After Days - Chapter 14
Shells and fuel canisters tumbled and rolled around Flight Deck Three as the station became unstable. The rig was going to sink and the Whispers, pilots and officers all knew it as they scrambled to find a place on one of the many dropships within the massive hanger, diving frequently to avoid the explosions riddling the surrounding fuel lines.
Clarke had the engines of the hijacked craft humming at a steady rate, but his fingers twitched over the throttle. It took everything he could muster not to rocket out of the wide exit with the other ships, but he knew if he did that he would be punished. That alone was enough to keep his craft grounded.
“Where are you, Tessa?” He panicked to himself as he darted his attention around the burning deck. A crowd of Whispers and two officers came charging desperately towards Clarke’s dropship, only to find themselves locked out as Clarke sealed the doors shut. He grabbed his mic and bent it towards his mouth. “Tessa we have to go now!”
“Don’t you dare leave without us!” She called back over the line.
Another series of explosions rattled the deck, throwing Tessa and her team about the adjoining corridor. The larger man dropped Leon to the ground as he lost his footing. Tessa grabbed Leon by the wrist and pulled him sharply, throwing herself under his arm. The sprint from the generator had woken Leon enough that he could balance on his toes, but his head was still wrapped in confusion.
The scientists must have stripped him of his old clothes, leaving him with only a black pair of tight shorts, marked with the Celestia icon, to keep him decent.
The large man clawed his way up the wall to his feet, chasing after the others. Suddenly he felt something small but tight hit the back of his leg. He looked back, sure he’d been shot. To his surprise the impact had actually been from a delicate, bunched fist.
“Where are you taking my brother?” Vicky screamed as she threw a few more blows. It was strikingly obvious that she had never had to throw a punch before, which this world was nothing short of a miracle.
Fire flared from the ceiling as gas lines split under the pressure of the toppling fortress. Without hesitation, the man scooped Vicky under his arm and sprinted down the hallway towards the hanger, the weight difference between this package and his last was a welcome bonus.
Tessa stepped out onto the spacious deck, glancing through the hustle of fleeing men to try and find their getaway. It hadn’t occurred to her just how many personnel there were on the station. The sight of them made her trigger finger very itchy. Now wasn’t the time, she had a mission and she had to set her bloodlust aside and see it through.
The engines of a heavily armoured dropship, over by the far wall, coughed and roared loudly, enough to make Tessa flinch. It was just as well, without it, she wouldn’t have seen Clarke banging on the window of that same dropship. The chaos had distracted her so much that she hadn’t heard him calling for her over the comms line.
She hesitated at the edge of the deck. The escape ship was over two hundred meters away, and a trigger happy army of Celestia troops with heavy artillery lay between her and it. Her team would make it without question, but Leon couldn’t run, so she would have to do the best she could to keep up.
She felt the unease of her squad behind her, the larger man joining the bundle with a kicking child under his arm. “Alright boys, we’re gonna have to sprint this one.”
“Ma’am.” They nodded as one, accepting their order.
Clarke watched anxiously from the comfort of his cockpit as his allies began their charge through the hanger, their white uniforms standing out amongst the chaotic sea of black. Fires bloomed and spat throughout the station, the force loosening large ceiling panels as they flattened unsuspecting soldiers beneath.
The tapping of falling dust scratched against the windows as the panels above Clarke gave way, held in place only by a muddle of thick piping. They wouldn’t hold out for long, and Tessa was still far from the craft.
Scrambling for a solution, all that Clarke could do was make sure that the path was clear as soon as the others got on board. He activated two of the ship’s missile pods, blowing debris and several ships in his path to ruin. His plan had worked as he had a clear line of sight through to the exit, but the shockwave caused by the projectiles shook the room and the pipes above him.
The largest of the clusters gave way as the ceiling slipped, relying on the dwindling security of narrow pipes to hold its weight.
“Shit.” Tessa cursed as her legs failed to pump faster, Leon’s weight bringing her down. “Dammit Leon, if you’re in there, if you can hear me, do something.”
Just as she finished begging, the pipes buckled and the large sheet of thick concrete and metal dropped, free falling for a few moments. Clarke wrapped his arms around his head, bringing a knee up to his chest, he didn’t know why as he waited helplessly to be crushed. The wait seemed like forever while memories flickered through his mind, and from the things he remembered seeing, they didn’t fill him with the comfort that death, the end, would normally deliver.
