A Leaf on The Wind
The tormented black clouds rumbled endlessly, and fierce winds were continuously tearing at the brittle hull plating of the shuttle.
The severe turbulence jostled the crew around inside of their strained harnesses, and the high altitude sought to aid the storm in its endeavour to bring an end to the escaping shuttle. They would have to dive back down towards the surface soon if they wanted to survive.
After completing a tight turn, the shuttle yawned to the starboard side one final time, before plummeting toward the surface like a runaway cannonball.
The fire streaked outlines of trees were suddenly obscuring the viewpoint through the shuttle's single rectangular-shaped window on the bridge, and they only had a few seconds left to react.
'Damn it! Pull up!' Kelly screamed, thumping the controls in front of her. 'This thing handles like a pig.' she muttered.
The metal ground violently, and the reverse thrusters threatened to explode under the overwhelming stress of the manoeuvre. Too much effort was being asked of the ancient engines as they grumbled in protest.
The rustling of bushy tree tops grew louder and louder, as thin, ageing branches scraped against the shuttle's underside.
Crowding onto the bridge, Hal and Connor leaned over Kelly. 'Look at that!' Hal noted in awe. 'I can't see!' Connor cried.
'Boys!' Kelly yelled, and Hal just chuckled, slowly stepping back with palms held high in surrender.
Directly below them on the surface were the scarred remnants of a crashed shuttle. A narrow, fire-swathed corridor marked a path of destruction, where the stricken vessel must have plummeted uncontrollably through several trees, before breaking apart.
Peering out across the ravaged landscape with a god-like perspective, fragments of the unrecognisable shuttle lay scattered in every direction. They would have to spread out and search, after landing.
The shuttle was gaining more speed; gliding towards the surface, until powerful thrusters stopped its freefall in an instant. Sheltering under overgrown foliage, they leapt outside one at a time.
Slowly, they gathered into a small grouping, ready to tackle uncharted forest.
'I thought Julie said that there was only one working shuttle?' Kelly asked.
'Maybe it's one of those holdout shuttles that wasn't donated for building material?' Hal asked.
'The point is, it's here, and the air is a little easier to breathe too.' Grace said, shouldering her backpack.
'Hal, we should bury the dead.' James suggested.
Nodding, Hal gestured to him, and they gracefully carried the linen-wrapped bodies' of Rachel and Julie outside.
Taking a couple of hours to do it right, they gently lowered them into two carefully dug graves, and carved wooden crosses were positioned at the head of each burial. One cross bearing a plaque that reads:
"Here lies Julie Porter, enigmatic, generous, smart and loved by her peers."
The other plaque brought a lot of questions, reading:
"Here lies Rachel Dares, caring mother of Connor, and beloved wife of Captain Jason Dares, Aspire."
'I can't believe that we didn't know Rachel was married to our lost Captain!' Hal admitted after the brief funeral.
'Wait. What?' Jensen asked, lying on his side at the open hatch. The man must have spent the past ten minutes shimmying across the cold steel floor on his front, and they would have to replay the video footage later for a laugh.
'I was just as shocked. It took some digging through the shuttle's archives, but it was all there. I'm more surprised that Connor hasn't mentioned it until now.' Kelly replied, staring at Connor.
'Mom always said that he'd come back.' Connor said.
Hal played into the boy's fantasy. 'Where'd your dad go?' he asked.
'On a mission!' Connor beamed.
There were many old stories told of the Captain's mysterious disappearance, and yet not a single one of them mentioned any secret mission. Perhaps it was true.
'That's a mystery for another day; we need to check out the crash site.'
'Jensen, you and Connor should stay with the shuttle.' Hal suggested.
Their reply was expected, yet it was still amusing to hear them both raise a complaint at the same time. 'No, I am coming!' Connor yelled. 'Me too, my family might be out there remember?' Jensen added.
'Connor, listen, our friend in there needs protecting, and I trust you the most, can I count on you son?' Hal asked.
'Okay, fine, I'll stay!' Connor reluctantly agreed.
Bickering quietly with her husband, Grace and James seemed to agree. 'Don't worry, I'll stay with him and Jasper.' she said, her husband had insisted upon it.
James, Hal, Kelly, Taylor, and Jen were gathering supplies and were almost ready to set out. Limping a little, and making awkward faces as he moved, a slightly banged up Jensen still insisted upon coming along with them.
'Just remember, you asked for this, my friend.' Hal said.
Crouching down to examine the ground, Kelly rolled a clump of rich soil between her fingers. 'That's weird.' she said.
'What's weird?' Hal asked, his interest peaking.
'I didn't think that I'd said that out loud,' Kelly replied. 'The ground here's soaking wet.' she added, stepping into a murky puddle.
'And?' Hal asked.
'It's just strange that the northern parts of the planet are burning, and here we are with significant moisture and a marginally stable climate?' she replied.
'We thought that this could be the case right?' Jensen asked, joining the others outside of the shuttle at last.
'We aren't that far south, though. The other colonies are situated nearer to here, and that's why we parked up where we are. It should be worse than this!' Kelly said, running her hands over the tops of water-drenched plants.
James shrugged. 'Perhaps it has something to do with us being closer to the equator?' he asked. 'Oh hell, let's just take the win, Kelly.'
They had discovered a startling sign of positive climate change, even if it was unstable with the northern horizon still glowing red with fire. A new day was dawning, and there would be no telling of the sorts of weather that was to come.
Hal's eyes lit up with fear as he caught a glimpse of the rising sun. 'Let's split up into pairs.' he added shortly after.