Disclaimer: "Please Save My Earth" is the creation and property of Saki Hiwatari.
This story follows the events in the first OAV episode, and the first volume of manga, incorporating aspects of both, and is the melded result of what my twisted imagination can come up with when left without supervision. But after watching the series and going through the manga, I couldn't help but wonder... What exactly was going on in poor Rin's mind? What would the story be like through his eyes?
*Warning: Major spoilers ahead. But I hope you read anyway.*
Ever since that first time he saw her, when she and her family were moving into the apartment next door, it seemed that she made him do the oddest things. A loud thump followed by an exclamation of dismay had roused him from his after-school dose of cartoons. He had peeked out into the hall to see what was going on, and there she was. Tall (though not quite so tall as Mama) and fragile, struggling with a heavy suitcase that had sprung open and spilled its contents across the hallway floor. Her long brown hair was damp from her exertions, and strands of it clung to her face.
He didn't say a word, but she must have felt his eyes on her, for she looked up, and their eyes locked. At that moment, he seemed frozen, unable to breathe, or even think.
And then, her face lit up, and she smiled; a greeting that shook him to the core.
Since then, he couldn't seem to get the stupid lady, with the strange name of Alice, out of his head. Alice. What kind of stupid name was that?
It was annoying. He had even gotten in trouble at school because of it, when the teacher had caught him doodling a stick figure with long hair on his math paper. But who cared? Additions and subtractions were boring anyway. He couldn't wait to move up to the 2nd grade, where the older kids were at least being taught multiplication tables, and not the baby stuff he had to do now.
Alice was so gullible. He loved to tease her, she was so easy to trick. She was even more gullible than the kindergartners, and she was a high school freshman. He didn't think anyone was stupid enough to fall for that "open your mouth and close your eyes" trick. But she had. Oh, the look on her face, when he spit his chewed gum into her mouth!
He had felt so bad afterwards. It was disconcerting; he wasn't even sure why he should feel so awful over such a little trick. He had done it to his friends, and they didn't cry, and he didn't cry when his friends had done it to him, after all. And he was only seven. She was old, already sixteen. Why should she cry?
The next day, when he saw Alice, he offered her a stick of gum. But she thought he was trying to trick her again, and she ignored him. When he insisted that it was real this time, she jerked away, knocking it out of his hand.
He cried, then. Staring silently at the stick of gum on the pavement, he felt the tears welling up in his eyes, against his will...
Stupid, stupid. Why would he cry over that, over her refusal of his gift, when he didn't cry over anything else? His feelings twisted and churned in his chest, and it was so confusing and so painful, so he stomped his feet and screamed until Alice apologized in a humbled panic. She even took him to the store after that, and bought him some gum, anxious to make amends for his wounded feelings.
He chewed it, and stuck it in the back of her long brown hair when she wasn't looking. Stupid Alice. Stupid lady, he hated her.
Startled, Rin looked up from his race car, which, he realized, he'd been staring at blankly. How long had he been sitting there, frozen in thought?
Mama was standing in his bedroom doorway. She smiled at him. "Just so you know, Daddy and I are going out tomorrow," she said. "We got a babysitter to stay with you for the day."
Rin sat back on his haunches and peered at Mama through his long parted bangs. "Who did you get?"
"Mrs. Yamaguchi, from the 4th floor. You remember her, don't you?"
Rin's expression immediately crinkled in distaste. "I don't like her. She's boring. All she does is watch TV."
Mama frowned. "Well, honey, I'm afraid I can't find anyone else on such short notice. It's the weekend, and everyone has already made plans."
"What about Alice?" The question was out of his mouth before he realized it.
His mother blinked. "Alice? You mean the Sakaguchi girl from next door? But I thought you didn't like her."
He had no answer to that, and so he remained silent, glaring at Mama as he felt an unsettling heat rise to his face.
Sudden understanding dawned in the woman's eyes as she gazed at her scowling son, and a smile turned up the corners of her mouth, which she tried in vain to suppress as Rin's scowl deepened. "Ah... I see... Well then," she said, unable to hide the amusement in her voice. "I'll go right over and ask if she's available."
Rin climbed onto his bed and affected disinterest as he abruptly became overly fascinated with the wheels of his purple race car.
"Alice, it's so good of you to do this on such short notice."
Rin silently looked up at Alice, who was doing her best to avoid his gaze as she looked right into Mama's face. "I... I'm glad I could be of help, Mrs. Koboyashi."
"Now, here's the number we'll be at if there's an emergency."
"And you're welcome to help yourself to anything in the refrigerator. There are plenty of leftovers from last night's dinner that you and Rin can have."
"Is there anything I'm forgetting? Oh yes, Rin's bedtime is 8:00, but if he eats all his food, you can let him stay up an extra half hour."
Mama sighed happily. "Well, I guess that's it then." She leaned over and kissed Rin on the top of his head. "You be good for Alice, okay?"
Rin gave Mama a thin-lipped smile, and held up two fingers in the "peace" sign.
"I'll see you later then. Bye!"
