The driver's words broke the unnatural silence that had reigned in the mule compartment. Brenda had welcomed the chance to gather and bring her thoughts and emotions under control. She flexed the hand that had lain on Muraski's sleeve. She could still feel his warmth. She didn't understand the impulse that had driven her to comfort him, to reassure him that she trusted him. Or the earlier one that had urged her to forget her surroundings and the MiCos around them and lean forward to take the kiss he had wanted to give as much as she had wanted to receive it.
Brenda felt her face warming again. It was becoming a constant sensation in the Byshen's presence. She did not understand this. She was not the sort of person who fell for a pretty face. And she had never put personal feelings over her duty; so why did this man tempt her so? She didn't even know him.
She gave an abrupt, short shake of her head. That was wrong. She did know him. On some level she knew L'u-cif-er Kaen Muraski as well as, if not better than, her own self. She could sense his moods. She could almost read his thoughts despite the barrier he had placed between them. If she concentrated, she could almost see it as a physical thing. It was a mental wall between them and she resented it. There should be no barriers between bond mates.
Brenda felt her eyes widen. Bond mates? Where had that come from? Before she could examine the thought more closely, she was thrown against the seat harness. Vonden's "Hold on!" was an instant too late.
Brenda braced herself as the mule shuddered and bucked. She could hear the team's grunts as they were bounced about. The mule jolted, tipped, flipped, and rolled. A sharp gasp escaped her as she was thrown against the side of the compartment.
She bounced against the harness, then the mule stopped moving, dropping into the upright position. Its engine gave a final groan and stopped. The cabin went dark for a moment before emergency power and lights kicked on.
"Everyone all right," said Brenda. Before the words were out of her mouth, she knew Muraski was safe. She felt his presence in her mind like a beacon. She didn't take the time to wonder about it; she was merely grateful. The MiCos' voices were shaken, but clear as they assured her of their fitness.
Guillian and the Byshen Esin were trying to make contact. "We're fine," she snapped into the unit. "Clear the comm." She unbuckled her harness and leaned forward between the front seats. Muraski shifted and their shoulders brushed. For a second she reveled in the contact, then she broke it. This was not the time for mystic connections. Duty came first.
"What happened?" she said, then barely heard Vonden's answer of "Groundswell" as her attention was caught by the view outside the cracked forward window.
The land for kilometers around was mounded and overturned, the normal pebbly surface buried beneath a pinkish-ochre colored substance that resembled liquid sand.