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Episode Fourteen

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Orini arranged for his driver to take us to the local air port. There we were to meet a charter flier pilot by the name of Drathan. He would take us to the space port, from whence we could connect to the space port housing my Na'Ka'Ri'Tal.

Orini's vehicle pulled up outside. We thanked Orini again, and wished him well, but knew that he, like all the other Markab, would not survive the plague loosed upon them.

The media closed in around us as we left the home of Orini. Nar'Bon and Russell were sensible enough to push their way through, but the Pak'ma'ra stopped to talk. I had to drag him into the ground vehicle to get him away before he said something stupid. Or anything at all. His tentacles twitched furiously but the look in my eye stopped him from fighting me.

The roads were chaotic. Ground vehicles were abandoned or driving uselessly around and around in circles. The Markab were terrified. We left our driver to return home any way he could, and walked the last couple of klicks to the air port.

I found the hysteria at the port almost unbearable. We had to fight our way through the crowds of Markab who filled the place. Thousands upon thousands of desperate people trying to flee the city thronged the halls. We struggled to find our flight, pushing our way from terminal to terminal. There were just so many Markab begging and pleading for a way out of the horror. We queued for some time to discover where our flier was berthed. Behind us and all around us were the frightened jabberings of the Markab. The hubbub was beyond belief. I wondered if my people had been like this when the Centauri had bombed our world and come down amongst us like stargods.

Drathan didn't want to let us on his flier. The Pak'ma'ra jabbered a lot at him, hesitating and pausing a lot between words. Drathan was expecting Markab officials, but what he had to ferry was us. Eventually, the Pak'ma'ra persuaded him that we were guests of the Markab and that we were the passengers he was awaiting.

Four other Markab began haggling with Drathan, presumably trying to find passage with him. He said something to the Pak'ma'ra, and indicated the passage way behind him.

"Come on - Drathan's flier is down there. It is secure."

We ran down the corridor. The flier was out on the landing surface. We fled down the stairs and across to it. Drathan pounded down the corridor and followed us. Behind him pelted a string of Markab, all dignity thrown to the wind.

Nar'Bon and I waited to shut the flier's door as Drathan flung himself up its steps and in. We didn't want any of the Markab following him on the flier. We didn't want them on our ship - any of them could contaminate our pilot and the last thing we wanted was for him to fall prey to Drafa. The turbines whined and we slowly began to move.

Hands grabbed on to the door as Nar'Bon and I tried to shut it. I battered at the fingers, trying to loosen their grip, but fear made them strong. Nar'Bon and I hauled against the weight of the desperate Markab and the gathering wind. It took all my strength to stop any Markab getting in, and the only reason why we managed to get away was that the flier picked up enough speed that they could not hang on any longer.

Nar'Bon and I slammed the door shut. Behind us I could see a string of tumbled down and defeated Markab. We had gotten away form them. Soon we would be off this accursed world.

I plonked myself down in a seat and laughed. A great belly laugh boiled out of my throat. It was very funny that Nar'Bon and a strapping young Narn like myself could not close a door against a few Markab. It was very funny to see that string trailing behind us, a few still desperately, hopelessly running. I laughed and the others looked at me.

We were some hours into the flight, at the sleepy stage of boredom, when the flier lurched and went into a nose-diving spin. I thought at first that we had been hit by something. The pilot seemed to be making no attempt to arrest our fall, and no automatic systems cut in. It probably took me 10 seconds to arrive at this conclusion.

"Shrock - what's going on?"

Noone else had moved - they were all hunched in their seats, all uncomprehending and clutching their harnesses as if they could save them from death. I am not ready to face Her yet, not now, so I unbuckled myself and tried to walk forward. It was a little more difficult than I expected - we were pulling G's from the tightness of the spin - and I promptly fell onto the cockpit door, landing heavily on my knee in the process. Then I couldn't get the door open because my weight was on it and I had to slide it in the direction against the spin. I could see the pilot was slumped over his controls through the little window into the cockpit. Beyond him all I could see was madly spinning ground. We were in a death spin and dropping like stones from the sky and the pilot was most likely dead and I couldn't get the G'Quan bedamned door open!

Finally I opened it enough to squeeze through. I dropped myself down on to the co-pilot's seat - falling through the windscreen would not help anyone, let alone myself, and I had to live. The altimeter was winding down quickly but I couldn't read the units it was in. I guessed around 8000 units.

The joystick was non-responsive. The pilot was slumped over his controls, with his full weight pressing them down, and I could not change the attitude of the flier. I spent further precious seconds trying to push him off the controls, but his harness was still fastened. Once I had unlocked it, I could then shove him off the joystick.

The ground was spiraling in front of me and rushing towards the flier. As I began hauling up on the flier's joystick, we only had 3000 units to play with. I managed to slow the dive somewhat, but I couldn't find the controls for the ailerons and the flaps. Less than 1000 units altitude. I battled the joystick and fumbled with some paddles - yes! The ailerons and the flaps began adjusting our attitude and I finally had the spin under control. Unfortunately, that was when we ran out of air space.

It was too late as I hauled the nose of the flier upwards. The best I could do was keep the nose up and skim the sand dunes. One stood a little higher than the others and a wing tip caught it. The flier landed with a thud and a crunch, and the turbines cut out as they hit the sand. I wrestled the controls, still trying to keep the nose up as the little craft bounced and skidded across a handful of dunes before finally stopping.

The flier creaked and groaned as it settled into the sand. I was pretty sure that it wouldn't fly again - the turbines had to be full of sand and one wing had clipped a sand dune. It was a wonder that we were all down in one piece.

I collapsed over the joystick, muscles trembling in response to the fear hormones flooding my system. I had failed to keep the flier in the air. By the looks of it, we were stranded in the middle of a desert on an alien world, and we had no transport. Yeah, I was alive, and so too the others it seemed, but I should have done better. Needed to do better. Had to do better.

Na'Tal stirred within me and rebuked me gently. "Be grateful for your life, my sib. A lesser pilot and his passengers would be dead, not alive."

I wasn't in the mood for a conversation. I just sat, collapsed in the co-pilot's chair, and shook whilst the fear hormones drained away. I had truly expected that I would die, especially when I firstly couldn't arrest the spin, and then realised that there was no airspace to manouevre in. Three years ago, death would have been welcome. Now things were different.

Would I ever see my pouchling or my lover again? I had no idea of where I was. The planet was rife with plague, and I had been in close contact with an alien pouchling who had the fatal disease, a disease of unknown contagion to my species. I could be dead within days or even hours, and how would So'Kath ever know what became of me? How would Na'Kath ever remember her mother? Would I survive to see them again?

Thus did I despair.

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Na'Tiel's Story / Lynne / last modified 29 February, 2000