Jack dropped the stone into the water. It went "plunk" just like the last one. He looked at the other three stones in his hand and figured that he could expect pretty much the same from them. He dropped one. It went "plunk." He smiled in a satisfied kind of way. It was nice when things were predictable.
Behind him, Daniel was coming down the bank, mumbling something under his breath. He had bare feet and his BDU legs were rolled up. He'd volunteered his belt to help hold the lean-to together (grumbling a little that "lean-to" implied that leaning was the principle, not "tying with the only thing keeping Daniel's pants up"), so now his BDUs were also riding low on his hips, showing a little curl of hair above the waistband. He'd left his t-shirt on a branch in the sun, salt-stained and limp like a desultory flag. He was sweating, catching the slanting light in a shimmer across his chest.
Jack saved the other two stones for later, one curled in each fist.
Folding himself down onto the ground next to Jack, Daniel flopped backward against the grass with his arm over his eyes. His feet were very white, fishbelly white. The same colour as Jack's actually. Army boot white. His baby tonenails were the curly kind, gnarled instead of flat. If Jack were to run a thumb over the one closest to him, it would have a point on it that would catch in the callous. Of course, Jack was speculating.
There weren't any cicadas. This kind of hot August afternoon demanded cicadas. When he was a kid, he'd believed that the whine of cicadas was the power lines zinging in the heat, messages surging down the phone lines to collide with a bell in a house on the other side of town. The day he'd actually found a cicada on the sidewalk, beetling for the shade under a curling root of an oak tree in the median, carapace shining dully in the heavy pewter light, he'd been both excited and disappointed.
There were no cicadas on P4B 152. And it wasn't August. This planet didn't have a moon, so did it even have months? The days were 29 hours long. It was past Jack's bedtime but the sun was still at six o'clock.
When he was a kid, Jack had hated going to bed while it was still light out. That was for babies. Now, he could fall asleep anywhere, anytime, plummet directly through the misty layers of dreams--they swirled and dispersed and clung to his hair in beads of moisture--and into the black depths of functional sleep. Now he could wake up instantly, breach the surface, silently drawing in a breath through an open mouth, hand curling around the butt of a 9mm before his eyes had focused. Still, it didn't seem right to be tired already, with the sun at supper time and the water of the little lake reflecting blue. His arms, though, were filled with fine sand and it was only will--the memory of childhood resistance--that kept him from sifting slowly into the shapelessness of sleep.
Daniel was breathing deeply, his chest rising and falling, rising and falling, one arm over his head now, the other hand resting on his stomach, fingers loosely curled, thumb absently moving back and forth, back and forth, across the fine, invisible hair that feathered up from his navel, along the seam of him, at the centre of his symmetry. If Jack were to trace that line with his middle finger, up between ribs, across sternum, to settle first in the notch at his throat, then at the cleft in his lip, over his nose, the crease between his eyebrows, and into his hair, he wouldn't have to look in Daniel's eyes because they were closed and Daniel was sleeping, unfolded, on the grass.
Jack dropped one of his stones in the water. It went "plunk." Then he threw the other. Then his hands were empty. He curled his fingers into the scrubby, stiff grass.
When he was a kid, he would lie on the lawn and look up at the sky. Sometimes, if he stared long enough, concentrated hard enough, the world would tip under him and he would feel like he was falling into space, the wide blue. Sometimes he'd wind his fingers into the long, cool green grass and hang on. Mostly, though, he would turn his palms up, arms spread, and believe he could fly.
Now, on P4B 152, the grass prickled and snapped against his hardened skin, dry and brittle. Under it, the soil was hot and pale, and the roots were shallow and wiry. The grass came away in his hands. He uncurled his fingers and the grass was dust. It drifted sideways and settled on Daniel's skin. If Jack were to lean over and let his lips drift across the rise of the ribs, the hollow below them, he would find a fine grittiness, the saltiness of August. The taste of Daniel would pierce him like the singing of cicadas.
Jack's hands were empty.
Beside him, Daniel stretched out his arms and turned his palms up to the sky.