Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2009.
This started as an entry in the PPMB 9/14/04 challenge to write a story telling what one character was doing on September 14, 2004, followed by "The Day After" challenge for what the character was doing the day after the November 2, 2004 election and the SFMB "New Year's" challenge for January 1, 2005. Quinn Morgendorffer's appearance ties in with Guy Payne's entry in the "The Day After" challenge, Tallil, an alternative to his story, Kadhimiya. Lyrics to Cold Wind to Valhalla copyright Ian Anderson and Martin Barre, 1975.
16 June, 2000
The recruiter lightly tapped the papers to straighten them into a precise stack. "Welcome to the U.S. Army, Ms. Hecuba. Though if you want some friendly advice, lose the eye makeup."
Andrea shrugged. "It's gotten to be a pain to put on every morning, no problem."
"You'll be glad you signed up for the tuition matching program. The accumulated money will really set you up for college. And the discipline you learn in the service will give you a edge in getting good grades."
Andrea chuckled. "Yeah, that I could use."
"Rotary-wing pilot is a tough MOS to get into, good luck."
"Hey, even with the saved money, it'll be nice to have good paying skill to fall back on."
"You're really planning ahead for yourself. You won't regret this."
4 August, 2000
"Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one-hundred." Sweating in the Georgia summer sun, Andrea completed her sit-ups. She labored to catch her breath and felt the pang of stretched muscles in her stomach.
"Congratulations Hecuba!" The drill instructor barked while leaning over her. "You finally made it under the time limit."
Despite her short breath, Andrea shouted, "Yes, Master Sergeant!"
"Hell, it looks like we might make a soldier out of you yet! If you can only learn to hit the broad side of a barn with an M-16!"
18 May, 2001
Despite the look of stiffness, Warrant Officer Andrea Hecuba stood at attention with the ease of something that had become second nature. However, the slight butterflies in her gut were different as the Colonel stepped in front of her and pinned helicopter pilot wings on her Class A uniform. With pride and satisfaction, she returned the officer's salute and thought, I really made it.
She also thought of her new orders. Medical Evacuation Pilot. Things are really looking up.
5 November, 2001
The Blackhawk helicopter wobbled slightly in the mountain cross-winds as Andrea worked with the pilot to land it on the small plateau in Afghanistan. It was barely down before a soldier rose from the edge of the landing zone with another held in a fireman's carry. He ran to the waiting chopper and bent down to set his companion on the deck. The medic grabbed the casualty's shoulders, and with the soldier's help, moved him onto a stretcher.
Andrea looked over her shoulder to check on the progress. The wounded man may have been twenty. His right trouser leg had been cut away, and the medic was checking what remained of the man's leg. The field bandages were soaked through with blood, and the flight deck was streaked with more where the cut-away cloth had been tossed. Even more was starting to pool in the stretcher as the medic continued to work as he prepared a transfusion.
The pilot looked over to see Andrea's ashen face, and quickly checked if their passenger was secured. Seeing that, he tapped his copilot's shoulder and said into the intercom, "Hecuba, time to go."
She yanked her eyes away and looked forward. "Yes, sir."
During the flight to the field hospital, she felt a heavy coldness that seemed to radiate from her stomach. Andrea shivered as she kept thinking of the blood and the pain the wounded soldier must be in. Sensitive to small motions in the chopper, she noticed a rhythmic rocking behind her. She swallowed and looked back again.
The medic was doing chest compressions on the wounded soldier. She looked away quickly and checked their position. On the intercom, she said, "Our ETA is four minutes."
The medic shouted, "I hope we get a tailwind, I'm losing him."
The medical team ran to meet the chopper as it set down. After a minute, Andrea was surprised to see them slowly moving way. One of them looked back and shook her head.
14 September, 2004
"Valkyrie, this is Red Lizard Three, do you copy? Over," crackled a voice over the radio.
Andrea responded from the cockpit of her helicopter. "Roger Red Lizard Three, this is Valkyrie. I copy. Over."
"Good to hear your voice. We have three, repeat, three for immediate evac. Setting green smoke to mark the LZ. Over."
"Three for evac, Roger." Andrea scanned the dusty Iraqi town for the telltale green smoke. Soon, she spotted it rising from a small square. "Visual on green smoke. Landing in thirty seconds. Over."
"Thirty seconds, Roger. We'll try to keep their heads down, but expect small arms fire. Over."
"Roger Red Lizard Three. Over." Andrea keyed the mike to interphone to her copilot and medic. "Dammit, we've got another hot one. Let's make it fast. Wolsey, keep an eye out for big stuff; Leander, we have three patients for you."
Andrea dropped the chopper into the square faster than her old instructors liked, popping hard on the collective control to slow descent at the last moment for soft touchdown. Within seconds, two passengers on stretchers and the third being walked were brought to the chopper. She quickly averted her eyes and studied the building in front of the chopper. My second tour out here and I still can't stand the sight of their blood.
