The noise was deafening inside the ship as they entered the heart of the storm. They hung onto whatever they could, including each other.
"Avon, if you're trying to manipulate me into leaving by staying here, it's not going to work! I'm not going!" shouted Argus into Avon's ear.
"I never thought you would," said Avon as he clung onto the only solid-feeling object he could reach, Argus's arm.
"Well…good!" He looked at him. There was no expression on Avon's face, only a slight angle to his head as he listened. "Then you can leave!"
Avon let go of his arm and moved…forward towards the cockpit. He stumbled as another crash rocked the ship. Argus ran forward and caught him, wrapping his arms around his chest. He shouted, "What do you think you're doing?"
"Jenna needs help."
"But…" Argus looked at him in exasperation. "Alright, hang onto me!"
Argus set Avon down on a seat and strapped him in as he yelled. "Jenna, how are we doing?"
"What are you still doing here?" Jenna yelled.
Simultaneously, Avon and Argus yelled back in response.
"Avon wouldn't leave!"
"He wouldn't leave!"
She turned her head to look at them in shock, "Both of you?" And quickly faced front again. "You're both insane! There's no point in all of us dying!"
"We're not going to die!" shouted Argus as he held onto the back of Jenna's chair.
"Do you know something we don’t?" asked Avon sarcastically. "Luck perhaps?"
"I don't believe in luck!"
"How gratifying." Small comfort now.
"Avon, there's got to be something we can do!" The ground was coming up fast.
"Pray for a miracle?" Avon wished he could see what was going on. Or perhaps he didn't.
Argus was astonished. "You believe in prayer?"
The ship jerked and they all fell forward. "What was that?" yelled Jenna as she frantically looked for the source.
"What happened?" asked Argus.
"I…don't know." She was staring with disbelief at one of the monitor readings. She queried, "Computer, report status of stabilizing engines!"
"Stabilizing engines are at 40% efficiency."
She slapped several buttons and the engines thrummed to life. "I don't believe this…but we have the engines back! Partially!"
Argus said, "Can you land her?"
"You mean without crashing? No. But I can try a controlled crash."
Avon shouted, "That doesn't inspire confidence."
"Well, that's all you're going to get! Strap in and hang on!"
Argus stared at Avon as he clipped the straps. "Did you?"
"That was strange with the engines. Did you pray?"
A 'glare' with sightless eyes was the only response.
Sharp-Eyes hunched low to the ground, her ears flat against her head, her amber eyes flashing with each energy spike across the skies. Her fur was drenched and flattened to her sides by the howling winds and she was chilled to the bone, but she refused to give up. She growled in response to the punishing winds and kept her eyes peeled for tracks of her mate.
Do you smell him?
Half the pack was with her while the rest took care of the little ones.
Good-Smell, a grizzled old Beta with one clipped ear, had been sniffing the ground for the last few minutes.
His mental voice was like his throat one, scratchy. He came this way. He was following the scent of the two-legs.
Sharp-Eyes sneezed. But where did he go? She kept the worry out of her tone. As the Alpha, she had to be strong for the others even though inside it felt as if she was being blown apart by the winds.
I smell…it’s faint...a strange vapour…a ship.
She looked around for telltale signs; she couldn’t believe she missed it. I don't see one.
It was above. It came close to the ground. I can smell its traces. He sniffed the ground as he moved in a circle, trying to identify whether the ship came before or after his leader came this way. I think…I'm not sure… His eyes were troubled.
What is it? She padded up to him in silent feet.
I think the ship took him.
Her amber eyes widened in shock.
They all looked up as a ship whizzed past them overhead, its engines blazing, like a mythical creature breathing fire.
Could that be the ship? Asked Sharp-Eyes.
Good-Nose pointed his muzzle up and sniffed twice. He shook his head. It’s too far for me to smell.
The ship suddenly dipped out of their view and a crash shook the ground beneath their paws. Several wolves whined.
Let’s check it out. Sharp-Eyes ordered as she led the way. Her heart was filled with fear. What if Brave-Heart had been on the ship? Was he hurt? If he wasn’t on it, she would make the two-legs tell her where they took him. Her lips peeled back in a snarl, her sharp fangs gleaming in the fire of the ship just ahead.
Reya paced the flight deck like a sleek panther while Cally drummed her fingers along the back edge of the couch. “I hate waiting,” said Reya with a disgruntled exhale.
“Do you think we’ve been relegated to a traditional female role?”
Reya looked at her blankly. “I hadn’t thought about it. I am not a traditional female in any sense of the word.”
“Neither am I.”
“Then I think that we should dispel any notions of the stereotypes.”
Cally sat up with interest. “What did you have in mind?”
“Zen, are you able to track Sester’s craft through the storm?”
Vila, Corinne and Kirsten came down the flight deck steps.
“Can we join you?” asked Vila, his eyes anxious.
Kirsten said, “We couldn’t sleep.”
“We were worried about the team,” said Corinne as the three of them came over.
Reya and Cally looked at each other.
Zen reported, “Information. Scanners are unable to detect the ship but they report an explosion on the planet’s surface.”
Shocked eyes turned to the main viewscreen.
Sester popped the lid on the lifepod, groaning at the pain of each movement. A blast of cold air rushed in and the muffled sound of storm became a roar. He was tempted to close the lid and snuggle back inside the warm, protective cocoon of the pod but he had a job to do. He sat up, blinking in the winds that whipped his face, and he shielded his eyes.
The landscape was even more alien than he had imagined. Oddly shaped trees, bent at angles as they fought the storm. A whirlwind of leaves, like a living creature, funnelling past.
There was no sign of the others. He nodded. That was good. He couldn’t afford any interference.
A twinge of worry made him look up into the angry night sky. The stabilizing engines should have kicked back in by now. Avon, Argus and Jenna should be able to make a landing. It had been a calculated risk but he knew Jenna was a superb pilot. He sighed, climbed out of the pod, keeping low, and took out the hand scanner he had prepared ahead of time.
A mile and a half. He grimaced. He’d have to make the rest of the way to the Research Base on foot. His lifted his trouser leg and drew out the pistol from his ankle holster. There were some nasty creatures on Tingash. He was not about to wander around without any protection.
A mile and a half. As a psychostrategist, he should not be doing this. The Guild had agents who took more direct actions while they sat back in comfortable safety, their minds more of a weapon than the one in his hands. He sighed again. The Master had commanded. He set out on reluctant feet as the winds screeched around him.