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Stewart Kramer leant on the over-track bridge and waited for the Brisbane train to come into view. He contemplated the fierce Australian sun as it shimmered off the entwined silver rails on the track and tried not to think about other things he should have been doing instead of cleaning up after his late brother.
As a child he'd imagined he might work on the railway, anywhere away from Sean. Stewart was distracted by a commuter train that pulled in and then headed back into Sydney.
A swarm of passengers flowed around him as they crossed the coathanger-shaped pedestrian bridge then surged down the stairs to road level.
Desiree's train had been delayed, luckily, because a tiny set of twins had put his own arrival back an hour while his team had worked to stabilise them in the unit. He had a gut feeling about the larger twin that he'd follow up if his registrar hadn't already, but his thoughts were interrupted by the loudspeaker warning of the Brisbane train's impending arrival.
Desiree's latest mobile text message had suggested his newly acquired sister-in-law and baby niece were travelling in the second carriage from the driver's and he began to think of moving down to help her with the pram. No doubt she would be as helpless and fashion-brained as all his brother's women had seemed in the past.
No matter. He would look after them, and the new baby on the way. Even in death his older brother had left wreckage for Stewart to clean up.
He still couldn't believe that Sean was dead, despite the fact that his brother had danced with danger for so many years on the darker side of life and had then suddenly left a widow and children. Sean could have been so much more.
Hewondered briefly if Desiree was her real name or the stage name she'd chosen before she'd married Sean.
The blue inter-city express suddenly appeared around the bend and Stewart straightened. The train seemed to be making up for its tardiness with an extra burst of speed as it passed the departing commuter train. The flyer resembled a blue ribbon in the wind as it streamed towards him and Stewart pushed himself off the rail and forced some enthusiasm for his new family.
Stewart glanced again at Desiree's train, and at the edge of his vision a silver freighter continued to ease smoothly onto the track in front of the oncoming express as if it had all the time in the world.
Seconds slowed and the initial scream of brakes from the express did nothing but pierce the air with fruitless warning before the trains collided.
The explosion of two great forces meeting with a scream of metal on metal shrieked into the morning routine like an invasion from hell. Smoke and debris shot skywards confirming the sight his brain had dismissed as impossible.
Instinctively Stewart closed his eyes as the horrific scene grew to a pile-up of carriages he'd only imagined seeing as a child on his father's miniature line. This was no young boy's accidental manoeuvringsthis was adult folly of criminal proportions.
Stewart's mind recoiled at the thought of the damage such twisted metal would make on frail human flesh as he turned and scanned the bridge to gauge the fastest way to the tracks.
Adrenalin surged as his heart pounded in his chest and he took the stairs three at a time down to the platform. Somewhere in the wreckage his sister-in-law and niece would be lying, along with many others.
Stunned commuters stared without comprehension up the track at the jumble of carriages. A black pall of smoke hung in the morning sunlight and slowly, piercingly, a lone woman facing the catastrophe began to scream as Stewart vaulted down onto the track and began to sprint up towards the wreckage.
More bystanders must have joined him from the platform because he could hear the echo of running feet on the track behind him or maybe it was his own heartbeat pounding in his ears. Then everything seemed to slow as he came abreast of the devastation.
The engine on the freighter lay buried beneath the smashed driver's cab of the express and there was no way of sighting either driver. Stewart barely paused as he hurdled over debris and made his way to the first of the passenger carriages.
Common decency and the doctor in him forced him to stop and render what assistance he could, despite his brain knowing what he would find.
He peered through a rent in the side of the carriage and the scene inside would haunt him for ever.
Instinctively he narrowed his line of sight from the grand scale of destruction to find the nearest body, but without equipment the twisted metal didn't allow his entry and he scanned the faces he could see for any sign of life. Nobody moved, not even a twitch, so he eased back to try the next carriage as a young man appeared at his shoulder.
'This carriage will have to be left for the rescue workers. We can't get in and we'll be more useful to those we can reach.' The young man swallowed and nodded.
A group of half a dozen commuters had arrived and Stewart directed them to the end carriages. 'Just help the walking wounded. Don't move anyone until the emergency workers arrive. Watch for power lines.'
Stewart closed his eyes and sent a prayer of thanks as a wail of sirens filled the air, assuring him that he wouldn't be in charge of this horror.
He saw tragic events and terrified parents in his paediatric consultancy work but to face this shocking reality made him wish for a nice simple premature twin birth and his team.
He dreaded what he would find in carriage two as he skirted hot metal and clambered towards the opening between the carriages. What he inhaled was smoke, and a fire was the last thing they needed. Given the blasting heat of the day, he should have expected it.
A paramedic, the first of a strong contingent alighting beside the tracks, sprang from his vehicle and touched Stewart's arm. 'I'll take over, sir.'
Stewart glanced at the man in mid-stride but didn't falter. 'I'm a doctor. I've a relative on this train. I'd like to stay.'
When she woke, she could hear the weak cry of a baby as the acrid tendrils of smoke began to fill the carriage.
The infant cried again. A baby? A sudden jolt from her rounded tummy and then a pain squeezed her abdomen rock hard beneath her searching fingers, but she couldn't connect the thoughts. There was something about a baby.
The pain eased and instinctively she looked for the crying infant, but when she tried to move she realised her arm was caught.
