"Something Like That"
(This story takes place after episode (34 – 208) "Second Chances"
and before episode (36 – 210) "Scouts Honor")
Rated T for some violence.
Disclaimer: Storm Hawks is a Nerd Corps Entertainment, Inc. Original Production.
Stork's teammates are acting strange. Paranoia to the rescue! Stork centric, but all Storm Hawks involved.
"Wha . . ?" Moaning, Stork shook his head to clear the fuzziness from his vision. Master Cyclonis stood menacingly over him. Wincing, Stork blinked his eyes, and the figure clarified into Aerrow's form. Stork put a shaky hand to his temple. His head still hurt a lot, his mind reeling from being ripped apart and scoured.
"Get up!" Aerrow stepped back, allowing just enough room for the Merb to rise, and yelled at him again. "You worthless piece of trash!"
Bewildered, Stork slowly climbed to his feet. He stood on an isolated ridge, the wide night sky dark overhead except where, on the horizon, the lights from a large shipyard bled into the night. Heavy square buildings squatted behind him, their silvery metal walls glinting coldly in the moonlight. He was no longer on the Condor. The carrier pilot's breath painfully caught in his chest and he anxiously swallowed the dread rising like bile in his throat. He quickly glanced at the stars to calculate his position, verifying his suspicion. He hadn't been on this terra since before the wastelands, since . . .
"You think you can hide from me?" Aerrow yelled, his face twisted in rage and raised the short blacksnake whip clutched in his hand.
"Aerrow, stop!" Stork didn't run. It was always worse when he did. Immediately dropping to his knees, Stork cowered before his leader, his breath catching in his lungs. This was not Aerrow - this was Cyclonis' creation, a monster torn from his night terrors. He shuddered under the heavy bite of the whip, its tightly woven tip tearing into his flesh. Choking, he dragged in a ragged gasp. "We're teammates! Don't you remember going to Atmosia to sign up as a squadron?"
"Yes. We were denied. Master Cyclonis took us in," Aerrow spat bitterly. "You know what I want. Or do you prefer pain?" He raised the blacksnake again, and Stork recoiled with a whimper.
"That's not right!" The helmsman spasmed beneath the lash, wheezing and gasping for breath. "What about getting trapped in the Great Expanse? Don't you remember that? Radarr piloted the Condor to safety! Wake up!"
"Radarr? Dark Ace came personally to save us!" The Sky Knight raised his arm to scourge the recalcitrant Merb, the whip glistening wetly in the pale light. "Sent by our master!"
"No-no-no-no-no, that's not . . ." His words cut off in a strangled scream as the blacksnake fell again, raking deep red gouges into his back. Eyes darting about in terror, Stork writhed in agony. This memory, echoing the horrors from his past, repeating . . . how many times had he suffered this? The whip tore another scream from his throat, and Stork clenched his fists, clawing at the ground. He forced a ragged breath into his lungs. "You're a Sky Knight, Aerrow, don't do this," he begged. Stork squeezed his eyes tightly shut, briefly considering giving in, just to make the pain stop. In his heart, he knew he couldn't outlast Cyclonis' nightmare, knew he had failed.
But then . . .. "What about the others? The squadron is the most important . . .." Talking more to himself than to Aerrow, Stork dragged in another wheezing breath. If he surrendered, the others would also suffer. "There's another word for it . . .."
Hesitating, the Sky Knight lowered the whip. The pilot's words summoned a vague, untouched memory. The image of all the Storm Hawks together, piled on the patched yellow couch in the Condor's hangar bay for one of their home movie nights, gave him pause. Stunned, Aerrow looked at the Merb at his feet and the blacksnake dropped from his numb fingers. "Family." Tears washed the crimson from his bright green eyes, and Aerrow faded from the dream.
Livid at the loss of the Sky Knight, Master Cyclonis shrieked in rage. Gathering her crystal energies, she blasted the Storm Hawk carrier pilot, sending him reeling. Hands glowing with energy, she caught him before he fell, and pinned the Merb to the Condor's windshield. Outside the window, the dark clouds roiled angrily. Magenta crystal bonds snaked around his wrists and ankles, holding him immobile. "You! You've cost me the entire squadron!"
