Chapter 24: Friends
They actually hadn't been all that far from the airlift site, as Hawk found as he started back to the waiting plane with Spirit and Lady Jaye. Another ten minutes of walking found them staring at the most beautiful sight in the world, a Gulfstream Four. Ordinarily there wouldn't be enough open space in the forest to set down a plane that size, but a huge mudslide from the nearby hillside, caused by torrential rains from the hurricane, had provided a clear enough landing pad, and because this had formerly been a sheet of earthen bedrock, the plane hadn't sunk into the mud so far it wouldn't get out.
They were all tired, hungry, dirty, and ragged; Lady Jaye's eyebrow rose when she saw Hawk without a top, but he gestured tersely to the still figure on the stretcher. Charlie stepped forward, examining Cam quickly, not even seeming fazed when he saw the stark white burn scars on her right leg from knee up. "Infection in that foot," he said, confirming Hawk's suspicion. Then, "Where are the rest of her clothes? Shoes?"
"She didn't have any. I gave her my top but we didn't have anything else." Lady Jaye froze in shock, staring from him to Cam and back in apparent disbelief, but he shook his head. "It's a long story. Suffice it to say my report is going to be very long and detailed and I'll be giving the JAG office a call." Then he focused on her. "And you guys! What are you guys doing here?"
"Got permission from Lieutenant General Johnson to launch a search and rescue once we heard you were missing. It's a long story, we'll talk when we get inside the G4. Let's just say I think Lieutenant General Johnson has some questions about how a decorated American General goes missing from an authorized American military base on American soil in the middle of a hurricane during what is supposed to be a routine training exercise." Lady Jaye watched as Charlie lifted Cam effortlessly in his arms and bore her away quickly, long strides eating up the ground. Freed of their burden of carrying Cam's stretcher, the rest of the trainees fell into line behind Hawk and Jaye.
Lifeline and Stretcher were waiting outside the G4. Lifeline took one look at the unconscious, tattered figure in Spirit's arms and gestured the tall Navajo wordlessly into the aircraft; he was apparently handling the emergency cases. Stretcher wordlessly handed each of the other soldiers a handful of ration packs each and directed them to seats toward the front of the plane; everyone was in relatively good shape, and he sighed as he gestured the last of the trainees into the front of the plane, then gestured Hawk into the back. "Get back here and I'll have a look at you." At Hawk's uncomprehending look Stretcher said, "You have scratches on your back. Four of them look kind of like they might have come from barbed wire, I assume from your escape from the SERE stockade?" It was only then that Hawk realized why his back hurt.
Lady Jaye slipped to the front of the plane, presumably to talk to whatever pilot they'd brought along; Wild Bill, he identified a few minutes later when he heard his Warrant Officer's voice answering Lady Jaye back. Shortly thereafter he felt the plane lift off and Lady Jaye came and sat down in front of him. "All right. While Stretcher has a look at your back, I need to know what happened. I need to know why Base Commander Hilton is so hostile to us being here, and why he practically ordered us not to come find you when we already had Lieutenant General Johnson's permission. That permission is the only reason why we're here, General Hawk, otherwise Base Commander Hilton would have ordered us out of Fort Bragg and forbidden us to come looking for you. As it was, he worded his objections to our search and rescue…very strongly." And he'd pissed her off.
"Hilton knows I'm pissed at the way he's handled this training class. He's allowed one of his instructors, Colonel Broadview—the man let his personal dislike of a trainee to carry over onto his work. That's why Cam has no clothes, that's why she looks like she's been scalped, that's why she's skinny and exhausted and her feet are infected because she had no shoes!" All the anger he'd been holding in burst from him in a torrent of words. "He PT'd her all afternoon, the hottest part of the afternoon, out on the Nasty Nick—" he used the nickname for Camp Mackall's legendary obstacle course, "in one hundred seven degree heat. She went hyperthermic—she was badly burned in a childhood accident and she doesn't have sweat glands over half her body—"
"Sixty five," Lifeline said from where he was examining Cam. "Sixty-five percent of her body, from what I can tell without seeing her back. First and second degree burns, from a fire that involved some kind of accelerant." He looked at Hawk and his eyes were dark with anger. "Hawk, she was never treated."
"What?" He forgot the rest of what he was going to say in shock. "What do you mean 'she was never treated'?"
"What I said. She was never treated. Not in a proper hospital, with burn units and skin graft procedures and more importantly, reconstructive surgery and painkillers. What you see is natural healing." He shook his head. "But that's not the most immediate problem. Finish your story before we get to Fort Bragg while I have a look at her feet."
