Counterstrike "Survivors only"
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COUNTERSTRIKE
“SURVIVORS ONLY”
by Michelle Iris Pagan

The rain in Vancouver came pouring down ferociously as Megan Lloyd, Olympic iceskater-extraordonaire, ran into the international airport, weighted down by her many bags of equipment.

Turning to the two adults who followed her in, she gave a sigh of relief. “I’m so glad this trip is over. I’m exhausted!”

Her trainer, Pierre Dupris, lovingly put his arm around her. “You did a fantastic job, Meg. You should be very proud of yourself.”

His wife and co-trainer, Eve Dupris, nodded in agreement. “That’s right, honey.”

All of a sudden, a voice sounded over the terminal’s P.A. system. “Flight 473 to Paris, France now boarding! International flight 4-7-3 to Paris, France now boarding at Gate 3!”

Meg looked wistfully towards the gate before turning back to her trainers, her surrogate parents who had taken her into their home after her grandfather had died. “I really wish you were coming with me.”

Eve, too, looked a little sad at the prospect of being away from her protégé for even a little while. “Now, come on, Meg. You know we have to tie up some loose ends.”

Meg nodded, knowing the way such things went. After winning a big competition such as the Canadian cup, there was always a lot paperwork to fill out - something she couldn’t help with. And anyway, she couldn’t, she had to continue practice or she would lose the standing she had fought so hard for practically her entire life.

“Okay, I’ll see you back in Paris in a couple of days.”
Waving goodbye, she turned towards the gate and walked away.

**********

VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT - SAME DAY

The crowds were tremendous as Peter stood, talking with Mr. Addington on one of the public pay phones. “What do you mean the plane’s not working!”

Mr. Addington replied, almost a little curtly. He was tired, as it was nearing 9 p.m. and he was still in his office at Addington International Headquarters in Paris, France. “Just what I said, Peter. One of those damn gadgets that run the engine broke. You’ll just have to take a private plane back to France.”

Peter guffawed loudly. “You must be joking. Come on, now, Alex, we can’t take “

Stone grabbed the phone out of his hand. He couldn’t stand not knowing what this was all about. “What’s going on, Mr. A?”

“I was just explaining to Peter that something’s wrong with the jet.”

Stone shrugged at Peter, who was shaking his head at having to travel for 10 hours overseas, for once without being in the lap of luxury.

“Can J.J. fix it?”

Mr. Addington replied, “I’m sure he can, but I need you guys here as soon as you can. You three will have to take a private plane back here.”

Peter had reached out for the phone again to try to make one more attempt at explaining why they couldn’t possibly do that, when Stone hung up. Peter nearly growled in frustration. This damn Canadian rain, he thought. And now this. Probably be a bunch of bloody screaming brats on there.

Stone just looked at Peter and shrugged once more. “The boss said we gotta take it, so we gotta take it.”

“Take what?” piped in Gabrielle, who had been silent throughout the whole conversation.

Peter scowled behind Stone’s back, as the ex-CIA agent walked away to look for the next plane heading back home. “A private plane.”

Gabrielle grinned, linking her arm through his as they began following Stone. “Oh, come on, Peter. It won’t be as bad as you think.

**********

The plane was small, much smaller than Peter had expected. “You sure this thing has enough fuel to make it to Orly?” he grumpily asked the Pilot.

The Pilot grinned. “I’m sure,” he said pleasantly. “Done it 100 times before,” he added.

“I get a window seat,” Gabrielle called as she pushed past Stone and grabbed the one on the left side of the small jet. She laughed as Stone settled into the seat beside her, leaving Peter more disgruntled than ever. Great, he thought, now some loony will probably sit next to me, peppering me with questions this entire trip. He finally sat down on the aisle seat opposite from Stone’s.

Meg entered the plane, still loaded down with luggage. “Excuse me,” she said, as she pushed her way through the small aisle. All of the plane’s seats seemed to be taken, and her arms were growing heavy as she walked through.

