Alternate Y2K Universe
Disclaimer: Not mine, not mine.......see I can say it. They belong to J Watson.
Many thanks to Gina for all the detective work and to Kelly for the beta.
"Guys, GUYS! I just saw a lady fall down a hole into a rock. She's gone. We gotta go help her," JD Dunne practically yelled as he jumped up and landed atop a rock.
Vin Tanner looked up to the youth just above him on the rock, "Now calm down. Describe what ya saw."
"There was a hole and she had a rope. It looked like she dropped the rope and when she reached for it she fell in."
"Okay, JD, give me the position," asked Vin.
Ezra Standish was already retrieving the truck to pick up Tanner and Dunne.
"Okay, got it," JD jumped down and hurried over to the waiting truck. He gave the GPS coordinates to Ezra and took off.
They were out in the area on Chris orders. He had them traveling all over the Wyoming back country so they could learn the terrain for the upcoming winter. The snow was expected in four to six weeks and Chris knew it would be a high use area for winter sports. They'd been going out in teams, switching partners. The only consistent pair was Josiah and Nathan, as they usually were in the helicopter.
Larabee's Search and Rescue team had successfully completed their maiden season opener. Even more successful than Governor Travis had hoped for. Earning them the nick name of the Magnificent Seven. Chris didn't care for the press labeling them, but then he didn't care for the press at all. But the good side was it enabled them more allotment money for additional equipment. Chris wanted to make sure that his team's lives were never in jeopardy due to faulty or old equipment.
Vin, Ezra and JD reached the major outcropping and JD jumped out of the truck before it had even stopped. Sure-footed as a goat, JD scrambled up the rock formation in search of the hole and fallen woman. Ezra and Vin were close behind.
Vin found her cooler, notebooks and research equipment. He also located climbing equipment at the obvious day site.
JD and Ezra located the hole atop the rock surface that JD saw the lady fall. As they looked down into it they saw a rope was anchored to a bolder and a moving figure inside.
"Hello there. Are you all right?" JD yelled down.
They heard a voice answer, "I'm fine."
But JD was convinced that the lady must be hurt, "I saw you fall."
The voice answered with tone etched in patience. "I'm anchored and hooked into a harness. I didn't fall." The voice became louder as the woman got closer to the entrance and began climbing out of the hole.
Vin had joined JD and Ezra as the women emerged in harness and attached to the rope as she had indicated. She brushed off the dirt from her jeans and t-shirt before directing her gaze to the three men. After turning off her head-lamp she put out her hand as she said, "I'm Rami Devore, bat biologist."
Ezra took it upon himself to introduce them, "I'm Ezra Standish, JD Dunne and Vin Tanner, search and rescue."
Rami crumpled her brows and Vin answered the unasked question, "JD thought he saw you fall into a hole and we came to investigate."
"Well thank you, but as you can see I'm fine. I climb, useful in my line of work. I'm here checking a winter roost site for Corynorhinus townsendii." She looked at their puzzled faces and remembered that she had to stop thinking like a biologist. "Townsend's Big-eared Bat. This is a hibernation cave."
"Cave?" JD inquired confused. "Why don't you just walk in then?"
Rami smiled, "the caves that a person can just walk into has too much temperature variation and is unsuitable for bats. The caves that are located underground with a consistent temperature are favored habitats for cave dwellers."
JD nodded his head, not sure if he followed. Ezra asked, "are there many sites around here?"
Rami replied, "Yeah, east of here, Trapper Creek. Several sites in the abandoned uranium mines."
JD scratched his head and sighed, "Trapper Creek?" Wyoming was a big place.
Rami chuckled, "It's kinda out in the middle of nowhere. Between Muddy Gap and Jefferys City. "
Ezra's interest perked even more, "Are there any good caves for spelunking?"
Vin shivered, he didn't care for tight, dark areas. He might of helped Ezra, but he sure wouldn't do it for fun.
Rami nodded, "I could point out a few on a topo map for you."
Before she could retrieve one, JD asked, "How long are you staying?"
"I'm just starting year two of a three year research project. I stay out here all year," Rami answered as she searched for her topo map.
