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Boss is back.
Having lost both a hand and his entire team when Jim Powell and his friends attacked the power plant, Boss is obsessed with revenge. He had no idea who the men were but he’s determined to launch a search for them until his command makes it clear that his mission of vengeance is not a priority.
Undeterred, Boss arrives at a covert method of engaging the entire population of southwest Virginia in his hunt for the insurgents. He has fliers scattered in the communities around the power plant offering a reward of food and ammunition for the live capture of the lone man whose image was caught by a security camera. The rampant rumors surrounding the attack at the plant work against Jim. His name is whispered everywhere that people gather. Almost overnight, he and his friends find themselves under attack from desperate neighbors determined to collect the reward.
Release date: November 9, 2019
Publisher: Independently published
Print pages: 308
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The Power Plant
When Boss saw his own hand dropping away from his body, severed at the wrist, he knew he had to act fast or he was a dead man. He was already groping for the tourniquet on his belt as he rolled from the icy steel decking. He plunged into the dark, icy water with a heart-seizing abruptness. In his multifaceted career, Boss had taken the Army’s Combat Water Survival Training. He’d also taken cold weather training with the Norwegian Army, which had required jumping through a hole cut in a frozen lake. Unfortunately, none of the techniques he’d learned in those trainings would help him at this very moment. He would die quickly unless he stemmed the free flow of blood from his wrist.
At his back, he tugged at an orange nylon tab, opening the pouch containing his tourniquet. He got a firm grip on it, knowing he was screwed if he lost the precious lifesaving device in the current. He thrust the stump above water, looped the wide tourniquet around it, and tugged the device as tight as he could. When the Velcro end was fastened securely, he twisted the capstan and locked it down, gritting his teeth against the painful pressure.
There was too much blood and too little light to know if he’d been successful or not. He’d know shortly. If he passed out and died he’d have his answer.
Containing the bleeding alone did not guarantee his survival. He’d only dealt with one of the multitude of threats trying to kill him at the moment. He would die in the frigid water if he didn’t get out and get warm. There was shock to contend with, and the possibility he’d lost too much blood to function effectively. Still, quitting was not in his vocabulary.
He scanned his surroundings for both threats and an escape route, but the limited light prevented a thorough visual assessment. In a small blessing, the swift water had carried him away from the scene of the fight. He saw no one in any of the pockets of light. Neither the men he’d been fighting nor his own men.
The entire scene was surreal. Steam rose in dense clouds as floodwaters hit fiery furnaces. Emergency floodlights sliced through that steam, creating sporadic pockets of glowing fog. The scene was eerie and nightmarish. In some areas the facility lighting faded and blinked out as water shorted electrical components.
Carried by the current, Boss was slammed against a steel beam protruding from an unlit platform. The bone-jarring impact rattled him and he grunted in pain. He managed to hook a leg around the beam and stop himself. The current pulled at him but he clung tightly to the beam like a bull rider, his legs wrapped around it, a single arm upraised and held out of the water.
He started to shiver. That was okay. When the shivering stopped his heart might not be too far behind. Time was running out. So was his strength.
In the shadows he could see the beam below him was attached to a steep structure that rose high above the roiling waters. There was a raised platform over him, attached to more catwalks and platforms. He spied a familiar vertical pattern in the darkness and prayed it was a ladder. He scooted along the beam, pulling himself toward it until he was close enough to grope for it. His single frozen hand banged against smooth rungs and he locked onto it with a death grip. He unwrapped his legs from the beam and floated toward the ladder, aware that losing his grip at this point would be a death sentence. He only had the strength for this one chance.
His feet banged against the submerged rungs of the ladder and he jammed s heavy boot onto it. Once he had a secure footing he wasted no time. He had to climb immediately but the shivering and stiff muscles made it difficult. His body was going numb and he was losing dexterity. He had to focus on every single movement. He could not rush. Any mistake at this point would be fatal and Boss refused to die of weakness, of his own inability to complete the mission.
