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“Oh, hell no,” Lalia whispers, and takes a step behind me.

Oh, go hide behind Zane.

I don’t take my hand off my gun, but I don’t draw it either. I don’t necessarily think it’s a deer, but it resembles one more than anything else. It’s maybe twice my height, mostly all leg with a long, sleek body and head. The coat is more green than brown, and it has the same little tail as a deer. No antlers, which I’m grateful for. I don’t want to have to deal with that. 

What does it even eat out here? There’s not much grass.

It gives us a look with a large, dark eye, heavy-lidded and bored. Licks it’s soft nose and rips up a section of the thick spongy ground cover. Chewing and dragging a long section of the plant behind, it moseys lazily by, flicking it’s tail and ignoring us. It’s a large, warm heat signature among the relatively cool trees and inconsistent flashed of heat from all the smaller animals.

“Cool,” Anya whispers from right beside me.

I jump. I’d been so focused on the deer I didn’t pay attention to her creeping up next to me. Giant unknown animals make me uncomfortable when I have a gaggle of humans to protect, but Anya’s eyes are large and bright. I suppose this is a good enough adventure for her.

“Is there anything about that on your tablet?” Zane whispers.

Lalia looks over my shoulder as I swipe through the planet files I’d been searching earlier, still keeping an eye on the gentle giant wandering away.

“Not much. Just that there are some larger animals up here but they’re all docile and omnivorous. I hate planet files. Useless.”

“Can I pet it?” Anya asks. 

Unbelievable. “No, you cannot pet it, are you out of your mind?”

She grins at me. I give her the sternest glare I can, but it’s tough. She’s just so happy. 

Well, I guess this stupid trip has been a good idea so far, despite her struggling with the hiking aspect of it.

Yvonne is gazing at me over her sister’s head. Her expression is…what the hell is that expression? It isn’t snarky or annoyed or even amused. Not blank, just…soft.

I turn back to the deer, uncomfortable. Her eyes are still on me. Usually, it’s easier to ignore humans staring. I suppose it’s tougher when they’ve been living in my ship and I crashed on Amerov with them.

As the deer disappears into the haze of trees, I say, “Alright, let’s go, no loud noises for a while, I don’t want to freak it out.”

“I thought it’s friendly?” Anya asks.

“Everything’s dangerous when it’s frightened. We don’t know how wild the wild animals are here. All that thing needs to do is charge us, it’s big enough to trample any one of you.”

Zane snorts, heading up the mountainside. “But not you.”

I think about not answering, but say, “My reflexes are unmatched.”

Both siblings laugh and Bat rolls his eyes with a growling grin and casts a nervous glance at Anya before launching back off my shoulder and into the woods. He’s been nervous of her since she tried to ask him where he came from, a little less so after she gave him candy, but definitely not as comfortable as he is around Zane and Lilia.

Anya yammers on about the deer to Yvonne as we walk. I’m only partially listening, keeping a better eye out for heat signatures of anything large. I hear her say something about her parents. She must miss them. Yvonne is grown, but Anya hasn’t seen her mother and father in months and all through the recovery of a pretty horrific injury. I get why Yvonne was so pissed at Captain. He’s a petty little shit for not letting the girl’s family onto the planet.

Not going to mention it to Yvonne. Crazy lady already thinks she’s right about everything. 

Eventually, Zane drops back, walking alongside me, shoulder bumping into mine every once in a while.

“What?” I ask, after a few minutes.

“‘What’ what?”

“You obviously have something on your mind.”

“Do I?”

I kick him in the shin as we walk.

“Ow,” he mutters. “La and I were just thinking…we need somewhere to test your DNA that’s not going to report an unregistered number to Amerov, right?”

“Yeah. Zar is a good place. Pretty lawless. Been there before.”

“Right, right…” he says, and I can tell he’s going to continue. “I was looking at that place on the star charts. Hytha is on the way.”

Oh. Their home planet. My home planet. “Oh.”

“Would you…want to stop there on the way?”

