The stood, an ominous huddle, that never stopped talking. The debate was furious, tempers flared at regular intervals, but still it continued. Marisha shivered as she silently watched this group, she was very well aware that her continued existence relied on the outcome of this huddle, and she had no intention of jeopardizing her chance of survival. She did not know why she had been so foolish as to follow the traders out into the Quandar. Perhaps it had been curiosity, but whatever the reason, she now knew it to have been stupid. Stupid even for a thirteen year-old. Marisha huddled back, trying to retain her warmth, but she was not dressed to survive in this region, she was not wearing the heavily insulated suit that the Calen wore, and she could feel her warmth slowly trickling away. Then suddenly the huddle broke up. Not because a decision had been reached, but because another figure had approached. This figure was swallowed into the debate, but this time it only lasted a short period, then it broke up again. The last figure to have joined the group walked over and squatted down next to Marisha.
"Be brave, this will hurt, but it will protect you." Marisha soon found that to be an understatement. The pain that tore through her hand was nearly unbearable, and just when she felt she could bear no more in silence, the pain started to recede. Marisha looked down at her hand; the once unmarked back was now deeply scarred and branded. The design was complex and twisting.
"What is it?"
"That is the sign of Ma'ish'da. You may now travel unhindered through the Quandar. But remember it is not a power to abuse, and in some places, it will not save you. It only works in the Quandar." The figure retreated and Marisha soon found herself returning to her home.
Twelve Years Later...
Captain Mark Kennedy swore as he felt the plane stagger, then start to dive. "I knew that Mauger said he wanted this crash to be authentic. But this is ridiculous."
"You're not the only one who thinks that. All seat belts fastened, we are about to enter The Walls."
Kennedy hastily pulled on his seatbelt, then turned to see whether MacNiell and Dusty were fastened.
They were. What felt like an eternity later the plane slammed into the ground, throwing the passengers clear. Kennedy lay for some minutes, verifying that he was still intact and in one piece. Having ascertained that he was indeed still in one piece Kennedy cautiously levered himself up and went in search of the pilot, Dusty and MacNiell. Though it did not take long to find the pilot, it took even less time to decide that he would fly no more. Kennedy turned hurriedly and went to find Dusty and MacNiell.
He found both of them still inside the fuselage of the aeroplane.
"Kennedy, let me make this clear. This is the last time that I will take part in one of Mauger's authentic arrivals."
"Well it was our pilot's. Now let's move. We have to be clear of this place before sunrise." MacNiell and Dusty were soon clear of the wreckage, and they joined Kennedy, who was scanning all points of the compass, trying to find out where they were.
"Dusty, can you identify anything?" Dusty scanned for a moment then shook his head. "Blast. Okay, let's go find some civilization and see if we can't find out where we are."
Marisha pushed her chair back and looked doubtfully at the three men who had stumbled into her kitchen.
"Do you need something?" The first man rubbed his head, then frowned.
"Well we would like to know where we are. Our plane crashed."
"D'Lartun. In the edge communities." The man paled slightly.
"We're in D'Lartun! Oh.... Now we are really in the stew Dusty." The second man nodded thoughtfully, then asked a quick question, the response was a vigorous headshake. "Miss...Sorry, I don't know your name. But could you give us a bit of food?"
"Marisha." She handed over some local stew, and watched as the men ate hurriedly. "What were you doing flying over this region?"
"Well we had intended to land. We had an urgent message for one Marisha D'Lartun, the linguist."
"I am she." She found herself scrutinized for a minute, then the man handed over a small dispatch parcel. Marisha eyed it dubiously, then opened it.
General Max Dellington frowned grimly at Colonel Mauger.
"One day, I fear you will go to far, Mauger." Mauger shrugged.
"I'll start to worry when that day dawns. Right now I need to know why that damn pilot didn't report in."
"Try that he may be your deceased pilot. Try that the whole team is deceased."
"Dusty and Kennedy will have survived. They can survive anything." Dellington frowned mistrustfully.
"I find that difficult to agree with, Mauger." Dellington eyed the effeminate colonel with a mixture of admiration and dislike. The man looked like a fool, but Dellingham had since learnt that the man was anything but a fool.
"Mauger, sir. This is home security."
"Mauger. What is it?"
"Four people have just entered. They would not show identification, and they appear to be armed."
"Thank you. Continue." Mauger turned of the intercom and frowned thoughtfully.
"Mauger, why do you seem undisturbed?"
"Most of my boys are both armed and carry no identification. Identification is fairly hazardous to their occupations and survival probabilities."
"Oh." Dellington sat back and frowned.
"But just to comfort you, let me assure you that I to am armed."
Dellington eyed the small group that entered with disfavour. They were ragged, and dirty, the leader was sporting an ugly welt over one eye. The group consisted of three men and a woman, and all off them appeared to be exhausted.
"Mauger, your security is getting intolerable." Dellington blinked at this.
"What should I do about it? Perhaps you would like me to tell them only to apprehend people who can produce identification?"
"It would certainly make our job a bit easier."
"What happened to the pilot?" The leader of the group hesitated.
"He did a noble impression of a drill, but was unsuccessful."
"Okay. Oh, before I forget. This is General Dellington. Dellington, permit me to introduce Kennedy, Dusty, MacNiell and Marisha. They are the team." Dellington frowned.
"These are spent. I do not feel they could do the job."
"I doubt there is anything wrong with them that sleep and a change of clothes can't fix. It's a rather long haul from The Walls." Dellington looked once more at the group.
"They just came from The Walls. But no one lives there for long. We just lost an man in there." Mauger glanced at Kennedy and raised his eyebrows, Kennedy nodded simply in response.
"He was a fool. Whether you'll excuse it or not general."
"You know about our man?" Dellington frowned sharply.
"Of course. I also know about your other two men in the area. If you'll take advice I'd pull them out immediately. What were we pulled in for?"
"I'll see your report later. Dusty, MacNiell, Dismissed, rooms the usual. I speak with you later Dellington." The three men filed hurriedly out of the room. When dismissed by Mauger you did not hesitate. Marisha shifted and nervously eyed the two remaining men, unconsciously rubbing the back of her right hand. Even through her gloves she could feel the mark of Ma'ish'da. Mauger was shifting uncomfortably by his desk, and Kennedy was sitting down, his eyes focussed on his gloved hands. Kennedy then looked up, he glanced first at Marisha, then at Mauger, then returned his attention to his hands.
"You started this, Mauger. You finish it." Marisha continued to watch in puzzlement, and the realization suddenly dawned on her that she must be wanted for something else. Something other than her linguistic skills. Mauger had suddenly taken up a slow pace, obviously unsure as to how to continue, Marisha looked at Kennedy, hoping he might be able to give her an idea as to what was happening, but his face was its usual expressionless blank.
"Where are you from?" Marisha glanced briefly at Mauger, puzzled by the question.
"D'Lartun, Edge-Community." Mauger fell silent again, then Kennedy glanced up from his hands.
"There are plans in our forces to send a group into the Quandar to do harassment raids on the back of the Bilcka. You've been pulled in because it is rumored that you have been into the Quandar on more than one occasion and have survived. Quite bluntly, what Mauger wants is for you to take Kennedy, MacNiell and I into the Quandar to scout the possibilities of such a group functioning." Marisha stared at Kennedy in astonishment.
"You can't be serious. The Calen wouldn't permit anything remotely near that!" Kennedy's expression suddenly closed up. But Mauger took over.
"Local people. And neutral." Mauger frowned.
"If they are neutral, why will they not permit it?"
"For the same reason that most people do not leave that region alive. It is an ice desert, make what you like of it. May I go?" Mauger nodded, his eyes distant. Kennedy was once more watching his hands. But Marisha was puzzled by what she heard as she closed the door.
"Damn. That seems to agree with your reports Kennedy."
"There is only one way you will get safe access to the region, and I will not be party to that." Marisha closed the door and hurried up the hall, only to stop when she realized that she did not know where she was meant to go.
"Marisha." She turned to see Kennedy a short distance behind her. "That is not the way to the room." Marisha turned and followed him. "Why were you reluctant to go into why you could survive the Quandar?" Marisha stopped to stare at him.
"What do you know of that?"
"Quite a bit. It was very wise of you not to speak." Kennedy continued to walk, so Marisha had to hurry to keep up.
"I'm so grateful for your approval. What is going to happen now."
"We will find out at tomorrow's briefing." Kennedy showed her into a small room, then left. Marisha could hear him walking back down the stairs.
Marisha stared up at the ceiling over her head in bewilderment. It was neither the iron, plate nor duct, roof of the edge houses. Nor was it the Fabrolk of the emergent, it was heavy gray stone, roughly textured. As she watched she saw the dawn-line start to enter, and with the dawn-line came the memories. Of course, she was in the Kai'il centre of the Kai'eech. The past week was a bit foggy, and Marisha's muscles screamed in protest when she tried to move, a glance at her watch showed that the time was 8bellsM.