"Have a good time, Mrs. Koboyashi."
Mama closed the door behind her. Rin listened to her footsteps as she walked away down the long hall.
He turned to face Alice. She was looking down at him with no small amount of apprehension. Then, hesitantly, she opened her mouth as if she wanted to say something.
Rin took that as his cue, and, pursing his lips, he spit out the mouthful of water that he'd been carefully holding in his cheeks since before she came. Alice shrieked as she suddenly found herself wet and dripping.
"Rin! You... you..." She wiped at her face, looking as if she wasn't sure whether to be angry, or burst into tears.
She looked so flustered and pathetic. It was too funny, and Rin burst out laughing.
"You... you little brat!"
Uh-oh. Rin choked off his laughter as he saw Alice's hurt expression flare into fury, her fists clenching at her sides. Time to make a quick escape. He took off running, with Alice right on his heels.
"Come back here, Rin!"
"No way!" He dodged around the coffee table, using the piece of furniture as an obstacle between him and his teenage nemesis. "You can't make me! You're not my mother!" She chased him around the table a few times before they both stood at an impasse, each on opposite ends.
Alice glared at him, her face flushed, her hands flat on the table. "Rin, did you deliberately put gum in my hair yesterday?" she demanded.
He smirked, ignoring the sudden tightening of his chest. She deserved it, after all. "Yeah, so what?"
Alice's face went livid. "Ohhh!" She looked like she was about ready to climb over the table to get him, so he feinted to the left, and when she moved, he ducked off to the right, running down the hall to his room. He would slam the door in her face, and put his foot against the base of the door so she couldn't--
"Gak!" He felt himself jerked backwards as Alice grabbed the collar of his sweater and swiftly looped her arms under his from behind, pinning him so that he couldn't escape.
"Let me go! Let me GO!" he yelled.
"Not until you promise to behave," she snapped back.
Only one thing to do, then. Yelling his head off, he thrashed and kicked his legs violently, trying to break free. "Let go let go let GO!" he screeched. But it was no use. He felt Alice pull him off the floor, with difficulty, since it only made it easier for him to thrash around with his feet off the ground. Slowly, painfully, she hauled him back down the hallway and into the living room.
"Ugh. Hold still, Rin!"
Alice dropped him to the floor. He immediately scooted away and turned to face her, then blinked, surprised at the effect his words had made.
Alice's flushed face had gone pale, and she pointed at him with a shaking finger.
He blinked again. He hadn't realized that virgin was such a powerful word.
"H... how..." Alice stammered. "It... it's too early for you to..."
"Too early?!" Rin snorted. "It's already 11:00!"
Confusion and dismay flickered in Alice's eyes. "But... no... what you said... do you even know what that word means?"
Rin glared at her indignantly. "Of course I do! My mom said all nice young ladies are virgins. My mom is a wonderful virgin, but you're not a virgin at all!" He had hoped this would have the same effect as his original accusation, but for some reason, Alice looked relieved.
He wasn't sure what was wrong with what he'd said, but he had obviously lost his gained advantage. He scowled as he frantically tried to think of something else to--
Something made a strange noise behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that a cat had somehow made its way into the apartment, through the open patio door, and was now looking up at him inquisitively. It meowed again.
Rin let out a startled squawk, jumped up, and ran over to hide behind Alice's legs.
"Rin," Alice protested as he clung to her jeans. But, looking over her shoulder, she saw the look on his face. "Rin? What's wrong?" Her voice lost its irritation, and was once again gentle, and even worried as she saw the sudden fear in his expression.
He was trembling. He was frightened of the small animal, and he didn't know why. It didn't make any sense. He'd seen lots of pictures of cats before, and he'd seen them on TV, but they didn't seem scary then. The cat came towards them, and he gasped and clung to Alice's legs.
"Oh, it's just a cute kitty," said Alice, bending down to stroke the animal. It arched its back in pleasure at her touch, and began to purr. "See? It's nothing to be afraid of."
Rin eyed it skeptically for a moment, tensed with apprehension. The cat walked back and forth, rubbing its head against Alice's outstretched hand, purring loudly.
Alice looked at him, perplexed, yet obviously pleased that the appearance of the cat had effectively tamed her monstrous young charge. "I just... Look, she just won't. Here, why don't you try petting her?"
Rin paled. "I... I don't know." There was something about the cat. Something that made him feel... weird.
Almost the same way that Alice made him feel weird. He didn't like it.
A few minutes later, as the cat sat lapping up a bowl of milk that Alice had set out for it, he edged towards the animal with an outstretched hand. Carefully, he stroked the top of the cat's head with two fingers. The cat paid him no heed, and simply continued to lap up the milk.
"See? That's wasn't so scary, was it?" Alice smiled.
"I... I guess." He stroked the cat's head again, this time, with his whole hand. "I've never really been around animals before."
"Really?" Alice sounded shocked.
Rin nodded. "But... there's something..."
He frowned, his eyes growing cloudy and distant. "I don't know. It's just... it makes me feel weird."
