The pilot screamed as he hauled the yoke for all he was worth, Roger’s frantic cries mingling with those of his passengers as the Albatross barely pulled up, skidding across the storm-tossed seas with a jolt that would have tossed them around the cabin like rag dolls if not for their restraints. Though it still rattled their modular seats in their mountings, at least they held. The rough waters splashed against the glass so hard they feared it would shatter.
At least one cracked, and the Albatross’ wings and frame groaned and creaked as they rode out every wave, while all any of them could do was hope against hope she would hold together long enough for them to reach land.
Roger moaned as he struggled to work the seaplane closer to the shore, their one remaining engine threatening to sputter out at every turn.
In the end, it was an especially massive wave that delivered them, though, depositing them on a rocky shoreline with a lurch that nearly knocked their modular seats loose. Combined with the engine’s final burst, hauling them far enough aground to avoid being dragged back into the maelstrom.
A particularly brilliant flash of lightning illuminated a nearby building, a lodge of log construction. No lights on, and they wondered if it was too much to ask for there to be anyone in there to step out and lend a hand. The wall of mostly deciduous trees behind it suggesting a certain remoteness, casting doubts about finding any more substantial settlements in the area.
“Well, I’ll be damned, folks! We made it!” Roger Wilco more sighed than crowed, turning back to his passengers. “So, everyone else okay!”
“Yeah…” Justin Black grumbled, struggling with his harness.
“Bandit? You okay?” Max turned to his feline companion, the large black-and-white panther he had hastily strapped in when that mysterious Shadow Squadron started firing on them. It didn’t take a veterinarian to see Bandit had tangled and injured his left front paw in the straps, snarling and thrashing while Max tried to help him, petting and reassuring his old friend as he worked.
“Aren’t you glad you were wearing your seatbelts?” Shades quipped, straightening his namesake sunglasses and shaking his head. “And now that I’m fresh out of public service announcements, does anyone else need clean underwear?”
“At least you’re still alive…” Roxy muttered. For her part, the bounty hunter had already unstrapped herself, and was looking out the windows, surveying their surroundings.
“Told ya I’d get us here in one piece,” the pilot told them, “wherever the hell here is…”
But as he attempted to climb out of the pilot’s seat, he fell back with a sharp gasp and a half-uttered curse, his right leg twitching and spasming.
“Dammit…” Roger muttered, “I think I pulled somethin’ when I was fightin’ with the controls…”
“I’m so sorry…” Roxy told him, turning from her survey, not that there was much to see. “You were right. We should’ve climbed sooner.”
“Damn skippy, lady!” Roger slumped back in his seat. “Still, if the Black Angels were in the neighborhood, I doubt it would’ve made much difference. This Erix bastard has the devil’s own luck…”
At the mere mention of that name, Roxy remembered her tracker, spotting it on the floor, still pinging.
“Be on your guard,” she warned them, snatching it up and double-checking her readings. “According to this, he’s less than a mile away.”
“Where?” Max demanded, Bandit momentarily forgotten.
“According to the signal, he’s farther up the coast.”
“At least he’s not out sea,” Shades pointed out. Where he could attack the Albatross like the sitting duck she currently was.
All of them, especially Roger, took some relief in that they at least wouldn’t have to bug out, injuries or no injuries, and hole up in that deserted-looking lodge.
“Don’t tell me you wanna go after him again…” Justin groaned, checking his guns anyway.
“You know I do,” she replied, “but not like this. It’s too dangerous, in the dark, in this storm, in unknown territory. He’s probably just riding out the storm over there, so we should wait until dawn, try to catch him before he leaves.”
“And try to take his ship,” Max added, “in case we can’t take off.”
“That’s a good plan,” Roxy agreed, “since I don’t think this poor bird’s up to it right now.”
Try as he might, Roger couldn’t get more than a feeble, token effort out of either engine, and the custom mechanism for rotating the wings into makeshift sails appeared to be jammed in the crash.
Since the Albatross could no longer move under her own power, Roger instructed them to draw out some mooring and cargo lines to anchor them more securely against the storm tide. Shades and Max went out, while Justin and Roxy covered them from under the wing as a precaution.
As far as they could tell, just from flashlight inspection, both the hull and underwing pontoons ran aground in sandy, gravelly terrain, and appeared to be intact and potentially seaworthy, though they would clearly need to make a more thorough inspection after sunrise.
Much as they suspected, though, the lodge remained dark and vacant-looking as ever, looming over them as they worked. Shades caught a glimpse of several smaller outbuildings, what looked like log cabins, a little farther back, mostly hidden by the woods, but there was no sign of activity from any of them, either. Just the constant, unsettling feeling of being watched.
That, and their ears were still ringing from all of those strange threats and ominous talk of Forbidden Zones and armed escorts and such, that it was hard not to expect company at any moment, while the clamor of the storm would completely mask the sound of their approach. They were all relieved to make it back aboard without incident, yet they all remained ill-at-ease as they turned their attention to patching up injuries and taking stock of supplies as they awaited the dawn.
At least one of them always on watch, just in case.