TangleRoot (Star Sojourner Book 6) (9 page)

BOOK: TangleRoot (Star Sojourner Book 6)
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

* * *

I located the cave through tel, but with the storm fast approaching, this was no time to go outside and try for a rescue. A hill of bristra, white with snowy backs, their carapaces streaked with gray, perhaps from the cold, lined the cave entrance like a hill of firewood. A frozen waterfall hung in a huge bridal veil above the roots and the entrance. Broken slabs they had pushed through lay across the roots. Water trickled down the falls as the day warmed.

Huff and Sophia had hand stinglers, but we couldn't burn the bristra. As Joe had said, smoke would fill the cave.

“Anybody got an axe?” I asked. The hovair wasn't heavy enough to plow through the roots to the entrance.

Gabby flicked off the autopilot button and hand-flew the craft to a smooth landing. She looked at me expectantly.

I winked at her. “Couldn't have done any better, kid.” But I rubbed my lips and stared out the window. The storm was on us. I engaged the holdfasts against the wind that blew snow like white sheets across the windows.

“Is the team OK?” Sophia asked.

“They're worried, but they're hanging in there.”

Even if we used ourselves as bait after the storm blew past, the roots were too lethargic to move away from the entrance and chase us. I tried a subtle tel probe, but only got subliminal scatterings of streaming thoughts, like winter dreams I'd encountered in hibernating animals.

“What if we drown them?” Sophia said from over my shoulder. Her wet hair had curled and was frizzy.

“Drown who?” I asked.

“The root system! We burn the frozen waterfall above their backs with our stinglers until they retreat or drown or freeze to death.”

It would clog their skin,” I said. “They don't have lungs. They breathe through tracheae tubes. We saw that in our bio lab studies.” I got up. “Air enters their bodies through pores. Spiracles. Clog the tracheae tubes and they can't breathe!”

Sophia snapped her fingers. “Voila!” She threw back her mop of hair and put her arms around my neck. “I knew I chose an astrobiologist for good reason.” She kissed me and rubbed her body against my hips.

“Oh, baby,” I said when she let go, “hold that thought.”

Gabby got up, swung on her heel and strode out of the cabin to the living quarters.

“Uh oh,” I said.

“Did you ever meet a woman who didn't fall in love with you?” Sophia asked.

I grinned. “I'll let you know if I do.”

“There was the BEM All Mother on Denebria,” Huff said from where he sat in a corner munching a slab of lard with eyeballs. “She tried to eat Jules.”

Sophia grinned. “I'm glad she left some for me.”

My body was responding to her. I ran my hands down to the curves of her buttocks and pressed her against me. “This is not the time,” I whispered. “But then, we never pick a good time.”

She laughed. “With the storm keeping us indoors, babe, what better time?”

Huff stood on his hind legs, and waved the half-eaten slab of lard. “Are you two going to do that thing again?”

“Only if you leave the cabin, Huff,” I said, “and lock the door behind you.”

“And the human, Gabby?” he asked.

I pulled Sophia's shirt out of her pants and slid my hands under it and up to her breasts. “You got warm quick.” I leaned her against the co-pilot's backrest and kissed her.

She gasped in a breath. “You're better than a heating pad.”

“Oh, Terrans!” Huff said. “We only do that thing underwater, for privacy.”

“You still here?” I asked him. I got Sophia's shirt over her head without unbuttoning it and kissed her left breast. Her nipple was already hard. But then, so was I.

The door slammed and I heard the click as Huff locked it. “You can't go in there,” I heard him tell Gabby. “I swear by the Ten Gods of Kresthaven, they would do that thing in full sight of all on an ice floe.”

“Would you?” I asked Sophia and helped her out of her pants.

“With the right tag I would.” She cupped my cheeks to kiss me.

“Gently, gently.” I moved my left cheek away.

“You're always battered somewhere! I swear, Jules, you –”

“Be quiet, woman.” I kissed her lips and she stopped talking. Instead, she pulled my shirt over my head and ran her hands across my arms and back. “Not much meat,” she teased.

I unzipped my pants and pushed my shorts down with them. “You want meat?” I pressed myself against her and spread her legs with mine. "I've got meat here for you, lady. I felt the soft wetness between her legs and pulled in a breath.

“Are we going to do this right here?” she asked, “with my back against the chair?”

“Wait. I've got a better idea.” I sat in the pilot's seat and pulled her down with her legs straddling my hips. “Is that more comfortable, love?” I said and entered her.

