Alternate Y2K Universe
Search & Rescue Station 7, Wyoming
S & R team 7 was ready and open for business, but in this business, one doesn’t hope for work. Their first day came and went. Buck and Nathan decided to make the helipad work as a basketball court. They added more concrete, a pole and hoop and began painting the necessary lines. Finally all they had to wait for was the concrete to solidify around the pole and it was ready.
Buck and Nathan would have to wait as a call came in. There was an arson fire. The Forest Service was dealing with fire, but there were trapped hikers that Team 7 had to rescue. Josiah and JD took off in the helicopter, as the other five took three trucks.
Josiah radioed their position as soon as he sighted them. “Wind has the smoke blowing this way, so an air pick up is not possible. Two are over the edge, one is on top. Fire is shifting some, water crews are returning, leaving this immediate air space.”
They passed the fire camp as they made their way to the ridge line. Ezra rode with Nathan and kept his eyes locked on the fire. Vin and Buck arrived first and Buck looked over the side deciding on what rope system to use.
Vin stopped to check on the hiker. He signaled Nathan over immediately, “Broken leg.” Warning Nathan what first aid supplies he’d be needing. Vin talked with the woman until Nathan knelt beside her.
Chris and Vin put on their rigs, setting up their tender lines that they would attach to Buck’s rope system. They set up the safety belays for the litter. Buck put on his rig and attached them all to the Z pulley system he set up and anchored, then the three went over.
Nathan had Ezra help him move the women to the truck and lay her in the back, telling Chris he had to get to the fire camp. He signaled that her femur was at risk, so the victim wouldn’t know. Ezra sat with her as Nathan drove as fast as he could back to the fire camp.
The flames were drawing closer and Ezra was becoming increasingly agitated. Nathan was too absorbed to take note of this. Chris radioed that they needed assistance ASAP, so it was up to Ezra to get back up the hill. Only problem for Ezra was that he would have to drive through the flame to do this. He was back out on the road and couldn’t force himself to get that near the fire. Sweating profusely, Ezra tried to reason with himself, but his fear was deep rooted and he turned and drove away from the fire. As he got a reasonable distance away, common sense and clear reasoning took over and he knew that his fellow workers could die out there, these people trusted him despite his lack of successful team history. Without further dwelling he turned his truck around and floored it for the ridge. He actually closed his eyes as he traveled through the fire, stopping only as he heard the ground change. He found himself close to the edge. Working solely on autopilot, Ezra went to the haul line and started the back hitching to pull the others up. It had got stuck with debris that the smoke and wind were swirling around. The fire licked at his feet as he used his whole boy to help the pulley system bring up the five people.
Buck was first over the ridge, and the two of them brought up the litter as Vin helped the other hiker and Chris brought up the rear. They had to deal with getting through the fire first.
Ezra, by this point was nearly catatonic, Vin pushed him to his vehicle and forced him into the seat. Chris and Buck each took a hiker and headed for the fire camp. They pushed through the fire, and Chris was glad of the fire retardant paint on the brand new trucks. Vin noticed the muffled screams that Ezra held in as they passed through the wall of flame.
At the fire camp, they found Nathan and he assisted the two additional hikers. Air medics were waiting to transport all three to Casper. Vin signaled Nathan over to the truck. Just pointing at Ezra.
Nathan checked him over, “Massive shock. What happened?”
“Don’t know. Chris is pissed. Josiah radioed that Ezra took off the opposite way, before eventually returning to save us.” Vin shrugged.
“I’ll keep here with me and we’ll return after I make sure there are no other injuries to tend.”
Vin nodded and headed back over to Chris and Buck. They all headed back to the station.
Nathan kept putting smelling salts under Ezra’s nose, till finally a hand grabbed his arm, saying, “Enough.” Nathan looked into his eyes and nodded. Ezra sat there saying nothing else.
Two hours later Nathan told Ezra that they were heading back. Ezra asked one question, “Where’s the fire now?”
