She smelt that all-too-familiar air even before the doors of the cargo hold opened. That, hot, burnt-sand dust smell that brought back the tinge of old memories with it.

Even with the ship’s hull burning, she could smell that air as they pierced the ozone. It hit her harder than the impact of the Halcyon practically crashing into the planet’s desert surface.

Talon and Fang did their best to prevent a head-on impact, instead they maneuvered the ship to glide with the planet’s atmosphere, propelling them forwards rather than straight down. The trick nearly tore the ship apart, and everyone scrambled around frantically in the tumbling crate, welding down any ripped panels and cracks in the walls.

That didn’t stop them from losing an engine throttle and a few radar poles however, but considering the alternative, it was pure cosmic luck they were more or less still in one piece. The ship ran itself into the sand, putting out the external fires effectively. Had this been a lusher planet, they would have been dead for sure.

The crew tumbled out of the ship like loose sweets from a pocket, gasping for breathable air. Keona however, hesitated. She stared at the sand a mere few inches away from her feet with a distant gaze. The cargo door was warm under her feet, even for her, but she barely noticed as her gaze lifted to the terrain before her.

Night time. The sky was a mess of purple hues littered with stars, and the planet’s four moons were in their waxing crescent phase. The air was cool, save for the heat that radiated off the newly-crashed ship, but the gentle wind blowing and the sand cooled it down quickly. Desert stretched out around them as far as the eye could see save for the north, where a cluster of lights indicated a town of some sort.

Keona sat down heavily, still on the cargo door, and looked at her crew members, lying in the sand; spent from surviving a crashing space ship. A smile spread across her face, looking at these manner of creatures she called ‘family’.

Jai lay between Talon and Fang, his four arms spread out after collapsing in exhaustion. The moment the ship had hit ground, Jai literally grabbed the bird twins from the cockpit and barreled all the way to the back of the ship. The twins still clung on to him and were staying still to even out their gasps. Royan lay a little way off, having been also carried out by Jai as they escaped the suffocating interior of the ship. His human hand seemed so small holding onto one of Jai’s Hectatiron hands.

MARS and Leon parted from a hug, but their fingers still entwined tightly. His wetsuit showed signs of mild explosive damage, but thanks to MARS who shielded him with her own metallic body when the kitchen pipes ruptured, the only injury he sustained was bruises as they tumbled through the plummeting ship. MARS seemed fine, albeit some scorch marks on her exterior plating and her dress.

Luc was on his hands and knees, trying to quell his stomach. His coattails were singed and smoking, but he was otherwise mostly unharmed as well. Keona stuck out a foot-paw and flicked sand over them, putting the smoke out. Luc retched, but nothing came. Clearing his throat and nose, he sat up and brushed himself off. Like her, he surveyed the area and sighed heavily.

“Is everyone alright?” Keona called out. Weak waves and groans came to show that they were still alive. Luc patted himself down, and pulled out his box of cigarettes. He moaned despondently when he found them all crushed to smithereens and shoved the pack back into his coat. “Bougie,” he moaned and crawled to her lap.

Keona cradled him close, her fiery autumn orange hair tickling his head. “Welcome home,” she sighed, a sad smile on her lips. Luc pushed himself up and hugged her tightly. Of all the planets they had explored, this was the one he didn’t want her back on. Her home world; her prison. He felt her suck in a deep breath and sink into his hug. Even her tail wrapped itself around him and held him tight.

“Home?” Royan turned to look around. “This is your home world?”

Keona nodded wistfully. “THIS is your home world? This isolated, nameless rock?!” Talon shot up. “Um, it HAS a name,” Fang staggered to his feet. “PD-113 is NOT a name,” Talon picked his brother up and leaned him against his shoulder. They both stared at the wreckage of the ship and whimpered. “Baby, what did we do to you?!” they cried and threw their wing-arms up, trotting to the Halcyon’s hull and embracing it.

Jai lifted his head drowsily at the commotion and let out a mournful, surprisingly high-pitched squeal when he spotted the empty space of air where Engine 2 should have been. He joined Talon and Fang caressing the hunk of spaceship, weeping.

“We’re trapped,” MARS sat up. “Momentarily. At least it’s somewhere familiar,” Leon grinned. He however, noticed Luc’s discomfort. “How bad is this place?” his face-fins flattened. Keona disengaged from Luc and stood up. “It’s deal-able. A bit outdated, but I reckon we can find parts to fix the ship,” she stared out to the lights in the horizon. “Jai? Can you check on the rover? We’re gonna need to find our engine,” she shrugged. Jai wiped his face and re-entered the ship, after giving Keona a pat on the head. “And what? Tow it back here?” Royan stared at the broken hull where the engine had snapped off.

“Yep, and we have to go to town anyway to get supplies. Probably a handful of speedpods as well,” Keona retrieved her traveler’s cloak and shook it off.

“You don’t need that here,” Luc’s voice dropped. Of all places to conceal herself, not here. Her brilliant green eyes blinked at him. “It gets pretty hot when the sun comes up, you know. All of you are gonna need it too. And besides,” she came close to him, “I wanna see how they’re doing.” She kissed him lightly and went off to survey their surroundings better with a pair of binoculars.

“Hmmm,” she spotted the town in the distance. Luc joined her. He didn’t need to see the town to know where they were. After all, he himself had crashed in this exact area what seemed like a lifetime ago. “What luck,” her voice came, flat and monotonous. She too, recognised the area. Luc kissed her fox-ear and hugged her from the back; the both of them gazing at their point of origin.

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