(Prompt: Scarlet road by Northstar76, via writeworld)
Let me tell you a story. It even starts in a tree, just like this one. Staring up, just like now. There was a wind. There was a strong, rose scent over roasted air...
...There was a white star in the sky.
"Hey! Heeeeey! AC-895, do you read me? AZ-895, do you copy? Ace? AAAAAAACE!"
AC-895 watched the former flatline of the audio link spike like a heart attack.
Instead of dying, he sighed. "Negative, Zee. Comm inoperative, critical failure. Call back tomorrow. Over-"
"MORON! Get down from wherever you're hiding and get back to work!"
The leaves around him bristled, catching even the flight vibration of her stomps on the thin soil. Metal thunked just underneath. He hated that; no matter what, he was never all that far from metal guts and way too many people. They had to add a second alpha 16 cycles back.
He hopped from the tree and floated down. The mag-seal eased him to the floor, before clicking hard at the last inch. He rolled his neck in irritation, hugging his helmet like a pillow.
"Whaddya want from me, Zee? I already finished, so lay off!" He yawned at the exact frequency of her irritation.
Tromping boots pinged sonar through the mist and scattered crimson leaves. "You expect me to believe you already serviced the Stinger?!"
Black branches and black blossoms shivered at his interrupted nap. He groaned. "I already serviced that squad!"
A helmet broke through the brush, inches from his face. "The whole squad?! That's fast..."
Then a moment's impressed silence, before she grabbed the front of his fuzz-lined deck suit in both gloved fists. "So that's why those lazy assholes didn't report you! What'd I tell you about doing other people's work, Ace?!"
"Only yours?" Ace. From anyone else, he liked the name. From Zee? It sounded like tinnitus. He tried for a winning smile, forgetting his smile's actual service record.
"Why, you...!" Zee shook him, then groaned when he went limp. "This... is why you always fail the Expedition Test. You don't follow protocol! I mean, if you're going to be average at self-defense, average at analysis, average at navigation, and dismal at anything else, no wonder you're hopeless!"
He caught her wrists in a vice-hold, making her yelp. "Hey! My sim scores are great! And I'm great at-"
"Maintenance? Really?" She looked away, ignoring her failed attempts to break loose. The idea of Ace being stronger than her was just that intolerable in her mind. "Face it - your only talent is that you don't know when to quit. Speaking of which - how long have you been out here without a mask?"
Ace shrugged. "Hour or two?" Her eyes went wide. "Hey! It's practice, right? I'm fine!" He let go to wave away that killer gleam under her transparent visor. He much preferred the darker, military versions for a reason. When would she just graduate already?
"You're insane, you know that? Certifiable for duty dismissal! What could possibly-"
He put a finger to the re-breather of her mask. Against all reason, she blushed.
He just pointed up and grinned.
The mist had already begun to rise as a new current of wind carried it like a waterfall in reverse. The floating moisture parted to reveal an endless sky of stars, and at its heart, just above them?
The planet below. A great, gleaming coat of white parted as the sun fell out of their side's view. Great branches and woven webs of vine shook loose and parted, revealing seas and endless trunks below. The glistening white drank up the atmosphere and budded with petals of a bioluminescent green. Jungles and islands shone below like the arcology reactor. Like fire.
Like home. Ace was in love.
So was Zee, but Ace wasn't the sort of guy notice stars that close.
"I'm going up there, Zero-3. I promised. And you're gonna fly me there in a Stinger. Deal?"
DX-000 pouted. She hated her name. "They don't let cadets fly Stingers, Ace. I'm too young-"
He knocked on her helmet. "You can still test. I trust you. Deal?" he asked again.
She fumed a while, but underneath the spreading rings of fragrant flower petals, even she felt something. "...Deal. Now, c'mon. There's a defense scrimmage on Deck 5. You need it."
Already defeated, he followed her down the ladder to the cylinder city within. All that metal.
Miles of steam and wire. And not a single breath of rose air.
What a shame, huh? But this is just the beginning. For all of us.
I'd love to write this sci-fantastic story further. Steel and roses.
(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Seeking writing prompts, review requests, and does anyone actually read this? Yes? No? Intern Dana lives...