The trembling Tetrida closes its furry wings against its body against the cold. The pupae lays broken on the ground under the eaves, delicate and torn, a silken cage now opened.
It clicks its beak in fear and anger as Atlas creeps closer. He picks up the tiny animal, shivering and flapping its wings. In this weather with the sharp drop in temperature as the desert cools, it won’t last the night. He is careful not to brush the delicate fur of its wingfeathers with his paws lest the he know the powdery scales off. Its fluffy coat was still wet and scraggly from emerging.
“I can give you a safe place to grow,” he says as he places it on a cloth in the greenhouse. It can’t understand him but he speaks to it tenderly, like a friend.
His sister observes him dubiously, clicking her tongue and shaking her head. “You’re such a bleeding heart.”
“It would have died out there.”
“They probably die by the hundreds every time around this year.”
“Yes, Puzzle, but this one won’t.”
She comes closer to check it out, extending a finger. The little green Tetrida shies away, closing its eyes. The feathers around its head raise in warning and the antennae quiver, trying to make it look bigger.
“It takes time to learn we’re not a threat,” Atlas explains.
“What does it eat?”
“I’ll just be giving it sugar water for now. I’ll need to pick some fresh fruit at the market later.”
“So we’re keeping it?” Puzzle asked.
“Why the sudden interest? You don’t usually care.”
She sniffs. “It’s not that I don’t care, I just don’t see the value in saving only one. Well, if you’re going to keep it, you should give it a name.”
“Do you want to name it?” Atlas asked.
“I’m still thinking of one.”
Atlas reaches out with a single finger to stroke the head of the Tetrida. It burbles slightly. Puzzle looks offended that he was able to touch it and not her. He smiles and shows her how to approach from the backside of the head, where the antennae are and give it a scritch.
“It’s all in the speed and direction. You have to move really slowly. It needs to detect you first.”
“I remember you catching these all the time in the summer. I had the take the dead ones out of the jar.”
He looks wistful. “I was just a kid, I didn’t know much about them yet. I didn’t know to put holes in the top.”
Puzzle grunts. The Tetrida begins to flap its wings more. They become fuller and less flaccid as blood fills them properly. Atlas walks away toward the sink, pulling a bowl out of the cupboard. It cheeps pitiously where it is on the table, sitting on the cloth. Its miniature talons pump up and down as it hops.
“What does it want?”
“It’s hungry, I think.” He measures out a spoonful of sugar out of the canister and fills the bowl from the tap. Atlas mixes the two, and gives the spoon to Puzzle.
Puzzle tentatively dips the spoon into the homemade nectar, and gathers some liquid in the round bottom. She holds it out toward the Tetrida with a slight frown that twitches at the sides, almost a grimace. It hops closer, unsure. One black segmented eye peers up at her and blinks.
Puzzle almost smiles and winks. It winks back.
The Tetrida wraps six little feet around the handle of the spoon and dips its long narrow beak into the sugar water. A curling strawlike tongue extends out to feed. Puzzle holds the spoon completely still.
Atlas doesn’t interrupt.
“Got a name yet?”
“It’s not very original, but maybe Honey?”
“It’s a good name,” he agreed, taking the spoon. He holds out his hand and the Tetrida gingerly crawls onto it. He presses the side of his paw against his sister’s, letting it crawl onto her palm.
“Honey it is.”