Stone sat turned towards Gabby, as the two talked about something Peter couldn’t hear.

Finally! Thought Meg as she noticed the window seat next to the blonde gentleman. “Excuse me,” she said to him.

“Oh, of course! Excuse me,” he replied, standing up to let her go through. “Would you like me to put those in the overhead compartment for you?”

Meg gave a sigh of relief. “That would be most helpful if you would,” she nodded.

Peter noted her British accent, as he put the bags away and she sat down. “Are you from England?”

“Wales,” she corrected. “But I reside in Paris now. And you?” she politely returned the question.

“Scotland originally, but I live in Paris too. Before that many years in London though.”

Megan nodded. “I didn’t detect a Scottish accent.”

Before any further conversation could continue, Stone turned to Peter. “Pete, Gabby says that men are total idiots. Now, look at me. Am I a total idiot? Part, maybe, but total?”

Peter laughed. Stone was an idiot, in good fun of course. “I don’t know, Stone. I really couldn’t answer that one.”

Meg leaned forward, hearing the word STONE. She looked incredulous. “Stone?!”

In unison, Stone, Peter and Gabrielle looked at her.

“Um, Miss, do I know you?”

Meg looked thoughtful for a moment. “Let’s see:


WITH STONE IN THIS FATEFUL HOUR
I PLACE ON HEAVEN WITH ALL ITS POWER
AND THE SUN WITH ITS BRIGHTNESS
AND THE SNOW WITH ITS WHITENESS
AND THE FIRE WITH ALL ITS STRENGTH IT HATH
AND THE LIGHTNING WITH ITS RAPID WRATH -“

Stone started speaking, interrupting Meg, his voice almost sounding emotional:

“AND THE WINDS WITH THEIR SWIFTNESS ALONG THEIR PATH
AND THE SEAS WITH ITS DEEPNESS
AND THE ROCKS WITH THEIR STEEPNESS
AND THE EARTH WITH ITS STARKNESS
ALL THESE I PLACE BY GOD’S ALMIGHTY HELP AND GRACE
BETWEEN MYSELF AND THE POWER OF DARKNESS.” (from one of Madeline L’Engle’s books - not trying to copy)

He looked awestruck, as his eyes took in the sight of the grown-up woman he had last seen as a scrawny, spindly little girl of seven.

“Meg?” the question came ever so quietly.

She nodded. “Yes, Stone, it’s me.”

They just stared at each other for a moment, Stone shaking his head as if coming out of a dream. “Um guys, this is Megan Lloyd.”

“The British iceskater,” Gabrielle said, smiling.

Meg nodded.

“Oh wow!” Peter exclaimed. This trip was getting better and better. “Pleased to meet you!” He pumped her hand up and down. Meg giggled.

“So, why’re you going to Paris?”

I live there now. About a couple of months ago, I moved there to train with Pierre and Eve Dupris.”

Stone smiled nostalgically. “How’s your grandfather?”

The smile disappeared from Meg’s face. “Dead,” she said matter-of-factly.

Stone grimaced as he heard the news. “I’m sorry,” he said.

Meg shrugged. “It’s okay…he died from old age. At least it was from natural causes.”

Peter was taken aback by that. Now what was that about?

But Stone just nodded, taking it all in stride. He knew what she meant.

Peter looked over through the window, the sky an endless gray as rain continued coming down. “So what time do you think we’ll be in Paris?” he called to the pilot.

“Can’t be sure. This weather…I’d guess in about 10 hours.”

“G/d, 10 hours on this plane.” He turned back to Meg. “Do you fly a lot?”

“Only when I have to,” Meg answered dryly.

“Is it hot in here, or just me?” the Pilot asked the four of them, loosening his collar.

Stone glanced at the rest of them warily. “Feels all right to me. You okay?”

The pilot answered. “Yeah, it’s just that my chest feels kinda tight.”

