The storm had ambushed me as I waited for the rest of the team to destroy the Galactor base we'd just found over the next mountain ridge. I'd parked the ship at the bottom of a deep bowl, concentrating more on staying hidden than checking the weather. And instead of shielding us from the winds, the bowl created its own mini maelstrom, and we were left rattling around at the bottom. The Godphoenix, being a creature of the air, is vulnerable on the ground. Hopefully the storm would blow over before we got tipped or worse.
My bracelet flashed: Bird Scramble. The fact that it was a silent call meant, "Come get us in a hurry." Great.
My gut twisted as I flipped switches and the twin engines spooled up. While the Godphoenix is solidly overpowered based on the "Brick Theory of Engineering" (in other words, you can make a brick fly if you have enough thrust), once the wheels left the ground, we would be completely at the mercy of the winds. Getting clear of the rocks in this valley would be a hell of a dance. I looked at the readouts, looked for patterns in the wind speed and direction. Engine readouts were all in the green.
I eased the throttle lever forward. An electronic voice chanted in a flat monotone: "TERRAIN. TERRAIN. TERRAIN..." The viewscreen flashed again, making me jump, before it displayed a mockup of the landscape outside. Though not completely accurate, it was better than flying blind.
Any hovercraft or helicopter pilot will tell you that vertical flight or hovering requires the most work and concentration. Add to that howling winds, sharp rocks and pitch darkness and you'll have some idea how my night was going. The Godphoenix tossed in the storm. My bracelet flashed again: What's keeping you? Keep your helmets on, guys.
The surrounding mountains reached elevations of twenty two thousand feet, and the sensors showed the storm cell capping the bowl we were in. I'd have to fly the Godphoenix right through it. Something loose tumbled through the cockpit. The good luck talisman from my hometown clattered against the console above my head as we climbed into the heart of the storm.
Imagine you're inside a soda can being shaken by a giant hand. That's what severe turbulence is like. My teeth rattled and my body slammed against the harness strapping me in. But now we were clear of the rocks. All I had to do was find my team.
A bright orange glow lit up the darkness like a beacon. That would be Ken's handiwork, I bet. The storm began to weaken as I followed the light and the Scramble signal, and then I saw the team, outlined against the flames, waiting a few hundred meters from the destruction. I dropped a platform from the bottom of the ship, and they climbed on so I could pull them aboard.
"Where the hell you been, Ryu?" Jinpei snapped as soon as the cockpit door slid aside. "You been napping again?" All four of them looked worn out, battered and heavily smudged with soot. Joe dropped himself into the nearest chair without comment, too tired for his usual razor-edged wit. Jun looked at me with raised eyebrows as if to say, "Well?" Ken just grinned and shook his head. As a fellow pilot, I knew he understood.
Even at full speed, it took awhile to clear that storm. I've never been so happy to see the stars in the clear sky beyond.