Zyon by Tasha Black

1

Kora

Kora slid down the frigid metal slide from the space transport onto the frozen ground of Atropos, as a mist of disinfectant blasted over her, sending chills down her spine. The run through the dark tunnel and into the light left her with an odd sensation, as if she was being born all over again.

Which made a strange kind of sense. After all, she was beginning a very new life.

Looking around, she dragged in a breath so cold she thought her lungs would crack, and then let it out in a plume of condensation. A heady feeling of excitement filled her.

Back in her days on Terra-3 she had been a serious triathlon runner. The planetary team had pooled resources to send her for high altitude training in the icy Cartack Mountains before her big qualifying race. Atropos reminded her so much of that carefree time in her life that it almost brought tears to her eyes.

And her prize today was so much more wonderful than any medal or trophy.

A hover droid held out a huge fur cloak and she stuck out her arms automatically, allowing it to wrap her up snugly.

“Thanks so much,” she said. “That feels great.”

The droid whirred and beeped, as if it didn’t know how to respond.

“Fur lined boots,” it said at last, whisking off her slippers and helping her into a pair of the most comfortable shoes she had ever worn.

“Holy cow, that’s amazing,” she said, wiggling her toes. “How’d you know my size?”

More whirring and an odd clunk were her only reply. It was a shame. The droid was high level enough to dress her and speak. There was no reason it couldn’t have been given low-level conversation software.

“Claim your child,” the droid instructed, indicating a narrow path to the right.

“Thanks again,” she called back to it as she hurried off in the direction it had indicated.

Her breath plumed in the air as she took in the incredible scenery. The sheer white ice plains they had seen from above in the craft took on color and dimension down here. There were ridges and valleys, rainbows of color where the light of the sol hit it, and whole sections where shoots of tender green grass sprang through the frozen ground, as if Atropos had a green five o’clock shadow.

In the distance, the mountain range that had looked so small was clearly massive. The icy peaks were pale against the sky.

Kora couldn’t help but imagine climbing those mountains. Of course, she hadn’t been able to bring much of her equipment, but in time, maybe she could save up and import a few things. This whole landscape begged to be explored.

It was thrilling to think that she might be the first person ever to touch some of those cliff faces or hike the deepest sections of those virgin forests.

Of course, she was here to adopt a baby, so it might be a little while before she was able to have serious adventures like that. But she would have nothing but time here on the frozen frontier moon. There certainly wasn’t going to be much of a social life to distract her.

And she loved babies. Kora had babysat a lot growing up. Ostensibly, it was to earn money for sports equipment, but she secretly enjoyed it way too much to feel like it was really a chore. There was something magical about the way time slowed down and became more meaningful when you shared it with a baby.

Eager to meet her own little one, she began jogging, and immediately felt a small bite of pain in her knee that dulled to an ache as she moved.

Back when she had trained in high altitudes, she hadn’t sustained her career-ending injury yet. Now, cold temperatures set it off, and the cold of Atropos was beyond anything she’d experienced back home. She would have to warm up carefully before really exerting herself here.

Shrugging off the pain and the slight frustration she felt at the thought of it, she continued her easy jog as the path led around a stand of trees and opened up at last into a small meadow.

A large transport droid stood in front of a box freighter with four rugged, tracked wheels.

And off to the side, a massive man with bulging, violet-tinged muscles cradled something tiny in his arms.

Her heart skipped a beat.

That’s my baby…

She slowed down, not wanting to startle them. Besides, there was something solemn about meeting her child for the first time. She didn’t want to be out of breath.

The man turned to her slowly, as if she had called to him.

Her control over her breath wasn’t her choice anymore the instant his eyes met hers. Her heart raced like she’d run a kilometer instead of jogged around a bend.

His pale blue gaze was intense. He tilted his head to the side slightly, as if hearing a distant whisper.

Suddenly she felt drawn to him, as if he held some secret she desperately needed to hear. She had never seen a man of his race before, but that purple skin stretched over wide planes of muscle begged to be stroked and maybe even licked.

Get it together, Kora.

She wrenched her gaze from his, focusing on the little bundle in his arms.

“You are the mother?” the warrior asked, striding forward to meet her.

His deep voice sent shivers down her spine.

“Yes,” she said. “I’m Kora. What’s the baby’s name?”

“I have been calling him Pax,” the warrior said softly, looking down at the little bundle with a strangely tender expression for one so fierce. “But you will give him his true name.”

“Pax,” she echoed. “I love it. On the Terras that’s an ancient word for peace.”

“Yes,” he said, still looking at the child.

Kora shifted her weight slightly to her left leg. The right knee was pulsing a little, probably because she had been standing there with her knees locked, dying to get a look at the baby.

“Here,” he said, as if her movement had roused him into remembering to give her the child.

She opened her arms, her heart pounding even more.

When the huge warrior placed the bundle in them, she was surprised at the weight.

A chubby little lavender face looked up at her, his dark eyes wide with wonder. She wondered why the baby was the same color as the guard. But thought it wasn’t polite to ask.

“Hello, Pax,” she murmured softly, knowing babies preferred gentle sounds. “I’m so glad to meet you.”

Pax pursed his mouth and made a raspberry sound, then smacked his lips and smiled, his dark eyes twinkling.

Kora’s heart felt crushed under the weight of a love for her baby that was so overwhelming and sudden she thought she might not survive it.

Her baby.