she considered the thoughts running through her head.
'Yep, and he leaps tall buildings in a single bound.' Lura chuckled. 'Why am I here? Is this guy for real or am I on some kind of wild goose chase? Here I sit, trying to psyche myself up to do what? Not be frightened that I won't find him or be terrified that I will?'
She turned her head again, staring at her own reflection in the scratched Plexiglas window, her soft green eyes, large and haunted from lack of sleep, her short blonde hair, a tossed cap of gold on her head. She studied her eyes, trying to see the truth there. She had no idea what drew her here or why. She simply knew she had to come.
'If I were being honest with myself I would realize I didn't come here only for a story, but I would also have no other clue as to why I am here. I just know I had to come.'
Ever since she began hearing stories of 'The Hawk', while in her journalism classes at the University of Virginia, she'd been drawn to this point, this place in time. For the last two years she'd seen him almost every night when she closed her eyes.
She saw the tall dark figure standing alone in the sand. The wind whipping his robes, he always stood alone facing a small quiet pool. She tried every night to see the features she knew would be reflected in the still water. She never did. It didn't matter, she knew who he was. He was 'The Hawk'. But, lately, the dreams had begun to change. The image that always appeared distant, powerful and very masculine began to soften. The image of the flowing robes changed. Now Lura could tell that it wasn't just long black robes lifted by the desert wind but also long jet-black hair. The profile began to clarify, to sharpen into the profile of a beautiful woman with crystal blue eyes. Eyes that held unimaginable sorrow in their icy depths. Lura felt drawn to the strange apparition. She felt the need to protect not her body, but her soul. Every night she now dreamt of the beautiful woman. Every night she felt the pull of a battered soul calling to her own.
'I don't know who you are or where you've gone, but I know that we will meet. I'll be there for you. I will find you.'
Lura was startled from her thoughts by the sudden jarring of the plane as it touched down, the huge body shuddering as the ailerons lifted to slow the ancient craft.
'I'm here, finally I'm here.'
Finding herself short of supplies, Dylan decided to venture into town. Dressed again in the dark desert robes, she wandered through the local market looking for material to replace her worn sleeping blankets and stock up her food supplies. As always, Dylan kept her ears open for leads on the monster she hunted. That's how she heard about the visiting television crew.
Gossips in the markets were godsends to her.
'Better than CNN', she smirked.
Dylan had been hunting the animal now for three years. She tried to keep abreast of the changes in the US but some things were almost impossible to monitor. This new anchorman LG Evans was one of them. She never heard of Evans, but the idea of camera crews in the area excited the locals. She heard that this crew was here searching for the mysterious 'Hawk'.
Having learned enough, Dylan hurried to complete her shopping and head back to the oasis. She intended to have enough supplies to stay hidden until they left. The last thing on her agenda was to blow her cover with a news story.
'I need to pick up some meat and fruit, then I'll head back to camp.'
Having purchased a cured leg of mutton, she wandered toward the fresh fruit stands intent on some citrus to supplement her diet. As she walked closer she overheard the discussion of the vendor.
Apparently, Kadine was intent on kidnapping the anchorman and his crew. The equipment alone was worth a fortune, not to mention the value the news company would place on the crew and anchorman, and the propaganda he would receive for this coup. It would put his name back on the front pages and give him the notoriety he loved.
Dylan smiled grimly. 'Finally, the opportunity to be in the same place as Kadine.'
The time was near. Soon, she would have the chance to bring an animal to justice. Dylan knew Kadine's intentions; he would ransom the men and then turn around and sell them to the highest bidder. He would try to use them to restore his ravaged army and his place with the movers and shakers on the front pages. She intended to throw a wrench into the works.
She'd seriously depleted Kadine's resources and he was now short on followers and supporters. He needed this kidnapping to go without a hitch. That would redeem him in the eyes of his fellow madmen and may shake loose funding. Dylan knew he was struggling. In the past she was able to locate him simply by the size of his constantly mobile force. Now he was small and secretive. She searched for weeks to find him. Since her last assault, he had disappeared into the desert, swallowed by the sand. She knew that he would have to surface to kidnap the anchorman and the crew, so stopping Kadine would not work. As much as she hated the risk, she knew she needed to allow the kidnapping to occur. Only then could she follow the men back to their camp and finally destroy the viper in his pit.