Stone bent over to Peter. “That’s not supposed to happen, I’m guessing.”

Peter shook his head. “No Stone, it’s not.” He stood up and began to edge his way to the pilot. “I know how to fly,” he offered. “Maybe it would be best if you took it easy, and I took the controls for a -“

All of a sudden the plane nosedived. Peter grabbed onto a hand hold, but Gabrielle, who had just stood up to go to the bathroom was thrown to the front. Hitting her head, she became unconscious.

“Gabrielle!” Peter yelled.

Stone dove to catch her. Pulling her to him, he slapped her face gently. “C’mon Gabby! Wake up!”

Peter, meanwhile had jumped into the cockpit to gain control over the plane. The pilot was still slumped over the steering mechanism. He checked his pulse.

“Dammit, Stone, he’s dead!”

“Of what?!” screamed Meg, horrified.

“I think a heart attack,” Peter said grimly.

“What’s going on?!” Meg continued.

Stone said bluntly, “We’re going down.”

**********

“My G/d! Do something Stone!” Meg screeched.

Stone looked at Peter. “Come on, Pete. You know how to fly a plane.”

Peter looked at the controls. “I have no idea where we’re going.”

“Well can’t you call the control tower with the radio?”

Peter took it in his hands. “Flight 4-7-3 to control tower. I repeat, Flight 4-7-3 to control tower!”

There was only static, causing Peter to slam it down in frustration. “Dammit! It’s the weather!”

“What are we going to do?!” asked Meg.

“I’ve got to land us.”

Stone grabbed Peter’s arm. “Where?” There are no clearings! It’s Canadian wilderness down there!”

Peter didn’t answer him. Finally, “How’s Gabrielle?”

Stone was still holding her. “She’s still unconscious.”

“Damn,” said Peter. “Okay, he we go. Everyone buckle your seatbelts. Stone, buckle Gabrielle into hers but hold onto her, whatever you do!”

“All right Pete,” agreed Stone.

“Let’s do it,” said Peter. He edged the plane into a shallow nose dive. Then, all of a sudden… “Oh my G/d!”

DARKNESS.

**********

ADDINGTON INTERNATIONAL HEADQUARTERS, PARIS, FRANCE

Mr. Addington was on the phone, back in his office at 3 a.m. French time. “What do you mean they’re not in yet?”

The airport man continued calmly, too calmly for Alexander’s tastes. “They’re not, sir. Sir, the plane is believed to have crashed.”

Mr. Addington froze, dead still. Miss Prevìn rushed to his side. “Dear G/d,” he said calmly, hanging up the phone without another word.

“What’s happened, sir?” asked Hélène.

Alexander sprang into action. “Call the chief of police, Miss Prevìn, call the Prime Minister, hell call the President of Canada!! The team’s in trouble!”

**********

CANADIAN WOODS

The sun was brightly shining, erasing all memory of the dreary day before. It was turning cold, the surrounding trees and animals preparing for the coming winter. And in the midst of all that tranquillity, the wreckage of a small plane disrupted it.

The plane was in pieces, scattered all about. Stone was the first to wake. From his hunched over position, he opened his eyes slowly, almost checking to see if he was still alive. Surveying the destruction around him, he couldn’t believe it.

Amazingly, Stone and Gabrielle’s seats were still locked together, though they were out of the plane and in the sunshiny air. He looked over at his partner, the former investigative journalist, who was thrown back in her seat.

Stone groaned, unbuckled his seatbelt, and looked over at Gabrielle. “Gabby!”

Slowly, she opened her eyes.

“Gabby!” he said again. “Are you okay?”

Gabrielle tried to orient herself. “I think so,” She put her hand up to her head.

“Shh, don’t try to move just yet.” Looking around he saw Peter thrown upon the ground. He got up and ran to him. “Pete, you okay?”

Peter slowly got up. “Yeah, I don’t know what happened. The plane just…lost control. What happened to Gabrielle and Meg?”

