Flying High

 

home / season six / episode five / act III

   

Smith Family Property
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia

“Hey, Loz!”

As the two arrived on horseback, they saw a small boy of about four years of age run out of the house, dancing excitedly around them as they dismounted.

“Hi, Shorty.” She hugged the boy. “Where’s your dad?”

“Top paddock. He was hoping you’d come because he wants help rounding up the second flock. Can you go up there now?”

“No worries.” Lauren swung back into the saddle, waiting until Jarod did the same, and pulled the boy up in front of her. “Ready?”

“Sure.”

Wheeling the horse around, she urged it into a gallop, glancing over her shoulder to be sure that Jarod was managing and grinning as she saw how comfortable he was. As they came close to a moving mass on the hillside she waited until he came alongside before handing the boy to him.

“This is always fun. Just sit back and enjoy the show.”

Nodding, Jarod reined in the horse and watched Lauren gallop over to where a number of people were keeping the sheep in a group and constantly moving down to where he could faintly spot a collection of buildings. The boy scrambled off the horse to stand on the fencepost, a wide grin on his face as he yelled encouraging things to those doing the rounding up. Keeping an eye on their actions, Jarod very quickly realized how much skill it took just to keep the sheep under control.

“It looks great, doesn’t it?”

He turned to find the boy watching him and nodded. “It sure does.”

“It’s even more fun in the shearing shed - all the noise and wool flying all over the place and the sheep crying because they’re cold…”

Jarod raised an eyebrow at the last point and the boy laughed. “That’s what Dad told me it was; after the wool’s taken off the sheep, they’re cold and they cry ‘cause they want it back.”

“So that’s shearing, huh?”

“Yup. But they have to get them down there first, and sheep are dumb, so, if they get the leaders moving in the right direction, the others do too.” He nodded at the animals that were beginning to pass them, heading downhill. “You’ll see the leaders. They’re the ones that try to go against what Dad and the others want them to do.”

A perfect metaphor for the Centre, Jarod couldn’t help thinking. It might provide me with a useful present for Cox when I get back, if I can be bothered with that game again.

Keeping an eye on the sheep it was quickly obvious that the boy had been right. Suddenly one of the animals broke away from the others, running towards them. Without stopping to consider, he let Billabong break into a fast canter, directing the horse as he had seen the others do, and headed off the panic-stricken animal before it could get away. Lauren was quickly beside him and they forced the animal to join the rest of the flock.

“Good work, the Yank,” a voice called out from among the other riders and Jarod looked over to see Steve grinning at him. “Your dad never mentioned that you’d done this sort of work before."

“I’m a fast learner,” Jarod smiled. “And I never liked sitting on the sidelines that much.”

“So it would seem.” Lauren looked at him out of the corner of her eye, pleased to see the livelier expression on his face. “As you’re such an expert, maybe we can leave the whole lot to you and be down there waiting.”

“You could be waiting a while,” Mark put in from her other side as they moved the animals further downhill. “And he is only a beginner. Let’s cut the poor Yank some slack, at least for now.”

Laughing, the group continued to direct the animals down towards the shed from where, as they approached, Jarod could hear the sounds of which the boy had given him such an enthusiastic description. Driving the flock into a waiting paddock and firmly closing the gate behind them, the group dismounted and leaned on the fence to watch the animals run around in confusion. Hearing the sounds of panting, they all turned to see the boy running up to them.

“You left me there,” he said accusingly to Jarod and the others burst into loud laughter.

“He was helping, Shorty,” Steve teased, picking up the boy and scrubbing his hair with a fist. “If you’re going to be mean to our Yank, we’ll suggest they shear you as well as the sheep.”

* * * * * * * * *

Taylor Family Property
Yarragon, Victoria, Australia

“Feeling up to a walk?”

“Sure.” Jarod got up from his seat on the veranda. “This morning wasn’t that bad.”

She grinned. “You know, it must be kind of nice to be able to just watch people work and then just do it all so expertly.”

“In a way, it is.” He shrugged. “But at the same time there are down sides.”

“As there are in everything,” she reminded him. “As much as I love my job, I do still find parts of it that I don’t like.”

“I guess that’s true,” he commented. “But I haven’t really been thinking about that lately.”

“No, I can imagine.” She looked at him curiously. “Why do you help people the way you do?”

Jarod shrugged. “It was just something I always enjoyed doing.”

Lauren’s eyebrows rose into her bangs at the use of the past tense but as her eyes were fixed on the ground they were coving, Jarod didn’t notice and continued.