“Oh! Much better,” she gasped. “You are a fine cushion, love.”

We were wrapped around each other in the pilot's seat, which I had tilted back. She was moving while I held her hips.

“Oh, babe!” she cried, grabbed my hair in both hands and kissed me hard. “Oh!”

That brought me to a climax, too. I spread my hands across her buttocks and helped her push.

Lifted to heaven! On the wings of love.

No, wait!

She had kicked on the autopilot and the craft was lifting erratically.

“Holy shit! Get off, Soph, we're airborne!”

She slid off me and plopped into the co-pilot's seat.

“Uh oh.” I grabbed the yoke and tried to steady the ship as we headed for the frozen falls. Huff was banging on the cabin door, which had autolocked when the ship sensed intruders at the controls.

“Hang on!” I yelled as the hovair veered away from the rock face. “Strap yourself in,” I told Sophia and strapped myself into the pilot's seat. The craft swung wildly, oscillating between autopilot and manual controls. The banging on the door stopped.

“Oh my God!” I looked at the ground above and the sky below. We were dipping toward earth.

Sophia screamed and clutched the armrests.

“Christ and Buddha.” I clicked off auto, righted the craft, and hand-flew it to a landing near the roots.

The banging on the cabin door resumed.

Sophia and I hurried back into our clothes, then I flicked off the emergency switch, and the one to unlock the door.

Huff stood in the doorway with Gabby peering around from under his left arm.

“Uh, sorry about that, tags,” I said. “Kinda got away from me.”

Huff made fists of his huge forepaws.

“Now Huff,” I said and backed against the console. “Control yourself.”

He approached me with a frown darkening the pink skin around his black nose. “Only this love I have for you in my liver, Terran Jules cub, keeps control here in my head.” He tapped his forehead. “Which aches from sliding into the wall.”

“Sorry,” I said. “You OK, Gab?”

She nodded. “He grabbed me and held me on his belly when we slid.” She leaned against Huff and smiled. “He's such a gentleman.”

* * *

“You mean all this time you had a comlink?” I asked Sophia.

“Doesn't everybody? Huff has one, too.”

” I said. “The gangsters took mine, and Gabby's, too.”

“Then how did you get in touch with the team?”

I raised my brows.

“Oh. You didn't.” She shoved her comlink at me. “Take mine.”

“Thanks!” I smirked.

We were near the cave entrance and the stacked hill of bristra. The day was warmer, with a clear sky overhead and no wind. A high sun caressed my face. Birdlike creatures chirped among curled, snow-covered branches with sticky red pods. But the bristra still smelled bitter.

I flipped on the comlink. “Joe, it's Jules. Chancey? Bat? Do you tags read?”

“It's Jules!” I heard Chancey say.

“Jules,” Joe said, “where are you?”

“On the other side of this root wall, Joe. We've come to rescue you.”

“My God! Are you OK?” he asked.

“Fine. Sophia and Huff are with me, and a kid we picked up along the way. I'll introduce you as soon as we drop a waterfall on the roots.” I glanced at Gabby, who was watching from behind the hovair's window. “Better get to the back of the cave, you tags, a high spot if there's any. We're going to drown the bastards or send them packing. Their choice.”

“Watch your ass, Superstar,” Chancey said.

“Don't I always?”

“We'll try to help from this end,” Joe said.

“Soph.” I pointed to the frozen top of the falls. Suppose we burn through that ledge and drop it on their backs."

“I don't know, babe. If it kills them, how are we going to move them out of the way?”

“How come you're so logical, dear?”

“Oh, I must have learned it from you. I'm only a woman.”

I spun my stingler to hot. “Start burning, woman.”

The frozen wall bubbled and snapped and cracked like thunder. Water poured down and splashed on the backs of the roots. Some quivered.

“Time to wake up, crotes,” I announced.

“Run!” Sophia shouted.

“What?” I looked up and saw a huge slab of ice break loose and dangle. Then it released and shattered on the roots.

“I said run!” she shouted.

Sophia and I threw ourselves behind a tree. Huff was flattened behind another one. I covered Sophia's head with my arms. The trunk vibrated. When the cascade was over, I saw Huff emerge from behind the shattered trunk. Our tree had a shard of ice sticking out of it like the spearhead of a giant arrow.

“You OK, Soph?” I asked.

She nodded. Her eyes widened. “Oh my God!”

