THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Hot air scalds my cheeks, flinging dirt across me. The stars stand out stark against velvet black. There’s a heavy thrumming, like a swarm of bugs. My dazed eyes look around, confused. No bug here is big enough. The sky melds into trees that dissolve into the melted remains of the colony. Steel and wood stand eerily in the first planet’s orange glow. Suddenly I can’t see. Everything is gone in a wash of white light, disturbing in its brilliance. The grass flattens and dries up, three circles for three VTOL engines. The sides are dull, silver pockmarked with black debris. I suddenly can’t breathe. Eight years of waiting, wondering if they would ever come back for me, dissolve in a heartbeat. They can’t be here. This is my home. My place. They would never understand its fragility. The bright light dims slightly and I can just make out the flashing red bulb before metal slides into earth, obscuring it from view. The forest is silent around me. All the animals had the common sense to leave, something I seem desperately to be lacking. I crouch behind a tree, nails digging into the soft blue bark, careful of the thorns. A shadow, a footstep…they were coming.