Flying High

 

home / season six / episode five / act V

   

RFDS Office, Katherine
Northern Territory, Australia

“Katherine RFDS to Darwin Base Hospital. Come in Darwin. Over.”

Jarod leaned against the doorframe of the office, his arms folded, as Lauren spoke on the radio.

“Go ahead, Katherine. Over.”

“This is Dr. Taylor. I wanted to know the condition of patient Henrietta Faraday. Over.”

“Just a moment, Katherine. Over.”

Lauren leaned forward, her fingers tapping impatiently on the table in front of her.

“Are you there, Katherine? Over.”

“Yes, Darwin. Go ahead. Over.”

“Hi, Loz. It’s Ruth. Henri had a good night’s sleep and is improving by leaps and bounds, the way she generally does. We’ll be sending her home soon, within a few days anyway. Over.”

Lauren grinned and sighed with relief. “Thanks, Ruth. I really appreciate it. Over.”

“Hey, we appreciate everything you do for that kid, too. Now stop clogging up our radio. Over and out.”

Lauren put down the radio with a laugh. “Well, I guess I’ve been told.” She turned to Joel as he entered. “Did you hear that?”

“I sure did.” He grinned as he took his usual place at the desk. “And it’s not many people who can tell you off!”

“It’s so nice to have friends.” She picked up a piece of paper from the desk. “Is this from the folks at the Weather Bureau?”

“Yup. Latest forecast from 0800 this morning.”

She scanned the words and symbols, her lips pursed. “We’d better hope that front keeps going. I don’t want to have to try flying through it.”

In her office, she sat in the chair behind her desk, her eyes fixed blankly on a point about Jarod's head. He waved a hand and she blinked, laughing.

“Sorry, miles away.”

He smiled. “Why do you calculate distance in kilometers but have a figure of speech in a non-metric calculation?”

“Do you know,” she looked up at him in astonishment. “I have no idea. Just one of those things, I guess. But now that you mention it, it is kind of weird.” Her eyes brightened and she looked at her watch. “What say we see if your Dad’s available?”

“What, now?”

“Why not? It’s ten now, so depending on exactly where they are, it’s should be about four o’clock in the afternoon yesterday there. He might be online.” She booted up her laptop, ensuring that the camera was firmly attached, and then got out of her seat so that Jarod could sit in it. Rapidly the program started and just as quickly a familiar figure appeared on the screen.

“Jarod?”

“Hey, Dad.” He grinned. “How’s life?”

“Better now.” The father looked anxiously at his son. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Stop worrying about me.” Jarod pushed back the hat that like everyone else he was now used to wearing indoors and allowed his father a glimpse of his tanned face. “See? Told you.”

The man nodded. “Jordan wants to say hi.”

Jarod waited until the boy appeared on screen and grinned at him. “How’re you doing?”

“I’m good but I’m jealous.”

“Oh?” Jarod raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“You look so… relaxed!”

“Hey,” the pretender protested, laughing. “I’m working!”

“Doing what?”

“Flying all day over one of the nicest places on earth.” He glanced at Lauren out of the corner of his eye and watched her grin.

“That’s not fair!”

Jarod heard the sound of his father’s laughter in the background. “That’s why I didn’t tell you what he was going to be doing, Jordan.” Charles reappeared on the screen. “Is Lauren there?”

“Hi, Major.” She moved into shot behind Jarod. “It’s good to see you again. And Jordan, it’s good to meet you. Jarod's told me a lot about you.”

Jarod looked up. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee. Want one?”

“Commit murder for one. Strong, black and no sugar.”

He shuddered, a look of disgust on his face. “You’re the boss.”

Lauren looked down at the screen as he left the room. “Just a sec.”

Major Charles nodded and she got up to shut the door. Coming back, she could see the look of concern in his eyes and hastened to ease it.

“Sir, your son really is getting better!”

“Have there been any further problems with the withdrawal?”

“A few, but nothing huge - some tremors and a little nausea, but only when he’s tired, as we both are at the end of the day. I’m keeping a close eye on it, but I really think he’d got over the worst by the first night up here, as I told you before. He’s also giving himself the drug you used during the detox session and it appears to be counteracting the withdrawal well.”