“I liked the way it felt when I could look at a situation and know that, because of a part I played, it was that much better.”

“Do you honestly expect that to change?” The question was softly put. “Should the things you’ve recently gone through make any difference?”

“I’m… not sure,” he replied hesitantly. “I’d like to think they won’t, but right now I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to that point again.”

For a moment Lauren considered not asking the next obvious question, but felt it too important to ignore. “Have you changed as a person, Jarod, or is it Aurora that’s done all the changing?”

He stopped in his tracks and stared at her. “How did you…?”

“I told you I know some of what you went through. How else,” Lauren asked, her lips curling into a smile, “would I have known what to offer last night?”

Jarod accepted this with a nod and thought over what she’d said. “You may be right about Aurora doing the changing. I don’t think I’ve changed, not all that much anyway.”

“So there’s no reason for you not to get back to that stage.”

“No,” he agreed with a small smile. “I guess there isn’t.”

* * * * * * * * *

Moorabbin Airport, Melbourne
Victoria, Australia

Lauren fired the engines and glanced at her co-pilot, the pre-dawn dark outside giving no hint of coming daylight “Ready to go?”

“Sure.”

She nodded and the plane began to move along the runway. Once airborne and level, she turned to him.

“Want to fly?”

He smiled faintly. “If you can trust me with your life.”

Her voice became serious. “I know you were only kidding, Jarod, but I’ll make this point now so you can understand what you’re getting yourself into. This country is the harshest in the world. Australia has the most venomous creepy-crawlies anywhere and out where we’ll be working the days are baking hot while the nights drop below zero regularly. If, in a worst-case scenario, we had to make a crash-landing in those conditions then you’d be trusting me with your life and I’d be trusting you with mine.”

Jarod remained silent as the enormity of what he was undertaking struck him. Looking at Lauren, he saw that she was watching him.

“I know that it’s kind of overwhelming, but out there, it’s the difference between not knowing and knowing that could save your life.”

Jarod nodded. “I understand.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Well, I’m glad you think you do, but I think you should wait and see it before making sweeping generalizations like that.”

* * * * * * * * *

Over Mataranka
Northern Territory, Australia

Many hours later, with the sky shimmering around them and giving a promise of the heat outside, she reluctantly shook him.

“Jarod, wake up. We’re going to be landing soon.”

He muttered inaudibly, turning his head away, and Lauren couldn’t help grinning as she leaned over.

“Hey, Pretender!”

As the words were yelled in his ear, Jarod jumped, his eyelids flying open and his heart pounding as he straightened in his seat.

“Okay, all right, I’m awake. Geez.”

“Just checking.” She laughed and handed him the headphones that had slipped off when he fell asleep. “You might want to listen in. This is fun.”

Jarod placed the black objects over his ears and settled back into his seat, staring out through the windshield.

“Station Victor Tango 81, to confirm. You want five kilos of coffee, eight kilos of sugar and a new part for your gas stove.”

An elderly voice came through. ”I haven’t had a cup of coffee in two weeks.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow, looking over at Lauren. “This isn’t the RFDS channel, surely?”

“No, it’s not. A few years ago, a company got the idea that it’d be good if they offered a shopping service in a similar way to the medical service. It’s kind of like shopping on the net, except that it’s more secure.”

He could hear the crackle of static as the channel was changed and then a more mundane sound of planes being directed for landing and take-off.

“That’s the channel if we’re ever flying and need to land at the airport instead of the base. It does happen sometimes but I’ll let you know if it’s necessary.”

Again the channel changed so he could hear familiar medical terms being discussed. He glanced down at the radio and saw a red cover on one of the preprogrammed buttons before looking up at her.

“So pushing that will get me onto RFDS?”

“Correct.” Lauren grinned at him and waved a hand towards the endless blue expanse in front of them. “So, what do you think of the office, Jarod?”

He looked up, his eyes taking in the view. “Amazing. Just amazing.”

When there was a pause in communication, she activated the radio.

“Tango Lima Foxtrot to Katherine. Come in Katherine. Over.”

“Loz!” There was no mistaking the enthusiasm in the voice. “How’s life in the big city? Over.”

“Tell you everything when I get in, Joel. Can I get clearance please? Over.”

“Sure thing. You’re right to land. Over.”

“Thanks, Katherine. Over and out.”

Jarod smiled. “You’re popular.”

She laughed. “Joel was on holiday when I left the base for Melbourne and he loves all the gossip from that office.”

* * * * * * * * *

RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

Lauren brought the plane in to land and taxied into position, a short distance from where the white building with a big red cross painted on the roof gleamed in the sunshine.

