Jetta's feet slapped the soft, wet ground as she hurtled toward the shelter. The gloom of afternoon, as the sun set over the vast forest in the west, drew over the encampment like a shroud, enhancing the panic that had already set in. Please let me not be too late, please, please, please, she thought. The grass at the edges of the dirt path she ran on whipped her legs, leaving the red dust of their pollen as if to pin their own hopes of survival on her as well. Paul was in the field hut she sought, the outermost research station that the advance crew of the good ship Vindulan had established thus far on the planet. Elena, their chief doctor and biologist, had radioed the distress call in. But they hadn't had time to stock the polymer-walled structure with advanced medicines and reagents yet. One such package Jetta hugged to her chest as she ran, her breath becoming more and more ragged.
The damned bikes, she thought once more, wishing the rugged, two-wheeled machines were capable of traveling the path to the advance hut. But the marsh she had crossed would have bogged down any machinery heavier than a flimsy ultralight, and she knew the terrain better on foot. The winds were against the electric drone that Captain Vischoff had ordered sent, and Jetta knew without even looking behind her that she had well outstripped the aircraft. The cluster of tents and huts that comprised the forward research position, Swamp's Edge, were already in view in the darkening field, still hundreds of yards off. She didn't bother with her earpiece. The short-range comms were worth fuck all out here. She raised the whistle that dangled on a chain around her neck to her lips, and pursed them to produce the shrill call to Elena and the others. Time was already short. She needed to know where to go before she got there. Paul would not die. He would NOT die. Not on her watch.
Elena's call had come in at the beach head base only two score minutes before. Jussy had been on dispatch in the radio shack, and her scream had been audible even from high up on the lander where Jetta had been performing maintenence. Ordinarily the auto-lifter would have been at work up here, since none of the other settlers were nearly as agile. But Jetta took perverse pleasure in regularly putting Bertha out of a job. She had scrambled down as Jussy relayed over the short-range the urgency of the need for the heavy-duty docpak, and had realized on the way down that only she could get it to Swamp's Edge in time to do a remote chance of good. She had grabbed it from Banks' shop (he had it ready; thank the gods that he had kept his comm earpiece in) and rabbited to the camp without missing a beat. Her vision blurred and her chest ached as the tents grew larger, and she saw a figure in a bright orange vest waving her to the right. Tom, most likely. He always wore that damned thing. Elena was crossing her arms, signaling and shouting to bring her in to the field tent where Paul waited lying, dying, dead...
Tom reached out and caught her as she collapsed, thrusting out the docpak for Elena. Feeling the tug of Elena's hands on the kit, Jetta relaxed into Tom's secure embrace. "Dead?" she choked out between gulps of burning hot air. Sweat ran down her face, stinging her eyes, and she struggled to her knees and then her feet, wiping her face with an equally sweaty arm. Tom shook his head, but the set of his eyes communicated the gravity of Paul's condition. The tent's flap opened as Russell emerged with a grim look. He started to her and patted her back. "Elena's on it, J. You did good." She let go of Tom's shoulder--she hadn't even realized she had grasped it--and smiled sheepishly. Tom grinned his bearded grin, and gestured her into the tent. "Of all the things to leave out of the forward manifesto...We knew the chances of a reaction were higher as we traveled inland, but damn if this world isn't going to eat us alive. The poison hasn't begun to affect higher-order functions yet, but his motor control is almost gone."
As Jetta turned the canvas of the entrance aside, she saw Elena hunched over a figure on the cot at the back wall of the hut. Her hands dove into the kit to replace a series of vials, and she looked over her shoulder. "Jetta, you saved his life. He's stable, and I've got a good sense of what the plant's method of action is...it's over there if you want to see." She gestured to the spiked, ruddy orbs on a tarp in the corner. "Don't touch," Russell joked behind her. As she approached, the orbs bent toward her on their stalks, and she stopped in her tracks. Elena, without shifting her gaze from her ministrations over Paul's body, murmured, "They're really something, aren't they? Not even a Venus flytrap moves like that." The sharp tines on the orbs pulsated, as though they were trying to extend to Jetta's position.
Paul's voice rasped out from the cot. "Jetta. You made it." His face was pale, and the sheen of sweat over his forehead glistened in the hut's low light. Elena stood up and faced the trio behind her. "OK, kids, party's over. You're disturbing the patient. Out." A smirk played across her mouth before she mastered her expression, and then she was all business, the Elena that Jetta knew best. No amount of arguing would dissuade Elena when she was resolved. Jetta winked at Paul and hustled out behind Russ and Tom, and a glint of metal in the sun caught her eye as she emerged from the tent. The ultralight, right on time.