Premiered August 22, 2003
Dawn Riordan and Gilbert Lenki were asleep in their seats -- blissfully unaware of the impending danger as the corporate jet flew eastward toward the Idaho Wilderness. Ahead lay the lush green forests and rocky crags of the Salmon River Mountains, while off to the right, the tumultuous Snake River flowed north, carving Hell's Canyon ever deeper. Slightly to the left, but hidden by the underbelly of the aircraft, lay the city of Lewiston, covered with lightly scattered, low-lying clouds. Behind them was the muted glare of the late afternoon sun, partially shielded by cumulus streaking across the sky. Within the cabin itself, the drone of the private airplane's twin jets belied the calmness of the dark greens and blues of the wilderness landscape below, ignored the shifting shades of intense light and gentle shadow, and simultaneously, gave not the slightest suggestion of the near-imminent, disastrous failure of the jet engines.
Dawn was asleep, dreaming, with the barest hint of a pleasant, contented smile on her face. Suddenly, she shifted in her laid back seat. Then she shifted again -- sensuously, delighting in each movement, her body responded as if she were awake, passionately enjoying each moment, each second of ecstatic illusion. Contentment flushed over her whole being, to be followed by surprise and intrigue, and then profound revelation. Moments ticked by as her mind reacted to the fantasy and illusions, until she abruptly awoke, taking mere seconds to return to reality.
That had been one incredible dream! She replayed it in her mind: the mounting emotions and physical sensations, the sense of her body literally glowing with light and radiation, the heat, passion, and ecstasy taking her to new levels of orgasmic, total fulfillment, and the aftermath of contentment and heavy breathing. It had been then, within the dream, when she had opened her eyes trying to see the face of the man who had fulfilled her so completely and in every sense of the word. But there had been no one! And everyone! The epitome of the Sacred Orgasm.
And yet, there had not even been the lingering smell of a fragrance, male or female. Only her own bodily scents. It was as if she had made love to herself in a pervading, all-encompassing sense of orgasmic oneness, as if she had been enveloped in a physical, yet thoroughly profound vision of the future.
In the moments following her ecstatic experience, the dream had dissolved into a wheat field, where Dawn had found herself suddenly dressed in a modern, chic, Hollywood version of a monk's habit made of a quality material and cut in a very unique manner. Hardly noticing her dress, she had looked around the field of ripe grain and realized that in her immediate area the grain stalks were laid down in a kind of matting -- the stalks not broken, but bent at right angles to the ground and forming a cross hatching. The outer edge of the flattened stalks had formed a perfect eclipse. Almost a circle, but not quite. Dawn had guessed she was sitting in the midst of a crop circle, those strange, unexplained, sculptured designs occurring throughout the world. Such designs, she had vaguely recalled, occurred in a variety of grains -- everything from barley, wheat, rapeseed, and rye -- and in all stages of growth, as if the grain stalks were being laid down by some unknown and mysterious force -- typically being created overnight, and often, within minutes.
Within the crop circle Dawn had seen at a distance, standing among the upright wheat stalks, a woman dressed in an exotic Queen of Kashmir regalia, as if she were a deity of some faraway Shangri La. The woman had been naked except for a golden, jewel-encrusted crown, earrings, an elaborate breast plate of gold and lapis lazuli, a curved, broad waist sash of blue and gold, a breechcloth of like colors, and anklets which mimicked her dangling earrings. Dawn had felt the woman's majesty, her power, and her unspeakable intensity. Inexplicably, Dawn had recognized the woman as Kali, the Hindu goddess perpetually transforming life into a dance of death.
And yet, the goddess, instead of threatening, had seemed to be comforting Dawn, reminding her of the complete cycle: death and rebirth. At the same time, a question inspired by the Goddess had kept repeating itself in Dawn's mind: "What is it? What then is it?" For just that brief moment before waking, Dawn had glimpsed Kali in clearer perspective, her dark skin with it bluish coloring and black hair streaked with gray suddenly transforming itself into a lighter, tanned skin, and flowing, auburn red hair. As Dawn had watched, Kali had become a modern, beautiful woman, but with all her powers still intact. Then, as if for emphasis, the woman had vanished in an explosive, blinding flash of light.
Dawn replayed the dream in her mind several more times, trying to recapture the feelings and the emotions, the raw physical power she had felt, the almost mystical connection with what she might have identified as divinity. But the possibly precognitive dream, being recorded by her conscious mind in its let's-keep-this-one-for-the-record memory bank, could not be so easily relived. She could only wonder at its meaning, delight in having experienced such ecstasy, and resolve to record the dream in all its glory in her journal. She would not be able to interpret it, and in fact, could not be sure she would ever know its meaning. But Dawn had long ago decided it was not necessary to know all of the answers all of the time. For her, life was all the more delightful if there was mystery and suspense interwoven with the knowing.
