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Chapter 4: Under the Falling Sky

One by one her senses began to awaken, registering slowly but surely the jumbled input of data from the world around her. First came the sounds of dripping water coupled with the soft moans emanating from her own throat, then came the cloying smell of dust mixed with the faintly coppery scent of blood. Third came the sensation of pain and an awareness of the cold, wet floor below her and scattered pieces of debris covering her. Finally came the first fuzzy rays of light that filtered into her heavy-lidded eyes and gradually focused into a kaleidoscope of Kafkaesque images of a world turned upside down.

Shaking off the bits of ceiling tile and plaster dust that lay across her back and shoulders, Elizabeth eased herself up into a sitting position and tried to break through the haze of confusion that clouded her thoughts. She tentatively moved her limbs as she attempted to access her injuries. Grateful to discover she luckily escaped with only minor cuts and bruises, Elizabeth tried to comprehend where she was and what had happened. With the full return of consciousness, the fog finally lifted from her memory. She suddenly remembered the collapse and realized just how and why she managed to survive without any serious injury. Her last conscious recollection was of Major Sheppard shouting out to her before he forcefully pushed her out of harm's way as the ceiling gave way and crashed down upon them.

"Oh God! John! Where are you?" Elizabeth stumbled slightly as she stood up and looked around for signs of the major.

Instinctively, she reached for her radio headset to call for help, only to find it had come off during the cave-in and most likely was lying buried amidst the rubble. However, her first concern was locating Sheppard. Finding her radio would have to wait. As Elizabeth began moving some larger ceiling fragments out of the way, she spotted a patch of gray out of the corner of her eye. Quickly turning her head in that direction, she noticed an arm and part of a leg sticking out from under the demolished remains of the bulkhead wall. Fear stricken, she rushed over to the fallen man and began frantically clearing whatever debris she could from his body.

"Major Sheppard! John!" Getting no answer, she dug faster, hastily removing pieces of rubble from his torso.

As the wreckage was cleared away, Elizabeth saw that her ranking military officer was unconscious but still alive. Breathing in a sigh of relief, Weir checked him over for injuries with growing apprehension. Even with her limited first aid skills, she could see his condition did not look good. A deep gash cut into his left temple, leaking a steady stream of blood down the side of his face and into his unruly hair. The blood mixed with the plaster dust coating his hair and added to the wetness caused by the gush of trapped water that released when the walls collapsed. In sharp contrast to the dark bruises already marring his face, his skin was starkly pale and slightly covered in a fine layer of sweat.

After opening his BDU vest, Elizabeth was dismayed to discover more blood seeping from a penetrating puncture wound and drenching the side of his jacket and shirt. A twisted piece of metal stained with blood was lying next to him indicating it was the most likely cause of the jagged injury. Worse yet, one of his legs was still pinned under a heavy beam trapping him in place. Knowing its weight was probably more than she could lift, she nevertheless struggled to raise the unwieldy metal joist in a futile effort to free him. After a few attempts to lever the beam off him with other pieces of debris, she gave up and instead focused her attention on staunching the bleeding wounds.

Weir searched through the various pockets of her flak vest until she found some pressure bandages and field dressings to cover the deepest, more serious cuts. As she opened the packets containing the first aid supplies, she gave a silent thanks to the major's foresight in making her wear the fully stocked vest. After cleaning and bandaging the gash on his head as best she could, Elizabeth cut open the major's shirt so she could care for the laceration in his side. Pulling the blood-soaked fabric aside, she was shocked by the sight of ugly purple contusions along his ribcage. Gingerly pressing her hands along the bruises, she felt several broken ribs and hoped none of them had punctured a lung. With shaking hands, Elizabeth finished dressing the injuries and gently tucked her rolled up jacket under his head to elevate it off the wet, dusty, and hard floor.

Seeing that his radio headset was still intact, Weir eased it off his head and placed it on her own. No sooner was the radio in place, than she heard it miraculously come to life.

"Major Sheppard, can you hear me? Elizabeth, please respond." She heard McKay's anxious pleas filter through the static on the radio just as she was about to open a channel to send out a distress message. Relieved to hear the scientist's voice on the line, she answered with utmost urgency.

"Rodney! We're trapped in the northeastern section. Notify Carson we have a medical emergency. Get down here as fast as you can. We need help now!"

"Elizabeth! Oh thank God you finally answered. Sensor readings indicated a structural collapse and possible flooding in your location. And when neither of you responded to radio contact, we feared you were dead. You had us worried sick! Why didn't you reply earlier? Are you okay?" Where is Major Sheppard? The astrophysicist's words spilled out in rapid succession as his evident relief was heard in his voice.

"Rodney, I need you to take a deep breath, focus, and listen to me. Yes, the ceiling and bulkhead of the room we are in has collapsed. There's not much water left on the floor so I assume it flowed out into other areas. I am fine, but Major Sheppard is badly hurt and pinned underneath a metal support beam. He's unconscious and needs immediate medical attention!" A worried and distraught Weir explained.

"We have assembled a rescue team and are on our way now. Don't worry, Elizabeth, we will get you out of there. I promise. Hold on, Dr. Beckett is here and wants to get some information on Major Sheppard's condition." McKay assured her.

"Elizabeth, it's Carson. Can you tell me more specifics on the major's injuries, lass?" Dr. Beckett joined in on the radio conversation.

"Carson, it's good to hear your voice. The major is still unconscious. I found him buried under some rubble when I came too. His right leg is still trapped under a beam and I cannot get him free. I cannot tell if that leg is injured. He has a deep scalp laceration near his left temple, a penetrating wound in his side, heavy bruising on his torso and I think some broken ribs. I cannot tell if there are any other injuries. He was bleeding heavily from both lacerations when I discovered him, but I managed to bandage them and get most of the external bleeding under control. But I'm not a medic, I don't know what else to do." Weir updated the doctor.

"Ah, you're doing just fine there, lass. Does he seem to have any trouble breathing? Can you tell me what his pulse rate and respirations are?" Beckett prompted, forced to rely on her as his eyes and ears.

"His pulse seems rapid and thready. His breathing is somewhat shallow, but his respirations do not appear labored at the moment. He is also very pale and his skin feels cool and clammy to the touch." Elizabeth stated, trying to remember the correct medical terminology from the first aid course she once took.

"It sounds like he's going into shock. Elizabeth, I need to keep pressure on the wounds. Do you have an emergency survival blanket in your first aid kit?" The doctor inquired.

Elizabeth searched the pockets of her BDU vest until she located the correct item. "Yes, I have one."

"Good, keep the major covered and calm. We are heading out to the northeastern pier now with a mobile trauma unit. Let me know if Major Sheppard regains consciousness. I will radio you periodically to get regular updates on his condition. Hang in there, lass. We'll get there before you know it."

Beckett tried to offer encouragement to his superior and managed to mask his concern until after he ended the transmission. If the major was to survive, they needed to get him back to the infirmary as quickly as possible. As he hurried along with the rest of the rescue team, he found himself praying that they would.

After the radio contact was cut off, Elizabeth finished unfolding the ultra thin and light survival blanket and draped it over the major. Feeling frustrated and helpless that she could do no more, she sat back down next to Sheppard's recumbent form and tried to calm her frazzled nerves. She knew now it had become a waiting game. A life or death situation with the final outcome yet unknown. Elizabeth glanced down at the critically injured man next to her before looking around the ruined room and hoped their salvation would come in time.


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