He climbed a single step at a time, getting both feet on a step before sliding his hand upward and locking it in place. He did this repeatedly until eight feet of precarious climbing got him to the level of the raised platform. He rolled onto a deck of rusty steel grating, the texture rasping and grinding against his skin. He staggered to his feet. Stillness was death. There was no time to rest. No time for anything but getting his body temp back up to where it was supposed to be.
A gust of wind blasted him and passed right through his damp clothing. He wondered what the temperature was with the wind chill. Low thirties? High twenties? Either way, it was too cold for a wet man to survive much longer.
He forced himself in the direction of the nearest shelter, some type of structure on the catwalk. He wove back and forth between the yellow safety railings like a pinball. His target was thirty or forty meters away. He stumbled several times as his legs increasingly refused to cooperate. He commanded and they tried to ignore him.
Boss hit the steel door and groped for the knob. Thank God for lever handles. He pressed down and the lock opened. The door flew open and Boss fell inside, landing on the floor. He lashed out with his foot, catching the door, and kicking it shut.
The room was heated, or at least it had been. It was warmer than the temperature outside. Boss yanked a chemical lightstick from his vest and cracked it. He could see now that three walls of the structure were mostly glass but one was covered in dials and gauges. Boss got to his knees, then stood.
He scanned the room, trying to find the source of the heat and see if he could possibly ratchet it up. He saw no ductwork, no radiator, nothing that looked like a heat source. As he moved around the room he felt a pocket of warmth near the gauges. He put the lightstick in his mouth and felt around the wall. He found heat coming from an insulated pipe running to a gauge.
Boss pulled his knife from his belt and slashed the length of insulation, tearing it away with the tip of the knife. Below it was a stainless steel line about the size of a regular residential plumbing pipe. He stuck a finger to the line and found it hot to the touch. With a furious cry he began hacking at the pipe with the heavy knife. After several vicious slashes he heard a hiss and steam sprayed from the damaged pipe. Boss stepped back and delivered a firm kick to the pipe. It bent, the opening growing wider and releasing more steam into the room.
Boss backed away from the wall, moving to the farthest reach of the steam. He hesitated, then eased himself into the warm cloud. The steam was rapidly losing its heat and did not burn him, instead enveloping him in a lifesaving mist. He dropped his knife to the floor, then hit the buckle on his battle belt, which clattered to the deck.
He struggled to wrestle his way out of the thick fleece pullover he wore as outerwear. Beneath that was a heavy skintight Under Armor compression shirt. He tried to take the garment off but it was too tight. When he managed to get it over his head and off a single arm, he allowed the damp shirt to hang loose, trapped beneath a tourniquet he had no intention of releasing.
With further difficulty, the boots, pants, and thermal underwear followed. When he was as naked as he could manage to get, he felt better. The room was heating up around him. He hadn’t succumbed to blood loss. He might survive this after all. He searched the room for anything that could be used as clothing but the stark, industrial space had little to offer. Finally his eyes settled on the coal-stained rugs at the two entrances into the room. He rolled one around the lower part of his body, then the second around his torso. If the steam quit, this might still be enough heat to keep him alive until morning.
He propped himself against the wall and studied the stump of his arm. That was a bad call. Once he did, he felt a devastating wave of pain and nausea. All the limb pain he’d ignored while nearly freezing to death came rushing toward him. He reached for his pants and fished a device from a cargo pocket—an emergency satellite beacon. Even in these conditions it would trigger a rescue. There were men on the other end who owed him. Men who wanted him alive. He pressed the SOS button.
He sagged to the floor, allowing the device to slip from his fingers. The skin beneath his short hair was pressed against the cold, gritty floor. His thoughts were a flurry. How could his operation have gone so wrong? Who had done this to him? To the country?
He would find out. When he did, they would pay. He would kill them one inch at a time. He would torture them, bring them back to life, and torture them some more. They would know his suffering and worse.
A wave of dizziness hit him and he reeled. His eyes fluttered and he started to slump over. Refusing to succumb to unconsciousness, he banged the stump of his missing hand against the ground. White hot pain exploded in his head. Every nerve in his body surged as if his wiring had been overloaded with a voltage it was incapable of handling. He threw his head back and roared with an animal rage.
