Legacy, Chapter 7 – Remembrance
By C. Lear
His body's violent shaking subsided into an occasional shiver. The pain was a dull throbbing now. Hardy could move without the nagging, sharp stabs of agony, but it was an effort. His breathing was strained. Its ragged sound berated the silence.
He wanted the young woman to come back and tell him what had happened. So he waited. Her melody faded into the recesses of the caverns some time ago.
She gave him something before she left him, something for the pain. It made him tired, but he didn't want to sleep. He had no sense of time in his private darkness. His head swarmed with blurry memories from his past, until a pleasant one settled with him. It was the memory of a woman's face. The girl on the intracity tram. Her delicate features, and her lovely smile, remained with him long after she left him. He often wondered what had become of her.
She boarded at a stop near the center of the underground city. Hardy rose from his seat as she searched the crowded car for a chair. He offered his seat, as any gentleman would do for a lady. She repaid his kindness with her acceptance of the offer and followed it with a captivating smile, exclusively for him. He was spellbound for a moment as she settled into the chair and looked out the window. The tram jerked to life and he nearly toppled over, but he quickly grabbed the bar above him. He sheepishly glanced at the beauty, relieved her attention was diverted elsewhere.
Hardy was a gentleman first, but he couldn't help but stare at her. The artificial sunlight of the underground city had a cool, bluish tint to it, but it illuminated her skin with an enduring glow. Each time she glanced his way, he managed to avert his eyes in time, but he was certain his flushed face betrayed him. The next glance was the last, because her vibrant blue eyes held him. They stared at each other. Like a deer in the proverbial headlights, he was frozen. At least, until she smiled at him again.
The apprehension in Hardy told him to avert his eyes, to look the other way, but as long as she held his gaze, he couldn't. He made a nervous attempt to return her smile.
The tram began to slow and a computerized voice announced the next stop. She averted her eyes as she rose to her feet, breaking the fragile connection between them. She moved past him in the crowded car. He could have moved back, allowing her more room. Instead, he allowed her to brush past him. Her shoulder touched him, then her slender back was against him. Before she could move too far from him, the tram stopped abruptly. Her delicate frame leaned against him with the motion. Her blond hair brushed against his face. She smelled like roses.
She glanced back at him again, not meeting his eyes this time. "I'm sorry." Her voice was soft and pleasant.
Hardy tried to force out something, but it wouldn't come. He stood there, still grasping the bar above him, his mouth open.
She made her way to the door and looked back at him once more. This time she met his eyes. Someone passed between them. In the next moment, she was gone. He searched the windows for her, but she was lost in the crowd of people on the platform. For a moment, he thought of leaving the tram and going after her, but the doors closed and the tram began to move.
He regretted that young woman. Why didn't he speak to her? 'Coffee? Can I get your number?' It seemed so easy in hind-sight. He could have had some precious moments with her before this happened.
He wondered how he would appear to her now. He knew he was badly scarred. Injuries like this could be scary for a young woman. Even with regenerative technology, burns never healed without leaving behind substantial damage. If he knew her better, he was certain it would hurt more to lose her.
'What did it matter?' He thought. 'What if I can't fly again? What if I'm blind?' His life, his career as he knew it, gone in the brutal flash of an explosion. Worst of all, he might never see the face of the young woman on the tram again. If he survived, he feared the path of his life was irrecoverably altered.
He was relieved to hear his rescuer's footsteps in the distance. The sound of her movement distracted him from his thoughts. She had an agile way of moving. There must have been debris scattered in her path, but her steps were light and quick.
He heard her move near him. The faint rustling of her clothes and the sound of her diminutive frame as it settled to the ground next to him were strangely comforting. A gentle hand touched his forearm through the blanket. "Let's hope the dispatch log was accurate. I haven't found anyone else."
"…happening…" came the only word he could squeeze through his narrowing throat. Although the burning had faded, the swelling forced him to drag in each breath.
"What's happening?" The voice asked, and he tried to nod, but couldn't. "I understand," she said, and he felt the weight of another blanket over him. He felt her pull it over his body and adjust it. "It was a planet bomb. It hit very close to here. The Academy is too close to the surface. The most severe damage is here in the hanger area, of course. I guess we are lucky it hit at night. There was some damage to the Academy facilities below too. By now, they have rescue personnel searching the barracks." Her hand touched his forehead. She swept his hair back with her fingers. "Try not to worry about that now. You need to rest. They'll be coming for us soon."
