Terra Fallon paced the small hallway, rubbing the side of the completed half-shape necklace against her bottom lip. It had become a nervous habit for her, and at that very moment it served to relieve her extraordinary anger.
She checked the time and almost growled at the clock. Began to pace again. Back and forth across the floor. She was almost positive there was a groove where her feet had worn the hard floor thin.
Baaki sauntered into the hallway with a silver computer tablet in hand. She looked up at Terra and then leaned back against a wall, allowing the hand holding the tablet to drop to her side. Her big eyes seemed to stare right through Terra's very being, but only for a moment.
Terra did her best to ignore the girl. She already had too much on her mind. The instant Collin's ship got in from the rescue mission they were on, he and she were going to have words.
“Do you want to help me with my homework?” Baaki returned her attention to the tablet in her hands.
Terra momentarily stopped pacing and furrowed her brow at Baaki. She honestly couldn't believe the girl had spoken to her. In the three months she had been on Antare, staying with Baaki and Mala, the thirteen-year-old had barely said two words to her.
“Do you need help?” Terra asked hesitantly.
Baaki shrugged. “Not really, but I figure helping me would be better than pacing the hallway fifty more times.”
Terra shrugged, never lowering the half-shape from her bottom lip. “There's no point if you don't need my help.”
Baaki held up the tablet and waved it in the air. “Actually, there is one question that's trying to baffle me. It has to do with the interdependency of life on Theroi. I think I know the answer, but logic insists it could be a trick question.”
Terra turned so that she was standing directly next to Baaki and stared at the question on the tablet.
Explain how two species on the planet Theroi are interdependent on each other for their daily life.
Terra bit her lip as she thought through the species that lived on the planet Theroi. Most were carnivorous, and only one race of humanoids resided there. She quickly discarded her first idea for the answer. She pointed toward the screen.
“Wouldn't it be the Chartreuse Vulture and the Louse Gnat?” Terra asked.
Baaki thought for a long moment. “I think you're right.” She looked up at Terra, very obviously stunned.
Terra shrugged. “I read a lot.”
Baaki gave a long nod before directing her attention back to her studies.
Terra watched the younger girl for a minute, trying to remember if she had ever been so relaxed when she was Baaki's age. She didn't think she had been. At Baaki's age, Terra had been practically brainwashed and completely violent.
Terra walked away from Baaki, down the hall, toward the door. She had never realized how different her life was from other children. She had never known the happiness that could have been hers.
A siren sounded at the Anti-plan base and Terra skidded into the street just outside the door. It was Collin and Henry, all right. She would have recognized that ship anywhere.
She stepped back into the hallway and addressed Baaki. “What's the best way to get something through Collin's thick skull?”
Baaki looked up from her tablet and shrugged. “I've never argued with him.”
Terra cocked her head and tossed her hands in the air. “Never argued with him? How do you stand it? He's the most frustrating man in the universe!”
“He and I get along very well. I don't understand what your problem with him is.”
Terra threw her hands up again – out of pure frustration – and stalked toward the door. She should have known better than to ask advice from a thirteen-year-old. She would deal with it on her own. Just like everything else.
Collin and Henry had only made it about halfway down the road, but Terra could wait no longer. She took off toward them, determined and furious. Red hair flying. Jaw set tightly.
Collin smiled and reached out his arms as she neared, ready to pull her in to a hug.
Terra pushed his arms away. “Don't touch me!”
“Did I do something wrong?” Collin furrowed his brow and cocked his head to one side. His usual oh-so-innocent posture.
“Wrong?” Terra laughed. “Did you do something wrong? Where do you want me to start?”
“I think I'm going to go on ahead...” Henry began, turning sideways and beginning to slink off.
Terra thrust out an arm to stop him. “No. Stay. If you leave, I can't guarantee I won't actually kill him this time.”
Collin sank his hand into one of his hands, rubbing his forehead. “That bad?”
Terra tried to take a deep breath, but failed miserably. It came out as more of a huff. “I have been sitting here, on this planet, with nothing to do, for six months now. Alone. I thought that maybe, by trusting you, I would get out of that prison I lived in, but it turns out that all I did was move from one prison cell to another. I can't live like this, Collin! I need to be out there,” she frantically motioned toward the sky. “I need to see all these places I've dreamed of for my entire life. I can't sit cooped up on a god-forsaken piece of rock while I know there are thousands and thousands of places I'd rather be.”
