Star and Elias follow along behind Devin. Their lights disappear as they make the turn around the corner into the tunnel Star found. America waits for me as I limp behind. I try not to wince each time I put my weight on my bad ankle.
"Are you okay?" he asks. His brow furrows with concern. Sweat drips from his hairline, running through the dirt cakes on his forehead.
"I'm fine." I walk one hand along the side of the cave as we turn into the tunnel, using the cold stone surface to help support myself. "That tentacle thing just grabbed my ankle when we were running. It got me again in the tunnel, thankfully the same leg so at least I still have one good one. It's probably just a bruise or something."
I pause for a second to rest. Up ahead, Elias, Star, and Devin speak in hushed voices that echo around the tunnel like whispering ghosts.
"At least I didn't get bitten." My mind flashes back to the swirling mass of tentacles and wings devouring Lou and his guttural, choking screams as they tore him apart. I think about the screaming of the other group on the radio as they were attacked by the same creatures we were. The radio gave out in complete static. We heard nothing else from them. Did that mean—
I cut my thought off before I can finish it, swallowing a lump in my throat. "Or eaten," I finally add.
America pinches his eyes closed, probably trying to block out the same memories. We are silent for a moment. I wince as I push myself off the wall and continue to limp. I don't want to fall too far behind the rest of the group.
"Here." America reaches over to me, putting his arm around my waist. "Let me help. You're limping really bad."
"I've got it." I shrug away, but in the process, I stumble over a divot in the ground.
"Careful." America grabs me at the waist, bracing me so I don't fall. "You'll be helping me, too. I lost my headlamp. I need yours to see."
"Fine." Begrudgingly, I let him help me along, putting my arm around his shoulder for support. I glance at him out of the corners of my eyes. His gaze is trained ahead, and his face is tense. He licks some blood from his lower lip.
"Are you okay, America? Your mouth's bleeding."
"I just bit my tongue on the way down," he says.
"What about your head? You're the only one that took that fall without a helmet."
"Bit of a headache, but I'll recover." He shrugs, laughing lowly under his breath. "I was already stupid enough to throw my most useful item at a flying sea cucumber, so I doubt hitting my head could make me that much worse off."
A half-smile crosses my face. I kick a small stone. The sound of it bouncing against the rocky sides of the cave reverberates through the tunnel until the echoes are lost in the distance.
"You can't be that stupid if you were picked to go on this mission," I say. "They weren't sending just anyone."
He smiles at me. "Fair point." Then, he purses his lips into a frown. A small crease forms on his dirt-streaked forehead.
I know the expression. He's thinking.
I remember our conversation when we first got off the starship. He told me he committed a crime with the specific intention of getting on this mission. How did he know about it in the first place? Who was he before coming here?
"So, what did you do before going to prison?" I begin, my voice faltering slightly with hesitation. I'm not nervous about questioning him. It's just the whole concept of small talk that makes me uneasy. "Who is America Lee?"
YOU ARE READING
Down UnderScience Fiction
Shawn, a convicted criminal, never thought she'd see the sun again, let alone call another star system her home. When she's offered an out from her prison sentence, she embarks on a dangerous interstellar expedition along with 18 of Earth's most int...