"My pleasure," Stork swallowed his horror and spat the words at the empress. His ragged breathing slowed, and he slumped, ears drooping.
"And so here we are. What am I to do with you?" The dark empress glided menacingly to stand directly in front of the pilot. "Your friends are not safe. Once I'm finished with you, they will again be mine."
"Do what you will. It doesn't matter," Stork murmured morbidly. He dropped his head, allowing his fine black hair to fall over his face, obscuring her from his view.
"I don't think so." Cupping the pilot's chin, Cyclonis forced his head back up and brushed the hair from his eyes. "What? No more resolve? No instinct for self-preservation?" She ran her fingers along the bleeding lashes marring his skin, her touch turning to caress. "You've been very well trained indeed."
Refusing to answer the mocking words, Stork turned his head to the side. Now that his teammates were safe - temporarily at least - and the horror had drained from him, Stork was spent. He sagged against his chains, waiting.
"Biding your time?" Angered by his lack of response, Master Cyclonis narrowed her eyes. "Your companions will not be coming to save you. They are - for the moment - beyond my grasp, but not for long." She placed a pale hand against his bare chest, feeling his heart nervously flutter beneath her palm. Pressing her lips to his ear, she murmured softly, "Rest assured, my pleasure will not be painless, nor will it be swift."
Turning to face her, Stork met her eyes and managed a smirk.
"What are you smiling about?" Angrily, she stepped back.
"Sorry, but as lovely as an agonizing death sounds," Stork quickly ran some calculations through his head, "I'll have to take a raincheck."
A small light on the trance shield clipped to his belt began flashing insistently and, his trance cycle complete, Stork, too, faded from the dream.
Groaning, Stork opened his eyes and stiffly pushed himself up. Across the room, his caustic-waxwing-puffball lazily drifted to the side of the terrarium, tapping and suckering at the glass. Scattered piece-parts littered his workbench, Piper's book laying midst the mess. He ran a shaky hand over his bare shoulders, a humorless smile finding his lips. The lashes from the dream whip were gone. Springing from his bunk, he unclipped the trance shield from his belt and tossed it on his workbench. He unlocked the door, scooping his discarded shirt from the floor and slipped it over his head. Stork ran from the room.
A relieved breath escaped the helmsman's lips as he sprinted down the corridors. The Condor, his Condor, looked exactly the same, but the halls were warmer, the metal brighter. And somehow more solid. "I sure missed you, baby."
Skidding to a halt outside the auxiliary room, he slapped the door activator and briskly stepped in as the portal swished open. Plucking a screwdriver from the shelf, he pried the climate control panel off. Stork bypassed the regulator array and, flipping some toggles, reversed the airflow. The helmsman set the air conditioning system to its maximum setting then adroitly snapped the cover back in place. Satisfied, he stepped from the room and headed back to his bedroom. The ship's inverted cooling array would clear the remaining lathestone from the Condor in very short order. He brushed a powdering of frost from his shoulder. The snow spewing from the vents - exhaust from the modified climate control system - would be temporary. Stork grimaced and stepped into his room.
Wearily sinking to the edge of his bed, the Merb pilot sadly regarded the remains of his trance helmet. He would have to deconstruct the trance shield and rebuild the helmet. He worried, though, that he may have irreversibly damaged some components in his haste to assemble the shield. He would need replacement parts. The memory of the whip torn from his night terrors surged unbidden to the surface of his mind. Once he fixed his trance helmet, it would block those memories from terrorizing him as he slept, but what would protect him from the horror during his waking hours?
Overwhelmed, Stork dragged in a harsh breath and dropped his face to his hands. A whimper escaped his throat. Master Cyclonis was not through with him - he knew that much. She was one to hold true to her word - and one to hold a vendetta. Especially now that he had slipped from her grasp.
