“Oh, shit!” Basil gasped as he slid down a short embankment. Behind him, Cecily’s headlamp flashed as she leapt down the same incline.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” her voice was full of panic.
Their running footsteps took them to a grove of trees where they’d hidden their get-away vehicles. Basil roughly shoved the foliage aside, then did so again. No motorcycles in view.
“Oh fuck, where are they?”
“Is this the right spot?” his partner cast an anxious glance over her shoulder.
“Yes! Shit! Shit!”
The crack of wild gunfire and yelling voices came to them. “We have to hide!” Cecily’s voice was shaking. “Oh God, where are we going to hide?”
Basil played his light over the trees behind their intended hiding spot. “We can disappear through there,” he said. Cecily immediately sprinted for the cover, Basil hot on her heels. They scrambled through some thick brush, then into a section of the woods where the trees were large and closer together. The overgrown weeds and plants whipped at their legs, but they didn’t dare stop. Cecily didn’t see the drop-off until it was too late and she swore mightily as she tumbled, head over heels into about two feet of standing water. The shock of the water brought a cry of surprise to her lips. Basil clamped his hand over her mouth, reached down and turned off her headlamp. He did the same with his. The weak light from the half-moon trickled down to them through the overhead tree boughs.
“I am so sorry,” he whispered. “Your first covert op shouldn’t have been like this.”
Cecily unpinned his hand. “Don’t make a victim out of me yet, sir.”
A voice very near to them called for reinforcements. “Look sharp!” Basil sprang away onto the bank where the soft earth muffled his steps and the thousand and one rich earthy scents would mask his trail from dogs.
Cecily followed him, her hands shaking. An unfamiliar ache was spreading from her left hip. She instinctively looked down as she rubbed the soreness. The dead sensation beneath her fingertips would have alarmed her more had her adrenaline not been pumping as hard. She followed Basil down the muddy riverbank, listening intently for any more indicators they were not alone. Her boots held the cold water to her skin through her cargo pants. She was thankful there was no squelching. They arrived at a large mossy log that created a natural bridge and darted beneath a curtain of Spanish moss. The underside of the log was strangely warm and smelled strongly of decomposing vegetation. It was very damp, but it was out of the standing water and would suffice as cover until they could call for pickup.
Basil was doing just that. He reached into his right pocket for his communicator. After listening for a moment, he flipped the clamshell device open, maneuvered his selector to “Flare” under the Menu button. A second later he flipped it closed and sat down to begin the wait. Cecily, still quivering, gingerly sat beside him. The dull ache at her hip was growing stronger as it moved down the lateral side of her quad. She made a noise of annoyance and straightened her right leg out.
“Are you alright?” Basil asked in a faint whisper.
“Sat on something in the water,” she replied in the same way, “Hip hurts.”
Basil let out a low, prolonged hiss of agitation and ran a grubby hand through his dark hair. “I hope it was just a stick.”
“Me too,” Cecily nodded. “What else would it be?”
“You never know…out here,” Basil returned. “There are creatures aplenty to…well, never mind.”
“I’ll take a look at it when we get to camp.”
“How long will they take to pick us up?”
“The drop zone is about ten miles away.”
“Hence the getaway bikes,” Cecily nodded to herself. “Oh shit,” she put one hand on her leg. “I think it’s spreading.”
“The numbness? You might just be cold,” Basil took her hand. It was freezing. “Cecily, I—”
She leaned forward and retched, suddenly and violently ill. Her involuntary vocalization made Basil leap to his feet, ear straining for noises of pursuit. Oddly, the wood was completely still in the moonlight. The noises of their pursuers had been replaced by a deafening silence that was gradually being infringed upon by regular nightly noises in the woods. Well, that, and Cecily’s functional noise.
She groaned softly.
“Was it something you ate? Was it nerves?” Basil demanded, certain they were alone.
“I don’t know… I don’t… I can’t breathe.”
“Lay down,” Basil instructed. “Relax, and focus on breathing. I’ll take care of whatever it is.” He yanked off his jacket and wadded it under her head. She was beginning to quiver all over—clearly suffering the effects of some paralytic neurotoxin. He felt at his waist for his utility belt and unsnapped a larger pocket on the back. His fingers found an adrenaline shot, which he set aside, and then a small packet of a crushed herb. Turning on his headlamp briefly, he read the label and shook a little into the palm of his hand. Cecily hadn’t ceased quivering, and he saw her eyes dangerously close to rolling back into her head. “Cecily, listen to me, can you open your mouth?”
She focused her eyes through heavy eyelids clearly giving every effort, and tried to comply. Her teeth parted just enough and Basil trickled the powder in. “Hold this under your tongue,” he said as he did so. After about a minute, she seemed to relax a little. “Japanese thistle,” he said as she looked at him silently, the fear and sickness still in her eyes. “The sun’s rising,” he pointed to the east, just visible from beneath their refuge. She pointed her eyes in the direction he indicated and sighed heavily. Basil searched the medicine pouch again and found some tetterwort. “This will help,” he said as he dissolved the entire baggie of the powdered root into fresh water from his canteen. “It’s a mild sedative. ” As he let it trickle into her mouth and she swallowed as best she could, he said, “Try to sleep, Ces, I think the danger is past.”
She managed a very small, tired smile before allowing herself to slide into a deep, dreamless, healing slumber. James curled himself near her. As he began to nod off, the sun rose and illuminated their surroundings brilliantly. He could see in the near distance the statue of an enormous Buddha. It was somehow calming.