Elementals-Chapter 5

From: Cheryl Baumgartner(C Baumgartner, Posted Date: Aug 29th, 2011

Benai stood at the edge of the lake, staring at the spring crabs just below the surface.  They stared back at him.  Lucky little buggers.  They have no idea what’s coming.

This was where he and Sarni had spent the last few hours of her life.  It was where he always came when he needed to think.  When he was angry, or scared, or sad, this place gave him solace.

Right now he was scared.  The feeling didn’t come over him often, and it felt strange, but there was most definitely something to fear coming down upon their planet.  Something that could not be fought or ignored.

The Divine Order.

His Divine Shadow.

The Foreshadow had been destroying planets where “heretics” had their roots.  Benai’s planet had never even gotten involved.  His people were not followers of the Order, but they were also not opponents of it.  Their planet being far out on the edge of the 20,000, it had always apparently been too insignificant for His Shadow’s notice, and certainly not worthy of destruction.

But now something had changed.  In the past 2 annuals, more and more systems nearby were targeted.  Benai’s people had built massive evacuation ships, knowing what would be coming.  Benai himself had been helping in this construction, since he had been cleared of all those “charges” against him from so long ago.  No one cared about taking him to trial for a crime that he may or may not have committed as a teenager anymore.  Everyone was far more worried about saving their own hides.

This morning, word had come that the Foreshadow was only days away.  They had to evacuate now.  As soon as Vila’s school let out this afternoon, he would take his daughter to the main evacuation shuttle and head for the coordinates of the nearest fractal core.

Supposedly, His Shadow could not follow them through the core, which was definitely a positive development.  However, it was also rumored that on the other side of the core was something called “The Dark Zone”, which of course didn’t sound too inviting.  But they’d have to risk it, and hope to find an inhabitable planet on the other side to colonize.

So here he stood, in this beautiful and peaceful place, fingering the gold ellipse pendant with its grey pearl rotating in the center.  This had never left his neck once since Sarni had given it to him.  Very soon, he would go to claim Vila.  She was all he had left now.  Wife, parents, friends, all gone.  She was his last shining star in a universe of darkness.

He already had their bags packed, but he hadn’t told her where they were going.  No need to scare the seven-year-old.  Just let her think it was a vacation with dear old dad….

A huge detonation rattled his ear drums from the direction of the town.  Seconds later, the ground under his feet trembled and the water of the lake began to ripple.  He knew enough about the speed of sound, and energy waves travelling through rock, to pinpoint where the explosion must have happened.

No!!

They must have been wrong about when the Foreshadow was coming!

Vila!  Get to the school!

Benai ran as hard as his legs would carry him toward the city.  Why did he always end up running from that spring in a mad dash to save people he loved?!

Once he cleared the trees, his heart nearly stopped, even though he still ran at top speed.  Plumes of black smoke were rising quickly from the town that no longer looked like itself.  Buildings that had been there just minutes ago were now smaller, jagged shapes on the horizon.

Gods!  Not my daughter!!

He continued to run, ignoring the stitch forming in his side and his screaming lungs.  The ground was different now.  Instead of grass, he ran across blackened and charred rock.  The trees were gone.  Smoking stumps and trunks rent in half were all that remained to mark their places.  He passed one such trunk, then another, then another. 

Wait, those weren’t trees.  He skidded to a halt.  It was the remains of a structure.

This used to be the butcher’s hut.

Benai just stared at it for a moment, his heart thudding so hard that it could have cracked every rib.  If this was the butcher’s hut, then the next building was the apothecary.  He glanced ahead.  A huge iron cauldron sat in the middle of a vacant space where the apothecary’s house would have been.  Three more buildings over was…..

The school.

Gone. 

He stumbled numbly toward the empty, smoking, pit where his child had just been learning….what?  Had it been geography today?  Perhaps arithmetic?  He couldn’t think, he couldn’t feel, he couldn’t move beyond falling to his knees.

He didn’t know how long he sat there like that. 

Suddenly, he heard cries in the distance, saw shapes moving through the smoke.  “To the ships!” echoed over and over from all directions as survivors of this massacre fled the area. 

He also heard another explosion.  It was farther away this time, but just as powerful.  Dear Gods, they were destroying the planet city by city!  Benai snapped back into focus. 

