Chapter 36: Returning To Fort Block
Tell it like it is
Till there’s no misunderstanding
When you strip it right back
Man feed machine
Machine feed man
Tell it like it is (And on this land, we cast our fortune)
Till there’s no misunderstanding (And on this ground, we make our home)
You make up what you like
Man feed machine
Machine feed man
The Tower That Ate People
Snow was falling from the sky, coming down hard, blinding the road as a drained and weary Sigma One, pushed through the heavy air, pulling each other a step closer to destination.
We're almost there, closer…closer
, Sven kept telling himself. Leading the pack while trying to push forward, he carries a bundled, Delilah close to his body, using their duel body heat to try and stay warm. His night vision goggles were strapped over his eyes while a scarf was wrapped around his head. He could see better with the goggles on as the breeze blew the snow in his face, along with Corporal Baird, whom also had his goggles on.
Baird was right behind Sven, keeping him from falling backwards against the wind, while pulling up his legs over the knee-deep snow that has accumulated on the road to Fort Block. The only thing they had to go by as they tried to stay on path was the bright yellow markers along the side of the road that was not quite yet buried, but after tonight, they may as well be.
The storm was becoming stronger, dropping snow like a heavy downpour, covering everything in white. The gray sky darkened the terrain, covering the late sun completely as the air started to freeze.
Cole was huffing, breathing the heavy cold air, trying to keep up, but between the wind pushing against him and the weight combined with Raven's, whom he had strapped up against his torso, was slowing him down. Baird looked back, noticing Cole was struggling to keep up as he turned around and went back. Baird made his way, looking at Gus, shivering as he held Raven close to his body, using her body heat along with his to keep each other warm, but the storm was hitting them hard. Raven was still sedated, lying limp, wrapped in scarves and blankets while her limbs hung from the harness that was haltered around Cole's shoulders. Baird came up to Cole and started to rub Gus's arms, warming him up.
"C'mon man…we can't stop right now, you're doing fine," Baird said, trying to encourage Cole as much as he could, "…here…"
Baird started to pull him, using himself as a shield to protect Cole and Raven from the wind. Baird was wrapped with a blanket over his coat while rags where tied around his waist and Raven's sash, wrapped around his head. Sven was waiting ahead, as he too, walked next to Cole while they all huddled while moving forward through the freezing abyss.
Their limbs we're aching from the frost, biting them through the layers while the cold stung their exposed skin, numbing their flesh as the wind seeped past them, pushing the snow in all directions. The weight of the weather was getting heavier and heavier as the minutes went by. God, I hope somebody heard me
, Baird pondered, hoping that someone from the Block was able to pick up the transmission. He continued to look towards the road, hoping for a sign, something. They wouldn't send a Raven out here, that's for sure…not in this weather.
Suddenly, Sven fell to the side, sinking into the snow while Baird quickly tried to grab him, but he noticed that Sven's face was pale, his lips so dry they were cracking. Baird had to muster up some strength just to pull Sven and Delilah back up,
"C'mon Vinny…not now, you gotta pull through it," Baird tried to tell him, as Cole too, slumped by the wayside.
"S***! Gus…get up, damnit!"
Cole could hear Baird, but his body wouldn't move, it couldn't move. He has pulled himself through pain before, but the cold was pinning him down as if he was tied to a freight truck, driving in reverse.
Baird picked up a shivering Delilah while grabbing Sven's arm and pulling him up over his shoulder, trying to drag Sven and Delilah back over to Cole as he leaned over to drop Sven next to Cole and gently placed Delilah in between. Then the weight of the load that Baird was pulling was about to buckle as the wind brushed him down. Baird gathered himself up while crawling over to the rest of his squad, pulling Sven closer to him and Cole as they shield Raven and Delilah between the three.
There they sat, huddled in uncertainty, waiting for the glimmer of hope that someone from the Block will find them, eventually. Baird pulled out his com, one last time, turning it on, hoping they would catch the signal. He wrapped his arms around Sven and Cole as much as he could, peering through his goggles and the thick snow, watching ahead of the snow, buried road.
The markers along the side of the road was dimming as the light faded underneath the blanket of clouds, swallowing the landscape around them. All has faded to black and white as the snowflakes swirled around them, draping them steadily until, in the distance, they could see a ray of light, shining subtly from the void.
Death stands from a distance, his silhouette standing between them and the light, watching and waiting, but not making an effort to reach out to them. Just take us now and be done with it, damn you!
