Harsh Rains

By Tom Oliver

The heavens were shut. The rains the clouds had promised for several months remained locked in the tiny droplets in the sky. The people waited for the required fall, but they had waited so long their precious reserves were dry and their plants lay dead in the lifeless earth. They didn’t need water for the dead crops any longer, they needed water to drink and hydrate their parched cells. The sun beat down, harshly, on the broken land.

Gerrun looked around the arid landscape. The great valley had none of the beauty of the wetter worlds’ vegetation, but it had a bleak quality of a magnanimous protective force about it, strengthened by the vital relief it gave, in the season of dust, from the scouring grit storms from the deep downlands. If the farmers had been a religious, god-fearing people, they would have worshipped those steep sides and towering crags, in respect for the shelter they provided. The shadow it cast blocked the relentless rays from all except the twin central hours, when the great steel heat conductors extended from every building into the cooler air. In the dusky hours of the morning, the dark orange rocks on the valley floor were prominent in the setting sunlight, the minerals and metallic ores glittering brightly in the dancing light.

Gerrun walked slowly through the residential area, steadily heading towards the main town. In his hand, as always, the keys to his parked jetbike clinked as he moved. The dull, concrete grey buildings on either side were both repetitive and numbing to his eye, but he could distinguish the sight of Williams’s AT-trailer, just being parked by the house. He turned off into the side street, towards the trailer.

‘Morning Bill.’ His eyes focused on the suited figure that descended from the trailer. The helmet came off and Williams’s taunt, elongated face emerged.

‘Morning to you too Jer. How’s things a going up your way?’

‘Things is bad. I’ve spent twenty-five gallons of water trying to keep these crops a-livin’ and it just don’t work. The wind takes the moisture and dries the earth. My supplies is getting low too.’

‘That bad? Me too I guess. A lotta the problems I get are from the catchers. I hate them critters. I shotta couple of ‘em yesterday with ma rifle, but it just ain’t possible to stop them at night. You heading for the Forum?’ Lignetowners called the area just outside the shops and Town Hall the ‘Forum’, but it was not, as the name might suggest, a pretty place.

‘Yeah. I was heading for the Forum. You too?’ Rhetorical or not, the question was necessary.

Williams shrugged. ‘I guess I could do with some fresh food. The wife and kids are just plain sick of the taste of Yams.’ Yams grew well in the tough ground. When there was sufficient rain. Williams started to stroll along the street towards the main road. Gerrun cut his pace to stay level with Williams.

‘How's the wife?’ Gerrun asked.

‘She’s real fine. She says the crop’s real bad on her patch, but we got some savings left just in case.’ Williams didn’t seem confident about that. They turned the corner down into the main street, toward the Forum.

‘What about your kids’ educations? I heard you wasn’t satisfied with the local school’s teaching.’

‘Well, it’s all crap really, all salute Terran stuff... You know, get a ship, ‘xplore a star... You get famous of nuffin’.’

‘Know what you mean.’ Gerrun was wistful. He too had been forced to memorise the names of explorers and pioneers. Perhaps everyone would have to forever.

‘Like this Maurice guy. He never ‘found’ Del. People have seen Del since the eyes was formed. He was just the first one that got a corp to back a trip here. He probably just hit the ‘scan’ button and left. No work, no nuffin’. Just a place in that darn book.’ Williams hated credit where credit wasn’t due. It got him rattled.

‘Yeah. I know Bill.’ Gerrun wondered if he should put up with these ramblings. ‘You saw the drop in root prices?’ Root prices in the sector had dropped since the Outer core had lost a taste for the stuff. ‘Ain’t it worrying? I was sure I had a good crop this year. Now I got not crop and the price for it is bad anyway. Ma wife thinks we should look offworld.’

Gerrun stared at the opening into the Forum as he spoke: ‘You thinking of leaving? Leaving all this?’

‘That’s the way it could be Jer.’

Gerrun opened the door to the largest store. ‘It you did leave, you won’t be alone, I hear the Davidsons are a thinking of leaving too.’

‘Really? I guess they would with the four kids and all.’ Williams seemed lost in thought.

‘You coming in?’ Gerrun was still holding the huge chrome door open.

‘Yeah. Thanks.’ The door shut behind Williams.

Gerrun took out his organiser and prodded the buttons clumsily. The list of items came up on the screen and totalled the cost. ‘Mr. Telhelm?’