Gathering her supplies Dylan headed back to the oasis to plan.
The hotel room was stifling and miserably dark. The yellowed walls showed signs of age in every crack. The once gold curtains had faded to a sickly yellow and the formerly deep green carpet was, what Lura like to refer to as, baby upchuck green. An ancient desk crouched in a corner by the room's only window; a wobbly wooden chair provided the only seat with the exception of the bed.
Lura sat gingerly on the edge of the chair, trying to avoid getting splinters in some very uncomfortable places and stared into the colorful screen of her laptop, reviewing the notes she had compiled for her story. A disgusted expression appeared on her face as she read her interview comments from earlier in the week.
She'd met with a horrible little man named El Kadine, who claimed that he was the savior of the people. The impression Lura got from the interview, was that he was, in fact, exactly what all earlier reports called him: a greedy disgusting glorified terrorist who fed on the misfortunes of the poor and ignorant. Thoughts of him conjured up pictures of slimy eels and the feeling of needing a steaming hot shower, preferably with lye soap.
When they arrived in Riyadh three days ago, Lura visited every restaurant, bar and dive in the town. No one was talking. No one would tell them anything useful about 'The Hawk'. After all of their efforts, they had no more information now than when they'd arrived. Lura knew 'The Hawk' had a habit of appearing when most needed, that "he" was tall and incredibly strong, but that was all.
Most of the inhabitants of the town either feared 'The Hawk' or loved him to distraction and would rather turn in their fathers than betray this supposed hero. Whenever she asked for a description of the man, they would smile, shake their heads and look at her as if she'd lost her mind.
'My god, you would think we were asking them to give up information on National security.' Lura thought. 'Well, one more chance. Bob said something about a small village in the desert where 'The Hawk', was supposed to hang out. If we stay there long enough he may show up. I just hope the paper lets us extend our visit.'
Shutting down her laptop, Lura closed the lid and slipped the slender computer into its padded carrying case. Zipping it shut, she set it on the floor next to her small suitcase. Still mentally preoccupied, she walked into the bathroom and began packing her toiletries.
'What if we do meet him? God I hope I don't make a complete idiot of myself. I need to review my interview questions again. I doubt he'll be in the mood for any long conversations, so I have to narrow them down to really pertinent things. That means asking about his love life is a definite No-No. God, why am I so interested in his personal life? What is it about this Hawk?'
Her mind kept returning to the dream.
'Are you 'The Hawk?' She asked her dream woman. 'What is it that torments your soul and leaves that haunted look in your beautiful eyes.'
Lura wanted desperately to know this mysterious woman, to find her, to erase the torment from her face. But first she had to find 'The Hawk', if there truly was such a person.
Stuffing her toiletry bag into the top of her suitcase completed her packing. Lura shouldered her laptop bag, picked up her suitcase and headed out the door, down the stairs to the desk and her waiting camera crew.
Bob waited in the hot sun by the van for the reporter. He smiled when he saw the young anchorwoman. She was dressed in khaki walking shorts, a short sleeved white top, and a tan sleeveless vest with lots of pockets finished her outfit. Her arms and legs still not tanned from the hot desert sun; her skin was a soft pearl tone. The sunlight brought out the burnished red highlights in her golden hair, making the light green in her hazel eyes sparkle. Feeling more like an over protective father than the senior member of the crew, Bob grabbed Lura's bag and tossed it into the back of the rented van. He then held the sliding rear door open and helped the petite woman inside. Making sure she fastened her seat belt and that the door was secured, he slid into the front passenger seat and gave Richard, the camera man, a nod to head out.
The village was about two hours away and Lura decided to nap on the way there. She had only slept about 45 minutes when the sharp swerving of the van jarred her awake.
"HEY! Richard, what's goin' on?'
"Hang on Lura!" Richard yelled, struggling with the steering wheel to keep the vehicle on the road.
"Some asshole is trying to run us off the road."
