The flight to Japan normally takes 14 hours. With special clearance, the plane out of Andrews AFB was able to make it in just over 12. Ramos looks at Ashlyn.
“Fill a truck with food and clothes, a truck with water, and get a flatbed for the dual port-a-potties.”
Ashlyn frowns. “The cans weren’t already delivered?”
“Nope. Using ones on this plane as the ones on base were needed there.”
Ashlyn rolls her eyes. “Gross if the reports of the annex bathroom are true.”
“Sir, can I also get a crate of toys? There are bound to be kids there.”
Ramos nods. “Of course. Let Horton know to put one on. Hell, your wife’s team is mostly responsible for those. Seems right they get them.”
Ashlyn grins. “True. But only one kid is with them. I figure the embassy families will have kids though and they may not have been able to grab toys and stuff.”
Ramos nods. “True.”
As soon as the plane comes to a stop, Ashlyn has men loading up the waiting trucks. Since they couldn’t bring a C-130, they are limited in what they have but if all goes well, they will just be at the annex a few hours until they can evacuate to Hawaii. As she pulls herself up into the passenger’s side of the truck she can’t help but whisper, “On my way, baby. On my way.”
Inside her stomach is filled with butterflies. Is her wife one of the injured? And if so...how badly?
One hour and 45 minutes after she landed in Japan, Ashlyn is jogging up the stairs of the Embassy annex. As she nears the top, a Marine private salutes her.
“Good to see you, Lieutenant. I know Sarge will be really happy to see you,” the young man says.
Ashlyn listens as a man shouts inside the building.
“I DEMAND to speak with the Admiral! Don’t you know who I am?”
“Sir, I told you more information is on its way. Please have a seat and- -”
“I AM THE AMBASSADOR’S TOP AIDE! I demand to use your radio to speak to the admiral so we can be evacuated IMMEDIATELY!”
Ashlyn rolls her eyes and looks at the Marine. “I thought this was non-essential staff? Sounds like he is important.”
“Permission to speak freely, ma’am?” Ashlyn nods. “This guy thinks he’s important but he’s not. He’s pissed the Ambassador ordered him to be evacuated so he’s taking it out on my sergeant.”
“I see. Well, let’s get the heat off your sergeant. Step through the door and call your team to attention and announce officer on site. He’ll turn his crap on me and give your sergeant a break.”
The private smiles. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.”
Ashlyn nods and glances at the members of her team who have stepped up with her. They grin, eager to see what this borrowed lieutenant does to shut this blowhard up.
“ATTENTION! OFFICER ON SITE!” the Marine yells loudly.
Ashlyn waits a second, then steps through the door. Offering Sergeant Palmer a salute. The man looks beyond relieved.
“Sergeant, all secure here?” she asks.
Before he can answer, a short man with a pinched face and bad comb over steps in front of her.
“I am Jackson Prothro the third,” he states pompously.
“Lieutenant Ashlyn Harris. I’ll speak with you soon. Right now I need a sit-rep from the sergeant.”
The man grabs Ashlyn’s arm as she starts to step past him. “You will speak with ME, solider! Don’t you know who I am?”
Ashlyn rips her arm out of his hand and gets in his face. “I don’t give a damn who you are! You will sit down, shut up, and be dealt with soon. The lives of the people in this building are in my hands and I will not have a pompous blowhard doing anything to jeopardize them. So either go have a seat and wait for my address to everyone or you can be cuffed and escorted to the stockade. Your. Call.”
The two are locked in a battle of wills. Ashlyn’s eyes are hard and unrelenting. The man’s eye starts to twitch.
As soon as Ashlyn had walked in the doors, her friends and wife had stood, so happy to see her there to save them. As she has her confrontation with Prothro, Lauren chuckles and takes Ali’s hand.
“You know, I’m totally straight, completely in love with my husband, and yet your wife has me so turned on right now.”
“I second that,” HAO says.
Ali grins and squeezes Lauren’s hand. “She is pretty damn hot right now, isn’t she.”
“Oh, definitely. And the uniform helps,” Lauren agrees with a chuckle.
Ashlyn glares at the man, never breaking eye contact. He finally swallows visibly and turns away. “I’ll just...be over here,” he mumbles as he walks over to the rest of the embassy contingent.