She lay on her side under several pieces of luggage and a broken seat with her cheek against the cold glass of the window.
It took a few moments to realise the window lay where the floor had been. The carriageshe must be in a trainresembled a stacked bonfire and something was burning.
Even then fogginess about the sequence of events distanced her from the horror.All her instincts focussed on the baby's cry despite the smoke and the noise of people shouting and the creaking of hot metal.
The woman tried to move her arm but her whole system seemed sluggish. Or maybe she was faint because, apart from a pounding pain in the side of her head, blood squirted impressively under her broken watch. By the size of the increasing pool beside her arm she knew that wasn't normal.
Fuzzily she watched the puddle grow until her thoughts sharpened and slowly she dislodged the broken seat rail where it pinned her wrist. Strangely, it didn't hurt at all. She felt for the deep gash and slid her fingers over the site, wincing at the return of feeling. The urge to lie down, to invite the blackness that hovered at the edge of her mind to settle over her and fall asleep, ached like a suppressed yawn inside her.
With more pressure from her fingers, the rhythmic pulse of blood slowed to a trickle and somewhere in the fog of her brain she became conscious that if she let go there was a strong chance she would bleed to death. The thickening smoke made her cough and other fears crowded her mind.
Lost for the moment, from time, place of origin or destination, the woman knew she didn't want to die.
There was another reason she had to live but right at that moment she couldn't pin the incentive, just concentrated on the fact that live she would.
The baby cried weakly again and she turned her head. There was someone else who needed her but she had to stop the bleeding from her wrist or she wouldn't be any use.
She threaded the thin pink pashmina from around her neck and thought fuzzily what a pretty colour it was. She wadded one end of the soft fabric and wrapped the other end awkwardly around her wrist and tucked it in as tightly as she could. The blood seeped through but not as fast as she'd expected.
Then she pushed herself upright so she could crawl forward over the wreckage. She winced at the lance of pain from her damaged arm as she began to search for the crying baby.
Low moans and weak cries began to drift from beyond the door of her carriage and a few strong shouts suggested help was on the way.
Her carriage seemed ominously silent but she couldn't remember how many people had been seated. She hoped the silence was due to the lack of passengers.
'Come on, baby, cry again,' she muttered, glancing around, then almost toppled off a seat that wasn't as balanced as she'd thought it was.
The baby cried weakly again and the woman's arm caught on a small leather backpack with a for mula bottle spilling from a rip. She knew the bag belonged to the baby, she couldn't remember why, but it seemed important so she slid the pack over her shoulders and continued her search.
Then she saw her. The baby lay pinned in her pram, seat belt fastened and her frightened little face screwed up. She looked about a year old.
'Well, hello, there, little one. It looks like you had the best seat in the house.' Her voice cracked as the chill of deep coldness encased her.
The baby whimpered and blinked. Her bright blue eyes were damply lashed and the woman smiled when the infant gave a wobbly grin and held out her hands.
The resilience of children, she thought longingly, as she dug for more strength. There was no way she'd be able to lift the carriage seat that trapped the pram but maybe she could ease the baby from the restraint and drag her out.
The difficulty would be to juggle a baby with one arm while she crawled.
She sat back on her heels and fumbled to undo the top two buttons on her shirt. She lifted the hem of her stretchy knitted shirt and struggled to inch the baby inside next to her skin until the infant was tucked tummy to tummy against her body with her little face popping out under the neckline of her shirt. The woman's neck and shoulders ached with the weight but the baby seemed to like it.
When she began to crawl again each movement seemed harder than the last and the weight hanging under her enticed her to lie down and sleep. The infant clung like a small limpet with her frightened whimpers goading her rescuer on.
She crawled clumsily towards the crazily angled steps of the carriage but the smoke became so acrid the steps seemed much further than she'd anticipated. Her strength ebbed as she coughed.
An old lady lay crumpled, eyes open, staring sight-lessly past the window. She didn't blink. Her purple hair looked incongruous at an awkward angle. With sudden clarity, she realised the woman was dead.
'I'm sorry,' she mumbled to the woman as she crawled past and the fog thickened inside her head. Blood pulsed from her wrist again and when a man's face appeared above her he seemed to fade in and out of focus.
His eyes were incredibly blue and incredibly kind as he reached towards her with strong arms, and she prayed the baby would be safe now. As she lifted her face to his, she knew she could go to sleep now. He wouldn't let them die.
Relief blossomed until a huge ripping pain burst from low down in her stomach and the fear of what else could be happening made her lift her face to his.
'Save my baby,' she whispered, and then she felt herself lifted from the carriage as if she were a feather.
Stewart had never seen such willpower to live before and he saw plenty of life-and-death struggles in his work.
In that first moment, when she'd hovered on the edge of losing consciousness, the woman's eyes had glowed, fierce with determination as she'd dragged herself across the wreckage of the carriage through the smoke. How she had navigated the carriage while weighed down with a dangling infant and her life seeping away through the blood-soaked material around her wrist, he could only guess. But she had and had still saved enough energy to demand that he save them.
He knew he would be able to recall her expression any time he closed his eyes. Stewart couldn't believe she had survived the carnage. 'Desiree?'
He lifted her in his arms when she collapsed against him and turned to place her gently on the ground behind him.
Her pulse was thready and far too fast from loss of blood. 'She's critical. I need to find her injuries. We'll triage the baby so I can get to the mother.'