Into the Fire
Chapter 4: Revelations
Hustling back to the jeep I'm trailed by Liz and Frank. Seeing the evidence of a recent shootout was enough for me to know we were in way more trouble than we had previously assumed. I had to grab the satellite phone and call this in immediately.
"Josh wait a second!" Liz shouted after me as I reached the jeep. I ripped open the door and crawled over the seat to get ahold of my backpack. Before I could, however, I was yanked back out of the vehicle and spun around to face Liz.
She grabbed my arm and held me hostage, her eyes pleading with mine, "Let's stop and think for a second here…"
"Are you out of your mind?" I scoffed as I ripped my arm out of her grasp, "There's been shots fired out here and no sign of anybody! We're calling authorities right now and getting some people out here."
Liz crossed her arms and stepped back in a bit of disgust, "Are you that stupid? There's an abandoned emergency vehicle over there already," she pointed out. "And I don't know what your professor told you, but this expedition wasn't exactly favorable with the government. This is restricted land."
I leaned back against the car and shook my head in disbelief. I couldn't believe everything that was happening right now and my mind was short-circuiting. Nothing was making sense and I couldn't grasp the situation.
"Josh…" Liz addressed me and stepped in closer. I stared at the ground in deep thought until she made me meet her eyes with a gentle hand, "Josh I get it. Yes we can call this in. But if we do, the government is gonna seize this entire discovery that professor Jackson supposedly found. And we will face some sort of penalty for being here."
I just continued to shake my head and offered no reply. She was right, we were in a horrible predicament here. Calling the authorities would be a gamble, and we didn't have all the answers here.
Liz put a hand on my shoulder in an expression of sympathy, "Hey, at the very least lets just take a second and see if we can piece some more of this together before we call anybody in."
With a shrug I slipped away from her hand and glanced back and forth between her and Frank.
"Who the hell are you people?" I accused as my feeling of distress began turning into frustration. "I meet you at some bar two nights ago, saying you're a reporter? What the hell? How do you all know more than I do about all this?"
Frank looked at Liz with a worried frown as he sensed my hostility rising. He nudged her to get her attention, "Hey. You should just tell him. Seriously."
She shook her head but I stepped closer with my fists balled, "What the hell are you hiding?"
I was a bit startled when her normally defensive expression gave way to a look of defeat and her eyes welled up with tears beginning to form. Shakily she began to explain, "Okay I'm not just a random reporter…" she stared into my eyes for what seemed to be an eternity before adding, "I'm Jackson's daughter…"
My fists unclenched at the sudden explanation. I looked at Frank as if seeking verification of what she had just unveiled, and he responded with a nod.
Liz continued, "My father called a few nights ago. I was supposed to meet him out here to help film this documentary about this civilization he uncovered," she took a deep shaky breath before continuing, "but something happened and I haven't heard from him since. Nobody wanted to help us when we arrived out here, and I didn't wanna expose the discovery so instead of letting them know we were a film crew I just said I was a reporter…thought maybe then they'd be willing to at least help us find the area and we could handle it from there," she wiped a tear away and stared at the ground.
Frank shifted his weight and lowered the camera off his shoulder, "We don't know much about how things work out here if you couldn't tell, guess they don't really care for news and reporters. That's why they tossed us outta the bar."
I looked at the sky and rolled my eyes at everything I was hearing. "No shit," I muttered, "Hardly anybody out here has cable or TV's. I figured maybe you were doing a story for back home. But I gotta be honest that's a terrible disguise. I can't believe I bought it."
Liz tried to compose herself with a sniffle before apologizing, "I'm sorry. I just didn't know how much I could trust you at first and was gonna tell you as soon as we got here."
I was still pretty heated over everything but seeing her crumple the way she was I bit my tongue. Even though I wasn't gullible enough to just believe them (especially considering if they were telling the the truth they had been lying to me so far) I knew if she was being honest that this was a shitty situation for her to be in.
I sighed loudly before quietly saying, "Listen, we can sort out some more of this later. Right now we gotta make a move and find out what happened to everyone."
Frank nodded, "Agreed. Let's take a look ov-" his voice trailed off as an odd sound played in the distance. We all spun around to look in every direction as we were unsure what and where the noise came from. It was a quick rumble, followed by a few more sporadic rumbles. Thunder? It couldn't be, the sound was too mechanical. It rumbled out again, this time louder but still a ways off.