Marisha shifted, trying to ease the stiffness our of her muscles, but it did little good, with a sigh, she gave up and resumed her inspection of the ceiling. It was a soft clunk that drew her eyes to the door, and she had to admit that what she saw was definitely not what she expected. Kennedy was leaning heavily against the doorframe, his right hand slowly rubbing his forehead; he then shook his head and collapsed into the nearest empty bed. Marisha stared in silence at the motionless figure, had he only just arrived? She sighed again, then rolled over and dozed off again, if sleep was the only place where there was no pain, then sleep she would.
"Wakeup! Come on Ari, wakeup!" A hand was violently shaking her feet. Marisha yanked her feet up under herself.
"Go away Bery!"
"Bery?!" The compounded astonishment in the voice jolted Marisha awake, she flushed slightly.
"Sorry, forgot where I was." Kennedy frowned for a second, then nodded.
"Breakfast is in ten. You'll find clothes in the side room." Kennedy waved to indicate a small side door, then walked out of the room. Marisha slid out of the bed and rubbed her head ruefully. Why was it that she always woke up with a pounding headache after a long sleep. She shook her head to clear it, then hurried into the small side room. The clothes, which Kennedy had referred to, consisted of the single, footed undersuit of the Calen. Marisha had worn them before, the Calen suits being used during the Edge winter, but it still surprised her that those were the clothes laid out for her. She donned them quickly then returned to the main room. Dusty was blinking blearily as he rubbed his head, he was already dressed, but he appeared to be viewing the prospect of doing anything with disfavour.
"How can you look so energetic?" Marisha blinked.
"Do I. Kennedy was making me feel like an ancient grandma five minutes ago." Dusty snorted.
"He always makes you feel like that, even when you haven't been sleep deprived."
"So complimentary Dusty." Marisha turned to see Kennedy standing in the doorway. "Mac up yet?"
"Just getting dressed. When did you hit last night?" Kennedy shrugged.
"Wouldn't have the foggiest." Marisha suddenly realized that Dusty had asked when he had gone to bed.
"It was 8bellsM." Kennedy glanced at her.
"So you were awake."
"Should I not have been?" Kennedy smiled faintly.
"Not if Dusty and Mac are anything to go by."
"Kennedy, it is only 5bellsD now. What are you doing up. You make me feel decrepit."
"You already are decrepit." Kennedy gave the last shot as he walked out the door. "Meeting in the minor Kai'il after the morning meal." Dusty shook his head in bewilderment, and looked at Marisha, then up as MacNiell entered the room.
"Come on Mac. Meal time." They left the room, and after a few minor mishaps arrived at the meal hall. Kennedy was abstractly chewing on a lump of the hard Nurgi bread, his position as far distant from the food trays as he could get. Marisha took one look at the food on offer, then joined Kennedy in eating Nurgi bread, there was no way she was going to risk her digestion eating that stuff. Dusty and Mac soon joined them with modestly loaded plates, and received pained looks from Kennedy.
"What's bitten you Kennedy?"
"That stuff is inedible." Dusty shrugged.
"I find it more filling than your Nurgi bread."
"You'll be sick before the day is out." Kennedy returned to his Nurgi bread, a lump of which could last half a day. Dusty shrugged, but soon he and Mac had joined Marisha and Kennedy in the consumption of Nurgi bread.
"You could have warned us that the stuff was toxic sludge." Kennedy didn't glance up, his brow was deeply creased, and he didn't even appear to have heard.
"It looked like it, one would have thought that a warning was unnecessary." Dusty glanced at Marisha then started to laugh.
"Speaks a person from the edge-communities. I have yet to see Kennedy eat anything other than Nurgi bread." Marisha shrugged, then started as Kennedy leapt to his feet.
"Bring your food with you, we need to get to the meeting."
Marisha shook her head, trying to clear the dull buzz from it. Slowly the buzz faded and she could return her attention to what was going on around her. They had gone directly to the minor Kai'il from the breakfast hall, and Marisha was still gnawing on her Nurgi bread. The minor Kai'il was a small room, seating no more than twenty, with irregular lighting and large regions of shadow. Kennedy was sitting, frowning darkly up at the ceiling, Mauger, and two other men, were clustered round a map that was at Kennedy's elbow. MacNiell and Dusty were sitting with Marisha, just a bit back from the table. Suddenly Kennedy's frown dropped away, and he rocked forward on his chair.
"Wait a minute, that is ridiculous." Mauger and the other two men had been discussing the landing possibilities of a narrow valley of great length with steep walls.
"If my memory serves me correctly, that is the Valley of Bai'lek. Marisha can probably give you the correct translation of the name, I only know it by rumor as one heck of an unwise place to go." Marisha shifted forward and glanced briefly at the map, and the spot indicated, as Mauger glanced at her.
"He is right, the Valley of Bai'lek is not a place to go if you value your life. Roughly translated it means, Valley of the Winds. Those places are not named decoratively, they are given a name for a reason." Mauger frowned, then glanced at the other two men.
"Well that seems to scotch that idea."
"Why Mauger. We have heavy weather equipment."
"Don't be stupid." Kennedy's tone was contemptuous and bored, and the man bristled violently in response.
"And what do you know about our heavy weather gear?"
"A heck of a lot more than you know about the Valley of Bai'lek. What those people call a wind, we classify as gale force, to roarers. If they call a place, Valley of the Winds, we are talking about winds that travel in excess of the basic 200miles an hour. If you have equipment that can stand that type of treatment for extended periods, then I am amazed." The man stared at Kennedy in amazement.
"You are joking?!"
"No he's not. I've been out in one of their winds. I have no wish to go remotely near a place they call windy." The second man frowned.
"You keep referring to 'they' and 'them'. Who are these people?"
"'They' are the Calen." The man looked blank, then returned his attention to the map. Kennedy glanced briefly up at Marisha, gave a slow nod, then returned his attention to the map.
"Is there any place either of you two know where we could dispatch a team?" Kennedy shook his head.
"Any place where you might be able to is occupied or patrolled by the Calen."
"How about we just dump your info team in, they appear to have a better chance of surviving than we do." Mauger glanced thoughtfully at Kennedy.
"Would you agree?"
"Not to being dumped in the middle. Dump us at an edge and we'll consider it. I'm going no place like that without having a definite retreat route available."
"I'm certainly not going on an uninvited or cleared visit. I like being alive." Dusty and MacNiell said nothing, they just continued to watch.
Marisha shifted uncomfortably in the bucket seat, they had been flying for several hours now, slow wide arcs, back and forth across the more remote sections of the edge, but now the pilot had changed course and was headed directly out into the Quandar. Dusty was sleeping, or appearing to sleep across the aisle. MacNiell was huddled miserably over a small radio set in the back of the plane. Kennedy was perambulating, apparently aimlessly, between the cockpit and the main fuselage, apparently aimlessly, as Marisha was pretty sure that he had a good reason for this. The flying conditions were not good, in fact, they classified as bad, and no one but a fool, or a person with a deliberate aim would walk around unsecured while flying in these conditions. The view out the window was blinding now they had got well into the Quandar region, the clear, sharp sunlight reflecting off the sand impregnated ice, making the eyes water and everything blur. Marisha withdrew her gaze just in time to see Kennedy dive recklessly back into the cockpit, his dive accelerated by a sudden lurch on the part of the plane.
"What the hell is going on?" Dusty had sat up, and was already out of his seat.
"I don't know." Marisha could hear a furious argument taking place in the cockpit.
"MARISHA!" She was out of her seat and forward in a flash when Kennedy called her. "What do you make of that!" That was a roiling, boiling, and swirling pile of cloud ahead, it stretched as far as the eye could see, blotting out the sand below, and a large amount of the sky above.
"I'd say that it is Tai'ke'te. The sacrificial winds. Tell the pilot to turn, we can go no further." Marisha heard the heated discussion resume in the cockpit for a few seconds, then Kennedy came hurtling back into the main fuselage, he vanished almost immediately into the tail section, soon to reappear with four bulky piles.
"Into these, quick!"
"What's going on Kennedy?" Dusty was yanking at the cords tying his bundle as he asked.
"Mauger is what is wrong. Him and a pilot with the brains of a pei'schtai." Marisha frowned at Kennedy's comparison.
"What's wrong with the pilot?" She was already half into the suit, a heavy rubberized affair, if it wasn't a Calen suit, she was also as intelligent as the pei'schtai.
"Bloody fool agreed to crash us in the Quandar. We're on a locked course, nothing we can do to change it. He only admitted because of the storm. What's the reading, Mac?" MacNiell looked up from the complex electronics set he was fiddling with.
