Alternate Y2K Universe
The phone rang and Ezra put his hand out for it without taking his head from the pillow. “What?” He growled into the phone, hoping the caller would just end without beginning. No such luck.
“Chicken?” Chris Larabee’s voice taunted over the line.
“Concerning?” Ezra asked as he sat up in bed.
“K5 climb, or maybe you don’t think you can keep up with an old man?” Chris quipped as he smiled into the phone. “Fifteen minutes.” The line went dead.
Ezra shook his head, but was up and in the shower within minutes. He dressed quickly, grabbing his climbing pack. He didn’t look at the clock, was afraid to. This group just didn’t appreciate the morning sleep in.
He drank down his orange juice as he headed for the station office. He was met by two ridiculously chipper faces for this early. “Obviously, this sleep thing is over-rated.” Two pair of eyes just laughed at him. He was glad to see that Vin was joining them. Vin enjoyed the free climb, and Ezra felt sure that he would be able to get one in if Vin would agree.
They climbed in the jeep and took off, Vin passed Ezra the coffee he’d poured for him. They drove off in a direction that Ezra hadn’t been in.
Chris shared, “I’ve been checking out a few areas thought might give us a challenge.” Chris smiled to the rear view mirror at Ezra. Ezra grinned back, thinking to his wake up call.
Chris drove them forty five minutes into the hills. When they came upon the intended area, Vin and Ezra understood. Lots of overhangs and vertical faces. Vin and Ezra were grinning fools. Chris looked at the two fools and set down one rule. “No free climbing, 'til we’ve done our climb.” Felt like he was telling two kids they had to wait for dessert.
They gathered their gear and headed for the base. They set up a Dynamic Belay, as they all wanted to climb. If a fall did occur the fall would be checked by a force that is small enough for the other climbers to withstand. Chris chose the first route, he placed his chocks and nuts, set his feet and worked his way up. Chris seemed to favor the shuffling method, Ezra figured it was because of his long legs that he could make it work. Ezra preferred the hop-step, added a little spice to the climb. Ezra and Chris both thought that Vin was Spiderman, Ezra checked Vin’s arm for the webbing.
Using the tools and the jam holds they made it up and over the overhang. Three smiles indicated their level of satisfaction. Vin looked at Ezra as he said, “Not too bad for an old man.” Chris threw his water bottle at Vin.
They rappelled down and started all over again, with Ezra in the lead. He used an equally difficult route and tried to keep it interesting all the way up. Chris was pleased to see that Ezra truly knew his stuff and it wasn’t just all talk. This time when they reached the top, they rested a spell and Vin shared the apples he brought. They decided to race down. Chris called the start, Ezra took a long, dangerous drop and won easily. Chris and Vin tied.
“It’s a shame we didn’t wager a bet.” Ezra smirked.
“Easy to think of winning a bet after the fact.” Chris returned sardonically. Vin just pondered Ezra’s daring.
Vin set the route for the next trip and he made it as hard as Chris or Ezra had ever done. He chose to traverse two overhangs, and forced them to use counterforce balance climbing. He figured chocks and nuts were a bit too easy.
Ezra looked back at Chris, “You think he’s doing this on purpose.”
Chris looked up past Ezra to Vin as he answered, “Reckon so.” Vin just smiled down on both men.
Vin went up over the edge and Ezra put his hand up to follow, but the edge broke off and Ezra fell backward. He forced himself away from Chris, so as not to hit him. Chris saw what Ezra was up to and Chris reached out and grabbed him, forcing Ezra to hit him and reduce the impact, and to make sure that they didn’t lose him all together. Chris held Ezra firmly against his chest until Vin could come down and help reset their balance.
Ezra said quietly, “Thank you, Mr. Larabee.”
Chris rumbled his answer, “Hell, invested to much time in ya to let you fall to your death now.”
Ezra wasn’t sure if he was teasing him or not.
Chris rappelled down and Vin threw down the rest of the ropes. He yelled down to Larabee, “Ez and I gonna get our dessert.” He grinned down at Chris. Chris didn’t think he’d made that comment aloud.
Vin and Ezra free climbed down, each using their own brands of techniques. Ezra seemed to be even more brazen than usual. Vin climbed closer to ask Ezra, “You bothered bout that close call?”
