Argus stared out beyond Jenna at the ground rushing up to greet them. A flash outlined the planet in stark detail. The oddly shaped trees, blocky and angular, tortured by the winds. The jagged white spikes slashing the skies with terrible artistry. He could feel the winds scouring his sides with its merciless force, as if he were outside.
I've been here before. A shudder passed through his body. His eyes dimmed.
Darkness. His mind slipped.
.............Shivering. He was falling.
..........................Naked. Into the abyss.
The ship plunged to the ground and hit with a determined crash, throwing up a cloud of leaves, limbs and dirt. The trees whipped it as it careened past, slowing its speed and tearing gashes in the sides until it came to a shuddering halt, little explosions and flashes rippling along its punctured hull.
Avon groaned. His body felt broken inside and every movement brought pain.
Just wonderful. One step forward, two steps back.
Heavy smoke filled his nostrils, choking him. He put his hands over his mouth and opened his eyes to familiar darkness.
No waking from the nightmare, he thought wryly to himself. Of course. Why would this day be different from any others? It would be the ultimate irony to have his sight back on the day of this death. It was a fleeting thought but one which brought a brief smile to his lips.
“Argus! Jenna!" He could hear the systems failing and the howling and rushes of wind and rains lashing the ship, some of it getting inside, but there were no human sounds. Energy spikes rumbled the ground beneath his feet and made the ship shudder.
Hull compromised. Smoke means fire and systems shorted out. Must get out.
He unsnapped the restraints and moved cautiously, experienced fingers feeling for evidence of damage. Bruising. He grimaced. Extensive. He grunted as bones grated against each other and there was the sharp pain in his rib. Ribs broken. One. Grunt. Two. Fractured. Not broken. Slightly better. No other apparent injuries.
No one had answered his call. Were they unconscious?
"Argus! Jenna! Are you all right?” He felt for the body strapped next to him, his hands feeling blindly at the mangled straps. He hissed as something cut his hand and put the wound to his mouth.
Argus. What if he was dead? Injured? His heart raced.
"Jenna! Argus!" he shouted louder, ignoring the complaint of his broken ribs pressed by his expanding lungs.
Avon gathered his mind and composed his mental voice. He had debated contacting Cally earlier, not wanting her to worry, but events had demanded his attention. * Cally. *
A female groaned and there were shifting sounds. Something unsnapped. And another.
* Yes, Avon? * Cally's voice was faint.
* Just a moment. *
More groaning. "Avon?"
Her voice filled him with unexpected relief but his tone was unemotional, as if he were commenting on the weather, on a different planet. "Yes."
"Looks like we survived."
"Argus is not responding."
His tone remained flat but there was urgent energy in it that made her turn around quickly, and groan loudly as her own bruises made themselves felt. "Feels like everything's broken. Argus!"
Avon's heart skipped a beat and he controlled the concern that was creeping into his voice. "How is he?"
Sentiment never helped in these situations, they needed clear thinking.
He could hear Jenna climbing out of her seat, adding to the noise of bits of the ship bending, creaking and falling to the floor in little crashes. She groaned, "My leg."
"Are you alright?"
"It's nothing. Never mind me…," said Jenna.
Whines greeted Avon's ears. His head tilted in query. "Wolf?"
The creature howled in agony and then it snarled, a low growl of warning emanating from its throat.
"Alright, this is strange," said Jenna, regarding the Wolf warily and keeping back from the bared teeth. "It's…he's hurt. His shoulder, there's a lot of blood, but it won't let me get near him."
Cally's concerned voice intruded into his mind. * Avon, what's wrong? Zen told us there was a crash. * He could tell she was trying to stay calm.
* Yes, Cally. Give me a moment. *
"Jenna, check the ship. I would appreciate not blowing up." Without waiting for a response, he turned to face the creature. "Wolf."
The creature whined in complaint.
"Yes, I know. You recognize me?"
There was a pause. His mind gave him a picture of Argus the last time he came back injured.
"Is that a yes?"
The creature panted. "A-von-Al-pha." It said the words as if it were one name.
"Good. Where's Argus?"
"D-dark." The voice sounded shaky.
