Orbit rolled fiercely as a gust of wind pushed her hard to port. It was amazing, in a really terrible way; just a couple hours ago she and Thrust had been several thousand feet up in some truly fantastic, sunny weather. Now, she wasn't sure if she remembered what the sun felt like. She blinked hard through the driving sheets of rain, her field of vision only illuminated by the occasional bolt of lightning. She could feel her radar ping off of Thrust, about a mile ahead of her. It was moments like this where she was a bit jealous; if she weighed one-hundred and twenty-five tons and had engines spitting out over a hundred thousand pounds of thrust like it was nothing, this weather might not bother her, either. As it was, his only reaction so far had been, "ooh, look at all this water! Gonna make the runway slippery."
Ya think? She could slap him.
Her radar sent her an alert; she was gaining on Thrust rapidly, and he was swiftly losing altitude. She also noted his sudden change in heading, their almost straight north flight plan having jogged substantially to the west. She double-checked her positioning before dipping just below the cloud layer. Up ahead, she could see Thrust's running lights; he was only a few hundred feet away, and she could see the lightning reflecting off his rain-slick plating. All his flaps were down, and he had already dropped his landing gear. She frowned; Thrust lived on the edge of everything, to the point that sometimes Orbit worried that he would kill himself when he finally overestimated his abilities. He did not do caution well. So why he would be flying so low for an airport that was still a hundred miles out was beyond her.
"Thrust, pull up. You are dangerously close to the ground." Over neighborhoods, too. She wondered if they would be receiving another call from the TMST soon.
"I gotta land, babe. Like, right now. Like five minutes ago." His voice sounded a bit strained, like something hurt.
"I think… I think there's something wrong with my starboard engine."
It was at this moment when his number three engine backfired loudly, sparks and flames belching briefly from the exhaust. Orbit heard something that sounded suspiciously like a gasp or a wince, and Thrust lost another hundred feet or so of altitude before restabilizing.
"What just happened?"
"I don't know. My fan blades aren't turning, and something in the turbines feels like it's grinding on something."
This was just getting better and better.
She could hear his remaining two engines roar as they picked up the slack; she could see the slightly clumsy bearing that came with killing power to an engine. All jets were able to fly using only one of their engines, but that hardly meant that it was comfortable or safe to do so. Thrust was at full power as often as possible. Having to drop a third of his velocity was probably just as frustrating for him as it was painful.
"Orbit, I'm on final approach on one-one-eight-point-niner-zero."
Orbit made the switch. How he'd known the frequency for an airstrip that they had no plans to stop at was beyond her. No matter; Thrust was already in contact with ATC.
"HWD Tower, this is Skyhigh SH114."
"SH114 this is HWD Tower, altimeter one-five-point-eight, go ahead."
"I've taken damage to my number three engine, unknown cause. Requesting an emergency landing. Currently to your southeast, flight level twenty."
"Roger SH114. Maintain flight level until you have a visual of the runway. Squawk two-four-seven-zero, proceed to runway two-eight left, cleared to land. Maintain speed two-twenty, traffic on your six o'clock, less than a mile, your altitude."
"Visual on traffic. This was a flight of two, same flight plan."
"Roger. SP67, reduce speed to one-thirty, maintain visual separation."
"Roger Tower." Orbit didn't much see the need to reduce her speed that far; the sheer alacrity that Thrust could reach put her, and many other craft, to shame. Arguing with ATC, though, especially when they were accommodating his emergency landing, tended to be both in bad taste and more trouble than it was worth.
Orbit pulled power as much as she dared and copped a quick look at her speed. One-sixty. Eh, hopefully they wouldn't care. Thrust was square to the runway, about two miles up from her. Even through the rain, his running lights and huge frame were hard to miss. ATC crackled over her radio again.
"SH114 this is HWD Tower. What is your make?" They sounded confused a bit, and Orbit could fathom why. Now that Thrust was tuned to their transponders…
"Uh, are you sure you can't make it to OAK just a few miles up? That's a bit bigger than we're used to handling here…" And there it was. Huge plane on a tiny runway. Not a problem that Thrust hadn't encountered many times before, but definitely new when he was down one engine and in the rain.
"Don't worry, Tower, I'm sure you'll do just fine." Orbit didn't know if she wanted to hit him or kiss him; making an emergency landing due to engine failure, in the driving rain and high wind, and he still had the manifolds to give ATC a little sass. If he still had an edge to his tongue, he couldn't be in too much pain. Maybe.
"SH114, it's not us we're worried about." Thankfully this was a smaller airport, where they clearly let sass slide right over them more often.
"Too late, I'm making this happen."