Frank and I locked eyes as we realized what it was. Engines. Not loud enough to be a car, but from what I could gather it sounded like a handful of dirt bikes.
"What do we do?" Frank asked quickly as the engines grew louder and closer with each passing second. "Are those military you think?"
I shook my head, "No way, I only ever see those guys rolling around in jeeps. I haven't ever seen a dirt bike out here. We should hide. Quick!"
Before we knew it the engines were roaring up upon us and we had to duck fast. Frank hugged his camera and rolled under an abandoned SUV to his left, the tall grass somewhat concealing him.
In a panic I darted and copied Frank by diving underneath our jeep and pressed myself tight against the ground. My heart was pounding as the engines were nearly on top of us. I rapidly looked back and forth to try and spot the riders when I suddenly noticed Liz's legs still standing beside the jeep.
"Liz get the fuck down!" I called harshly. I saw no reaction from her and the bikes were so close now they were drowning out everything. At the last second I blindly rolled out from underneath the jeep and quickly shot up and wrapped her in my arms before taking her down hard to the ground. Kicking and fighting I pulled her into the hiding spot and gripped her tightly.
She kicked and spun around to face me, "The map is on the dashboard!" she hissed at me.
"Forget the map you probably just gave us away dammit!" I shouted back.
She punched my chest and scowled as the bikes roared right up beside our jeep and surrounded us. Shadows passed us by as the riders circled the vehicle and pulled up. I couldn't judge exactly how many there we but it sounded to be at least a half dozen bikes. The grass around us was a bit too high to get a good view between the bottom of the car but I saw glimpses as people passed.
After a few more moments of them revving and riding around us the engines slowly cut out and sputtered to a stop. Liz buried her face into my chest as a voice spoke out suddenly right beside us.
"I know this wasn't here before," the voice said in a heavy African accent. Footsteps neared our car as the person came to inspect it. I could just barely see him approach. He was wearing tan and brown military fatigues but not the same ones I was used to seeing around town. He also adorned a red beret and aviators, his shined black boots stopping just inches from my face as he opened the driver door.
My heart was beating so loudly I was afraid the man would hear it as he shuffled around inside the car above us. After a few seconds of searching the car hood popped open and the man stepped out. He walked around and lifted it up, the sun shining down past him and meeting my eyes through the garble of engine parts above us.
Oh God, I thought as I squeezed my eyes tight. If he looked hard enough he'd be able to see us through the engine block. I covered Liz up tighter with my arms and tried to hide my face as well while the man looked inside.
"Engine still hot," he stated and chuckled a little, "They can't be far. Fan out I say, you see them, you shoot no questions." his words coming out as cold as ice.
I jumped a little as the hood slammed back down loudly and Liz let out a sharp yelp.
"Oh no no no no-" she whispered in panic before I cupped a hand over her mouth. Her face was just inches from mine, her bright blue eyes opened as wide as they could while staring directly into mine. Her whole body was trembling and shaking.
I held her stare as I prayed the man hadn't heard her yelp or whispering. His boots remained standing dead still in front of the vehicle. After a minute or so he walked around to the passenger side and opened it up to retrieve something. The crinkling of paper gave away that he was stealing the map I had drawn up. He slammed the door and began walking away.
After a few more moments the of inaudible chatter the bikes fired up and took off towards the jungle.
Liz let her face fall back onto my chest as she continued shaking in my arms. I let my head drop back and rest against the ground as I let out a shaky sigh of relief while the engines slowly rumbled away.
I patted Liz on the back quietly, "That was close. Just sit tight a second...let them disappear."
Once the sounds trailed off into the distance we slowly scooted out from our hiding spot. Carefully and cautiously I stood up and looked around to see if the coast was clear. I helped Liz up from the ground and she dusted herself off as Frank slowly came out from beneath the adjacent vehicle.
"Guess they got the map," Liz said with her voice still shaky.
I nodded, "Yeah," I turned around to look and see the map was gone from the dashboard. I wasn't surprised.
I was, however, surprised to see a man holding a rifle at me through the window on the other side of the car.
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