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Eli peered around the corner out of the control interface room, holding back an aggrieved sigh. The hallway was dark and cold and silent, and totally deserted. Doctor Rush was nowhere to be seen.

“He coming?”

Eli turned back and shook his head. Volker groaned in exasperation. “Damn it!”

“I told you!” Brody was flipping through a paperback someone had lent him, sitting on the floor with his back against the apple core interface. “I saw Colonel Young heading toward his quarters half an hour ago. They’re having a romantic night in, and I don’t blame them. We don’t exactly get much time for romance on Destiny,”

Park rested her chin in her hands, sitting opposite Brody with her legs crossed, shoes and socks placed beside her on the floor. “I’m still not used to those two. I mean… I guess it makes enough sense - all things considered, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t really weird to think of them dating. Each other, I mean,”

Brody nodded, turning a page but remaining silent.

Volker sighed, hands on either side of a monitor and shoulders hunched. “Well if Rush isn’t coming, what about Chloe?”

Eli shook his head again. “Scott saved some of the fruit we found on the last planet we harvested from and they’re having a… a picnic under the stars or something. She’s not coming,”

“What is the point of calling a meeting of the science team if the head of the team and its most gifted member are having romantic evenings with their respective boyfriends?” Volker prodded the monitor a couple times, closing the programs he’d opened ten minutes before. Park shot a smirk at Brody, who smiled and quietly shushed her.

“What, are you jealous?” Eli asked, voicing Park’s unspoken thoughts. Brody closed his eyes, laughing under his breath.

“No; I just want to lessen the risk that the next time we drop out of FTL we won’t be immediately boarded by aliens, that’s all!”

Brody shut his book. “Are we going to get any work done or can I leave?”

Park uncrossed her legs and pulled her socks on. “I think we should be fine. If Rush and Chloe get a night off, so should we,”

“Sounds good to me,” Brody stood up and pulled Park up with him, her shoes in her other hand. “Care for a drink?”

“Sure, but I’d like to get to bed relatively early tonight? Frequent drone attacks don’t exactly make for lots of sleep,” Park and Brody left, chatting amiably as they headed to Brody’s bar.

Eli narrowed his eyes. “Do you think they’re…?” He trailed off, hands poised to make some gesture but seeming to decide against it.

“Nah. Brody’s not looking for romance right now, trust me on that,” Volker ran a hand through his curls and rubbed his eyes. “Actually, I might go to bed too. If we end up with critical power failures due to some problem we missed, I blame Rush.”

Eli frowned. Something seemed odd about what Volker had just said, but he wasn’t sure what it had been. “Yeah alright. Sleep well,”

Volker left, leaving Eli alone in the room, lit only by the glow of the active screens on the apple core interface. He stood there, not sure what to do. Unlike the other scientists, he wasn’t in any hurry to sleep, but he didn’t have anything else going on that night. He could monitor sensors, or check power levels, or look through databases, or program kino paths, or go over the data about planets in their planned course – but to be honest it didn’t feel fair that he’d be busy while everyone else was relaxing.

After a few minutes of contemplation, he decided to wander around aimlessly in the hopes that inspiration might strike, or at least that he’d tire himself out and want to go to bed. It seemed that Volker, Park, and Brody had been in the majority when it came to exhaustion among the ship’s crew; there was almost no one outside of their quarters or, presumably now that Brody had left work, the bar. About twenty minutes after he had begun his amble around Destiny, he saw Lieutenant James, jogging through the halls and sweating through her tank top despite the slight chill in the air. When she caught his eye, she slowed and began jogging in place, waiting for him to meet her in the intersection where she’d stopped.

“Can’t sleep either, huh?”

“I was supposed to be working, but it seems that everyone else would rather be sleeping, or drinking, or spending the night in with their significant others,” He sounded more petulant than he’d intended to, and James smiled wryly.

“Tough being single when everyone else seems to be pairing up, huh?”

“You can say that again. I feel like I’m in Days of Our Lives or something, except in space!”

