Zane looked down at the bags he was carrying in resignation.
“Where are you dragging me off to now?”
Kerry beamed at him cheerfully “Secrets!”
“Oh no! I’m not going in there.”
She lowered her voice into a sultry mischievous growl, “I’ll let you choose.”
He paused briefly, “It’s still a very emphatic no.” The cracks had started to appear and Kerry noticed the pause.
She leant into him and whispered seductively in his ear. “I’ll put on a little,” She paused teasingly “show for you later on.”
His defences started to crumble “I can choose?” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’ll let you choose,” She agreed.
Zane weighed up the embarrassment versus the rewards.
“I suppose.” His tone implied that he was still not happy about it.
They talked and slowly made their way down the high street, Zane trying, and failing, to avoid hitting other shoppers with Kerry’s myriad purchases, most bought with his money. Just one young teenage couple, in amongst a majority of women singly and in groups, all out looking for the latest fashions and cheapest bargains. A small few had husbands or significant others in tow.
They approached, - Zane still with reservations- the front of ‘Secrets’, a store specialising in intimate apparel of a highly feminine nature. Zane had a violent resurgence of doubt. Looking about frantically about in the hope he did not spot anyone he knew, or who might know him.
Kerry noticed the searching and panic in his face. She could not resist teasing him.
“Well come on then. Not shy are you? You’re not shy when we are alone.” She pinched his bum.
As he yelped and jumped in surprise something further down the street caught his eye. He looked then did a double take.
A building further down the street seemed to swell, then simply burst asunder.
Zane blinked twice to clear his vision, shaking his head briefly in disbelief.
Another building, closer and on the other side, expanded before it to disseminated into its component parts.
He was aware that Kerry was still chattering away beside him unawares. No one else seemed to have noticed. He wondered if he was going mad.
Another building expanded then flew apart. This one was closer again, and he could make out individual bricks scything across the street. The street beyond was now enveloped in fog. He wondered where the fog had come from. The forecast was for blue skies.
People had now noticed. Some were running away. Most, like Zane, simply stood and stared in incomprehension. Surreally, he could still hear Kerry blathering on.
“What the fuck?”
Kerry paused, “Pardon? What are you staring at?” Her voice petered off as she followed his gaze.
Another building, even closer, bulged out. For a heartbeat, Zane had an image of all the individual parts of the exterior, separated with their own little nimbus of air. Suddenly all the little individual pieces dispersed like a flock of startled birds.
He watched as a rippling band of air, swept away all that stood in the path of the flying debris.
He watched, as more and more of those who had stood idle, watching in disbelief, turned to flee.
Zane dropped the shopping bags, grabbed Kerry and turned to flee as well.
He had only taken a few steps when there was an overwhelming crescendo of noise. Strangely, he found himself airborne. He didn’t remember jumping. Suddenly, all that was in front of him was the plascrete surface of the pavement. It drew closer at an unbelievable speed, and then all was dark.
He was eight again and learning to swim. His body was weightless and the water warm and soothing. His head dipped below the surface. Water flooded into his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. He coughed, inhaled, more water flooded in, he panicked.
Zane awoke coughing. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see. Everything was grey. Was he underwater? No, the viscosity was wrong. It wasn’t water.
He took another breath, started coughing again. It felt like, like dust. Dust? He pulled the fabric of his tunic over his mouth and nose. Breathing become easier, his coughing died down.
The dust settled in his eyes, irritating and scratching at the sensitive surface. His eyes watered, mixed with the dust and became a grey sludge.
He hurt all over. Testing his limbs, they all seemed to work, albeit in pain. Kerry.
The Emperor protects, Kerry! He searched around frantically. Saw the outline of Kerry in the dust next to him. They had to flee. He took hold of her arm, called her name but nothing came out.
It was so quiet, almost peaceful but for the ringing of an alarm somewhere.
He pulled at Kerry again. Still she failed to move. He wiped the gritty sludge from his eyes, blinking rapidly. Leaning over her, he realised something was not right. Her face had never been that narrow. He leant closer. His brain was as clear as the surrounding air. He called her name again. Still she failed to move.
A gentle breeze moved down the street, swirling the dust.
Detached, Zane noticed her chest was still. The fugue in his mind cleared briefly, as though affected by the breeze. Facts flooded back into the swirls and eddy of his mind.
The plascrete brick that had staved in the side of her head lay next to her. He ran a finger through a grey muddy streak on the brick. The streak turned a vivid red for a second before the pale dust floating in the air stuck to the rapidly congealing smear. Soon it was as pale as the surrounding brick.
He sat beside her, moving her limp hands into his lap. He held her hands with his left, while he ran his right; down the deformed contours of a face he used to know so well.
