“Hey, Joe, would you see what those civvies are doing here?”
Larry finished his checklist and wondered where Joe was. He went to go look for him and saw him in the hold still. He glanced over at his passengers. The major was strapping the pale woman into the restraint, and there was something about his manner that stuck in his mind, though he couldn’t put a name to it. She was close enough now that he could see the woman was injured, casts on her wrists and multiple bruises. The nurse was talking to Joe, apparently asking him where best to stow the wheelchair. He watched the scene unfold until the passengers were settled and Joe returned.
“So, what’s the deal? Who are they?”
“The woman in the wheelchair is Heather Lisinski, the local liaison. The older woman is her nurse, Gail Green.”
“Gail Green? As in Jake Green?”
“I believe so.”
“Huh.” He paused in thought. His orders said he was to pick up Major Beck and a couple of his staff - for debriefing, he assumed. He supposed that covered ‘local liaison’, but nobody had mentioned that they’d be bringing along a nurse. Speaking of which… “Is Miss Lisinski well enough to fly?”
“I think so. I get the impression that Mrs. Green wouldn’t allow her to come if she weren’t.”
“Then what’s so serious that she needs a nurse?”
“I don’t know, specifically. Mrs. Green was reluctant to talk about it.”
Just then a buzz of static interrupted them.
“Charlie Romeo Niner, come in please.”
“Charlie Romeo Niner, here”
“Be advised, enemy planes headed your general direction. Suggest you leave soonest.”
“Copy that. Joe, let’s get going.” Larry still wasn’t sure that this Heather should be flying on a military cargo plane, but at this moment that was a secondary concern.
Forty-five minutes later, they were out of range of the enemy planes and the curiosity about his passengers resurfaced. He handed the controls over to Joe and headed back to the hold.
“Sorry for the rush, ladies and gentlemen, there were some people we had to avoid.”
“Not a problem.” Major Beck replied. Quietly, so as not to wake the woman sleeping soundly on his shoulder.
“I see. You do know she’s drooling on your uniform?”
“I do.” His tone was, inexplicably, grateful. At the captain’s confused look, he explained, “It means she’s actually getting some real sleep.”
“Ah.” He turned to nurse Green. “As a pilot, is there anything about Heather’s needs I should know? Will she be okay at regular altitude? You do know this plane is not known for smooth landings?”
“I think she’ll be okay. It’s obviously not ideal, but it will do.”
“Just so you know, my orders don’t exactly cover transporting you, Mrs. Green. I don’t know as they’re expecting you. I’m not sure what kind of accommodations there are for you.”
“I don’t need much. Just so long as I’m with these two.” She said, nodding at the major and Heather. “It might just be easier to get Heather a room in the medical wing. Edward and I can take turns with her.”
“ ‘Take turns with her’?”
Beck spoke up.
“While it’s true she’s coming along as a member of my office staff, she’s also going to take advantage of your medical facilities.”
“Uh…ok…” Beck sensed his hesitation, and realized that there was probably a restriction on civilians receiving medical care.
“She received the injuries because of her position in my office. The least the army can do is give her medical care.” His voice was very firm, and something about his manner made it clear any other option was unacceptable.
“You should talk to Major Dawson, sir.” Beck nodded.
“Of course, there may be an easier way. They treat military dependents, right?”
“Well, usually. Things have gotten fuzzy with the lack of documentation…”
“I’ll sign any document they want.”
Captain Baker’s eyes narrowed in comprehension; suddenly the major’s complete lack of objection to drool on his uniform, even though he was flying to meet high-ranking officers for the first time, made perfect sense.
“Hey, Larry!” Joe yelled back into the hold. The major, the nurse, and the lieutenant all winced at the sound and immediately looked to Heather.
“Dammit, Joe! Be quiet!” he called back, trying simultaneously to be quiet and yet loud enough for Joe to hear him.
“Hush!” he started back to the cockpit to shut Joe up.
“What? I didn’t hear that! Oh, nevermind, I’ll - ” Joe came back and nearly ran over Larry on the stairs.
“Shut up!” Larry pointedly looked over at their passengers. Heather wasn’t awake, but was clearly reacting to the noise in her sleep. She winced at something only she could see, and Major Beck gently reached out and touched her hands. She reacted by grabbing onto his and holding on to them with a white knuckled grip as she fought the menace in her dreams. After nearly thirty seconds, her eyes popped open, wide with terror as she looked around.
“I’m right here. I’m right here. It’s over, you’re safe.” He pulled her toward him, but was hampered by the restraints. He looked over at the pilots. “We’re not expecting any turbulence, right?”
“Th-that’s correct, sir.” The wide-eyed Joe replied, watching as the major immediately unbuckled Heather and pulled her up into his arms. “S-sir, Ma’am, I – I didn’t kn- I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. It won’t happen again.” Beck nodded acknowledgement, but his attention never left Heather.
“We should go now.” Larry said, prodding Joe in the appropriate direction.
“Right.” Joe replied, breaking his gaze.
“I understand you want us to treat…” He checked his paperwork “Heather Lisinski.”
“I expect you to, yes.”
“You’re aware that we don’t generally treat civilians here?”
“Her injuries are a direct result of her work for the military. It would basically be workman’s comp.”
“I hired her as my local liaison. She did her job so well the local insurgents put a bounty on her head. Despite my efforts, they got to her anyway.” His voice was bitter with self-condemnation.
“Got to her?”
“Kidnapped her. Tortured her. Raped her.” His voice was hard. Then, a note of pride. “But she didn’t break. She didn’t surrender.”
“I’m sorry.” Major Dawson’s voice was sincere. “But there’s something else I need to ask you about.”
“What is your relationship to her?”
“I love her.”
“Well, that’s fairly obvious. But…fiancée? Wife?”
“Not yet. It’s complicated.”
“I can imagine.”
“We were lovers. I didn’t want anyone to know. Constantino already considered her a traitor twice over, already had a bounty on her head; I didn’t want him to find out she was literally ‘sleeping with the enemy’. And the ASA – well, you know how they use loved ones.” Dawson nodded. “We’d managed to more or less keep it under wraps when we found out she was pregnant. That was the same day she was taken.” Beck paused. “I’d considered asking her to marry me as soon as the possibility of pregnancy came up. I just didn’t get the chance. Now I can’t. Not yet.”
Dawson looked over through the glass at Heather. She held Mrs. Greens’ hand, but her eyes had never left Major Beck.
“Somehow I think she’d say yes.”
“Yes, but why? Because she needs me? Because she’s afraid to be without me?” He looked at Major Dawson. “That’s not the kind of yes I want.”
Dawson looked at him for several seconds. Then he rose.
“I think I can find a room for her.”
“Thank you.” The gratitude in his voice was palpable.