‘Oui?’ The obese storeholder turned from the terminal to face Gerrun and Williams. ‘Puis-je t’aider?’ ‘Err...’ Gerrun seemed content to let Williams order first.

‘Voilà, il y a beaucoup à choisir.’ Telhelm was energetically enthusiastic, but it didn’t help him communicate. Williams inserted his organiser's extension into the terminal and watched the credits drain away. Gerrun did the same. The connection simultaneously deduced taxes and outstanding debts whilst adding income. Both watched as the totals fell sharply. The pre-programmed items required were ordered from the back of the shop and the cash reduced again. Then they disconnected and picked up the packages emerging on the conveyer belt. The convenient handles bore the weight of the hydrogen canisters, required to keep the battery cell beneath the cabins working.

‘Mersee.’ Williams said, carefully and slowly as they left the store.

‘Wanna check the noticeboard?’ Said Gerrun.

‘Sure. There might be important stuff.’

They lumbered over to the board, bright white in the afternoon sun. The faded ink texture showed the date of the next shipment. Underneath in Vanderson’s blue scrawl were the words: ‘Update: Delayed from Del’s heavy radiation output from sunspots, arriving on 34.15.55 instead.’

Gerrun looked at the depressing words. ‘Tis bad news Bill.’

‘Sure is. I guess I’d better stock up with some more stuff.’

Williams turned back toward the store. ‘I’ll get them delivered to my house.’

‘Sure. See ya later Bill.’ Gerrun turned back to the board to read the remaining, irrelevant notices. Williams vanished back into the store. These canisters were beginning to feel heavy. He headed back toward the main street.

‘Hello Gerrun.’ A voice echoed silently across the Forum from a known source. He turned to see Vanderson in full office garbs. ‘Haven’t seen you in this area for a good few weeks.’

Gerrun lied: ‘I don’t like that sun.’

‘I'm sure you don’t. I have got a task for you which would really benefit the community.’ Standard introduction: ‘Benefit community’. Benefit Vanderson more like. ‘I want you to check out an alternative landing site for the Stellarship. The community would really lose out if the landing had to be delayed.’

‘So would your business’ thought Gerrun.

‘So... I would like you to find a second, optionally spot to land. All right?’ Gerrun was silent. ‘Do your bit for the community eh?’ Gerrun imagined the blue suit and flesh beginning to melt into a pile of goop. He really, really disliked Vanderson.

Vanderson took a small capsule out of his pocket and offered it to Gerrun. ‘Here are all the details. Alrighty?’ Gerrun looked down. Both hands were full with canisters. What a shame. Vanderson seemed to get the idea. He stuffed the capsule into the top of Gerrun’s suit.

The cold metal bit into Gerrun skin. Vanderson seemed to understand this too. He smiled. ‘Glad you could help Gerrun. Oh well! I should go and sort out the rest of the preparations.’ Vanderson clearly had enjoyed their little conversation.

‘Bye.’ Gerrun tried to sound threatening, but he didn’t manage to sound convincing. He put down one of the canisters as Vanderson walked away, the back of his blue suit grey in the sun. He then extracted the capsule from the top of his suit, placed it in his thermal pocket and picked up the canister again. He began to walk back towards the main street.

* * *

Located on the very edge of known space, Del3 was originally a mining world. In the past, before the world’s slow process of terraforming, the planet had been extensively exploited for the heavier elements it contained. Tantalum and Actinium, present in usually high concentration on the surface, brought the furnaces and engines of humans to this world. The elements, vital for manufacture of hull and fuel stabilisation, were soon scraped in vast quantities away from the earth and transported in the huge Stellarships back to the industrial worlds of the Inner Core, where second and third generation stars (and therefore the heavier elements) were distributed far more sparsely. Now, after the only remaining elements lay deep beneath the hard rocks, where neither economics or necessity could reach them. The mines shut down, the domes where left to decay, and humanity left. The wrecks of the old, nucleated mining towns formed jagged shapes on the horizon, deserted and left to the winds.

When the last profitable surface mines closed and capital fled from the world as fast as it came, the old mining workforce and early developers left with it for newer, fresher worlds, to exploit and develop again. The poorest and most determined people remained in the broken domes and vowed to start a new life here, on Del3.

The colonists were, therefore, initially desperate people, mainly scrapings of the social barrel, neither fit or willing to move to new territories. Out of this though, they created life in the dead wastelands, an oasis in an uninhabited, broken land.

