Excerpt from the Chapter "The Perseus Spiral Arm" of the Book "To Break Bread with Strangers"
Crossing into Dusmanyu space, Zimudar returns to her home planet.
“Crossing in three hours,” Captain Hurin announced.
Namazu bit her lip.
“Hurin continued, “No activity in orbit,” she said referring to Ditallu, the first planet inside the border. “…a few dead scanners.”
Namazu pressed a control, “I’ll take the Ukhu to Dusmanyu space. Zimudar and Taharqo, keep your ships back.” Namazu thought it better to take one small fighter, heavily shielded, to avoid detection.
“Scanning Ditallu,” Zimudar radioed. Namazu heard desperation in her voice. “Not much there. Oceans almost gone.”
Namazu looked at images on the display, a dark planet, bathed in red gases.
“Commander?” Zimudar asked. “There may be traps. Since I am familiar with the topography, I request permission to land.” Namazu knew she wanted to go to the surface, not because she knew the topography, but because it had been her home. She lived there as a child, leaving with refugees during recent wars.
“You’re not crossing that border without me,” Taharqo messaged.
Namazu nodded. “You and Zimudar get over here, ASAP.”
She looked at Hurin.
“Still nothing, Commander,” she responded. “Dead space. No activity, no scanners.”
“How far to Dusmanyu bases?”
“Nothing for a hundred light years. It’s a good place to cross,” Hurin responded.
“Anything from the surface?”
“No life, nothing,” Captain Hurin answered again.
“Hmmm,” Namazu began. “Maybe they left the planet as a warning?”
Hurin looked up as the hydraulic door slid open. Zimudar entered, her organic helmet glinting in dim light. She sat down behind Hurin.
“Commander,” Zimudar began. “I have fought them. I know their tricks. They leave traps, lures, honeypots. I should be the only one to go down.”
“Aya will accompany you,” Namazu asserted.
“But, Commander,” Zimudar began.
“It is decided,” Namazu said again.
Aya stood from her position at Navigation. A Chava female, not mixed with cyborg races like Zimudar, she stood tall, strong, with broad shoulders. The organic shielding on her head molding her face into reptilian-like features. Zimudar, shorter, thinner and pale, hardly even looked Chava. Her only armor being a smooth helmet, covering her skull. A glowing implant on her forehead belied her mixed heritage.
“Admiral,” Hurin began. “An energy source from a structure, in what looks like a burnt-out city.” She swallowed hard and looked at Zimudar, “Near a small lake.”
Zimudar turned to examine data and images on the screen.
“The capital city,” she offered. “We can land there.” She turned to face Namazu. “That lake used to be an inland sea. We can take a small shuttle. You will need a breather and visor, Aya.”
Aya turned to leave the bridge when the hydraulic door slid open again. Taharqo entered with helmet in hand.
“You’re not going to the surface,” Namazu asserted.
“But, I brought my helmet,” Taharqo teased, flashing a bright smile.
“You can stay here. Help me look for weapons buoys,” Namazu said.
“Yes Ma’am,” he responded.
Namazu motioned for him to sit at the seat Aya just vacated.
They crowded into the small shuttle, not much larger than an escape pod. Aya’s broad shoulders pushed against Zimudar in the capsule.
“No room to attach the breather,” Aya stated flatly.
Zimudar turned sideways to give her more space.
“Where will we set down?” Aya asked, snapping the breather into place.
Zimudar sighed as doors to the shuttle bay slid away. “Did you know that Ditallu was a Chava colony?”
“I knew we colonized systems on both sides of the border.”
“The Chava abandoned us during the Catastrophe,” Zimudar continued, fastening a visor onto her organic helmet.
Aya looked at her, but was hesitant to reply.
“My ancestors were among those left. Over centuries, different races attacked, conquered, destroyed and rebuilt our cities. As you can see, I only bear only vestiges of Chava physiology.”
Aya looked ahead as the capsule slid out of the bay and turned towards the dark planet. “In the old language, Ditallu means ashes,” she offered.
“An accurate name,” Zimudar continued. Looking below, she felt something, an echo perhaps, the screams and desperation of those who bodies still lay on the surface.
