Written By Marie Daley
Whatever It Takes
“You do not need to constantly keep your eyes to the scan screens, when on duty. You will develop a way to keep them in your sight peripherally, if you need to look away for a moment,” Corsley of House Muratha gently chided Julie Larson, who was sitting at the main scanner board on Flutter-wing. She’d started her duties here last week, but still appeared unsure of herself. She looked up to him a little round-eyed, but gave him a nod in understanding.
“This is my first time being wholly responsible for a board. I’ll figure it out,” she admitted as she blushed. Corsley loved the blend of her features, knowing she was a starman-human cross from Booda. Her blue eyes were alluring, and she appeared an artful balance between the two peoples.
“What did you do before coming here?” he asked, to draw her out and get her to relax; she seemed very young, not in years, but in life experiences. He resisted using his Mind Voice to get answers directly. Winterhaven practiced strict policies concerning Talent use, and he knew he wasn’t ready to see the brutality she must’ve faced on that forsaken moon. He knew so many of the Boodans suffered night terrors usually involving their former lives.
“In Winterhaven? Or where I came from?” she asked, puzzled, as he was studying her face. It was often the way others acted around the crosses, and she was past letting such behavior get to her by now.
“Both?” he asked as he took the empty second’s chair beside her. “We are going to be working together and I am curious,” he admitted as he smiled encouragement. It was a slow day, so they had time. She drew in a breath and gave him a nod.
“In Winterhaven, Max trained me to help in the control room and seemed very happy with my work, so supported my move up to Flutter-wing,” she told him, smiling now, seeing in his eyes he was genuinely curious about her past. He gave her a nod in understanding. They were short on skilled people in Winterhaven, but this was an important post, too.
“If Max thinks you should be here, then that is a high recommendation. And you have been doing a good job, from what I have seen,” he assured her, as he smiled again. She smiled in return, her blue eyes lighting up from within at his compliment. “And what did you do before that?” he pressed, wanting to be sure, loving the bright spirit awaking in her eyes.
“I was born on Booda, the third moon of Tyssen. When I was younger, I helped my parents with the gardens, then helped to care for the young crosses as I got older. It was heartbreaking at times, since not many lived long, but I was there to provide comfort and care as long, as possible. Not much, when compared to what I can do - all by myself - now,” she finished, appearing more confident. “And you? You seem amazingly comfortable with this space station, as if you’ve lived here all your life.” He chuckled in response, giving her a nod. It was a fair question.
“I was brought out of the fires of Hailys’ destruction by Ryes and our strong Talent team, so am used to Tayna of old. I worked in Central Control for Hailys but had been at Nazaneen Starport to see my brother and his wife off to Kisteela for a family vacation. They never made it; I saw them crushed in an instant, right before my eyes,” he related, his mind was immersed in the horror of that day for a few moments, the memories still horrific. Julie was saddened, unable to imagine it, and yet didn’t want to see it for herself, knowing it would break her heart. She put a hand on his shoulder in comfort. He looked up and met her eyes, seeing her caring, and how she helped him back from his inner abyss.
“Corsley, we have an alert update from the Challenger, and they want to talk to you,” Briel of House Jukoo stated flatly, not as curious about the new scan tech. She recalled he asked about her past too, when they were first brought up to the empty space station. She’d lived Hailys and was rescued at the time he was, too. She used to work in the business offices of the starport and knew only pure luck had saved her life the day of the attack. Corsley gave her a nod as he snapped back to the present and stood to return to his post, being he was the Station Chief for Space Station Flutter-wing. He put on the primitive headset, returned to his station, and tuned in. Maren had removed his neural net when they were processed at Winterhaven, after being pulled in from the past, and it frustrated him at times.
“Flutter-wing here, Corsley speaking,” he commed.
“Hi Corsley, it’s Axel. We have an update for you on those inbound Earth ships. It’s confirmed they’re due to arrive an hour before lunch today,” he informed him on the vid.
“What are the standing orders?” he pressed, wanting to be sure. He used to work in the command center for Hailys as third officer, so this small station was in no way as complex. Usually, it was a completely boring duty. Still, he wasn’t completely comfortable with so few defenses set up for the station; they were vulnerable. Phil assured him better defensive capabilities were in the plans for Flutter-wing’s next expansion, but he was never given a date. He hoped it’d be soon.
“We’ll invite them to dock there for a while, so be ready for company. We don’t know how they’ll behave, so keep an eye to protecting the secure areas, and our people. Shawn will be arriving shortly with some added staff to lend you a hand, food, and supplies you’ll need for the larger population,” he informed him. Corsley gave him a nod in relief, glad someone was on top of it.
“We will take care of it,” he confidently assured him.
“Have their officers assist in policing their own people, too. That’ll help give you a breather. See if you can come up with some good do’s and don’ts to advise them about. We’re leaving it up to you, if you want to lease any guest rooms for the crews to use, or not. Remember, it’s our station, not theirs! And don’t hesitate to call for help, or advice, if needed. We’re all here for you,” Axel offered.
“I will handle it, but appreciate the back-up,” Corsley stated with confidence and a nod. A smile finally showed on his face. “After hosting a diplomatic party of Vastins, this will be easy,” he bragged. Axel laughed and gave him a nod, with unvoiced questions in his eyes.
“It’s why we thought you were the best one to head up this command,” he replied. “Call us, or Winterhaven, if you need anything.”
“Your confidence is very appreciated. We will be ready to receive our guests. Anything else we should know?” he pressed.
“Ryes is concerned that their Talents may not be very polite, so feel free to intervene, as needed,” Axel added. Corsley nodded with another smile.
“My specialty! It will be fine. We will do whatever it takes!”
“Thanks! Anything you need from us right now?” He shook his head in response. Axel nodded. “Then over and out. Challenger on standby,” he responded and cut the communication.
“What’s a Vastin?” Julie asked with a frown, as she swiveled to face him. Corsley laughed, as did Briel, but it wasn’t derisive laughter. Other people working in the command center appeared curious, too.
“They were a large, belligerent people, who smelled horrible and believe the whole universe owes them whatever they fancy, in any given moment. They were good warriors though, and a good people to have at your side in a fight,” Briel explained with a merry light in her golden eyes. Julie smiled in response and gave them a nod.
“Sounds like we could use a few with us now,” she replied.
“Truly, we could,” Corsley agreed.
“Incoming shuttle from Winterhaven,” Julie chimed, seeing the tell-tale, turning back to her board, and recognizing it. “Shawn’s almost here.”
“Good man; good pilot,” Corsley assured her. She smiled and gave him a nod. “Now to get the station buttoned down for this friendly visit by potential allies. We will all be on the alert and take nothing for granted,” he ordered. He turned for his own board and set to work. The others here in the control center would handle the mundane tasks, for which he was grateful. Still, he stole a glance at Julie, as she focused upon her console once again. He smiled as he thought of getting to know her better during their next free time together. She was a curiosity he wanted to explore.
Very early spring last year, seven Matlowe Villagers set out for the great ruins of Hailys because Sabin was banished for six months for killing a cub-killer; giving the elders time to collect evidence of the dead man’s guilt – one way or the other – to affirm if justice had been served. It also allowed these villagers to escape Maren’s father, Korman, who’d been known to kill others in challenges. Garth wasn’t going to ever let Korman get his claws on Ryes, and she didn’t want him to get his claws on Garth. During their journey they found the Temple of Doran and her evilness, but Ryes bested her in a Talent battle, which was partly a within contest of wills, as well as a physical assault. During the battle, Ryes’ own Talents opened fully. Afterwards, they discovered Hailys and the treasures that could be gleaned from their people’s technologically advanced past. Garth beat Korman in a challenge in Hailys, when Korman found them there. After leaving Hailys, they found a deserted, human research facility, which they named Winterhaven. Later, while Garth and Sabin were away to settle a peace treaty, Ryes called down a derelict, human, colony transport ship, the Star Quest, which was from Earth. She and Maren saved what few humans remained onboard in suspension tubes. Since then, the two peoples discovered they could meld; being of one heart in truth and later found they could actually interbreed; a first for both peoples. Now they wanted to build a secure future for them all. And it’d been foreseen they were destined to conquer the Snagospin, the dark enemy who destroyed Tayna’s cities over three-hundred years ago. Being planet-bound, they only need a way to reach them! They had the Talents, determination, and heart to try.