Lura screamed as the van was rammed in the side by an ancient SUV. The driver was dressed in dark brown robes and seemed determined to cause an accident. Beside him, the passenger waived a semi automatic rifle and gestured wildly, screaming at Richard.
"Run us off the road? Bob that idiot wants to kill us!" Lura screamed.
"Get down Lura!" Bob yelled, spotting the weapon.
He reached back to force the young reporter to the seat when Richard lost control of the vehicle. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. The truck slammed into the side of the van. The left front wheel of the van caught on a bolder on the edge of the road. A loud grinding followed by a harsh metallic snap, and the wheel went flying off. The front of their van dropped. Digging instantly into the dirt, stopping it suddenly.
Lura felt herself thrown forward; she saw the headrest on the seat in front of her coming towards her at an alarming speed, then nothing.
It was the throbbing that awoke her. She had no idea where she was. It was dark and she couldn't breathe. She heard voices, angry voices; some in English some in Arabic. Raising her hand to her head, she realized there was a blanket covering her face.
'Well, that explains the breathing problem and the darkness.' She thought. 'What the hell is all the screaming about? For the love of Zeus, don't they know I have a splitting headache?'
Lifting the blanket slightly, she saw Bob. Some strange man was yelling at him. She watched in stunned horror as the man in dark robes raised the rifle he held, swinging it down, butt first, towards Bob's head. The older man turned at the last minute; taking the blow on his shoulder, then fell to his knees, his arm going instantly numb from the impact.
'What are they doing? I have to stop them!' Lura threw back the covers and sprang onto the back of the armed man.
"Run Bob!" she screamed, beating the man with her small fists.
The strange man twisted his body throwing the frantic woman to the ground. Realizing that their quarry had elected to show her true self, he smiled. But women did not strike men, she would be taught that the strange Western ideals, she lived by would not be tolerated by real men like himself. Laughing, he drew back his foot and kicked her in the side. Glancing over his shoulder he looked at his friends, gesturing at the now huddled woman, as he stated this fact to them in Arabic. They laughed. He turned again and looked down at the small blonde. The smile disappeared from his face as he knelt beside her. Gathering her shirtfront in his fist, he drew his hand back and slapped her sharply across the cheek, splitting her lip and causing her head to jerk painfully to the side. The men behind him laughed and gestured, encouraging him. He stood still holding the stunned woman and yelled into her face. With a look of total disgust he drove his fist into her ribs and threw her to the ground.
Lura stayed where she was thrown, her body instinctively curling tightly into a ball. She struggled to control the scream of pain and tried to present as small a target as possible.
Bob watched in horror as the man in dark brown, beat the young woman. As the attacker drew his foot back again Richard and he both sprang to their feet and charged the armed guards.
Dylan stared into the fire, her hands methodically sharpening her bowie knife. The harsh grating sound of the whetstone sliding against the blade's edge seemed to calm her. She smiled, thinking of the night ahead. She was able to track Kadine from the site of the kidnapping. She knew he would have to make camp soon, so he could film his demands. He couldn't move fast, his hostages needed to be in good condition if he expected any return on his 'investment.' The anchorman, LG Evans, and the two-man camera crew were worth their weight in gold to any despot who was willing to pay the price. Most wanna-be dictators would love to set up their own propaganda television show and be capable of televising it worldwide. The technology and equipment the crew possessed would allow anyone access to satellite bans around the world. No, endangering the crew would be foolish. Therefore, the key to screwing with Kadine's mission was to rescue Evans and that crew. That would affect the savior image Kadine used to recruit his so-called army of holy warriors. With their moral in shreds she could easily move in and destroy the remainder of Kadine's army.
'I think I'll pay little Kadine a quiet social call tonight and stir up the pot a bit.'
Dylan smiled and returned the knife to its sheath. Standing, she melted into the darkness.
Kadine was furious; he stormed into his tent screaming at the top of his lungs. His men would ruin everything. They were endangering his entire plan just because they could not limit their needs to the camp whores. The men were dealt with as an example to others, but the damage was already been done, one of the camera crew was dead, the other badly injured and the woman bore signs of her viscous abuse. How was he going to make any money now?
He fumed and paced in his tent, "Idiots! Rashiem!" he screamed, in a harsh angry voice.
