Pandora 0.11

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Sweat streamed from beneath my feather adorned hair, from both the excruciating heat, and the nerves churning up my stomach. We'd been walking twenty minutes, struggling along the path Diver's drone had found for us when they showed up. The branches were thick and tangled, making for a consistent—if bumpy—road. But there was plenty of foliage to push our way through, foliage that whipped against faces and bare limbs and made it difficult to see. The only reason we knew they were there was because they had purposefully let us catch glimpses of them.

"Is it me, or are they trying to herd us?" Marla asked over our private comm channel. "They're getting really close on our right."

"They know this jungle far better than we do," I said. "Maybe they're trying to help."

"Or lead us to our doom," Christa grumbled.

I sighed.

"Much as I hate to agree with Lil' Miss Sunshine over here," Diver said, as he shoved a hank of vines out of his way, "that is a distinct possibility."

"Watch out!"

I'd barely let out the yelp when Kirrick, who was closest to Diver, grabbed him by the T-shirt and hauled him out of the way. The vines he'd moved lunged after him, opening a mouth full of needle-like teeth. Diver twisted, yanking free of Kirrick's grip—and pulling poor Kirrick with him—as he ducked beneath the creature's reach. The two of them scrambled along the path, away from the vine snake, and we all followed.

"On second thought, maybe we should follow the experts," Diver panted.

"I concur," Kirrick said.

So we let the Psittacans—a term even the team was beginning to pick up on—urge us in the direction they wanted to go. Diver walked beside me; his fingertips brushed my arm in silent thanks, and for the briefest second I forgot how miserably hot and sweaty I was.

Of course, with sweat dripping down my back, I quickly remembered.

Allowing the Psittacans to show us the way paid off in the end. Sure, we had to fight through a pretty thick patch of growth, but we came out the other side to a broad, clear path. A shadow passed overhead and when we looked up, we saw one of those sky rays. This one was rigged with a basket slung beneath its belly. Goods were piled in the basket. I squinted, and noticed one of the smaller Psittacans riding in the basket as well.

"I wanna do that," Diver said.

Kimi sighed. "Don't we all. I wonder if it could hold a human's weight, though. These Psittacans seem really light."

"If it didn't have the cargo, then maybe," I chimed in, watching the ray glide on down the cleared avenue. "Hmm...maybe this is a trading route. That would explain why it's cleared like this."

I swept an arm down back and forth, taking in the track. Sweet Mother Universe. They use sky rays as dray animals. If only it hadn't been so hot, I would've been bouncing with excitement. As it was, my companions looked around so much—probably taking footage with their HUDs—that a few of them tripped once or twice. I hope this means we're being allowed to visit the village. Surely they wouldn't usher us onto a trade route of they wanted to be rid of us?

The going became easier, and before long I caught a glimpse of broad wooden platform winding around the bole of a tree. My heart sped up, my feet carried me forward so heedlessly it was a wonder I didn't land on my face. For there, nestled among the brightly colored leaves, was the home of the Psittacans. Many were simply wooden platforms, with rolled up material similar to tarps pulled back against the trunk of whichever tree they lived beneath; for times when the rain penetrated the canopy, I was pretty sure.

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