Would I? I’m curious, sure. Meeting the people who could possibly be my parents. Even if they’re not, maybe the orphanage where I came from would have more records of me. I doubt it. There’s a reason I’ve never landed there in the years since I left Amerov. I believed Audra about my records, so there was nothing else to find. And maybe I was afraid. After all, who knows what kind of things you can find when you chase ghosts.

I ask, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

“I’m not sure. I wanted to see what you think of it.”

“How are your parents going to feel when you introduce me and we later find out I’m not related to you?”

His mouth has a decided downturn. He hates when I bring up the rather high possibility this is all just a coincidence. He hates it, but he realizes it as much as I do. No matter how happily optimistic the two of them are, they’re not stupid. They’re aware as I am.

“I don’t know. I guess the same way we’ll feel if you aren’t.”

I grimace. I suppose it’s the same. Somehow, it feels different. Zane and Lalia’s parents are just two people on another planet I’ve considered but never even talked to, let alone met. The siblings have been with me off and on for nearing a month now. I risked my ass to save Lalia from Captain. Zane’s helped me out in multiple scenarios, saved me a few times, and Bat as well. They treat me…normal. Which is a weird way to consider it.

Finding out whether or not they’re my brother and sister is going to be different than finding out if two random people on Hytha are my parents. If I meet them first, it won’t be as different.

“I don’t know. Zar is only a few days past. Maybe we should head there first. We can always circle back, I’m sure the princesses aren’t in a huge hurry to get to Neyla Ve considering the shit storm sure to descend.”

“True,” he says, but I can already tell he’s going to keep talking. “I was just thinking…maybe if you came home with us…you’d remember.”

Remember? I don’t know how to respond. “I don’t think that’s how this works. I don’t remember you and La, and you’ve both been in my business for weeks now.”

He cracks a smirk. “Yeah, but we’re…different. We’re grown. Even La was a young teenager when you got sick. I was ten. We’re grown up now, and we don’t look a ton like we did back then. But the house is the same. Even our room is mostly the same. Mom and Dad look older, sure, but they’re a lot more like they were than La and I are. Maybe them and the place you grew up will jog a memory.”

The place I grew up. He says it with such confidence. I wish I had a tenth of his belief. It’s a weird concept—thinking of any place other than my ship as a home. I remember nothing, and it’s been a long time since that’s bothered me. I got over it mostly by the time I was a late teen. But now? Now, it’s starting to piss me off my memories before Amerov are so blank.

“I don’t know,” I say again. Maybe I should talk to Bat about it, he could have some wisdom about this whole situation I don’t. Though I’m not even sure how he feels about the whole thing. He encouraged me to find out, and wanted to help get Lalia away from Captain. But otherwise, he’s been fairly uninterested in the circumstances. He just enjoys anything we do that counts as adventure or mild danger. Still, that might make him the perfect person to ask. 

“That’s fine,” Zane says, eternally patient as always. “Just think about it, we’re still going to hang out here for a while, right?”

“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I want to enjoy the hike and the lack of people staring at me or wanting to get in a fight.

Somewhere along the line, the sisters behind us went silent, probably listening in. Lalia, I’m sure, has been eves-dropping. I wonder if they decided Zane was the best of the two of them to talk to me about this. I wouldn’t have an answer no matter which one of them brought it up.

Zane bumps his shoulder lightly into mine as we walk. I think he’s trying to do the comforting-hand-on-the-shoulder thing without being overbearing. I guess I appreciate it. 

He doesn’t broach the topic again, and eventually the princesses resume their chatting. Yvonne is telling Anya about how we had to shimmy across the cable over the canyon on Amerov. Which is irritating. I don’t need her telling the little girl stories making me look like an action hero. But I glance back once to try to give her a glare, and Anya looks so invested in the story I don’t have the heart to actually tell Yvonne to shut the hell up.

I really need to toughen up. It’s been a hell of a month.

I try to ignore them and the siblings and enjoy the hike and watching Bat leap from tree to tree with unending energy, but my mind is circling on Hytha and the way Zane called it my home.

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