13 Ship Master Flynn
The Stormbird was damaged but it wasn't a total loss. True it had been run into the ground more times than I could count on my hands, the insides had been peppered with pulse fire, and the acid had been steadily eroding hull integrity. But it had power, and the wings were still there. She would fly again. I glanced for what had to be the tenth time at my new comrade in arms. Her name was Isilia and she was what her race called a wanderer. She'd originated from the Biel-Tan Craftworld and had been assisting the late Inquisitor Beldame on orders from her Farseer.
She stood almost two heads above me and was strong as a grox. Like the rest of her kind she was inhumanly lithe, though she lacked the grace I'd seen others move with. Her hair was wild and dirty and hung over her face like a shadow, her dark green eyes barely visible through the long black strands. Her face was long and elegant, perfectly proportioned despite the damage I'd done to it earlier. During the course of the conversation she'd bled profusely from her nose and lips as well as short but deep cut on her forehead. Her pale skin was almost completely covered in dried blood and dirt. Her attire was that of a guardsmen and as dirt encrusted as they came. She was strikingly beautiful but I felt a little more than confident that I could restrain myself.
What was more I knew she was lying. Not about everything mind you, but as she maneuvered herself around me in an effort to get to the cockpit I noticed a tattoo on her hand of the same design on the Wychs' who'd try to kill me and Mikalis four years ago. I ignored it for the moment and if she knew, that I knew something was up she didn't show it. After our conversation I braved the rain to go and gather the supplies I'd left in the Salamander. I returned hands full, the Eldar quietly observing me, pistol holstered at her side. I hadn't realized she was armed but since she made no attempt to shoot me I ignored it.
"Can you fly...this?" She asked as she gestured with a wave of her hand. I grunted 'yes' in reply as I set down the supplies I was able to salvage. The machine spirit in the Salamander which had served me well throughout my exodus had finally died, the acid eating through the tires and destroying the axle. It was fortunate that I'd come across the Stormbird, I might not have made it otherwise.
"You don't look like a pilot." She said accusingly. She was right, piloting wasn't a well known skill among the Imperial Guard, most people thought that was left up to the Navy, and though I'd never flown a Stormbird I did have the benefit of experience with similar designs. Omnissah bless the STC.
"Looks don't matter, I can fly this this thing."
The Xeno looked skeptical, clearly not wanting to put her life in my hands, but not having any other alternative she simply shook her head in resignation. After securing everything that wasn't nailed down in the storage compartments I made my to the cockpit. She followed close behind. I took a deep breath and started the engines. At that point the xeno strapped herself in taking great care not to strain her right arm. I knew that underneath her fatigues was a horrendous and recent wound, but despite the pain she had to be enduring she made no attempt to bandage it. I waited until the dull whine rose to a screaming roar and gently eased the bird off the ground. I searched the dashboard for the altitude meter and finding it rotated the knob to 35 feet and flipped the auto-hover switch. I wanted to fly low to minimize our profile and as a result our chances of being brought down by the Tau. The Stormbird sped over the barren waste land at 270 MPH, the downwash throwing up brownish water in our wake. Within two minutes of being airborne a red light flashed next to a view screen indicating that there was a hull breach. The alien looked at the light, worry written across her face but said nothing. I ignored the hull breach, confident that I'd find another transport at the outpost. Of course without another space faring vessel we'd never get off the planet. If I attempted to take the Stormbird into orbit the ship would vent all atmosphere and we'd have to hold our breath until we found a ship. If there was another ship. Unless of course there were pressure suits at the outpost. I played with the idea for a moment before returning my concentration to piloting the ship.
Five minutes, a full seven minutes total flight time, I banked off to the left and slowed. The outpost was in view and seemed to be intact but there was a devilfish troop carrier parked right outside. "Guess you weren't lying after all." I said softly, she said nothing, content to scan the area for any signs of movement.
I found a clearing in the remains of a forest a 1/4 of a mile from the outpost to set the bird down in. The trees were almost completely decayed and those few that still had trunks left simply blew away like wet papyrus in a hurricane when the Stormbird's downwash came over them. I shut the engines down, praying that the rain and lightening had masked our presence. I leapt out of the pilot seat making my way to the back of the Stormbird careful not to pass under the stream of acid water pouring through a hole in the overhead. I pressed the ramp release button and peered outside. I scanned the area and satisfied that there wasn't any movement returned inside.
I took out the medical kit that I'd packed away earlier and busted out wads of bandages and about four packs of Waterjel. I brusquely briefed the Xeno on the purpose of the items and showed her how to properly apply them. But by the look on her face you'd think I was telling her to roll around in dog shit. She refused to apply the gel to her body but did wrap up her limbs in the bandages.
We checked over our weapons. She had a snub-nosed .42 with two spare clips that held nine rounds each. The rounds lacked penetration but if she focused on head shots she should be able to bring the Tau down. Strapped to her left thigh were five needles, their safety caps on and each filled with a clear liquid. For myself I had only the reassuring weight of the Kroot war knife. I looked Isilia in the eye and breathed deep. Trusting a Xeno was heresy in itself but her kind made me feel as if I was running naked around death screaming 'You can't catch me!'
"Ready?" I asked.
"Only if you are." She replied with a sly smile.