taking joy in human unreason

First Sight

Ginber 04, 000165

Hardi's eyes snapped open and she sat up in the dark. She shivered, pushing off her damp blankets. Markos, her bedmate, mumbled and rolled away from her fidgeting.

She looked at the bedside clock blearily, then ran a hand over her eyes and stared at the numbers again, her heart racing. She got up and stumbled to the bathroom and splashed water over her face until the world righted itself a little.

Hardi glanced up into the mirror, frowning slightly at the vivid bruise she sported over her cheekbone. She touched it gingerly, glad the swelling was down.

It had been a rough weekend. Markos has been turned down for a promotion at his yearly review. Hardi hadn't known and had been prepared to celebrate his sure-to-come success. He'd come home late and already drunk, and when she greeted him with a smile, he'd returned the smile with a closed fist to her face.

He hadn't been sober for longer than a couple of hours the entire weekend.

She stepped out of the bathroom just enough to look again at the clock — 3:32 a.m. Markos watched her from the bed.

"Are you okay?" he asked in a concerned tone.

Hardi touched her face again carefully. "Of course. I'm going to go out for a bit."

Markos narrowed his eyes.

"If... if that's okay," Hardi amended.

His brow eased a bit. "It's really late. Or really early. You've got work in the morning."

"I just want to get a bit of air," she replied, picking up running clothes. "I won't be out very long."

Markos laid back down on his back with a chuckle. "Well, you better not being going out to see some other man, girl. I'd get pretty pissed if you did."

Hardi suppressed a shudder. "I know, dear. I won't be long, and I'm just going out for a run."

Markos just grunted, half asleep already.

Hardi changed quickly and slipped her comm in her pocket in silent mode.

She hit the streets running, heading out of her tiny town, out into the desert. She ran straight towards Hun and Han, both heavy and pale blue in the eastern sky.

She felt herself slowing down as the eastern horizon began to lighten. She glanced back to see how far she'd come and felt her vision skew painfully as she turned.

She was suddenly in a mob, her feet barely on the ground as she was pushed and shoved with the mass of bodies. She coughed convulsively, lungs burning with heat and smoke. Her hand gripped Layla's relentlessly as the crowd moved them away from the building, the explosion and the fires. She couldn't lose her daughter in this crowd. She couldn't, or she'd never find her again.

"Look!" someone shouted, and she looked up in hope. There was another shuttle flying overhead. She couldn't see any of the markings on it in the haze of smoke, but it had to be someone called in to evacuate them.

She gave a pull to bring Layla along as she tried to move towards where the shuttle would land, but her hand was empty. She gasped and turned, coughing fit renewed as she looked in vain for Layla.

"No! Layla!" she shouted.

"Bitch, don't stop!" growled a voice as she was shoved out of the way.

Layla had to be there somewhere. She was so small, she had to be found before she got trampled...

Hardi came to, finding herself kneeling in the sand, gasping for air. She gratefully gulped the clean desert air and tried to still her shaking hands. She stomach heaved, but she pushed down the urge.

She looked carefully back towards the eastern horizon, which hadn't lightened noticably. Turning didn't cause another... vision.

Getting to her feet, Hardi started walking back to town, thinking sluggishly as she pulled out her comm. She started a message to Jon Ettler, her psychiatrist, describing the weird... dream.

"I had a slightly stressful weekend," she wrote, "but I didn't think I'd go stark raving mad in the middle of the desert. Let me know if you have any opinions on this. I'm fairly sure I just need more sleep." She signed the note and sent it.

Still strolling back towards town, she followed a hunch and searched through news reports. She called up recent news on bombings, finding nothing within the last couple of weeks. She used the quick reference planetarium on the comm to get a list of planets with blood red skies with one moon, as the place in the dream had. She found four, two of which were populated: Shani and Ming Ung.

She picked up her pace to a slow jog as she switched back to the news. A new news item was at the top of the list, and she clicked to play it audibly.

"Norton News, bringing it to you first, gentlepeople," said a garishly cheerful newsanchor. "We have breaking news of violence on the colony Ming Ung, but first, a word from our sponsors, who make it all possible."

Hardi clenched her teeth in frustration, then winced when it twinged her bruised jaw. She resumed a smooth run as she waited through the several minutes of commercials.

The creepily cheerful anchor was back. "Thanks for watching Norton News, where we give it to you straight. Murray, tell us about this little 'terrorism' incident. It was on... Ming Ung, right?"

"That's right, Stephanie," Murray said jovially. "Ming Ung is a secluded colony out in the boonies, founded by some, shall we say, 'religiously-minded folks' about 50 years ago."

"That's great background information, Murray," Stephanie replied, "but where's the scoop? That's what Norton News viewers really want to know."

"Of course, Stephanie." The screen changed to show a fly-by shot of a city under a red sky. A large building — the largest visible in the city — had a smoking hole in the side. People ran through the streets in panic.

Murray continued, "The news is that just 22 minutes ago, Jai, the capital city of Ming Ung, suffered a horrible terrorist attack. At least hundreds are dead and they just don't have the resources to pull off an evacuation."

Stephanie looked very worried. "So we aren't sure what's going to happen to them yet?"

"Oh, I'm sure Norton News will organize a great drive to help the folks there out," Murray said. "And there's no doubt there will be some investigation into the matter."

Stephanie looked back into the camera. "Well, there you have it, Norton News viewers. We brought it to you first, within 17 minutes of the incident occurring, whereas the other networks are just now starting to tease their viewers. We'll be right back after these commercials."

Hardi turned off the news and forwarded a link to Ettler, adding the note, "I'm pretty sure this is what I saw. Check the timestamp on it."

Hardi slipped the comm back into her pocket and pushed the pace, ready to be home safe.

Next story: The Welcome Goodbye

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