“What about Sara Bridges?” Ms. Immer whispered. “Aren’t you going to rescue her too?”
Captain Scortun leaned closer. “Who?”
“The other woman taken off the Star Swan with me.”
“We're here for you, ma’am. No intel on anyone else.” Scortun’s answer was crisp and disinterested.
“Do you know where she’s being held?” Johnny asked.
Tresha shook her head. “We were separated the first day, when we got here. Nice little thing, no insurance. I tried to tell the warlord a lie about her being my friend but he didn’t care.”
“Forget it, Danver, we’ve got our high value package and we’re out of here.” Scortun’s voice was low and stern. “Check the corridor. We need to move.”
Johnny gave him a considering look but took point and led the team from the palace and safely into the foothills. The two squad members who’d been on overwatch joined them. There was no sign of pursuit. Once they were about a mile from the warlord’s compound, Johnny signaled for one of the others to take point and he dropped back to where Ms. Immer trudged along in the column, wearing a pair of borrowed boots and a jacket. “Tell me more about this Sara.”
“I didn’t know her, just a passenger on the Star Swan, had no idea about K&R insurance or pirates. Naïve. I heard she put up a fight when the pirates grabbed her – she was bruised pretty bad the last time I saw her, before we were separated. I wouldn’t have thought she had it in her. The stewardess on the ship said she was a teacher or librarian.” Tresha paused, bending to rub her legs for a moment. “Umarri ordered me not to mention her to the negotiation team if I wanted to stay healthy so I kept my mouth shut.”
“And you have no idea what’s happened to her since the pirates took her away?”
“I told you, no. I was kept pretty busy fending off the warlord without pissing him off, if you know what I mean.” Head tilted, she gave him a flirtatious wink.
“Drop it, Danver,” said the other soldier. “We ain’t here for incidental victims. Captain told you more than once already.”
“Cut the chatter and pick up the pace.” Scortun made his way through the column. “We’re going to miss the extraction window if we don’t hustle and I’m not staying on this hellhole planet any longer than I have to. Danver, take the rearguard and quit distracting Ms. Immer.”
Johnny faded to the end of the column and kept watch on their back trail. Once the group ascended to the plateau seeking the designated landing zone, and he heard the muted sound of the incoming shuttle, he sought out the captain, crouched in the lee of a large boulder, close to Ms. Immer.
“Just fyi, I’m goin’ for the other woman,” Johnny said. “You have a nice flight home to base. Don’t forget to tell them I’m here. Good luck to you, Ms. Immer.”
“Who the hell do you think you are, sergeant?” The captain’s voice was tense and angry. “You don’t get to change mission parameters to suit yourself. I don’t care if you’re in the goddamn Special Forces or not, I gave you a direct order. We’re not going after any other civilians this trip.”
“No, you’re not, I see that.” Johnny couldn’t keep the contempt out of his voice. “In my branch of the service, we don’t leave people behind. In case it’s escaped your notice, I’m not under your command. Special Forces operates independently.”
Holding his pulse rifle where it could conveniently be considered a threat by Captain Scortun if he was feeling paranoid, Johnny backed away. None of the other soldiers wanted to challenge him.
“We’re not waiting for you,” Scortun yelled. “When our shuttle lands, we’re gone.”
“Good riddance,” he said under his breath, as he faded into the underbrush and slipped away down the steep hillside.
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