Maria felt the air rushing over her body as she fell, quickly picking up speed. She turned off her vision, seeing it would only be a distraction, and if there was any chance of Lolanene being alive, she couldn’t risk distraction. Instead of vision, her field of view filled with the familiar black background and white lines of a Sensory Nullification Device. The flames looked strange through the built-in SND, masses of lines that didn’t look like fire, or much of anything other than a mess of moving lines. It would be enough to navigate.
Another few seconds later, she hit the top of the wreck, another second later, she slammed through the floor. After another second, Maria realized she was standing in a small crater. How heavy was she, she wondered. She clambered out of the dirt and shattered metal hole she’d created and thought about only one thing, finding Lolanene.
Her vision lit up with a yellow trail of smoke-like mist, heavily distorted and disturbed by the air currents caused by the fire. Her HUD told her what it was.
<POLLEN OF UNIDENTIFIED XENO-FLORA>
It also told her the temperature of the room she was standing in, 51C. Not survivable for long. She could only hope she wasn’t too late as she began to follow the pollen trail. The ship was much the same as it had been, only filled with smoke and overwhelmingly hot. She made her way back to the room she’d last been in, and found it had become an inferno. The large opening had allowed plant life inside, which it had apparently thought was a way to escape the flames. A massive fire burned in the center of the room, the roots throughout charred and moving weakly.
A text box popped up on her left
<AUDIO ANOMALY DETECTED: HUMAN COUGH>
Almost as soon as it did, she heard it. In a room off to the side of the large storage area. Some sort of office. She entered, and there she was. Lolanene was sitting in the corner of the room, breathing raggedly.
“Lolanene!” Maria called out, and to her surprise, Lolanene responded, weakly raising an arm. Maria stepped over and knelt next to her, noting the vine was still connected to her neck. She turned off the SND.
She smiled, coughed, and said, her voice almost impossibly hoarse “Hey, Maria.”
“Don’t try to talk, I’m here to get you out. Just let me-”
Lolanene smiled again, not a happy gesture. “Maria… this vine is the only thing keepin’ me alive right now. Without it, I’ll die in minutes in these conditions, and you ain’t gettin’ me out that soon.”
Maria hesitated, not sure what to do or say.
“Thank you fer comin’ to get me, ‘Ria. Sorry it ain’t gonna be a heroic rescue. More of a bittersweet, did what ya could kinda thing.” Tears streamed down Lolanene’s face, creating lines in the soot on her skin. “I’m sorry I didn’t come with ya before. I should have. This stupid fuckin’ plant, makin’ me feel shit that weren’t real.”
“Hey, hey no sorries. I’m sorry I didn’t force you to. And I’m sorry we didn’t come back sooner.” Maria placed her hand on Lolanene’s, she weakly returned the grip.
“Cut it whenever you’re ready, Maria. I’ve been ready fer at least an hour, but I can’t do it myself. Thing still doesn’t wanna let it’s precious fuckin’ ‘bounty’ go. Can barely control me anymore, too overwhelmed tryin’ to save its own skin… er, leaves, whatever.”
Maria just knelt there for a moment, before making the hard decision she knew she had to make. She carefully reached behind Lolanene, and gently picked her up, leaving the vine attached. “If this thing is keeping you alive, we’ll just have to take it with us till we’re out. Nice try kid, but you’re not dying here.”
Teal text appeared on her HUD.
<Insert the syringe from earlier, it will help her survive. The plant can’t do enough.>
“Okay, Lolanene? I’m gonna have to inject you with something to help you get through this, okay? With the plant still connected, this should get you through okay.” Maria spoke as calmly as she could.
Lolanene simply nodded. Maria took out the strange green syringe she’d used earlier, and inserted it into Lolanene’s neck. She shuddered slightly, but otherwise there was no outward change.
Maria carefully stood, the vine trailing from Lolanene’s neck. She turned and began walking back the way she came as quickly as she could without detaching the vine. They made it halfway before TIOWSS, seemingly realizing what was happening, disconnected the vine. It dropped to the floor and slid backward into the darkness. Lolanene immediately began coughing and wheezing, and Maria ran the rest of the way to the hole she’d made in the roof of the wreck.
She saw the light from outside and leapt for it. Landing deftly on the roof, she saw that the FIC ship was still there, its ramp still open. Lolanene was wheezing constantly now. A thin black rope fell down from the ramp, and Maria grabbed onto it. Surprisingly, it was strong enough to lift her and Lolanene together. Up and out of the smoke and flame, and up to the ship.
Niarith and Ryani were both there, and grabbed Lolanene from Maria’s arms, allowing her to climb up onto the ramp. Her hand slipped slightly, and she slid down the rope a bit. As she climbed back up, she saw Lolanene lying on the floor of the airlock, Niarith knelt next to her, and Ryani was bringing over some kind of first aid device.
Niarith looked up as Maria approached. “You actually did it. She’s… she’s alive!” She stood and ran to Maria hugging her tightly. “She’s actually alive!”
Maria returned the hug. “Yeah… she really is. Heaven and Void… she is.”
The pair made their way back over to Ryani and Lolanene. He looked up from the device, a concerned look on his face. “She’s not doing good, gals. Oxygen deprivation, burns to her entire airway and lungs, carbon monoxide poisoning, she needs medical facilities. We need to get her back to the station.”
“The station?! Are you insane?” Niarith said, stepping forward.
“Listen, they’re gonna be pissed about the ship, but it’ll be fine. The other teams have probably arrived by now, it’s gonna be chaotic. Plus we did it with good cause.”
“The other teams have arrived?” Maria asked, concern in her voice.
“Probably, it doesn't take long for a response to a Quarantine breach.” Ryani said, matter of factly.
“A-and these other teams… they have… more access to the outside than you?” Niarith’s voice wavered slightly.
“Uh, yeah. Only reason we don’t get info is because they know we’d waste all our time on the VRnet instead of doing our jobs. So the station and crew are stripped of all access to it, and therefore access to outside information. Why?” Ryani had a quizzical look on his face.
“We can’t go back there. Find another way to save her.” Maria crossed her arms.
“There isn’t another way. She’s gonna die if we don’t go back there. I never agreed to full on steal this ship anyway. I was always planning on going back.” Ryani was confused, looking between the two of them.
Maria uncrossed her arms and extended her claws. “Find. Another. Way.”
Ryani fell back onto his behind and crawled backward, away from Maria. “What the fuck? You’re threatening to kill me now?! Why can’t you go back? What did you people do?”
Niarith placed a hand on Maria’s chest, gently pushing her back. She turned to Ryani. “Listen. We can’t go back. If they find us we’ll be immediately arrested and probably executed.” She turned back to Maria “But Lolanene is dying, Mari. We don’t have time to go anywhere else, we don’t even have time to argue. She needs help. And if going back and facing what we’ve done gets her that help, I’ll do it.”
Ryani cleared his throat, fidgeting in place a bit. “Legally, they have to help her. Even if they arrest and execute her later, they aren’t allowed to let her die. Going back is the only option where she has a chance.” He swallowed, clearly trying to calm himself. “I don’t know what the fuck you three have done, but you obviously care for Lolanene here.” He gestured to the unconscious girl lying on the floor of the airlock, breathing heavily and loudly. “If you want her to have any chance, you need to face the music.”
Maria retracted her claws, looked down at Lolanene struggling to continue breathing, sighed, and said “Void take me… let’s go.”