She stopped moving to laugh. He shoved his hands in his pockets, embarrassed. The soldier pushed a few strands of brown hair out of her eyes, stretching her back slightly. “God forbid I want to avoid extraneous drama…”

“Don’t you ever get… I don’t know, lonely?” Eli wasn’t under the impression that James was very social, but he didn’t know whether that was an inherent personality trait of hers or if she just didn’t have many opportunities to socialize on Destiny. She was good friends with TJ, that much Eli knew, and she got along with all the military personnel, but beyond that Eli was clueless.

“Personally,” she replied. “I just want to stay alive and get home. Getting laid is pretty low on my agenda right now,” She stretched out her triceps, her arms behind her head.

Eli coughed, going red. “Uh- yeah! I hear you,” He looked to the right of James’ face, his hands shifting nervously against the denim of his jeans. It’d been more than a year since they’d been stranded on this ship, but he was still awkward around James. It was a terrible stereotype, for a nerd to be awkward around hot women, and he usually didn’t have this issue (much). But James wasn’t just hot, she was scary!

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, looking amused at his clear discomfort. “Alright, g’night, Eli,” She jogged away, her muffled laughter echoing in the near silence of empty hallways.

When she’d gone, Eli put his head in his hands, groaning: “I am literally the worst…”

“Worst at what?”

Sergeant Greer’s voice came from the left, and Eli took his hands from his face to see the soldier leaning out of the door to his quarters, toothbrush in hand and towel slung over his shoulder.

“Nothing!” Greer shot him a deadpan look. “Okay, not nothing. I was just talking to James and it got… awkward,”

“So what else is new?” Greer asked around his toothbrush, not moving from his doorway.

Eli laughed sarcastically. “Thanks,” He walked down the hallway to lean on the wall opposite Greer’s doorway, crossing his arms. “Nice to feel emotionally supported by one’s friends and all, but isn’t that a little touchy feely for you?”

Greer chuckled. “So what, you’re into James now?”

“No! I mean… I’m still not exactly over…. Y’know. Ginn. She… I’m still hoping she’ll…” He sighed, picturing the ex-Lucian Alliance officer as she’d been for that brief time they’d been together– her hair, her eyes, her smile… She was nothing but data now, consciousness stored on crystals and microchips, cold and sad and maybe not even human anymore.

“What about Chloe?” The soldier turned around for a second to toss his towel and toothbrush inside his quarters, then turned back, leaning against his doorframe with a small smirk on his face.

Eli threw his hands out, shaking them rapidly. “No way! She’s got Matt, and Matt is great for her! Besides, we really are better as friends. Definitely,”

The other man raised his eyebrows. “Alright, alright! So you’re not interested in anyone on Destiny?”

At this, Eli felt a sudden spike of suspicion flash across his mind. He frowned. “Hey, what’s with the third degree?”

“Just asking,” Greer said innocently. Eli didn’t buy it for a moment.

“Yeah, sure you are. Are you into James?”

Greer laughed out loud, surprising Eli. “Nah… She’s… well, she’s not really my type. Let’s leave it at that,”

This didn’t seem quite possible to the young mathematician, but he didn’t question it. If Greer was going to be tight lipped about his personal life, that was fine with Eli. It wasn’t that he didn’t like him; he was just... intimidated, and he had a hard time imagining Greer being romantic, or tender, or anything that being in a relationship theoretically entailed. Just like James, Greer was just a scary dude.

Greer seemed to pick up on his thoughts. “I can have normal relationships, you know,” he said, narrowing his eyes.

“I know!” Eli squeaked, then cleared his throat, embarrassed.

The soldier continued: “…I just usually tend to have them with men,”

There was a long pause.

“Oh, okay!” Eli chirped, again bright red and grinning far too wide. “Great!”

Greer shifted his weight to both feet, folding his arms against his chest and frowning. “That’s not gonna be a problem, is it?”

“No! I swear it’s not! I’m just surprised, is all!” His hands fluttered around uncertainly, briefly resting outside of his pockets, clasping in front of his stomach, crossing uncomfortably. He didn’t say anything else, just cleared his throat nervously and waited for Greer to break the silence.

Greer finally shrugged and said: “Well, there are worse ways to react. You gonna be okay out here? Because I’m going to bed,”

Eli started. “What?”

Greer looked quizzically at him. “I’m going to bed,” he repeated.

“Oh, yeah. Good night!”