“I'm just trying to keep you safe, Red.” Collin dropped his hand and shot the frustrated words in her direction.
Terra folded her arms. “Don't you Red me. If you think I'm going to sit here and be the obedient little housewife and say nothing, then you have another thing coming.”
“If you're out there, they can find you.”
“I can fight back!” Terra was screaming now. “I know their tactics and tricks. Even if they outnumber me, I can hide where they'll never find me. Give me a chance!”
Collin shook his head. “I can't. You have to stay here. Safe.”
“I'm tired of safe! Nothing in my life has ever been safe, so why start now? Please, Collin, just let me come with you.”
“No, Terra. You're not as invincible as you think you are.”
Terra glared up at Collin, her rage oozing from every movement, every tense muscle. Formulating the words she would say. Trying really hard not to strangle him. When she finally did speak, her words came out slowly, calculated and articulate. “If anyone in this relationship thinks they're invincible, it's you. And, let's be honest. It isn't even really a relationship. I'm done.” She pushed past Collin and toward the Anti-plan base.
• • •
Collin turned, watching Red walk away. It wasn't right. None of this was working the way it was supposed to. “Red. Wait,” he called after her.
She threw up a hand to silence him and shook her head, her red curls shaking violently. She never turned around.
Collin turned back in Henry's direction. Poor guy was still turned sideways, one foot toward Collin, the other toward Mala's house. Collin shot him a desperate glance.
Henry threw up his hands in surrender. “You married her.”
“I don't understand why she's being so difficult!” Collin groaned. “I'm just trying to take care of her.”
Henry shrugged. “She probably wonders the same thing about you.” He stalked off toward Mala's.
Collin blinked. She did? Why? “Henry. Henry, what do you mean?” He raced to catch up. “What do you mean she thinks the same thing about me?”
“She's been taking care of herself for a long time.” And Henry left it at that.
Collin thought about it. Had he been too harsh? Maybe, but it was all for the greater good. “Come on! She has to be able to see that I'm doing this for her, not to her.”
Henry shrugged again and remained silent. It was so obnoxious when he did that. Like some sort of intergalactic wise man. Like he thought silence would bring out the truth. And, occasionally, it worked. But not this time. This time, Collin knew Terra was wrong.
Mala's door was open, Baaki leaning against the door frame. “Mala's in the kitchen.” She looked up from the tablet in her hands. “Where's Terra?”
Henry chuckled and moved past her.
Collin shrugged and gave a wry smile. “Don't know. She stalked off in the general direction of the Anti-plan base.” He, too, pushed past Baaki and toward the kitchen.
Mala, newly upgraded and happier than ever, was standing over the stove, stirring something that smelled divine. Collin allowed the tempting aroma to caress his senses.
Henry peered over Mala's shoulder, scanning the ingredients of the pot. “What is that?”
Mala laughed, the sound reverberating against the metal holding her vital organs together, and pushed him away. “It is called chicken noodle soup. An Earthian delicacy, according to my databases. The chicken had to be imported.”
“Do we get to try some?” Henry sounded hopeful. A bit desperate, but hopeful nonetheless.
“In a moment. It is not finished yet.”
Collin sank into a chair at the table and stewed like the chicken in the cauldron.
• • •
Terra pushed open the door to David Elkan's office – without knocking – and stormed into the room. Red hair flying. Temper flaring. “I want off this planet. Now.”
David slowly looked up from the book before him and raised an eyebrow. “Do you now?”
“I am tired of these people. I am tired of that house. And I am tired of staying still.”
“How do you propose I 'get you off this planet'?” David leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together.
Terra threw her hands up. “I don't know. I don't care.”
“You won't be safe off-planet. We can't always get to you in time to protect you.”
“You can't get to Collin, either! Yet, he flies around out there day in and day out. No help other than Henry. I can protect myself better than he can. Let me go.”
“The Offensive is regrouping. They'll be looking for you. Especially since you told us so much about them.” He shrugged. “I don't think you're up for that.”
