Intrepid In Death's Shadow
by G. F. D.

 

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belong to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again. Who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."~ Theodore Roosevelt

"SGT. TURNER!" an officer yelled above the rotating blades of the transport chopper flying over the Aleutians.

"SIR!" he yelled back, they were practicing a routine cold-weather and troop drop. The single rotor H-52 helicopter they were in roaring above the gale.

"YOU KEEPING WATCH ON THAT WX?!" The officer yelled back before returning to his door gunnery-position. He really didnít need to yell in the microphone, but even with the volume all the way up it was hard with the tempest, lightning flashing across the grey transports.

"YES SIR!" Sgt. Turner turned back around. The green glow from his instrument display lighting up one side of his face.

Four H-52ís flew above the Aleutians, built to compliment the larger tilt-rotor aircraft it was a cheaper, quieter, and a smaller solution to the required airframe. The age old design of a single rotor was proven time and again to be a cheaper solution than the more complex tilt-rotor or ducted-fan drop-ships, even if it was just as ugly as the old Pave-Low helicopters. Sgt. Turner kept his eyes on his instruments in his helmet. The twenty AIF-NA special operations soldiers in the back keeping quiet, their helmet-mounted HUDís showing them going the topography of an island.

"TWO MINUTES TO ETA!" the commanding officer yelled over the whine of the engines.

"This is Jolly-1; weíre getting some electronic interference right now, status of your instruments?" Sgt. Turner looked over his instruments, as were the other two pilots in the four-flight formation. He could barely make out a light in the aircraft ahead of them, all other lights except IR was off. The light swayed in Turnerís vision as the aircraft bounced, all of them fighting the turbulence.

"Copy, this is Jolly-3, the ground-reflective radar is going on us, are you having similar issues Jolly-1?" The number three helicopter in formation crackled over the radio once. The wolf co-pilot cocked his head at the noise, odd for the equipment to act up.

"This is Jolly-2, weíre having issues with our WX," A loud pop was heard as Jolly-2 cutoff.

"Jolly-2, this is Jolly-3 our WX just cutoff also. Can I get a status update from everybody on their WX?" The pilot didnít sound stressed, but the blood was already pumping in Sgt. Turners veins as he opened the channel of his radio.

"Jolly-4 here, we have a negative on our WX just now as well, switching to..." Sgt. Turner was cutoff by the door gunner.

"WE GOT ICE!" The gunner yelled over the microphone as the AIF-NA commandos looked up to see the sheets of icy-rain howl past the window the door-gunner manned.

"This is Jolly-2, Jolly-4 I didnít get a copy, could you repeat that?" There was yelling on the other end too.

"This is Jolly-4, our door gunner just confirmed ice build-up," Sgt. Turner repeated, just as he noticed the spattering noise of rain has changed to a clatter. The fog from the storm and the dark night blocked out all normal vision as Sgt. Turner looked through the helmet-mounted displays. The thin, opaque display showing the trajectory line for all helicopters alongside other data, such as latitude and longitude, drawn in holographic lines on the raging sea below.

"Jolly-1, we confirm that ice, request climb to one-two-zero-zero feet, hold current heading three-six."

"Copy," Jolly-1 through 4 whined as the rotors cut through the thickening ice, some of the rain from the tempest freezing as lightning struck the night over the Bering Straight. The gray sea thrashing below as the helicopters rose.

"This is Jolly-2, we have a caution light on for ice buildup near our intake, request abort," the radio crackled more as Sgt. Turner turned on the high-profile night vision goggles instead of relying on the instruments. His heart skipped a beat as the grey clouds above them loomed and blurred. The sea covered in whitecaps. There was an island miles off, lights on one shore blinking.

"SIR WE JUST HIT A SHIT-TON OF ICE! REPORT AN ABORT!" the door gunner yelled as the howling increased; a side gust rocked the airframe. The turbulence knocking the crew-chief down as he checked hydrogen lines, the co-pilot began to activate switches for the stabilizers and engine controls as the other H-52ís swayed in Sgt. Turners view finder on his helmet. Another gust made the elite soldiers of the AIF-NA sway in their seats as the ninety-five foot helicopters were bounced around.

