Rebekah Golden handed the sailor his bottle of pills through the pharmacy window. He looked at the label and said, “Do they dissolve?”
She rolled her blue eyes. “No. You swallow them.” God, she hated this job.
“I can’t swallow pills. Does it come in liquid?”
“Are you serious? How old are you, sailor?”
“How the hell did you make it to twenty years old without the ability to swallow a pill? Mommy crush everything up for you, did she? Or maybe she had them give it to you in suppository form?”
The young kid looked like he might cry. The only emotion Beck felt was disgust. She hated soft, weak people, especially men. Some days, she could hardly stand it at all. The US Navy was full of whiny, immature little boys...who were given preferential treatment over women like her, just because they had a penis. Beck had seen quite a few of them, the penises that is. Just that morning she’d seen her favorite one, her on-ship booty call. His was impressive, but still not worthy of bragging rights in her opinion. Beck had been in the Navy for almost seventeen years. She would be turning thirty-five years old in a couple of months and she could outrun, outlift, outswim, outshoot, and out most of them at just about everything else.
She’d been training since day one to be a SEAL. Hell, she had started training for that when she was a kid. It was all she ever wanted to be. And she had gone into the Navy, sure that it wouldn’t be long before the US Government realized how much potential they were wasting. About that, sadly, she had been wrong. In 2017 they still denied women the right to be in combat. They denied them the right to be in the Special Forces of all branches of the military. And their only reason was that they didn’t have penises. It pissed her off every time she thought about it. Beck knew that her balls were bigger than any of these assholes and she proved it on a daily basis, so she had just finally decided...fuck them. She had put in for early retirement and that was happening in a week. If the SEALs didn’t want her, she would go blaze a new trail.
“I’m sick,” the sailor said. “My throat hurts. Can you please...?” The sound of the alarm drowned his whiny voice out, thank God. Beck didn’t waste time by asking him to repeat what he said. She didn’t care to begin with, and the second that alarm went off...her switch was flipped. That sound opened her adrenaline valve and it poured into her system. It made her feel strong, sharp, and most of all, alive.
Beck slammed down the window in the pathetic little sailor’s face and twisted the lock before grabbing her EMT bag and running for the door. She locked it on her way out and paused only long enough to hear what was coming over the radio speaker mounted overhead. The screeching noise stopped and a scratchy, robotic voice wafted out.
“White smoke, Compartment 2B L Aft CPO! Explosion, fire, black smoke, Compartment 2B L Aft CPO! Away the Flying Squad, away! Away the Flying Squad, away!” Those words were music to Beck’s ears, especially when the voice followed that up by saying, “This is not a drill.” 99 out of 100 times that alarm went off, it was a drill. Those were okay too...they at least broke up the monotony of her day-to-day job as a nurse, or more accurately, a pill pusher.
Beck had always sought out danger and thrills, and she had picked the nursing squad when she first entered the Navy, imagining herself on the frontlines as a medic, or like one of the nurses on the old television show, MASH. What she got was eight hours a day of looking at rashes in strange places and inflamed dicks because these idiots were too stupid to wear a rubber. She handed out more penicillin and Ibuprofen than she did anything and it bored her to tears. So, the second she was given the chance to join up with the Flying Squad, she jumped at it. Amazing that someone without a penis was good enough for that...but, in this case, she wasn’t complaining.
“Away the Flying Squad” was the Navy’s call to the elite group of sailors she belonged to. They were comprised of people from all specialties such as machinery repair, damage control, hull technicians, medical personnel, and firefighters. They were the first line of defense on a ship when an incident occurred out at sea. These sailors were put through basic and advanced damage control classes and then they learned to perform every position on the team from the top command in charge to the guy that mopped up the mess afterwards. They responded to fires, floods, toxic gas leaks, and many other types of emergencies. It was the only thing that Beck lived for lately...that, and her plans for after retirement.
She raced toward the left aft, the port side of the back of the ship. Anyone and everyone on the ship that wasn’t a part of the Flying Squad, or involved in the emergency itself, would still press pause on whatever they were doing. They would look toward the speakers on the wall and wait for the orders to come. Even those sailors that were sleeping would be expected to wake up and be ready in the event that they were needed, or that an evacuation was called for.
Beck reached the main hallway, still running, balls-out. Even as she saw the foot traffic in front of her, she didn’t slow her motion. She yelled out a warning, and if they didn’t move they would get mowed down. Either way, Beck would arrive at her post ahead of most of the rest of her team every time. The Flying Squad did enough drills that the other sailors knew what to do when that alarm went off. Their main jobs were to stay alert and get the hell out of the way. Beck likened it to pulling over to the right-hand side of the road to let an emergency vehicle pass. Any idiot knew the drill, and Beck had knocked them down like dominoes more than once...just so they never forgot again.
