September 23, 2019

Free Fiction Friday: Shadowfall Part Four

Fans of extrasolar eclipses and free science fiction rejoice: here is our final chapter installment of Shadowfall. Newcomers will want to start back on Chapter 1. And here, without further fanfare is the action-packed conclusion:

Shadowfall

by David A. Dickinson

Chapter 4

“I’d stay back, fry-bait,” he called back to her. She was silent and pulled in closer. She felt beyond dead now. She’d let him waste precious breaths taunting her.

“Y’know, some folks just ain’t cut out to be Guardians,” he continued, reaching into his vest. “They ain’t cold-blooded enough to take the heat,”

Kendra saw a flash over Herrick’s shoulder and ducked intuitively. A flechette whizzed by her head. She’d heard of Shadowfall runners outright attacking other recruits before, and though it wasn’t against the rules, it was looked down upon by full-fledged Guardians.

“You’ll die out here,” Garath hollered up to Herrick with all of the breath that he could muster.

“You think a Swarmer would care?”  Herrick said, letting loose another volley back into the pack. Kendra ducked and rolled, knowing that she was losing precious ground every time she did so. She just got back onto her feet to see Garath go down as a flechette volley caught him in the face.

He didn’t shout, didn’t whimper. Kendra didn’t know him that well, other than he was from Grimm’s Planet, where they trained and dreamed to one day run a Shadowfall. If only one of the newbies were to finish today, she would’ve bet that it would’ve been him.

She felt nothing with his loss.

She didn’t even feel the tortuous slap of the desert pavement under her feet now, or feel the death that hovered inches from her face. She took on and faced the pain that she felt right down to the roots of her fingernails, and then asked for more.

She would end.

Shadowfall would end.

Humanity and the universe, a walking, running contradiction of itself would finally end, even as the ticking of the passage of time dragged on into infinity and the cogs of eclipses ground to a halt.

Kendra dodged another volley. She reached down and grabbed a handful of stones. They blistered to the touch. She began throwing them at Kendrick as fast as she could.

“Nice try,” He said, dodging her throws, even as one stung his neck. She thought she might’ve landed a hit on his hydro-pack, as she saw a trail on trickling moisture soak into the thirsty soil below.

Their numbers had dwindled until a handful of them remained chasing the shadow. The eclipsed Sun had sunk lower, stretching the shadow of the ancient moon out across the bleached planet’s surface towards the horizon. Kendra knew the race would be over once the shadow reached the terminator and they were finally in permanent darkness. The angle of the eclipsed Sun above the horizon was their only gauge to the finish line that presumably lay ahead.

Still, she dimly wondered if she even wanted to be a Guardian now, to uphold and promote this endless and senseless cycle of death. Perhaps she’d instead desert and head out beyond the Rim with the first patrol that she was assigned to… were the Swarmers really all that bad? Weren’t they just one of nature’s solutions to the same dilemma of how to kill and not be killed in this stupid universe?

A bolt whizzed past her ear.

“That came from beyond the shadow,” a voice cried out.

Several more shots followed, forcing Kendra to duck behind the nearest berm. She was losing time and she knew it, but at this point, she at least felt it might be better than losing her life like the rest.

“Stalkers!” She heard someone else call out, shortly Kendra dropped to the desert floor to dodge another salvo.

Kendra remembered the stories whispered in training of how creatures that were not quite human lurked in the sand pits of Priea and preyed on the slow ones, the ones who slid outside the shadow. Kendra had dismissed these as mere scare tactics, that is, until now.

How would they survive in such a forlorn place?

Still, Kendra knew as she pulled her sun blanket back over her head that she had a stark reality to face. She quickly shoved thoughts of Yeara’s death and the sweet cool waters of home deep down inside of her.

A swarm of Bailey’s Beads again erupted on the limb of the ancient moon which now hung low like a squashed egg on the horizon. The swollen star’s intensity had been cut down through the atmospheric murk, and Kendra knew the finish line had to be near based on its proximity to the horizon. Perhaps it had always been near, as death had whizzed by all along only inches away.

Kendra threw the sun blanket off and stood up. Her peeled skin barely felt the stinging sand kicked up by the building winds that signaled the approach of night. All other runners were either dead or scampering for cover. Would they survive to tell the tale of the Massacre at Shadowfall?

“Go ahead, take me out!” Kendra shouted, waiting for a hail of projectiles to meet her.

The Stalkers approached her. She saw their ragged runner’s garb and the inverted insignia of a Guardian on one that beckoned to her.

“Welcome home,” The leader said, as she extended an iron gloved hand.

The sun set behind them and the shadow of the jagged moon fell across Kendra one last time.

The End.

Be sure to check out Shadowfall in its entirety and other original scifi tales by yours truly, including our latest release, A Standard of Deviation.

Shadowfall, like Exeligmos arose from an idea to incorporate solar and lunar eclipses in sci-fi tales. But what started as one solitary tale quickly evolved into six, which are all now in various states of production.

So its safe to say that more is to come!

Next Week: We’ll be starting into our solar system-spanning space opera Solar Winds!

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