“Oh my G/d, I completely forgot about Meg. Gabby’s going to be okay, I think, but she’s still a little out of it. But I haven’t seen or heard from Meg.”

Peter and Stone started running about, looking and shouting. There was no sight or sound from her.

Peter stopped, leaning over and placing his hands on his knees, out of breath. He put his hand on Stone’s back. “I think - I think she’s dead, Stone.”

Stone shouted, “NO! No, Pete. You don’t know her. She doesn’t quit that easily. She’s a fighter!”

They heard a low moaning from a nearby piece of fuselage. “Meg!” called out Stone.

Peter and Stone rush over to the fuselage, taking the shell off of her. There she lay, heavily scraped and bruised.

Stone pulled her up by the arm. “Meg!”

“Oww!” she shouted, falling to the ground.

Peter and Stone whipped around quickly. “What? What’s the matter?” asked Stone

Meg chastised herself for being so vocal. “My arm, oww…it’s my arm,” she said, more quietly.

Peter looked at Stone. “She might have broken it.”
Stone nodded. “Go check on Gabrielle. I’ll fix up Meg.”
Peter went over to Gabby. Awake and alert, she looked up at him. “Do you hurt anywhere?! Anywhere at all?!”
Gabby shook her head. “Not really. I just feel bruised all over.”
“Can you get up?” asked Peter, concerned.
Gabby nodded. “Yes.”

He gingerly helped her up, and Meg and Stone joined them. Stone had taken off his flannel shirt and made it into a sling for Meg.

Gabrielle, “What happened?”
“The plane just lost control. I can’t believe no one was killed in that.”
“Except the pilot,” muttered Stone.
Peter shook his head. “He was dead before the plane crashed. I can’t seem to find his body.” He turned to Gabrielle. “The plane took a nose dive. You crashed against a wall and were knocked out.”
Meg shivered uncontrollably. “We could die here. How are we going to get out?!”

Peter said, “Well, when we don’t show up at Orly, Mr. Addington will know something’s wrong. But we can’t be certain when they’ll find us.”
“If they find us,” said Stone.

**********

ADDINGTON INTERNATIONAL HEADQUARTERS, PARIS FRANCE

Mr. Addington looked tired. As Hélène entered the room, she noted his appearance. “Mr. Addington, Jean-Claude is getting in touch with the Canadian police.”

Mr. A. replied, “Good. Tell J.J. I’ll be at Orly in less that half an hour.”
“All right, sir,” she turned to walk out of the room, but turned back. He had turned to his desk, the flight map already in his hands.
“Thank you, Miss Prevìn,” he said quietly, not even looking at her.
She walked back over to him. “Are you okay, sir?”

Alexander grimaced. “Oh Hélène…there are millions of kilometers of Canadian wilderness out there. How are we going to find the team?! They - they might even be already dead!”
There was a moment of silence, while Hélène gathered her courage. “I don’t know what to say sir, but if they are alive, we will find them,” she said resolutely.
Mr. A gave a sigh. I only hope you are right, Miss Prevìn.”

**********

CANADIAN WILDERNESS, 5 P.M.

Meg looked at the sky, seeing the glowing sun coming down slowly. “It’ll be night pretty soon. We should think about finding some shelter.”

Peter nodded. “She’s right. And there’s no place here. We’d better find something.”

They took off into the woods, gingerly feeling their way about the place.

“You’ve spent a lot of time in the woods, haven’t you?” Peter asked Stone as they walked.

Stone nodded. “Yeah, I’m a regular nature boy,” he said jokingly. “Hey look over there!” he pointed to a clearing in the woods. A rock ledge stood over that way, overlying a nearby lake.
“That’ll be a great place,” Peter brightened. “And if any search planes fly overhead they’ll be sure to see us!”
“But how are we going to get up there?” wondered Gabby.
“C’mon, Gab,” said Peter. “The old fashioned way. No elevators out here in this wilderness, city girl,” he gently chided. Holding out his hand as a foothold, he hoisted Meg and Gabby up, then they helped him and Stone scramble up.

