I dream a dream of mountains. Ancient mountains, riddled with holes and caves carved by centuries of wind an water; so many that they appeared to have been eaten into the stone by giant mice. Winding caverns, where the wind caresses the stones and one can move along without touching the walls. The walls have been worn smooth by uncountable feet of those who lived there, ancestors and decedents untold and unnumbered, back to the days when the moons were young and the world was a new thing.
This is our world, our home, where we bask in the moonlight and admired the darkness of the sky and the dark trees where we gather our food and hunt the small creatures who keep us fed. There are many of us; I can feel the comforting presence of other lives, other hearts beating, other souls in tune with mine.
There is no fear. The world and the sky and the mountains are ours. There is no fear, only peace and singing.
Everything shatters, like stones being smashed into shards. There is weeping, although I can't tell from where it comes. There is panic, a feeling that we must flee, although to leave the ancestral home is an agony and there seems no where to go, no way to escape the wide tunnels that suddenly seem like a cramped trap.
The sense of loss is terrible, as if a limb has been removed. There are fewer and ever fewer hearts pounding in the darkness and the fear.
The terrible fear, descending upon us like a thick fog we can not find our way clear of. Through the fog, I can hear someone calling me, or are they telling me to flee? I can't tell. Something strikes me hard across the face, I turn back with a snarl, teeth bared as I brace to fight.....
And I wake with a gasp, sweat starting to drip into my eyes and one hand drawn back, fingers in a defensive curl only I can't bring my hand down. Someone is holding my wrist, firmly, but gently.
"Shaka." I can see his blue eyes in the blackness, glowing as they gather every imperceptible shred of light and reflect it back. He looks worried.
~~Same dream again?~~ he asks without speaking. It has always been his way to speak like this, using his mind rather than words. He is the only one who can, although we can all hear him. The fact that he does so makes me sad, although I don't know why. I sometimes think the others feel the same way and so they avoid him. There are only a few of us who stay near to him and even then they drift in and out, to and fro. Only I stay with him always.
"Yes," I manage to gasp as I gently pull my right wrist from his grasp.
~~It must mean something, since we both have it.~~
~~I don't know.~~ We both sigh. I shiver in the damp chill. The air is stale and I want to go out but I can feel that the sun in high. I can feel the pull of it in my blood, the weight of it making me sink down again, pulling me back into torpor. Shaka pulls me close, warming me. I curl up again, the weight of him and the sound of his breathing reassuring my shattered nerves.
Soon, soon the sun will set and the moon will rise and we will be able to move again. Soon, we will be given a new task to perform and we will be able to stretch and be free.
Free for a time, at least.
I settle back into the blackness, my eyes closing against the blackness and my mind drifting again, back into the dream world.
I dream a dream of mountains.
I dreamed tonight. I don't normally, or at least, I don't usually remember if I do. Princess says that everyone dreams, so I must just not remember them. I remember the one I had last night, though. It's as clear to me now as it was then, like going over a good movie again in your mind. I've had it before, you see, and it's always the same.
I always dream of flying. Not so unusual, considering the birdstyle uniforms that we wear, but this is different. It's dark and beneath me I can see mountains that border on a nighttime sea. I can feel the wind in my hair and the updraft pulling at my wings.
That's the strange part. I can suddenly feel them, real wings that feel like another pair of arms. I glance over and see them, massive leather-like bat wings that stretch to catch the wind currents and lift me higher and higher. There are others, I think, at least it seems that I can hear others around me. I swoop down towards the beach, towards the sea. I glide along the coastline until I come to a rocky section. I land on one fairly flat rock and I can feel how cold the stone is beneath me. My feet are bare, I can feel the wetness and the smoothness of the stone.
I walk a few steps along the rock to stand on the edge of a tidal pool, a still, clear circle of water like a mirror. I bend down, feeling my elbows resting on my bare knees and look down into the pool.
