The crash had swept a wave of misery over the team faster than you could say 'Negotiator'.
Clank was sitting up and scratching his head , his green eyes confused and curious. Qwark swung the doomed ship's rusty door open and stepped out, whimpering like a small dog astray from its mother. Nefarious stormed past a quivering Qwark and stamped his metal foot.
"Now what?" he bellowed furiously. "I'm stranded on this dump of an island, with a measly furball, a robotic backpack and..." He stopped, looking for a word with a standard low enough to match Qwark. Nothing seemed appropriate, so he pointed at the trembling green man before him and continued: "And him! Weapons broken! Vac-U's no use! Ship wrecked! CAN THIS GET ANY WORSE?"
This last sentence was loud enough to wake Ratchet from his half-conciousness. He shook his head and all the fur flat on one side of his face sprung back to normal. Dizzy, he tried to stand up and open up the ship...but his feet disobediently slopped him back into the seat.
"Ratchet, are you alright?" asked Clank, jumping over the shattered glass all over the ground.
"I think so, buddy," replied Ratchet drowsily, looking around at the grassland which they had landed on. A path of dust led to a cave at the edge of the island about two hundred feet away, and there was a cliff on the other side (where Nefarious now sat cross-legged looking seawards grumpily). Two suns were setting in the distance across a peach-coloured sky.
Ratchet looked back at the ship, standing up and leaping out of the broken window. "Where the heck are we, anyway?"
"It doesn't matter where we are," whined Qwark. "We're still gonna die."
Ratchet and Clank exchanged a look and rolled their eyes together. "We are on a moon of the nearest planet, Ratchet. It is rather cut off from the rest of this sector and I am not sure many of the species here know it exists. How we landed here- I do not know."
"Great." He ran his hand along the yellow fur of his forehead. "No chance of contacting Cronk and Zephyr, then."
"See? We're gonna die here. Lost and alone in the unknown universe." Qwark slumped to the ground and pounded his fist on the grass.
"Look. We've made it this far, and I'm sure we won't be defeated by some stupid little moon. It'll be fine, Qwark!"
But he continued to moan at what appeared to be the floor. Ratchet shrugged. He turned to Clank. "Do our weapons still work? Our holo-player? Vac-U's?"
Clank shook his head bitterly. "I do not think so. We were sabotaged on our way here and the unusual levels of pressure caused our weapons to malfunction. And there is no signal anywhere. Our Vac-U's should be fine, though."
Ratchet pondered on this thought for a moment, before speaking up to the rest of the gang- Nefarious included. "All right, team. We're gonna have to find a way to get out of here. Clank, you try and catch a signal to contact Cronk and Zephyr. Qwark, you use the Vac-Us to see if you can suck up any fish. Nefarious, you start a fire and I'll try to fix our weapons."
"Why do I have to start the fire?" grumbled Nefarious.
"Would you rather be thrown into the flames?" the Lombax retorted.
Nefarious rolled his eyes and stomped off, looking for wood. Clank headed for the ship to find the hologram and Qwark heaved himself up, brushed off the dirt on his suit and headed in Clank's direction.
Ratchet's plan seemed to go up in smoke; it was a pretty grim night.
Qwark had already sucked himself up twice in the Vac-U instead of a fish. Nefarious was in a foul mood, cursing and swearing every few seconds because of his lack of success of starting a fire. Clank sat in white-hot concentration, fiddling with the dials on the hologram.
With every twist of his wrench, Ratchet was becoming more and more miserable and irritated. He could barely keep his eyes open; let alone keep his brain burning. Despite all that was going on, he remembered how he always felt relieved when he had a team to back him up at times like this. Well- maybe Nefarious wasn't the best team player, nor was Qwark the most helpful accomplice, but Clank always had his back. Tonight, for some strange reason, Clank's company alone didn't feel comforting enough.
Why? Why do I feel like this?
I can't think.
Do I miss Alister?
Nah. I got over that ages ago.
They've been with us all along, really. Probably not.
Ratchet searched his memory for a reason, scanning through a timeline of people who had enhanced his life.
What about Talwyn?
He froze. His hand, which seemed to be automatically turning his omniwrench like he was a factory, stopped. Talwyn. How could he have forgotten? Perhaps to think of her would be too painful. By heck, it had been nearly a year since he'd seen her. They made an excellent team. She would always watch out for him; value his life over her own; be the brains of the mission. He missed her ambition and immense courage. He missed her beauty in both physique and character. She was much more helpful than Sasha or Angela could ever have been.
Ratchet stared into a bolt on the Magma Combustor blindly. He imagined her flawless blue eyes staring back at him, surveying his sadness with a sympathetic look. He blinked...and they were gone. Ratchet's ears drooped sadly. If Clank had noticed, he would've been by his side in seconds. But he was still in deep focus some fifteen feet away.
Whether a minute or five had gone by, Ratchet did not know. He sat there in wonder. Where was Talwyn now? Was she thinking of him as he was of her? Was there some crackle of electricity between them, despite being on opposite sides of the entire galaxy?