Terra leaned forward onto his desk, pressed her hands against the smooth surface. “They're after Collin, too. I can handle it. I need to be off-world. If I stay here much longer, I swear I will do something drastically unpeaceful.”
“I say give her a chance.”
David sat up straighter and Terra spun slowly toward the familiar voice. The last person in the universe she had expected to appear, let alone be on her side. The only person she had hoped beyond hope she wouldn't run into.
Arielle smiled wanly and flexed her fingers around the clipboard in her hands.
“Did I hear you correctly?” David leaned forward, finally beyond passivity.
Arielle glanced to Terra and then nodded. “Yeah. Why shouldn't we give her a chance? She can't get into any more trouble than she already has. She can test the new ship for us.”
Terra furrowed her brow, confused. Arielle had never been helpful. Poor thing had gotten Terra into one of her stickiest situations. Terra smiled at the memory of the look on the Valsooth general's face when he realized he had been outsmarted.
“You're absolutely positive about this?” David reiterated.
Terra lost her patience. “David, please. I can't cause you any more trouble than I already have. I'll test the ship for you. Anything to get off this planet.”
David thought about it for a long time, studying Arielle and then Terra. Finally, after an excruciating silence, David nodded and stood up. “I'll show you the ship. Follow me.”
Terra could have danced with joy, had she been prone to external displays of internal emotions. She was getting her chance, and that mattered. More than anyone knew.
The central command center buzzed with activity. Scientists and engineers and mechanics scurried across the floor and huddled in corners, discussing their newest ideas and achievements. Whispers and shouts alike ascended to the vaulted ceiling and echoed back down among the living.
David skirted around a circle of engineers and motioned toward a craft resting in the very center of the room. “Here she is.”
Terra ran a hand along the outer shell of the small craft. Not much larger than an Earth shuttle. No med center or barracks or kitchen, but large enough to seat four to six people and still have room for supplies. It didn't seem to be made for long missions, but it was cozy.
“You like her?” David asked.
Terra nodded, allowing her fingertips to rest on the triple-coated plexiglass, specifically designed to withstand both an exodus from an earth-like atmosphere and the vacuum of space. “She's beautiful.” She leaned closer to the glass and peered inside. “She looks like a larger version of that mini-craft I crashed for you.”
“She is,” David laughed. “Her call sign is Supernova. If she flies, you can have her.”
Terra opened a door, savoring the hiss it made as the airlock disengaged. “May I?” she motioned toward the interior.
David nodded. “Of course.”
She slid into a cool leather seat and leaned her head back. It was comfy; it felt like a home should. Warm and reassuring. She looked over the instruments on the dashboard before her. Hologram radio, autopilot, computer console.
“Equipped with any weapons systems?” She shot her eyes up and through the front windshield, locking eye contact with Arielle.
Arielle raised an eyebrow.
David cleared his throat. “To be used only in an emergency. A small, rapid-fire laser gun. You have flares that should be used first, to try and lose your assailant.”
Terra nodded. She understood why they built it that way, but that didn't mean she had to like it. She always felt safer with a weapons system in place. She never understood why Collin didn't.
Terra slid out of the seat and shut the door. “When will she be ready?”
“Final repairs are tonight. She'll be ready first thing in the morning.” David hesitated, then remained silent. Unwilling to speak what he had been about to say.
“What is it?” Terra huffed.
David sighed and rubbed at his neck. “Shouldn't you talk this over with Collin?”
“Collin is the reason I need to get off this planet.” Terra ended the conversation by stalking away.
Away from David, who asked too many questions. Away from Arielle, whose very presence irked her. Away from her decision, that threatened to haunt her.
• • •
Collin paced the hallway, occasionally glancing to the open doorway. Terra should have been back by now. It was rare – very rare – that she stayed out this long. She didn't seem to like people, and therefore didn't like to be out among them. He knew that better than anyone.
“Don't worry so much,” Henry scolded from the kitchen doorway. “She'll be back soon. We should both get some rest.”
Collin nodded. He knew that, but he hated to go to sleep when Terra was so furious at him. What if she had gone and done something stupid? What if she was in too much trouble to handle it herself? Collin silently chided himself. She was on Antare now. How much trouble could she possibly get into?
“I'll sleep on the ship if you two need some privacy,” Henry offered.