With a final wry, somewhat confused look, Greer hit the controls to shut his door, leaving Eli alone in the dark hallway outside.

Eli let out a long sigh. That had been… an experience. And pretty much the last thing he had ever expected Ronald Greer to tell him in passing. He told himself that it wasn’t a big deal, and really, it wasn’t! It was just unexpected.

Despite what he’d assumed when he’d started his walk, that had been a drama-intense fifteen minutes. Finally feeling ready to go to bed, he walked back to his quarters and fell asleep within half an hour.

Chapter Text

Almost a week later, Destiny dropped out in a system with apparently no drone activity. There were three planets in range, only one capable of supporting human life without spacesuits. Young put together the standard team: Scott, Greer, James, Barnes, TJ, Volker, Brody, and Eli. They were to find food, look for possible medicinal herbs, and, though this was tacit in Young’s orders, get some fresh air and enjoy exploring a new landscape presuming it wasn’t infested with man-eating animals or hostile low-tech aliens.

Although he had been looking forward to a break in the monotony of shipboard life, fate was not in Eli’s favor that day. When he stepped through the ‘Gate, after the initial unearthly chill of wormhole travel, he was hit with an all-to-real biting wind. The planet was cold. There were snowflakes fluttering in flurries all around the team as they shouldered their packs and waited for everyone to come through. The snow wasn’t sticking to the soil yet, but it was still melting onto his nose and getting in his eyelashes and making him miserable.

“How are we supposed to find food out here?” Eli grumbled, shoving his hands in his jacket pockets and hunching over against the wind. Their sensors had told them that the planet was a bit cold, yes, but they had assumed that it would be a dry cold and wouldn’t even be parka weather. But it seemed the wind chill factor and the sense of cold that seeing snow brought took the temperature down at least five degrees.

TJ rubbed her hands together then blew into them, warming her fingers up. “Plenty of vegetables thrive in the winter! We just have to find them!”

“You don’t seriously want to survive on astronaut food for the foreseeable future, do you?” Brody asked, tag teaming Eli from beside TJ and zipping up his borrowed jacket.

Eli shook his head. “I guess. But it’s too cold to go digging for lettuce!”

Behind him, the ‘Gate shut down. Matt began delegating jobs, raising his voice slightly to make up for the wind whipping past the group’s faces. To Eli’s chagrin, Matt placed him in a foraging group with James, Greer, and Brody, the latter as the leader since he had the most experience with plants. The two teams headed off in different directions. Eli, knowing he couldn’t avoid it, fell into a quick step alongside James and cleared his throat to get her attention.

“Uh, I’m sorry about the other night. I think I might’ve come off as… awkward,” He waved his hand in front of his eyes to clear his vision of snow.

“No kidding,” She didn’t seem annoyed exactly, just tired, and she didn’t seem to be paying much attention to him either. “It’s fine,”

“Great!” He smiled brightly, but soon dropped the false expression of cheeriness upon noticing that James wasn’t looking at him. Instead, she kept glancing over her shoulder at the receding backs of the other team, her brows furrowed and the corners of her mouth turned down. “Uh… you okay? Is there something wrong with this planet? Are you getting a bad feeling?”

“No, nothing like that,” she responded, shaking her head rapidly and refocusing on the ground ahead of them. “It’s got nothing to do with the planet. I’m just… thinking about something,”

Eli brushed snow off his sweatshirt and looked dubiously at the soldier. “Okay…” She didn’t seem to want to say any more on the subject, so Eli nodded his goodbye, slowed, and fell out of pace with her, falling back to where Greer was bringing up the rear of the team.

“See any lettuce?” he quipped.

Greer shot him a wry smile, seemingly not bothered by the cold. “Nah. I’m pretty sure that we’re only out here to boost morale; we’re not going to find anything. It’s going to be protein shakes and whatever the hydroponics lab can muster for a while, I’d bet my tiny strawberry ration on it,”

“Right…”Eli slumped. “I was kind of looking forward to eating something with… crunch. And I don’t appreciate being sent out into the freezing cold on a wild goose chase – or a wild vegetable chase, as the case may be,”

Greer looked amused. “Well, you never know. We might find some non-sweet sweet potatoes!” Eli groaned overdramatically and Greer chuckled, adding: “You’re the optimist here, not me!”

