Where the hell did that come from? Amieta risked a quick glance at the clearing. Her last squadmate lay just a couple meters away, red still glistening on his chest. He had hardly made it a single step. The leaves and shadows opposite her seemed to rustle and laugh despite the lack of wind, that jumble of foliage taking on a sinister feel in the splotches of late morning light. Amieta restrained herself from firing into it wildly.

The battle had started off well, most of the enemy eliminated in the first few ferocious minutes of fighting, just their commander remaining unaccounted for. Then Amieta's people started getting picked off, one by one. Adazai, Tukaya, Mitohnen, until it was just her and Sidreke left. And now he's lying there in the clearing.

She leaned her head back against the tree she was using for cover. I'm not going to lose this thing. She half crouched and began moving, tree to tree, circling around the clearing. The open space was a half-oval, transected by a sheer cliff face, gray stone sweating in the humidity. Only one way for her opponent to go. No way was she getting dropped from behind.

The rain forest was new growth, the trees only ghosts of future majesty, the spaces between them full of brush, ferns, saplings, low branches and tangled vines. Amieta slipped through it all quietly, the stock of her weapon tight to her shoulder, scanning for any movement in the dappled jungle all around.

She heard a sound or felt a disturbance in the air on some primitive level, and instinct had her moving, twisting to aim upward. It was already too late. The sharp crack of impact, red droplets falling across her helmet's visor, and she was falling to her knees. She toppled backward, felt her helmet tumble away. The sun peeked at her from cracks in the canopy overhead, more yellow than the light she was used to.

There was a thump nearby, and her victorious enemy walked into view, the sunlight turning the woman's short, feathered hair into a halo as she stood over Amieta. Well below average height, female, Caldari, face solemn. Rifle, with a too-fat barrel, slung over one shoulder, her helmet under her arm. She spoke, "That fall was really dramatic. How'd you get your helmet to bounce away like that?"

"Didn't have it buckled. Too damn hot out here, I don't know how you aren't pouring with sweat, like a normal person." Amieta adopted an expression of mock outrage as she squinted up, "Can't believe I let you get the drop on me, and at your age too, Sara. I should just resign."

"Well, pick your disgraced ass up. Your team will be buying at the cantina, as I recall." The woman - Sarakai - offered her hand, pulling Amieta easily to her feet, "You should have checked the trees, you know I don't get that many chances to look down at the world. After most of my guys went down so fast, I was a little worried. They are mostly desk jockeys, but I had hoped they would take a couple of yours with them. You had Sidreke too, thought even just the two of you might have me."

"Yeah, I kinda thought we might have you too." Amieta shrugged as they walked back to where the hovercraft waited to return them to the resort, "Well, make sure you tell your people what a good job they did, taking all those paint rounds for you. Team building, remember? Can't get good toadies these days, you know you're supposed to lose to your superiors Sarakai."

Sarakai snorted, "Never been near good enough at that game."

Amieta chuckled with a shake of her head and spoke into her com, "Attention, fun's over. Everyone back to the pickup site, I'll be buying the booze when we get back. If you've got bruises, bother CMO Nari about it at your own risk. Everyone remember, water polo at 1600 in the large pool. That's all. Invelen out."

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