After Selendis’s tipsy assistant has followed her out of Saffron, Imogen raises the ramp to close up the ship for privacy and then knocks on the door to her own quarters. While she and Lilly wait for it to open, they hear an electronic buzzing through it. When their passenger opens the door, he is in the process of toweling off his face. With the beard gone, Spearmint looks considerably younger. “Have we reached Korhal yet?” he asks.
“No, we were dropping off Arudin, and an opportunity has come up to fix the ship all the way, to get us more safely back to Korhal,” Imogen explains.
“Wh-what’s the current risk getting back to Korhal?”
“If anything happens to the ship along the way, it could—”
“We could crash,” Lilly cuts in succinctly.
“Aye. Landing could be difficult.”
“H-how much time are we going to lose to this?” Spearmint asks, just as anxious to reach his destination as Arudin was.
“Just a day,” Imogen assures him.
Lilly just shrugs. “We’re going to fix the ship, buddy.” It is not like he has other options.
The pilot’s direct language cuts through Spearmint’s haze, and he acknowledges the wisdom of this plan. He has not been around such sophisticated technology in a while; it makes sense that it requires upkeep he cannot identify with his own eyes.
Business ideas are swirling around in Imogen’s mind, on top of everything else, and Spearmint might actually be able to help with some of them. She explains to him that the protoss are interested in recovering animals native to Aiur, and then the three of them discuss what Spearmint knows about those on Antiga. He would love to get rid of any such invasive species in preparation for recolonization. He gives them some insight into the bengalaas hanging around the ruined firebase.
When they describe the kakaru to him, he recognizes it as a bird he has seen along a particular cliffline, and he happily gives them the coordinates. He is not a survivalist by inclination, just necessity, but he did observe some of its behaviors. Actually encountering one is pretty rare. The adults tend to fly around most of the day, and they nest very high up in the cliffs. Lilly and Imogen bat around ideas about catching one by tossing a net from Saffron’s open hatch. Another possibility, which would save space in the ship, would be to just recover some eggs.
To Lilly’s questions about protoss tech on Antiga, though, he has no good news. Anything that was ever found has been destroyed.
Overall, Imogen is pleased with how the discussion went. She and Lilly got some actionable information, and the conversation was psychologically good for Spearmint. It is better for him to concentrate on Antiga’s recovery than think about where they currently are. To him, protoss are still the strange aliens who showed up and wrecked the Sara system just before Antiga fell. Because this is a protoss colony, Imogen advises Spearmint to keep to her quarters and tells him to definitely not go outside. This is the exact opposite of what she and Lilly intend to do, of course.
* * *
Lilly opens Saffron back up to take Sunshine out for a walk. The lyote is not a fan of her collar, scratching at it whenever it is on, so Lilly only pulls it out when she needs to use the leash. Imogen grabs an overnight bag and exits the ship as well. As they stand at the top of the ramp, Sunshine in tow, they find Selendis still nearby, silently berating her drunk assistant. Lilly saw the guy soaking up a whole growler when the protoss were inspecting the ship earlier. “You should take some Kick in the Face, make some friends,” Lilly suggests to Imogen, unconsciously echoing the advice the Umojan has given her several times in the past. Suddenly, she realizes she herself has been doing it wrong. You are not supposed to down both drinks yourself; you are supposed to share them.
Lilly asks Selendis about the safety of the area, wondering if she needs her shotgun for the walk with Sunshine. Selendis assures her that she should be fine if she remains on the campus itself. “Although, there are many of my brethren out here; I don’t know how your pet will react to them. I would stay in sight of the campus. The ursadons are native to this world. If you go too far afield, you may encounter one, though it is highly unlikely. Frankly, if you do, you should run. One person with a primitive firearm will not be able to take down an ursadon. An individual would need highly advanced weaponry and skills to be able to take one down single-handedly.” With that in mind, Lilly decides to just travel with her standard pistol and knife. Unburdened with heavy weaponry, she can get in a run with the lyote.