"Jolly-2 to Adak base-tower, request immediate abort, we have severe ice build-up!" The mission debrief only listed radio traffic to the ground for emergencies. Sgt. Turnerís mind spun as he began concentrating on the readouts on his helmet, and then an arc hit the aircraft.

The blinding flash hit the second H-52 and passed to the other three before going to the sea. The flash was enough to sear Sgt. Turnerís eyes for a split second as he looked again at the island.

"Roger Jolly-2, this is Adak base tower follow heading three six until you are near south LZ Adak."

"Sergeant Turner, we have twenty minutes at current conditions to get to that LZ before we start losing feedback from the control," the co-pilot looked at him for a moment with yellow eyes before toggling the defroster switch for the tail elevator. The four helicopters whined over the storm as Sgt. Turner kept watch over his HUD. He looked back, it was only his second time flying the special ops soldiers, and since there was a shortage in H-52 pilots he was brought in. It unnerved him to see how calmly the humans and furs alike checked their cold weather gear, then their rifles alike.

"Jolly-1 here, we have a copy on current heading Adak tower," Sgt. Turner listened to the radio. The pilot in number one and three were veterans, number two and him, they were new.

"Jolly-3 here, our engineer is reporting issues with fuel lines, do you copy?"

"Jolly-1, we confirm that, how long until bingo fuel?"

"Jolly-3, we have a copy on fifteen minutes max speed," Sgt. Turner kept quiet; Jolly-2 also did the same. The island was just within reach of that timeframe, just. As another flash of lightning hit the shape of a destroyer was outlined in the sea below them.

The ice storm pattered the windscreen as he looked over the instruments, until he heard the howling. He looked back to see the commanding officer of the special forces soldiers opening the rear ramp of his H-52.

"This is Jolly-4; do we still have a green light for a drop?"

"Jolly-3 to Jolly-4; that is a negative, be prepared for a mayday."

Sgt. Turnerís blood went cold as he listened to the radio again, he struggled with the controls as the aircraft feedback started to get sluggish, five more minutes to ETA and his H-52; his H-52 was what his training officer would have called "harder to fly than a sack of potatoes on a good day."

"Jolly-2 here, we need to abort soon, our controls are becoming unresponsive," Sgt. Turner listened to the calm voice of the other new pilot. Eerie compared to fifteen minutes ago when he was ready to yell into his radio.

"Jolly-2, this is Jolly-1 we copy. Do you have a status on you aircraft?"

"Jolly-2, we have critical ice buildup, engines are losing intake. We are losing altitude. Two minutes until ETA."

"Jolly-2, this is Jolly-4. We have one minute fifty seconds to ETA, request descent to twelve hundred feet, heading three six." He paused before opening the radio to Base Tower who was only listening. "Adak Base Tower, request a status on nearby ships, and weather check?"

"Copy Jolly-4, Base Tower, we have the AIFN Gearing nearby, visibility is half a kilometer without instruments at seven-hundred meters. We have low-lying fog and winds at forty knots due north."

Sgt. Turner heard it, the sound training had made him dread. A high pitched beeping from the intake indicator as main rotor rpm dropped. He checked his altimeter to see he was one hundred meters below everybody, the HUD on his helmet showing whitecaps of the Bering Sea growing. The whine dropped in the helicopter as one engine began to groan, the other screaming against the added load. The helicopter shuddered now with every gust of wind, dropping in bumps with the turbulence. Above him Sgt. Turner could see the rotors flexing from the loads the dipping aircraft was giving it. Another beeping began as the second engineís noise began to crescendo in a howl.

The calm in his own voice startled him as he spoke. "Jolly-4 declaring an in-flight emergency, mayday, mayday, mayday, coordinates are five-one degrees by three-four minutes, North by one-seven-six degrees, three-seven minutes. We have twenty-five souls onboard; do you copy Adak-tower?" The co-pilot grunted as the stick slammed into his leg. Sgt. Turner holding a tight grip on the joystick as the tail-rotor rpm dropped from loss of power. The helicopter turning to the right slowly before straightening out as Sgt. Turner kept the controls off-center to keep the massive helicopter straight.

"Copy, we have the AIFN Gearing en-route, dust off teams are on standby."

