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21. Truth or Consequence

September 2008

By the time Daniel and Lana got to the quarry the place was in chaos. Trucks and sheds burned, men ran backwards and forwards – some doing their best to put out the flames with woefully inadequate fire extinguishers and buckets of water, some just trying to find cover. The planes circled around above the chaos, taking turns to swoop in and drop more fuel to the fire – the same motley assortment of molotov cocktails and hand grenades that Lana had been lobbing at trucks on the road a few short minutes ago.

They joined the orbiting squadron, like one more vulture above a dying sheep. As Lana looked down she saw a fuel barrel explode behind a burning shed; a man who had been trying to extinguish the flames was showered in burning debris and flaming liquid. He fell to the ground, rolling and twitching madly, as his fellow fire-fighters attempted to quench the fire. By the time the flames had died down, the man was no longer moving. Lana shuddered, swallowed uncomfortably.

“Daniel…” She turned to look back at him.

“What is it?” Daniel asked.

“Are those people down there… are they actually armed? No-one is shooting back at us, are they?” Lana had a horrible sinking feeling.

“Do you want them to?” Daniel asked.

“Well, no, but… well… I was expecting it, weren't you? I mean, that was kinda the point wasn't it? We had to get them shooting at us so they weren't shooting at Jay and 'Liss and the others, true?” Lana paused to follow the thought. “But if they're not shooting at all – what if we've got completely the wrong people? Even if they're the right people – how is this right?”

“Shit,” Daniel said. “You might be right.” He thumbed his radio. “Everyone, this is Daniel. They're not shooting back – I don't have a good feeling about this.”

The radio clicked. “More trucks on the way, Daniel. Don't relax yet; you might get your return fire.”

“Roger. I'll go take a look at them; I've got no stomach for watching people burn anyhow,” Daniel responded. He wheeled his plane back out of the circle and along the road.

“Don't do anything stupid, Daniel,” Lana said.

“What, like bombing a bunch of unarmed guys at their day-job?” Daniel snapped.

“Look, we don't know that that's what's going on. It could be that we just didn't give them a chance to get their guns out of one of those buildings. I don't like this either, but we don't have enough of the story to be jumping to any conclusions.”

“Yeah, I know,” Daniel said heavily, “but it doesn't stop the nagging feeling, you know. If we have stuffed this up, we're going to have to live with it. And there could be legal consequences too, you know. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail.”

Lana sat tight-lipped; there was nothing more to say, really. She continued looking for the trucks ahead.

“There's one,” she said. “Oh, and look, a couple more further back. Probably more following, too, if they're scattered like that.”

“Okay. Let's just watch them for now; they can't do anything until they stop, anyway, and I'd feel better if we didn't kill anymore innocents. I'm going to loop around and do a low pass over a couple of the trucks from behind; see what you can see.”

The lead truck had swung around off the side of the road to avoid the burning wreck of the first truck Lana had firebombed; it swerved back onto the road and carried on, towards the plane.

Daniel pulled out wide, away from the truck and the road. He looped around and tucked in behind the second truck, a ways behind the first. He pulled alongside it, then sped up and overtook it. Lana had a glimpse of white faces following them from in the canvas-covered back of the truck, then they were past and beyond. They chased up behind the first truck.

They were coming up level with the rear of the first truck, a dozen meters or so above and to the side. Lana took a longer look into the back of the truck than she had with the last; they really needed to know if these men were armed or not – they could simply be more firefighters and medics.

She saw more faces looking up at them, but there seemed some activity this time – they weren't just staring. She saw a man lean out the back, apparently supported by the others in the truck. She saw him take something that was passed to him – he took it with both hands – then there was a glint of metal.

“Daniel –” she yelled. There was a distant, faint chatter, matched by sparks from the rear of the truck. Lana heard a series of ripping noises walk their way along the fuselage towards her, then she felt something white hot stab into her side. She cried out.

“Hold on, girl.” Daniel sounded distressed. Lana found herself coughing, and became aware of the thick cloud of black smoke pouring from the engine and over her windshield on its way down the fuselage. The engine's noise was completely wrong, the usual roar now a rising and falling scream. Lana tried to twist around to see if Daniel was alright, then gasped in pain.

“Sit tight, Lana, I'm gonna get us down, but it'll be rough. Just hold on.”

She brought her left hand around, reaching back between the cockpit and her right side. She very gingerly felt at her side, alarmed at the slickness she felt. She pulled her hand out and looked at it, terrified at the dark wetness her black glove showed. “I've been shot, Daniel.”