The face is mine, the same familiar goofy hair, the same mouth, nose, everything.
Everything, that is, but the eyes.
There are no pupils, no irises, no whites of the eyes. Only a strange, blue glow that fills the entire eye and stares back at me from the water.
I open my mouth, to cry out or to gasp, I can't tell, and my teeth are fangs. Four fangs: two upper, two lower.
And I scream. Only, it's so full of despair and pain that it doesn't sound like me. It doesn't even sound human, in fact.
And tonight I wake up to Jason shaking me, his hands on both my shoulders, his fingers digging into the muscles. He looks worried. What's brought him in, I wonder? Did I cry out in reality like I did the other night? I can't ever seem to sleep after having that dream. I just lay there, trying to read a book or staring blankly at the wall. Four nights like this, or is it five? I can't remember any more.
"Same dream again?" he asks me.
"It must mean something, or else it wouldn't keep repeating like that." He grins suddenly, "Maybe you need your head read, Mark." I'm laying back again, rubbing my face with both my hands until I can feel the blood rushing through the skin.
"Ha. Ha. That's me not laughing," I mumble through my fingers. I run my fingers up through my hair and look up at him, at the crooked grin that he's still wearing. "So, Sigmund Fraud, what's it mean?"
"I don't know. But, you really need to get some sleep. I'm getting my sleeping bag and bunking with you tonight."
"You don't have to."
"I know I don't." He's back in a couple of minutes, the dark blue roll tucked under his right elbow. He grins as he drops it beside my bed and starts to spread it out.
"That's not really going to help, Jase," I can't help but remind him. I'm propped up on my left elbow, watching him as he wriggles into the bag. "I mean, it's not like when we were kids and kept watch for the boogy man or something. You're not going to keep the nightmare away by being here."
"Maybe not. But, if I'm here, the minute you start grumbling like you're having that same dream again, I'll wake you up."
I chuckle at that. "Only if you hear me and wake up."
"Don't worry about that, Commander. You know I'm a light sleeper."
Light sleeper my foot, he's out like a candle in less than ten minutes. Dreaming of race cars, or maybe that red head in the cafeteria whose eye he's been trying to catch for a week. I lay there in the dark, listening to him breathing while I shiver under my blankets. The room feels stuffy rather than cold, but I can't seem to get warm. That's one thing I hate about Centre Neptune, the fact that you can't open a window to get some fresh air. Maybe that's what's causing my nightmares... the lack of fresh air. I snuggle down deeper into the blankets as I suddenly picture myself standing in front of Chief Anderson: "Honestly, Chief, I need a fan to keep away my nightmares...." That would go over well! I'm smiling again as I start to drift away into sleep, my body starting to relax and slip into that light paralysis that comes with sleep.
I dream that dream of flying again.
They're ready. They're perfect. They will not be stopped and they'll leave a bloody trail behind them. They're stronger, faster and far more deadly than even I had dreamed. I can not wait to unleash them, to watch them rip the humans apart with their bare hands. Even G-Force will be unable to resist them, their sheer brute force, their skill, their speed...
"Oh, yes, Dr. Charcot, you'll be richly rewarded for this, never fear." The man before me grins, rubbing his hands together gleefully, a sickening grin on his face. He looks strangely like a six foot tall hare.
I can hardly wait to tell the Great Spirit. The time is right, they are ready and all I need is the right target.
I'm worried about Mark. He's still not sleeping and it's really starting to drain him. He looks like hell warmed over. Dark circles under his eyes and his lids half closed, no matter how many cups of coffee he's had. He's already hitting the espresso. Five cups, six, seven, no matter how many he has he's just barely dragging himself around. He's so tired that he couldn't even do his usual workout, and he once managed to work out with strep throat! He just faked doing sit ups all morning, doing one or two and then laying there for half an hour or more, trying to sleep.