The second engine whined as the superstructure groaned, the troopers checked their weapons again before checking all their cold-weather gear. The commanding officer grabbed an ELT beacon before activating it aboard the helicopter. All of this went un-noticed to Sgt. Turner and the crew as he fought the H-52, the increasingly sluggish controls fighting him as the altimeter began to tick, then raise in shrill alarm with the other sirens. The door gunners checked their safety gear, the copilot flicking a pink tongue over his muzzle as he dropped IR-flares for any ship in viewing distance.

The pilots in the other helicopters listened as Jolly-4 left their channel open, they could hear Sgt. Turner giving instructions to the co-pilot as alarms went off in the background, all of a sudden their emergency frequency clicked as a wail was heard, their own hearts dropping as they knew the only thing that would set off that alarm was a hard landing.

The aircraft shuddered as Sgt. Turner and his co-plot fed all the power they could into the dying engines before auto-rotating the blades of the helicopter. The H-52 flared for a split second then hitting the water with a jarring crack the reverberated through the helo into the bodies of the crew. Lightning cracked over the frame as sleet kept pounding the drowning aircraft. Turner could barely hear the door gunner yell and drag both him and the co-pilot out of the quickly flooding flight deck. Water rushed past them pushing the men back as they struggled to the open and flooding cargo ramp. One by one kicking away from the sinking Jolly-4. Jolly-2 waggled itís elevator in the distance in a final salute to the men.

All the men quickly made a chain in the sea as one of them shot a bright orange raft out of a canister. Another did the same, four men clambering into each, parts of their face showing in the flashes of lightning, some with bare skin, and others with matted fur. The other men clung to the lines on the sides of the raft as the roar of another helicopter could be heard. They looked up to the light of a helicopter rushing toward them. A ships lights cutting through the sea miles from them, they watched as the helicopter paused before aborting, the trough and crest of the waves making a rescue too dangerous. They watched Jolly-4 sink.

Forty minutes passed before the lights grew into a massive destroyer rolling in the waves. Sgt. Turner couldnít even keep a straight line of thought as his shivering passed, replaced by a numb cold that killed the feeling in every limb. The ship paused before firing a salvo of red flares in all directions. Then blasted its horn once as the sensors picked up disturbances in the undersea currents.

A massive wave picked up Turner, he could feel the rush and acceleration in his chest as he was shoved to the ship, he looked over to see his co-pilot give one gasp before slamming into deck railing, his muzzle showing white bone as it broke against the deck. He felt something in his thigh pop as the solid decking slammed into his leg. Everything faded as he felt the numb take him.


 

There was a click of an air filter as it turned on. Sgt. Turner woke up, the sterile room around him, the three men in the adjacent beds, co-pilot, one door-gunner, engineer.

"Awake finally?" a curt voice asked.

"Which hospital is this?" Turner asked, still weak from his ordeal.

"Anchorage AIF center, you got pretty banged up," the stout lady said as she looked at the other men.

"Starboard Gunnery Sergeant Stevens didnít make it," she said before leaving. Sgt. Turner looked to the empty bed at the end of the ward, freshly vacated. Sgt. Turner opened his mouth before closing it again.

He waited in bed, listening to the marching feet outside, feeling the cast on his right leg, staring at the heart rate monitor. Even when night came he was still alone, all the drugs he needed pumped into him in the IV. The world passed him as he watched the time pass.

Morning came, the other three men woke. The co-pilot, Port Gunnery Sergeant, and Crew Chief all looking at each other as if in disbelief that they were still alive before doing the same as Sgt. Turner had been doing all night. They didnít talk as they lay back, until the students came.

"Alright, who can tell me why the body becomes unconscious in blunt force trauma? And how does it go about doing so?" The Doctor asked the medical students. One brown-haired lady raised her hand.

"The body shuts down to try and avoid the shock of the injury to prolong survivability," Turner couldnít see her well at the back of the class. Without thinking he spoke up.

"And the adrenal glands start working to pump Epinephrine and Cortisol, both known as adrenaline. Meanwhile all the blood goes to the bodyís core because all the blood vessels in the extremities constrict from the adrenaline. But in cold conditions thatíll kill you since your limbs arenít getting the warmth they need so you can suffer the effects of hypothermia faster. Like we would have," he finished before closing his eyes and heaving a deep breath. The students stared at the thin man in the bed as the other crew-members looked at the students. The professor turned from the students and glared at the thin pilot.

