As eclipse season one of two continues, so does the eclipse-fueled scifi here at Astroguyz.com. This week, we start in with an original four part tale: What kind of bizarre eclipses might occur on distant worlds? Our latest tale Shadowfall gives eclipse chasing a bizarre — and deadly — twist:
by David A. Dickinson
“C’mon kid,” Kendra heard Merak huff under his breath. “You’ve just gotta make it over this salt pan…”
Kendra knew it was a joke, of course, but she still lacked the will to turn around and slap him.
“What do you mean,” she heard Yeara call out from far in front, not even bothering to look back. “Out there, from behind the next barren salt pan?”
“You guys are just wasting energy,” Garath hollered back to all of them. “I’ll pass your drying skeletons next saros ‘round.”
“A lovely sentiment,” Kendra said under her breath to no one in particular.
She’d tried not to notice the appearance of an occasional skull and rib cage that jutted up from the crust of the desert pavement under her feet. Instead she ran faster, keeping her eyes focused on the distant flat horizon, with its flat grey expanse reaching up to meet the metallic blue sky. All around them, brighter stars and planets burned through, though the bloated red sun was high overhead, trying its best to fry their soft bodies to a crisp. Kendra knew that only the ancient backwards moving moon and their own two feet kept this grim fate from becoming a reality.
“Why don’t they just haul the old bodies off?” Yera asked, half knowing the answer.
“It’s not worth the effort,” Kendra replied. “No one comes here to this old husk of a world any more. Why would they?”
“Just us,” Merak called out. “We’re the only ones crazy enough to tease hell.”
Kendra tried to ignore the burning in her lungs that stretched down to the very soles of her feet. She felt like someone had struck a match inside of her and was now slowly roasting her from the inside out.
She stuffed the sensation as deep inside of herself as she could. These weren’t her friends anymore. Not if she wanted to survive. She tried not to think of home, or the lush blue waters of Slonath.
“Folks used to live here, y’know,” Merak said, pulling up along side of her. “Heck, they used to spend fortunes back on old Terra just to witness what’s going on over our heads just now.”
“Folks are crazy,” Yera barely huffed under her breath.
Was she faking it or dropping? Kendra thought to herself. She was so strong back on Grimm’s Planet…
“…and besides, those are just stories parents tell their kids when they don’t want ‘em to grow up and become spacer pilots.”
“The umbra is life,” Garath quoted their instructor, “Stay inside it and live.”
Kendra looked above her as the ghostly white glow of the corona shown down on them. Was that a flash? Was she falling behind? Were they even moving in the right direction? She saw rows of shadow bands race past her, a sure sign that she was on the grim edge of the moon’s shadow as it raced across the ancient and desiccated face of Priea.
She squinted to get a better look at the Elites. Herrick would be there, their trainer from back on Grimm’s Planet.
“They… say… if you run fast enough, you can get ahead of it, and take a ten minute break… before it catches up.” Kendra didn’t want to know who said that, and she forced herself to not even entertain the idea of stopping now.
“Don’t listen to him,” Yeara told her. “We’ll be passing his body burnt to a crisp at marker one.”
“I wonder how long you can really manage to live outside the shadow…” the boy continued, slowing pace. “Maybe they’re lyin’ to us…”
Kendra continued to concentrate and focus straight ahead. “There,” she said. “There’s Herrick.”
She could just see his tall wiry form in the muted light, rhythmically slapping out an intimidating pace. Unlike many of the other Elites, he disdained use of polarizing visors or smart wicking fabrics and preferred instead to run mostly unencumbered.
“And he’s not even augmented,” Yeara once whispered to her in training.
“This is his third Shadowfall,” Kendra said, noting the three diagonal hash marks tattooed on his leg. “He does this for fun.”
In the days leading up to their drop off on this scorched world, Kendra had tried to wrap her mind around what that meant. Fun had been the furthest thing from their minds when Kendra and the hundred-odd eligibles of the Diaspora had signed up to complete their first Shadowfall. They were 16 Terran years old, and some of them came from as far away as the outer Comet Cloud just for a chance to compete. Of course, most of the Diaspora tried to ignore the bleak reality that was Shadowfall. Many thought it was at most a diversion, a nod back to the days of human savagery.
“Most of you won’t make it,” Herrick told them in a flat baritone voice on their very first day. “In the 30 hours it’ll take to reach the Terminator, most of you will simply fall back beyond the umbra and fry. Others of you may succumb to… other hazards. This isn’t your Mom’s garden tea party on Jangor now.”
Kendra had looked around her on that first training day at the glowing faces of hopefuls. Shadowfall was legend on some worlds, and some trained their whole lives for it. On other worlds, participation was expected; a family rite that bordered on the religious. You could tell the type, kids like Garath with a thousand-yard stare that looked old beyond their years.
And then there were the thrill seekers, those who’d grown tired of the predictability of virtual reality and now seemed bent on taunting the real thing.
Kendra was none of these. She could have declined the chance to run Shadowfall, but like most of the kids on Slonath, she’d thrown herself at a chance to escape the life in the slums that she would face otherwise. Completing a Shadowfall was a threshold, a gateway to a life as a Guardian and a way out of crushing servitude. A Guardian’s word was law, and those of the old Legion Order — like Herrick — were rarely trifled with.
“Less than 1 out of 20 of you will survive Shadowfall,” Herrick had continued during their training. “Few can keep pace with the umbra… and fewer still have the will.”
Kendra remembered looking around her that day in training, at the glowing young faces that drank in Herrick’s every single word. She wondered how many of these eager starlets would jump into the sack with Herrick right then and there, if given the chance.
“The shadow of the moon moves just fast enough during eclipse for you worms to keep up with it… that is, if you can manage to keep and sustain a brisk pace.”
“Why the astronomy lesson?” Merak had whispered to Kendra that day.
“Because I’ll be pissing on your dried bones next Shadowfall if you don’t pay attention,” Herrick shouted at them. “This is a testament to your ability to survive. If the Swarmers come back into this system again, we’re the only thing that can stop ‘em.”
To be continued…
Read Shadowfall and other original science fiction tales by David A. Dickinson.