Creena walked a few more steps then stopped, straining for reason as she scanned the devastated landscape with widened eyes. At least most of the damage seemed limited to the other side of the canal. A brazobora ring, charred and stripped of its bristles, snagged her foot and she stumbled, adding another scrape to her leg as she resumed her trek through the rubble. Maybe rolling up her pantlegs had been a mistake but it was uncomfortably hot.
Gradually the destruction thinned into scorched fields of stalii then green clumpy grass again. A stiffening breeze chimed through the leaves of a nearby holodendril, lifting their prism-like undersides to the suns. Then, like an ominous prelude to a message of doom, the sky darkened with thickening clouds, their massive shadows creeping eerily across the ground. They tumbled and reeled, finally blotting out the last bit of lavender sky with a heavy, gray quiet.
Creena slowed her pace, eyes fixed on the sky overhead, mouth agape with fear. Mira III had no weather variations whatsoever, the sudden cloud cover shoving her deeper into sensory overload. Her mind raced, not knowing if it were an imminent invasion or some other form of impending destruction.
Amid the darkened world a morbid stillness saturated the air, the trees, even the stubble beneath her feet. The insect chatter stopped as angry clouds boiled overhead. A chill rippled down her bare arms in spite of the tropical heat as once more she plodded on uneasily, now waist high in brush. The sky darkened even more then something struck her face. She wiped it off, expecting a small bug or leaf, but there was nothing. Something brushed it again, something wet. She held out her hand, spun around. Another hit her head, ran down her arm. Another then another.
A flash of blue light shattered the clouds then a low rumbling shook the ground. She jumped as another dagger of light shot from the sky. It groaned like an overloaded power cell then ended in a sharp crack. As if summoned by the noise giant globs of water assailed her from every side. Gradually it turned to frozen spheres three centimeters across, products of a multi-thermal storm cell meteorologically impossible on all but tropical worlds.
They stung when they hit, their size and temperature combining to form a frightening assault as they clattered around her in icy waves. With thick brush on one side and the canal on the other all she could do was sit down and cover her head with her bag as another blast of light exploded beyond the trees. Hail clunked and rattled around her, hammering everything. It struck her knuckles, her arms, her feet, individual impacts merging to a buffeting that shook her entire body. What it was or where it came from suddenly became less important than when it would stop. Then if it would stop! Finally she lunged toward the nearest bush where she turned and pressed her back against its prickly branches, gaining some protection until forever later when the bombardment stopped as suddenly as it began.
Her uniform clung like a clammy weight and hair gripped her face in a disorderly, soggy mass. The ground was a bumpy white landscape of frozen projectiles, some too large to fit in her hand. Behind her rumbling, sizzling blasts of light tumbled away, fading toward the horizon. She stood up stiffly, watching the retreating clouds while her heart pounded in her ears.
The sky was still banked with gray, moisture still there but now more like fog. She could live with fog. Fog reminded her of home. Not that home was ever like this! Weather variations were nonexistent, unheard of. So was heat. Or mud, which squished sodden protests beneath her feet as she continued on, hail thawing quickly into steam-laced puddles.
A breeze hissed through the bog while, hidden behind the clouds, the Verdarian suns sank toward the horizon. The sky darkened and wind blew stiffer. Wondering how much farther she'd have to go, Creena pulled her portalume from her pack and turned it on. Plant life thickened once more to a forest, undergrowth seeming to lunge toward its pinkish beam. Insects screeched everywhere. At least it wasn't cold, only dark, the humidity holding heat like a blanket. But with dark came more sounds, creature sounds, of a hostile, alien world. Creena shivered, more weary and frightened than she'd ever thought possible. Her eyes burned with fatigue, her limbs ached, but stopping without shelter was unthinkable.
Darkness spread from the shadows like a thickening wall until it filled everything. She slowed her pace, afraid. The shrieking of insects and foreign cries of alien life forms echoed through the trees, some calls responsive to others, the conclusion inescapable that she was the topic of conversation.
The heat of day clung to the humid air but rather than being uncomfortably warm a clammy sweat claimed her instead. Each sound was amplified by unknowns and unseens, chipping away at what little confidence remained. She envisioned the decarachnid in its gossamer home, most certainly not unique amid equally hostile flauna. Her skin crawled with terror-swept anticipation.
Conflicting alternatives tore at her mind, one prompting her to run, the other toward more caution than ever. Terror rose inside like a living creature, numbing her mind while her heart beat faster than those first few chrons back from zero-g. Tears left gritty tracks on her face, finally gathering so fast that everything became a blur. A strange hissing emerged from the wind, rising in volume and eventually moving toward her from the left. She wiped her eyes and ran, tripping over a large root a few steps later. The fall twisted her ankle, hard, and a sharp, fiery pain shot up her leg. She rubbed it a moment then grabbed her bag and rose slowly to her knees. Before she could rise something moved beneath her.
She cried out and scrambled forward on all fours, ankle throbbing. With a sob clogging her throat she looked upward for something to grab. She froze, horrified. The darkness above glittered with dozens of blinking, silvery eyes.
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