Thank God Anderson didn't catch him. I got Keyop to watch out for him and had Mark up on his feet again by the time Anderson walked into the room, sparring with me like nothing was wrong. Although I had to punch slow enough for Mark to see it and block. His reflexes are slower than I've ever seen them. Still, Anderson's none the wiser, I think.
How badly is it affecting his judgement? How well can he lead if he's half asleep? I'll have to keep an eye on him, keep him in one piece. The rest of the team can see it and they're worrying as well, but they don't know what's really wrong with him. Mark will have to tell them sooner or later, or I will. They have to know, to compensate, to back him up.
How long can somebody go without sleeping, anyway?
"They've stuck again," I tell my assembled team. "Spectra struck a water treatment facility last night. The reports are the same as they have been for the last two nights. Workers report strange humanoid monsters who can claw through steel doors and have been destroying everything in their way."
I can't help but admire them, my team, all of them tight as bowstrings, standing alert and ready to rush out and die if need be. Jason, especially, looks as if he's been carved of stone, standing far more rigidly and paying more attention than he usually does. Even Keyop and Tiny are quiet, their eyes focussed on me and my words. Princess doesn't twitch a hair.
Everyone, that is, except Mark, who appears to be melting.
He has bags under his eyes and seems to be standing by sheer force of will rather than anything else. His eyes are narrow, I can tell that he's trying to follow what I'm saying, but he seems unable to focus. Even his hair looks droopy. He is standing, however, and Jason seems to have placed himself between Mark and myself, as if that would keep me from noticing Mark's current condition.
"There is very little that I can tell you," I continue, ignoring Mark for the moment. "All the security camera footage was destroyed with the plant, just as it was when they hit the sewer works and the water treatment plant."
"It must be Spectra again," Jason answers, while Mark sways like a drunkard. "They must be robots made to look like monsters."
"I thought that myself, but the workers who escaped reported that the creatures didn't move like robots; that they seemed like living, breathing animals of some kind."
"Just what are they supposed to look like, Chief?" asks Tiny.
"They're described as almost demonic. The form appears human, except that they have long prehensile tails, glowing eyes, and bat like wings."
Mark suddenly perks up. "Wings?" he mumbles. "Did you say, bat wings?"
"I did. I'm glad to see that you are paying attention, Commander."
"Yeah... yeah, I'm listening."
"Yes, the information that we have received indicates that they have wings and do fly. We've also received reports that they tend to simply rip things apart with claws or talons. There have been several reports of them tearing steel doors off of their hinges, as well as having appeared to claw through security doors and smashing through security glass that was thought unbreakable." Everyone gasps at that, even Mark, who really does seem to be listening. "I believe that they are going to attack the city's main electric plant tonight. I want all of you to go there, protect the plant, and bring me back some evidence of these creatures."
"Evidence?" Mark asks, cautiously. "Exactly what kind of evidence do you want, exactly?"
"Hair, skin, blood, anything," I tell him. "If you can bring one back alive, even better. However, if you have to resort to killing one, then bring back the carcass. I'm sorry to say that I'm sending you in blind, team. I need to you find out what we're dealing with."
Jason, surprisingly, is the one who salutes first. "Got it, Chief," he says hurriedly as he turns and leads the team out the door.
"ÃÆ’ÃšBring one back alive' he says," I hear Tiny complain as they head out the door. "Just how are we supposed to do that? Invite it back for tea and crumpets?" Keyop starts to laugh. Mark is trailing, and I call him back. He's moving listlessly, but his jaw and eyes are set.
"Is there anything you'd like to tell me, Commander?" I prod.
"Are you feeling ill?"
"You do realize that you don't look well at all, don't you?"
"No, I..... I'm fine..... really."
"Really. I find that very hard to believe, Mark. Try again."
"It's just what?"
"I.... I've been having trouble sleeping lately. That's all."
"Is there any particular reason for that?"
