Kallo stepped off the edge of the mesa. She pitched head down, hitching her left shoulder to engage the cloak; her shadow on the cliff face flashed and then blurred, rippling before it disappeared.
She held the fall too long before inching open her wings and pulling up, barely clearing the final foundation of the construction site in a failed attempt to catch an updraft. Wheelmules and ore carts to the east of the ring of circular foundation digs zipped away under her; she stalled for a ponderous second before her feet jammed into the mound of gray sand at the very end of the tailing piles. Her knees screamed as she went onto her face.
She rolled down the steep dune, throwing herself off a ledge, and finally thudding into the deep shadow of a rock shelf.
She looked up, gasping. The exchange winds surrounding the mesa howled and tore at the true Martian desert, lashing ribbons of rusty sand, but here it was calm. The storm currents dropped off under the field of a centralized atmospheric processor, or CAP, as they were starting to call them. The CAP's kilometer-high stalks loomed, barely visible in the haze as they poured the moist nitrogen/02 mix, but she could make out the rims of the stalks glittering with the new radiation harvesters, like metallic petals. Through her mask she tasted the acidic humidity of expensive processed water; this would be a posh installation.
"Puffin?" her father's voice shrilled in her ears.
Kallo watched overhead, trying to spot mirror-sparked edges of cloaked fliers. She'd counted five chasing her before diving into Hematite Canyon. "Daddy, can you get a bio count from a construction sensor? There were five-"
"No, just four,"
Kallo coughed, looking down from her ledge into the deep layers of vermillion shadows, edged with delicate crystals of frost. She smelled the dank tang of...native moisture? She lifted her mask, drawing a gulp of the frozen atmo into her air mix and huffing on it like a lioness, nose and mouth open to get a real taste.
"Puffin, what have I told you about raw atmo in these impact sites? The radia-".
She ticked her head to left, muting the comm so she could think. She'd apologize later. She rolled the stinging alkaline, and some grit, around her tongue with saliva. It was Mars water.
She began creeping along the edge of the ragged little shelf; just below, green fluorescent markers outlined what could only be a site for another new cistern. A hidden, illegal cistern. She looked back up at the gray sky bordered with the russet wall of rushing sand. She did not want to be cornered here.
She lifted her mask again to spit and crawled to her feet, crouching.
"Daddy, I gotta go,"
"Kalleano, no. Let me send-"
Kallo pushed off the ground, wings humming with the kick of takeoff. She slammed into something invisible and was thrown back onto the rock, unconscious.