Ashlyn nods and turns to the sergeant. He grins.
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“My pleasure. So give me a rundown, Sergeant.”
He nods towards the embassy contingent. “Total of 43 men, women and children. Expecting another 20 soon and that should be all. All have been calm and easy to deal with except for Mr. Personality.” Ashlyn grins at the description. He then gestures to the other side of the room. “U.S. Women’s National Team has been a dream to deal with. Total of 34 adults and 1 child. Two were injured but their trainers took care of the injuries.”
As soon as she had turned to look, Ashlyn’s eyes had met scared, brown eyes that also managed to look relieved. She gives her wife a comforting wink, wishing she could just go over and pull her into her arms. But there will be time for that soon. She turns back to the sergeant.
“Very good. Outside we have food, water, sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer, as well as a flatbed with a dual port-a-potty set-up.”
“Oh, thank God,” he mutters.
“My men will get a sanitation station set up as well as a station to hand out the MRE’s and water.” She looks at her watch, noting the countdown she had started before leaving Atsugi. “The best guess is the runway will be ready for the C-130 in 5 hours and 14 minutes. The plane is already in the air from Pearl Harbor, HI and aiming to land in 6 hours. I’ll address everyone here as a whole then take questions from each group separately. After that I’ll need 5 minutes personal time.”
The sergeant frowns. “Personal time?”
Ashlyn nods. “My wife is on the soccer team.”
The Marine’s eyes get wide. “Seriously?”
Ashlyn chuckles. “Seriously. I used to be on the team, too, so I have friends on that side of the building. I just want a couple minutes to prove to myself my wife and friends are okay. Especially my wife.”
“You’ll have it then,” Palmer says. “So, uh...which player?”
Ashlyn grins. “Ali Krieger.”
Palmer chuckles. “Damn. Well, don’t tell Snowski. I think he was planning to propose later today.”
“Love at first sight?” Ashlyn asks.
Ashlyn laughs quietly. “Yeah, can’t say I blame him but she’s definitely taken.”
“I’ll let him down easily.”
Ashlyn nods and wipes the smile from her face. “Well, let’s get this done.”
Ashlyn looks around and sees three of her squad are approaching. She lifts an eyebrow and they nod. They are ready. She turns and walks over to a desk that had been part of the security booth when the annex was open. She hops up on top of it.
“CAN I HAVE EVERYONE’S ATTENTION PLEASE!” she calls out in an authoritative voice. Once everyone is quiet and looking her way, she begins. “I am Lieutenant Ashlyn Harris with the US Army Corps of Engineers. My men and I are a Rapid Response Team attached to the Civilian Works division. We have reported to many events such as these around the world and are here to assure you that everything will be okay.
“As you can see, my squad is bringing in numerous crates.” She waves her hand. “To my left will be a sanitation station consisting of handi-wipes, bottles of hand sanitizer, and a bathroom kit with toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash.” She gestures the other way. “To my right will be a station with MRE’s and water bottles. Once we are ready to go, parents with children will be served first, then women, then men. There is plenty for everyone so no need to be concerned with going last. Outside, we are setting up a 2-door port-a-potty to alleviate the issues concerning the plumbing in this building. For now we won’t restrict who can use them but we do ask you to be calm and orderly when going out to them.”
She then points to two soldiers standing beside the desk. “These two men will be coming around to speak to everyone regarding medications and any other needs you may have. For parents this could mean diapers, formula, bottles, etc. If you are on any medication that you were not able to bring with you, they will need to know dosage, times per day you take it, and of course the name of the medicine. We will be able to get you a 2 day supply from the base pharmacy of most medicines and the pharmacist will attempt to find a suitable substitute for anything he does not have in stock. I will now visit with the embassy contingent and then the USWNT contingent to address any immediate concerns of both parties. Thank you.”
She hops off the desk and nods to the two soldiers to start gathering the information she needs when she calls back to the base. She walks over to the embassy families.
“Ladies and gentlemen, are there any questions?”
“What about our pets?” one woman asks.
Inside, Ashlyn clenches but her face betrays nothing. “Unfortunately we cannot evacuate pets at this time. The best bet would be to try to get word to anyone who is staying behind to see if they can help you with caring for your animals until you return.”
