Methos coughed and gasped as he surged back to life. He tried to sit up, but the wreckage pinned him across the chest. Blood was a hot, copper stink in his nose, adding to the nausea churning in his gut. He craned his neck to try to see the other team members, ignoring the deadly silence. That smudge of white beneath the broken rotor blade could only be Djube, the pilot. Methos had teased him only this morning about his keeping sparkling white running shoes pristine in all the mud they were sure to have soon.
Djube had turned to him, standing beside the chopper at the landing pad while he tinkered with some minor adjustment or other, grinning a crooked yellow smile that creased his high-boned face and flipped an obscene gesture in Methos' direction, telling him good-naturedly to go fuck himself.
Now the bloody shoes were all Methos could see of him.
Djube was from the north; he'd left his home and his country to come south and learn to fly. He'd told Methos about it in the early hours of one morning after a marathon poker game and several cases of good South African beer, nearly all consumed by Methos himself. After ten years flying Armani-suited diamond company executives in and out of the Kimberly he'd grown tired of that life and looked for something with a little more meaning. Or something.
Methos had nodded his agreement, knowing just what he meant. Then Djube had looked at him, a puckish light in his almond-shaped eyes and said, "Besides, man, down there pilots are a dime a dozen, up here I'm it. It's bloody good for the ego."
There were two more people as yet unaccounted for: Paulina and Tin. Methos struggled to turn his head enough to look the other. Damn.
He still couldn't see either of them. Maybe they'd been thrown clear, maybe there was a chance they were still alive.
"Tin? Paulina? Djube?" Methos called. His voice was weak and breathy and every syllable was torture.
Silence. Despair in the whisper of wind through the brush.
"Is anyone there?" He had to force out the words through a chest that felt banded by steel.
Nothing. Not even a moan. Cooling metal ticked somewhere near, the alien sound making his heart leap for a hopeful moment. Then nothing but the buzzing of flies. He reached out awkwardly to brush them away from the blood on his chest but they ignored the gesture, clinging to him like a fungating growth bursting out of the rip in his shirt.
Pain still ran hot and cold through his body, chased by the familiar tickling burn of Immortal healing.
The chopper had gone in so hard,
so fast, he
knew it had to be unlikely that anyone else had survived. Sudden tears
his eyes as he thought of the friends and colleagues he had lost. He'd
know them all, in varying degrees, since his arrival in
So much for detachment, Old Man. You were so desperate to fill the void MacLeod left that you let yourself forget that they're only temporary -- fragile as soap bubbles.
This was coming perilously close to thoughts of MacLeod, and Methos forced his attention elsewhere. He bloody well wasn't going to start down that track again. Instead, Methos squinted up into the sky. At least the rain had stopped. It was early afternoon, judging by the height of the sun in the sky and the heat was baking him slowly. If rescue were on its way, it would be there in a couple of hours at the most. He had to get out from under the wreckage before they arrived.
The piece of metal that had him trapped appeared to be part of the chopper's floor and it weighed a ton. Jagged edges tore at his fingers, blood running warmly to drip onto his chest as he pushed against it. Another painful shove, another wriggle that sent agony shooting through his chest, but it did not move. His ribs had to be broken, pain like a sword wound was slicing through him with every breath.
And the effort he needed to try to shift the bloody thing meant he needed to breathe deeply. Fuck. Methos inhaled through the white-hot agony and pushed up on the fuselage, spots danced in front of his eyes like mosquitoes over a swamp but the piece of metal moved a little. He gritted his teeth and repeated the maneuver. Fuckshitpiss that hurt. But the weight on his chest moved a little more.
Again and again, Methos pushed and wriggled and moved, inch by agonizing inch, towards freedom. Slow -- so slow -- and the pain and blood loss were making him weak. The flies and the sun were an almost unbearable torture, and only the thought that he would soon be free kept him from howling in pain and frustration. But he would be out of here soon…Methos gritted his teeth and pushed again.
The wreckage moved a little more, almost to the lower curve of his smashed ribs, almost enough to gain the leverage he needed to get free. So very close now… Then he could think about getting the hell out of this mine-infested boil on the butt of the world. His heart thudded desperately in his chest, pounding an echo in his ears so loud he almost missed the sound.