"Hurry up, Ryes, this way," Mitt urged, climbing over a rocky outcropping between them and the area she was targeting, leading down into the vast bowl of sunken land.
"I don't go out as often as I used to," she returned in complaint, grinning to herself. She may work out at the gym three times a week, but the area around Winterhaven was level ground with no hills to constantly climb. It'd taken an unforeseen toll upon her body, apparently. She crested the outcropping shortly thereafter, getting a view of where Mitt was headed. She resisted the temptation to "fly" herself out to it ahead of her, feeling it’d be cheating herself, more than anyone else. So, she trotted down the hill, with Jim and Monty trailing her. They were her bodyguards today.
"Hey Mitt, slow up a little," Monty called out, panting, as he tried to keep up. He hadn't known how out of shape he was until now. It was embarrassing!
"Ah, you're just a bunch of slow pads," she teased in response, laughing merrily at the three of them and the way this little jaunt had them all huffing and puffing like Aric’s bellows.
"I wish your aunt had come out with us. She wouldn't be doing this, if she were along," Jim commented, catching up to Ryes, as she'd slowed to a walk again. Ryes shook her head, her breathing finally returning to normal once more.
"I know she can outrun us all, but Hadu would easily outpace her," she agreed. "And Adina could probably pace her. Mitt just loves to torture me and unfortunately, you guys get to suffer too. Sorry."
"That's all right; I can use the exercise," Monty assured her, grinning as he walked on her other side. They finally caught up with Mitt, as she stood waiting.
"Now, let me check to make sure this is the spot," she said, looking to Ryes with a mischievous grin. Ryes chuckled as she nodded her head. She closed her eyes, calling up her full range of Talents. Mitt gripped her hand, then tapped Empath, delving below to see if this was where she saw, what she thought she saw, when they looked at this site from Winterhaven with the machine generated scans. Very quickly she had her answer.
"They're here, below us," Ryes breathed, opening her eyes with wonder playing in their emerald depths. Mitt still had hers closed, getting a better look at what lay in the pit, way below them.
"Are you sure you can do this?" Monty questioned, doubting her ability to deal with what they wanted to attempt, as he understood it.
"We're going to try and keep trying until we succeed. We need them desperately, especially to save the Earth," she replied, then closed her eyes to view things now through Mitt’s Talent, too.
"Let's do it," Mitt urged in sending. Ryes gave her an affirmative.
“Let’s start from up here and tunnel down,” Ryes suggested, then focused both Earth Shaper and Manipulator fully, while keeping Empath up so they could “see” it all.
“I want to go up from below,” Mitt insisted. They reached down into the pocket created by the tumble of the beams and other debris, then started shoving the dirt and debris upwards from below. There was a lot of resistance, so Ryes pulled her Talents back, cutting Mitt off from them, seeing her determination to keep trying, using her idea.
"I told you, we need to clear it from the surface first, or we’ll just bury them deeper in soil, trying from below," she scolded, with humor in her mental voice.
"Alright," Mitt gave in and calmed, ceding her point, then extended Ryes' Talents to the surface over the target area, causing the soil, plants, and debris to shower down on the far side of her intended hole, away from them and the two men guarding them. Ryes then started depositing the metal beams, plates, strange machines, and other interesting items in separate piles, knowing they could use them later. This amused Mitt as she kept up in her efforts to tunnel down, as quickly as possible. After what seemed an eternity, they finally broke through to the cavern below. Ryes was feeling excited, as she worked to widen the opening and preventing as much of the debris, as possible, from falling back into the cavern with Earth Shaper. She diverted it to the surface discard piles.
"There, that's it," she reported, opening her eyes. Mitt opened hers too and grinned merrily.
"Come on, let's go have a real look at `em," Mitt urged, letting go of Ryes and running toward the edge of the enormous, deep, dark hole they created. She stopped as she peered down into the seemingly endless darkness.
"Do you think any of that death dust might be down there?" Jim asked, following Ryes over and looking into the massive, gaping dark pit at their feet. Somehow, he imagined it as smelling of old death, like a dark, spooky grave of gigantic proportions.
"That's quite a pile of scrap metal. Kovin's going to appreciate it," Monty commented, grinning. The hole below looked scary to his eyes, and smelled of old, tainted air.
"He's not getting it all. I have other projects in mind and need some of it, too," Mitt returned, smiling as she looked to Ryes again. She then turned back to the pit, activating a small light she brought along. “And we’ll check on that death dust.”
"There was a reason you brought us out here in the Avenger, instead of a chopper, wasn't there?" Ryes questioned, shaking her head, as she realized the true reason Mitt wanted her out here for this effort today.
"Actually, there were a couple of reasons," she replied. "I wish my light could actually illuminate down there," she added, as she turned off her handheld lantern feeling slightly frustrated.
"You're not thinking of going down there?" Jim pressed, worried for them all in such a venture. He looked like he didn’t want to go into that dark descent, at all.
"No, I'm going to be using Ryes' Talents, again," she assured him, smiling. "Ready Sis?" Ryes sighed as she gave her a nod of her head, knowing she was a resource. She smiled as she sat down in the tall grasses, and closed her eyes, relaxing more fully for this part, knowing it’d be a deeper pull on her Talents and energy. The sweet smell of the crushed grasses filled her senses, minding her of her younger days in Matlowe, even if those younger days hadn’t been that long ago.
"Alright, Mitt, now I'm ready," she affirmed. Mitt sat down next to her, closing her eyes, and taking her hand.
First, Mitt fully opened her own Inner Sight, then melded with Ryes once more, tapping her Inner Sight, too. They reached down to the ancient space craft, which lay far below. First, Mitt checked the general designs, being well familiar with the Star Quest, the shuttles, and the human’s fighter craft. These were quite different, but still rang "true" to her Talent. The ships, which were in the launch pit, were fighter craft, so they must've been trying to launch them to fight the Snagospin, at the very end. Many ships were crushed, or in pieces, having been blasted apart. This pit was far deeper than the rest of the starport, and both women wondered about it. Then Mitt started an examination of the engines. Alarms went off in their heads.
"They're WRONG!" Ryes declared, astounded. "How can they be so wrong, when Inner Sight is reputed to be an old Talent from Kahmarr? Why would they ever make them that way?"
"I've no idea, but we're not bringing those cursed things up out of that pit. The radiation will kill everyone who’s near them. Let me use your Molecular and Manipulator Talents, then see if we can make this one, which I like, safe. It looks like a ship ready to do battle. They must've had a way to remove the engines for repairs, so once it’s clean, I’m breaking it free from that power source and the engines, and it’ll be lighter," she asserted, panic in her heart as she wondered if they were truly within a safe range to the radioactives, even now? There were quite a few spaceships down below, both intact and broken!
"Monty, check the area for radiation!" she sent him, as Ryes opened her full range of Talents for their use again. He was surprised by her order, but quickly grasped the situation. He took the small scan unit from her belt and activated it.
"It's all right, but is a little higher than normal, background stuff. We shouldn't stay here too much longer without donning suits from the shuttle to protect us," he reported, using his own Talent. He looked to Jim and showed him what the scanner read. He understood, nodding in response, having “heard” both Mitt and Monty, as they weren’t narrowly focusing their conversation, and he was beside them. It was a handy Talent at times, wishing he had it, too. It was times like this he actually missed the neural net Maren removed.
"Let's hurry," Mitt urged. She used Ryes’ Molecular Talent and had the radioactive materials changed to inert molecules, as well as neutralized the death dust in the whole area of the pit and buildings around it, as well as the ships. She reached over with her own Talent next, finding the connectors which secured the drive engines and reactor to the target ship. She carefully opened them, using Ryes' Manipulator. Once she had them released, she took a quick estimation of the remaining mass. She realized between Ryes and the Avenger, they just might make it, and removing the engines had lightened the load a lot, but it was a big ship!
"What’re you plotting?" Ryes demanded, wanting to know ahead of time, hating to guess, and she wasn’t going to peek.