"Off the scale Kennedy. I've tried three times, and all three times the set has crashed." Kennedy stopped dead, and glanced at Marisha.
"Your guess was accurate, it is indeed kai'te'ke. Into your suits, then start praying, for nothing short of a miracle will save us this time." Kennedy vanished back into the cockpit, and then the plane staggered and started to climb, slowly, sluggishly, wobbling terrifyingly on all planes.
"We're going through the ceiling!?!?!" Dusty's voice was sounding amazed.
"What?" Marisha turned.
"Autopilot locking has a ceiling, meaning that the plane cannot go above its theoretical high point, without all computers jamming. The high point is when the air pressure outside is so low that the plane becomes unstable. Kennedy or the pilot has forced the plane above its ceiling manually. We are flying blind, and right into the mother of all storms." Dusty pulled out a large blade pocketknife and started inspecting it. MacNiell whistled tunelessly, and outside the silence slowly turned into the scouring sound of ice, snow and sand, as they entered the storm.
Mauger sat silently, watching a furious looking General Dellington as he paced the room. His position was sunk in the chair, his face blank, his whole attitude in wide variance with that of the General. "Are you mad man?" The General didn't stop for a moment. "You practically sentence to death the best men we have because they advised you not to take this precise course of action. If I remember correctly Kennedy refused to take the job this way."
"Kennedy refused to take the job altogether, Dellington."
"Then how did you get him on that plane?"
"I didn't, I just sent Dusty, MacNiell, and Marisha on it. Under those circumstances, Kennedy will NEVER remain behind." Dellington shook his head.
"I thought they were cold blooded, you make my blood freeze Mauger." Mauger didn't even glance up.
"Foot! You haven't seen either of the three in action, I haven't seen Marisha, but she was a necessity."
"I still do not think you had to threaten the pilot, then bribe him because he couldn't be threatened, to do one of the worst things of this war. If these people...Calen I think you called them.... are roused, then we are in for the bloodiest and longest war in history. If report is anything to go by. The edge countries talk of them in connection with cannibalism, seppuku, and the Tai'de'shai'di'te. What in the name of reason possessed you Mauger."
"Our department runs entirely alone, if something is considered important, it will be done, no matter what the cost. Besides, Kennedy was expecting to happen, exactly what did happen. And what's more, he expected it as soon as he heard of the survey that the plane was also to run." Dellington stared in amazement at Mauger.
"And still he went?"
"Of course, with the exception of Marisha he is the only person in our armed forces, and in the Bilka's forces who could enter the Quandar and live to tell his tale. He knew that Dusty and MacNiell would end up in the Quandar no matter what, and fortunately Kennedy's sense of honor and duty would not allow him to let them die without doing his best to save them first."
"I'm surprised those two would go anywhere without Kennedy."
"Oh, they wouldn't, but they all know as well as I do the importance of the appearance in the higher ranks of this sort of place."
"Sir!" Mauger looked up in annoyance as an orderly burst breathlessly into the room.
"What is it?"
"Be more explicit in your reports."
"Sorry, sir. The unregistered flight you requested watched has vanished."
"What?!?!?!" Dellington blinked at the anger in Mauger's face.
"They have vanished, sir. In fact the whole Quandarical region has vanished. Our satellites have either been destroyed or disabled. We are receiving absolutely no data from the region."
"What about the band I ordered a 24 hour ear attached to?"
"It went dead about fifteen minutes ago, revived, and died three times. Last contact was something about a scaled off storm."
"You're dismissed." Dellington watched in silence as the orderly hastily left the room, and Mauger dove into a large stack of folders piled by his desk, and on most objects, which would hold them around the desk.
"Does that mean what I think it does?"
"I expect so, but then I expected the plane to vanish. But the satellites and MacNiell were not part of the vanishing act.....Confound it, where is that file."
Marisha sat silently, unmoving, across the aisle Dusty finally sheathed his heavy blade, but MacNiell continued to whistle tunelessly.
"Can it Mac. That radio working?" MacNiell stopped whistling.
"Hasn't been since Kennedy went forward. Looks like the satellites went down as well." Dusty grunted.
"Well this looks like we're in for the long hall this time." Marisha suddenly jerked her head.
"We're too low." Dusty looked at her curiously.
"How can you tell?"
"The noise on the fuselage. We're below the snow and into the ice and sand now. Unless we are clear in approximately three seconds we will have no fuselage left to fly in." Dusty opened his mouth to say something, but it was never said, for at the same time there was a sickening grinding and a crunch, and with that everything went black.
Kennedy shifted his head gingerly, then deciding it was still attached he decided to experiment with the fun of trying to open his eyes. So like Mauger to send them one on a suicide mission, and two, in an aeroplane with the doggiest manual controls he had ever hit. Kennedy finally got his eyes open, and the sight that met them had him on his feet at a speed which most people would have found surprising. As his ears came back into action, Kennedy could hear someone cursing fluently in many different languages. Most would have assumed it was the linguist, but Kennedy was not so sure. After all, Dusty cursed fluently in more languages than Kennedy had ever previously thought had existed. With a grimace Kennedy noted that it would not require any medical training to decide that the pilot would never move again, and carefully untangling himself he worked his way passed the pilot, and worked his way into the main fuselage. With the aid of the glo-aub he had grabbed from the cockpit emergency kit, Kennedy saw that the fuselage aft was a mess. Well, accurately speaking, the whole aeroplane was a mess, but the aft part of the main fuselage was a greater mess than the rest. Marisha was pinned under a large chunk of fuselage, which appeared to have come from no where. Dusty was groggily shaking his head in a very ginger way, but he appeared to be alright. Kennedy glanced once at MacNiell, but didn't take a second look. With a few minutes of industrious, but careful, work, Marisha was mostly free from her lump of fuselage, and in a position to deal with the rest herself.
"Any damage Dusty?" Kennedy turned and passed a quick eye over Dusty's suit, it appeared to be fully intact still.
"No, but I think you do. Kennedy, you have a gash of several inches across your forehead, and I'm afraid to say, but the blood has rather obscured your delicate features." Kennedy glanced up at Dusty and grinned.
"Then be so kind as to beautify me. After all, I cannot face the world not at my best. Marisha, while Dusty doctors me, could you check that the packs are intact?" Marisha finally cleared herself and nodded. Kennedy sat silently as he felt Dusty scrubbing roughly away at his face, now that he knew about it, he rather wondered that he had been unaware of it before, it made his head throb abominably.
"Packs are intact." Kennedy nodded his thanks to Marisha as Dusty gave him the all clear to sit up.
"It'll start bleeding again if your not careful, but I've cleaned it and your face." Kennedy nodded, then carefully pulled the hood of his suit up. Setting the forehead seals slightly tight, to ensure that the wound didn't open again at some inopportune moment.
"Let's get moving. We dropped clear of the storm a quarter of a second before impact, but we're in the Valley of Bai'lek, and it will be back within an hour." Kenney rifled through his pack, and quickly selected two implements from it. The first, a long tubular cylinder with a convex end, he fastened to his waist. The second, a small sphere with two flat face, he carefully laid against the hull. Careful manipulation produced a small keyboard and screen on the upper face of the sphere, Kennedy swiftly punched a few codes into it, and split seconds later it whined into a noisy existence. Kennedy frowned and hurriedly entered a few more codes and slowly the whine died away, leaving behind a soft buzzing hiss noise. Kennedy nodded his satisfaction and slowly he drew the device in a circle, approximately large enough to climb through. Kennedy lifted a foot to kick it clear, then turned his head sharply, just in time to see Marisha snapping Dusty's breath mask into place and adjusting his hood, Dusty's goggles were already in place. Kennedy nodded his quick approval before snapping his breath mask into place, the air in the Quandar was such that it would destroy all soft tissue it came in contact with, the mixture of cold and sand being deadly.
Marisha watched, a slightly perplexed frown on her face as Kennedy swung his breath mask and goggles into place. She could not say why, but she was certain that Kennedy had removed something from both his eyes before he had settled his goggles, with a mental sigh, she gave up wondering and hastily positioned her mask and goggles as with a powerful kick, Kennedy cleared the lump of fuselage he had cut, letting the still strong wind carry it away. The wind the swept into the cabin, caused Marisha to realize just how stuffy it was in the plane, and in the world in general, but grabbing Dusty's arm she hastened out of the hull and into the valley. Even through the protective goggles, the light was still very bright, Kennedy was already about ten yards away, casting around in a systematic way, he then stopped and came back to them.
"This way, it's the only path for fifty miles."