Avon bent his ear closer as he tried to understand the Wolf. "Yes. It's dark. The ship is damaged."
"You're not alone."
"Avon! The ship's going to blow! We have to get out!" said Jenna.
The three grunting, moaning, worse-for-wear survivors stumbled across the rocky terrain as the ship sputtered and little explosions consumed its frame. Avon had used his Alpha status to convince the Wolf they needed to leave. The creature would not let Jenna touch him but it leaned heavily on Avon's arm. Jenna guided Avon's staggered steps.
It was a strange sight if anyone had the inclination to notice. A wounded man leaning on a blind man, being guided by a limping woman, her wildly blowing hair, like writhing blond snakes.
Avon could hear the Wolf's laboured panting. Something wet and rough licked his face. He jerked away, the Wolf yelping at his sudden movement. "Wolf. No licking."
"Hurt." It sounded disappointed.
"What's he doing?" asked Jenna, her voice turned in his direction, her curiosity clear.
"Obviously delirious," said Avon, hoping she didn't see.
The Wolf bent its head and sniffed. "A-von-Al-pha hurt."
"Avon, why didn't you say so?" said Jenna.
The Wolf lifted its head and sniffed with curiosity. It recognized something.
The ship exploded, sending pieces of hot metal flying outwards, and the shock waves knocked them to the ground in a jumble of arms, legs and Wolf.
"Avon!" Cally jumped up in shock as she felt a jolt from Avon's mind.
Reya eyed her distraught face. "What's happening? Did they crash?"
"I don't…," Her hand went to her head as she tried to contact Avon again, but his mind was too preoccupied to hear her. "He said they were in a crash."
She shook her head. "He didn’t say anything else. He said to wait."
"Well, if there was a crash, maybe they're trying to get away," suggested Vila. His overactive imagination filled him with troubling pictures of what a crashed ship looked like. None of them looked good. "In case it explodes."
Corinne shifted restlessly next to him, the worry clear on her expressive face. Kirsten was perched on the ledge in front of Zen, looking down on the floor in front of her. She was alert, listening, but she was also seeing Sester's face in her mind, the way his lips curled in wry frustration when she would not let him have what he wanted. She had never thought what it would mean to be without him.
"I wish he would say something." Cally exhaled in frustration.
"This is Avon," said Vila. "You're lucky to get that much."
She stared at him as Reya went over to the nav station. They all felt helpless, far from the action, unable to do anything other than wait.
Except Reya had never been one to wait. She said, "Contact him again in a few minutes if he doesn't contact you."
"I was going to." Cally went over to Avon's tactical station and began calling up information on the planet's perilous weather system, hoping to find some evidence it was letting up.
"Good. At least we know they survived the crash."
Cally's eyes met hers. Even without words, each knew what the other was thinking. The only one they knew survived the crash was Avon. "Are you planning to do something?" It was a rhetorical question.
"If you don't object."
"I thought you would never ask."
Reya nodded. There was no humour between them, only grim resolve. Beware anyone who stood in their way. "Good. Kirsten, let the duty team know to suit up. Vila, you and Corinne prepare the shuttle."
Vila stood up nervously. "I hope you're not suggesting what I think you're suggesting."
"We're going down to rescue them."
"I thought we said the shuttle couldn't survive the storms. If we get killed we won't be able to help anyone."
Reya gripped the edge of the panel. "No one is going to die!"
A solitary figure made his way, his body bent low to avoid being blown over and his boots (never was he more glad for big military-style boots) crunching the rubble. He hated uncontrolled weather. It was far too, he smiled, unpredictable. Anything could happen.
They’re building an army, Charles. One stronger, faster and smarter than anyone else. And completely loyal to them. The Guildmaster's words of warning rang in his ears like a tolling bell. We cannot allow them to. They nearly did it once.
He shuddered and nodded, remembering their enemies failed attempt and the abominations that resulted. I remember, sir.
Mutoids were already faster and stronger than the average human was, but he doubted if they would stop there. Their enemies were a great danger, and not just to the Guild. They threatened the order that held back the chaos and that was bad for all of humanity.
Yes, and we now suspect they were the ones at Star One.
Sester had leaned forward at this shocking news. Sir?