"No, sir. Not really." I just look at him, one eyebrow raised. He finally looks away, down at the floor, as if searching for an escape hatch. He glances up again, and, finding me still starring at him, sighs. "I've... been having nightmares lately, that's all."
"Nightmares? Do they have anything to do with G-Force? About going up against Spectra?"
His hands come up, palms out defensively. "No, no, it's nothing like that. Really. I keep dreaming stupid stuff. Monsters and things. It's nothing, really. Maybe I've been watching too many horror movies on late night tv or been hitting that ultra hot salsa before bed or something. I'm fine, Chief."
I frown at him. I don't really want to send him out in this condition, but to pull him now would cause nothing but problems. "Does anyone on the team know about this?" Pause. "Mark, I need to know if one of the team is going to pick up the slack for you."
"Slack?" he sounds like he's angry, but he's just too tired to yell.
"You're exhausted, I can see it. Adrenaline will only take you so far, and when it wears off and you come down you're going to be in even worse shape than you are now. I'm not going to give anyone grief for it, I just need to know that there's someone to back you up. I need to know that you're all going to come back safely."
"Jason," he says finally, grudgingly.
"Good. I suppose that means I'm in for an open revolt if I tell you to stay behind, doesn't it?" He says nothing, but the look he gives me speaks loudly. "Fine. As long as I know that all five of you are going to come back in only five pieces. But, Mark, I want to see you once you're back."
"Why? What for? They're just dreams."
"If they're keeping you awake then they're serious enough to talk about." He opens his mouth to protest, but I cut him off. "This is not open for discussion, Mark. I want to see you when you come back. I want to know about these nightmares in detail, and then we can figure out how to get you sleeping again. That's all."
He turns to leave, but I manage to catch him mumbling, "I guess a sleeping pill is too easy, huh?"
"I don't need the Commander of G-Force addicted to sleeping pills before he hits twenty," I call after him. He freezes in the doorway, back very straight, but he doesn't turn around to face me again. "Besides, I doubt very much that you'd take a sleeping pill, even if I gave you one." He says nothing, just walks away with his head bent as if I've just hit him. I sit down with a sigh. "Just come back," I say aloud to the uncaring walls. "All of you, just come back."
I'm scared. Mark looks like he's dying and no one will tell me what's wrong with him. Jason warned me not to ask the Chief, but I don't think that Jason knows anything, either. Princess is scared too, and Tiny's been too worried to eat. I don't think any of them really know what's wrong.
What happens to us if anything happens to Mark?
Sleeping pill, not a chance, but that little white one with God-knows-what in it that Jason gave me, that I took. God, I must be an idiot. I don't want to know what's in it, but it did work because five minutes later I'm completely buzzed and definitely wide awake. I can't seem to sit still as Tiny lands the Phoenix near the electric plant. We must already be too late, because the night-shift workers are already outside, keeping as far away from the building as they can manage and they run to meet us as we walk towards them, twenty or so grown men and women with white faces, babbling about monsters with glowing eyes.
Glowing eyes.... There are no pupils, no irises, no whites of the eyes. Only a strange, blue glow that fills the entire eye and stares back at me from the water.
Shut up, I tell myself. I decide that we should split up, to cover as much of the plant as possible. Jason gives me this "you're really screwing up but I'm not saying anything" look, which I ignore. In fact, all of them look at me as if waiting for me to think twice about this.
"Did I lapse into Greek or something?" I finally demand. "You did understand when I said ÃÆ’ÃšWe'll split up', right? Or is this a mutiny?" No one speaks, but Princess stares at me as if I've lost my mind. "Well?" I can't help it, either the lack of sleep or the pills are making me crabby as hell, and the more they're not answering or listening to me the more annoyed I'm getting.
It's Keyop who breaks the silence: "We don't think you should go off on your own ÃÆ’Ãšcause you're sick."
"Yeah," echos Tiny. "You don't have to be a hero, Mark."
