When Vee had first arrived on Earth, she thought she’d never really pick her feet off the ground. She hated the sky. It was too wide. Too empty. It made her mistrust gravity.
But when it came to maintaining a shuffle or running for her life, Vee chose to run.
With her heart pounding loud in her ears, Vee burst out of the woods. She turned in a full circle, feet scuffling in the loose gravel that littered the dirt road. On one side was the woods they’d run full tilt through. Her bare calves stung with a multitude of tiny cuts from the wildflower underbrush that had seemed so pretty at first. But Vee felt every single minute gash from the branches and brambles that had cut at her skin. The cuff of her capris spilled over with vibrant purple and red petals. She’d done just as much renting of flesh to the flowers as the plants had done to her.
Gavrin was bent double next to her, pulling in gasps of breath. Behind him, on the other side of the road was a field of wheat. Or barley. Or oats. Some golden crop that bent with a breeze Vee hadn’t been able to feel while running through the woods. The grain whispered as stalks rubbed together, a soft sound so abnormal that Vee took a step back, almost willing to go back into the trees. The crop stretched as far as she could see down the road in either direction, and even though the sound was soft, the magnitude of it was overwhelming, a thousand different voices murmuring something she could not understand.
And worst of all was the blue sky that seemed to go on forever. There wasn’t a cloud, just a yellow-white sun that stung with its brightness. Vee fought the urge to fall to her knees, to hug the ground. She couldn’t do that every single time she saw the sky in its vastness. But it still felt like she might just tip right off the world, that she might fall forever into blue.
“Where is she?” Gav rasped, standing and holding a stitch in his side. “Did she make it out?”
Vee turned again. They were missing the woman who had been their fellow captive. The one who Vee had insisted on freeing. The one who had never said a word, but, for some reason, Vee had been unable to leave behind.
A mistake. This was all a mistake.
“I don’t know,” Vee said. Her voice sounded so small next to the incessant susurration of the field. “I lost track of her.”
Gav swore, shielding his eyes with his free hand. As he peered down the road, he straightened his back, practically going up on tiptoe as though the height might let him see further. Vee swallowed the urge to to reach out and grab him, to hold him in place, to stop him from slipping off the Earth into sky.
“I thought she was right next to you,” he said, dropping his hand.
“Maybe she’s still in there,” Vee said, turning back to the woods. Birds had gone silent as the threesome had pounded through the woods. And it was still quiet. All except the sound of whispering grain. Vee covered her ears with both hands. “Maybe they got her,” she said, feeling her voice more than hearing it.
If he noticed, Gav didn’t comment on her behavior. “We lost them,” he said with certainty. “They stopped chasing us a mile ago.” Vee doubted it. Surely, captors wouldn’t give up so easily.
Gav’s feet moved against the gravel in a way that shouted against the whisper, a human sound at odds with nature. “She must have taken off. Stars.” The swear was adamant, like he was a step away from yelling it.
“What if this was a ploy?” Vee asked, a tremble in her voice. “What if she was really working for them? And she just set us up to be hunted. She never even said a word to us. Why did we take her with us, Gav? Why did we ever free a Wilder?”
They should have left her behind, should never have trusted her silence. The tug of pity that Vee had felt for the girl who couldn’t speak seemed so foolish now. Why have pity on a woman who knew this world so much better than Vee herself did? As if someone from the moon could ever help an Earther -- and a mutant Earther at that.
The last two days seemed like one long string of bad choices, capped off by having faith in a wild girl who did not speak. Vee regretted that split second decision to cut her free, the wasted seconds, the show of weakness. She had thought she was being kind, had found a potential ally. Instead, she and Gav were in even worse shape than ever; there was no way to know where the woman had gone or if she had ever actually been on their side.
Vee remembered her father’s words. Mercy only works if the person is in need of saving.
Gavrin’s hand shot out to grasp Vee at the shoulder, holding on so tightly and with such pressure that Vee felt sure her knees would buckle. She almost let it just happen. She still wanted to grasp the Earth with both arms, to hold on until the sky went away.
“What --” She tried to speak again, but Gav gave a sharp shake of his head. He was backing up slowly, trying to pull them both back into the woods. His eyes were locked on the field. They were so wide they were more whites than color, his pupils fully contracted, the green of his irises unnaturally full.
Vee’s heart had finally settled down from the run, but it ricocheted off again. She followed his gaze, but all she saw was the swayin grain.
Then a glint. Sun on metal.
Vee squinted against it, but from the point of flare, a figure suddenly resolved. She was dressed in shades of brown that blended perfectly with the field. With sunkissed skin and short golden yellow hair that swirled in the wind looking so much like vacillating stalks around her, the girl was almost impossible to see. But she had blue eyes the precise shade of the sky that gaped above them. And in her hand was a bow, string pulled taut, metal arrow sharp and clean enough to reflect the sun.