Gabrielle crossed her arms. “I don’t know, it just feels…” she was cut off when the ground crumpled under Peter’s feet, and he fell off the edge of the ridge, gripping it for dear life.
Stone ran the side of the ledge, “Pete! C’mon, Pete. Give me your hand!”
Peter reached for Stone’s hand but missed. “I can’t hold on!”

“Yes you can!” yelled Stone, even louder. “You’re not giving up on me!”
Peter gave one last grunt and grabbed onto Stone’s hand.

“Attaboy, all right Pete!” Little by little he brought him back onto the higher land.
Peter gave a yelp as he attempted to stand up, and succeeded only in falling back down. Gabrielle and Meg raced to him.
“Peter, you’re hurt!” Gabby cried, falling to her knees.

Peter looked at her worried eyes and grabbed hold of her hands. “I’m all right, Gabrielle.” Trying to move his legs, he couldn’t help as he roared, “OWW!”
He shook his head. “Chalk that up to another broken bone. Sorry guys.”
Stone disagreed. “Not your fault.” He went into action. “Peter, give me your belt. Gabby, find me a piece of wood.”
Gabrielle did so as he took off his own belt. Kneeling by Peter’s broken leg, he directed, “Peter, I’m gonna have to set your leg.”

Peter nodded tightly.
“Okay,” continued Stone. “Gabrielle, I need you to hold him in position from behind.”
She grabbed Peter under his arms and held him tight. “Ready?” asked Stone. Peter nodded grimly. “Okay, on the count of three. One -“ in one swift move he brought the broken bone back in place.

Peter roared in pain. “I thought you said THREE!”
Stone shrugged. “No sense in prolonging it.” Quickly, he bound the leg to the wood, using the two belts. “That should hold it for now, Pete. Can you get up?
“Yeah,” muttered Peter. Holding onto Stone, he walked a bit, obviously in deep pain.
“We should be able to camp up there for the night,” Meg pointed to a spot further up the hill.”
Peter winced. It seemed like a long walk. “That looks good,” he said anyway.

Slowly the team and Megan made their way up the hill, with Peter leaning heavily on Gabrielle and Stone. There at the top, they found a seemingly perfect campsite, with boulders to shield them from the wind, and even a spring running through it.

Peter sat down on a low rock, breathing hard.
“What a mess this is,” spoke up Gabrielle.
“You can say that again,” said Stone.
“Well there’s nothing much to do, I suppose, except go to sleep,” said Peter.
“Where?” asked Gabrielle.
“Wherever you want” supplied Stone. He helped to settle Peter in as comfortably as could be, with Gabrielle nearby to help.

It was sometime after the two had fallen asleep that he realized he hadn’t seen Megan in a while. Walking around the rocks, he found her sitting alone, knees brought up to her chest.

“How’s your arm doing?” asked Stone.
Meg looked at him, startled out of her thoughts. “It’s fine.”
He looked at her carefully, thinking back to a prior time. Meg had a high pain tolerance; she didn’t like admitting anything hurt as long as she could bear it.
“Are you sure?” he pried.

Meg started to nod, but ended up shaking her head a little bit. “It hurts… a lot.”
“Let me take a look at it,” asked Stone, gently rolling up her sleeve.
She withdrew her arm from him. “No, not there. Here!” With one hand she deftly unbuttoned her shirt by two buttons and revealed a nasty bruise.
“Oh Meg,” was all Stone said.

She hastily buttoned her shirt. “Oh, it’s not that bad.”
Stone shook his head. “You and Pete really need a doctor.”
Meg let out a sigh. “We all will, before this nightmare is over.” A beat. “It’s so good to see you again.”
Stone gently brushed his fingers over her ash-blonde hair. “You’ve grown into a beautiful young lady, you know.”
Meg countered, “And you, into a tough, rugged man.”

