4 Summer TN 1939
Colonel Nora Richardson of the Coronado Defense Forces fidgeted in her seat aboard The Samaritan, as the search-and-rescue aircraft dashed through the clouds as fast as her engines could push her. She could tune out the shriek of the engines, and she was exhausted from the long flight, but all Nora could do was stare at the navigation chart in her hands and think.
The Samaritan carried the advance team of a massive Coronodan airborne aid convoy bound for Peace River. It had been two days since the city-state was destroyed, and the talking heads across Terra Nova were still debating whether it had been a thermonuclear or an antimatter bomb. To Nora, though, it made little difference. She didn't even care who was responsible. All that mattered to her was that tens of thousands of people had been incinerated, and that someone had to help those who were still alive.
Giving up on sleep, she folded up the chart and stuffed it into a pocket in her overall. She stood up and made her way to the flight deck, stepping over and around crates of supplies and volunteer aid workers as she went. On the flight deck, she patted the shoulders of Lieutenants Kuriger and Martinez, the sensors and communications specialists who were straining to pick up any sign of electronic life from Peace River - a stray radio transmission, a weak radar signal, anything.
Anything was a pretty long shot, Nora conceded, but it was worth a try.
She then stepped up to the cockpit and put on an intercom headset. Taking the chart out of her pocket once again, she stood behind the pilot and asked, "How much longer, Jownzy?"
"We'll have visual contact in a few minutes," replied Captain Eliza Jownz. Nora could hear the fatigue in her voice. "There's still no telling how close we'll be able to get. For all we know, it could be nothing but glass down there for kilometers around."
"I still want to try for this private airport on the chart here," Nora said. "It's a good distance away, and this hills between it and the city center should have shielded it from the blast."
"You got it," replied Jownz.
"Mr. Martinez," Nora said as she turned to the technicians, "how's the rest of the convoy doing?"
"Goliath Two Seven reported an engine failure," Martinez replied. "She's still on course and can make it, but she's fallen to about five hours back. All other aircraft are still about three hours behind us and on schedule."
"Very well." Nora paused for a moment before asking her next question. "Mr. Kuriger, radiation levels?"
"The counter's chirped a couple of times, but nothing to worry about yet," Kuriger replied.
"Okay. You know the drill?"
"Holler when I pick up anything at all, scream when I pick up anything over a tenth of a rad per minute," Kuriger affirmed.
Jownz let out an exasperated sigh. "I still don't like this."
"It'll be fine," replied Nora. "The hull and our environment suits will give plenty of protection at that rate."
"That's comforting," Jownz grumbled.
Nora decided to drop the subject; the situation was naturally making everyone edgy, and long flights had a way of getting on his nerves anyway. "Mr. Martinez, would you raise Trinity, please?"
"Right away," Martinez replied.
As she waited for contact to be made with the government building in Coronado, Nora's memory suddenly went back to a history class she took as a child. There was something peculiar about the name "Trinity" in this situation, but she couldn't figure out what....
"Trinity on the line, Colonel," Martinez said.
Nora said into the microphone, "Coronado Six, this is Circus Six, over."
"Circus Six, this is Blue Jack, we read you, over."
Nora rolled her eyes. "Uh, roger, Blue Jack, Circus Six. We're approaching Peace River, and should have video feed in a few minutes." Cupping her hand over the headset's microphone, she said softly, "You know, you'd think he'd remember he has a new handle now."
Jownz, Kuriger and Martinez all smiled. Even though Jack Sanlander had become Governor of Coronado the previous Spring, he was still using his personal call sign from when he commanded the Hong Kong Crusaders. That she and Jack were continuing their personal relationship was also no secret to anyone.
Suddenly Jownz yelled, "Got it! Bearing three-four-zero, about eight klicks!"
Nora peered through the cockpit in the direction Jownz indicated. In the distance, she saw a flicker of light and a whisper of smoke. She turned to Kuriger and asked, "Can you get that on the cameras?"
"Working on it," he replied as his fingers flew across the sensor console.
"Uh, about three to five hundredths a rad per minute. We're okay."
"Mr. Martinez, send the video feed to Coronado, as well as the other planes in the convoy."
"On it," he responded. "I've also got it on the other monitors on board, so everyone else can see."
Nora's eyes were glued to the screen above Kuriger's console. After a moment, Kuriger got the cameras the way he wanted them.
She immediately wished he hadn't.
The storm wall that had surrounded Peace River was almost totally blown away, leaving a shredded metal ring in the desert floor. Numerous fires from broken service mains still raged within the ring, and they tinted the smoke rising from the wreckage a nightmarish red. To Nora, it was as if a lid had been ripped off of the world and she was looking straight into Hell.
Nora could hear cries of shock and grief from the other passengers. Jownz saw the same image on one of his displays, and recited a brief prayer. Everyone quieted down after a few moments, and there was silence aboard The Samaritan until Nora spoke into her microphone. "Um, Blue Jack, Circus Six ... are you getting this, over?"
"Circus Six, Blue Jack. Yeah, we're getting everything." After a moment, he added, "Uh, do you need anything else, over?"
Nora knew what that meant. "Blue Jack, Circus Six, Status Nine to follow, over."
She waited as Jack went off the air for a moment; "Status Nine" was a code they had worked out for when one of them wanted to have a private conversation. At a nod from her, Martinez also isolated her headset so that no one off of the flight deck could hear. Finally, she heard, "Okay, Nora, go ahead."
"Don't come out here, Jack."
"Now, I wasn't - "
"Yes, you were. You had that 'it's time to save the world' tone in your voice."
She heard him grunt with frustration. "Damnit, Nora, I can't just sit here and let you fly into ... into that."
She smiled as she said, "I know, honey, I know, but I told you. You can't help me here. Somebody's got to make sure we get all the supplies we need from home, and you're it. There isn't anybody else." Her smile faded as she continued, "Besides, this is going to be really ugly. I know how upset you get when you see innocent people hurt, and I couldn't bear to see you like that."
When he didn't argue, she added, "Besides, you promised me you wouldn't do anything rash."
She heard him chuckle, then sigh in resignation. "All right. But for Mahmoud's sake, be careful, okay?"
"Okay. I love you."
"I love you, too," she said. "I'll call you when we get set up. Circus Six out." As Martinez cut the voice transmission, she said to him, "Thanks. Continue transmitting the video feed, and send updates to the aid convoy."
Jownz remarked, "It must be tough to have a boyfriend who wants to save the world."
As Nora looked again at Kuriger's display, it was all she could do to keep from crying. "It's tougher when he can't."
Author's Note: This story was intended to be the first part of a series when this story first appeared in the April 2001 edition of APAGear. After the attacks on the United States on September 11th, however, I decided not to develop this series further, but much of what I had intended to write have been incorporated into other stories. - JE