The planet was less different from Earth than Miranda had imagined. Like everyone else, she'd seen the pictures and vids, knew how the lens of a recorder saw it, but these things were supposed to be different in person. It was like standing on a quiet corner of Earth on a muggy day. The leaves were still recognizably green, the ground under the plants dirt-like, and the sky only a little more purple than she expected.
"They should be over that rise," Jago said, his helmet receding into his suit.
"They're right there," Pilar said.
In the cloudless sky, a half dozen shapes drifted toward them, then gathered and grew in the sky. On gliders were creatures that looked like the ones in the recordings, intelligent natives that despite objections were known as lizzies – only mildly better than "lizard people." They flew and landed with an inexplicable ease on the contraptions that hadn't existed during the first expedition. Jago eyed the gliders with blatant curiosity, gears turning behind his eyes, testing out theories of how they worked. Their clothing looked like the suits the original expedition had worn, with decorative seams in the thick fabric where there had been joints and wires embedded in the old suits.
«Hello,» Jago said, in the best lizzie that he had picked up from the old recordings. The lizzies hesitated and looked at him. Their faces were enough like humans that Miranda was almost fooled into thinking she could read the expression, but she caught herself. It looked like one of them smiled in amusement, but it could be a grimace, indicating offense.
«Hello,» one of them replied. It looked at each of them in turn. «You can come ---- you will meet ----- who ---- you.»
Their chips were set to listen and recalibrate at first, making Miranda's background studying theoretical neurolinguistics even more valuable for a few days. Though she was the expert on the lizzie language, even she had trouble catching everything. The accent had changed and Miranda's ear wasn't ready for it.
«Repeat, please. Come where?»
The lizzie clapped its hands, and curled its tail. Pleased. That was an action she'd seen in the recordings. It'd been a hundred years since the first brief visit. Enough time to record and observe, enough data to study that Miranda could learn to speak well enough.
«Come with us, meet old one. Met you before,» it said carefully. Miranda nodded.
When they walked after the lizzies with their gliders, Miranda swung her hand by her side and brushed Pilar's.
They had talked about it. Would the lizzies understand the two of them holding hands? Would they care? Maybe the neutrality policy wasn't worth the trouble. Pilar often didn't answer, rubbed Miranda's short hair instead, newly shorn during the trip to the planet. Miranda thought the least she could do was eliminate whatever physical differences she could. Graft your index finger down to be a second thumb, then, Pilar had joked, tugging at her fingers. Pilar was primarily a biologist and though she claimed to be tone deaf, she could distinguish birdsongs and animal cries, pointing them out to Miranda at every opportunity, even whispering as they walked through the trees surrounded by lizzies.
«Have they come back?» The lizzie sat in front of a boxy stone building with a wide door firmly shut, and thin windows cut so that the wind whistled in varied tones when a gust sped through. The lizzie who spoke sat on a bench, limbs thin and bony, turning a smooth stone between its fingers. On its head was a thin metal circlet with flowering vines draped from it. «Looks like they came back. Oh, that one's dark instead of sandy,» it said, eyes fixed on Miranda. «Are those your only colors?»
«Shades of brown,» Miranda said.
The lizzies had more variation, which Pilar had talked about endlessly, tracking the patterns she could see in the early recordings and postulating. Did they change with age? Was coloring set at birth? Were they unique, or was there a logic to it that repeated? The seated one had a base color of dark green. Spots of lighter green, of brown, were scattered on the backs of its hands, at the base of its neck. Around its eyes the green paled, setting off its indecipherable expressions.
It waved a hand lazily in the air, and one of the lizzies guided them closer. Benches circled an empty center area, in front of small buildings like a common courtyard. Miranda sat a bench away from the lizzie with Pilar next to her, and Jago one bench farther down.
«Would you like food or drink? You refused before.»
«They couldn't take off their -- » Miranda gestured at her head. She couldn't remember the word. « -- head circles?»
«Helmets,» it said, or rather, it repeated a sound several times, making the same gesture that Miranda had. She put her helmet back up and tapped it, and the lizzie nodded.
«Helmet.» Miranda lowered her helmet again, and undid the collar of her suit. It was hot. Another lizzie handed Pilar a cut fruit in a thin stone bowl, which she passed to Miranda. It was bright blue and tasted like a salty tomato. The skin was translucent, slipping off the fruit with quick slices and a confident tug before the lizzie cut another and gave it to Pilar. The utensil they used was like the hands of the lizzies, a fork with tines split to grab, rather than lift.
