The air was so dense and humid that it almost qualified the putrid planet that Isha and Nyal had just jumped onto as sub-aquatic. Everything around them was colored with acidic greens and reds, like Christmas, but on LSD… The smell of plant decay leeched into Nyal’s helmet, filling her nostrils and almost gagging her. She looked around to where Isha was standing, feet planted firmly in the ground as he looked at their surroundings.
Nyal took stock of the terrain, huge, striped semi-circles seemed to simply have erupted from the ground. Whether they were organic or stone, she couldn’t have guessed. Isha walked back into her field of view, the blue of his armor stood out against the earthier hues and acidic colors behind. She needed to remind to calibrate the sensors on his armor again.
She was still looking at him when they began to attack, a screech filled the air and she snapped back to her senses and drew her weapon to help fight off the Plague-infected corpses that were moving towards them.
“I don’t recall this being part of my job description when I signed up for this gig!” she barked, teasingly into the communications channel, knowing that Isha would hear her.
“I wasn’t a soldier,” Isha shouted over the interference from the planet’s atmosphere, shooting a creature with twelve spider legs and half as many arms. “I was born into a universe of peace and somehow ended up with you!”
Nyal laughed at him. It was a story she’d heard a thousand times in the three years that they had been partners. He had been born into peace and was flung into the middle of a war when Dura was infected with the Plague.
But he was old, especially to have ever known peace. Maybe a thousand years or more. She wasn’t sure and neither was he. All records had been lost when Dura was destroyed by the humans of a thousand years before, thinking that it would stop the spread of the Plague throughout the galaxies.
But they were wrong. And dead.
They left a terrible battle for their children to fight for them. Nyal had never seen Earth, not that she would want to after what happened when the Plague came. It had been Earth’s first contact with aliens and they were nearly wiped out.
Nyal was alone with these thoughts when she neared the edge of the cliff. Isha was reaching for her as she fell, but he was too late.
For a fraction of a second she thought that she was dead, but in reality, she had hit a small ledge. Her head had rattled around inside her helmet a bit, but it was nothing that would hurt permanently. There was a crack in her visor that would need an immediate patching and the atmosphere could harm or kill her.
Isha grabbed her and hauled her onto the edge of the cliff. “Good you’re not dead,” he muttered, letting go of her. “We need to get back to the ship, now.”
Isha looked down at Nyal and continued, “Your visor’s cracked, come on.”
Nyal nodded in agreement. A horrid screeching bat-spider creature was flying towards Isha. Instinctively she shot it, sending a vapor of its remains against her and through the crack in her visor.
She was screaming in agony when Isha carried her away.
Isha sat beside Nyal in the infirmary, if you could call it that. There wasn’t much that could be used to help anyone. “Commander Verlion,” the medic, Hans, said as he stood beside them. “I suggest that you comfort her a little. She’s going to wake up unable to see.”
“Will she remain blind?” Isha asked simply. He was never one who liked to make things complex when there was a simple, straight-forward answer.
“I really don’t know. The Plague can’t infect her because she isn’t dead, but we don’t really have a record of what these spores are that I pulled from her eyes.”
Isha simply nodded, resting his elbows on his knees as he looked at Nyal. Her skin was pale, the only hints of color were a light dusting of freckles across her nose and shoulders and the bright red that colored her cheeks when she was upset or embarrassed. She was very short for a human, only about 5’9” and he recalled the average human female being almost six and a half feet tall now. Glossy chestnut ringlets surrounded her face.
Isha watched in silence as Hans removed the gauze from her eyes, still closed, but he knew the dark, intense blue that they would be when she opened them. Like a storm over the oceans of his home. She began to stir and whispered something that he couldn’t quite make out.
She had been aware of words being spoken, although the words didn’t make sense to her, there was one voice that stood out. Isha.
“Isha,” she whispered as she blinked a dozen times, trying to clear her head. There was nothing except for black nothingness, except for the occasional cosmic swirl behind her closed eyes. She groped around for a moment and realized that she was on a bed. “Isha!?” she said again.
“I’m here, Nyal,” he said, placing a heavy hand on her shoulders and forcing her to be still.
“Isha,” she said, touching his hands and arms until she was certain that it was him. “What happened? The last thing I remembered was shooting one of those things… and it sprayed back onto me.”
“Some spores got in your eyes, squirt.” Nothing except the familiar mechanical sounds of his voice comforted her as she stood up. Arms scooped her and dumped her back onto the bed. “You’re not going anywhere until we figure out what’s wrong and what the prognosis is.”
Fear crawled inside her and built a nest in her heart. What would she do if she lost her sight? Everything that she’d worked for would be lost. “Hold my hand,” she whispered, reaching out to him.
“What?” he said, a note of shock ringing in his voice. Isha’s voice comforted her, and she listened closer to it than she ever had. It was a deep, rich baritone, filled with the mechanical sound of his breathing, like the intrusion of a starship’s engine on a romantic evening…
“I’m not saying it again,” she said, reaching out for Isha. Her fingers barely brushed the edge of the armor plate covering his knee. It was slightly warm. Whether it was because of his unique type of armor or whether it was the heat of his flesh under the armor, she wasn’t sure.
A large lump formed in her throat and she was afraid that she was going to cry. She didn’t want him to see her cry.
She listened closely to the way he moved, hoping that he was going to take her hand. His armor-clad fingers wrapped around hers tightly. Nyal smiled and breathed deeply. “Would you take it off? Your glove that is…” she whispered.
