2010-08-15: Fight or Flight




August 15, 2010


Alexandra — South Africa


It is vain for the coward to flee; death follows close behind; it is only by defying it that the brave escape. —Voltaire

After several days of tailing his target, Porter has found himself at a South African ranch that sits near the town of Alexandra. One part horseman's academy and one part forest preserve, the ranch is well cared for and frequently visited by both locals and foreigners. It includes several kilometers of riding trails, pens for goats and other small animals, and a modest farm.

Close by, a team of enigneers and laborers are using heavy equipment to extract core samples from both soil and bedrock in the area. A second team is nearly finished erecting a bridge over the narrow river that irrigates the ranch.

Porter is lounging in a hay loft with his eyes on the barn door directly below him. He chews thoughtfully at a bit of straw while he waits, occasionally shifting to try and acclimate himself to the feel of jeans and a flannel work shirt.

It's been almost four years since Vasha has taken a vacation away from her 'career' and family. It's not something that happens often, not by any stretch. Dressed in cream colored jodpurs, a white blouse, and black riding boots, Vasha steps from the main house and makes the trek toward the barn. A riding crop is tucked under her arm and her hair is braided into a long tail down her back. She is, unusually enough, without a helmet.

As she closes in on the barn door, she turns toward the construction and squints her eyes a little. Whatever she is thinking is completely lost between her pause and the neutral expression on her face. It only lasts a few seconds before her attention turns back to the door and she slips in.

The horse that was chosen for her hasn't been completely dressed yet, eliciting an unpleasant hiss from between the woman's teeth. Hefting the saddle up over her shoulder, she makes her way toward the stall with her horse in it. A spirited gelding that's perfect for experienced riders. Though unafraid of the beast, Vasha is still a novice.

Porter swivels around silently in his perch, his body moving as little as possible, his eyes staying fixed on Vasha as she approaches and enters. He's devouring details and filing them away. The angle of a shovel's handle as it leans against the wall. The number of horseshoes hanging from a peg. The distance between himself and the small engine that's coughing to life.

You never know what might come in handy.

Throwing the saddle on top of the horse's blanketed back, Vasha pulls the cinch tight to fasten it. The beast keeps holding its breath, trying to keep the saddle from being secured but eventually, the woman wins out. Unlike her, the animal knows the man is up above, he can smell him. She is completely unaware of the fact, until she turns to grab its reigns and catches a glimpse of denim out of the corner of her eye.

Immediately, Vasha's eyes find Porter's and she freezes. There's a price on the arms dealer's head, whatever he's doing here must be quite important. There's a twitch at the corner of her eyes as she squints up at him. Before all of the scenarios can play out in her mind, Vasha throws herself up on the horse and whips the crop on its hind quarter. It bolts toward the open door of the barn as she hangs on for dear life.

Somehow managing to appear lazy and nimble in the same motion, Porter unfolds himself and jumps through the loft's window. Keeping his body loose and boneless, he slides down the sharply pitched secondary roof and hits the ground running.

A man on a dirtbike scoots around the side of the barn and merges with the path. Grinning, Porter chases him down, grabs him by the back of the shirt, and yanks him from his seat. Unguided, the bike wobbles and skids to a stop, only to be righted and mounted by the American spy a few seconds later. He revs the engine and guns it, spraying dust and pebbles as he speeds after Vasha's fleeing horse.

The horse gallops at a pace only made faster by the frantic whipping of the woman on its back. She doesn't look back but twice. Once to see Porter on the ground, the next to see him coming up behind her on the bike.

The dirt thrown up from the animal's hooves settles to the ground just in time to be sprayed up again by the bike in hot pursuit. From the whine of the engine, the spy's proximity is a little too close for Vasha's comfort. With a quick jerk of her hand, the horse is guided to jump over a fallen log, nearly throwing the rider off its back. Off the trail now, Vasha finds herself being whipped as soundly as the horse was only moments before as they navigate through the trees and toward the small river.

Porter's tiny motorbike is almost too maneuverable for its own good. He sways a bit at first, turning too sharply, fishtailing when he accelerates. After a few moments he settles in, but his eyes are wide and his knuckles are a bit white as he scoots around the fallen log, taking a path that parallels Vasha's. His is rougher, though. It forces him to take a series of uphill jumps as he hits several sandy ledges in quick succession. He almost takes a spill on the final jump, but manages to plant a foot against the incline and cut a sharp turn instead. When he dumps back onto the path, he's neck and neck with the horse.

"Hey!" he shouts. "Hey! Pull over!"

Vasha's head pivots to the side to get another fleeting look at the man. As soon as her eyes are on him, they're off again and she's ducking low against the horse's neck, urging it even faster. Foam runs from the side of the creature's mouth in a white line, only to drip off and land on the woman's leg. The snorting breaths as it labors to comply with the South African's needs sound out in a steady rhythm.

The river comes up too quickly for the woman to prepare and with a smooth jump, the horse launches itself into the air and down to the water below. The scream that sounds out from her lips is cut off as she hits the warm current and tumbles off the horse. It begins to swim toward the opposite bank, four strong legs carry the gelding quicker than she is able to grab at the saddle or reigns. While it shakes itself dry, she is pulled further down stream, struggling to get to shore.

Staying on the path leads Porter to the half-completed bridge rather than the riverbank. There's no hesitation. He grits his teeth, guns the engine, and drives his bike off the edge.

Free fall.

Porter kicks away from the dirtbike and splashes safely into the water. Pilotless, the bike finishes its jump and skitters through the dirt on the other side of the river.