“Burned itself out here, but jumped the ridge line east of here when the winds shifted again.” Nathan answered without great thought as to why the question was asked.
Ezra rode the rest of the way in silence, knowing this was his last ride here. Back at the station, he went to his locker first to clear out the personal gear. He’d have to wait till tomorrow to move out his other stuff. So intent on leaving the locker clean he didn’t hear the footsteps coming up until they stopped directly behind him. He froze in his spot.
He knew it was Chris Larabee before he spoke in a granite voice, “In words you’ll understand, Mr. Standish, you ever run out on me again, and you’ll rue the day.” Ezra spun around, green eyes connected with hazel and the green immediately fell to the floor and he nodded his understanding.
Chris nodded once and left the way he came. Ezra sank to the bench, shocked, this man, the team leader, was giving him a second chance. No one had ever given him a second chance. No one. Ever. A feeling strange to Ezra invaded his system, he didn’t know what it was, but he vowed to himself that he would not let that man down again.
Ezra put his stuff back into his locker. He walked outside and into his dwelling. He pulled a beer out of the fridge and sat across from the fireplace and watched the non-existent fire as he downed his drink.
In the main office, JD was busy on the computer. Using all his skills, accessed files and places that he wasn’t legally allowed. Leaving an untraceable trail he finally gained the information he was seeking. He printed a hard copy.
As it was finished , Vin came in, “What ya doing there?”
“Look Vin, this is on Ezra, look at this.” Holding out the printed copy to him.
Vin took it and skimmed over it. He looked at JD seriously, “One, this is nobody’s business but Ezra’s. You shouldn’t go poking into other’s lives like this. We all want our privacy. Two, tell no one about this. I’ll give this to Chris. You, don’t talk about this to anyone, okay?” Vin was angry at JD for this internet spying.
With big deer eyes, JD looked at Vin, “I was only trying to help Ezra. I like him, I didn’t want Chris to fire him.” JD looked repentant as he moved about restlessly.
Vin took a bit of pity on him, “Okay, your heart’s in the right place, but don’t do it again.” JD nodded.
Vin walked out with the sheet and headed Chris’ office in the back. He knocked on the door and went in, hearing Chris’ enter.
Saying nothing, he handed Chris the printout and sat and waited as he read it.
Chris looked at it and his features tightened as he read the name at the top. Ezra Standish. He looked up at Vin, who only indicated to read it. Chris looked at it more thoroughly and wondered where Vin got the information. Very restricted.
He scanned through the school stuff that he already knew about. But he stopped at the mention of fire at one of his boy’s boarding school. Ezra was nine, evidently he was being punished, the headmaster locked him in a basement. Forgot about him. That same afternoon the school caught on fire and the entire campus was evacuated. It wasn’t until the English teacher asked about Ezra, that the headmaster realized that Ezra was still locked up in the basement. When the firefighters arrived, half the basement was already in flames and Ezra was curled up in a corner, down with smoke inhalation. Traumatized, Ezra spent a month in the hospital. As a side note, Chris read that Ezra’s mom slept with the headmaster so’s to keep Ezra in that school 'til the years end. Chris couldn’t believe that Ezra, the little boy, had to go back to the same school after that.
Chris looked up at Vin, Vin nodded, saying only, “He drove through it and worked close to it to save us.” Chris nodded. “This is private. Shouldn’t talk about it. Already told JD.”
Chris nodded in agreement, thinking to himself that Vin had big privacy issues himself.
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Buck and Ezra headed out for the climbing rocks. Buck wanted to learn some K4 climbing techniques, and Ezra was impressive to watch climb. Vin was equal, but Vin didn’t teach as well. He got tongue tied a lot.
“Mr. Wilmington, how many carabiners do you have on your person?” Ezra asked as they readied themselves for the climb.
“Ez, can’t you just call me Buck out here?” Buck looked down, then answered the question, “Six.”
“First names presumes a friendship.” Ezra answered simply.
