It was a beautiful day out at Piston Peak. The sun was shining with little white clouds adorning the sky, a soft breeze blowing through the trees and making them seem restless in their gentle shifting. Normally, such a day would have had everybody in a great mood, spending their time out in the sun and having fun. So when Dusty woke up to find Blade still inside with a gloomy expression, staring out of the window with a faraway look in his eyes, something felt off.
The helicopter seemed to startle at his voice, almost looking surprised when he realized that he wasn’t alone. Blade didn’t turn around though, eyes remaining fixed in the distance.
“Blade? Everything alright?”
Blade nodded, then seemed to cave in on himself, quietly shaking his head.
“What’s wrong sweetcore?”
The other gulped but remained silent.
“Should I go get Maru?”
Dusty knew that there were certain ghosts from his past that Blade just wasn’t ready to talk about yet. Their relationship was still fresh and Dusty fully acknowledged that compared to Maru’s 37 years, the one year that he knew Blade was nothing. No matter how much he wanted to help his partner through these episodes, he knew that Maru was much more capable of actually helping Blade. All I can do is be there and try to comfort you in my own way. Dusty was halfway out the hangar when Blade called out to him, voice hesitant.
“Don’t! Not this time…”
He broke off, seeming to try and collect himself before putting on a brave face that Dusty had never seen on him before. The pain wasn’t hidden in the least but Blade still managed to give off a certain strength, making Dusty feel a little uneasy with the way that it seemed forced. What happened?
“It’s okay Blade.”
Both mechanisms startled at the sudden new voice. Neither had noticed the hangar door opening, revealing Maru and Windlifter, both wearing the same solemn expressions as Blade.
“If he’s going to live here, he’ll find out anyway. We might as well tell him the story now.”
Maru’s voice was shaky and even though the little forklift tried to put on a brave front, Dusty could see that something was deeply upsetting the mechanic. It was so unlike his usual cocky personality that Dusty was really beginning to worry. When Blade rolled over to pull Maru under his rotors and held him tightly, the forklift partially hiding his face in his side he couldn’t hold back anymore.
Maru failed to answer, voice choking as he clung to Blade a little tighter. It was Windlifter who spoke first, voice hard and at the same time sounding hollow. Dusty had never seen him with such a closed-off expression before.
“The story of a chief and a captain.”
I get the feeling that this isn’t a story you want to tell…
“Or the story of how I became the chief and how Dynamite ended up captaining the Smokejumpers.”
Dusty nodded, a sinking feeling in his tanks. When Maru began speaking his voice was surprisingly steady.
“Before you came here, or more precisely before any of us came here, there was a Piston Peak Air Attack team as well, only with other members. I mean, of course there was, that much is obvious but yeah… After some of us were here already we were 30 mechanisms at some point. Crazy, right? So many… Well, as you can see, it’s only us now.”
He stopped talking in lieu of facing the distant forest, a faraway look in his eyes that was mirrored on Blade’s and Windlifter’s face.
All four of them startled at the sudden deep rumble of Cabbie’s voice. The old warplane had a concerned look in his eyes as he regarded the two helicopters and the forklift.
“Why don’t you guys go on ahead. The Jumpers are already on their way and Dipper is about to leave. Patch is waiting for you, assuming you’ll give her a lift?”
Windlifter nodded, already turning towards the runway where Dusty could see Dipper taking off towards the forest, the part that Maru had been staring at. Blade gave Dusty an apologizing look. ‘I’m sorry…’ was written all over his face. Dusty did his best to give him a reassuring smile as he and Maru went after Windlifter. It’s alright…
When all of them were gone Dusty turned his eyes back onto Cabbie who was watching him carefully.
“Where are all of them going?”
“The safety zone.”
“I’m assuming you’re not talking about the lake.”
“Correct. There is a second one, on the other side of the forest. And we’re going too. Technically, you’re small enough to land there so you could fly, but if you’re willing to maneuver through the forest with a giant like me, which won’t be that easy, I can tell you that story they were speaking about. They may put up a brave front but all of them are still way too close to what happened to be in any condition to tell you this. Pinecone, Avalanche and Drip weren’t here yet, so they could only tell you the rough details. Out of everybody who was there I am your best bet.”
If he hadn’t gotten to know the old warplane better than that, he would have thought he sounded indifferent. But now that he had Dusty could hear the strain. An old wound that had long since healed over but left behind a scar that could never be forgotten.
“Don’t mistake this for me not being affected. Out of all the people here, I just have the most experience with these kinds of things.”
He nodded, not daring to interrupt Cabbie in case he changed his mind. But Cabbie seemed determined as he started rolling towards the street that would lead them down the mountain and into the forest.
“Better listen closely kid, because I’m only going to tell you this once and I’m asking you to never ask any of the others to tell you about it again. If Blade wants to talk about this with you, he will. But right now they are taking care of each other. And no matter how well-meaning, you would be an intrusion. I know it isn’t easy to just stand by on the sidelines and watch. But trust me. They’ll be fine.”
Dusty found that his own voice had adopted a solemn undercurrent. He had no idea what to expect but he knew that from the way everybody was acting, it was something big. As the left the road to enter the forest, Cabbie sighed, letting some of the sadness shine through before visibly steeling himself.
“Well… It all started on a day much like this one. 25 five years ago to be precise. Exactly 25 years. As I mentioned before, Avalanche, Drip and Pinecone weren’t with us yet. But Windlifter, Maru, Dipper, Patch, Blade, Dynamite, Blackout and I were already here. Blade was second in command at the time and Dynamite and Blackout were part of a crew of 20 Hotshots and Smokejumpers.”
“Yes… Apart from them, there were also a SEAT, Melro, and three more air tankers. Tobulouse, Alair and our Chief, Tamati.“
“30 people… guess Cad wasn’t around to cut your budget short yet…”
“Oh no, he was there already. But he only just started thinking about the Lodge restoration at that time. Nothing budget-related yet. Though it wasn’t long until he thought of it and when he did it only added to everything else. But I’m getting ahead of myself. As I said, it all started out on a day much like this…”