Stone laughed wistfully. “You don’t even know the half of it,” he said, turning away to make a bed for himself in the leaves.
Meg watched as he settled down. “Nor do you, Stone,” she whispered. “Nor do you.”

**********

VANCOUVER, CANADA - VANCOUVER PROVINCE POLICE - 7 A.M.

“Sur le troisième jour de la recherche de champion du monde iceskater brittanique Megan Lloyd, autorités n’ont pas trouvé aucun signe d’épave de l’avion privé qui était sur son chemin de Vancouver à Paris.”

Alexander Addington pushed the power button to turn off the TV. Listening to the French news had not helped a bit. Almost 3 days, no news, not even the wreckage had been found. These Canadian woods were endless, he knew, and it was quite possible they would never be found. With each passing hour, the hope that they might still be alive was fading.

“What have you guys gotten yourself into?” he said to himself.

Unfortunately, a big media blitz had surrounded this tragedy, apparently since world champion British iceskater Megan Lloyd had also been on the plane. The other passengers, thankfully, hadn’t been looked into, too far, although there had been a mention of former well-known journalist Gabrielle Germont, especially there in France. Still, with all the hoopla over this Lloyd character, Addington was only thankful that he wasn’t becoming exposed.

The chief suddenly walked through the door of his comfortable office Alex had been waiting in.
Addington stood up quickly. “Have you found anything, anything at all?”
“No, Mr. Addington. Our men are combing the areas. Nothing has been found yet,” came the chief’s voice.
“They’ve got to be somewhere!” Addington roared.
“We’ll find them, Mr. Addington.”

Suddenly quiet, Mr. Addington relaxed. “Yes…yes, I’m sure you will. Thank you Chief Miller,” he said, sitting back down.
Sadly, subdued, he looked down at the ground. Rubbing his eyes, he began to think about the possibility that his team might not have made it out of this one.

**********

CANADIAN WILDERNESS - 7 A.M.

It was an uncomfortable night for the bunch, and they were up as soon as the sun came out. In the clearing, high above any surrounding land, they were at a loss for what to do. But just then…

“Hey, look!” shouted Gabrielle.

They all turned their heads toward the sky. A lone helicopter was flying relatively low, well within everyone’s sights.

Gabrielle and Stone began jumping up and down, while Peter and Meg looked on tiredly. They were feeling ill from their injuries, and weak from the lack of food. And even though there was plenty of water, without any form of purification, not even containers to boil water in, they couldn’t be sure it was clean.

“He’s not seeing us!” cried Gabrielle desperately as it began to veer away from them. “No!” she cried out, as it left their sight altogether.

“I think we’d better sit down,” said Peter shakily, as he dropped the wooden crutch Stone had made for him from a fallen tree branch. Megan agreed silently as the other two watched them worriedly.

“Peter, are you all right?” asked Gabrielle, coming up to him and feeling his head in concern. “Stone, he’s got a fever!”
“All right, bud,” Stone told his friend. “No more fun for you today,” he said to him, as he helped him lay down from his sitting position.
Meg came over to the three of them. “Is he going to be all right?” she asked.

She shook her head, answering her own question. “He needs to get some food in him, needs some strength. This can’t go on. We’re going to die out here! When was the last time we ate?”

Gabrielle tried to think clearly. “I think it was yesterday, no, yesterday is so long ago.
Stone sighed. “If this were only summer, we’d be okay, find berries or something. But everything’s long dead, there’s nothing out here now.”
“There’s got to be something…” said Gabrielle softly.

Stone punched the air in frustration. “I feel so damn helpless!” he shouted.
The sudden loudness didn’t help Meg’s lightheadedness. She walked away without a word.
“Is she okay?” Gabrielle asked Stone.
“I don’t know,” said Stone curiously. Walking over to her, he said, “What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong?” Meg repeated, on the verge of tears. “We’ve been stuck here for over two days. We haven’t eaten a single thing, Peter’s broken his leg, has a fever, I’ve hurt my arm. What isn’t wrong?!”