The lizzie that they sat with called itself Co, and clarified her gender in human terms for them before continuing, surprising Miranda. It wasn't like Miranda didn't know the half-dozen words they used for gender, even if they mapped poorly in translation. Co kept talking before Miranda could say anything.
«Your clothes are different from before,» Co said.
«You remember?» Miranda asked.
Co nodded, and took a long drink from a cup by her side. She wiped the moisture from her mouth before answering. «Do you remember yesterday?» She showed her teeth, and the skin around her eyes crinkled. It wasn't a smile, but wry amusement, maybe, or the way Miranda's mother would shake her head when Miranda said something obvious as a child. «You come and watch us, come and take pieces, take a small picture of us, and you don't know that I would live long enough to see you now? Do you think I'm a – » Co said something Miranda didn't catch, that sounded like the word for tide, or green.
«Why have you come back?» asked another lizzie.
«Don't be rude. Introduce yourself before interrupting with dull questions,» Co said.
The lizzie who had been hovering in the background stepped over a bench and sat down between Jago and Pilar. It had deep blue skin with teal stripes running down its hands, up from under its collar. Its eyes were wide, but the same crackled gold and black eyes as Co.
«Call me Ev,» it said. Co flicked her tongue over her teeth, a quick movement like a reminder or a burst of annoyance. «Male, if we have to be simple. Why did you wait so long? Why leave at all? You can live here, clearly.»
«Do you understand–?» Jago asked, pausing and saying, "destiny?" in English, in a frustrated tone. «When we – our species left our planet, no one visited us from the sky. We grow up over many years on our planet, alone. A bubble in the stars. We leave, and we are a child of that bubble. We were made with what is in our circle of air and water and earth. We want that for you. We do not want to change what you are going to be.»
Miranda forgot, sometimes, that Jago was more capable with lizzie language than he would admit, thanks to his ability to simplify his own thoughts for a different audience, breaking them down into words that he could translate. But he still had a ways to go as long as the chip couldn't speak for him.
«Foolish,» Co said. «But here you are. Which one are you – Ozeki? And you, are you Grimes?»
«No, they were the first crew.»
«Why did they not come?» Ev asked.
«We don't live as long as you,» Miranda said. «Or – how old were you when they came? How old are you now?»
«I was young, I am old, what does it matter?» Co said. «Enough. Ev will show you where you can stay, if you like.» Co stood, stone still turning between her fingers, and went into the building behind her.
The stars above were bright, but they didn't strike Miranda as strange. It was as good as any other sky. She had spent too much time travelling, too little time staring up at a single Earth skies, that no one sky had imprinted on her.
She went back into the little building. They had chosen to stay together, though Jago offered to ask for a different room. He sat on one of the beds, a nest of soft materials, and picked at a knot puzzle he carried with him. Their suits hung on hooks against one wall, taking up space where there had been three sets of clothing for them. Miranda wore part of hers, the top like a loose tunic, light fabric that barely seemed to weigh anything. For the moment, Jago left his in a heap next to him, slouching in his basics.
"How old do you think she is?"
"Co? By our years or theirs?" Jago asked.
"At least 110. How well could she remember the first if she was younger?" Pilar said, then held up a hand. "No, wait. The notes suggested very little about the aging and development process, but based on the data that does exist I'd be surprised if they didn't have a slower development than us. She might be older than that."
"She could be lying," Miranda said.
The moonlight barely filtered in the thin stripes of windows. The material of the walls expanded in the cool night air to make the windows even thinner, and the jarred light inside wasn't enough for Miranda. It gave off a bluish haze that her eyes didn't like, and she kept blinking, until she curled up in one of the nest beds with her eyes closed, still listening to Jago and Pilar, until their conversation tapered away. The light glowed throughout the night.
"Perfect," Pilar said. "Perfect. Why didn't I notice this last night?"
She held the jar out over the table. One of the lizzies had come early and given them a set of day clothes, a basket of food, a pitcher of liquid. By the time Pilar woke Miranda up, she and Jago had tested it and were digging in. Pilar sat in the lizzie pants and her bra, the morning already feeling warm and muggy.
"Look," Pilar said. Inside the jar, there were small creatures clinging to the sides, dormant, sleeping. They were like beetles, with long spindly legs and clear shells, fine lines of wings visible, a strange coloring to the thorax. "They give off light all night, steady and unblinking."
"You should ask for one as a pet," Miranda said. She was still in the sleeping tunic. Pilar looked at the insects with fascination.