I frown. "Funny, I thought that was in the job description: ÃÆ’Ãšbe a hero, see the universe'." I suddenly want to laugh at myself, but the expressions on all of their faces won't let me. I struggle to keep myself from snickering. "Look, I know you're all worried, but I've just not been sleeping well. I'm fine, really. And the Chief's made promise to go and see him about it when we get back, so I'll be getting a good night's sleep one way or another tonight, OK? I'm completely able to handle this, I'll be fine on my own. I promise. OK? Everybody happy?" Actually, they don't look happy at all, but they accept it finally and we split up, Jason and I taking the upper floors.
There are no pupils, no irises, no whites of the eyes. Only a strange, blue glow that fills the entire eye and stares back at me from the water....
Shut up, I tell myself again, but I'm completely creeped out. The fact that the lights have dimmed, either because it's the night shift or because the monsters have taken out a fuse box or two, don't help me much. The halls are unnerving in the dim light, with dark corners and shadows that seem to crawl across the floor as if they were alive, especially when the florescent lights flicker like candles wanting to go out. The hairs on the back of my neck are already standing up, something which I had always thought was just an expression, until now.
"No way I'm letting you run around totally alone, Commander," Jason tells me with a smirk as we creep up a particularly dark stairwell. Our boots are ringing loudly on the metal steps, the sound echoing and bouncing off of the walls, but there is no other sound of any kind except the droning of engines. Why don't we just yell up the stairs, "hey, we're on our way up, please shoot this way if you'd like to take us out"? The sound makes me cringe, since any one can hear us coming long before we can see them.
Any one,... or any thing..... Stop that! I bite my lip to bring myself back to myself.
I want to say something sarcastic to Jason in reply, I think he's kind of expecting it, but I can't think of anything and I'm actually glad that he's here. I feel cold, a chill that runs up my spine and makes me shiver despite the uniform. "Thanks, man," I say, finally.
God, is it the pills making me feel like this? One minute I'm ticked off, then I want to laugh and now I want to run out of this place and head for the nearest hole and hide. Maybe Jason's right, maybe I need my head read....
....bat-like wings and four fang teeth, two upper, two lower....
Once we're on the second floor we find ourselves with our hands on the railing, looking down over the massive turbines, fuelled by natural gas and making a deafening noise. It's a long drop down, a couple of hundred feet at least. Far above us, at least another floor away, there is a row of large windows. I can see the moonlight streaming in through the panes, although there are shadows where the glass has been broken. There are two more long halls, one going off in each direction.
"I'll go left," I tell Jason, "you take the right one."
"Now don't you start as well! Let's just get this over with, OK?"
"OK, OK, relax!"
Easy for you to say, I think to myself as I move along the darkened hallway. This entire place seems geared to bring back the dreams, every shadow seems to be moving and I'm convinced I can hear something growling behind me. I try to tell myself that it's the turbines I hear, the monotonous droning of the motors that never changes and never stops. It makes me wonder how anyone works here; how that sound, going on for hours and hours without end doesn't drive them all crazy. I can't stand it and so I'm glad that it starts to fade away as I move down the hallway, the sudden flickering of the lights and the tapping of my boots on the tile floor sounding very loud in my ears. I'm surprised to see the hall open up into a kind of foyer, with plants and a few leather sofas and even a television set sitting in the front of them. There is also a very dark set of spiral metal stairs winding up to the second floor against the far wall.
I can't help myself, I look back over my shoulder down the long hall, suddenly sure that there's someone right behind me. There's no one, of course, but I can't shake the feeling. You're such an idiot, I tell myself, trying to laugh the feeling off. I turn back towards the darkly shadowed stairs, trying to pull myself together to climb them.
And I freeze. It seems that the sound of the turbines and the flickering lights abruptly vanish and the only sound is my sudden intake of breath. I can't exhale, the air seems to have been sucked out of the room as well. I just stare in front of me.