He spoke her name again but all he could hear was the continual ringing of an alarm bell. He repeated her name again. There was comfort in it.
Ghostly wraiths streamed past him on either side, flitting in between the shifting clouds of dense dust.
Zane lived through memories of times good and bad. A list grew of all the things he wished he had said to her. Of all the things he wished to apologise to her for, the petty fights, the disagreements, and the silences.
“I’m sorry.” He felt his lips move, but heard nothing over the ringing. He coughed, moistened his lips.
A stronger breeze whipped past him, swirling the dust over her. Tenderly he cleared her face.
He kissed her lightly on her forehead, lightly on her lips.
“I’m so sorry.”
Strong vibrations trembled through his body. Zane looked up. There was a bright light in the sky. Bright enough to cut through the dust, it grew larger as he watched.
It passed overhead, bathing him in heat and bringing clearer air with it. It was a small craft, nose glowing with the heat of re-entry.
It failed to slow down, ploughing bodily into one of the few remaining shops that still stood. The building collapsed, taking the people moving amongst the rubble in the street nearby with it.
No sooner had the rubble finished sliding off the craft, than several hatches sprung open and armoured troops rapidly disembarked. Zane watched as the troops took up firing positions. As more exited, the first to leave the shuttle opened fire upon the injured, frightened, confused, and distraught people moving aimlessly around, looking for lost loved ones or possessions.
Zane watched the fall of lifeless limbs to the rubble covered ground. He did not care if he was shot like the others, his life, his future destroyed. He stayed still to make it easier for them.
Another figure left the drop-ship, surveyed the area and then strode away from Zane. The troops followed, shooting down all who stirred or moved.
He watched them walk away. Shifting his gaze, he looked down on Kerry, then back at the disappearing troops.
A burning started to suffuse Zane. It was a minute before he realised it was hate. Hate like he had never felt before in his life. He looked back down upon Kerry, only now it was no longer Kerry. Not Kerry as he knew her. He knew what Kerry looked like; he could picture her clearly in his mind. The figure he clutched held no resemblance to her.
He remembered the good times. Her laugh, her caress, the whisper as her bare skin slid against his own, the contours of their flesh nestling together like the pieces of a jigsaw.
Now it was all gone.
He let the cold hands drop from his, slowly standing, torn and abused muscles protesting.
Briefly, he wished the invaders had silenced that ringing bell. It seemed to drown out all other noise.
Zane looked back into the dusty sky. Glowing red streaks dotted all over the heavens. Like red stars in the daylight. Except these stars were falling.
In another part of the sky, was a rainbow like no rainbow he had ever seen before. A perfect crescent of every colour he could think of.
It was beautiful.
He stared at it for a moment. As the dust slowly settled or was blown away, he could make out more and more details. Lances of bright light were streaking down from above, and then flaring off. Zane wondered if it was refracting off the dust cloud. Little black specks were falling as well. The little black specks burst into bright light, brief flame and dark cloud.
He wondered what was over there.
Like the air about him, he was struck by another moment of clarity.
The Arbites had a chapter house over there, a squat ugly building, surrounded by beautiful parkland. He used to walk there with Kerry. She had commented that it mirrored them. He was the squat ugly building; she was as the beautiful, well-manicured gardens. He had not been overly impressed by her analogy and had gone into a sulk. Much to her amusement.
His pettiness now hurt him more deeply with her passing. It was time with her he had wasted.
“The gardens,” She had said “were not there for beauty, but because they held and hid the generators for the void shield over the chapter house.” Then she had commented, “That she was his shield, protecting the world from his rough edges.” She had laughed. Her laugh was infectious and had brought him out of his dark mood.
He looked at the multicoloured nimbus. Void shield. It clicked into place. The light- space ship-borne lasers, the black specks- munitions.
He was watching an aerial bombardment.
Unlike the Arbites, his shield was no more.
The invaders that had landed next to him were making for the chapter house, on foot.
The rage built within him. The invaders were moving fast, in well co-ordinated leaps and bounds. They moved with a peripheral awareness, which could only be achieved through relentless practice and use within a hostile environment.
Any person, adult or child, man or woman, they met was dispatched with cruel efficiency. Zane had no trouble following them. He just followed the bodies.
Zane ghosted through the dust behind them. The slaughter he witnessed had no effect on the rage within. His life was over; revenge was all that was left. He was as alive as the corpses he walked upon. His anger was a furnace, supplying the pulse that was the only difference between him and the limp forms spread over the ground.
No matter where he turned or how fast he walked, the ringing of the bells kept him company, drowning out all other sound. Buildings collapsed in dusty silence. People died in terrified silent anguish. Fires burned and danced to their silent, flickering beat.