“How are we going to get out of here?” I asked. The wasps were still close by, cycling through their mesmerizing patterns as the swarm rose and fell. Several people had to be snapped out of it when they started watching again.
“The ship keeps in touch with crew periodically when we’re on planet. When they don’t get a response, they’ll send another shuttle.”
“Which will be just as vulnerable.”
Lakshou shook his head. “They’ll send the captain’s personal shuttle. It’s equipped with weapons and advanced scanning. They’ll figure it out.”
“So we wait.” I should be good at that, but I wasn’t. I looked at the crowd of people in the water. The humans would be fine, but… “What about the aliens here? Is the water going to harm them?”
He hesitated. “I don’t think so. The planet has a lot of moisture, so I can’t imagine any of the species who don’t handle it well would be assigned to a ground mission.”
I closed my eyes. The water was moving, all the bodies pushing it around. I’d missed water. Using the cleaner on the ship was easy, but it was unsatisfying. I focused on the water and on staying away in the crowd of people. I was on the edge. I paddled with my feet and swirled my arms. I glanced at the swarm from the corner of my eyes when I wanted to check on them… and we waited.
Being in the water was strangely like meditating with Lakshou. My breathing slowed, and I was able to block out the panic and questions everyone was shouting at each other.
The swoosh overhead of a shuttle passing far above us proved Lakshou right. This one was huge, and I’d never seen it before. Maybe there was another hold on the ship? I glanced at Lakshou.
He looked calm, so it had to be from our ship. The conversation I’d overheard, the death from an attack that had never happened before with animals behaving in an unusual pattern… even in the warm water, a chill ran up my spine.
The shuttle hovered in the middle of the swarms. It rotated slowly, smoke venting out of several tubes that extruded from small holes all along the sides. The swarm scattered. Waves of the creatures enveloped in the smoke fell to the ground.
Once the sky was clear, the shuttle turned and slowly sank down behind the trees. The water splashed against the shore as people started moving toward the shallower water. “Stay in the water!” someone shouted. “We don’t know if it’s safe.”
I hadn’t moved. Those creatures had killed someone; I wasn’t going to be their next victim. Lakshou and I waited.
The movement of the trees as the first indication that there was something coming toward us. A line of crew in suits that covered every inch of their bodies marched out of the brush and down the rocky beach. One tapped a button on his shoulder, and the helmet over his head retracted. “You can come out of the water now. The swarm has been neutralized.”
My swimming skills weren’t strong enough for the mass of people moving around, and I was swamped, going under again. Lakshou pulled me up. I coughed and wiped my face, annoyed that I’d gotten another mouthful of the water. We might restock the ship’s supplies from the planet’s resources, but they had to purify the water. It had a metallic tang that curled my tongue.
I nodded, still sputtering. We were the last two out of the water. The crew in suits were checking everyone who came out of the water, separating them into groups.
Lakshou and I were stopped before we reached the other groups. “Were either of you stung?”
“No,” Lakshou said as I shook my head.
“Good. We need you to come with us.” The crew member did an about face and marched back toward the trees. The rest of the group who’d originally come down to the planet were left on the beach. My clothes clung to my skin, warm and wet and heavy. Walking was a chore, but the soldiers ahead of us powered through the brush and didn’t even look back to make sure we were following them.
“Why did they separate us?” I asked Lakshou under my breath.
“I don’t know.”
A tree limb smacked me right before we entered the meadow. I rubbed my arm, wincing at the pink stripe. I’d gotten used to not being in pain, and it felt worse than I remembered the pain from the suit feeling.
How quickly I’d forgotten what years of my life had been like. The thought struck me and then was swept away almost immediately.
“Captain?” Captain was standing over the body on the ground, Aparoe beside him. Deke, the soldier who’d found me in my cell, stood at his back facing away from him. He was holding a weapon, scanning the surroundings.
What was going on? This couldn’t be about the bugs.
“Kohen, Lakshou.” Captain stared at me. “You’re okay?”
His shoulders dropped, and he nodded sharply, once. “Good, good.” He took a deep breath and drew himself up. “Kohen, I got the vid message you left in the system, but not until after you left. We need to remember to get someone to teach you how to send them to a crew member. After the communication failed here, we came right away.”
“Are you okay, Doc?” Lakshou asked.
“You know I hate that.” They glared at Lakshou. “And, no, I’m not okay. Someone died here today, and it wasn’t an accident.”
“What do you mean by that?” Captain turned, giving them his full attention.
“Someone injected a manufactured pheromone just under the skin here and here.” They indicated spots on either side of the being’s legs. “Since Holldu’s glands emit strong pheromones, it would have been like a giant beacon for the flame wasps.”
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