Ice walking is, at the best of times, a difficult and tedious thing, at the worst of times it is purely suicidal. As Marisha called a brief halt and glanced around at the surrounding, and blinding, landscape, she was of the opinion that walking in the Valley of Bai'lek, directly after a storm certainly lay in the second category. Those, she admitted to herself, were the categories when you were walking with skilled ice walkers, a thing which Dusty was not and Kennedy appeared not to be, Marisha frowned as she thought over Kennedy. Most people she could get a reading on and place their origin within moments of meeting, but Kennedy still had her puzzled several weeks later. When ice walking, particularly in the Quandar and in a Calen suit, patience is one of the most important things, the next was strong ankles. The edge folk, on the few occasions they entered the Quandar, usually used specially adapted suits which had heavy climbing spikes integrated with the sole of the boot. With a yell, Marisha turned and started climbing again, the path wound intricately back and forth across the face of the cliff, they could not get clear of the valley before night fell, and not even a fool would try to travel after dark.
Dusty twisted the rope savagely in his hands as he started to follow after Marisha, but a firm hand stayed his ascent.
"Dusty." He turned to see that Kennedy had detached himself from the rope.
"What is it?"
"I need to get back to the ship. Tell Marisha to pitch camp at the second ledge."
"She's not going to be happy."
"She should be ready to murder me when you tell her, so I'll thank you not to tell her until the last possible moment."
"Trust me Dusty. Now go." There was a strong push and Dusty found himself at the top of the next slope, Marisha climbing slowly but steadily a short distance ahead. Dusty was more than a trifle uncomfortable about what was happening, it wasn't that he didn't have trust in Kennedy, it was Marisha he lacked the trust in, and now Kennedy had just vanished. With a sigh he turned the corner and started to wriggle through the crevice that lead to the next gulch.
Marisha glared furiously from under her breath mask and goggles.
"What do you mean by that?"
"He just said to pitch camp on the second ledge?"
"And what does he mean by the second ledge. Perhaps he'd like to pitch a tent here." Dusty flinched back slightly.
"No." Marisha turned, and Dusty soon found that she could travel on ice a lot faster than she had been previously. It appeared that she had more than a trifle retarded her pace to allow for the inexperience of her fellow climbers. By the time they reached the second ledge, a good two hours later, Dusty was feeling like someone was slowly sawing through his legs with a blunt bread and butter knife, but as he looked around he realized that there had been good reason for Marisha's haste. It was almost totally dark and the wind was starting to pick up again.
"What do we do now?"
"Learn how to ice carve. Here take my pack to sit on." Dusty sat down gratefully on the stuffed pack and watched silently as Marisha set to work in a sheltered corner in the cliff face. It was a shrieking whine which roused him from his partial slumber a couple of minutes later, and having rubbed his bleary eyes, he could see Marisha pounding in a frustrated manner at the small spherical cutting device which appeared to be stuck.
"Is something the matter?" She spun around at his yell, and blinked in surprise, then nodded.
"Now that you've woken up, yes there is. I need your pack." Dusty cautiously wriggled out of his pack and watched in silence as Marisha dug hurriedly through the contents.
"Double damn and confound it! I swear I will murder Kennedy with my own two hands if he survives to get back here."
"What's going on?" Marisha quickly stuffed the contents back into the pack, before looking up.
"Your incredibly bright commander has just achieved walking off with the door cutter. Unless he turns up damn soon, we're going to get very cold."
"You haven't carved properly?" Marisha nodded, and collapsed wearily on Dusty's pack.
"I have, unfortunately a totally different tool is used for cutting doors for these things. We have indeed a very nice hidey-hole too tuck ourselves away in, unfortunately we can't access it, unless...." Marisha scratched her ear thoughtfully, before turning back to the now silent sphere. Pulling it clear, she sat back down again with it on her lap. "This might possibly work...." Dusty watched in bewilderment as her fingers danced swiftly over the keypad. Her eyes were firmly close and her brow creased what ever she was doing, it was from memory alone, not from actual knowledge. "It'll work." Marisha nodded her head decisively and turning she carefully laid the sphere in the corner where she had previously been cutting, then turning, she grabbed a pack and indicated that Dusty was to follow her. Dust hurried after her, only to find that she had stopped just around the corner.
"What..." Dusty got no further as an explosion rocked the cliff, forcing him to grab onto it and Marisha for stability. As the movement ceased, Marisha hastily eased passed him and back around the corner, Dusty hastily followed. In the corner was now a blackened hole, just a bit larger than would be required for a man to crawl through.
"Our entrance." Dusty blinked, then followed her into the cave.
Marisha jolted awake and blinked blearily around the dark room. A faint glow came from a glo-aub, which was perched on a corner ledge, and a bit of light came from the entrance, but neither had been what had woken her. There it was again, Marisha touched the small lump below her right ear nervously, sure enough, and it was once more pulsating slowly.
"Bery!" Marisha scrunched her face up in concentration. Only Bery had ever been able to use the visio link, and then it had only been on occasions. Then Marisha stopped, fearful, Bery had been dead for several years now, it could not be him. The pulse became stronger and more powerful and slowly the image started to form, blacking out all her other vision, definitely not Bery, his had never been so clear or powerful.
Ice, it gleamed everywhere.... moonlit ice Marisha recognized with a shiver. The observer was considerably above the scene that was being enacted below. Parts of shattered fuselage lay everywhere, scattered randomly across the ice. Then came the calls, high, eerie shrieks and low, haunting howls of response. one...two...three...four, a brief pause.... five, six.... seven...eight. Marisha blinked in annoyance...nine...ten...eleven...twelve, had she missed one? No she didn't think so.
Thirteen...fourteen...fifteen...sixteen. Marisha listened intently, but no more sound came, then came the movement. Slow, cautious and infinitely stealthy, first one, then another slowly merged out into the moonlight, only to be seen by shadow and movement...only eight, where were the others. There was then a savage jolt of the image and the image disintegrated into the familiar surroundings of the cave. The message was clear, the Calen were already on their track, but the jolt and the disintegration of the connection was not clear. Had the observer been caught, had the observer found a reason to move hurriedly, she did not know, and with a sigh she rolled over and stared up at the ceiling of the cave.
Kennedy swore softly and with a convulsive jerk he flung himself to the right, just avoiding the glimmering blade which now flashed dully in the reflected moonlight. He let the connection disintegrate and focussed his attention fully on the task of locating his attacker. there he was, sheltering to the lee of the essa hummel. Just what he needed now, a fight, Kennedy moved quickly and soon had hoisted himself clear of his former observation post, to a position of elevation higher than that of his opponent. He had fifteen minutes maximum during which either to escape from or dispose of his opponent. And the second option appealed to him not at all. There he was, using the leibneisch gulch for concealment. Kennedy stopped momentarily, then with a powerful jump he flung himself viciously down from the top, using the smooth ice as an accelerator. He cannoned into his attacker at high velocity, and with a spring he flung himself clear of the gulch, his attacker remained behind and motionless. Kennedy narrowed his eyes and concentrated his full attention on the prone figure...alive but unconscious, with a not Kennedy turned and hurried up the side of the cliff, his path was not the same as the one they had used that afternoon.
Marisha grabbed her Tyber knife as a figure darkened the entranceway, there it paused.
"Marisha!" The call was soft, but still she could identify it for who it was. With a sigh she returned the knife to its sheath.
"What do you want Kennedy?"
"Help." With a sigh, Marisha kicked clear of her thermal blankets, and having reset the seal on her mask and goggles she carefully edged out onto the second ledge.
"Why did you depart this afternoon without telling me?"
"Because you probably wouldn't have liked it, and I needed you two to get up here."
"Well you could have left the door cutter inside Dusty's pack. Why'd you go back and what happened?" The figure shrugged.
"I needed to see how soon the Calen o onto us, and I had left some stuff behind in the 'plane. What did you blow up to get the entrance?"
"Ledge cutter." Marisha response was laconic, and Kennedy nodded, and having done a final scan of the valley he turned.
"Let's get back inside." Marisha followed him silently back into the cave.
"Why did you pretend to be an ice-ninny?" Kennedy's head tilted thoughtfully.
"I was hoping that something wouldn't happen, unfortunately it did. We're going to have to give ourselves up to the Calen."
"Food?" Kennedy nodded silently in response to the question.
"Food. We have precisely what is in our packs, a two week ration and we're more than two hundred miles from the closest edge." Marisha nodded.
"Where did you get your ice training from?" Kennedy stared motionlessly down at his hands for a moment, and then he slowly stood up.
"Well someone has to know, and you're the best one to be able to help conceal it." Kennedy shrugged and broke the seals on his goggles, pulling them up to sit on his head. The glo-aub clearly lit up his face, and Marisha looked up in astonishment, the eyes which quietly me her gaze were nearly all whites, the iris was very pale blue and almost non-existent, the pupil a small black spot in the center of each eye. Kennedy pulled his goggles down again and set the seals. "So now you know."
