Jorge stood at the edge, looking down into the mist. Kree seemed oblivious to the view, and concentrated on cleaning her feathers while the other humans fitted the carry harness across her back: a sort of pre-flight check. He shook his head. "How far down?"
Disappeared into the mist for reasons unknown: Perry, his wife-to-be; Cole, her apprentice; one Fri, Kree's aerie-brother Hraff. Somewhere down there, in the midst of a primordial alien jungle soupy with the planet's thick atmosphere, were three of his friends in need of help.
"What do you think happened?"
She didn't answer, just gave the Fri equivalent of a shrug.
"Are they alive, do you think?"
"Not sure. If they landed right, could still be alive. Hard to breathe that low. Heavy air. Wet air." She shook her massive head, crouched so that her eyes were level with his. "They could live a while. Maybe longer than Hraff."
The air was heavy enough here, atop the Mesa: much thicker than Earth sea-level. He reached out and placed a hand flat on the bony bridge of her nose. "It hasn't been that long. And Hraff is a good flyer."
Kree snorted and said, "Hraff is the best flyer. But if a wing is broken, he will go to the cliff-side and climb."
"Climb?" He couldn't fathom a climb like that, not while injured; but it was their planet.
"If he cannot fly, he must climb, or die."
The transponder signal was stationary, had been since the three had been found to be overdue. "Can we carry Hraff out if we need to?"
She shook her head. "Too heavy. We take humans out then I go back with more air-bottles and medicines. You send three strong Fri with a sling. It's been done."
Jorge glanced over to where Morgan was standing: the man nodded and ran to the crawler to use the radio. "We'll make sure they're ready."
In a few minutes, the harness was tightened, the saddleweb centered on her back and opened. He climbed up as the technicians climbed down. By the time he was secure in the web, Morgan had returned and was giving the thumbs up.
Jorge leaned over and to one side, and said, "I'm ready. Anytime."
Kree stepped to the very edge, and his stomach danced. She lowered her head, and was very still.
"What is it?"
"You've done this dive before plenty of times, I've seen you."
"Not all the way. Always level before the mist."
"Do you want to wait for someone who—"
"Too far away, take too much time. We should have brought more Fri."
It had been a last-minute expedition: the humans had wanted to do some testing, take some air-samples below the edge. It'd been his idea. Now Perry, Cole and great, noble Hraff were down there and Kree was hesitant to dive.
"What's down there, Kree? What could bring down Hraff?"
She didn't answer, but she finally stepped off the edge, nose-first.