His thoughts were interrupted by a victorious yell from Clank. "I have it! I have it! It is working! The hologram is working!"
Ratchet recovered from his thoughts like they had been smacked clean out of his head. He sprang to his feet and rushed towards the spot where his best pal sat. Qwark and Nefarious approached from a distance, too.
The machine made robotic zipping and zapping noises over a blurred sound like a broken television. A flat blue square appeared in mid-air, snapping evermore into focus. It lit up the darkness and all of a sudden, Zephy's face appeared on screen, followed swiftly by Cronk's.
"Cronk! Zephyr!" Ratchet and Clank cried happily in unison.
"It's the rookies!" exclaimed Zephyr. "We've been trying to contact you for hours!"
"Yeah, you too!" Ratchet smiled. As he looked at Cronk's robotic smile, a thought occurred to him: was Talwyn with them? Was she unable to appear on hologram? He remembered her being ill as he left for The Great Clock. Not gravely ill; just not well enough to come with him.
"Yeah, I- err, Clank was trying to as well!"
"Where the hell are you, anyway?" asked Cronk.
"Sending the coordinates now," responded Clank.
Ratchet decided to ask then."Er, guys? A quick question?"
"Fire away, rookie."
"Is Talwyn with you?"
Cronk and Zephyr exchanged a look. Ratchet's heart began to beat faster. Was she alright?
"Miss Talwyn?" Zephyr sounded surprised more than anything. "Yes, she is on this ship. Why?"
A lump grew in his throat. Relief seemed to stick his words together. "Oh, just wondered. Why hasn't she appeared on hologram, then?"
"She is ill, I'm afraid."
"No...she has recovered from that illness almost a year ago! She has just become...increasingly worried."
"Yes. About your safety, I think."
Rather than touched, Ratchet was horrified. "What? No! I didn't want Tal to get sick because of me!" He smacked his head with his glove. "Oh god, what have I done?!"
"Don't worry, don't worry," Cronk trembled in a panic to calm him down. "She has been recovering now that she knows you are safe. In fact, she is well enough to speak on hologram, now."
Ratchet's spirits lifted higher than the moon above his head. "Really?" he asked gleefully.
Zephyr nodded. He disappeared from screen, and Ratchet guessed that he had gone to fetch her. His heart was pounding in his ears so loudly and so quickly that he thought he might be sick. Cronk turned to him.
"Ya know, she was planning to speak with you, anyway," he told the team.
"Really?" Even Clank was surprised at this.
"Yeah. She wanted to speak to you in particular, Ratchet."
He froze. Could it be that she felt the same way as he did to her? He would have to wait and see.
"T-talk to m-me?" he stammered.
Zephyr returned, and behind him...Talwyn. Their eyes met and Ratchet found that his mouth was gaping open; partly in joy of seeing her and partly because of shock. She had lost a lot of weight- so much that it looked painful. Her eyes were watering slightly and the usual slight smile on her face had drooped to nothing. But she was still beautiful.
"Talwyn..." he breathed.
"Ratchet!" She looked like she wanted to jump out of the holo screen and be near him for real. "Oh gees, I've been so worried about you."
"I know..." he replied breathlessly. "Me too. I mean, you too! I mean-" He trailed away.
"I'm just so glad you're okay!"
"What about you? You don't look okay."
"I've..." she looked at her skinny arms in wonder. "I've been better, but all that matters is that you're safe."
A crystal clear silence rang out. Zephyr decided to break this in a cheeky manor. Nudging Cronk, he whispered audibly: "Hey- we should go. We don't wanna ruin the romantic setting."
Talwyn frowned without looking at them. She nudged them both pointedly, and muttered loudly through gritted teeth: "Aren't there weapons for you two to be polishing?"
The warbots backed off, sniggering. Talwyn turned to the rest of the gang. "The rest of you, just...go. Go on! Go away!"
Puzzled, Nefarious, Qwark and Clank walked away, so it was just Ratchet and Talwyn.
"Why do you want them to go?" he asked her.
"It's just...I wanna tell you something."
Ratchet's pulse rate quadrupled. "Yeah? Go ahead."
She swallowed hard. "Just...stay out of trouble, won't you? I couldn't bear to lose you."
"Tal, I've done this so many times before. I've been fine! Don't worry about it!"
"I know, I know! But this time it's different. If I lost you this time then I would- I'd- I don't know what I'd do."
"I love you, Ratchet."
His world was in a spin. Was he imagining it? No way. "I- I love you too," he choked.
"Come back soon..." A tear rolled down her cheek. "I miss you so much."
His heart felt like it would burst any second now. He felt hot tears prickling his own eyes. "I'll try," he whispered. "Tal, don't cry..."
She sniffed, touching the edge of the holo-screen. "Don't ever leave me!"
Ratchet put his palm to hers, imagining their fingers were touching. "I'll hold on. I'll never let go. I won't stop until I find a way home."
She blew a sad kiss threw the screen, and her face flickered and disappeared.