'Where is that fool?'
"Rashiem!" A swathe giant glided into the tent and knelt on one knee before Kadine.
"El Kadine." He said with his head bowed.
Rashiem had been with Kadine since the early days and though he was older and much larger than the other man, looked upon Kadine as a savior of the people.
'Had he not provided jobs for them, were the villagers not in fear of the mention of their names? Did people not cower and bow before the might of Kadine and his holy army? Yes, I Kadine, am their savior.' Kadine thought while looking at the man kneeling before him.
In Rashiem, Kadine found the iron fist to bend the people and the army to his will. He trusted Rashiem above all others and as for Rashiem, his devotion was almost fanatical.
"Find the families of those idiots, and kill them all." He stated, flicking his wrist dismissing the giant to carry out his bidding.
Rashiem merely bowed his head in acknowledgement of the command and swept from the tent to carry out the order. If Kadine wanted these innocents dead then it would be done.
Still angry, and having dismissed the deaths of the innocent families from his mind, Kadine stalked to the large mirror in his tent staring admiringly at his own image. Anger became him, it added color to his cheeks and fire to his eyes, or so he thought. His mere presence was inspiring, at least in his mind. He thought himself a rather handsome man. His slick black hair was cut in a fashionable style, but still could not hide the receding hairline. His nose was fine boned and, though it was too narrow, he was quite proud that it was not at all the prominent beak of his father. His skin was a golden brown, which darkened to a rich mahogany as he was exposed to the desert sun. He was, at first glance, almost irresistibly handsome, until one looked into his cold dead eyes. After admiring his image in the tall glass he turned, speaking aloud as he paced the length of the tent, deep in thought.
'I must ensure the girl lives. I will need her to train another camera crew. Then, perhaps I will enjoy her myself,' he paused thinking with a curled lip, 'before I sell her.'
Feeling much calmer now that he had a plan in mind, he relaxed and began to remember the face of the woman. Blondes were quite rare here and this one had hair of yellow fire, her eyes were the cool soothing green of the desert palms. He understood the fascination of his men, she was indeed a rare treat, and she would sell quickly on the white slave market.
Lura lay on her back in the dark corner of the hot tent. Bob Carter propped himself into a position closer to her and wrung out the cloth of lukewarm water. Wiping the girl's bruised and battered face, he grimaced, remembering the beating she took for them.
'Dumb kid, you should have just let them slap us around. We would have never told.'
When they first arrived at the camp, he and Richard hid the, still unconscious, girl in a depression in the back of the tent and covered her with the torn blankets and pillows they found lying about. Having seen the looks the guards gave the small woman, they knew it would only be a matter of time before one of them built up the courage to act on their lewd thoughts. The guards came in that night and, not seeing the girl, assumed that the cameramen somehow, helped her to escape. They were taking out their anger on the crew when the girl apparently regained consciousness, threw off the covers and attacked the larger guards.
"She's got guts. Not real smart," he smirked with a proud grin. "But, she does have guts."
Bob smiled sadly at the memory of the fiery young woman attacking the guards. He remembered the guards first driving off the cameramen. They then began to beat the girl into submission; tearing at her clothes and kicking her once she fell. Finally, as they began ripping at her underwear, the crew, unable to sit and watch her get raped, attacked again, driving back the guards. Richard fell under the blades and fists of two of the guards, while Bob struggled with two others, getting stabbed repeatedly in the process. The noise alerted Kadine who rushed into the chaos screaming obscenities, all the while beating the now cringing, guards with a riding whip. Bob fell to his knees by the small huddled form, shielding her with his own body, but the damage had been done. Lura lay half naked and still, her eyes clamped shut in pain, her breathing strained and shallow, her arms wrapped protectively around her midsection.
That was hours ago. Finally blacking out, her body gave in to the pain and relaxed. He was able to get her moved into the back of the tent so that he could treat her injuries, but through the entire process she never regained consciousness. Bob did his best in redressing her small bruised body and now, partially dressed, she was stretched out on the pillows, covered by a torn blanket. He looked at the battered face again. Her lips were split and bloody, the right side of her face from hairline to jaw was swollen and bruised from the kick she received to the side of her head, her side was red and enflamed and he feared she might have several broken ribs. He was thankful at first when she lost consciousness, knowing that she would be in a great deal of pain once she awoke. Glancing again at her terribly bruised side he sighed and gently wiped away the dirt. He knew that the angry red flesh could mean possibly some internal damage. He was worried.