Raising the back of her seat, she sat up straight, ready to return to the mundane world. It was then she looked at the man sleeping in the seat across from hers, and recalled where she was. The surrounding decor and artifacts were that of a well-appointed, but business-like corporate jet, a private plane for the discriminating tastes. Dawn and her boss were flying in the ultimate First Class! Having experienced her dream, she had almost forgotten such a pleasant reality.
But then the brief sense of pride and pleasure in her situation vanished as Dawn grimaced slightly. It was a private plane, yes. But among the two passengers in the small space, privacy between them was not necessarily implied by their presence in a “private” jet. The question on Dawn's mind was whether or not in her sleeping mode, she had been a bit more vulnerable than she would have liked? Had her boss of only two short months witnessed her physical reaction to her dream, her orgasmic moments? Was he even now struggling not to grin from ear to ear and laugh out loud?
The idea caused a momentary flash of embarrassment, as Dawn wondered, being the gentleman she imagined him to be, if he was only pretending to be sleep and thereby attempting to avoid causing her any undue chagrin. For several seconds Dawn watched him for signs of his being awake. When there was no definitive response, she timidly asked, "Are you being polite, Mr. Lenki? Did I just make a fool of myself?" When he made no answer and continued to lay there with his eyes closed, Dawn felt a modicum of relief. Apparently, her boss had missed the festivities, and Dawn's dreamland privacy was still intact. She could relax and simply observe him instead.
It was a rare opportunity for Gilbert Lenki was not easily observed. Dawn had quickly learned that her boss was a very private man, his intentions and agendas never unambiguously clear. Privacy, in fact, might have been his defining characteristic, one which made him intimidating to all but the most self-confident of his friends and acquaintances. And in the short time Dawn had known him, she was convinced she had learned from him only what her boss had very specifically decided he wanted her to know. While that had been a lot to learn, she knew there was a great deal more.
She had, admittedly, learned early on about his cutting wit. But it was a style of humor, she had observed, which he used with great care and precision and only under the most carefully chosen circumstances. He was apparently too smart to make fun randomly and oblivious to any possible consequences. He would never give himself away for the sake of being appreciated for a sense of humor. His exceptional intelligence was, moreover, combined with a unique sophistication that seemed to ensure that others would turn to him for advice even when they were in awe of him. And never would they laugh at him!
There had also been his love of mystery, a characteristic which had been a key element in Dawn's taking a job as his personal secretary -- particularly when she knew next to nothing about him and when there was implied in the job description a degree of professional intimacy. For Dawn loved mystery as well, and Gilbert Lenki promised truckloads of it as a fringe benefit of her job.
Dawn smiled at the promised land of wonder and mystery she knew came with her work, as she then let her eyes wander from her study of the man sitting before her to encompass their current surroundings. Her seat faced to the rear of the richly decorated aircraft, while his seat (also on a swivel) faced forward. Between them was a small, collapsible table mounted against one of the aircraft’s bulkheads. The table contained drinks in recessed holders (the remnants of ice long since melted), a small dish of finger food on a rubberized mat, and a small narrow wooden container appropriately filled with writing and other materials. Nearby and behind Gil was a small computer monitor and communication console, to which a quick swivel on Gil’s part could allow him access.
Dawn smiled even broader. This was her first time in a private jet, and she was enjoying the royal treatment and faint sense of excitement. At the same time, however, there was also something very curious about the circumstances of their sudden flight. Associates of Gil, a group called The Patrons, but of whom Dawn had never even heard before today, had dispatched a state-of-the-art corporate jet to pick both of them up and fly them to an isolated location in the Idaho wilderness. There had been no indication that these Patrons were interested in Gil's affairs or his private agenda. Just that he was to drop everything and hustle out to Idaho at their beck and call.
Dawn had jokingly referred to the trip as a "command performance", and much to her surprise, Gil had agreed that such was an appropriate description. For a man that Dawn considered to be one of the most independent individuals she had ever met -- a man who consistently marched to the beat of his own drummer -- she was amazed that he might now be following the marching orders of others. They had even been planning a business trip to Los Angeles and Mexico, but one which now had to be postponed, adding still more ingredients to the mystery.
There was also the curious aspect that -- for some unexplained reason -- Dawn was accompanying her boss by specific invitation of her future hosts. Furthermore, there was the subtle hint that her inclusion was for the purpose of approval -- as if she were being taken home to meet the family. Meeting the parents might have been bad enough, but this "family" seemed to include parents, a grandparent or two, seven or eight brothers and sisters, what was surely dozens of cousins, and just quite possibly, the local Mafia-style, chain-letter gang. This portion of the trip made her decidedly nervous. Dawn did not like to be judged or analyzed!
As she watched her boss and potential mentor, his hands folded serenely across his lap, Dawn began to gently listen for his thoughts, to somehow tune in to their very immediate future.