“Of course not, Mr. Tanner, life is too short for that.” Ezra replied.
“Seems like you’re trying to make yours shorter.” Vin stated softly. Ezra flashed Vin a grin.
Chris just watched as the two kids scrambled down the mountainside. His beeper went off and he walked over to the jeep to use the phone. Vin and Ezra joined him and Chris told them that a family lost their campsite. “Josiah’s going up, while Buck and JD help out the campers.”
“Is that a common problem hereabouts, campsites going missing?” Ezra asked with a serious face.
With an equally serious face, “Yes, but we try to keep it quiet.” Vin tried to muffle his laugh, but just couldn’t. Chris and Ezra joined him as they headed back to the station.
+ + + + + + +
The end of August brought some rain showers, and that put the whole area on flash flood alert. Josiah kept in close contact with the weather service. They got a mid morning call that a little girl, four years old had wandered off and was last seen in the Sweetwater River area. Chris went up with Josiah, Vin and Nathan in one truck, and Buck, Ezra and JD in another.
The ground crews started at the camping area the child was lost from and worked from there. The camp was on the ridgeline and Vin decided to walk the route most likely taken. Nathan took off with him. Buck took the jeep up higher hoping to see her from above.
Chris called in with a flood report. “The whole Pathfinder Refuge is saturated, and the Sweetwater was flooding. We haven’t seen the child yet.” Chris wasn’t in a good mood. He took each search personally if it was in his area.
Buck was looking down to the river below, “Ez, got her she’s walking along the river’s edge. Looks like she keeps trying to reach something. Shit, it’s a doll.”
“Probably why she’s wandered so far,” JD put in.
Ezra was fiddling with his ropes, “How much time before the water overtakes her?” JD radioed Chris.
“He says ten minutes.”
“I’m gonna bungee.” Ezra said, as though that was a practiced rescue procedure.
Buck looked at Ezra as though he had grown another head. “Ezra, that idea is crazy.”
“Buck, you want that little girl to die?”
“Hell no…… Ya know Ez, that rope’s used, don’t know if it can take a bungee jump, and you could easily slam against the ground, or careen into the side.” Buck couldn’t even believe that he was rationally speaking about this.
Ezra was grabbing his gear as he answered, “I wear a helmet.” He turned toward the Kid, “JD, exactly how high are we. Exactly?”
JD fiddled with GS-2000, “Four hundred twenty feet.”
Ezra was emphatic, “Exactly?”
JD recalibrated for extra fine tuning, “Five inches either way.”
Ezra nodded his thanks as he measured out the rope, tied the rest around the jeep wench and hooked himself in. He turned to Buck, “This is her only hope. The river will be up before the others get down there. Just watch the edge for me, rock might cut the rope.”
Buck stood with his mouth open as Ezra took sight of the little girl below, looped his rope, and stood next to the jeep. Then running as fast as he could in the short area, he jumped over the edge and plunged down. Falling through the air, the rocks below looked as if they were rushing up to greet him. He missed the rocks by three inches, but grabbed the little girl as the rope swung him toward the mountain side. He controlled his spin and kept the little girl extended outward so she wouldn’t slam against the rocks. Her screams punctured the silence as Ezra slammed into the cliff, but he never lost his hold on the child.
Above, Buck told JD to start the wench. It began the slow process of gathering the rope and carrying Ezra and the child up. Buck watched the edge, the rope was stretched and frayed, but it held. He ran into a problem the last twenty feet, the weight of Ezra and the child caused the rope to grind in on the rocks. “JD, get over here, we have to hold the rope away from the rocks or we’ll lose em. Shit, Ezra just beat the water by sheer seconds.”
Chris and Josiah were in the helicopter, almost directly above when they saw Ezra run and jump over the side. Heart in his throat, Chris watched anxiously as Ezra scooped up the girl and crashed against the side. “Goddamned crazy man. Josiah, land us next to them.” Chris was pissed.
Vin and Nathan didn’t see a thing as they were on the trail looking for a way down to the river. JD radioed them and told them to return, “Ezra got the girl.”
Vin responded with, “Little young for him ain’t she?”
