by Starsky Hutch 76
Suddenly, lightning cracked in the distance. The jet disappeared into a swirling miasma of low, dark clouds. The aircraft began to shudder and sway in the turbulence. Buffy Winter looked anxiously to her father as a speaker in the cabin squawked to life, and one of the pilots addressed them nervously. “Nothing to worry about, sir. Just some temperamental weather. We’ll be through this in no time.”
“For your sake, I hope so,” Kompera Lee warned in a loud, ominous voice.
Buffy glanced nervously out from her misted window at the storm, jumping as lightning struck the wing of the jet. The jet dropped its altitude suddenly and then stabilized.
The two pilots, both with Bishamon logos upon their shirts, struggled to hold onto the shaking controls. They acknowledged Kompera Lee as he slipped in through the partition. “Anything I can do?” This seemed to only add to their agitation.
“There’s a portable radio in the closet, sir,” one of the pilots gulped nervously. Their master’s presence was almost more intimidating than their situation.
“What’s wrong with those dials?” Lee said, pointing with a long finger.
“We’ve lost primary power, sir. She’s going down!”
His jaw slackening, Kompera Lee stared out the windscreen. “Ancestors protect us…” Through a sudden break in the clouds appeared two oncoming mountaintops, an unavoidable obstacle.
The aircraft continued its inexorable course right between two craggy peaks, shearing off the entire left wing. Chaos ensued as the jet began a slow barrel roll, emptying overhead bins and closets. The jet slammed into the ground with such force that the fuselage cracked in several places.
Plowing across the snowy terrain like a runaway train, mowing down everything in its path, the jet finally came to precarious rest, upside down and bridging a deep chasm.
Buffy hung upside down in her seat, nearly unconscious. The already split fuselage broke even further with a loud crack under the strain of its own weight. This roused Buffy from her delirium, and she struggled to orient herself. She unbuckled her safety belt and fell to the inverted ceiling, cursing. “We never should’ve come here. Never ever…”
The fuselage gave another loud crack as it broke even further, threatening to snap the jet right in half. Buffy peered out the jet window with wide eyes. It was a thousand stomach-turning feet to the bottom of the chasm.
The sounds of groaning came from the nearby cockpit. Buffy turned her head and called, “Father?” She rushed into the upended cockpit where both pilots hung dead in their seats. The windscreen had been shattered. She looked around and saw her father’s feet, his body covered with a collapsed section of the interior.
“Father, can you hear me?” Buffy called out.
Buffy frantically extricated her father, who was groaning in pain from the compound fracture of his left leg. The fuselage suddenly broke even further, increasing the incline inside the doomed jet.
“Come on, we’ve got to get you out!” Buffy said as she helped her father up toward the windscreen, pushing him through the jagged orifice. Buffy watched her father topple safely onto the snowy chasm bank. As she began to climb out as well, she smartly realized, “Supplies. We need supplies.”
Moving back to the closet, Buffy started gathering such essentials as a med kit, skis, and a flare gun, all the while the metal fuselage whined under the tremendous strain. It suddenly gave another loud crack. The break caused Buffy to fumble and drop the flare gun. Hanging on, she strained to reach the weapon.
“Buffy! Get out!” her father shouted from outside the ruined jet.
Stretching that extra inch, Buffy secured the flare gun. Gathering the supplies in a blanket and tying them into a bundle, she flung it through the windscreen to land unceremoniously in the snow near Kompera Lee, who waited anxiously, watching for her.
Buffy dived through the ruined windscreen just as the jet snapped in half. She tucked and rolled safely in the snow, showing off some well-honed gymnastics moves. Together, she and Kompera Lee watched in stunned silence as the jet fuselage cracked once more and plummeted into the chasm. Buffy walked right up to the edge and watched as the jet became an enormous fireball as it struck bottom.
Later, the injured Kompera Lee lay bundled up atop a toboggan fashioned from skis. Slowly pulling her father along in the knee-deep snow, Buffy fought hypothermia and fatigue as the snow began to fall once more. “We’ll be fine… we’ll be fine,” Buffy muttered lowly, trying to convince herself more than her father.