"He PT'd her until she went hyperthermic. He force-marched her all over camp nude with a dog leash around her neck and her wrists and ankles chained together. He paraded her in front of us, humiliated her by not giving her appropriate items when she started her period, and then he cut her hair off with a dull knife, that's why she has those raw patches on her head!" He snapped angrily. "And he kicked her. On her right side, like the third or fourth rib down. I think he was thinking he'd get away with it because her scar tissue doesn't show bruising, but she either has a bruised or fractured rib there after she also fell down a muddy slope and collided with a tree."
"It's not broken." Lifeline said after a moment. "Just bruised. Bad, but just bruised. She'll be okay. She's having her period?" He'd draped a sheet over her body, now he raised it and looked underneath, then cursed. "Jesus Christ, Hawk, this is exactly what I meant about not having been treated! She shouldn't look like that! Even Alex didn't look like that after…after."
"I didn't think so either—after seeing what Snake Eyes looked like after the reconstructive surgery on his face, I couldn't figure out why no one could do something about an eighteen-year-old girl that badly burned."
"She said she was eighteen when it happened."
"I'll run some tests to figure out how old those scars are. In the meantime…Hawk, there's no way she had her period."
"She was under too much stress and she lost too much weight too quickly. There's no way. How long did she bleed?"
"A day or so. Maybe. I saw blood on her legs after Broadview took her out to PT her our second morning there and she went hyperthermic. By the time we broke out on the morning of day four I didn't notice any more blood, although we were getting rained on so it could have washed it away before I noticed."
"No. She didn't have her period." Stretcher finished bandaging Hawk's back and went over to Cam. "Take your hand away for a moment, Lifeline." Lifeline did, and Stretcher placed a hand over the sheet covering Cam's lower belly, then pressed.
Cam almost sat bolt upright, screaming in pain. Lady Jaye started back; Stretcher took his hand away. "Christ. I'm sorry, Cam."
She was almost convulsing. "Hurts…Oh please, it hurts," she whimpered, her hands coming up to cradle the pain in her middle even as she rolled onto her side, curling in a fetal position. As she rolled onto her side the sheet lifted, and Lady Jaye clamped a hand over her mouth to stifle her cry of shock. There was now a smear of blood on her stretcher where her hips had rested a moment before.
"What…" Hawk was completely speechless.
"Internal bleeding." Stretcher was lunging across the plane, reaching for compartments and pulling a whole host of things out. Syringes, needles, tubing. "She sustained some sort of internal hemorrhaging and the…opening…left in her body isn't large enough to provide an outlet. So that blood's been filling her lower belly the whole time she's been lying out there in the woods with you." His voice was tight with anger as he spoke, but his hands were flying as he swabbed the back of Cam's hand and installed an IV there, then injected something as she lay twisting and crying. After a moment she relaxed and went limp.
Lifeline cut a hole in the sheet over her abdomen, exposing thick white scar tissue, then positioned a large needle, the size of the lead from a standard pencil, over her lower belly. A quick movement plunged the needle home. As the end of the needle started to fill with blood he did some complicated juggling with tubes and syringes and a clear plastic bag, and moments later the blood that had apparently collected in her lower belly started to drain into the bag via a clear plastic tube. It was thick and much darker than Hawk thought blood should be, and there were clots swimming in it.
Stretcher sighed wearily as he rigged the bag to hang. "Scar tissue is thicker than normal skin. So when she sustains trauma to the outside of her skin, she'd going to bleed internally more readily than externally, especially in places where the walls of her blood vessels are thinner and more enlarged because there are fewer vessels going to certain places and what is left had to enlarge in order to maintain bloodflow to bodily organs. In her case, the scarring was extensive in her pelvic region, the blood vessels supplying blood to this region had to enlarge in response to the smaller number of them, and the enlargement made them much more fragile. Added to what you told me about her going hyperthermic, her blood vessels were under a lot of strain and when she was slapped or kicked in her lower abdomen here, where I pressed," that explained Cam's agonized convulsions, "the blood just filled her uterine cavity. The…orifice…left after her body was burned may be large enough to allow her to have a normal period but wasn't large enough to allow the hemorrhage to escape, and it clotted around the opening, blocking it, which was why you thought it stopped. If we hadn't found you today she would have continued to bleed into her abdomen until she just went into shock from blood loss and slipped into a coma."
"And I would never have known." Hawk sat down heavily, stunned. "I didn't see blood outside…I never thought she'd be bleeding internally. Oh God."
"Her hymen is also intact, and that didn't help matters any, it just further obstructed her opening."
"Wait. She's a virgin?" Lady Jaye's voice rose. "She's how old and she's still a virgin?"
