There was screaming, somewhere up ahead. She prayed it wasn’t her brother. In this city, though, filled with nessa beasts running free, even the brave boy Emma had known before his disappearance might buckle. The city, Gugu Kendi, deep in the heart of the planet Danab, filled with Danab, at the end of what humans called the Danab War but what the Danab themselves were already starting to call the Calamity, danger was around every corner.
She was scared, too. Scared out of her wits, if anyone asked. She wasn’t alone, however. She had her Puck friend, Fax, with her. He cracked jokes whenever the tension became truly unbearable. After they heard the scream, for instance, he quipped, “I forgot to pack sandwiches. My stomach can get noisy.”
But it wasn’t his stomach that pierced the night’s silence. All around her, lining the military barracks that were typical on this fortress of a world, Emma feared the monitors would come back on again and begin reporting the depressing news of the first-ever invasion of Danab. Even as an immigrant, even as a little girl who had no business caring about such things, even as an alien whose mother had inexplicably chosen to transplant her family into the heart of enemy territory, she’d never wanted something like this to happen, either.
She could barely see out of the helmet, as usual. She kept readjusting it as they ran down the barren street. The helmet had been the biggest adjustment. Everyone wore one here. It was the custom of the Danab, man and woman. It was also the only thing that she liked about living here, the only thing that made her feel even a little safe. No one knew who she was, what she was, under it. She would have chosen something that looked very different, of course. It was Fax who came up with her nickname when Emma failed to adopt a Danab moniker for herself. He called her the princess of Gugu Kendi. That was as much as she wanted anything to do with the crown of horns atop the helmet. She was just a little girl!
Right? That’s not what her mother called her. To her, Emma was her young lady, what her father used to call her, in a prior life, a long time ago.
There were snarls coming out of the darkness. Nessa beasts for sure. They sounded just as if they had cornered their prey. It couldn’t be Elmer. Her brother had always known what to do in situations like that. He was the only one who’d known exactly what to do, how to maintain his old self, when they’d started their new lives. He believed in himself, and so Emma believed in him, too.
That was how she and Fax ended up looking for him, and why she knew where to look. She readjusted her helmet, took Fax’s hand, and headed toward the sound of the nessa beasts, and the screaming.