"Staff Sergeant Charles Turner, were you the pilot of the transport helicopter that crashed?" the professor asked as he looked at the board, he should have been able to read what was said. It would have said on the screen that he indeed was the pilot of the downed transport.

"Yes sir, I pilotedÖ" Charles was cut off.

"Look, why donít you stay out of my class lectures and focus on trying to get better so you can go back out and kill more of your fellow country men?" The professor smugly looked at him. "Didnít know that did you? Three men died because of your inexperience, you werenít good enough for those special operations soldiers."

"Sir, I tried the bestÖ"

"But it wasnít enough, now can you let my class do their work while you heal before you go out and fail some more?" The professor in the doctorís outfit turned to the other three crewmen. Charles stared at the ceiling. ĎNot good enoughí rang through his mind as the class flowed around him to the other beds. One lady stopped by him.

"The other soldiers would have died if you didnít land it they way you did," the brown-haired lady whispered. Charles just stared back.

"Iím Katherine, nice to meet you Sergeant Turner," She held out a hand as the rest of the class moved on. He stared at the outstretched hand, his mixed feeling from learning about the three men throwing him into another proverbial raging sea of emotions.

"Call me Charles, the pleasureís all mine," He held out a hand before cringing. He tried to put a mask of reassurance on as she looked at him with concern in her eyes.

"Itís bruised," she began before drawing up a chair to look at him. Then spoke as she looked at his shoulder.

"Sorry about the professor, heís a little anti-war. But the soldiers bring in good examples for medical students," she said as she leaned forward to get a better look at his arm, he could see a dog-tag dangling from her neck.

"Did you serve?" he asked, his curiosity perked.

"This?" She touched the dog-tag. "Somebody long gone." She pulled the sheets up past his shoulders before sitting back down, crossing her legs as the other men looked at her before leaning back into their beds with feigned indifference.

"Ah," he left it at that, the silence covering the room before she spoke up again. The other three men were still listening; Charles knew it, but they lay back without a noise.

"I havenít met many soldiers who knew what happened during shock; plenty of them know how it feels, but not how it works. How did you learn?" she asked before flicking a handheld computer on. She pushed her long hair behind her ear before looking directly at him. He felt like a child tucked into a bed, then given all this attention suddenly.

"I used to be in medical school until I was drafted out for two years, short on money, flew helicopters. And now Iím here," He looked at her to see how she would react before speaking. "What brings you to the north?"

"Oh, just filling some of my credits. Change of scenery, trying to become a geneticist."

"What do mitochondria do in our cells?" Charles asked before she could continue.

"Produce something called AdenosineÖ"

"Triphosphate, youíre serious about becoming a geneticist huh?" Charles asked as she looked at him curiously.

"And you used to be it seems," she replied before leaning back.

"Still am, but stuck without money and living off the military," He looked sadly at the other soldiers. He hated eye contact for long periods of time, felt awkward staring into somebody like that. Katherine watched him. He turned back to face her and almost flinched from the surprise of seeing her face near his. She put a finger to her lips before whispering.

"I donít want to be unfair to the other men. But I think I can help you out with the issue with college," She sat on his bed before pretending to arrange the sheets.

"The school is opening a position for a library assistant, the payís not that great, but itís enough for the classes. They give you room and board, you should look into applying," She got off his bed before speaking louder.

"So, the bed sheets better now? I know your arm mustíve been freezing with it sitting out like that," She glared at him until he spoke.

"Yes maíam, thank you maíam," Katherine gathered her few things before looking at him again.

"Iíll come back, youíre an interesting character Sergeant Turner," He could hear her heel clicking as she walked down the hospital corridor.

"Thatís a keeper," the Crew-Chief mumbled as the port-gunner chuckled. The co-pilot just winked at him over the device strapped to his muzzle.

 


Charles and Katherine are the creation of Bernard Doove.
Story and all other characters are copyright © 2010 G. F. D.
Questions? Comments? Always here to reply, sooprazn@gmail.com I'll try to get back to you as soon as possible. By the way, if you feel like sending an e-mail but afraid it's stupid, don't worry. I don't mind stupid e-mails. SPAM I mind, but Gmail takes care of those ;)

Chakat universe is copyright of Bernard Doove.


 

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