Author: Nisheé

An enormous clear lake mirrored the cosmos. Water and sky danced in unison as the rhythm of the waves echoed from the sapphire mountain cliffs on the other side. A warm breeze blew through the rows of magenta palm trees that lined the white sand shore. An occasional beep from our trusty aqua-droid lu2x served as a reminder that this wasn’t a vacation.

“What took you so long?” I checked lu2x’s readings as Malik slid the pendant into my pocket. “You act as if you own this planet.”

“Everywhere the soles of my feet tread,” he said, winking.

“Very funny.” I looked down at lu2x to check the frequency status.

“Anywhere I’m with you is home, Nilay.” He stepped close enough for me to bury my head in his chest and take in his scent.

I pulled the pendant and its chain from my pocket. “Don’t act like you don’t like to be pampered, Malik. I’m gonna book a massage too.”

His smug grin dissolved. “Nah. Nope. That’s my responsibility. Only mine.”

“These unscheduled missions annoy me. Something feels different this time. I just want to go home.”

“Well, that took a turn.”

I exhaled and rubbed my thumb over the pendant’s smooth surface.

“You’re more breathtaking than the day we met.”

My feet sank into the wet sand as another wave retreated. I finally met his gaze.

“This planet brings out the violet in your eyes.”

“Let’s just go back, Malik. What if you’re wrong?”

“There’s something I haven’t told you.”

His frame blocked the path to our camp.

I let my jaw clench shut and crossed my arms again.

Ancient harmonies drifted up from the ocean, drowning out the sound of the waves rushing against the mountains.

“Atmospheric frequency is no longer optimum.”

I jumped at the sound of lu2x’s mechanical voice. I switched the alert to silent mode. “These readings are higher than I expected, Malik. I don’t think it’s the right time.”

He ignored me and slid off his wet sandals and kicked them toward the palm trees.

“Wait. What didn’t you tell me?”

“Don’t forget I tried to get you to stay home where you’d feel safe. We see how that worked out.”

“Stop babbling, Malik. You didn’t try that hard.” My voice rising further above the sounds around us.

“Okay, You’re right. It is different this time.”

A shooting star emerged from the blanket of twinkling lights in the sky. The golden reflection of its tail lingered on the pendant now dangling from my hand.

“I get it. It’s beautiful, but that’s all it is. We’re risking everything to come here for what? We have enough data.”

“Why do you think your father visited this planet so often?”

“You’re bringing him up now? Like really?” I refreshed the screen on lu2x’s oscilloscope.

“Do you think you can open the pendant?” It sounded more like a challenge than a question.

I stopped to examine its shiny alloy surface closely for the first time. “What’s different this time?”

He slid past me. His eyes now locked on the lights shimmering from beneath the water.

“Malik what didn’t you tell me? What about this is worth the risk?”

“Because it’s for you, Nilay.”

I reached to grab his arm, but he was already waist deep. I felt a warm jolt in my palm. The pendant released a gold sonic wave toward the water where Malik stood. It hovered there for a moment, then dispersed into the atmosphere. “Okay, this is different,” I whispered.