An Army chopper crew was overnighting in Oak Ridge, TN, after delivering some human cargo. They’d ferried several utility engineers and a couple of bean counters there to provide an assessment of what might be required to provide full power restoration to the Tennessee Valley area. The Crew Chief, Gordon, was awakened at 3 AM by a persistent beep from the control panel.
The interior of the chopper was not much warmer than the winter air outside. Gordon could see his breath in the pale artificial light filtering through the windshield. He groaned and slithered out of his sleeping bag. He turned on a light, slid on a headset, and tried to focus on pushing the right buttons. After a brief discussion that mostly consisted of him making affirmative, one-word responses, he slid the headset off and sagged back in his seat. He wanted to get back in his sleeping bag but that would only delay the inevitable.
He spun in his seat to wake the other two men, both pilots, but found them already sitting up expectantly.
“What’s up?” Davis asked.
“We need to get in the air,” Gordon said. “We have to investigate a high-priority distress beacon in the southwest Virginia area. The distress signal happens to correspond with a power plant going offline at the same location around the same time. They can’t raise anyone on the radio.”
There was a groan and a string of curses from Stanley, the co-pilot. ”Dude, when are we getting a day off? We’re running missions all day, every day. Aren’t there regs about this shit?”
“I’m sure you could get a transfer,” Gordon said. ”You want to pull guard duty at one of those comfort camps? Would you rather sit on your ass and guard a power plant all day, every day?”
No one replied. They knew they had better duty, and considerably better living conditions, than most people did right now. They had weapons, they were eating regularly, and their odds of survival were pretty darn good. It was best to choke down any dissatisfaction and keep their mouths shut.
Their biggest complaint was they were often short-handed. They’d have preferred a four-man crew but were stuck with three now. The desertion rate was high. Men were understandably worried about their families and were slipping off at the first chance that presented itself to them. No matter what role the military found itself in during this crisis, they always seemed to be a few men short of a full complement.
Someone flipped on a light in the back and the men crawled out of their sleeping bags, shivering from the cold. They fumbled for jackets. Everyone already slept in hats and gloves. They’d been offered accommodations inside one the buildings but the crew slept on the chopper for most of these runs outside the wire. Even within secure facilities, this was the only way to be certain they wouldn’t lose fuel, gear, or even the chopper itself. They all knew there were desperate men who’d love to steal their bird and fly home to their families. None of the crew wanted to be stranded at some distant hellhole just because they decided to take a warm bed over the cold deck of a Black Hawk.
“So, no word on who the beacon belongs to?” Stanley asked. ”With all the shit going on now we’re supposed to be jumping just because a beacon is triggered? Are there actually people out there worth this much effort?”
Gordon shrugged. “I guess somebody thinks so. All I can say is, if they want him brought in, then somebody in the government really has a soft spot for this guy.”
The crew stowed their gear and jumped into preflight checks. Though they had gear for making coffee they didn’t have time to make any. Everyone lamented that fact but readied themselves as fast as possible and powered up the engines.
“Whoever this VIP is, he owes me a hot cup of coffee,” Stanley grumbled, slipping on his headset.
“Quit your griping,” Gordon said, taking his station.
“Here we go!” Davis called into his headset, sounding more like a cowboy leaving the chute on the back of a bucking bronco. Davis didn’t particularly care where they were going. It had to be more exciting than running a shuttle service for engineers. Those dudes weren’t much for conversation.
They were soon up to a speed of over one hundred and sixty miles per hour, racing across the dark hills of eastern Tennessee. They sometimes had a hard time believing this was America, where lights were usually plentiful. Not anymore. Once they left Oak Ridge, there was nothing. No flashing cell towers, no bright parking lots, no rural porch lights, and no glowing cities reflecting off the cloud cover.
In about an hour the crew closed in on the coordinates they’d been given, a small community in southwest Virginia that didn’t even qualify as a town.
