Red Sky at Dawn

“Why do they go?” Gen asked, tugging on her father’s shirt sleeves.

He stood beside her, watching as the first of the ships departed, never to return. The vessel’s searing blue rockets danced in his wide dark eyes, growing gradually dimmer as it soared high into the night’s sky.

When they were all but gone, her father knelt down, placing one hand on each of her shoulders. “The Pilgrims, they have faith there is something out amongst the stars. They leave because they hope they might find it.”

Gen looked up, trying to pick out the ship against a host of stars. 

“Shouldn’t we go too?” she asked.

His good humour evaporated and his hands gripped her tightly, the fingers pinching into her flesh. “No. We have to stay here.” He let go and stood, watching the sky and the absent space the ship had left behind. Gen stretched out and took his hand in hers.

“Why does no one ever come back?” she said.

As soon as she’d spoken she knew she’d said the wrong thing. His lower jaw clenched, quivering so slightly she could barely see it, his eyes wrapped in water, but he said nothing. Instead he patted her atop her head and stroked down the side of her face, cupping her chin gently in his hand.

“I didn’t mean to-”

“I know,” he interrupted. His lips split apart and widened as he attempted to smile, but though his mouth lied, his pallid eyes told the truth. She smiled back in a way that inadvertently copied her father.

Behind him, the second Pilgrim vessel began its journey, launching into the air. He turned to watch it, guiding her forward with an arm around her shoulders. Around them, the rest of the crowd moved forward. Men and women held each other as they watched the departing ship, their faces cast with the same expression Gen’s father possessed. She wondered about her mother every day, where she was and if she would come home, but the days continued to pass and with each one her memory faded a little more.

“Should we pray?” Gen asked.

“You can if you want,” her father answered.

She didn’t want to do it alone. In truth she couldn’t remember what to say and had forgotten the holy words her mother had taught her. Her father never prayed anymore.

With the crowd of people now in front of her, she could no longer see the ships clearly. Her eyes wandered over the backs of their heads, the long dark hair, braided or loose, and the wrinkles in the neck of a tired old man in front. She was the first to notice the trucks that pulled up behind them.

She peered around her father’s waist and saw lots of men pour from the back of the trucks. Every one of them wore grey uniforms and carried large plastic shields and black sticks that fizzed with electricity.

“Dad…” she uttered, hesitantly.

Others in the crowd had turned to see, hearing the noise. Their faces darkened and they seemed to no longer care for the Pilgrims or their ships.

“We have to go,” Gen’s father said, lifting her up and off her feet.

The reverence and piety was replaced by hate and anger in the people around her. They began to swear and scream, bunching together like an army. Across from them, the men in grey began thumping their fists against their shields in a steady rhythm. Gen buried her head against her father’s shoulder.

“It’s okay,” he told her, stroking her long brown hair. “Just hold on tight.”

She drew her arms around his neck and wished the world away. His shoulders were broad and strong and his chest rose and fell as he breathed. He smelled of sweat and dry earth, familiar, enveloping and comforting. The crowd surged around her and she held him tight.

When she did lift her head again, they were already at the station and the sounds of fighting had grown soft and distant. The train was almost free of passengers, so Gen’s father set her down in the middle of the carriage. She picked a spot on the opposite side that looked out over the open plain between the port and the eastern Sahara.

The train started, moving off with an uneven jolt and began to collect speed. Gen placed her hand against the cool glass and traced the outline of a jagged ridge in the distance with her finger. When she had been younger, her mother had brought her to the same place to see the dawn. They watched the way the red sun pierced cracks and dips in the ridge, casting long shadows like grasping fingers. The first time she’d seen it, it had scared her, but gradually she had grown familiar with it. Now it reminded her of her mother.

Morning had come by the time they arrived back in Hahran-Nulim, sending a pale orange over the horizon. Days passed quicker in summer than winter. The Sun grew strong and with it, the blood of men grew hot. Gen saw the change every year, even in her father.

A rage to mimic the red dawn.

She recalled her mother's voice, tempered by the sadness before she had left. Gen gripped her father’s  hand as they left the train.

Outside the station, a large group of adults had gathered in the plaza, surrounding a man upon a raised platform. When he spoke they cheered his words and chanted in unison. She could see their anger.  The Red Sun was dawning.