“We’re friends, Ezra.” Buck told him. Buck stopped what he was doing and turned to look at Ezra.
Ezra could see out of the corner of his eye that Buck was looking at him, waiting for an answer. Ezra sighed, “If you say so, M…Buck.”
Buck slapped him on the back as he said, “I do say so.”
“You start, show me what you do know,” Ezra asked of Buck.
For the next hour Ezra worked with Buck, showing him tricks of locking the chocks and nuts in the rocks, how to test them before the real weight was put on them. Then Ezra chose a level three climb and the two worked together climbing the face. Buck improved greatly under Ezra’s tutoring. They made the top by noon. Seeking out a bit of shade, Buck took out the lunch he had carried with him. He had two bottles of water and two sandwiches. Ezra thanked him as he started right in.
After washing down the cookies that he shared from the bottom of his pack, Buck commented, “You play a mean game of poker there Ezra. How much you win last night?”
Ezra raised his eyebrows at the question, “Enough to get me to play again.”
“Hell, Ezra that means that you plan on regularly cleaning us out?” Buck laughed as he asked.
“Should inspire you to play better.”
“Ezra, do you cheat?” Buck asked.
“Mr. Wilmington, did you see me cheat?” Buck shook his head. “Then it is very bad manners to ask such a question.
“Still didn’t answer my bad taste question.” Buck thought it was lots of fun teasing Ezra this way.
“You all are so bad at poker, I don’t have to cheat to win. I’d probably have to cheat to lose.” Buck’s coughing up his last swallow was reward enough for Ezra.
Standing up, Ezra gathered his ropes and set up the anchor for the trip down. “shall we rappel down?”
Buck stood also and gathered up the remains of trash and put it in his pack. As Buck was on his way to join Ezra, they both heard a yell, “RIP.”
“Shit.” Ezra called out as he ran to the side from where the yell came. He looked over and could see a climber hanging, swinging back and forth. Buck followed close behind, seeing Ezra survey the hurt climber, he yelled to the person below. “You have him on belay?”
The near hysterical cry answered, “I think so, he just told me to hold it. I don’t know what to do.”
Buck looked at Ezra, waiting for his report. Buck was completely willing to follow Ezra’s suggestion on how to handle this.
“Buck, you need to rappel down so you can aid the man’s decent. I’ll climb down to him and clip him on to my gear as a back up, in case it rips more.”
Buck anchored Ezra’s rig-plate, then his own. He was set to go down when Ezra’s, “Double shit.” halted him. Ezra grabbed his rope and practically hopped off the edge. He took an exceptionally long drop, so he could get under the falling climber, whose rig was ripping some more. He obviously hadn’t placed his chocks and locks well and they were pulling out of the rock and his rope was going with it. Ezra came up from behind the injured climber and let the climber’s body rest against his, removing the weight of his rope. Ezra then clipped the climber’s carabiner into his eight plate to prevent any further falling on his part. He looked below, and could see Buck reach the bottom. He waited as Buck took over for the female on belay. He used one of his spare carabiners and clipped it about both ropes and let it fall to the ground. That would bring his rope close to Buck and he would then use the stronger, more safely secured rope to guide the two of them down.
Buck had already put in the call to Josiah for the chopper to pick them up. It landed in the clearing just as Ezra reached the ground with the injured man. Nathan was there to check him out and aid in loading him up. Both Buck and Ezra declined the trip back, they had their own vehicle out here. The female got in next to Josiah as Nathan stayed next to the injured man. They waved as they took off.
“Well thanks Ezra, that was a great lesson. What’ll ya set up for the next lesson?” Buck asked Ezra tongue in cheek.
Ezra merely lifted his eyebrow, “Guess you’ll just have to wait and see.” Then gave Buck a genuine smile that did reach his eyes. They headed back to station.
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“Full house. Yeah, I win.” JD was thrilled, he didn’t hide it.
Buck looked over to Ezra, who returned his stare with complete innocence. Buck grinned, but Ezra merely shook his head. He wasn’t about to give anything away.
