“Do you really have to read that thing aloud?”
She looked over the edge of her book, still in awe that she actually found one amongst the wreckage, and continued reading, “This is a terrible, horrible, incredibly foolish idea.” She slammed the book closed. “Let’s do it and see what happens.”
Keel snorted. “You don’t believe humans actually enjoy that kind of writing, do you?”
“Of all the things humans enjoy and a couple of poorly written lines is what surprises you?”
Malia agreed with her fellow Scrapper. The entire chapter she’d just read aloud was complete shit. Yet she couldn’t remember the last time they’d found a crashed human ship, especially one with so many valuable parts, still intact. Shit or no, having an actual book she could hold was a different experience than having everything her people had ever written stored in a small corner of her brain, automatically updated every time she slept. She made a mental note—a phrase she just learned from the book, which was interesting, considering humans didn’t have the capabilities to make mental notes in their heads like they did—to add this book to that database, too.
She wondered if the rest of the Zoids would think it was as hilarious as she and Keel did.
“What, you’re keeping that?”
Malia glanced at Keel as she dropped the book onto her palm, fingers closed tight, the book disappearing from view as it was transported back to their ship. “It’s a relic.”
“Considering that’s what we’re here to clean up, I think it fits in just fine.”
Keel smirked, floating down to another piece of rubble, one of the wings of the ship. As soon as he touched it with his palm, his webbed fingers outstretched, the rumble disintegrated, instead of transporting back to their home base, like she had with the book. It was a simple change that made all the difference. Open web to destroy, closed web to preserve.
Every Ziod knew that instinctually.
Not every Ziod had to use that ability, however, as part of their day-to-day work.
Only Scrappers did.
Keel hated the job. He hated how many of their peers were off fighting against the Hanons, doing something noble with their lives, and he had been stuck making sure the planets within their galaxy “looked pretty,” according to him. Trash duty across the stars.
Malia didn’t mind so much.
Especially after being partnered with Keel.
Even if he was ridiculously pessimistic.
She floated down beside him, slipping inside the cabin once more to see if there was anything else worth keeping for the museum, especially before Keel destroyed it all.
“At least it was an adventure story,” she said, picking the conversation back up. “At least, I think it was an adventure story.”
“It could have been worse, I guess,” Keel said.
Malia picked up a tiny ball that fit into her hand, painted to look like the planet Earth, though it was no way accurate in size. A replica, then, the smallest she’d seen. They had a bigger model in the museum already. Palming it, she spread her fingers wide, her webs expanding fully and, after vibrating slightly and creating a small glow, the miniature globe in her hand became nothing more than the dust that circulated around them as they worked, clinging to her skin like an irritable disease.
“Could have been a romance,” he added.
Malia snapped her head around. “My favorite type, as you well know.”
Keel pretended not to notice her as he continued working on destroying the rest of the ship’s hull, piece by broken piece. “I don’t see why.”
“Perhaps because you’re too lost dreaming about death and destruction to see the beauty in the genre.” She sighed. “More Zoids should write it.”
“Write about the emotions of humans?” The ship’s nose disappeared, creating thousands more specs of dust, exploding all around them. “Why would we write about that? Enlighten me.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“We’re going to be here a while,” Keel said, as if that was the only reason he was even pursuing this topic.
And knowing Keel, it probably was.
“I’m not even sure if I can properly explain it,” Malia said, sneaking another book back to base without even opening it, crawling deeper into the ship’s cabin that was still intact. Another Scrapper team had already come by and cleaned up the human bodies and checked for rogue Hanons—and their pets—so Malia didn’t have to worry about stumbling upon some of the more unpleasant parts of her job.
Her eyes continued to scan and evaluate pieces as she tried to explain why she was so drawn to the romantic stories that so many Zoid’s felt were purposeless and pointless. “Honestly, Keel? It’s the fearlessness.”
“Fearlessness?” She heard him above her, as he continued working on the outside while she worked on the in. “In romance?”
“Yes. I believe it’s the purest form of bravery there is. It’s one thing to risk your life against an enemy or a weapon,” she said, talking quickly before he could interrupt her, working as she spoke. “One thing to trust your skill in battle, to protect you against whatever attack is thrown against you. That’s something you can train for. But to risk your heart? You can’t prepare for that at all.”
Malia bit her lip as she disintegrated most of the objects within the cabin with a sweep of her hand, none of them worth anything to the curious–if also lonely–minds of the Zoids. “Though I think the experience is similar, before war and before falling in love; the rush you get, I mean,” she continued on. “The way how your inside twists up in nervous anticipation, any time you’re near them. Your palms get sweaty and your heart races and sometimes, your mind can’t think straight. I’ve never been in battle, but I imagine it’s a similar string of emotions, preparing for a fight.
“And that’s the difference,” she said. “You can prepare for a fight. You can train for it and you can do some things to help shape the outcome. But to fall in love? To risk your heart and tell someone how you feel? The outcome is entirely up to them and how they respond. To do that…? Well, that takes a fearlessness that compares to no other.”
Malia destroyed another trinket, watching as the ashes slipped away from her fingers.
“It’s something I’ve never been brave enough to do,” she whispered.
Keel didn’t respond, not that she expected him to—at least, with anything beside a degrading remark towards how her belief in love was foolish to compare to the bravery of those who fought in war. A war that he himself should be fighting in and then they’d circle back to the conversation they always had, while out scrapping. How he shouldn’t be here, this wasn’t his calling, this was a waste of—
Malia stopped short, almost running into Keel, who floated in front of her, half the cabin’s exterior completely gone thanks to his work. Only the wall to her right remained. If he hadn’t stopped her, she would have continued floating on, lost in her own thoughts, until she came back to herself and realized she’d done it. Again. Wouldn’t have been the first time he had to track her down and bring her back to finish the job.
Except this time, Keel didn’t move.
“Keel, are you okay?”
Instead, he floated closer to her.
She felt her palms get sweaty.
“I just wanted to let you know, I have an opinion about what you just said; about falling in love,” he said.
Malia floated backwards until she was finally stopped by the last piece of the spaceship Keel hadn’t touched yet.
He continued, closing the distance between them.
Her inside twisted.
“I just wanted to say I think it’s a terrible…”
His hand reached out, brushing a lock of her hair.
Her heart raced.
“…incredibly foolish idea.”
He cocked his head to the side, smiling at her. She couldn’t get her mind to think straight, couldn’t grasp on what was actually happening. There was no way it could be happening. She’d dreamed it so many times, in so many different ways, but never out in the middle of a debris pile, in the middle of scrapping together. She never thought it was possible.
Yet as Keel brought his face still closer and whispered in her ear, “Let’s do it and see what happens,” before pulling back to touch her lips with his, she knew, finally, it was.
About Nicole Evans
Nicole Evans is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. She is currently unpublished and is working fervently to get the “un” removed from that statement. With eight completed drafts in various states of revision under her belt, she has no plans of stopping. And she really can’t wait for you to read these stories.
Considering she has run out of space for putting rejections letters up on her wall, Nicole now uses her spare time doing the typical things that nerds do: blogging, dying repeatedly during video games (which she believes is retribution for the characters’ she’s killed), wishing she was the character she is currently reading about and trying to fight off the real world by living in her own head, with varying degrees of success. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Film and Media Studies, and works as an evening librarian assistant. You can find her personal blog here and her book review blog here. You can read all of her Muses stories here.