…breaking dawn on the Kavil moon
A place exists between slumber and waking where reality floats about in dreams. It was perfect. Everything meant nothing and nothing was everything. Or so Vespa believed.
The gentle sounds of water lapping the shore washed over her, whispering enticements to stay within the dreamscape. She was warm and comfortable. Safe. Happy memories of camaraderie and a joyous evening merged in her consciousness with the lilting morning calls of a shore crane in search of its first meal.
A light breeze rustled the sheers, then whisked a cooling breath across her drowsy face. Eyes still shut, resisting the morning, Vespa sniffed the aromas of the ocean – salt mixed with life-giving water, dune jasmine, and the oily scent of aquatic life. She felt a chill as the wind gusted; her skin tingled into prickly fleshbumps. Vespa’s eyes shot open with a start.
Her oceanside cabana was still dark, with the hints of dawn’s pinks and purplish-blues peeking through the partially drawn shades. The planet Kavil hovered somewhere above, hidden from view by the roof. Through the shades, the planet’s blurred reflection glinted off the placid undulations of the moon’s ocean. A quick check at the chrono assured Vespa that it was indeed slightly before dawn.
She rolled on her side, wrapping an arm around an extra pillow, and her eyes eagerly drifted close. A loud pop-bang propelled them open, and her body bolted upright. She inhaled sharply. The resort was less than a klick by airblade from the port. Probably just a fleet exercise. Those service types couldn’t resist niggling the Primean tourists from their slumber.
Her legs plopped off the side of the bed. Bare feet against the wood grain, she padded to the glass sliders, which had been open all night. The water reflected a redder, angrier hue now. Kavil’s white presence on the seas appeared swathed in blood.
Vespa gazed up into the sky an instant before the sizzle met her ears. Flares raced across the violet and pink sky. A flash of white erupted into a multitude of blazing descents. Successive booms shook the air from her lungs.
Instinct told her drop. She did, arms clutched over her head.
The sky splintered. The air burned with the fierceness of a star. Her lungs ached; her skin pierced with hundreds of needles. The floor bucked and dumped her in a heap. She gasped for breath. Ears ringing, she felt more than heard the continuous train of explosions. She didn’t dare move. As suddenly as it had erupted, the world fell into a gripping silence.
First Vespa heard her heart, still beating. Then her lungs, panting. Her fingers dug into the wood below, and it bit back in return. She smelled smoke, heard the crackle of fire, as she slowly lifted her head. The bed, where she had lain only moments before, no longer existed. Lapped by flames, the headboard was all that remained. The rest had been replaced by a crater that opened up all the way to the water below.
The cabana, like all the structures in this sheltered bay, stood on stilts. The timbers groaned. The floor beneath Vespa shifted as if preparing to slide into the encompassing embrace of the sea. Somehow she had lucked into surviving the fiery explosion; she wasn’t about to be crushed in the collapse. Vespa scrambled out onto the deck. Just before she reached the ladder to the beach, something caught her attention. A pair of shoes, gold-flecked swooshes racing across their sides, still sitting where they had been forgotten next to the reclining sunchair. She belly-crawled over, fumbled to tie the laces together, then dangled them around her neck. She couldn’t bring herself to leave them behind.
Crawling back through the sliders, she spotted her sling bag still draped around the back of a chair that now lay sideways on the floor. As Vespa cautiously crept toward it, the cabana structure again mewed about its many integrity-threatening injuries.
A familiar ripping pop caused her blood to run cold. She froze in place, knees grinding into the floorboards, one hand outstretched for the sling bag, the other splaying fingers to hold her weight. Her breath inhaled; she held it desperately, like it was her last. Vespa prayed that her lungs’ resistance could hold back the hands of time. Even in her frozen pose, the growing tremors of her panic-stricken body knew the next chain of events was unavoidable. From the corner of her eye, while sweat dripped over her eyelashes, she watched Kavil’s reflection on the water. Red splayed out from the white center, like insidious evil tendrils imbued with raw energy. The sizzle next, so hot and angry Vespa wouldn’t have been surprised if the seas had begun to boil.
The fury of hot-white erupted everywhere. Her world, though, went black. Arms and legs failing, she found herself flattened. Eyes scrunched shut, hands over her ears, wails of sheer terror drowning in the thunderous booms of one explosion after another. Hell lasted for an eternal agonizing moment. Then it was over, and again all that was left a deafening silence. Afraid to open her eyes, she patted the floor hesitantly until the leather strap of the sling bag rested beneath her fingers.
She grabbed it and clambered toward where she thought the deck ought to be. The railing now gone and the boards cocked at a perilous angle, she took her chances and rolled off the edge. The flesh of her upper arm raked along the deck’s edge and tore as she stretched out to resist the fall. Water hit her legs, then waist, as she plummeted clumsily into the shallows, her fall ending abruptly when her knees collided with a clump of shells. Somehow managing to hold the sling bag overhead, she tried to find satisfaction in knowing that the important things were still dry. Her stunned joints blared a silent screeching protest.
The water, which had provided such a warm embrace in yesterday’s sunshine, chilled her in the darkness. The crackle of burning wood broke her distraction, and she pivoted toward it. Flames licked at the cabana, and she found herself backing away carefully. Eyes scanning the horizon, she made out a hundred other blazes. Indiscernible from one another in the dim light, they were everywhere – near and far, north and south. They blended into an angry glow, heightened by the abrasive hints of smoke.
Vespa coughed out air laden with the pang of singed wood and layered with the stench of manufactured fuel. But it was the subtlest smell that triggered the paths to long-forgotten memories. Years ago, she had been by her father’s side when one of his training airblades had crashed near the hangar. No one had realized that Vespa, curious as a hindercat, had followed. By the time they did, it had been too late. The body, breathing in the burning flesh, and her own screams. The memories roared back.
“Terraq! Terraq! Terraq!”
She wasn’t sure when her screams fueled by the horrific memories had turned into terror-filled shrieks for her brother, but they had and she couldn’t stop them. Flailing through the seawater, she shoved a burning slab-board as she moved away from the cabana. The entire moon was ablaze, but right now that wasn’t what caused the knot of fear twisting her guts. Only now had she realized the nearest cabana rested on its side, collapsed into a heap of wood waiting to be lit into the next bonfire.
Vespa tried to run for it. Again and again she screamed his name as the water slowed her charge. Tripping over debris beneath the churning waves, she barely managed to escape plunging face first into the water. Her brother’s name was the one word that blazed in her mind. Though the two cabanas were a mere fifty meters apart, it felt like she had run the length of an airblade track and she was only halfway there. She could hardly catch her breath, let alone shout. Saving the energy of speaking, Vespa offered up a silent request to Fayti as she closed on the structure.
Please, please. I will do anything.
Like an answer to her prayers, a looming shadow drifted out of the dawn’s destruction, heading right for her.