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Our Grasp, Unbroken

Dawn Bonanno is a short fiction writer from the Chicago suburbs. She's a graduate of the Viable Paradise writing workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature's Futures, Daily Science Fiction, and Fireside Fiction. When she isn't torturing characters, you'll find her cooking, baking, and spending time with her family. When her feline overlords allow, she blogs about her writing journey at dmbonanno.com.

His voice, so gentle; like a song from the stars. In the remaining shell of my parents' ship, I cease my singing. He appeared without warning, but my heart beats in hope. Has my hero finally arrived?
Questions hang between us. With silver silken fur on his face and hands, my pale skin perhaps seems plain and naked. His white garments hang loosely from his broad shoulders, while mine cling, wrinkled and weathered grey, with life sustaining sensors and temperature controls. Mine have seen better days, and upon closer inspection, so has his. Yet, less dirt than mine; fewer rips and tears.
His words are beyond my understanding--garbled sounds my computer would have deciphered were it not strewn about the valley floor with most of my parents' ship. I have spent five long months on this forest moon, awaiting rescue, carrying hope born from a solar-powered beacon. This moon is an assassin, hiding behind the first planet outside my beloved Sol system. It is a place few ships linger on their way to other destinations, unless ambushed by its unexpected gravity well.
I am young for a merchant, barely sixteen years, but I have met countless races and species while helping my parents in our travels. His is familiar to me, though he is thinner than most of his kind. Not yet fully grown. I cannot speak his language, but I am not afraid to search for common words and gestures. There is always one.
Our voices battle, both of us talking at once, neither understanding. Wild gestures follow, me pointing to my ship, him to the path he'd taken to find me here, the very path I'd worn in the spotted grass during my daily foraging.
A pause, a breath.
While we crouch beside my fire, our silence blooms.
His eyes, so troubled. Affixed to mine, searching. One is smaller than the other, swollen shut. Blood oozes down his cheek, staining silver fur red.
"Pain?" I ask and press fingers near my own eye.
He holds my gaze, but after a moment, his eyes close and he looks away.
I rifle through my foraging satchel and extract a medical kit. The contents were designed for Terran physiology, but bandages should help with his injury. I estimate the size of the gouge above his eye and cut the cloth. I step around the fire to hand it to him, but he tilts his head back, and pulls the fur aside, fully exposing the wound. Gently, I press the bandage against his soft fur and the self-sealing adhesive attaches to the tender skin beneath.
Shadows dance across his face from the shifting light of this moon's planet rise. Dimly reflected sunshine casts a candle-like glow. He stands suddenly and gapes at the sky. He turns back to me, gaze intense.
He breaks away from our fire, limping several steps away--then pauses.
Is he leaving me? So long have I been alone, I don't want to lose even this companionship. And in a flash, I realize--the torn clothing, the head wound, the limp, the anxious reaction to planet rise--he isn't a native here to rescue me. He is here by accident, in a crash of his own. As trapped on this moon as I.
He needs my help.
I retrieve my canteen, half full, and my old walking stick, which I pass to him. Without any further hesitation, I follow.
For half the morning we push through the forest, up over one hill, down another. We pass an old wreck half buried in vines and steer around it. He speaks in a voice sweet with melody, perhaps asking a question, but I cannot answer what I do not understand.
We press onward.
A stream, cool and crisp, gurgles at us. He sips the last drops from my canteen and kneels at the water's edge. A glance my way, canteen held over the flow, and I nod. He waits as if I never answered. I take the canteen gently from his hands, and as I have every morning, fill it to overflowing.
We continue on as bronze-scaled birds fly past. As bees swarm spike-leafed flowers. As black squirrels leap into sideways-growing trees. We do not speak again.
Deep down in the twisting valley, we pass broken tree limbs, scattered branches, and leaves half buried in black ash. The air burns my nostrils--chemicals, melted metal, and scorched fur.
Memories arise and my throat constricts. I cannot bear these smells, the harbinger of pain and death.
A ship, crumpled and impossibly torn, is wedged between gargantuan stones.
A silver silken form, silent and still, lies trapped between sheets of metal. My heart flutters, and drops. I do not need his language to know we are too late. Their time had passed before we climbed down this valley.
His strength falters; the wreckage shudders with the weight of his loss. Kneeling, he lets loose a cry, and his whole body trembles. After a while, silence overcomes him. Furry fingers, damp with blood, caress a button on his companion's collar. The loose garment glows, and his companion's body melts into blue gel. Easier than digging holes and burying a loved one, yet not. He sits back on his heels, lost.
Can I bring him back from the crushing pain?
I cannot know the depth of his feelings for his companion. Friend? Sibling? Life mate? It matters yet it matters not; the weight of loss and despair is soul shattering.
Words failed us before, but his voice was made for song, so I reach for him with mine. I hum an old Terran melody, and I relive my father's passing (Dad, wake up, we need to get out of here!) and my mother's (Mom, you're bleeding so much!) And his companion's.
I reach out my hand and his fingers curl into mine. Longer, furrier, warm. I sing until my voice catches, and when I start the song anew, he sings with me. Our words, our languages, different but the same, as melody carries our voices to ears and sky.
In the fading daylight of this assassin moon, this is how we start anew.
Our voices, harmonized; our grasp, unbroken.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, March 4th, 2022


Author Comments

Writing from prompts is one of my favorite ways to draft flash fiction. This story's prompt was its title, originally, "Your Grasp, Unbroken." I dove deep into the heart of the story, the character baring her soul to the person who can't understand her, but it was being strangled by the wrong viewpoint. Swapping the second person to first, the story came alive in all its heartache and hope.

- Dawn Bonanno
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