“What the hell?” Davis muttered. “We’ve been here before. This place should be lit up like a Christmas tree. They make their own power. They can waste as much as they want.”
There was no power now, only sporadic pockets of illumination that likely came from battery-powered emergency lighting. It was not nearly bright enough to conduct a search by.
“I remember this place,” Stanley said. “It’s a bit tricky. There are transmission wires and towers all over the damn place. It’s like an obstacle course. We doing this by night vision or spotlight?”
The chopper had wire strike protection, mechanical cutting blades designed to slice through wires before they had a chance to crash their aircraft, but it was not a foolproof system in tight quarters, like the river valley below them.
“Stay in position,” Gordon said. He unbuckled from his seat and clipped into the tether system that would prevent him from falling out when conducting open-door operations. He shoved the door back, filling the cabin with gusts of bitter cold air, folded his night vision goggles into position, and stared below him.
“What do you see?” Stanley asked.
“Lots of water. The damn place is flooded!” Gordon announced. “The landing pad we used last time is gone. The whole valley is full of water and there’s debris everywhere. I even see a few bodies snagged down there.”
“Oh shit,” Stanley mumbled. “I wonder what happened.”
“There's a lot of snow and ice right now,” Davis said. “It's possible there was an ice dam beneath a bridge somewhere downstream. With no one to report it and no one to clear it, the water could have backed up into the plant.”
“That’s a huge loss,” Gordon said. “They had this place up and running. I remember someone saying it was ready to start transmitting power.”
“Well, I don't know what the hell's going on,” said Stanley, “but I hope our guy is not one of the bobbers you see down there. If so, we just wasted a lot of fuel for nothing.”
“Can you tell where the signal originates from?” Gordon asked.
“Sixty-five meters from our position,” Davis said. “To my ten o’clock.”
In the cabin of the chopper, Gordon worked to translate those coordinates onto the terrain visible through his night vision. “There! A catwalk with some type of structure along it.”
Davis activated a device on the control panel. Their chopper was equipped with Star SAFIRE II thermal imaging. A display illuminated in the cockpit. Davis worked a joystick and maneuvered the gimbal-mounted device until it was pointed at something similar to what Gordon was describing.
“Affirmative on a heat signature in the structure. There's someone in there,” Davis said.
“Get me over top of them!” Gordon shouted.
“Can I activate the lights?” Stanley asked. “We don't know what's down there and I don’t want you impaled on some piece of steel like a human shish kebab.”
Gordon killed his night vision and swung it out of the way. “Go for it.”
Stanley toggled a lever. The landing lights and nose-mounted searchlight burst to life, washing the scene below them in a harsh glow. The entire crew stared down at the carnage revealed by the glare of the spotlight. Dark floodwaters surged around equipment and buildings that had likely been critical to operating this facility. Stray gear and crates of supplies bobbed in eddies.
Most concerning was the number of bodies floating or snagged on the structures. Some wore snow camo, which may have provided excellent concealment before the flood, but now revealed them in stark contrast to the dark river water. Others wore bright red parkas, which Gordon remembered from the engineers they’d recently ferried to this location.
“Poor bastards.” Gordon shook his head. “Get me over that structure.”
His pilots were more cautious than he was but perhaps that was the nature of pilots. Gordon had dropped into every manner of shit-storm all over the world. He’d done combat rescues, been a door gunner, dropped onto oil platforms, and retrieved shipwreck victims from cold seas. This seemed rather straightforward compared to some of the things he’d experienced.
Davis carefully positioned the chopper over top of the metal structure built into the network of scaffolding and catwalks. They could all see that it had been a good decision to use the lighting. The place was a maze of support cables, power transmission wires, and conveyor systems. It was a chopper pilot’s worst nightmare.
Stanley abandoned his seat and clipped into a tether. In the open doorway, Gordon clipped the hoist line onto his rescue harness. He was nearly ready to swing out on the hoist cable when the copilot patted him on the back. Gordon twisted around to see Stanley holding a short, suppressed weapon out to him.
“You think I’ll need that?” Gordon asked.
“Do you know for certain that you won’t?” Stanley countered.