"We're lifting one of those ships out of here today. My season starts in a few days, and I want one of these beauties secured, before I'm forced to stay home for a while," she told her, mentally smiling as she thought of having her own cub. She didn't want to take the time from her work, but she wanted her own child, to pass her Talents onto. Somehow, she knew she and Minn would make it work out. Axel had faith in her, too. Ryes opened her eyes, as she recalled what she went through last year, and was still trying to juggle her children, and the work she found she enjoyed in Winterhaven. She also had faith in Mitt's abilities to work things out, and she let her know it. Mitt returned with a merry feeling of thanks for her open-hearted support.
"Let's get back to the Avenger," Ryes told her, sighing as she dropped out of the meld. She knew she'd need her Talents to get this buried ship out, once more. Monty helped her to her feet as she smiled her thanks for him. Mitt jumped up before Jim could give her a hand. She was all smiles, too.
"Come on you slow pads, the day's wasting!" With this, she trotted back the way they came, grinning as she glanced back to see the remaining three with humor on their faces, watching her.
"And the day's not over, yet," Ryes added, grinning as she started to trot, following her sister-in-law's path. After a good forty minutes of climbing and jogging, they reached the Avenger. Mitt already had her lifting rig out and ready, by the time they arrived.
"Took you long enough," she commented, smiling merrily.
"Now I know why you made the field ball team," Jim teased, panting as he tried to catch his breath. Mitt laughed and gave him a nod.
"Let's get aboard, before she makes us run back, again," Ryes suggested, laughing and grimacing. They boarded and Mitt took the pilot's seat, as Monty sealed the hatches.
"What's the plan?" Jim asked, wanting to know, even if he felt he could guess it already. He was only skeptical what he suspected she was planning could be pulled off.
"We're lifting out one of the old starships. I'm going to need Ryes to help with the lift. After she shoved Flutter-wing off from Booda, I know she can do it," she replied, already heading the Avenger toward the hole they created.
"Wait, I do have limits and that thing's huge, way bigger than Flutter-wing," Ryes reminded her, taking the copilot's seat and strapping in. The men strapped into the seats behind them.
"I know, but if you stretch out and try, I know you can do the impossible! Besides, the Avenger and Defender will be taking most of the weight. I put in a call to Axel, and he should be here any moment," she informed her, grinning with a mischievous light in her dark brown eyes. Ryes looked exasperated as she saw the telltale indicating the Defender approaching.
"I'm here," Axel told them, over the radio. "Getting into position."
"Roger that," Mitt told him, smiling, as she joined him.
"What about the radiation?" Jim pressed, not wanting the area around Winterhaven contaminated.
"We already have converted the radioactives to inert material for this ship. We tested Ryes’ new Talent on the Star Quest and the current shuttles and fighters, and if there’s anything left, Ryes can take care of it later today. Axel and I are planning on putting her down on the far side of the Quest for now, which is well away from our apartments. So, relax and enjoy the trip," she urged as she maneuvered into position. Axel set the Defender into the position she told him to take, the towing cables were dangling below them, all ready. "Ryes, as I direct," she ordered.
Ryes gave her a nod and closed her eyes, doing as Mitt instructed. She extended her Talents down, pulling what was left of the great ship up and away from its shut-down reactor and drive engines. Once she had it high enough, she pulled the dangling cables over to it and attached them to the hull, as she saw was set up on its original design, which was meant to accommodate being moved this way. Still, she saw the weight was too great for the tiny shuttles to bear, so clamped onto the ship with her Talents firmly, urging Mitt and Axel to get moving - FAST! After a few moments, she realized she couldn't fight Tayna anymore. Cold sweat was pouring down her body, as she strained to hold it aloft.
"You can let it go, but gently," Mitt told her, as she was about to do so, anyway. As well as she could, she released it to Tayna's keeping, hoping her action wouldn't pull the shuttles down out of the sky; not having realized they had released their cables already, and she was the only one keeping it now a few inches above the ground.
"Good job!" Axel said, over the radio. "It looks like we're starting our own spaceship junk yard," he added, as he laughed merrily. Both shuttle pilots returned the shuttles to their hangar landing pads.
"Well, I guess we have to start somewhere," Mitt told him, as she was going through her shutdown procedures. She got more of his laughter in response. Ryes looked to have fallen asleep. She hoped she was all right, knowing the strain it put upon her to do this operation.
"I'll get her over to Maren for a quick check," Jim volunteered, standing behind Ryes’ seat, releasing her restraints, swiveled the seat, then picked her up.
"Wait. I'll go along to explain things, and even if our radiation exposure was minimal, I want Maren to check all of us out, first. I don't want any errors here," she replied, all business. Monty could clearly see Garth in her, when she acted this way. He smiled as he gave her a nod of agreement.
"Especially, with your season due soon," he quipped back, merrily. She laughed at this, then got up from her seat, leading them off the ship.
"Most especially because of that," she agreed, under her breath.
"That is why the dampening fields were so strong," Adina explained, as she and Hadu sat at the table with them for dinner, instead of eating at a table of their own, as they usually dined. Ryes had moved her into one of the larger spare bedroom downstairs, with Hadu sleeping outside her door, in the hall. This had distressed Ryes, but he wouldn't be dissuaded from sleeping on the floor in that spot, so she provided him with a simple sleeping mat, which he accepted and used, per her request.
"At least we removed the danger, since we converted the isotopes to inert matter for this ship, before we retrieved her yesterday. We’ll work on the new power plant and engines soon," Mitt stated. Ryes was busy feeding her cubs, as she gave a nod of her head in agreement, glancing over to briefly meet her eyes, smiling, before wiping up Shyla’s face. The cub loved to dribble out her food as a game now.
“Converted the radioactive isotopes? How?” Adina questioned, puzzled, wondering what equipment they might have used. This settlement was far from any true starports and the advanced decontamination equipment they’d have available to use in a real facility. Did they already retrieve that equipment from Hailys?
“Ryes’ new fiftieth Talent, Molecular Manipulator,” she replied, as if it were widely known already. She glanced over at Ryes, giving her a smile, and fully missed the startled shock on Adina’s face, and the intent interest in Hadu’s. No one else appeared surprised with her simple response.
"So, you think we'll be able to take the drive system from the Star Quest and install it into… What did you call it?" Ethan requested, wondering if they mentioned a name for the new ship yet, or not? He’d noted Adina’s shock and was amused. There was light laughter around the table, as Ryes shook her head.
"We're still kicking that one around," she told him, smiling as she wiped Gareth's chin and neck. "The names gleaned so far are: the Last Defender, the Pit Viper, the Late to Launch, the Digger, the Mole, and the Half-pint Folly. We're just getting to know her; we'll come up with her name in time," she assured him.
"Since we already have the Sand Burrower, why not call her the Digger?" Maren piped in, chuckling as he did so.
"What was her original name, since she was a true ship before, and not a shuttle?" Adina questioned, pointedly.
"The Pike Forward," Mitt replied, still wondering what it meant.
"Ah, it is an ancient battle strategy. To put the pikemen forward, to take the brunt of the first charge of the enemy calvary upon their great shields with long spears held between shields to damage all they could. Usually, the archers stood behind them, to reduce the numbers of the attackers," she explained, delighted to see everyone paying her attention in this moment, “It was for ground-based battles from ancient times.”
"Then maybe we should keep her name the same, only add it on in English, so everyone will be able to read it," Garth suggested, smiling at this simple decision. It was a proper warship name after all.
"Who here cannot already read Dolbith?" Adina pressed in return, sounding exasperated. She noted most things here were labeled in both languages, throughout the whole facility. It was curious to her mind, and she needed to understand their reasons.
"The humans who'll be coming from Earth; if they can break through the blockade and reach us. They may, or may not, want to learn Dolbith, and we might not want to teach all of them our language. We've no idea what our enemy's numbers are in the vastness of space between us and Earth's Sol system," Ryes explained, meeting her eyes. “And we don’t know what these new humans will be like, with having to live with this terrible war, and murderous aliens, for some years, already.”
"Dr. Cruthers, do you know how this will affect our rank and assignment in the military?" Bitty suddenly questioned, appearing concerned. She now sat across from Mitt and her family, feeling that as long as they allowed it, someone from their group off the Star Quest, which had been pulled out of the past by Ryes, should have firsthand knowledge of what was happening. She found mealtimes were never boring with these people, and she rather enjoyed the warm banter. She felt as if she’d found a new family in this mix of starmen and humans.
