This cover was illustrated by the author.
I climbed up the powder-coated metal ladder leading to the next escape hatch. Smoke and debris rained down from the tail end of the cruiser, which stood high into the sky like the peak of a skyscraper. The nose of the ship had slammed into the sand dunes below, and grains of the desert dust still fluttered down into my fur from the smoke cloud of the crash.
I peeked below me. A dozen crew members of varying levels of athleticism struggled their way up the escape ladder.
When I first broke through the hatch to the outside, I’d assumed there would be a cage or shield encompassing the route so that any refugees wouldn’t fall to their deaths in a crash.
Unfortunately, the cylindrical ray-shield meant to hold one in place malfunctioned and broke down in the crash. That meant everyone below me climbed the ladder—which they climbed nearly upside down at a seventy degree incline—without any safety net.
The next portal, which led to the escape pods and a safe way to the ground—as climbing a kilometer down the ladder was not an option for many of these humans—remained twenty or so meters above.
“How are we doing?” I called down.
Many head shakes. A few courageous pinky-finger ups (this world’s take on an “I’m good,” sign). One man, whose quality of posture and body composition did not deem him fit for such a voyage, did not appear particularly thrilled. He’d fall, given enough steps.
Why was I leading them?
I should be behind, catching anyone who dropped, and helping anyone who may need it.
Ah, or better yet, tethers.
“Hey!” I called down against the rushing of the wind. “Everyone hold on! Don’t be scared.”
From my last meal, I felt vegetables impart their Essence to my gut. Root sorcery rushed through my Aura. I curled my fingers and with glowing eyes, I grew a thick tree trunk from my place down through the ladder rails against the ship’s metallic haul. From that long trunk, vines coiled around the waists of each person. I made the trunk spread up, far past me, to the next portal, so that the vines could follow and hold onto every crew member until they were safe.
I leapt off the ladder—which caused the refugees to gasp and some to scream—and once I was “beneath” the crew, a vine extended out and caught me.
“Go ahead,” I said to their shocked faces. Perhaps they’d never seen magic like this? Their science was practically magic, anyway, in its manipulation of Creation. “You’re safe. My sorcery will hold you.”
Given their lives were on the line, I received skeptical looks, but no words. The crew crawled up to the next portal and hopped in. I left the vines hanging down in case anyone else happened by, and while the crew boarded escape pods and got flung out into the desert for her from rescue squads, I hung from the pipes and overlooked the battle in the high atmosphere. Every few minutes another wandering crew member, refugee, or group of such peoples came from the lower portal in search of the escape hatch. I guided them as I could.
Halfway into the day, an explosion in the sky above yielded my attention, and I watched helplessly as another enormous vessel—apparently of the opposing forces—was torn in half by a powerful plasma weapon and smashed into the sand.
As star fighters rained in numbers too great to recognize, and the trickle of folk needing assistance on my vessel dried completely, I made way to the nearest crashed ship and offered assistance to them, and the next, and the next. I worked on the field of the downed until I blipped. The casualties were high, and the destruction immense, but I hoped a few kept their lives from my aid. I suppose that’s all one can hope for in such a situation, that you’ve leant a meaningful hand when it means the most.