I don't get much time to myself.
That's just something that I have to deal with. Frankly, none of us have much in the way of privacy or personal time. That's what happens when you live with four other people-well, five others, including Radarr. You have to learn to share the bathroom and the hot water. You have to make sure that you don't eat all the food in the pantry when you have a couple days until the next shopping trip. You learn to respect each others space, such as it is, to the best of your abilities. We have finally gotten to the point where we normally show each other some basic courtesy and we manage to give each other the illusion of privacy. However, it is always just an illusion.
Well, except for days like today. Being the leader of the squadron, I tend to wake up a tad earlier than anyone else… except maybe Stork, but half the time, I don't think he even sleeps. But this time, when I left my room, there was no one out on the bridge. No one was in the kitchen. The hangar was bare and the runway outside was empty too. It was perfect. Everyone else was in their rooms and I had the entire rest of the ship to myself for a little while.
Such an opportunity presents itself only rarely, and I was all ready to take advantage of it.
Now, I know Finn would probably be laughing his head right off of his neck to know this, but one of the things that I enjoy doing when I get the time is a nice, long physical fitness regimen. I rarely get the opportunity and this was a perfect chance. It was early enough in the morning that I was pretty sure that no one else would be waking up anytime soon, especially since there would be no missions within the next two weeks. The Condor was in for some rework and that meant that we were grounded at the docks for a couple of weeks.
I put myself through the paces. Normal stretches, calisthenics, pushups, crunches, interspersed with a few laps around the runway every now and then. Then I worked my way up to some of the basic Sky Fu moves, making progress to the more advanced exercises. It was tough work, and with the sun beginning to rise, I was soon sweating through my loose work out gear. The large bottle of water I had taken out there with me was slowly but surely being used up. I was really pushing my workout today and I surely needed the extra hydration.
By the time I had drained my supply of water, the others were up and about. I heard the typical noises of doors opening and closing, and at least one person came up on the hangar deck to do something with the skimmers. Probably Junko. That was his thing. I sighed with the realization that my workout was over. I needed to get inside anyway and see about hitting up the shower. I was pretty gross after all that, and I didn't want to have to wait on Finn to get through with his morning ritual. I don't know how he managed it, but he took longer in the morning than the rest of us combined.
Gathering up my bottle and the towel I had swiped from the linen closet, I moved back inside, toweling the worst of the sweat off of my face and arms. As I passed through the hangar area, I heard a low, off-key humming from the corner that was punctuated every now and then with the sound of metal on metal. Junko was doing whatever it is he did with the rides. He gave me a wave as I passed by before focusing back on the skimmer in front of him. If I wasn't already used to the oddities of life around here, I might have blanched at the sight of my ride's exhaust pipes laying on the floor next to Junko's feet. As it was, I raise my eyebrows, but I knew better than to say anything. Junko knows his business, so I was confident that the skimmer would be good as new eventually.
When I got inside, Finn was still asleep and Piper was in the bathroom. I gathered up my shower supplies from my room and stood patiently out in the hall. I didn't have to wait long. Before I knew it, the door opened and steam rolled out to greet me as Piper sauntered out, still toweling her hair dry. She stopped short when she saw me. "Ugh. Aerrow, you stink."
I laughed. "Thanks a lot."
She held her hand to her nose and edged away from me. "What were you doing this early in the morning? Ick."
"Woke up early. Thought a workout would do me some good."
Piper rolled her eyes at that. "Aerrow, between training with us and all the rough-housing you, Finn, and Junko get into, I don't see why you'd worry."
"No worries. I feel stronger today."
"You should relax when you have the chance."
I shrugged and walked past her, patting her on the shoulder as I went. "Eh, Piper. That IS my relaxation. Maybe you should join me sometime. I'll go easy on you, I promise." I ducked the swat to the back of my head that I knew was coming.
As I made to move to the now vacated bathroom, Piper's hand on my shoulder pulled me up short. "Hey," she said, "I have a proposition for you. Come talk to me in the lab when you're not so smelly, okay?"
At my response, she removed her hand and made a show of wiping it off on her towel with a grimace on her face. That elicited a laugh from me as she disappeared down the hallway.
I love that fresh, clean feeling. You know, how you smell after a nice, hot shower with plenty of soap and shampoo. I didn't even mind the lingering scent of shaving cream this morning either. It all just combined with the mild morning air to give me a nice spring-like scent.
