I looked up at Fern, her eyes skimming over the top of my head as her thoughts travelled far away from our now. She was a Telluric; part of the last scoop during the salvage. She had grown up among Astrals and sometimes it was easy to forget that she was from Earth – a different breed altogether – but in these distant moments, it was apparent. In these moments, the ones in which she could be both present and not, I was utterly bewildered by her difference. Part of me knew I only loved her because my curiosity overpowered me. But most of me didn’t care why I loved her, just that I did.
She shivered lightly. Her hair growth was selective, red, sprouting mainly from her head and above her eyes. Some growth occurred under her arms (of which she only had two) and a thin layer covered the rest of her. It gave her a smooth texture that I could only feel in the palms of my four hands. It meant she was often cold, but the adaptation meant it was tolerable. Some of the Astrals had advocated for more salvages overtime when we’d discovered there had still been some scattered survivors on Earth, but they had spent too much time in their natural habitat. They’d freeze to death, we were told.
I think it bothered Fern sometimes, to know there were others stranded down there. She had volunteered for a number of anatomy studies hoping to find a viable solution; some way that Telluric genes could be manipulated once matured. None of it was very promising; but she kept going back to the labs, hoping for different results. That was the definition of insanity. She hated when I’d tell her that, so eventually I stopped, and just let her go on being insane.
“Stop looking at me like that,” she whispered a hint of a smile in her tone.
I shied away, fixing my eyes anywhere else. She sunk her shoulders down and nestled herself under one of my arms so that her head was resting on my chest. She nuzzled her nose into me, burying her face in my fur. I wrapped two more arms around her, offering warmth, and leaned back on my fourth. We gazed out at the vastness before us. It was nice.
The next day when she stepped into the lab with that hopeful grin of hers, I returned it. I had decided to stay in the waiting room this time, even when she insisted I go home. For no particular reason, I wanted to be there with her.
“She’s prone to her Telluric instincts. She has no memories of Earth, but her genetic makeup seems to. It’s fascinating, really.”
I flashed cold eyes at the doctor keeping me company, afraid he was preparing me for news I wouldn’t want to hear. The apologetic eyes he returned told me it was true.
“You’re sending them back?” I asked. The scent of my fear wafted over us.
“Edoc, you knew this was always the plan.”
I winced, as if the truth had a vulgarity to it.
“I didn’t think it would be her.”
“Of course you did.”
“When will you tell her?”
“Edoc, she volunteered; like she always does. She asked me to tell you.”
“Why?” I looked towards the closed off room that she lie behind, being poked and prodded.
“Tellurics hate delivering sad news. I suppose she figured this would be easier.”
“But I won’t be able to share my sadness with her.” My fur rose, searching for the being connected to its emotions.
“I suppose she prefers it that way.”
“No. She likes it when I share.”
“She wants to see Earth,” the doctor continued, ignoring my reaching fur. “You can’t blame her; it’s a deep-seeded instinct. She tried to have us remove it but we couldn’t.”
My fur pulled me up and dragged me to the door, although I did little to fight it. Inside, a shocking scene unfolded before me.
There she was, teary-eyed and quivering lips. Her body vibrating with a combination of nerves and excitement as they bolted her into the launch pod. She caught my eyes, and quickly shut her own. Her long stringy head hairs had been braided behind her to keep them in place when the pod shot her away from me.
I looked at her through the glass, and suddenly, that difference of hers was altogether distasteful. An Astral would never abandon its partner, without so much as a simple sharing. An Astral would never lie about its intentions, or keep secrets. An Astral would never leave home to live among ruins and strangers.
And then it was there, loud and clear – this wasn’t her home. That’s what she had been trying to tell me in all of those present yet not moments. This wasn’t her home.