There, in the shadows of the stairs, are a pair of glowing blue eyes. Eyes that have no white, no irises, no pupil, just a strange phosphorescent glow that peers at me from the darkness.
Run!! Run, my brain screams at me. Run! Don't just stand here! Move! But I can't move, my legs won't budge, my feet seem welded to the floor. I just watch as the eyes narrow in anger, my own getting wider and my jaw dropping as I hear the thing start to snarl like an animal. I can't look away from the eyes, but I think I see white fangs start to appear below them as it pulls its lips back. I suddenly realize that my boomerang is in my right hand, although I don't remember grabbing it, the weight is reassuring as the snarl goes up in pitch and the eyes narrow even more.
The blue eyes suddenly vanish as whatever it is lunges out of the darkness and hits me full in the chest. I'm on my back before I can do anything, the boomerang clanging loudly as it flies out of my hand and rattles along the tile floor. The sound of it clattering away seems so loud. The thing from the shadows is right on top of me, straddling my stomach but all I can see is a mass of dark chocolate brown hair and those eyes gleaming at me from under it. Its hands are on my throat, I can feel the claws digging deeply into the neck of my uniform, going after the flesh beneath it. I try to kick it, and even though I feel my boot connect with the ribs, the thing doesn't appear to notice. Its still snarling loudly when one hand suddenly lets go of my throat, only to come down quickly with a vicious slash at my face. There's a deafening whack and my head feels like its being ripped off of my neck, but then there's a loud rattling as my helmet flies off and hits the floor just as the boomerang did. I see the arm of the thing draw back as it prepares to rip my face off and I make a grab for a clump of hair. It snarls even more loudly as it bends as I pull the hair down and towards my shoulder, but the arm is still well up in the air and I haven't managed to get my other hand up to try and gouge out the blue eyes as the arm starts to come down. I close my eyes and wait for the pain.
Only it doesn't come. After a moment I open my eyes to look at the thing that has me pinned to the floor. I can see the shadows of its wings looming up behind it, and for the first time I can see its face, now inches from mine. Besides the blue eyes, there's the mop of brown hair, a very human looking nose and mouth, even the shape of the face and the eyes are very, very human. A human face, although there really are four fangs, two upper and two lower peeking out at me from between human lips. A human face which is impossibly familiar to me. The nose, the shape of the mouth, the shape of the eyes and eyebrows, even the mop of brown hair are make up a very familiar face to me.
There's no question about it, the thing staring at me, arm still half raised and wickedly curved claws ready to descend any second, has my face. It's panting as it tugs its hair free from my hand. It keeps starring at me and I can see my own confusion and horror mirrored in its face. It blinks. It just blinks and the weird glow vanishes to reveal normal blue eyes. Human eyes. My eyes. It lowers its arm the rest of the way and shifts its grip to away from my neck to my shoulders, keeping me pinned with both hands. I want to scream, whether for Jason or just from fear I don't know, but I really, really want to scream. It lowers its face nearer to mine. I can hear it panting as it examines me. I can feel and even smell its hot breath on my face. Apples, that's what I smell on its breath. Green apples.
Then it scrabbles backwards, its grip on my shoulders gone as it crawls away, its eyes never leaving mine. I pull myself into a sitting position.
"Who....," the thing whispers, in a voice that sounds a bit like a whine. "...are you?"
My God, it can speak. I look at it again, and suddenly realize that the creature is female. I can see the swell of her breasts beneath what looks like a long nightshirt. The hair runs down well past her shoulders and almost down to her waist, I can see it dripping down her sides. There is a quick movement behind her, and I see a long tail with a thick tuft of dark brown hair twitching behind her.
"What are you?" she demands again. "Human, or gargoyle?"
I swallow, hard. "Is.... is that what you are, a gargoyle?" My voice sounds impossibly weak and I can hear it shaking.
She snorts. I assume she means that as a ÃÆ’Ãšyes'.