"Your contract with Earth forces has expired quite some years ago, and they will have you listed as dead, or missing. It'll be up to you and your friends, Bitty, if you wish to make a new contract with them, or not. The captains can reactivate you out of retirement, but then the length of that service is limited to one standard Earth year. You may still have family back on the worlds you originated, but until this matter with the Snagospin is settled, I wouldn't advise you trying to reach them. You'll only cause yourself, and others, grief," he advised, seeing the hope, then understanding in her eyes.
"I can imagine we're so far out of date with the technology by now, that we'd be looked upon as colonial hicks," she returned, smiling tightly, as her stomach was now a lead lump.
"You think that's bad? Amitell no longer exists, so we'll never see our last paychecks," Dotti teased, smiling, "At least with the Fleet, you still have a chance, even if you can’t spend Terran credits here."
"Then I'll take mine in bags of coffee beans," she quipped back, grinning as she thought on it.
"Amen to that!" Justin agreed with a chuckle. Their supply of coffee had dwindled down to the point where Chuck only served it at breakfast, two days a week. It’d become a precious commodity in Winterhaven.
"We have a few coffee plants growing in our greenhouse, but they’re growing slowly," Ethan sighed out in agreement. “The native tea mixes are all right, but not the same as my favorite beverage.”
"At least we found a replacement for your tobacco, even if I think it’s something you should quit," Ryes reminded him, smiling at the change in the look in his eyes. She and Teris had altered the plants to be far less toxic, so wasn’t sure if he truly like it, or not. Ethan’s eyes did brighten as he recalled this one, small blessing, giving her a nod in gratitude.
"So, once we get the Pike Forward ready for flight, we'll have some real firepower at our disposal," Maren commented, glad they had found the ship yesterday, after all. “How many usable ships are still out there?” Mitt gave him a shrug of her shoulders and shook her head, appearing not to know. “Yesterday’s focus was to find one, not take a deeper survey,” she minded him.
"We still need some weapons with greater power and range," Garth spoke up, thinking on an idea which came to his mind. He'd have to ask his wife about it, later. If they could retrieve this one ship, why not others? And he wasn’t thinking of the wrecks still resting in that pit in Hailys. They only needed the time to do a proper search.
"You want me to go out and look for her?" she asked Garth, dumbfounded by his complete faith in her abilities.
"She existed, once. Why not? You know her," he assured her, confident she could do this task. Ryes sighed as she sat down on the couch next to him. The cubs were asleep, and since it was the weekend, Sayer and Raby were spending the night with Matissa, who was one of the Boodan girls, and Katas, over at Ardis and Sabin’s. Dotti had told them about the sleep-over parties she had, or went to, when she was their age. They took to it immediately. Ardis commented that she doubted any of them would get any sleep. But at least their younger cubs were sound asleep.
"And you want me to try it now?" she questioned, meeting his eyes. He smiled down to her.
"Why not? It's quiet tonight. Your aunt and Hadu are visiting the Sleepers and all the cubs are either asleep, or gone," he pressed. She finally smiled as she sighed her surrender, putting her book aside.
"Alright, but I don't feel safe extending beyond our solar system, still for you, I'll try," she assured him, "I can't get used to calling our sun Monrush. Beda, as the humans called it, sounds so much better."
"For far too long, it was merely `the sun' to us. But, if we want to expand out on a cosmic scale, we do need to start granting it a proper name and it was called Monrush, long before it was named Beda by the humans," he chided her.
"I don't know about that. We'll have to delve back into Earth history, to be sure," she quipped back, smiling impishly. He laughed at this, then nodded his head.
“But it’s our sun, so our name,” he teased in return. She relaxed now, so it was time to try. Ryes then closed her eyes, calling up her Talents. Garth called up his Empath, then melded his consciousness with hers tapping her Mind Voice.
Ryes didn't waste any time as she opened her own Empath, pulled her husband along as she leapt up and outwards, streaking first to the remains of the colony upon Booda. She saw there was little left now, as the salvage crews had already stripped out what was useful, leaving behind only what wasn't important enough to justify bringing back to Tayna, and the remote, computer-operated "listening" post. It was another small link in their network for advance detection. If necessary, it could also be used as a decoy, if the Snagospin took an interest in Tayna.
She then reached out to touch Beda, itself, as if to fix the feel of her home sun firmly within all her senses. Now she turned out to face the stars, which beckoned beyond.
"Monrush,” he teasingly reminded her. “Go to where that battle was being fought, which you showed us in the challenge you issued," Garth suggested, thinking it was a good starting point.
Ryes understood and extended her consciousness in that direction, feeling its location almost instinctively from within. She wondered at what Doran had tried to do to her, so that what were only shadows of memories from the men Doran captured and consumed, still influenced her own senses and Talent so strongly?
"But, if it's helped us, why worry now? She has no power over you," her husband assured her, feeling her inner turmoil clearly.
"They were the essences of others," she replied, "Isn't it like stealing small pieces of those people?"
"Think of it as preserving the memory of who they were, what they did, and how they lived. You honor them, not deride them, as she was wont," he responded, feeling this was the right way to view it. She realized he was right, as she neared the place of the battle, noting the position of the stars around them.
There was a cold, alien presence nearby, but it hadn't noted them yet. She stayed well away from it, as she began a light, sweeping search for any of the ships which had participated in that ancient battle. She found small clumps of twisted metal and pieces of what might have been ships' hulls, drifting about the system.
"I don't think we're going to find any of the ships intact," she warned, expanding her search outwards, while keeping a sense of that cold presence, as well as where her own sun lay. It was so tiny and distant! Suddenly, almost as it was now attached, a slowly rotating asteroid swung past with the remains of a huge starship, almost wrapped around it.
"That's her! That's the Challenger!" Sabin clearly declared, letting Ryes know he'd joined them. She'd been so distracted with trying to keep an eye to everything else around her, she never felt him joining their commune, as Garth had.
"It’s her," Garth agreed. "Let's get a closer look, inside," he suggested, wanting to know how extensive the damage truly was. Ryes got over her initial surprise and sent her agreement. She realized her Aunt Adina and Hadu were also a part of the group, too. She approached the ship, passing through the hull. She called up her Inner Sight, wishing hers was as strong as Mitt's.
"I will call her over," Adina told her, amused as she noted Ryes was surprised at the offer.
"Thank you," she replied, as she examined what she could of the ship. She realized the hull was still intact and that it was merely grappled to the chunk of planet debris, not crashed into it. The rock had a massive groove, which the ship fit into, very well. She didn't know if this was due to some effort to camouflage it, or further protect it? Maybe both? Suddenly, Mitt joined her, calling up her own Inner Sight to get a look at the Challenger, herself.
"Clever," she commented, as she noted the deception involving the asteroid. She delved into the systems, now familiar with their basic designs from the Pike.
"There's still power!" Sabin noted, seeing what Mitt discovered. Ryes projected herself upon the bridge, striding over to the engineering post and using Manipulator Talent, at Mitt's direction. After several long minutes, she had the ship's systems powering up. Mitt then saw the damage to the drives and understood why she was secured as such. It was serving as a temporary dry dock for the great craft.
"Program a course to bring her into orbit around Tayna. Tell her to dock at Flutter-wing," Garth instructed, seeing what Mitt saw, that she was still capable of limited flight. It might be slow, but it was better than nothing. Ryes called up the star charts, noting where Beda lay.
"It's Monrush, remember?" Sabin teased her this time.
"Well, here it's a number, so I can still think of it as Beda," she returned, amused. There was inner laughter from the others at her retort. She set the coordinates as Mitt instructed, seeing more lights registering blue now. Then, something within the machinery was responding to her Talent. Could the computer detect Talent? How could a machine register its presence?
"The pilots and higher officers all were required to have Talent," Adina informed her. "Now I understand why. Maybe the computer, as you call it, does require the presence of the right type of Talent to function?" she suggested, not quite sure on this matter.
"What do I do?" she returned, puzzled now.
"Use your Inner Sight and reassure it you're a starman," Garth told her, hoping. She gave her acknowledgment to him, then turned to do so.