It was worlds better than how I must have reeked when I was sweating bullets after my workout. Yuck.
My hair was more or less dry when I made it to the lab. I had to make sure of it this time, since I had to cross the bridge to get there. The last time I had tried to walk across the bring with wet hair, Stork had gone into an apoplexy. I don't think I had ever made the man mad, personally, until that day, but afterwards I was fully versed in not only the hazards of standing water on the deck, but any number of gangrenous diseases that one could catch by leaving their hair wet for any period of time.
It had taken him two hours to calm down again. To make matters worse, Finn had seen the whole thing and not only congratulated me, but made it his personal mission to outdo me in pissing Stork off.
Piper grinned up at me through some strange eyeglass contraption that she was using to study those crystals. They made her eyes look huge. I almost chuckled, but I held it in. I gave her a lopsided smile in return. "What's going on, Piper?"
"Oh, Aerrow, I'm glad you're here. Hold this." All of a sudden, I was juggling two very different looking crystals in my hands. One was in a small bag and was light blue in color, while the other was a plain old reddish brown energizer crystal. I looked up in time to see Piper moving some implements around on her table before she pointed to a strange receptacle that already contained a translucent crystal and ordered me to put the blue stone into it.
I started to reach into the bag to grab the stone, when she swatted my hand with a pair of tongs that seemed to have come out of no where. "Don't touch that bare handed!"
"Huh? What's the problem?"
She shook her head and snagged the blue crystal out of the bag with the tongs. "Well, do you WANT to be paralyzed for a couple of hours? Because that's almost what happened."
"Let me see the other one." I held out the energizer and she took it.
"So…" I mused, watching her experiment. She was edging the energizer closer to the paralysis stone, which sat on top of the smoker crystal. "What is it you wanted to ask me?"
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Hang on a sec." The stones met with a muted click, then..
Nothing. For a good twenty seconds, she stared at them as though they were going to do something. Then she heaved a sigh of frustration and sat straight, pushing her goggles up. Just as she started to turn towards me, there was a low whump and a flash of smoke that diffused throughout the room. Piper gave a little squeal of delight, turning back to the crystals and flipping the goggles back down..
I waved my hand in front of my face. Then I groaned. "Uh… Piper? What did you just do?"
"Well, I reversed the polarity and then used the energizer's field to-"
"No.." I tried again. "Not that… Piper, my face is numb. I cant smell anything."
"Uh.. Oops?" She glanced at me, sheepish. "Well.. um.. I guess that should wear off sometime… soon?"
"Uh-huh.. I cant feel my tongue."
"Come to think of it… me neither. I guess I should have had a mask on… Maybe we should let the lab air out a bit. Come on."
We went out to the bridge. Stork was there, of course. Finn must still have been asleep. I flopped comfortably down at the table and she slid onto the seat across from me. By now, my face felt like I had visited a psychotic dentist.
Piper leaned forward. "Well, I was thinking. You know how we're stuck here for the next few days? I did some research and I found out that there is this tiny little terra not far from here. We could get there on our skimmers if we really wanted to. From what I read about it, it has some crystal deposits that aren't really big enough to rate a full scale mining operation, but we might be able to find something interesting there. The terra doesn't even have a name because its so small. I was thinking about going there for a day since we aren't doing anything else."
"Sure Piper. You know we're pretty much having a liberty period right now. As long as we know where each other is, you can go anywhere."
"I knew that. I was going to see if you wanted to come along. I already asked Junko. He said he couldn't. He's doing some modifications to the rides right now. Stork doesn't want to leave the Condor and Finn would probably just roll his eyes at me. I don't want to go along. Its boring to be all excited about something and have no one to share it with."
"Well, when you put it that way, sure. I guess you'll need my skimmer to help transport anything you decide is interesting enough to bring back anyway. We can rig a sack to Radarr's seat or something. He was up late last night beating Finn at some video game or something like that. He's probably going to sleep for the next few hours. We'll have to go see if Junko's put the thing back together though. He had the exhausts off of it when I came in for my shower."
"Alright. Shouldn't take him long."
I stood and gestured toward the hangar. "And maybe my face will stop being numb once we start flying."
"I said I was sorry!"