Her touch, her voice, and her presence were soothing. He relaxed as much as the faint throbbing of his injuries would allow. He had no strength to fight the gentle embrace of unconsciousness. Her hand slipped beneath the blankets and grasped his hand. His fingers tightened around hers. He knew she would stay with him now. She would watch over him while he slept.
He awoke with a start. His body jerked in response to the sharp sound of static.
"What took you so long?" The girl asked and Hardy realized the static was from a hand-held radio. He moved his fingers and felt her hand still resting over his.
"Where are you?" Came a man's voice from the radio.
"Did you get my note?" She asked.
"'Gone fishing?' That's a note?" The man's voice was heated.
"It was next to the dispatch log," she replied calmly. "I thought you'd figure it out."
"The log for the hanger? You're in the hanger? How did you get up there?"
"I took the elevator."
"The power... The elevators aren't..." The tone of his voice suddenly changed. "You climbed the elevator shaft, didn't you?"
There was a long pause before she responded, then a click and a hiss of static. "I'm your best climber! What else am I gonna' to do?"
"Your father is going to kill me!"
"What my Dad doesn't know…"
"Is going to eventually come back and bite me in the butt!"
"Are you finished?"
"For now! At least until I can get my hands around your neck!"
"I've got a young male, in his late teens, early twenties, I think." Hardy moved his hand beneath hers as an affirmation. She squeezed his hand in response. "He's suffered severe blunt trauma to his right side, including his head, but he's conscious and lucid. Contusions around the chest cavity indicate some fractured ribs. He also has chemical burns to his eyes, face, neck, and some of his upper torso. He was pretty shocky when I found him, but he's taking fluids now. I had to give him something for the pain. There was no way around that. How soon until I can get some assistance up here?"
"I'm not sure… I'll call dispatch. There's debris in the stairwells. You know what the elevator shafts look like. We might be able to send someone down the entrance for the runway, but we need to get some units up there to see if it's clear. It's a mess down here. There are a lot of injured. You may just have to sit-tight for a bit. Can you keep him stable?"
She paused before answering. Hardy sensed her hesitation. "I have another bag of saline... I'm worried about the head trauma…" Her voice faded into a growing reverberation. The rumble grew louder. The earth around them and below them began to tremble and shake. Hardy could hear the stones crack, and pieces fell around them like hail.
He felt the girl's body leaning over him, shielding him from the falling debris. He felt her trembling breath against his forehead. Her cool fingers touched the side of his face as she covered him.
The thunderous sound faded, then echoed into the silence of the cavern. They were frozen for a long moment. They waited, silently. The hand-held cracked to life near Hardy's ear.
"Did you feel that?" Came the man's uneasy voice.
"Yes," she said, and Hardy felt her pull away. "Aftershock?"
"I hope so. I don't think this place can take another direct hit right now."
"I don't think we have much time... Whatever you are going to do... hurry."
"I'm on it." A sharp click from the radio marked the end of the transmission. They were left in silence.
A few moments passed between the pair. He couldn't see her face, but even through the haze of the medication, the girl's fear and apprehension washed over him. He lifted his hand from under the blankets, reaching for her. She must have put the radio down because he felt both of her hands wrap around his. "Talk to me," he whispered to her.
"Talk?" She replied softly. "About what?"
"Don't… care… Like… your voice." He was weary from the medication, but adrenaline pumped through him. She was steady and strong, but he knew he needed to occupy her mind. It was his turn to provide comfort to her. If she was anything like him, it was hard to sit still and wait. It was too easy to dwell on the situation.
She released his hand and stood. He heard the sharp scrape of her boots on the concrete. She was sliding her feet , listening to the sound as she thought. She was like him. She couldn't sit still.
It wasn't long before his senses discovered what was making the young girl so anxious. The faint smell of smoke from a smoldering fire washed over him. He pushed the oxygen mask away from his face, sniffing the air. It was definitely smoke.
He bit his lip as his mind raced. It stopped short at one conclusion. "You have to go..." He managed strength in his voice this time. He wanted her to hear him clearly.
She cut him off with a loud retort. "That's not an option!"
Hardy silently cursed, frustrated with the stubborn young woman. He wouldn't have her suffer the same fate. Not because of him. "Not safe..."
"Be quiet! Let me think!" There was a long pause between them. He heard faint, words from her, as if she was talking to herself, then the quick scuff of her boots faded into the distance.