'She's been out for too long, I need her to wake up. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be here for her and she's got to protect herself.'
Reaching for the bowl of dirty water pulled at his own injury causing the older man to inhale sharply. He gritted his teeth and glanced down at his own injury, very aware that the slowly bleeding gash running the length of his side and across his midsection had not stopped. Ignoring the pain, he rinsed out the tattered rag and gently wiped the battered face, saying a silent prayer for help.
Kadine, in his madness, had become careless, using the SUV to kidnap the television crew meant leaving a very distinct trail to his new camp, and Dylan followed it straight to him. As she crept along the edge of the camp she noted the location of the guards. There was a time when Kadine had enough men to post a guard every twenty-five feet or so, now he was lucky to get ten to cover the entire perimeter. With men in such high demand, the bodies she passed on the edge of the large camp came as a complete surprise. Four men, who appeared to have been soldiers, three fairly young women, an elderly couple and two young boys, all dead and left for the desert beast to feed on.
'At least the boys and the women were killed quickly.'
Dylan thought, remembering the unnatural angle of each neck.
'Kadine needed to set an example. Wonder why?'
A feeling of dread began to creep up her spine with that thought.
'I have to hurry.'
Dylan paused shaking her head in confusion.
'Where did that come from? I gotta get it together, gotta focus. I'm too close to fuck this up now. '
Moving silently through the shadows she slipped up behind a small tent placed close to the center of the camp. Pulling her black scarf across her face to further conceal her features, she drew her knife and neatly slit a seam in the back of the tent near the bottom. Lying on her belly she slowly dragged her long form inside; she lay motionless, allowing her senses to adjust to the interior, trying to pick out a target. Movement drew her eyes to a dark corner where she made out the form of a man sitting, hunched over. Slowly she rose and on silent feet stepped towards the figure. As she approached she noticed the man's dress. He was a Westerner,
'Probably one of the kidnap victims, I wonder where the others are?'
She paused to see what the man was working on and startled him with her gasp.
Lying wrapped in torn blankets was a beautiful woman with a hauntingly familiar face.
'I know you.' Dylan thought, as she stared down at the face of the young woman.
Unable to stop herself she moved forward, drawn to the still figure on the blanket.
Bob felt a presence in the tent, and then a shadow fell over him. He glanced quickly behind and was startled to see a figure there, seemingly having materialized from thin air. He gasped in surprise, then gathered his strength to rise and face this new, much more ominous, threat.
The man tried to stand to confront her. Dylan's eyes left the prone figure on the blanket for a second to watch him. It was apparent to Dylan that this man was in no shape to take on anyone but she admired his tenacity in trying. Taking in his struggling posture, she dismissed him instantly as no threat. Still he was trying.
"Who are you? I'm warning you, come any closer and I'll kill you." Bob said bravely.
He stared at the tall silent figure before him: at least six feet tall, his face covered with a black cloth leaving only the eyes visible. Those icy blue pools reached deep into his soul and sent shivers down his spine. He watched the eyes, first staring at the girl with anger; they then lifted to meet his. Bob was no coward but what he saw there made him swallow as a cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Though he wanted to protect the girl he was relieved when the eyes left him to turn their cold hard gaze back to the small form on the tattered blanket.
Still turned towards Lura, Bob heard a low voice whisper, "Are you LG Evans?"
"I know who you are." Bob gasped in surprise, "You're 'The Hawk'. You're a woman!" he exclaimed.
Dylan paused, confused, turning to stare at him, somewhat surprised at his comment. "Yes, and yes," she answered, frustration becoming evident in her voice. "Are you LG Evans?" She asked again.
"No." Bob responded, pausing to catch his breath, as another burst of pain traveled up his tortured side. "She's hurt."
"I don't have time for this. Where is LG Evans?" Dylan demanded.
"I told you." Bob said pointing at the figure wrapped in the blanket. "She's hurt."