“I’m hungry and cold, don’t expect me to be overly optimistic-”

“I found something!” The wind whipped away some of Brody’s voice, but Eli and Greer could still hear enough to catch the good news. The team clustered around a low shrub, where Brody was cutting what looked like a bunch of deep red berries from a low hanging branch.

“Berries?” James asked, surprised.

“What, are you thinking of baking a pie?” Eli inquired, only half sarcastically. “Need red dye? Decorating Destiny for Christmas in July?”

Brody rolled his eyes. “I appreciate your expertise – and unusually good rhyming ability – Eli, but that’s not why I stopped us,” His slight irritation very quickly mellowed back to his usual flat, businesslike demeanor, and he detached some of the berries from the bush. “Look at the berries toward the bottom, and the surrounding leaves,” He passed the clipping around the tight circle of shivering shipmates. “It’s been chewed on by some sort of animal, probably an equivalent of an Earth rodent or rabbit – something with large front teeth. If there are small mammals around we could try to hunt them. Plus, since it’s unlikely that they’d survive on berries alone, there are probably some sort of wild vegetables near here! We should spread out, cover more ground,”

Eli and Greer looked at each other, both men’s eyebrows raised. “Meat and vegetables!” Greer said, clearly impressed. “Looks like I was wrong,”

“Looks like…”

Brody directed James, Greer, and Eli in several different directions, telling them to search near to the ground for any type of vegetation and/or any small holes in the ground that might lead to burrows or warrens.

Eli sighed, hunched against the cold as he traipsed towards a group of dead trees in the distance, his eyes raking the mud and frozen grass that squelched and snapped under his inefficient sneakers, looking for flowers, or leaves, or fuzzy tails bolting underground. He didn’t see anything. The snow remained light but still present.

“Yeah I’m the optimist… Why do we have to ‘Gate out here if it’s just for crew morale?” he muttered under his breath. “Next time Colonel Young can go himself!”

His breath caught as he almost fell over, his toes catching on the ground. He threw his arms out to rebalance himself, stumbling a few steps forward. Looking back, he saw a shallow hole that had just been caved in by a clumsy young math major. He squatted to look at it, brushing away the excess dirt with a shivering hand. The hole went down further than the length of his hand, and that was good enough for Eli. Looking around, he saw Greer crouched over a cluster of small white flowers a few meters away. “Hey! I think I found a burrow!” he called at the other man.

Greer straightened and jogged over. “See any animals?” He knelt on the ground next to Eli, adding his own hands to clear away dirt and roots.

“I haven’t seen – whoah!” A dislodged chunk of soil revealed several small yellow objects, about the size and shape of fingerling potatoes. A few had been gnawed on, revealing starchy white insides.

“Looks like we found a gopher’s pantry!” Greer said, looking pleased. “The main burrow has to be near here somewhere –if we look we might find it,”

Greer and Eli searched on their hands and knees for more burrows, their enthusiasm briefly numbing the cold in their extremities. There were a couple shallow depressions that raised false alarms, but over the next ten minutes they were mostly silent as they got messy, preschooler style.

Finally: “I found another burrow, get over here!” Eli had gotten lucky again, and Greer helped him excavate an even larger store of alien potatoes and, this time, some leafy greens. “This is phenomenal! I wonder how many of these there are!”

Only five minutes later they found an even larger food storage bunker full of greens, potatoes, and some of the red berries Brody had discovered earlier. The pit they dug up to uncover these foods was almost big enough to contain an entire human body, at least two feet below the surface.

“How many of these things are there?” Eli muttered. Greer shrugged.

They were almost at the grove of skeletal trees when Greer suddenly grabbed Eli by the sleeve and motioned towards an extremely large patch of shadow at the base of one of the trunks, between two of the tree’s winding roots. “The main burrow has to be under these trees,”

“What? Why?” Despite Eli’s doubts, it seemed the other man was right. Eli followed Greer to the burrow opening, peering into the darkness. The edges of the circular hole were frosted, the remnants of animal tracks faintly visible inside the opening. The tunnel, or at least what could be seen of it from the outside, sloped down but not at an unreasonable angle.

