"You aren't a hero, and I'm not beautiful, and we probably won't live happily ever after, but we're alive, and together, and we're going to be all right."
--Hester, "Mortal Engines," Philip Reeve
"Stork, what are you doing?! Pull up!" The pilot threw himself against the controls, forcing them to turn. They weren't responding the way they were supposed to and he was fighting just to keep from crashing into the many rocky crags rising out of the wastelands around him. It might have been easier if the Condor was going slower, but he couldn't knock off any speed or the Cyclonians on their tails would be on top of them in a second. "Stork! Come on, you're too low!"
Stork growled at his Sky Knight's impatience. "I know Aerrow! I can't get any altitude without losing speed!" He slammed his shoulder into the handles to swing the carrier ship around one of the flying rocks that had just shot up at him. "Just one more minute…" He muttered, straining his eyes to see if he could spot the base of terra Rex through the smoke. Suddenly a solid rock wall rose up in front of the bridge windows. Stork tightened his grip on the steering and yanked it to the floor. The Condor went vertical and shot through the cloud line after the rest of his squadron's skimmers. He wrestled her back to horizontal once they had cleared the edge of the terra.
"Nice flying, Stork!"
Stork grinned and continued to steer the ship with his entire body. It was taking all his concentration just to get her to respond. A blast of red energy rocked the hull. Stork groaned and tried to stay in control of this speeding hunk of metal.
He felt the engine explode.
He didn't just feel the ripples of energy and the Condor suddenly spinning out of control, he actually felt the metal splinter and snap and drop away from the main body of the ship. He stopped paying attention for a split second, startled that he was so in tune with the carrier that he could feel her individual bolts breaking away.
It was a wonder that he didn't feel her hit the ground.
Something was digging into his back when he came to. He groggily pried his eyes open and looked around. He was wedged in among the remains of the Condor's caved in roof and something wet was dripping steadily down the back of his neck. He made to reach up and wipe it away but found that he couldn't. He tugged at his arms, but they wouldn't move. He looked up, leaning his head against the scrap metal behind him. A spot of blue sky peered down at him through the gloom. "Hello?" He called softly. The glint of heliscooter blades crossed over the jagged hole and the sound of yelling reached his ears. "Hello?"
"Stork?!" The hole widened as metal plate were shifted away from the opening and Stork squinted as sunlight poured into his cramped den. "Stork! Are you okay?" Stork smiled at the vague figure with Piper's voice. He was dazed and dizzy and some strange combination of numbness and excruciating pain. "Stork! Say something!" She begged as she came into focus. He could see the worry etched into her face.
He coughed, stuttered, and tried to explain. "Condor… Engine blew… Stuck… Help….please?" The distant yelling got louder and for a moment he couldn't see her. "Piper?"
"I'm still here. Don't worry."
Stork smiled faintly and closed his eyes, letting the sound drift over him. "You have to get her out of there!" Harrier's voice was muffled by distance and layers of metal. "Your ship crashed into an Electron crystal deposit and your engine crystals are going to overload any moment!"
"Piper, what are you doing?!" It was Aerrow, confused and desperate.
Stork flinched as Piper called back, her voice too loud for comfort. "I found Stork! We've got to get him out of here!"
"Young lady, you have to move!" Stork's eyes flew open. Piper was being forcibly dragged from the opening she had created. She's leaving? The navigator disappeared from view.
"No! Stork's in there! He's stuck! We have to get him out!"
"NO!" There was a dull clank and a yelp and Piper was back. She slid legs first into the hole and landed beside him. "Don't worry, Stork, I'm gonna get you out of here."
"Not…" He mumbled. I'm not worried. His eyesight slid out of focus again and he leaned against the makeshift wall to his left. Suddenly his throat burned and he was biting off a scream he didn't even know he started. His hands. His hands were on fire.
Piper had tears running down her face. "I'm sorry." She whispered and leaned down on her staff again. Stork felt like his lungs were about to explode he was trying so hard not to make a sound. Piper was trying to lever the overwhelming crush of debris off his forearms. He hadn't even realized it was there until it started shifting. He was crying. It hurt so much, and he couldn't even feel the rest of his arms to move them away. Piper wedged her staff against the floor and the movement stopped. The pain stopped too, replaced almost instantly with the all-forgiving nothingness from before. Piper dropped to the floor and scooted so she could see what was wrong. "Gods…" She breathed. What? What's wrong? Am I caught on something? She scrambled back out and reached into his pocket, much to his confusion pulling out a screwdriver and, without saying anything, diving back under. Suddenly his arms fell to his sides.
