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out there, down here.

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A ship landed outside the village, hull steel-plated and pitted by a hundred thousand space dust particles. All the children gathered around it and begged to see inside.

Drax liked dirt. He liked stone underfoot, the green sky of a storm, rain. Water should fall from a sky, not bubble up foul and stale from tubes. He wanted meat with the grain still visible; he wanted fruit in fruit shapes.

Nelet returned from the ship talking of star charts and cockpits. “I’m going to be a pilot, too,” he said.

“I’m not,” Drax said. “There’s nothing I want out there.”

The war-circle splintered, dissolved into dancing and mayhem and chaos. One warrior remained at the circle’s edge. Her thighs were nearly as thick as Drax’s own, her shoulders wide and strong. She could outpull an ox. The very sight of her thrilled him.

Drax joined her on the fallen tree and followed her gaze upward. “What are you looking at?” he asked, then felt very stupid. What a foolish question.

But she smiled. “The stars. Someday when this fucking war is over, I’m going to visit them. See everything. Aren’t they beautiful?”

He stared at her blunt, beautiful jaw. “Yes.”

Ronan’s victims burned on a mass pyre. With one corpse or two, a pyre was fitting, lovely: a neighbor yielding the last heat and light of their body. Beneath them, pricklewood burned sharp and bitter and pricked tears from the eyes. But pricklewood could not mask the scent of this many dead; no quantity of tears was sufficient to grieve them.

The pyre burned down to ash and char finally. Drax walked two days to the spaceport, red-eyed still. Ships stood tall, squat, shining, broken-down. He chose a black one that reminded him Ronan’s Dark Aster, and he stepped aboard.