“You can leave your things with Susie - the receptionist - and we’ll go to the flat - uh, apartment - later.”

“I was wondering about accommodation.”

“I’ve got a spare room that I’m offering you. Normally Paul uses it but, like I said earlier, he’s off in Broken Hill right now and it’s not exactly convenient for him to commute there every day.”

“Why? Jarod glanced at her. “How far is it?”

“In ideal conditions, about six or seven hours flying time.”

His jaw dropped. “No way.”

“Oh yes. And that’s not very far at all, around here.”

She opened the door and they walked into the substantially cooler building.

“Hi, Suze!”

“Loz!” The petite woman ran around from the other side of the desk, her honey-colored hair flying around her face, and hugged the doctor. “I was starting to think you’d bolted with the plane.”

“Yeah, right. As if I would.” Lauren turned. “This is…”

“The Yank.”

Lauren grinned. “Correct.”

“Hi, Jarod. My name’s Susie.”

“It is not. It’s Susannah,” a male voice corrected.

As the secretary laughingly pulled a face at this revelation, Jarod noticed a man standing in the doorway with a broad smile on his black face. Lauren walked over and hugged him. “Hi, Pete. How’s life?”

“Better now my girl’s back.” He turned to the American and held out one hand. “You must be Dr. Shepherd. I’m Pete Tingay.” His grin widened and dark eyes twinkled. “I’m your boss.”

“Glad to meet you.”

“And this is Joel.”

Jarod looked down at the young man who had come out of another office and offered his hand. “Jarod.”

“The Yank.”

Rolling his eyes, Jarod nodded and Lauren laughed. “I said you’d get stuck with it. Blame Steve. He called here a few days ago, after it was decided you were coming, and told everybody.”

“Are you guys going to go straight to the flat or do you want to hang around here for a few more hours until the shift changes?”

“I want to check on a couple of things here, if Jarod doesn’t mind.”

Jarod shrugged. “Not at all.”

He looked up as Susie came over and reached out to take his bag. “Want me to look after it for you?”

“That’d be good. Thanks.”

Pete came over also. “Let me do the honors of the base, Jarod. You might as well know where you’re going.”

* * * * * * * * *

Lauren's Apartment, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

Coming out of her bedroom after unpacking the things she’d brought up from Melbourne, Lauren saw Jarod asleep on the sofa in front of the television. For a few moments she stood, looking at him, as her mind replayed a videoconference from almost a week earlier.

“I got the email, Sydney, but I’m not familiar with some of the drug components.”

The psychiatrist looked serious. “But you understand possible implications of combining some of them.”

“Some, yes. But just by looking at the chemical compounds, I can’t fully appreciate the effect that it will have had on him.”

The man sat back in his chair, looking thoughtfully at the screen as the moonlight illuminated his living room. “How much can I trust you, Lauren?”

“Implicitly, Sydney.” The second man spoke softly, his face wearing a worried expression. “I trust her. I know you can too.”

Sydney nodded and leaned forward, activating something on his computer, before sitting back in his chair. “Lauren, I’ve just sent you a file I had Broots retrieve for me. That will show you some of the impact that Aurora’s had.”

Lauren started up the file to see a dark-haired man moving around a room and passively obeying the orders he was given as a woman stood behind him. As she saw the man struck by a heavy-set man in a black suit, the blow sending him to his knees, she flinched, but he stayed there until a second directive had him once more on his feet. She looked back at the two men.

“I understand that he’ll have had a period of detox by the time he arrives.”

Charles nodded, glancing over his shoulder before looking back at the screen. “Yes, he’s going through that now.”

“But, with some of the components, we would still expect withdrawal symptoms to continue after his arrival. Is that correct?”

“Without a doubt, due to the amounts that he was being given,” Sydney told her.

She nodded thoughtfully. “But you think those items on the list you sent me will be sufficient to combat those?”

“Hopefully.”

Lauren raised an eyebrow. “Hopefully?” She leaned in closer. “Please, Sydney. I want to help Jarod, and to help you help him. What else aren’t you telling me?”

Looking down, Lauren saw that Jarod's face was beaded with sweat, in spite of the air conditioner above his head, and that the muscles of his face were taut. For a moment, she watched his eyes flicker under closed lids before he began to shiver violently, rolling onto his side with a soft groan and curling up in such a way that it appeared he would fall off the sofa.