Gordon conceded the point. He’d done so many rescues that he sometimes forgot he was a warrior dropping into the unknown. He slung the rifle around his neck, then wrapped both hands around the cable, and swung gently from the open door of the chopper. He dangled in the air a moment, taking in the scene below him.
“First floor, please!” he said into his microphone.
“Roger that,” Stanley replied. “Going down. First floor. Shoes, housewares, and lingerie.” He pushed a button on the pendant control and Gordon began a steady descent.
Despite the turmoil beneath them, there were no weather conditions complicating the operation, other than the freezing weather. As he dropped, Gordon watched the pattern of the rotor wash in the water. He readied his weapon, making certain a round was chambered and the optic was powered up.
From the cockpit, Davis made small adjustments of the aircraft’s position in order to put Gordon directly where he wanted him. He skillfully dropped him as far as the catwalk railing. They’d done similar operations enough that both men knew exactly what to do. Davis paused there, allowing Gordon to hook a foot onto the yellow pipe rail and center his body where he needed to go. When Davis got the signal that Gordon was ready, he lowered him the final feet.
When Gordon’s boots hit the deck, he immediately unclipped from the hoist line and dropped to a crouch, scanning for threats. He took in his surroundings through the holographic sight on his weapon. He had no indication that he was dropping into a hostile situation. While they’d seen no bullet-riddled bodies or signs of battle, they’d been wrong before. It was a dangerous world and he needed to be ready to press the trigger if things got sketchy.
When he felt it was safe, he hurried toward the pale green structure just down the catwalk from his position. According to the thermal imaging and the satellite beacon, their target was in there. The structure appeared to be a single room, perhaps a control station or office built into the superstructure around the plant. It was around twelve feet wide and sixteen feet from end to end. There was a single steel door opening onto the catwalk in front of Gordon and he expected there was one on the other side, though he couldn’t see it from where he stood.
He flattened himself against the wall and tried to listen for any sound, but all he could hear was the steady pounding of rotors above him. He cautiously tried the knob and it turned in his hand. Unlocked. Normally, he would throw open the door and step clear of the opening, waiting to see if anyone took a shot at him. The problem here was that the door was the width of the catwalk. Once the door was open, there was nowhere to hide.
With his weapon shouldered, he threw open the door and rushed into the room. There was ambient illumination from the chopper lighting and an emergency fixture in the room. He went to his right, rapidly scanning the room through his optic. He checked every quadrant of the chamber, quickly taking in the sparse contents: a desk, a couple of cheap plastic chairs, and a computer. Then Gordon saw something he’d missed. He’d been looking for something higher. Something more obvious. It was a man slumped in the corner, his back against the wall.
“Hands up! Hands up!” Gordon bellowed. He needed to identify the man before he let his guard down.
A low, guttural laugh came from the dark corner. “I hope that’s a fucking joke.”
“No joke!” Gordon shouted, wanting to make sure that his instructions were crystal clear over the sound of the chopper. “Hands up! Identify yourself!”
Boss extracted his arms from beneath the warmth of the rugs he’d covered himself with. He raised a single hand into the air. Then he raised the stump of forearm where his other hand had been.
“Shit,” Gordon uttered. He approached Boss cautiously, rifle leveled on him, and nudged the rugs off with his toe. He needed to make certain there were no weapons concealed beneath them. What he found was a naked and bloodstained man with a satellite beacon laying beside him. “Can you identify yourself?”
Boss shook his head. “That’s above your paygrade, soldier. Better you don’t know.”
“I need a name. Some way of identifying you.”
“Captain Ballou,” Boss mumbled.
Gordon knew this had to be their target. “I think I found our guy,” he said into his mic. “Identifies himself as Captain Ballou. He's naked, possibly hypothermic, and has suffered a traumatic amputation of the right hand.”
“He’s conscious?” Davis asked.
“Do you need a rescue basket?”
“Do we even have a rescue basket?”
“We have a backboard but no basket,” Stanley stated.
“Forget it. Drop me a rescue harness, a blanket, and something to put this guy’s gear in.”