Hardy listened for her after the fading footfalls. His body began to shiver again, provoked by his anxiety. He could hear only slow, rhythmic drops of liquid as they plunked into a nearby puddle. He grimly wondered if it was water from the extinguishing system or jet fuel. Maybe it was both.
Hardy was not easily rattled. Despite his ambitions, where others his age were restless and anxious, he had an easy nature about him. These circumstances were testing every nerve and every ounce of his resolve. If it had not been for the narcotic affects of the pain medication, the sudden burst of raw, guttural noise in the distance would have propelled him to his feet, despite his restraints. 'A straining hydraulic motor?' He thought. The sound was soon joined by the ear-splitting screech of warping metal. Then, silence once more.
To Hardy's relief, he heard the footsteps of the young woman coming closer. Her steps were slower this time, less graceful and more deliberate. She coughed as she moved toward him, an indication the smoke was getting heavy. When she returned to his side, she was winded. He heard something large and heavy drop to the concrete beside him. He pulled the mask from his face and held it out, hoping she would see it. He felt her fingers wrap around his hand. She pulled the mask toward her, and he felt her lean into it as she took a deep breath. She paused and took another breath, pulling the mask away to exhale.
"Thank you." She gently pushed the mask toward his face and helped him position it.
He heard static from the hand-held again, then a click to open the channel. "Eddie?... Eddie, where's my back-up?" There was a long pause and the two of them anxiously awaited an interruption in the static.
"They're fully involved..." The man's voice was almost timid. "Dispatch..." His voice faded.
"Dispatch what?" The woman prodded the man with her furious words.
"Just hold tight... I'll get someone to you!"
The woman released a sigh. Hardy sensed her frustration. "There's smoke up here, Eddie! The extinguishing system isn't responding! Is anyone coming?"
"Not yet! Dispatch said it's a matter of numbers..."
"Don't give me excuses!" She shouted into the hand-held, and he heard the radio collide with the concrete tarmac in the distance. Hardy was suddenly aware their situation was deteriorating rapidly.
After a moment, he heard her move closer to him. Her voice was softer when she spoke to him. "Listen. I thought we had more time." She tucked a fluid-filled bag under his arm and pulled the blanket over it. He surmised it was the saline attached to his arm. There was rustling near him. The familiar click of belt clips marked her words as she spoke. "I'm going to have to move you myself."
Hardy was silent as he listened to the efficient movements of her hands. He had no reservations about her competence, only frustration over his immobility. He winced when she pulled and tightened each strap over his legs.
"Something else I should mention... This road's going to be a little bumpy." She pulled a belt across his hips, pulling it snug over his pelvis. This time he cried out. The medication was wearing off. "I'm sorry! I've got to secure you to the backboard! Hang in there! I found a stretcher-basket in the wreckage of a medevac." Hardy realized the sound of the hydraulic motor was from the ramp of a shuttle. There must have been enough power in reserve for her to open it.
She was more careful with the belt across his chest. She pulled slowly until it was tight. She removed the oxygen mask from his face, and he heard the rustling of her bag as she stowed it with the small oxygen tank.
She bent over him and grasped the backboard near his shoulders. She lifted the backboard under his head with a steady, controlled movement. He tensed as his body adjusted to the new angle. She set him down carefully. She moved to his legs and, in another smooth movement, she lifted the other end into the basket. He was embraced by thick, impact cushioning around him. He reached out and felt the cool, brushed aluminum of the frame surrounding him.
He heard the sound of smooth rope sliding against the hollow aluminum tubing. He felt the gentle rocking of the stretcher-basket as she secured it. She pulled the rope tight with a sudden jerk.
"Where... where are we going?" Hardy heard the crisp snap of carabiners and the ringing of metal implements dangling against each other. 'A harness?' He thought.
"Back the way I came... the elevator shaft!"
The stretcher moved beneath him and metal scraped against concrete. "I... I don't mean to seem ungrateful, ma'am," Hardy spoke over the noise as another forceful jerk moved him again, "but how?"
"Any way I can! We don't have time to consider alternatives! Let's hope I brought enough rope!"
Hardy tried to speak again, but his voice was still weak. It faded into the grating noise of the dragging stretcher.
The smell of smoke was stronger now. The monotonous dragging noise suddenly stopped and gave way to the distant sounds of sirens in the background. Part of the extinguishing system was still working, just not the part they needed.
Hardy heard the woman collapse to the floor. She was coughing.
"You... alright? Hey..."
"I'm fine!... I'm alright!" She responded quickly, but paused as she tried to catch her breath. "I didn't know pilots could weigh so much!"
