The Firebrand hovered smoothly over the jungle. Jonathan was peering at the scanner, which had honed in on the tracking device in K’s earpiece. It blinked hazily on a holographic map of the area, which fizzled in and out due to the atmospheric disturbance of Malum.
Joëlle’s hands gripped tightly onto the controls of the ship, smoothly piloting just above the roof of the forest. A flock of blue birds burst up from the trees just ahead of us, and Joëlle pulled back on the controls, stopping us for a moment, breathing heavily. After a few seconds she tilted the ship forward and we sped on.
Green and purple foliage streamed by beneath us, and I stood gazing out across the landscape. I readjusted my black cloak, wrist cable, and weaponry.
Jonathan’s eyes were narrowed in an intense focus. His lip was a straight line.
Omega sat in the far right chair of the cockpit, legs crossed again. They were observing the scene, but clearly unsure of how to help, so they stayed quiet.
“I don’t understand,” said Jonathan, staring at the scanner. “There’s no way K could have made it this far, in this amount of time.”
I glanced at the scanner. “We’re just about on top of her… Joëlle, can you bring the ship any closer to the roof of the forest?”
She looked up at me confidently. “This ship is like a second skin. Of course I can.”
I couldn’t feel the change in velocity, but I could see us begin to lower even closer to the leaves below us. We were almost touching them.
“Why did she run away?” asked Omega. Their face was puzzled.
“Because...” I began. I closed my eyes, and breathed slowly. “She must have heard our conversation.” I shook my head, and cursed in Skorali. “Because I let her down, and I lied to her.”
Jonathan cut in. “We’re right on top of her. She’s not moving right now.”
I tapped my earpiece. “K?” I called out for her.
I waited a few seconds, but there was no response.
I took a deep breath. “K… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” I had to shut my eyes to stop them from tearing up. “I only wanted to help. I’m really, really sorry.”
Joëlle glanced back at me, and Jonathan and Omega watched quietly. The engines thrummed faintly.
“Are you there, K?”
“We’re worried about you.” I turned away from the window, and squatted, covering my head with my hand. “I’m worried about you.”
I sat there for several seconds.
“She’s not responding,” said Joëlle. “Osax?”
“I’m going to propel down to her,” I said. I stood up and marched toward the door.
“Alright,” said Joëlle, looking back to the window.
I walked through the ship, to the exit ramp. I reached out my hand to the wall panel and pressed a button. The ramp began to whir and fold open, and the dim room was splashed with light reflected off the trees. Air whistled into the room, ruffling the fur on my chest and ears, and filling my nostrils with a strange smell.
I turned around and activated my wrist cable, hooking it onto a handle on the side of the wall. I gripped it with both hands, and looked back down at the forest. I began slowly inching my way down the ramp, holding tightly to the cable.
I reached the bottom of the ramp, and the wind seemed to glide across the tops of the trees. It sent my ears dangling to the side. I felt the edge of the ramp with my feet, and reached a hand over to my holo-gauntlet. I activated and calibrated the scanner. A holographic image appeared, directing me to K’s tracker.
Omega stepped into view just as I began lowering myself to the ground so I could climb down safely.
They looked at me and spoke over the sound of the rustling leaves. “Can I assist you?”
I shook my head. “It’s my fault K left, and I’m gonna bring her back,” I declared.
Omega simply stood and watched as I flung myself carefully over the edge. My legs were touching the treetops and their over-sized leaves.
“How’re we doing back there, Osax?” Joëlle’s voice came through my earpiece clearly.
“Fine,” I said. “Just keep the ship steady, and we should be alright.”
“Roger that,” she said.
With one hand, I lowered myself slowly into the rustling branches. I strained to look at the scanner on my holo-gauntlet.
I paused, staring at the image. I had only descended just below the treeline, but already the scanner was showing me below K.
I deactivated the scanner and grabbed the cable with both hands, climbing back up so my torso was just above the trees.
A large insect buzzed onto my arm, and I flicked it aside. My eyes focused and scanned the leaves ahead of me. The cliffside was a ways off behind us. And K was nowhere to be seen.
Then my eyes caught it; nestled atop one of the huge leaves of the tree ahead of me was a tiny black device. K’s earpiece.
I shut my eyes tight, and reached a hand up to my own communicator.
“K’s not here,” I said. “She ditched the earpiece… must have thrown it away from the plateau.” No wonder we had flown so far trying to track her. Jonathan was right, there was no way she could have run this far in this short of a time. I grabbed her communicator swiftly and stuffed it into a pouch on my leg.
“Dammit!” I heard Joëlle exclaim in response. I heard Jonathan sigh.
Then my body froze. Glancing back at the plateau, I saw several dark shapes in the sky above it. Too large to be birds.
“Oh no,” I said.
“What is wrong?” Omega asked.
My skin began to crawl. A shadow fell over the plateau.
“Osax, you’d better get inside!” Joëlle exclaimed.
I scampered up the side of the ramp, leaving the trees behind. I gazed out toward the plateau, and the giant black bug which lowered down to it from the sky like a spider.
“I know,” I said. “I see it.”
“Well,” said Jonathan shakily through the communicator. “At least we found Duhrnan.”
“No,” I said, withdrawing my pistol from my holster. The flock of insect-like fighters began to turn toward us and accelerate. Yellow-tipped energy cannons burst to life on the fronts of the black ships. “He found us.”