“Stand by,” Stanley said.
Gordon returned to the catwalk and shielded his eyes against the spotlight. He watched the winch cable retract and then lower again, painfully slow, with a duffel bag attached. He unclipped the bag, went inside, and dumped the contents on the floor. He turned on his headlamp and began stowing the guy’s gear in the bag. All he found was the emergency beacon, his clothing, and web gear. He shut the duffel and tossed it toward the door.
“I need to lift you out of here in a rescue harness. Do you have any other injuries besides the obvious? I don’t want to make them worse.”
“Just the hand,” Boss said, sounding exhausted.
Gordon helped Boss to his feet, replacing the grimy carpets with a wool blanket. “This will be slightly drafty until we get you out of here. We’ve got more blankets in the chopper.”
He buckled the harness securely around the blanketed man, then grabbed the duffel bag and slung it over his shoulder. He got Boss in front of him and steered him out the door and down the catwalk, his muscles going rigid at the buffeting blasts of cold air stirred up by the rotors. Gordon’s weapon clanged against the pipe railing as they walked.
He delivered Boss to the waiting hoist line and clipped him in, stepped back, and signaled Stanley that it was safe to lift him. “Ground clear. Lift the load.”
Boss hooked his good hand around the line, steadying himself as the hoist took up his weight and he went airborne. Gordon watched sympathetically, knowing that the nearly naked man had to be freezing. Surely that discomfort was secondary to the severed appendage, though.
The lift seemed to take forever. Gordon volleyed between watching Boss rise toward the chopper and scanning for any other survivors. All he saw were dead men bobbing in the water. Judging by the uniforms, some were part of whatever force this injured man was part of. Others appeared to be international troops, and some he couldn't identify at all.
“Got him. Load secure in aircraft,” Stanley said in his headset. “Coming back at you.”
When the hoist line was within reach, Gordon grabbed it and guided the snap fastener to his harness. He clipped the duffel bag into the hook separately, not wanting the weight to throw him off balance as he was lifted back to the chopper. His weapon he kept at hand, ready to return fire if he drew unwanted attention.
“Lift the load,” Gordon said, giving a thumbs up gesture to the chopper.
The slack disappeared and his feet were lifting off the ground. He spun slowly as he soared away from the catwalk and the rising waters. He couldn’t help but look at the bodies again, wondering what had caused such destruction that only one man survived.
When the hoist was fully retracted, Stanley shot out a hand and latched onto his harness, tugging Gordon toward the chopper deck. Once his feet were firmly planted, he snapped into the chopper’s safety tether and removed the hoist line from his harness. Stanley shut the door.
“All personnel secure in the aircraft. Rear is ready and secure,” Stanley said into his headset.
Gordon pulled a large trauma bag off the wall and dropped to his knees beside the injured man, snapping on a pair of blue nitrile gloves. He checked his patient’s pulse and carefully examined the abrupt termination of Boss’s arm in the harsh glow of his headlamp. Noting that blood continued to seep from the wound, he found another tourniquet in the kit and fastened it above the one Boss had self-applied, successfully stopping the trickle of blood.
“Throw me another blanket,” he instructed the copilot. The man did as requested and spread it over Boss, tucking it around him to help retain as much body heat as possible in the cold interior of the chopper. Stanley unclipped from the safety tether and returned to his seat in the cockpit.
The chopper began to rise and Gordon noticed Boss’s eyes widen. “You okay, Captain Ballou?”
“Yeah. Where are we going?”
“My orders were to deliver you to JBAB if I found you alive,” Gordon replied, referring to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in southeast Washington D.C.
Gordon dug back into the trauma bag and came out with a plastic packet which he opened carefully. “Captain, I need to get an IV in you. You’ve lost a lot of blood and we’ve got a two and a half hour chopper ride ahead of us.”
Boss nodded. “Go for it.”