"They said to go to the end of this road then left to the clearing," Jago pushed a piece of paper toward Miranda. "Drew a map."
"Did they say why?"
Jago raised an eyebrow, but Pilar answered. "They did, but I couldn't translate and neither could our fearless leader."
"I'm almost positive I didn't hear anything about skinning and eating us, or ritual sacrifice," Jago said.
"I'm not convinced you'd notice. You could have woken me up," Miranda yawned.
"They're harmless," Jago said. All the data from the first crew pointed toward that conclusion, but Jago still made them observe protocol and carry stunners when they followed the map.
The clearing was ringed by lizzies, standing among the trees. Part of the clearing had benches in rows, with a few lizzies scattered there, including Co with her flowered crown. The seated lizzies all had something different about them -- one wore glasses that didn't quite fit, another had a small pair of birds nestled by its neck, another sat under a wide piece of fabric and was unusually pale. As they entered, the lizzies turned to look at them, one by one growing quiet and waiting.
«Yes, yes, they're here,» Co said. She sounded weary. «You can be amazed later. Come, sit, watch.»
The benches on either side of Co were empty, and the three humans filled them in, unsure of what they were being invited to watch. The bench was deep enough that Miranda scooted back onto it and pulled her feet up in front of her, crossing her legs. Several of the lizzies looked at her actions with interest.
Without further explanation, the show began. A young lizzie, colors still vivid, stepped into the clearing and started to sing. At first it seemed a simple, lovely melody, until a second voice joined in – the lizzie joining herself, a high harmony. The lizzie finished, nodded, and went back to the edge.
Three lizzies stepped out, unfolded gliders, and took off with little effort. Jago watched them soar into the sky, circle and flip, as though he was seeing a minor miracle mixed with a test he was expected to explain. With a huff of breath as they made contact, they landed in the same spots they had taken off from, nodded, and returned to the edge of the clearing.
A lizzie carried out a large flat surface and held it in front of himself, as another walked out nervously. The second one looked at Miranda with eyes that seemed brighter, his face darker than most. He wrote on one half of the board, drew a line down the middle, and wrote on the second half. When he was done, he stood by the side and glanced nervously between the three humans and Co. Miranda scanned the board. Half of it looked like the lizzies' writing, and half – familiar alphabets and symbols – it was math. Co waved the pair away before Miranda could parse it properly.
Pilar sat forward, her fists pressed against her mouth as she leaned on her knees to watch. Jago's eyebrows were raised high enough to hurt. She could read their fascination well enough, even with the inter-chip communication left off. Another, and another came out to take turns; a different language, a dance, a demonstration of art, a recitation of history that spun away over the years and washed over Miranda.
Late in the afternoon, most of the lizzies filed away, back down the path to the village. Baskets were left behind with the humans, Co, and the other seated lizzies. Co led the way to sit on the dirt around the baskets.
«Ah, my favorite,» she said. She pulled out some type of roll and bit into it, the others digging in as well.
«What is this? Not the food. The–» Miranda waved her hand at the air, where there had been demonstration after demonstration.
Co blinked at her. The breeze rustled the flowers around her head. «Weren't you going to ask us what we knew?»
«We beat you to it,» the pale blue one said, clapping and letting out a scratchy short breath. Something like a laugh. «Are you pleased? The gliders are my favorite. My teacher-parent came up with those.»
«Introductions,» Co said, almost out of the side of her mouth. The pale blue one touched its own shoulder and leaned, apologetically, toward Co.
«I am Tij. I am male.» he said.
«Me, I am Wek, male,» said the one with glasses, held together with something like putty at the joints.
«Ri. Female,» said another, looking at Co as she spoke, shining metallic rings up her arms.
The last one sat with two birds still on its shoulder, undisturbed by the movement from the bench to the ground. It tore pieces off one of the rolls and held them for the birds to take. It had the broader eyes and the cooler, darker coloring that seemed male, if Miranda guessed.
«What is the purpose of limiting to this male, that female?» it asked.
«You know why -- Encourages them to identify with us,» Co said, and her words tumbled out so quick and rough that Miranda could tell Jago and Pilar didn't catch it. Miranda barely did. «Create an attachment so they feel we are not so different.»
«It's a meaningless distinction,» the lizzie said, more clearly.
«You're right,» Miranda said. «It is arbitrary, to narrow it. We understand there's not just male or female for you. You do not need to change like that for us.» She didn't respond to what Co had said, and wasn't sure if she wanted them to know that she had understood. Co had sharpened her accent, made it harder to understand. Perhaps for a reason.