Collin shook his head. “Sleep on the couch, like always. She'll sleep in Baaki's room while I'm here.”
“How do you know that?”
“It's what she always does,” he sighed. “We may be married, but trust me, it's in name only.”
He heard the front door slide open, then shut again, and he poked his head into the hallway.
Terra pushed it out of the way as she strutted past.
Collin winced at the pressure applied to his temple, then turned his head to follow her course to Baaki's door. “Are you okay?”
“I'm fine.” She didn't turn, and if his hearing was still intact, she sounded like she spoke through gritted teeth.
“Where were you?”
She whipped her head to glare in his direction and raised an eyebrow. An action that Collin didn't realize could cause him so much pain. “Why do you care?” And she disappeared into Baaki's room.
Collin glanced down at the traitorous heart that still twinged when he thought of her scathing look. He hadn't realized just how attached to her he had become. He should have been smarter than to marry himself off to her. Now everything hurt that much worse. Especially when she rejected him again and again.
He should have known they wouldn't get along. One look at their past relationship should have told him that. After all, she had tried to kill him on more than one occasion. And in more than one way.
“What did you do to her?”
Collin looked up to see Baaki leaning against the wall outside her bedroom door. “What do you mean?”
Baaki chuckled. “She is livid. Earlier today, she told me you were the most frustrating man in the universe.”
“I'm the most frustrating man in the universe? Yeah, right! Has she met herself?” Collin threw his hands in the air and tried to wipe the look of disgust from his face.
He didn't know what was more frustrating. The fact that Terra didn't even bother to think that he might be trying to take care of her, or the fact that she thought he was the most frustrating man in the universe. Why couldn't she just be normal, for a change?
“She only wishes to be a bigger part of your life,” Baaki offered.
It was Collin's turn to chuckle. If that was why Terra was acting out, he would sell his ship. That woman didn't care what he thought. “Thanks, Baaki, but no. We all know better than that. She's just being a control freak.”
A loud squeal sounded from inside Baaki's room, and Terra poked her head out of the doorway. “A control freak? Is that what you think I am?” She yelped again and disappeared.
“Perhaps you should think before you utter any other assumptions.” Baaki turned and followed Terra back into the room.
Collin sank back against a wall and tried not to beat himself up about it. He had meant every word that he had said, and – so help him – he would stand by it. Even if it meant pushing Terra farther away than she already was. Not the ideal situation, but he was willing to give it a go if it meant some peace and quiet.
Terra shut the suitcase that Mala had willingly given her during her first week on Antare and set it on the floor as quietly as she could. A metal buckle clanked against the hard ground and Terra jumped, then put a finger to her lips. She rolled her eyes at her nasty habit of speaking to inanimate objects. She had thought she was through with that, but it seemed she wasn't.
The sky outside remained dark, broken only by the orange halogen lamps that lined the fence of the Anti-plan base. The luminescence bounced off the simulated atmosphere's nearly imperceptible surface and sailed effortlessly back to the ground.
With a sigh, Terra pushed her hair away from her face and planted her hands on her hips. This was it. The last time she would see Mala and Baaki. The last morning she would spend in this house. The last time she would have to think about Collin's incessant nagging. The moment of truth.
She scooped her hair into a ponytail and rolled her shoulders back. If she was going to do this, she had to leave. Now. No complaints, no regrets.
One foot after the other, just like your whole life, she reminded herself.
She scooped the luggage from the floor and headed for the bedroom door. Hopefully, Collin and Henry were both still asleep. If they were, she would have no problem getting out of the house. Those two slept like the dead.
Baaki stirred and rolled over.
Terra put a hand to her chest and willed herself to not have a heart attack. She didn't want to explain why she was leaving to the impressionable teenager. Baaki didn't need to be scarred for life by Terra's poor decisions. And she wouldn't be, if she could get her feet to carry her out the door and down the street to the Anti-plan base. Just move.
She gripped the necklace with one hand and felt the fluctuating temperature. Even when completed, it continued to cool and heat, dependent on something Terra couldn't seem to work out. At times she never expected. Usually after a fight with Collin, or when she felt lonely, or when Collin finally returned to check on her. Even so, she couldn't take it off. Couldn't leave it behind.
