Interlude: The Way Home

The Gulfstream Hawk had sent them was already waiting at Entebbe when they got there, and Lifeline wasted no time getting Alex, Lady Jaye, and Flint loaded into it. Duke exchanged rapid words with the Base Commander; no, their wounded personnel didn't need to be looked at, they were doing fine, thank you, we just want to get home as soon as possible.

Not that they were actually fine. Flint and Lady Jaye were stable, but Alex was the problem; and though Lifeline badly wanted to have a doctor look at her, they couldn't risk news of her presence reaching General Hawk before they did. All the Joes felt sure that once Hawk saw Alex, he would understand why she had to be brought back to base but until he actually saw her there was no way he would understand. So her presence among them had to be kept a secret. They loaded their gear into the Gulfstream as fast as they could, and were airborne in an hour. It was only after they got in the air that Lifeline thought to check the plane for basic medical supplies—he was running low on practically everything. He'd thought he'd packed enough supplies—gauze, painkillers, syringes, and so forth—in case everyone on the team needed attention, but he hadn't expected anyone to be in as bad a shape as Alex was—not and still be alive. Now, as he took stock of what was on the plane, his heart nearly stopped. "We have a problem," he said grimly as he came up to the front of the plane where the uninjured members of the team sat. "I've tossed the whole plane and there are no medical supplies beyond a basic first aid kit. That means no painkillers. I have enough for three more doses—four if I stretch it and give just the minimum, but afterwards that's it. We're out." Lifeline said grimly.

"Christ." Lady Jaye had woken up just in time to hear the tail end of that speech. "Don't use any on me. I can handle it. Save it for Alex, she needs it more than I do."

"General Hawk's orders were to care for our people first."

"Yes. And you've taken care of us. We're going to be home what, maybe tomorrow evening at the latest, tomorrow morning at the earliest? I'll manage." She pinned Lifeline with a hard stare. "I am hereby refusing any further pain medication."

"When you put it that way…" Lifeline sighed. "All right. I'll try and stretch out what I have as much as I can between Dash and Alex."

But by the time Alex woke around midnight, she'd received the minimum dosage and was still in agony. "Alex," Lifeline said as gently as he could when he gave her the last dose he had, bending over her so he could speak softly into her ear, the one that hadn't been ruined when the chip had been ripped out of her head. "Alex, I'm so sorry. We're out of pain killers. We can't stop and pick up anymore because it'll slow us down and right now we have to get to New York, and our base, as soon as we can. Do you understand? I'm asking you to hold on until we get back to base."

Alex closed her eyes as what he'd said sank into her mind, past the drugs and the pain. New York. They were taking her to New York. And once there—Olivia, she thought, I have to hang on until I see her. One last time. Wordlessly she nodded to Lifeline. The thought of lying there in agony for who knew how long filled her with fear, and she whimpered softly, tears running down her face. But she would hold on, if she knew Olivia was at the other end of it.

The next few hours were the hardest of Lifeline's life. He and the Joes watched as the painkillers wore off and Alex started to react to the returning pain. First moaning, then whimpering, and finally she started to scream—or at least if she had the voice to do so she would have been screaming. As it was, she was rasping harshly, gasping and croaking, her body jerking involuntarily in pain. The Joes were silent, helpless. There was absolutely nothing they could do to make it any better. Ettienne sat beside her bed, holding one hand, giving her what comfort he could. When her voice grew hoarse, he held the bottle of water for her; when her throat swelled and she could no longer swallow large gulps, he took a plastic spoon, poured a small amount of water into it, and slipped it between her lips so she could still drink.

She was fighting with everything she had, trying to stay conscious until they got to New York, but the agony was overwhelming and she could feel herself losing. "Olivia," she kept whispering the name to herself, trying to focus, but it was so, so hard…

"It's okay, Alex," came a soft rough voice, and she tried to focus on the face that entered her tear-blurred field of vision: Ettienne. "Go ahead and let go, and Olivia will be waiting when you wake up."

"Prom…ise…" She breathed; she badly wanted to let go, let the darkness claim her and take her away from this hellish agony, but she had to see Olivia again. One more time.

"Yes," and a large callused hand pushed sweat-soaked hair off her forehead, stroked a spot on her right temple that was practically the only place on her body that didn't hurt. "I promise. Olivia will be waiting when you wake up. Go to sleep now." She didn't have the strength left to answer, not even a nod; she simply closed her eyes and let the darkness take her into its soft, welcome embrace.

Ettienne saw the lines of pain in her face ease, and her tortured breathing became gentler, more even. His heart ached as he wiped his eyes, and when he looked up, no one else's eye were quite dry either. Lifeline stepped forward, and Ettienne stepped back wordlessly, letting him check Alex. Lifeline couldn't even look at the others as he said, his voice flat, "She's slipped into a coma. If we don't get her to base and real medical help soon, she's going to die."

Courtney surged to her feet. "It's seven in the morning now. If we push it we'll be home by noon. I'm going to have a talk with the pilot."

Author's note: And this is the end of the first part, the first hundred pages of the book. I originally thought I'd just post the whole book into one file, but it turned out MUCH longer than I expected, and so I figured if I post each part separately it will be easier for readers to go back to their 'favorite' chapter instead of looking at a huge chapter list. Also, the focus in the second book is going to shift away from Flint and Allie since Scarlett and Snake Eyes will be spearheading the effort to uncover the conspiracy. The next part is titled 'G.I. Joe Special Missions: Scarlett Declassified' and it's going up concurrently to the last two chapters of this story, so look for it!