There were lulls between waves, but not for us. As the night wore on we dropped further and farther behind; they brought in victims faster than we could handle them. Jubal grew more liberal in tagging, and routed to Ishtar and her teams more and more of the less severely wounded. It made our help more blatant but it surely saved more lives.
During the fourth wave of bombing, sometime early in the morning, I heard Gretchen say, ‘Yeoman to Horse, emergency. '
‘What is it, Gretchen? '
‘Something - a piece of a plane, probably - hit our gate. '
‘I don't know. It disappeared. Whoof! Gone. '
‘Horse to Yeoman, disengage. Evacuate via gate at aid station. Can you find it? Range and bearing? '
‘Yes, but -‘
‘Disengage and evacuate. Move. '
‘But, Hazel, it is just our gate we've lost. We can still take out any bombers that come over. '
‘Hold. Bright Cliffs, answer. Deety, wake up. '
‘I am awake. '
‘Research showed four waves, no more. Is Gretchen going to have any more targets? '
‘One moment -‘ (It was a long moment. ) ‘Guy says she can't see any bombers warming up on http://www.xyd-lit.ru the ground. We now have signs of dawn in the east. '
‘Horse to all stations, disengage. Blood, wait for Yeoman, then evacuate. .. bringing Prime with you. Use injector if necessary. All stations, report. '
‘Cliffs to Horse, roger wilco; here we come! '
‘Yeoman to Horse, roger wilco. Father Schmidt is leading; I'm chasing. '
‘Blood to Horse, roger wilco. Hazel, tell Ishtar to get all cases back here now. .. or she's got some unscheduled immigrants. '
The next few minutes were hilarious, in a Grand Guignol fashion. First the terribly burned cases came pouring back through the incoming gate, on their own feet and now quite well. Surgery cases followed them, some with prostheses, some with grafts. Even the last cases, ones that Galahad and Ishtar and other surgical teams were currently working on, were patched up somehow, pushed through to Beulahland, there to be finished and to stay for days or weeks - and then sent back through to Coventry only minutes after Hazel ordered an end to the operation.
I know that it was only minutes because none of Gretchen's troops had arrived from less than a mile away. Those girls move at eight miles per hour at field trot (3. 5 metres per second). They should have made it in about eight or nine minutes, plus whatever time it took to get down that tower. I heard later that some of the civil defence wardens tried to stop them and question them. I don't think the girls hurt anyone very badly. But they didn't stop.
They came pouring in, Maid Marians with long bows (disguised particle projectors), dressed for Sherwood Forest, led by Friar Tuck complete with tonsure, and followed by Gretchen, dressed also for a Robin Hood pageant and wearing a big grin.
She paused to slap Dagmar on her fanny as she passed Father's table, nodded at the Pratts, who were already stupefied by the procession of recovered patients going the other way. She stopped at Woodrow's table. ‘We did it! '
All three tables were bare at that moment; we had reached that wonderful point where no more wounded were waiting. Jubal came in from the anteroom, said, ‘You did indeed. '
Gretchen hugged me. ‘Maureen, we did it! ' She pulled my mask down and kissed me.
I bussed her back. ‘Now get your tail through that gate. We're on minus minutes. '
‘Spoilsport. ' She went on through, followed by Jubal and Gillian.
‘All Clear' started sounding. Mr Pratt looked at me, looked at the curtain, said, ‘Come, Harry. '
‘Yes, Pa. ,
‘Goodnight, all. ' The old man plodded wearily away, followed by his wife.
Father said in a gruff voice, ‘Daughter, why are you here? You should be in San Francisco. ' He looked at Woodrow. ‘You, too, Ted. You're dead. So what are you doing here? '
‘Not dead, Dr Johnson. "Missing in action" is not the same as dead. The difference was slight but important. A long time in hospital, a long time out of my head. But here I am. '
‘Mmrrph. So you are. But what is this charade? People in costumes. Other people trotting back and forth like Picadilly Circus. Hell of a way to run an aid station. Am I out of my head? Did we take a direct hit? '
Hazel said in my ear, ‘Come through, all of you! Now! '
I subvocalised, ‘Right away, Hazel. ' Dagmar had-moved until she was behind my father. She had her injector ready; she queried me with her eyes. I shook my head a quarter of an inch. ‘Father, will you come with me and let me explain? '
‘Mrph. I suppose -‘
The roof fell in.
It may have been part of a Spitfire, or perhaps a Messerschmidt. I don't know; I was under it. Gwen Hazel heard it through my mike; her grandsons Cas and Pol got themselves badly burned going back through to rescue us.
Everybody got burned - Castor, Pollux, Woodrow, Father, Dagmar, me - and gasoline bums are nasty. But Hazel got more help through, dressed in fireproofs (planning, not ha instance) and we were all dragged out.
All of this I got from later reports; at the time I was simply clobbered and then I woke up in hospital an unmeasured time later. Unmeasured by me, that is; Dagmar says that I was laid up three weeks longer than she was. Tamara won't tell me. It does not matter; Lethe keeps one comfortable and unworried as long as necessary to let one get well.
After a while I was allowed to get up and take walks around Beulahland, a beautiful place and one of the few truly civilised places in any world. And then I was transferred back to Boondock. .. and Woodrow and Father and Dagmar came to call on me.
They all leaned over my bed and kissed me and I cried a while and then we talked.
It was a big wedding. There was Mycroft and Athene and Minerva of course, and my grandson Richard Colin, who had at last forgiven Lazarus (for being his father). My darling Gwen Hazel had no reason to remain on leave from the family when Richard Colin was willing and eager to join. My daughters Laz and Lor had decided to cancel the indentures of their husbands, Cas and Pol, in recognition of their heroism in diving back into the fire for us four laggards - and to allow them to marry into the family. And there was Xia and Dagmar and Choy-Mu and Father and Gretchen - and the rest of us who had been Longs for years - some more years, some less. Our new family members each had had one reason or another to hesitate, but Galahad and Tamara made it clear: we take just one vow, to safeguard the welfare and happiness of all our children.
That's our total marriage contract. The rest is just poetic ritual.
Whom you sleep with, whom you make love with, is your private business. Ishtar, as our family geneticist, controls pregnancy and progeny to whatever extent control is needed for the welfare of our children.
So we all joined hands in the presence of our children (of course Pixel was there! ) and we pledged ourselves to love and cherish our children - those around us, those still to come, worlds without end.
And we all lived happily ever after.