Josiah was just landing as he spoke to Chris. “Chris, I want you to calm down a minute. He’s reckless, yes, but only with himself. When he’s working with another, be it a team member, or a victim, he never puts their life in danger. Be fair, you can’t accuse him of that.”
“What about that damn fool stunt?” Chris growled.
“Child was dead either way, unless it worked. Man’s just a lucky shit.”
As Chris stepped out of the copter, he yelled for Ezra.
Ezra left the child with JD as he heeded Chris’ page. He approached Chris calmly, not knowing what to expect. He did not expect to be slammed up against the helicopter, feet not touching the ground. “What in the hell were you thinkin’. That was a fool stunt to pull.”
Buck came up behind them, “Chris, he was already hurting from hitting the cliff.”
Chris pinned him with hazel eyes that promised pain if he did that again. He dropped him, turned and stomped away.
Ezra stood up with help from Buck. Then dusted himself off, more out of something to do with his shaking hands than out of necessity.
“Well, Ez, looks like ol Chris cares about you.” Buck imparted the news with a smile.
Ezra turned his shocked expression to Buck, “I would hate to see what incurring the wrath of Chris would produce.”
+ + + + + + +
Summer was over and Chris knew that the team had worked successfully together over the last two and a half months. Buck had traveled to Casper for one weekend, and it had been Josiah that had gone in with him. Chris had kinda expected Ezra to pine for the bright lights, but it seemed he liked the solitude of the night instead. He and Vin had done several night hikes. Vin always seemed more alive any moment he was outdoors. Chris thought on their hike through the Honeycombs, never had he ever spent such a silent day where he felt they had communicated so much. JD and Nathan were eager to soak up everything.
While each member had their own apartment, they all seemed to gather for breakfast together. Dinner and the evenings were usually spent together. Poker and movies seemed to be the preferred method of entertainment. Chris hoped the winter would prove just as amicable.
He wrote their numbers on the board, the Governor and the President had been pleased and approved additional moneys for the headset communication. Thirty seven rescues, one hundred ten lost people found. It felt good to be part of something like this.
A helicopter coming in had the seven outside awaiting the visitor.
As the man stepped out the National Park Service helicopter, Vin looked over at Chris and received a nod before the question, same yahoo from Yellowstone.
Superintendent Lagos didn’t like for one moment that he had to ask for Larabee’s help, but the Governor demanded it, and Lagos knew he really did need the help. He was ushered into the station and JD offered him coffee. They sat down at the table and waited.
Lagos stared at the group before him and they all seemed to smack of Larabee’s arrogance, Lagos tried to put that aside as he started, “We’ve had a few problems this summer.”
“Read about that hiker’s death,” Buck commented aloud.
“Well, yes, ‘cept it was a murder.” Lagos confessed. He put his hands up to forestall questions, “Jet me lay it out for you. We’ve had three missing hiker-campers. One, we found dead, and called it an accident. Second one turned up last night. It was obvious that he had been beaten and tortured. The only commonality was The Beartooth Mountain Range. We need help without this becoming a media circus.”
At the seriousness of the situation the demeanor of the group changed. Josiah got out the maps, Nathan wheeled out the white board and had Lagos point out all know areas of the campers. Where they went missing, where the dead bodies were found. The coroner’s reports, FBI lab findings dirt samples, everything they had, Lagos shared.
Buck looked over at Chris, meeting his eyes, he saw Navy SEAL Team Leader lurking there, Chris already had a plan. Chris gave Buck a slight nod. Then Chris turned his gaze to Josiah, who also recognized the look in Chris’ eye, and he gave a nod to Chris. Chris slowly moved his gaze and saw in Vin the same look that lurked in Buck’s. So Vin had been a player, he would know how to handle himself. The surprise was Ezra, the look he traded with Chris, had Chris convinced that Ezra had been involved before, so, there was five. They would pull it off.
“Lagos, give your radio frequency to Nathan, you will update him hourly.” When it looked as though Lagos was about to argue, Chris added, “You asked us for help, now let us!” Lagos agreed and wrote the frequency down and headed for his ride.
After Lagos had departed, Chris turned to JD and asked with deadly seriousness, “JD, are you as good on the computer as your file has implied?”
JD looked at Chris, intuitively understanding what was being asked, “Better. I can….hack in just about anywhere.” JD looked over at Vin, remembering his conversation with him.
