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Science Fiction Speculative Sad

Yuyama readjusted her bag’s shoulder straps as she took stock of her situation. The Hyne system’s two suns beat down relentlessly, making it hard to think even with the cooling gear in her envirosuit on full blast. She couldn’t just figure it out as she went along anymore; those days were over. It was think or die, now—not easy for a mercenary who preferred to have others do the thinking for her or die.

Alright, she thought, slipping her thumbs out from beneath the straps and tilting her hat to keep the suns out of her eyes. Time to think this through.

Radioing for help was not an option. There was a communicator built into the suit, but its range was pitiful. As for the ship’s radio, well…

Yuyama had surveyed the wreckage twice over, just to be absolutely sure everything was out of commission. And to confirm whether or not she really was the only survivor.

She hadn’t known any of the crew personally—such was the life of a gun-for-hire—but they’d seemed like nice people. Most of them were scientists, out here in the farthest reaches of known space for one purpose, and one purpose only: research. Yuyama didn’t know the details, but she knew what they’d come to this egregiously hot desert world for.

The egg.

Safely stowed in her bag—the very bag that’d protected it during the crash—it was large enough to prevent her from securing all three of the magnetic clasps. From the little she’d overheard before catching some shuteye on the way here, it belonged to a species on the verge of extinction—one that’d barely been studied. While she didn’t have the kind of mind to grasp the ramifications such an egg would have on the scientific community, she was at least smart enough to realize it would worth quite a bit to said community.

Which was why she had to find a way off this rock ASAP. Sell the thing off to the highest bidder, put the merc life behind her, maybe retire early and buy a luxurious home on Sashith or Doranna. Yes, Yuyama loved her job: it satisfied her wanderlust, brought her into contact with people more interesting than she’d ever be, and (usually) paid well. But that didn’t mean she wouldn’t take the chance to quit if it presented itself. She was still young by most galactic standards, and there was much she wanted to do that didn’t involve putting her life on the line.

Thinking about the future wasn’t going to get her off this dustbowl, though. She needed to refocus and—

The air stirred. Something had moved. But where? She’d been so stuck in her own head that she’d neglected her surroundings. Not very professional behavior for a merc like me, she thought. Then again, my employers are dead. Who’s watching? That wasn’t the issue, though. Yuyama had to be on the ball in order to guard the egg. She could still feel its heft pressing against her back, but she gently set the bag down to check on it just in case.

After undoing the two magnetic clasps that’d actually been secured and brushing aside the unusable third, Yuyama folded the top of the bag back. The egg, thank Elia, was safe and sound as could be.

It was one of the most beautiful things she’d ever seen—and that was saying something, as she’d been to every end of the galaxy and back again. The shell was not perfectly smooth, but its undulations and protrusions enraptured her. A light purple shade swirled along its ridges like a river, peppered with orange and white like stones shimmering beneath the current. Most interesting of all, however, were the three markings on top. A scientist had told her it was the mother’s way of marking the child-to-be as her own. It wasn’t a necessary practice, as the species’ numbers had dwindled over the millennia; it was hard to mix up eggs when there weren’t many to begin with. But what was evolutionary necessity in the face of a mother’s unconditional love?

Yuyama shook herself out of her trance as the air stirred once again. Though the planet was largely devoid of life, that didn’t mean entirely devoid. She couldn’t risk staying still any longer, especially with the downed ship so close by; local scavengers had no doubt picked up the scent of semi-fresh meat.

Yuyama double-checked her supplies one last time, resealed the two magnetic clasps able to be resealed, and set off to find some shade.

***

“Six weeks,” Yuyama mumbled, her galactic timekeeper just about the only fully functional piece of equipment she had left. “Can you believe that, Chija? I’ve only known you for six weeks, but it feels like so much longer!” She paused, realizing how that might’ve come off. “In a good way, I mean.”

The egg, as usual, didn’t respond.

That was okay in Yuyama’s book, though. She’d always sat comfortably in the middle of the spectrum between talkative and taciturn, so she didn’t mind filling empty air—which was just about all this planet had.

“Chija!” Yuyama shouted, her voice swallowed up by the desert expanse. “Sorry,” she continued more quietly, “I just wanted to ask if you were getting hungry. I know you’re not a big eater, but… yeah? Okay, then, let’s see what we have here.”

She rifled through the bag that had once cradled Chija, stuffing her hands down every pocket, opening and closing zippers, shaking it upside down—ah! Something fell out. “Look, Chija. This is half the money I was given to help the scientists find and secure you. They were gonna pay me the other half when we got back, but they died. Sucks for them. They never got the chance to know you!” She laughed, watching as a sharp gust scooped the bills up and scattered them like so many grains of sand. “Ah, well. Hope some archaeologist gets lucky.”