"I felt its affirmative. If I hadn't done it, it would've self-destructed," she told them. Mitt checked, seeing she was correct. The computer acknowledged her presence too, giving her a chill. "I guess it's to deter thieves," Ryes teased her. "Do you think I'm going to need a constant contact with it?"
"No, but you should probably check in with it several times a day, to let it know you're still around," Mitt suggested, feeling from her Talent that this was correct. They saw the ship releasing herself from the asteroid, her engines were now online and thrusting her on her course.
"Oh fine, chained to a machine again!" she retorted, smiling to herself as she realized it was something new to add to her schedule, for a few weeks at least. Even for being crippled, it travelled fast, as she called up her fold engine and jumped across to be far closer already.
“Garth, did you notice? This is our ship!” Sabin sent, trying to contain his excitement at his discovery – just like in his Vision!
"You're right! This is the ship! We're going to be piloting her out on her first voyage, as our own," he agreed, after having looked at the pilot’s seat, as if viewing it for the first time.
"I thought the captain sat in his own chair," Ryes teased, "Or do you want to play crew and let me be her captain?"
"The captain had better know every bolt of his own ship and piloting her out on her maiden voyage, himself, is only making sure he can handle her, if he ever has to!" he retorted, humor in his mental tones, having learned it from human military traditions and stories on record here. "You only get to be her captain over my dead body."
"That means never," she quipped back, teasing him in return. "Time to return," she reminded them, pulling back from the Challenger, noting she wobbled a little in flight. "Maybe we should rename her The Flutter-wing II?"
"No! We'll get her back into shape. You'll see," Garth assured her, still excited over finally finding the ship from Sabin's Vision. Ryes didn't feel as happy, until she again touched Beda, then streaked on towards home.
“Let’s go back and check on Flutter-wing,” Mitt suggested, getting an idea. She pulled Ryes and the others over to the long shuttle which was now sitting in geosynchronous orbit over Winterhaven. “Now, let’s get to work!”
“Doing what?” Sabin demanded, beating Ryes to the punch.
“Making her into a real space platform, of course,” Mitt stated, pleased with her ideas now. “We have company coming and they’ll need a place to park.”
“You do not have much to work with,” Adina observed cryptically. They felt her humor filling the commune and it sparked Mitt’s own humor.
“Here’s our materials,” she assured the rest, pulling them over to the remains of the previous stardock, which was now grounded on Shaysa’s bright, rocky surface. Through her Inner Sight everyone noted the stardock had been attacked and deliberately destroyed; probably by the Snags when they attacked Tayna and destroyed the cities. It looked like a sad ending.
“Let’s give her new life,” Ryes suggested, then opened her Talents fully and between her and Mitt pulled up all the wreckage from the moon’s surface. They salvaged a lot of interesting items and some that Adina and Hadu felt were important to preserve, too. Suddenly Axel joined the meld, having been summoned by Adina.
“We sorely need that equipment you’ve saved down here,” he agreed, surprising the women. Humor ran rampant through the link, again. Garth and Sabin merely hung back and watched – amazed at their determination and finesse.
Ryes encapsulated the salvage in a large, plastic bubble for now. Then she, Mitt and Axel used her Molecular Talent and broke down the rest and pulled it all over to Flutter-wing, which was first searched and salvaged for several things too, then melded the rest into their primordial ball of material. Slowly they formed the hub and power systems, the life support systems, and the main core systems that would be very necessary for any space station. They formed the frame, then enclosed the whole thing with the strongest metals they could form, copying the metals used for the support beams in Hailys, as they used for the station’s framework, and now the outer, protective shell.
They filled the station with work areas, control areas, classrooms, and personnel and guest quarters. Ryes wanted to put in far more bathrooms than Axel and Mitt thought were proper, which caused even Adina to laugh merrily. Hadu, who had been peripheral to this all, added in some interesting structures within their construction, which some Ryes recognized as possible safe rooms, but some she didn’t figure out.
“Armories,” he advised, creating four of them and he instantly had Sabin and Garth’s approval, as well as the others’ understanding. The remaining two areas he finished, as Ryes realized they were auxiliary AI compartments. This got admiration from Axel, who agreed wholeheartedly.
“Excellent,” he stated, as the women then added the finishing touches making it not just a station, but a home. Then Ryes involved their AI in the project and requested it shape and program the AI on the station. They felt its pleasure, which surprised everyone but Ryes. It instantly began to analyze the systems, then directed Ryes to make some minor adjustments for it, which she did, understanding its reasons. Ryes then pulled over some ice from out-system and used it to form water for all the fluid systems, filtering it out correctly with the balance used to create breathable air. She kicked on the heat exchangers set to low – to slowly remove the cold of space – knowing later it would be reversed to dump the excess heat, once it was occupied.
“Now we have a space station. Flutter-wing has grown up!” Ryes pulled them back so they could all admire the work they’d done and suddenly Mitt found herself almost knocked out of the link, as she was laughing. She held on, though.
“You gave her flutter-wings?” she finally got out, still astonished, never having noticed, when Ryes made them.
“And they’re rainbow colored, too,” Ryes bragged, feeling tired now. “I wanted her to be pretty and functional. They add in solar energy to the spaceport’s systems,” she explained.
“You all did an amazing job!” Garth said, his pride for their skills and ingenuity was clear, emanating from his heart. Ryes then gently pulled them all back home and Adina, who’d taken over the meld, dissolved it once they were truly back.
“How are you feeling, Ryes?” she demanded. Ryes yawned, covering it with her hand and gave her a nod.
“I’m winded, but not floored,” she reported, proudly. “But I don’t think I should stay up too late tonight.”
“Excellent,” she replied, “you are learning!” Hadu gave her a hand up, as well as Mitt, who didn’t refuse his offered assistance. Everyone said their goodnights and left, with Adina and Hadu going off into her room for a bit of time together. Garth put his arms around Ryes and kissed her soundly.
“I am so very proud of you,” he said, speaking in a low voice. “You’re the one who’s given us a future.” She sighed and leaned her head against his chest.
“It was what I thought we needed,” she said, then smiled as they damped down the lights and turned for their own room and welcoming bed. She did a quick check on their cubs with her Talent and was truly content.
"These are absolutely beautiful!" Tanns declared, grinning happily as she glanced over at Ryes. They were on their knees with Wynne, harvesting the little, purple-colored berries from these profuse allia bushes.
"Ah, they're all going to love us when Chuck puts these lovelies into his muffins," Wynne replied, laughing lightly at their great, chance discovery.
"And now we'll have plenty to try to grow our own, back home in the greenhouse," Ryes added, grinning as she tried to strip the ones she could reach, without getting too badly scratched-up in the process. The plants were armed with some nasty thorns! Teris trotted into view, having been picking fruits off a ridge tree. He smiled as he saw the allia berries.
"I don't believe our luck! Allia berries?" he stated, as he set down his carry sac, full of ridge fruit, to drop to his knees to help pick the berries, too, knowing their importance. His Talent turning the thorns away from his hands as he worked. "We'd better hurry. It looks like that storm is coming in fast," he added, meeting Wynne's eyes.
"We'll make it," she assured him, her belief clear in her voice.
"It doesn't look good; those clouds are moving in fast," Jim added, as he stood guard duty over Ryes. She grinned up at him, glad to see both he and Anders standing nearby, looking ready. She'd had the strangest prickling feeling on her neck all morning long and knew she was jumpier because of it, but their presence helped her relax a little. Was this a Talent warning? She had no idea.
"We're almost done, and I'd say we could call it a day," she assured him, then turned back to Wynne and her Aunt Tanns, "With all these flowers, we should have plenty more to pick later."
"That's the truth," Tanns replied, smiling merrily. She realized she'd finally come to the point where she could accept Ryes as herself. Maybe it was as Maren asserted, that because of Korman's intense focus upon her, she resented Ryes and shunned her for too many years. Ryes wasn't a bad person, nor hard to get along with, now that she, herself, was free of Korman and his influence. Ryes would sometimes seek out her advice for raising her cubs, which was pleasing and helped them both to relax with each other.
