Avalanche – Snippet 28

They wrapped up the day as the sun was setting, battered and bruised. Still, it was a pleasant trip back to Atlanta for the pair of them. There was dinner waiting for them when they returned to CCCP HQ; while John would have preferred staying at his squat, the Commissar’s orders were to keep everyone at base when they weren’t deployed. It made sense for security and to be able to muster as many people as quickly as possible in the case of an attack, but John chafed at the requirement all the same. The one concession that Natalya had made was to allot a private room for John and Sera, instead of living in the barracks with the others. They were the only married couple, and Sera’s wings didn’t lend themselves well to the close confines of bunks.

By the time the couple were ready to leave the next morning, they found that Bear had already installed the saddle-seat in the van for Sera. It had definitely seen some miles, judging from the worn leather, but it had been cared for, and was much more comfortable for Sera to sit in. John promised to pick up a bottle of Pavel’s favorite tipple on the way back to town; the old man’s eyes lit up, but he only allowed himself a stiff nod before wishing them a safe drive.  The cagey old man had even managed to rig what looked like a seat belt that would actually hold against a sudden stop.  John thought for a moment about asking his advice on their flying issue, but then thought better of it.  They didn’t have the rest of the day to waste listening to stories of the Great Patriotic War, which would invariably be peppered with off-color jokes. Normally, neither John nor Sera would mind; it seemed to do Pavel good to talk to people. But time was not a luxury that they had, especially with the inevitability of another attack looming over them.

The pair decided to stop by Gator Bay for an early lunch again, though only to pick up food to go this time. Since chicken and waffles wasn’t an ideal roadtrip food, John opted to get them a double order of burgers and bacon wrapped hot dogs, with french fries and travel cups of sweet tea. When John tried to pay, one of the cooks—a young black man, early twenties and wearing his hair in a short afro—stepped out from the kitchen and said, “Their money ain’t good here.” John was about to object when the young man held his hand up. “Your meal, I got it. I got an older brother in Atlanta. If y’all weren’t around, I’d be an only child. Y’all do good, and we need that.”

Sera looked surprised, then pleased, then embarrassed, then smiled shyly.  “Thank you,” she said softly.  “We will strive to deserve your favor.”

The young man nodded once, then went back to the kitchen. John dropped the cost of their meal twice over in the tip jar; he’d probably get hell from the Commissar for the expense, but he didn’t really give a damn.

“Tell Natalya we were supporting sturdy independent workers in their own business, not nekulturny franchise,” Sera advised aloud, answering the unspoken thought.

John couldn’t help but chuckle at that, as they walked back to the van. “Darlin’, I’d be absolutely lost without you.” They ate on the road, and weren’t disappointed; the hamburgers, though simple, were imminently satisfying, and the bacon wrapped hot dogs were more of the same. “If’n we’re ever back this way, we’ve gotta stop by there again. My appetite will rebel, otherwise.”

When they arrived at the beach, the sky was starting to become overcast. It suited John just fine; any reprieve from the sun beating down on them was welcome. The next two hours were filled with more experiments, and more failures. John attempted to carry Sera by pulling her close to his chest when they were face to face. This only ended up sending them crashing into the ocean, as the air was caught in her wings; she couldn’t pull them in close enough since he was hugging her, essentially, and anything else she tried with her wings obscured his vision. They tried it backwards, with John hugging her from behind, and met with similar results. Sera’s wings were too bulky, and John lost his grip on her; at the last second, he turned himself over and flung her into the air to save her from hitting the water. Much to his chagrin and Sera’s amusement, John was sent skipping along the water like a stone before coming to a stop in a crash of water and steam from the Celestial fire. The Celestial energy and his nanoweave suit saved him from getting too beaten up, but it was still an uncomfortable experience, to say the least.

He swam, and she flew, in to shore.  Once there, he turned on the fire again to dry himself off, while she fanned him with her wings to speed the process.  “This may not be po–” she began, when the Overwatch2 alarm went off in both their heads.

“Kriegers incoming at Port of Savannah,” Vickie said, over the now-muted sound of the alarm.  “Everyone else is deployed or too far.  Tag, you’re it.”  John’s HUD lit up with the map and the three Krieger Deathspheres—hulls studded with three dozen suits of trooper armor— speeding towards the docks from the open ocean.

“Shit, Vic, we’re not up to speed yet. This might be me solo, again.” John glanced at Sera, and saw that she shared his expression; they were both worried as all hell.

“Do what you gotta.  Don’t burn down the docks.  If you go nuclear, do it over the ocean.”

“Roger. I’m en route.” He turned to Sera. “Darlin’—”

“One more try.  I will make a backpack of myself and fold my wings around us both.”  Before he could object, she stood behind him, clasped him in her arms and wrapped her wings around them to form a sort of open cylinder.

“Loosen up on my throat a bit, but keep holdin’ on tight. When this gets started, you’re goin’ to get a helluva lot of acceleration. If’n something goes wrong or you can’t handle it, peel off and be safe. I’ll hold on until y’get there, okay?” He felt her nod and her assent through their connection. “One last thing; kiss for luck, ’cause we’re goin’ to need it.” He turned his head, and she pecked him on the cheek. “Let’s rock.”

John took a deep breath, then concentrated for a moment. Fire sprang up around his ankles, then traveled down to the soles of his boots. It built there…and just as suddenly they were airborne. For a half-second Sera’s arms slipped up on John’s throat, and he was choking. He slowed down just enough for Sera to change her grip, and then sped back up.

Goin’ to lay on the speed now, love. Get ready.

Wait–take long enough to parse the futures–we may find something that will work there.

He assented wordlessly, and the two of them dropped into that waking “trance” that allowed them to see a fraction of what she alone had once sorted through.  Rapidly sifting through the few options, they found the one that worked; John extending his fiery “shield” to cover them both. With a sense of eureka! from him and a touch of chagrin that they had not tried this in the first place from her, he let his fires spread out over both of them, “skinning” along the shape of her wings and making them a single unit.  And then he poured on the speed.

With a jolt, they lurched forward, still a unit.  She even relaxed her grip the tiniest bit, as the fires seemed to act as a sort of glue to hold them together.  So long as they maintained contact, the Celestial fire would be shared between them; John understood this intuitively, now, through their connection and from the future path they had witnessed. He arced towards land, confident that they would stick together; moments later, they broke the sound barrier, no doubt frightening the wildlife in the forest that was blurring underneath them.

Slowly, a little bit at a time, she relaxed her wings, allowing them to uncurl, and then to spread.  Not to their full extent, but as much as a diving falcon’s, enough to work as a steering mechanism, taking some of that effort off of John. Alone, John was a rocket, propelled through sheer force. Now, with Sera’s wings and their connection, there was so much more control. This was really flying, and John felt a mutual thrill run through both of them.

Together, they reached the target area ahead of even Vickie’s adjusted ETA. The Kriegers had just begun their work, and were not ready for what followed. As John and Sera came screaming down through the cloud cover like a meteor from the heavens, John felt a surge of shock and disbelief coming from the ranks of the invaders. And damn if it didn’t feel good.