At first, he thought it was his own mind teasing him with the possibility that he was not alone in this nightmare. Wishful thinking magnified by pain and weakness. But he stilled all the same, holding his breath and straining his ears to filter the sounds all around him. Then, just when his breath was growing short and he could not last another moment without more air, the faint whisper of a moan reached his ears.
His skeptical brain rejected it. There was no one there, it had to be the groaning of the wreck as it settled, a tree moving against another, the sound an animal made as it went about its life in the bush. Something other than the presence of another human being. Silence once again, but not at all a peaceful quiet, more a deadly, lurking malevolence that seemed to be waiting to absorb him too. Methos had to physically shake off the fear that was beginning to eat at his mind. He was going mad -- sunstroke or dehydration, whatever it was, it was making reality shimmer and shift before his senses.
Just when he had all but decided that he was indeed losing his mind, another moan, louder this time, pushed aside all his doubts. Someone else had survived and the hope that gave him spurred him on. Methos pushed and struggled, tearing his hands on the jagged metal, ignoring the blood that flowed down his wrists, ignoring the flies that lifted sullenly from his chest and bumped into his face, hitting his eyes, his nose. The piece of wreckage was moving and that was all that mattered.
Above his own groans, the sound of the other survivor rose again, pained and desperate this time. "I'm here," Methos rasped as the metal grated over his belly, pressing down sickeningly. Another heave, another gush of hot blood from the wound in his chest as he half sat to push the wreckage off his legs and he was free at last.
Methos tried to stand, pushing up from the bloodied grass with a breathless grunt, but his legs were rubber, unable to support him, and he fell, crumpling to the ground with a weak curse. He sat there, panting with the effort and willing his body to heal faster. The sun bit at his exposed skin, prickling ominously at the back of his neck, his forearms and the tender pink of his healing chest. The sun was still high overhead and Methos knew that it would be many hours before there was any relief from it. He -- and whoever else had survived -- would have to find shelter from it and soon.
Gradually, Methos felt the last bristling burn of the healing subside and the strength begin to return to his body. But his tongue was thick and dry in his mouth, blood loss leaving him dehydrated and he knew that if he was to regain his strength, water would have to be a priority.
Feeling strong enough at last, he unfolded himself from the ground once more, wobbling only slightly on his feet. The other survivor had gone quiet during Methos' recovery and now his heart thudded with dread as he began to search. He stumbled in the direction of the sounds he'd heard, his eyes darting back and forth, searching for the least sign of movement -- of life.
He found Paulina first. She might almost have been sleeping, her soft-featured, brown face was still, her eyes closed. But as Methos' gaze flickered over her, the illusion of sleep disappeared. Amid the tumble of her hair pale shards of bone gleamed obscenely, wet with bright blood and streaked with pallid gobbets of tissue overlaid by the omnipresent flies. Unsurvivable and instant -- he hoped.
Poor Paulina deGuevara, decades
Portuguese rule in
Methos closed his eyes to the horror -- just for a moment -- and then walked quickly away. He moved in the direction of the white smudge he believed was Djube. Perhaps the pilot was the other one who'd survived the crash. His eyes picked out the white amidst the grass as he came closer and his fists clenched in frustration -- it was only Djube's shoe, lying as empty as a politician's promise beneath the broken rotor blade. Blood, browned by the baking sun, smeared the white surface and Methos had to tear his eyes from it to search again for its owner.
Another noise drifted out on the humid wind and Methos stiffened for a moment as he registered it, before darting off in its direction. His foot caught in the twisted tangle of the tail rotor -- detached as it was from the tail section that lay some hundred meters away --and only five thousand years of agility kept him upright. He regained his balance and kept going.
Djube lay just ahead, thrown clear of the main spread of the wreck, his lanky body sprawled belly down in the long, dun-colored grass, his face turned to one side. Unmoving.
Methos ran to him, sinking to his knees beside the fallen man. With a hand that shook only slightly, he reached out to press two fingers to the side of Djube's throat, relief flooding through him as the strong pulse beat met his touch.
"Djube?" Methos called as he lifted the man's eyelid to look into the pupil of the one eye he could access. It contracted as the light hit it, which was something at least. The pilot moaned again, louder this time and the eyelid flickered away from Methos' thumb as Djube blinked.