His eyes cleared to see Alice leaning over him closely, with a broad smile on her face. "Hey," he said, jerking away. "Quit it!"
But she just smiled delightedly. "I have an idea," she said. "Let's take a trip... to the zoo!"
Rin blinked, surprised, flustered, and a little afraid. The zoo? Alice wanted to take him to the zoo? With all the animals?
He'd never been to a zoo before...
"Fine," he said sharply.
The animals were staring at them. All of the animals. Wherever they went, it seemed, whether they were at the polar bear exhibit, or the monkeys, or the giraffes or the elephants... All the animals stopped what they were doing, and gathered together... to stare at them.
It was weird.
"Why are they doing that?" Rin asked, leaning on the railing at the penguin exhibit. The penguins were all clustered at the furthest tip of an overhanging rock -- the closest they could come to their human observers.
"Because they're curious about you," Alice answered, matter- of-factly. "They're doing it for your benefit."
Rin looked back at her in surprise. "You mean, you can talk to them?"
Alice blushed suddenly. "Well... not exactly. It's more that I... can sense what they're feeling. It's been like this for me ever since I was a little girl."
Rin looked up at her skeptically. "Really? You're not just saying that, trying to fool a little kid, are you?"
"No!" Alice flushed further, and looked as if she regretted saying anything at all. "I... I've just always had a feel for these kind of things."
"Oh." Rin's brow furrowed. "Are they really curious about me? Or are they coming to see you?"
Alice looked at him for a moment, as if unsure what to say. "Maybe... they're coming to see both of us," she said.
"Mm." Rin doubted it, as he looked at the cluster of Emperor penguins. Their bright black eyes, framed in silky- smooth black feathers and bright streaks of scarlet on either side, stared up and past him to the girl standing behind him.
Yup, that clinched it. Alice was weirder than he thought.
But... it was a nice kind of weird, he decided. He had had fun today, a lot of fun. It was nice being with Alice as she took him around to all the different places. He liked it. He felt good with her. Weird good... but good just the same.
As they started back to catch the train, Alice paused by a small vendor's stand. "Oh look," she said. "Crocus bulbs!"
Rin looked into the wooden crates. There was nothing there but a bunch of dusty brown roots. He wrinkled his nose. "What's the big deal?" he asked.
Alice picked one up and held it carefully. "Crocus bulbs," she said softly, as if confiding a wonderful secret, "grow into beautiful flowers."
It was happening again. That weird feeling, stronger than ever, as he looked into her eyes. That strange thumping of his heart, and the tickling in the back of his skull -- as if something was under water, and trying to break through to the surface.
He nodded. "Uh-huh."
"You'll have to take good care of it."
"I will." He picked up one of the bulbs and held it carefully in both hands. "Will it be pretty?" he asked softly.
Alice laughed, and affectionately smoothed his hair with her hand. "Yes, it will be very pretty."
As they continued on their way to the train station, he held Alice's hand. He felt good, and happy, and warm in spite of the chill spring air. Somewhere along the way, he realized that he was smiling from ear to ear.
Maybe he didn't hate Alice after all.
At first, he had been irritated when these two strangers, a red-headed guy named Jinpachi, and his quiet friend Issei, had stopped him and Alice on the way to the train station -- especially since Alice seemed so reluctant to talk to them. In fact, she had tried to pull him away from the pair, as if she was anxious to leave. Rin had been more than happy to oblige, not wanting to get caught up in the middle of a boring adult conversation. But then Jinpachi had offered to treat him and Alice to some ice cream, in return for a chance to explain. Explain what, Rin didn't know and didn't care. But he figured that, with ice cream in the bargain, as long as the conversation didn't last too long, he could tolerate it in silence for the time being.
He didn't understand what they were talking about anyway. Maybe it was more interesting than he thought, because both Alice and the Jinpachi guy were blushing. He listened with half an ear to the conversation, his greater attention focused on spooning the sweet chocolate coldness into his mouth.
"When you saw us," said the young man named Issei, "you overheard the middle of our strange conversation, and didn't get the full picture."
"Did I misunderstand then?" Alice said hesitantly. "I... I really didn't mean to eavesdrop. I was just looking at the flowers behind the school, and I overheard... Well, you said that the night before, you and he..." She trailed off in embarrassment, her cheeks glowing pink.
Issei smiled sheepishly. Jinpachi groaned and ran his hands through his unruly hair. "It's not that at all," he said. "Man, how do I explain this without sounding crazy?"
"Tell her about the dreams," Issei suggested.
Alice blinked. "Dreams?"
Jinpachi sighed. "It's like this, Alice. For a while now, Issei and I have been having identical dreams. It's hard to explain, but... it's as though we're characters in someone else's memories. In our dreams, I'm always a guy named Gyokulan."
"And for me," said Issei, "the dreams were particularly disturbing, because... Well, it seems that I'm a woman, named Enju. What's more, Enju and Gyokulan seem to be..." He coughed delicately. "Er... lovers."
Alice's eyes went wide, and she let out a little, nervous laugh.
Jinpachi reddened further. "This must sound completely crazy to you."