"She's LG. Evans? LG Evans is a woman?"
"Yeah, Lura Grant Evans." Bob stated, smiling at the irony of the role reversal.
The smile left his face with the next comment.
"She was hurt pretty badly by the guards earlier this evening. You gotta get her out of here. She needs medical attention."
Dylan pulled the cloth from her face and knelt down next to the woman on the blanket. She was so entranced by the still, bruised face that she did not hear the gasp of the man still standing.
'My God, she's beautiful!' Bob thought. 'Who is she and what is she doing out here in the middle of this Hell hole?'
He completely forgot that train of thought however, when the strange woman reached towards Lura.
"What are you doing?" He asked, instinct causing him to reach out to stay her hand, pulling again on his wound.
Suddenly his wrist was grasped in a steel grip and bent backwards. He found himself on his knees.
"Don't touch her and don't touch me…ever."
The dark woman spoke in a harsh, bitter voice. She had not taken her eyes off the blonde, but her hand shot out an incredible speed. That same hand now held his in a grip that, even in perfect health, he doubted he could break. Still staring at Lura she released his arm, throwing it back towards him and forcing him to fall backwards onto his butt with a painful grunt.
'My God she's strong.' Bob thought.
Kneeling closer to Lura, Dylan reached out again for the blonde woman, as if to determine if she were real. Finding warm flesh under her fingers she laid a surprisingly gentle hand on the pale, un-bruised cheek.
Lura was in pain. She didn't want to open her eyes. Then she felt it, warmth her body remembered.
"Finally," she whispered. Slowly raising a single eyelid, revealing one soft, moss green eye. "You're here. I knew you would come for me."
She closed the eye and sank deeper into the darkness, into a place without pain, knowing she would be kept safe…now.
'She's here now. Everything will be OK.'
Dylan froze. 'What did she say?'
She stared down at the small woman and felt herself drifting. Memories flashed through her mind; memories of this woman, dressed in what looked to be some kind of ancient battle gear, smiling at her. More recent memories surfaced, those of recent dreams, coming to her in startling clarity.
Bob watched the tall stranger as she paled, confusion written on her face. She sat there in a daze, not moving, not speaking, and just staring.
"Hey, you have to get her out of here. Please!" He reached out to touch the tall dark woman but remembered the last time he had done that.
"Please!" He pleaded, louder this time.
The dark head turned towards him. He was struck again by the icy stare.
"Who did this to her?"
The voice was harsh, deep and quivering with anger. When no reply was forthcoming she spoke again.
"I asked you a question. Who did this to her?"
This time Dylan's hand shot out, gripping the man's throat, dragging him closer.
"Please, I can't breathe. I'll tell you if you just let go."
Bob gasped for air, clutching at the powerful hand, trying to ease the grip on his throat.
Dylan loosened her hold and lowered her hand, her voice barely more than a growl.
"I won't ask you again. Who is responsible for this?"
"The guards, they came looking for her. We tried to hide her, but they got rough. She tried to protect us. They beat her, they were trying to, to…"
Dylan closed her eyes, lowering her head, hiding her anger.
"Where are they now?" She asked in a choked voice.
"Dead, I think. I heard screaming then nothing. I think he killed them."
Nodding his head, Bob replied.
"Yeah, he came in here and drove them off. He was screaming and yelling about how he couldn't sell the dead. Then he had them taken away by more guards. I think he ordered them killed."
Dylan remembered the bodies she had seen earlier.
"Listen," Bob said, "you gotta get her out of here. He'll be back and she may not survive another mix with him or his men."
"Yeah, we're getting out of here."
"No!" Bob said. "You go. Take her with you. I prayed someone would come and you did. I'm hurt; I'd just slow you enough to get caught. Please? Just take her, get her out."
Dylan looked closer at the older man, for the first time she really looked. The man was so pale he was almost gray, his lips had a blue tint to them and his eyes were dulling. She had seen that look before. This man was dying.
"Where are you wounded?" She asked.
Bob moved his shirt to the side and raised a rough bandage, revealing the gaping wound. The blood had not stopped and was slowly oozing from his side. Dylan knew the wound was fatal. He had lost too much blood and there were no medical facilities close enough, or with the proper equipment, to save him. Dylan raised her eyes to his, and saw he knew the truth.
