Now, cooped up with more than two thousand other Rebels in the eternal night of the planet Pyrs, Ethan Summerton is reduced to tending the rebel base’s greenhouse. Not that he minds – Ethan has never been a snob and besides, he’s always liked gardening. Besides, it gives him the chance to impress his new best friend Holly with the crops he’s growing.
A hardened mercenary, Holly di Marco doesn’t have much use for gardens and greenhouses and strange leafy things. But they matter to Ethan and since Holly is supposed to take care of him, she tries to feign interest as well.
But then one day, an incident involving a lost little girl, chickens and batavia lettuce shows her what Ethan Summerton is truly made of.
A commotion somewhere among the endless rows of green leafy things attracted Holly’s attention. A little girl, much too young for any sort of useful work, was stumbling through the plot on unsteady legs, chasing after the ubiquitous chickens. The chickens outran her easily, for the girl was barely able to walk, much less run. Nonetheless, she did not give up, apparently having decided that a chicken would be a fine catch indeed, though Holly had no idea what in the universe the kid wanted with such a screechy, feathery thing. But then, children were weird.
Holly leant back to watch the uneven chase, a smile on her face, though she did not quite know why. And then it happened. The race between child and chicken was decided once and for all, when the little girl stumbled and fell face first into the soft brown ground, flattening a bunch of delicate leafy greens in the process. The child immediately erupted into a wail of pain and frustration, while the chicken fluttered away in a blur of wings and feathers.
“Uh-oh, kid,” Holly thought, a sinking feeling in her stomach, “You’re in trouble now.”
The girl’s wail was loud enough that Ethan and Stuart stopped discussing whatever vitally important thing they were discussing and turned around to see what was going on. It didn’t take them long to spot the source of all that uproar, for the little girl was not just wailing louder than a life-support failure alarm, she was also trying to push herself back to her feet again and managed to crush even more plants as a result.
“Now you’re really in trouble,” Holly thought.
Stuart scowled and set off towards the girl, but Ethan held him back. So he was going to deal with this tiny threat to his precious plants himself. A few long-legged strides and he had reached the little girl, who was still trying and failing to get up. Ethan bent down and picked the child up. Holly averted her eyes. She did not want to see what came next.
She expected more crying, but to her infinite surprise the little girl quieted down. So Holly made herself look and saw that Ethan had crouched down beside the kid and was gently brushing dirt from her clothes. Tears were still streaming down her little dirty face, but at least she was no longer wailing. She was also standing on her own two feet again.
Blood was seeping from a gash on the little girl’s knee, so Ethan reached into a pocket of his coverall and produced a tissue to wipe the blood away. The kid made a face, as the disinfectant did its work, but she did not start wailing again.
“Yes, I know it stings,” Ethan said, “But if you blow on it, it stops hurting, just like magic.” To prove his point, he blew some air on the kid’s scraped knee. “See? It’s already better.”
It was all bullshit, of course, but then kids were naïve and believed pretty much anything. And so the little girl stopped crying, wiped her eyes with her little hands and flashed Ethan an uncertain smile.
Ethan picked the kid up and settled her onto his hip. “And now come on, sweetie. We don’t want to keep Holly waiting, do we?” He planted a kiss on the kid’s forehead.
Holly watched as the little girl nestled against him, her tears already forgotten. And as she watched Ethan with the kid, she couldn’t help but think that this was the way the universe ought to be. A universe where a child did not have to fear beatings and punishments for a simple mishap. A universe where she would not have to work as soon as she was old enough. A universe where someone dried her tears when she was crying. A universe without pain or terror.
Her eyes stung with stupid, silly tears. Angrily, Holly wiped them away. Damn those blasted plants!
Ethan — wouldn’t you know it? — caught her just as she wiped away the last of the silly tears that ran down her cheeks. Even worse, he noticed.
“Holly, I… — What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Holly said. She pulled a not very clean tissue from a pocket of her uniform and heartily blew her nose. “I’m just allergic to your bloody plants, that’s all.”
Cora Buhlert was born and bred in North Germany, where she still lives today – after time spent in London, Singapore, Rotterdam and Mississippi. Cora holds an MA degree in English from the University of Bremen and is currently working towards her PhD. Cora has been writing since she was a teenager, and has published stories, articles and poetry in various international magazines. When she is not writing, she works as a translator and teacher. Visit her on the web at www.corabuhlert.com or follow her on Twitter under @CoraBuhlert. You can buy her books at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Kobo, AllRomance e-books, DriveThruFiction and XinXii or borrow them at Scribd.