They head down the ramp, and Lilly locks up the ship behind them. Sunshine is now very excited by all the new scents carried on the wind. They follow Selendis and her assistant over to a strange energy field, which lowers them down from the landing deck to the ground level. As the terrans continue through the compound with the protoss, they observe that there are no handles, control panels, or sensors visible anywhere. The elevator and the doors all just respond to the unspoken commands of their escorts.
Before they part ways, Selendis advises Lilly that it can get cold very quickly on this planet, to the extent that one can be actually frozen in place. “There are flash freezes you should be cautious of. They will usually pass within fifteen minutes or so, and you will be free again.” The flash freezes are a problem on campus as well, not just out in the plains. Selendis admits that the protoss have no way to stop them in open air, though the shelter of a building is protection enough. The ursadons, though, are unaffected. Somehow, they are able to stay warm enough. The researchers are still trying to understand how.
It sounds like the main worries are weather or bothering the protoss in their busy compound, so Lilly decides she will take Sunshine for a run just beyond the edges of the campus. It is a snowy wasteland, but as long as she stays within sight of the settlement, they should be fine. The snow has died down again, and gray mountains are visible off in the distance.
Imogen heads off with the protoss, and Lilly leads Sunshine beyond the fenceline. The lyote is far from domesticated, though, and yanks the leash in all different directions as she tries to explore the place. The wilderness around the campus, in addition to having a whole new world of smells, has plenty of open space to run, so Lilly lets Sunshine explore. They pass through a stretch of territory that Lilly thinks an ursadon has marked, and the lyote gets quite excited by the scent trail. Lilly lets her check it out, even though it takes them even farther from the base. The lyote has been penned up in the ship again; she deserves some quality outdoor time. Since Lilly is paying more attention to the lyote than to the terrain, they end up even farther afield than she anticipated.
When Lilly does bring her attention up from the small creature nearly tugging her arm off, she sees an enormous storm cloud rolling in, an avalanche in the sky. It is moving quickly, winds whipping frozen material around, like a sandstorm made of ice. This is probably the flash freeze Selendis warned her about. Given its speed of approach, there is no way to get back to the base in time. Lilly sees an opening in some of the rocky hills nearby. “C’mon, girl,” she says to Sunshine, yanking on the leash to get the lyote’s attention so that they can run towards the cave mouth.
The aptly named storm is upon them in a flash, an icy wind all around them. Lilly dives the final distance into cover. Her landing is ungraceful, as her legs fail to respond. She props herself up on an elbow and looks over her shoulder at them. They are encased in ice, and Sunshine’s leash is trapped, frozen to one of them. Lilly does not feel any pain, just a deep chill. On the plus side, the coating provides some insulation against sub-freezing temperatures. It looks an inch or two thick. She rolls over onto her back and tries lifting her legs to just let them fall to the ground. When that does not shatter the ice, she switches to smashing at it with a loose rock, but it is just too thick.
Lilly tosses the rock aside and considers her options. In the silence that follows—for Sunshine has also grown quite still—Lilly hears a low growl deeper in the cave. The deep guttural noise is accompanied by sounds of stomping. “Ice on my legs may not be our biggest problem,” Lilly whispers to Sunshine. The lyote has detected the approaching threat as well and is now on the alert, a quiet growl rolling in the back of her throat. If she tries to bolt, she will not get far; she is tethered to Lilly’s legs by the ice. Lilly doubts Sunshine is strong enough to drag her and all this extra weight.
As the sound nears, Lilly considers her options. She wears her knife on her hip fortunately, not down in a boot, so it is available if needed. But she would prefer not to let the threat get that close, particularly with how hard maneuvering with frozen legs is. There is a danger of bullets ricocheting in this confined space, but the pistol seems her best option. Lilly sits herself up and holds her gun before her, pointing it at the bend in the tunnel from which the ominous sounds issue.
Around the corner comes a large, furry, white creature… an ursadon.