“How’s that arm holding up?” asked Stone, genuinely concerned.
“Oh, it’s fine,” Meg brushed it off.
Stone nodded. He wasn’t about to push her.

**********

VANCOUVER, CANADA - VANCOUVER PROVINCE POLICE - 9 P.M

At the entrance of the chief again, Mr. Addington and Hélène Prevìn didn’t bother jumping up anymore. It had been too long a day with too many hopes smashed flat…

“Anything new?” Mr. A asked tiredly.

The chief nodded! “One of our men spotted plane wreckage tonight, about 1 hour ago.”

“Where!” asked Hélène, breathlessly.
The cop spread out a map of the territory over his desk. “In this area,” he showed them, drawing a large circle on the contiguous area. But it’s night now, we’ll continue our search in the morning.”

“It might be too late in the morning!” bellowed Addington.
“I don’t like it any better than you,” said the Chief. “But that’s high country out there. A low flying plane or helicopter in the dark could easily crash into the side of a mountain. It’s a risk I won’t have my men take.”

Mr. Addington nodded. If they were alive, he hoped they could last just a little while longer.

**********

Once again, night had fallen in the Canadian woods. Peter was lying on the hard ground, made as comfortable as could be by the other three, but there was nothing to do but give him plenty of water and wait…and hope, for the fever to go down. Gabrielle hadn’t left his side, constantly wiping his brow with cloth ripped from her shirt sleeve that she dipped over and over again in the nearby lake.

Stone and Meg sat not too far away, as they watched Gabrielle tend to Peter.

All of a sudden, Meg gave a deep sigh. Stone turned to her. “You all right?” he said.

She giggled, almost hysterically, Stone thought. “What’s so funny?” he asked.

I was just thinking that ‘Are you all right?’ seems to be the question of the day out here,” she answered.

He had to agree with that. He found himself every hour on the hour asking one of the girls that question.

“How about you?” Megan asked him. “How are you?”

Stone shrugged. “A little hungry…okay, a lot hungry,” he admitted. “What I wouldn’t give for a giant hamburger, with all the trimmings right now…” he drifted off in thought. “Boy, better not go there.”

Megan changed the subject. “Where did you go after Lloyd Manor?” she asked him.

Stone looked up at the sky. “Oh, I joined the S.E.A.L.S for a few years, got discharged and free-lanced for awhile, then got caught up with these guys.”

It was silent for a moment.

“Bet I know what you were up to,” he added. “Taking the skating world by storm.”
Meg shrugged. “I guess.” An unasked question was on her lips. Why did you leave?
”Now you want to know what I’m thinking?” she asked him.

He nodded.

At the last moment she changed her mind. “I was just thinking about us and the rune. Remember?”

“I remember, said Stone. “Kept me going through some pretty rough times,” he smiled. “If we ever needed it we need it now.”

Together they recited, “With Stone/Meg in this fateful hour, I place on Heaven with all its power, and the sun with its brightness, and the snow with its whiteness, and the fire with all its strength it hath, and the lightening with its rapid wrath, and the winds with their swiftness along their path, and the seas with their deepness, and the rocks with the steepness, and the earth with its starkness, all these I place, by G/d’s almighty help and grave, between myself and the powers of darkness!”

Their words faded into the night sky. Meg grabbed hold of Stone’s hand. “Think it’ll work?” she asked softly.

Stone smiled down at her. “It always works,” he said. “But I’ll let you know when I’m safe in Paris.”

**********

Morning again. Stone squinted at the sky as he washed the sleepiness out of his eyes at the lake. Pete hadn’t even gotten up today, and Megan was having a hard time staying upright. Even Gabrielle looked dangerously weak. They weren’t going to last much longer he knew. And he wasn’t sure he would be able to take watching his partners, who had been there for him and saved him so many times, die. And Meg, that sprite of a child he had protected for a good many years…she had lived through so much…had it been only to die out here in the woods?

