Perhaps it was foolish to try and introduce a character smack-dabbus in the middle of an action scene involving bomber planes and explosions?
What I have finally banged out, here, may be finally working, though… I hope. I’d love to hear what you think of Andar now that we’re finally sorta meeting him, and whether you think this introduction gives you a distinct glimpse and some new questions (or whether it’s just hitting you as “…k”). Also (if you’ve read any of the lead-in to this scene) I’d love to hear whether the catching-Andar-up conversation is really just so much redundant overexplained plot-rehashing. ‘Cause if it is, I’mma fix it.
Roughly 1700 words following.
Gunshots ripped along the crevice floor towards her, amid plumes of dust and the hiss of falling sand. The ground behind the Thing was suddenly chewed to bits. Something cracked against the boulder over Tedis’ head. A color surfaced from underneath the other sounds: blinding hot blue bursting into teal, the military plane howling as it pulled out of its dive. Its shadow flicked over them. A breathless second passed, and then something exploded.
Tedis fell. Gravel dug into her knees and palms. The Thing’s knob-feet slammed around her. Sooty shreds of flame lashed against the sky and bits of shrapnel fell in silhouette.
But she saw them as if through water. A shimmer hung in the air, like heat rising from hot pavement. She heard it like a violet musical strum, felt it in her skin like electricity. Flame flowed around it. The ragged flakes of the missile’s casing skittered and skipped along its invisible surface. Then it was gone in the same instant.
Long seconds passed. Shreds fluttered down normally now, in silence. Tedis slowly realized the blow was over, and she was somehow unhurt. Ash littered the ground all around, but she and the Thing cowered together in the center of a small perfect circle of perfectly clear sand.
She had no time to think this odd, either. It was enough that her legs could still lift her.
She stood. She saw her chance — the Thing stood tall and its attention was in the sky, tracking the plane — she tucked the shotgun’s barrel behind her back and scrambled forward between its legs. She was under — she was out — she was in the clear for a second, and then a second more. She didn’t look back. She hardly looked ahead.
She almost ran into her father. Ghavan seized her and yanked the shotgun strap over her head.
“It’s right behind me —” she panted.
“Stay on open ground!” Ghavan pointed upward at the planes. “They can’t see you!”
“But what about —”
“Get to the truck. Radio. I’m right behind you. Go!”
She had to read his lips and hands to understand this last; the roar of another plane diving drowned his voice out. He pushed her forward by the shoulder. Suddenly she was out in sunlight again and there was the road under her feet, the five pillars ahead. She shot towards them. The roar pursued her.
The roar was not blue-teal. The roar was red-tinged green, the engine of a small craft.
It was the Hornet. Billa’s plane blew overhead and pulled a tight turn, circling her and her father once like an enormous bird of prey, then peeled away to the Gully. High overhead the two military planes crossed each other’s paths, tracing distant predatory circles of their own.
Tedis chanced a look back. The Thing was still blithely marching along the road after them at a steady pace. But it was falling behind.
“Don’t slow down. Widen the gap,” Ghavan panted.
They rounded a curve in the road. There, at last, was the Gully again; there was the bridge sparkling like silk thread in the sun — and there was company. Another truck had joined their own. Two figures on the bridge landing saw them and began waving violently. Their faces were wrapped against the cold and the distance was still too great for detail, but Tedis recognized Andar’s emerald-green coat with white sleeve flashing. She almost laughed with relief.
She and Ghavan skidded over the bank of the road and landed hard. Tedis held her father’s hand tight; then somebody else’s arm was firm around her waist, and she was pulled back under cover of the bank.
The second missile fell. She felt the explosion through the ground this time before she heard it. Sand and soot blew off the bank over four ducked heads and settled finely on four pairs of hunched shoulders. When the spice-red roar dwindled, four faces peered carefully over.
Nervous breaths sounded loud in the hollow air the explosion left behind. Andar’s hand lingered vaguely on Tedis’ back; she looked up. He did not look down. He stood frozen and taut as a hound with caught scent, his eyes scanning the billow of smoke and shrapnel. At his other elbow stood Lar, tight-lipped and hugging her own elbows. She was unnecessarily dressed up — as usual — but had forgotten her hat, so that her long hair whipped inconveniently across her eyes and made her blink. She squinted anxiously from Andar’s face, to the sky, to the road.
Far down the long stretch of road stood the Thing, motionless, undamaged once again at the center of a ring of greasy smoke.
“What,” Andar said slowly, “did you do, Ghav-na? You crazy bastard!”
He had a voice rich as garden soil, warm as tea, soft as old leather; mellowed by just the slightest lazy Bruk accent meandering through it. It was the kind of half-laughing voice in which ‘crazy bastard’ sounded like a compliment. Tedis’ shuddering nerves clanged against the calm in his voice.