Gordon pulled two bags of normal saline from the trauma kit. There may have been better fluids but it was what he had. He stuck both bags inside his shirt to warm against his skin while he started the IV. Gordon was a pro at this and got the IV started quickly and efficiently despite his cold-numbed fingers, the rocking chopper, and the bad light. When he had it going he hooked up a bag of the warmed saline and hung it from a piece of rigging. He went back into the trauma kit and came out with a hard plastic case.
“What’s that?” Boss asked.
“I’m going to give you something for the pain.”
“I’m going to give you something for the pain,” Gordon repeated.
When Boss didn’t protest, Gordon filled a syringe from a clear glass vial. His mind wandered to the scene he’d just left. “How is it that you’re the only one who survived the flood? Didn’t anybody notice the rising water?”
Boss shook his head. “It wasn’t flooding that killed those men. We came under insurgent attack.”
Gordon stopped what he was doing. “You’re kidding, right?”
Boss stared at Gordon. “Do I look like a kidder?”
Gordon considered the man. He was powerfully-built in the way of men who lived to train and fight. His body was covered with as many scars as tattoos. He was obviously a man who’d devoted his life to...what? The military? Private security? Executive protection?
Gordon shook his head. “No, I guess you don’t seem like you’re in the mood for humor.” He injected the Ketamine then stashed the supplies back in the trauma kit.
Boss took a deep breath, released it, and Gordon could tell the meds were taking effect. Boss’s breathing slowed and the tension in his face eased. It made Gordon feel good that he could ease his pain a bit. He had to be miserable. Besides the cold and the obvious injury, Gordon had no idea what other hardships the man had experienced in the last twenty-four hours. With his patient comfortable, Gordon eased back against the wall and relaxed. He would continue monitoring his patient but the hardest part of the job was over. He was rescued and stabilized.
The flight crew was quiet for most of the return trip to JBAB. That silence happened a lot after missions when the adrenaline ebbed and exhaustion began chewing at the edges of their consciousness.
They came under fire from ground positions three different times. Once was in a rural area between Roanoke and Lexington, Virginia. The second time was over the south side of Richmond. The final incident took place somewhere over the wasteland of Northern Virginia.
This was a regular occurrence anymore. By now, the crew understood that it was not the action of an enemy force. It was probably not an attempt to harm them personally or even to bring down the chopper. It was most likely some poor soul reacting out of resentment, jealous that there was someone who had fuel when they didn't, or angry that someone was able to carry out old world activities when they were not able to do so. Gordon realized that in their same predicament, angry and desperate, he may have acted the same way, firing blindly at a blip soaring across the sky.
Their patient, Boss, was quiet too. He may have been asleep or at least withdrawn to some place where the pain of his injuries was more manageable. The Ketamine seemed to have helped. Gordon administered another dose of the medication once during the flight. As he did so, he studied the man who called himself Captain Ballou. While he hadn’t said much after their initial conversation, what little he had said gave Gordon a lot to think about.
He couldn’t imagine why insurgents would flood the power plant. Power was one of the things that everybody was asking for. True, food was obviously the top request, but he figured most people would choose the restoration of power over access to fuel. With power restored they might not be able to travel but they would have many of their creature comforts back. For this modern electronic society, addicted to devices, electrical power was the civilizing factor. It was what separated them from the animals, what separated them from undeveloped nations of the world.
The situation was not straightforward. Gordon knew there was widespread dissatisfaction with the conditions the government was attaching to power restoration. They made it simple: if you wanted power, you had to turn in your guns. That simple request struck at the heart of a very divisive issue in America, a nation built on armed resistance to tyranny. Gordon hadn’t heard of any power plants being destroyed, other than in the original attack, but resistance to the government’s plan was not an isolated situation. Even within the ranks of the military, diminished as it was by desertion, there were voices of dissent.
Gordon didn’t take either side in the issue. He was different from a lot of folks in the military. He didn’t come from a military family and was not particularly a gun guy. He was a good shot but he didn't join for the toys or cutting-edge technology. He liked the physical activity, the training, and wanted to have an adventure. He eventually found that the recruiter who’d promised him a life of daily adventure had stretched the truth significantly. Military life involved a lot of waiting.