Rather than swim toward the opposite shore, the spy adds the power of his strokes to that of the already swift current. He's headed straight for Vasha.

It doesn't take long for Porter to get within arm's reach of the woman. She's swimming cross current while he's moving with it. She doesn't even notice him until he's right on top of her. The first hand on her back is wrenched away from and she turns in the water to face him.

"You.." she growls as she flips onto her back and kicks, narrowly missing him. Whether it's on purpose or by accident, she keeps up the kicks, not hitting him but working at keeping him away from her.

"Me~!" Porter replies cheerfully. "Hey, I wonder which one of us can hold our breath the longest?"

With that, he latches onto her. Legs and arms locked around her torso, he simply clings and allows himself to sink.

Vasha is caught surprised by the action and is almost without breath already when Porter pulls her under. She struggles, writhing in his grip as panic overtakes her, the fear of drowning very real. The fear that he's here to finish her off nearly a decade and a half later, fully realized.

The tumbling current bobs them above water level just long enough for the woman to gasp for breath before going under again. This time, she manages to pull one arm free. While he still has the advantage over her, it gives her a fighting chance, literally. Her hand is planted under his chin and she pushes upward, using his own body as an anchor against him.

The human neck is flexible and resilient, but it can only take so much. Porter endures for as long as he can, but eventually he's forced to release Vasha. Not without some jabs of his own, though. Two of them, each aimed just under her ribs.

He kicks away from her and swims desperate toward the surface. He tilts his head back, only poking up his nose and mouth long enough to gasp in a single breath before he submerges himself again.

What little air she has is forced out of her lungs in a rush of bubbles when his fists strike. While Porter makes it to the surface, Vasha is straining and because she's wearing waterlogged riding gear, she doesn't make it to the surface in the same amount of time.

She struggles toward the surface, weakly kicking her legs and gliding her arms through the strong undertow. When he is on his way back, she hasn't yet made it up for another breath. Her arms and legs move slower and slower until her limp body is simply being turned by the water.

Though she appears to be out of the fight, a bear is most dangerous when it's wounded. "Sorry, kiddo," Porter murmurs. He approaches with caution, swimming to within arm's reach and then lashing out with another set of blows. Three punches, all high, overhand rights that take his fist out of the water and keep him moving at full speed. He strikes in passing, not even slowing down, rather allowing the current to carry him well past Vasha.

The blows catch her at a rather opportunistic moment, just at the point where her desperation has hit its peak. The last time his fist lashes at her, Vasha grabs it and uses Porter's own strength to carry her up for some much needed oxygen. As soon as her aching lungs are rewarded, he is released to pass by and she continues with her ambitious venture toward shore.

The current is getting faster and the waves more turbulent. The roar up ahead of them only causes Vasha to panic a little more, kicking with all of the strength she has left to reach something to grab onto.

Porter is there. Just before they reach the rapids, he latches onto an outcropping of rock and extends his hand to Vasha. While it might seem odd, it's less so when one considers the alternative.

Work together or die alone. Extend a hand or go home empty-handed.

"Come on!" he shouts as she passes. "We can fight later!"

Vasha doesn't need to be told twice, her grip is surprisingly strong, something that can be easily attributed to her panic. She swings around with the current and pulls herself toward him. Once she's reached the rocks, she keeps a hold of him long enough to cough up some of the water she's already inhaled.

Who knows how much longer later will be? When the brunette has her breath she looks at him with something of a smirk on her face and lets go.

"Shit," Porter mutters. He has little choice but to let go as well. The current carries him off swiftly, far faster than before. He lets out a string of curses each time he bounces off a rock or grinds against a sandbar. The river's speed and conditions have skipped past frightening and landed squarely on dangerous.

He growls and swims faster.

He's not the only one swimming, Vasha is heading straight for the falls. The rocks become bigger and it becomes less and less frequent that she manages to swim around them. With a wet sounding smack, she hits one particularly jagged one and her body is washed around it. The only indication that she had been there at all is a red splatter that's quickly washed away with the next wave.

"Stupid… Stupid… Cow…" the woman chides herself as she's carried with a scream over the edge.

"Oh boy," Porter mutters as he grows closer and closer to the precipice. Instinctively, he takes a deep breath as he's swept over. After plummeting several meters, he snags an overhanging tree branch and arrests his fall. Briefly. The branch creaks precariously, then snaps.

A second grab nets him a firmer grip, this time on a tree root. He lets out a sigh of relief and rewards himself with a glance down.

The surface of the water is a mere meter below Porter's dangling toes. He rolls his eyes, lets go, and splashes his way to safety.

It didn't take long for Vasha to reach the shore. There's a brilliant crimson streak leading from the water, across a few of the rocks, and onto the dirt where she lies on her side. Too exhausted and injured to do anything, she lays there wavering between unconscious and a stunned stupor. Her shirt, once white, is stained red in many places as are her cream colored riding pants.

When Porter nears, she makes one last feeble attempt to stand but collapses back to the ground. Finally out cold.

Porter hauls himself out of the water just a few second later. Dripping, exhausted, but intact. He clucks disapprovingly under his tongue as he surveys Vasha's battered form. "There's barely enough of you left for an extraction," he chides. With no supplies, there is little he can offer her in the way of medical assistance. He handcuffs his wrist to hers and throws the key into the river. Then he heaves her up onto his shoulder and staggers to his feet. "Nnng," he grunts. "And now I get to carry your big ass all the way back. Where's that damn horse?"