Starfall

By: Melissa Landers

Once you have tasted flight,

you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,

for there you have been,

and there you would return.

—“I, Leonardo Da Vinci,” Saga of Western Man





Light seemed sharper in space. The eyes tended to latch on to anything luminous, starved for a sense of direction in the thick black void. After the first year of living off world, Cassia noticed her sight had adapted to the sensory deprivation. All it had taken then was the glow of a distant star through her bedroom porthole to bring her boots into focus. Now, after her second year in residence on the SS Banshee, she moved through the ship like a cat at midnight, her retinas magnifying the barest hint of a spark, so she rarely needed to turn on the overhead bulbs.

She couldn’t decide if that was a good thing.

When she’d left her home world of Eturia—or fled, really—it had been with a heavy heart and the intention of returning before the next gathering moon. But that was twenty-six moons ago. She’d counted. Each passing cycle was starting to feel like a defeat, and some days she wondered if she’d ever see home again.

She rotated on her narrow bunk to face one of the pictures taped to the wall, a panorama of her royal ancestral lands unfolding in great, rolling fields that gave way to an even greater lake of vivid indigo. This photograph was one of three items she’d managed to grab during her hasty escape. Since then, she’d spent so much time gazing at it she could trace a fingertip along the lavender-covered hills with her eyes closed. Sometimes in the twilight moments between dreams and awareness, she swore she heard the rustling of leaves on the breeze and smelled the scent of freshly clipped grass. But then she’d blink and find the spell broken, her senses jarred by the throaty snores of her roommate, Kane, and the musky smell of his antiperspirant.

He was snoring now.

She kicked the bunk above her, and he grumbled a curse before shifting on the mattress and dangling one brown arm over the edge. The sight of his blond-dusted knuckles made her smile. Kane was the second “item” she’d brought from home—her childhood best friend since the day he’d rescued her from a goose attack by sacrificing his cookie to the bird, buying her time to get away. Kane talked too much, chewed with his mouth open, and had a tendency to use her laser blade without permission. But without him, these years in exile would’ve been darker than the south side of hell.

So for that, she put up with him.

“Stop it,” he grumbled, his voice rough from sleep.

“Stop what?”

“Pining. You’re staring at the picture again.”

“No, I’m not.”

He didn’t bother calling her a liar. “You’re thinking about the good times because we’ve been away for so long. There’s a reason we left, Cassy.”

As if she could forget.

She touched the gold disk tucked beneath her shirt. That was the third item to make the journey from home, a royal medallion identifying her as PRINCESS CASSIA ADELAIDE ROSE. But even when she removed the necklace and hid it beneath her mattress, she felt its ghost weight tugging at her shoulders—a constant reminder that she’d abandoned her people during a time of war. All of Eturia hated her. The bounty on her head made that clear.

“It’s not your fault,” Kane said.

She drew a breath and ran a finger around the edge of her medallion. Logically, she knew he was right. Her marriage to the prince of a rival house would have prevented the war, but she’d discovered the man’s true intent was to murder her family and rule both kingdoms. Her parents hadn’t believed her when she’d told them. That much was her fault. If she hadn’t fought so hard against the match and thrown so many tantrums, maybe her word would have counted for something.

“They wouldn’t have listened,” Kane added.

“Get out of my head.”

“But it’s so breezy and vacant in there. Plenty of room to stretch out.”

Biting back a laugh, she punched his cot.

“Come on.” He swung his bare feet into view. “We’re going planet-side today. All you need’s a little sun to set you right.”

At the reminder, she perked up. Real sunlight was such a rare treat that cargo drops seemed more like a vacation than work. And if there was any wiggle room in the schedule, the captain might award them a day of shore leave. “What are we delivering?”

“The grain we picked up on Cargill.”

She wrinkled her nose. Stacking crates of grain always left her covered in dust, not to mention whatever eight-legged critters hitched a ride from the last colony. But the prospect of fresh air, firm soil, and warm rays set her legs in motion.