She had always had an ability to sense, to intuit, and to deeply probe the minds and emotions of others around her. It was not so much some extraordinary form of telepathy, but rather an ability to feel and be aware of another's most fleeting emotions. As a child, she had assumed everyone was connected with everyone else in just such a manner. But as an adult, she had become aware of her uniqueness, her exceptional ability to probe into the thoughts and feeling of others to a depth where few other people could ever hope to plunge. It was a talent which had saved her more than once.
But before she could begin to feel his thoughts, Gil began to stir, opening his eyes until he could see her clearly. It was then that the hint of a smile managed to find its place onto his lips.
"Good morning," Dawn said. "I trust you had pleasant dreams."
Gil looked at her for a split second, before answering. "None that I expect to write in my journal." He continued to look at her, as if he might be harboring some notable confidence.
Dawn decided not to delve further into that line of thinking (one which might ultimately be embarrassing to her), and promptly changed the topic of conversation. "Can I get you anything?"
Gil seemed agreeable to the change of conversation as well. "Yes, as a matter of fact. I need to brief you on our upcoming visit to Lake Mach. And the parts we each have to play. If you could locate my briefcase..."
"It's stowed in the rear. I'll get it."
Standing up, walking aft, and retrieving a briefcase from an easily accessible storage bin would have seemed a simple enough activity. But in the typical fashion of the best laid plans of mice and men all going merrily astray (as well as the spontaneous planning of women), no such simple activity was likely. For just as Dawn stood up, the aircraft rolled slightly. This caused her to momentarily bump against the small collapsible table situated between the two seats. The table promptly folded in on itself, and in the process dumped the entire contents of the two carefully stowed drinks directly onto Gil's lap and inner thighs. True to form, Dawn’s maladroit quality with its specific gift for the clumsy and hysterical, had resurrected itself. Her only saving grace on this particular occasion was that she herself avoided the direct results of her lack of deft manipulation of the world. However, Gil's midsection was drenched with liquid even while Dawn was being left high and dry.
In spite of her comparatively good fortune, she did manage to suffer all the pangs of guilt and remorse of anyone regularly dispensing instant karma on otherwise unsuspecting souls. Falling back to collapse in her seat, she covered her forehead with one hand, and uttered her typical expletive, "Shit!" Gil, having the advantage of already having come to grips with Dawn's most dominant liability, was fairly blasé about the entire episode. He just sat there, sensing the flood of liquid on his body and laughing. Mostly to himself.
Dawn then recalled who the injured party really was, jumped up, and ran back to the small lavatory, where she grabbed a handful of paper towels. Rushing back, she abruptly hesitated, realizing she could hardly start dabbing with the towels on her boss' lap and against his inner thighs. Bleakly, she dropped them into his lap, where he began the process of drying himself. Meanwhile, Dawn returned to her seat, dropped back down, and made it clear she was thoroughly disgusted with herself. Watching him and the good-natured grin on his face, she asked, "How can you put up with someone like me? You must think I'm hopeless."
"No, no, not really."
"But I am so clumsy! In the two months I've been working for you, I must have committed some clumsy act or another a dozen times. I can't believe you haven't fired me long before now!"
"Don't be ridiculous," Gil replied, gently and reassuringly. "For one thing, your maladroitness makes you... Well... Less intimidating. Such beauty and brains needs a counter balance." Rising from his seat, Gil suddenly felt the moisture reaching other parts of his body. Grimacing he said, "Ah yes. Very stimulating." As Dawn felt a surge of mental anguish, Gil began moving aft, suddenly grinning with a new thought. "It also allows me to pay you less."
Dawn could not help but smile. "I'm very happy with my pay, Mr. Lenki."
"And I'm very happy with your work," he replied, his tone now more genuine. "You have some very unique talents, Miss Riordan. Your intuition is quite special, quite rare. It's something I find very promising." As Dawn quietly accepted the compliment, he added, "I'm in the business of gathering information and protecting secrets. This you have always been good at. Your training with me, on the other hand, has been primarily on the latter, on how to avoid giving yourself away. With your intuitive abilities, you have fantastic potential in both areas. A talent which we will, hopefully, be capitalizing upon in the near future."
"Thank you," Dawn managed to reply. “I’m really looking forward to it all.”
"But I am curious," Gil continued, as he began to dab at his pants with a dry paper towel. "Why didn't you see it coming? With your intuition, I would have thought you would have had some warning of the accident."
Dawn swallowed hard. There had been another accident, one that had reached her at the very core of her being. And there had been no warning then either. Nothing at all. As if Dawn, in her most critical moment, had failed utterly -- as if her family had died because of her failure, her debilitating lack of ability leading directly to the loss of what she had cherished more than anything else.
Such thoughts and the events of her past life she had not yet shared with her boss. It had never seemed appropriate, never the right timing. And now was not the time either, she intuited. Instead, Dawn tried to smile, to cover her momentary relapse into the last three years of her recovery.