After the initial supplies of cloned root-crop seeds and building equipment, the remaining colonists built their new town in the base of a long rift valley, where neither the burning sun nor withering winds could scorch nor erode the crops. The town they built was less than half a mile long, based along the centre of the valley. The valley was only five hundred metres wide, but stretched several hundred kilometres to the north-east and south-west, and the valley bluffs, at the steepest point, were perhaps a kilometre high. From space, the first colonists had seen the scar in the dry planet’s face, and had called it ‘la ligne cassée’- the broken line. The Ligne, as they called it, became the only inhabited site on the planet, as other settlements slowly grafted into emptiness or disappeared in the imageless dusts. Soon Lignetown, the colonists’ farming settlement was alone on the world. They had a Stellar ship arrive every month, to take the root-crops and bring back machinery and fertiliser.

The early settlement first experienced trouble with root bugs and then with gerbils. How they had laughed at first. The first amusement at the loss of one colonist’s pet gerbils was soon turned bitter by the heavy loss of both the colonists’ crops and dignity. Root bugs, also multiplying out of control, free from natural predators, quickly swarmed over the growing crops. Slow and inevitable starvation seemed destined to follow. The solution, proposed by Vanderson was not chemical, but biological. To combat both gerbil and root bug, he suggested Lignetown collectively paid for the introduction of a biogenetically engineered ‘catcher population’ to the area. Catchers, he argued, would stop the heavy loss of profits and restore stability, catching and killing both rodents and beetles with effective ease.

Lignetown voted. The required majority was both slim and unconvincing, but Lignetown had catchers by the next Stellarship arrival. Their critics were initially silenced by the spectacular success they had against both types of pest. By the third year, all the Gerbils and root bugs had been removed. People celebrated with a small party and the Town Hall resounded with praise for Vanderson and his idea. Even Gerrun, an early critic, soon felt the advantages were too high to dispute. Then something happened that changed opinions.

Ten days after the celebrations, Williams Turnell, a small, outer town farmer, found his dog in the field. The dog had had most of the skin cut and gouged by many mandibles. Catchers were blamed and the farmers immediately decided the omnivorous catchers had overstayed their welcome. The townspeople laced the tunnels with pesticides and left the catchers to die.

Dozens of catcher corpses floated out of the tunnels when the rains came, but the next year, people still reported catcher sightings regularly. Eventually Williams, almost driven wild by the mocking tone some gave to his claims, had left his cabin for the tunnels. There in the darkness he worked, with nothing but a delta rifle, drill-spade and a flash. He ate infrequently and the steady sound of his mining tool carried across the valley bottom day after day as he cut deeper into the leporine wormholes.

Two days after the drilling stopped, in the midst of the fierce and enveloping dust storm that had beset Lignetown, the dark husky figure appeared outside the Town Hall, his hands holding a black catcher corpse. His sunken skin and sinuous flesh was covered in small, scarring ruptures, but he had achieved his aim. He’d shown the past still remained.

That was two years ago.

* * *

People called Gerrun bitter. Living on his own in the tiny settlement community, people spoke of his isolation from the real world and his cold outer appearance. Gerrun knew this, and was divided as whether to accept this image or try to create his own. He felt misunderstood, as he thought of himself as a ‘good’ person. His selfish and self-centred views seemed reasonable to him, but to others he was a harsh outsider. Perfect for this cruel, unforgiving world.

Del3’s Sunset is fast, with a slender period of two minutes between the crudded sun touching and disappearing behind the horizon. The night that followed brought the icy winds from the uplands on the dry currents of air. Gerrun remained in his dwelling again tonight, as the vermin-catchers, man made organic killers, were out again in force, their numbers large from the lack of rains, and the increasing availability of discarded crops. The old wire netting defences were broken in many places, after the drought made crop production futile. The farmers had left the wasted roots to the catchers, and it had helped raise their numbers rapidly and unexpectedly. The rains were usually present to drown or wash away the mature catchers and leave only the tiny, subterranean eggs, but this year the land remained dry.

The farmers were discussing methods of culling the catchers, but their numbers made elimination of even a small nest quite dangerous. No individual farmer wanted to have to enter the dark caves and excavate the nests in the tiny burrows that fed off from the main, just about tranversable, passageways. The labyrinth of fist-sized tunnels could hold thousands of the critters, and nobody wanted to have to walk past those small entrances, their vibrations travelling through a thousand metres of rock. People preferred to wait for the rains. But the rains had not come.