"Well, that looks to about do it," Wynne stated, putting the last few berries into her carry sac, and sealing it. She pulled out a cloth and began to wipe off her hands, noting the scratches. She already had sketched the plant, taken several samples, taken a few holograms of the plants and their pollinators, and made sure she KNEW where these beauties were located. She'd come back later to check them during the summer. They weren't too far from the road which ran between Matlowe and Winterhaven, so they were fairly accessible.
“I don’t see any more which are ripe and ready,” Tanns agreed with a nod of her head, as she stood up too, taking out her own cleaning cloth. Teris nodded his head and rose.
"I'm finished here," Ryes said, sealing her collection bag and looking up at the dark clouds, through the trees above them. "That does look nasty," she commented as she stood up. Rain suddenly began to pelt them, falling heavily, but oddly, as it was coming in horizontally now.
"Let's get back to the rover!" Jim ordered, pulling his collar up higher. The rain was ice cold, and it was picking up the pace, with heavier droplets being driven by the sudden winds.
"Time to go!" Wynne agreed as she, Teris and Tanns quickly grabbed the rest of their gear from nearby. Ryes retrieved Teris' carry sac and the group started trotting for the rover.
Suddenly, Ryes found herself slammed to the ground by a huge gust of wind. She got back up on her hands and knees to see a dark, swirling cloud, which sounded like a great machine lived within its core. It was emerging out of the clouds, touching down in the vast meadow near them.
"It's a twister!" Jim shouted over the noise. As the funnel cloud touched down, trees, brush, clumps of grasses, rocks, and everything it touched was immediately yanked into the air and hurtled about. "Let's run for it!" As a group, they got to their feet, and ran for the rover.
But Ryes suddenly stopped and walked back to stand in the cover of the trees, fascinated by this fierce storm. It called out to something within her. She realized it was her Storm Caller Talent, which she rarely used and ignored, so she carefully unleashed it and admired this "twister" from within. It was a deadly dance of beauty to her now-heightened senses, as it utterly entranced her.
"Ryes! Come on, Run!" Tanns stopped to shout, seeing she wasn't keeping up with them. She dropped her things and turned back to go fetch her only surviving niece. Jim turned, seeing what she saw, and ran back beside her.
"Ryes!" he bellowed, as they ran. She finally turned and saw them, then blinked as she realized both her own and their danger, with this terrible, whirling force so close to them all. She turned back to the funnel cloud and reached into its matrix, trying to find a way to dissipate it, and eliminate the threat. It responded to her touch, it turned in its path, now heading straight for her, as if she was calling it to her. Storm Caller, indeed!
"What do you think you're doing?" Tanns demanded as they reached her side.
"I was studying it with my Talent," she shouted back. She tried to urge it away, but it wouldn't obey. "I can't control it, so I'm trying to figure out how to stop it."
"Let's just get outta here!" Jim ordered, seeing it was almost on top of them.
"It's after me now! I can't. Go on and get back to the rover. I'll see if I can do something to get it to stop," she returned, her eyes now glued to the monstrous thing, feeling her panic rising up within, along with whatever tenuous control she thought she might have over it.
"Short of stealing its energy, or getting the wind to turn back on itself, I’ve no idea of how you're going to stop it," he advised, grabbing onto her arm to pull her back from the open area, at least.
"That's it!" Ryes replied, seeing a way through with his suggestions, and closed her eyes to concentrate. She reached into the storm's heart and reversed the pattern of its wind force. Instantly, it died, the swirling ceased, and the remaining debris it collected fell heavily to the ground. The rain continued to fall, but at a more normal pace. Ryes opened her eyes, smiling her triumph, then saw her Aunt Tanns lying upon the ground with a piece of a tree's branch protruding from her abdomen. She immediately dropped to her knees beside her, seeing the shock and surprise in her eyes.
"Calling Winterhaven," Jim said, talking into his headset. "Yeah, this is Jim Dawe, we've got a medical emergency out here. We need Maren flown out to our position, stat," he ordered after a few moments’ pause. There was another pause, then, "No, it's not Ryes, it's Tanns. We were caught out in the open by a twister. So beware, the weather's pretty nasty," he warned, "I'll be standing by." With this he shut off his mic, setting the com unit to standby.
"I've got her pain and bleeding handled, and in a holding sleep, but I'm not skilled enough to remove this by myself. Let's get her back over to the rover, at least," Ryes suggested, seeing Teris and Anders were back, ready to help. She had severed the tree limb and trimmed it back to a short stump on both ends, so it wasn’t applying pressure at odd angles to the wounds and making it worse.
"How?" Teris questioned. Ryes removed her backpack and took out the blanket she usually used for the horde.
"We'll use this," she explained, handing it to Jim, as she stood up. It was a colorful, sturdy, thick blanket. She closed her eyes and extended Manipulator Talent, gently lifting Tanns into the air. She was reluctant to spend more of her Talent today than needed, still feeling unsettled, as if they were being watched. The men didn’t question her, got the blanket unfolded, and each took a corner, with Wynne taking the last one. Ryes lowered her aunt onto the makeshift carrier and opened her eyes again. She tried to position her, so no additional pressure was being applied to the branch stump.
"You're sure handy to have around," Teris commented, smiling. Ryes laughed in return, nodding her head.
"Guess so, at times, but it's my fault she got hurt in the first place. That thing was calling to me from within. I guess my Storm Caller Talent's stronger than I thought. It kind of had me mesmerized for a few minutes," she explained, embarrassed.
"That's alright dear, at least you did what you could and did stop the twister," Wynne replied, trying to comfort her a little, unable to imagine having such a power.
"It was amazing the way you dissipated that twister, yourself," Jim commented, as they walked back toward the rover, Ryes was picking up Tanns' things as they went.
“You gave me the idea to turn the wind back on itself,” she told him. He gave her a nod and blushed a bit.
"The medical team’s on their way," he added as they reached the grassy knoll, above the road. Their rover sat below.
"Let's stop here and wait. The higher ground should make it easier for them to spot us. And you should take care of that nasty cut you have on your own leg, too, Ryes," Wynne suggested. They set the blanket with Tanns down, as Ryes saw she was bleeding from a deep cut upon her lower leg. She'd been so tied up in the storm, then in helping her aunt, that she never noticed her own injury. She smiled a lopsided smile as she nodded her head. First, she used Manipulator Talent to float the things she was carrying, down to set next to the rover, then she sat down and closed her eyes, opening her Healing Talent, again. By the time she had her leg taken care of, she could hear the chopper hovering overhead.
"Ryes, Maren's asking if you could use your Talent to help him down from the chopper? Shadd's not too sure about setting it down here," Jim asked her, as she opened her eyes. She gave him a big smile as she nodded her head.
"Tell him, sure." She extended Manipulator Talent as she saw her cousin wave to her. He jumped out of the chopper, with three other people behind him. She caught them all and brought them gently to the ground nearby.
"The only way to fly!" Maren declared, as he rushed over to them. "Oh, my. What happened?" he asked, as he immediately knelt beside his mother. He could see why he'd been called out.
"A twister, a giant, swirling mass of wind and debris, caught us out in the open. This was my fault, as the storm was mesmerizing me, your mother ran back to snap me out of it," Ryes explained. She knelt beside her, ready to help if he needed it. He glanced at her, then smiled.
"At least she's finally decided you're a real person," he volleyed in return. He now had his Talent up and put a hand upon her stomach, near the wood. Ryes added her strength and Talents for him to tap, so he placed his other hand upon the branch and used her Manipulator to extract it more gently, than he could've alone, then called his own Talent to the fore, to deal with her injuries. After a few moments, he had her fully healed, but left her in a healing sleep, so she could recover more fully. He opened his eyes, relieved.
"Do you want to go back up to the chopper?" Ryes questioned, a merry light in her eyes.
"No, I'll ride back with you. But you can have Shadd take my mother on back now. That way Ted can put her into a recovery bed more quickly," he suggested. She nodded her head.
"Jim, tell Shadd to expect a passenger," she ordered, then lifted up her Aunt Tanns, until she was safely within the passenger area, in the back of the machine, and closed the door. Shadd gave them a wave of her hand and turned back for Winterhaven. "So, you like the rain?" she pressed, grinning.
"Ah, we don't get out that often, so even a little rain's sweet," Dotti told her, stepping over to them, grinning as she wrapped an arm around Maren's waist.