He nodded slowly and she leaned forward.

“Major, I’m not going to keep secrets from you. Like I said a couple of days ago, lots of hard work and distraction are the best things for him right now. The work we’re doing, and the fact that only normal pressures are involved in it instead of his old trick of trying to bring someone to justice, are helping more than any magic pill or potion that I can make for him. You know as well as I do that most of the problem, once he got out of that place, was as much mental as physical. Hard work, fresh air and interaction with some of the crazier members of the Aussie population are the most likely things to heal that mind.”

The tension began to leave Major Charles’ face. She continued.

“When Jarod first arrived he was twitchy as a two-day-old lamb, and silent to boot. Now while he’s still a little quieter than I imagine he may have been before, he’s able to join in conversations and jokes as well as perform well the work he’s here to do. Oh yes, and then,” she added as she saw the door opening, “there’s that little habit of snake-handling he’s picked up.”

“He - what?!”

Jarod came back into shot and placed the coffee in front of Lauren who got up so that he could sit in front of the screen again with a laugh.

“It’s okay, Dad. That was just the one time. Looking back, though, it was kind of fun."

“Lauren, I thought you were taking care of him for me!”

“They were only pythons, Major. And there were four doctors with kits chock full of antivenin, just in case.”

“Well, that makes me feel a lot better!”

Laughing, Lauren swallowed the last of her coffee, looking up as Susie appeared in the doorway. She took the folder and glanced at Jarod who nodded before turning back to his father. “Sorry, gotta go. Duty calls.”

Major Charles smiled. “Enjoy yourself, son.”

“I will, Dad. Thanks!”

* * * * * * * * *

Near Birdum
Northern Territory, Australia

Lauren flipped through the pages in front of her, then reached down to pick up a map, unfolding it.

“Jarod?”

He glanced over and she placed a finger on the map. “Here’s our destination. Newcastle Waters. You’ll get to see the effects of snakebite at close range.” She shook her head, a look of disbelief on her face. “God, some people are stupid.”

“And then?”

“Tennant Creek. It’s the nearest hospital. We’ll refuel there and head back to Katherine.”

She reached into the pocket behind his seat for two white kits. Opening the first, Lauren showed him that it held a number of small bottles, a few pipettes and a syringe. With a laugh she took out a small bundle that unfolded into a large sheet covered in small print.

“Instructions for finding out what type of snake sank its fangs into you. Want to try and read it first time around in a panic?”

Jarod grinned. “Is it all necessary?”

“Vital. Luckily I know it all already and I’ll teach you as we go along - unless you feel like speed-reading it now!”

As he laughed and shook his head, she did up the first case and slipped it into her pocket. Pulling out the second, she flipped it open it to reveal a number of glass vials and several syringes.

“This is a standard pack of antivenin. There’s doses here for every snake in Australia.”

“Surely some snakes are only located in certain areas.”

“That’s true. But, we never know where we’ll get called to and, as you don’t want to have to make state-specific kits, it’s easier to do this. Besides, the buggers do migrate.”

He nodded and, half an hour later, the chopper began to make its descent.

* * * * * * * * *

Over Tennant Creek
Northern Territory, Australia

“Okay, now I get why knowing is such a good idea.”

Lauren grinned as the helicopter took off. “I bet you do.” She snorted. “‘We only wanted to make sure that it was dead’. Great. Well, I’m glad that they were able to be so easily convinced that it wasn’t.”

Jarod laughed. “And will he be okay?”

“In a few days, yes. If we’d been another 30 minutes he might have had some difficulties, but we weren’t. He won’t be very comfortable for the next couple of hours, but that’s his own stupid fault.”

After a silence of several minutes, she reached forward and picked up the radio handset.

“Tango Charlie Delta to the Bureau of Meteorology. Come in. Over.”

“Go ahead, Tango Charlie Delta. Over.”

“I just wanted to check on the condition of that front you notified Katherine RFDS of, at 0800 this morning. Over.”

“It’s moved 100k’s south, Tango Charlie Delta. But…”

There was a burst of static and Lauren raised her eyebrows.

“Darwin, can you repeat that? Over.”

The static continued.

“Darwin, we’ve lost you. Can you still hear us? Over.”

