|This article, Beneath Artificial Stars, was written by LegendOfElTopo. Please do not edit this fiction without the writer's permission.|
"That thing can definitely see us."
"No it can't."
"Um, yeah, it can."
"Look, not everything up there is watching us, Ani. It's probably just a comsat or something."
"You serious? Come on, Mendez would be braindead if he didn't have eyes in the sky keeping tabs on us. You gotta get your eyes checked, Hari."
A slight murmur of laughter rippled around the circle of improvised shelters, before dying down. Friendly barbs or not, Onyx's skies had been crystal-clear for days now, and even with their survival training there was still every chance that the little forest encampment could be picked up from the air, or even from orbit. Many of the other escapees had searched for caves, crevices, more solid cover - but, for one reason or another, teams Kalis and Bolo had decided that maybe a night on their own under the stars was worth the extra risk of being caught. Maybe they wanted to savour their new-found freedom rather than huddling amongst the rocks, or they figured one more night in the open couldn't hurt.
Maybe they just wanted to... stick together.
With a little awkward shuffling, Hari rolled over onto one side to face the other occupant of her lean-to, propping herself up with one arm. "You think she's right, Ly? You think it's too risky out here for another night?"
"Nah." The boy stayed lying on his back - the cramped confines hardly permitted him to start turning over too - instead, shaking his head in response. "If you were as thick as she says you are, you wouldn't be here on the programme at all."
"But thick enough to break out and persuade the rest of you to come with, huh? To risk all of it for, what, some open air and a break from the Trials?" While barely detectable at first, Lyzander could feel the hints of doubt starting to seep into Hari's voice. "I already got all of you in trouble, and if she thinks I'll get us caught..."
This time, Ly had a grin to offer, and a warm one, too. "Hey, look - once upon a time you were 'thick' enough to punch a boy four inches taller than you to stand up for me. And he was a lot better built than your wiry butt was back then, don't forget. So I think headstrong don't mean dumb."
"Ugh." Hari sighed, slumping back down onto the pile of leaves beneath her. "I just - I dunno if I wanna go back is all. Scared of what would happen if I did, you know?"
"What about you, would you go back now? If you could?"
"Ain't nobody else in here with us."
"...I, um - I'm not sure."
The pause was long and silent; all of a sudden Lyzander seemed mesmerised by a single leaf hanging on one of the branches above them, squinting at its faint spiralling pattern through the dim Onyx twilight. They could hear the others, chattering away with hushed voices in their own shelters, occasionally dropping down to silence when the wind rustled the trees above them a little too loudly. Maybe they were all having this conversation, too, the same lines repeated with countless variations; or maybe they were just griping about how warm the night was, about the uncomfortable closeness of the air, talking about a thousand different little things. Maybe.
When he spoke again, Lyzander was still staring upwards. "I know you still can't start a fire worth a crap, though."
Immediately, Hari sat up again, indignant. "Oh come on, really? After we cooked those roo-"
"Don't you 'come on' me, I saw you get Annika to do it for you."
"Man, I cannot believe you're doing this." She huffed, rolling her eyes - not that there was the slightest chance of Ly seeing that in the gloom - and lay back down again.
"Would, um, would it help if I promised not to tell the instructors?" It was an olive branch, if a tentative, hesitant one - but one delivered with a smirk. "Y'know, that you've been snoozing in Survival exercises."
"Hey, who says they're going to catch us?" Hari shot back.
"Probably Falchion, if their stupid-ass 'decoy camps' plan leads the drones this way. And - and - I'm sure they had no problem getting their fires to ignite." Ly couldn't resist going in for one last, playful jab; although, seeing the almost audible scowl he got in response, he softened a little. "Alright, alriiiiiiight. Look, we - we still got it done anyways, and that's what counts, right?"
After a few long moments Hari laughed, softly, shrugging as much as the confined spaces of their shelter would let her. "I guess so, since we're a team and all of that." Another pause, before she continued. "Well, we gotta band together if we don't wanna get caught out here. So... I promise I'll watch your back if you watch mine, 'kay?"
"Alright, yeah. Sure." The reply was a little too quick, a little too glib, but Hari was too tired to notice.
And, behind his back, Lyzander's grip tightened ever-so-slightly on the transponder clenched in his fist.