"See? Not worried." He smiled shakily, trying not to have a panic attack. He still couldn't feel anything past his wrists. Piper was all-out crying by then and pulled one of his arms over her shoulders without responding. Another wave of dizziness washed over Stork and he almost fell over.
"Gods, Stork… I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry!" Why? He wondered silently. It was his fault the Condor had crashed, that the Cyclonians had most likely gotten away. Why should she be sorry?
They were struggling to pull themselves out of the wreckage, Piper picking out handholds wherever she could with her free hand and Stork pushing them along with his feet whenever he could. "Here they come! Grab her!" Piper stubbornly wrapped her arms around his waist and dragged him up with her as she was pulled to safety. He was being dragged across the ground now and could see Piper being pulled toward the rest of the squadron, who all looked very confused and were trying to figure out what was going on. She was yelling something he couldn't pick out through the ringing in his ears.
She broke away and ran to him. He stopped moving across the ground and she fell to her knees next to him, pulling his head onto her lap. "Stork…"
He looked back the way he had come and saw the remains of his ship sticking out of the ground. Suddenly there was a rumbling from the ground and a brilliant yellow flash erupted from the ground. The metal crawled with crackling electricity and blown fuses exploded out the sides of the hull and the engines. One especially violent one tore a hole the size of a fully transformed skimmer from the small tunnel Piper had dragged them out of. "Lucky bastard," one of the Rex Guardians grumbled from behind him. "No one would have survived that blast."
He looked back up at Piper and smiled. "Thank you." He mumbled.
She was still crying. Having his head in her lap was like looking straight up during a rainstorm. "Are- Are you- How do you feel?"
"Kinda dizz-" His world went black. It was sudden, but it didn't seem strange until he woke back up. It was as though he had blinked and in that split second had somehow been transported to an off-white hospital room and hit over the head several times with a hammer. He groaned and tried to sit up but fell back, somehow off-balance. He blinked several times and looked up at the poorly stuccoed ceiling above him. "What the frik?" He muttered.
"Stork?" He looked toward the source of the voice. Piper had her head poked into the room through the half-open doorway, her eyes wide. He blinked at her. "Stork!" Relief broke over her face. "You're awake! Guys! He's awake!" She called down the hallway and rushed to his bedside. Her relief was quickly replaced with worry. "Are you okay? How do you feel? Can you see me alright? How many fingers am I holding up? Do you have any idea how worried we've been about you?!?!"
"Uhh… no?" He almost laughed at her expression. "I meant no to the last one. What happened?" The explosion flashed through his mind's eye. "Where's the Condor?"
She exhaled, relieved once more. "At least we know there's nothing wrong with that part of you. You blacked out near the crash. You had a cut on the back of your head and you lost a lot of blood. And yes, the Condor's fine. The Rex Guardians are keeping her in the arena while Junko and the guys are working on fixing her. She's almost back to her normal state of disrepair." She smiled. "You'd be proud of Finn at least, he promised not to touch the engine or the steering or- pretty much anything that qualifies as vaguely important, and he's been doing a passable job of helping out."
"Are you sure? What about the crystal converters? Are the-"
She laughed and he stopped, perplexed. "Don't worry; we've got everything under control."
The rest of the Storm Hawks crashed into the room and surrounded his bed. Finn grinned. "Stork! Dude, you're finally awake!"
"We were afraid you wouldn't." Junko said. He was smiling, but Stork could see that he was close to bursting into tears. "Sorry we haven't been here. We've been fixing the Condor for you."
"But it's not like you were alone." Aerrow put in. He was smiling, but the crossed arms meant that he was just pulling out of 'leader mode.' Someone had probably been treating him like just another kid again. He hated it when that happened. "Piper was with you the whole time. We couldn't drag her away for anything! She was so worried about you that we had to remind her to eat!"
"That's not true!" Piper said, blushing. "It only happened once!"
Stork smiled nervously. He was getting a little claustrophobic from all the attention. "Thank you. Um, can I sit up now?"