"Let's get the rover loaded up," Wynne suggested, glad for the extra hands. "It looks like it's letting up a little," she observed as she picked up the carry sac to her shoulder.
"Here, let's make this a little easier on all of us," Ryes suggested, extending her Talent, one more time. She lifted all the carry sacs, equipment boxes and supplies, quickly lowering them down the knoll, to rest beside the rover. "There, neat and sweet."
"You're just too handy, at times," Anders said, giving Teris a nod of his head. Wynne was laughing as she led the way down the rain-slicked hill, glad they weren’t carrying the extra weight now.
Korman had been wandering in the woods for weeks, following game trails and streams. He realized he was truly lost but didn’t care. He didn’t have a reason to return to his old home, still that wasn't a reason to remain out here in the forest, either. He knew he could figure out how to get back home if he tried. It was that he didn't want to extend the effort. His oldest brother, Metta, was still away and there was no one left who would listen to him, or even try to understand. He was alone, as he'd never been before in his whole life, and he didn't know what to do about it.
Those cursed cubs! Sure, they set up a machine so they could talk with their friends in the village, but when he tried to use it to talk with his beautiful lady, it either didn't work, or he was told she wasn't available. He gave up in disgust. Even if he could talk with Tanns, she wouldn't let him talk with any of his cubs, nor even see his tiniest, newest daughter, whom she named Kassa, after his own mother. His arms ached to hold them all! His heart longed to hear their voices and laughter! How could she stay away from him so long?
The sudden windstorm surprised him, driving him deeper into the trees, seeking safety. Then, across the broad meadow, he spotted Her! She was standing there facing down a swirling demon of wind, which was tearing up everything in its path. Tanns ran to her and tried to pull her away, as did one of those almost hairless men, whom they were all so fond of, back where they now lived. He wondered if he could follow them back, so he could beg Tanns to come home with him? To have the life and happiness they had before… Then he saw Tanns badly injured, as She was facing off the wind demon, finally banishing it forever. At least She had the sense to try to help his wife, even enlisting the others there to help carry her away. He trailed after them, leaving a good distance between. He didn't want their machines to warn them he was close, as he still wore this cursed collar, which they bound around his neck.
As he caught up, he saw an air machine, like the one they frequently came to the village in, hovering overhead. He was shocked as four people boldly jumped out of it. Then it seemed as if they were caught by an invisible hand and were gently floated down to the ground. He was sure She had something to do with it. He saw his oldest living son was among those who'd come from the sky machine, and he immediately bent to heal his mother, while She placed Her hands upon his shoulders in support. After a few minutes, he pulled the branch stump out and cast it aside. There were smiles upon everyone's faces, as it looked as if he succeeded in saving Tanns' life. Relief flooded his system, as tears flowed from his eyes. She would live! He saw Her floating Tanns up to the machine, then it banked and flew off, vanishing into the rain clouds. They'd taken her away from him again! His anger was red hot. This time, he vowed, there would be an accounting!
As Wynne, Teris and Jim were loading their supplies into the rover, Ryes turned to look back to the woods, up atop the hill, the prickling sensation was back, and it was like fire along her nerves.
"What's wrong?" Maren asked, turning to survey the woods with her, not noting anything out of the ordinary.
"I have a feeling as if someone were watching us. Do you think any of those forest demons have journeyed this far southwest?" she asked, still uneasy. She closed her eyes, ready to call up her Talents, to verify what her senses were telling her. Could it be something with intelligence? That forest demon behaved as if it could reason. She didn't want something like that hunting them, so close to Winterhaven and Matlowe Village! She had to know for sure!
"What's that?" Dotti questioned, hearing what they were discussing. It gave her the creeps to know something had Ryes disturbed. She saw movement in the lower brush, on the hill above them. Maren turned to look where she was pointing.
"Yeah, what is that?" Anders questioned, his pistol now in his hand. He'd seen something move through the brush. Ryes reached out with Empath, resisting the urge to stop to see what they were trying to see, and touched pure fire and anger. She didn't know what it was, other than it could reason to some degree. There was danger here, deadly danger. She opened her eyes to see Wynne and Teris had stopped their loading, to see if they could spot what the others had seen. Anders was starting to move up the hill, back to where they'd been standing earlier.
"Anders, get back here!" Ryes shouted, "Wynne, get the rover loaded and powered up. We need to get out of here fast!"
"What is it?" Jim questioned, never having heard her shout like this before. There was panic in her voice. His pistol was out, and he activated his headset, ready to relay to Winterhaven.
"I have no idea, except I've never touched anything like it, ever before. It may be an enraged forest demon," she replied, unfastening the catch upon her own holster. "Everyone inside the rover!" she ordered, her blood running cold with panic.
She recalled the Vision, and this was the exact place! Maren turned to her with a surprised puzzlement in his eyes; the same realization having just occurred to him, too. As Anders turned and was descending the hill again, a horrible fury swept him up, crushing him in its iron embrace. Long, horrible claws dug into his flesh, tearing him open. He screamed out in horror, as his heart was ripped from his chest, as it still gripped him from behind. He saw his own beating heart for an instant, then died within the arms of the animal which claimed his life. Korman threw the human's body down, yowling out his challenge to his son and that creature he cherished.
"Anders!" Jim yelled, as he leveled his pistol at that thing which killed him so suddenly. It was gone from sight in an eye-blink, shocking him anew, unable to get off even one shot.
"It's Korman!" Maren yelled out. “His hair’s matted, and he’s covered with dirt, sticks and leaves. His clothing’s torn and filthy; I barely recognize him! He wants me, let me get him away from you.” Maren suddenly stepped away from Dotti and Ryes, issuing a real challenge cry of his own, for the first time in his whole life. Rage instantly ignited within him, and he knew the only remedy for it was to feel his father's blood flowing from his own hands.
"Maren, NO!" Ryes yelled, grabbing onto his arm. He pulled away from her, having never heard her, as his blood was now boiling.
"What do we do?" Jake demanded of Jim, not understanding these people at all, in this moment! He was rooted to the spot, shaking in his boots. Anders lay upon the side of the hill, bloody and torn to pieces!
"Calling Winterhaven. This is Jim Dawe. We're being attacked by a mad starman. Scramble a team, immediately! Anders is already dead!" Jim said into the microphone, nodding to Jake, seeing his fear. He suddenly realized he didn't have time to be afraid right now. He had these people to save! After a few seconds, he got a response.
"Jim, we already have a team scrambled. Torr heard what your open mic was transmitting and immediately got operations mobilized. They'll be to your location in about ten minutes," Bitty informed him, as calmly as she could. Dr. Cruthers stepped into the control room, seeing what the remote vid on the rover was transmitting. Anders torn and bloody body, lying on the side of the hill, was an alarming sight. They could see Ryes and Dotti practically hanging on Maren, trying to get him to stop.
"Thanks, Bitty. We'll get everyone under cover," he promised, leaving his mic open again, just in case. He saw Maren was heading up the hill, as Ryes and Dotti were trying to dissuade him. Teris and Wynne were now throwing everything inside the rover, as Jake had overcome his fear, run downhill, and jumped into the cab. He was now firing up the engine, getting it ready to move out. Ivan was following the others up the hill, having his pistol at the ready, and checking all around them, but still looking very nervous.
"This place has gone nuts!" Jim added in comment. "Ryes, Dotti, Ivan, get back down here. I'll bring Maren back," he ordered, trotting to catch up to the rest.
"Should we retrieve Anders?" Teris called out to him, a coldness settling deep within his stomach, knowing this didn't look good. He would've never known it was Korman! It was as if he’d evolved into a nightmare! And he’d attacked too quickly, vanishing in the blink of an eye!
"No! Wait here for the rescue team. We'll get him when things are secure," Jim shouted, turning back to do so. He saw a fast motion coming from the trees behind the rover and cursed as he realized the one he was hunting, had gotten in behind them! "TERIS, WYNNE, LOOK OUT!"