Vin and Chris were trying to hide their smiles at JD’s exuberance. Nathan just grinned right with him, happy to see someone beat Ezra tonight.
“Say, Kid, don’t be spending your winnings all in one place.” Buck teased as JD was acting like he won a hundred dollars when actually it was only twenty five.
JD just kept smiling and said, “Jet’s play again.” That did result in a few laughs and a cough.
Ezra was all set to deal out when their beepers went off and the phone rang. They waited as Larabee answered the call. “Okay, overdue hikers. The Basin. Got it.” He turned to the group, Josiah already had the map out. “Three males were trying for the Continental Divide Peak.”
Vin pointed to a point on the map near the peak, “Should check the Honeycombs, lots of hidy-holes.”
“Get your gear, take an extra set of radio batteries. Josiah, you’ll drop Vin, Ezra and JD at the Honeycombs, Buck and I’ll work from the peak down. You and Nathan do the large sweeps with the inferred. Keep in radio contact. Ten minutes.”
No questions, the seven men left cards and money on the table. Their only thoughts were on the rescue going down. Eight minutes had all seven at the helicopter.
JD tried to keep his jaw from gaping too wide as he watched the landscape below him. He was surprised at how much he could see. With the moon and the chopper lights it was like a cloudy day.
Josiah hovered at the base of the eroded sandstone. Vin turned on his headlamp and jumped the five foot drop to the ground. Ezra was right behind him and JD copied their movements and landed nicely beside them. They waved Josiah off. Chris came over the radio, “Names are Mike, David, and Jim. No more than thirty minutes between check-ins.” He waved down, making eye contact with Vin and again that silent connection communicated all.
Vin looked over at JD, “Head for that ridgeline, then you look down and guide us if you see something.”
JD looked at Vin carefully, checking to see if he was giving him some easy job cause he was the youngest. But Vin’s face looked earnest as he waited for confirmation that JD was on his way. JD nodded and headed up. Vin and Ezra just pointed to the side they were taking and began the frontal assault on the crevasse riddled sandstone hill. Calling out the hiker’s names as they worked their way up and across.
Chris and Buck jumped off at the peak. Chris went for the unofficial peak registrar. Most all peakers like to sign the peak booklets. “Their names are here, but not 'til four o’five. They got a real late start back.” Buck and Chris took off at a good clip down the trail. Buck passed on the news of the hikers.
JD was sure he was doing something simple and easy made up just for him. Buck was always treating him like a kid. Calling him that so much, that all the guys were doing it. But JD wasn’t so lost in his complaining thoughts to notice a funny light out of the corner of his eye. It kinda reminded him of a flickering candle. He called Vin.
Vin turned on his Halogen light so JD could follow his progress and he guided him to the flickering light. Ezra followed Vin’s light by sweeping across the huge holes recklessly. He caught up with Vin in a short time, Vin saw that he had run and took pause that Chris was right, he was reckless. The both yelled the names of the lost hikers, and were rewarded with an answer. Vin radioed that they’d found them and switched to JD so he could guide Josiah in.
Ezra and Vin scrambled down into the Honeycomb, to the hikers. One hiker stood up and waved his hands at the approaching rescuers, “Yes, I was hoping you guys would come out to get us. Jim is hurt.”
Ezra reached down and focused his light on the fellow’s ankle. “Looks like a sprain. Land in one of the holes wrong?”
Jim, the injured party, nodded his head as he said sheepishly, “That’s exactly what happened, then it got dark and these goofs wouldn’t leave me.”
“Wise goofs.” Ezra returned in a charming manor. Vin continued to talk with JD and Josiah. So Ezra continued talking with the young men. “What did use as your light source? That’s how you were located.”
The silent one spoke up, “Oh that was my idea, I held my Bic lighter inside the plastic bottle. I was hoping that it could be seen from further away.”
