Maverick regarded the grey clouds in front of him with a steely gaze, and struck a match against the intrument panel.
Maverick glanced at the kid in the pilot’s seat, and wondered if he had ever looked that raw.
“Bad for your health,” the kid said.
“If we survive this I’ll make a note of it,” Maverick growled. He knew the kid was talking simply out of the need for something to say, something to distract him from the insanity ahead.
“You ever done anything like this?” Marverick asked.
“I was…part of the squad on the Haymaker Project last year, sir.”
“Taking down weaponized vultures is a little different than what we’re up against.”
Maverick saw the kid’s knuckles turning white where he gripped the yolk. The little prop plane was climbing above the clouds now, out into the sunshine. But up ahead loomed something that looked like a massive thunderhead, a column of smoke as black as tar. “The Shadow of Death” they had called it after it appeared in the skies over the Rockies last month.
“You sure about this sir?” the kid asked. ”This plane…it seems.”
“Small. Noisy. Helpless. You do any fishing kid?”
“Fish attack easy prey first.”
“And we’re the prey.”
“How…how big you think it is?”
“They say it took down a 747 last week. Can it really..?”
“I don’t know,”
The pillar of darkness loomed large in front of them and then they were through the wall, swallowed up in the cloud. The solid black wall gave way to a murky grey soup of fog, and little sparks of lightning flashed all around them.
For almost a minute they flew through the cloud without incident, but then there was movement in the air ahead and plane jerked as the kid swerved to avoid it. For a split second Maverick glimpsed a huge tentacle as big around as the plane’s fuselage curving through the air just above them.
The kid swore and tried to get the plane back level, but the instruments were going haywire, and somewhere an alarm was braying.
“Keep your head kid,” Maverick said. ”You see where that tentacle led?”
“Yeah,” the kid yelled his voice tense. ”I think I saw…but there’s no way it could be so big.”
Then there was another of the tentacles in front of them and the kid yelped and jerked the plane up and over. Maverick thought he could feel the plane shudder as the massive limb passed under them. Too close.
“I think we can say we’ve got its attention,” he said.
“Great. Now what?”
“Now we draw it out,” said Maverick. ”But not too fast. We need it to think it’s going to catch us, got it?”
“I’m not so sure that it’s not,” the kid replied, but he eased back on the throttle and turned toward the place where the edge of the cloud should be. Maverick risked a look out the window, and in the shadows behind them something truly massive seemed to unfurl. Three more of the unearthly tentacles shot out from the darkness reaching out for the fleeing plane, one barely missing the tail.
It’s toying with us, Maverick thought. Aloud he said, ”Give it a little more gas, kid. Maybe a lot more.”
The kid didn’t ask for an explanation. He jammed the throttle all the way forward and the tiny aircraft jumped ahead.
How much further to the edge? Surely it couldn’t be more than a couple of-
And then they were through, bursting out into blinding sunlight.
Maverick looked back and saw the great cloud bulge outward and then give birth to a writhing mass of tentacles. And behind them…the kid was right. It. Was. Big.
“Our guys in place?” Maverick asked. ”They should be firing on that thing by now.”
“Not sure,” said the kid. ”Our instruments were so screwed up I’m not even sure where we are.”
That was when Maverick looked up at the sky and saw two suns shining on the horizon. ”We’re not in Kansas anymore.”
The kid swore again.
“Calm down. We’ll get through this. Climb hard. Climb fast. Keep close to the cloud though. That’s your only ticket home.
The kid put the plane in a steep climb spiraling up like a corkscrew, but the thing kept pace, moving it’s huge body like a jellyfish.
“Good, that’s good. Now here’s what’s going to happen. When I say ‘now’, cut the engines off completely. You’re gonna glide this baby down and round back through the way we came.”
“But that thing will follow us!”
“Not it won’t. Something that big is probably working on sound rather than sight.”
“Yeah,” Maverick said, unblucking his seat harness.
“What are you doing?”
“Going out to kill that thing.”
“But you can’t. The fall alone-”
“Shut up. There’s a reason they sent me along on this mission and this is it. You remember my instructions?”
The kid nodded, wide-eyed.
“Good. Then let’s do this.”
Maverick made his way to the back of the plane and kicked open the hatch. The wind roared in as he gave the kid the thumbs up. The kid cut the engine and started his descent. When they were exactly over the monster, Maverick jumped. The wind whistled in his ears as the monster rose to meet him. And then…impact. The membranous skin gave way under his weight like butter.
Maverick grabbed the knife out of his boot and tore a gash in the membrane. There was a terrible shrieking sound and the things tentacle’s began flailing furiously as the noxious gas leaked out into the atmosphere. Maverick rode the tear down the side of the monster until he felt it starting to sink. Then he held on and waited. Below him the plane disappeared into in the cloud leaving Maverick alone in a strange and alien world.
“Great,” he said to no one in particular, ”This again.”