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The cabin of the plane had gotten much colder in the past hour, but Rafe barely noticed it. They had been forced to land in the Himalayas as the aircraft was out of fuel. Thankfully the pilots were able to maneuver the craft into a long flat area that cushioned the landing and avoided a crash, but now they were stuck.
Keith and a couple of his men had gone out to do recon, and they had not come back yet. Rafe had been sitting impatiently when one of the pilots called his attention to a broadcast that was picked up by the in-flight entertainment system.
He was horrified at what he had watched. He saw the man who faithfully stood by his side during the last five years of his life murdered on the live telecast. Jason Cuthbert, his Vice President, had a family. And they probably watched his assassination as well.
Jason Cuthbert served in the Navy for twenty years before going into politics. He had protected his country. He deserved a more dignified death than what those bastards had made a spectacle of.
The man in the telecast had blamed him for Jason’s death. That man said that Jason had taken his place because he had fled. And he was right. In the midst of his grief and anger, he knew that monster was telling the truth.
They killed Jason because he, the President, was not there.
“Sir?” He looked up and saw one of the Secret Service agents holding out a thick skiing jacket. Whoever had stocked the plane had thought of everything. He was still dressed in the overalls Keith had found earlier.
He could hardly believe that only earlier that day he had been looking forward to what he had hoped would be lazy Sunday afternoon. He had said goodbye to his wife only hours before, but it all felt like a lifetime ago.
“Sir, there are also trousers and boots in the bedroom. It may be best for you to change. We might have to go out soon.”
Rafe nodded at the well-built young man that Keith had left in charge. “Lance, right?” He smiled
“Yes, sir.”
“Thank you.” He stood up, took the coat Lance held out and walked towards the bedroom. He was at the door when he turned around suddenly. “Are there enough clothes for everybody?”
“Yes, sir,” Lance replied with a grin. “Enough for the entire US Army,” he exaggerated. “And we have enough rations for a siege. Would you like me to prepare you something, sir?”
Rafe realized that the last time he ate was breakfast that day. His stomach grumbled embarrassingly as if to plead that he not refuse the other man’s offer. “Nothing elaborate, please. A sandwich will be perfect and maybe some coffee?”
Rafe watched the other man nod and start preparing the snack. He turned around and entered the bedroom. He didn’t realize how cold he was until he had changed into the warmer clothes. He heard muffled voices from the other side. Keith and the others must be back.
A knock on the door followed by Keith’s familiar voice confirmed his observation. “Mr. President?”
“Come in Keith,” he replied. Rafe noticed how tired the other man looked. The past few hours had not been easy for all of them, and he knew that Keith was worried about his family as well. They both had no choice but to be separated from the people they cared about.
But while Rafe’s wife and children were being kept safe in a remote location, Keith did not even know if his parents were still alive. Rafe felt an overwhelming sense of pity come over him. However, he knew better than to let the younger man know that he felt sorry for him.
“I heard about Vice President Cuthbert…and about what the terrorist said.”
“He was right. Jason died because of me. If they’d found me there…”
“Then you would be dead too,” Keith interrupted. “If they had found you there…we would have no hope.”
Rafe envied the other man at that moment. He knew what Keith said was true, but he couldn’t stop feeling guilty that his life was worth more than everybody else’s. It was not the reason he became President.
“We found a temple a few miles from here. It’s a steep hike, but we can make it,” Keith changed the subject. “We’ll be safer there. The terrorists may be able to trace the plane.”
“A temple? Are there people there?”
“Yes. A handful of monks who have agreed to give us refuge.”
“Finally, some good news.” Rafe sighed with relief. “And Keith?”
“Yes, Mr. President?”
“I think it’s time you start calling me Rafe.”