Still looking for title suggestions, this is the part where things start to go wrong for our heroes…
This has, you may note, strong ‘romance tropes’ which was deliberate back then, although now I’m looking at it and scratching my head. I really have changed, as a writer.
She looked hard at him, banking absent-mindedly into her heading for Tok. He met her gaze seriously, his mouth hard. She saw that he believed it, and it unsettled him. She looked at him for a moment, drinking in the familiar features – The aquiline nose, the gentle lips, the mobile eyebrows – all of which she knew by heart, had learned by braille in their dark bedroom, as well as in the light across the breakfast table. His dark hair was graying rapidly, she noted with a pang, but his lean body must be in the same fighting fit shape it had always been, if he were still going out on remote missions. She looked at her instruments and then out the windshield. The changeless, featureless forest spread out below them. It was dotted here and there with lakes, or stretches of muskeg where the permafrost was so close to the surface it stunted the spruce growing on it until they were not much taller than a man. On this inhospitable footing the trees were spaced widely, with dwarf birch, alders, willows, and blueberries making a tangled mat of vegetation between them.
She saw Jed out of the corner of her eye, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. Her heart softened at his obvious weariness, and she thought about their relationship. They had married almost eight years before, when they were both still in the military, and they were almost immediately stationed across the world from one another. When they did end up in the same place, she felt like she did not know him, and she chose not to reenlist, but Jed was not ready to leave the Service.
They had argued, she wanting him close, he feeling guilty for not being near, but wanting to live his life. She had felt confined, living on base, and felt like she had to become something she was not, to further his career. This was worsened by her problems at work. Finally she could no longer bear it, and she fled. She had stormed out of their home, where they had spent only one year out of the two they had spent together, and had flown to Alaska. Once there, she deeply regretted running from him, but her pride would not allow her to return to him. She had written him, letting him know where she was, and that she planned to stay. As the years passed, she found herself lonely. He had visited her, letting her know that he would not pressure her into a life that would make her unhappy. He told her that he only wanted her happy, and that she would always be his wife, whenever she wanted to see him, or perhaps even live with him again. They had met a few times, after that, for a week or two. Like little honeymoons, but always she returned to Alaska, and always he sat with his head in his hands after she was gone and wondered how many more times he could withstand this heart wrenching, and if she would ever consent to be his again.
It had been six months since the last time they had met, in Seattle. They had barely gotten into the hotel room before tearing one another’s clothes off, and they each knew, falling in to bed together, that the other was still faithful to them. At the end of their long weekend together, Gabi had woken up before he had, and leaned on her elbow, watching him sleep. He looked so young, at rest, and her heart smote her, for she guessed at his pain every time she left. But she remembered the past, and her unhappiness, and steeled herself to leave him yet again.
At the airport he had held her for a long time, gently kissing her eyes, face, and lips. Finally he had cradled her in his arms for a moment, and she saw tears in his eyes.
“Gabi,” he began, huskily “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t say goodbye to you anymore. I thought I could – could just let you be free. But I need you.” he put a finger on her lips, stopping her reply. “I’m not asking you to do anything. Just telling you that the next time I need you to come to me. I…” his voice broke, and he stopped, tears on his cheeks now. She looked mutely up at him, dumb in the face of his emotion.
They heard her flight called. Her dropped his arms, freeing her. She stood still for a minute, her heart in her throat. Then she whispered, “I’m afraid.”
They had another hour to go. Gabi stretched in her seat, flexing stiff neck and shoulders. Paul and the major were both asleep, she saw, and Jed was silently watching her.
He smiled when he met her eyes and murmured “ma cherie, j’taime beaucoup.”
“J’taime aussi.” She replied, and her heart was in her eyes.
He caught his breath and sat up. “Gabi…”
She shook her head, looking back at her sleeping passengers.
“So are you going home after you deliver your package?” she asked.
A flame leaped up in his eyes, hope renewed. “Yes.”