“I did exactly as planned,” Ghavan replied. Tedis thought she could hear his teeth grind.
“Then who gave the bombing order?”
“It wasn’t you?”
“Hell no! I’ve had no radio reception since leaving town, regardless. You neither, I guess?” Andar pulled off his own dark glasses and gestured with them towards the Thing. “I wonder if that … if that is the reason. Do you think? And that worries me.”
But Andar did not look very worried. Ghavan’s jaw was twitching; Andar was methodically chewing gum. He glanced at the Thing again. “Huh,” he said, to himself. Then he turned and headed back towards his truck with long, easy strides.
The vehicle Andar had arrived in was shiny, loud, expensive, and enormous; it bore the Capitol crest matter-of-factly on its plates, but had Andar’s own brand stenciled on its door. It sat on the bridge landing next to Ghavan’s truck like a pit bull next to a terrier puppy and it shook on its man-sized tire-haunches with the vigor of its engine still running hot. Something large in its truck bed was covered with a tied-down canvas, and was humming.
“An-da,” Lar called after Andar, a bit shrilly. “The planes? Should we worry —”
“No. Those idiots can see us now,” Andar said, without looking back. He lifted an edge of the canvas, where a bundle of thick cables looped up from somewhere in the truck’s cab into somewhere in the truck bed, and peered in for a few moments. What he saw was apparently exactly what he expected to see. He calmly beckoned to Ghavan.
“Are you hurt?” Ghavan asked his daughter, in a low voice.
Tedis assured him she was well. In fact, she felt as though she had been falling down a set of stairs for the past half-hour, and had yet to reclaim any sense of the location of her vital organs; but her hands and face were well-practiced at remaining steady no matter what in heaven’s name [not sure these people swear by heaven, though; i need to come up with a lexicon of culturally-consistent swears] her insides were doing. She did not expect it to fool him, and it almost certainly did not, but he accepted her encouraging smile in the spirit of the giving. Ghavan squeezed her shoulder and hurried off to Andar’s side; Tedis let the smile drop.
“And how soon can Lillie pulse?” Lar pressed. “Does she need much longer?”
“Oh, Lillie could pulse any time,” Andar said.
“But I want her at one hundred percent.”
“Do we have the time to spare?”
They all glanced back at the Thing. Tedis was relieved to see that it was still roughly where they had left it. In the temporary absence of attack from above, it had wandered just off the road and was now seemingly fascinated by a small rock it had picked up.
“I think we’d better make the time,” Andar said. “They’ve wasted two bombs, looks like; let’s be sure they don’t waste a third.”
Lar sighed. Then she hooked her arm around Tedis’ elbow and trotted her forward. “Tedis — hello love — you ought to come with me then, I suppose. Can you drive that?”
“Dad’s truck? Of course. I’ve been driving it since I was eight.”
“You’re remarkably calm, Pyim,” Lar said, without the slightest inkling of what she was talking about. She patted Tedis’ arm. “Thank heaven [or whatever] those idiots didn’t bomb you!”
“Those idiots are unemployed as soon as I’m next in company with a telephone,” Andar said, over his shoulder. “Mark my words. Thank heaven [yeah] their aim is apparently as bad as their judgment.”
“Well, but they didn’t miss,” Tedis said. “I mean, they hit me. I mean — no, no, they hit that Thing of course. I was underneath it. I don’t expect they meant for me to be.”
Andar looked around at her, eyes wide. Lar gasped.
“I’m not hurt,” Tedis added, superfluously. “The bomb didn’t hurt either of us. I don’t know exactly how — the Thing has some kind of invisible shielding.”
“Shielding?” Andar said.
“I know how it sounds, but …” Tedis said.
“Oh, I believe you! I warned them that was possible. That’s why we need Lillie.” Andar raised an eyebrow and looked sidelong at Ghavan, a mischievous smile tugging at his mouth. “Any chance we can get that Thing to come closer? As close as possible. Just to be extra damn sure. We’ve got about three minutes to work with.”
Ghavan nodded. “Almost certainly. Get its attention and it will come. It isn’t fast, but it’s curious, and clever — and bold.”
“You got right up in its face, didn’t you?”
“Close enough for decent photos,” Ghavan said. “If not for the planes —”
Andar outright laughed. Then he realized that Ghavan was not joking, and he laughed harder. “Photos? Photos!” he said. “Ha! Where would civilization be without you Hendricks? You’re the best kind of crazy. I told that imbecile on the phone to give you as much time as we could spare up front. If this thing had to land anywhere, we’re damn lucky it landed in your lap and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. Photos! Did you talk to it, too?”
“No. It’s unmanned.”
“Good. Makes things simpler. Then let’s blow it to dust before it causes any more harm.”