Blasts whiz by. Flashes of white that can turn you into red dust. My lungs gasp for breath. The kid is already heavy in my arms. My head hurts and I have to blink my eyes rapidly to clear them of particulates. Red dust permeates the air.
“Hang on kid,” I murmur reassuringly and my voice calms him down. He stops struggling and clings tightly to me. Arms wrapped round my neck. Head bobbing next to mine as I pump my knees and make for the cluster of buildings ahead.
Screams. Somewhere behind me. Abruptly silenced. The throaty growl of blasters. Damn it! These are Regulators. This is completely outside the law. I have no time to think and I need to work out what’s happening. What my options are.
I make it to the cluster of buildings with my lungs burning. Vision blurry.
“Open up!” I yell and pound at the central one. Big armored steel door. I turn to look at one of the cameras positioned outside. “Take the kid!”
The door swings open on whisper-quiet hinges. Surreal quality adding to the nightmare. Inside it’s darkness and rough hands seize me, pull me in. The door shuts again. Low bulbs instantly come to life. The contrast and sequence of events adds to the nightmare. Nothing feels real.
“Sef?” a voice I recognise.
I nod during my ascent. “The kid,” I begin.
“He’ll be OK,”
“Regulators. Corporation attack.”
It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense. My eyes itch from the red dust. My head hurts. A lot. And now, as the adrenaline dials down, I think I can taste the red dust in my mouth.
“We’re safe here,” says someone.
He’s wrong. We’re not. I saw the Regulators outside. Saw the weapons they carried. I still hold a blaster in one hand. As if to punctuate my thoughts there is a massive blast blow to the door. It clangs with the noise of tortured metal, but holds.
People jostle me and I lose my footing. Fall to the floor on all fours.
“Sef!” the familiar voice again. I know the face but the name doesn’t come to me. It occurs to me that no one knows me by that name here. The thought vanishes.
“Have you seen my wife?” a voice. More. They ask each other about family, friends, loved ones. The ones caught outside. The red dust.
Someone steps on my hand and I cry out. My voice is lost as another massive clang comes from the door.
I move instinctively, crawling on all fours, still. I get up as soon as I can and sprint for the back of the building, pushing through the press of bodies around me.
“Sef!” the voice calling me by a name it shouldn’t. Not here. I don’t look back. I feel like I want to die. I grit my teeth. Stand up. Begin to run.
I reach the back of the structure just as there is one more massive clang. I am looking for a way out. My head hurts.
Luck more than anything else leads me to a service door. It’s at the very back of the structure. Away from the crowd and the yells. It looks like an airlock except there is no need for airlocks on Orion. We’re on a rock.
CLANG! The sound gets louder. CLANG!
My hands spin the wheel locks.
I pull back the thick door step inside. Close it.
The floor beneath my feet vanishes.
CLANG! Above me. Bright light.
I fall. Darkness around me. It’s hard to breathe and I realize why there was an airlock. Some kind of pneumatic tube. A means of transporting stuff around the colony buildings. I brace myself for the impact.
It never comes. Hot, red air swirls around me. Red air? RED AIR? My head hurts. I try to understand. I am still falling. The structure I’d been in is no more. I feel more than see the moment its molecules turn to dust. Banned weapons. The Regulators using dematerialization bombs. Souped-up versions of the blasters. My hand is still clutched around mine.
Red dust everywhere. I can’t breathe.
“SEF!” Reed’s familiar voice breaks through to me. My eyes blink and the red dust fades away.
“All those people,” I groan. The pain in my head is worse.
“It’s okay Sef, you’re safe here,” Reed’s trying to be soothing. He’s failing.
“They’re all dead,” I say. “Turned to dust,”
“It’s OK,” Reed says. He looks over his shoulder and someone I have never seen before appears on cue.
“I-” I try to get up. Fail. My head … There’s a dry touch to my neck. Something stings. Then. Nothing.