Five: Discovery

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Zyn says nothing as we escape down the halls, and I wonder what he could be thinking. It's obvious that neither of us ever expected me to recognize one of the humans in the feeding room, that Kairim being there was some fluke. I smile. Kairim.

Never in a million years could I have anticipated rediscovering my neighbor amid these series of silver hallways and blue-skinned faces. There were differences, ones just as prominent as his size that I can now recall as we make our way slowly down the hall. His skin, once so tan from working in the orchards has taken on a paler hue, his hair a darker sheen, and his hands had fresh scars upon them.

I open my mouth to ask Zyn why these things were there, when I realize he's watching me. His gaze is intense and I don't understand why I didn't feel it before. It's as if he's trying to read my thoughts. I shudder, thinking of lost rumors. He opens his own mouth, then shuts it before casting his gaze away.

We both focus on the ground. I bite my lower lip, hoping that it'll bring my thoughts to the surface better. The doors to Zyn's room open before they do.

The silence grows between us, impregnating the room with its awkwardness. I sit on the bed and Zyn passes me the trey, I'm half-expecting the edges to be bent beneath his fingers. The food is still luke-warm, and oddly sweet. I eat it without protest, flinching when it hits my hollow belly. It takes effort to finish off the meager proportion, but it seems to make Zyn happy.

Inside my head, a plan is forming. Despite everything Zyn has done for me, I have to get back to that room. I have to see Kairim again, if only to assure myself that he wasn't a figment of my imagination. My eyes glance to the automatic doors, the doors that close behind Zyn every night when he leaves my room in time for bed.

I wonder when the lights will change. I long for the dark shades that represent night to me now. Zyn begins talking to me again, resuming his game of telling me the names of the objects of the room, even though we both know I'm not really listening. He seems relieved when I tell him I want to take a shower.

Peeling off the bio-suit is much easier than putting it on. It pools onto the floor, spreading across the ground like a dark stain before it shrinks into itself once again. I leave it sitting in the middle of the floor.

I set the water on the coldest setting. After spending the day in the suit, the freezing water feels almost familiar on my back. My skin breaks out in goose bumps, my lips turn blue, and my jaw begins to chatter uncontrollably, but I feel like my head is clearer than it's been in days.

Memories of my years with Kairim swirl through my head like the water through the drain pipe, a tornado of thoughts. My favorite memory, one that's been banished for the past year, boils to the surface. Kairim, his skin and hair awash in the last fading colors of sunset, asking me to take a walk with him in the orchards.

Last year, there had been thoughts and whispers of a courtship, of a marriage between our two families that would seal our two properties together forever. But things went sour, accidents happened, and everything changed. I shake my head, sending pearls of water cascading across the tile floor. Instead, I zero in on that night, of the feel of the once skinny Kairim standing impossibly close to me.

He'd been the first to speak, with what I once thought to be a gravelly voice booming out between the trees. He'd made a joke of some sort, one that made me giggle despite myself. It'd been an easy evening, with a light breeze tickling the last of the summer's leaves. That was the first time he'd ever touched me, the first time I felt his hand graze against my skin.

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