I kept up the playful banter all the way out there. As it turned out, Junko had finished doing whatever it was he was doing to my ride, and it was put back together all shiny and new. Apparently he had upgraded the exhaust efficiency. It sure ran quieter, which was a good thing. It was always better when your enemy couldn't hear you coming up on them.
After we check up on that, Piper and I went back inside to throw something together for lunch. According to her chart, it would be about a two and a half hour ride just to get to the terra, so we would probably be eating lunch and possibly dinner there. Just as a precaution, I tossed in a mini first aid kit and a couple of blankets. My experience on Terra Zartacla had made me a little cautious when it came to trips to places that were uninhabited. After a moment of thought, a couple coils of rope followed the blankets into the pack up. You could never go wrong with a little rope in most situations.
We let Junko and Stork know where we were headed, made sure we had our radios on out skimmers working, and set out.
Quite possibly, one of my favorite things in the whole world is riding the skies. Its exhilarating and relaxing all at once. It's a little hard to explain to someone who has never done it before, but the way the clouds move above and below, the colors that the sun reflects off of the surfaces all around me… its amazing. I love the wind in my face and the feeling of freedom that the speed lends to me. I think the others feel the same way. Its not often that any of us get the chance to ride like this, with no worries in mind, no really pressing place to be, and with all the time in the world to get there. I wonder if it will be like this when the whole conflict is over. I just hope I survive long enough to see it. I mean, can you imagine the wide expanse of the sky being safe for anyone to travel? It would be a glorious thing.
I let Piper take the lead, since she was the one who knew where we were going. I cruised along at her flank, a little higher and about twenty feet off to port. I shook my head ruefully as I caught myself darting my eyes about, searching out possible ambushes. We were well within Atmosia territory, but I was so used to the danger of the outskirts that I couldn't stop myself from expecting an attack.
Piper rode serenely ahead of me, though. It kinda helped me to put aside my own watchfulness. I mean, this was almost like a vacation, right? You shouldn't be uptight on vacation.
We didn't talk much on the way. I don't know what was going through Piper's mind, but I was happy to enjoy my own thoughts. Like I mentioned earlier, solitude is something that is hard to come by on the ship. I wouldn't trade my situation for anything in the world, don't get me wrong. Its just that sometimes its nice to had some time to yourself. I would probably go crazy if I had too much time on my own though.
The sky was brightening to midmorning by the time I sighted the land that Piper had told me about. She was right about how small it was. It may have been three miles across. I got the impression of a forested landscape. It looked very piney. Oversized ferns decorated the ground and I also caught sight of a bubbling stream that curled into a pool, about forty feet wide. All in all, it looked like something out of a kid's story. I mean, I could see myself going fishing there.
We landed at a relatively clear area near the pool of water. It didn't look as though many people had been through here, at least not lately. There was no sign of any fresh tire treads except what we had just laid down. All of the plantlife was wild and overgrown. No footprints were evident.
"Does anyone ever come here?" I asked.
"Well, before the war it was apparently a place that a lot of scholars would come to stuffy the natural crystal formations, but since then…" She gave a little shrug. "I don't suppose many people make it a habit of getting out to do stuff like this anymore. People are too worried about staying out of the cross fire than learning new things."
"But this place is no where near the front lines!"
"I know that. But people still get scared, Aerrow. Not everyone is like you." she said with a laugh.
I frowned. "I get scared too you know."
"Eh." She walked forward and I had no choice but to follow.
We had been walking for a couple of minutes when I spoke up again. "So… where're these crystals? I only see a bunch of trees."
"I haven't been here before either, you know," She replied. "I never did find a map of the place. People probably came here so much that they knew its ins and outs. Probably never had a need for a map."
"Oh.. ok. So-PIPER! Watch out!"
I dove at Piper sideways. I guess I must outweigh her by a considerable amount, because I sorta bulldozed her off of her feet and into the nearest tree. She looked a little dazed as she came to rest between me and the trunk of some old pine, but she soon caught her breath again. "Aerrow! What are you doing?"
I sat back on my heels. Aside from a couple of dirt and grass stains, neither of us were really any worse for wear. We could have been, though. I rocked back a little more and pointed behind me. "See that?"
She peered around me and the color drained out of her face. "O-ohhh… thanks."
