Shahn’Dra crouched down behind the console deck of the jumpjet. Her antennae peeked up over the edge while she hunkered down, her eyes darting around the interior of the cockpit. Her heart thumped relentlessly as the craft surged through the sky. The craft bobbed and swayed from thermals – invisible pockets of warm air boiling up from the desert floor. She peeked out the side window to see the ground scurrying by far below. It made her dizzy and gave her a sick feeling inside, so she ducked back into the cockpit.
Sitting in the pilot’s seat next to her, Major Walker turned a dial on the console between their two seats and punched a button. She watched him as he spoke, hoping to distract herself from the reality of moving through the sky.
“Marine Two, Marine Two, Two Bravo Delta, over.”
Static, a sound she recognized from her own radio, mixed with the shining whisper of the turbines and the sound of air rushing by outside.
“Marine Two, Marine Two, Two Bravo Delta, over.”
Something whined in the cockpit and then a voice crackled in the air. “Two Bravo Delta, this is Marine Two, go ahead.”
“Give me Actual,” Walker said.
The sickness inside her had subsided. Although frightening, there was something about watching the ground rush by that had intrigued her. She peeked through the side window again. Her pulse quickened and the sickness came again, but not as much this time as she peered at the blur of clay and brush whisking by, as if some great hand were spinning Shoahn’Tu beneath them.
Colonel Harris’s voice sounded from the speaker. “Two Bravo Delta, Marine Two Actual. I’m surprised to hear your voice, Major.”
“Why is that Colonel?”
“You’re a wanted man, Major.”
“About that – can you tell me why?”
“Not at this time. You are advised to RTB immediately.”
“We can talk about that later. I have something more important for you right now.”
“Advise Enforcer Five package delivery Crimson Sunshine, coordinates to follow after delivery.”
“My turn to ask why. What’s this about, Major?”
“Just deliver the message. Enforcer Five will verify authenticity. Two Bravo Delta out.”
The sound outside changed and the world slowed down. Shahn’Dra’s eyes grew wide and she felt her heart leap as the ground rose up towards her. She jerked her head around to look at Walker. His eyes were calm as he pushed a lever down with his left hand and peered through the small window at his feet. She decided she had seen enough of the outside and continued to watch Walker until the jumpjet landed and the world grew still again.
The canopy hissed open and Walker reached behind his seat to retrieve a cloth bag with a shoulder strap. He handed it to her and she cradled it in both hands.
“There’s water and some root plant, along with the transmitter. Do you remember what I showed you about the transmitter?”
Shahn’Dra nodded, still cradling the bag.
“Is the Priestess of the Pyramid ready?” he asked, smiling.
Shahn’Dra slung the bag over her shoulder. Remembering why they had come here, she stood up and swung her foot to the steps along the side of the fuselage. She eased down one step at a time, easing her weight onto one foot as it found the ground and then stepped off with the second. She walked around the front of the aircraft and looked up at Walker.
“I am ready.”
“I can’t tell you for sure if any of this is going to work, but Captain Brandt should be along in a while.”
“I trust him,” she said. “He will be here.”
“If nobody is here after the sun leaves the sky, use the transmitter and I’ll come back to pick you up.”
He smiled again, but she could see the worry behind the mask he wore for her. She was just a child to him, cowering in the corner as Dark Winds cascaded over her soul. She thought of the word the others used, and the gesture they made. She raised her clawed hand to her forehead, angling it out as if she were shading her eyes from the sun. She scowled, trying to look serious.
“We will stop him, sir,” she said.
His eyes glistened and his expression softened for just a moment as he saluted back.
“Very well,” he said, “Carry on.”
The canopy closed over him and she turned away as the jumpjet’s engines churned the dirt and bits of rock into a momentary whirlwind. When it subsided, she turned back around and watched it lift into the sky and then float away until it was just a speck glinting in the sun.
She looked around, seeing nothing but scrub, dirt and clay as far as the eye could see. She was in the heart of Shoahn’Tu, a place where she knew she could survive for days even after the most hardy human would keel over from dehydration and heat stroke. She felt safe here.
She sat down and pulled her knees to her chest. The words turned over in her mind: Priestess of the Pyramid. Her mind wandered to the legends of the Old Way when the clergy brandished weapons and fought to keep safe the sacred temples that dotted the world of Shoahn’Tu. She recognized the aching twinge of fear that flowed through her body as she thought of confronting Shoahn’ Fal. Something else sang inside her, as well – a new sensation that gave her strength and a sense of purpose – something she would later learn was called pride.
©2016 Michael J Lawrence