She didn't see JD's mouth drop open or Ezra's look of respect.
JD said amazed, "All year? Even when it snows? Where do you stay?"
Rami smiled at the inquisition, "I have a summer camp in the Big Horn Mountains and I winter here, over round the other side." She pointed just south of where she was standing. "There are more than adequate walk in caves where I can stay and work from."
"A lot of action out here last year?" Vin asked, figuring if they were going to have to include this area in Josiah's flight rounds.
Rami nodded, "Spring and autumn, lots of partiers. Most of the skiers use the slope to the left, snowmobile in and play."
Ezra wrote down their phone number and handed it to the biologist. "This is the number to our station, just in case. Nice to have met you." Ezra smiled, his green eyes crinkling.
Vin and JD added their partings and climbed back into the truck. As they headed back to their terrain of study, JD puzzled aloud, "Bats?"
Vin smiled, "They eat lots of bugs, JD."
+ + + + + + +
Chris and Buck were headed back to the station, their mounts wanted to pick up speed, as they knew food was waiting for them. But it seemed their humans were determined to walk back.
"The horses were a good idea. JD took to it like he was born in the saddle," Buck observed.
Chris smiled, "I've seen Ezra talking to the buckskin when he thinks no one is looking. And Josiah loves to brush them down, soothing, he says."
Whatever else Chris was going to say was lost as both their beepers went off. Chris pulled out his cellphone and called in.
Josiah answered and told him, "Victim caught under a rockslide. Vin, Ez, JD, enroute with truck. Where are you?"
"Five minutes, hard ride."
Josiah smiled, "Nathan and I'll load the chopper."
Chris looked to Buck as he folded the cellphone, "race ya," and he kicked his horse to a gallop.
Buck yelled at the retreating back, "No fair," and tore after Chris.
They rode hard for six minutes and arrived in front of the barn. Buck told Chris, "You get my stuff, I'll take care of the horses." Chris nodded and headed for the office.
Nathan was loading his medical gear and Josiah had the full assortment of ropes and pulleys. Chris went to Buck's locker and pulled out his personal gear bag, then Chris picked up his.
He met up with Buck as they climbed into the helicopter. Chris took the seat up front with Josiah and Buck climbed in next to Nathan.
"What do we got?" Chris asked as he placed the headset over his ears.
Nathan filled him in, "Three climbers. One male is trapped. No info on his condition. The other two have minor abrasions, according to the call in."
"20-25, but they've already been on the road 10 minutes."
Chris nodded, already working out possible scenarios.
Fifteen minutes later the seven men met near the base of the slide. The were set upon by two nearly hysterical women. One stared screaming immediately, "Save him, save him, why are you doing nothing."
Nathan rolled his eyes and then went up to her, "Now ma'am, we need to get information. And we need to figure the safest way to get him out. Now if you could show me where he is." Nathan thought it was a dumb thing to ask as he could see the man's arm, but it seemed to give the women something to focus on.
Chris looked at the rock the slide was composed of and said, "Shit. That's shale. For every step forward, you'll slide two back. Could cause more rock to slide on him." The hillside was comprised of billions of bits of broken, slick rocks. Traction is almost impossible by good climbers, let alone day hikers. Chris was afraid that to access the man directly would cause the rocks to slide again and cover the already partially submerged man and put the rescuer at risk also.
Nathan was talking directly with the nearly submerged man. "My head hurts, but my legs are stuck, can't seem to move them."
"Can you wiggle your toes?" Nathan asked concerned.
"Nah, didn't mean that kind of not moving. I should say that this darn stuff is just to heavy for me to move my legs," the man clarified.
"Okay, now. Just remain still, we'll be getting you out." Nathan moved close to the others.
Ezra looked to Chris, waiting to see what he was thinking. When it seemed that he was still working on a plan, Ezra chimed in with, "I have a wild idea."
Vin smiled, but it was Buck that retorted, "Bungee jumping won't work here."
Chris waited, he knew if nothing else, the extremist would have an entertaining idea. Chris nodded his head, saying go ahead.