With steely determination, Terra dropped the object back around her neck, gripped the suitcase with both hands, and stole out of her Antarean home.
She didn't know where she would go, or what she would do. She only knew she had to get off Antare. And that Collin could never know. If he found out what she had done, he would flip. He would follow her, and he would strangle her. Or worse, yell at her. There was no doubt in her mind. So, this had to work.
She used the key card the Anti-plan had given her on her first day there to gain entry to the facility. After that, she knew her way to her craft. Mostly because David had supplied her with a map and an instruction manual. She had read the entire manual in mere hours, when she should have been sleeping.
A small piece of something called tape—a wonderful invention that Mala had introduced her to—easily adhered her handwritten letter to the landing pad under Supernova. Someone would find it in the morning and let David know about it. He wouldn't mind that she took the ship earlier than he had anticipated, as long as she left the letter. It stated in no-nonsense terms that she had taken it, and it had not been stolen. The last thing she needed was a bunch of Anti-plan operatives chasing her down to retrieve a “stolen” spacecraft.
The suitcase fit nicely into the luggage compartment, and Terra left it open while she untied the anchors from the pad. Anchors were only used by the tech crews. Pilots parked and let it lay. They had faith that no one could steal their ship without the only key. Techs tended to be less trusting.
Terra slammed the luggage bay closed and slid into the cockpit. She breathed in the smell of leather and spacecraft fuel. She could get used to this. She would get used to this. And she would have more fun out there than she ever thought of having on the surface.
The engines purred to life, barely a whisper in the early morning stillness. A gust of wind shot up around the outside and settled, then returned in a wave. Slowly, carefully, she inched the craft off the ground. One foot at a time, seamlessly flying toward wide open space.
• • •
Collin opened his eyes while the sky was still dark, instantly awake and unsure why he couldn't go back to sleep. He never rose this early. Never. He liked his sleep too much.
Henry snored heavily from the couch in the corner.
Well, so much for staying in the room. He tossed the blankets aside and dropped his bare feet to the cold floor. A shiver traveled through his spine and shook his upper abdomen. Another reason he waited until it was light outside to get up. He hated the cold. With a vengeance.
Some twenty-odd steps brought him to the kitchen, and he settled onto the bench in the breakfast nook. No one was up yet, not even Mala. Sleep mode ensured that she would be out of it for at least another hour. Baaki's door remained shut, which meant both she and Terra were still asleep. Henry's snoring didn't let up, either.
So, he sat. Alone with his thoughts. The few of them there were. Like the nagging suspicion that he should have offered to let Terra fly on his ship with him, after all.
Collin sank his head into his hands and groaned. She was good, really good, at what she did. Now she even had him doubting himself. His decision had been carefully plotted and timed. It was better for her to stay on Antare. He had to stand by that, or she would think he was a pushover. Which he wasn't. Usually.
Although, when she glared at him like she wanted to kill him, he couldn't help but see the passion behind her eyes. And when she rubbed the necklace against her bottom lip, he got really distracted. He was falling for her, harder than he had ever thought possible. And if she knew, she would use it to her advantage. Big time.
So she could never know.
Collin sank his head onto his arms and groaned quietly. Morning couldn't come quick enough.
• • •
Terra spotted the planet below her and smiled. One of her top eight. A perfect place to land Supernova. She patted the dash and used the stick to maneuver into a position from which she could dive. Like one of those creatures known as birds that she had seen in a book.
This was going to be so much fun.
She broke through the atmosphere in a whirl of air and dark clouds. She plummeted a few thousand feet until she broke through the thick clouds and into the open air, dark with smokey ash and grim fog. The things that she found beautiful about the civil-war-torn planet.
She landed Supernova in a clearing, surrounded by smoldering ashes. As long as she locked it, no one would venture past the ring of fire to steal it. The engine slowed to a soft whine, and then turned off entirely. Terra smiled. The Anti-plan had done well with this craft. She would remember to commend them later.
Now that she had arrived, Terra realized she didn't know what she would do. Locusia used to be an inviting planet, but now she didn't know what to expect. Civil war changed people, maybe even altered how the Locusians viewed strangers. Oh well, if they tried to kill her she would try to kill them right back. Simple as that.