"It doesn't really work that way," she answered, her voice belying her internal trauma. "I can sometimes sense danger, but only if it's a direct, physical threat to me personally, as if by not being aware, somehow my destiny might be inappropriately changed. But it doesn't always help others. Even when I would have desperately wanted otherwise."
As Gil seemed to accept the explanation -- his intuition quietly telling him not to pursue the matter -- Dawn added, "I've always had the ability to sense things. But it's not telepathy or ESP, or seeing the future, or anything like that. It's more like an extended awareness. But always very unforced, very spontaneous. It's not something I can or ever have been able to control."
"Too bad. It would be nice to have some idea of what the next couple of days will hold."
"I'm not really sure, but my general sense is that there's bound to be some surprises."
"In other words, expect the unexpected." Gil grimaced.
Dawn smiled and was about to agree, when the totally unexpected happened.
Without any warning, the tail of the plane lurched, reacting to a deafening explosion in the tail's right engine. The left engine, impacted by the explosion, shut down as well, and the plane compensated with an abrupt up angle, stalled, and then began falling. Dawn was thrown against the cabin wall, suffering a sudden shock but otherwise avoiding injury. Gil was not as lucky, slamming head and shoulder first into the emergency exit on the right hand side at the rear of the cabin. He stumbled back, falling to his knees, his head bleeding from the impact. Frantically, he struggled to get back to his seat, even as Dawn tried to regain her balance and go to him. Seeing her intention, he reacted automatically. "Stay in your seat!" Then, to convince her, "I'm okay."
"The hell you are; you're bleeding!" She was already out of her seat and on her knees.
"It's okay. It's just my head. You know how hard-headed I am!"
Each of them tried to smile, even as the plane lurched again, and then began to settle out, falling fast, but in something approaching a controlled descent -- however rapid. The small door to the cockpit swung open, and the copilot yelled back, "Hold on! We're going down!"
"Obviously," Gil retorted, as he reached his seat. Using his strong arm to help Dawn back into the seat facing him, he yelled at the copilot, "Distress signal! We're going to need help!"
The copilot, with a strange sense of calm discipline, said, "It will have to be a limited one. We're too close in." With that the plane rocked slightly, causing the small door to slam shut. The plane promptly leveled out in an unpowered glide path, whose forward motion per rate of descent was somewhat less than that guaranteed by the airplane's manufacturer.
"What's he talking about?" Dawn asked. "A limited distress signal?"
"We're close enough to Lake Mach; they can send helicopters before anyone else." Then Gil looked out the window. "We're going to need some level ground..."
Dawn glanced out the window as well, immediately incredulous. "In these mountains?"
"All we need is a small body of water, some meadows, anything moderately flat..."
The plane began to bank in what appeared to be a controlled fashion. The left engine made strange noises as the pilot attempted to restart it -- and failed at the attempt. The ground continued to rise rapidly.
"There," Gil announced.
Dawn looked to where Gil was indicating. A small lush meadow, ringed with aspen trees and surrounded by a pine forest lay below. An absolutely beautiful wonderland, with the occasional deer, beaver, and beaver dam; all nestled within the strength of rugged peaks and rocky crags. But it's pristine beauty was not totally obvious to the four people in the descending aircraft. They could only focus on the moderately level area it offered in which they could attempt an emergency landing.
The plane, still losing altitude at a rapid rate, approached the meadow as if going upstream, in effect, uphill, and offset by some 80 yards to the right. From their seats, Dawn and Gil had a clear view of the meadow as it began to pass by them on the left side of the aircraft.
Dawn was both worried and perplexed. "We're missing it."
"No," Gil said, with amazing calmness. "Pilot's ex-Navy. He's doing a carrier landing."
Turning to her employer, she said, "I don't understand."
"A carrier, when it's recovering aircraft, is moving at 25 or 30 knots. Planes don't want to chase the carrier, so they come in from the opposite direction, bank sharply in a tight turn, and then straighten up just before touching down." As he explained, Gil seemed to relax, as if things were now under control. If things were understandable, then there was a sense of controlled expectation.
Dawn was not totally convinced. "Is that wise in this case? That's not a carrier down there."
Gil grimaced. "Don't know. Pilot's probably reacting by instinct. Which is good. I think."
Dawn turned back to look at the tops of the trees flashing by the underbelly of the aircraft wing. Suddenly, she felt a deep, threatening cold sweep over her body, as the memory of that bright sunny day came flooding back into her mind. There had been laughter and merriment from her family as they delighted in the mountain excursion. Until the out-of-control logging truck came careening around the curve. Dawn could still see the truck in her mind, with its heavy load of freshly cut and stripped trees bearing down on them. At the same time, she could feel once again the same fear and impending horror. But almost three years of grief-therapy had given her the tools to deal with the recurring trauma, such that she could shake her head to dismiss the old wounds. She was almost successful. But then the intensity of the present regained her full attention.
