Notes: Cody takes center stage again! This is getting seriously plotty, and a little heavier than I imagined it would, but we’re definitely going places. Read, enjoy, comment if you feel moved. The future changes in my head all the time.
Part Eleven: Bugger All
It was hot at the edge of the mountains, out on the dry, rocky expanses of barren soil. Thérèse dotted Cody’s face with sunscreen and watched it spread to cover all his exposed skin before giving him the okay to leave the shuttle, and even then she made him wear a hat. “It doesn’t even have any of the Space Rangers on it,” Cody complained. “My helmet has lightning bolts.”
“And mine is plain old brown. Be happy you get a blue hat,” Thérèse advised unsympathetically. “And no running off. You stay within ten feet of me the whole time. Don’t touch any of the things that you see without checking in with me first.”
“What about a rock?” Cody grumbled, wishing again that Garrett or his daddy could have come with him. Or Wyl. “Can I touch a rock?”
“No. There could be rock spiders.”
“Really?” Actually, that sounded pretty cool. “Spiders that look like rocks?”
“Spiders that live under them. They’re black and they have twelve long legs and they’re aggressive. Don’t move the rocks.”
“Then what can I do?”
“You can stay close to me and ask before touching anything,” Thérèse said. “Now. Where do you want to start?”
Cody stared out at the landscape. Red rocks, brown dirt, and tiny swirls of dust where the wind kicked up eddies. “Are you sure there are actually salamapedes out here? How can anything live without water?”
“There’s some water,” Thérèse said, walking over to a small rocky outcropping. “When it rains, the water seeps into the ground and the cracks in the rocks. It stays there for a long time, and these plants,” she pointed to a small, hard nubbin that looked almost the same as the surface of the rock itself, “grown down to use it throughout the year.” She pulled the small, rough bud free and opened it up with the edge of her nail. Cody leaned in close and saw how the pulpy innards glistened a little. “Little creatures feed on the plants, and other creatures feed on them. Plus, most of the animals that live out here don’t need a lot of water to survive.”
“Oh.” Well, that was different. “I’m more used to fish stuff.”
“That makes sense,” Thérèse agreed. “Since you live on Pandora. Are there many fish?”
“I think so. Garrett said most of them are too big or live too deep in the ocean to be seen, so I’ve only seen two types. The marine biologist he works with brought the little ones to show our class. One had all these little tentacles that would poke out of a hard shell to cling to the rocks, and the other one was about this big—” Cody held his hands about six inches apart, “and it was round, and almost flat with just a little bump on top, and the bump had an eyeball in it! It was really cool,” he grinned.
“It sounds really cool,” Thérèse agreed. “There are some cool things here, though. Let’s look around for them.”
Thérèse wasn’t from Paradise, she came from the same home planet as Claudia, but she was really good at tracking. She found bug trails in the dirt, they watched a whole colony of linky ants build body chains that stretched over five feet long, and they even saw a fluffy little pikka stick its head out from behind a rock and make a grab for a shiny piece of dirt. “What was it getting?”
“Silicates,” Thérèse explained. “It used them to lay a trail out in front of its burrow to help attract a mate. I guess the female pikkas like a shiny house.”
“I like a shiny house too,” Cody confided. They watched the little pikka scuttle away, so light it didn’t even kick up any dirt. “Once I made my whole room reflective, even the ceiling. Daddy couldn’t even go in, he said it made him dizzy. Garrett liked it, though. He said it showed off his good side.”
Thérèse sniffed derisively. “He thinks every side is his good side.”
“Why don’t you like him?” Cody demanded.
She frowned. “What makes you think I don’t like him?”
“Because you never talk nice to him. You just make fun of him or ignore him. I know you thought I didn’t notice,” Cody added, and he knew he sounded a little like a brat but his daddy wasn’t here to tell him not to, and it had been bothering him. “People always think kids don’t notice things, but I do.”
“So you do.” Thérèse pursed her lips for a moment. “I admit that Garrett has never been my favorite person, but it’s not really personal. We have very different backgrounds. I tend to…be a bit abrupt with people I don’t understand.”
Cody frowned. “And that’s okay?”
“Oh, heavens.” She rolled her eyes. “We’re through talking about this. We’re supposed to be finding salamapedes.”
“But you said they live under rocks and you won’t let me touch any of those!”
“I’ll turn some over with my boot.”
They went around to different structures and found loose rocks, small enough for Thérèse to tip over with the toe of her combat boots. Three of them were barren underneath, one had a small rock spider that curled up into a ball and rolled into a sandy tunnel before Cody could get a good look at it. The fifth one, though, had a salamapede beneath it, a small, flat creature that reared up as soon as the rock was removed. It raised its foremost legs and waved them threateningly, turning from dusky brown to a brilliant crimson color in a matter of seconds.
“Wow!” Cody kneeled down next to the rock and leaned in to get a better look. “It’s so pretty! I thought you said the animals wouldn’t be bright colors ‘cause that wasn’t good camouflage.”
“Some of them change colors when they feel nervous or alarmed, or when they’re defending themselves,” Thérèse told him, crouching down next to him. “Oh, even his eyestalks are changing color. He’s a mad little guy.”
“We should put him in the container Garrett made,” Cody said. “Then we can take him back for my science project and then we can bring him back out here so he can be in his home again.”
