|NOTE||Universe by Erastus Centaur|
|This story is Copyright by David Ihnen. Please do not distribute without permission.|
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The TV flickered in the corner of the cramped ship's mess, strapped securely to its bracket as the ship swayed in insanely heavy seas. Tom fought to control his stomach as first he looked almost straight down at it, then almost straight up. He had braced himself between a bench leg and a food locker. He grimaced again as the ship plummetted, stomach churning. The boat heeled steeply as it tilted back up the other way again. His backpack was digging into his shoulder. He tried to adjust his position without losing the stability of his bracing. It was futile, so he ignored it. The TV's surface showed grainy replays of the current event, words crawling along the bottom of the unstable screen. Hurricane Katrina was pounding New Orleans. They already had reports of a possible levee breach, heavy damage, and some flooding. He breathed the close air of the room, the thick scent of his buddies warm and familiar. The door clanged open.
"HEADS UP!" barked Captain Jedder. He stood bracing himself in the doorway. His scent mixed with theirs, stronger in its wet saltiness. He was stripped of his usual uniform, his thick brown otter fur dripping with salt water. A webbing harness wrapped around his torso held a powerful flashlight, a sidearm, a large survival knife and several pouches, a streamlined pack on his back.
Eight blunt, whiskered muzzles in the room swung to look at him. Each was similarly outfitted.
The captain's voice was loud and commanding. "FEMA ain't even off their ass yet, AS USUAL, and the city has not, I repeat has NOT been evacuated!" He looked pissed. "We're entering the number one worst potential natural disaster situation the USA here! Our mission is to get people to high ground FIRST. Deploy to your areas and do what you can until the storm passes. The eye has already passed, so the moment the winds die down, I want you coordinating rescue! This is a high level emergency but there is NOT martial law! You are NOT permitted to use undue force. Our only mission here is to move all surviving persons to dry ground. Do you understand?"
There was a chorus of "Aye Sir!" and he nodded.
"We're holding at a hundred yards off the southeast levee, and can't get any closer. We swim the rest of the way! Are you ready?"
"AYE SIR!" was the resounding reply, the otters scrambling to their webbed feet, slapping their equipment checking in readiness.
"ACTIVATE! GO GO GO!" the captain barked, standing aside. The eight otters pounded down the gangway, and up a ladder into the storm. Lights on the tops of their backpack flashed bright in the narrow hallway. Feet steady on the heaving deck, they gracefully lept from the boat's deck into the churning sea.
Tom clamped his ears back as he entered the storm, the wind howling from his left. Two more steps and a leap, and the swirling waters closed around him. He reached out, webbed paws stretching, powerfully stroking. A pattern of vibrations against his back told him his team's position and their desired course. He turned to the right and swam upwards, arcing out of the face of a wave. A quick glance showed the lights of the jetboat receding in the face of the storm. He grabbed a breath and dove under, swimming hard. It didn't take long to reach the levee, he went right over it inside a large wave, and in the wash found his paws on hard ground. He stood briefly, braced against the hundred mile an hour wind that screamed from his left. Another wave passed over the levee, sweeping him along.
Tom swam with the wash, deftly avoiding debris. His light flashed from his pack, illuminating the storm-darkened day in spooky twitches. Shortly, he found himself in a neighborhood where the one story houses were flooded to their eves. He noted a nearby house that looked to be stone, and was two stories tall. Safer ground. He popped his head above the waves, scanning the rooftops with his brilliant flashlight.
There. A scream. Movement.
He swam powerfully towards the movement. Half the roof of the house had been torn off by the storm, and the rest of the house swayed alarmingly with the surging waters. A man and two children huddled in the lee of the end piece, the children screaming incoherently. He surged out of the water, catching hold of some of the framework.
"SIR!" he shouted over the howling wind.
The man looked up slowly, grief-stricken eyes not comprehending what he was seeing. Glistening darkly, a smooth shape stood. A gun was strapped to his hip, he had a bright flashlight. And a flash periodically gleamed from his back.
"HELP ME WE'RE GOING TO DIE!" screamed the man, pulling the girls close.
"MY NAME IS TOM!" he replied, "I'M HERE TO HELP! YOU ARE NOT SAFE HERE! I MUST GET YOU TO SAFETY!"
The house beneath them swayed, sharp snaps felt through the structure as it began to give way, the roof listing, sending more water swirling across their feet. The man looked on the verge of panic, the girls screaming anew as their precarious perch became more submerged. Tom's pack told him nobody from his team was close enough to help.
