“Boys… they’re all the same, they’re all the same!” Angel muttered to herself. She kicked a tree in frustration, which only made her even angrier. She wasn’t usually like this, she never let emotions control her. It was Nick’s fault. Her eyes felt damp. Irritated she wiped them with a hand. He wasn’t worth it. How could people change so quickly? She thought she’d gotten to know Nick but now she didn’t know him at all. He’d rather run off with a total stranger and a boy he didn’t trust rather than listen to her. Brian was just as bad. She’d stuck up for him but now she was beginning to think Nick was right about him.
She stopped to take a drink from the water flask at her hip. The jungle steamed with heat and a warm mist covered the ground so that she could never be sure what she was walking in. She glanced back the way she had come with soft eyes before determinedly turning her head and striding forward again.
They would be the ones contacting her when they were lost. She knew where she was going. Her computer charts had never been wrong yet. She trusted her ship more than anything else. Friends could let you down, just like Tarkansay had and Nick, but her ship was as stable as a rock.
Again she stopped. Noises filtered through the jungle. A frog croaked and birds twittered. There was nothing to make her uneasy, but she still glanced about warily. Something was wrong. Apart from her ship, she trusted herself and her feelings.
Hot rain dribbled from the sky and splashed her face. She turned back, her heart growing faster in her chest. She was going the right way, she knew that. The boys hadn’t contacted her yet though. They probably wouldn’t even bother. They’d want to find their own way through the jungle.
She looked back along the way she should be heading but her feet wouldn’t move anymore. Something was wrong. She felt herself being pulled back to Nick. She took a step forward and then she folded her arms.
“No, I am not going after him. He’s the one who’s in the wrong. He’ll soon see his precious Fly is a fake.”
Still she didn’t resume her walk. Fyliza hovered darkly in her mind. Angel hated everything about her – the way she dressed and the way she’d flicked her hair every few moments to draw the attention of the boys. Why was she so interested in them? She was much older than them!
Fyliza’s eyes were the worst part. They were cold and glaring. No eyes should be like that. Fyliza was not their friend.
The realisation slapped Angel in the face. She felt sick. Why hadn’t she realised before? This was a trap. Fyliza had wanted them all to follow her and she’d been annoyed when Angel wouldn’t. It was a trap, a trap that had caught Brian and Nick.
And it had worked on Angel too. She’d been jealous and because of that jealousy, she hadn’t seen what Fyliza was. She saw it now.
She ran back down the path, pushing trees aside. She pulled a scanner form her pocket and used it to locate human life signs. There they were, not too far away. If she ran then hopefully she would reach them in time. She had no doubt that neither Brian or Nick would realise Fyliza was dangerous. They were too busy dribbling and swooning over her body.
“I’m coming,” she whispered.
Brian didn’t like the jungle. It was hot and it was making him sweat. His shirt was soaked and his hair wet. Nick didn’t look much better. Fyliza though still looked fabulous. Easily she pushed aside the branches of trees and the stringy vines that tried to block their way. She knew exactly where she was going, which was good because Brian didn’t have a clue. He doubted if he could even find his way back to the ship.
He kept looking back for Angel. He’d suggested to Nick that they go back and look for her but the blond had been stubborn. “She’ll contact us when she decided she needs rescuing,” he’d replied coldly.
Angel didn’t seem like the type who would ever decide that she needed rescuing. Still, the girl disappeared from his mind when he stared at Fyliza’s tight clothes. He couldn’t help looking. The clothes didn’t leave much to the imagination.
From beside him, Nick gave a groan as he sunk to his knees in a bog that had been hidden with the clingy mist. Laughing Fyliza extended a hand and pulled him free. “Follow me closely. You don’t want to get lost,” she said, smiling at him.
“Right.” Nick nodded.
Fyliza glanced back at Brian and smiled. Brian’s mind furrowed in confusion. She was familiar, but in a different way to Angel and Nick. Why couldn’t he remember anything nowadays? He was only sixteen and he was already losing his mind. He thought back to the voice he had heard on Fyliza’s ship. Maybe he really was going crazy.
The mist thickened with every step. At first there had been a vague kind of path to follow but now it had disappeared under the wild rule of the jungle. Everything was muddy or covered in nettles and snake like vines. Warily Brian glanced about them but he could hear no signs of dangerous animals.
“How much further is it?” Brian panted. His feet were starting to ache. Nick looked tired as well.
“You’re not very fit are you?” Fyliza said teasingly. “You’ll know when we get there.”
Brian frowned as his cheeks reddened. He saw Nick smiling with amusement at the comment. He felt like a whining child. Fyliza’s answer gave him no help. It sounded to Brian as if she didn’t know how much further away Howard was.
It was becoming difficult to see. The trees were becoming thicker and darker. The ground underfoot was squishier and several times Brian felt his boots starting to sink.