The city was like a man in the grip of a fever. People swarmed the streets in crowds bigger than any Gen had ever seen. She bunched close to her father, following him as he cut a path through them back towards home.

Less than a few minutes in, she could no longer tell how far they’d come or even where they were. Everything looked so different. Across the street a tall glass building stood cracked and broken, nearly every panel smashed or torn out, and smoke poured from the empty spaces and fed upwards into the sky. 

Gen’s father pulled her down to the edge of the street where they made faster progress trudging through the dry gutters. Along the side of the street, men filled the usually empty alleyways watching her as she passed with unfriendly eyes. 

“You okay, Genny?” he said, looking down at her over his shoulder.

He held a forced smile. Gen nodded though the fear he couldn’t disguise in his eyes made her feel worse. He stopped and turned back towards her, kneeling.

 “We’re not far from home, now,” he continued. “We’ll be there before you know it.”

He swept a few loose strands of long brown hair back from her eyes and made a funny face, pinching her nose gently between his thumb and forefinger. She giggled and playfully jabbed him in the stomach.

“Is Carin going to be there?” she asked.

Carin was her father’s special friend. She was very nice, but Gen had found it hard to like her, though she had promised to try.

“She’s probably waiting for us right now,” her father answered.

“I hope so,” she said, lying.

Gen’s father ruffled her hair and took her hand in his.

Back on the road, people continued to pass Gen and her father without seeing either of them. He held her hand so tight it almost hurt, but she didn’t want him to let go. The deeper into the city they went, the crowds became bigger and huge buildings loomed overhead, their tops disappearing into the lowest clouds.

Far away she could hear rumbling, though the air was dry and there was no rain.

“What is that?” she asked her father.

If he heard her, he didn’t answer, nor even stop to check. Others in the crowd slowed their pace, however, and looked to the heavens. Cracks of yellow light split the thick grey sky like faint creases. The Red Sun was high but smoke filled the air in a hazy blanket.

She knew nights were no longer safe in the heart of the city, but the days were turning dark too. Years before she’d been able to leave her apartment with her mother before the sunrise. Now her father shielded their windows with blinds that stayed closed day and night. He said that men had done something terrible and the world was dying.

They turned off the main street and rounded the featureless stone monolith she knew as home. Beneath the broad grey arch, Carin was waiting by the doors, her face drawn with worry. When she saw Gen’s father, the worry lifted and evaporated.

“Alex!” she cried, running out onto the street.

It had always been odd for Gen to hear her use her father’s name. The only other person she could recall using it was her mother.

“I knew you’d be here,” her father said, with a smile.

He released Gen’s hand and put his arms around Carin, hugging her.

“I was so worried,” she said, “when you didn’t come home and I saw the crowds starting to gather…”

“It’s okay,” he insisted. “We’re fine.”

“…And look at you, Gen,” Carin said as she and her father broke apart. “Not a flicker of fear. Here’s me, an absolute mess, but you… you’re so brave. Just like your dad.”

Gen smiled, she didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t feel brave.

“Come on,” her father said, and he pushed open the door for Carin and ushered Gen in ahead of her.

The lobby interior was the same drab grey as the building’s exterior. Several residents sat in the lobby, in chairs outside the superintendent’s office. A boy from two floors up watched her as she walked in. His face was miserable, and the pale yellow lamps on the ceiling made him look ill. Gen knew him well enough not to like him. She stared back and stuck her tongue out.

Carin entered the lobby after her, still talking to her father.

“…and when they don’t disperse, what happens then? The fleet is in orbit, just waiting for an excuse…”

She sounded upset. They were talking softly, in hushed tones, the way they always did thinking Gen couldn’t hear them.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions. We don’t know what’s happening yet,” her father answered.

“You do know what’s happening!” Carin said, matter-of-factly, and then quieted her voice a shade more. “Don’t tell me you didn’t hear the drop-ships coming in.”

“I heard something.”

“Oh come on!”

“This isn’t the time,” he said softly and brushed by her into the lobby. “Gen, go upstairs, we’ll be right behind you.”

Gen started up the steps, jumping two at a time. She could still hear the rumbling outside. The building shook ever so slightly each time it came and flakes of dust fell from the ceiling. Her father and Carin carried on their arguing behind her. She went up each flight of stairs quickly, trying to synchronise her jumps with the thunder so she couldn’t hear them.