There was a wide chasm that opened in the ground. It was a very abrupt thing. The trees went right up to the lip of the hole. If you weren't paying attention, you'd fall into it easily. And chances were that it was either deep, lined with point rocks, or both. Either way, it would be a very bad idea to go blundering into it.
"Didn't hurt you, did I?" I asked, climbing to my feet and holding out my hand. She took it and I hauled her to her feet.
"I think my back's a little bruised.. and you knocked foreheads with me. But I'll live." She gave me a strained smile and then turned to the chasm. "Hey…"
"I think I found our crystals."
"Really?" I knelt at the edge and peered inside. Sure enough, there was a muted glint of something down in the depths. "Did you bring anything to use as a light?"
Piper produced her Solarus crystal with a grin. I laughed. "What, no good old fashioned flashlight?"
"That's no fun."
I stood back up after shining the light around from the top of the hole. "Cant really see much from up here. Want to try going in?"
"Do you really have to ask?" She hit me playfully on the shoulder. "Time's a-wasting."
There was a good chance that we would be in that hole for at least several hours, so we decided to take out provisions down inside with us. We used one of the coils of rope as an anchor on the largest tree we could find. I tested my weight against the knots we tied. It held. The tree was an old and sturdy one, the tallest in the area, and there was little chance that it would fail either.
Piper had an anticipatory look on her face. "You first or me?" I asked with a grin.
"Do you have to ask?" She said again, "Get outta my way."
She slid down the rope into the darkness below. I waited a moment to let her get some distance, then I began to climb down too.
You would think that the hole would at least have some light filtering down inside, but it didn't. The trees overhead broke up the sunlight to the point where it only penetrated the hole about five feet before it diffused into darkness. So all I had to orient myself was the merry glow of Piper's Solarus crystal shining through her pocket.
I cant tell you how long we were actually climbing that rope. It seemed like a long way. By the time I heard a squeak from Piper telling me that she had found a ledge, the opening to the chasm was just a small spot above me. I could hardly even make out the light from it.
A moment after Piper's warning, my feet touched the ground too. I squinted at the brightness of the crystal when she pulled it out of her pocket.
The ledge we were on was pretty wide. It looked to be a natural formation of the rock and it was wet. It's a bit weird. Whenever you hear or read about caverns or caves, they never tell you how damp they actually are, but when you think about it, there would BE no cavern without water. I could also faintly hear the sound of dripping somewhere below us. It echoed.
The circle of light from the crystal told us only a little more about our surroundings that we already knew. There was a massive expanse of space underneath us, and the ledge only stuck out about six feet into it. If we slipped and fell, it was probably a long, fatal way down. There was minute reflections bouncing up at us from the dark depths. It also looked like there was another ledge on the opposite side of the hole and about ten or twelve feet lower.
On a closer inspection, I could see an iron ring set into the floor, brown with rust. I pulled on it; it stood firm. From the looks of it, people must have used it to attach their ropes and swing down to the next stone ledge.
As I stood there inspecting it, my foot dislodged a shower of wet gravel. It went spilling from the side of our ledge and rattled as it went down. We both stopped and listened with that peculiar fascination that seems to affect all human beings. You know, the same thing that makes you listen closely for the final impact every time you drop a coin into a dry well.
There was no final impact. At least, none that I could hear.
"I get the feeling this hole is a bit deeper than we thought." I murmured. My voice bumped strangely against the cavern walls.
Booyah! I'm back!
I hope I can finish this one as fast as I did Breathe, but I wouldn't hold my breath. This was originally going to just be a nice, really long one-shot, but Aerrow doesn't seem to care what I want. He just up and does his own thing.
Finn was a lot nicer to me. At least he gave me SOME control over the story.
Anyhow, I am realizing that Aerrow is a little harder to write than Finn, strangely enough. I'm trying to keep the upbeat charismatic leader thing going right now, whereas with Finn, it was all jokes and idiocy. Fun fun.
If you haven't guessed, I am finally responding to that poll in my profile where people were apparently REALLY wanting a Piper/Aerrow chapter fic. For a while I almost did it from Piper's POV, then I almost did it third person, before I realized that Aerrow wanted to do it the same way Finn did, and who am I to say no?
As always, thank you for reading. Please review, if you enjoyed it, and if you have criticism, I welcome anything constructive.