Softly she walked over to the other side of the room and opened a cupboard, pulling out a blanket that she put over him. In the bathroom, Lauren moistened a cloth and returned to the living room to wipe Jarod’s face with it, stroking the side of his head. As he gradually relaxed, without waking, Lauren stood up and returned the cloth to the bathroom before going into the kitchen.

She looked up ten minutes later from a salad she was mixing to see him standing in the doorway. “Hungry?”

“Not really.” He shrugged. “Must be the heat.”

Lauren nodded sympathetically. “It can get a bit much. I’ve sometimes felt that way just coming up from Melbourne and it was awful coming home from the States in December. Very cold winter to baking hot summer. Ugh.” She shuddered with a grin and then looked up at the clock. “Do you feel up to doing anything tonight or do you just want to crash?”

He raised an eyebrow. “To…what?”

She laughed. “To go to bed. You can if you want. Just the flight up here’s enough to wipe you out completely if you’re already a little tired.”

“Do you mind?”

“Not at all. I’ll leave some of this in the fridge if you feel hungry later on. There’s cold meat and cheese as well. Just help yourself.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“No worries.” She smiled. “Sleep well.”

Jarod lay in bed, his hands tucked in behind his head, staring at the ceiling and hating the thought that he’d lied to her but not willing to admit the truth of how he was feeling. He knew that he could tell her what was wrong and she’d probably be able to provide something that would help him, but he wasn’t used to asking for help and a part of him rebelled against doing it now, even though he knew that it was probably necessary.

He wiped the perspiration off his face with his hand, feeling that the skin was tender to touch, and got up, looking at himself in the mirror. Well, he wasn’t white anymore. In fact, he thought ruefully, but at the same time with slight amusement, a greater contrast between his former blanched look and the roasted appearance he now displayed probably wouldn’t exist anywhere. Glancing down as he turned to go back to bed Jarod saw a tube of cream on the table and picked it up, unfolding the note that had been held around it with an elastic band.

‘Hurts, doesn’t it? I suggest that tomorrow you put on sunscreen more regularly. In the meantime, this will help it fade to a less painful brown in a few days. Ingredients inside. Loz.’

Smothering the urge to laugh, he pulled out the sheet of paper and quickly read through it before undoing the cap on the tube and applying a liberal amount of the cream to his face. A smile still on his face, Jarod got back into bed and rolled onto his side, closing his eyes.

An hour later Lauren opened the door of his room to find him lying in a similar position to the one he had occupied on the sofa. Quietly walking over, she put a bottle of water and another package of tablets on his bedside table, having seen that he had finished the earlier ones, before going to her own room and booting up her laptop. She emptied her glass and refilled it from the jug of iced tea beside her bed before the video call was finally answered.

“Hi, Major.”

“Lauren?” The man yawned and looked at his watch. “Do you want me to tell you what time it is here?”

“I don’t even want you to tell me where you are.” She laughed. “Can you get Sydney online for me too so I can talk to you both at once?”

“I’ll do my best.”

There was a pause of several moments before a second window opened on her computer.

“Good morning, Sydney.”

“Yes, it is.” He tried to hide a yawn.

Lauren’s eyes twinkled with suppressed amusement. “Good or morning?”

“Morning. I don’t know how anything this early could possibly be considered ‘good.'”

Major Charles laughed softly before becoming serious. “How is he, Lauren?”

The woman’s lips thinned. “It seems that he’s getting over the insomnia but, as we knew it would, that’s leading to more problems.”

Sydney looked concerned. “Such as?”

“Tremors, cramps, nausea, loss of appetite; a standard list for withdrawal but with the addition of the nightmares and his desire for Aurora, particularly as there’s nothing to take the edge of those cravings, such as a drug similar to Methadone -- not to mention his emotionally ‘flat’ state, although that is gradually improving. It’s all exacerbated somewhat, of course.”

“So what are you doing about it?”

“Giving him the medication we came up with, but there's not a lot more that can be done. I do know he’s using the drug he created in 1968 as well.” Lauren leaned back with a sigh. “But apart from that there’s nothing. As we know, the only cure for this is time. Hard work, distraction, and time.”

* * * * * * * * *

RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

Jarod came out into the hangar to find Lauren checking over the machine in which they’d arrived the day before. “Anything I can do to help?”

“Just the person I want. Come and learn about the parts of the plane.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Isn’t that a little necessary before a person can fly?”

“Not unless you’ve always flown air ambulances,” Lauren retorted with a grin.

“Okay, good point.”

Climbing the three stairs, Jarod stared around at the altered interior. “Where was it all before?”

“Here at the base. We don’t fly around with thousands of dollars worth of equipment when we’re not working in case the plane gets stolen or crashes or something.”

