Posted May 30, 2012
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Dran’s sphere flickered then steadily started to glow. Finally, the signal was strong enough for live-talk again.
His frantic fingers fumbled with the awkward device. “Wheela!” he urged. “Answer already!”
“Well, hello to you too, Dran.” His partner’s voice was hoarse, irritated and for some reason, it seemed talking was taking monumental effort. “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.”
Dran grimaced. “You sound like–”
“What?” Wheela cut in. “Death?”
Something manic in her voice suggested that this was exactly how dire her situation had become.
Biologists in the service of the Expeditionary Council, Dran and Wheela were partners combing remote regions of the galaxy for new and lost life forms. Two years earlier, the fauna populating a moon dubbed Echo Forty Five had been their target but before their ship could make landfall, it had been blown to bits by the hostile denizens of the planet closest to the sun.
They’d barely made it to their escape pods. Dran’s had malfunctioned, sent him wheeling off course and into the atmosphere of E45′s diminutive neighbor. They’d landed worlds apart and stranded to boot.
The hapless pair struggled survive and made do without the comforts of their dearly departed ship. E45′s rotation only allowed for communication during what counted as twilight–Dran’s time each day. Wheela had skipped the last two days. Now it seemed he hadn’t been wrong to fear the worst.
“O wise and stalwart Fawn,” the droll prod after a few moments of stunned silence from Dran. “This is the part where you offer up great words of encouragement.”
“Tangled with a dyvik. Can you believe it? They actually still exist! This one,” she drew in a long breath as her words became slower and more deliberate. “This beast. Its 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,” she sobered. “They’re predatory and they seem to really like the smell of blood. They’re clever and they hunt in tightly organized groups. Their teeth are huge. Razor sharp. They cut into flesh and bone like…” Her words trailed off.
The thought of her going quiet on him again was maddening. “How badly are you hurt?”
“Badly enough,” came her strained reply. “Dran, it hurts to talk.”
It was selfish wanting to keep her talking for as long as possible; no matter how much more painful it made her passing.
Huddled by his feeble fire, the Fawn scowled at the darkening water. Only today, he wasn’t staggered by the sheer beauty of the panorama laid out before him. Where water met sky, there loomed the ghostly shadow of the massive moon. It seemed so close, like he could just reach out and touch it. The illusion only served to make him so much more conscious of his utter uselessness.
She was over there somewhere, his friend. She was on the ground, drenched in her own curdling blood and there was nothing he could do about it. The voice on the radio was tinny, both the signal and the human losing strength.
A high pitched wail pierced the air. It was a savage sound, full of malevolence and hunger.
“Wheela?” Dread pooled into his gut. “What was that? It sounded awfully close.”
“It’s nothing.” She was lying. He knew it in his gut. “In any case, I got some really amazing footage.”
“You weren’t supposed to go off on your own!” He charged.
“This moon is an ecological treasure trove. Did you really expect me just sit around twiddling my thumbs until help 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 sphere.
“What should I tell Elsa?” Consideration was due to Wheela’s contracted spouse of nearly one decade. “If I ever make it back home, that is.”
“That’s easy,” Wheela sniffled. “Tell her what I always tell her. Be happy. Don’t forget me.”
“Ah, yes. I remember. The heroic stuff.” 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.”
She only grunted. He heard rapid bursts of weapons fire. If he asked about it, she was only going to lie to him again. When she spoke again, a strangled sob had crawled into her throat and squatted there.
“Dran, do you still carry the rank of a priest?”
He squeezed his eyes shut and nodded. “Yes.”
“Then forgive me,” she coughed wetly and cleared her throat. “For leaving you with the burden of my passing.”
This wasn’t exactly the time to quibble about Fawn religious custom, was it?
He leaned forward, firmly changing the subject. “Tell me more about the sky you see.”
“Nothing to write home about, really. The same old stars doing the same old thing. It’s as clear as crystal.” Wheela’s voice full of dazed wonder, sounded scratchy and so far away. “Not a cloud in sight.”
Dran’s agonized gaze drifted to the massive moon. He heard another round of gunfire as the orb in his palm lost its shimmer. He flung it aside, biting back a sudden and unreasonable surge of ire.
Twilight ended. Wheela’s hemisphere spun too far away for radio transmission to be possible. When Dran’s orb went dark, so had Wheela’s. This time he knew, for good.
* * *
Tonya R. Moore is a Speculative Fiction writer residing in Manatee County, Florida. Her short stories have been published in various indie and digital publications including Kissed By Venus, Weaponizer, Purple Magazine, eFiction Magazine and recently, Writers on the Wrong Side of the Road anthology.
All content released under a Creative Commons license unless otherwise noted.