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Last Resort, Part 3 – Astra Nullius

Last Resort, Part 2 - Astra Nullius
Last Resort, Part 4 – Astra Nullius

Sera

“You’re going to get a sunburn if you stay out there,” Weyland said from under the shadow of his umbrella.

Sera had never had a sunburn in her life. She hadn’t grown up in a place with atmosphere, at least not outside the tunnels and the domes, which were tinted so that the most harmful UV rays couldn’t penetrate their thick crystalline walls. She hadn’t had much leisure time during her Coalition training, and after that, she’d spent most of her life aboard a series of poorly maintained ships. After a few hours of staring at the water, wondering how hard it would be to learn how to swim this late in the game, she’d felt her skin growing uncomfortably hot and her mind wandering to dark places.

She crawled under the umbrella. Weyland handed her a bright orange bottle. It didn’t look like a drink, and when Sera shook it, the liquid inside didn’t slosh. “What’s this?”

“Sunscreen,” said Weyland. Sera held the bottle at arm’s length, puzzled about what to do with it. He must have seen her confusion, because after an awkward pause, he explained, “You put it on your skin, and some of the radiation can’t get through. But you still have to be careful not to overdo it.”

With some more precise directions from Weyland, Sera squeezed a string of thick white liquid out of the bottle. “This is super gross,” she said.

“It reduces the risk of skin cancer,” said Weyland. He had a streak of it he hadn’t quite rubbed in on his jaw, bright white against his dark brown skin. He was looking down at the com screen in his lap, maybe reading something, because he kept sliding his finger across the screen to scroll.

“What’s your plan for this vacation?” Sera asked, stretching her legs out of the umbrella’s shadow and admiring the way the light bounced off her skin. The sunscreen gave her skin a reflective shine, subtly golden, and even her old scars looked as if they were burnished. When she glanced over at Weyland, he looked lost in thought.

“I don’t know,” Weyland said at last. “I’ve never taken a vacation before.”

“We should do… vacation things,” said Sera, trying to think of the last time she’d taken a real break. What had she done? How long ago had it been? She remembered long, lazy days with Zeke and Mirelle, but that might as well have been in a different lifetime. “Drinking. Sleeping. Swimming. Can you swim?”

A strange look passed across Weyland’s face, halfway between puzzlement and panic. “I don’t know if I can swim,” he said.

“What do you mean, you don’t know? Have you gone swimming before?” Sera rolled onto her knees before Weyland could reply, grabbed his wrist, and started pulling him out into the sun. “Let’s go swimming. What’s the worst that can happen?”

“Drowning,” said Weyland, but he put his com screen down and allowed himself to be led down to the water’s edge.

Sera’s confidence faltered a little as the first waves hit her bare feet. It was colder than the shower water she was used to, and the wet sand shifted under her. Up close, the water wasn’t as blue and calm as it had looked from a distance. The waves sucked at her ankles with surprising force, and when the water receded, it left a grainy white foam behind.

She dropped Weyland’s wrist and waded in deeper until the waves slapped against her knees. After the initial shock of cold, the temperature wasn’t so bad. When she turned back, Weyland was taking off his shirt. He balled the fabric up and threw it back to the shore.

Sera wasn’t in the habit of thinking about her crewmates’ bodies. It was like thinking about your family naked. She knew they had something under their clothes, in an abstract sense, but that was about where her mind’s eye had left it.

It was hard not to stare at Weyland. She’d assumed he was skinny; he was always wearing such oversized clothing, practically hiding in massive shirts and loose pants. But now she could see that although he was slim, his body was corded with lean muscle. I’ve got to tell Jianyu about this, she thought, before remembering that she wasn’t sure where things stood with Jianyu anymore. They’d been in an awkward standoff over the last few days, their usual easy rapport strained by the weight of the secret she’d dropped on him.

She turned away, splashing deeper into the water until she could lift her feet off the sand and float. It took more effort than she’d expected just to stay still. A wave smacked her in the face and she jerked backward, pinwheeling her arms as the salt water burned her nose. She’d thought the ground was right under her, but somehow she’d drifted too far out, and she could only feel the sand with the tips of her toes.

Weyland slid up beside her, moving through the water with a few economical strokes, and steadied her with a hand on her back until she could tread water without choking again.

“I thought you said you couldn’t swim,” she said.

“I remembered how to,” Weyland said.

“Huh.” It was getting a little easier to relax and drift in the waves, even if the salt was a painful reminder of every tiny scrape on her skin. The wound on her shoulder stung, but not so much that she wanted to get out of the water. “I guess it’s like riding a hoverbike.”

“I don’t see how it’s like that at all,” Weyland said.

“I mean, once you know how to do it, you don’t forget.” Sera tried moving her arms again, imitating Weyland with controlled pushes rather than wild flailing. It worked a little better this time. “Muscle memory,” she added, remembering the right phrase at last.

Weyland tilted his head, thinking it over, and then he smiled. It was a shy smile, but it transformed his face, and Sera realized that she’d never seen him so much as grin before. “Motor learning,” he corrected her. “Your muscles don’t remember anything. But yes, I guess it’s a bit like that.”

Last Resort, Part 2 - Astra Nullius
Last Resort, Part 4 – Astra Nullius

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