Shaking his head slightly, Drake took another hit off his inhaler and considered the bizarre concept of Earth worship. He had learned about the planet in school, and had listened with an open mind when hard-core Earthers had spoken to him at great length of the benefits of worshipping the astral sphere which had birthed them and sent them on their cosmic quest, but to him the whole concept seemed pretty far-fetched. Of course, the vast city-ship on which they lived had to have come from somewhere; at some point in the distant past someone or something had constructed the mighty USS McAdam and sent it on its way, supposedly with some ultimate destination in mind. But to think that anyone on the ship actually knew its true origins was just ridiculous; too many centuries had passed since the ship launched; too many computer malfunctions, human errors, and political shenanigans had transpired for any real proof of Earth to remain. Better to deal with the realities of today, Drake believed, and leave the mysteries to the past.
Drake was pulled out of his reverie by a child’s shrill cry; across the parking lot a small girl tugged insistently at her mother’s skirt while pointing up and to the East.
He smiled. The huge bank of lights which orbited the ship once every 24 hours did so without deviation - though the Eastern sky did take on a pretty purple hue as the lights dipped below the horizon in the West, it was the exact same pretty purple hue every single day; only a child or a simpleton would find it exciting. Drake dropped the NicoStix into his pocket and put his little car into reverse.
As he checked his rear-view mirror, he caught sight of a young couple, staring wide-eyed towards the sunset. What the heck … Drake put his car in park and stepped out onto the pavement, squinting towards the East for any sign of whatever these people found so interesting. He stared at the pretty purple sky for a full sixty seconds, finally grunting in annoyance and turning back towards his car. As he placed his hand on the door handle, a chorus of oohs and ahhs arose from the people in the parking lot, and he spun around just in time to catch a bright splash of colour coruscating across the Eastern sky.
Drake gasped audibly. The shield surrounding the ship was designed to absorb harmful radiation, converting into harmless light energy. The multicoloured light generated was usually barely visible, and only at the darkest time of night; for the light to show so vividly at sunset would require an absolutely enormous amount of radiation.
He pulled out his phone and called up a news site, hoping to find out just what the fuck was going on. His finger shook as he scrolled through the headlines, none of which made any mention of what was causing the light show. Shoving the phone back into his pocket, he looked up at the shifting colours, which were now glowing continuously. He took a deep breath, struggling to control his trembling.
Truth was, there was probably nothing to worry about; the shield technology was robust, and just about everything on the ship had been over-engineered, with built-in redundancies in all of the major components, as well as many of the minor ones. In theory, the ship should be able to take just about any kind of radiation that came its way. Still, Drake couldn’t help but feel alarmed at this sudden drastic change in his heretofore dull, but relatively safe, environment. He had just about gotten his trembling under control when the thought occurred to him that the whole ship might be getting hit; just because the colours couldn’t be seen in the bright daylight above and to the West didn’t mean they weren’t there.
Concerned for his wife, Drake spun around and pulled open his car door, then froze as a bright white flash of light appeared in his peripheral vision. He turned and saw two consecutive pillars of energy appear between the sky and some point behind the convenience store. They were gone again in an instant, but the light was bright enough to burn a temporary image into his retinas, and everywhere he looked he saw the ghostly outline of bright white fire.
There was another bright flash, much closer, and a terrified scream. Drake jerked his head up towards the sound, trying to blink away the images which still floated before his eyes. The young girl who had been admiring the sky with her boyfriend was now alone, staring in horror at a slightly discoloured spot on the pavement where her companion had stood. She turned towards Drake, and her pleading eyes met his just as another pillar of energy touched down, enveloping and, as far as Drake could tell, vaporizing her completely.
An elderly gentleman and the girl behind the counter hurried out of the GoMart, the old man fainting as the GoMart girl fell victim to one of the beams. By the time the little girl had disappeared, Drake had fallen into a strange stupor; everything around him had taken on a surreal sharpness, a vividness he would have heretofore thought impossible. He stood with his hand on the car door, part of his brain screaming for him to flee, while another part experienced guilt for the feeling of excitement which coursed through his tingling, paralyzed limbs. Is this what it’s like to really be alive?
He was smiling when the beam hit him.