"Fuck, Matt -- I'm sorry," Djube rasped, panic widening his eyes. "Sorry 'bout everything, man."
"Forget that," Methos told him. There was no time for recriminations now. "How do you feel? Pain anywhere?" His hands moved swiftly over the other man's limbs and back, loath to turn him over or shift him in any way until he was sure it was safe.
"My back hurts like hell, man. Up between my shoulders, near my neck…" The pilot trailed off, gasping quietly with the effort of speech.
Methos grasped Djube's outstretched hand. "Squeeze my fingers, Djub' -- hard as you can."
"We have to go," Djube rasped, breaking off into more weak coughing.
Methos could understand the panic, but they weren't going anywhere without some help. "Come on, Djube -- stop fucking around and squeeze my hand."
"I am...." Djube's gaze found his and Methos read the fear in it. The warm, pink palm remained flaccid and unresponsive. Fuck.
Fuckfuckfuck. "Wriggle your toes a bit for me," Methos said, watching the too-still foot in its grimy white sock for the slightest sign of movement. Nothing. Methos plucked a small shard of metal from the ground and ran it lightly down Djube's leg. "Can you feel that?"
"What?" Djube asked weakly.
Methos repeated the movement, harder this time, hard enough to leave a reddish welt on Djube's dark skin. Nothing. Not even a flinch. Methos ran the makeshift probe up over the man's hip and lower back -- still nothing.
"You're doing fine," Methos lied. "You just lie still and before you know it, the rescue chopper will be here and we'll get you back to camp." Methos reached out and smoothed a hand over his friend's sweat-damp forehead. "I need to leave you for a minute, Djub', we need some water, and I've got to see what's happened to Tin. You'll be okay, just lie still for me."
Djube's forehead flickered. "What about the mestico girl?"
Methos laid his hand on the other man's shoulder. "She didn't make it," he said.
Djube's flat gaze met his for a second and then his eyes drifted shut. He was quiet and his breathing grew regular. Cold and ill with foreboding, Methos stood and walked away. He hated to lie to the man, but absolutely nothing would be served by distressing him now. Rescue would come, or not, and if it did not then Djube would, in all likelihood, die.
Methos suppressed the chill that ran through him, and moved swiftly around the wreck, looking for any sign at all of Tin's whereabouts. The cracked plexiglass bubble lay on its side, like a broken egg spilling its contents all over the grassy clearing. No sign of him there. Methos scouted around the other side of the crash site, watching, listening for anything that might tell him where Tin might be. The faint coppery tang of blood on the wind stopped him in his tracks.
Methos paused, holding his body very still as he breathed in the scent, moving only his head very minutely and flaring his nostrils as he sifted the breeze for the direction of the odor. The other casualties were downwind; it had to be Tin. Methos faced into the wind and kept looking.
A small flurry of movement off to the right of the wreck caught Methos' eye. It was a lone hyena, shambling negligently back into the bush, her shaggy buff coat blending into the dry grasses almost instantly. The rest of the pack wouldn't be far away -- they never were. A shadow moved lazily across the sun and Methos glared up at the circling black vultures riding the thermals above him. The carrion eaters were here.
He bent and snatched up a small chunk of wreckage about the size of a baseball and hurled it towards the bush where the hyena had disappeared. There was a crackling of branches and a soft, furtive rustling, but no shaggy pack of hyena went loping out in response. They were still in there, still lurking as they waited for a chance to feed, Methos could almost feel their eyes upon him. More unnerved than he liked to admit, Methos picked up his pace, jogging as he searched left and right, looking for his friend.
Too late and too soon, Methos found him. Tin was almost unrecognizable. Little more than a torn and broken pile of clothes and bones and wet red flesh all but obscured by the twisted metal of the tail section, Tin had clearly caught the worst of the impact as the chopper had corkscrewed into the ground. Forcing himself to look away, Methos turned back.
Dazed and cold with loss, Methos walked back towards Djube, trying desperately to collect himself. Tin had been so shy -- such a difficult guy to get to know, and yet Methos had never been sorry he'd made the effort. Images flashed behind his eyes, a shock of thick hair falling forward to veil black eyes sparkling in the shyest of flirts, a low, soft laugh, a truly obscene joke told in classical Mandarin....