Beck knew every inch of the ship, the USS Alaska III. She’d not only been deployed out to sea on it several times now, but as part of her training in the Flying Squad, she had to pass a test, labeling every inch of the ship, every nook, cranny, and closet. She could do it in her sleep now, or behind a curtain of thick, black smoke. They often piped the smoke in during their drills to allow them practice using their gas masks and oxygen tanks, and the team members were expected to get to where they were going, quickly and blindly.
Beck made it to the control locker where all the equipment was stored in under a minute. The Fire Marshall was already there, handing out the equipment the team would need as they arrived, and issuing orders. The locker held breathing apparatus, fire extinguishers and hoses, medical equipment...and much more. Everything they might need in an emergency situation was in the control locker, and Beck was confident that her commander knew exactly what he was doing when he barked out his orders.
“There was an explosion on the fantail and there’s a fire. We have one man down that I know of. I have no idea if he was injured in the explosion or the fire, or if it’s smoke inhalation. Take a litter and make sure your radio is on. I’ve already notified the medic chopper and they’ll be standing by for orders.”
Beck grabbed a second medical bag and in one fluid movement she and her partner picked up the litter, the basket that they would transport the sailor out in if need be. Her partner placed it up against his back and held onto it with one hand while he reached up and grabbed the furthest rung he could reach on the ladder with the other. Beck steadied the basket on his back with one hand and slowly climbed up behind him. As soon as he was up top, he pulled the litter the rest of the way through and Beck tossed up both of her bags and then followed them.
The smell and the smoke were both overwhelming. She slapped on a pair of latex gloves and put the gasmask on; so did her partner, and they moved forward through the thick, black smoke. It was like soup and they were both moving by memory and not by sight. It smelled like oil was burning, which made sense, since the deck they were on was where the storage containers were kept in a compartment all the way at the aft of the ship. It looked like the firefighters almost had the fire contained already as they got closer, but Beck knew that the toxic, billowing smoke could be twice as deadly as the flames.
Her partner dropped to his knees and let the basket drop down next to him on the deck. Beck slid in on her knees, opening her bag before she even stopped moving. She was at the sailor’s head and she positioned it so that his airway was open. She put her thumbs in his mouth and pulled it open so she could see if there was anything blocking his airway. What she did see made her cringe. His tongue was black and so was the back of his throat. Her partner had cut open the man’s uniform and was putting the AED pads on his chest and ribs, and it was Beck’s job to put the non-rebreather mask on and make sure he was getting oxygen. She hesitated. If they were able to restart his heart, this sailor was in for a long and arduous journey and from what she saw, he would more than likely have lung damage and suffer from breathing problems for the rest of his life if he made it. He would probably die en route to the hospital after they cracked a few ribs to get his heart restarted. That was almost exactly the way her father had died. When she was old enough, she requested a copy of the death report from the Navy. He had been near an IED that exploded and set a gas pump on fire. He inhaled too much smoke, but the medics saved him...long enough for his cracked rib to puncture a singed lung and cause him to choke on his own body fluids and die on the way to the base.
“What are you doing, Golden? Get the mask on him!” her partner snapped.
“He’s gone,” she said. “Are we really doing him any favors at this point?”
“Damn it! That’s not your call and you know it.” Her partner pushed her out of the way. Beck didn’t like to be manhandled and her first impulse was to go back at him, but she was stopped by another one of their teammates. He was a friend of hers and when he grabbed her from behind he said:
“Do you really want it to end like this, Beck? Seventeen years...and a dishonorable discharge?”
Beck looked down at the man on the deck. She saw her father’s face. He was twenty-two years old when he died...a horrible death. She never got to meet him, but she always wondered if he thought about her in those moments right before he took his last breath. He was discharging from the Navy in less than two weeks when he died. He was coming home to be with her and her mother. She wondered if this kid on the ground had any kids of his own...or one on the way.
“Beck,” the friend who was still holding her said softly. She nodded and pulled away from him. Her partner was back on the AED. Beck took hold of the rubber bulb and began to force oxygen into the man’s lungs. Just about the time they heard the chopper approaching, the AED informed them that the man had a pulse. The next second he began to cough and choke and wheeze. He was choking on his own blood and vomit as they loaded him into the litter and attached it to the cable the chopper had lowered down to them. Beck didn’t wait around and watch him go. As soon as she let go of the litter, she was gone. She turned in her equipment and went straight to her quarters. She would get her ass chewed out for not staying for mop-up and debriefing. She might even get written up for it, but if there was one thing that Rebekah wasn’t about to do in front of any man, it was cry.