Dellington stared in amazement at the four thick files which sat on Mauger desk.
"You have to be joking."
"I'm deadly serious, if that team makes it out alive, it is going to rest entirely on the efforts of those two, in particular the efforts of Kennedy. What do you know of the Calen."
"Nothing outside of common report."
"How well do you know Kennedy?"
"I know him well enough to say that his not someone I'd argue with in a hurry, and he's not someone who takes a promise lightly."
"Then you know a lot more about the Calen then you thought you did."
"Have you ever seen a Calen?" Dellington shook his head, totally at sea thanks to Mauger's habit of rapid subject changes.
"You have. Kennedy is a full-blooded Calen. I don't know why he left the Quandar, I don't know why he's so reluctant to return, but he is Calen." Dellington's jaw dropped.
"But what about the eyes, Kennedy's eyes were perfectly normal. And everybody knows that they Calen have the weirdest eyes on the planet."
"It appears that our most intelligent general has never heard of eye lenses." Dellington shut his mouth, and frowned.
"It seems mighty peculiar that he should go to so much trouble, after all, those eye lenses are very uncomfortable to wear for extended periods."
"Did you ever see him eat anything but Nurgi bread?"
"I didn't see him eat anything at all. How can you be so sure that the linguist, Dusty and this Kennedy survived?"
"Well I know that the pilot and MacNiell are out, and that is because all radios are silent. Dusty and Kennedy live in the classification of totally indestructible. And if the linguist had not survived, Kennedy would have returned already to wring my neck."
Marisha gasped as they cleared the top of Bai'lek, the cold wind bit icily through the suit.
"Kennedy, I though you said things would be easier up here."
"And that's what I meant, the last hundred yards were partially overhung so we were out of the wind, we have a storm coming. Dusty do unlock the grips on your boots, you are leaving tracks that even the blind could follow." Dusty mumbled something, but it was unclear. "Marisha, what do you reckon?" Marisha scanned thoughtfully around.
"I reckon that the storm is returning, and also that they have caught up with us somewhat." Kennedy nodded, and soon they were moving again.
Anka stared at the small cave with the darkened entrance in perplexity.
"What does the gauge read?"
"It was cut last night. Entrance forced by unusual methods. They most certainly did not use the door cutter to get in."
"Any idea how long they've been gone for?" Anka could hear Denk muttering softly as he punched in codes to get the suitable reading.
"Umm, Anka." Anka turned from his inspection of the hole and walked over to Denk.
"What is it?"
"I think you had better take a look at these readings." Anka took the screen and glanced at it, then looked more closely.
"There aren't any."
"Precisely." Denk's tone was very dry.
"What is it Inare?"
"We're just below you, what's up there?"
"Footprints that don't give any readings. At a guess I'd say we're half a day behind them."
"Footprints that don't..." Inare died out in a wall of static.
"Inare!" Anka creased his brows as the static slowly worked itself into what was once a very familiar pattern. Anka felt a grip on his arm, and turned to see Denk holding his head in discomfort. Anka grabbed Denk and ignoring the pain, which was already lancing through his head he dragged them both into the cave. It was a few seconds later that he had his goggles and breath mask off, and the plugs dug out of his ears, and the result was blissful silence.
"What was that?" Denk had his head firmly clamped between his knees, his communicator spitting softly from the floor, Anka's face was grim.
"That was a static override. It appears that we are being warned off."
"What about Inare and the others?"
"No way of telling unless one of us goes down to pay them a visit. Inare's old enough that he should recognize it, but whether he was in a position to get his plugs out is another matter altogether." Denk finally removed his head from between his legs and gently massaged it.
"Ouch, did that hurt. I thought that these communicators were override protected."
"Obviously not enough. Stay here, I'm going to check on Inare. Send out a call and get our Draconia up here." Anka snapped his mask and goggles back into place, but left the communicator behind. As he crawled once more out of the hole, Anka shook his head thoughtfully, this was going to cost them at least half a days travel if not more, and with a storm coming that was all the time the visitors would need to get clear
Ehrie wrinkled her forehead as she stared around the now quiet comm centre. It was indeed rare for the comm centre to be silent, but considering he earsplitting frequency if the static, it was totally inconceivable that the communicators should remain on.
"Ehrie?" Ehrie turned her head to look at Jardin who was slumped at a unit by the door.
"You okay Jardin?"
"Ehrie are you there?" Ehrie jumped out of her seat and walked over to Jardin.
"Jardin!" She yelled as loud as you could, but the man smiled wearily.
"I'm sorry Ehrie, it seems that the wave was louder than I thought." Jardin's head rolled over to one side as Ehrie slammed her hand down on the emergency button, if help didn't come soon, Jardin would not survive.
"Ehrie?" Ehrie spun to see gray-haired Garom standing in the doorway.
"Garom." Ehrie gave the customary salute to those of a higher status, two fingers to the forehead, the others folded out of sight.
"What's going on. The emergency ward just got a sudden influx of partially deaf patients."
"I do not know Garom, but the comm centre has been silenced. We've had a static wave envelope us." Garom frowned, then turned as the meds came in to collect Jardin.
"Could you turn on a visual communicator?" Ehrie hesitated, then went and fiddled with a screen, slowly a definite pattern appeared in the static waves, Garom grabbed a nearby sheet of paper and started to scribble hurriedly. Ehrie watched in silence as slowly a pattern of interconnected lines appeared on the paper.
"What is it Garom?" The old man grunted, but did not glance up for quite a while.
"Ehrie, go the east wing, tell all Draconian pilots they are to prepare at once. This was no static wave, some one triggered the south east tracker, and what's more, they did it deliberately." Ehrie stared in amazement at the old man, then turned and hurried out of the room.
Marisha looked tiredly at the endless stretch of sandy ice which now stretched as far as the eye could see in all directions. Dusty was sitting in an awkward lump at the bottom of the last dune, and Kennedy was still at the top of the one before. They had detached the climbing ropes as soon as they had cleared the last reaches of Bai'lek. Five minutes later Dusty collapsed beside her with a groan, as Kennedy finally pushed off from the top of the last dune, and used its slope to travel three quarters of the way up the next dune. He soon stood beside them.
"We'd better dig into the next dune, this storm is starting to get nasty and I don't advise that we remain our for much longer." Marisha could already feel the increased buffeting in the wind, and in actual fact she had been a bit surprised that Kennedy hadn't called the halt earlier.
Anka swore softly under his breath as his foot skidded off a ledge, and hurriedly grabbed a projecting lump above his head, he then swung himself out on his iron and grabbed the next step. He had ascertained five minutes previously that Inare, Jos and Audr were safely free of their communicators, and he had sent them to join Denk. He had then continued to climb up, he knew he was being fairly daft going out without a communicator, and not much food, but at this present moment in time, the last thing he wanted to do was to be sitting around staring at blank walls waiting to be picked up. As he climbed Anka found the memories flowing back.
"Race you Anka." And a small figure would scramble past him and up the rock.
"Idenk, you can't do that." As always Ehrie's voice had come over the communicator. Many of the thing's Anka had done with Idenk had been done solely to annoy Ehrie. Climbing without irons up Dai'lick gulch had been one of those, still Anka could remember the exhilarating thrill as they had finally scrambled over the top, muscles weary from hours of tense gripping, Idenk had alternately encouraged and bullied him up that long chute. Then had come their Tai'de'shai'di'te, still Anka could remember the bewildered faces of the elders when they had returned, from it. It was the ritual connected to growing up, grouped in pairs you were dropped either in Bai'lek or in Dan'tschee over near Kan'dee settlement, then you were required to survive for two weeks by living off the ice around you, but still doing a specific set of tasks. He and Idenk, had not only done the tasks, but they had done three others which were related to the elders scheme, plus one that had never even been thought of. It had not really surprised Anka when Idenk had been voted into the position of Ma'ish'da, but it had saddened him. Suddenly Idenk had vanished, the Ma'ish'da had no time for foolhardy stunts among the gulches and chutes of Bai'lek. Then had come the evening, now just over ten years ago, Idenk had come into his quarters, dressed in his old climbing kit, his features aged beyond belief.
"Come Anka, I wish to climb Dai'lick again." And Anka had come, always it had been the same, if Idenk did something, Anka always followed. That night they had climbed Dai'lick for the last time without irons, Anka had been happy, for it had been Idenk who had accompanied him on that climb, not the Ma'ish'da, they had returned to the base just as dawn was cracking, the sun reaching its blinding fingers across the sky and ice, causing de-fraction and making the ice appear alive.
