by Greg Mitchell -
Dressler stepped over a scrambling child, Edilyn in his arms. The shrill screams of her four tiny cousins cut through Dress’ mind like a hot poker. He winced. Edilyn’s chubby hands cupped her ears.
“It’s loud here, Daddy.”
“I know, sweetheart. It’s only for a couple days, though, okay? Then we’ll be back home to the peace and quiet.”
One of the ankle biters charged, a toy spaceship in his hand. The boy made aggressive laser sounds, orbiting Dressler in a strafing run. Edilyn looked at her father, helpless. She’d always been a shy child, but ever since getting sick, she’d been rendered nearly invisible by other children. She never felt well enough to play, and Dressler knew dropping her off here was a mistake, but he had nowhere else to go.
Maybe this whole thing is a mistake. Angels underwater want to give me the cure to Lyn’s ash lung?
I must be nuts to go down there.
But he’d already spent a small fortune hiring Crazy—the sub pilot. Along with Trebs, they’d made the preparations. He was locked into this course of action now, and could only hope it paid off.
For Edilyn’s sake.
Or maybe just for my own.
Meryl stepped in between two warring children shouting over who had a doll first. She looked flushed with embarrassment, or perhaps just exhaustion. “Hey, little brother,” she exhaled, beaming. “Hey, Lyn.”
Edilyn just buried her face in Dressler’s shoulder.
He stroked her hair, his heart breaking. Meryl rubbed the little girl’s back sympathetically. “It’ll be fine, kiddo. We’ll have lots of fun. You’ll see.”
Dressler appreciated his sister taking Edilyn in. Especially since he’d not told her what he was going to do. He’d only said that the bugs were migrating and they had to move with them for a couple days—just enough to bring back his quota. She’d accepted that. Meryl’s husband was a miner and knew that sometimes the job called for sacrifices. This whole blamed planet did.
Nothing comes without sacrifice. That’s what their father had taught them. Dressler wondered what sacrifice he’d be called to make to appease these angels. Benevolent creatures or no, he didn’t think for one moment they were just going to hand over Edilyn’s cure out of the goodness of their squishy hearts.
No, they needed something.
But for Edilyn . . . he’d pay any price.
He kissed his daughter on the head and sat her on her own two feet. Her arms tightened around him, breaking his heart. “I won’t be gone very long, I promise.”
“I’ll miss you,” she muttered, her eyes sparkling with budding tears.
He tried to hold in his own emotion. “I love you.”
She hugged his leg as he stood. “Thanks, Meryl, for doing this.”
His sister smiled, a bit sad. “She’ll be fine, Dress. Just take care of yourself.”
Then Meryl rubbed his arm. “We’ll say a prayer to the angels for you.”
Dressler grinned for his sister’s benefit, though in his heart, her words felt ominous and filled him with dread. “Yeah . . . thanks.”