Hauling her father up a slight grade, what was left of her strength was put to the test. As she felt herself reaching a breaking point, her we’ll be fine mantra got louder, since she was now running on pure willpower. Finally, just as she was about to collapse, she spotted a monastery in the near distance below.
“We’re going to make it,” she gasped.
Her spirit re-fueled with hope, Buffy got a second wind, pulling her father along with hopeful urgency… that was, until a growl in the surrounding shadows stopped her cold. Arming herself with a flashlight, Buffy scanned the area.
The flashlight followed the blood trail leading from her father’s leg to a pair of snow leopards lurking amongst the trees. Buffy quickly fired a flare, which spiraled into the trees and only spooked the animals momentarily. As the leopards advanced with hungry eyes, she started pulling her father as fast as her legs could carry them to the monastery.
A twenty-foot precipice suddenly appeared in her path. Nearly rushing blindly off the edge, Buffy and the half-conscious Kompera Lee surveyed their options: predators behind them, a dangerous jump ahead. “Father… I don’t know what to do.”
“Save yourself, Buffy. Everything we’ve worked for… all our plans. You must be the one to see them through now. You are my legacy.”
Buffy eyed the snow leopards moving slowly in for the kill. “I can’t leave you like this!”
“I cannot make it in this condition, Buffy. You can… you must.”
Forced to act quickly, Buffy dumped all her supplies in a pile at her feet. With focused, unblinking eyes, she rapidly examined all her resources before grabbing up two items.
Buffy grabbed hold of one of the flares and snapped it in half. Keeping one eye on the snow leopards, she cleverly spread the flash powder into a semicircle around her father. And just as the snow leopards leaped into swift attack, she ignited the powder. The waist-high wall of fire kept the leopards at bay.
“I taught you well, child,” Kompera Lee said proudly.
Buffy kneeled down beside her father, clutching his hand in hers. “I’ll get help, Father. Before this fire dies out, I swear to you.”
He watched keenly as Buffy moved away from the precipice, measuring her steps all the way back to the fire wall as the teachers he’d hired for her had instructed. Exhaling slowly, she gathered herself. Her hands fell to her side like a gymnast before her routine. Then, with quick, precise steps, Buffy sprinted for the edge and leaped.
Buffy soared through the air with the grace of an eagle. She landed hard, somersaulting several times in the snow. Gritting her teeth, Buffy glanced back at the dwindling flare fire protecting her father from the leopards, then started crawling toward the wooden monastery gates ahead.
Inside the ancient stone building, a spry monk broke his meditation at a small shrine. His wise eyes searched the shadows. Something was amiss. With uncertain purpose he moved to the nearest window, where he saw the future Arsenal inching through the snow. She was ten feet from the monastery gates before she finally succumbed to exhaustion.
Moments later, a group of monks led by the first to spot Buffy circled around to the precipice from a hidden, sloping ridge. The monks banged several pots and kettles, successfully scaring away the snow leopards.
The first monk bent over the motionless Kompera Lee, listening for a heartbeat. After a moment he slowly raised his head. His eyes told the sad story as the flare fire quietly died out.
The next day, the storm had cleared. A Tibetan funeral ceremony was in progress in the monastery courtyard, accompanied by the sounds of drums, trumpets, and bells. Kompera Lee’s body was swathed in a white robe atop an altar.
A handful of monks circled the dead man, performing the rites. Buffy watched the ceremony from a distance, seemingly impassive to the death of her father. As one of the monks fervently banged his drum with his back to the figure on the altar, the other monks let out a startled gasp and backed away. The first monk stared in confusion, oblivious to the figure rising behind him.
A smile crossed Buffy’s face as she watched her still-living, and undoubtedly now-healed father pull the burial cloth from his face and step off the altar.
“It’s time we were returning home, child,” Kompera Lee said, walking up to greet his daughter.
“But what about your mission? My education?” she asked.
“I think we’ve both learned quite enough for one trip,” Kompera Lee said proudly. “You handled yourself well during our ordeal. Your survival skills are impressive.”
“Does this mean there will be more educational trips in the future?” Buffy asked.
“You can be certain of it,” Kompera Lee replied. He took his daughter’s hand and escorted her down to the courtyard. After he summoned his agents with a communication device he had kept concealed, they waited for their arrival. Naturally, the monks chose to leave them alone for the remainder of their stay.