Author : Emily Cleaver

Something was wrong. The explosions cracked through Kinleigh’s earpiece. On the periphery of his vision to the left delicate violet orchids of plasma fire bloomed in the low gravity against the black bulk of the hill. They were firing. Why the fuck were they firing? He felt fear kick at his stomach. His fingers scrabbled at the comm switch.

“Unit B cease fire. Cease fire! Acknowledge last transmission. Serious hazard. Volatile gas. Cease fucking fire!”

The earpiece hissed. The sound of firing came again, this time from the right. Nolan’s unit. The fear thumped at his guts. His eyes tried to penetrate the shadows beneath the branches of the fat black plants belching their vapours all around them. They were strange to him, not a type they’d catalogued yet. He turned to Brite, her face a dead pearl sheen through the thickness of her visor. He touched her arm through the suit, its warmth familiar. That electric jolt he always felt when he touched her, even after all these years, shot through him. Panic rose in his throat. He had to get her away before he went after the others.

“Brite. They’re not responding. They’re going to blow us all up.”

“What are they firing at?”

“I don’t fucking know. We scanned the wood. There’s nothing here but us.”

Kinleigh glanced at the readout on his wrist. Still only the blinking warning light for volatile gasses. There was nothing to fire at.

On the hill one of the plasma bolts hit a gas pocket and the sky lit up an angry purple. Brite’s eyes were fixed on the flickering light. Her suit needed venting. He could see the rubber clinging to her, outlining the neat curve of her breasts as she sucked away the last of the air inside. He knew why she didn’t vent. He could feel it himself, the reluctance to open the ducts to the alien dark. Inside the suit was safety. Outside it was everything else. Its protective embrace pinched at him tightly as he used up his own air. For a moment he was back in the in warmth of their dorm bunk, feeling Brite’s small soft lips pull hungrily at his skin. He didn’t want to open the vent.

“Brite? We have to move.”

Her breath tugged at her suit from inside and she stepped back. His hand hovered over the duct control. Breathe and risk dying. Don’t breath, die. He vented.

His suit inhaled. Brite’s eyes were fixed on him, huge. The sponges in the ducts expanded and shrank as they filtered. But he could smell something different in the new lung of air, something mad and awful from the night. Shapes pulsed in his vision and terror tightened his muscles. Brite became monstrous in front of him, a writhing limb from one of the black plants reaching out to touch his face. He fired.

The plasma poured from his gun and bloomed towards her like the offering of an exotic flower.

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