In the morning the farmers surveyed the damage. One of the root pulp silos had breached by catchers, and the contents splattered across the cracked grounds. Gerrun wanted to destroy the silo to prevent the catchers receiving further nutrition, but the owner was dismissive. Perhaps the next transport ship would bring something to repair the ragged hole. The area ripped open was only the size of a small dog, but it was clear to Gerrun that the situation was deteriorating. The catchers were taking their food stores. Food didn’t seem an important worry compared to the lack of water, but the farmers still needed sustenance to survive. Gerrun went back to his cabin and repaired the holes in the perimeter fence. He also picked up a canister of pesticide from the Town Hall's cylindrical store and placed it by the cabin opening. Just in case.

The day ground on, and by early afternoon, it was clear the Stellar shipment was to be delayed by an additional two days, due to ‘personnel problems’. The farmers desperately needed the water in the ships huge cargo holds. With the rains so long silent, they needed to refill the reserves to ensure survival till then. There were also to be some weapons for use against the catchers. Catchers were vital to pest removal in years of growth and success, but in this bitter, relentless drought, they were becoming a liability.

The sun set and rose, and the catchers had been and gone. Another silo had been opened, and the Davidson family, on the outskirts, had complained of extensive damage to their perimeter fence and the inner buildings. There was a quick vote. The catchers were becoming too dangerous. If the rains hadn’t come by the time of the arrival of the Stellar ship, it would be necessary to evacuate. The idea met with overwhelming support, especially from the outer farmers. Only Vanderson, who had extensive investments in the settlement voted against the proposal.

‘Vanderson thinks of no one except himself.’ Gerrun thought, bitterly.

The latest news was that the shipment would arrive in two days. Most of the colonists were comforted by this thought. Gerrun took the keys to his jetbike out of his pocket and went to look for the alternative landing site for the ship.

‘The valley bottom will be almost liquid mud if the rains come, meaning an alternative site is necessary.’ That’s all the short introduction in the capsule said. He closed the capsule and, pulling open the transparent, all-encompassing, wind cover, mounted the jetbike The jetbike was easy to steer in Del3’s thicker atmosphere, the protective plastiglass shield effectively holding out the parting air molecules. The bike sped through the valley, roaring like a furnace. He took the bike through the standard spiralling motion, gaining height quickly and efficiently. Soon the plateaux on either side of the narrow rift valley appeared, and the decision of selecting a landing site pressed on to his mind. He selected a flat, wide ridge, elevated from the surrounding areas. He copied the co-ordinates and rapidly descended into the cool shadow of the valley again, to relax his overwarm heat sinks. Upon arrival back, the message was relayed to the ship, now only two days’ travel away. He then slept.

The morning brought worrying news. The Davidson family was gone. They were nowhere to be seen. Their cabin was deserted, the dog gone too. They had left their AT-trailer by the cabin, and their jetbikes seemed unused. The farmers are worried. Vanderson suggested the community hunt for their murderers.

‘It ain’t no human that did this,’ said Gerrun above the crowd. ‘This is the work of the catchers.’ It was as if he’d lit a gas main. Lignetown’s forum exploded into bellows and screeches.

Gerrun surveyed the Forum and absorbed the gritty morning atmosphere. People were shouting and arguing, in contrast to the moderate discussion normally present. The community was fiercely divided.

‘We should leave! Now!’ The voice floated across the Forum, joined by many similar statements.

‘Leave?’ Vanderson sounded incredulous. ‘Leave all we have achieved? All the sweat and bitter labour we suffered to construct this settlement?’

Gerrun thought back to the construction of Lignetown. Vanderson got his dwellings built for him by the corp didn’t he? He couldn’t remember him sweating over the Town Hall’s foundations either.

‘We must not desert this world!’ Came Vanderson’s articulate words. ‘Our ancestors landed here over three hundred years ago. We own this world.’

‘You do.’ Thought Gerrun.

‘Each and ever one of us has put our lives into this project and I think we cannot desert it due to some dirt critters. We can take necessary measures and get the required supplies in the next shipment. We do not have to lose our properties and holdings!’

The crowd seemed quietened at these words. People began to argue how to remain in Lignetown safely. Gerrun walked out of the Forum back toward his cabin. A few others left with him, the Turnells, the Davidsons and a few of the outer town farmers. A few of the other colonists watched them leave, plaintively, but they themselves remained. Most kept their eyes on the orator and his vision of protection and security.

