Sunday, August 21, 2011

Enemy Mine

Enemy Mine

Two eighteen wheelers hit head-on on southbound 183. It was a huge mess. Jack and I got caught in the traffic snarl and didn’t get there with our usual speed. Jack put on the siren and drove on the shoulder to get around people, but the firemen still beat us to the scene. That’s pretty much the norm with most ambulances, but Jack takes considerable pride in reacting a lot faster than the norm.  It wasn’t just my healing venom that gave us the highest survival statistics of any ambulance team in the city.
Jack was so delighted to be working with me again, he hardly groused about getting beat by the firefighters. He’d been teamed up with Angela while I was out, recovering from Domina Death’s little present. (XxXxx) The new guy had puked all over the victim the first time he got called to a bad wreck with some guy ripped in half, so Angela was without a partner again. With me out sick, putting Jack and Angela together was a logical move for the Boss. The first time Angela tried to get Jack to turn down a particularly unsavory call because it was in the wrong neighborhood, things had gotten ugly.
I’d heard Angela making digs at Jack about being a cape chaser, one of those people who only sleep with supes, and Jack grumbled under his breath about prissy princesses who don’t want to break a nail having no business here. Safe to say their honeymoon was over.
Two fire trucks and a cop car were there ahead of us. I recognized Officer Flynn directing traffic and waved at him. He just nodded to me. If he’d waved, he might have caused another accident.
The firefighters were doing their primary job, putting fire suppressant on the engines of the two big rigs, one completely flipped upside down. There was the nose-searing stench of gasoline in quantity, and puddles of the stuff dripping everywhere. With Texas being in the middle of the worst drought since the dust bowl in the 1930’s, fire was a constant danger. And no, I’m not old enough to remember that, although my mother is.
In addition to the two putting chemical suppressant on the hot engines, one firefighter was crouched by the crushed sliver of window on the side of the inverted rig, and another met us as we arrived. She was a short, stocky woman with close cropped dark hair with a streak of blue. I didn’t know her, but that streak marked her as a rebel in the conservative world she worked in. I liked her instantly. “What’s the situation?” I asked.
“Two drivers, no passengers. Neither rig was carrying anything flammable, thank goodness.” She waved at the rig still mostly on its wheels. “This vehicle jumped the concrete median straight into oncoming traffic, nothing the other guy could have done. Driver is DOA. He doesn’t look messed up that bad. Might have had a heart attack behind the wheel.”
“What about the other driver?” Looking at the mangled, inverted rig, I suspected there wouldn’t be much for me and Jack to do this time.
“Alive, for the moment.”
“Yeah, but he won’t stay that way if we don’t figure out a way to get him out.”
“Jaws of life?” I asked.
She gestured to the giant hydraulic scissor-shaped jacks that have saved a lot of people trapped in wrecked vehicles, lying on the highway unused. “We can’t get them into position to do any good. We’re waiting on a wrecker to come turn this beast over, so we can, but no telling how long it will take for them to get here.”
We both turned and looked at the traffic. I could walk for miles on car hoods and never touch the ground.
While we were talking, Jack had crawled past the crouched firefighter into the tiny space under the edge of the rig.
I had to lay down on the blazing hot asphalt in the 106 degree heat to get a look at the guy. He was conscious, but blood was dripping down from a nasty gash in his forehead, and he looked pretty unfocused. I couldn’t see much, but his head and shoulders hanging upside down in the seatbelt. He looked to be in his mid-forties, short blond hair smeared with blood. One arm hung at an unnatural angle. The rest of him was tangled up in the mangled metal of his vehicle.
The inside of that rig in this heat would get hot enough to kill even an uninjured man in short order. Jack pushed an oxygen mask to within the driver’s reach. “Put this over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. It will help.”
The driver had enough snap left to pick up the mask and put it over his face with his good hand, although he couldn’t manage to get the elastic strap over, so he had to hold it.
Jack pushed the compressed air canister into the narrow space, and opened the valve a little. “Better?” Jack asked the guy, as cool fresh, oxygen rich air went into his lungs.
The driver managed a slight nod.
“What’s your name?” Jack asked him.
The driver pulled the mask away from his face a little to say, “Mike, Mike Aldus.”
“All right, Mike, you just keep that mask there, and we’ll see about getting you out. You’re going to be okay, Mike, I promise.”
Mike nodded again, a tiny movement. That gash, and the blow to the head that caused it probably made any kind of head movement, not to mention hanging upside down, torture.
With the heat, and the high probability of Mike losing blood from more than just that cut on his head, we had a pretty tight deadline if we wanted to keep Jack’s promise.
I studied the structure of the vehicle, and where Mike was trapped. The lady firefighter was right. There was no good place to put the Jaws of Life that wouldn’t be likely to crush Mike’s legs while getting him out. If the rig were upright, that would give a few more options, but Mike would likely be gone long before a wrecker could get there.
I glanced at the other firefighter, crouched beside us, and realized it was White Knight in his civilian persona, Mark Novak. “Novak,” I said. “Not much point in you being here. No news cameras.”
“Nice to see you, too, Dee,” he said. “Robbed any banks lately?”
“Stuff that, both of you,” Jack snapped. “You’re on Mike’s time now. Snipe at each other on your own.”
I bit my tongue on a retort. Jack was right.
Novak ducked his head to Jack. “Sorry. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get him out. I tried to flip this monster myself, but I’m not strong enough.”
Flip it himself? I looked at the huge tractor rig. It wasn’t attached to the trailer anymore, but it still weighed around 12 tons. I’d always thought White Knight had no powers, just the special armor and sword and stuff, but if that were the case, Fafnir would have swatted him like a fly the first time they met. He must have at least a measure of super strength. “Are you close to strong enough?” I asked him.
“I can budge it a little, but there’s no way I can get it all the way over.”
I looked at the massive hunk of machinery. I’d never even considered trying to move something that big, but my body changes had made me considerably stronger than I was used to being.
I put my hands, one covered in a leather glove, on the twisted hot metal frame, crouched and heaved. It sort of budged a little, but that was it. I strained harder. Mike, the truck driver, was stuck in there, dying.
“You can’t lift anything like that,” Novak said.
I blew out a frustrated breath, set the truck down gently so as not to hurt Mike, and turned on him. “Like what? You already said you can’t do it.”
He got right back in my face. “No, but I know how to lift, at least. It’s something you’d learn if you actually trained instead of just blundering into things.”
“Fine, mister superhero expert, tell me all about how I’m doing it wrong.”
“You’re trying to lift with your arms. You have to get under it, like this, and push against the ground with your legs.” Novak, the incredibly irritating White Knight, crouched low, back straight, put his hands under a section of frame, and pushed up, blowing air out hard. Veins stuck out and pulsed in his neck. This side of the truck actually shifted half a foot upward with a screech of twisted metal, but that was all he could manage. He lowered it back to its previous position carefully, and panted for breath.
Okay, fine. Maybe the arrogant bigoted jerk had a point. I imitated his stance, back straight, knees bent, and lifted with everything I had. The truck moved. I got it up a foot, nearly two, but every part of me burned.
“Together!” Jack said.
Novak stepped in beside me and lifted, too. It went up another foot, and both of us were standing, holding it, trembling.
Jack ducked under, fearlessly, to check on Mike.
“He’s okay. Can you keep going?” Jack asked.
I didn’t know if I had anything left, but the freakin White Knight was still heaving next to me, and I couldn’t give up before he did.
I lifted, with my arms now, my legs were straight. My left hand left dents in the steel as I pushed. We got it higher, up nearly on its distorted side, but I wanted to weep for the agonizing pain in every muscle in my body. “I can’t, Jack. I can’t get it any higher.” The side of the truck was bent in a curve, so it wouldn’t stay if we let go, we had to get it over the balance point, or it would just fall right back.
Jack looked at Novak, but all the White Knight could do was shake his head. His face was bright red with strain and the veins on his neck looked like they were going to pop.