She released the airlocks on the cabin door and stepped down to the black, sodden earth. Something crackled under her boot, and she stooped to lift the object from the ash. A small, round pendant hung from the leather chain, miraculously intact. Her other hand involuntarily reached up to stroke the completed half-shape necklace's dueling chains. She shoved the new pendant into her pocket. Someone would miss it, and maybe she could find them and return it.
She took a single deep breath and walked around to the luggage compartment to retrieve her knapsack. Everything she would need for the foreseeable future was in that bag. She wouldn't bother with the suitcase just yet. She didn't know if she would need it.
She opened the door to the compartment... and screamed.
The girl nestled between the bags screamed back at her.
Terra put a hand to her chest and tried to breathe. In, out. In, out. Just like she had been doing her entire life. Surprise and anger made it especially difficult, but she got herself under control. For the most part.
“Baaki,” Terra scolded, “what... how... why did you... when did you climb in there?”
Baaki stretched out a leg and shrugged. “You were untying the anchors. I climbed in then.”
Terra had to give her credit. She had snuck in without triggering any alarms and without being seen. She was talented. “Why are you here?”
Baaki jumped to the ground and stretched her arms above her head. “I'm tired of being stuck on Antare. I want to see things, not just learn about them. I need to understand how things work. I know I'm good in a classroom, but I don't know if I can survive in the real world. Do you know how closely Mala watches her students? I'm so sheltered I might as well live under-ground.”
Terra didn't know how to reply. She felt the same way, so she couldn't tell Baaki that what she did was wrong. On the other hand, the teenager shouldn't have snuck out. She could have just asked, and Terra probably would have volunteered her services. Depending on her mood. Nothing she did was going to make this situation any better, and she refused to return to Antare so soon.
“You do realize that Collin will kill me when he finds out about this? And Mala will disown me and never let me near any of you again.”
“I didn't think about that,” Baaki confessed. “But if it makes you feel better, Mala will kill me, too.”
“No, it really doesn't. What am I supposed to do with you?” She put a hand to her head, wishing she could think of something that would make this easier on both of them.
Baaki shrugged again. “You could take me with you.”
“I don't even know where I'm going.”
“Why not?” Baaki tilted her head sideways and raised an eyebrow.
Terra threw her hands up in defeat. “I'm an adult—”
“It still counts. As I was saying, I'm an adult and adults have the prerogative to do what they want. Even if they don't know what that is yet.”
“That seems highly unintelligent.”
Terra pointed an accusatory finger at the girl. “Okay, one more negative comment about my life choices, and I will lock you in the spacecraft. Permanently.”
“So, you aren't going to make me stay here?”
Terra spun on her heel and surveyed the area around her. One last thought crossed her mind. “You didn't touch the suitcase, did you?”
“That depends on your definition of 'touch'.”
“Did you open it?” Terra scanned the treeline and plotted what her best course was to avoid the smoking ring around the clearing.
Baaki chuckled. “No. I didn't open it.”
“Good. Don't.” Terra licked a finger and felt for the direction of the wind. She turned to her left and stalked off toward the trees.
“Where are you going?” Baaki called. “You can't just leave me here.”
Terra looked over her shoulder and held up her hands in a noncommittal gesture. “Not my problem.”
Baaki shut the door and sealed the airlock, then sprinted after Terra. She caught up with her at the edge of the burnt clearing. “So, what am I supposed to do?”
“You're the one who stowed away on my ship. Didn't you think this far?”
“Not really,” Baaki admitted. “I never expected you to come here, to Locusia. My mother was Locusian, you know.”
No, she didn't know that. She didn't want to know that. The more someone let her in on their life and their story, the more uncomfortable she felt. Why would anyone trust her with those things after what she had done? None of it made sense to her.
“I've been here, once,” Baaki continued. “I do not think this was so charred then. I remember more trees than the ones I see.”
Terra rolled her eyes. Enough. Who chattered this much? Really, Baaki could use a lesson in the usefulness of absolute silence. “Shut up if you're coming with me.”
Baaki didn't say a word, and Terra breathed a sigh of relief. At least the teen could take orders. They would have had a major problem if she couldn't.
Terra stopped short in a circular clearing and pointed to a giant, cube shaped rock. “Hey, what's that?”
“You told me not to talk.”