"The helicopter has that swivel ladder. I'll anchor in at the bottom and hang off, attach a horsecollar around victim then, Vin could activate the slide and Josiah pulls us up."
Buck smiled, "Decidedly creative."
JD asked, "Horsecollar? We didn't bring the horses stuff."
Vin was already planning where to tease the slide.
Chris was actually reviewing the idea, playing it out in his head. He looked to Josiah, who nodded, the wind was with them. "Okay, Ezra, get rigged. Buck rig the horse collar to the ladder. Vin, what do you need?"
"Using my air darts, if I hit there, about nine o'clock from the eastside the rocks will fall sloping west. That should give Ezra the time to lift him after the rock movement begins. Doable," Vin nodded.
"Do it. On my mark," Chris nodded to Josiah. He stepped back into the cockpit and kept up to date on the weather data.
Buck was already setting up the system. JD was helping and asked, "Horsecollar, don't remember that one." Chris had sent JD and Nathan to a system, knots and rope management course. He wanted them trained in all areas.
"JD, think about when they air lift elephants, those wide straps. Horsecollars. We need to anchor them, then attach it to the wench. We'll need to watch the rope, don't want it to twist." He explained all this to JD as he was finishing up the final part to attach to the helicopters wench. He gave Chris the to-go signal.
Chris looked to Vin, he was ready. The leader looked to Josiah, he was ready. Ezra was waiting on them, clipped in and Nathan was standing by, he had explained to the victim what was going to happen. Larabee put his hand up and said, "Mark."
Josiah lifted straight up, when he was high enough, he triggered the ladder. With Ezra on the last rung the ladder descended down. When he was just above, Chris guided Josiah to the left. Ezra was able to hang by his feet that were wedged between the rungs and with his hands he got the man to a sitting position. He placed the horsecollar around his waist, cinched it and clipped it to the ladder and himself. He signaled Vin.
Vin looked once at his target and squeezed the trigger. His dart landed exactly where he planned and the rocks started shifting. Chris signaled Josiah and he began his accent. They executed the operation perfectly. The only spanner in the works occurred when the one of the women saw her husband leaving so she jumped and grabbed his legs putting a strain on him and Ezra. Nathan worked quick to disengage her.
Buck and JD did there job, got the ladder up and the pulley system up. Josiah set his craft down. Then they loaded the three climbers in and Nathan went with them to Casper General.
Chris and Buck were more than happy to ride back in the truck, snugly, than to spend any more time with the upset females.
+ + + + + + +
JD sat at the computer terminal, he checked updates of the weather and state news daily. He figured that if they stayed in the know, they would be able to anticipate problems. JD had hacked in the National Weather Bureau at the end of the summer, he had been worried about the drought and if it would reach them. One of the supervisors there had been so impressed, he had JD educate him as to how he had gained access, then rewarded JD with his own access words so he could check regularly.
This morning what caught his eye was the upcoming wolf release. That had been a political hot potato and the Wyoming Farm Bureau had tried to shut down the project. Once the appellate court deferred to Fish and Wildlife Service, and stated that the wolves were of wholly separate geographically packs, introduction could begin and was scheduled to begin at the end of the week.
The Nez Perce Indian Tribe, would be overseeing portions of the Greater Yellowstone Recovery area. As their lands were once included in that part of Wyoming, the Fish and Wildlife included them on the wolf recovery team. JD loved the quote that the Nez Perce rep said, and he printed it out for Vin; For a long while, the wolves have been missing, now they're back. The circle of life is stronger. JD taped it on Vin's locker.
JD had started following this story after Vin had told him of the Indian legends regarding the wolf and all it signifies. Vin was so passionate in his beliefs that he had converted JD to his side. JD believed that he had convinced Ezra and Nathan, too, but neither of them said it aloud. JD ginned to himself then, they probably didn't want to admit that they both agreed on anything.