"What the f*** are you waiting for?" Damon screamed, tempting fate while his throat dried up and his voice was quashed by the wind. As his eyes began to blur, the light illuminated into his pupils as he brought his hand to shield them from its brilliance. The silhouette in the distance began to move, closer…
The ride was bumpy at best, feeling the jolt from the struts in the back of the Dill, bracing for more bumps along the winding road. The heater in the cabin was on full blast, trying to keep the console warm as well as the crew, while attempting to keep the frost off of the windshield as they tried to steer in a total, white void.
The crew inside felt a sudden jolt as everyone inside jerked to one side,
, Bjork…slow down, s***," barked Captain Miller of Epsilon One, riding shotgun alongside Corporal Bjork, trying to make out the road ahead of them.
"I can't see the f***ing markers along the side of the road, sir,"
Bjork sneered in an concoction of sarcasm and anxiety that had been festering in the cabin since they left Fort Block, trying to locate the source of a weak radio signal.
Accompanying Epsilon was Delta, carefully monitoring the radio signal that would come in waves of static in between frequencies. Sergeant Marcus Fenix sat anxiously, trying to make out the direction of the signal. It was a longshot at best, but so was anything else he has done throughout his military career. For the past week, they have been searching for the whereabouts of Sigma One, and their latest transmission was the first sign in days, as faint as it was.
He could remember the transmission, buried somewhere in the static. Marcus replayed the transmission over and over again, trying to stabilize a very frail signal, but the faint voice imbedded somewhere in the transmission all too familiar. Baird is alive out here, somewhere.
They were taking a risk, coming out in such demanding conditions, but Marcus wasn't going to let the impending weather stop him from finding his men, even if this hell froze over, he wasn't going to leave his men behind, not this time. He occasionally looked up, checking up with the Captain, anxiously waiting for something in sight, but with the snow making the air dense, was adding to their frustrations.
Dom sat quietly, watching Marcus monitor the radio com, waiting for something to come though, watching the others in the cabin as they hung onto whatever they could, every time Bjork would make a turn.
"S***…got anything Bjork?" Dom blurted out, noticing that Bjork was slowing the vehicle down.
"Natta…f*** this weather, man."
"Got anything, Sergeant?" said Miller as he turned to Fenix.
"Nothing…just static," Marcus grumbled, hearing nothing but the same thing over and over for the past twenty minutes since they left Fort Block. Epsilon's medic, Sergeant Grimes peered over the crowd,
"We need to pick up the pace…they're not going to survive for too much longer if we don't find them," Grimes reminded them.
"You think we don't know that, Doc?" Bjork scoffed, trying to drive and lookout for a sighting at the same time, while the Captain kept a sharp eye between the navigation console and the road ahead. The crew was getting antsy, hoping for something, anything to find their comrades alive, but as the time passed, the possibility of finding them alive was thinning.
…s***," Bjork slowed even more, sitting up at the edge of the steering wheel, "…aw
, you see that Captain?"
"Yea I do…carefully, move the headlights," Captain Miller said in monotone, peering through the small windshield, noticing something in the road ahead.
Marcus got up from his seat, moving to the front, trying to look out through the windshield,
"Son of a
…pull over, I'm going out there," Marcus ordered.
"You got it, Sergeant," said Bjork as he slowed the Dill down to a stop, switching on the high beams while Captain Miller took off his seat belt, grabbing a flashlight from the side of the cabin.
"Is it them?" Dom asked in anticipation.
"We're going to find out, Dom," Marcus said in a solemn tone. As Miller was trying to unlock the front hatch, Dom quickly took off his seat belt as he grabbed the nearest blanket from an overhead compartment and slapped it under his fleeced arm.
Miller turned around towards the crew,
"Get ready ladies," he said before he opened up the door. The APC opened up, and the blistering air swarmed in quickly, pushing the snow into the cabin.
"F***…we need to hurry this up," Bjork yelled out over the wind as Miller, Fenix, and Dom marched out into the freezing abyss. Sergeant Grimes was rummaging through compartments in the back, pulling out medical supplies just in case, preparing for the worst as much as he could while their sniper, Private Welche started to fold the back seats into the side compartment, making room for Grimes.
The three men continued forward, moving carefully through the thick snow, trying to make out a clump on the side of the road in the distance ahead. Marcus pushed forward, a scarf wrapped around his head and neck, trying to peer though the thick snow as he noticed something as if it was moving.
With Miller and Dom not far behind, Marcus picked up the pace, lifting his knees above the deep snow, turning his hips as he gets closer to something or someone that was apparently standing ahead of him. He couldn't tell what it was, as the figure was swaying, trying to stand against the wind as pieces of clothing, draped around the figure was flapping in the wind. Could it be Death?
Marcus moved closer, trying to get a better look at the figure until he saw something familiar, something glistening from the radiance of the light coming from Miller's flashlight. The body started to lean, after dropping its arms, hanging onto whatever equilibrium it had left, as a flash of blue glistened across its eye sockets.