"I'll get her out of here. You have my word." She knew she could never leave the small blonde behind but had no clue why.
Bob glanced up at the tall woman with a tired look of gratitude. "What's your name?" he asked.
"I was Captain Dylan Hawke." She stated, glancing down again at the smaller woman, missing the stunned expression on the face of the dying man.
'Captain Hawke? But she's dead. The Army had turned out in force to search for her body when her camp was discovered destroyed three years ago. He thought.
"But you're dead!"
Bob blurted out, then realized how that sounded.
"I mean… well, you know what I mean."
Dylan found herself smiling at his confusion.
"Damn, woman! Some hotshot Senator from your home state showed up here raising Holy Hell. Called out every unit in Saudi looking for you. Never seen anything like it." Bob exclaimed excitedly before being stopped by a fit of coughing that ended in a dry rasp. "Hell, that hurts." He whispered, falling forward into Dylan's arms.
She gently lowered the man to the warm sand.
"Hey, take it easy. Breathe slowly." Dylan admonished, rolling the man onto his back, easing his breathing.
Bob smiled, at the beautiful woman above him.
"Shit!" He moaned in pain. "Lady, you almost caused Desert Storm Part 2. The Saudi's did some fast-talking to get out of that one. They never found the rest of your unit. The Government here said it was terrorists, but that Senator didn't give a shit. Hell, he's still lookin' for you!"
Dylan stared at the wounded man in confusion.
'He's still looking. Why?'
Bob lay gasping. "What a way to go." He said, smiling sadly. "One beautiful woman lying beside me and another one leaning over me. Only one regret: I got the biggest damn story this side of the Mason Dixon and I don't even get to film it." He sighed and took his last breath.
Dylan stared silently down at the brave man, then gently closed the eyes still staring at her, bowed her head and sent him her farewell in a silent prayer.
Dylan gazed again at the still, blonde figure lying on the rough, well-worn blankets. It hadn't been easy getting the woman out of the camp. The hardest part was getting her out of the tent unseen. Then there was the trek back to the camp, carrying her precious burden fireman style.
"God, I must be out of shape."
Dylan smiled tiredly. She had stopped several times to rest during the arduous trip. After finally reaching her camp, near dawn that morning, she went out again backtracking in order to hide their trail.
As the sun slowly rose to heat the desert sand, she stole back into the terrorist camp, laying a false trail leading into the shrouded foothill. Breaking branches and turning stones she tried to give the impression of an injured woman fleeing in terror, with little regard for stealth. Her false trail led to a gentle rocky incline which, in turn, led to several small caves, possibly suitable for hiding.
'That should keep them busy for a while.' The soldier thought, with a decidedly wicked grin.
The idea of Kadine or his men running from cave to cave in angry disappointment just made her day.
As she moved silently through the low-lying bushes, her mind returned to the beautiful woman back at her tiny camp.
Lura was dreaming, there was a handsome woman bending over her and speaking in a soft low voice. She was safe. Then, as she watched, the woman became a giant bird that reached down and picked her up.
'I'm being carried off by a giant hawk. This is too weird.'
She felt it as the great bird set her down. She even felt the sun shining on her face. It felt so…
"Ow, that really hurts." Lura muttered aloud.
She tried to raise her hand to soothe the sore area, realizing only now that her eyes were closed, and she couldn't move her arms.
"What the devil…?"
Slowly opening her eyes she gazed around. Things seemed a bit flat and distorted. Gradually, she realized only one eye was opened and the "sun" was really a small campfire.
"What's going on? What's wrong with my eye?"
"That voice, it sounded horrible, a harsh croaking kinda noise."
Somewhat startled, she realized it was hers. As she became more aware of things she realized her throat hurt terribly and her tongue felt swollen and dry.
"Ugh, I hurt all over." She moaned, and was finally able to press one hand to her forehead.
"Hey, take it easy there." A voice, soft, low and soothing spoke from the right.
She turned her head, trying to focus her one good eye in the direction of the voice. It was her again.
