Imperfect, page 12
She is braver than most of the adults I have worked on, barely uttering a sound when I splint her leg. “You’re not going to be able to put a lot of pressure on this foot. I’ve braced it the best I can to hold it in place.” I move to the right side of her and help her up. My side throbs as I place my arm around her waist. I take her hand and place it on a fallen beam to lean on, then pull up my torn blouse to look at my ribs. There is a bruise running down from under my breast to my hip, spilling over my side.
“We need to get you help too,” Bia says watching me.
“I’m okay, just a couple of broken ribs. Now let’s try to find a way out of here.” I wrap my arm around her waist again. We make our way around and over destroyed desks, filing cabinets, broken glass, and concrete walls, coming to a stop where the dead woman lays, crushed. “I want you to keep your eyes forward, don’t look around.”
“Why?” She asks.
“Because there are some people that weren’t as lucky as we were. I don’t want you to see them.” She starts to look around anyway and I take her face into my hands. “Listen to me. You don’t want to see.”
“It’s not my daddy, is it?” Tears run down her face.
“No, honey. It’s not your dad. I promise.” I wipe away her tears with my thumb. She nods in understanding. We only make it a short distance before there is nowhere else to go. There is no opening over here, no way out and even less light spilling inside.
“Aedon, my leg really hurts.”
“Okay, sit here and I’ll look for another way out.”
“Don’t leave me.”
“I’m not going to leave you. I promise.” I run my hands down my slacks and feel the candy bar I put in my pocket. “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah. My dad was going to take me to lunch, but…he never got the chance.” Her voice catches.
“Here, I hope you like Baby Ruth bars. Evidently, it’s my dad’s favorite.” I hand it to her and feel my heart racing. I hope to God my parents stayed outside the gate, out of harm’s way.
The wrapper crinkles as she opens the candy bar. “My dad told me one time that this place has a secret floor underneath the building that’s made of steel.”
“Did he ever mention where it was?”
“He showed me once. I think it was on the other side of the room that we were in.” She bites into the candy bar.
“We’ll rest here for a minute and then we’ll find it together. Let’s hope it’s our way out.”
“I need to get in there now!” I flash my credentials.
“I’m sorry, sir. But no one is allowed to go through these gates,” an armed guard tells me.
“I’m part of the rescue team.” I try to walk by him, but two other guards block me. I tense up, ready to take them both on, when Wren steps in between us.
“Not like this, Ashe. Let’s go through the proper channels.”
I yank my badge off my shirt and shove it in the guard’s chest. “This is the proper channel. I own the goddamn company that your boss put together to handle rescue missions!”
“Sir, all clearances at this time have been revoked. Only military personnel are allowed inside.”
I’m about to lose my ever-loving mind, when I hear a voice behind me. “It’s okay, Sergeant. He has clearance on my authority,” General Briggs orders.
“Yes, sir.” All three of the guards go back to their posts.
“Thank you, General Briggs. Do we know what happened yet?”
“Walk with me over to the makeshift headquarters so that I can update you.”
“I’m glad you’re okay sir.” As we walk, I take in the devastation of the explosion. I feel nauseous thinking about Aedon being inside the building when the bomb went off. There are at least twenty military figures in the tent waiting for General Briggs.
“This is Dr. Manning and Dr. Adams with the MTA division. They are here to help assist in the rescue mission. Have a seat, gentlemen.” He points to the chairs next to him. “We received word that this was the work of ISIS. I was inside finishing up a meeting when I was called out to the main gate. There was a suspicious package left near the west corner of the Pentagon. The bomb teams were already in place. I had just given orders to evacuate the building when multiple bombs exploded inside the building. At this point in time, we have no idea how they got inside.” He stops and draws a picture on an easel. “From what we can tell, all seven floors collapsed to the center of the building. The outer offices on the bottom floor exploded outward. We’ve found several survivors in this area.” He points to the east side of the building. “I’ve sent in military troops with search and rescue equipment. The only people approved to be in this area are military, FBI, the bomb squad, and MTA Division. I want each of you to get safety gear on and grab a radio. Now, get your teams in place and start digging through the rubble.”
All the men around the table stand and scatter. Wren and I stay at the table. “Sir, did you see Aedon Thatcher?”
He hangs his head. “She was who I was in the meeting with. I left her and my daughter in conference room.”
“Show me on the map where the room was located.”
He pulls up a blueprint on his laptop. “Right here. It was one of the hardest hit areas.” His voice cracks.
“Wren, get your laptop out and connect with Ander.” He pulls his computer out of his bag as he hits his Bluetooth to connect. “What are you looking for?” Wren asks.
“Have Ander pull up the structure of the building. I want to see cross-beams and every possible access point.”
“What are you thinking, Dr. Manning?” the general asks.
“Please, sir, call me Ashe.”
