“But I love you. I love you with all my heart. You can’t go.”

Avery stifled a groan. Grand declarations of love wasn’t something she ever expected when she first befriended Garret. She thought he was sweet, but he was, once again, taking things too far.

Another strong gust of wind kept her from responding right away. Brushing a strand of her long, brown hair out of her face, she replied, “Garret, please don’t do this. I already told you-”

“You don’t love me, I know. I don’t care.”

“So, why are you here?”

“Because I don’t want you to get yourself killed.”

He has a point, Avery thought, but she would never say it out loud. Labeled a suicide mission from its inception, the voyage Avery was about to undertake was very likely to be her first and last. She looked around, avoiding his dark green eyes as they stared hard at her. Garret would wait, though, as he’d always done. It was night, and, even though it was raining, the floodlights set up meticulously around the loading dock made everything visible. Avery spotted workers loading the ship with cargo. They guided the giant metal bins, placed on flat, steel hoverboards for ease, carefully into the hull of the craft. Others rushed around here and there, tying up loose ends.

She spotted Abram – he was taller than most – as he made his way toward the ship, his brown hair ruffling. Though they were about the same age, Avery couldn’t help but be intimidated by him sometimes. It was only the two of them for the mission, which was why it’d been labeled as extremely dangerous. As if by magic, he looked over, and their gazes locked. For a moment, his facial expression changed. Abram’s mouth twisted as if he was going to smile, but changed his mind halfway through the action. Avery’s eyes widened. She’d never seen his expression change into anything remotely happy, and, unsure how to respond, turned quickly back to Garret.

Looking towards Abram himself, he said, “I feel worse about this whole mission knowing he’s going with you.”

“Of course you do,” Avery sighed.

“I’m serious! There’s something wrong with that guy, Avery.”

Avery smiled wearily. Even though he was a pain in the ass, she couldn’t help but appreciate Garret’s concern for her. She wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly.

“Don’t worry, okay?”

Garret held her to him just as tightly. “Just be safe, and come back to me in one piece.”

Avery squeezed him one last time. “I will.”

Before she knew it, Avery was sitting next to Abram aboard the shuttle that would take them to the colony. As the engine started, their arms bumped together lightly. She glanced sideways at him, hoping not to catch his eye again. Avery thought he was good-looking, but not overly handsome. Spending most of her days with him for the past four months had not changed her mind about that. What had changed was what she thought of him as a person. Avery now knew that deep down he wasn’t the cold, callous guy people thought he was.

“I can see you,” came his voice in her helmet.

Avery gasped and looked away. They were speeding through the atmosphere. With all of the commotion, Avery hadn’t noticed him stealing glances at her, too.

“Sorry,” Avery said sheepishly.

“It’s okay,” he said, his deep voice filling ear canals. “Just focus from now on.”

“I’m always focused.”

“Says the girl who thought it as a good idea to read a book while walking down the stairs.”

Avery sniffed. “I’m trying to become a better multitasker.”

She couldn’t be sure, but under the sound of the engines whirring, she thought she heard Abram chuckle. In all the time she’d known him, Avery had never heard him laugh. She had to admit, she enjoyed the sound.

Their journey continued in silence until it was time to go into stasis. They worked together, as they’d practiced so many times before. Going through the motions helped to ease the undercurrent of anxiety Avery had been feeling for the past few days. Both she and Abram had made peace with the fact that they might not return long ago.

It was a strange occurrence. Avery was alone in the locker room, polishing her boots. It was co-ed, so everyone could become whatever was after “intimate” with each other. They were halfway through their training, and she was still working extra hard to prove that she should be there. As she sat, deep in thought, Abram appeared out of nowhere.

“Hey,” he said.

Avery shrieked, and her heart started to pound double time. Looking up, she saw Abram, and her face turned a burning shade of red. This wasn’t the first time he’d snuck up on her.

“Still haven’t considered getting a warning bell?” She asked.

He sat down across from her on the bench without comment. Instead, he simply stared at her for a long moment, making Avery shift slightly. His intense stare made it difficult to hold a conversation with him for very long. She had just gone back to polishing her boots when he spoke again.

“Why did you want this mission?”

Avery’s head jerked up. Forgetting his gaze, Avery stared at him, an expression of confusion of her face.

“What?” She finally managed to say. “Why do you ask?”

Abram sighed. “You know the likelihood of us surviving this mission. Why do it?”

Avery’s confusion deepened. Despite their extremely close proximity the past two months, she knew little about Abram that wasn’t in his file. In fact, she’d long since given up trying to figure out what went on in his head, so she didn’t understand why he was approaching her.

“I just . . . I just want to help my country in any way I can.”

“Even if it means dying?”

Avery cleared her throat. “Yes. I’d rather die than see the people I love get hurt.”

A heavy silence surrounded them. Avery stared at her boots again. She had never admitted that to anyone, even herself. As soon as she did, though, a weight seemed to lift from her chest.

“I feel the same way.”

With those words, Abram left. They never spoke about it again, but, from then on, there was a sort comfort between them that hadn’t existed before.

Now, in the ship, they were lying down in their separate pods to finish their journey. She looked over at Abram, and found his gaze already on her. This time he did smile at her, and she couldn’t help but smile back.

“See you in three months, Avery.”

“See you in three months, Abram.”

Waking up from stasis was terrible. It always made Avery sick during their practice runs, and she thought it made her look weak. Abram would be there every time, though, helping her through the worst of it. He stroked her back now, even though she was face deep in a sick bag.

“I hope this doesn’t stop you from completing the mission,” he said, almost as a joke.

“Never,” Avery managed to cough.

When she was finally on her feet, they landed the ship, connecting it to the colony base. Right before the door opened, Abram reached over, and, with the hand that wasn’t holding his RA-731, squeezed her empty hand. She squeezed back as it slid open. Together they went onto the base. Avery couldn’t see momentarily, the only lights being the emergency floor lights. The air felt moist, and smelled of mold and copper. There was nothing but silence and emptiness.

“We’d better get moving,” Abram whispered.

“Yeah.”

Their heavy-booted footsteps made Avery uneasy, and she swallowed hard against the lump that had formed in her throat. They had to get to the main station, but, with each step, it seemed further away.

Suddenly, from far ahead, Avery heard a noise. It seemed like a mix between a growl and shriek. She and Abram stopped short, and stared at each other. Their hard breathing slowed as they listened. There it was again, unmistakable, and closer

this time.

Without thinking, Avery reached up and kissed Abram. After a moment’s hesitation, he reciprocated her passion. His hands found her hair and gently stroked it until they finally pulled apart.

“That was my first kiss,” Avery managed to breathe out over another howl, which was moving quickly towards them.

“Mine too,” Abram replied. “Ready?”

“For anything.”

After a final, quick kiss the two ran off, weapons in hand, ready to face whatever terror the darkness brought.

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Samantha Henry

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