"No," Alice said hastily. She smiled tentatively. "Actually, it's fascinating. In fact, I'd like to hear more about these dreams."
Rin paused in shoveling the ice cream into his mouth. She wanted to hear more? This didn't bode well for a short conversation. He looked over at Jinpachi. The tousle-haired young man's face had lit up at the sight of Alice's smile.
Rin felt something inside him twitch unpleasantly. Frowning, he looked down and slowly lifted another spoonful of ice cream to his mouth.
"You see," said Jinpachi, "Issei and I were in the same home room during the last two years of junior high. Sometimes we'd talk about our dreams." He grimaced slightly. "Even then, they were pretty wacky. So here we are, freshman year in high school, and we're still having weird dreams. But when we started taking them seriously, something happened. We started remembering details, people and conversations, like we were awake.
Alice shook her head in amazement. "That... certainly is unusual."
Jinpachi snorted. "You don't know the half of it."
"What he means," said Issei, "is that all of these dreams take place on the moon."
Rin looked up from his ice cream. His dish was nearly empty, and, against his will, he felt himself being drawn into this strange conversation. The whole situation was starting to make him feel all weird inside again. He looked over at Alice to see her reaction Issei's claim. She seemed quite engrossed in the story.
"The... moon?" she asked.
"Yes. We live there in some kind of base or research station, as part of a group of seven scientists. I'm the one called Enju, and Jinpachi is Gyokulan. The seven of us are involved in some kind of work observing the Earth. We gather data of the world's nations, people, politics... you name it. Each scientist is qualified in one way or another, to contribute to the team. In fact, Enju is an anthropologist." Issei lowered his voice uneasily. "That's another thing that's so weird about this whole thing. I've never studied anthropology in my life. But I know it. The knowledge is there, inside my head, and I haven't done a thing to acquire it. Other than have these dreams, that is."
"That's right," said Jinpachi. "Aside from Gyokulan and Enju..." A wistful smile suddenly lit his face. "Well, there's Mokulen. She's the biologist. She's... wow, well, she's beautiful and mysterious... and brilliant. And she has a way with plants that you would not believe."
Rin fidgeted in his seat, a small scowl settling across his brow. He was through with his ice cream. And he didn't like the way this conversation was going. Most of it didn't even make any sense. He just didn't like the feel of it... but even more, he especially didn't like the way Jinpachi was looking at Alice.
On top of that, he didn't feel very good. That strange feeling was back, tickling the base of his skull, making his head ache.
"Really?" said Alice.
"Yeah." Jinpachi's expression became thoughtful. "And then there's Shion. He's an engineering genius. He's a strange one, though, kind of the dark and brooding type. Believe it or not, I get the impression that he and Gyokulan are good friends. Like they knew each other as kids. But Shion was a trouble-making kid, a near delinquent. Even now, his morals are a little questionable."
"You're making him sound worse than he is," interrupted Issei. "After all, he has a strong sense of justice. And he has the tendency to take things at face value."
"Yeah, but his temper--"
"Isn't as bad as Shusulan's."
"Amazing," Alice breathed. "It's as if you really know these people."
Jinpachi looked at Alice and smiled. "Yeah. I know it sounds weird, but we do. Then there's--"
Shukaido The strange word flitted through Rin's mind. He blinked, and rubbed one eye with the heel of his hand.
"--Shukaido, the physician. He's the real quiet type. And Hiragi, he's a linguist, and the team leader. And Shusulan. Hm. I can't remember what her job was, but I think she is friends with Enju."
"She is," said Issei. "And she's the physical sciences expert."
"And you learned all this from your dreams?"
Jinpachi and Issei cast startled looks at each other. Jinpachi leaned towards Alice eagerly. "Do you believe us then?"
"Well..." Alice shifted uncomfortably. "It is pretty far- fetched. But... I don't know. Something about it seems... right, I guess."
"What a relief!" Jinpachi exclaimed, and Alice blinked, startled. "Wow, I just couldn't stand the thought of you thinking I was... you know, gay or whatever."
"Oh." Alice smiled shyly. "Well then, I guess you can rest easy now."
Rin had had enough. He was tired, his ice cream was gone, and the conversation had gone on much too long. Worse than that, the weird, aching feeling was stronger than ever, sparking every time he looked up at Jinpachi and saw the strange glint in the young man's eyes that seemed directed at Alice.
Rin wasn't stupid. He watched television, he saw the shows that Mama watched, and he knew mushy stuff when he saw it. Feeling irrationally angry, he reached over and tugged on Alice's sleeve. "I'm bored," he announced loudly. "I wanna go home!"
"You know, it's weird," Jinpachi said, looking at Alice as if Rin hadn't spoken. "But I've had this feeling, since the day I first saw you at school, that we've met somewhere before."
Rin felt a strange heat build up behind his eyes. But before he could do or say anything, Issei spoke up.
"Oh please," he said. "That's the oldest pick-up line in the book."
Jinpachi turned on his friend, flushing with embarrassment. "That's not what I meant!" He scowled. "Maybe you are gay."
