The moon above Terra 2, Kris’ home planet, shines red. A deep, vibrant red. When Kris was younger, he’d been afraid of it, thinking that the moon was drenched in blood. He feared that all that blood would eventually drip down, staining him and the ground, the entire world.
But he was no longer a child. He was a man of twenty-four now and he understood the science behind the moon’s color. Now it fascinated rather than frightened him and he often found himself staring up at it, comforted by the eerie, dusky pall it cast over the world.
He gazed at it for a moment more, remembering that old childhood fear, before turning his attention back to his friends. He was with Charles and Joshua tonight, indulging in their bimonthly ritual of meeting up for dinner and drinks in the old neighborhood.
He saw that both of them were chuckling, although with amusement, not cruelty. “Where did you go just now?” Joshua asked.
They had all been fast friends since meeting in secondary school and they had never lost touch, even when Kris had moved away and they’d stayed behind in the area simply known as Below. They knew him as well as anyone, better than most, and Kris counted them amongst the people closest to him.
“Nowhere. Sorry. What were you saying?”
And then the both of them sobered, smiles sliding off of their faces, and Kris knew what they’d been talking to him about.
“We were asking how things were going with Simon,” Charles said. “Any better?”
Kris glanced at the drink in his hand before gazing out through the restaurant’s window. “No. No better.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. It’s like he doesn’t even like me anymore. Three years ago, I was the love of his life, he couldn’t do enough for me and now . . . ”
Kris allowed the sentence to trail off. He wasn’t ever really comfortable talking about how badly his marriage was failing. It made him feel like a failure, made him feel he was still the same poor, dirty urchin that Simon had plucked out of obscurity and poverty three years ago.
But there was more to Kris’ reluctance to talk about his marriage than simply that. He didn’t like to talk about it because he wasn’t sure he could trust himself not to say too much. He’d lost track of the times that he’d almost told his friends about the ever-growing coldness emanating from his husband or the suspected affairs or the disarming cruelty that had begun to result in slaps and punches.
There were simply things that he would not allow himself to share; the sense of shame engendered from each of them stronger than the urge to unburden himself.
“You could always divorce him, Kris. I mean, it’s been more than two years, you’d be entitled to almost half. You’d be rich.”
“Guys, I don’t care about the money. It’s not about that.”
“Hey, we know that,” Charles said. “But listen, you’ve put your time in with him. You’ve been doing everything you can to make this work while he does everything he can to make you miserable. Maybe it’s time to walk away, take what you deserve and start over.”
“No,” Kris said, shaking his head emphatically. “I’m not ready to give up yet. He’s still in there. The man I fell in love with is still in there somewhere.”
Joshua and Charles exchanged a look before masterfully changing the subject to something not even remotely related to Simon.
Kris could have kissed them both.
They ended the night on a positive note, toasting to each other and to deserved happiness. Kris took the hint, smiled, and hugged them both, sending them off to their vehicle before heading over to where his was parked.
Kris’ vehicle was new, sleek and completely conspicuous in this neighborhood. He had purposely parked it in the farthest corner of the lot, under the large, overgrown tree with its low hanging branches. He knew it was best not to appear to be flaunting his newfound wealth Below.
As he walked, his gaze traveled momentarily upward, high above the trees toward the gleaming towers of the area known to most as Topside. Topside and Below were both a part of the city of Vilcea, but they might as well have been on different continents for all their differences. Topside was the area where the rich, the powerful and the beautiful resided; where he was heading tonight, his home ever since he’d accepted Simon’s hand in marriage.
There had been plenty of critics, people sneering and mocking their union. They called him at best an opportunist, at worst, a whore. But Kris never much cared what others thought of him. Not when he knew the truth. That he had fallen in love with and married Simon because he loved him, not the money.
He would gladly give it all away, every last bit, to have things back the way they were, back when Simon treated him like something precious instead of an inconvenience.
He sighed and dropped his gaze, wondering when exactly life had gotten so complicated.
He was near his vehicle, nearly ready to unlock the doors, when he noticed a figure heading toward him. The man was tall and lean, appearing well-built with broad shoulders. He was dressed all in black and moved with an ease, a fluidity that caused Kris to think of a jungle cat stalking prey.
In and of themselves, none of these things was terribly unusual. What was unusual, however, was the pair of sunglasses that covered the man’s eyes.
Even with the street lamps, the murky glow of the red moon could make it difficult to see clearly at night. The man should have been operating nearly blind. And yet he wasn’t. He was walking purposely, quickly. And he was walking toward Kris.
Feeling uneasy, Kris hurried to the vehicle and unlocked it, ready to open the door and throw himself inside.
It was the voice that made him pause and turn around. It was such a nice voice; soft and melodic. The kind of voice that could never belong to someone frightening.
“Yes?” Kris asked.
The man was right in front of him now, and how he had moved so quickly Kris couldn’t even begin to guess. He loomed over Kris, the smallest hint of a smile on his face, glasses still concealing his eyes and asked, “Are you Kris Allen?”
“Yeah. Do I know-”
But that’s as far as Kris got. No sooner had the words left his mouth than the man was swinging his left arm up, arcing it in a circle toward Kris. Kris felt a small flash of pain at his neck, like the prick of a needle, and then he felt nothing at all.