Hardy felt relieved. She was making jokes and it eased him. "It's... it's all muscle!" He replied. She responded with a gentle laugh, but it was interrupted by the ominous rumbling of the earth around them.
He felt her lean over him again, shielding his head against raining debris. He reached up and touched her arm. She was trembling.
He was aware her face was close to his. Despite the pain of the burns on his face, he could feel her breath against his skin. "Your name..." He spoke softly. He could manage complete sentences in a whisper.
"What?" She lifted her head, but put it back down when another shower of debris hit them.
"I would like to know... your name."
"Right..." she whispered over the sound of hailing debris hitting her back, "Jessica..."
"Jefferson Davis Hardy, ma'am. Under better circumstances... I would be at your service."
"Under better circumstances, we might not have met."
"I take it, you're a glass-half-full type of person." The rumbling continued and another shower of debris was upon them.
Finally, the noise subsided; and again, they were very still, awaiting another wave of chaos. "You don't have to do this..." He whispered to her.
She pulled away from him, and he heard her brush the dust from her clothing and hair. "I take it, you're a glass-half-empty type of person."
"Have some faith, Jefferson Davis." She got to her feet as she spoke. "I haven't given up on you. Don't give up on me so easily."
"I didn't mean it like..."
"We're in this together!... We're getting out of this together!" A sudden jerk set the stretcher-basket moving again and the monotonous scraping of metal against concrete continued.
Getting to the crippled elevator shafts was a long and arduous process, but she was tenacious. She stopped to move debris aside, making sounds as she struggled against the weight of obstacles. Sometimes, she had to drag the stretcher-basket over large mounds of rubble, but she kept moving.
Hardy sensed the young woman was trying to move faster now. The smell of smoke was stronger, and it was taking its toll on both of them. She coughed, and she stopped more frequently to catch her breath. Hardy's throat burned and tightened as he breathed the rancid air.
They finally came to a stop, and Hardy sensed genuine urgency in the young woman's movements. More rope slid against the aluminum frame. Strange sounds followed: the ringing of metal against metal, sharp snaps, and soft rustling. He occupied his hazy mind, attempting to identify each of them.
One sound was familiar and menacing. It roared softly above the others. Suddenly, a wave of heat swept over them. Hardy felt a sudden change in the pressure of the air around them.
"Jessica..." Hardy whispered.
The stretcher-basket moved again, slowly scraping the concrete until he felt a gentle rocking sensation. He was suddenly suspended. The ropes creaked eerily with the strain of his weight. He heard debris fall and hit far below him. The sounds echoed against the walls around them. His blindness seemed like a blessing in that moment.
"Okay, I'm going to lower your feet! You're going down feet first! It's too narrow to keep you horizontal!"
He felt the angle of the stretcher change, inch by inch. Each movement and adjustment was slight, yet quick and deliberate. Gravity pulled at him, but he slipped very little in the padded cocoon of the stretcher. He felt the straps against his broken body and he cringed. He silently hoped it wasn't a long way down.
The explosions began in the distance. It was a chain-reaction of thunderous noise and showering debris. The stone walls shuddered around them once more. It was more terrifying than the first time, because the dissonance approached with an ominous, angry force.
"Jessica..." Hardy began, but his weak voice was quickly overwhelmed by the menacing roar.
Like the stifling breath of an angry beast, a rush of heated air surged at them. Hardy clenched his fists, helplessly anticipating the violent onslaught. Another deafening roar followed. This one surrounded him and resonated through him. Suddenly, suffocating heat and debris swept down on him. The stretcher lurched ferociously then slammed hard against the wall of the elevator shaft. He felt the sensation of a sudden drop. The ropes were giving way!
The noise subsided as quickly as it had begun. He coughed hard, choking on dust, smoke, and bitter ash. "Jessica..." he tried to scream, but his words were choked by violent coughing.
There was no response from the young woman. His only answer was the creaking of the fragile suspensions above him. They were synchronized with the gentle sway of the stretcher.
He was trembling with pain. His breath was anxious and rapid, but as the narrow aperture of his throat slowly closed, his exhalations became feeble and weak. Exhaustion pulled at him. His extremities tingled and slowly went numb. Each breath was a struggle, until he couldn't breath anymore. The sounds around him dissipated into hollow, empty blackness. 'Finally,' he thought, 'this is what it feels like...'
To Be Continued
Chapter 8 – Gravity
The only way out is the way through... but the way through has it's own challenges...