Colony X: Entertaining 5/Epilogue

Michelle

Michelle took a dipper full of sweetwater from the thirdmost bucket and drank it down. The sun was just moving into the western sky, the initial round of feasting had been eaten and drunk, eulogies had been spoken for the dead they knew well enough to speak about, and Caleb had just started a drum solo using the edge of the shuttle panel as a musical instrument. The sound was metallic, melodic, and echoed pleasantly.

Michelle was full. Michelle was more than full, Michelle was stuffed. They’d had vegetable soup, seaweed salad, baked fish, eel skewers, even some rich, crispy fish-skin things that were what happened when you cut the fish skin into slices and kebabed those.

“I couldn’t eat any more,” she said to Dev, watching the others watch Caleb. Noah’s expression, with his usual reserve that hid a depth of boyish silliness. Sam and Kitty, whispering together. Louisa, snapping her fingers in time, but not joining in the singing yet.

“Me, neither. I was surprised,” he said.

“I like it.”

Sam got up, offering Kitty a hand, and Kitty followed her. They began dancing together in the sand, kicking off their sandals and shaking wrists with new shell bracelets that clacked pleasantly. There was an easy sensuality to their movements that made Michelle feel a little sad. Maybe-

She looked for Zack, only to find him crouching by Andy, murmuring a question she was too far away to catch. Andy shook her head, hand gestures emphatic and clear. No. No dancing for me. I twirl around very fast and then fall down.

Michelle snorted.

“You are distracted,” said Dev.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay. You should ask him to dance.”

“I should?”

“It’s a party. If only two people dance, it is not much of a party.”

That was a good point. It wasn’t like Noah or Andy would be dancing any time soon, Michelle suspected.

Words failed her. Actions, luckily, did not. She walked right up to Zack and held out a hand in invitation.

His hands in hers were warm and brown and his eyes when they met hers were very green and wide. She grinned, and pulled him out to join the dancing, kicking off her shoes.

Someone started clapping, and then more than one person. Zack wasn’t a great dancer, she thought, but when she rubbed up against him he became charmingly energetic. He made her feel sexy, like her skin was warm from the fire and her head was buzzing with light. The drum beat wove itself into her heartbeat and her breath, and she slid her hands up his arms to his shoulders. They worked with Kitty and Sam, making the dance floor more than just a patch of sand. Then there were Louisa and Dev, too, dancing with them, Michelle caught a glimpse of them out of the corner of her eye.

She was sweating by the time the clapping and drumming ended, grinning at Zack who smiled back, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He saluted her, and headed for the selection of drinks and what remnants of food there were left over. Michelle went over to Caleb and tapped him on the shoulder.

“I’ll take a turn on music if you want a break.”

He nodded, and Michelle caught a narrow-eyed look from Noah that she read with ease. Caleb drumming is a gift to the world, why’d you stop him?

She raised her eyebrows back and flapped a hand. You want him to fall over into a big exhausted manly pile?

Noah looked down at his knees, but not before Michelle caught his smile.

It was nice to have someone here she could talk to that way, without needing to use words.

Night was falling. They’d set up a series of torches in a ring around the smoking lean-to and Michelle and Zack, by some chance, were the two who went around the half-circles in either direction to light them. No sleeping with the sun tonight.

They were alone by themselves in a patch of torchlight, with the ocean crashing in front of them and the fire and the rest of the team behind them. Maybe that’s what gave her the courage to do it – touch his arm, touch his shoulder, let him look at her and open his mouth for a question, and then she kissed him.

It was a very nice kiss.

She pulled away, smiling, and headed back into the fire, trusting the shadows to have hid their little exchange from the rest of the group.

It became less and less a happy moment when he didn’t follow her. She stuck with the fire for a while, putting on her happy face, but she didn’t have the energy for that, really, not after the work she’d put in today, so instead she found herself on the cliff above the cave, sitting on the edge and pretending the water on her cheeks wasn’t tears.

“Hey,” said Noah, quietly, coming up behind her. “Can I join this party?”

“Whatever.”

He sat next to her.

“So, this party was a great idea,” he said dryly.

“I was having a good time! Until-“

“Until?”

“Nevermind.”

“I can tell everything is great,” he said. “From the way you’re hiding in the dark.”

“I’m not hiding.”

“Oh. My mistake. You’d be completely visible with night vision.”

“You ever think about the aliens out there,” she said, diverted, “Watching us? The water ones, I mean. I bet the Tydrin watch us, too. I think about that, when I’m out in the water, by the pole they left.”

“It done anything lately?”

“Sometimes a light blinks at the top. Yellow.”

“Helpful.”

“So very helpful.”

“Michelle-“

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Ah. Well. I can hit him, if you want.”

