Chapter 14 - The Promise of the Pink Lotus

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South China Sea

Inside the cockpit of her suit, Jiayi curled her fingers around an invisible object in front of her.

Outside, Yazi's robotic hand wrapped around the control tower off a GEA battleship. With a crunch and twist, the suit ripped off the control tower and hurled it into the shimmering sea.

The ships in this small fleet controlled the satellites that monitored messages between the colonies. Jaiyi's first mission was to destroy them so that the GEA Intelligence Coalition would have a harder time intercepting any rebel communication. It was a task she took pleasure in accepting, although she wanted to do more than just hinder the GEA's spy ships. She wanted to rip holes into their hulls just as the GEa had done to her colony.

No, do not become what you abhor.

She closed her eyes and cleared her mind, searching for the balance Master Chang advocated. Bit by bit, the muscles in her body relaxed. The rage burning inside her chest simmered down to a tiny flame. When she opened her eyes, she surveyed the damage without anger hindering her vision. She'd done what she came here to do. Mission accomplished. No reason to linger and risk getting caught.

Alarms shattered the peaceful silence. Jaiyi checked her scanners to find an enemy vessel speeding toward her from under the water.

A GEA submarine.

Her breaths quickened. Her intelligence reports didn't mention any submarines in the area. How did I not detect it sooner?

She turned around to take it on. It probably had cloaking technology the rebellion wasn't aware of. She need to disable it before it interfered with future missions.

Two missiles broke free from the sea's surface, arching through the sky toward her.

She snatched them out of the air and threw them back the submarine. A massive column of water rose into the air when they hit the same ship that had launched them.

It'll take more than a few missiles to take down Yazi.

Behind her, flames rose from the decimated ships, and the cries of the crew filtered into her cockpit through her sensors, tempering her victory with guilt. She'd done enough for tonight.

Jaiyi slipped her hands out of her gloves and fired up the boosters on Yazi's back. Her suit shot out of the water, the force of the blast pressing her against the back of her seat. Then, just as quickly as they'd ignited, the boosters sputtered out. She landed on the shore a few kilometers away with a thud, her entire body recoiling from the impact.

Note to self—use boosters only in emergencies.

Ahead, the dense jungle called to her like beacon. She'd never seen anything so green and lush, and she approached it with quickened steps, pressing the pedals inside her cockpit over and over until her suit was running.

And once she was finally under the canopy of ancient mangrove trees, she slowed to marvel at the beauty it concealed. The scents of the rotting wood and fragrant orchids mingled together when she cracked open her viewport. Long-legged birds darted out of her way, their cries of outrage disturbing the silence of the night. The dense leaves above blocked any sight of the stars. Bit by bit, the darkness engulfed her until she needed to rely on her sonar to navigate her path.

And yet, she felt more at home here than she ever had on the Jade Colony.

She continued deeper into the forest until the first rays of the sun broke through the canopy to shine on a cluster of pink lotus blossoms.

Jaiyi froze when she spotted them. Throughout the night, she'd been searching for something, but didn't know what it was until that moment.

She opened the hatch and hopped out of the cockpit. Her boots sank into the soft silt of the swamp, and the humid air clung to her skin in sweat. But the pink lotus blossoms reminded her there was more to this world than just dirt and decay. There was also enlightenment and rebirth.

She plucked one of the blossoms and carried it back to Yazi as a reminder of what she was fighting for.

*Artwork by Ilona Beukers/@ArtsicFox on Twitter

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