Chapter Ten

A pebble rolls down the boulder on her right and falls to the ground next to her. She looks at it for a moment with tired eyes and reaches down to pick it up, but a scuffle of rubber against rock makes her stop. Her heart races in her chest and she wonders if it would be possible to melt into the rocks. There is a thump and then a grunt, and she tries to hold her breath as someone, something, lands on the other side of the boulders protecting her.

She can hear her heart beating in her chest as she waits as tries to pretend that she is invisible. But she knows that she is not, and whoever, whatever, is on the other side of her hiding space will see her with one more step. She resists the temptation to close her eyes or turn back to her natural form and flee. Whoever is on the other side of the rocks takes another step and she sees short loosely-curled fuchsia hair sticking up on a strangely round head. She scowls and shrinks backwards as whoever it is whistles something to itself and turns towards her.

She tries to hide her scowl as the being’s mouth opens in surprise; the being jumps and stumbles backwards a few steps, “Oh, I’m sorry. I-I didn’t realize the anyone was here.” The being’s almond-shaped mouth turns downwards as it leans in closer, “Wait… why are you here? If you live in town, shouldn’t you be with everyone else?”

She swallows thickly and tries to pretend that she is normal. But it has been so long since she had a usual conversation with anyone besides Marie that she is not sure what normal is anymore. “I-I’m here because I am here. Why are you here and who are you?” “Wait,” the being lifts a hand, “I came on the ship that arrived yesterday, but I asked you first. And you sound far too educated to have lived on this planet your entire life. Are you from the same ship as well?”

She scowls despite her wishes, “Does it matter where I’m from? I asked you who you are and you are avoiding my question.” The being swallows and looks her up and down, “My name is Keone. What is yours?” Her scowl deepens, “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be back in town?”

The being frowns with its hair bouncing on its head from a sudden gust of wind, “Well… I don’t see you heading towards the town. So, why are you here?” She tries to resist the temptation to reach over and tear the beings ears from its head, “I’m here because this is my special spot. I come here to watch things and there is only room for one being.”

The being scowls, “Well, it looks like more than one being could fit around here if we squished, but I get your point. The ship hardly landed a day ago and you have already chosen a special spot? Why did you choose this place?” She bites back her retort, and trades it for an equally misplaced one, “Because I won’t have to listen to beings like you talking and ruining my day while I’m here. Now, are you going to leave or not? Because I was actually having quite a nice time before you showed up. And every moment that you stay is another moment that I’m wasting on a pointless conversation with someone that I don’t even know.”

The being’s scowl deepens as it steps back with slightly raised hands, “Fine, I’ll leave, but you might want to get back to the town sometime soon. I think they spotted something on one of the scanners last night and they will be closing the gates and turning on the fence earlier than usual.”

The being turns and leaves with squelching footsteps echoing against the ground. She scowls and sinks against the boulders; she never should have spoken a word. At least it does not know her name. If anything, that may end up being one of her main defenses. Keone. What in the name of all the universes does Keone mean?

She should not care. Whoever, whatever, that being was does not matter. Her plan will stay the same. And yet, perhaps she could use Keone in her plot and for her own purposes.

Someone knowing that she is alive and exactly where she is hiding is a problem. But it will not be nearly as much of a problem if she uses Keone’s own words against itself. She is not powerless: This is her world and she can treat it as such.

She scowls at the ground; she wishes that she could find a different place to hide. But she will have to wait until it is night to move again. She would be seen far too easily. And yet, perhaps that would be a good thing. But she will wait. She will choose to be seen when it is time. Until then, she will stay in places where the sensors cannot reach her.

Artimus dips towards the middle of the day. She sits as far back in between the boulders as she can. The sun beats down on the ground to create golden sand that would lure any ship to land. Everyone seems to be searching for riches, and that might be one of her advantages. She knows where things are, and she knows how she can use them.

The riches that she needs are easy to see and much harder to find, but she is so close to turning them into something great. And perhaps they will become more powerful than any that could be gold. She grins at the rocks around her; her mother never should have showed her what the lava rocks will do when used properly. She will use Keone, and she will make sure that she stays hidden for as long as she needs to. A plan is easy, but she will need a lie as well.

She will need a lie to fool anyone.