“Okay,…..I know I can get access to satellite Intel, but it might take twenty four hours for authorization. I’ll set the process in motion, but I want you to access it now. Program the satellite to get pictures of this whole region.” Showing the grid he wanted photographed. “Doable?”
JD smiled a sly smile, “Cake walk.”
Buck laughed, “You sneak-thief, you’ve done that before, haven’t you?”
JD used an Ezra tried and true, he opened his eyes wide and looked innocent.
Chris relaxed and told him, “Get going.” He shifted gears, “Nathan, you’re base command. We’ll set up a relay, so you can communicate with us without ears. Also, take the National Park info, but release none back. Any pertinent information from JD, relay to us. Also I set a receiving station for a SEAL phone.”
Buck laughed again, “Yup, never leave home without it.” Thereby letting Chris know he had his too.
“Nathan, JD, you both realize that it is not a slight to your lack of combat duty, your assignment for these jobs?” Chris looked each man in the eye, “It’s the best usage of limited man power.”
Nathan, meeting Chris’s eyes, saw exactly that honesty there for all to read. He nodded to Chris. JD, too looked at Chris, that little fear of being thought too young evaporated, the honest conviction that JD would accomplish the task assigned was written in his all knowing depths.
“Josiah, tack up the map, we’ll use this 'til JD get us a satellite image. We’re probably working with two or three men. We’ll go in the Shoshone National Forest, use the Yellowstone River, two will kayak in, the other three will use a land entry.” He looked at Ezra, “Care to enlighten me?”
As Ezra prepared to answer, Vin slipped out. “I had the opportunity or two to set explosives for Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” His expression was one of ‘well what do you know’.
Chris lifted his brow, “Rusty?”
“Actually not, though I don’t carry explosives about with me.” Ezra smiled.
Chris looked around for Vin, as Josiah pointed to the door. Vin walked in with two rifles. Neither were a civilian’s rifle, but military issues. A 308 with variable scope. The other a 50 caliber, mile site sniper’s rifle.
Chris, Buck and Josiah understood the significance of the weapons. Chris asked, “Well Vin, where’d ya get those weapons?”
“If I told ya, I’d have to kill ya.” Vin said deadpan. Chris looked for the twinkle, to see his degree of seriousness, he wasn’t sure, but he thought one might be lurking there. “Have letters of permit.” Vin added.
Chris shrugged, he hadn’t planned on asking. He knew instinctively that Vin wasn’t on the wrong side.
JD watched the interchange, eyes wide open, but before he could ask his question, his terminal connected to the satellite, “Okay, it’ll be seven minutes before we are over the grid. Then we’ll start receiving the images.”
“Get your gear.” As the men got up to get ready, Chris called out, “Ezra, Vin.” They both turned around and waited. Chris moved closer, “You both are the best kayakers. You both free climb. You feel confident coming in from the river?”
Vin looked at Ezra, saw the same expression in his green eyes that Vin held in his. “We can do whatever we have to.” Chris put his hand on Vin’s shoulder and nodded. Then he connected to the green eyes and gave him a look of confidence, the confidence he had in him.
Thirty minutes later, they had the satellite readouts of the entire grid. “Good job, JD. Authorization will be in by midnight.” Chris smiled at the youngest team member.
“Here is the enemy, this is the plan.” Chris outlined his idea, and no one could fault it.”
+ + + + + + +
Josiah landed three hours after taking off. They were still a considerable distance from their target, but they didn’t want to warm them of the team’s arrival. Vin and Ezra were deposited first with their kayaks and supplies. They had a SEAL phone, and a radio. Both were off so the sound wouldn’t give them away. They were traveling down the eastern most tributary of the Yellowstone. They figured they would make point by midnight. They waved off the others.
Chris, Buck and Josiah set off on foot and figured that they would arrive about two am. The men moved stealthy through the brush and made tracks.
Vin and Ezra spoke some during the early part of the trip, not afraid of voice carry. Ezra asked despite knowing he hate the same question. “The firearms part of your hell?”
“Yup.” Vin answered. “Explosives yours?”
“Sadly enough, it was a better part.” Then Ezra deflected the conversation, “Had you ever heard of Mr. Larabee prior to the formation of this team?”
