Dran’s sphere flickered then steadily glowed. Finally, the signal was strong enough for live-talk again. Frantic, he fumbled with it, fingers shaky.
“Wheela! What happened? Answer already!”
“Well, hello to you too, Dran.” Her voice was hoarse, irritated and it was obvious that talking took monumental effort but she was stubborn. He was banking on that because the thought of her going quiet on him again was maddening.
“You have any idea how worried I’ve been?” There must have been something manic in his voice that gave him away.
He suffered a few moments of her astonished silence. Only to be expected, he supposed. He’d never said any of the things she needed to be told. They’d already plummeted, worlds apart before he’d even started falling for her. How could he have told her? What would’ve been the point?
“What the hell,” she muttered, recovering somewhat. “Go ahead and yell all you want. It’s been a really shitty couple of days and I’m just glad to hear another human voice.”
His bushy brows arced but before he could say anything, she laughed weakly and corrected herself. “You’ll do, at any rate.”
The help that the Expeditionary Council had earnestly promised them was, apparently, still on the way. The way things were going, what good would that do? The medicinal brew sliding down Dran’s throat was bitter. The stinging at his eyes had little to do with the viscous liquor lining the bottom of his cup. The fawn’s eyes were wet now and the voice on the radio was tinny, both the signal and the human losing strength. Who knew drunken sunsets could be so gut-wrenching?
He was sitting by a feeble fire on a dangerously frigid evening, gazing out into the dusty horizon. The sheer beauty of the panorama stretched out before him was staggering. Where the earth met the sky, there loomed the ghostly shadow of a massive moon. E455B was the ominous, big sister of the rock on which he’d made landfall when his and Wheela’s escape pods got separated two years before.
Their ship had been blown to bits by the primitive, yet cleverly hostile denizens of the planet closest to the sun. It seemed so close like he could just reach out and touch it. The illusion only served to make him so much more aware of his utter uselessness. She was over there somewhere, his partner, on the ground, drenched in her own curdling blood and there was nothing he could do about it.
“What exactly happened?” It was selfish, he knew it, wanting to keep her talking for as long as possible, no matter how much more painful it made her passing. She must have realized that but she didn’t complain.
“Tangled with a winged dyvik,” she
muttered. “Can you believe it? They still exist! This one,” she drew in a long
breath as her words became slower and more deliberate. “This lumbering,
twin-tailed beast’s head came all the way up to my chest. Had coiled horns like…
a fawn with really bad fashion sense.”
“Are you ever going to let me live that down?”
She giggled, uncharacteristically. The sound was smoky and girlish. It made his gut tingly.
“Listen Dran. Remember this. This lot is different. They’re predatory and they seem to really like the smell of human blood. They’re clever and they hunt their prey organized groups. Their teeth are huge too. And sharp. They cut into flesh and bone like fraggin’ lasers.”
A high-pitched wail pierced the air. It was such a savage sound that Dran, on the other end of the radio, cringed.
“Wheela? What was that? It sounded really close.”
“It’s nothing.” She was lying. He knew it in his gut. “In any case, I got some really awesome footage.”
“You weren’t supposed to–”
“This moon is an ecological treasure trove. Did you really expect me just sit around twiddling my thumbs until that insanely overdue rescue ship arrives? Is that what you’ve been doing over there, all this time?”
“Let me guess; it’s perfectly fine for you, oh massive and mighty specimen of a fawn and I’m just a dainty little–”
“Desert fairy,” he supplied with a grin.
“So, help me, if you put that on my tombstone, I will aggressively haunt you for all eternity.”
Dran heard the pop of yet another pod of anesthetic gum. He cringed. That much and the compound was going to deaden her tongue for good. Well, not that it mattered now. He leaned back in his rickety make-shift chair. His fist tightened around the orb.
“What the hell did you call me?” She squawked.
“Is it a bad word?”
She only grunted. He heard the staccato burst of weapons fire. If he asked about it, she was only going to lie to him again.
“What should I tell Elisa?”
Consideration was due–he supposed grudgingly, to Wheela’s bonded spouse of nearly two decades. He released a shuddering sigh. His conscience had just won a long, silent battle.
“That’s easy,” Wheela sniffled. “Tell her what I always tell her before I leave for a long mission. Be happy. Don’t forget me.”
A tiny smiled tugged at the corner of his mouth. “I might be able to pull that off. Not quite as neatly as you, though.”
When she spoke again, a strangled sob had crawled into her throat and squatted there. “Dran, thanks for worrying about me.”
“We’re research partners. Of course, I’d worry.”
“You know what I mean.”
His eyes squeezed shut. Don’t. He pleaded silently. Please don’t apologize.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “For not realizing sooner.”
“Say,” he leaned forward, firmly changing the subject. “Tell me more about the sky you see.”
“Nothing to tell. Same old stars, doing the same old thing. But you know, it’s as clear as crystal. Quiet. Not even a cloud in sight. Isn’t that just rude? I’m a little insulted, actually.”
Dran’s agonized gaze drifted to the massive moon. He heard another round of gunfire as the orb in his palm lost its shimmer. Dread pooled into his gut. He flung it aside, biting back a sudden and unreasonable surge of ire. Fawn don’t cry for humans and she was so evil for making him feel this way.
Twilight ended. Wheela’s hemisphere twisted too far away for radio transmission to be possible for another whole day. When the moon went dark, so did Wheela. This time, he knew, for good.