«Nor you for us,» the lizzie said. Its meaning wasn't clear, face still inscrutable to Miranda. «It is no change, only vocabulary. Call me Viz. What are you?»
«My name is Miranda. I am female.»
«And your quiet friends?»
«Pilar is female, and Jago is male,» Miranda said, gesturing to each in turn.
«Think of me as female,» Viz said.
There was salt water and fresh water on the planet, as on Earth, and water saturated with minerals, water tinged with unidentified substances. The majority was the ocean, so large that it couldn't be distinguished into separate ones like Earth. Banners of land arced through the waters, wide enough to feel substantial when you stood on one, small enough to be dwarfed by the waters. In the middle of the island they had landed on, there was a freshwater lake. During a break from research late in the first week, Miranda stood waist deep in the water, looking around for Pilar.
"Where'd she go?" she asked, looking up at Jago. Jago shrugged from his perch on a smooth rock, where he'd climbed out of the water. "Pilar?"
Miranda felt something brush her leg, and then a weight knocked into her and ducked her into the water. When she surfaced with a sputter, she heard laughter. Pilar was half bent over laughing, until Miranda pulled her back down into the water and splashed her face. There were no lizzies around, and Miranda could almost believe they were nowhere special. Playing in the water like their vacation after they first bonded.
They waded to the edge of the water and sat, hip to hip, arms crossing as they leaned back onto their hands. Pilar rested her head on Miranda's shoulder, and Miranda closed her eyes, perfectly happy. They had been together for four years and by the time they returned to Eve Station 6, they would have to renew their bond, or not. Miranda hadn't given it much thought.
"What happened to neutrality?" Jago called down. Miranda opened her eyes, and Pilar sat back up, shifted away from Miranda.
"That was our grandparents, not us," Miranda said.
"The statute is still in place," Jago said.
"It was fine for them. But now? No one on Eve 6 thought it'd cause a problem, no more than eating with them."
"What if all this does change them?" Pilar asked. She'd said it before, but surrounded by an alien world the question sounded hollow.
"You think our bond is so powerful we'd change the course of evolution?" Miranda asked, pulling Pilar back to her. "They'll see us and a million years of discrete development will go out the window, because two alien ladies were extra friendly to each other?"
"It could send them into a spiral," Pilar said. But she smiled. "Within two generations, their gender system mutates based on our interactions."
"Two females who are far too much in love, and a third male who is disinterested, always thinking about something else that's a six month rocket ride away," Miranda said.
As usual, Jago barely paid her attention, stretched out on the rock and looking at the sky. Miranda had known the outlines of it, that he and a childhood friend had finally realized how they each felt. About to formalize it with a bond when the expedition was announced, put the bond on hold until he returned.
"That's what you get when you fall for someone outside of work. A teacher. What were you thinking?"
"That I wanted to meet our children," Jago said, still gazing at the sky. Did he think of this as his last mission, or would he leave their future children behind, possibly never to return? The danger was low these days, but still present.
"You're not supposed to give a serious answer," Miranda said.
Pilar nudged her shoulder. "Don't tease him. You're lucky that I was qualified and interested in coming along."
The shadow of lizzies on gliders passed over them, and Jago started talking about how the gliders worked. He'd almost figured it out, he thought, but he'd ask Tij the next day.
A few nights later Pilar traced the moles down Miranda's arm, connecting them like a constellation, and let her finger rest at Miranda's wrist, over her pulse. Jago was asleep inside, and Miranda stood under a tree with Pilar with the excuse that they were observing the nocturnal life of the area. A few lizzies were around, and Miranda wondered if Pilar would have come out if Jago had been awake when they left.
"You want to stay," Pilar said. The plan was three more days on this island, then leave for another part of the planet.
Miranda shook her head. "Planets are nicer than ships. Even Eve 6." Their words disappeared into the night. "You know what would be nice?"
"Kids. Or a kid." She said it and surprised herself. Not that she wanted kids, but that she'd say it, now, to Pilar. It was obvious to her that she wanted to renew their bond, so obvious that she hadn't thought beyond that. Pilar was quiet. "Maybe another project like this, then a break for a while."
"Could switch to analysis. Teaching."
"You could teach. I could write a book about this." Not just the trip, or the wealth of additional linguistic information she was getting, intuiting. All of it. Being among the lizzies, the taste of the food. The way gravity felt, and if rain smelled different.