Terra would have come back with a snide remark of her own, but suddenly the clearing filled with dozens of men in black attire. She did a 180, but couldn't find a way out. The men advanced. A continuous circle.
Closing in fast.
• • •
Collin jerked upright and blinked to get his bearings.
Henry smiled and lifted his fist from the table. “I can't tell you how good that felt.”
Collin rubbed his eyes. He must have fallen asleep again, after all. How else could he explain what had just happened? If he were more coherent, he would have hit Henry for scaring him half to death. As it was, he'd let it slide. “What time is it?” he managed.
Henry shrugged. “Morning.”
“Well, I caught that.” Collin stretched his arms, careful not to ram a fist through the cabinet nearest him. “Are any of the girls up yet?”
“Mala went to get breakfast. Evidently she doesn't have anything here. The other two still have their door closed, so I assume they're asleep.” Henry sank into a chair. “Can you go back to sleep so I can wake you up again?”
“No.” Collin winced. He had said that too fast, exposing the extent of his annoyance. Now Henry would wake him up like that whenever he could. Not good.
“So...” Henry tapped a finger on the table and looked everywhere but at Collin. “Why were you sleeping in the kitchen? I wasn't snoring, was I?”
“You were, but that's not why I'm in here.” Although, it should have been. Henry needed to see a physician about his nighttime respiratory issues. It was a miracle he didn't wake the entire city.
“Is this about that fight you and Terra had?”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Henry crossed his fingers and squinted his eyes closed, mumbling, “Please say no, please say no, please say no...”
“It might help.” Collin watched his face fall and his fingers loosen.
Henry wrinkled his nose and glared at his best friend. “I knew you were going to say that. Fine. What's bothering you?”
“I'm actually not sure. Something feels... wrong. Really wrong.” That feeling he got when a mission was about to go south fast. Like a piece of dread had lodged itself in the pit of his stomach and wouldn't let go. “Are you sure everyone's okay?”
“Yeah. What's wrong with you?” Henry kicked a foot up onto the table and leaned his chair back precariously. He had never looked more serious.
Collin rubbed at the back of his neck. Sleep deprivation. It had to be. Everything was fine. Everyone was where they should be. Nothing was wrong, so why did he feel so anxious? Sometimes, being a Half-Shape Child was more trouble than it was worth. Deep feelings. Not as awesome as everyone made them out to be.
“I'm going to see if Red is up.” Collin stood before his mind could start working overtime and shuffled to Baaki's bedroom door. He knocked lightly.
He knocked again, louder this time.
“Weird,” he mused.
The front door hissed open, and Mala entered. She waved a single sheet of paper over her head, then slapped it against Collin's chest. “For you, I believe.” She pushed past him to the kitchen, almost shoving his face into the wall.
Collin watched her go and quickly deduced that something was bothering her. He snatched as the paper as it floated to the floor, and his finger caught the adhesive on the top. He smiled. Terra had recently found the beauty of tape, she would love to see someone else using it. He scanned the note.
And dropped it like a hot potato.
He refused to believe it. She hadn't. She couldn't. She didn't even have a ship. Or, at least, she hadn't when he had left last time. Maybe leaving her alone on Antare hadn't been his wisest plan. He scooped the note back up and turned for the kitchen.
“Did anyone else know about this?” He slapped the paper onto the table.
Henry gingerly lifted it and mumbled to himself as he read. “Supernova... took it early... thanks for everything... Nope. I had no idea.” He set it back down.
Mala slammed a cabinet door and turned to face Collin. Her eyes spat fire, and her fists curled tightly at her sides. “If she told anyone, she would tell Baaki. The child adores her.”
Collin scratched the back of his head. Terra wasn't the best role model.
Everything had gone wrong. She wasn't supposed to be this much trouble. She was supposed to let him take care of her. That had never been a realistic expectation. He knew that now. Now that it was too late.
“Collin,” Henry snapped his fingers to get his attention. “Go wake Baaki up. Ask her if she knew. It'll make you feel better. And maybe Terra told her where she was going.”
“Yeah. Good idea.”
He backtracked to the door he had stood outside moments before and raised his fist to knock. Hopefully Terra had told someone where she was going. It wasn't good for her to be out there alone. She was, after all, a Half-Shape Child. She couldn't fight an entire platoon of Offensive operatives by herself.
