His fall was cushioned by the soft grass and the loamy soil beneath him.
He was on the side of a hill and the sun was glowing overhead just as it started to dip towards the horizon. The smell of trees and grapes was heavy in the air and floated over him in wafts of warm breezes from the nearby vineyard. In the distance, he could just make out Krapina through the hills.
If he really wanted to, Karlo could make his way over to Krapina and join his friends and family. They were all attending the Festival Kajkavske Popevke like they do every year but this year he just couldn't muster the interest to join them.
He had too much on his mind.
He was thinking about everything that happened. Everything that he'd been told.
Only a few days before, he'd been told about an exciting new prospect. A reidite mine had just been dropped on the "moon" of Proxima and they were looking for people willing to risk their lives for some serious money.
Karlo thought he was just one of those people.
He had to laugh though.
Proxima didn't officially have a moon that astrologists ever agreed upon. Instead, where the mine had been dropped was on an asteroid that seemed to maintain a relatively standard orbit around the planet.
Thought it was technically name ISO-83256a, a few of the people he'd spoken to had taken to calling it "Paradise Valley" for some reason.
All the same, the idea of riding a trillion tons of rock hurtling around the Centauri B solar system sounded both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
And then there was the money.
"Hey there, mister. This spot taken?"
Karlo opened his eyes again to find his sister, Miljenka, standing over him. She was wearing a big smile along with her summer dress.
In response, he patted the soft ground next to him.
"What're you doing all the way out here? I thought you were going to join us at the Festival." she said, curling up next to him.
Miljenka was his little sister by several years. Despite this though, there had always been a huge size difference between the two of them. She had always been exceptionally petite; taking after their mothers side. At a whopping five foot tall and ninety pounds soaking wet, Karlo liked to make jokes that a large bird or a strong gust of wind would carry her away one day.
He, on the other hand, was well over six feet and heavily built from years of day labor.
As such, with no husband or boyfriend yet, his sister always seemed to take comfort in hiding under his imposing shadow.
"If that's the case," she would tell him. "You better keep me from flying away."
A pang of guilt hit him as he looked down as his sister.
God, he was going to miss her.
"I was just thinking." he offered in response.
"About your trip?"
"Yea." she echoed somberly. "Me too."
That sat in silence for a minute. If he strained his ears, he could just make out the music from the Festival over the gentle breeze.
"You okay?" he finally asked her.
"Mmmhmm." she said with a small nod of her head as she gently nibbled on her bottom lip.
"Come on, mali rotkvica. I know that look."
Realizing what she was doing, she quickly stopped and pulled away slightly.
"How long are you going to be gone for?" Miljenka asked quietly.
"A few years. My contract is officially for five. One year to get there. Three years working. Another year back."
She watched him, trying to muster a small smile but failing.
"If you really think about it," he quickly added, "It's really only three. I'm getting paid two years salary to be asleep."
Miljenka chuckled a little.
"Only you could get paid to be so lazy, krumpir."
"It's not like I'm going to go do real work." he shot back.
They both laughed and leaned back onto the grassy hill, staring up at the slowly dipping sun. A few sparse clouds were drifting like torn cloth across the bright blue sky.
"I wish it was only three." she said softly.
"I know, mali rotkvica. I know. But Earth is running short on opportunities these days. Especially if you don't speak English or Chinese."
"You know English." she shot back.
"OR if you don't want to be some snob wearing a suit and handing out pink slips to actual hard workers."
Miljenka shrugged at that and then sighed.
"Mega corporations are dumb." she said.
"Yeah." he agreed. "They are."
They sat quietly for a few more minutes, simply watching the world drift by, when Miljenka finally pushed herself to her feet and stood up.
"Well, come on." she said, the fire and steel that Karlo felt defined his little sister quickly seeping back into her. "If you gotta leave, we're not spending our last Festival in five years on some hill."
He glanced from her back to Krapina in the distance.
"Besides," she quickly added. "I'm sure mom and dad are wondering where we are."
"Yea, alright." he said, reaching up to take her hand.
Bracing to pull himself up, he took her hand, pulled hard, and tore her arm off.
In surprise, Karlo just stared at the severed appendage in his hands. It was still gripping him tightly but it had come off clean at the shoulder. There was no blood. No sign of damage. It was just...not on her anymore.
"Come on, Karlo." she insisted again and seemed to offer with an arm that was no longer attached to her body.
He stared at her and then at the limb.
The hand was twitching. Grasping.
"Karlo?" Miljenka asked, a look of confusion on her face.
She seemed completely unphased by the fact she was missing her arm. Or that he was currently holding it and that it seemed to be trying to grab at him.
The hand was moving. It was grabbing and crawling up his arm. Going for his throat.
His sister was smiling reassuringly.
He tried to throw the thing away. To pull it off of him. To get away.
He screamed, tearing at the monstrous thing on him. The piece of his sister. It had moved up his arm past his shoulder while she just stood there smiling. Its fingers were closing around his neck and...
Karlo shot up in the chair screaming. The room was dark and musty and a bay of computer screens in front of him showed nothing with the exception of a command line on one and a text messaging box in another.
The last messages were frantic.
Are you there?
What's going on?
"Come on Karlo! Answer me please!" the panicked voice of Dr. Lethe came through over the loudspeaker.
She sounded like she was sobbing.
"Yeah, yeah. I got it." he said to no one in particular
I'm here. he sent to her.
"Oh god! Thank you. Thankyouthankyouthankyou." he heard over the speaker; quickly followed by, "What the hell just happened?"
Turn off the mic. he typed.
In response, there was an audible click and the microphone static cut out above him.
What was that? she demanded.
I don't know. I guess I fell asleep.