Chapter 24: "Oh dear . . . this will be interesting . . ."

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Even as she called her friend's name Tayre knew there was nothing anyone could do to save her. The force of the galaxy had set its will against her, to test her, as Lady Jish would have said in one of her lectures.

It was entirely up to her, whether she lived or died in the next minute.

The thought sent a power through Tayre that was born of anger and set a motion through her limbs that was beyond conscious thought.

She added her strength to the stick, pushing it as far as it would go. The speeder dived, ever faster, and the shock of the sudden acceleration killed the rattling laugh in the skarn's throat. It reached for a better grip on the bike, relinquishing its hold on Tayre's hand.

That's when she heaved the stick right back, killing the speed.

The skarn shot back, its body still protected from the change in velocity by the speeder's dampening fields, its talons raking into the vehicle's chassis, tearing cables loose and sending sparks of electricity crackling into the space between them.

The skarn raised its head and gave a final challenge. In one talon it held the torn end of a sparking cable, pushing it towards Tayre's face.

She pushed the stick forward again to gain speed. With an ill-sounding roar the speeder lurched down once more and the skarn wrestled to keep itself from being thrown off.

It was the opportunity she had sought.

She reached for her blaster.

But already the skarn's stinger was darting toward her face.

Tayre swore and jerked to one side as she drew her gun, but she knew she couldn't move quick enough, not to avoid the stinger.

Her left hand slipped over the console's surface.

Suddenly, her vision was crowded with holographic displays and sensor readings lighting up with a hundred different alarms and bleeps.

A small vision of King Garrand appeared between her and the skarn, ordering her and Ella to return to the palace immediately. Sensor readings indicating the swarm and the hydrobloats appeared for a second before they were drowned out by the proximity warning of the fast approaching ocean.

If it shocked her, it surprised the skarn too.

And gave her just enough time to put a single stun shot straight into its abdomen.

The stinger fell limply over her right shoulder and then receded as the skarn died, the close range stun shot too much for its weak constitution.

A second and third shot sent the body of the creature flying from the speeder.

Tayre holstered her blaster and gripped the stick with both hands. She pulled it back, hard.

The speeder barely responded. The nose came up only a fraction. She could see the white crests of the waves in the waters below.

"Come on, damn it! Come on!"

And then, idiotically, she silently reprimanded herself for losing her temper.

She pushed the stick forward and again heaved it back.

Nothing.

Proximity warnings shrieked in alarm. The onboard computer gave a readout of damaged systems that passed near-subliminally into Tayre's mind: An interruption in the power distributor on the port capacitor.

But she could fix this - if she had enough time. All it required was a simple re-boot that would remap the system.

At twelve-hundred feet up, and with seconds to spare, Princess Tayre made the bravest decision of her life: she turned the speeder's power off.

An unreal silence fell around her as the electronic systems hushed, with only the sound of the air rushing by as she fell.

Within a heartbeat the vehicle started to tumble, end over end. Now the dampening fields were off, it was only the straps that kept her seated securely.

"Okay, Tayre. Nice and calmly . . ."

She punched the console's activation switch as her world spun, revealing a glimpse of the hydrobloats far above and then the white-capped ocean below, quickly rushing up to meet her.

Nothing.

"Ok. Don't panic, Tayre. Still plenty of time."

She hit the switch again.

And again, nothing.

"Oh dear . . . this will be interesting . . ."

With less than four hundred feet to go the console abruptly sprang to life. Sensors beeped and alarms shrieked and a torrent of messages yelled at her from the displays.

Tayre ignored them all. She grit her teeth, said a silent, jumbled prayer to the benevolent force that controlled the universe, and heaved the stick back.

The speeder's nose steadied. Tayre felt the throb of the engine as power returned. She eased back the throttle and slowly pulled the speeder's nose up, careful not to do it too quickly in case it might provoke a stall.

She forced herself to maintain course as the blue of the ocean filled her view. She had never had the courage to execute a manoeuvre like this before, at such speed and from such height.

Fifty feet, the altimeter told her.

If she panicked, she would lose control, and that would mean that she would end up very wet, and likely dead.

Twenty feet!

Tayre took a breath and heaved the stick back, pulling out of the dive and onto a flat trajectory that would skim along the surface. As she did so, she drove her feet into the pedals and accelerated as hard and as fast as she could.

Blue water sprayed up on either side of her as she flew over the surface, straight and once more in full control.

"Ha-ha! Yes!" She couldn't restrain herself and broke all her royal etiquette training in the celebration of her life. She had done it! She alone, without help! She had been tested, and she had passed.

She turned her attention back to the messages that had come in on her console, starting first with the one from her father. His hologram was animated in its fury and his words left her with no doubt about his anger at the girls elopement. But it was the content of it that killed her sudden optimism.

Tayre looked skyward for Ella, and found her friend flying alongside Old Moss, with the skarn safely in retreat.

As she put her foot into the pedal and flew toward her, she felt the moisture on her cheeks. She was crying.

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What did you think of this chapter? If you like it then please don't forget to vote for it and leave a comment in the feedback area.

I like Princess Tayre. She shares my humour I think. I like the way she tries to remain so dignified whilst facing apparent ruin, maintaining her decorum until the very end with the simple phrase: "Oh dear . . . this will be interesting." It just seems to sum her up so perfectly as she's facing disaster.

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