"Awesome prank, dude." The thick hexagonal door swished open. Finn popped over the doorjamb, a large tightly-packed snowball held in one hand. He shivered in his flame-patterned boxers, bare feet padding through the snow. The spiky-haired sharpshooter cocked his arm to throw it, but the sight of the Merb slouched on the bed, shaking uncontrollably, gave him pause. He turned and creamed Junko instead as the Wallop tiptoed through the snow. With a holler, Junko scooped up an armload of snow and chased Finn down the hallway. Chittering, Radarr scampered after the two, trying to keep his paws dry by leaping in their footprints.
Giggling as the boys tore past, Piper paused outside Stork's room. The crystal specialist had woken from bad dreams to the snow on the ship. Even though it was funny, too much moisture would doubtlessly ruin a lot of the ship's systems - not to mention their stuff - so she had come to stop the trick that the Merb pilot was playing on the rest of the team. Maybe her green-skinned friend was finally loosening up a little. Piper merrily poked her head in his room, but drew up short. He wasn't gloating at his teammates shivering in their pajamas, no evil grin twisted his face. In fact, Stork didn't look pleased at all with the stunt. He just looked terrified and exhausted.
"Stork?" Her eye caught on the remains of his trance helmet littering the workbench and Piper gingerly stepped into the room. "What did you do?"
"It's broken." Stork mumbled, his muscles spasming. He finally raised his head from his hands, his pale yellow eyes darting about the room. "I - I need to go to. Terra. Saharr. to. get. replacement. parts." he gasped, wheezing as his lungs constricted in panic.
"And . . . and your back? The other day I saw . . . or . . . dreamed?" Piper stumbled to a halt, valiantly trying to separate out dream from reality, but it was all too confused. What had they been doing lately?
Stork forced his eyes up to meet the crystal mage's. The dark-skinned girl's image wavered in his panicked gaze. He forced her into focus. Piper had seen his old scars back on Terra Tropica . . . but she had enough nightmares of her own to worry about. She needn't be bothered by his. The green-skinned Merb shook his head. "Nightmares, Piper. Just pipe dreams."
Unconvinced, but oddly unable to rely on her own memory, Piper slowly nodded. She picked up the defunct trance helmet. She forced a smile. "So, new parts from Terra Saharr, huh?"
Stepping into the room, Aerrow gently shouldered past Piper. He eyed his helmsman with concern. "Don't worry, buddy, if you'll jot down a shopping list, I'll send Piper and Finn on their skimmers." Terra Saharr was quite far from their current position, but their skyrides' fuel crystals would have enough charge to make the trip. The Storm Hawks leader knew the Condor wasn't going anywhere until it was properly fixed, and it would be cruel to ask Stork to do that in his current state. Junko could take care of the obvious mechanical damages, but they needed the helmsman to handle the rest. A slight frown tugged Aerrow's lips. He vaguely remembered actually trying to force the Merb to do that very same thing, and he regretted it. He shook the thought away and forced a thousand-watt smile to his face. "They'll be back in no time flat."
Aerrow's smile vanished when Stork didn't reply. The helmsman was still shaking and jittering, his left eye twitching. Troubled, the Sky Knight waved Piper from the room. Without his trance helmet, Stork suffered from agonizing nightmares. He remembered when - a while ago - Finn had been goofing off and accidentally broke the helmet. While the damage had been minor, the team had to endure Stork's screaming night terrors until the pilot could fix it.
Aerrow sighed. His own dreams lately had been . . . disturbing. To think that he could ever be like that! even if it wasn't real. He almost wished that he had a dream suppressor. With Stork's trance helmet in pieces, it was no wonder his helmsman hadn't slept well last night - though that didn't explain the snow.
His feet squishing softly in the slush on the floor, Aerrow slowly moved closer. He knew better than to touch the carrier pilot while he was in this state. Instead, he carefully sat on the edge of the bed next to him. The Merb cowered as he approached, and Aerrow pretended not to notice the naked terror etched on his face. He sat for a moment in silence, then spoke. "Nightmare, huh, buddy?"
Startled, Stork looked up at him with haunted eyes.
"Yeah, something like that."
A/N - That's all, folks! Please take the time to drop me a review and let me know how you liked it!
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