Gerrun decided to leave the settlement for the new landing site. It’d take two days to get there with his AT-trailer. Those who left with him, worried about the disappearance of the Davidsons, and at the depleted water levels, also felt urged to get out of the settlement. About half of the colonists decided to start the long trek along the valley to Kybe rock, where the side is shallow enough for the trailers to climb to the plateau. Vanderson and the others remained in the settlement.

Gerrun loaded his trailer with all his items of value. Much had to be left. In the half-darkness of the last few minutes of evening light, he made out catchers feasting on the remains of his root crops. He checked his delta rifle was loaded and moved towards them.

Trigger pulled, the catchers’ sharp mandibles clacked inquisitively as one of their companions exploded in a gush of brown, sappy liquid. Gerrun fired repeatedly. The catchers seemed unsure as to the direction of the attack. They quickly moved towards the points of impact as the minute shells ruptured the ground. The delta rifle’s shells sent vibrations throughout the ground, attracting more catchers.

Looking at the catcher mandibles, Gerrun noticed the huge jaw muscles and the long leverage the head tissues gave to the blades. The blades themselves, mainly made of calcium phosphate - around 97% - were as tough as mammal teeth enamel and able to cut through most materials below 7 Mohs. The small feelers that dragged along the ground sensed, with moderate sensitivity, movements of their prey. The catchers had velocity and acceleration unseen in human limbs, but at the cost of huge energy requirements. This kept catchers eating. They ate and ate.

Gerrun stopped firing after the energy pack ran out and the fluorescent ammo indicator fell into the red. He reloaded and then looked at the dozen of so catchers still feasting on their own dead. He wasn’t achieving anything. He threw the canister of pesticide into the group and shot it in the dead centre.

The canister exploded and showered the black beasts with deadly toxins. Partially created from beetle DNA, the catchers were susceptible to a few, concentrated poisons. The catchers spun in confusion, their nerves quickly losing sensation. He almost felt sorry for them in their blind ends. Almost.

He finished packing the trailer and closed his cabin door for the last time. He walked around to the back of the cabin, careful not to attract unwanted attention and, by flashlight, lay a small photograph by the three gravestones. He hammered the photo into the ground with a hooked nail to stop the wind stealing it away and paid his last respects to the most important people in his life. They lay there, deep in the earth. He however, couldn’t remain here, not for them. Not for the dead.

He climbed into his trailer and set out to the north-west, into the blackness, programming the route into the auto-pilot. Leaving Lignetown he was joined by several other trailers holding people also destined for the landing site.

Throughout the night, the trailers continued, automatically following the contours of the valley to Kybe rock. Their occupants slept, the slow grinding of the caterpillar tracks echoing off the valley walls in the darkness.

By mid-morning next day, the trailers had reached the top of the plateau and were heading toward the landing site. Comms confirmed the ship was on time. The previously crystalline sky was darkening with storm clouds. The trailers continued on the edge of the valley top, winding along the same dirt path they had used to reach the settlement, years before.

Night fell, and with still no word from Lignetown, the trailers reached the landing site. From the rim of the valley they could see the lights from Lignetown shining in the dark, but attempts to communicate were left with the crackling static of failed transmission. No messages were being sent. Gerrun vowed to investigate the problem with his jetbike when the sun broke the horizon again.

The morning sun, peeking out from gaps in the dark sea of clouds, brought warmth to the convey. Gerrun opened the sealed door of his trailer and stepped out, protected from the striking sun by the thin black skin of his suit. Mounting the jetbike, he rose into the air, the ground dropping away from his feet. He glided over the edge of the valley bluff, falling into the still shadowed depths. As he began to descend, a rolling crumbling sound was vaguely heard over the whining engines. Again the sound broke across the valley, piercing through the plastiglass shield. Gerrun understood this wild calling. It was the sound of divine anger, the forebringer of life, thunder. Suddenly, amid flashes of white lightning, rain spread, as a visible, tangible wave, across the valley floor, thick and forceful.

Gerrun landed the jetbike on a high mound in the centre of Lignetown, and stepped out in the driving rain. Already the small streams of water were running along the valley floor, and water was beginning to drain down from the plateau. The place would soon be in flood. He ran across the muddy ground, avoiding the pools of silty sunken sands forming in the earth. He reached the nearest building, the Town Hall and pressed the intercom.

