I scratched my arm and watched the galaxies ahead grow bigger and brighter as we approached NoMan’s Territory, but I didn’t notice the rash on my arm was spreading. I didn’t notice Declan’s neck had the same rash, crawling up under his greasy, black hair. I didn’t notice him absently but obsessively scratching his neck like I was scratching my arm.
I woke to Declan lightly shaking my shoulder. “Bell, we’re here.”
I rubbed my eyes and sat up in the passenger seat to see the spaceship parked on a foggy, darkened planet. The ghostly beams from the spaceship’s headlights casted shadows over a black, rocky terrain. I scratched at my arm and yawned, wondering where in NoMan’s Territory Declan decided to stop. There wasn’t much to see but the slow moving fog and a faint light in the distance. There were no stars or planets in the sky and the fog seeped up from the rocks like white flames.
Declan rubbed his neck and shrugged. “I don’t actually know. Wanna explore?”
He scurried out of the cockpit, undoubtedly headed for the latch door of the ship.
“Wait!” I stuttered, jumping out of my seat and bumping my head on the short ceiling. “Did you check if it was safe? What if the air is toxic?”
I ducked out of the cockpit to see Declan shoving his leg into a raggedy green spacesuit.
“Yeah, the air is pretty bad. But the ship has these!” He tossed a yellowed helmet at me which I fumbled and dropped. “Suit up, Buttercup.”
“Don’t call me Buttercup,” I muttered.
I picked up the worn helmet and began inspecting it. A tiny scratch ran the length of the glass front and the metal around the backside was charred, as if the previous user had been chased by a flamethrower. Declan was already zipping up his suit when I looked up again.
“What’s wrong with the air?”
“Oh, the usual,” he casually explained. “It’s pretty toxic. Lots of chemicals and radiation. Apparently most of the radiation comes from the planet itself, rather than falling through the atmosphere. It’s also pretty freaking cold out there. But the ship’s reading said we should be okay if we wear heated spacesuits and oxygen tanks.” He smiled, excited.
“We should be okay? What happens if we aren’t?” I picked up the other green suit and inspected it as well. It had been haphazardly patched up, which didn’t help the ever growing uneasiness in my stomach.
Declan just shrugged again and tucked his black hair into a helmet, clicking it into place with the collar of his suit.
“Who knows?” He gazed out the small porthole window in the door, his eyes wild and hungry, then glanced back at me and frowned. “Why aren’t you suiting up?”
I blinked at him. “You haven’t exactly convinced me this is a good idea. What planet are we even on? Why is it so dark out?”
Declan groaned. “Bell, you worry so much. Let’s just go, it’ll be fun.”
I remembered him saying something similar just before we’d put two galaxies at war.
I dropped the helmet deliberately, leaned back against the ship wall, and crossed my arms. My nerves were too frayed, my patience worn too thin, to keep jumping into things like this. Here was our chance to start over and Declan was willing to throw it away on an old spacesuit and an unknown planet.
“Not everyone has a death-wish, Dec,” I hissed before I could stop myself.
Declan pursed his lips and looked down.
I immediately regretted my remark, though I still believed it. It seemed like this guy was always tossing himself into life or death situations without any fear of which outcome it caused, so long as he had an adventure. He’s always been a little reckless, but more recently, he was starting to really scare me. I felt like I was the only one in his life who cared if he was alive, including himself.
I bit my tongue to keep myself from apologizing, reminding myself that he didn’t usually deserve it. I had just left everything for this guy and still felt sick to my stomach for everything we’d done–stolen a spaceship, started a war, possibly wiped out a planet. The least he could do was meet me somewhere in the middle.
He silently unscrewed his helmet, tossed it to the side, and disappeared back into the cockpit. I waited against the ship wall, holding my ground though my insides squirmed at the thought of Declan upset with me. I heard him pressing buttons, the sound of paper being printed. When he returned, he handed me a single sheet of paper and crossed his arms as I read.
Across the top, it said: PLANET DIAGNOSIS: WOLF FANG’S PLANET.
“The planet is called ‘Wolf Fang’s Planet’?”
Declan nodded, eyes dark. I knew he was hurt, but I looked back down at the report.
He’d taken us to the last planet on the edge of NoMan’s Territory? According to the diagnosis, just beyond Wolf Fang’s Planet stretched empty space–no stars, no planets, no life. No wonder it was so dark, this planet strayed on the outskirts of the territory’s broken galaxies, it’s orbit the widest and slowest. The air was very toxic with frequent radiation storms. It had a thin, splintered atmosphere, meaning there were pockets on the planet that could suck you right up into space and deposit you on the opposite side of the planet, most likely with your skin inside out. Its surface was black and rocky and it’s core was made of solid ice. No natural resources worth the danger in harvesting.
“There’s only one person on this planet?”
“I’m gonna take a wild guess and say his name is Wolf Fang,” Declan responded.
I handed him the diagnosis and huffed. He cracked a smile when I pushed past him and pretended to pace.
“So, we are trespassing on private property?”
“Just being on this ship is trespassing on private property, Bell,” Declan retorted. “We haven’t exactly been following the rules.”
“Good point.” I picked up the helmet again. I guess it couldn’t hurt to look around. Since we had the spacesuits, we should be okay. And with only one person on the planet, the chances of being arrested were slim. Most of me just wanted to appease Declan after what I’d said, which was frustrating.
“Okay, I’m in, but–”
Declan ran over, planted a kiss on my forehead–effectively making me blush–and went for his helmet. He screwed it on quickly and began checking his oxygen tank, that goofy smile on his face again.
“But!” I shouted to slow him down. “But we go find Wolf Fang. I think we should at least say hello since we just barged onto his planet.”
“Fine. Now suit up, Buttercup! I wanna explore.”
I shook my head a little at Declan’s excitement and scratched my arm–I looked down and rolled up my sleeves, irritated that my arms kept itching.
Both of my arms were bright red and splotchy and now that I’d noticed, they stung slightly. I froze, my fears creeping their way from my stomach to my mind as I started to think about the virus. My blood ran cold.
“Declan, let me see your arms.”
He shot a confused look at me from inside his helmet, then shook his head.
“Why? C’mon, get your suit on,” he complained. He went back to scanning the planet from the porthole, his eyes searching hungrily for all the rocks unmoved, all the adventures to be had. “I think we should head toward that light over–”
“Declan!” I thrust one of my arms at him, wide-eyed, unable to hide my terror.
He squinted, frowned, marched over, lifted my arm close to his helmet. Frantically, he threw off his helmet, unzipped his suit, shrugged his arms out, and stared at them. They were red and splotchy and I imagined they stung just like mine. He ran one hand across the back of his neck, feeling where the splotches had spread; his other hand roughly tucked my hair behind my ear and I knew from the way his hand shook that my neck mirrored his.
He stared at me and something I’d never seen in him flashed through his eyes: panic.
“We still have the virus,” Declan whispered. “And we’re light years away from the cure.”