After another few minutes of static, she reached forward, pressing the red button. “Tango Charlie Delta to Katherine. Come in Katherine. Over.”

There was nothing but more static and Jarod looked over at her.

“What is it?”

“At a guess, bad weather between us and there. We can set down and wait until it passes or keep going and try to get closer.” She glanced through the window to the red-brown earth that seemed to stretch out endlessly below them.

“How long could that last?”

“It could be anything from a few hours to a day or more especially at this time of year, coming into the rainy season.”

“And what do you want to do?”

Lauren reached forward and tried several other combinations on the radio but heard nothing and then glanced at the dial showing the level in the fuel tank. “We’ve got enough fuel to get us closer but I was trying to fly straight back so we won’t go over any towns between here and Katherine.”

“Stations?”

“We can hope, but I doubt it.”

Jarod watched out of the corner of his eye as she pulled out the map again and started to study it earnestly.

“Nope, nothing. Nearest house is more than three hours away. We’ll head for it and hope to get a shelter of sorts there. If we set down here and now, we could be in all sorts of trouble.”

Having handed over to Lauren, Jarod watched as the wind began to pick up strength. As a funnel of wind developed on the ground away to their right, he looked at the pilot.

“What’s that?”

“Willy-willy. Miniature tornado.”

She steered the helicopter away from it, keeping a firm eye on the direction they were flying. The sky had been clear and blue only moments earlier but was now amassing clouds to the west and that, Jarod noticed with a feeling of disquiet, was almost exactly the direction in which they were flying. A violent gust of wind swung the helicopter’s tail around so they were suddenly facing a different direction altogether, and he watched Lauren fight to control the machine that was now bucking as the wind strengthened.

“Are you going to land?”

“Too dangerous,” she replied shortly.

“What?” He looked around. “How can it be?”

“There’s lots of hot up-draughts coming up from the ground due to the hot weather. With the cool down-draughts pushing us towards earth, we’d get caught in-between when we tried to land and probably crash.”

“So we keep flying?”

She focused her eyes on the ground, ignoring the compass as it spun in circles while the machine was tossed first one way and then another.

“I’m hoping to find a nice, soft ridge where there might be enough protection to enable us to put down.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow. “A ‘nice, soft’ ridge? Out here?” He looked through the windscreen.

She glanced at him out the corner of her eye and grinned. “Start praying, Jarod.”

* * * * * * * * *

Over Somewhere
Northern Territory, Australia

“This,” Lauren remarked between gritted teeth, “was not exactly what your Dad had in mind when he suggested a vacation.”

Her eyes picked out a spot of shadow on the ground with a natural windbreak of trees and, in her mind, Lauren calculated their chance of survival. Not great, but better than if they’d had to land on open ground, as far as landing fairly safely went anyway. She decided to worry about what they’d do after that had happened once it had.

“We’re going to land there.” She pointed and he looked down. “I hope you don’t get seasick.”

“There’s a first time for everything.”

The helicopter began a slow descent, swinging like a pendulum from side to side as it was caught in an up-draught and then a down-draught. Jarod put up a hand, hanging on to the handle above the door, checking that his seatbelt was secure. As they sank lower in the direction of the ground the swinging increased until there were times that the machine was almost on its side.

“Hold on. Nearly there.”

Jarod glanced over in time to see her left arm torn from the jerking yoke and slam into the wall of the helicopter, blood beginning to pour from it immediately.

“Lauren?”

“Not now.”

He realized that in the tension of the moment, she probably hadn’t even felt it and looked down to see the ground only a short distance below them. As they had nearly reached it, a gust picked up the machine, lifted it twenty feet in the air and dumped it onto the red soil. There was a second of silence before she spoke and Lauren’s voice was calm.

“Get out.”

“What?” Jarod stared at her in disbelief.

“Get out now.”

Without looking at him, she reached forward and began to flick the switches, undoing her seatbelt with her injured arm and ignoring the blood that was quickly reddening the floor of the helicopter.

“But…”

Her voice was sharp but she still didn’t look at him. “Jarod, as your superior I order you out of this helicopter and at least fifty metres away from it. Now.”