“Aedon is smart. If she survived the explosion, she will be looking for a way out. The first thing I want to know is the possibility of survival from that explosion. Wren, have Ander build a mock explosion of that conference room showing how the bearing walls and beams would fall.” I listen has he gives Ander instructions. We wait patiently for Wren’s screen to come alive. The three of us are glued to the screen as it starts to move.
“Freeze it right there,” Wren tells Ander. “Look at the way the beams fell. It’s very possible that it saved the floors above from falling in on them. I think there is a very good chance they’re still alive.” He looks up at both of us.
General Briggs’ eyes start to water. “Unfortunately, I can’t pull men off the outside perimeter of the building to go inside. It’s not safe and we need to get to the people we know are alive.”
“Then let us go in, sir.”
“I can’t.” His voice shakes, again.
My world is starting to spin out of control. I have to keep my thoughts together. While pacing the length of the table, an idea hits me. “What if I can prove there are people still alive in there? Let me send up a drone with heat-sensing abilities.”
“You know as well as I do that drones are off limits here, and besides, this entire place would light up with the heat coming off the building.”
“No, we’ve built special software that can differentiate the heat generated from the body. Please, let me try to save them.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “I know I can save Aedon and your daughter.”
“You can man the drone from right here yourself,” Wren adds.
He runs his hands over his short hair. “Okay, but that drone is not to leave my sight and supervision.”
“Yes, sir. How soon can Ander get it here?” I ask Wren.
“It will be here within the hour,” he answers.
“In the meantime, I’m going to go grab us some gear and medical supplies. My medical team will be set up outside the west gate. I’m going to go check and see if they need anything and make a few phone calls to the local hospitals. I need to check on Aedon’s parents too.”
An hour later, the drone is in the air. General Briggs is giving orders over the radio, but his eyes are glued to the comp
General Briggs gets on the radio and sends a team to that location.
“Right about now, we should be over the conference room,” Wren says, leaning closer to the screen. The three of us sit in absolute silence, intently searching for any flashes of red. There is nothing.
“Have it circle back around,” I order. “They could be on the move. Show me the map again,” I say, looking at the general.
I take it from him. “Have it fly to this point.” I show Wren. “If I were Aedon this is where I would try to go. This is the entrance to the underground tunnel.”
“We haven’t been able to gain access to the tunnel. We have no idea whether it was damaged or not.”
“Look!” Wren yells. His finger is on the screen. “There are people alive right here.” He hops up out of his seat.
“We’re going in and getting them. Keep searching with the drone. I’m sure there are more survivors. I’ve got my radio on, let me know if anything changes with their location.”
The general grabs me by the arm as I pass by him. “You don’t even know if that’s them.”
“No, I don’t, sir. But if it’s not, then someone else is alive down there.”
“Be careful. We can’t afford to lose any more people.”
Wren and I suit up and load our backpacks with medical supplies. Ander guides us through our Bluetooth to where we need to go. We climb over mounds of debris until we make it to the point where the heat sensors picked up two bodies. Both of us start to dig, removing concrete, rebar, and glass. There is no way we will be able to dig through all of this on our own – I am only hoping to find an opening large enough for us to crawl through.
We’ve been digging for over an hour. Sweat is pouring down my body. I try to concentrate on what I’m doing, but my mind keeps skipping to Aedon. The thought of her being down there is terrifying. We’re finally in a good place together, I can’t lose her again. I keep seeing her beautiful smile play across her face as she teases me about something. The way she looks at me, flirting, tells me everything I need to know about how she feels. Why didn’t I see it all along? I thought she had given up on us a long time ago, but if I would have really paid attention I would have seen that look, reserved only for me, hidden deep in her eyes.
Out of frustration, I pick up a large piece of concrete over my head and slam it down. The concrete bursts into pieces, setting a small avalanche in motion in front of us. Wren jerks in my direction. “What the hell, Ashe?”
“I can’t fucking lose her!” My face is heated red from anger.
Wren is looking at the ground in front of us down by my feet. He scrambles over and starts digging. “There’s an opening here. The concrete you threw must have made it give way.”
I get down on my hands and knees and start digging alongside him. Sure enough, the rubble soon gives way to a hole. Pulling a flashlight out of the side of my backpack, I shine it down inside. It opens into a small area, big enough for us to make our way inside. I take my radio off my belt and call the general, asking him to send some men our way and some rope.
“As soon as they get here, get ready. We’re going in to find them, and I am not coming out without them.”
“I know it all looks different now, but do you think you can find the door to the tunnel?”
“I’ll try.” I help her off the floor. Her arm wraps around my waist, hitting my ribs. I gasp out in pain and move her hand further down. “I’m sorry, Aedon.”
“It’s okay, sweetie. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt half as bad as your leg.” We shift some debris around and a cold, white arm falls out next to Bia’s feet. I try to cover her eyes before she can see it, but it’s too late. Luckily the rest of the body and the corpse’s face remain covered and out of sight. She lets out a gasp and jumps against me. Tears start rolling down her cheeks, but she keeps moving.