"Human," I manage, swallowing again.
She frowns. "But, you have wings like a gargoyle."
"They're not..., I mean, they're...." I suddenly don't quite know how to finish the sentence, because as I'm speaking there's a voice in my head that says: ÃÆ’ÃšIf you tell her they're not real wings she might just kill you,' and I'm not at all sure that it's wrong, that voice. She's frowning while I frantically think of what to say.
I hear another growl, dangerous and low, a rumble like a small earthquake, only it's not from her. We both look to the left, towards the sound when a huge dark blur shoots out of the shadow and hits her. I hear the dull thunk as it connects with her face, sending her flying backwards and sprawling across the floor in a flurry of limbs and hair, a heavy grunt escaping from her as she hits the floor.
She rolls over onto her stomach and pulls herself up slightly, supporting her torso with her arms. She looks up and whispers, "Vervain." I follow her gaze and find myself looking at what I can only describe as an oversized dark grey tabby cat. The face and fur look like a cat, and there's a cat's tail, the tip of which wildly lashes back and forth; the chest is bare and I can see the strip of lighter grey fur that runs down the belly, only to vanish in what looks like a kind of loin cloth or shorts. But then there are the bat wings stretching out like sails behind it, and the arms and legs that look more human than anything else.
Green eyes regard the prone female while ignoring me completely.
"Hurry up," he growls at her. "We have no time for your stupidity."
"But, Vervain," she sounds so helpless suddenly as she turns to stare at me again.
"Come," he snarls as he reaches out and grabs a handful of her hair. She cries out and reaches up to grab his wrists as he pulls her along and then yanks her up to her feet, only to let go and start to run down the hallway.
The female pauses again, turning to look at me. She wants to stay, I can see it, but she wants to run just as badly. Then I see her eyes shift to the left and back again. I watch as an idea flickers in her eyes. We stare at each other.
The dives suddenly towards me and in a panic I dive to the right before I realize that she's not actually coming after me. There's a loud metallic screech as she lands with both hands on the boomerang and her weight and the force push the metal weapon across the floor. She springs away, using her feet to push herself off and starts to run past me on all fours, her feet and her hands, her wings stretched out behind her. There are two or three loud clangs from the boomerang as she runs.
"No," I manage to yell after her. "Wait!"
Just before she enters the hall she pauses to glance backwards and I see her shift the boomerang from her hand to her teeth. Holding it between her teeth like a dog holding a bone before she turns and starts to race down the hall.
Whatever lethargy that held me to the floor is gone suddenly as I make a grab for my helmet. I start to shove it down over my head as I'm running down the long hallway after her. I hear someone yelling "stop" and I realize that it's me.
She's not listening, though and I can't help but be amazed at how quick she is while running in such an awkward looking way. She's already more than halfway down the hall and the male, Vervain she called him, is well out of site. As I'm running after her, with the sound of my boots ringing off the walls I can see the end of the hall, the sound of the turbines getting louder and louder and there's more and more light as we approach the high row of windows that look down over the massive machines.
There's a shadow suddenly at the end, just outside the hall in the open area, a shadow that moves. As I get closer, the figure becomes more clear and I realize who it is, realize that it's not the male Vervain.
I try to yell to him, to warn him, but by the time the cry reaches my mouth she's already practically on top of him. Just before she gets to him I see her jump up and to the right side, where she lands surprisingly lightly on the wall which she seems to grip with her fingers and toes, but is only there for a second before she springs off again, heading straight for Jason, who only looks up at the last moment when he hears the muffled roar.
She slams her shoulder into his chest, body checking him hard into the wall. I cringe inwardly as I hear the muffled thud and see Jason slump down and run all the faster towards them.
She's picking herself up as Jason clears his head with a shake, only to stare in horror at the thing which is kneeling in front and slightly to the side of him. I can see her looking over her shoulder at him, my boomerang still clenched in her teeth. I have to give Jason credit because, as shocked as he clearly is by her face, he still manages to raise his air gun and take aim at her.