At the same time, her intuition gave her a sense of calm that she would be okay. It just didn't make any assurances about anyone else.
Suddenly, the plane banked sharply, turning in a hair-pin curve to the left. The movement brought Dawn back to the reality of the moment. Then, no sooner had the aircraft straightened and leveled than it hit its first tree top. Undaunted, it continued. Until just before impact, the pilot attempted to correct the heavy nose down attitude and lift the nose up. He was more successful than he expected, and the plane took an up angle, even as it was careening toward the ground. The effort did result in considerably more drag and a lessening of the airspeed. But then as the tail hit the ground hard, the nose was swung down equally hard, and just as the plane passed over a small mound. The impact broke the fuselage's back, and the plane then began ripping through bushes, beaver ponds, and small trees, until it reached a resting place -- one wing rammed against an evergreen, the fuselage broken in two pieces and twisted into an obtuse angle, and the airplane's nose tilted down and into the edge of a pond.
The initial impact had not only broken the fuselage's back, but had eliminated many of the supports holding the cabin seats in place. Dawn's seat was thrown forward to smash against the back of the wall just behind the copilot's seat. Having been facing backward, Dawn herself was cushioned from the impact by the seat itself, and thus escaped serious injury. Gil's seat, on the other hand, was initially thrust up against the overhead of the cabin, and then bounced back to end up in the rear half of the broken fuselage. Facing forward, he had felt the full brunt of the crash.
Dust, debris and occasional sparks filled the abruptly stilled space, as Dawn's mind began to try to sort things out. Slowly, she realized she was basically okay -- nothing broken, perhaps a few cuts and bruises, but essentially she was unharmed. But instead of relishing her good fortune, even for a split second, she looked for Gil. She could just barely see him, still in his seat, bloodied and leaning against the devastation of the plane's rear section. Behind him, the destroyed engines smoked ominously, as if ready to explode in a gigantic fireball.
Dawn struggled to remove her seat belt, feeling the bruises in her midsection as she did so, and began making her way through the wrecked cabin to Gil. She found him semi-conscious and barely able to recognize her. The engines took that moment to sputter, reminding Dawn she had to get Gil out of the airplane just in case it were to blow up. Unbuckling him, she tried to move him.
"Come on, Mr. Lenki. We have to get out!" she barked, her voice fighting off panic.
Gil was just conscious enough to respond. With his efforts, combined with considerably more strength from Dawn than she normally possessed, they managed to get him to his feet and slowly work their way through the rupture in the cabin wall. Once out of the plane, they stumbled and slowly wove their way across a grassy marsh and on to higher, drier ground. There Gil's strength seemed to fail, and they went down together in a heap. Dawn quickly untangled herself, and then tried to make her boss comfortable. The initial ordeal over, Gil seemed to regain some of his thought processes, enough at least to question the fate of the others.
Dawn tried to dismiss the distraction, but Gil was adamant. "I'm okay. Check on the pilots."
Dawn, torn between conflicting compassions, hesitated before she replied, "I'll be right back." Quickly she moved back toward the plane, taking careful note of the smoldering engines.
Once inside the plane, she went directly to the cockpit door, and literally ripped it open. The first sight she saw in the wrecked cockpit was the copilot's nearly decapitated, dead body. Dawn didn't even bother to check for life signs. The pilot, on the other hand, was still alive, even though bloodied with multiple wounds on virtually every part of his body. As she began to check him, he roused slightly from his unconscious state.
His immediate gut reaction was not unlike hers; he wanted to get out of the plane! Years of training had made his reactions automatic: just get out of the plane before it blows! His body cooperated with his mind's determination, and with Dawn's help, he managed to extradite himself from the cockpit and eventually the airplane itself. Then, having traversed only part of the way to Gil, the pilot seemed to choose his own personal resting spot and simply collapsed. Dawn tried to make him comfortable as he quietly lost consciousness, his internal workings deciding that the immediate danger was over and that it was now time to rest.
Seeing there was nothing more to do for him, she stood up to go back to Gil. It was then, as the distraction of the two competing needs occupied her mind, that she managed to trip on an exposed root and fall head first into a small pool of water separating the grassy areas where the two men were. She quickly bounced back up, her face and entire front wet and cold. An image flashed before her of The Fool, wandering into the abyss without a care in the world, initiating the journey without a thought. Her verbal response was more earthy. "Shit! You are so clumsy!" She shook her head until a measure of calmness returned, whereupon she added philosophically, "Oh well. A splash of cold water does have its benefits. Certainly an effective wake-up call!" Shaking her head in disbelief at the vagaries of the fates, and considerably sobered, she made her way quickly and deliberately back to Gil's side. Without hesitating, she dropped to her knees and set back on her heels, observing him. He seemed to be resting peacefully, and as her concerns for his welfare eased, she began to look at him from an entirely different point of view.