I turned.

The roots were stampeding away from the cave, surging toward us in loops of thick branches, like a herd of bison on the run. Sheets of snow flew up, until only gray backs showed as the bristra plowed through drifts.

The hovair!" I yelled, and dragged Sophia by an arm as I ran toward the ship. Huff dropped to all fours and bounded through drifts. Gabby sprang the hatch and we dived inside. I grabbed the handle and slammed the hatch shut as the largest roots, thick as truck tires, rolled past the windows and plowed on. The hovair shuddered as its hull was slammed, but it remained upright. Snow settled. The roots were gone.

“Jules! Jules!” I realized Joe was calling on the comlink.

“Are you tags OK?” I asked.

“Yeah. You guys?” Joe asked.

“OK. Close, but OK.”

“We're coming out,” he said.

“Come ahead. We'll meet you when the snow settles. Those galloping crotes caused a whiteout.”

We left the hovair.

As the snow settled, I saw Joe, Chancey, and Bat standing in front of the cave. Joe's shoulders were slumped with weariness. His broad creased face was flecked with white stubble and his hair was over his eyes. Compact Bat, our gentle Southern medic, with his wrinkled military cap covering his bald head, and his mild blue eyes, smiled as I approached. Chancey, my black Harlem friend who would challenge Satan himself, hooked his thumbs in his utility belt and grinned as I strode toward them, followed by Sophia, Huff and Gabby. Then I broke into a run.

I threw my arms around Joe and tried to say something through the tightness in my throat. I grabbed Chancey and Bat and pulled them closer. Sophia joined the circle and Huff wrapped his paws around us. Gabby stood watching. I took her sleeve and drew her in with us. We said nothing, but I buried my head in Joe's shoulder. He patted my back. “It's good to see you, son,” he finally said in a choked voice. “It's OK.”

I nodded against him.

“My liver is in joy,” Huff said and squeezed us. “We are together like the scattered cubs of the Ten Gods that come home to the Sacred River.” He looked up at the sky. “Watch over us, Lords of Kresthaven.”

“Amen,” I said and wiped my eyes.

* * *

I vibed my clothes, shaved, brushed my teeth, and showered while Sophia and Bat prepared a hearty meal in the hovair's sous chef.

Huff sat near the bathroom door and showed sharp, predatory teeth in a smile when I emerged. “Do you feel almost human again?” he asked.

I laughed and patted his shoulder. It had become a joke between us ever since I'd said I felt almost human after a shower, and Huff had wanted to know what it was like to feel almost human.

Sophia looked up from stirring the ingredients. “Your face is healing.”

“Ah,” Chancey, sitting at the table, shook his head. “He looks almost human again. Which new friend put out your lights this time, Superstar?”

“You know, Chance,” I pulled out a chair next to Joe, and sat down, “someday you're going to push it too far.”

Joe just shook his head.

Gabby's light eyes widened and she looked from me to Chancey.

“It's OK, Gabby,” Bat called from the sous. “Every so often they have to check their testosterone levels against each other.”

Sophia chuckled.

“Back home,” Bat said, “we never put two bulls in the same pasture.”

Sophia glanced at me and laughed. “My bull.”

“Don't encourage her, Bat,” I said.

Joe nodded at the handcuff on my wrist. “Guess we'd better not use a stingler to burn that off.”

“Guess not!” I said.

Sophia and Bat brought the dishes to the table. I breathed in the mixed aromas of mock steak and hot mashed potatoes swimming in butter.

Sophia set a bowl of crisp salad in front of me. “Eat your greens, hon.”

Chancey drew in a breath to say something. I slid him a look through lidded eyes.

He shrugged innocently and began to eat.

While we ate, I briefed my team on all that had happened after we left Black Mesa. Huff sat beside me on the floor, finishing his lard and eyeballs.

I yawned. “I think I just might sleep for those twenty hours on our trip home.”

Gabby chewed thoughtfully. “So this Spirit entity intends to wipe out the bristra fields, and humans will be destroyed with it?”

“After we leave the planet,” I told her. “He has incredible tel powers. When he targets the bristra, anything with a neo-cortex in a very wide range will be destroyed. Burned out.”

“Which planet does he inhabit?” Gabby asked.

“I gave him my word I would never tell, Gab.”

“But isn't bristra indigenous to Equus?” she asked.

BOOK: TangleRoot (Star Sojourner Book 6)
5.18Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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