According to Scott they should be just minutes away from the clearing. There was a stream there, and the ruins of a little church which would be their base camp tonight if everything checked out okay.
Scott himself, flying ahead in the Alpha, would join them later, after he completed a wide sweep of the area. Lunk was somewhere behind them, having stopped to deal with a minor problem with one of the wheels of the truck. Annie, to everyone’s secret relief, had decided to ride pillion behind Rand rather than stay behind and wait for Lunk.
“I think this is the turn,” Lancer’s voice announced over the comm. The entry into the clearing was overgrown with vegetation, very easy to miss. He made a sharp left, just managing to scrape the Cyclone through. Rook and Rand followed right behind him. In a moment the trees and weeds began to thin slightly, and then turned into the clearing Scott had told them about. A few minutes’ ride brought them to the erstwhile church beside the stream.
Annie hopped off the back of Rand’s Cyclone and looked around. “Oh, it’s so pretty!” she said happily, and skipped around in a circle once or twice.
“Well, let’s just hope the Invid don’t think so,” Rand told her, drawing his blaster. Rook and Lancer had already done the same. Each of them moved stealthily towards the church, Lancer checking the interior while the other two each took a different side. After a careful recon, they met again at the front and announced the all-clear.
“It’ll be nice to sleep with a roof over our heads for a change,” said Rook.
“You said it, Rook!” agreed Annie.
Rand, though he agreed with her as well, was more interested in the thought of dinner than sleep just now. He strode over to the water’s edge and stood looking down at the rushing water speculatively. “I wonder if there’s any fish in here?”
“I hope so,” said Annie, appearing at his side. “I can’t imagine anything better than fresh fish for supper and a roof over our heads tonight. Well, that and no Invid. Oh, and a bath,” she added, gazing at the water.
Rand shook his head. “I don’t think you want to take a bath here, Annie. Current’s too strong.”
Before long Rand had whittled a couple of branches into acceptable fishing poles and tied makeshift hooks onto the ends of the string. He tried his best to talk Rook into joining him, telling her she could use a little relaxation, but she wasn’t buying it. Sulking, he plopped down on the ground and set about his task by himself.
He wasn’t by himself for long, though. Annie sat down beside him and took up the other pole. She actually did a pretty impressive job of casting the line into the water, but before he had a chance to compliment her, she let out a cry of triumph. “Ha! I thought this fishing stuff looked easy. Bet I catch a fish before you do, Rand!”
Rand scowled at her. “Nobody’s gonna catch anything around here if you keep yelling like that, Mint. You’ll scare all the fish away.”
After a slightly pouty, “Sorry,” she quieted down and gave Rand and the fish no more trouble.
Rand had almost dozed off when he felt a jerking on his line. Jumping to his feet, he tugged on the line carefully, trying to finesse his catch safely onto the bank.
“Oh, boy, this feels like a big one.”
“Lemme help,” said Annie.
“Okay,” he told her. “Now, what I want you to do is put your hand here and pull it gently while I’m pulling back here. No, Mint, I said gently — Argh!” Her idea of a gentle tug on the line was a bit over-enthusiastic to say the least, and the fish wriggled off the hook and disappeared back into the water.
“Thanks a lot, Annie.”
“I was just trying to help.”
“Nobody needs that kind of help,” he said sourly.
She put her hands on her hips and glared back at him. “Well, if that’s how you’re gonna be, you can just do it all by yourself from now on.”
“Fine by me, ’specially if you want to have anything to eat tonight.” With that, he re-baited the hook and sat down huffily, his back to her.
Annie stalked off, muttering, “Geez, some people.”
Left to his own devices, Rand’s mood quickly improved, particularly when he managed to catch two fish in a fairly short period of time. Unfortunately they weren’t as big as the one that got away, but it at least meant the group wouldn’t go hungry tonight. Better still, Rook changed her mind about joining him. She vetoed his offer of fishing lessons, especially when it became clear that showing her how to hold the rod was largely just an excuse to put his arms around her, but she was there and that was enough.
Annie, meanwhile, had wandered upstream a bit. She kicked a few pieces of bark into the water and watched as the water quickly carried them away.
An old tree stood at the very edge of the stream, its roots exposed by the erosion of the bank. One root extended out over the surface of the water, barely even wet on top, making a tempting sort of bridge. Annie grabbed hold of one of the overhanging branches to steady herself, then gingerly stepped out onto the root. It held her slight weight without a problem. Encouraged, she walked out further onto her platform, enjoying the sensation of being just above the fast-moving water.
And then, of course, her foot slipped.
Frantically, she grasped at the branch she’d been using as a guide rail, but her wet hands couldn’t find purchase, and down she went with a scream.
“Rand, what was that?” Rook asked, jumping to her feet in alarm.
He was already on the alert. “It sounded like Annie. Annie!” he shouted. “Annie! Where are you?”
Rook joined in, and their cries brought Lancer out of the church. “There she is!” he shouted, catching sight of her just as the rushing water brought her into view.
He sprinted toward the stream and leapt in just as Annie drew even with him. Lancer was a strong swimmer, but the current was proving even stronger. Every time he got within reach of her, she was pulled away again.
Rand, meanwhile, had fired up his Cyclone. Reconfiguring it quickly into powered armour mode, he hovered just above the stream. It took Annie a few tries before she managed to grab hold of his boots, but she finally managed to lever herself high enough for Rand to reach down and catch hold of the shoulder of her jacket. While he flew her to safety, Rook helped Lancer out of the water.
The four Robotech fighters lay gasping on the bank for a few minutes.
“Didn’t I tell you the current was too strong to take a bath, Mint?” Rand teased.
Annie, who had just started squirming uncomfortably, was too distracted to tell him off for calling her by that silly nickname. She ripped off her sodden jacket, and stared in wordless shock at the fish that fell out of the waistband.
Rook laughed. “Well, will you look at that? She caught a bigger fish than you did, after all, Rand.”
“Yeah, well, I had the biggest catch of the day, though,” he joked.