Refusing to accept it, he tensed tighter into his coil, still waiting. Flints of concrete and dust poured over his windscreen, but the platform had still not fallen. Somehow, from somewhere, he managed to summon the courage to peer through a gap in his arms to the slab above him, trying to figure out how much longer he had left. It had fallen half the height of the hanger, so he figured he had the same amount of time again. He watched and counted the seconds, after seven counts, he realised that the mass of ceiling was not growing any closer.
Tessa was frozen with both surprise and relief as a hand snapped out in front of her, fingers scrunched, palm facing forwards. She glanced to her side to see Leon, straining to hold the concrete mass with nothing but his own will and inner power. His eyes were narrow, relaxed, yet also dazed. There was no mistaking the glorious blaze of light pouring from his irises.
A huge control console fell through the hole above the floating panel, crashing down against it hard. Leon buckled and groaned as his fingers curled harder and his back tensed, as if he himself were under the falling debris, taking their weight.
“Jackson!” She called to the man who already had Vicky tucked tightly under him. He took the silent order and handed the girl to another white soldier, his helmet hiding his face, though he seemed just as keen to get the kid and get out of there.
Tessa ducked from under Leon and darted towards the dropship, dodging flying wreckage and occasional gunfire. Jackson snapped under Leon before he could fall, grabbing him in the same manner that Tessa had, though with his height, Leon could not touch the ground. His shaking hand remained fixed towards the dropship, not releasing the ceiling.
Their pace quickened, somehow Leon’s display of strength spurring them on greater than the threat of death. Clarke unhinged the locks and the doors slid open, a team of Whispers immediately scrambling aboard, though Tessa was quick to put them down with sharp shots to their heads from her twin pistols. She kicked them out of the bird as her squad jumped aboard.
Clarke happily obeyed and slammed the throttle to maximum, skidding the craft along the floor before it finally took flight. The station had tipped, so much so that the view from the exit was mostly raging sea. Leon’s body gave way to the immense pressure, not of the platform, but of himself. The ceiling fell without resistance and caved into the floor where the dropship had once been.
Swerving passed dropping bodies and other ships, Clarke managed to weave his way out of the station and into the storm. To his delight, the Celestia ships handled better in the storms than their own. As he lifted towards the sky, a Hailbard ripped through the clouds, forcing him to bank around it. It headed back towards the station, but everyone was too relieved to be out of harm’s way to give it any attention.
“Leon! Leon get up.” Vicky pulled at her brother’s shoulders as he lay flat on his back, Jackson holding him in place between two facing rows of seats. It would be a pity to have done all this, just for the kid to call to his death.
Her screams were enough to bring Leon from his daze. “Vicky?” His eyes cleared to see the girl’s happy crying face above him, her tears splashing on his cheeks. He rocked his head around, confused, spotting the faces of his saviours who looked eagerly to him. His brow scrunched as he looked around, lifting his head. “Where’s Elliott?”
Vicky shrugged in innocence as the soldiers shared the same blank look. “Not seen him since we got there.” She pointed merrily out of the door to the sinking station as it flashed and burned.
Leon’s heart tightened as it dropped into his stomach. He threw himself to his knees and stumbled to the doorway, looking back to see the Hailbard leaving as fresh explosions sparked above the waterline.
Tessa looked to Jackson, sensing what Leon was about to do. The huge man jumped from his seat and leant to grab Leon by his bare shoulder. As Jackson tore from the safety of his seat, the station erupted into a booming green inferno as a shock blistered through the air. Dropships which had been close to the station buckled under the rush. As the wave hit the underside of Clarke’s bird, the controls jolted, throwing Jackson out into the sky. He tried to spread his glider suit, but at some point during the rescue, a Celestial round had scorched through one of his wings. He fell spinning.
At the centre of the shockwave, Laza hung steadily in the air while he admired his devastation. Leon recognised him immediately, even from a distance. Though he was different. He was taller, stronger, broader and toned. The iconic angle of pipe had been replaced with a dagger. Golden handle, silver blade. It was Leon’s dagger.
Solace washed over Leon like a cooling touch as he knew his elder brother was safe and alive. With the power he clearly possessed, saving Elliott from the station would be simple work. Suddenly the remainder of the station below Laza’s bare feet crumbled into a crater before he zoomed into the sky, abandoning the rig to its sealed doom.
“Elliott!” Leon choked the word out as he jumped, diving from the dropship like a spear. He couldn’t swim well, he hadn’t had much opportunity to practice, but that concern didn’t faze him as he crashed through the rolling wave, alight with green fire. Laza had done this. Laza had sentenced his own little brother to death, whether he realised it or not. Leon swore that before he would allow himself to die, Laza would have to answer to both Elliott and Leon for his actions.