“Where is the container?”
“I left it in the car.” Thérèse gave him a look, and he said defensively, “It’s too heavy to carry around for hours and hours! Will you go get it, please? Pleeeeeease? I can’t run as fast as you and he might be gone by the time I get back!” He widened his eyes a little and clasped his hands pleadingly.
“You’re already too much like him,” Thérèse groused, but she pushed up from the ground and walked in long strides back toward the shuttle. Cody turned back to watch the salamapede, entranced by the way it waved back and forth, back and forth. It was kind of…hypnotizing. He leaned in a little closer, putting his hand down on the overturned rock to help hold himself up as he did. He didn’t even see the tiny, almost translucent insect huddled behind a plant bud that he almost crushed, or feel its stinger scratch the base of his palm. He did feel the heat though, blossoming immediately in his hand, making it feel stiff and spiky.
“Ow!” Cody sat up and looked at his hand. It was pink becoming red, and there was a little black circle down near the bottom of it, right in the middle of the irritation. “Thérèse?” he called out, not really scared but starting to feel a little dizzy. Uh-oh. Dizzy wasn’t good. “Thérèse…” He slumped back onto his bottom and watched his fingers multiply before his eyes. It looked like a monster’s hand.
There was the sound of something falling, then fast footsteps running to his side. “Cody?” Thérèse was there, holding him up in her arms as she bent her head close to his. “What happened?”
“I just put my hand on the rock,” he protested, “there wasn’t even anything there. I just wanted to look a little closer.” His hand spiked with pain, enough to make him whimper. “I don’t feel good.”
“We have to get you back to the mansion, now,” Thérèse said briskly. She hoisted him into her arms and started walking again, fast but not quite running. Cody’s vision was a little blurry, but he could tell when they were back in the shuttle, and felt the sudden tightness of a pressure bandage around his arm. The shuttle was moving, and Thérèse was talking into a com.
“I need to know if antihistamines are contraindicated for him. No, he was stung by something, I don’t know what. No…no, he needs medical help now, I didn’t have time to look for the animal.” Cody felt her hand press lightly on his throat. “No, no problems with his breathing yet, and his pulse seems regular. But he said he doesn’t feel good, he was on his side when I found him, and he’s in pain. Yes. I’ll bring him in that way.”
They weren’t far from the mansion. It only took ten minutes to get back at top speed, but by then Cody’s hand was itching as well as painful, and he scratched at it fruitlessly before Thérèse noticed he was doing it and held his other hand down. “No-no, Cody,” she said to him, gentle but not right. She wasn’t who he wanted. Tears welled in his eyes and he couldn’t stop them, even though he didn’t want to cry now, he was too big to cry.
The shuttle stopped, people were there, strange hands and strange people and Cody didn’t like it, he felt cold and hot all at the same time. They laid him down on a soft surface and he was okay, he really was, until something sharp went into his arm. He wailed and tried to kick, but he wasn’t strong enough.
“He doesn’t like shots,” a new voice said, and it was one of the best voices. Cody’s vision was blurry but he turned toward Garrett anyway. “Let me in.” A second later the bed shifted, and Garrett pulled his head onto his lap. “Hey, sweetheart.” Cody felt a cool kiss on his forehead. All of Garrett felt refreshingly cool. He buried his face in Garrett’s stomach and whimpered. “I know, it sucks, buddy. But they have to give you another couple shots, okay? It’ll make you feel better. I promise.”
“Don’ like ‘em.”
“I know, but it’ll be over with soon. I promise.”
Cody sighed heavily. “’kay.”
“Thank you.” Garrett ran his hands through Cody’s hair and distracted him during the other shots, and when the doctor took blood. He got kind of fuzzy after that, but what he did know was that Garrett didn’t leave. He stayed, and it was almost as good as having Daddy there.
Garrett opened his eyes and looked at Jonah as he hurried across the infirmary. “All I heard was somethin’ stung him,” Jonah said as he leaned in over both of them, his gaze glancing uneasily between them. “I got back as fast as I could. Is he okay?”
“He will be,” Garrett said. Something raw in him felt soothed as he saw his fiancé, even overpowering the warring guilt and curiosity he’d dealt with all day. “The doctor figured out what stung him and they gave him antivenin, but because he’s a natural it’s going to take a lot longer for his body to deal with both the toxin and the side effects of the cure. The dizziness and nausea should taper off gradually. He’ll be here for a few days, is the current estimate.”
Jonah didn’t say anything, just sort of sank into the edge of the bed and laid his hand across Garrett’s where it rested on Cody’s head. “Fuck,” he muttered. He looked ragged around the edges, rough, and Garrett desperately wanted to ask what had happened, but he had no idea how to phrase it without letting on that he’d been spying, and now…now was not the time to let on about that. Not with Cody the way he was. “This has been one of the worst days,” Jonah said quietly.
“I know the feeling.” Garrett leaned over and kissed Jonah’s temple. “We can deal with everything else later, though.”
“Right.” Jonah kissed him back, sweet and soft against his lips. “You feel cold, darlin’.”
“I guess you’d better cuddle up, then,” Garrett suggested, and they settled in around their kid, putting off more reality than either of them realized in favor of a few hours of peace.