yikes (2006-49)

The Evacuation

I got him out of there unscathed, thank the downtown gods

by Robert Loest

I was rusty. It had been almost a year since I’d had to do a nighttime emergency evac. We were always ready, of course. My baby was fully fueled, the mechanics had just gone over every inch for the frequent, periodic maintenance, and I was ready to roll at a moment’s notice.

The problem was, I’d been partying after a harder than normal week dodging bogies and trying to survive in enemy territory. It was a tough business. My buddies and I were well into several bottles of wine, recounting the close calls we’d had during the week and congratulating ourselves for not losing anyone, when the screen lit up. An emergency distress call was coming in over the special frequency. 

A member of the team was having mechanical problems, and had been forced to ditch it deep in enemy territory after dark. We told him to hang on, we’d be there as fast as we could hit the ramp. I volunteered to go out after him, since I’d arrived late and had less to drink than the rest.

He gave me the coordinates and I blasted out of there in silent mode, winding up her engines, nighttime vision screen up, dodging the much larger, faster enemy bogies that seemed to come from out of nowhere. Nighttime seemed to bring out the worst in them. I homed in on my buddy, hoping it wasn‘t too late.

I didn’t know how long he could survive out there. He was smart, tough and scrappy, and an experienced outdoorsman, but that might not be enough. He was in pretty deep. Just half an hour further east on max cruise speed and he’d have been out of danger, but he hadn’t made it.

We all carried an emergency kit, of course, with orange camouflage, local shopping coupons and other items to help us blend in, but sometimes it wasn’t enough. You had to know where to go, how to speak, be able to mimic their behavioral peculiarities and know how to dress. Foreign cultures can be pretty hard when you aren’t trained in them and haven’t lived there.

I throttled down, searching for him, coasting and dodging, stealth mode on, interior lights doused to preserve my night vision. The coordinates on the screen told me I was right on top of him, but I couldn’t locate him. I sent out a narrow band query. He was still safe, but laying low.

There! He was signaling up ahead! I rolled over and coasted in fast for the extraction. He jumped in while I was still moving, carrying with him the stuff he didn’t want to fall into enemy hands. I hit the throttle, and we screamed away on full thrusters and back toward home base.

It was close. There’s nothing on Earth more dangerous than mechanical problems in the suburbs on a Friday night, but we made it back from Lovell Road & I-40 to downtown Knoxville safely once again.

We’d have another tale to add that night, of the adrenaline rush of danger and close calls. It was good to be back, and share a glass among friends who understood.

The things that will destroy us are: politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; and worship without sacrifice.   —Gandhi