“We can’t leave them…” Cass said, looking down at the plume of smoke.

“I know, but we are so close to the mountain daisies. It’s so close, we could grab them and get out of here.” She paused, and followed Cass’ gaze “They… They’ve probably been killed by the tree anyway.” Jade said, thinking of the rewards offered by Captain Ashley and the benefits to the crew that the returned rare herbs would be. Their deaths wouldn’t help anyone here.

Momentarily taken aback by this role reversal, Cass shook her head. It was normally Jade who counselled compassion, while Cass urged the more morally unpalatable options; like abandoning compatriots to their deaths.

"You can't just leave them" Tanaka insisted

Jade shrugged, indifferently "They'd probably do the same to us"

"Absolutely not" Tanaka said, heatedly "They'd never even consider it"

"We don't know that"

"Even so, you can't just abandon them!"

Jay grimaced "He does have a point there"

Jade stared at him in disbelief for a moment before turning to Cass "You're with me on this, aren't you?"

"We should help" she said after a moment "If they're dead, then we might be able to retrieve their backpacks - They've snagged loads of stuff, so we'd net double the reward. If they're not, then we gain a few new friends by helping out"

"But the dasies..."

"Will wait"

Jade scowled and narrowed her eyes "This is about Rackham, isn't it? I've seen the way you look at him"

“What!?” Jay said, surprised “How does she looks at him?”

"I don’t" Cass said, perhaps a little too quickly "We’re new here and we need friends"

"Yeah” Jay agreed with a sigh “That and it's the right thing to do"

"Well, it's alright for you" Jade retorted, peevishly "I nearly got eaten back there!"

Cass smirked "I’d have thought you’d have had enough of that last night"

Jade glowered at her for a moment before her face split with a grin at the memories of the previous night "Yeah, yeah - Aright" she muttered, reddening slightly.

“Speaking of lewd acts, you don't want to know what it looks like you've been doing, with all that sap covering you"


"Can we maybe hurry this up?” Tanaka interrupted “Time really is of the essence here"

"Yeah, sure" Jay grinned and waved everybody back towards the control centre "We'll do the rescue and then get bukake girl here, rinsed off in a bit"

No sooner had he said this than the ground shook from the detonation that erupted from the control building, blowing one wall out in a roar of dust and concrete. A pall of black smoke drifted lazily up from the ruined building to hang above the tree tops.

“Shit!” Tanaka yelled “Come on!”

Concerned for his erstwhile comrades, he barreled off down the hill, not bothering to wait for the others.

“Huh, maybe they were still alive after all” Jade said, watching him go.

“I can’t see there being much left of anyone after that though” Cass said, glumly “That’s another three bloody funerals to arrange”

Somewhat unenthusiastically, they hurried after Tanaka and arrived a minute or so after him.

Up close, the control centre looked even worse. In addition to the destroyed back wall, the roof had partially collapsed as well; burying almost half the control room beneath twisted debris. Towards the back, small fires flickered here and there around a large crater, their feeble, guttering light gloomily illuminating the destruction around them. Only two small patches of ground were miraculously unscathed.

Tanaka was speaking into his communicator “I can... Where?”

“What’s going on?” Jamie asked, but Tanaka shook his head and turned away, pressing the communicator tightly against his ear as his eyes scanned the interior of the building.

“Yeah” he said triumphantly “I see it!”

He turned back to the others and pointed towards a crater “They’re alive down there. There’s a tunnel”

His communicator crackled with Rackham’s voice “You’ve just got to see this shit!”

“Come on” picking his way over the rubble and detritus, Tanaka moved warily into the interior of the building and began threading his way through the destruction towards the crater.

“How the hell is he alive?” Cass exchanged a confused look with Jay, who just shrugged and followed their new acquaintance inside.

Following in Jays footsteps Jade glanced up at the blackened and shredded remains up on the ceiling “At least that plant thing’s dead” she observed, wrinkling her nose at the memory.

Nearing the edge of the crater, they could clearly see a tunnel near the bottom, which the explosion had uncovered as it tore the six metre diameter hole in the floor. Torchlight danced in the tunnel beyond.

Urged on by Rackham, calling up to them, the little group scrambled down the rocky crater walls and slip-slithered into the dust and debris chocked tunnel at the bottom. Cass was one of the last to descend and slid down, amid an avalanche of pulverised concrete, to come face to face with Rackham, who was waiting for her at the bottom.

“How the hell are you even alive?” she demanded.

“Blast shields” he plucked a black, oval shaped device up from his utility belt and proffered it for her inspection “I picked a bunch of them up from a Duster, back on Irahaz” he tossed the thing away into the darkness of the tunnel “They’re one shot though; they burn out after they’re activated. Kumar activated hers in time, but Gibbs didn’t make it”

“Shit” Cass grimaced “I’m sorry”

“Nah – He knew the risks. It’s back to Heaven for him while he waits for another body” Rackham turned and beckoned to everyone “C’mon – You’ve got to see this”

Following him and the beam of his torch for a few tens of metres in the dusty darkness, the group soon came to a heavy blast door, set in the rock. Kumar was waiting there, her optics glinting in the darkness and with her assault rifle held at the ready.

“What do you think of this?” Rackham pushed the door open and shone his torch into the area beyond.

<cat voice>What is it?</cat voice>

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