by Rebecca Crist
Gomez smiled behind her fleece balaclava at the muffled curse. The teasing tone to her voice belied the harshness of her reply.
“Quit your complaining, Cohen, you volunteered for this mission.”
“Well, if I’d known it included a 10-mile trek through the freaken’ tundra I might’a reconsidered.”
A soft chuckle was barely heard above the frigid breeze. The soothing tones of Maasi’s voice gently chided, “You do not hear me complaining and I had never seen snow before yesterday nor felt a chill below 5 degrees Celsius. And I think we all know that, as you Americans say, “wild horses could not drag you away”.”
“Certainly,” said Zhou, “I thought Cohen was going to knock me down in her haste to offer herself up.”
The last member of their little crew was quiet through the exchange. Hlinka scanned the frozen hillside above them for signs of life. Here and there the breeze stirred swirls of snow in a kind of frigid dance. The pines and spruces that dominated the forest were frosted like an old-fashioned Christmas card but not a creature stirred in the cold afternoon air. They needed to find their target in the next hour or else they would have to make camp. Even the fleece, wool, and thermolite of their clothes would not protect them from the strong gusts predicted by 18:00 hours. The winds were expected to last at least 36-48 hours and they would have to stay in camp while they blew; getting restless and frankly bitchy.
The winds that came through the Alaskan foothills at this time of year were the reason that a ground team had been assigned without air support. The team was small because they knew their quarry was solitary and didn’t want to spook him by sending in a large group. They were authorized to use force to take him but it was in everyone interest that they persuade him to return with them to civilization.
Hlinka did not mind the cold. Although she had been based in Avignon, France for almost five years, she had grown up on a farm in Latvia, helping her father and grandmother on the dairy farm they established after the fall of the Soviets. She had weathered many harsh winters in sub-Arctic conditions and her time in the South had not thinned her blood.
“That is enough talking”, she barked. “Move OUT!”
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