Ting – Ting – Ting. Assault rifle rounds struck the helicopter. Andrea looked out the front for any signs of the attacker. She could feel the slight shift of the chopper as patients were loaded behind her. The Plexiglas beside her spider-webbed as a bullet passed through and struck the bulkhead behind. Ting – Ting – Ting. Andrea forced her eyes to dance over the instruments for any of the telltale signs of danger, like dropping hydraulic pressure. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed her copilot, WO Leo Wolsey ducking down in the seat after noticing the shattered side window.
The medic, Cpl. David Leander called over the interphone, "All aboard and strapped down! Let's blow this joint!"
Making a fast check to the side to insure the ground-pounders were clear, she pulled hard on the controls for a fast climb, beginning a weave as soon as she cleared the nearest rooftop.
Wolsey yelled, "RPG right!"
She pulled the chopper that direction and dropped the nose just in time to see the smoke trail of the rocket-propelled grenade. With a quick rolling motion of her hand on the stick, she slid the chopper up and to the side as the rocket passed by. She switched her mike back to the ground frequency. "Red Lizard Three. Rat bastard in the two-story fifty meters to your northeast. Grease the little turd. Over."
"Valkyrie, we copy. Consider the little git dead. Good luck getting my boys back safe. Over."
"Will do Red Lizard Three. This shieldmaiden will make sure that they don't visit Valhalla this day. Out."
Sgt. Williamson, the chopper crew chief, ran a metal rod from the hole in the Plexiglas to the ding in the bulkhead behind the pilot's seat. He gave a low whistle and looked toward the pilot's tents. The bullet's path had been within inches of her head. "Somebody's looking out for her."
Andrea stopped by the triage tent and flagged down one of the officers. "Bailey, what's the word on today's guest?"
The thirty-something doctor turned to her. "All three of yours are stable and will be on their way to Germany soon."
Andrea felt a wave of relief at the news. "Thanks."
She made her way back to her tent and dropped onto her bunk. "What a way to pay for college."
3 November, 2004
"Copy Warhound. Two stretchers in the westernmost Bradley. Valkyrie will be coming in from the south. ETA two minutes. Over"
Andrea a turned to her medic. "Two sniper hits, Leander."
Leander looked up at his pilot. "Roger that." He prepared two bottles of plasma and hung them on the ready racks.
The chopper landed in a cloud of tan dust as the desert sand whipped around the rotor wash. Five figures rushed forward, four carrying two stretchers, a fifth in between. Andrea intently studied her instruments. There has been too much blood back there. She heard a pair of thuds as the stretcher cases were dropped onto the flight deck. Leander would be strapping them in and would soon give the take-off okay.
The fifth figure in the group yelled into the back at the two casualties. "Kramer, Morgendorffer! I expect your sorry butts to be back in my outfit within a week. I'm not interested in hearing about your lounging around some cushy hospital. Do I make myself clear?"
Andrea began to look back. Morgendorffer?
She heard a male voice croak. "Bite me...sir. I'll get back when I'm ready." The responding chuckle indicated the jest.
A familiar, kind of squeaky, woman's voice followed. "Dammit! This was my best remaining set of BDU's!"
Andrea completed the turn. The red-haired woman on the near stretcher was very different from the carefree girl she had last seen in high school. "Quinn, right?"
Quinn struggled to focus. "Hey, you went to school with my sister...Andrea?"
Leander looked up in surprise to see his pilot's face. WO Hecuba couldn't stand the sight of the blood of those she saved, but she clearly knew one of the casualties. He nodded and gave a thumbs up.
Andrea winked at Quinn. "You won't be riding a cold wind today. Not if I can help it."
Quinn rolled her head to the side and gave a pained laugh to Kramer. "Hey, at least he was polite enough to wait until we were done with our beer."
"Only because you learned to chug the things so damn fast," He smirked back.
1 January, 2005
Andrea Hecuba's feet crunched through the crusted snow along the sidewalk in front of Lawndale High School. "And I thought these were the worst years of my life. Boy was I mistaken."
"It's a cold day to be out next to the school, miss," the strongly projecting voice of her old history teacher said.
She turned and said, "Mr. Demartino."
He scrutinized her for a moment before recognition dawned. "Ms. Hecuba. It has been a while."
Andrea briefly looked down at herself. It wasn't surprising that Demartino hadn't recognized her readily; the plump, goth chick that had attended high school was long gone. The Egyptian eye makeup was also a thing of the past and her stout jeans and flight jacket showed the trim, attractive figure of someone who had to keep in good physical condition.
"Almost five years."
"That flight jacket shows signs of real use. Warrant Officer?"
"That's right. On leave from my second tour in Iraq."
"A most unpleasant business. If I may inquire, what do you do?"
"I'm a chopper pilot, flying medivac."
Demartino's eyes strangely softened. "A most commendable and honorable mission."
"Um...thanks. I can say I've never lost a patient flying my own bird."
He placed one hand on her shoulder. "Many of us owe our lives to people like you. A record like that is something you can be proud of."
"I'd rather I not have had to make the record."