No matter how many times it happened, it always, always hurt.
Methos turned away from Tin's broken body, pushing the regret aside with an almost physical effort. The living needed him now. He bent and began to rummage through the debris, looking for the retrieval packs -- the backpacks they always carried on these trips, loaded with everything they could possibly need to treat the emergencies -- and the water bottles he knew had to be there somewhere. He pushed aside the heavy lump of one of the seats and caught a flash of red. Yes.
Methos hauled the heavy pack out from the wreckage and checked it over quickly. It seemed undamaged and he slipped his arms through the straps, jogging it into place before he continued his frantic search for the water. The canteens couldn't be far away, they'd been stored with the retrieval packs in the back of the chopper. A slippery-sly murmur of sound caught his ear and he stopped his frantic search -- just for a moment to cant his head in the sound's direction. But there was only silence and he went back to his search.
A stealthy scuttling noise had him spinning to face it, his heart hammering, armpits prickling in primitive response. His eyes scanned the thick bushland, watching for a sign -- any sign. A high-pitched, giggling yip-yip-yip gave him the answer he sought: the hyena were back. Grabbing the nearest piece of wreckage, Methos hurled it in the direction of the sound. There was a scuffling of leaves and grass, then silence.
He couldn't leave Djube alone and
defenseless with a pack of hyena lurking about. Like most of
A flash of inspiration made him toss aside the remains of the pilot's seat, uncovering the water bottles at last. He scooped two up and, moving awkwardly under his burdens, picked his way back across the crash site to Djube.
"Hey, man," Djube whispered, barely louder than the breeze in the trees as Methos came near. "Thought you'd got lost."
Methos dropped to his knees beside him, unscrewing the lid from the water bottle and tilting it towards his friend's mouth. "Not even I'm as green as that, Djub'," Methos retorted lightly as Djube drank greedily. "It's not exactly the supply shed back there, you know," Methos added, lifting the bottle away when he saw that Djube had drunk enough and setting it aside. He shrugged the heavy backpack from his shoulders onto the ground and opened it up. "How're you doing?" Methos asked as he opened a pouch of drug vials.
Djube groaned a little, pain clear in the tension around his eyes and mouth. "My back hurts like buggery, Matt." The dark eyes skittered away from Methos' gaze.
Methos found the drug he was looking for, quickly drawing it up into a syringe. "I'm going to give you some morphine, Djube." He could feel the insincerity in his smile as he turned it in the pilot's direction. "It'll make you feel a lot better." For the moment, anyway. There wasn't anything that he could really do that would help Djube more than temporarily.
He couldn't find the alcohol wipes, so he quickly gave the shot without one. If Djube made it through this, a skin infection would be the least of his worries. The pilot didn't flinch, not even the faintest flicker of an eyelid as Methos plunged the needle into his thigh muscle and depressed the plunger. Methos didn't kid himself that it was his superior injection technique. He knew better.
Methos looked away from Djube as the other man's face grew as relaxed as the rest of his body, going blank and expressionless as his eyes drifted shut and his breathing grew steady and even. It was relief, although he could barely admit it to himself, not to have to look into those trusting brown eyes and lie to his friend that everything was going to be all right. He picked up the water bottle and took a long drink, his eyes scanning the sky as he tilted his head back. It was clear and excruciatingly blue, its only feature the faint, white shadow of the daytime moon, as insubstantial as a cloud. The storm that had downed them had been burned away long ago.
No sign in the sky of a rescue chopper, not even the barely audible thrum of its approach shifted the air. But still, something teased at the edges of his consciousness as if there should be something to see. But the sky was empty and the bush all around them was still and calm. Then why were his senses suddenly prickling with hyper-awareness? Something wasn't right. Methos set down the now-empty water bottle and stood up, suddenly realizing what it was that had alerted him.
It had gone quiet -- very quiet. The bush noises he'd grown so used to that he barely registered them anymore, were gone. The incessant chirp of crickets and calling of birds were completely absent. Instinct made his hand slip up to caress the outline of his long-bladed dagger, checking automatically that it was secure in its harness in the small of his back. It was, but the knowledge didn't help to settle the uneasiness growing in his gut.
Something was out there.