Although one part of him wanted to protest, another, larger part still appeared to be in the habit of instant obedience to which Aurora had brought him. Despite the anxiety he felt, Jarod undid his seatbelt, jumped out and, ducking to avoid the still-spinning rotors, ran a short distance away. He turned at once, his eyes fixed on the ruined machine.

“Come on, come on.”

He muttered the words under his breath and then sighed in relief as he saw her, clutching several packages under her arm, jump from the helicopter and run in his direction.

“Are you okay, Jarod?”

“Fine.”

He pressed a hand on the cut, trying to stem the flow of blood. She handed him one of the cases she had been carrying and raised her arm into the air, supporting it with the other and ignoring the blood that instantly reddened the sleeve of her shirt.

“There’s bandages in that.”

Jarod flipped open the flat case and pulled out a roll of bandage that she took and pressed on the wound.

“There’s another roll in there. We’ll need it too, but it should be fine without stitches.”

Lauren glanced over her shoulder towards the mangled helicopter lying silently on the hot ground behind them, the rotors spinning lazily, and Jarod noticed the movement. He eyed her curiously.

“What? What is it?”

She turned to face him, a faint grin on her face. “Jarod, I sure hope that you weren’t expecting to be home in time for dinner tonight.”

* * * * * * * * *

Somewhere
Northern Territory, Australia

Seeing Jarod take a sudden step back, Lauren looked up from trying to bandage her arm to see him staring past her to something that was obviously only visible over her shoulder. She turned quickly and then straightened up, smiling.

“John!”

“Lauren!”

The Aborigine put down the spear and boomerang that had caused Jarod’s momentary feeling of concern and slipped out from between the towering eucalypts, reaching up to tear a branch off a nearby tree. He quickly stripped the leaves, crushing them between his hands, saying something in a language Jarod couldn’t understand. Lauren nodded, gently easing off the wad of bandage, and allowed him to spread the green pulp over the injury. John then held it as she wound another broad strip of bandage around her arm, after which the Aboriginal, wearing a worried expression, nodded his head in Jarod's direction. Lauren responded in English.

“It’s all right, John. He’s a doctor with the service.”

Nodding, the man fixed his eyes firmly on Jarod for a couple of seconds, his gaze intense. Finally he turned back, nodding again, before Lauren looked at her white companion.

“It’s okay, Jarod. This is definitely a friend. And he understands English so you’ll be able to talk to him.”

“What language did he speak?”

Lauren laughed. “You mean you didn’t understand it?” She saw the look of frustration on his face at her teasing and became serious. “It’s his tribal dialect. He can speak English, but not much.”

“And you can speak it?”

“Yes. His mother was very ill for months and I was her primary doctor for that time. It was easier to learn it.”

“And… is he going to help us?”

“He sure is.” She turned and said something to the man, who nodded. “John says he’ll help us for as long as we need it.”

She looked up to see the clouds increase and darken overhead. Her voice was quiet.

“And I know that we do.”

Jarod looked at her curiously. “His name isn’t really John, is it?”

She smiled, settling her arm into a sling that Jarod gently put around her neck.

“No, not by birth. But a lot of these people believe it’s bad luck, even a curse, for a white man to use or even know their tribal names. I don’t think he’s ever told me what it is.”

The two of them began to walk slowly towards the helicopter and Jarod glanced at her.

“What were you worried about, before?”

“That the petrol tank would go up and take us with it. But that danger should be over by this time.” Lauren reached in through the open door and grabbed the radio receiver “Mayday, mayday. This is Tango Charlie Delta of RFDS Katherine. Can anyone hear me? Over.”

There was silence from the radio and she glared at it, picking up a small, hand-held device from under the seat. Static was all they could hear and, as she glanced at the clouds, Lauren frowned.

“Well, we won’t get help until all that clears, if then. The disturbance caused by the storm must be blocking the waves. This isn’t very powerful and that,” she nodded at the larger radio, “must have been damaged in the crash. You can have a look at it if you want, but I doubt it’ll help. If there’s a lot of electricity in the air - and I think there will be - then this,” she waved the small radio, “will be virtually useless. But we’re taking it with us, just in case.”

“So where are we?”

She glanced around, hiding a smile. “Australia.”

Jarod raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Great.”

“Still in the Top End, if that helps at all.”

“Not really.” He became more serious. “You mean you don’t know?”