"THE HOUSE IS GOING!" screamed Tom over the storm, stepping closer. "CAN YOU SWIM?"
"SWIM IN THIS!?" shouted the man. The wetness on his face was not just the storm. "YOU'VE GOT TO BE FUCKING NUTS!"
"WE HAVE NO CHOICE!" responded Tom, pulling a length of cord from one of his pouches. "TIE THIS AROUND YOURSELF AND THE GIRLS!"
The house shuddered beneath them, their perch dropping another foot. "DADDY!" screamed one of the girls, caught by a wave and snatched out of his grasp. The man had only managed to tie himself and one of the girls. Tom snapped the end of the rope onto his harness, and dove into the water. His flashlight beam caught sight of her, and he swam powerfully. The rope snapped taut just before he reached her. He kept trying, drawing his webbed paws through the water with all his strength. The tension suddenly relaxed, and he was able to catch up to her. He pulled her to the surface, holding her head above the water as she coughed and sputtered. He headed for the two story house, dragging the dead weight on the end of the cord behind him.
It took several minutes to reach the house. He scrambled onto the balcony, lifted the girl up beside him, and began to reel in the cord. Shortly he was able to see the shapes coming up through the waves. He grabbed the man by his collar and heaved him over the railing, then with two more pulls got the girl, coughing and regurgitating weakly.
The door was locked. He drew his pistol and shot twice, blowing the deadbolt out of its frame. A kick opened it the rest of the way and he dragged the trio into a surprizingly dry room, thick carpet and a large soft bed dominating it.
He checked the girls first. They were soaked and bruised, but okay. Then he checked their father. A large gash bled on the side of his head and he wasn't breathing.
"Shit." Tom grumbled, clearing his airways, and starting CPR. It was no use. ad been out for too long.
The younger girl knelt at his side, shivering. "Daddy?" she whimpered. "Daddy are you okay?"
Tom clenched his eyes shut, tears welling up. Dammit! He did not want to have to deal with this. Might as well go for the direct route, the girls didn't deserve to be lied to.
"He's dead." he said.
The girl looked at him with saucer eyes. "Like Jimbo?"
"Jimbo?" Tom blinked.
"Jimbo was our dog." said the older girl in flat voice. She had stripped out of her clothes and was unabashedly drying herself with a large fuzzy towel. "He drowned this morning. Yes, like Jimbo. Come on Latee, come dry off."
The younger girl continued to stare at the otter-man, slowly walking over to her sister who undressed her efficiently, drying her off. Tom crouched, slumped in defeat, looking at the corpse he'd dragged in. He checked for pulse one more time. Nothing. He couldn't leave the dead body there, in the room with the girls.
"I'm going to take your father downstairs." he said, looking at the older girl. She nodded, and turned to tend to her sister. He dragged the dripping corpse down the stairs, which were filled with salt water from the second one down. He dove, dragging the body through the flooded house. He pushed it through the shattered front window. He watched it soberly as the wind outside caught it and carried it from sight. The light on his pack glimmered against the wet walls.
Tom climbed back up the stairs and smiled at the two girls, snuggled together in the large bed. The older on looked at him from large, dark eyes, sadness on her face. The younger slept against her chest. He felt the need to lend some reassurance.
"Its going to be okay." he said, and instantly felt lame. The girl grimaced. Things were most definitely not okay, and weren't going to be any time soon. The door he kicked in swung in the wind, sheets of rain carried in on the wind. He crossed over to it and braced it closed with a chair.
He took off his pack and removed a small box, and a thin package. He handed them to the girl. "This is a tracking device. As soon as the storm is gone, they'll come straight here and get you. This green light shows that its on. This is energy food and a water filter. It looks like a straw, but you can drink any water with it."
"Thank you otter man." she said quietly, tucking the items under the blanket with them.
"Tom. I'm Lieutenant Tom." he said, slipping his pack back in place. "Aquatic Emergency First Response Team Delta. I'm sorry about your father. There was nothign I could do."
She nodded sadly and petted the damp curls of her sister's hair. "I'm Sarah. Thank you Tom."
Tom shifted on his paws, and grimaced. There was nothing more he could do. His pack indicated that a teammate needed assistance some half kilometer to the north. He saluted them soberly and turned, closing the door softly behind him. He dove down through the house and out the front window. He dug his paws through the liquid, tail and body powering him towards his teammate. Maybe he could save some more lives today. Maybe then it would be worth it.
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