His hand pulled away from hers. There was a clanking, not unlike that of small bells…
Isha looked at Nyal, as he slipped one glove off. He had never seen her this vulnerable. He would have sworn that her chest heaved one time and a tear was trailing down her cheek. Isha wondered whether he should ignore it, so she wouldn’t realize that he had noticed. He placed his glove on the floor behind him.
Instead, Isha reached out and wiped it away.
Nyal yelped as Isha’s cool skin touched her face. She grabbed his enormous hand and held it tightly. The coolness of his skin, almost like cool rain during a warm season, was a surprise. She’d never seen him, much less touched him before. She never expected it to be so cold. His skin was slick, not unlike a serpent of her home. As she laid there, she traced his fingers, four of them and a thumb. There were three joints in each of them, other than that, the ligaments worked as a human’s would.
“Tell me about Dura,” she whispered. “We’ve never talked about it before. I talk about my home all the time…”
Isha was slightly shocked again, but he smiled. Not that she could have seen it even if she was able. The mask he wore made sure of that.
Her fingers were tracing his, all fourteen joints in his fingers and everything in between. She had found out everything anatomical. But now, she seemed to just be doing it because she enjoyed it.
“I wouldn’t even know where to begin…” he started. He momentarily considered moving to sit beside her, but didn’t act on it.
“Start as though it were tactical,” she whispered to him. “Tell me about the terrain and the people.”
Isha took a deep breath and moved beside her. She jumped as he sat down on the edge of the bed. “Dura is covered in water. All but about five percent of it, but what is dry is completely barren. The oceans are very deep, generally about three miles.” He looked down into her sightless eyes, their color made him ache for the familiar storms, but he continued, “The entire planet is lashed with ferocious storms, it’s a violent place. The beings, the Durons, all live underwater, though we remain in the shallows because we still need air… We’re a biological fluke, a planet that shouldn’t have survived.”
She was tracing her fingers between his, as though she were looking for something. She looked up in his direction, but her eyes were wandering and he knew that none of her sight had returned. She whispered, “The Warriors of Dura were famous in the ancient times for their webbed hands. The webbing was cut from yours. I can feel the scars.”
“There are many more than just those,” he said as all three of his hearts fell. He couldn’t tell her why his webbing was gone.
“Let me see them,” Nyal started but hesitated, holding his big, cold hand tighter. “Let me feel them.”
A moment, long and silent passed.
There was a quiet hiss and the click of a helmet being sat down. His fingers were wrapped around hers, and he was guiding her hand to his face. Despite the fact that she still couldn’t see anything, she closed her eyes, so she could imagine what he looked like. His skin felt very smooth and she tried to picture him, wondering what color his skin was, maybe some shade of blue or possibly green… depending on Dura. His cheekbones were high and long pieces of his hair were entwined in her fingers. She smiled as her fingertips danced over his regal nose.
But Nyal’s musings were interrupted when he moved her hand to the other side of his face.
Deep scars cut into his face, diagonally from right above his eye and down into his throat. Her fingers met a ribbed tube that passed through and aided his breathing and speaking. It was hard and rigid, interrupting the flow of his features.
“Isha…” she whispered softly as she ran her fingers through the indentations. Her fingers were spread as wide as they would go. “They were claws. Something with enormous claws did this to you… Was this something on Dura that hurt you like this? And what happened to your hands? You didn’t tell me.”
Isha was stunned by the forwardness of Nyal’s question. It made the side of his face and his missing eye hurt. “No, this happened after I left Dura, after it was destroyed. It was when I was fighting a beast on on Gaxis Three. This is all because we didn’t have the necessary medical equipment to heal this properly.”
He was silent for a long minute. His hearts felt as though they were in his feet.
“Dura still dealt in slaves, up until the point that it was destroyed, it was one of the last few planets to do so,” he said softer than usual, watching her fingers trace between his. “I was taken and forced into slavery. When people are taken as slaves, their webbing is removed. I cut my own away, to spare myself the shame of having someone else do it.”
“Why do they do that?” she asked.
“It’s a lot more difficult to swim. It keeps them –us– from getting away. Swimming like that is really hard. Impossible to get away from anyone that’s chasing you.”
Isha went silent. Nyal stopped tracing his fingers and was simply clutching his hand in hers. She thought about him being a whole man. She would have loved to have seen him when he was young, hands webbed, face unblemished. She would have liked to have known him then.
“I-” she started. “I never knew that you were a slave… I never thought that you were anything but a warrior. How did you get away?”
Shadows, vague almost like the remnants of a bad dream were beginning to float in her eyes, in black and very dark grey.
Isha was looking intently down into her eyes as she asked the question. Something had changed in them. “Nyal, are your eyes hurting you?” he said, softly.
“No, my sight’s coming back,” she whispered.
He slipped his hand from hers and used it to pick his glove back up. “Would you wait and let me see you?” Nyal whispered, she took his face in her warm hands.
“No,” he whispered, looking down. Her eyes were still open, but she hadn’t regained enough sight to tell anything about him. “I don’t want you to see me.”
“Okay, I understand, but don’t take this personally,” Nyal said to him, so softly that she was sure that, even if there was someone else in the room, they wouldn’t have heard her. She leaned in and brushed her lips softly against his in the softest, quickest kiss that she could have possibly given him.
She reached to the table beside them and picked up the helmet. Everything was beginning to be lighten, although it was still really dark grey, and less dark grey that she was seeing. Nyal tucked his long hair behind him and slid his helmet on, hearing it hiss as it clamped into place.
Nyal looked up at him and for the first time since that morning, she saw his shimmering ruby eye through the dark faceplate of the helmet.