The camp was just starting to wake up when Mike Brackett kicked the boot of Corporal Hodges. “Let’s go, Hodges, saddle up. You been elected to come with me and Charlie.”
Hodges threw off his blanket and looked up at Brackett. “Who elected me?”
“Me and Charlie,” replied Brackett.
Mike Brackett fired up the fan engines when Hodges hopped into the bed of the battle car. He hooked himself into the harness behind the pulse cannon and tapped Brackett on top of his head.
“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Hodges.
He gripped the gun support and Charlie grabbed the frame of the windshield when Brackett throttled the battle car forward. They got a thumbs up from Billy Gilroy as they glided through the open section of the perimeter fence.
They raced down the bank and across the top of the river before Brackett finally throttled back on the opposite side. He settled the battle car into the grass halfway between the river and the tree line. Hodges unhooked from the gun harness and jumped from the back of the battle car.
“We’ll split up here,” said Brackett. “Hodges, you head west along the river and I’ll go east.” He pointed to a road leading into the trees. “Charlie, head up that trail north and see if we can get the vehicles through it. We’ll meet back here in an hour.”
Charlie pulled the machete from the scabbard on his waist and ventured toward the narrow road leading into the jungle-draped tree line. Brackett and Hodges turned and headed in opposite directions along the river.
As Brackett made his way along the bank, the wide clearing slowly narrowed into a small path until it finally disappeared and he stood looking into a great walled tangle of vines. He thought they’d seen the last of the jungle, but none the less, here it was, beckoning them again.
He turned and walked back toward the battle car wondering if Hodges had met the same obstacle. As he neared the battle car, he saw Hodges returning back along the river bank.
Abruptly, Hodges swung around as the largest snake Brackett had ever seen rose from the plant life growing along the edge of the river. Hodges, his pulse rifle on full auto, fired as he back pedaled.
Realizing the rifle had no effect on the snake, Hodges turned and ran toward the battle car. Like a giant bullwhip, the snake reared back and struck at the fleeing Freelancer.