Friday, April 10, 2015

Scout's Law - Chapter 6

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David vows to discover who is behind the weather control sphere and put a stop to their plans.

Callan nodded, fatigue etched on her lovely face. “I guess five years between life-threatening adventures is the best I can hope for. We start by searching for survivors, I assume?”

We set out along the path our airship took as it bounced across the desert. “You know, Martin or Rupor would have met my declaration with some kind of affirmation—‘We will make them pay for this’ or whatever. Probably something a lot better since they’re both much better with words than I am. Even Nist would have given me a fierce grin.”

Callan patted me on the shoulder. “When this is over, I’ll step aside graciously if you want to marry one of them. But if you want some kind of affirmation…” Callan kissed me gently. “Don’t die. And to show I’m a fair-minded woman, I promise I’ll do my best to follow my own instructions.”

I took an extra few seconds to extend the kiss. “Now that is what I call an affirmation!”

It was the last sweet and gentle moment we had together that night.

We found Simms first. He lay tangled in a pile of wreckage from our airship, his head bent at an impossible angle and sightless eyes staring up into the night sky. I closed his eyes as Callan recited a short prayer for the dead. I wanted to cover his body with debris to protect it from scavengers, but we couldn’t afford the time as long as there was a chance of finding survivors.

We found the other two airmen from our ship a few minutes later, both also dead. With the flames from the Vanguard flickering in the distance, we still couldn’t spare the time to protect the bodies. Both times Callan spoke prayers for the dead and then we set off for the distant wreck.

By some miracle, we stumbled across an intact water bottle before we got clear of our airship’s debris. The warm water cleared the dust from our mouths and throats and revived us both a bit. Even so, within thirty minutes we were supporting each other as we trudged across the rough terrain.

My mind tried to wander during the trek and each time I forced it back to consider our situation. Four airships took part in the search. Obviously, the windstorm destroyed our ship and the Vanguard, but what of the Norris and the Hawk? The search pattern Marlow devised sent those two warships well away from the mountains and the weather sphere.

Did the sphere possess sufficient power to extend its windstorm far enough out to get those two ships? If so, they almost certainly crashed, too, leaving the messenger ship as our only hope for eventual rescue. If the two other ships were beyond the storm, the ships would come steaming to our rescue the moment they figured out what happened to us. And they’d probably get blown out of the sky by another windstorm once they were well inside the sphere’s range.

After wrestling with possibilities and plans for half an hour, I finally decided to assume both ships were down and Callan and I were on our own. That’s when Callan pulled me away from my contemplations.

“David, look!” She pointed toward the flaming hulk which had once been the Vanguard.

Backlit by the fire, I saw figures moving around the wreck. Some of the crew had survived! We were much too far away to even try shouting, but some of our exhaustion fell away, our steps lightened, and we picked up the pace.

We watched men dart about the flames and sometimes into the flames. Many times the distant silhouettes emerged from the burning wreck carrying or supporting others. It stirred my heart to watch these brave airmen risk their lives to save the lives of their shipmates. Callan and I tried counting figures, hoping to get an idea how many of the original four hundred crewmen had survived, but it was an impossible task. The best we could determine was that many—far too many—members of the crew were dead or trapped inside the burning wreck.

On and on we marched and slowly, ever so slowly, we drew closer to the brightly lit scene of destruction and heroism. On and on our aching feet carried us as we ignored our weary legs. On and on to the safety of bright light and greater numbers.

We were but half a mile from the downed airship when everything changed. Pops and cracks sounded in the distance, which we believed came from the burning hull. Then we saw tiny silhouettes falling and not rising again and realized something worse was going on. Suddenly, a mass of figures charged in from the darkness, running in a peculiar short-legged stride I recognized.

“Trogs!” Callan cried, recognizing the new figures as quickly as I had.

I watched one of the trogs stop and raise what looked like a stick to his shoulder. A crack sounded and an airman fifty feet away pitched backward and lay still.

“Dear God,” I whispered, “they’re armed with blaster rifles!”

What are trogs doing out here and where did they get blaster rifles? Find out in Chapter 7, coming Monday!