The world changed overnight with a tremendous thunderclap. It vibrated through us. I leaped out of Bram’s arms, grabbing for clothing. As we struggled into them, a frigid wind washed over us. “Garp!” Bram swore, untangling a shirt over his head. Once settled, he grabbed my hand and we ran for the shelter built around the wounded shuttle. By the time we reached it, snow was falling thick and heavy.
Lightning fell like battle strikes, thunder shaking continually. Yang and little Mason pulled cold weather gear out of a compartment inside the shuttle. The rest of us sorted through the pile, grabbing what might fit. I watched the others. They had the physical effects of shock in their wide eyes and jerky movements. Our bodies would try to adjust to the weather. Hopefully, our minds would follow suit.
“Think about yourself, Kayl,” Bram said quietly, rubbing my bare arm. “Your lips are blue with cold while you watch everyone.” An occupational hazard as a shrink. I gave him a smile and dug into the gear. Grabbing an armful, I stepped aside and pulled them on. Bram was right. I’d been too cold even to shiver. I made up for it now.
Bram’s blue eyes were kind as he helped me into a puffy outer coat. It slowly sunk in: his tall, bulky body was covered in a furry jacket. In it, he looked half Pahting. The thought made me laugh so hard tears ran down my face. Bram pulled me to him and stroked my long braid while I tried to stop. Eventually, I hiccupped into his hairy jacket. “You look like a very tall Pahting, you know,” I whispered to him.
His laugh was carefree. “That’s why you were near hysterics?” he replied, the corners of his eyes crinkling as he smiled. We stayed close a long moment. I could only hope everyone got past their fear so easily.
No one wanted to go out into the snow. The shuttle was torn and broken, but it was better insulated against the cold than our makeshift camp. Mason passed out mugs of hot chobba juice. As short as Mason was, he ducked his head and avoided eye contact when he neared us. He almost scampered away after Bram took a mug from the tray. Bram’s lips thinned for a moment before he shook his head. His business, I thought, but my curiosity filed it away. The juice filled me with a joyful heat.
I glanced around the cabin to gauge how everyone was coping. Captain Eslin and Yang were quiet, their heads close together as they conversed near the front of the shuttle. It was amusing to see them that way. Eslin was so tall and thin, Yang seemed short and fat by comparison although she was neither. Mason, whose squat body was usually bouncy with friendly energy, twiddled his fingers and cast worried glances toward Eslin and Yang. Prog and Fasling, our engineers, muttered urgently to one another in a corner. Prog occasionally fiddled with buttons and switches while Fasling watched with anxious eyes. Inevitably, Prog shook his head at her and returned.
Eslin sent us to gather equipment from the flimsy shelter. We lost the weather units, but counted them useless anyway. Bram’s plant samples were frozen through. He waved at me to leave them and handed me a canvas sack instead. When everyone warmed up in the shuttle, the captain told us to inventory what we saved. I reached for the sack. Bram stayed my hand, his large and light on my own. “Nothing interesting, just tools of the trade.” He smiled and slid the bag to the side.
Eslin cleared his throat, gathering our attention. “We don’t know how long this garping snowstorm will last. By now it’s killed our signal requesting aid. We can use one of the spare transmitters after the storm. It’s smart to monitor our supplies use, just in case.” I shivered, but not from the cold. Our supplies were supplemented by Pahting foods and medicines, but they wouldn’t last long. Most were fresh fruits and herbs. We could feast on the fruits before they became unpleasant at least.
Feast we did. Between the fruit and fermented juice, one would never guess we were in the midst of a catastrophe. We ignored the wind whistling through cracks in the shuttle. It reminded me of the old saying: “Eat and drink and have lots of fun now because tomorrow you might die.” When members of the crew sat apart from the group, I sat with them. Mason admitted quietly he was scared. His gaze flickered toward Bram before he went silent, turning his face away from me. I wondered why they had a falling out.
The others weren’t as forthcoming, but seemed to accept my silent presence. Whether from too much drink or not enough, they seemed trapped in their own thoughts. I stayed away from Yang, though. She avoided the rest of the crew but for the captain. Somehow she became his defacto second in command.
The storm was astonishing. It blotted out the suns so we didn’t know if it were day or night. It raged on, smothering the shuttle as it ripped apart the remnants of the shelter outside. Mason and Prog built a covered opening to the torn shuttle out of remnants of the shelter. We took turns in pairs keeping it cleared of snow.
After some time, we were shocked by a voice outside. Yaruda called his name above the rushing wind three times. Bram opened the makeshift door to let him in. He was wrapped in a thick robe of rough fibers, his belt of office around his waist. “You go, you need safe. Fix now, you go,” he spoke forcefully, eyes flashing through his long eyebrows. His voice grew more strident. “This bargamadir of killing cold. Bad bad! Must leave to live. You no strong. Hairless and break simple.” With that, Yaruda turned and ran.
© 2011 Jessica Rosen