Standing up to crick her back, Yuyama took in her current surroundings. Honestly, they weren’t much different than where the ship had crashed. Just stale air. And sand. And rocks. And—

“Oh, sorry, Chija,” she said, slowly laying down. “Lost myself for a second there. I’m not boring you, am I? Good.”

A thought came to her in the midst of millions of other thoughts about where she might find her next meal. She sat up, pensive. “I won’t pressure you, Chija, but… what will you be when you hatch? I’d love to know.” Once again, Yuyama worried she’d offended her friend. “No, th-that’s not what I meant! Of course you’ll still be Chija! I just mean, y’know… what will you be? Like, I’m Yuyama, but I’m a human. You’re Chija, and you’re a… what?”

Silence.

“I…” Embarrassed, Yuyama scooted herself around to face the other way. She scratched at the sunburn on her neck, peeling off untold amounts of flaky, dead skin. “I’m gonna go find some food. Be back soon.”

And she was back soon, for where was she to go? That sand dune over there? Or that one? That unscalable monolith, maybe?

“Man,” she said, exhaling loudly as she slumped over in the sand. “What a good-for-nothing world this is.” This time, she was too tired to worry about the possibility of having offended Chija. “No food, no water, no—wait, we don’t have any water left either, do we?” She halfheartedly felt around in the bag, finding only sand and pebbles. With a dramatic—but not entirely unwarranted—sigh, Yuyama crumpled her hand into a fist and let it drop to the uneven earth.

She gazed upon Chija’s singular beauty, finding it near impossible to appreciate for the first time since they’d met. Why didn’t Chija ever want to talk? How could she feel so warm yet be so cold? Was it something Yuyama said, or had Chija always been quiet? Was this as far as their relationship would ever go? What if she hatched and ran away?

Mind addled, Yuyama’s eyelids fluttered until the two suns above her disappeared into blackness.

***

“Ready to go, Yam?” Gongono asked. He, of course, was already dressed, shaven, and bright-eyed.

Yuyama was… the complete opposite of all three of those things.

She knew he was joking, and she further knew that he’d patiently wait for her to kick into gear, keeping her company. He was so good to her she could—

“Hey, hey… what’s wrong?” He was at her side in an instant, cradling her head and wiping away her tears. What had she done to deserve a man like him?

She was too tired to deflect with a clever response, and too tired to speak the truth. So, she simply continued tearing up, smiling at the concern on Gongono’s face. Though she would’ve loved nothing more than to stay like that forever—comfortable mattress beneath her, love of her life above—they had plans for the day, and she wasn’t going to be the reason they were late.

… Maybe just a few more minutes, though.

Yuyama reached up, pulling Gongono into a kiss for the ages—whatever that meant for a woman still half in her pillow. The stimulation slowly woke her up, and she was soon sitting up, finally ready to, well, get ready. Gongono didn’t bother inquiring into her tears any further; she knew that he knew she’d tell all eventually. Enjoying the beautiful day they had planned was her foremost priority.

“Want me to get breakfast going while you stop being naked?” he asked. “Not that I mind you being naked.”

Still too tired to be clever (the kiss had woken her up, yes, but it’d be a few more minutes before she was at full capacity), Yuyama caressed his cheek. “You relax. I’ll be done quick, then I’ll make breakfast.”

“Won’t say no to that.” Gongono leapt lightly to his feet, leaving the room so she could do what she needed to. That was one of the many wonderful things about him: As willing to lend a hand as he was, he knew when to step back and let others take the reins. It was a quality that served him well beyond their relationship.

Now that Gongono was gone, it was up to her to motivate herself to get moving. Inhaling deeply, Yuyama swung her legs over the side of the bed and forced herself to stand, marching towards the bathroom. Having showered last night upon coming home from her latest merc contract, all she had to do was dress and put makeup on.

Though she wasn’t particularly close with any of the other mercs—it was hard to be when they all lived contract to contract, never knowing whether they’d work together again—she could tell most of them weren’t makeup connoisseurs off-duty. Yuyama absolutely was, and she intended to look good for Gongono today. It didn’t take long; applying makeup was nearly as natural to her as using a fork.

Now to choose a dress. It was much hotter than the weatherman had predicted, so something sleeveless and low-cut seemed the sensible pick. Sifting through her closet, she stopped on an old favorite: a hand-me-down from her mother. Yuyama smiled as she slipped the dress off the hangar, remembering how her mother had described the day she’d first worn it: “Men tripped over themselves, banged into poles, and fell into fountains, but your father walked right up to me and told me my left nipple was showing.”

Not exactly the most romantic first encounter, but certainly unforgettable. Yuyama and Gongono met under far more mundane circumstances: A friend set them up, they had a nice night, and that was that. That was… six years ago. Damn.