We weren't going to be able to do it. Mike was going to die because even my enemy and me pushing together wasn't enough.
Suddenly, the mass of steel and rubber got a fraction lighter. The short firefighter with the blue streak in her hair pushed beside us, back straight and knees bent, just like Novak said. Jack lent his own back to the effort, and the two other firefighters joined us as well. It wasn’t a lot of difference, but it was a difference.
I took a deep breath, looked at Novak still straining beside me, and heaved even harder when I thought I couldn’t possibly lift more. He did the same, and that did it. That last push overbalanced the hunk of twisted metal and it fell all the way over onto what was left of its wheels.
We heard Mike, the driver, scream in pain as it landed. There was no way we could have kept that from being a big jolt to his already battered body. Jack scrambled up to see how bad the damage was. Mike was still alive. Jack stayed with Mike while the firefighters use the Jaws of Life to get Mike free now that he didn’t have 12 tons of truck keeping him prisoner, just a few inches of sheet metal.
I went to follow Jack and do my job, but I couldn’t. My legs felt like Jello with some kid wiggling the bowl. My hands shook, too. No way I was going to be putting any IVs in anyone for a while.
I just sat down on the asphalt and panted and shook.
Novak sat down next to me.
Neither one of us was able to move much until after they got Mike free of his vehicle. Jack and the firefighters got him onto a gurney.  I struggled to my feet, shaking like I was a hundred and ten.  Novak have me a shove to help, even though he was shaking just as bad.
“Thanks,” I said absently. Then I looked at him.
He looked up at me, brown hair stuck to his forehead with sweat, the scars on his lip and brow distinct against his reddened face. His hazel eyes held compassion for every man, woman and child on earth, as long as they weren’t like me. For once, instead of angry, it made me sad. Novak was a hero, any way you looked at it, but he was still my enemy, for no reason except that I was born the wrong species.
He nodded a you’re welcome absently, oblivious to the fact that the creature he’d sworn and trained and dedicated his life to slaughtering stood in front of him.
I injected Mike with healing venom on the way back to the hospital. He’ll make a full recovery. With my venom, he’ll even get back full use of his legs.

Without the help of a Georgian, that's one life I couldn't have saved.

D Dragon

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