"Spoken like a real veteran."
"Even though I re-enlisted six months ago, I wish I didn't have to go back."
"You have my sympathy. At least we only had to spend one tour in 'Nam."
"I'm afraid I already know the answer. Do the nightmares ever go away?"
"They'll hide, but a part will always be with you."
"Except for once, I've never been able to look at my passengers. I can't stand to see the blood."
"Actually, a rational action. There's a lot I wish I hadn't seen."
Both looked silently at the school for a while. Andrea said, "It's been good to see you, but I need to get going, there's still a few places I want to see while I'm home."
"Get going, it has been my pleasure."
Andrea walked to Pizza Prince for a slice or two of their tasty, greasy offerings. She picked up a pair of slices and noticed only one booth occupied in the restaurant, by a young woman with red-brown hair and small, oval glasses. "Seems to be a day for old acquaintances," she said as she went over to the table. "Hi, Daria."
Daria Morgendorffer looked up from the slice she was intently studying. "Andrea?"
"Mind if I have a seat?"
"What? Oh, no. Please."
"How's your sister doing?"
"Still hospitalized, you heard about her?"
"I'm the chopper pilot that medevaced her and another guy out of Tallil two months ago."
"I never pictured you in the Army."
"Neither did I, but it seemed like a good way to build up a college fund. My folks never had much money. Should have finished up back in July, but my enlistment was extended. I head back to Iraq at the end of the week."
"You were always smart, what are you up to?"
"I started grad school this last fall. Majoring in English."
"Cool. Still writing?"
"When I can. I've managed to sell a couple short stories."
"You know, your sister and the guy she was with are the only patients I've seen. I normally can't look, but I had to when I heard her name."
"I can't imagine what you have been through."
"Trust me; never try. You might appreciate one thing; she complained that the blood had ruined her best set of BDU's"
Daria lightly laughed. "Glad she's kept some of that. We've been so worried about her, ever since she was hurt the first time."
"Oh, man. That was her second trip?"
Daria nodded. "She was lucky the first time, if that missile hadn't been a dud, she wouldn't have made it."
"There is no luck in combat, only blind chance."
"I'll take your word. She got out of that fine, but this last one, she hasn't."
"Yeah, you said she was still hospitalized, it didn't look that bad."
"Infection. She almost lost a lung to it. Doctors say it will only be at no more than half capacity."
"Sounds like her ticket home."
"It sounds crass, but we hope so."
"So do I."
"Thanks. Look, I'd only stopped here for a quick lunch before heading back to Boston; I need to get on the road. Thanks for stopping by."
"My pleasure. I hope your sister gets home soon."
"I hope you can, too."
February 22, 2006
Andrea woke with the touch of a soft hand on her cheek. Clad in shimmering mail, a woman with blond hair pulled into twin braids reached through the smashed canopy of Andrea's helicopter. A bright helmet with a golden crest was on the woman's head. In her left hand, a round shield was held by a center grip, along with a slender spear. Behind, two white horses waited.
Andrea stared at the offered hand. "Who are you?"
"I am Æthelthrith."
Andrea moved her hand to her throat and pressed fingertips against the side. Nothing.
Andrea tried to feel a pulse on her wrist. None. Though it was slick and wet.
Andrea closed her eyes and opened them again. Æthelthrith was still there.
The stranger nodded. "I am here for you. You have carried many of their bodies to safety. It is my duty to carry your soul to where it will be safe."
Andrea took her hand and felt herself pulled from the wreckage. She saw she was also dressed in a bright mail byrnie.
Æthelthrith mounted one of horses and held the reigns of the other. "Come, join us, Sister."
"I've spent over four years keeping them away from you."
"You've been keeping the living safe. Now, you can keep the departed safe and on their way to where they belong."
"I can't carry them to a place where they will be forever fighting."
"You won't. Souls go to where they believe. Few now believe in Valhalla. You will take most of these to the Gates of Heaven. They will find the peace you had hoped for."
"You have believed yourself one of us. Called yourself one of us."
"That was a radio call..." She looked down at herself. "...I did."
"Come, return with me to rest. We have no more work here."
She turned to look at the wrecked chopper. Leander was sprinting away from the stretcher case, pulled safely away. Wolsey pulled Andrea's body from the cockpit and laid it on the ground. Leander reached them and said, "The patient is stable, how's the boss?"
"Bad. I'm not getting a pulse."
Leander did a quick examination before he looked up at Wolsey. "She's gone."
"She can't be."
"She is. There's nothing I can do for her."
Æthelthrith said, "See, we have no work. Ride with me."
Andrea looked back one last time. I'm not even bothered by the blood anymore. She climbed into the saddle and remembered her riding lessons in middle school. "Goodbye Leander, Wolsey. I better not have to make a return trip for you."
She nudged the horse to follow Æthelthrith, immediately noticing a lack of bouncing. The horse walked on air and soon angled up to follow the other shieldmaiden into the evening sky.
Thanks to Brother Grimace for beta reading September 2004-November 2009