Name: Helene Mezher
Genre: YA Science Fiction
Eighteen-year-old Edge, budding scientist and indeterminate prodigy, was persecuted by the promise of adventure. It stalked her every waking thought, her every late-night craving. Working with hazardous chemicals in her pristine lab coat and closed-toed shoes, calloused hands gloved in latex and frayed hair bound by rubber, only amplified the yearning drumming deep in her body. Adrenaline was her hormone of choice as it pulsed through her veins, seeking, coaxing, demanding. When she discovered an abandoned corridor, her first thoughts ran to the possibilities it offered. When she traveled home via the Light Generators, she wished that she could feel their tremendous speed. And when darkness descended on her domed shelter, she thrilled. On most nights, darkness marked the time to play, to explore.
Tonight, it marked the time to worry.
If adventure taunted Edge, trouble personified her fervent and youthful mother. August Gray was the fifty-year-old renowned traveler who had charged through terra incognita and labeled most of the rivers and valleys that curved along this strange planet with a deft hand in cartography and an eye for extraordinary detail. Every month she took a government sponsored trip to uncover new facets of their homeland, to retrieve species of microorganisms and plants and animals for further examination. For her latest assignment, she had journeyed to find yet another sub species of the bacteria that fueled their city with electricity. Though her cargo was long due to arrive, the assurance of discoveries had calmed her supervisors; and even Edge who had last seen her mother a month ago, when they had discussed the implications of overpopulation and the consequences of the PN virus. Edge could still picture the slight pucker in her mother's forehead as Edge argued against use of the monoclonal antibody that targeted the viral protein coat. That image of disappointment, disapproval, dearth of pride was plastered to the forefront of Edge's concerns.
Because of what had happened, Edge did not know if she would remember the sound of her mother's voice, or have the chance to feel the rough wrinkles in her cheeks. Their wireless ear buds, which connected Edge with August in absence, had yielded nothing but a static interface, buzzing a portent that Edge could no longer ignore. Over a month without hugging her wiry body, and now a connection that failed? Edge had enough reason to snoop through August's office for clues of her whereabouts--and the exact details of her mission, which the government had withheld. Edge was not on a need-to-know basis, but the exclusion had simply encouraged her determination.
As she sorted through the maps scattered along the desk, Edge heard the assured step that indicated her best friend's arrival. "I'm in the back," she said as the pressure in her chest decompressed. "Grab gloves and get your ass over here!"
"Well, well, what's the addict up to now?" Sage said, his teasing tone floating through the house. Edge returned to her work with a sad smile.
If Edge was honest with herself, she might admit to the curiosity that August inspired. She might admit to the hurt that their separation evoked. Despite her best efforts at avoidance, that reality persisted; missing her mother and wishing that she could accompany her on trips. But Edge did not deal in personal truths or unwieldy emotions. She dealt in hard facts and cold observations, and her mother's desk was a mess of paper and pens and cracked computer screens. There was a lot of data to organize.
Some seconds passed before a familiar droll voice said, "No death-defying activities tonight, E? I'm shocked. So, so shocked."
Sage lounged against the front of the desk, his arms crossed. When Edge was younger and her mother less in demand, August would forewarn her with the tragedies that had occurred on Earth. One involved an iceberg with a fourth of its mass floating on the cold ocean, and the rest hidden to those who passed. Sage was that iceberg: tall and lean but undoubtedly present, saturating the room with an indelible force. You might never discover what he hid beneath that frothing water, but it didn't matter because he was solid and steady, and harsh and proud, and the best damn friend she had ever had.
"Psh, there's plenty of light left for a good run through the dome-ways. Don't discount me just yet." Then worry wrenched Edge, and her grin faded. "Actually that was a lie. I can't tonight. I... She's gone, Sage."
Without hesitation, he secured his spot at her side and observed her in that frozen way he had, gaze fixed and no muscle twitching. Sometimes his attention bothered her, so she would look at him, really and truly look. You want people to stop? Stare at them until they shift and adjust and focus elsewhere. In her experience, most people seemed uncomfortable with being caught, judgment so clear in their eyes. Sage was no exception, though he tried to withhold his opinions until she asked for them.
Tonight Edge welcomed his looks, his observation. His presence was instant comfort, a warmth that chased the dread of absence.
He cleared his throat. "What happened?"
Gratitude filled her; he knew which questions to ask. "The connection failed. I... We... All I could hear was static. Like her ear bud was damaged, and there's only noise left."
"Did you try tracking the IP address?"
"How did the static come through?"
She shook her head.
"What about her partner? Jameson or whatever his name is?"
Edge gave him the look, which, as always, made Sage laugh. "Do you think that I would snoop through her things without having considered every possibility?"
"All right, but I know you, E, and I know that you didn't call the authorities. They're an option too." She closed her eyes when he squeezed her hand; so small, so childish and naive within his. "You work for the government, so you know they're not all bad."
"They haven't done anything good for her, Sage." She took a deep breath as the weight of fear pressed on her throat. "As long as she promises to return with goodies, they're happy. When she doesn't, they send her on impossible trips to find ridiculous crap. Maybe this time it was too much for her. And why should they care if she chose to stay away? Or if she was trapped somewhere? One less mouth to feed in this overcrowded shithole."
Sage rubbed the small of her back and sighed.
"How many people leave the dome? Think about it. She and her crew and their cargo hold and who else? You're the history buff. You know the answer. You know no one would risk leaving without a contingency like hers. None of them care!"
"No one can replace August Gray."
A tear marred her cheek.
"No one can replace you."
Her voice was as small as the hands that clutched the desk when she said, "There are only two people who I trust."
He watched her face in that still way, then her hands, which shook as she created two piles: useful and useless. "You want to leave," Sage said. "You want to find her on your own. And you want me to help."
The tear reached the edge of her mouth. It was no benediction, nothing like the twenty-year-old who stood steadfast beside her in form-fitting clothes, slanted eyes glaring and wide nose flaring as he sought her response. Her lips cracked when she smiled.