Issei's mouth opened in shock. "Hey! What kind of thing is that to say?"
Jinpachi immediately looked shamefaced. He glanced over at Alice, who was blushing profusely, then back at his friend. "I... I'm Sorry, Issei. I spoke before I thought."
"As usual." Issei looked decidedly unhappy.
Rin clenched his teeth and pulled on Alice's sleeve again impatiently. "Alice, let's go home!"
"Okay, Rin," she replied, still looking a bit flustered. She stood and gave a little bow towards the young men. "Thank you for the ice cream... and the explanation."
"Uh... no problem." Jinpachi rubbed the back of his neck in embarrassment. "Thanks for the chance to explain."
"Rin, it's almost your bedtime," Alice called from the kitchen. "Time to get in your pajamas."
Rin sat on the edge of the couch and kicked off his shoes. One of them hit the far wall and left a mark.
"Rin? No roughhousing, okay?"
He felt like he wanted to cry. Like he wanted to hit something. His eyes burned, and his throat was full of bitter heat. The horrible aching sensation, that had finally vanished during his afternoon excursion with Alice by his side, had returned to haunt him with a vengeance, eating away at his insides. And he didn't even fully understand why. He only knew that he hated feeling that way. He hated it, and he wanted the feeling to go away forever.
He wanted to feel good again. The weird good, like when Alice had held his hand; when she had picked him up and held him in her arms, so that he could see the animals over the fences that were taller than his head...
He stared sullenly at his socks. In the kitchen, he could hear the faucet running as Alice filled the glass vase with water. A moment later, she came into the living room.
"Here you go, Rin," said Alice, as she carefully placed the crocus bulb on the mouth of the vase, so that its bottom touched the water. "You'll need to lower the water level as the roots grow, but soon you'll have a beautiful flower to enjoy."
Rin ignored her, and continued to stare at his feet.
"Rin, what's wrong?"
Alice sighed. "Come on, Rin, we were having such a good time earlier today. Why are you sulking all of a sudden?"
She knelt down next to him. "Are you... thinking about that story that Jinpachi and Issei told us?"
"Are you in love with that Jinpachi jerk?" Rin demanded.
Alice blinked. "Wh-what?"
"You heard me!" Rin stood, trembling. He could feel the tears burning behind his eyes, but he held them back with the fire of his anger. "I'll bet you want to marry him!"
Alice leaned back, startled and bewildered by the force of his vehemence. "Wh-what if... I said yes?"
Rin's eyes widened. The ache washed up through him, filling his mind with a painful haze. He snarled, and, on impulse, he grabbed the vase with the crocus bulb. Running out to the balcony, he climbed up onto the railing, straddling it, with the vase held in his outstretched hands.
"Rin!" Alice came towards him, alarm creasing her face. "Don't! That's dangerous, get down from there right now!"
Rin just looked at her angrily. "Watch this, Alice," he said.
And dropped the vase.
He looked down, then, and watched it fall.
The vase plunged swiftly past ten stories of building, to disappear in the leaves of the great oak tree far beneath. The shivering sound of shattering glass against the concrete was spectacularly loud, even from his high distance.
It was a long way down, he realized, with a numb tightening of his chest.
He stared after it a moment, in the darkness of the evening. The sound of the breaking glass seemed to shake something loose within him. He blinked, surprised at the sudden swell of horrible realization that washed over him, penetrating the haze of his anger.
He had destroyed Alice's gift.
And he could hear her standing next to him, her breath coming in ragged gasps. He pulled his gaze up from where the crocus had fallen to its demise, to look at Alice. She was staring down into the darkness.
Rin felt the world tilt. His gaze locked with Alice's, and in that moment he saw, in her wet brown eyes, the surge of understanding, of raw fear that he felt explode within himself...
Something snagged his sock, his foot, halting his fall. His upside-down body swung back and hit the metal railing. The blood was rushing to his head, he could hear his pulse thudding in his ears. And through the throbbing, he could hear Alice's screams, he could feel the tight grip of both her hands as she clung fiercely to his foot and ankle.
His foot began to slip out of the sock.
"Somebody help me!" Alice screamed. "Mother! Mother!"
The darkness of the ground seemed to rush up to meet him as he dangled there, upside-down, above the black abyss. His consciousness flickered like a candle flame in a fierce wind.
Mama! he cried silently, unable to speak or even scream past the thick terror squeezing his chest. Mama, help me..!
His foot came free, and he fell.
And he was surrounded by nothing; he felt nothing but the sickening plummet of his stomach, heard nothing but the thundering pulse of blood in his ears.
Then, a light touch, a brush of wind, and for a wild, mind- numbing moment, he thought Alice was with him again.
But then it was gone.
And the darkness swallowed him.
"Shion... Shion! Wake up!"
He opened his eyes, his mind fuzzy as the blurry image of a blond-haired man swam into view above him.
Anger, sharp and tinged with fear, surged through him, and he sat up, snapping his arms in front of him aggressively, ready to fight. But the blond man wasn't even looking at him at the moment, having walked over to open a small drawer in the wall. He began rummaging through it with haste.