“Excellent idea, that is indeed how we located you. Our counterpart on the ridgeline saw it and guided us to you. You saved yourselves a whole night out here.” David beamed under Ezra’s praise. “Your names were found on the peaker’s booklet. This should make for a good tale of this adventure. With more tale to develop. You will be air lifted out to Casper. They’ll let you contact someone to come and pick you up from there.” Ezra knelt back down to Jim’s level. “You will go up on a litter, can’t take a chance on the outside possibility of a brake.” He then looked up at the other two. “You guys will climb the ladder up as the helicopter can not land here.” Three pair of eyes opened wide as they thought about it. Ezra grinned, “just think what a find ending this will make to this adventure. We will help you, it will be easy.”
Vin was in visual contact with Josiah and he was slowly lowering his machine as close as was safe. Nathan sent down the litter. Vin and Ezra secured Jim in it, as Vin gave Nathan the sign to begin lifting him up, Ezra gave Jim a thumbs-up. David and Mike watched as their friend was pulled inside the helicopter, both swallowing hard. Next, Nathan threw down the ladder. Vin and Ezra both grabbed a side and secured it steady to make assent easier. First David went up, and Mike followed. Then Nathan pulled up the ladder. Ezra looked at Vin quizzically.
“Told Josiah to go get JD and let him get the heroes welcome. Told him to pick up Chris and Buck first, we could wait. He’ll come back for us after they drop the hikers off. Couldn’t get all us in at the same time anyway.” Vin smiled a bit devilishly.
“And what pray tell, do you have planned Mr. Tanner?” Ezra asked, not really put out, but not about to let on to this man that was how he felt.
“Let’s go sit up there, on the ridgeline.” With a nod, Ezra agreed with Vin’s suggestion.
They made their way up without words, and sat side by side. Vin took in a big breath, and Ezra wasn’t positive due to the light, but was sure the Vin was smiling at the night.
After about twenty minutes of a companionable silence, Vin said aloud, “Listen, you can hear the wind as it crosses the great divide. That wind has traveled more that you or I ever will.”
Ezra was surprised at the pensive thoughts Vin actually spoke aloud, without fear of ridicule, content with the night. He turned to look at Vin as he continued to worship the night.
“I see you sometimes Ezra, at night, late, same as me. Outside, soaking up the silence, the freedom of the open space. I figured you’d heard the wind too.”
Astonished at this side of the private man, Ezra answered with his heart, “The night is my companion, solitude my guide.”
Without turning Vin asked, “Ezra,…..why do ya take such reckless chances?”
Again, Ezra was startled by Vin. “I knew what I was doing, so it wasn’t reckless,” using the same answer he had given Chris. Vin now turned and looked at Ezra, blue eyes looking into green as though trying to peel away the layers that practice kept hid. Vin kept Ezra pinned with those discerning blue eyes that seem to understand the riddle of the ages. What hell must have this young man have endured to produce such an old soul. Ezra couldn’t shake those images of hell, and answered honestly. “There has never been a single, solitary person that truly cared if I returned from any adventure I under took.” There was no self pity in his voice, only the echoes of what never was.
Softly, “You have friends now.”
“Friends are for people that don’t know how to be alone. I know how to be alone.”
“Ez, you try to stay aloof, but you have six people right now that really want to be your friend. And already do care if you return from an adventure.” Vin words were low, but Ezra heard them. Understand them, accept them, probably not, but Vin hoped he think on it.
Ezra concentrated on the wind as it rippled across his skin, asked his own question, surprising himself. “Vin, have you see hell?”
“Yes, Ezra, I have.” Vin answered solemnly. “Lived there for a while.”
“How’d you get out?”
“Not sure, some days I think I might still be there.” The truth of his answer hit a chord inside Ezra.
Ezra nodded into the night, “Yeah, trapped, never been sure escape was possible.”
Their silence was disturbed as they could hear the helicopter returning. Green and blue eyes met again for just an instance in the fabric of time, but for tonight, they both escaped their hell.
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