Two large, dark clouds buzzed over the trees. The sun shone on the bodies and the flashes of red looked like fire. Fire in the sky. They spread out and then balled up in wild flight patterns. It was oddly hypnotic. “What is that?”
“Durginae—Flame Wasps. But they don’t swarm like that.” Lakshou’s voice was slow, soft. “Wow, they look amazing.”
A crew member in a one-piece uniform cried out on the far side of the small valley we’d landed in, not far from the swarms. He took several running steps toward the water and then collapsed with a choked off wail. All four of his legs drummed into the ground, the vines writhing away, but then he went still.
Way too still.
The swarms rose up again and then started to swirl back and forth, but this time I didn’t watch. I tracked their movements out of the corner of my eye. “Lakshou! The wasps, do they sting people?”
“Not on purpose.” He rocked, his bare feet digging into the ground.
But that meant they could. And that man was dead. Could we make it back into the shuttles? The swarms were closer to the shuttles now, and I didn’t want to run toward them. Maybe…. Water! “Lakshou? Do they like water?”
“No…. they avoid it. They’re mostly found in the drier side of the plateaus in stone caves. That’s why they glow red like that.” He was swaying even more now, his whole body into the movement. I shoved him, making him stumble to his knees. It helped break the trance he was stuck in. “What was that for?”
“The flame wasps killed someone.” I pointed to the crew member, his body prone on the ground. “We need to get everyone into the water. Now!” I pointed to some crew members standing just like Lakshou had been. “I think the wasps are mesmerizing them. You have to make them stop watching. Don’t look at the patterns.”
I rushed toward a pair of crew members I’d never met before. They were both aliens, their three eyes on stalks above their heads, weaving with the same circular patterns as the wasps. I shook them both roughly, one hand on each of their thin shoulder’s. “Wake up!” I shouted.
Their eyes retracted immediately, and the one on the right hissed, thick fangs dropping between its lips. “The wasps are dangerous. Help us get people to get to the water where they’ll be safe.”
They blinked, and the one hissing stopped. This was taking too long. “Do you want to die?” I pointed at the man on the ground again. “Go!”
The buzz from the wasps faded as they flew even higher, but that had happened before, and then they came closer. Our eyes had been closed as we meditated, so I didn’t know if they’d been visible the first time we heard them.
I could sense time running out.
Every crew member I broke out of their trance was one more to help get the others. A few took off running as soon as they came out of it, but at that point, it didn’t matter. We’d gotten everyone, I hoped. “Go to the water!”
As I ran myself, I desperately hoped that Lakshou’s information about the wasps was correct, especially since they were behaving in a way he didn’t expect. My strength would do no good against a giant cloud of tiny creatures, and clearly the protectant hadn’t helped the other human. The silver water appeared between the trees, getting closer.
“Go as deep as you can,” Lakshou shouted. I ran out of the woods and headed straight for him, the rounded stones of the rocks along the water’s edge bruising the bottoms of my feet. I splashed into the water, running in slow motion as it dragged at my knees and then up my thighs.
The water was warm, kind of like the baths I vaguely remembered having once upon a time. It was over my shoulders and my feet left the bottom. My head dipped under the water. Lakshou reached out and grabbed me, hauling me up next to his body.
“Thanks,” I sputtered.
“Thank you for breaking me out of it.” He used the same trick I did, watching the swarm out of the corner of his eyes. They were sinking in a slow spiral, heading for the shuttles and trees between us and them.
All around us crew members were helping each other. “I think we got everyone,” Lakshou said.
“Except the first guy they got. I thought you said this was a safe place.”
“It is! Those bugs live on the plateau, in dry caves. They hate rain, which it does a lot here, and won’t go near water.” Sure enough, there was a hard edge to the spiral, like a line they wouldn’t cross between the trees and the water. It made little sense, since they could fly over the water and never touch it, but I wasn’t about to be ungrateful for what was keeping us safe. “There’s no reason for them to be in this region.”
Lakshou began scanning the crowd of people in the water. His shoulders drooped. “Oh hell. That wasn’t a crew member who died. It was one of the people we rescued. The captain is going to be upset.”
“He wouldn’t be upset if one of his crew died?” Was that why had he been so angry when I stopped the shuttle from flattening Luca?
“Of course he would. But the crew signed up for their jobs, and that’s to keep the ship running and support the missions to rescue people being held captive by the Brox Consortium. He promised to keep you guys safe, all of you, and he’s going to think he failed.”
“There’s no way to keep people safe in this universe. If he thinks he can, then he was always going to fail.”
Lakshou stared at me sadly. “That’s so cynical.”
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