Black sand. I haven’t seen black sand in years, not since I was at home on the beaches in my world, watching the waves crash against the cliffs and walking barefoot with my friends. I’ve been to worlds across the galaxy, visited more planets than most people can name, but this is the first time I’ve found black sand in any of them.
A lump rises in my throat.
I’ve been away from home too long. That’s the problem. I’m a scientist and a botanist; a professional. I should be over this by now, should be used to hopping from planet to planet, to living my life on our ship. My crew is my family, and I left nothing behind on my world. Not really.
Nothing but black sand, beaches filled with memories, and waves that are lonelier now. Nothing else. Nothing like what I have here. My work is my life, or it was supposed to be. I should know better than to be so sentimental about something I’ve left behind.
I crouch down, running my fingers through the sand. The others will be back soon, and we’ll have to leave. But I have a few minutes. Maybe I’ll bring some with me in a jar, keep it by my bed. The memories aren’t too painful, not anymore, not since I started working on the Galactic, and it would be nice to have something to remind me of home.
The waves are reaching higher on the beach, white foam swishing over the black pebbles, over the sand. It’s beautiful here. The cliffs aren’t as high as the ones at home, and it’s colder here than I’m used to, but I can pretend. Pretend I’m at home, that the birds screaming in the clifftops are gulls and razorbills and gannets, the ones I’m used to hearing and not strange life on another planet. I’m supposed to document them, really. Supposed to study them and find out what makes them different, what makes them unique, but all I want to do is listen. They’re so beautiful. It makes my throat ache, and suddenly, unreasonably, I want nothing more than to be home. Even with no one there waiting for me. The seagulls would be there. And the ocean, the waves, the salt air and the early sunrises. I have all the family, all the friends I need in my crew, but I miss my planet.
Fynn is the first one back. His bag is full, specimens spilling out of his pockets, and the grin on his face reminds me why I love working with him so much. With all them, really. He knows something’s wrong before I even open my mouth, and his smile slips a bit. He always knows. Always. It doesn’t matter if it’s me or someone else. He always knows, and somehow, he always knows what to say too. “You should take some of this back, you know.” He squats down beside me, tracing patterns in the black sand. “For research.”
I nod. He seems to know I need space and rises, saying over his shoulder, “I’ll get you a jar.”
I want to say thank you, but it won’t come out right. Instead, I ask quickly, “Label it too. What did Will say the inhabitants call this place?”
“Earth,” he calls back. “Hurry up, Helen. We’re on a tight schedule.”
I barely hear him. Earth.