If a punch to the gut lasted for ten seconds instead of an instant, it would feel exactly like getting picked up by a big bird. Ryan’s internal organs went through the wringer, but that was nothing compared to the wave of claustrophobia that swept over him. Even though he was hanging in empty space, he felt crowded. Ryan, Theo, six unconscious aliens, and a six foot tall metal antenna were all being dragged into the suddenly small looking hole on the underside of the plane.
It didn’t help that proximity warnings were going off on his suit. But the ship’s computer never missed. All the cargo flashed inside the big bird in rapid succession, barely avoiding crashing into each other and the sides of the bay doors.
A shockwave slapped through Ryan’s body as he came to a stop against a block of gel that molded around him. A split second later acceleration hit his guts again as the engines lurched the big bird back into motion. It took him a moment to realize the noise in his ears was Theo screaming.
“Talk about a rush. That was a close one.”
“Yeah.” Ryan’s voice sounded hoarse to his own ears. “Real close.”
Theo hadn’t seen the big alien up close, or else he wouldn’t be celebrating. There was nothing human left in it. It was what would’ve happened to all of them if the Hedron hadn’t been destroyed. The question was, how did it exist? If the aliens had figured out how to complete their transformation, then they’d undone the only real victory the humans had in this war.
“I know you don’t like the big bird,” Theo said, reaching out to slap the hull of the ship. “But you look even paler than usual.”
“Look at this,” Ryan said as he gave the mental command to send still pictures of the alien over to his partner.
The rest of the flight back passed in uneasy silence.
Since they were out of the combat zone, you’d think the pilot would take the landing a little easier than he did with the pickup. Ryan didn’t have any such luck. They went from flying straight forward to dropping like a stone in half a heartbeat.
Metal ground on metal as the big bird slammed into the ground. Only then did the metal claws gripping Ryan and Theo let go. It felt good to have his feet firmly planted, even if his stomach was still moving. The rear hatch on the plane popped open and light flooded the cargo hold. Ryan was blinded for a moment as his suit switched off his night vision.
Old men in airtight plastic suits came through the door one after another, carrying hoses. They immediately started blasting everything with a thick, soupy gas. Even Ryan and Theo couldn’t escape the spray. They were used to decontamination, but this was much more frantic than usual. The way everyone was circling around the antenna, Ryan figured that must be what had everyone worked up.
As he started moving again, Ryan found he was more than a little sore from the fight. He was looking forward to getting his suit off and taking a shower, but as he stepped out into the hanger, he saw the general eyeballing him.