Physically, even in his severely wounded condition, Gilbert Lenki was a very attractive man. He was under six feet, but typically claimed a height of "five foot twelve", a claim Dawn had always found delightful. His light brown hair effectively camouflaged the occasional gray strand, while his skin coloring gave the impression of excellent, vibrant health. But it was a vital look not incurred at the expense of having spent most of his life being baked by the sun. His tan was gentler and more health oriented. Adding to the sense of health were his deep brown eyes filled with specks of green and a large dose of mischief. But those same eyes, she knew, could stare down a charging rhino.
Dawn could have been easily attracted to Gil -- she had always had a natural affinity for men five to ten years older than herself, either as a friend or as a potential mate. Gil, a good 15 years older, easily qualified, if only because he seemed ageless. He was, in addition to everything else, a warrior, and Dawn was easily attracted to the warrior type (provided of course that it was a warrior who used his brains as much as his brawn and who had a cause with which Dawn could identify).
But two separate concerns had always made her hesitate. One had been the clear signs of a deep, ancient sadness about Gil -- some repressed, traumatic wound or wounds in his psyche to which he never admitted or even discussed. Dawn fluctuated between two lines of thought, that Gil had either done badly by women in the past (and now didn't feel worthy of being loved again by a woman), or the possibility that he had just been in one too many battles. Occasionally she wondered if she had encountered an eligible male with the most marvelous physical, mental and emotional characteristics imaginable, but who also was rumored to have been an ax-murderer recently escaped from the maximum security mental hospital. The latter, of course, she really couldn’t believe. She was always an optimist.
The second reason for her hesitancy was that Dawn was not yet convinced that she was ready for any deep romantic attachments. Having lost her husband and two children in the tragic auto accident only three years before, her natural inclination was to hesitate, to wait, to reconsider any extension of her inner most self in anything as risky as romance. Her love of mystery had gotten her in trouble before, and despite the fact she had spent two intense years grieving her loss and a year later was ostensibly ready to re-enter the world, her activity to date had been limited to very casual dating. Dawn wasn't yet convinced it was time for the only kind of romantic relationship in which she was interested: an intense, deeply emotional, and romantic one -- even if precisely the right sort of man came along. At the same time, Dawn was fairly certain Gil was not the one. Between them there had never been that elusive spark that could ignite a relationship and turn it into the kind of passionate inferno any romance deserved. The kind she’d had before.
The thought of her dead husband abruptly reminded her of the aftermath of the mountain wreck, when she had checked him for signs of life -- to find none -- and then held her youngest child in her arms and watched his life fade away as well. The memory, combined with the current horror, was suddenly more than she could handle, and abruptly she burst into tears, the sobs causing her entire body to shake. Her hands covered her face, trying to stem the flood of tears, while a low, wavering moan escaped her lips as she felt the full impact of every loved one she had ever lost.
Her grief was interrupted, as Gil momentarily regained consciousness and looked up at her with bleary eyes. Choking, he tried to speak. The movement recalled her to the immediate now, and triggered her instinctive inclination to comfort others in lieu of attending to her own pain.
"Shhhh," she said, touching his lips with one finger. "Time to rest."
Gil mentally shook off her suggestion. Calling on a deep inner resource, he roused himself and reached for her. "Wanted to be able to protect you. But I can't. Forgive me." He tried to say more, but drifted off instead. Dawn was stunned. She had no idea what he meant. He had never been into the male macho, knight-on-a-white-horse stereotype. The idea that he felt badly for not being able to protect her made no sense at all. By reflex, she tried to tap into his mind, only to sense frustration, anger, and danger. There were no real clues as to what was really going on.
Then the word, "protect", triggered her own sense of survival. She looked around -- for the first time beginning to assess their vulnerability in the new environment. As she did so, she saw a pristine wilderness in all of its glory: a beautiful, lush green, cool wonderland. Multiple shades of greenery proliferated, giving a sense of a well designed and maintained garden. Dawn felt a soothing, refreshing breeze, and glanced at the afternoon clouds, full of mountain rain. Then she shivered. It was rapidly becoming cooler. They were in the high Rocky Mountains, there was no sign of rescue (probably too soon to expect anything), and it was going to get a lot colder very soon. It would also be dark within the hour, making any possible rescue thereafter much less likely, at least until morning.
For just a moment she recalled the strange conversation about the distress signals. Were they to be limited in who might have received their distress call? How could that be? It didn't make sense. Then something of an even greater concern caught her attention: There was no guarantee that their "limited" S.O.S. had even been heard! There was no assurance that help was on the way!
