After Sunny wished, nothing happened. She sighed. Of course not. It wasn’t like she’d expected anything. She shielded her eyes against the sun, and then shook her head, her heart sinking to the pit of her stomach.
About a half hour passed before she felt the car lifting off the ground.
“Whoa.” She looked to her right, to see if anyone else had noticed, but everyone was focused on the road. A part of her said that the lack of sleep was causing her to hallucinate but it couldn’t be, because she saw the road growing smaller and smaller below her, before her very eyes. “What the – ” She started to panic, scanning the dashboard to see if there was some magic button she could push to get her on the ground, but there was nothing.
She’d never been on a plane before; she didn’t even like heights. Sunny shrunk against her seat, shuddering, her eyes tightly shut. “No, no, no, no,” she whispered. Another half hour passed, and then the car began to pick up speed. Letting out a breath, Sunny cracked her eyes open. The sky was dark blue and she saw a planet below, not earth, but a green and gold sphere, with black lines that looked like veins traversing it in every direction.
The car whooshed towards the planet, and Sunny gritted her teeth, trying not to scream. She failed at that.
When they hit the ground, she bit her tongue, her heart in her throat. Once her head had stopped shouting at her and her nerves were sufficiently jangled, she realized that music was still playing – banging in her ears. She ran her hands over her face, shaking. She couldn’t even focus or stop her fingers from trembling to turn it off. “Oh God, oh God.” How could she have gotten here? How could she even be alive right now? She was a human, right? Unless…
She looked at her hands and saw they were glowing. Like the sun.
She opened the car’s door and slipped out. Her feet crunched on black crunchy sand and she found herself in a small clearing. Surrounding her were tall green trees, and despite the fact that the trees were everywhere, it was still very bright.
Sunny shielded her eyes and turned around in a circle. She swallowed, and after a few moments, picked out the sound of running water. She didn’t like standing idle and so she figured she’d better follow it – at least, that was a start. She pushed through the brush and had been making good headway when she saw a small creature with green fur scurrying ahead of her. Curious, Sunny ducked under some brambles, thorns cutting her cheek and catching her hair. She yanked away, her hair tangled, and then tripped over a vine, falling on her face. “Oww,” she groaned. She realized then that the ground below her wasn’t really sand; it was more like bits of sharp black rock.
When she heard a panicked squeaking she jolted to her knees. What she saw first was a huge carnivorous plant. Its teeth dripped with an icky brown substance, and its stem, as well as its massive jaws, were mottled brown and gray. The squeaking came from the green rat like creature and Sunny could see that it was trapped underneath the plant’s thorny vines. Before the plant could dive at the ground, Sunny pulled out her pocket knife and hacked away. The plant roared at her, the brown juice spattering her face. Sunny yelled back. “Shut up, you stupid plant!”
Just a couple cuts and her hands pulled the creature out. She stumbled away from the angry plant and stared at the animal’s cute face. It kind of looked like a ferret, except it was green with a gray stripe from its forehead to its tail. “Aww! Hi there!” Sunny said, already thinking of names and bringing the creature back to Earth with her. However, the cuteness didn’t last long. The animal bared its sharp teeth and bit down hard on her thumb.
She dropped it and stuck her thumb in her mouth, the acrid taste of blood filling her mouth. “That’s how you repay me?” she spat. “Not going to save you again. Jerk.”
Wow. I’ve been here ten minutes. I’m already talking to small furry animals like I’m back home.
The familiar panic set in and Sunny fell to her knees, starting to hyperventilate. “Oh, God,” she murmured, and a lump gathered in her throat – she couldn’t do this. Why did she think that she could? Why did she wish to be here? She was helpless, and she’d be better off back home. The tears flowed down her cheeks and she felt her body burning up. She feared the worst: what if whatever was allowing to be here was wearing off? What if she was going to burn up and die? She screamed.
A familiar voice broke into her thoughts and she turned around to see Tod.