Suddenly the ground beneath his feet disappeared and he sunk into the mud. Brian gave a scream as the mud oozed about his shoulders. He tried to kick his feet, searching for firmer ground but there was nothing. He was sinking! “Help!” he wailed.
“Hang on!” Nick cried. “Keep still!”
Nick had stopped several paces away. He grabbed a stick and used it to check the ground. “It’s like a swamp.” He threw the stick aside and grabbed a thicker branch. He held it out to Brian. “Grab hold, quick!”
Brian seized the branch with sticky fingers. He stared about them but there was nothing but trees and mist. “Where’s Fyliza?”
For the first time Nick realised she was missing. He almost dropped the branch in shock. He stared about them. “I don’t know. I didn’t hear her fall!” He pulled the branch to him and Brian coughed mud from his mouth as his fingers found firmer ground. He gasped as nick pulled him up.
“We have to be careful,” said Nick handing Brian a long stick. “Use that to check the ground before you walk on it. You don’t want to drown.” He peered into the trees. “Fyliza? Fyliza, are you okay?”
“She couldn’t have fallen! We’d have heard something!” said Brian. She’d been right in front of him moments ago and then Brian had fallen. Nick was lucky he hadn’t been caught in the mud as well.
‘I’d start running if I were you.’
Brian shook his head and held a hand to his ear. “What?” he whispered.
Nick frowned at him. “What’s up?”
“Before I fell, did you say something? And just now… did you say we should start running?”
Nick was giving him the same look he’d given him on Fyliza’s ship – the look that said Brian was crazy. Brian wasn’t sure anymore.
“I didn’t say anything,” said Nick. “Are you hearing voices again?”
Brian nodded. “Yes.”
“Well – ”
Brian held a hand up to silence him. He cocked his head slightly. The voice was tiny and seemed to be coming from the ground. Carefully he leant down on his hands and knees in the mud. A brown toad was watching him with blue eyes.
‘Run. She’s led you into a trap.’
“The toad says we’re in a trap,” said Brian.
“What?!” Nick spluttered.
Gently Brian scooped the frog up into his hands. He stared at his eyes. “Are you talking to me?”
A bird cawed over head. Brian heard another voice. ‘The woman is going to kidnap you.’ Nick stared at him. “Bri, something is wrong with you? We should get you checked out on the ship. This isn’t normal.”
“Nick, the bird just said Fyliza is going to kidnap us.”
“That’s ridiculous – ”
‘GET DOWN!’ screamed the bird.
A whine pierced the air. Brian gasped. The toad hopped form his hands and Brian grabbed Nick, yanking him down to the ground. A blue light shot over their heads.
“A stun beam!” Nick whispered. He stared at Brian in shock.
Brian ignored Nick. He peered through the reeds of the muddy swamp. He saw Fyliza’s boots standing beside a tree. There was a gun at her side. She cursed as she realised she’d missed and began to walk forward to look for them.
“Oh gods,” he whispered. “We should have listened to Angel. Nick, we have to run!”
Grabbing Nick’s arm, Brian crawled through the reeds away from Fyliza. The sound of the gun shot through the air and blue light hit the ground just in front of them. Brian stared in shock.
“I can see you, boys!” Fyliza chuckled.
“Run!” yelled Nick. He hauled Brian to his feet and shoved him forward.
Both of them ran through the trees. Nick fumbled with the communicator at his ear and then hissed in annoyance. “I can’t get anything but static! Fyliza’s put up a field to dampen communication! Damn, how could we have been so stupid!”
Brian never had a chance to reply. He heard the gun and then something slammed into his back. He tried to scream but his voice was frozen. His body turned to jelly and he collapsed to the ground. His arms wouldn’t move. His legs wouldn’t move. All he could do was stare at Nick.
Nick stopped and then his eyes saw Fyliza coming towards them. He looked back at the tangle of bushes ahead that would hide him and then back at Brian. “I’ll be back for you, I promise.”
Nick jumped as the blue stun fire came for him. He leapt into the bushes and then his blond hair was out of sight. Fyliza skidded to a halt beside Brian. She fired several shots into the bushes but Brian saw that it was only the trees the beams hit.
Fyliza stamped her high-heeled boot in annoyance. “Damn! I’ll find you Nick! I’ve always been good at hunting!” she called. She lowered her voice. “And after I’ve caught you, I’ll kill AC-Free.”
Paralysed, Brian couldn’t reply. The only part of him that would move were his eyes. Fyliza laughed as she saw him watching her. Leaning down she pulled rope from her bag and tied it about his arms and legs before tying him to a tree.
“And when that stun wears off you won’t be going anywhere.” She smiled, but the smile was no longer beautiful, it was terrifying. She ran a hand over his face. “You should have known who I was, Brian. I am a very close friend of your father’s.”
Brian felt his eyes almost squeezing out of his head. He thought he was going to be sick, but his throat wouldn’t work enough to let him vomit all over Fyliza. She laughed at his face and then walked away from him to find Nick. “One down, two to go.”