"The People treasure a pure woman," came a quiet voice from the corner, and they jerked, startled; they'd forgotten Spirit was there.
"Yes, well, a treasure she might be, but I doubt that's the reason why. The opening to her body's simply too small to allow someone inside without an incredible amount of trauma. When the scar tissue formed, care wasn't taken to maintain her physical appearance or functionality and long-term workability, so physical intimacy would not be really high on her list, since it would involve extreme physical, mental and emotional pain."
"There's no excuse," Lady Jaye's lips were compressed into a thin, tight line. "There's no excuse for that kind of neglect. Clayton, she never told you what happened?"
"No. She refuses to discuss anything about her past with me. We'll talk later. For now, let me finish. She went hyperthermic and was put under medical supervision for twenty-four hours, then Broadview took her out and PT'd her again, and there was a horrible scene where he grabbed a dull knife and hacked off all her hair. She had hair as long as Charlie's that she braided and wrapped around her head; now…well, you saw it. Oh, Lifeline, that knife nicked the back of her neck a few times in the process of hacking her hair off, and I want you to take a look at it…" Lifeline gently turned her head, and Stretcher dabbed at the cuts as Hawk continued.
"We knew there was a bad storm. The wind and rain were starting to escalate the morning of Day Four of the RTL. Cam was shoved in the night before with no clothes; I'd taken off my shirt and given it to her because it was raining and cold and she was shivering and Broadview didn't give her any clothing, not even the standard POW scrubs we all were wearing. She has the tiniest hands and feet I've ever seen on an adult—the shoes she was given at the RTL didn't fit, and nothing else was provided. Having seen this continuing pattern of neglect, borderline abuse, and ignorance of and for her welfare and personal safety, when we saw our chance to make an escape we did so because I was firmly convinced, and still am, that if we absolutely couldn't stay outside anymore Broadview would have brought us in but would have left her alone out there under some pretext or another. So we made our escape and found a hidesite and just stayed there last night, yesterday, and the night before." He turned to Lady Jaye. "Now what is this I hear about Hilton forbidding you to come look for us?"
"We got to Camp Mackall late yesterday afternoon after the hurricane—yes, it was a hurricane, Category One, made landfall near Cape Lookout. Reason you saw it here was because the storm was roughly about the size of Texas. As we speak now, it's pounding New York, though fortunately it's now a tropical storm instead of a hurricane, but portions of the city had been evacuated, and we were mobilized to help evacuate Staten Island University Hospital and some of the outlying areas." Allie rattled off details quickly, then got back to her story. "We got here and checked in with Hilton, and the first thing that hit me was that he was unfriendly. Very unfriendly. Normally you expect something like that from another base, because you're basically encroaching on their territory, but at the moment they don't have electricity or power, communications have been cut off, and no search and rescue effort for you had been authorized or could be mobilized." She sighed. "I would have thought under those conditions they would have welcomed our help, but he was very, very rude, even to the point of asking how we knew the Lieutenant General and why he was taking such an interest in your activities and whereabouts. Wild Bill pointed out that since you were a two-star General in charge of a highly-classified top secret project, it was only natural that both we and Johnson were concerned about your disappearance, and that we were going to look for you as per our orders whether he officially gave us his permission or not. He told us that the area had been hit hard, that we wouldn't have any luck finding you, and that we could go ahead and try but he didn't hold out hope for us and it would be better to wait for help to arrive from Fort Bragg. We took a consensus, all five of us, and came out here to find you."
"And you found us. Didn't even take a lot of time, since you're barely even wet. How did you know where we were?"
"Started at the prearranged airlift site and just went from there. You actually weren't all that far away; Charlie was impressed you guys had gotten as far from Camp Mackall as you did. And you kept your training group together and healthy."
"With one exception." He looked at Cam, lying on the stretcher, asleep; Lifeline was wrapping bandages around her feet. Stretcher was carefully dabbing antiseptic ointment to the raw patches on her head.
"Well, from what you said her injuries were mostly inflicted before your escape."
"Yes. They were. And as for the progress we made—that was her doing. She set a punishing pace while we tried to get to the airlift site before conditions got too bad to send an aircraft out, that's why her feet look the way they do—but we were stopped halfway when a tree came down. We'd tied ourselves together with vines so we didn't lose anyone, and she was on point. She threw herself down a hill, taking us all with her, so we wouldn't get crushed by a falling tree. After that I decided just to hide and wait it out, so when she woke up she got a fire started, we used branches and leaves and stuff to build up our hideout, and got some sleep. When we woke up it looked like it had mostly blown over so we started out. And here we are." He sat down exhaustedly. "Let's just get back to Camp Mackall. We'll worry about everything else after we get there."