Gabrielle still tended to Peter today, though much slower than she had yesterday. Stone finally took the rag out of her hands and told her to get some rest. Wearily she had agreed when something in the sky caught her eye. “I see something!”

Stone scanned the horizon. Seeing nothing, his fear for Gabrielle only began to increase, afraid that the lack of nourishment was now affecting her head. But then -

“Stone look!” And he looked up and saw it, another helicopter, flying close to them. Seeing them, going to bring them back to civilization, to home. To life.

“C’mon Peter!” he yelled to his friend, picking up the near lifeless body. “We’re going home!”

The helicopter landed. Helping Meg to the plane, the team and iceskater were making their way toward it when the pilot got out.

“Oh please, oh thank you!” cried Gabrielle, tears forming in her eyes.

Motioning to Peter, Stone added, “He needs a doctor fast!”

The pilot only looked at them in confusion. After a moment, he replied, “Was sagten Sie?”

“Mon Dieu,” was all Gabrielle said.

It was more than Meg could take. “Bitte, ist dieser Mann krank. Er benötigt einen Doktor schnell.”

The pilot nodded his head quickly. “Selbstverständlich lassen Sie uns gehen schnell!”

Peter lifted his head as they transferred him to the helicopter. “You know German, Meg?” he asked weakly.

Meg smiled. “Among others,” was all she said.
Gabrielle entered the plane while Stone helped Megan in.
“Ninth language, right?” said Stone, smiling broadly.
Meg shook her head. “Nah, tenth,” she said.

**********

THREE DAYS LATER - EN ROUTE TO PARIS FRANCE, VIA ADDINGTON’S PRIVATE JET

Meg was dressed in an aquamarine shirt with brown ankle boots. Matching silver jewelry adorned the outfit nicely. She looked 100 times better than she had only a few days before. Now, with her arm in a sling, good food in her stomach, and clothes to match, she was well on her way back to continue on her road to gold. The gold medal, that was.

“It was very kind of you to take me back to Paris with you,” Meg was telling Mr. Addington via Satellite Link. “I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to taking another private plane back home.”

“It’s the least we can do, Miss Lloyd,” said Addington. “After all, my jet has never had any problems.”

“Uh sir, I think you’re forgetting the time that Strand-“ piped up Stone.

Gabrielle kicked him. “Stone!” she whispered angrily at him.

Peter pretended not to hear him.

“So, how many languages do you know, Megan?”
Meg looked demurely downwards. “I’m afraid I have a fondness for languages,” she said. “Right now, ten, though I’m working on eleven.”
“Eleven!” shouted Alex. “Surely, Miss Lloyd, you must be joking.”
“I’m afraid not,” said Meg proudly. “I could list them, if you’d like.”

“I would,” said Addington.

On her fingers she counted. “Well, besides English of course, there’s Welsh, my native language, and then Croatian, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Irish, Spanish, and Russian.”

“And which one are you currently working on?” queried Addington.
“Japanese,” she answered.
“That’s quite a list, Miss Lloyd,” praised Mr. Addington. It would be wonderful if you could use your talents.”
“What do you mean?” asked Meg.
“I think he’s offering you a job, Meg,” answered Peter.
“Me?” asked Meg. “But Mr. Addington, I’ve had no experience in your line of work, from what Stone tells me.”

“Maybe not,” said Mr. Addington. “But with your language capabilities, you’ll be a great addition. Since we travel all over the world, having a Director of International Relations would be most helpful. Besides,” he winked, “I’ve heard you’re quite precocious.”

Megan smiled. “All right, Mr. Addington. You’ve got yourself a new employee.”
“Good!” Mr. Addington slapped the desk in front of him. “See you all back in Paris. In good health of course!” and the connection closed.
The team now numbered four.

THE END