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Chapter Twenty

The Landale had touched down only a few short minutes ago. Rika, Sharon, Orus, and Kyra were standing at the top of the boarding ramp. Chaz spent a few minutes re-assuring his children and Rika that everything would be fine. He hugged his children fiercely and looked deep into their eyes before saying good bye. Then, Chaz turned to his wife.

Chaz saw Rika tugging on her ear cuff. He touched his own ear cuff. Had it really been twenty years since they had met? Chaz could not think of what his life would be like without Rika as his wife. He walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. She nuzzled into his chest. She listened to his heart beat. His heart beat faster and harder than normal. She took a moment to look up into his eyes. Then she saw something.

In Chaz's eyes Rika saw he was planning more than just a scouting mission. He had deliberately sent her and the children here so that they could be safe. She could feel tears welling up in her eyes. She knew Chaz was not preparing to return.

Chaz leaned close and gently kissed Rika's cheek. "Take care of everyone, Love" he whispered into her ear. Chaz gave Rika one last kiss and then watched as she and his children walked down the boarding ramp. His family walked down the ramp very slowly, but Chaz wished they would move slower. He knew the chances of him and his team returning were slim at best.

Rika, Orus, Sharon, and Kyra reached the bottom of the ramp. Rika took a few steps away from the ramp and turned to gaze at her husband one more time. As she turned, the lift jets of the Landale fired up and a strong gust of wind tossed her long, red hair about. She tried to stare through the small dust storm caused by the jets. She could barely see Chaz still standing in the open hatchway. Just as the Landale banked and took Chaz out of her view, it happened.

Rika saw the plume of flame erupt from the far side of the Landale. The entire ship rocked hard to its starboard side. She could see the engines sputtering as the ship made an emergency landing. Rika, Kyra, Orus, and Sharon all knew they would land hard and be severely damaged. Without further thought, the team took up defensive postures and searched for the source of the attack.

Sharon spotted the danger first. She saw a lone robot standing on a far mesa with a heavy beam weapon. The beam weapon had pierced the hull of the Landale and damaged the port side power generators. Reacting purely on instinct, Sharon threw her slashers in the direction of the robot. Despite the distance, Sharon's aim was true. The robot fell from the mesa. Its body had been severed at the chest level.

* * * * *
Almost as soon as the hatch door slid shut, Chaz found himself being slammed into one the bulkheads. His ears rang from the explosion from the generators. It took him several moments to focus enough to get to his feet. He made his way to the cockpit. Chaz tried to keep his footing as the ship was tossed about.

When Chaz finally made his way to the cockpit, he found Demi fighting like hell to keep control of the ship. Alys and Rune had managed to strap themselves to their seats. Hahn and Niya stumbled around the passenger cabin trying to keep from falling. Chaz would have found it an amusing had it not been such a dangerous situation.

"What happened," Chaz asked raising his voice above the noise.

"Navigation is damaged, port power generator is gone, and I don't know how safe our landing is going to be," Demi replied.

Chaz got hit from behind as Hahn stumbled into the cockpit. Chaz quickly regained his balance, grabbed Han, and pushed him into a nearby seat. Chaz then took the co-pilot's position. He grabbed the navigation controls and began assisting Demi keep the craft stable. Chaz had no idea if his efforts were actually being successful. In his mind however, it was better than doing nothing.

Demi managed to get the Landale level, but she had almost no control over the flight path. She began powering down the lift jets slowly in an effort to land the ship. At this point, a controlled crash was better than letting the ship tear itself apart.

The Landale had some forward momentum, but it was also moving towards starboard side because of the explosion. Demi watched her functioning gauges very closely to determine just where the Landale was in relation to the ground. Her altimeter was accurate to within just a fraction of an inch. According to the altimeter, the Landale was only a few meters off of the ground now.

Demi slowly lowered the output of the lift jets. The altimeter showed the distance between the Landale and the ground closing. Once the altimeter read one foot above the ground, she killed the lift jets entirely. The Landale hit the ground hard.

Niya had not managed to get strapped in before the Landale crashed. She was thrown hard against a bulkhead. Her right shoulder took most of the impact. She felt a sharp pain and heard a cracking sound at the moment of impact. The pain was enough to make her scream out.

The moment the Landale had stopped bouncing, Chaz unstrapped himself and ran to the passenger compartment to check on everyone. He saw that Hahn, Rune, and Alys had been strapped in and were only complaining of bruises from being thrown against the crash webbing. Niya, however, was on the floor cradling her right arm. Chaz could tell she was biting back most of the pain.

"Demi," Chaz called out. "Demi, Niya's hurt bad. Come and see what you can do."

Chaz looked on as Demi assessed Niya's injuries. Alys unstrapped herself from her chair and headed for the hatch.

"Chaz. Hahn. Rune," Alys called sharply. "We still have problems outside."

Alys opened the hatch. She, Rune, Chaz, and Hahn bounded down the ramp. What they walked into could only be described as a war zone. Chaz's family and Kyra were fighting several large robots. Chaz and the others joined into the battle.

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