“How could I, Jarod? We must have been blown a long way off course. But at a guess, I’d say we might be somewhere near the Barkly Tablelands, and that’s a long way from where we’re meant to be.” She pulled herself into the helicopter. “We’ll need to get supplies for the next few days.”

Lauren took her jacket from the back of the pilot’s seat and slid her uninjured arm into the sleeve, pulling it around her shoulders, before collecting various items from the back of the helicopter and putting them into a backpack.

Jarod took the bag from her. “What are we going to do, Lauren?”

She grinned at him. “Well, you’re about to get the chance to see one of the most beautiful things in this country - an outback storm.”

“What - here?”

“Of course. John’s making us a temporary shelter in case it rains and we’ll sit in that until it blows over. Then we’ll start walking.”

His eyes widened. “Walking?!”

“Uh huh.”

Lauren eyed the slight incline that had given them sufficient protection to land and then the trees surrounding them.

“They’d fly over us all day and never see the chopper. That’s the problem with landing where we did. We’re alive - but if John hadn’t come along we probably wouldn’t have been for long.”

* * * * * * * * *

The forks and sheets of white lightening illuminated great expanses of ground on all sides as the thunder growled and, despite knowing how much danger they were in, Jarod agreed with Lauren. It was an amazingly beautiful sight, made more so by the absence of rain that allowed him to see it all perfectly clearly. He looked over to find her watching him, a smile on her face.

“Been in a situation like this before?”

“Kind of. I was in a plane crash in Yellowstone, a few years back.”

“Good, so you know what to expect.”

He thought over that time, looking around at the sky and feeling the heat coming from the ground, as a small smile curled his lips. “I suspect this could be a little different.”

“Well, maybe.” She stretched out on the ground, trying to find a comfortable place to put her arm.

“You okay?”

“I’ll live.”

Jarod shook his head incredulously. “Is every Australian as bad at understatement as you? ‘I’ll live’ when you’ve got a great hole in your arm, ‘It’s a bit warm, isn’t it?’ when even the buildings are wilting…”

Lauren shrugged and tried not to grin. “Probably.”

“And what did John put on the aforementioned ‘hole?'”

The Aboriginal, who had been listening silently to the conversation, turned and picked up a leaf from a pile beside him, holding it out and saying something Jarod couldn’t follow. The American took it and lifted it up to his nose, cautiously smelling it before glancing at Lauren.

“What is it?”

“A native version of an olive leaf. It’s good for healing wounds and helping blood to clot faster.”

He nodded and handed it back to the man who replaced it on the pile and turned to stoke the fire in front of them.

“You may as well try to sleep, Jarod. We’ll have to start walking early.”

“Why?”

“Because assuming that the storm clears up tonight the way John thinks it will, we’ll have another scorcher of a day tomorrow and we need to start before it gets too hot.”

* * * * * * * * *

Taylor Family Property, Yarragon
Victoria, Australia

Bill hung up the phone and turned to the other three people in the living room, the color gone from his face. His wife looked at him in concern.

“What is it?”

“They’ve disappeared. Loz and Jarod went out to a call mid-afternoon and they never returned to Katherine.”

Steve looked up sharply. “What have they got organized?”

“The search parties went out an hour ago.” The man swallowed hard. “They had to come back in to base thirty minutes ago because of bad weather. A storm’s crossing the Territory.”

Mark looked at his brother. “I’m going up there. Steve, will you fly me in to Melbourne? It’s quicker than driving. I’ll catch the first plane to Darwin and go on from there.”

Peta looked at her son. “I’m coming with you.”

“You can’t, Mum.” He eyed her ankle. “You aren’t able to get around quickly enough and we both know how fast things can change in a search. I know you’re worried, but try to be reasonable.”

Without waiting for an answer he left the room followed by his brother, both returning in under ten minutes, Mark carrying a small bag. Bill stopped his son before he could leave the room.

“Do you want us to call Jarod's dad?”

“No.” Mark shook his head. “Wait until I get up there and I’ll call you. When we know more about what’s going on, then we can make that decision.” His eyes traveled from his mother to his father, his voice suddenly quiet. “If the weather’s still as bad as it has been, there may not be any point.”

On to Act VI

 
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