"No!" I yell, but she's already seen the gun and before Jason can take the shot, her tail lashes forward to wrap itself around the barrel and rip it from his hand. She leaps away again as I finally manage to reach Jason. He doesn't look at me as I kneel down beside him.
"What... what the hell is it?" he manages to stammer, finally.
"What is it??"
What can I say? I have no idea, either. We both stare as she jumps up onto the handrail. I really notice her feet at that moment. Four impossibly long toes, each with a massive looking claw at the end. The feet themselves narrow towards the heel, from which another long claw sprouts. She lands on the railing on her toes, which curl neatly around the metal as she stands up straight and I realize that she must walk that way, on her toes.
She glances back at us, bringing her tail forward and up as she does so, the end still wrapped around the gun barrel. We just sit there and watch as she takes the gun in her right hand, stares at it for a moment before bending the barrel into a sharp angle by pressing down on it with her thumb and then tosses it away.
She finally takes the boomerang from between her teeth and stares at me.
"Whitewings," she says, her eyes boldly meeting mine. "Fly away as quickly as you can. This building will explode in moments. Fly away Whitewings, if you wish to live another night."
The she jumps. I gasp in spite of myself, but then I see her appear again, her wings spread to catch the air as she glides up towards the windows. She screams before she reaches it. A "scream" is the only way I can describe it, because it sounds like some strange combination of a roar and a shriek. I've heard that mountain lions make a sound described as a "scream", and I suppose that's the noise she made. It reverberates off of the bare walls and makes me grit my teeth. By this point she's at one of the broken windows and gone without looking back. I keep starring at the window, waiting to see if she appears again. I might have stayed there longer, but Jason's suddenly on his feet, grabbing me by the wrist and pulling me to my feet.
"Come on, Mark! We've got to get out of here!"
"You heard what it said! We're too late to save the plant so let's just get out of here!"
"Jason, did you see? Did you see what she looked like?"
But he's not listening to me. He's pulling me back towards the stairs we came up, and barking into his communicator bracelet: "Princess! Keyop! Tiny! Everybody back to the Phoenix! Now!! This whole place is going to blow! Get a move on, Mark!" I'm still hanging back, wanting to go back to the window and he finally grabs the top of the cape near the neck and pulls me away.
The rest is a blur. I don't really remember running back to the Phoenix, I just follow Jason's lead. I see the plant violently explode from several miles away and up about two minutes later. I can't concentrate as Jason starts to give orders to go back to Centre Neptune, as Tiny turns the ship away. I don't really hear Princess asking me what's wrong. I can't answer.
The only thing I can see, the only thing I can think of, is that face. Those eyes, that voice.
"Fly away, Whitewings."
I watch from the trees as the strange blue and red space ship tilts and finally flies away. I think that's what it is, a space ship, since it looks a bit like the ones the Spectrans use, but I've never seen it before. Shaka glides down and settles onto one of the thicker branches of the pine tree beside the one I'm sitting in and folds his wings about himself.
~~I've been looking for you~~ he silently tells me. Then, seeing the expression on my face, he asks: ~~What happened? What's wrong?~~
I can't answer him. I don't know what to say or where to begin. I just stare up at the night sky, watching the place where the strange ship vanished. Shaka waits. Finally, I look down at the metal thing in my hand. I open and close my claws around it as I stare at it. It looks a bit like a bird, with red eyes and a gold beak and smooth silver wings against a blue body.
~~What's that thing?~~ he asks.
"I have no idea."
~~Where did you find it?~~
"He.... left it... behind."
~~Whitewings? I don't know him. Is he a new young one?~~
"No." I keep starring up at the sky.
~~No? Who, then?~~
"I don't know, Shaka. I honestly don't."
Whitewings, I think to myself. I hope you've managed to fly away.