JD printed what was pertinent and put it on Chris' desk. He had never asked for it, but JD saw him look for it each morning. He put the coffee on, happy that he beat Vin to it, cause Vin made it strong enough for a spoon to stand in it. The youngest member headed out to the barn to saddle his horse. He and Nathan were going out with Chris and Buck to learn mounted search and rescue techniques. JD couldn't believe all he had learned in the five months that he'd been a member of this elite team. Chris had sent Nathan and him to several trainings and workshops. JD was happy to have been included and hoped he could make Chris proud. Chris had told him, that come the snow, he'd be doing the refresher training, and that they all would defer to his skills. JD knew he nearly burst with pride when Chris had said that. What had seemed even more amazing to him upon reflection, was that Chris hadn't said it to make JD feel useful or better, Chris had just been stating his plans for the early part of winter. Gee, he loved his job.
+ + + + + + +
Vin was disappointed at the weak coffee, but seeing as how, Chris, Buck, JD and Nathan were gone, he could just make a fresh pot of real coffee. Josiah had left early as he had arranged to meet his wife in Cheyenne, for she had a two day lay-over, so Vin figured he could have a little fun with Ezra. He dialed Ezra's number and when he received the grumpy hello, he asked, "This Jay's Deli? I want to place an order." A rude no and the slammed phone was all he got. He dialed again and asked the same thing, but added, "Damm rude to hang up."
Hitting home with correct manners, Ezra took a moment to explain that he had the wrong number. Vin replied with, "Well, why didn't you tell me that in the first place," then hung the phone up on him. Vin was still laughing when Ezra made an appearance a half hour later.
Handing the anything-but-morning man a cup of coffee, he asked him mischievously, "Ez, ever do any hot air ballooning?"
Ezra's poker face in place, he answered, "Yes, Mr. Tanner, I have. Why do you ask?"
"Today in Jeffery City they're having the last open contest of the season. Wanna go?" Vin smiled his, are you chicken smile. So far, Ezra has bit everytime.
"Absolutely. Is there prize money?" Ezra asked with expression. Vin just laughed. Ezra absently took a sip of coffee and said, "Good lord, Vin you brewed this, didn't you?"
"You bet, only way to get great coffee."
"Starbucks is the only way to get good coffee," Ezra said over his shoulder as he dumped the coffee down the sink and took a cold soda out of the fridge. At least he could get his caffeine with the Coke.
Vin called to him as he headed to the door, "Meet you in ten," Ezra nodded.
The journey to Jeffrey City was a silent one, but it was a comfortable silence. The two loners had recognized the quality in the other on a subconscious level and felt drawn to each other. So the silence worked for them. Vin sometimes spoke of things in the past. But Ezra seemed to listen well but shared little. Vin saw this as one more challenge in life. Just where was the pleasure if life held no challenges.
Jeffery City really was in the middle of nowhere, but today it was one of the most colorful places in Wyoming. Hot-air balloons of all colors and designs stood, ready to go. Vin went up to one of the stewards and got the required information.
"Hey, Ez? You got forty dollars?" Vin asked with an innocent look.
"Yes, Mr. Tanner I do," Ezra answered absently as his gaze took in all the bright colors.
"Good, pay the man." Vin smiled as he pointed to the operator and walked past to their rented balloon.
Ezra rolled his eyes, "You will be reimbursing me half, Mr. Tanner," Ezra informed him as he put his lighter wallet back into his pocket.
"Ya wanna steer or ya wanna pump?" Vin thought it only fair to let him have the choice since he paid.
Ezra's face showed pleased surprise for a fraction of a second before the poker face replaced all emotion. "Well, I'd be pleased to try my hand at steering."
Vin squinted his eyes as he said, "I thought you said that you'd done this before."
"Oh, I have Mr. Tanner, rest assured." Ezra gave Vin a pleased smile.
Vin worked the propane tank and started warming up the air. "Trick is to have the balloon full of hot air at the get go." Vin grinned, he was having fun, anticipating the ride to come.
Ezra took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, "I am well aware of what it takes to win." Ezra looked over his shoulder at Vin, then in a wild departure from normal, "Let's win this together."
Vin grinned, "Then it's a sure thing."
