Flames on Red Soil

Disclaimer: I don't own Zenon.
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Chapter One

Zenon studied the group in the Planks' backyard. "I didn't realize you had such a large family," Proto Zoa said, leaning in closer to her.

"Neither did I," Zenon replied, lacing her fingers through Zoa's. Together, they walked into the gathering, but it didn't take Zenon long to find her parents. "Hey, Mom, Dad," she said, "where did all these people come from?"

"They're just some friends of the family and supporters," Astrid replied.

"That's a lot of people."

"We thought it would help," Mark said. He glanced over at Proto Zoa and asked, "So, you're dating the rock star now?"

"You could say that," Zoa replied, releasing Zenon's hand so that he could shake Mark's.

"You haven't been doing anything stupid, have you?"

"Oh, no. Of course not."

"Good. We don't need another Sage running around in the ranks."

Zenon glanced away, and Zoa stroked her wrist gently. "Don't you worry. I've heard all the horror stories."

"Good, now you know what to avoid. I'll be keeping an eye on you."

"I'll count on it." Zoa shook Mark's hand again.

Zenon began scanning the crowd again, when she spotted Margie, Nebula, Dasha, and Dasha's dog Centauri in a cluster. She excused herself and walked over to the others.

"Vega omega," Nebula cried, giving Zenon a hug. "We thought you got blown to bits up there. Well, I did. The spay stay being blown up must be viral to the tenth power squared."

"Thanks," Zenon rasped. She knew she was losing her voice again, but right now, she wasn't about to let it happen. "You guys told her we tried, right?"

"Cetus lupetus, of course we did," Dasha replied. "You didn't think we wouldn't, did you?"

Zenon shrugged, causing the other three girls to look insanely concerned. Finally, Nebula said, "Zee, you look inked out. Everything okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Zenon replied. "Everything's fine."

"You don't look very sure major about that," Margie said. "You know, you can go nova on us if you want to, or you can go into meltdown mode major. We're your B.F.'s."

"I know."

"Zee, are you absolutely positive major you're okay?" Dasha asked.

Zenon nodded, and she felt a hand on her shoulder. She rested her hand on it and whispered, "Zoa." Gingerly, he rubbed her shoulder with his thumb.

"I'm here," Zoa whispered. She let him wrap his arms around her and leaned against him.

A charge ripped through space with a force uncharacteristic of such charges. Some of the cups, bowls, plates, and plastic utensils were swept off of the tables. Zenon noticed that her hair had been swept up and over her face and brushed it back behind her ear once the charge passed.

Centauri began barking wildly, and Dasha pulled at his leash in an effort to restrain him. Margie and Nebula looked over at whatever Centauri was barking at, which happened to be Numbar, with a obviously broken nose. "How is it possibly possible that you are here?" Zenon asked, more fervently than she had in some time.

"This is open to the public," Numbar said. "I'm amazed I hadn't been noticed until now."

"What are you doing here?"

"Well, I have some free time, so I figured I'd kill it while I still can. I'm not getting any younger."

"Well, we can all see that," Proto Zoa said. "I just don't see how you're a friend of the family or a supporter, and don't go into any arguments involving genetics."

Numbar chuckled, and Zoa stepped between him and Zenon. "Look," Numbar said, recovering himself. "You don't have anything to protect her from, yet."

"Yet? I really don't like how this sounds."

"It's not really as bad as it seems. Besides, we have a few weeks still. A few more arrangements to be made, and we're good to go."

"Arrangements?" Zenon asked.

"Nothing to concern yourself with, especially considering the unfortunate accident that took place just recently."

"What accident? It was your idea, and you planted the bomb. How dare you call it an accident?"

"All you have is your word, and it's not like it could stand up in a court of law. After all, any evidence from the scene has been destroyed by the crime itself. Quite a shame, isn't it? If you're not careful, you could end up jailed for purgery."

"Is that a threat?" Zoa snapped.

"Depends on-"

"Yes or no. Is that a threat?"

Numbar didn't answer, and it took all Zoa had to keep his rage from boiling over. Finally, Zoa hissed, "Get out of my sight."

Numbar smirked and walked away, and Zoa turned to face the girls. "Mm-hmm, that is thermo," Nebula said, folding her arms and nodding approvingly. Zoa chuckled and bowed his head in an effort to hide the smile on his face. He looked up again and held his arms out. Zenon walked toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing gently. He rubbed her back, allowing his eyes to close.

Dasha looked over at the other two girls. "Oh, yeah," she said, "he's playing for keeps."

ZZZ

As far as Zenon could judge, the conversation of the party-goers, outside of her circle of friends, had nothing to do with Numbar's sudden appearance and, it seemed, disappearance from the party; it seemed no one had noticed, just as he'd said himself. Of course, she couldn't tell much, since she didn't talk to anyone except Zoa, Dasha, Nebula, and Margie.

She migrated over to the back porch and took a seat on the patio, surrounded by a group of middle-aged people talking about how things were back in "the day", and she looked up at the planets that were just beginning to appear in the twilight sky. There's Venus, she thought, spotting the bright dot just above the horizon, surrounded by the hues of gold and red that went with the summer sunset.

She spotted a copper-colored dot just off the crescent moon. Mars, she realized. The planet she was fighting for. The thought struck her as strange. She was fighting for a planet this time, not just the moon, even though the moon was important. Just, something felt strange this time around. The only experiences she'd had of Mars were on Earth or in the space station looking up at the stars for pleasure, and now she was trying to stop an ambitious lunatic from opening up a colony there. Something about it seemed at once personal and impersonal, and it made her feel almost as if she were dreaming.

It also struck her as odd that this gathering of family, friends, and supporters was seemingly unaffected by the news reports of anarchy all over the world, but she'd already spent too much time wondering how that was possible. After all, she'd finally reasoned, she hadn't heard anything about the dark days not including a few stars here and there.

Zenon began scanning the crowd in the backyard for Proto Zoa, whom she spotted strumming a guitar for a few of the guests who'd gathered in a cluster around him. She smiled and shook her head softly. No matter where that guy went, it seemed, he couldn't stop performing.

"Oh, there you are," Dasha said, rushing up to the patio. "Cetus lupetus, we thought you went home or something, but Zoa's still here, so we thought you disappeared or..."

"Got kidnapped?" Zenon offered, albeit rather flatly.

Dasha nodded and sat on a stool next to Zenon's chair. She leaned forward, lacing her fingers together and resting her elbows on her knees, and studied the planks under her feet. "Y'know, Zoa's real stellar to you."

"I know."

"You're still thinking about everything that happened, aren't you?"

"I can't stop thinking about it."

"It's not like you can go back in time and fix it or anything. All that stuff is done now, and we have to start thinking about how to stop Numbar before anyone moves there. Zee, we can keep saving people's lives."

"I know."

Dasha chewed her lip and looked back down at the deck. It felt to her that nothing she had to say would faze Zenon while she was in this mood, or seeming lack thereof. In fact, when Dasha really thought about it, all that the night's events had proven was that she was immensely angry with Numbar. Still, it wasn't like anything was stopping her from trying to break her cousin's shell. "Zee, it's gonna work out. It'll be just like it was on the moon. We'll fix it."

"You don't know that."

"Actually, Zee, I do. I have a good feeling major about what's coming. It's gonna work out for the better, somehow."

"Better? Better for who?"

"For us, I'm pretty sure."

"I hope you're right."