The woman seems devastated and Ashlyn quickly turns away. Not to her surprise, the pompous idiot has his hand up.
“I don’t like MRE’s. What else can you get us?”
“But they taste terrible!” he whines.
“Sir, every soldier and Marine in this building eats those on a regular basis and they’ve yet to kill one of us. You can handle it for a day or you can starve yourself. Everyone gets MRE’s or nothing,” she states firmly.
She answers a few more questions and dodges the questions about time until they leave, promising to update them the next time the base lets her know how things are going regarding getting the runway open. She then finally gets to go address her friends. As she walks, her eyes are on Ali’s...which is why she is nearly taken to the ground by Reece Rampone.
“ASHLYN! I’m scared!” the girl yells, crying.
Ashlyn carefully eases Reece back and kneels down. She forces the little girl to look up. “Hey, Reece, it’s going to be okay. My job is to help people when things like this happen and that’s just what I’m going to do for you and the team, okay? I’ve done this a whole lot and I know everything will be just fine.”
“But sometimes the building shakes and stuff falls on my head and it’s scary!” the little girl insists.
Ashlyn stares into terrified eyes begging for reassurance. She smiles and lifts the helmet off her head. She places it on Reece and even secures the chin strap.
“Here you go. You wear this and you’ll be just fine. It’s really hard,” she explains, rapping on it with her knuckles to prove it. “In fact, it is even harder than Abby’s head. And we all know how hard her head is,” she jokes, making Reece smile and the players, including Abby, grin. “Now, think you can do me a favor?” Reece nods. “I need you to help your Mama keep everyone calm until we get out of here. Can you do that for me?”
Reece smiles proudly. “I can do that, Ashlyn! Promise!”
Ashlyn smiles. “I knew I could count on you.” Reece gives her a hug then runs back to “help” her Mama. Christie gives her former keeper a grateful smile. Ashlyn smiles and stands. “Hey, guys.”
Jill steps forward and gives her a hug. “Damn good to see you, Ash. What’s the word?”
“Word is we’re going to get you out of here in a few hours. I’ll know more in a little while but right now we’re going to do what we can to keep you fed and as comfortable as possible.” She walks over to Hope and Syd, seeing that they appear to be the only 2 seriously injured. She squats down to assess them. “You two the only ones with injuries?”
“Yeah. Part of our hotel room collapsed,” Hope explains.
“Shit,” Ashlyn mumbles, thinking how much worse things could have been. “Do you need any medical assistance?”
“No. Thankfully Tracy and Josh grabbed their training bags,” Sydney says. “They took care of everything.”
“Good.” Ashlyn stands and looks at the trainers. “If you need more supplies, let me know. We have a medic with us that may have what you need.”
“Thanks,” Tracy says in appreciation.
Ashlyn looks at everyone. “Any other questions?”
“Uh, what about our families?” Morgan Brian asks nervously. “I mean, like, can we contact them?”
Ashlyn thinks a second. “Right now most communications towers are out of order. Those still working are restricted to official channels only. But if you all can make a list for me with just one contact email address per player or coach I can see about getting an email out to them when we get to Atsugi. Make sure this contact will spread the word to your family and friends. I won’t have much time so I can only send it for one person each,” she reiterates.
The team nods and Tony immediately gets a piece of paper to start the list going around. Once Ashlyn is sure no one else has any questions, she turns to Ali.
“Mrs. Krieger-Harris, can I have a word please?” she asks, and gestures to a hallway just beyond the team.
Ali wordless nods and starts down the hall. As soon as they are out of sight of everyone, Ali leaps into Ashlyn’s arms. The two women need no words as they just hold each other. Ashlyn feels her wife’s tears hitting her shoulder and wishes she could release her emotions so freely, too. But as the officer in charge, she has to maintain her cool. After a moment, Ali leans back and the women share a deep, relieved kiss. When it ends, Ashlyn brushes a lock of hair off her wife’s cheek.
“I was so scared,” she admits. “We didn’t know who was hurt or how badly.”
“I prayed you would be the one to come,” Ali replies. “I was so scared and I feel so safe now that you are here. I love you so much, Ashlyn.”