Nodding, he looked around more closely. “It looks like a large ambulance.”

“That’s a pretty accurate description, although most ambulances don’t have kitchens in the back.” She opened a door to reveal a space containing an urn and a tiny electric hotplate. “Sometimes being able to provide coffee to a frantic parent is as important as providing medicine to an injured patient.”

“How many can you carry at once?”

“Maximum four patients and no passengers, two patients and four passengers, one patient and up to six passengers, or a neonatal unit and three passengers. But I have got away with more, although they were nearly all kids.” She jumped out of the plane and he followed.

“More patients or passengers?”

“Both. I was carrying four injured children, three uninjured and two teachers.”

Jarod’s eyes widened with curiosity. “What happened?”

“Fire at a school. It was a little crazy. Fun, though.”

“I’ll bet.” He leaned against the plane wall, his arms folded. “What does Joel do? Is he a doctor as well?”

Lauren looked up from filling the fuel tank. ”Yes he is, but he stays here and does all of the radio communication. It’s tough for a guy in a wheelchair to fly around.”

“And what happened to him?”

She grinned. “He had polio.”

“Polio?” He stared. “Here?”

“Australia’s had a terrible time with polio and a lot of other diseases, particularly for the people out here who couldn’t get medical attention so easily.”

He nodded. “I’m beginning to realize that.”

“I thought you would - and also that it would take some time.” She looked up as a figure could be seen at the window, waving at them. “Well, let’s find out where we’re headed.”

* * * * * * * * *

Over Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

Jarod eyed Lauren as the plane leveled. “So where are we going, exactly? And don’t tell me the name again. It doesn’t help. Describe the directions.”

She grinned at his sharp tones. “We’re going to a small cattle station a few hours north of here.”

“What’s small?”

“Roughly two hundred head.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t count that as small.”

“For most people around here, that’s a hobby farm. A number in the thousands is more common, especially when you’ve got a station the size of a country like, say, France.”

She grinned, watching Jarod choke on the water he had just started to drink.

“Hey, no dying on me. You’ve got a job to do here, remember.”

He laughed. “And the patient?”

She handed him a clipboard, to which was attached several sheets of paper. “It’s an old patient of mine, and I mean that literally. He lives with his daughter on their station and occasionally tries to do too much. The drugs he sometimes needs aren’t in the RFDS kit. On the unlikely chance that we bring him with us, I’ll get you to fly back.”

“No problem.”

She grinned at him. “Even without the accent, it’s obvious you aren’t Australian.”

“Why?”

“Most people here say ‘no worries’ and not ‘no problem.'”

“What’s the difference?”

“‘No problem’ means there isn’t and it’ll get done, guaranteed. ‘No worries’ means that it might get done whenever the person can find time and inclination.”

He grinned. “I’ll stick with what I know. Thanks anyway.”

* * * * * * * * *

Near Burrundie
Northern Territory, Australia

“Is it my imagination or is it hotter than it was when we arrived?” Jarod wiped the sweat from his face and then replaced his hat, swinging up into the saddle of his horse.

Lauren laughed. “No, it should actually be a little cooler. Evening’s coming.” The doctor mounted her horse. “Thirsty?”

“I feel like there’s a drought in my throat.”

She unclipped the water bottle from her waist, tossing it to him. “Sip it. If you gulp it, your thirst will only increase.”

Jarod raised one eyebrow but did as he was told. “The things you learn when you’re thousands of miles from what you know.”

She caught the bottle as he threw it back, replacing it on her hip. “Ready?”

“Yup.”

They urged the horses into a canter and, almost half an hour later, returned to the small airfield at which the plane was waiting. When they were back in the air, Jarod turned to her.

“I’m starting to see why you like it so much.”

She nodded with a smile. “And it only gets better.”

“Tango Lima Foxtrot, come in. Over.”

Lauren activated the radio. “This is Tango Lima Foxtrot. What’s up Joel? Over.”

“Are you currently carrying a patient? Over.”

“Negative, Katherine. He was stable when we left. Over.”

“Good. Do you have fuel to get to Batchelor and then on to Darwin? Over.”

Lauren glanced at the fuel gauge and then at a list on the wall. “Affirmative, Katherine. Over.”

“Good. You’re wanted on station Charlie Delta 42. Over.”

“Joel… is it Henri? Over.”

There was a moment of silence. “Yes, Loz. Her dad just called. Over.”

“Okay, Katherine. We’re on the way. Over and out.”

On to Act IV

 
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