Yuyama had friends who’d told her their partners stopped appreciating their beauty not a year into the relationship, but when she walked into the kitchen, it was as if Gongono were seeing her for the first time all over again. He didn’t even say anything; it was all in his eyes, the curve of his lips, the way his back straightened.

Clenching his shoulder as she passed, she got right to work on breakfast. “I already got my next contract set up,” she said. “Helping to secure some kind of rare egg on a desolate planet. So, in honor of that, I’m making eggs.”

“Oh, use that new spice we got from Ion Market,” Gongono said, leaning back in his chair to get a better look at her. “The merchant mentioned it being really good with eggs.”

“Did he mention what kind of eggs it’d be good with?” she said, giving the girls a shake. She winked at Gongono, turning to start the electric stove with one hand and grab a pan with the other.

“You said you were just making breakfast. I wasn’t aware this was a meal and a show.”

“Who said anything about free?” Yuyama sprayed the pan, then set it on the stovetop. “Five hundred credits a peek, mister.”

“You’ll be the richest woman on Gweneve within the next few minutes, then.”

Yuyama blew a kiss at him as she walked over to the fridge, then hesitated. What was that strange lurch in her gut?

“Um… Yama? You good?”

She nodded, determined to ignore the feeling and push through. A little stomach bug wasn’t going to ruin the one free day she had this cycle.

It only took her a second to locate the eggs, also from Ion Market. Her insides lurched again the moment she touched the carton—more violently this time. What in Elia’s name is going on? She shook it off again, pulling the carton off the shelf…

… and straining under the weight of it. It wasn’t so heavy she couldn’t carry it, but this was far too much for a single carton of eggs. Actually, she thought, tipping the carton up and down like a seesaw, why does it feel like there’s only one egg in here? Right in the middle? They’d used a few eggs recently, but she knew there should’ve been more than one left.

Taking a moment to steady herself, Yuyama slowly, gingerly, deliberately lifted the lid—halfway, at least. She paused when she realized Gongono hadn’t commented on her odd behavior a second time. Setting the carton on the counter, she turned to find—

Nothing. No one. Nowhere.

No way.

Pivoting back around, she saw that the carton had disappeared. So had the counter, the stove, the kitchen, the apartment building, the city, the, the, the…

The egg.

It was one of the most horrid things she’d ever seen—and that was saying something, as she’d been to every end of the galaxy and back again. The shell was not perfectly smooth, and its undulations and protrusions disgusted her. A light purple shade swirled along its ridges like discarded paint, peppered with orange and white globs bubbling on the surface. Most disconcerting of all, however, were the three markings on top. Someone had told her it was the mother’s way of marking the child-to-be as her own. It wasn’t a necessary practice, as the species’ numbers had dwindled over the millennia; it was hard to mix up eggs when there weren’t many to begin with. But why had there been many to begin with? Why would Elia allow such creatures to exist? Why did—

That lurch in her stomach again. It had been unidentifiable before, but, suddenly and inexplicably, Yuyama knew what it was without a shadow of a doubt.

Hunger.

She grabbed the egg in both hands, fingers scraping against the bumpy shell, lifting it up as high as she possibly could. Held in front of one of the two suns in the sky, it was almost as if she’d created a failed eclipse, the light from the other sun mounting an offense against the oncoming dark. The pseudo-eclipse ended as Yuyama hurled the egg downward with all the might of a highly trained mercenary. It shattered on a flat plane of rock she hadn’t even known was there, yolk and shell smattering its surface. In the hellish heat, it began cooking instantaneously, the suns-baked rock a perfect pan. Lacking salt or spices, Yuyama thought it wise to substitute sand. What was the difference, really? She’d never been much of a cook anyway. Why not add some pebbles? That strange-looking carapace over there? Some saliva to replace the water she didn’t have?

Within a minute’s time, her meal was ready. No plate and no utensils meant she’d have to dig in the old-fashioned way, so she leaned down, her stomach giving one final lurch before she filled it up with yummy, yummy—

RRROOOAAARRR!!!

Normally, Yuyama would’ve stopped to locate the source of a sound loud enough to shift the sand around her. But then, she wasn’t normally this hungry, so she shrugged it off and took the first bite. And the second. And the third.

And then something took a bite out of her.

She barely registered the pain. There was a delectable egg to finish, after all. Nothing and no one—not even Elia herself—would stop Yuyama from doing so.

And so she ate. And was eaten.

***

The olikki coughed up sand, blood, and whatever that thing had been wearing. It hadn’t tasted very good.

No mother should have to bear the loss of an unborn child, let alone witness that loss firsthand. Finding another mate would take time, but time was the one thing she had. Right now, the olikki wanted nothing more than to mourn her baby.

She curled her massive, scaly body around the rock where the little creature had stolen her life’s blood away, closed all six of her eyes, and wondered how she was going to get through the next millennium alone.

May 26, 2021 22:18

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