Piper and Aerrow slid their arms behind his back and helped him sit up. He noticed for the first time that his arms were tied into plastic braces that were strung up to the ceiling. He tried to move them, but they wouldn't respond. "Uh…" His eyes went wide and he looked around frantically at the faces of his teammates, but none of them could meet his gaze. "Guys? Piper? What happened? Why can't I move my arms?"
"Stork…" Piper rested a hand on his shoulder and sat down next to him. She was close to tears.
"What's going on?!"
"I'm afraid there's a reason your friends don't want to tell you." Stork looked up. A tall blonde doctor in a lab coat had entered with his notice. "Your hands were badly injured in the crash. They wouldn't still be attached to your body if your friend hadn't had the idea of removing the handles of your steering console to get you out. Currently, your bones from the wrist down somewhat resemble fine gravel." Stork whimpered and closed his eyes. "We've managed to reconstruct the general bone structure, but it's only temporary. We have to wait for the healing process to get fully underway before we can set them completely." The doctor paused, giving the pilot a chance to soak in the information. Stork was having a hard time keeping his breathing even. "We have a surgery planned for two weeks from now. It should set your bones to re-grow into their original formation."
"See, Stork?" Piper said from next to him, fear evident in her voice. "They can fix you. It's going to be alright."
The doctor cleared his throat. "Unfortunately," He began again. Stork looked up suddenly and Piper tried to signal to the man with her eyes to stop talking, that nothing else needed to be said just yet, but he was either indifferent to her wishes or couldn't read her that well. "Unfortunately the operation has a relatively low success rate. Damage this severe only lowers the odds." Stork bit his lower lip and focused on the bed sheets over his lap. Piper's grip tightened on his shoulder and her other arm slid around his waist, hugging him gently. He didn't bother pulling away from her touch. "You have about a fifteen percent chance of a complete recovery. Another fifty says that there will be some nerve damage from the operation itself and you won't be able to regain full mobility. There's a ten percent chance of the bones growing in incorrectly. There are many outcomes from that, unfortunately the majority of them aren't too good."
"That leaves twenty-five." Stork mumbled.
The doctor nodded sadly. "Yes. Those are the odds that no mobility will be recovered through the operation. I'm sorry."
Stork choked back the tears threatening to spill out of his eyes. "Please leave." He whispered. The doctor nodded respectfully and walked out without a word. Piper's hug tightened. "I- don't think I should be sitting up right now."
Aerrow helped lower him back into the bed. Stork watched the braces sink lower so they were hanging about a foot up from the mattress and eight inches over from his torso. "Stork, we-"
"I'm sorry, Aerrow-"
"-But could you please leave?" Don't cry, not yet. Wait until they leave. They can't see you cry. It would only make things worse. "Please?" Aerrow started to protest, but the others were already headed to the door. He took one last look at Stork and walked out to the hallway. "Piper?" The navigator paused in the doorway and he hesitated. "Piper, don't leave. I- need you here."
She glanced out the door and pushed it shut, then made her way over to the bed. "Why did the others have to leave then?"
He shook his head. "They don't- don't-" The first tear skidded down his cheek, hot from being held back too long. Damn it. He squeezed his eyes shut against the flood until it was too much to take, then submitted to the deluge.
"Shh, it's okay." She brushed away the boiling liquid until there were too many drops to catch, then crawled onto the bed with him and curled up against his side and listened to him cry. It was surreal. Stork didn't cry. He had panic attacks and freaked out over the strangest things, but he didn't cry. But he also didn't crash. Ever. He wasn't called the best pilot in the Atmos for nothing. The past few days had seemed like a dream, slipping effortlessly from one nightmarish scene to another without any sort of rhyme or reason. She rested her head of his chest. It was shaking as the pilot tried to keep his quiet sobs contained. She closed her eyes and drifted into the state of half-sleep she had perfected. Just awake enough to be aware of his every movement. So when she felt him slip into sleep she could follow after him gratefully.
Yeah, I know, It's been a while. I'm actually done typing this though, which is a freakin' miracle if you know me at all. I'm an obscenely slow typer. It's probably going to take me twenty minutes just to get the header and footer down on this. Don't worry, I'm still working on other stuff, but I needed to feel good about myself, so I decided to bang this out and get something posted that I can actually finish within a reasonable amount of time.
Your reviews are greatly appreciated.
I'll post more tomorrow.
My thanks and my love, Dotskip.