As it rained harder, the cold drops plinking and hissing on the barrel of the automatic rifle and dripping from her bangs, Sabine jogged back to the other man she’d killed. She slung the rifle over her shoulder by its strap, crouched, and tore open the small knapsack strapped to the dead man’s back.
She tried to avoid his gaping eyes.
She was trembling from hunger. In the knapsack she found five foil wrapped energy bars, military rations. She ripped the foil on one and bit off a large square.
She shut her eyes, chewing. She could feel the energy of the food — a paste of high protein carob and nuts and dried fruit — enter her body like lightning, and tears flowed out of her squinted eyes, mingling with the cold raindrops. She tried to chew slowly, but within instants she was shredding the foil from a second energy bar. She stopped halfway from the end to drink a long metallic gulp of water from the dead man’s canteen. Gasping. Then she drank again, tilting her head back, shutting her eyes. Bliss.
Choking and retching a little, she screwed the cap carefully back onto the canteen. Then she rummaged further into the knapsack and found the back plastic box. It was a First Aid kit. Standard issue. She clicked it open. Scissors. Gauze. Alcohol swabs. Everything. She shut the box and laid it on the dead leaves.
Next? Amazing. Stuffed into its small plastic pouch, a waterproof rain poncho. Sabine wrenched it free, spread it, and slipped it over her head. She put up the hood. There. Although shuddering, she already felt warmer.
She found extra clips for the rifle, too, and a thin dark wool sweater, and a collapsible spirit stove and two small cooking pans. The other man would have exactly the same items in his pack. That meant seven more energy bars, another canteen sloshing full of clean water, another first aid kit — Sabine shuddered with joy. What luck. What stunning luck.
I’m off, she said to the corpse. I’m out of here. It was wonderful to hear her own radiant, singsong voice over the crackling rain. But first, one thing.
Searching the front pockets in the corpse’s Ultra issued military fatigues, she found it. The homing device. She pressed a button, and it flashed vivid red. It was picking up the signal from the chip in her ankle.
Sabine opened the first aid kit. She ripped apart one of the packages of alcohol swabs with her teeth, and wiped down the point of her combat knife.
Rain was popping on the rich foliage all around her. The Ultra agents must be spread out for a miles in the forest. It might take the next team up to twenty minutes to reach her position. No time, Sabine said. No time for fire, or boiling a pan of water. Pas de temps. Only time for this.
She sat back in the mulch of rotting leaves, pushed the plastic hood of the poncho back, wiped the loose strands of clinging hair from her face to get a better view, and braced her right foot on the left knee.
She searched for the little white scar and for the bump. Keeping her lips tight and trying not to clench her teeth too much, Sabine pushed the point of her combat knife into the flesh. Blood jumped out. She felt dizzy, then sick.
She worked the point in deeper, touched the microchip. She was whimpering now. She thought the voice in her throat sounded like a panicky animal. A wounded cat.
She cut deeper, keeping her grip firm yet relaxed, and then, with a grunt, levered the microchip out along with a splash of blood. She clamped a gauze pad on the wound. Hard. Panting, the breath whistling in her nostrils.
Then, just three times, she wailed. Wailed into the rain and fog.
Sabine wiped the knife blade clean on another gauze pad and sheathed it. The pulse throbbing in her ears. Blotting out most of the roar of the shattering rain.
As soon she trusted herself not to faint, Sabine sterilized the cut with splashes of antiseptic fluid and wound a bandage around and around the ankle, then taped it down tight. The pain was vivid, hot, intense. Use it, Sabine, she said. Okay? Use it.
She shut her eyes for a moment and breathed in and out slowly. Okay. She could use the pain to help keep her head clear. It was just a matter of breathing right.
Okay? Oui. Ca va.
She jogged back to the tiger pit. Stepped down into it, carefully avoiding both the sprawled body and the cruelly pointed stakes. She unbuckled the other small knapsack and slung it over her shoulder.
And the rifle? No. This was already too much weight.
She’d get far, far away from that deadly microchip and then discard whatever she could manage. She’d shed all extra weight. She’d travel light, like the rain and the wind. She’d get to a highway. Then, clearly, she’d be gone.