"Do not forget me Anka." Those had been the last words he had heard from Idenk, and the next day Idenk was gone, so to was the Ma'ish'da. Anka winced as his thoughts moved onto the next region, it had been painful when Idenk had become Ma'ish'da, but it was nothing compared to when he left the colony. Accusations had flown, fights had been frequent, people were blamed, and Anka himself had very nearly been exiled, for he had been the last person to see the Ma'ish'da. It had been two years before things started to work in the colony again, many families had changed colonies, for it was a de-hard rule, until the Ma'ish'da was dead, another could not be elected, and vanishing was most certainly not dying. Anka shook his head, then realised that he had finally cleared Bai'lek, and was now standing on the rolling dunes. To the west, the sun was slowly starting to creep down behind the horizon, to the east; storm clouds were starting to build. With a strong kick Anka slid down the dune and started up the next, it was a swift and effective mode of travel.
Marisha kicked the thermal blankets aside and crawled out of the cave, when ever she was in the Quandar, she never missed the sunrise. As the light carved bands across the sky, the ice reflected up in a brilliant band of colours, causing the sky to shimmer. Admittedly these mid-year sunrises were totally incomparable to the ones around the sun festival, but still they were magnificent, and very spectacular compared to the ones that occurred on the edge. Turning she saw that Kennedy too had followed her out of the cave, had he not admitted that he was Calen, she would most certainly have known it now, for only the Calen could do the Dawn Dance, Marisha turned her eyes back to the sunrise for watching the Dawn Dance was one of the big sins. But as she turned she saw a small figure top a dune in the distance, and slide down out of sight.
"Kennedy." He was beside her immediately.
"What did you see?"
"Someone is coming?" Kennedy turned and scanned briefly.
"How were they traveling?"
"Slid down out of sight." Kennedy muttered something unclear, but his eyes remained, waiting for the figure to appear at the top of the next dune, sure enough the figure topped the dune and slid gracefully out of sight again.
"Marisha, get Dusty up immediately and pack." Kennedy then turned and stared for a moment at the sun, before turning to help Marisha and Dusty pack. They were moving before the figure topped the next dune, but both Marisha and Kennedy kept an eye on the figure as it slowly drew ever closer, and an eye scanning the sky. The last thing they needed were Draconian troops paying a surprise visit.
"Marisha." She stopped at Kennedy's call and turned.
"We're going to have to thoroughly betray our positions. Draconia on the southern horizon." Marisha turned and glanced briefly at the small dots, then back to Kennedy.
"What do we do now, I've never been on the run here before."
"What we do is violate some fairly strong laws and hope they let us live anyway." Marisha watched in silence as Kennedy dropped onto his knees, and then with a thump, the visio link in her head came to life, almost knocking her off her feet. A few seconds later Kennedy was back on his feet, and the link died, the walker behind them was still an hour away and the Draconia were searching, and probably about half a day away.
Ehrie watched in silence as the Draconia took off, she then turned and walked slowly towards a pen in the back of the sheds. In the pen sat two Draconia, their intelligent faces blinking sleepily.
"Ready for some flying boys? Okay, out you come." Ehrie swung the gate open and watched as the two animals ran swiftly out of the shed, slowly gaining momentum, before they expanded their wings and rising up into their trade mark soar, arms tucked behind their necks. Ehrie smiled, much as she liked them, she couldn't believe that there were any creatures as ungainly to be found on the planet as the Draconia. Ehrie watched them in silence for an hour as they flew, dove and soared. It was these two who prevented the colony from electing another Ma'ish'da, for while they lived so to did the Ma'ish'da. With a sigh Ehrie turned and walked back into the comm centre, still she could remember Idenk as he had been, that irrepressible scamp had done everything he could to annoy his elders. He and Anka had been as close as anything, what one did; the other did no matter what the risks. Once again she sent the communicator scanning for a clear channel, once again it returned no report.
Anka slid down the next dune, using the brief ride to regain some extra strength. His mind had numbed out entirely several hours earlier, but he still followed the trail of skid marks. Though the wind had got very strong, the storm itself had veered west of him leaving the tracks unharmed, though the retraction of number two's ice spikes had made the job a lot harder than it had been following the group out of Bai'lek. They had been right, there were indeed three in the small party, for he had seen them intermittently since the sun had risen, and it had now been an hour since he had located the Draconia on the horizon, but he was still several dunes behind the party. Anka paused momentarily as he pumped up the pressure in his water tubes, then dropped on his face as he heard the rushing of the wind, when Draconia come into land, you hope, number 1, that you are not near his landing path, and number 2, that if you are, that it sees you and obligingly avoids you. Anka was back on his feet the second they had passed overhead watching as they swooped and then landed in a cloud of rent ice. With a sigh Anka dropped back on his heels as the Draconia rose into the air again, and watched them as the rose and circled, for a minute, then one of them plummeted earthwards again. At first Anka assumed there was a problem, then he remembered having seen this stunt once before, Kastria had been the only one who could do it, and then only with one rider. With a wide looping arc, the Draconia stopped about five poles from him, and the rider jumped off.
"Move it, quick." Anka jumped as his communicator suddenly came live. But from habit he automatically moved. The strong hand grabbed his arm and seconds later he watched as the ground whirled away. He noticed with faint interest that his communicator was once again dead. He then turned and saw that they were now up with the second Draconia, whom he now recognised as Alytos. As they wheeled and headed east Anka stared at the broad back which was in front of him, then across at the two figures on the back of Alytos. All were suited up, and by their movements, it looked like they were using the communicators. "Anka." Anka couldn't control his jump when his communicator came live once more.
Ehrie leapt to her feet as the guard came hurtling into the comm centre.
"Ehrie! They've gone."
"Who, have gone Dirk?"
"Kastria and Alytos, the just wheeled and took off. The Ma'ish'da is back in the Quandar."
"You are joking."
"I'm not." Ehrie stared at the boy.
"The behaviour of Kastria and Alytos has nothing to do with the Ma'ish'da. They are linked to Idenk. Don't forget it and hold your tongue. What news from the Bai'lek group?"
"Nothing, from the five whom remained behind. The runner has yet to return." Ehrie nodded her head and dismissed Dirk, before staring back at screen in front of her.
"What are you doing now Idenk?"
Ehrie sat in the silent comm centre, since the colony had been isolated by the static wave, the comm centre was the one place where peace was. And since the rumours about the return of the Ma'ish'da had started it had been even noisier. With a sigh Ehrie sent the scanner through for another cycle, static, static and more static. Ehrie shook her head and stared up at the ceiling, how long would it be before the radio crew could silence the southwest tracker.
"Ehrie?" She turned to see Goram standing quietly against the doorpost.
"What is it Goram?"
"It's not the south west tracker. We don't know what it is, but someone has deliberately isolated us from the world."
"What news of the Bai'lek group?"
"All are safe and returned....except for Anka." Ehrie was out of her chair in a flash.
"Anka is missing?" Goram suddenly looked all of his 72 years.
"Yes Ehrie, Anka has gone. But we finally have news of Godank."
"He is alive, but we know and can find no more. Something is happening Ehrie, and I hope the colony will survive. It nearly didn't when Idenk left. Blast the boy, why didn't he tell anyone."
"Why did Idenk leave?" Goram shook his head.
"We're not really sure, but I will say that we weren't particularly helpful. I found out two-three years after he left, Frynank had been dealing with the Cholix colony, and the elements of the deal would have caused most people to commit suicide." Ehrie thought quietly for a minute, the Cholix colony was 80miles to the south and was where most of the families went after they left.
"What are we going to do about the static wave?"
"Wait, and hope that either it leaves or we can find a way to penetrate it. We have most certainly returned to the times of our ancestors." Ehrie laughed and watched as Goram slowly started to leave, when suddenly the audio comm crackled into life.
"Eeast Aab calling Fromin colony."
"Fromin colony reading, this is Ehrie, who is it?"
"This Godank von Hidenk at Eeast Aab. You appear to be having static problems."
"Tell us something we don't know Godank von Hidenk." Ehrie glanced enquiringly at Goram who was nodding slowly.
"Well I could set you up a relay of contacts and let you out of there, but somehow I have the feeling that soon you will not wish it."
"Godank von Hidenk, this is Goram von Irem. Why do you say that?"
"You still alive are you Goram. I say it because I have no wish for Fromin colony to become the laughing stock."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because what is being used against you is very old, and very common. It is older even than the trackers."
The connection faded into a blur of static, leaving Ehrie and Goram to look at each other.
"Godank in indeed alive. I wonder what we have that can cause this and is older than the trackers?"
Goram grunted, then groaned as the audio comm flashed into life again.
"If this is Godank again I'll want some more explanations." Ehrie stepped over to the comm and hit a record button.
"This is Draconia Alytos calling the Fromin colony." Ehrie frowned, the deep voice was familiar yet strange.
"Fromin colony, Ehrie speaking. Who is it?"