What if his town had already evacuated before this had struck?  Vila would already be at the shipyard, waiting for him!  That is, if the shipyard was still there…

He wasn’t conscious of leaping to his feet, but the wind whistling past his ears told of his speed.  Just like the lake, the shipyard was quite a bit removed from the city and had probably escaped this initial assault.  But it wouldn’t be long before the planet had so many holes carved out of it, that it would destabilize and self-destruct. 

He passed many other people running in the same direction, and left them all far behind in his haste.

There!  There it was, still standing and intact!  Thank the Gods!  As he approached, he could see the ships in the yard, powering up their engines.  Steam wafted from their exhaust ports and all their launch signals were alight.  He didn’t stop until he reached the main hangar where groups of people were huddled in terrified throngs.  They swarmed to the entry hatches of the escape vessels, trampling each other and screaming.

Benai swept the whole area with his sharp gaze.  Where were the children?

No children except for a few tiny babes crying in their mothers’ arms.  No teachers from the school.  No butcher.  No apothecary.  He saw no one that would have come from those places that were no more.

They were not here.  His little girl….was not here.  She had been killed…no… erased.

Erased by His Shadow.

A wall of pain slammed into his chest, penetrating his heart like an axe.  He raised his head to the sky and released the anguish in a scream that even the Gods would hear.  No one took any notice of him amid the din of their own terror, but that didn’t matter.

He would never again care about anyone else.  He would never feel joy, love, or hope.  Now, it would only be anger, hate, vengeance, and pain as his constant companions.

Yet still he shed no tears.

He began bullying his way to the nearest vessel, literally throwing people out of his path.  He boarded and went straight for the cockpit.  Having helped build these ships, he knew how to fly them.

The pilot spouted an exclamation that Benai didn’t even register as he tossed the man from his seat and took his place.  The ground quaked again, and a section of ceiling plummeted to the floor, just inches in front of the vessel’s nose.  Benai flicked the switch that would close the hatch.  The sound of people screaming in agony as the door closed on them made him smile.

Once the ship was locked and pressurized, he lifted off.  Anyone still standing close enough would be fried by the rocket fire and put out of their misery.  Forget the runway, he simply headed up and out through the fresh hole in the hangar’s ceiling, taking a bit more of the structure out with him on his way past, for good measure.

A commotion ensued outside the cockpit door and it flew open behind him.  Ah, the people that had already been on this ship before his arrival were finally realizing that a madman was behind the wheel, and had just left everyone else behind.

“What in the Gods’ names are you doing?!” shouted the man who had burst in.

‘Oh, perfect, just perfect’, thought Benai, ‘naturally he’d be here’.

“Hello Danik” he said cheerfully, not turning around.

“Benai?  What the….”

“Do let me get us out of orbit before we chat” interrupted Benai.

“You’re insane!” Danik returned.

“Yes.”  Benai pushed the rockets to maximum power, watching the clouds rush past as the altimeter steadily climbed.  Soon enough, the atmospheric indicators flashed and the clouds disappeared into black space, dotted with stars. 

No sooner did he spot the Foreshadow, than he had to yank the stick hard to port to avoid another energy surge.  The spiderweb shape of the weapon’s discharge flew past his ship by only a few hundred paces.  You missed!

Danik had been thrown to the floor by this maneuver.  He righted himself, and there was a large gash across his temple, dribbling blood.  Benai casually tapped the coordinates of the fractal core into the navigation system and set the auto pilot, giggling at Danik’s grunts and groans.

“Do you realize what you’ve done?!”  Danik yelled.

Benai sighed dramatically.  “My old friend, you’re asking the wrong question” he said, seeing his destination appear on the monitor and begin to grow in size.  “It’s not what I’ve done that needs to be justified.  It’s what I’m going to do in the future that will defy all logic.”

A few blips appeared on the radar screen to his left, and he noted with indifference the presence of five more evacuation ships following in his wake.  If they had been filled to capacity when they launched, his people might have a slim chance of avoiding extinction.  He shrugged.  Whatever.

“Trust me, Danik” he continued, “right now I’m saving your sorry arse so I can kill it properly later.  Sit down and shut up or get out of my cockpit.”

The fractal core loomed larger and larger by the second.

“You’ll pay for this Ben!” Danik cursed.

“Just like old times.” Benai replied, “Let’s play some hide and seek in the Dark Zone, shall we?”

The shuttle shot into the fractal core at full speed.  Space and time slammed together all at once….and everything went black.