I remember Jake holding me in his arms as he did his best to break through the underbrush below the huge iron wood trees - their deep charcoal colored bark standing out against the dense green ferns at their feet.
I remember Jake’s heart beating a fast rhythm in my ear as he held me against his chest. It would have been so much easier for him if he had been able to toss me over his shoulder, but that would have punched one of my many cracked ribs through something vital internally.
I remember one very painful fall we took when Jake tripped on something in his rush to put distance between us and whoever was chasing us. It would have been a lot worse except that Jake managed to turn in mid-air as he fell and put his body under mine to cushion my fall.
I remember Jake and Arr arguing over me. Jake stood holding me in trembling arms.
“Give her to me,” Arr said. “You’re exhausted. I can carry her,” he assured Jake.
“No. I need you and Kayo fresh in case they catch up.”
“You need to rest,” Arr argued. “You’re not going to be able to shoot straight for hours after you put her down.”
“Jake?” I said. “Listen to Arr.” I could hear his heart pounding in his chest. I am not overweight, but I am well rounded and five foot eight. I am not a lightweight load by any means. It was only Jake’s well toned six foot four fighting weight physique that had gotten us this far.
“Okay,” Jake conceded. “You scout ahead and see if you can find a place for us to hold up.”
Jake laid me gently down in the tall ferns. “Kayo come,” he ordered the big dar-dolf. “Down!” Jake motioned Kayo to my right side, where he laid down. “Stay!” he instructed. “Protect.”
Jake leaned over me. He brushed a few strands of hair out of my eye. My left eye was totally swollen shut from the blow to my head. I couldn’t see him unless I turned my head and that hurt like hell. He saw my grimace of pain. He took a piece of pain stick out of his pocket. “This is the last of it. Wish I had more. I should have brought my pack.”
“Nothing about this job is really turning out the way we expected,” I mouthed around my chewing. I couldn’t remember him giving me the rest of the meds, but hey, at this point I could hardly remember my own name.
“Arr’s gone ahead. I’m going back to see what I can do about covering our trail. Kayo will take care of you. I’ll be right back.” He brushed his fingers along my jaw line. “Try to rest, babe”
I must have passed out shortly after he left. I remember sinking my hand in Kayo’s thick fir at my side. He made me feel safe lying there.
When I woke up again it was dark. I lifted my chin to see the two moons of Ukhta shining down on us through the tree branches. I involuntarily moaned in pain. Jake’s arm snuck around my right shoulder from behind and brushed my cheek.
“You awake, babe?” He whispered in my ear.
I realized I was sitting between his spread out legs with my back against his chest, my head up under his chin. His left hand was sitting on his crooked knee, his right hand drifted down from my cheek to my shoulder.
“Just barely,” I answered. I looked past my feet and saw nothing but iron wood bark. “Are we up a tree?” I asked.
“Yep, about fifty feet up,” Jake answered.
I couldn’t shift to look down, but my eye had adjusted a bit to the moon light now and I could see other trees around us that were huge.
“How did you get me up here?” I asked in disbelief.
“It wasn’t easy, babe. Good thing you took that last pain med.” I could hear the humor in his voice as he continued. “You might wonder where you got some bruises in unusual places once you get cleaned up.”
“Where’s Arr?” I asked.
Jake pointed up over my right shoulder. Arr was laying face down over a limb about fifteen feet higher up. He had his legs bent up at the knee and his ankles interlocked back up over the limb behind him. His head was resting on his hands looking, I assumed, back the way we had come. He looked relaxed and at home in the tree, like a well fed cheetah
“He’s watching for our company,” Jake said.
“Where’s Kayo?” I asked. “You didn’t manage to get him up the tree too, did you?”
“Nope, we stashed him down below. We won’t hear from him again unless someone steps on his tail – in which case, they won’t be stepping on anyone ever again,” Jake said with a chuckle.
I tried to adjust my seat on the hard wood beneath it. I wished I hadn’t. Even that slight movement made me catch my breath between clinched teeth.
“You keep wiggling in my lap like that and you’re going to have Mr. Happy wanting to pay you a visit,” Jake whispered in my ear.
I had to laugh. Jake had never made a pass at me. He was just trying to cover up my pain and make me feel better in the process.
“I’ll try to be more sensitive to your position,” I retorted. Not a great comeback, but hey, I was not at my best mental repartee form.
“Rest,” Jake said. “We’ll have to move on soon.”
“Do you have any idea where we are going?” I asked.
“There’s a settlement another days walk from here based on the maps I downloaded before we left the pod. We’ll see if we can get some help there. Get you to a doctor,” he explained.
“Have you thought of how you are going to get me down from here?”
“I thought I would just push and we could see how you fly without a pod,” Jake said and chuckled under his breath.
I smacked him on the leg with my right hand. If hurt me more than it did him.