Love on Atali 9

                                          /* ! */

    They walked along the beach at the end of the world, holding hands for the last time. Their footsteps left a trail in the dry grass that scratched bare legs and begged to be remembered. The ocean slithered up making it’s Sisyphean attempt at expanding its territory once again. Tendrils of swirling darkness washed over their bare feet before making a fast retreat. In it’s wake the roaring ocean peeled back to reveal wreckage in the sand, pieces of their life from the last three years.

“Smirking, really?”

“Yeah.”

“No. You’re not getting off that easy. I’m over here in deep introspection and you’re just having a laugh?”

“It feels like it would be easier to just laugh though, doesn’t it?”

    He turned his gaze from the sadness in the sand as the ocean covered it up once again, his future. Her walking slowed, she didn’t agree. She gripped his hand tighter and pulled his arm up around her shoulders. Walking for just a moment as they used to, it felt pointless now, despite the soft glow of nostalgia that prickled the back of his neck.

With shielded eyes he squinted southwards.

“We have another mile or so to go before the cliffs.”

“Okay.” She moved her hand away and wiped eyes with a balled fist.

Her tears were hot on his hands. He drew patterns on the back of her hand with his thumb he didn’t have the words.

“Veran, stop for a minute, please.”

“Do you think this is easy for me, I can’t stop.” he stormed ahead.”We have to see it, they need to know. They need to know as soon as possible.” His voice was hoarse from yesterday.

Elaine sat down on the cold sand and cried as he grew smaller and smaller on the horizon.

                                                       /*@*/

    The rod iron gate was the only thing she could bring for the yard. Space was limited. But after the first year the soil was ready. Veronica flowers were the first thing they planted, tall with dark purple feathers that wove through the gates filigree. Multicolored blanket flowers next, they spread out and controlled the yard. In the mornings she would have tea and wait in them until he was ready to go. Sometimes she would weave them into a cape or hat by the time they left. Their two bedroom place wasn’t fancy. But she didn’t sign up for that, she accepted living with her work. It was a prestigious job after all, her family ad friends back home would continue to boast about knowing somebody like her.

   The top of a bench from their lab washed up next to her. She looked around at the mess they made. Her ribs still hurt from yesterday. The cool tide came up again and she shivered. If only they left when they got the chance. That was selfish to think. A part of her ego liked that she would serve a purpose. Who doesn’t want to live on in the minds of others.

    He was stubborn. She didn’t regret him but it made things harder now, especially since they were the only ones left. The endless tide washed up around her again, she tried to remember when they would come down here to listen to it. Something wrapped around her foot and she jumped up. A woven crown of blanket flowers had somehow survived the explosion, she laughed and chased after him, calling out.

                                                        /*#*/

    He heard her yelling but he didn’t stop. The cliffs loomed ahead, each strata promising a story that would never be told. The path was steep, not dangerous. After an attempt at removing the sand from his feet he put shoes on and started the ascent.

“Wait!”

“I’ll wait at the top.”

She stopped to catch her breath before ascending in his wake.

    They stood together at the edge of the ocean watching the waves break against them for the last time, unnatural wind threatened to topple them.

“Can we go together?” She had to yell in the gusts of wind coming from the field behind them

He nodded.

“I could have loved you.” he whispered too soft for her to hear.
Hand in hand they turned to face the field behind them. Dominating the horizon the monstrosity they had awoken was still there. It rose from the ground on thirty long multi jointed legs, its torso an amalgamation of the very land itself. Its head if it had one was in the clouds. gradually reality slipped towards it like grains of sand slowly succumbing to the tides. They kept their eyes open as instructed but once they got closer to it all the feeds went black.

                                                        /*$*/

“We hardly saw the thing Colonel Vickers. How do you expect us to do anything with that footage?”
“I concur sir, but from these ten seconds.” He played the last few seconds of the clip again. “We can see that its operating like a black hole pulling in the matter around it.”

“But for what, and how? Why did we have to sacrifice years of planning and two of our best terraformers for that?”

“Play the other clips.” Vickers said with a purposeful sigh before slumping to his chair.”

Silently flickering images of the black hole things lit up the walls around the briefing hall. Major General Carlyle Sutherland’s mouth fell open.

“We-we-well how many?” he stammered.
“Of the ten terraforming expeditions we’ve received footage like this from eight. One initial lander had ‘complications’ and the tenth hasn’t sent any data our way in almost a day. Something has already colonized this system sir. We should make defensive preparations immediately. They are a good 2 light years away, but I wouldn’t doubt some kind of FTL tech.
“No.” Sutherland interrupted. “The public must never know. The investors must never know. Delete these feeds immediately the videos, the memories, the audio, the sensory inputs, everything.” With that he stood and made his exit.
Colonel Vickers did as ordered but not before sending copies of the feeds to his sister. He would be dead within the hour for doing so. From his pocket he produced the blue and black armband of the resistance. He cracked the pill in his molar loose with his tongue and took a long swill of scotch from a flask. He pulled the armband on and smiled. The memories his brother relayed back from Atali 9 would not be forgotten. He thought about an afterlife where he could poke fun at his brothers last words. He laughed and said them too before closing his eyes, confident that their sacrifices would not be in vain.
“I could have loved you.”

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