Title Honey Hawk
Author Hava Zuidema
Genre Science Fiction
23rd century Earth exists in a fragile apartheid between humans and vantarians, the extraterrestrials who restored Earth after its apocalypse. Well-meaning but misinformed Alder Brites is aiming to finish their mandated service to the human military without incident when they meet the vantarian Sefynne Iyed, an alleged terrorist who raises questions Alder can’t answer. Sefynne, reserved but passionate, is striving to correct the power imbalance on Earth when he discovers Alder has resources he needs. When the two realize they both seek an end to oppression, they form a reluctant partnership that evolves into much more. Together, they’ll do things they’d never considered to make a difference. But with lives on the line, will the change they make be worth the cost?
He watched the suburbs fade into desert. The stars shone brighter as more distance stretched between them and the city, and the silvers of moonlight lit the landscape rather than the dull orange of streetlights.
“We’re getting close.” Alder bounced a little in their seat.
Soon the ocean appeared between gaps in the hills, an expanse a few shades darker than the sky, flashing grey where waves broke. The car pulled into a parking lot.
Sefynne heard and smelled the ocean as soon as they got out of the car. The sharp, rich smell of brine and iodine mixed with the pulsing roar of the sea filled the cool air. Sefynne felt warmth growing in his chest, and a smile spread across his face.
He noticed Alder watching him, their eyes bright.
“What?” Sefynne asked.
Alder shook their head. “Nothing, let’s go.”
They walked across the sand toward the water. The crests of waves sparkled as they curled and tumbled onto the shore, a thin layer of foam clinging to the sand as the water slid away, sucked back into the sea.
“Okay, I’m planning on going swimming, but first we have to see the tide pools because if we go swimming first, we’ll be cold. Or at least, I’ll be cold. Sound good?” Alder asked.
“Awesome!” Alder pulled two headlamps out of their backpack and handed one to Sefynne.
Sefynne donned the headlamp and slid his gloves off. The taste of brine and algae hit his palms instantly and his feathers stood up. Tucking his gloves in his pockets, he flexed his hands. Alder beamed as they led him to the shore of rocks rising out of the sand, and Sefynne couldn’t help smiling in response.
Alder squatted next to a pool of water in the rocks. “Brittle stars! You only see them at night. Come look.”
Sefynne squatted next to them. Thin creatures that looked like starfish crawled along the edge of the water.
“Amazing,” he murmured.
Alder reached into the water and touched the tentacles of an anemone. “So, technically, you’re not supposed to touch wildlife and all that, but they feel cool and I personally think it’s okay if you’re careful.” The anemone shrank closed.
Sefynne reached into the water, instantly tasting salt, and let his fingers rest lightly against an anemone. The tentacles gripped his skin before shrinking away.
Alder led him around various tide pools and named different animals. Their enthusiasm and the depth of their knowledge impressed Sefynne. They deftly navigated the uneven terrain, light on their feet as they hopped between pools.
“Where did you learn all this?” Sefynne asked.
“My grandma, mostly.” Their hand darted out, and they lifted a crab between their thumb and forefinger. “A lightfoot crab! They’re really good at jumping and they’re really pretty!”
The brightly colored crab’s legs flailed as it reached back to try and pinch Alder. They set it down, and it leaped away.
“Hm.” Sefynne listened to the gurgling, thunderous sounds of waves crashing into underwater caves. He watched the intricate, shifting patterns of water and foam moving over rocks. His body felt light, almost transparent.
“Sorry, we don’t have to keep doing this I just get really excited –”
“No,” Sefynne looked back at them, “this is amazing.”
Alder smiled a bright, warm smile and looked down at the waves. “Couldn’t you just watch waves moving for like, hours and hours?”
Sefynne watched Alder watching the waves and felt a soft sense of affection. He supposed it was hard not to have kind feelings in reaction to such genuine enthusiasm and joy.
“Yes, I could,” he murmured.
“Oh my god! Holy shit Sefynne, look!” Alder tapped the back of their fingers frantically against his upper arm and pointed. “An octopus!”
They both instantly crouched down on either side of the pool Alder indicated.
“Where?” Sefynne asked.
“Right there!” Alder moved their finger closer, and Sefynne saw what they pointed to, a small brown lump with its tentacles tucked around it.
Sefynne’s feathers perked up. “Is it venomous?”
“No, are you going to try to catch it?”
Sefynne lowered his hands into the water and slowly moved toward the octopus. He flattened one hand in front of it and wiggled his fingers. It swam from its crevice and paused a few centimeters away from his outstretched palm. A tiny tentacle reached out and touched his finger.
“Oh my god! It’s coming right to you, that’s wild!” Alder exclaimed.
Sefynne smiled. The octopus crawled farther onto his hand, soft suction cups pulling slightly at his skin. It tasted like the sea and copper. Sefynne and Alder leaned in closer, their foreheads almost touching as Sefynne lifted the creature out of the water.
“Wow,” Alder breathed.
“Incredible,” Sefynne agreed.
They both stared intently at the octopus as it explored Sefynne’s hand.
“Can I hold it?” Alder asked.
Sefynne held the octopus out over Alder’s cupped hands and gently nudged it onto their palms. He stared in fascination as it pulled itself across their skin.
“Oh my god.” Alder beamed. “It’s amazing.”
Sefynne glanced from the octopus to Alder. The unguarded nature of their expression, the easy authenticity of their features, and the way the moonlight highlighted the curve of their nose, their cheekbones, and their jaw, struck him.
“I guess we should put it back.” Alder looked up, and Sefynne realized how close they were.
“Yes.” He leaned away.
Alder slid the animal back into the water and it disappeared under a rock.
Hava Zuidema is a counseling grad student who writes queer sci-fi on the side. Their books are inspired by their travels, fantasies, and existential terror. When they're not writing, they prefer to spend their time painting, rock climbing, and exploring nature.
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