She looks down at her hands, her appearances could fool almost anyone who knows what they expect to see. And she knows how to speak as though she is from a different planet; but she needs a reason to be hiding in the boulders. Perhaps she is not hiding at all; perhaps she simply leaves early in the morning and returns late at night in the last moment before the gates to the town shut. Perhaps no one knows her face because she was hiding from someone on the ship and now she has found a place to hide during the day as well.

She will twist her own words as far as she needs to get what she wants. And she will make sure that what she wants is possible. She simply needs to find out where the unnamed gang who followed her to Sa’s cave is, and then she will have a simple conversation and see if her plan is possible as it is.

And if it is not possible… then she will simply have to come up with another one. She will go through as many plans as she needs to; eventually one of them will work, and that day will be something that no one will ever forget.

“Goodmorrow!” She gulps in surprise and jumps to her feet as she sees Keone staring down at her with a smile. She scowls and crosses her arms over her chest, “What are you doing here? I thought I told you that I don’t want to see you around here. This is my space. And it is going to stay that way.” Keone removes a small bag from its shoulder and drops it on the ground, “Well… I happen to have some time before I need to be back in town to work on whatever the taskmaster has decided to assign to me for the night. Anyway, I thought that I would come around here to see how you are doing. Besides, I’m wondering why you find this place so fascinating that you would rather hide in the rocks than be on top of them. You know you could actually be able to see this planet if you climb up.”

She scowls again, “And why would I want to be up there? I like it down here enough that I’m actually considering spending the night.” Keone’s face turns to a look of fear as it leans closer, “You can’t honestly mean that. Do you have any idea how dangerous this place might be at night?” She bites her tongue at her mistake, “I was joking. Since you clearly don’t know me well enough to recognize my joke, you might as well leave. You shouldn’t try to learn anything about me. Especially around here.”

Keone sits down on front of the boulders and reaches for its bag, “Fine. But what if I am able to find you in town, would you let me spend time with you then?” She crosses her arms again with a sharp look, “No, you should just leave the conversation at being a complete disappointment. Not like you would want to know anything in the first place.” Keone shrugs, “Maybe you want me to know you. Why don’t you join me on top of these rocks and we can actually have a proper conversation?”

She scowls again, Sa, where did I get this idea? “No. How about I stay right where I am because I want to, and you can return to the town and do whatever kind of work you’re supposed to be doing.” Keone opens the bag and she tries to squish the alarm bells that ring in her head, “What is that?”

Her voice comes out pleasantly sharp, and Keone gives her a look of fearful surprise, “What kind of planet are you from? I brought some food because I haven’t had my midday meal yet and I thought you might want to join me. I grabbed an extra portion. If you are so intent, on staying right here for some strange reason, I thought you might have forgotten to come back to town for lunch.”

She bites her lip. She would appreciate a meal, despite the fact that she is sure she would easily be able to find one of her own at any time that she wishes. Her stomach grumbles and betrays her, “Fine, I will join you for a meal. But that’s it. And you’re going to return to the town once we are done eating. And I’m going to go back when I feel like it.”

“Right, and when will that be?” Keone hands her a cellophane wrapped square, and she barely manages to wait until it bites into its own to tear the package open. Keone chews and watches her, “So, what planet are you from? And why won’t you join me on top of the rocks instead of down here in the dirt.” She scowls and takes another large bite, “That is no one of your business, and I am going to stay right here because I want to. That’s it and it’s final.”

Keone screws up its face, “But why not? It isn’t like you need to hide from someone or something, and, even if you were hiding, this would be one of the most dangerous places to hide. Right? And this place seems lonely, although I’m here now.” She scowls, “Of course I’m not hiding, I’m here because this is my spot and I’ve claimed it. Besides, I’m not lonely and you don’t get to stay. I haven’t invited you and you should remember that.” Keone’s face turns to match her own, “Why would I want to stay?”

She holds back her Hirpoun form and glowers at Keone, “Why would you want to stay? Exactly, you don’t want to stay and so we should be saying goodbye right now. I’ll walk into town tonight when I feel like it. Until then, this is my spot and I’m not going to move from it. These rocks are far too interesting for me to go anywhere else, and your company is ruining even this place.” Keone works its month for a moment, before blurting, “You’re hiding aren’t you? That’s the only thing that would make sense. The thing is, I have no idea what you would want to hide from around here. The only things on this planet that would be worth hiding from are the things that live here permanently. And you’re not one of them.”

She stands up and claps a hand over Keone’s mouth with a snap as she changes into her Hirpoun form, “Maybe not.”

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