I dove through the undergrowth towards where I'd seen Beth headed and found myself having to duck and roll as I narrowly missed getting shot in the face.
"CHRIST BETH! Don't shoot me dammit!" I roared as I turned to see that Dani had stopped her from pulling the trigger by a millisecond. Phew, thanks Dani! I thought I hope Jagan and Foster get here fast, I can't wait to get out of this place!
"Where's Jagan?" Beth asked fearfully. "Gone to get Foster."
Kristen lay on the ground, her breath coming in short gasps and she was beginning to shiver.
I pulled off my jacket and wrapped it around her as she stared up at me in fear. I felt pity for the girl and I blood trickling from the gunshot wound on her leg. She needed medical attention fast. "In a messed up way, I know how you feel." I said low enough so that the others couldn't hear. "You feel like giving up, like there's no point in fighting anymore because they've won, they got into your head and they hurt you. But you have to keep fighting, that hurt will turn to anger, the anger will help, it gives you purpose, and then they haven't won. They lose, because you'll be stronger then them. They're cowards."
Her breathing was slowing down as she listened to me. "We're gonna get you out of here Kristen. Then when you get healed up, I'll get your dad to buy you a gun and I'll teach you how to shoot."
I finished tying the bandage around her leg. She'd been so busy focusing on what I was trying to say that she hadn't paid much attention to what I was doing as I stopped the bleeding and bandaged up her wound.
Beth and Dani were looking at me with a curious expression on their faces and I felt like squirming. "Field medic." I said by way of explanation and they nodded and accepted it. I silently thanked god that Foster hadn't been there. He would have read me like a book. I could almost hear his smarmy English accent "Going soft Crow?"
I turned back to Kristen and saw that the vacant expression was gone from her eyes, and though she seemed to be struggling inside her mind, she was definitely more 'there' then she had been. Her breathing was regulated too. "Hey," I whispered "Don't tell the others what I said yeah? Don't want them to think I've gone soft." I caught the glimmer of something in her eyes. A smile?
"Where's the president?" I turned to Beth and she pointed to a fallen tree a little further up the path. I walked up to it and found him sitting on the other side of it, his face in his hands. "Sir?"
He looked at me through his fingers. "Look, I know you've been through a lot, but you have to hold together at the moment and be strong." I paused as he started to shake his head. "For Kristen." I finished and he froze.
"Is she going to die?" he whispered and I pulled him to his feet as he tried to read my face. "No," I said shortly "If she continued to sink into shock and struggle then she could lose her leg." his face went pale and I put my hand on his shoulder. "But not if I can help it."
He stood up taller and I realised where this man's strength came from, his family. The two of us hurried back to Kristen and he crouched beside her, smoothing her hair out of her face. "Dad." she croaked and he turned his head so she wouldn't see the tears in his eyes.
Just then Foster and Jagan crashed through the undergrowth and paused, a little out of breath. Jagan was covered in blood and I wondered what had happened. It clearly wasn't his blood. I almost laughed. And I thought I looked like a psychomaniac?!
"I hate to break up this little party chaps." Foster gasped. "But we have less then three minutes, to get the hell out of here."
I didn't pause for a moment. I handed my gun to the president and scooped Kristen up in my arms as gently as I could. "Hang on tight kid." I told her. "Cos I'm going to have to run like hell, and your leg is going to hurt like a b*tch."
We all took off running flat out through the forest to the pick up zone. Foster was yelling something into his radio when I heard the sound of bomber jets but there was something different about them. "B-1Bs?" I roared at Foster in disbelief and he laughed as he ran. "THEY BROUGHT IN B-1Bs????"
"WOOOHOOOO!!" he yelled.
There was a popping sound behind us and a rush of heat washed over the valley, the trees all bending in one direction for a moment. Then as we reached our pick up point I saw a glow behind us.
"Foster." I called urgently and he turned from the approaching helicopter to look at me. "Tell them to hurry their asses up! We got a wildfire and it's got it's skates on."
They didn't have time to use Fulton to air and so they dropped a ladder. Everyone scrambled up as I kept an eye on the fire. It had nearly reached us. Damn fire making its own winds!
A tree exploded under the intense heat and a chunk of bark flew out, narrowly missing me and Kristen. "Take her!" I yelled at Foster as he swung off the end of the ladder. "Take her dammit!"
The smoke filled the air and Foster reached down for Kristen but couldn't see me properly to grab her. "Just get up and pull the ladder up!" I roared at him as I pulled some rope out of my backpack. He kept climbing and I slowly lifted Kristen onto the ladder. She was still too weak to hold on by herself so I set about using the rope to secure her to it. I had just finished when they started hauling the ladder upwards and I realised I was about to be left behind. I managed to grab the last rung by my fingertips and I desperately tried to hold on as I dangled above the ground. The smoke was everywhere now and I felt my fingers slipping. It seemed like an age before finally I lost my grip and fell, my arms flailing, reaching for anything to grab onto.........
.....and finding the landing skid.
I heard Foster yelling my name but I couldn't reply to him I was so choked up on smoke. The helicopter rose more and cleared the smoke a bit. Beth was screaming "You can't leave him, we can't leave him." Dani joined in "No Dad we can't just let him die down there, I won't leave a him behind, I WONT DO IT YOU HEAR?!" Jagan's voice was louder then the rest. "Sherlock if this contraption doesn't get back down there for him I'm taking a parachute and going back myself!"
Foster was trying to calm them saying that he had no intention of doing such a thing when the helicopter lurched and I heard Dani scream. She fell past me to cries of "DANI!" and I reached out and grabbed her arm. The two of us hung there staring at each other and I tried to clear my throat. "Didn't think you'd get rid of me that easily did you?" I grinned as everyone peered over the side. "Crow you made it!" Beth was laughing hysterically and I saw Jagan put his arm around her as she burst into tears of relief. Foster was grinning and shaking his head. "You're so damn hard to kill you know that?" he joked as he held out his hand to pull Dani back up.
I swung myself into the hold and lay down flat on my back. "I seem to spend so much time rising from the ashes of sh*t I think I should just rename myself Pheonix!" I laughed. Adrenaline pumped through my veins and as I looked over at Dani I knew she was on the same high...
...nearly dying will do that to you though.