7: BLACK WINGS
The screamer plummeted, out of control towards Gaia. Both wings had already been ripped off by the thick atmosphere. What was left, was a metallic hull, in a deathly fall towards the planet’s surface. Sergei was being tossed around violently, as he struggled to reach the eject button. He stole a glance outside and his eyes widened. He was running out of time. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a blade. The screamer shuddered violently and he struggled to maintain his grip on the blade while carefully slicing away the harness that held him in place. After a few back and forth slices, the harness snapped loose and Sergei launched forward, hitting the eject button.
There was a hissing sound and then the protective windshield was off, quickly exposing him to the swirling and kicking wind. A popping sound followed and Sergei felt momentarily sucked into his seat, before the familiar feeling of falling, set in. This was closely followed by a feeling of being yanked, as the parachutes deployed. Sergei looked down just in time to see the screamer crumple into the earth below and disappear under a brilliant fireball. The fireball rose and soon gave birth to a mushroom cloud of smoke and debris that quickly rose above it. Sergei managed to steer clear of the flames and soon, his descending chair kissed the treetops before getting entangled in a set of tree branches.
Sergei heaved a sigh of relief and looked down. The forest bed was still a long way down, and his swaying chair gave him a good view of the surrounding area. Sergei twisted his body, willing the swinging motion of the chair, into a wider arc. As the chair swung back down, he reached out and plunged his knife into a nearby tree trunk. Sergei took in some deep breaths before unlatching the rest of the harness. The chair, suspended by the parachute, oscillated slowly in a pendulum-like motion, behind him. Sergei let out a loud yell as his left hand held on to the embedded knife and was stretched taut.
He knew he had to act quickly or else he would become easy pickings for whatever predators inhabited this jungle. Sergei pressed himself to the tree trunk trying to find any form of traction or a footing. It was to no avail. He glanced downwards once more. He was a long way from the forest bed. Sergei took another deep breath and pried free, the knife he hung on to. He felt himself falling towards the forest bed. As he plummeted, he thought he saw a black form overhead and cursed at himself. The predators must have noticed him. Sergei quickly shifted his blade from his left hand to his right. He knew he would most likely have two dislocated shoulders by the time he hit the forest bed. He decided he would deal with that challenge once he made it there safely. He pivoted mid-fall, holding the blade handle as tightly as he could and stabbed the tree trunk with all his might. His fall was broken abruptly, and his right hand was stretched taut. Sergei let out a loud yell, which he quickly tried to suppress. He’d thought he’d heard a popping sound. That thought was quickly confirmed by the sharp pain he felt in his right shoulder, once he tried to hoist himself upwards.
With his right hand trembling, Sergei hoisted himself up by the blade handle and quickly grabbed it with his left hand. He let his right grip go and dangled loosely for a while, as he surveyed the forest bed. It was much closer now. A fall would still leave him badly wounded, but it wouldn’t kill him. Sergei tried to move his right hand. It hurt just thinking about it. He held on, listening to the sounds of the forest. They were unlike any sounds he had ever heard before. He found that the sounds somehow soothed him, despite his predicament. The sunlight had gotten a bit dimmer as he had fallen lower, and long shadows cast intricate patterns on the forest bed. Sergei’s grip loosened as fatigue set in. He grimaced and struggled to hold on for a bit longer. His mind desperately searched for any options, any course of action that would save him from plummeting to the forest bed. Sergei cursed under his breath at his lack of ideas.
I refuse to die like this.
I will not die like this.
I will not…
His hand slipped off the handle and Sergei raced towards the forest bed. The shadow enshrouded him once more, and this time Sergei smiled. Whatever it was, he deduced it reacted more to movement or maybe the sound made by that movement.
The Raven meets his end at the claws of a winged creature. How apt.
Sergei closed his eyes and did not notice that his fall had slowed. As his eyes closed he thought he saw the massive shadow of bird wings on either side of his own. The black wings seemed to maintain a consistency in their shape. They were much like dancing fires on either side of him. But they were wings. The darkness enshrouded his vision as his eyelids finally shut. He felt the moist forest bed caress his skin and tried to move, but couldn’t. All around him was black. He couldn’t see it, but he could feel it. Sergei decided that he was too tired to make sense of what was happening. All he knew was he needed sleep and sleep, he did.
Kaya watched as the entrance latch to her pod was gently detached and blown off by the release of pressurized air from vents lining the latch rim. Minutes earlier, a de-boarding gate had sealed itself around her pod. The indicator light was flashing green now, which meant that Kaya could safely walk out. She stepped into the gate and followed it, as it curved left on its path. The roof was lined with red lights that were soaked up by the white foamy walls of the gate. The hue deepened the red color of Kaya’s hair. She adjusted her glasses as she made it to the end of the gate. A door slowly slid open, with a soft whiff of air that gently tickled Kaya’s face.
Kaya stepped through the doorway, into an open room. A pale skinned lady sat on a chair, behind a desk, right in the center of the room. There was an empty chair opposite her. She subtly nodded her head towards the chair, and Kaya obliged. She studied the pale skinned lady. She had jet black hair that looked like a shiny set of black blades lined so closely together, as to be almost indistinguishable. She scanned the display pad in front of her, squinting her already narrow eye slits. Her high cheekbones gave her face the look of a firm, assured woman. The lady slowly lifted her eyes from the pad and gazed directly at Kaya, causing her to look away.
“Kaya Rencrafton?” The lady finally asked.
Her voice was as icy as her appearance.
“Yes… that’s my name.” Kaya responded.
“’Yes’, will be sufficient for an answer, thank you.”
Kaya’s nostrils flared in anger.
Weirdo was a kind tag… bitch.
“Yes.” Kaya responded.
The lady kept looking her over and Kaya suddenly understood why. She was a medic. Kaya remembered Dr. Dresden once telling her that the breakthrough in nanotechnology had come millennia later than expected. While new materials and the very property of matter had been manipulated since the first home world, the creation of nanobots had not happened till humans were seasoned space faring, nomadic beings. What it had done, was essentially make most of personal technology invisible. The lady sitting opposite Kaya was essentially a walking clinic and right now the nanobots incorporated into her eyes had taken multiple vital readings such as her temperature, heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing rate, brain activity and even done an initial x-ray scan.
“Are you feeling well Miss Rencrafton?” The lady asked.
“Then why was your body temperature so high?”
“I don’t know. You tell me.”
Sheesh… one day with her and I’m becoming like Maggy.
“I don’t know. It could be a variety of factors.” Kaya finally added.
“I’ll make a note of your transitioning body temperature, Miss Rencrafton. The rover will take you to a medical facility for proper checkups.”
“What do you mean by transitioning?” Kaya asked, perplexed.
“Your body temperature at the time you walked into the room, was measured at 116 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“That’s… fatally high.”
“Indeed you are knowledgeable. By all accounts, you should be dead. But the interesting thing is that it kept decreasing as we spoke. You are now at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“T… that’s not possible. I… I mean…”
“Are you saying my equipment is faulty Kaya?” The lady asked sternly.
“Well… it could be…”
“In the Rover.” The lady ordered, her voice like a whiplash.
Kaya hurried past the lady towards the sliding door behind her. The familiar whoosh of air was heard and a set of steps led into a massive vehicle, where other first-time planetary settlers sat strapped into their chairs. Kaya stepped inside and promptly strapped on. While she was worried about the information the medic had given her, a little smile played on her lips. At least she had managed to ruffle the ice lady a bit. The rover disengaged from the gate and lurched on. In the distance was a massive wall that could be seen for miles out and the peaks of what appeared to be skyscrapers. They were heading towards the first and only human settlement on Gaia – Eden.