What the...? Where was he? What was going on?
And then he saw the back of his hand. He froze in alarm.
His hand was huge, with long, strong fingers, and strange brown skin.
Not his hand...
A violent thrill of panic rushed through him. "Who..." he asked, and paused again. His voice was an unfamiliar deep, rich thrum in his ears.
"It's just me, you idiot." The blond man pulled something out of the drawer and threw it at him. He caught it instinctively. It was a bundle; a white shirt and a pair of trousers. "You're late for your shift, so wake up already."
He looked at the blond man, his thoughts a jumble of jigsaw pieces, desperately trying to fall into place.
"Gyokulan?" he whispered.
"What? Here, take your shoes."
Gyokulan... He blinked slowly. Yes, of course he knew Gyokulan.
And his hands, his voice... how could he have thought they weren't his? He shook his head trying to clear his mind of what seemed like infinite layers of cobwebs. The layers peeled away reluctantly, but gradually his mind cleared.
"Come on, get up. Shusulan was looking pretty steamed when I snuck past the control room."
"Lay off for a second, jerk," he muttered, sitting up and rubbing his temples.
Gyokulan snorted. "Nice to see you cheerful as ever, Mr. Sunshine," he said. "This is the thanks I get for trying to spare you from Shusulan's temper."
"I can handle Shusulan."
"Of that I have no doubt. I'm more worried about the safety of the others, to be honest. Don't want them getting caught in the cross fire." Gyokulan eyed him critically and his voice lost its joking tone. "Hey... are you feeling okay?"
"Would I have slept in if I was feeling okay?" he snapped.
"Hey, no need to jump on my back." Gyokulan frowned worriedly. "I was just thinking that maybe you should go see Shukaido, let him check you out. I know you. You never sleep in, and yet this is three times in one week. And, to be honest, you look like hell. Maybe you're not getting enough REM sleep, or something."
Shion scowled, but said nothing. If there was anything he didn't need, it was more REM sleep.
That dream again...
That terrible, disorienting dream. He could barely remember it now, but the feeling of it was still there. A feeling of aching pain, of too-fragile joy teetering on the dark edge of despair...
He'd already had enough of that in his life. Did it have to haunt his dreams as well?
He forced it out of his mind. "I'll be fine," he said irritably, swinging his legs over the edge of his bed and getting to his feet.
Gyokulan raised a skeptical eyebrow as he turned to leave, but said nothing.
As soon as his friend was gone, Shion quickly dressed, and then went into the small bathroom adjacent to his sleeping quarters. He leaned on the sink with one arm. "Cold," he said, and the faucet gushed on his command. He splashed a handful of frigid water in his face. "Stop." The faucet obeyed. Wiping his eyes with his fingers, he straightened and reached for a towel. As he did, he caught a glimpse of himself in the small, eye-level mirror mounted above the sink.
Why in the holy name of Sahjaleem had he expected to see someone else?
Pushing his unease from his mind, he dried his face, and made haste for the corridor door, grabbing his tool case on the way. He had a ton of work ahead of him. As usual.
The former sterile, white halls of the moon base were choked with plant life. Knee-high blades of grass grew impossibly out of the floor grids, and vines covered the walls and ceiling, growing out of the ventilation ducts, as well as poking into the seams of the fragile computer panels.
Barely suppressing a growl, Shion began to wade through the tall grass, making his way down the corridor.
As if his duties weren't already impossible. Trying to upgrade the archaic equipment and computer systems of the old base was hard enough as it was.
But then Mokulen had to go and sing to her plants.
Within hours, the plants had grown out of control and had overrun the entire station. He himself had woken to find his room full of bright pink flowers, each pungent blossom at least the size of his hand. And he nearly couldn't get up for all the vines wrapped around his bed.
Of course, the plants wreaked havoc on all the hardware, destroying weeks worth of his hard labor. He had spent the past few days plucking vegetation from the main computer's delicate innards. Was it any wonder he was angry?
Then again, Mokulen wouldn't have sung to her plants if she hadn't been so upset over their argument the night previous...
A bit of regret flashed through Shion's dark eyes.
Silly, over-emotional woman...
His heart felt heavy and muted, and he couldn't seem to work up the derisive emotion to match the thought.
The door to the now relatively plant-free main control room slid open, and Shusulan turned in her chair to greet him.
"Shion" she said icily. "How nice of you to finally decide to grace me with your presence."
"Don't start, Shusulan," he growled.
The short-haired red-head ignored his black look, giving him one of her own as she stood from her seat at the main control panel. "You're not the only one in this station, you know," she said. "I have things I need to take care of as well, and I certainly don't have time to wait for you to slink on in here whenever you damn well feel like it."
Shion gazed at her stonily. "If you're so short on time, I guess you'd better hurry and get the hell out of my face."
Shusulan flushed angrily. "I don't have to take this. If you're ever this late again, Shion, you may find yourself pulling a double shift."