"You and me?" Pilar said.
"Yeah. Next ten years. Twenty," Miranda said, feeling herself make the promise out loud that she could have made three years before, if she had found the words and dared.
It rained. It did smell different. The make-up of the dirt, the way the water hit it, the blossoms on plants that were shaken awake by the patter of raindrops. Miranda sat in front of their little house and listened. She watched water collect in a cup, curious about the properties of the rain compared to standing water.
Shortly after the rain stopped, Wek arrived to escort them to dinner, still wearing the glasses. No other lizzie had anything like them, and as the group walked, she finally asked.
«My teacher-parent gave them to me,» he said, taking them off and looking at them. «I'm afraid their best days are gone. I have tried to do what I can with them.»
«Your teacher-parent got them from the first crew,» Jago said, putting it together faster than Miranda. He was more talkative since the chips had picked up translation a few days before.
«Oh, yes. Jiru gave them to me to signify that I would be part of the watchers. That he had passed his experience to me. I wear the glasses to show I was there for the first crew – though I wasn't alive yet – and now I am here for the second,» Wek said. The glasses were back on his face, sitting as best they could with the repairs, and the different physiognomy. «It is an honor, to be alive and a watcher for the second coming.»
In the twilight after dinner, the three humans sat with the same lizzies that they had sat with after the demonstrations, with their same affectations. Even the pale one, Tij, sat under his useless canopy.
«So,» Viz said. She looked at the humans. «Why didn't you stay before? Co said she asked you, but the answer relayed was so simplistic it couldn't be the truth.»
From the rhythm of his pauses when he responded, Miranda knew Jago was relying heavily on his chip to for vocabulary as he spoke. He gave the same answer, only better phrased: «We didn't want to change the course of your species' future. We didn't want to inadvertently influence you to our path, or what we thought your path should be. So we come, watch, and leave.»
«We taught ourselves to fly because you flew,» Viz said. She let out a low hum as she spoke, as though, Miranda guessed, to say how silly they were. «You came and introduced the stars to us -- came down from the sky and confirmed for us that there was something there. By measuring us, you showed us how to measure. No, no one sat down and taught us word by word, but it isn't hard to observe. How naïve to think that you could show your strange faces here and change nothing.»
«Before you, we saw the stars and wondered. And then you came, and we knew. We knew,» Co said, from next to Viz. Viz lifted the birds from her shoulder, one by one, and set them down in front of her, where they pecked at the sparse grasses and wandered together.
«Some influence is unavoidable,» Jago said. «But we limit it as much as we can.»
«You no longer limit the air you breathe, the food you drink. You show us more of yourselves and the ways you bond,» Wek said. «You limit your conscious revelations to us, decide what you say, what you record.»
«When do you decide that we can leave with you?» Viz asked.
"What?" Miranda said without thinking.
«We don't make any decision like that,» Jago said. The lizzies shared a look, most significantly between Viz and Wek.
«That is where your line is? Then it is up to us to make the decision. You will not leave alone,» Viz said.
«We leave in two days to go to another island,» Jago insisted.
«We have vessels to take you. But you will not use your star ship unless our delegates go with you to see the stars.»
The night was sleepless, debating around the bluish jarred light. The ship was guarded by a dozen lizzies. Pilar started out suggesting that the lizzies had a fair point. Humans didn't have to get someone's approval to take to space.
"We earned it," Jago said.
"So they have to struggle, because we did? We could help."
"Who's to say that having to work for it didn't better prepare us for the universe?" he asked. The argument fizzled. Jago was only arguing theory. The three of them didn't have the clearance to decide. Jago suggested they claim to need something in the ship, and one of them could get in that way.
"And then what? Turn on all the engines and blast a fifty-foot radius of fire to clear the area?" Miranda asked. Jago didn't look appalled.
"We could take them," Pilar said. "We could quarantine them."
"Quarantine cells are meant for humans. What would they do to the lizzies?" Miranda asked. Pilar's expression was enough answer -- it might kill them.
"It doesn't matter. We don't have clearance to let them on the ship," Jago said.
"We could relay the request to Eve Station," Miranda suggested.
"It could take them months to make a decision," Jago said. "We don't know how patient the lizzies'll be. We have to do something."
"Take some as prisoners," Pilar counted off, "risk quarantine; get control of the ship, somehow..."
"Stay," Miranda said. She didn't look up from the cold insect light. She knew how they would be looking at her. The resigned distress on Pilar's face, the barely concealed consternation on Jago's. It was the last option that they weren't saying, and someone had to – but even Miranda knew it wouldn't work. so long as their ship was on the planet.
