Pink leaves tickled her arms and the forest floor of teal-covered grass was soft beneath her feet. The sea sounded distant though she knew it was just on the other side of the tree line. She smiled; The planet’s pungent smell—life, death, decay—was different from home but not in an unpleasant way. She stopped and raised her face to the warm sunshine that filtered through the canopy of trees. It transported her and she found she was young again, carefree and without the weight of adulthood and its many expectations.
Such a nicer time than now. Now Mari was expected to be a silent observer, to be invisible on this new world, a ghost. Protocol. The Supreme Edict. She didn’t care what it was called. It stifled her. So she had gone for a hike, outside of the shelter of the observatory and away from the other scientists, completely against protocol.
She loved the people of this world, especially the children. They were so open and playful, quite the opposite from her own species. They were hundreds of years behind developmentally, technologically—but she had no doubt they would catch up. They were too curious not to. But what she admired most was their sense of community. Community was everything to them, unlike her own kind who were cold, calculating and distant.
A twig snapped and pulled her from her thoughts of youth and the people of the planet.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! She scolded herself. And as a reflex her tongue darted over the kill-tooth.
One of the youth they had been observing stood before her, right at the edge of the wood in the half-light, the beach and sea beyond. She barely knew him. Her observation team was more focused on the younger kids. The two locked gazes, neither blinking. Her heart raced and dragged her thoughts along with it. Thoughts came at her fast, rapid-fire, almost incoherent.
He’s seen me!
I’ve blown the mission.
I’ve corrupted the culture and changed their view of the world.
I’ve introduced them to something they should have never seen!
The young male wore the traditional guk, tanned leather top and shorts. His feet were already spreading. Soon they would look like oversized shoes or boots on his small frame. But Mari knew how fast they could move him. He would become an adult soon. The spreading and thickening of the feet were a sure sign.
He cocked his head to the side, remarkably calm. If only she could say the same. She flicked at the kill-tooth again, caressed it with her tongue. She fought back tears.
Duty, now, forget protocol. She loved these people. She couldn’t be the one to artificially change or destroy their culture. She towered over the youngster. Certainly, he would see her as a god, as they had supposed, as she had been taught.
She flicked at the tooth again, still fighting back tears, her mind considered other, darker, options but shrugged them off.
Just crack it, she told herself. Get it over with. It was designed to end her life quickly and as painlessly as possible. It would dissolve her remains immediately. There wouldn’t be any evidence. There was no other choice. Though the dark thoughts intruded again.
A smile etched across his face as he peered up at her. “Where do you come from?”
Where? End it now, she told herself. Reflexively, she nodded at her internal dialogue and drew up strength to perform her duty.
A puzzled look came over the youngster. He looked over his shoulder. “Across the sea?”
Clearly, he had mistaken her nod as a gesture of communication. Confused, she nodded again.
“Andolorean, then,” he said. “I’ve heard of your kind before.”
She knew the language well enough. She was certain of what he had said. She also knew there was nothing beyond the sea. This was the lone continent on the planet—a legend or myth, then. She flicked at the tooth again but there was no conviction in it, just nerves.
“Well,” he said, “peace.” And he turned and walked away. And that was it.
She swallowed hard—pride, fear and humility forced its way down her throat.
She stood there for several moments, shaking at the thought of what might have been, and prayed that no one had witnessed the event. Then she gathered herself and quickly made her way back to the observatory, deciding against any future walks.
in category Fiction