A computer voice sounded, “Maneuvering to avoid planetary defenses.”
Both women were thrown to the left, then to the right, as a bright white beam shot past them.
Aya pressed a control on a thin strip of metal in front of her. The computer voice continued, “No life forms on surface.”
Zimudar looked at her, “Defenses are still active?” Looking down, she saw the source of the beam as another flash shot towards them. “That’s where we’re going, the capital. My home, Dabdu.”
“Atmosphere too thin to support life,” Aya responded.
The capsule set down on a flat, hard surface. Pressurized doors slid open and the two women stepped out onto a wasteland. Around them, were signs of powerful blasts, deep holes, vitrified sand, concrete, and twisted metal thrown into piles. The sky, a menacing red, thin clouds slid above. Burnt remains of metal towers cast grotesque shadows in dim light.
Zimudar shivered. A hardened warrior, she had not expected to be afraid. Looking around, sights and sounds not imagined since childhood intruded. Placing her hands over the sides of her helmet, as if to cover her ears, she heard the crashing, ripping sounds of collapsing buildings, the screams of injured people. She saw torn bodies in the streets, herself as a little girl, covered with dust and blood.
Another bright white light flashed in the distance.
“There,” Zimudar said, grateful to be pulled away from haunting memories. She pointed towards the source of the light. “It’s automated.”
“Can’t reach Namazu,” Aya said, pressing controls on her visor. “Defense technology blocking communications?”
Zimudar reached up to press a control. She looked concerned and pressed it again. “Me neither. Let’s keep trying.”
Their boots made clicking sounds on baked ground, its uneven surface turned to sheets of glass. The remains of structures, sharp and jagged, jutted from the wreckage of a once beautiful city.
Flashes of light grew brighter as they approached the weapon, their visors darkening protectively.
Aya gasped, stopping in her tracks.
“What’s wrong?” Zimudar asked.
She turned her head to the right, shining the light from her helmet towards it. “I thought I saw someone move over there,” she said pointing to the right.
“That can’t be. There is no life.”
“Robots? Automation?” Aya offered.
“I don’t detect movement.”
“If there is an intelligence here, we need to report it.”
“Let’s keep watching,” Zimudar said. Feeling death around her, she clutched the weapon at her belt. Chills went up the back of her neck.
“Do you recognize landmarks?” Aya asked.
“I was so young. I can’t remember. It was surrounded by water. There were inlets, bridges, water birds.” She took a deep breath and continued. “Flowering trees in a park at the city center. I recognize nothing.”
They continued walking. The light flashed again causing a shard of something on the ground to reflect the light like a mirror.
“Zimudar knelt down. Dusting off the reflective object, she pulled at a corner, breaking it off. She stood again, shining the light from her helmet onto it. She turned her head, as if trying to remember. The light flashed again, revealing markings, writing on the object.
“I can’t read it. Does this make sense to you?” she said handing the object to Aya.
She flicked the light source on her helmet, increasing the intensity of the beam. Turning the object, she smiled. “It is close enough to Chava. I recognize a few letters,” she said. “A piece of signage, looks like the word, Memorial.”
Zimudar looked into the distance. Then turned to Aya. “There,” she said. “Follow me.”
They walked to a wide ditch. At the bottom, they saw a shallow body of reflective liquid, rippling like water.
“This is it,” Zimudar said. “The park at the city center. It was called Tahazu Memorial.” She walked closer to the edge of the ditch. “This was the lake.” She looked ahead at a heap of black twisted metal. “That was the Civic Center,” she said. “This park, and the Civic Center commemorated a battle. The battle of Tahazu.” She looked across the expanse, trying to remember.
Aya turned away quickly.
She stepped into a clearing. “Something is following us,” she whispered. Aya pointed her light towards beams of twisted metal.
“You go on. I’m going to find out what that is.” Aya turned to the right.
Zimudar watched her. Feelings of isolation grew stronger. Fear mounted as Aya walked away. She saw the panic in her mother’s face as they ran towards an escape vessel. The crash of debris and dust. The last thing she remembered was being pulled from her dead mother’s arms.
Her last memories of home.
Originally posted on Scriggler.com.