“I know, Lana, but you've got to hold on until I land – there's nothing else I can do. Just, I dunno, try to put pressure on it. Hold on, okay, you've got to stick with me.”

Lana reached around her side again, and tried to press as firmly as she could on the wound. She gasped again as her vision tunneled in on itself and her ears rung, but she held the pressure. She struggled to stay conscious and the edges of her vision continued to close in, and her senses faded. She drew in deep, ragged breaths, each one a painful gasp as her lungs expanded into her wounded side.

She was horrified to hear a gurgling as she inhaled and exhaled; she could feel herself getting short of breath. She coughed, then her cough turned into a splutter as she felt warm, metallic-tasting blood dribble through her lips.

“Daniel,” she croaked. She couldn't get any more out before she coughed again, a huge hacking wet sound.

“Hold on Lana, we're about to hit,” Daniel said. Lana just had time to put her spare hand out in front of her before they slammed into the ground.

The plane hit hard, landing on one wheel hard enough to crush that part of the undercarriage. It tilted, lurched onto the other wheel, and bounced up off the ground at a drunken angle, tail high in the air. The plane came down again nose-first, slamming the engine into the ground. Lana jerked forward in her seat, her hand taking the worst of the impact between her forehead and the front of the cockpit. She felt something pulling in her side as she was thrown back, as the engine bounced up and the tail hit the dust. The plane came flat, sliding for fifty meters or so, twisting sideways as the good wheel tried to keep the fuselage off the ground and failed.

They slid to a stop, surrounded by dust and smoke. Daniel tore off his seatbelt and fought his way out of the cockpit. He jumped up on the wingstep to reach in for Lana.

“Hang on, I've got to get you out of there,” he said. “Sorry, this is going to hurt. Put your arms around my neck.”

He unhooked her seatbelt, then, hands hooked under her arms, pulled her bodily out of the cockpit. She cried out as he did so. He threw a hand under her legs and carried her a safe distance from the plane before lying her down carefully on the ground.

She was in bad shape; her face was smeared with smoke and blood, and every breath was a painful, wracking effort. Daniel looked down to see his jacket covered with blood from the wound in her side.

“I'm going to have to roll you over, okay? Just keep breathing.” Lana did her best to nod, then was grabbed by another coughing fit. Daniel turned her over onto her front at gently as she could, then winced. Her side was a mess, her jacket horribly torn. He ripped the hole in the jacket wider, and then the same with the shirt underneath. There was a long wooden splinter the size of his finger, embedded in the wound. He gripped it, trying not to twist it, then gave it a steady pull straight out. It came out with an unpleasant sucking noise, and the blood from the wound began to flow more freely.

Daniel tore off his own jacket. He pushed it under her and pulled the sleeves around. He tied them together, then pulled as tight as he could. If he couldn't stop the bleeding like that…

He rolled Lana back over and lifted her up. She was panting, shallow and fast breaths, still with that distressing gurgle somewhere in her lungs. Her eyes were half-closed and slightly glazed. She looked up into Daniel's face, managing to focus enough to recognise him. She gave a slight smile.

“Sorry,” she said. “I've —“ She was wracked by another series of savage coughs.

“Don't talk,” said Daniel, blinking back tears. “You're going to be alright, okay? Just hold on.”

“I made you wreck your plane,” Lana said, smiling again.

“I don't care about my plane,” Daniel said, in a pleading tone. “I need you to survive.”

“Sorry,” said Lana. She closed her eyes and relaxed into Daniel's arms, then was still.

“No! Stay with me!” Daniel shouting, shaking her. She didn't respond. He grabbed her face, shook it side to side, slapped the cheek, trying to wake her. She didn't wake. “No!”

He started sobbing, then stopped abruptly as he heard a truck door opening nearby. He looked up, and looked with murder in his eyes at the man stepping down from the truck. He dropped Lana's body and jumped to his feet.

“You fuckers!” He sprinted at the man, swinging wildly as he closed with him. The man blocked his fist easily with one arm, then slammed his other hand into Daniel's stomach.

“Who attacked who?” the man hissed. “At least she didn't burn to death.”

Daniel slumped onto his knees, then dropped down, curled up, face in the dust, and sobbed. The man stepped around him and went to check Lana. He tried her pulse, shook his head. “Get her in the truck,” he said to the men who had jumped out of the back. “We can't leave her out her. Get him in too,” he said, nodding towards Daniel, “but keep an eye on him. Too many people have died today already.”

They lay Lana down the middle of the truck, men filling the rows of seats either side of the truck bed. They shoved Daniel into a seat in the corner and tied his hands with a length of rope.