“Heed my words, Vox Cul-Dar. The time has come for you to wake.”
Vox’s bulbous eyes snapped open.
“I rise a new person, prepared for a new day, prepared for my future,” he said, automatically reciting the words that had been part of the first few moments of cognitive thought of every waking since he had first joined the monastery as a child. He scanned the compartment, a room with a low ceiling and long shadows cast from broken windows. He saw little dust, but dirt and leaves littered the compartment. When he recognized the molded plastic in the center of the room as the frame for a chair, the purpose of the chamber came to his mind.
“How did I get in a space ship?” he said. “And… Rendelac, what’s become of Fletch?”
“Fletch left you here after I requested that she not severely wound you to hinder your further progress. You have been unconscious for nearly seven hours. Vox Cul-Dar, I-”
“Seven hours… she’s got an incredible head start, then. We’ll have to hurry.”
“I would ask you, not for the first time, to refrain from this task, Vox Cul-Dar. She left you here when I gave my word to ask you to stop. She represents a more active danger than the already problematic environment of this world.”
“I appreciate your concern, Rendelac, but-”
“Forgive my interruption, but I believe we are sinking.”
Vox looked around the shuttle interior. He located Rendelac sitting on the top of some of his other possessions in the ship’s chair. He picked up the computer and twirled his pack onto his back.
“I was trying to rouse you from your slumber for two hours. The problem is now quite dire. Our elevation is gradually decreasing, and I fear that the remains of this vessel are submerging into the swamp.”
“You should have mentioned this sooner,” said Vox, jumping to one of the broken windows. The twisted trees and choked vegetation beyond sat in a stagnant sea of green. The incredible humidity and stench of decay was almost comfortable to Vox, and the gentle curve of the ship’s hull provided ample purchase for him to scramble up and out.
“I apologize,” said Rendelac. “You had other questions, and my programming dictated that I answer them, to a point.”
“How fortunate I am that the original Rendelac coded you to eventually concede the all-important etiquette for quick responses to danger.”
“The vessel would likely not have become truly dangerous for another twenty minutes.”
“Oh, I see. Why hurry at all then?”
“The swampy terrain beyond the vessel might have altered by our sinking, and as such-”
“That was sarcasm, Rendelac.”
“A sarcastic tongue is an exercise for a mind in disarray.”
“I am aware of the teachings,” said Vox. He stood upon the ship and scanned the horizon. He saw a tree-covered shoreline a mere dozen feet away, and some other fallen debris created a workable path back to the jungle for one of his skills. He carefully slid down the sloping edge of the vessel.
“Did Fletch happen to say why she barged through the jungles until she found a swamp just for dispatching me?”
“She was apparently very knowledgeable of the region. She knew this swamp would be here, and that it was the assumed final resting place of a vessel that had crashed when an adventurous entrepreneur crash-landed after an attempt to begin a logging and mining operation. He was desperate to leave after the locals realized the extent to which his presence would disrupt their environment, but did not begin flying away until after the Sthenites had time to sabotage his ship.”
“Sthenites,” said Vox, carefully hopping from the ship to a log wedged between the vessel and a small pile of rocks and silt. “I should have researched this world more, just as it appears that Fletch has… Sthenites are the creatures that resemble Terran serpents, but with feathers?”
“Yes,” said Rendelac. “You are aware of them?”
“The Rythnian Boutique had two as founding members,” said Vox. “After being abducted from their own world, they escaped on Veskid but found that they could do well for themselves. The poisons on Mandrake are second to none, and with the Desperate Measures Agency’s headquarters so near there was a high demand for their specialized knowledge.”
“A curious coincidence,” said Rendelac.
“A beneficial one,” said Vox, hopping to the rock pile and carefully gaging the leap to what looked like a relatively benign clump of a sargasso-like weed. “Their knowledge allowed me to find the Cerulean Bloom after we landed here.”
He landed on the clump of weeds and was at first relieved to find that the clump was thick and strong enough to support his weight, but some of the vines whipped around his leg.
“Ugh… alien plant life,” he said. He reached down and started untwisting the vine.
“The manner of that twist did not appear to be the result of locomotion on the plant’s part,” said Rendelac. “It almost appeared mechanical. Strange, considering that the plant appears capable of moving on its own, albeit in a different way.”
“A fluke of circumstance, then.”
A strange, high-pitched beep filled the air.
“Rendelac, was that you?”
“Negative. The noise issued from the vegetation currently entwined around your leg.”
Another beep sounded. Vox moved aside the vegetative clumps and took a sharp intake of breath at the appearance of a timer counting down seconds, affixed within the plant.
“Rendelac, what is-”
“Danger!” said Rendelac. “Possibility of an explosive device high!”
Vox stopped talking and started unfurling the vine. Obviously a trap left by Fletch to eliminate him from a distance if the murk didn’t finish him off sooner. With only a moment, he peeled the vine from his leg, jumped, and cursed as the vine reflexively twisted around his arm, pulling the explosive clump of vegetation along with him just a moment before it detonated.