The two men waited for the start gun, along with the fifty other contestants, and bang, they're off. Vin had the air hot already and they were raising. Ezra steered them away from the main flow. They had to head east, the path they chose was up to them. They worked in tandem, anticipating each others moves, working together with their body movements. They gained altitude and were moving at a fair clip. Then Ezra recognized the area and knew they could travel several directions.
"If we travel straight through between the two ridges, the wind'll push us. He have to stay high," Ezra was asking without saying the question aloud.
Vin answered the silent question, "I can keep us high enough."
Through the peaks they sailed. As they started the decent, they both saw the four riders. Two mischievous grins mirrored like thoughts.
+ + + + + + +
Chris was pleased with the progress that both Nathan and JD have shown. Each man showed it daily in their willingness to learn and retain the new information. The entire morning had proved more successful than he planned, so the head of this elite group took the men to a place that only a few had seen. They were able to let their horses run full out.
Chris turned about when he realized that Buck had stopped. He looked up to where Buck was pointing, openmouthed. There, above in a bright red and orange balloon, two men buzzed the four men on horses. They heard laughter as the balloon passed them.
JD looked at the balloon as it continued on its path, heading out of sight, "Wasn't that......"
"Yes, JD, I think it was." Chris was dumfounded and looked at Buck.
"Where in the hell did Ezra and Vin get that?" Buck couldn't wait to hear this story.
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Ezra stopped for food in Jeffery City before they left. They used the prize money for coming in first. They had elected to fly the balloon back, switching jobs for the return trip.
As the station came into view, Ezra asked, "Want to go kayaking next days off?" Vin grinned and nodded.
+ + + + + + +
Fours weeks later and the snow was finally falling in Montana, but just hadn't come south yet. National Weather was saying next week, JD added it to his morning bulletin. One of the stories that he included seemed not applicable, but it was a snow time' problem, and JD figured it was better to have too much information, than too little.
Alaskan Sled dogs stolen! A dog activist group had been complaining that these dogs had been treated like slaves. The Alaskan and Canadian Dog Activist groups have both claimed that their groups were not involved in the theft. After several complaints on sled dog cruelties, both activist groups independently cleared the Alaskan Sled Dog Adventurers.
JD remembered that first conversation in Austria, where Vin and Ezra both discovered that they dog-sledded. JD smiled.........he'd had a feeling back then about Ezra, he was glad he joined. He'd just have to keep working to break down that wall.
The wolf release in Wyoming was set for tomorrow in the Yellowstone area. Eleven packs and one hundred eighteen wolves would eventually be released in their historic areas. Teton Pack, Gros Ventre Pack, Soda Butte Pack, Nez Perce Pack, and Druid Peak Pack. JD included the names, cause Chris loved it when he could be in the know, before Superintendent Lagos of the Yellowstone National Park. JD grinned as he placed the bulletin on Chris' desk.
+ + + + + + +
Fish and Wildlife Service Ranger Jason Selway was checking the radio tracking equipment before the other folks involved arrived. He was excited, this wolf recovery was a project that he has been with since the beginning, and it was finally ready to release these incredible animals back where they should be.
A jeep pulled up, Wind River Indian's logo on the side. The Arapaho had a representative and a biologist on the team. The Nez Perce did also. The Indian groups have been completely supportive.
Jason waved at Raine DuBois, the biologist and Hawk Sorrel the Arapaho rep, as they joined him by his truck. They helped him finish checking all the transmitters. They were allowed to keep close track this first year and they wanted to get all the information they could. They were releasing the Soda Butte Pack today, their movement was expected to go southeasterly, toward the Owl Creek Mountain Range which butted up to the Wind River Reservation.
Raine was excited, this wolf pack should travel all through her research area. Singin Oak was her Nez Perce counter part, had volunteered to be in on their release as she had been part of the Nez Perce Pack release last week. He pulled up as her thoughts were on last week's release. She could only hope theirs goes as smoothly.
