Skylar, left arm held close against his side, moved quietly with the others toward the hangar, his pistol held ready in his right hand. Tension high, he prayed they would meet no opposition. Left-handed, his right-hand aim was shoddy at best and he doubted he’d be an asset in a fight.
He breathed a silent sigh of relief along with his unuttered thank-you-prayer as they reached their destination safely and he awkwardly holstered his pistol. Skylar watched as Grayson strapped Lokin's limp form into a make-shift harness and hauled him up the steep slope of the broken door. He put restraints around Lokin’s wrists before dragging him into the shuttle.
Skylar grasped the rope, wrapping it around his good arm, and started up the slanted door. He slipped a little, and reflexively grabbed for the rope with his left hand. The searing pain sent shafts into his innards and brain, his left arm falling uselessly at his side. A wave of dizziness drove him to his knees. He kept hold of the rope with his right hand, and fought for control of his body.
Kiernan appeared at his shoulder holding the harness they’d used for Lokin. “Your turn, Captain,” he said, hefting the harness.
Skylar nodded and allowed Kiernan to fasten it around him. As they reached ground level, he gingerly walked over to the shuttle under his own power, swaying only slightly.
Inside the shuttle, he eased himself into the pilot’s seat. Blood was beginning to seep through the hastily applied bandage and his fingers felt cold. Skylar wondered how much blood he had lost—and how much was left.
Looking out the shuttle's window as he waited for the others to join him, he watched the sunrise. It was beautiful, the sky blossoming with various shades of pink and orange. Several flat clouds nearest the horizon flashed brilliant silver as the sun’s first rays hit them.
'Thursday morning,' Skylar thought. ‘Hannah isn't expecting us until Saturday, so she won’t be worried yet. There’s still time to get Glen back before he's missed, if the commander allows us to do it.'
Skylar shook his head as the shuttle filled with Cavaliers, jubilant with their accomplishments of the night. He listened to the reports from each team leader. There had been only two deaths and very few serious injuries. The mission had gone better than they had hoped.
A crackle came over his headset followed by Jenna's voice. "Shuttle Two to Ground Team One."
"Go ahead, Shuttle Two." Skylar answered.
Her voice continued, "Our charges are set and we're ready to go. We’ve rescued five prisoners, including Rantek. He's been badly burned, but I think he'll be all right."
"Good job," Skylar answered Jenna. "Launch when ready. We'll follow."
He looked around, addressing those in his own shuttle. "Where's our pilot?"
Lissanne replied, the tiniest catch in her voice. "He didn’t make it." She hesitated a moment, then continued. "I'll fly it if you don't want to."
Skylar moved out of the pilot's seat and held up his arm with a grimace. "Please do, Lissanne. I can't fly anything right now."
She nodded, her eyes taking in his injury. She took her place, started flipping switches and pressing buttons to activate the shuttle's systems, and announced to the empty air, "Strap in, we're launching in about 20 seconds."
The flurry of movement behind her proved the Cavaliers took her twenty second warning seriously. Skylar took the co-pilot's seat and fumbled with his harness. The fingers of his left hand didn’t want to work and he found he couldn't fasten the buckles with one hand. He braced himself for the take-off.
Lissanne unstrapped, stepped to his side and snapped his buckles shut.
"You can't afford any more injuries, Captain, and I don't want to get stuck filling out the paper work," she said quietly, moving back into her own seat.
Skylar smiled, “Thanks for the concern.”
“Besides,” she muttered as she refastened her own harness, , “I know exactly what it’s like to slide all over the place when you’re not strapped down and have a madman at the controls.”
Skylar chuckled. “Not my fault. We didn’t have enough harnesses.”
“True,” Lissanne said, “I’ll have to grant you that, but I don’t hear you pleading innocence on the mad pilot charges.”
“There isn’t enough evidence in the entire universe to convict any pilot of sanity,” Skylar noted dryly.
Lissanne giggled as she nudged the engines to full power and the shuttle smoothly left the ground. They took off into the beautiful golden sunrise and Skylar realized he'd been awake since before dawn yesterday. He checked the chronometer set in the instrument panel. They should arrive on the Charys just as the night cycle began, giving him plenty of time to catch up on his sleep, following his stop by the Infirmary for care to his arm.
After he reported in to Commander Tyson, of course, he cynically reminded himself. He chuckled aloud.
"What's so funny?" Lissanne asked.
"I'm just thinking of the pretty picture I'm going to make reporting to Commander Tyson with my tattered uniform, one sleeve flapping, covered in dirt and dripping blood all over his nice white carpet."
"He did say "immediately", though, didn't he?" She shook her head, grinning widely. "Oh, Captain, I wish I could be with you when you give your report. The look on his face would be worth at least a month’s wages."
“If he wants formality and protocol, I’ll give it to him, by the book, all over his carpet.”
Skylar turned his attention back to the screens in front of him. Halfway out of the atmosphere, he activated the radio detonators and they were rewarded with a clear view of the explosion in the desert below.
Now that the Cavaliers were gone from the planet's surface and there was no more evidence of the Klodfon base, it was of little concern whether or not the locals came to investigate the explosions during the night. Skylar drew a deep breath of relief.
He radioed ahead to have a security team waiting for Lokin, giving enough details to advise them of the seriousness and importance of the prisoner in their keeping. That duty completed, he relaxed back in his seat, content to watch the control panels and Lissanne's competent handling of the shuttle, his eyes growing heavy as his adrenaline levels dropped.