“I love you, too, Alex. I am so glad you are okay; that all of you are okay.”
The two kiss again then just hold each other a few more minutes. Though she would rather hold the brunette forever, Ashlyn finally has to pull away.
“I need to get back to work, Alex.” She stares into dark eyes. “I’m getting you home, baby. I swear to you I’m getting you home.”
Ali cups her wife’s cheek, staring into hazel eyes. “I know, sweetheart. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The two share another gentle kiss, then return to the main room. As they get there, Whitney steps up and pulls Ashlyn into a hug.
“So glad you’re here, Ash.”
“Me, too, Whit. Glad you’re okay. Now it’s up to me to get you home safely.”
“And you will, bestie. You will.”
Ashlyn grins. “Damn right I will.”
Ashlyn greets each member of the team then goes to check in with the base and let them know any immediate needs that have to be addressed. As she walks away, Christie steps up beside Ali.
“You know how her confrontation turned Heather and Lauren on?”
Christie grins. “Her comforting Reece got me, too. You’re a lucky woman, Kriegs.”
Ali laughs and gives the captain a hug. “She does have her moments, doesn’t she.”
“Yes, she does. I’ll never forget what she did for Reece. I owe her one.”
“She’ll say you don’t,” Ali points out.
“All the more reason to make sure to thank her properly,” Christie says before going back to her daughter’s side.
For two hours things go smoothly. The refugees eat, drink and potty and seem to be much calmer now that their immediate needs have been met and evacuation seems to be in sight. Ashlyn has just gotten off the phone after another situation report and sighs.
“Things still on track?” Palmer asks.
“They think so.”
“Think?” he questions.
“They are having to re-lay part of the runway. They have to hope they can get it set and that it has enough time to harden enough to keep from collapsing under the weight of the C-130.”
“Damn. Can they do it?”
Ashlyn gives him a grin. “We’re the Corps of Engineers. We can do anything.”
He chuckles. “Right. And that’s why you’re concerned,” he teases.
She shrugs. “I’m just worried it won’t be very pretty since it’s a rush job.”
The two share a laugh. The Marine has to admit, this soldier seems to know what she’s doing. And she takes the heat anytime “Mr. Personality” gets going so that’s a plus, too. Ashlyn is about to ask for a break to go check on her wife when a man on her squad steps into the building.
“Hey, Lieutenant? We’ve got trouble.”
Ashlyn and Palmer stand and move to the door. They glance towards the gates of the annex property and see about 15 young men standing there, one actually on embassy property. Ashlyn knows right away these are local gang bangers looking to steal supplies to make a buck or two. She whispers her belief to Palmer then lays down how things will go.
“He’ll want to confront me because I am in charge and, in all honesty, because I am a woman. They get nothing now but I’m fine with leaving extras behind. No one fires their gun but me unless his whole gang rushes the building. Understood?”
“Yeah. But I don’t like it, ma’am.”
“Me neither. But we won’t start a huge international incident half on US soil, half on Japanese. If they rush this place, get everyone in and protect the building. Let them have the shit out here.” She pulls her beret out of her pocket and carefully places it on her head.
“Yes, ma’am,” he agrees as she starts down the steps and walks up to the men at the gate.
She looks over her shoulder at the men by the doors. “You two stay inside and lock that damn door.”
The men nod and Ashlyn turns back towards the gates, her attention now on the man she must confront.
Inside, Ali and a few others had hurried over to see what was happening but the men guarding the door will not let them look out. Ali stomps her foot in frustration and looks around. Her eyes widen. She grabs Abby.
“Get over here!”
She drags Abby over to a window about 2 feet above Ali’s head. Abby looks at it, then at Ali.
“Oh give me a break!”
“Come on, Abby. Get down!”
Abby rolls her eyes and squats down. She stands up with the help of Whitney and Pinoe. By stretching her neck, Ali is able to see her wife talking to a young thug.
“Give us a play by play,” Pinoe insists.
“She’s talking to some guy at the gates. He’s got others with him. Looks like gang members,” Ali reports.
“Oh, fuck,” Whitney mumbles.
Ali continues to give them a run down on what’s going on. Then suddenly she tenses up and she screams.
And a gunshot rings out.