"BAIRD…" Marcus yelled out as he started to run as fast as his legs could take him, running over to the Corporal, barely hanging on, drifting away into the white abyss. Marcus runs over, grabbing Baird by the torso as he slumped into Marcus' arms.
"Baird…talk to me you asswipe
, don't you die on me or so help me God, I will reprimand your sorry ass,"
Marcus yelled at him, trying to get Baird back into consciousness, but Damon's body started to go limp as Marcus held him up. In the distance, Marcus could see some other bodies, huddled in a pile,
"I SEE THEM…" Dom yelled out as he and Miller ran to the others, passing up Marcus, hold on Cole, I'm coming.
Miller got there first, pulling up another Gear, quickly noticing that it was his former rookie sniper.
"Vinny," Miller barked, tapping him on the face, trying to wake him up, "you lucky son of a b****!"
Dom quickly joined him as they both look down, noticing quickly that there was two other people bundled in between Sven and Cole,
…they got their Feral guide with them…and what appears to be a kid, s***," Miller turned over his shoulder and into his com, "…WELCHE, BJORK, get your asses over here, NOW!"
Private Welche jumped out of the cabin and into the elements, followed by Bjork, making haste as they close in on Marcus' position.
Moving carefully, Marcus was moving back towards the Dill, dragging Baird along over his shoulder, trying to remain stable in the damning weather.
"MEDIC," Marcus roared, pushing along as he was coming towards the Dill. Grimes quickly jumped out and welcomed the Sergeant, extending his arms to help carry their comrade into the Dill.
"S***, Sergeant…get him back here…I'll try to make as much room as possible, but we're going to get cramped here real quick."
"We'll figure that out as we go along, Doc…"
"I need to get him on plasma, help me lie him on the floor."
Marcus and Grimes laid Baird on the floor, setting him down carefully while Grimes carefully took off the sash from Damon's head and cautiously started to remove his goggles from his eyes.
Suddenly, just as they removed the goggles, Baird started to twitch, and then let out a groan,
"Corporal…can you hear me?" Grimes started to talk, trying to get Baird's attention. Baird suddenly started to flinch, shifting his body in short bursts,
"Baird, stop, hold still," Marcus knelt down, trying to calm Baird down as he started to curse,
"F***…that hurts," Baird barked, shivering violently as Marcus holds him down while Grimes proceeds to remove his coat and armor.
Marcus looks up, noticing Welche coming in with another Gear, up over his shoulder, trying to stabilize his weight as he walks in the Dill. Bjork followed shortly behind, carrying a shivering little body as he stepped in and places a little kid in the back seat.
Marcus gets up to help Welche as he quickly drops down, lowering the soldier onto a nearby seat, next to the kid. As they placed the Gear down, he started to mumble, in between shivers, calling out to them.
"Don't…forget…others," the soldier squeaked out.
"What's your name, Private?" asked Marcus as he carefully starts to unravel the scarf from around his head.
"Vi…V…Vinn…y," Sven muttered while Marcus carefully unstraps the goggles from Sven's face. As Marcus takes them off, he notices the frostbite on Sven's lips and cheeks, blistering.
"Hang on, Vinny," said Marcus, grabbing a blanket that Grimes left out nearby, and placed it around Sven.
"Vin, Vinny…you there?" Baird managed to muscle out while still lying on the floor, bundled in a blanket that Grimes pulled from the compartment.
"I..I'm here…Corp…oral," Sven said, slightly turning his head. Marcus looked down and noticed Baird moving his cracked lips, trying to communicate in between shivers,
"What, about…the kid…?"
"Del…lilah," Sven muttered,
"She's right here, Private," Bjork answered as he quickly scanned Delilah's face, wrapping her in another blanket, "she's ok…just a little cold."
"Gus…where's, Gus?" Baird whimpered.
"He's coming, Baird," Marcus answered.
"…and…Rav…" Baird started to mumble. Marcus looked up at Grimes and then to Bjork,
"Who…what are you talking about?" Marcus questioned.
Sven started to mutter, "Feral…where's…Feral?"
Before Marcus could answer, Miller's voice is heard over the bristling wind,
"Somebody get out here and lend us a hand…"
"I'm on it," Bjork blurted out as he jumped over the front seat and darted out of the Dill, moving as fast as he could through the deep snow.
"Welche..come help the Corporal," Grimes asked.
"Sure thing…" Welche responded as me meandered over to Baird's position.
"Sergeant," Grimes turned to Marcus, "I got the Corporal on the I.V. and I'm going to check on the Private…can you look over the girl?"
