Hours earlier, in a life capsule hurtling towards the ground, Lt. Dain and Baxter were squished together. The wind buffeted the sides of the pod, shaking its occupants like ragdolls stuffed in a can. Energy spikes licked towards it, barely touching its sides.
Lt. Dain grunted in discomfort. "Baxter, move your elbow."
Baxter wiggled around to face him. "Sorry." He grunted breathlessly as Dain's equipment pouch dug into his side. "Bit of a squeeze in here."
Dain winced and tears blurred his vision as something lower down, he prayed it was a sidearm, pressed sharply against his groin. He could barely keep his voice from raising several octaves. "Move the other way."
Baxter squirmed in compliance. "You alright, sir? You sound odd."
All the rubbing of bodies in close quarters might have made Dain feel uncomfortable if he wasn't in excruciating pain right now. "Stop." He hissed through clenched teeth. "Talking."
The young soldier sighed and mercifully stayed still.
The agony began to fade and Dain could think again. He turned his head to look at the destination screen, a blue blip approaching a green circle. At least they were on target. A few more minutes. He leaned back against the padded seat and thought about the Commander back on the ship. And Avon and Jenna.
"Sir, do you think the others are alright?"
"We'll find them once we land." Have to stay calm, at least in front of the men. He had great confidence in the Commander and Avon. If anyone could find a way to survive, it would be the two of them, even if the situation seemed hopeless. At least, he wanted to believe it.
"And if we don't?"
"We still have a mission to carry out."
A mysterious hooded figure dropped low behind a fallen tree. He checked a topographical map, tracing a line of red with his finger and comparing it to the landscape. His breathing was staggered and he was hot and clammy. What he wouldn't give for a hot shower somewhere indoors. Strenuous exercise that didn't have a pleasurable payoff was something he wasn't used to. Though if he pulled this off, he would feel immense satisfaction from having his plans work.
It wasn't often he was given a field assignment. Sester liked it, at least in a novel experience kind of way. The racing of his pulse, the tingled rush of energy, the sharp tang of danger and the way every sense seemed to magnify ten-fold, made life interesting. Almost as good as the exquisite tension he shared with Kirsten.
Department Four of the Federation Medical Research Centre, also known as the Advanced Technogenics Division. Birthplace of the mutoids, and now, something even more dangerous, though it wasn't clear what. It was one of the meagre pieces of information the Guild agent had been able to communicate before she died. Now Sester was to investigate and neutralize the threat. A tall order, especially for one not trained for the field, but his master had every confidence in him.
Sester glanced up at the dark sky and the ripples of angry energy that seemed to rip the fabric of the night. His ship would have landed by now and Argus, Avon and Jenna should be on their way to the base. He would have just enough time to discover what their enemies were up to while the others provided distractions.
There was a flicker of guilt, a flash of regret at having to use them like this, but there was no other choice. He couldn't do this alone. If the others knew, they might understand the reason for his actions. Maybe even applaud them.
However, he knew they would not be able to do what was necessary. Definitely not Argus and not even Avon, who was infinitely logical but predictably flawed.
They were what he was not. Perhaps that was why he was drawn to them. Ever since those early days when they became friends.
His eyes spotted something. A shape. An angle. Regularity in the irregular pattern of life. He found what he was looking for, an entrance to the tunnels that led straight into the base. The Guild agent's sacrifice had not been in vain.
Reya paced the flight deck. "Zen, any change in the weather patterns?"
/* There is a 20% decrease in intensity of planetary storms in the indicated grid. */
A hopeful look passed between the occupants of the flight deck.
Cally immediately checked the tactical displays. "Is it enough for the shuttle to get through?"
/* There is a 50% probability for the shuttle to survive entrance into the planet's atmosphere. */
"Fifty percent chance of success means fifty percent chance of failure," said Vila.
The numbers rang a memory. He'd been willing to take a fifty percent chance at Control. Of course, it had been much more than that. It was a time he didn’t like to remember, except once a year, on the anniversary of Gan's death. He wondered what Gan would have made of this new crew. He'd probably have liked it. "But…"
He was a different man now and Gan would have probably liked that too. Fear would always make his mouth dry up and the blood would always pound in his ears, beating a rhythm of retreat, but he had grown and changed. For the better, he hoped.
Fifty percent chance. Glass half full. Glass half empty. He was usually on the short end of most things, but he had to admit, his luck had been better this past year. "We can't leave them down there."
Reya's eyes were hard and focussed. "No, we can't. Cally, are you able to contact Avon?"
Cally shook her head. "There's a great deal of interference from the planet."
Corinne's brow lifted in puzzlement. "You mean the storms are affecting your psi abilities?"
"At first, I thought Avon was preoccupied but it's more than that. From the scanner readings, these storms create energies that produce waves similar to those used for thought transference."
Kirsten, who was sitting on the ledge in front of Zen's interface, leaned towards her. "You mean these waves pass through other dimensions just like yours do?"
"Isn't that dangerous?" Vila was all ears. He remembered the last time a creature tried to cross dimensions. It wasn't an experience he wanted to repeat.
Cally's hand went to her head as she opened up her perceptions to 'read' the energy of the storms below. It was like static from a broken transmitter, though occasionally the static seemed to form random words. "These ones are not directed." Her head moved, as if she were trying to find an angle that would give better reception. "It's hard to tell with all the 'noise.' When I spoke with Avon earlier, he seemed far away but that must be because of the storms."
* Cally. * Avon's voice was faint.
* Avon! * The sudden wide-eyed relief on her face told the others that something was happening.
Reya asked, "Is it Avon?"
Cally nodded but her eyes were unfocussed. * Avon. I've been trying to contact you. *
Avon's mental voice was calm, impassive but there was a current of relief that was impossible to hide. * I've been trying to as well. *
* Is everyone all right? *
Static ate up his words * …injuries but everyone…survived. * Cally closed her eyes, her hand touching her temple in concentration, trying to push through the static. * Avon, did you say everyone survived but there are some injuries? *
* Yes…ship exploded… *
She provided a running commentary. "He says everyone survived but there are some injuries. The ship exploded."
Reya closed her eyes briefly, allowing relief to show on her face as Kirsten gave a long sigh.
* Wolves…agreed to help…into the base. *
* Avon. Can you repeat that last bit? Did you say wolves are helping you? Avon? * She pressed her temple, trying to concentrate harder. There was only static. "I've lost contact." Her voice trailed off as she tried to make sense of the last communication.
"What else did he say?" asked Reya.
"I don't understand it. He said wolves were helping them."
"You mean Wolf?" asked Vila. "Argus's Wolf?"
"No, he said wolves."
"That's strange," said Corinne.
Kirsten slid off the ledge. "Maybe you heard wrong. Maybe it only sounded like wolves."
"It could be," said Cally.
"Alright, we have to go down there," said Reya. "Cally, Vila…" She stared at the screen.
Cally was about to head to the steps but she sat back. "What are you thinking?"
"The greatest danger to the shuttle is from the energy spikes."
She checked a few readings to verify. "That sounds right."
"What if we boost the shield strength to block those energies? How long would it take?"
"Just those energies? An hour, maybe two? We'll need the engineers."