The beautiful apparition glided out of the darkness, silent as a shadow, and knelt at Lura's side.
"It's you. You're here. You're real. Aren't you?"
Dylan looked at the confused, swollen face, startled by the soft questions.
"Yes, I am real. How do you feel?"
"I'm not sure, but I hope you got the tag number of the eighteen wheeler that ran over me while my back was turned. Ow."
Dylan chuckled at the sarcastic humor of the smaller woman.
'Well, she has a sense of humor. I guess she'll survive.' She thought with a smirk.
Still dazed, Lura squinted her good eye in an effort to get a better look at the face behind the voice. But the other woman had her back to the fire, effectively putting her face in shadow.
Trying to sit up, the smaller woman glanced around with one blurry green eye.
"Where are the guys? Where's Bob?" The blonde asked in a soft voice.
When she received no response she felt her heart jump in her chest.
"Hey, where are the guys?" She asked again. "Where are we?"
She asked, struggling again to look around.
Dylan reached for the canteen and knelt closer to her charge.
"Hey, hey easy there. Easy, now. Lie still. You have some badly bruised ribs." She said, lifting the canteen to gently touch the cut lips.
"Here swallow slowly. You're safe; you're in my camp. I brought you here from Kadine's camp."
Dylan paused in her explanation, unsure of how to continue. Lowering her head in thought she finally raised icy cold eyes to the face of the smaller woman.
"The men …didn't make it."
Dylan didn't know how to put it gently. She watched her words slowly sink in. The blonde woman close her eye as a single tear crept from beneath the swollen lid.
"What do you mean? Dead? They're dead?" She whispered.
"I'm sorry." Dylan stated, quietly.
"I couldn't save them. I…I was too late. Please, you have to drink some of this." Dylan informed her, once again lifting the canteen to the bruised lips.
"You've lost a lot of fluids and you're dehydrated."
Lura took a small swallow, forcing the tepid water past the tight lump in her throat. Once it settled she took another swallow, and then another, allowing herself time, to accept the truth behind the words.
Finally, she spoke in a halting voice.
"It's not your fault you couldn't save them. It wasn't your fault…it's just that…they were my friends, my, my family. I wish…"
Dylan watched helplessly as the small blonde broke - first into soft weeping, and then ragged sobs. She shifted closer to the sleeping bag unsure of how to comfort the battered woman. Gently, she gathered the other woman onto her lap. Rocking slowly, she hummed an old Indian lullaby her mother used to sing to her into the smaller woman's ear. Rubbing her trembling back as if to wipe away the pain in both their hearts.
Finally crying herself out, Lura drifted into a fitful sleep. Dylan carefully eased her back down onto the sleeping bag. She stared down at the small blonde, noticing once again the torn clothes and dark purple bruises standing out on the pale face. Her belly knotted when she thought of how those marks had gotten there. She inhaled, flaring her nostrils and curling her lips as if by doing so she could catch the scent of the dead men. The bitter taste of acid burned in her mouth.
Why was she reacting like this, as if she had taken the beating herself? She didn't understand it at all. She knew only that she felt each and every bruise marring the small body in front of her. In that instant, Captain Dylan Hawke realized she would not allow it to happen again.
"I'll make sure no one ever hurts you like this again Lura," she whispered the soft vow. A sudden and fierce possessiveness descended upon her.
"I found you and you belong to me and no one will ever hurt anything of mine again. I promise you."
Here in the desert if you possessed and protected, you owned. The small blonde now belonged to 'The Hawk'.
Dylan was startled by this thought but knew it for the truth. She looked at Lura Grant Evans. Why had she grown so attached, s quickly? True, she was a beautiful woman, there was no doubt about that, but it was more than her beauty. It was deeper, much deeper. She reached down and gently wiped a tear trail from a dirty cheek, then tenderly pulled the blanket across the still form. Leaning forward Dylan started to stand when a small hand reached out and wrapped itself around hers. Glancing down she saw the young woman remained asleep. She smiled gently down at the injured woman and with a sigh of resignation, stretched out next to her. Pulling some of the blanket over her own body, Dylan closed her tired eyes, and while still holding the small hand in hers, drifted into sleep.
To be continued...
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