Chapter Sixteen

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The descent was the kind that shoved Ayna's stomach up into her throat. And the knowledge of where they were probably wasn't helping.

The airlock lights flickered a bit now and then, at slightly shorter intervals as they plunged further into Andan's blighted atmosphere. Mental images of thruster failure and a horrible crash intruded into her mind. The ground didn't count as a predator, and she really hoped it wouldn't all end like that.

Kiris wasn't showing any overt discomfort, although her stillness hinted at a very deliberate effort to keep it that way. Bers seemed to be doing just fine. But then he was a man who brought an axe to a gun fight.

"Thirty seconds!" came Gaylen's voice over the intercom.

There was a screen on her left that showed the surface beneath them, but Ayna had quickly learned to ignore it for the sake of her stomach.

"Does anyone mind if I run to the toilet?" Ayna asked, hoping for a bit of levity.

No one replied.

The G-forces that were brutalising their bodies took a sudden violent lurch as the Addax shifted direction.

"Ten seconds!"

Ayna touched her pack and pockets, making quadruple-sure that she had everything.

"No hesitating when the door opens," Kiris stated firmly.

"None."

"Mm!"

The stop swayed them all on their feet, into each other and the wall.

"Now!" Gaylen shouted as the outer lock opened.

Ayna was in the front and leapt out.

She fell down a little over a metre before her feet slammed into a solid surface. The other two followed immediately and someone bumped into her before everyone gained their balance. The door was closed remotely and the Addax roared back upwards. Bers and Kiris watched it go, but Ayna focused on their surroundings.

It was all quite a sight.

The old battle cruiser had made its final landing just off the coast, and waves slapped against one side while the other faced land. More wrecks lay scattered about on either side, either submerged to some degree or smashed. Ayna supposed emergency systems had softened the cruiser's landing just before giving out.

Spread out on every side were the shattered remnants of the First Civilisation; grand spires fallen down into rubble and covered with vegetation, or poking out of the intruding sea. Plenty of worlds still had standing ruins, but she'd never seen them untouched like this.

"Anything?" Kiris asked and unslung that scattergun from her back. Bers adjusted one of the straps for the cutter.

"Nothing immediately concerning," Ayna replied. "There are some flying creatures here and there, in groups, but they're on the small side."

She pointed to the bow of the ship.

"Do you see that one?"

Kiris and Bers peered ahead. But the sun had set and what most people considered darkness had already fallen.

"What?!" Bers asked.

"Some bigger, winged thing seems to have a nest there," Ayna explained and took in the long-necked, beak-faced creature. It was sitting, but she estimated it to be almost human-sized, and was watching them quite intently.

"I see a... mound," Kiris said.

The creature flared its wings and let out a shrill yell, startling both her companions.

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