“Didn’t you ever read Watership Down? The roots form a ceiling so the warren doesn’t cave in. Plus, this is the biggest one we’ve seen so far. It makes sense,”

“Do you want to dig up the burrow…?” Eli asked. “That sounds… kind of cruel now that I think about it,”

Greer shot him a look. “Of course not!”

Eli frowned, suddenly applying a critical eye to the past half hour’s actions. “Then… why did we look for the main burrow again?” He looked down at the dirt under his nails and sighed. “We were supposed to be looking for vegetables, not the possibly inhabited burrow of an unknown animal in the hopes of getting some meat!”

Greer smirked and waggled his eyebrows. “Aren’t you curious? I’ll stay out here and keep watch if you want to check it out,”

“Check what out?” Eli tilted his head, confused. Greer answered with a jerk of his shoulder at the dark cavern between them that Eli suddenly realized was large enough to admit a human of above average size.

“What?! No way! We don’t know how deep this goes – I could pass out down there! Not to mention the fact that these things must be enormous if their burrow is this big!”

“Well there’s no way in hell I’m going down there!”

“Then it’s settled! We’re not going down there!” Eli wiped his hands on his wet, muddy jeans, realizing that he was shivering again.

“Just give it a look! For science! Science and protein with goddamn flavor!”

Eli sighed, but he couldn’t deny that he was curious as to what sort of animal inhabited this planet and he knew that there might be even more food in this burrow, maybe even something along the line of carrots, his favorite vegetable. And, yes, he couldn’t deny that he really wished he could have some of his mom’s meatloaf, and this might be the next best thing. Giving in, he asked: “Do you have rope?” Greer pulled a length out of his pack, handing one end to Eli. “If I start suffocating, or get caved in on, or attacked by rabid badgers, or find a secret nuclear facility, I’ll pull on the rope and you can come in and pull me out,”

Greer looked at the dark, cramped space with distaste.

Eli rolled his eyes but didn’t push the soldier. Phobias were phobias, after all. “Or run and get James to do it, if you can’t,” Greer nodded. Eli took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, then crawled on his hands and knees to the entrance to the tunnel. “Wish me luck, I guess!” he said, trying to affect a tone of bravado he didn’t really feel.

“Good luck.” Greer grinned and patted his back. “Now get yourself down that rabbit hole,”

Rope in hand, trying not to think too much about the colossally stupid thing he was about to do, Eli crawled into the darkness,

Chapter Text

The tunnel was dark, stuffy, and smelled like highly nitrogenous soil. Eli wanted to shower as soon as his feet had passed through the entryway. Thankfully, however, the ground was dry under the roots of the trees and there didn’t appear to be any large insects or other arthropods skittering around, so it was just uncomfortable rather than actually dangerous. The tunnel was cramped and got slightly smaller as he went on, but remained large enough for him to have a decent range of motion. It reminded him of climbing down an air duct, or at least how climbing down an air duct looked in movies. Admittedly, it was also an air duct that constantly rained dust into his eyes, but the metaphor remained accurate.

He crawled for a few minutes, actually getting a little creeped out at just how long the tunnel was. Just as he was about to start clambering backwards out of pure weirded-out-ness, the tunnel widened again and sloped abruptly downwards without warning. Eli almost twisted his wrist as he fell into a large cavern. He could actually sit up straight, his head pressing against dirt and roots, and he did so, leaning against the packed wall and fanning himself slightly. The rope he’d pulled down with him was still in his hand, and he dropped it next to his legs.

His eyes had adjusted to the dark enough to make out a nearby pile of the potatoes that he and Greer had found in the other storage tunnels. This was a good sign, since they all seemed fresh, not rotting; something must still live down here.

Oh. Something must live down here.

For the nth time that day, Eli wondered why he had listened to Greer.

What if whatever lived down here liked vegetables enough, but liked meat more?

“Calm down, Eli,” he muttered to himself. “You don’t have enough oxygen down here to waste on a panic attack…”

Narrowing his eyes in an attempt to see better, he began crawling through the burrow, looking for food other than greens, possibly-potatoes, and berries. Very quickly he stumbled on the jackpot: they were green, yes, but he was almost on top of what seemed to be a pile of carrots!