Michelle grabbed the edge of the cliff to make sure she wouldn’t fall off and laughed helplessly, until it made her belly hurt.

“You’re such a boy.”

“Good.”

“You remind me of my brothers.”

“Yeah? I never had a sister or anything.”

“You’d have been good at it.”

“Glad to hear it.”

There were a few beats of silence.

“So that’s a no on hitting him?”

Michelle managed a strangled grumble and shoved his shoulder lightly. Given that they were sitting very near a cliff edge, she didn’t shove too hard. That would really put a damper on the evening, shoving Noah off a cliff for being a protective pain in her ass.

“How do you know you shouldn’t hit me, not him?” she asked, after he’d righted himself and finished whining.

“One, I don’t hit girls. Two, even if I did hit girls, I wouldn’t hit you. Three, I like him, but he’s just someone I know.”

Michelle hugged him, hard, and received a startled squeak for her trouble.

“Michelle…?”

“Shut up. I’m being happy I met you.”

“Shutting up, ma’am.”

Michelle hummed happily to herself for a minute, then let him go.

She couldn’t see much of the sea down there – there wasn’t any sign of any moons tonight, so it was just the faint light of the stars reflecting off the black ocean and the clouds. She could hear it, of course, a constant shuddering thump that calmed her heartbeat and her thoughts.

“I love it here,” she said. “You couldn’t get me back to earth if you paid me.”

“Huh,” he said.

“I mean….” She wasn’t sure what she meant, so she just opened her mouth and let the words come. “Here I’m someone. Here I matter. Here – there’s the Tydrin, but there’s always the Tydrin. Here what I do, every day, changes something. I can help people here.”

“I think you were someone back on Earth.”

“That’s sweet, but that’s not my point at all.”

“I… think I got that. Well… you wouldn’t go back, huh?”

“No. Not if I had a choice. Except-“

“I’d stay,” he said quickly. “I wouldn’t go home for my dad. Um – I’d be tempted by medical school, but that isn’t happening. My mom… well, it’s not like she’d care. Tell you what. If Andy can rig up a hot shower out here, I’m sold.”

“There is Andy,” Michelle said, uneasily. “I’d feel… bad… if she left and we didn’t.”

There was some sort of responsibility there, it felt like.

“If I left where?” asked Andy, which really was not the best timing ever. Michelle winced.

“We were talking about silly hypotheticals,” said Noah. “I – was wondering if you’d want to go back to Earth, if you could.”

“Don’t we all?”

“Well. No. Not really.”

“Oh,” said Andy, and Michelle watched her faint outline sit next to them. Andy put an arm around her shoulders. “I was worried you guys were lost or something.”

“We’re fine. Michelle’s cheered up, too.”

Had she? Michelle touched her cheek, which was dry. Huh. Emotions were weird.

“You should stay with us here. Build stuff.”

“As opposed to flying to Earth on the power of my thoughts?” asked Andy.

The unhappy silence that greeted that was answer enough, Michelle thought.

“Guys – I can’t say I never want to visit Earth again. I do. But I am happy here with you, okay? I love you guys.”

“Me, too,” said Michelle, and hugged her friends. She had very good friends.

“So,” said Noah, perhaps uncomfortable with all this girly emotion, “What are we going to work on tomorrow?”

Epilogue

From: Colonization Department

To: Colonization Department Head

Sir,

I would like to send Colony X’s new round of colonists early, due to the precipitous drop in colony population during the recent weather patterns. I have made my selections for the colonists, despite the acquisitions department trying to give me the diseased and criminally insane. Do I have your authorization?

Tertius

From: Colonization Department Head

To: Colonization Department

Third,

It’s nice to see you taking a practical approach to the problem. You are authorized to send a new round of colonists to X. What’s this about the Acquisitions Department? You know you can’t judge humans by our standards of mental stability, don’t you?

From: Colonization Department

To: Colonization Department Head

Sir,

Thank you for the authorization. I have released the shuttles to the colony transport. Just to give a few examples, the Acquisitions Department wanted me to take a criminal (vagrant) with a malfunctioning heart muscle this time. That is the part of humans responsible for circulation, and prone to failure under stress. When informed that the Colonization Department did not sanction willful murder, the Acquisitions Department laughed and said I’d love the next one, then. The next one was another criminal, but this one’s crime was what is called ‘serial killing.’ It involves the willful murder of at least three other humans (not in one’s litter).

Tertius

 

From: Colonization Department Head

To: Colonization Department

You didn’t send that one, did you?

 

From: Colonization Department

To: Colonization Department Head

Of course not, sir.

 

From: Colonization Department Head

To: Colonization Department

While I do wish you would cultivate a more positive attitude about your work, I will admit: I hate those runts in Acquisitions.

 

From: Colonization Department

To: Colonization Department Head

Yes, sir. Agreed, sir.