Orbit didn't realize she was holding her breath until she gasped as his landing gear hit the tarmac rather hard. He put his front wheels into the ground as fast as he was able, and she heard both his brakes and his thrust reversers engage. The resident crash tenders were lining the runway as he landed, and made to follow him as he barreled in. Orbit took a deep breath and found herself grinning like an idiot. The lug had made it safely onto the ground, and was clearly feeling fine, considering he was still charging down the runway at a great deal of speed. She dropped her own gear and made to land, not worried about catching up to her raucous companion later. Like he was going to be able to limp quickly away from her. Odd though, usually his landings were much noisier than this.
"HWD Tower, I have a problem."
"SH114, does it have anything to do with why you're still doing one-hundred-ten on the runway?"
"How'd ya know? My engine one thrust reversers are not engaging."
Excuse her language.
Orbit dropped to the ground as fast as she was able, intent on touching down before the tower could tell her to take another pass around. Up ahead, she could hear Thrust's number two engine scream as he put all available power to it, and she could see the vortex that swirled around his tail as his one remaining reverser did the work of three. His brakes were smoking as he bore down on them, settling his weight into them as he did all he was able to get a grip on the momentum that hurled his bulk down the tarmac. And the rain-slick asphalt was not helping any either.
The ARFFs up ahead were picking up speed, and she could see a whole line of them out in front of Thrust. She realized that they were staging at the end of the runway, the bright red warning lights bright enough to be easily seen from where she was, even in the rain. Thrust was running out of tarmac, and fast. Orbit did not bother engaging her own brakes on the ground; she let her engines push her after Thrust. She could smell burning rubber as she went, and her lights illuminated the deep black, fresh tire tracks he was leaving behind him. She drove face first into a thick cloud of smoke, gagging as is cloyed in her mouth and adhered to her intakes. Her speed took her out of it quick enough, and she stopped coughing long enough to kill her engines hard and slam on her own brakes. She was right at Thrust's tail, and he was not moving. She could hear his engine winding down slowly, steam rising from it as the rain struck the hot plating. Even from so far below it, she could feel it radiating against her own hull.
She did not really expect the crash tenders to move out of the way for her—they had a job to do, after all—but they did. The ones towards the front were even smiling. Why the hell—
"HWD Tower, this is SH114. Looks like the adventure is done, and I didn't end up on the lawn."
Cheering. Lots of cheering, especially from the ground crew gathering around them, and some more from other inbound aircraft who shared a frequency with them.
"Roger that. Thank your for livening up our day, and scaring years off of our lives. OAK will be sad they missed out on the fun."
"I'm sure I can think something up for them on the way back."
Orbit finally got up to the front of the sizable group of emergency vehicles gathered around the stricken Lockheed. Facing Thrust was a big, grizzled crash tender that wore an expression that hovered somewhere between exhasperation and thoroughly humored, as if he was trying very hard not to smile. Thrust himself had no such issues; he had on the biggest, most painful slag-eating grin she'd ever seen on him.
"Heya, pretty lady."
Orbit could do nothing but sputter.
"Please be kidding."
"Oh, don't be like that. Look, I even stopped in time!"
No fooling. His nose gear was right at the edge of the tarmac. Another foot, and he'd have face-planted into the sodden grass, which likely would have caused him more damage. She looked up at him, glared, opened her mouth, shut it, glared some more, and then just sighed. Thrust beamed at her the entire time.
"I give up."
"Aw, it was all an accident, really!"
"You just… gah, nothing I say is gonna make you take this seriously anyways."
"Hell no. That sounds awful." Typical.
The big crash tender rolled his eyes.
"You guys make this sound like a routine occurrence."
"Nope, this is special, just for you." Thrust sent him a smirk and a wink.
"And we thank you ever so much." Such sarcasm. Many cynicism. Wow.
"Anything else we can do for you while we're here, Captain?"
"Yes. Never land here again. I was inside watching the race, now I'm out in the rain as you try to kill yourself."
Thrust's eyes brightened.
"Ooh, who was winning?" Orbit resisted the urge to hit her face against something very, very hard.
An airport tug hooked up to Thrust's nose gear and began the arduous task of leading him toward the only hangar that might be able to house him. Orbit followed along behind, not yet sure if she was going to smother the cheeky jet in his sleep, or jump his struts out of relief. As they made their way slowly across the airport, Orbit was quickly abandoning both ideas in favor of just heading to sleep. Now that she was free from the grip of her adrenaline, she was exhausted. And cold, and wet. As they approached the very dry, very warm looking hangar, already full of the mechanics who would determine to what extent the TriStar managed to jack himself up, Thrust waggled his tail and sent her a quiet alert on a private frequency. Not so much an alert, per say, as a caress. And maybe an apology.
Yes, she was going to sleep well tonight. Just as soon as she jumped his struts in relief.