Dawn suddenly realized she might be on her own. The issue now was the coming cold and the distinct possibility of a chilling rain. They were not prepared for weather. The dress she wore was torn, ripped, and recently drenched with cold water and mud. She felt a momentary sadness as she realized it was a dress a dear friend had bought for her. But then she chastised herself for thinking of such trivia at a time like this. It was survival time, not preparation for a late Easter parade. She would have cried again, but neither was it time for grief. There were things to be done.
Quickly she rose, and surveyed the situation. The engines seemed to be smoldering less, and the danger of fire and/or explosion waning. She moved back to the plane taking particular care with where she stepped, and began gathering seat cushions, window curtains, and two emergency blankets. There was apparently no first aid kit -- or at least not one she could immediately find.
She did, however, find a flashlight. She started to breathe a sigh of relief, only to hold her breath as she tested the light. It worked, whereupon she breathed an even heavier sigh of relief. Carrying her loot back to the wounded men she began to try to make them comfortable with cushions for pillows and blankets for covers. The airplane cabin's curtain she used as a shawl to cover herself. On her second trip back to the airplane, she noted Gil's briefcase, and pulled it out of the wreckage. She also found their luggage and started to pull the pieces out -- she would have to get out of her wet clothes. Her suitcase was seriously damaged, but she managed to pull it out as well.
Then she heard it: the sound of an aircraft. She looked up at the sky, the sun already just below the peaks. Quickly she found it: a helicopter coming over a peak from the southeast, flying at an oblique angle to her location. She began waving her curtain as a signal. When this was not immediately successful, she turned and ran for the flashlight where she had left it next to Gil. Then with both the curtain and light, she started signaling again.
But the helicopter had already changed its course directly toward her. She quickly realized they could probably see the downed aircraft a lot sooner than a lone woman in the wilderness waving her curtain or flashlight. For just a split second, she felt the full effects of the strain that had been on her up until that moment. Her pent up exhaustion took its toll as she sank to her knees, said an emotional, “Thank God!”, and turned to tell Gil the good news.
Taking his head with her hands, she said, "Help's on the way, Mr. Lenki. We're going to be okay. Just hang in there. Hang in there a little bit longer."
Gil opened his eyes to sense his surroundings. Hearing the helicopter as it settled down on a level spot some 50 yards away, his mind pulled together one more time, and in the process, he suddenly tensed. Turning to look directly at her, he strained to speak. "Dawn! You've got to be careful. Watch what you say. Pay attention to your intuition. Don't hesitate to read minds!" Abruptly, his throat caught, but he seemed intent upon one more thing. Struggling, he managed to say, "If anyone asks, remember: You're my fiancé. Very important" Then he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and was still except for a heightened heart beat.
Dawn's mind was in turmoil. Perhaps he was hallucinating, she thought, or reacting to the last traumatic hour. Her mind searching for answers, she nevertheless looked up in time to see the helicopter with its rotors powering down (but still rotating), and two men jumping out of the back, cargo section. Behind them, as a backdrop, was an absolutely gorgeous and deserted natural wonderland. Everything seemed incongruous. Dawn looked at Gil again, probing for some explanation. But she could sense nothing else from him. Maybe it was just the trauma, she thought. Nevertheless, she would heed his warnings. She would be careful. But, his fiancé!!?
The two men ran up to her, one carrying the traditional medical bag. He announced himself by saying, "I'm a doctor. Where's Mr. Lenki?" When Dawn indicated Gil, the doctor quickly attended to her injured lover, while the second man looked on. Dawn turned her attention to Gil and the doctor, but then felt the gaze of the second man. When she sensed it lifting from her, she glanced up at him.
A powerfully built man in a suit and tie, he was quite out of place in the scene, as if he was simply passing by -- a disinterested observer. There was about him, Dawn sensed, all the charm and grace of a slow-witted brute. As she watched him, he seemed to notice the pilot for the first time, and went over to him. Dawn's intuition of danger had already raised storm warnings all along her coastline. The second man, which she instinctively dubbed Thor, had intimidation and danger written all over him. She noted his callous attitude, and then saw him look over the pilot without showing any concern other than curiosity.
Then “Thor” spoke. "There were two pilots. Where's the other one?"
Dawn took the time to stare at the man before answering. "He's in the cockpit. He's dead."
Thor gave her a cursory acknowledgment, and headed for the cockpit to check.
Dawn mentally shook her head at the man's actions. She turned back to Gil and the doctor, just as the doctor rose up and signaled the helicopter. A third man was standing by the open cargo door. He quickly reached in, pulled out a stretcher and began running toward them. Dawn turned back to the doctor, who was now looking at her.
"He's seriously injured, but I think he's going to be okay. We'll airlift him out of here."
Dawn breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank God!"
The doctor turned to face her. Quietly, he asked, "Who are you?" His voice was detached and menacing. And very, very cold.
Dawn hesitated only slightly. "I'm his fiancé."