"Empty threats." Shion knelt next to the main computer, removed one of the base panels, and opened his tool case. "Unless, of course, you want to take on the glamorous task of getting rid of the plant life in systems 43-K through 87-Z. Then I'll be more than happy to cover your shift for you."
The woman seethed in silence for a moment. Then she headed for the door. "This is all your fault, Shion," she said. "You deserve all this extra work, for being so cruel to Mokulen."
Shion felt his jaw clench convulsively, but when he looked up, Shusulan was already out the door.
Cruel. He wasn't cruel to Mokulen. He had simply pointed out how foolish some of her ideas were. Okay, perhaps he had been a bit blunt. Maybe even... caustic.
But everyone else on the station, especially Gyokulan and Shukaido, practically bowed and scraped to the woman as if she were the Goddess herself. She was nothing more than a spoiled girl, pampered beyond repair by the nuns who raised her, simply because she was born with the rare powers of a Keeches.
So Mokulen had been born with the Mark of Sahjaleem on her forehead, while other Keeches weren't marked until at least adolescence. So what? So she could talk to plants and animals. It didn't mean she knew the best way to go about observing the Earth, and it certainly didn't mean she knew anything about engineering.
Powers meant nothing. He himself had been born Sahches, and what good had his abilities ever done him? Though, he had to admit, his powers were of quite a different nature than hers. Hers seemed borne of light and life, while his...
...blood... the soldiers were bleeding, with their eyes and mouths wide open, bodies motionless, broken, shattered, I didn't mean to, I didn't mean it, I was so hungry I just wanted some food, and they were going to kill me and it just happened I didn't mean it...
Shion screwed his eyes shut against the memory, welling like black oil from the dark depths of his childhood...
No. His past, perhaps. Not his childhood. Not really. Children smiled and laughed and played and joked...
He had never been a child.
And that was the difference between him and Mokulen. Ever since the first time he saw her, he knew. When he looked at her, he saw a beautiful, naive child of light; light that seemed to shine directly into the dark depths of his soul, where a filthy, starved war orphan in rags lay huddled in the darkness and shivering amongst the carnage...
She saw that deep, hidden part of him, the part he loathed, the part he feared... he was sure of it. With all that light, how could she not?
He heard the door slide open behind him.
Shion suppressed a groan. Shukaido. What did he want?
"Gyokulan said you weren't feeling well, and Mokulen asked if I would check up on you."
Well, of course, if Mokulen asked, he thought wryly. Then he paused.
Mokulen was worried about him?
"I'm fine," he said without turning his head, focusing his attention on the damaged disk he was repairing.
"Not according to Gyokulan."
"Yeah, well, we both know that he's never been good at minding his own business. It's amazing, how he's always sticking his nose in where he's not wanted, and yet he can never seem to see the facts in front of his face."
Shukaido lapsed into hurt silence -- as Shion knew he would, after a barb aimed at their mutual best friend. They had gone to school together, the three of them, and the young physician had always been the over-sensitive type, wide-eyed and eager to please, but without a thick-enough skin to deal with the harsh realities of life.
Shion had always found him to be friendly and open, yet... faintly annoying. No doubt because of the young man's ever- present blind optimism. And right now, for some reason, his feelings of annoyance towards his friend were amplified.
"Just go away, Shukaido. Can't you see I'm busy?"
Silence. Then, "Gyokulan said you've been suffering from headaches and restless sleep."
"Gyoku needs to take a flying leap out the airlock."
Shukaido sighed patiently. "I'm not going to leave until you agree to let me examine you. If you're sick, you should be treated before it gets worse."
Shion slammed his laser tool against the wall. "Now look," he said, turning to face his friend. "I've got a ton of work that I need to get done, and I don't have time to--"
He froze, startled, as he saw Shukaido's face.
Shukaido hadn't changed; it was the same face he saw almost every day. Pale skin, smooth, bluish-lavender hair, with long bangs that fell in a natural part down the middle. Intelligent, violet eyes that were entirely too innocent.
Shukaido's brow creased with concern. "Shion... what's wrong?"
"I..." He didn't know. A sudden pain lanced through his head.
The laser tool trembled in his hands, then fell from his stiff fingers. He clutched his head with a groan and collapsed to the floor. Darkness flickered at the edges of his vision.
Sounds, ebbing, quiet and muffled, from the darkness.
Weeping. Somebody was weeping...
"...my count. One, two, three... move."
"...head injury, skull fracture..."
"...so small... can't find a good vein... how old?"
"Six, maybe seven... babysitter pushed him off a 10-story balcony..."
"Got one... IV's in..."
Mama, I'm scared...
Shion opened his eyes.
A plush cushion of fragrant grass, vines and flowers, cradled him in a lush, living embrace. Above him, through the great window, the Earth hung in space like a great blue and white jewel.
The dream again. And, like so many times before, it melted from his mind like frost in the morning sun, leaving him with nothing but a vague feeling of...
Mokulen stirred in his arms.
He looked down at her, unsurprised, a soft smile curving his lips. Shifting slightly, he carefully lifted one hand to gently brush the loose strands of golden hair from her smooth, ivory face.