Vin looked over at Ezra, “Do you always use the longer version of talking?” Vin shook his head, then answered the question, “No.”
“I had. Read about some of the team missions. The man has nerves of steel, and he never lost a team member.”
Vin looked knowingly at Ezra, “Always a first.” Ezra touched his helmet as though a brimmed hat.
Vin smiled back at him and then they prepared for the approaching rapids. The boys had fun, getting air whenever they could. They looked for the hardest route and challenged each other as often as the could. This play actually put them ahead of schedule. They arrived at their coordinates an hour ahead, and put the time to good use as they studied the face for the best climb. Both agreed that this time the safest route was best. After putting on their headset microphone, they covered their kayaks and started up the cliff face. They reach the top silently and moved off in different directions.
Vin needed to find a sniper’s point. He was capable of acquiring a shot a mile away, but today, he was hoping to get closer. He moved as one with the night, not even startling the sleeping birds. By eleven-thirty, Vin had found his spot, five hundred yards from the target. He tapped his headset microphone in the pre-arranged code so that Ezra would know he had gained position. He received the acknowledgment signal in return.
Ezra worked in a crescent from his starting point. He set explosives all along the crescent with a remote ignition switch. His remote could handle ten individual explosions, so ten is what he planted. He received Vin’s done signal before he was done. He still had to sweep back to his point position. Upon arrival and setting himself in, he tapped a signal to Vin, who returned with his own acknowledgment signal.
Chris, Buck and Josiah moved as one, each followed in the steps of Chris. Silently through the night. Breathing not affected as they maintained a constant pace. They arrived twenty minutes before their projected time. They surveyed the area, locating their targets. Three males. Buck took out his night goggles and looked for the missing hikers. He hand signaled that he located three captives. It was Buck’s job to free the captives. Chris tapped his headset to check on Ezra and Vin, both returned with ready. Josiah was set, as was Buck.
Buck went in first, to position himself close to the captives. Then on Chris’ signal, the team began their siege with clockwork precision. With Chris on point they erupted into the site as if they were one body with a single controlling brain. The explosives were triggered with precision, their targets ran out of their tent armed. One aimed at the captive tent, but before he could raise his gun, he hit the ground dead. A second target prepared to repeat the action of the first and met the same fate as Vin’s deadly accuracy took him down. The third man planned on escape, but met up with the immovable object that was Josiah. Exercise over.
Chris spoke for the first time into the microphone, “All clear. Mission accomplished.”
Buck was with the captives, two would need to be airlifted out due to the severity of their injuries. Chris took out his radio and contacted Nathan. He relayed their success and their need of air rescue. “Have Lagos send two. Let him think he participated.” Chris smiled as Nathan chuckled.
“That man thought you were keeping him out of the loop.” Nathan chuckled again, relieved that the team was intact and unharmed.
Within the hour two National Park Rescue helicopters set down in the clearing provided by Ezra’s explosives. The three freed captives were removed quickly to the Virginia City Hospital in Montana. The second chopper took Josiah back to his helicopter and gave him additional gasoline. The Park Service took the two dead and one suspect back to Lagos. After all, Chris thought, this was his incident.
Josiah returned for Chris, Buck, Vin and Ezra. Vin and Ezra had climbed down and connected lines to their kayaks so Josiah could pull them up. This time on their free climb up, they raced each other. Chris figured it was like releasing steam. But he was proud of Josiah, Vin and Ezra, they would have been welcome on his original SEAL team.
Nathan and JD were outside to welcome their cohorts home, relieved that the group remained intact.
After several hours of much needed sleep, Chris was awakened by the Governor.
“Good job, Chris. Never actually visualized that your past acquired skills would be so essential, but I’m dammed glad that you had them. This could have been grizzly. Oh, and thanks for not rubbing Lagos’ nose in it.”
“So, you owe me on that one,” was Chris’s only comeback.
“Convey my thanks to the entire team. Guess you were right in your selections. Talk to you later.”
Chris smiled as he thought about the approaching winter. They should be three times as busy. The reaction of his team come spring should be explosive. On this amusing thought, Chris rolled over and went back to sleep.
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NOTE:Celine translated all the French.