“Mind company? I’ll need a couple of weeks to wrap it up here, but I’ve just finished training my replacement…”
He laughed, a low, joyful sound.
“Gabi.” his voice was almost a growl, caressing, and she shivered with the emotion. “Girl…” he was reaching out his hand to her when there was a bang, and her vision went black.
Jed ducked, instinctively, as the glass of the windshield imploded, along with ten pounds of dead bird. Gasping, he looked up to see his wife, slumped over the yoke of the plane. Already it was diving, yawing erratically. He reached over and pushed her back and pulled up on the yoke with his free hand. The plane started to level out, then pitched forward as the pontoons caught the tip of an unusually tall spruce. He fought with the controls, leaning all the way across the little cockpit and holding his wife up with his elbow, more or less. The Paul’s arm came around the seat and held Gabi’s shoulder.
‘Thanks.” Jed growled, not taking his eyes off the trees rushing by just below them. Abruptly they thinned and he saw another small lake ahead. “I’m going to try and land.”
Gabi stirred and reached out for the controls.
“Got – got it.” she whispered.
She slowed them as much as she could and at an angle, they approached the lake. With the first hard bounce, the air in the cockpit filled with a gray dust. Gabi sneezed, and the plane slewed and plowed into the water, hard. Then it stopped, halfway over, and slowly righted, much to its sneezing passengers’ relief.
Jed opened his door, and the dust slowly dissipated. Gabi, coughing and moaning, bent over the yoke again. Jed touched her hair, and brought away bloody fingertips.
“Gabi…” he began, but then Paul broke in, an edge to his voice.
“Captain McGregor, you need to look at Major Williams.”
Jed turned around, to see the Major hanging slackly against his restraints, head down. Paul was feeling for a pulse, then he shook his head.
“He’s gone,” he announced grimly.
“What happened?” Gabi whispered.
“A bird hit us.”
Jed moved the dead man’s arm and winced as the man’s head rolled to one side and revealed the long shard of glass impaling his neck. “It must have gone right into the artery,” he murmured. “Paul, are you all right?”
“Um, no. I seem to have a hole in my thigh, myself.” he grimaced. “Think you could take a look?”
Later, after Jed had bandaged Paul’s thigh and had swum in the gaspingly cold water to tow the plane to shore, and had a small fire built to dry off by and make Gabi and Paul comfortable, he tried to radio for assistance. To his dismay, the radio was inoperative. He couldn’t figure out quite what had gone wrong, but he guessed that one of the jolts the equipment had undergone that day had finished it off. Cursing under his breath, he returned to where Paul sat and Gabi lay, her head pillowed on his field jacket.
Her face was drawn with pain, but she was bravely trying to stay awake, as they knew she must have a concussion at least. “Jed, what was that dust?”
He shook his head, sitting next to her and taking her hand.
Paul answered “I think it was inside the ‘meteor’. Which, by the way, looks like no meteor I ever saw.” He held it out . It was a small box, about the size of a basketball. It was hinged at the top, and the upper third of it was off, and the hinge broken. It was still filled with what remained of the gray dust. The outside of it was metallic, but iridescent, and the inside of it was filled with white crystals, which were audibly shattering as they looked, and steaming gently.
“Like some strange geode.” Gabi commented.
“Yeah.” agreed their resident geologist, taking it back and bending his head over it. He touched one of them gingerly, and winced. “Ouch! it burnt me!”
He stuck the injured finger in his mouth, reflexively, then pulled it out with an odd expression on his face. “No, it froze me.”
Gabi tried to sit up, urgently “Let me see th…”
She turned slightly green and lay back down, hastily.
Jed stretched.” How long until we can expect a rescue?”
“About seventy-two hours until the first overflight, generally. You don’t want to go whacking through these woods, trust me.”
Jed grimaced in agreement. “I had a devil of a time getting to the rendezvous point through all that. I don’t want to carry you through all that, Gabi.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and he realized how much pain she was in. Her face was drawn and gray with it. “Gabi? don’t fall asleep on me.” He commanded gently.