No reply.

He read the notice on the side of the entrance: “Due to the increasing severity of the catcher attacks, all colonists will remain in the town hall at night for safety. Please comply.” That’s where they all were. He could see the other residential building had been broken into by catchers. The people had moved to the fortress of the Town Hall for protection. How could he tell them the Stellarship was almost here? He needed to get in and inform them. They weren’t responding to the intercom. The main doors were locked solidly shut. He had no way of telling them.

The rains poured down fiercely, and in the downpour, Gerrun noticed there was a small gap in the side entrance to the hall. Carefully he stepped across and wondered what this entailed. The side door should remain closed unless there was a fire. He opened the small door and gazed into the darkness. Darkness? The Town Hall had a good lighting system. He stepped inside, out of the rain and shone a light into the black. He quickly stumbled back into the pounding deluge. Just inside, on the polished white floor, lay a jet black, multi-legged beetle. It looked like a warped, overgrown cockroach, sharp mandibles and four drooping feelers and a hard matt shell. It was a catcher.

It was also dead.

He kicked the body along the ground, ensuring it was dead. He then ran, boots rising and falling in the deepening mud, back to the jetbike. Grabbing the sleek, slender delta rifle he kept in the side compartment, he ran back, loading the ammo slowly, with difficulty. Pushing open the door again he advanced into the blackness, sweeping his bright flashlight across the corridor behind. The grey walls fell away to rooms either side. He stopped at the third on the left, which led into the main hall, where the remaining colonists must be, and opened it, the pulsating glow of rifle illuminating the darkness. The light glanced across the floor. Beneath the light, more catcher corpses came into view, some partially broken. The catcher bodies were scattered around the entrance, close to his feet. Then his torch fell on the colonists. What was left of the colonists. Faces and features were indistinguishable. The catchers had eaten flesh and muscle. He recognised Vanderson’s blue suit, which he alone was permitted to wear, now clothing a mutilated body. He lowered his rifle and stepped back. Nothing.

That was when he saw it. His suit was suddenly ripped by the mandibles of a catcher, which, with great speed, had covered the distance from the darkness to his leg before his tired hands could react. Cursing at the intense pain he fired the rifle into the dark form, stepping back in panic. The vibrations of the exploding shot echoed across the hall.


He turned and started to run back down the corridor. From the backs of doors and the crevices they came, a black tide, chittering as their silent pads patted on the corridor floor. He turned to see the darkness running after him, and he dropped the rifle. Killing one seemed distilled futility. They swarmed after him, following his pounding footsteps. His breath was irregular and his heart pounded near its limit. His legs dragged themselves across the smooth surface, slipping on his boots' wet soles. The catchers gnawed at his ankle pads, clinging to his suit, biting into the plastics. The suit's leg fabrics were being shredded as he ran and the slicing blades of innumerable mouths cut deep into the clothes beneath. He reached the sidedoor, the catchers swelling round his feet. He grasped at the handle as the black mass clambered up his aching body, onto his torso and arms, biting, cutting. He wrenched it open, and the cleansing flood waters poured in. His hands reached out, ripped off the catchers, and he plunged into the acrid water, washing confused black shells away. The aqueous deaths of the catchers were unseen to him, as he desperately waded back to the mound and his jetbike. Turning back, he saw the catchers flooding out of the building, their legs twisting helplessly in the strange liquid. He leapt onto the mound, his bleeding flesh straining to get onto the jetbike. The plastiglass shield descended and he raised the bike and his soaked body back towards the sky, into the falling rains.

Whilst the jetbike rose back up to the plateau, Lignetown’s tiny buildings quietly drowned as the swollen waters crept up the valley sides. The Stellarship, with its vast bulk, sat on the landing site, currents of water flowing down its huge reflective hull. Slowly, its gaping cavernous entrance was swallowing the trailers driving up the wide landing ramp, one by one. He landed his jetbike, picked it up with one of the AT- trailer’s long mechanical arm, and drove up into protection of the Stellarship’s hold, the intricate steel shutters closing behind him. The ship’s boosters fired into the earth and it left Del3’s dark, drenched plains behind.

Gerrun stared at the image of Del3. He watched as the settlement got smaller and the valley got smaller and the planet got smaller. His eyes closed to the plaintive image and he sank back inside himself. He allowed darkness to close in on him and, as he slept, his world and the dead were all left behind.


© 1999 by Tom Oliver

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