"Just Draconia Alytos. Are you alone?"
"Eghlighter oram as here."
"So Goram is there as well, hmm." A wave of static momentarily washed over the connection, than the voice came back on line. "This is Idenk von Godank requesting a location for Godank von Hidenk."
"I am afraid Idenk von Godank that that information is classified."
"Meaning that you don't know. Thank you very much Eghlighter Goram." There was another wave of static.
"Ehrie?" Ehrie closed her eyes for a second.
"Anka, what is going on?"
"I honestly don't know. But Idenk wants to know if there is anyway he can contact his father, he claims it to be very important."
"Is it really Idenk?"
"Well I can't guarantee, but he sure flies like Idenk." Ehrie grinned at the wry note in Anka's voice.
"Air sick already are you Anka?"
"He is nothing of the sort, he just likes to make a fuss. Please Ehrie, it is most important that I locate his whereabouts" Ehrie glanced at Goram, who took over the comm again.
"Godank von Hidenk was in comm contact only a few minutes ago. Anka, you must return in the next couple of days or you will be facing resumption. Fromin colony out."
Kennedy grinned as Fromin colony cut out. Goram hadn't changed a wit, he was still the same old man who stuck like glue to regulations, but bent them into all manner of shapes if he deemed it appropriate. Then his expression sobered and pressing two buttons he winced as the call went out, slicing through the static.
"This is Draconia Alytos calling Eeast Aab."
"Eeast Aab asking what the hell Draconia Alytos wants?"
"A secure channel."
"You are a bloody fool."
"You're not the only one who thinks that, but I had little option." Kennedy heard the snort from the other end.
"nine-twoer-oh-three" and the link went dead. With a sigh Kennedy twisted the extra wires back out of reach and returned his attention to the task of flying in the increasingly rough whether conditions. He'd had Anka swap with Dusty twenty minutes earlier in an effort to prolong their flying time, but by the feels they had only a short time to go before they were forced to the ground.
"How far have we got to go."
"Just long enough if we fly flat out." Kennedy touched Alytos gently, and felt the immediate acceleration in her pace, he slowly readjusted the grips, and waited till Alytos had veered onto the new course." Once more he was Idenk. "Race you Anka, we're headed for nine-twoer-of-three." He heard Anka chuckle.
"You're on Idenk, and remember, no stunting to delay me."
"Would I do that?" Marisha smiled quietly to herself as Anka gave a definite affirmative in response.
Mauger strolled idly into the morning room at the Kai'il centre, rubbing the back of his head gently.
"You be Mauger?" Mauger turned sharply to view the man who stood before him.
"Why do you ask?"
"I wish to speak to Mauger." Mauger frowned, the man stood at about 5'6" and was very stocky. He was attired in a loose weave shirt and trousers, around his head was wrapped a pile of complex wires, they were interwoven and tangled, and the hair had grown out through the wires, making it a permanent fixture. Unless he had a major haircut."
"I am Mauger."
"And I am Godank von Hidenk."
"Well take a seat Godank von Hidenk. What can I do you for?" Mauger watched as the man sat down, then perched himself on a nearby table.
"I have reason to believe that you are a fool."
"Many people seem to think that, but that does not seem a good reason to come looking for me."
"Oh, I'm not going by common report. By the way, do you know anyone called Kennedy?" Mauger frowned.
"Possibly I have known a Kennedy."
"Well I'm trying to locate a Captain Mark Kennedy. He was last seen a month ago in the D'Lartun edge community."
"Well I'm afraid he is unavailable for contact right now, but if you care....." Mauger trailed off as it became apparent that the man was no longer listening. He was seated rigidly in his chair, a hand gripping the side of his head fiercely. His features slightly pale and creased in concentration.
"Idenk?" He kept growing paler. "No Idenk not there." Godank was on his feet and pacing furiously.
Mauger watched in amazement as his visitor suddenly turned and headed for the door. "I'll be back, but an emergency has just arisen." The man vanished out the door, and Mauger only just made the observation deck as the huge, gawky Draconian soared up into the sky and headed flat out across the countryside.
"Mauger." Mauger turned to see Dellington standing beside him.
"What you want?"
"Who was that guy, he made a right mess of our landing pad with that bird of his. Stripped off his heavy suit and vanished into the building. Security avoided him like the plague. Then he comes tearing out at a flat run, he sent the security diving for the deck. Back on went the suit and they vanished."
"How long will the landing deck take to repair?"
"Can't say, but ground crew are working on it."
"That was a Draconian, they have iron landing claws. Hence it made such a mess of the pad. They live in the Quandar, but I hadn't realised that they could be ridden. Come on Dellington no more we can do out here." Mauger turned and he slowly walked back into the complex, his mind turning over what little information he had found out.
Godank hunched over as Kryana soared into the air, and soon they were racing flat out for the Qandar.
Godank doubted he would beat Idenk, but he felt sure he could get there in time to resist disaster. Just like this to happen when he was finally getting things unknotted and seeing the light. With a sigh he diddled with his link wires.
"Eeast Aab calling Ehrie of Fromin colony."
"Ehrie of Fromin colony receiving Eeast Aab. What can we do for you?"
"I need a Draconian escort to meet me at two-niner-oh-four in two hours."
"Cholix colony are stirring trouble and they need to be stopped."
"Send them without. I'll take over when I arrive."
"Very good. Squadron-Lieutenant Denk will be in command till your arrival. Ehrie out." Godank returned his attention to having Kryana fly at his maximum speed, no easy task on a middle aged Draconian with hedonistic tendencies. Godank shook his head, there were disadvantages to having such a strong Dia'te link in the family, and one of them was the fact that there were quite frequent unintentional connections and those could be very distracting.
Ehrie looked at Goram, who was still drifting around the comm centre.
"What do you think that is about?" Goram shrugged.
"I wouldn't have the faintest idea, but Godank would not request aide unless he needed it. I'll go and give Denk his orders. Keep your ears open for any more of their confounded messages. I wonder how they are penetrating the static?" The last was muttered as Goram hurried out the door, and Ehrie stared thoughtfully after him. That was one aspect of the situation she had not considered, both Godank and Idenk could penetrate the static wave, and Godank even knew what it was. Was it possible that they were in control of the static as well. Ehrie shook her head and returned to endless scanning of the frequencies on the visual scanner.
Goram stood silently on the broad viewing deck, for some unusual reason the static wave had not affected the visual scanners, or any of the colony's defense systems. A most selective wave indeed. He then turned and looked at Denk, who was standing in rigid solidarity by the door.
"I take it you have heard some of the rumours that are presently working through the colony?" Denk looked warily at Goram.
"Meaning the one's about Idenk von Godank and his father, or the other ones about Cholix colony?"
"The one's about Idenk."
"Yes I had heard of them, but was not taking them as anything but a rumour until our officials confirmed it."
"Well let this be official, for your ears only, Idenk von Godank is in the Quandar....we just don't know where. Also his father has made contact twice in the last day. As of now, you and your flight are assigned to a special mission. Ehrie will brief you on your co-ordinates and jobs in fifteen minutes." Denk saluted stiffly then scurried out of the room, as Goram returned his gaze to the small wide range tracker, which watched the air space around Cholix Colony. The device he knew was totally illegal, but years of existence had taught him that the Cholix colony was not to be trusted. The scene, from what Goram could make out of the grainy image, was a portion to the north west air space of Cholix Colony. The participants in the scene appeared to be two Draconia, with two riders each. Under normal circumstances this would not have even rated a faint degree of interest, all but the military doubled up if they got near a Draconia, what did rate was the behaviour of the Draconia. Admittedly, he was relying solely on the life form sensors to tell him precisely what was where and what classification. Goram continued watching as the scene slowly developed, one Draconia was falling in a drunken stagger, slowly, wing down. The second was dive-bombing directly towards it from several thousand feet above it.
Idenk swore as he felt Alytos stagger, and immediately started driving for height.
"Anka, get Kastria out of here!" There was no response, and turning, Idenk saw that Kastria was already gone, a slow sideways stagger, right wingtip dipped. "Anka!" A hand waved briefly, and Idenk frowned fiercely, there it was, they had crossed the divide a mere four kilometers previously. "Anka, four kilometers."
"Idenk?" Idenk jolted as Marisha spoke up.
"Kastria is not responding at all, and Anka can't get any external contact."
"Well stand by, and throw up any mental shields you have." Idenk cut the connection and switched to Dusty's frequency. "Dusty, prepare for some flying." With that he cut all connections, including the one between the power source and the communicator. Then he just relaxed, bringing back to the forefront memories from his initial training, and some private teachings he had received from his father. Slowly everything merged, no longer was he guiding Alytos, he was Alytos. He felt the binding, mind-splitting pressure of the shield, the numbness of fear, and the terror of no contact. And Alytos dove.