"Yea," Marcus responded as he stepped around Sven and moved over to Delilah, whom was bundled like a caterpillar in a cocoon.
"Hey, kid…" Marcus called softly in a low, raspy voice, "you ok? Just…nod your head yes or no…"
Delilah peered through her wrappings and looked up at the big Gear. Between shivers, she tried to nod her head as she trembled while lifting her little, gloved hand. She held it out as Marcus looked down, struggling with the words to say as he extended his own hand and gently took hers in. It was then he could hear her quietly mutter,
"I…want to go…home."
"We all do, kid."
"But…where's…Birdie Lady…we can't leave Birdie Lady," Delilah choked out as Baird slowly looked up, trying to keep some poise in all of this,
"We're not…leaving Birdie lady behind…" Baird was able to muster while Welche tried to keep the I.V. from getting tangled. Suddenly, Grimes started to move back from the APC entrance.
"Sergeant…I think they're going to need your help on this one…" said Grimes.
Bjork and Dom was making their way to the Dill entrance, carrying Cole. They carefully moved him in as Marcus went over and picked up Cole's legs while Dom had one arm and Bjork the other.
"Guys, over here…put him on the floor, next to the Corporal," Grimes instructed as the men carefully placed Cole next to Baird.
"S***, Gus…GUS, can you hear me?" Marcus started to yell out, "…you answer me now, Private, you hear me?"
Cole was shivering profusely, trying to muster the strength to open his frost bit mouth.
"He…here…re…reporting for…duty. Sir…" Cole was able to spit out. As Grimes started to rip into Cole's fatigues, exposing his arm, for an I.V., Baird started to move as he looked up at Grimes.
"Sit…me up, please," Baird muttered out.
"Hold on, Corporal…" Grimes said, putting the needle in Cole's vein, hanging the bag on a compartment hook.
Suddenly, Marcus looked up to see Miller, moving quickly inside the Dill with a small, framed person lying limp in his arms.
"GRIMES…get another blanket and I.V." Miller shouted, "…this one's in bad shape!"
Marcus moved to the entrance to meet Miller. Miller carefully placed Raven in his arms,
"She's been sedated…and it looks like she has a broken ankle," said Miller as he turned around to shut the door, while Bjork took the driver's seat and began to rev up the Dill.
Marcus moved over to the others, carrying the little woman as Grimes helped Baird sit up against the cabin wall. Baird turned his gaze over to Marcus,
"Set…her here," Baird suggested, moving up and making space as he extended his arm. Marcus knelt down, gently placing Raven in between Baird and Cole. Grimes started to unwrap the cloth around Raven's head, revealing a pale, rosy facade,' with dry lips and sunken eyes.
"Is that…Feral?" Cole asked as he slightly turned his head. Marcus just glared at Cole, nodding his head, assuming the woman was whom Cole was referring to.
"She's here…Cole," Baird muttered, "she…already has…a connector in her…left arm…"
Grimes nodded as he knelt down, "Alright…I'll look."
Cole mustered the strength to yell out, "Vinny…you here?"
"Yea…" Sven yelled back, "I'm, here."
"She's doing fine, Gus," Marcus assured Cole.
Grimes tore into Raven's attire, trying to free up her left arm as he scans for cannula connector to place in the I.V., when he suddenly noticed it, still taped to her arm. Baird carefully placed his hand on Raven's forehead, stroking her hair, trying to find something warm to see if she was even alive.
"Rav…" Baird tried to muster out, searching for a pulse.
"She's alive, Corporal," Grimes tried to assure him the best he could, "…a little worse for wear, but she's alive."
Then Baird moved his other hand over Cole's head, patting it gently,
"G, Gus…you there?"
Cole turned his head slightly as he responded,
Marcus sat and watched them in awe, wondering how they actually survived out in this frozen hell. Grimes managed to connect the I.V. into Raven while he hung the bag next to Cole's. Cole reached over as he patted Baird's leg,
"She'll, be…fine," Cole assured him, finally thawing from the warmth inside the cabin. Dom sat next to Cole on the floor, unfolding some more blankets to place under Cole's head.
"Ok, Cole…lift your head up, man," said Dom. Cole slowly lifted his head enough for Dom to slid it under, and then dropped it back down.
Marcus sat up in the last open seat in the Dill as he reached for the radio com,
"Control…this is Delta, come in."
A sudden sparce of static blared from the com, until a sketchy voice could be heard,
"We found Sigma, I repeat…we found Sigma One. We need an immediate medical team waiting upon arrival, do you copy?"
"Roger that...Delta…How many?"
"We have five, control. They're in pretty bad shape, so we need the medical team to be ready and waiting as soon as we get in."
"Understood, Delta. They'll be ready...upon...arrival, control out."