Teris just had time to turn, as he pulled Wynne out of harm's way. Korman missed her head by mere fractions of an inch! He threw her into the back of the rover, slamming the door closed. Korman stood for a few seconds, evaluating his opponent. He suddenly lunged, as Teris tried to dodge aside. He scored him across his ribs as he struck, just grazing him with his claws. Jim fired his pistol as he ran downhill, the pellets from the weapon striking the ground near him, and the back of their black-painted vehicle. He retreated, going back to the brush, glad to see Maren meant his response, in spite of the two women who were trying to get him to turn back. He had to get back up the hill. He had a score to settle with two of them. The other two would be only for his amusement.
"Sir, Torr says there's something you need to hear," Jett told Garth, as he was in a meeting with Sabin, Kovin and Phil. Garth looked up to her puzzled, then gave her a nod and opened the com unit build into his desk.
"That's a challenge cry!" Sabin declared, sitting up to listen more carefully. He could hear someone calling out to Anders, then someone else calling out the name Korman.
"Tell Torr we're on our way to the helipad," Garth told Jett. He'd heard enough. "Remember that Vision of Maren and Ryes'?" he questioned. Sabin suddenly understood, wondering how many people were out there with them right now?
"I thought they stopped going out together?" he replied, as they were on their feet, heading for the door.
"They did. Kovin, Phil, later. We have some people to rescue," Garth replied, giving them a nod of his head.
"Do you need some backup?" Phil questioned, on his feet and ready to help.
"Not from the Masterbuilders of Winterhaven," he scolded with a smile. "Let others, who're more expendable, come along." Then they were gone, running down the corridor.
"Sure, then why are the Base Commander and Exec going?" he returned, glancing to see the surprise upon Kovin's face, too.
"I don't know if I like this title, after all. I don't want to be coddled," Kovin told him, then bent to gather their blueprints, rolling them up with little care now.
"You've got that right!" Phil agreed, lending him a hand, wanting to know what was happening. “Anders is hurt? We should be there to help!” Kovin nodded, his face grim.
"Can we see the vid from the rover?" Garth asked into his headset, sitting in the copilot's seat, as the chopper was lifting off with Mitt at the controls.
"Yes, Sir," Bitty responded, relaying it to him now. He saw Anders' body lying on the side of a hill, Dotti and Ryes looked like they were trying to drag Maren back down the hill, as Ivan was trying to keep them covered, and Jim was running toward the rover, shouting something.
"What's happening out there?" Mitt questioned as she glanced at the screen.
"Korman," her brother told her, "That was about all we heard, and two challenge cries. I can guess who issued the second one," he said, pointing to Maren, as he finally shrugged the women off and gained the top of the hill. They were slow getting to their feet, but started running after him.
"Oh my, that Vision," she breathed out in shock, praying they'd reach them in time, as she turned back to her machine, pushing it to its top speed.
"Maren, let it go. You're not going to fight a challenge!" Ryes yelled at him, seeing the narrow focus of his eyes. He had only one thing on his mind now, and he didn't care about anyone, nor anything else. She couldn’t even break through with Mind Voice.
"What's wrong with you? You're not going to fight your father. We need to get out of here before anyone else is killed!" Dotti yelled at him, seeing she couldn't reach him, either. What happened? He'd never been like this before! It was like a deep, dark fury’s filled his being, and nothing else matters!
"Maren, I'm warning you!" Ryes threatened, ready to use her Talents against him, but suddenly her head was filled with a blinding headache, as both she and Dotti let him go, falling to the ground, clutching their heads. He bolted away from them, gaining the top of the taller rise at last. Ryes extended her Healing Talent, quickly freeing herself from the pain, then she helped Dotti to her feet, extending her Healing to her, too.
"He's NEVER done anything like that - ever!" Dotti cried, suddenly scared, as tears started up in her eyes.
"His hate for Korman runs too deep. I wanted to save him from it, and get him to let it go," Ryes replied, as Ivan caught up to them. "I have to go after him," she told him in apology, knowing he had to follow her into danger. Then she turned and ran up the hill, Dotti running with her. She feared for her safety but hoped. Ivan ran behind them. Ryes pulled out her pistol, Dotti copying her. Maren was searching further away from the edge of the small hill, looking for Korman. He vanished again and looked to be toying with Maren.
Suddenly, Ivan was tossed into the air away from her, as Ryes felt claws sinking deep into her back. She tried to bring her pistol to bear, but it was smacked out of her hand, then she found herself thrown against a tree. She screamed out her pain, realizing he’d released her, then saw Dotti was now in Korman's grasp, like a rag doll, all limp and looking wrong.
"Dotti's pregnant! She carries your granddaughter!" she screamed out to him, pulling herself back up and away from the trunk, not immediately seeing Ivan. Maren heard her too and turned to see his wife in his father's hands.
"She carries HIS child?" he demanded, stunned by this news.
"Yes. She'll be your granddaughter!" Ryes shouted as she charged him, ready to tear at him with her own claws. He tossed Dotti aside, as if she were no more than a doll. He was ready for Ryes, a cold delight in his eyes, which she noted at the last second. She struck him, but he took her claws readily, for she was now within his grasp. He broke her arm, then shook her and slammed her to the ground, as if she were no more than an old toy. Ryes lost consciousness as she felt herself flying through the air, cursing herself for being so stupid as to forget to use her Talents for defense, again.
Ryes came to, as in her and Maren's shared Vision, lying upon the side of the hill. The rain was coming down now as a gentle mist, as if nature was trying to comfort those injured, as it could. She saw Dotti lying nearby, so tried to move toward her. The intense pain in her leg caused her to scream out in pain. She almost passed out but determined that she had to save Dotti and her child, and she could endure her own pain. She wiggled across the distance between them, even with a broken arm, and straightened her out, as she called up her Healing Talent. She could hear Maren's absolute fury as he was obviously fighting now. Her heart prayed for him, as she bent to do what she had to do, for them all. She closed her eyes, trying to concentrate, as well as she possibly could, as she was inwardly crying for her cousin's soul. What could save him now?
"Ryes? Are you all right?" Jim questioned, having finally gained the side of the hill where they both lay.
"No, but let me take care of Dotti, first," she told him, sinking into her Talent fully. She saw Dotti was badly hurt and needed Maren's touch. Her own Talent was so weak, next to his. Then, she recalled Mitt teasing her about doing impossible things, like helping to hold aloft a whole starship. If she didn't try, then she realized she'd always fail. So, she dug into her stubborn streak and opened her Healing Talent, willing it to work on the level of Maren's, so she could heal her friend! There was resistance, and she wondered if she could drive her Talent this way, then it was as if a dam broke within. A flood of healing energy washed from her, into Dotti, setting her and her child to right once more. After what seemed an eternity, she opened her eyes to look into Dotti's.
"Ryes, you're bleeding. You'd better take care of yourself, too," she cautioned her. Jim was nearby, checking on Ivan. She sat up, hearing sounds of the battle nearby. Ryes smiled as she turned her own Healing Talent upon herself, mending her broken leg, ribs, and arm, quickly. She figured she could take care of the scratches later. She needed to know what happened to the others right now! She turned and saw Ivan.
"Is he still alive?" she questioned, as the sound of a helicopter approaching, came from the direction Winterhaven lay.
"Yes, but he needs help," Jim told her. "Teris is badly scratched up too, but he's locked in the rover with Wynne and Jake."
"Stay right here. You don't want to get in the way," she cautioned him, seeing he looked as if he were about to check on things topside, since she looked better. She crawled over to Ivan, seeing he'd been disemboweled. She extended her Healing and Manipulator Talents to him, closing her eyes to concentrate. She got his intestines cleaned off and back into place, as they should be, then finished healing him, until he was fully healthy again. She left him in a deep sleep, seeing he needed rest after such a horrible ordeal.
"You're bleeding," Garth commented, coming up the hill toward his wife. Sabin and Torr were seeing to the people in the rover.
"I'll take care of the scratches in a little bit, but I've got to see to Maren, first," she replied, overjoyed to see him.
"Let's get everyone here secure," Garth ordered the squad, which accompanied him. Ryes saw he was carrying a rifle and had it at the ready.
"He's gone mad," she told him, not sure if she was talking about Korman, or Maren, or both. He helped her to her feet, half-carrying her up the hill. Dotti and Jim waited at the edge, at the top. Dotti was crying, as Jim tried to comfort her. This was like a knife twisting in Ryes' guts. Her heart was hammering as she broke away from Garth's support, running the rest of the way to see it for herself.