Life Within Four Elements
"Air Attack, Scooper 394, inbound and loaded for the drop."
"Armed and ready for the drop"
"Three, two, one, drop. "
Bella pressed the drop button on the left horn of the yoke and the mighty CL415, part boat, part plane and part fire truck jettisoned fifteen hundred gallons of fire quenching water in less than three seconds right over the target.
The bird and her crew had made their ninety sixth water drop for the day and they had just enough light left over for one more go around.
Bella had been eager for her future, eager to be able to extend her abilities fighting fires at night and eager for the new generation of firefighting aircraft that came complete with night vision, sonar and glass cockpits.
Saving someone's house or livelihood from a raging forest fire made all the hard flying that Bella and her team were challenged with on the daily, worth the risk.
For a fleeting moment that sinking feeling befell her and not for the first time that week, her future had been shelved.
For how long? She didn't know, but right now was not the time for her to be distracted by her consternation.
Coming in nose down and dipping below the level of the surrounding hilltops, Bella guided 394 to the vast lake, which was the nearest usable watercourse to the fire.
"flaps on speed."
Levelling out, it was the co-pilot's job to double check, support and initiate any requests made by the senior pilot, so Jasper set the probe scoops in preparation.
Skimming the water definitely wasn't as smooth from inside the cabin as it appeared from the outside. The first contact with the water could feel as brutal as hitting concrete, jerking the crew violently in their seats.
The two brick sized probes grabbed hard, slowing the plane like sea anchors and Bella had to manage both throttles - often with the stabilising support of Jasper's hand - wrestle a yoke and keep her feet busy on the rudder-peddles all at once in an effort to maintain the aircraft straight, level and plaining on the step.
A spectacular sight, the flying boat left behind a massive rooster tail of water in its wake, thankfully only taking about twelve seconds of bouncing across the waves at ninety knots to fill her to overflowing.
Bella followed through the procedure by ordering, "probes up."
The moment the water scoops were retracted, 394 surged forward and Bella lifted the hull off the water in a graceful climb into the smoky orange sky for the last drop of the day.
Twenty minutes later, the two crew were taxiing the mighty Super Scooper to the apron in front of the hanger, she shut down the two Pratt and Whitney powerplants, the great propellors of the impressive aircraft winding down before finally coming to a standstill.
Bella let herself be engulfed by the finality of it all and sighed heavily after she hung up her headset.
"I'm sure gonna miss ya, Hells Bells," Jasper said in his typical drawl, while making notes in the log from the first officer's seat next to her.
Jasper Hale, her co-pilot, her righthand man – literally – came from Texas. He had that wonderful southern charm that couldn't help but attract people to him from far and wide.
"Psht." Bella supressed a cheerless laugh. "I'll be back kicking your rear again soon enough, Jazz," she said trying to sound less melancholy than she felt.
"No finer boot has ever kicked it Bells."
Bella knew that he meant what he said, they were a tight team and their lives depended on it.
The pair completed the shutdown of the aircraft and they unbuckled. Remaining seated and surrounded only by the dim light of the cockpit, an awkward silence stretched between them and all that could be heard was the muffled airport sounds beyond 394's panoramic windscreens.
After a contemplative moment, Jasper finally asked his captain, "you ok?"
Bella breathed out another long sigh. "My dad just died Jazz and I really don't know how I feel," she said flatly.
Truthfully, she had long wondered how she would feel, that if by some miracle her father actually did contact her while he still could.
That opportunity had now passed, she was freed from that burden only to be saddled with another, because now she was haunted by the thoughts of her own lack of communication – however justified it may have been.
And she just felt numb.
"Well," Jasper said after another long silence, "how 'bout we make like a church and get the hell outta here?"
Bella shook her head at her friend's innate ability to make her smile. They collected their things and disembarked, leaving the ground crew to look after the 394 and get her ready for tomorrow's mission.
All that was left to do was head into the office for the daily debrief and for Bella to announce her leave before enduring the condolences from the rest of the team.
It had been a proverbial fire storm for Bella Swan in the last two weeks.
She may have been the one to make the decision and sever ties with Charles Swan III all those years ago, but it was one that she hadn't taken lightly and it had been the hardest she ever had to make.
Ten days previously she had received a phone call from a Mr Jason Jenks, who turned out to be her father's lawyer all the way from Australia.
Her heart skipped in uneasy beats when Mr Jenks strongly suggested that it would be in her best interests to attend the reading of her father's will in person.
Bella although reluctant, had to make plans and make them quick.
She wasn't a permanent resident in Arizona which complicated things further because she was contracted for two weeks out of every four and she couldn't just up and desert her duties in the middle of a swing.
Not only did she have to organise the leave with Earth to Air Fire and Water Resources, she also had to wrap up a few things at home in Miami and work herself up to be the one to break the news to her Mother Renée, who lived further up the coast in Jacksonville.
As heart-breaking as it was that she had lost her father, what concerned her the most, was that her impromptu visit to the land down under meant that she would undoubtedly have to come face to face with all the other things that she had left behind.