He shook his head and rapped on the door. And again. And again.
Collin tried his best not to panic. Baaki was a light sleeper. She had been, for as long as he'd known her. She should have woken by now. She should have yelled at him for interrupting her beauty rest. He tried the knob. Unlocked.
He pushed the door open.
An eerily empty room stared back at him. The bed unmade, the curtains still drawn. No sign of Baaki.
He bolted for the kitchen. “Henry!”
“What?” Henry asked around a mouthful of food. Evidently Mala had found something for him to eat, after all.
“Come on, get ready. We're off.” Collin grabbed a piece of pancake from Henry and stuffed it in his mouth.
“First of all, stop eating my food,” Henry demanded. “Secondly, can't it wait until I finish?”
“No.” Collin retreated to his room and threw on the first articles of clothing he could get his hands on. Miraculously, they matched.
Henry entered seconds later, pancakes causing his cheeks to protrude. He looked something like a chipmunk Collin had seen in a book once. He stifled the urge to laugh.
Henry swallowed, his face betraying the pain of swallowing too much at once. “So... what's the emergency?”
Collin sighed. “Baaki's missing.”
“What?” Henry stopped moving, his hands mid-air. “And we didn't tell Mala this... why?”
“Did you see how angry she was when she found out Terra left? What do you think she would have done if she thought Terra took Baaki with her?”
“You think they're together?”
“No other possible explanation.” As much as he didn't want to admit it, he would bet money on it.
“We don't even know where she went. How are we going to find her?”
Collin grinned and shrugged his jacket up onto his shoulders. “How do you feel about the good cop, bad cop routine?”
• • •
Terra spun in another circle. There was always a way out. Always. So, where was it this time? She prepared to fight, just in case.
The men in black continued to advance, and they grew more ominous by the second.
A thin, lithe woman with hair the color of midnight appeared on the cubed stone and held up a hand as if to tell the men to stop. Which they did. Terra breathed a little easier as she studied this new arrival.
Black pants. Black tunic. Black leather boots. A grey jacket with a hood that sat precariously atop her full head of hair. Honestly, she could hardly see the woman's face.
The woman extended her arms from her sides. “Cleot Locusia.”
“She says welcome to Locusia,” Baaki translated.
Terra rolled her eyes. “I gathered. I may not be fluent, but I'm not a total dunce.”
“Just trying to make this day easier on you.” Baaki folded her arms and shrugged.
Terra wished she wasn't so obnoxious. If the girl would listen to her and do what she said, maybe they'd get through this. If not... who knew.
The woman continued to stare them down. She switched into English, with a slight accent. “This girl speaks our language?”
“Evidently.” Terra knew the sarcasm was a bit much, but this was a stressful situation. Very stressful. There had to be a way out. Had to be some way to manipulate the situation in their favor. And, as much as she didn't want to admit it, Baaki might hold the key. Maybe it would be worth it to let the girl speak up. Just this once.
“I am Ange,” the woman pressed a flat hand to her chest. “Present your identification, please.”
Baaki smiled at her and motioned to Terra. “My friend, Terra. I am Baaki, daughter of Nuna.”
Terra didn't know what that meant, but the Locusians seemed to like it. Ange dropped to one knee on the slab of concrete, and the men in black surrounding them followed suit. Every gun dropped uselessly to their sides. Impressive, if she did say so herself.
“A great honor.” Ange lifted her head and called out to the men around them, “Baaki, Shenla Núna ligún.”
They mumbled something that Terra didn't catch and lowered their heads. Okay, now it was just getting creepy. What kind of power did this teenager have over them anyway? She tried to smile and leaned over to speak into Baaki's ear. She never got the chance.
Ange leapt from the slab and approached Terra. She lifted the completed half-shape necklace from her shirt. Terra pulled it away and clasped it close.
Ange smiled. “And you. You are Sagyha.” She motioned, and the men rose. “You will come with us.”
Terra and Baaki exchanged a glance, and Baaki nodded. Terra didn't know how Baaki knew what to tell them, but whatever she had done had worked miracles. Maybe she would be handy to have around, after all. She had never partnered with anyone before, but right now seemed like the time to start.