Marisha winced as the first pulse slammed into her head, never had she felt anything like it before. It slammed rhythmically into her, penetrating every recess of her mind, forcing, demanding, suffocating. Marisha felt her senses slide, there was only one place she could go if she wished to survive.
Anka bit his lip as Alytos started to dive, he had heard stories of this, but never believed them. He touched the leaders on Kastria, still no response, then his head jolted. Marisha was leaning limply against him, turning he saw that she was apparently out cold. What on earth was happening, first Kastria seemed to collapse, then Alytos started a long power dive, and now Marisha had passed out. In frustration Anka pounded the side of his head, and felt the screech as his comm recovered its external communication channel.
"Idenk." He paused, listening to the dull buzz of the static. "IDENK!" Still nothing, Anka watched as the ground steadily approached at an ever-increasing pace. "IDENK!!"
"What on earth is happening Anka?"
"I haven't an idea. Why isn't Idenk answering?"
"He won't answer me either, hasn't since he told me to prepare for some flying."
"He told you to prepare for some flying?" Anka tried the leaders again, a faint response, but not enough yet.
"Yeah, then I heard this thunk and no more." Anka swore with feeling, and tried the leaders again, more response, but still not enough to change the flight path.
"He's cut all frequencies and the power pack. He doesn't want to be disturbed."
"You don't say." Anka flinched at the rough note of fear in Dusty's voice.
"Trust him Dusty, he won't risk any more lives than necessary." The only response was a doubtful grunt. Anka tried the leaders again, a slight deviation of flight path, but still not enough.
Godank watched in frustration from the edge as Kastria started to drift limply, before wing tipping and starting to fall slowly. Split seconds later Alytos swung into a power climb, leveling out a mere thousand perches above the original position. Then there was a slight stagger and a trade mark power dive. Whoever was on Kastria was of importance to Idenk, nothing else could explain a power dive in such a region. Godank watched in silence as the Draconia plummeted steadily earthwards, there was nothing but silence, then it came, like an old signal bass, pounding through the air, bending the airwaves forcing itself into every possible corner. Godank closed his eyes, slamming up his mental shields and muting ninety percent of the pound, if it was this bad here, Godank hoped there was no sensitive listener onboard either of the Draconia.
"This is Squadron-Leader Denk calling Godank von Hidenk. Where do we find you?" Godank opened his eyes.
"Position niner-four of the original position." Godank kicked Kryana for more altitude as the Draconia he was watching started to blur in the lower atmosphere. It looked like Kastria was starting to respond, but it didn't look like enough soon enough. But then Godank could not be sure, everything was getting to near the ground.
"What are you watching sir?" Godank jumped slightly at the respectful voice of the squadron-leader.
"The reason why I requested that you join me. Unfortunately it appears that we are precise two minutes too late."
"Too late for what, sir?"
"Too late to prevent those Draconia from flying into a Delc field."
"Delc field?" Godank strained his eyes, trying to see, but the Draconia had finally vanished into the lower atmosphere, he hurriedly lowered his mental shields a trifle, still it pounded, obviously there was still life.
"I don't know how they work, but they induce incredible mental stress on the Draconia, usually paralyzing if not killing them. But a few can survive."
"I didn't think such a thing existed. Why would someone wish to create such a thing?" Godank suddenly felt incredibly tired and old.
"It was created in our ancient times, it was the only way to prevent the Draconia from feeding off us. Obviously someone has dug into the histories and built one."
"What do we do now, sir?" Godank sighed and dropped his shields, no longer was it pounding.
"Now we return to Fromin Colony."
"Even you, sir?"
"Yes Squadron-Leader Denk, even I will return." Godank turned Kryana, his whole being pulsating with loss.
Goram watched in silence as the Fromin squadron joined the lone Draconia. They were riding high in the atmosphere, almost as if they were watching the two Draconia who were now dangerously close to the ground, then it was over, by all appearances it was a rough landing for both Draconia, ice was flying everywhere, but it was off the life scopes. Goram sighed and watched as the squadron and their companion turned and slowly flew back towards Fromin Colony.
"Eghlighter Goram?" Goram turned to see Ehrie standing silently by the door.
"What is it Ehrie?"
"The static wave dissolved five minutes ago."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive I've just been in contact with Kan'dee, apparently Cholix Colony are out of contact. Been out for three days now." Goram frowned as something tickled at the back of his mind.
"That lines up with Godank's contact call. Something big is happening Ehrie, and I haven't the slightest idea what it might be." Ehrie frowned.
"But what about our static wave?"
"Five minutes." Goram blinked, then started punching clocking requests into the Cholix tracker. "I think the static wave was tied up with our young friend Idenk von Godank."
"But...." Ehrie trailed off as she stared at the depth scanner which occupied a full wall.
"Goram, there is an extra Draconia with Denk's squadron." Goram glanced carelessly at the scanner, the squadron was still four hours distant.
"Ehrie, return to the Comm centre and keep it isolated." Ehrie nodded, then vanished, leaving Goram to watch the slowly enlarging Draconia Squadron. He had a very bad feeling about the future, and that wasn't just because he felt his age creeping up on him. Goram turned and walked out of the room, idling in a careless manner to his quarters. His manner was careless, but his train of thought was not, soon there would have to be a meeting of the leaders at the Colony, for problems loomed high. Not the least of which was the return of Godank von Hidenk.
Anka fought Kastria's lethargic responses as the ground drew closer, slowly flattening out her flight path, Idenk also seemed to flattening his plunge out. Then everything went black as the ice overwhelmed his view.
"Anka!" There was a pause, then the call was repeated. Anka had no intention of answering, he ached from head to foot. "Anka, will you get up, I know you are conscious." Anka opened unwilling eyes to glare at the rude intruder, but at the worry in the face above him he was on his feet in a flash.
"What is it Dusty?" Anka glanced around himself, then realised that the question was superfluous. Large chunks of ice lay everywhere, Alytos was staggering in bewildered circles, while Kastria sat hunched up on herself, her head cocked and eyes watching. Kennedy would not be happy that Kastria was injured. Marisha was lying in a limp heap near Kastria, he couldn't even see Idenk.
"Just over the other side of the dune."
"His not dead is he?" Anka knew gut wrenching fear as Dusty paused.
"I don't know, neither he or Marisha are responding." Anka walked swiftly and ran a quick scan of Marisha, she seemed alright, other than being unconscious, and her suit still insulated her adequately. Anka then turned and hurried over the dune. Idenk lay motionless, curled up on himself. Anka flinched, then dug after the balance systems, he was alive, and only just unconscious, as Anka watched the gauge counted back to consciousness. Anka released the gauge and stepped back, sure enough, Idenk had uncurled slightly already.
"That was not a good landing." Anka watched as Idenk feebly tried to sit up, it was no good trying to aid him.
"Marisha's out cold."
"When did she go under?" Anka blinked.
"About a minute after we started to fall." Idenk swore with feeling and worked furiously to lever himself up.
"Give me a hand Anka, I can't do a thing lying here."
"But..." Anka trailed off as Dusty gave Idenk a hand up, there progress back to the Draconia was wobbly and slow, but they made it.
Dusty sat silently, watching the silent scene before him. Kennedy hadn't move since he had attached some wires to the base of Marisha's skull, and Anka was working on repairing damage that Kastria had sustained. It was nearly not a noise that caused him to turn, but never the less he had no liking for what he saw. They stood silently, six of them, and motionlessly staring silently down at them.
"Anka!" Anka spun as if shot in response to Dusty's call, and Alytos promptly took flight. Dusty watched in concern, but still noticed the concern displayed on the part of the visitors, no move was made to stop Alytos.
"Anka von Konda, you and your companions are now prisoners of the Cholix Colony."
"You can't do this!" Anka stared up at the expressionless faces, whether he liked it or not, that was exactly what they were doing.
"Who are these two?" Anka's eyes flickered briefly over his life form register, both Idenk and Marisha registered as dead.
"They were our pilots." The spokesman grunted, then Dusty was startled to hear what was obviously a private message over intersquad.
"Get a cart in here, that Draconia's out of commission too, tell the base we have some people." Dusty glanced at Anka, who had moved away from Kastria and was now standing motionlessly next to Marisha. Marisha was moving slightly, not strongly, but she was moving. Kennedy remained motionless.
"Yes, she just came up a second ago, Still nothing from Kennedy." Dusty frowned mentally at Anka's calling him Kennedy, to Anka Kennedy had always been Idenk before.
"Okay, move it, and give your pilot a hand." Dusty watched as Anka helped Marisha to her feet, then winced as Kennedy was just slung over someone's shoulder. They were met some ten minutes later by a curious device, it came from behind them, and Kastria was already on it, looking very mad.
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