While he enjoyed his career choice, he was not overly gung-ho about a strict adherence to the constitution. He found himself to be more of a liberal than a conservative. He was patriotic, though not to the point that he would turn on those in power. He understood the conditions attached to the restoration of electrical power and he was cool with it. There were conditions to receiving federal aid and he thought that was okay too. In his mind it was simple: if you wanted to receive aid at a camp, you turned in your weapons and quit griping.
The plan, as he understood it, was that in a few months, when the comfort camp system was stabilized, restoration of power to individual communities would begin taking place with the same general conditions. Communities who disarmed would receive power and communities who refused would receive nothing. Those in charge had presented what he felt was a logical argument for this policy. They stated this requirement was about the safety of aid workers and was about maintaining order. It would prevent the theft of supplies and the emergence of a black market built around stolen supplies.
All of that sounded legit to Gordon. A lot of the people they hauled in and out voiced concerns about this plan, feeling there was a sinister underbelly behind disarming the population, and they made it clear they were against the idea. He thought some of their talk could be considered treasonous under current orders, but that wasn’t his job or his problem.
“Two minutes out to JBAB,” Davis said.
“Request landing lights and remind them we need a trauma team waiting on us,” Gordon said.
Before the terror attacks, base personnel could light the landing zone bright enough to see from the moon. Now, with fuel and power restrictions in place, landings were conducted in much the same way they would be at bases in war zones. That didn’t bother this experienced crew. They’d landed at this same base under these same conditions hundreds of times, and it was second nature to them.
When the forward momentum of the chopper slowed and they began the gradual descent to the tarmac, Boss’s eyes opened. Although he didn’t speak, Gordon sensed he was being watched and found Boss staring at him.
“You okay, buddy?” Gordon asked. “Anything I can do for you before we hand you over to the professionals?”
“No,” Boss said. “What’s your name?”
Boss’ voice was low but did not sound weak. “I appreciate what you did back there, Gordon. You kept a cool head and you saved my ass.”
Gordon shrugged. “Just another day at the office, man. It’s what we do.”
“I remember the folks who help me,” Boss said. “You guys stationed here?”
“We are but that doesn’t mean shit. We're lucky to be on-base two days a week. We pretty much live out there in Indian country.”
Boss understood that was how people were referring to the central Appalachian region now. It seemed destined to return to the frontier it had been three centuries before. “Who's your commanding officer?”
Gordon rattled off the somewhat complicated command structure that he now worked under since the shit hit the fan.
“If I need a crew in the future, I may ask for you guys. You’re solid.”
Gordon chuckled. “Bro, you don’t need to be worrying about getting back out there. You take your time and heal up. If you do request us, though, good luck getting us. All we do is turn and burn. Some days I forget what the ground feels like.”
“Don't worry about that. If I ask for you, I'll get you.”
That comment made Gordon re-examine his passenger, wondering again who the VIP might be. Perhaps CIA or some military hero? Some top-tier operator with valuable information? To Gordon it didn't really matter. He didn’t think it was likely he’d ever see the man again. That wound to his hand would confine him to the bench for the duration of the game.
The sun was just coming up and it would be a long time before his day was over. It was impossible to imagine what it might bring. Would he be delivering supplies to some remote outpost? Was there a team of engineers somewhere on base waiting to be shuttled to a power plant somewhere in the east?
Gordon felt the touchdown and got to his feet. The pilots began the shutdown procedure, flipping switches, and powering down the engines. Gordon opened the door saw a trauma team rushing toward them with a gurney. “The cavalry is coming, Captain Ballou. You'll be fine, brother. They’ll have you back on the road in no time.”
In seconds the trauma team was at the open door and men were climbing aboard to stabilize the patient for transport. When he was ready, Gordon helped them gently extricate the patient and transition him to the waiting gurney. Gordon grabbed the duffel bag with Boss’s gear and followed behind as the men rapidly pushed the gurney across the tarmac to a waiting ambulance. While they loaded him, Gordon handed off the bag to one of the medics.
The ambulance door was slammed in his face and the vehicle accelerated away.
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