It had been a long time since Été had heard another person’s voice outside of her own and Image’s. True that she listened everyday from the cockpit of the broken starship, for this was the final order her commander had given. But so many years had passed that she did this now out of habit rather than in the hope that someone else was out there.
Yet she had heard something just now. A voice. Far away, but well within the 100,000 radius of Latmos. Hunched in the pilot’s seat of the cockpit with the shattered window, she tightened the gray rabox fur over her shoulders and listened. At first she couldn’t hear anything except the sound of Imidge chopping wood by the shed.
Black like licorice drops. Shiny and dull. Dull and shiny.
Yes. There is was. A man’s voice. Thin fingers shaking, she adjusted the dial on the communicator. Gods — she was trembling all over. Could it really be?
I sewed two Xs where the eyes had been, and a third where its nose should have gone. I found one later while I was sweeping, the windows open, the first of spring.
The voice stopped. Her fingers turned the tuner again, but there was only silence this time. “No-no-no,” she muttered. So dumb. She’d forgotten the record button. She’d been so flustered and was out of practice. Seven years ago when they’d crashed on Latmos, she’d been a trained military pilot. But the planet, and Imidge, had made her soft. She rubbed the chill out of her hands and pressed record.The light blinked steadily.
Été waited, then the voice began to speak again.
… It was beneath the radiator that had been tipping into the floorboards. The eye had rolled there. I can’t possibly know why. And no matter what she says, I still have no sense of her true feelings.
Imidge had to hear this. “Imidge!” He didn’t answer, so she leaned her head out of the cockpit, the cold air sapping the flush from her cheeks. “Imidge! I found something!”
Another tangle of static. The thunking of the axe continued. The little wooden cabin that they’d built was only three hundred yards from the crash site, so he should have heard. Damn him. He was always lost in his own world. He had become so undisciplined.
Été glanced through the broken windshield at the hip-high red grass on the forest floor as she continued to twist the dial. She still hated the color of that grass. It reminded her of freshly spilled blood — the blood of the crew after they’d crashed. She couldn’t shake those memories, even after seven years. She could still see it happening. She was in the pilot’s seat; the hatch would not open; the crew was not responding; the starship was filling up with smoke. She pulled out her pistol and shot at the windshield until it cracked, hoping to gods the atmospheric readings had been right. She braced herself against the seat and kicked until it broke. Imidge had been next to her, in the co-pilot’s seat. Coughing, she pulled him out through the windshield and onto the nose of the ship, his body limp and cut from windshield’s broken glass. It was not far to the forest floor, so she rolled him off. He landed on his back with a dull thump, eyes still closed, surrounded by the tall scarlet grass, as if he were floating in a bath of blood, a halo of death and desperation.
Two days later, she and Imidge had dug the crew’s graves. Four of them in all. Their bodies were buried near a grove of alien trees that had birch white trunks and scarlet leaves, albeit not the same color as the grass. These leaves were darker, more like crusted blood.
If she ever saw green plants again, it would be a funny thing.
Imidge ran towards the starship, his figure appearing suddenly from the cover of the forest. “Été? What it is?” he said. “What did you find?”
He climbed the makeshift stairs to the starship and dropped into the co-pilot’s seat. He was wearing his navy blue co-pilot’s jacket, buttons missing, the golden thread insignia frayed and a sleeve torn by their first encounter with a rabox — all teeth and claws. Aside from the way his hair had begun to gray at the temples, he still looked the same as when they first crashed.
“You’re not going to believe this.” Été turned up the volume and adjusted the dial. At first the cockpit was filled only with the sound of static, but then, they heard the voice.
… I watched as she tore at its face, gnawing on those black eyes, working each with her bone white teeth. Those beautiful lips. I wanted to know what she was thinking. For she loved me, and I her, though it is hard to say who loved more.
Imidge looked at her, his eyes wide. “Where is it coming from?”
“I don’t know. I’m recording though. We can analyze it back at the cabin. Hopefully we can pin-point its location.”
They listened. Imidge reached over and squeeze her hand. She still liked his touch.
I was not a tack. I was flesh, and my world was sound, movement, breath, stars, long stretches of blackness and then light and memory. I think she understood. At least I hope so.
“What is he talking about? Is he insane?” Imidge asked.
“I’m not sure. It could be a beacon. Just a looped message designed to get someone’s attention.”
“Maybe. Or maybe not. What if it isn’t a beacon at all?”
Été leaned her head back against the seat. Was it possible that the could be rescued? That Latmos could one day be a memory?
“Try it.” Imidge gestured to the palm-sized mic that hung on its hook next to the tuner.
“What if he’s crazy?”
“Maybe he’s by himself. It’s easy to be crazy when you’re alone.”
“They don’t send starships with one-man crews.” Été looked out the window again. The red grass swayed in the breeze. The sound reminded her of playing cards being fanned.
“They also didn’t plan for our starship to crash. There are a lot of things that can go wrong out here.”
… and if it does, and should there be no witnesses, then does it matter what I’ve done? Likewise, if I am one person who is replaced by another who is born at the time of my death, do I mean anything at all?
Été picked up the mic. It felt heavy in her hands. She flipped the switch on the side. “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. This is Captian Été Scylla aboard Hermes 2. We are stranded on Latmos. Do you read?”
The voice stopped. A swirl of static rushed through the speakers.
Imidge covered his head in his hands. She stared straight ahead through the cracked windshield into the red grass, swaying, whispering, calling her name. Été-Été-Été.
The words that came next were thin and tired. “Hermes 2. I read you.” The voice paused. “I read you loud and clear.”