By the landing site, the three of them hid in the trees, not sure that they were truly hidden from the lizzies. A brute attack was foolish; they weren't unevenly matched one on one, but the ship was surrounded by at least a dozen figures. These were the younger ones, eyes brighter, skin with fewer markings – Pilar had made copious notes confirming the pattern.
They carried everything they could with them, betting on this being their only chance to get on the ship. Jago crept back to the path to approach the guards. Pilar grabbed Miranda's hand as they watched.
Jago was supposed to ask a guard to enter the ship for a forgotten item. Talking to a lizzie, his face went even stonier, an obvious sign of failure to Miranda even before he struck out and hit the lizzie in the side. The lizzie folded to the ground, surprised by the blow. Two more rushed over, and Jago knocked one down, scrabbling against the other.
The plan changed. Miranda jumped out of the brush and raced to his side. She wasn't as trained in fighting as he was, but couldn't see why that should stop her. A lizzie just missed grabbing her as she ran as fast as she could to barrel into the lizzie holding Jago. She tackled it to the ground and jumped back up; it did not. They were slower to recover -- good. A slight advantage.
More lizzies focused on Miranda, and Jago raced to the ship, the door already opening as he approached. She fought hard but badly, trying to keep the lizzies focused on her, even as she was distracted by watching Jago get into the ship alone.
The door swung shut behind him. At the sight, energy burst through her and she shook a lizzie off, enough to hit the button to close her helmet. Inter-chip communication buzzed to life.
"I'm in," she heard Jago say, his voice flat as it came over the chip. "Helmets on?"
"On," Miranda said. The engine clicked on, start to purr. It would roar in a moment. Enough to disable them, he'd said. Kill them, Pilar had said flatly.
"No," Pilar said.
She wasn't hiding in the brush. There were two lizzies holding her. One holding her arms, the other with its hand over her collar where her helmet would emerge, pulling back.
«He won't leave without you. And how will you get to the ship?» Viz asked, appearing through the trees with Co and Wek, and the rest of the watchers. Hands grabbed Miranda. Pilar struggled against the lizzies with a grimace on her face, and all Miranda could do was look at her, her own arms now pinned behind her back.
"Pilar, get your helmet up," Jago said.
"I can't. You and Miranda can get back. You have my data," Pilar said through the chip. "If you blast now, the plan still works."
"You dying isn't the plan!" Miranda shouted. The lizzies looked at her in surprise, grip tightening on her arms when she fought to get free, trying to run to Pilar.
«It's a simple request. Surely you have room for Wek and me,» Viz said. «Or Wek alone.»
«It isn't up to us,» Miranda said.
«Haven't we proven our abilities? Our initiative? We have learned since you first came, and we can leap ever more forward. Imagine all that the stars could hold for us, all that your species has yet to show us,» Wek said. «Such discoveries. Such riches. So many places in the sky where we have yet to tread.»
"Jago, go," Miranda said. Pilar caught on, and nodded.
"Her helmet -- It would kill her!"
"No. Don't blast the engine. Lift off. Leave us."
«I have seen every island on this planet, and seen the last island be filled with us and made better for it,» Wek continued, unaware of the argument over the chips. «I could see that throughout the stars.»
«Dreamer,» Viz said. «It's simpler still: It is our right to leave, like you left where you came from.»
"They'll kill you," Jago said.
"I don't think so."
"Better them than you," Miranda said. There was a long silence between them, and Miranda became aware that there was a long silence between the lizzies too.
«We can't,» Miranda said
«Then Jago should come out now, and you can watch us deconstruct your ship and make it our own,» Wek said.
«No, not that either.»
«But he will not allow you to be lost or hurt; you are clearly all bonded to each other.»
Miranda heard the tone of the engine change to a hiss of wind.
«Not like you think,» she said. The smooth sound of the engine made her ache.
Most turned to watch as the ship lifted off the ground, except Viz, who looked at Miranda, and Miranda and Pilar, who looked at each other. Before the ship was out of range, the lizzies still holding them fast on opposite sides of the clearing, Miranda broadcast a thought to Pilar.
"I'm sorry," she said.
The chip fizzled out in her ear as Pilar started to say something that was lost in static. "You and me," she mouthed across the distance, the sound lost under the lizzies shouting in disbelief. In the sky, none of them could see the ship anymore.
This story originally appeared in Crossed Genres.