“How… How am I supposed to get these aboveground?” He rolled his eyes at his own foolishness. “Why oh why didn’t I think this through better…?”

For lack of a better idea, Eli took off his jacket, twisting around half on his back in order to maneuver in the cramped space, then laid it on the ground and started piling green carrots and yellow potatoes onto the fabric. When he’d moved both piles, he pulled the edges of the sweatshirt inward, zipped what he could, and tied the rest up with the sleeves. It wouldn’t stay if it was lobbed across a field or thrown underwater, but it would work just fine as a grocery bag up a tunnel.

That done, he did a cursory search for whatever animal had made the burrow, crossing his fingers in the hope that he wouldn’t be finding a pissy mole in a corner of the large space. But there was nothing. With a sigh of relief, he turned, picking up his bundled up sweatshirt and crawling back to the cavern’s entrance.

It was considerably more difficult to crawl up the rabbit hole (or whatever animal had made the hole… hole) than it had been to crawl down it, but Eli managed, emerging about five minutes later sweaty, covered in dirt, and having never been so happy to feel a freezing wind on his face in his life. All in all, the process had taken about fifteen minutes.

He tossed his jacket out first, then scrambled out of the tunnel, standing with a groan of pain as his back cracked. He brushed his jeans off uselessly; they were now more brown than blue.

Greer was waiting for him outside, snowflakes catching and melting on his uniform. He stooped to pick up the bundle of veggies wrapped in Eli’s ratty old jacket. Upon seeing what was inside, he asked: “Find anything else edible down there?”

Eli shook his head. “No meat, sorry. But I did find carrots – at least I think they’re carrots, anyway,”

“Damn. I really wanted burgers tonight,”

“Don’t say that, you’ll make me hungry!” Eli grinned wanly at the other man, then coughed. “Aw man, I think my lungs are about 80% dirt now. I can’t believe I let you talk me into going down there!”

“I’m sure it was an adven-” Greer broke off, eyes widening as he noticed something behind Eli.

“What?! What is it?!!” Eli froze, holding his breath. “Is it dangerous? Please say it isn’t dangerous!”

“I think… I think it’s a rabbit!”

What?!” Eli whirled around. Sure enough, a small white creature was bounding towards them from behind the trees. As it got closer, the two young men could see the powerful hind limbs, long ears, and pink nose of a rabbit come into focus. But that’s all the creature had in common with Earth bunnies. Rather than a snowball-like fluffy poof at its backside, it had a long, powerful looking, whiplike tail with a tuft of darker fur at the tip, like a kangaroo rat. Rather than front paws it seemed to have racoon-like hands, also of a darker color. Most notably, however, instead of two eyes like almost every Earth animal possessed, this creature had five – five – two at the normal position, two slightly smaller eyes placed above those, and one in the center of its face, slightly below its ears.

Eli swallowed. “That’s not going to be dangerous!”

“Are you asking me or telling me?” Greer’s hand dropped to his weapon.

“Don’t hurt it!” Eli blurted. Greer looked dubiously at him.

The animal was only a couple feet away when it stopped, tilting its head inquisitively at the two huge two-legged beings blocking the entrance to its warren.

“Hey there little guy!” Eli said, unable to resist speaking to that terrifying, adorable face. “You’re not gonna hurt us, right?” He looked at Greer.

“What should we do? Should we let it go? Should we catch it? Can we catch it?”

“Well I’d like to eat it, five eyes or no,” Greer took a cautious step towards the thing. “Looks like it’s got a decent amount of meat. It’s pretty big – for a rabbit,”

Eli brought his hand to his mouth, almost biting a nail before he remembered how dirty his hands were. “I don’t know… Is it safe? What if we can’t bring it onto Destiny?”

Greer tossed him his radio without looking at him and Eli fumbled, then caught it. “Get in touch with Brody and ask him about it,” The soldier seemed distracted, his eyes narrowed and his eyebrows drawn as he looked at the white furry thing in front of them.