The pack had traveled together. They had been given a slight sedative for the trip. The four people work diligently to unload their charges, and release the door's of the cages. They would stay close by until the effects of the drug were out of their systems. The canine were together and the humans went to their trucks to stay out of sight. Jason had coffee for all, as he stared to pour, shots were fired and the cup was knocked right out of his hand. The four people hit the ground. More shots hit the ground, one hitting the leg of Hawk. Singin pulled him out of the way by dragging him under a truck. Raine rolled under Jason's jeep. Jason joined her as he pulled out his cell phone and called a friend that would be able to handle this. Chris Larabee.
+ + + + + + +
Breakfast dishes were in the sink, it was Buck's turn for kitchen duty and he was trying to get them in the dishwasher. But beepers, the phone and radio all claimed their attention at once.
Chris got the phone as JD answered the radio and the beepers had the other four back in the office in seconds.
"What's up?" Nathan asked as entered last.
Chris held his hand up as he listened. "Help's on the way. Sit tight." He looked expectantly over at JD.
"Two lost teens in Hell's Half Acre," JD answered the silent command.
"Shots fired and one hit, at today's wolf release site. Josiah, you, Nathan and Vin respond to that. Vin, take your long range rifle, take out the bastard if you have too. Nathan, take medical supplies. Also, radio a wildlife vet. Selway believed that the wolves were the actual target." He turned to the other three, "We go for the teens. I know that area, so I go with you as you haven't explored it yet. We leave in ten." No questions. All men scrambled for their gear.
Josiah had the helicopter warming up as Nathan and Vin joined him. Josiah already had the coordinates to the site.
As the chopper rose, Nathan asked their destination. Josiah pointed to the topo map on the ceiling, "Shoshone National Forest, cusp of Yellowstone. Along the Shoshone River." He pointed, then gave them a sight point, "It's in direct line east form Two Ocean Plateau."
"ETA?" Vin asked.
"Thirty minutes." Josiah picked up the radio mic, "Traffic Control 2, this is HM7, come in."
A female voice answered, "Josiah. Jana here. What can I do for you?"
"Fish and Wildlife have a situation with the Soda Butte release and I need to be patched in with Jason Selway."
Josiah checked his radar, and visual for birds. Migration season always had a lot of sky action and they could cause problems if you didn't stay alert.
Jana came back on, "Patching through."
"Josiah, Larabee sent me. What's the situation?"
"Think the wolves are the target. We've got them safe, we just can't get out of here. We got one man hit in the leg. He's in pain, but it's not bleeding real bad."
Nathan asked, "Go clean through?"
Selway answered the other voice. "Yes, in the calf. We're pinned under our vehicles. I think it's only one person. Farm Bureau has been threatening, but this seems extreme for even them."
Josiah nodded. "ETA seventeen minutes. Stay under. And keep an eye out. Contact us if the situation changes. Jana will you stay alert for patching?" "You bet, Josiah, Jason."
Seventeen minutes on the nose Josiah had the trucks in sight and he circled the area looking for the shooter. Pinpointing him wasn't so hard as the gunman took a shot at the helicopter. Vin got a bead on him and told Josiah, "Drop me there," pointing to a ridge behind the shooter. Josiah hovered and Vin dropped noiselessly to the ground and rolled out of view. Josiah then headed to the trucks. He landed in a clearing south and out of range of the shooter.
Nathan grabbed all he could carry and Josiah brought the rest as they hurried to the trapped people. They heard the growls as they crept in. The wolves were waking and getting restless.
Nathan called out, "Help coming in." Nathan and Josiah scrambled in low coming up behind the vehicles. Nathan went to the injured man first. Josiah sought out Selway.
Josiah made eye contact, saying, "Got our man on the ridge. We'll be fine in a coupla minutes." The confidence in that single statement relaxed the four victims.
+ + + + + + +
Vin crept silently along the ridgeline, keeping low. He could see the man dressed in his camo's. Red sneakers spoiled the effect. Vin settled the gun. Checked his scope and focused on the shooter. The man looked ready to fire, so the sharpshooter aimed for the shoulder and hit him on the mark. The shooter flew back with the impact and his rifle fell into the brush below him. Vin proceeded down to him. He checked the area as approached the fallen shooter, looking for any additional gunmen. His gut told him that the man was alone. The tracker picked up the weapon and kept his gun trained on the man, "Up." They started down.
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