Author: Dave Ludford
He reached the brow of the steep hill just before noon with the blazing sun at its apex making him feel drowsy and slightly nauseous. He dismounted from the equus and the sure-footed but cumbersome beast grunted in relief. The sense of unease he’d felt all morning seemed to be getting stronger and it was as he looked down into the valley below that the feeling quickly turned to shock and disbelief: the city lay in ruins, the crumbling dust of its once solid walls mixing in swishing wind-whipped swirls with the sand of the vast surrounding desert. His home had been reduced to rubble; the three towers that had stood proud and mighty for eight centuries now no more than piles of sandstone bricks. Resisting the urge to vomit, he grabbed the equus’ reigns and stumbled awkwardly down the descending slope feeling partly reluctant to investigate further but with the overwhelming need to know what had happened.
He was no more than just a few feet away from the first pile of debris- he recognized part of what had once been the justice buildings- when he heard the sound of a wretched voice calling out a name in desperation, quickly followed by the sad, stooping figure of that voice’s owner.
“Saul, is that you?” he shouted.
“Jacob? Oh thank goodness you’re safe and well.”
“Saul, what has happened here? Who is responsible for this outrage?”
The old man- dressed in ragged robes and with the gaunt look of the terminally ill- replied in a voice barely audible to Jacob: “We did this, my friend. It was us.” He then sat himself down wearily on a large stone, sinking his head into his hands.
“What do you mean, it was us?” Jacob responded as he approached Saul.
Saul took a few deep breaths before looking up into Jacob’s eyes.
“Our kin. People from Earth, the old planet. A huge vessel appeared without warning two days ago and…you must have still been out hunting…in the forest…you wouldn’t have seen…”
The effort of speaking seemed to tire the old man further.
“But why? I don’t understand…we’re human, just as they are, descendants of traders and missionaries who established a colony, then a city here on this planet, centuries ago…”
“I know, I know…it seems- according to the vessel’s captain, who at least showed us the courtesy of a visit before unleashing this carnage, or testing out some new advanced weaponry, as he put it – that Earth is now largely uninhabitable due to climate degradation. The military-industrial complex needs a new home, and this is the chosen location, being of course already known to them. The ideal place, in fact. They’ll be moving in soon, en masse.”
Jacob was silent for several minutes before speaking again.
“Saul, where is everyone? Not all dead, surely?”
“Those few who survived fled to the Sitak hills. Perhaps we can survive there, perhaps not…we have no way of leaving this world, after all.”
“And your wife? Where’s Gina?”
Saul gestured expansively.
“Buried here, somewhere, beneath this wreckage. I’ve been searching for her…”
“I still can’t believe…it’s just industrial-scale murder, not progress.”
“We’re collateral damage. You’ve read the old books, Jacob. Mankind’s capacity for violence and destruction knows no bounds, especially in the pursuit of power and profit.”
“Saul, we must leave here quickly. Catch up with the others and at least try to make a go of things.”
The old man nodded his understanding, just as the skies darkened with the arrival of the first wave of vessels from the doomed old planet.