Her eyes narrowed. He was wearing a long green and white cape with a gray romper underneath. He was still wearing his sunglasses. And somehow, he looked less foolish than he usually did. “Tod,” she breathed in relief, getting to her feet and wiping tears from her eyes. “I – how’d you find me?”
He stepped closer, swallowing. “I can see you.” When she looked confused, he added, “It’s a Setareh thing.”
“A Setareh thing, huh.” She gestured behind her. “Are humongous carnivorous plants also a Setareh thing?”
“Yeah. Well, a Dross thing.”
“Right.” Her hands shook, and she had so many questions, but all she said was: “Um, the word dross? It means rubbish.’ Did you guys know that when you settled your planet?”
“No,” Tod said, shaking his head. “But I guess it makes sense because the Setareh – they made a garbage planet into something…better.” He paused. “You’ll see.”
“Where’s Eli?” Sunny said suddenly. “Did he get here?”
“Oh – ” Tod was about to reply when a woman crashed through the undergrowth and came to a stop in front of Tod. “I cannot believe you!” she yelled at him, smacking him hard.
“Ow.” Tod rubbed his jaw.
“Uhm – ” Sunny said. “Who are you?”
“Don’t talk to me,” the woman said, pointing a finger at Sunny. Then she turned back to Tod and said to him: “You get down on your knees and beg for forgiveness.”
“No.” Tod shifted his weight, knowing that Isolde was definitely serious with the getting down on his knees thing but also knowing that Isolde had a pretty short attention span. “Take us back.”
“Okay, guys, what is going on?” Sunny said.
Isolde turned to her. “Your little friend here tricked us,” she snapped. “He said he just wanted to protect you. Not bring you to our planet. Then he forced me to take him to find you.” She gritted her teeth. “Since he doesn’t have Eli, he barely has any of his power. Disgusting.” She spat on the ground.
“Eli?” Sunny felt faint. “Where’s Eli?”
“He’s going to be executed. And we’re going to be late to the party if we don’t hurry up,” she said, and for the first time, a spark of joy entered her eyes. “So let’s go.”
Tod shook his head. And this is the woman I’m having a kid with.
He wasn’t telling Sunny that anytime soon.
Sunny had had two panic attacks already, and she wasn’t ready for a third. But she was freaking out about Eli. What if they didn’t get there in time? While Isolde got ready, which meant fiddling with all her accoutrements, including her whip, her gloves, and her stupid forehead band, Sunny stared at Tod.
“I don’t like heights,” she admitted.
“Don’t worry,” Tod said, squeezing her shoulder. “I’ll be right next to you. Just shut your eyes and we’ll be there in no time at all.” He looked at Isolde. “And Izzy, you’re fine with carrying both of us?”
“What did you call me?” She put her hands on her hips.
Tod swallowed. “It’s just a nickname – ”
She grabbed him by the arm, jerking him hard, and gave Sunny the same treatment. “Ow,” she whined.
Isolde took a breath, then they shot off into the sky. Sunny shut her eyes tightly, then a horrid thought came to her. What if Isolde dropped her? She’d be dashed to pieces on the ground below. She really hoped this person was nicer than that.
What if I just dropped this stupid human girl? Isolde thought to herself. She’d be lying to herself if she said she wasn’t thinking about it. But the truth was, she wouldn’t do it. And she knew what was holding back, what would always hold her back. Nobody, at least barely anybody, on Dross were in relationships for love. Love didn’t survive on their planet. They weren’t wired for it. And people who fell in love usually ended up depressed or dead. Her mom had been Cassiopeia and her dad had been a Taurus. It hadn’t gone well when the war happened. But she’d been born out of their love. Sometimes she still felt it. But she pushed it down. Until it came to a choice like the one she was carrying right now.
And she thought of her parents and she couldn’t help but do the right thing out of guilt. If it even was the right thing.
Well, she told herself, it didn’t matter. It was at least what her mother would have wanted, and that was right enough, at any rate.