Her eyes opened then, deep rich brown, and she smiled, raising one hand to hold his against her cheek.
"Shion," she whispered. "Did you dream of Earth?"
He nodded, once again startled at the warm thrill he felt at the sound of her voice. "But I don't remember."
"It doesn't matter." Mokulen closed her eyes contentedly, and leaned against his chest. "If you dream, it is there, within you, and it will be with you always."
Shion didn't reply. He just held her close, and felt her warmth and light... amazed all over again that she could love him.
After the bitter bleakness of his life; after every scathing word and gesture he had inflicted, not only on others, but on her...
By Sahjaleem. How could he have ever hurt her? The sweet, wonderful creature in his arms that had withstood his harshness, and then went on to soothe the nightmares of his past, sparking a light in the dark depths of his soul, pulling him slowly from a morass of fear and self-loathing...
She even saved him from the despair of the moment.
For everyone and everything they had ever known was gone.
It had happened so suddenly. Even now, weeks and months later, Shion could scarcely grasp the enormity of it all.
At first, the news of the escalation of the Galactic Wars was only mildly alarming. After all, the Wars had flared violently many times before in the previous decades, only to settle once again into uneasy peace between the numerous factions of interplanetary government.
Hiragi had sent message after message to both the home worlds and to the Board of Interplanetary Research, requesting details on the war, but there was no reply. Apparently, everyone was far too busy to worry about responding to a tiny outpost monitoring an insignificant planet on the outskirts of the galaxy.
And thus, the seven of them found themselves utterly isolated. They had to rely on the faint, garbled newscasts that occasionally trickled through to their feeble communications relay system for any clue as to what was happening back home.
The news was never good. Mostly casualty reports, with ever-growing numbers, that left all of them silent and pale with growing dread. In those bleak moments after Hiragi deciphered the latest broadcast, they found that, in spite of all their differences, they all seemed to think and feel with one mind.
This couldn't be happening. This can't be happening. It's impossible...
And then, one day, as they gathered around the communications station... static.
Nothing but static.
It took days for Hiragi to piece together the last semi- coherent transmissions they'd received. Leader that he was, his voice didn't even crack when he broke the news.
But then, they already knew. They could feel it.
Virtually everything had been destroyed. Entire worlds blown to space dust. Family and friends gone.
Not even anyone left to respond to their desperate transmitted pleas for help when, weeks later, Shukaido discovered the terrible, deadly, contagious virus that was making Gyokulan so violently ill.
Shion trembled at the memory. Tragedy heaped upon tragedy...
But even then, under the irrevocable sentence of slow, lingering death that had been passed on each of them within the moon base, Shion had refused to give or receive comfort from his companions. He'd been through this before, after all. The others, they were new to this kind of pain. But he already knew what it was like to lose everything.
And yet, deep inside, under his icy exterior, he was screaming. Weeping. Begging, sobbing, tearing at his hair, pleading with Sahjaleem, asking Why? Why did this happen? Why is it happening all over again? Why must I stand here helpless, and watch my friends die? Why must I watch her die, just when I found her, just when she helped me begin to believe there might be some light in this dark, stained soul...
So he stood apart from their grief, cool and aloof, and prepared himself to die.
But, in spite of all his efforts, Mokulen would not let him separate himself from the others... or from her.
He was angry at first, at her persistence in pursuing their growing relationship, when death was skulking at their door. He shouted and cursed and mocked and waved his fists at her, hoping to send her away in tears, in fear, in loathing of him... anything, just as long as she left him alone.
She wouldn't leave him alone.
"Just believe," she had said to him, softly, when he clung to her, shaking and weeping in despair. "Even if death takes us all, it's not the end. We'll be together again."
Shukaido had worked feverishly to find a cure for the virus, but the equipment was so old, far too archaic to meet his research needs.
Shusulan died soon after Gyokulan, and then Hiragi followed. Soft-spoken Enju was next, and then Shukaido himself contracted the illness... even as he finally discovered a vaccine.
A vaccine that he gave to Shion and Mokulen, so that they could survive.
Shion closed his eyes in remembrance. His friend had saved them. And he would survive. In spite of everything, the horror and the pain and the terrible grief of worlds destroyed and friends lost...
He felt Mokulen's hand against his cheek, wiping away wetness. "My love..." She didn't ask the reason for his tears; she knew all to well. She held him close.
The Earth is our future, she had said. Together they would save it from the terrible fate their own worlds had suffered. Somehow...
He didn't know how. It didn't matter. He held Mokulen close, taking comfort in her warmth and love. Nothing mattered, as long as they were together.
Mokulen's hair was soft against his face, and smelled of wild flowers. "As long as you're with me," he whispered.
"Didn't you know, Alice?" her brother said, draping a comforting arm around her as she wept in the hospital waiting room. "They say that the oak tree somehow broke his fall and saved him." He shook his head, glancing at her with fond amazement as she turned and cried her exhaustion and relief into his shoulder. "You and your weird luck with plants...."
Comments? Criticisms? Flames? Death threats? Email me at: kristaperry(at)comcast.net