The doctor thought about her answer, made a silent decision, and then asked, "You okay?"
"Yes, I'm fine." Dawn watched his reaction. Her intuition told her his apparent relief was not based on any genuine concern for her welfare, but rather that perhaps he now wouldn't be troubled for any additional services. Dawn did not have a great deal of respect for the callousness of many doctors she had encountered, but this man was far worse. He continued to watch her, as she turned her attention back to Gil.
Obliquely, she remembered the pilot. Looking up, she said, "The pilot. He's seriously hurt. He's lost a lot of blood." Without a word, the doctor looked over at the still figure. When he made no immediate move, Dawn added, "You'd better check him."
The doctor looked back at her, and mentally made another decision. "Right." He quickly walked over to where the wounded man was. Dawn watched him as he checked the pilot. The doctor had seemed anxious as he attended to Gil, as if Gil's fate was important. There had been no compassion, at least none Dawn could sense, but there had, at least, been the feeling that Gil's health was important to the medical man.
Now, as the doctor checked the pilot, there seemed to be little or no concern at all. It was as if he were looking at the pilot, not because he might render him some aid, but only because Dawn had suggested it. There was also the subtle hint that the doctor was not yet sure of her status, or whether or not Dawn's suggestion to check on the pilot should be followed. The thought momentarily unnerved her. What kind of people were these?
As the man with the stretcher arrived, the doctor stood up and came back to Gil and Dawn. "He's dead," was his emotionless pronouncement. Dawn looked over at the pilot, still sensing what she thought was his pain. Confused, she turned her head to one side, trying to feel the thought from a different angle. Maybe, she began to think, it was Gil's pain she was sensing. Only, it didn't feel quite right. If she had been hard pressed to answer, she would have thought the pilot was still alive.
The third man, the helicopter's pilot, was positioning the stretcher for Gil, when Thor returned. "Copilot's dead," he announced. Then with a cynical laugh, "He kind of lost his head." With that, he looked at Dawn, seeing if she would share his little joke. Dawn didn't bother to look at him, and ignored his sinister laugh. Instead, she concentrated on keeping her poise, while the doctor had Thor and the pilot place Gil onto the stretcher. The doctor then took Dawn's arm to walk her to the helicopter, while Thor and the pilot carried the stretcher between them. Dawn wanted to shake off the Doctor's hand from her arm -- she felt as if she were in the grip of someone escorting a victim up the stairs to the platform of the guillotine. But there was an intuitive warning that she had no choice for the moment -- that it was not yet time to break and run.
As they secured Gil and the stretcher in the helicopter, a second helicopter with the same dark blue-black coloring began its approach. Dawn noticed that neither had any identifying markings on their exteriors. At the same time, neither would have been easily mistaken for angels of mercy, or flight-for-life saviors. They were far too ominous looking. Gil's warnings were making more and more sense, particularly as Dawn and the doctor approached the doorway of the dark helicopter. With his turning to help her into the helicopter, she suppressed an involuntary shudder. She crawled inside and took her place near Gil, using a makeshift strap to buckle herself in. The pilot worked around her, making his way to the cockpit of the helicopter.
"Stay here and clean up the mess," the doctor ordered Thor. "Pack in the luggage and any papers you find, and come back with the other copter."
"Can do," Thor replied. Casually, he turned and walked back to the crash site.
The doctor climbed in and pulled the helicopter hatch shut; then checked Gil again. Satisfied with the current state of affairs, he relaxed, took a small jump seat and strapped himself in. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes -- as if it had been a long day and he had already been put to an excessive amount of trouble. The pilot, meanwhile, was talking on the radio with either the other helicopter or someone else -- or both. Then he began preparing for takeoff.
Dawn was able to see out the side panel of the helicopter and for no reason she could identify began to watch Thor as he approached the downed airplane's pilot. For just a moment she thought she saw the wounded pilot, the one the doctor had pronounced dead, raise his head as if asking for help. Thor standing nearby, noticed the movement and went over to him. With what seemed a practiced technique, Thor raised his leg and stomped down on the pilot's head.
Dawn immediately felt what she thought had been the pilot's pain, as if it suddenly ended, followed by a sense of peace replacing it. She now knew that if the pilot had not been dead before, he was now. Dawn continued to watch as Thor walked away to shuffle through the debris. Glancing at the doctor, she saw that his eyes were still closed. The pilot she realized, was also unaware of her observations, busy with the takeoff preparations.
The scene had been surreal, the malevolence from Thor overwhelming. Dawn stifled any scream she might have felt compelled to utter, and turned all of her attentions to Gil. She now sensed his warnings in their full intensity. She had begun the descent into another world, entering the dark forest -- alone and left to her wits for survival.
Slowly, as if in slow motion, the helicopter began to lift off and begin it's "mercy" flight back to Lake Mach.
Chapter One -- The Hierop hant
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