Brody answered his radio immediately. “Where are you two? James and I need to head back to the ‘Gate to pool our resources and get kino sleds for the vegetables we found. And we’d prefer to have you with us so you don’t end up stranded. Again,”

Eli cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. About that. We found a bit more than vegetables…”

“You found what’s been eating and storing the food?” Brody sounded intrigued.

“Yeah, we’ve got some sort of… rabbit… thing here? It’s not running away. Do you want us to try to catch it?”

“Does it look healthy?”

Eli was about to answer with a “if having five eyes is healthy” when Greer suddenly spoke. “It says its name is Frith,”

“What?!” Eli dropped his hand with the radio and turned to stare open-mouthed at Greer, who was looking very intently into the shiny black eyes of the creature, nodding as it stared unblinkingly at him. “You mean… it? It says? Its name?!”

The thing turned towards him, one ear flicking downwards and its nose twitching. It blinked slowly.

“Uh, it’s saying hello. To you. It’s calling you, uh, ‘Yona’? Do you have any idea what that means?”

“Um, no? More importantly, how is it talking to you? Do you feel okay? Did you eat something out of a burrow? Not one of those suspicious-looking berries?! God I hope there isn’t some hallucinogen in the soil here…”

Greer shook his head. “It’s like I can hear it, but not hear… Like it’s beaming messages into my brain or something,”

“Telepathy?” Eli looked from Greer to the animal, which hadn’t moved from its place less than a foot from the two humans. He decided to humor Greer. “Can it understand you?”

Greer tensed for a moment, looking into the middle distance, then relaxed and said: “It can understand everything we’re saying,”

“Smart rabbit,”

“Are you there? Come in, Eli!” Brody sounded agitated.

“Uh, yeah, sorry!” Eli held the radio up so both he and Greer could talk into it. “There’s been a bit of a… complication on our end,”

Brody groaned, his disappointment and dread clear in the noise even through the static of the radio. “Please tell me you’re both conscious and the rabbit hasn’t attacked either of you,”

“Not attacked, no… Greer?”

The soldier sighed. “It’s… talking to me. Through, uh, telepathy, Eli says,”

No words came from the radio, just a faint hiss.

“Uh, come in, Brody?” Eli wrapped one arm around his torso, shivering. This was just too weird; he got why Brody might not believe them. He wasn’t even sure he believed Greer!

“Ha ha ha, you two. Can you make it back to the ‘Gate yourselves or do I need to send James to get you?”

“It’s no joke. This rabbit told me its name and said it can understand human speech,” Greer said, completely deadpan.

“I’m sending James. Please bag whatever it was you ingested, inhaled, or snorted so we can test it when we get back. Brody out,”

Eli and Greer stared at the now silent radio. Frith – if it really did have a name and was indeed telling the truth about what it was – stared as well, its big black eyes blinking in sync with each other.

“Okay then!” Eli chirped after a moment of inaction. “Let’s just meet up with James and forget this ever happened, what do you say?”

Greer stared. “Are you nuts? I’m not leaving Frith behind. It said it’s hungry and lonely! Try to be humane, Eli!”

“Two minutes ago you were intent on eating the thing! And now it’s ‘lonely’?”

“It’s not a thing! It’s intelligent! And it likes you! I thought you were nicer than this,”

Eli twisted his face up, dumbfounded. “Likes me? What does that have to do with anything?”

Suddenly, the creature hopped forward, almost landing on Eli’s feet. He yelled in surprise and toppled backwards, landing painfully on his tailbone. “Ow! Jesus!” Before he could sit all the way up, the creature bounded onto his chest, knocking the wind out of him. “Get it off me, Greer!” he shouted, almost panicking.

Greer crouched next to him, smiling dryly. “It’s just being friendly! Look at its eyes, I think that’s how it starts communicating with you,”

“No way! I’m not going to look in its eyes! It’s creepy!”

Of course, it was unavoidable that he’d eventually be caught by that fathomless black stare, all five eyes boring into his gaze and swimming as his eyes lost focus, slowly merging into one oval-shaped void, and then-

hello, yona! i am very happy to finally speak to you. why do you not listen to hlessi? it is clearly the more sensible of you two. it let me in immediately! why do you not trust me? i just want your help, yona. please take me somewhere warm where i can sleep in safety, where i won’t be alone. please rescue me, yona!