“I think it’s over there.” She points into an area with a metal door. I turn on the flash light and shine it in that direction. It looks intact. The only thing blocking it is a fallen beam, which we’ll have to move.
As we move closer, I see a little box for ID entry outside the door. “Damn it, I should have thought about that.”
“What is it?”
“I very seriously doubt my ID will let me open that door.” I lean her against the wall while I take the lanyard from around my neck. There is no sense moving the beam if we can’t get in. At this point, it would be wasted energy. I’m able to get close enough to swipe my badge. The light beam doesn’t even come on. I try one more time with no luck.
“Can we push it open?” she asks.
I beat my fist on it to get a feel for what it’s made of. Solid steel, and based on the dull thuds that ring out beneath my hand, it is at least half a foot thick. “It’s too heavy.”
“Now what are we going to do?” Fear is rising in her voice.
“I don’t know yet. I’ll figure out something.” Putting my fingers in the crack of the door, I try to push it open. It doesn’t budge. Shining the flash light around, I see a piece of rebar that is bent in half. I might be able to use it to pry the door open.
As I reach for it, the remaining fragile bones of the building begin to shift. Bia lets out a scream as a piece of concrete falls, barely missing her. I run back over to her. “Get on the ground!” She does and I shield her with my body. We stay still until there is no more noise. Dust fills the air, filling both of our lungs and setting off a tandem coughing fit. The pain in my side is sharp enough to bring tears to my eyes.
“Are you okay?!” Her little hands are holding my face, brushing the hair out of my eyes.
“I’m okay.” I cough a few more times. The rebar is within my reach. I get off the floor and pick it up. The movement caused the beam to fall away from the metal door. I wedge the rebar in place and use the beam to push against with my feet. Nothing at first. I throw all my weight into it, straining every muscle in my body, and the gap begins to widen. Slowly, ever so slowly, the door begins to groan its way open.
“You’re doing it, Aedon!” Bia pushes off the floor and hobbles over to help me. The two of us push with all our might, but the door’s movement stops abruptly as it catches on a concrete block much too large for the two of us to budge. A gap no more than eight inches wide is open before us.
She starts to cry. “Bia, you can get through that. You can get out of here.” I cradle her in my arms.
“Not without you,” she sniffs. “My leg, I can’t do it.”
“Yes, you can. You can put one hand on the wall to help you walk.”
“I don’t want to leave you.” She looks up at me.
“You can get help. They don’t know we’re alive down here. If you can get out, you can send them back.”
“What if the tunnel is blocked?”
“If it’s completely blocked, then you come back here. But, try real hard first to move or go around whatever’s in your way. You can do this, Bia. You’re Wonder Woman, remember?”
She wipes her nose with the back of her hand. “You know Wonder Woman isn’t real, right?”
I laugh. “No, she’s not, but I believe in you.”
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Good girl.” I help her back off the floor. She tentatively pushes her arm through the opening first. It’s a tight fit with her leg in a splint, but she manages to make it through.
“I’ll send my daddy back for you.” She says through the opening in the door.
“All right, Bia. I hand her the flashlight. “Now go, get out of here.”
I listen as she takes the steps down into the underground tunnel. My own tears start to fall when I can no longer hear her. I hope like
I let my body slide down the wall to the floor. I rest my arms on my knees and let my head fall. My body hurts and I’m so tired. I want to shut my eyes for a moment. As soon as my eyelids close, I see Ashe.
His hands glide up my body, taking my silk nightgown with them. His eyes take me in, admiring me. I hear his sharp inhale as the back of his hands skim over my nipples. “Mmmm… I love these. I want to taste them.” He wets his lips and leans forward, sucking me into his mouth.
Suddenly, I see him with Wren. They’re in a dark place, but I see him clearly. He’s in an outrage. One like I’ve never seen before. He’s tipping over a desk, shattering picture frames on the floor. He’s screaming something. I step closer so that I can hear him. I call his name, but he doesn’t even see me. Wren is trying to calm him. He walks toward him and he pushes Wren across the room. “I couldn’t get to her! I couldn’t save her! This is my job, for fuck’s sake!”
“Help me, please!” A cry for help drags me out of my daze and up on my feet. I hear a woman’s voice coming from underneath a wooden ceiling tile. Riding a wave of adrenaline, I furiously toss all the debris out of the way. Her feet barely protrude out from the gap I created in the rubble.
“Help me,” she feebly cries again.
“I’m coming.” I lift the tile to find a woman in a uniform, about thirty years of age. She has a large hematoma on the front of her head and one of her eyes is swollen shut. I get down on my hands and knees. “What’s your name?” I’m already scanning her body for other injuries.
“Traci.” Her head lifts off the ground.
“I’m Aedon. I’m a doctor. Let me check you out before I try to move you.”
“Try not to move your head.” I gently feel the back of her neck and shoulders, working my way down. “I don’t want to move you. You may have a fracture in your neck. Let me see if I can find anything to support your head.”
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