Her apartment was on the eighth floor, just next to the stairwell. Gen was still small and the eye scanner was located quite high up on the door but her father kept an old box close by so that she could climb up to use it. The laser was warm as it passed over her face. It tingled, but she liked the way it felt. When she was smaller, her father would lift her up in his arms and hold her in front of it. She remembered how she would squirm and giggle and the way he would laugh too. He never laughed like that anymore.

The door opened and she stepped inside, pushing the box away with her foot. She went straight to the birdcage and opened it. The canary inside chirruped softly and side-stepped away from the open hatch, but when Gen reached inside it jumped onto her finger. In the past few months it had grown large and felt heavier to hold. It had been bought for her after her mother went away, but she wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it because it was contraband. The canary ate crumbs of bread from her other hand, its beak tickling her palm.

“Look, Dad. He’s getting big,” she said, smiling, as he walked in.

He didn’t seem to hear her. He walked straight past, towards the window and peeled back the blind. The bird jumped from Gen’s finger back into the cage.

“What’s happening?” Gen asked.

“Nothing, don’t worry.”

She shut the cage and walked over to him.

“Can I see?”

“Not now,” he insisted. “Go to your room and stay away from the window.”

Gen scowled, but she did what her father said.

Her room felt cold. The sun was enough to warm it, but the blinds were closed and sealed tight. She sat on her bed and wrapped the duvet around her shoulders. The walls were thin and she could still hear their voices.

“They’ll declare martial law, if they haven’t done so already,” Carin said.

“I’m not sure that’s going to help at this point,” her father answered.

“What do you mean?”

“There was trouble at the port, too. The police came but it’s spreading. The city is on fire.”

“And so they’ll call in the army.”

There was a pause, her father’s voice returning soft and low.

“You were right,” he said. “We should have left this place a long time ago. This planet is dying. Earth cares nothing for us. Their industry came and drained it dry, then left our people with nothing. The riots will only get worse until they break completely. Then it’ll be too late.”

Gen curled up on the bed with her back to the wall and tried to go to sleep. A sliver of light spilled in through a small crack in the blinds and touched upon her pillow. She laid her hand beneath it and felt the warmth.

Through the wall she could still hear her father and Carin talking. Gen stepped out from under her blankets and crept quietly towards the window. She pulled at the corner of the blinds and peeked through the gap.

The last vestiges of red sunlight flowed through the city streets below, washing everything in its colour: the buildings, the cars, the masked men and women. Orange and scarlet sparkled off the metal weapons they carried in their hands and fierce hatred burned in their eyes.

She inched back from the window, but held the gap open. The bedroom door opened behind her.


Her father bounded over and picked her up.

“What did I tell you!”

He put her down on the bed. His face was carved with anger, reminding her of the people outside.

“I only wanted to see outside,” she protested.

“It’s not safe… God dammit, Genny! You’ve got to listen to me!”

“You’re not supposed to say things like that. Mummy would never say that.”

“Yeah, well Mummy isn’t here.”

Gen sniffed, and fought back the tears she could feel welling up behind her eyes.

“Alex...” Carin said carefully, walking in through the doorway.

Her father stood up and stepped back, fury still etched across his face. Then, without another word, he stormed out of the room.

Carin stepped towards the edge of the bed and bent down beside her.

“Your dad, he didn’t mean anything by that.”

She stretched a tentative hand out towards Gen, but stopped halfway, holding it still in hesitation. Gen stayed as she was, her lower lip quivering, unable to stem the trickle of tears rolling down her cheeks. She wiped them away with the edge of her sleeve and turned to face Carin.

“Go away,” she said.

Carin’s face softened. She had sharp, angular features with pointed cheek bones and a clearly defined jaw. Gen saw the firmness of her flesh fade as though her youth were withering before her eyes, tempered by despair. Carin looked away and rose slowly to her feet, retreating from the room and closing the door gently behind her.

When the tears had ebbed and the sound of voices from the next room had ceased, Gen lifted her head up to look back at the window. The sun was beginning to set and the faint light in her room was growing darker, but a soft dull red still seeped in through the crack in the blinds.

She sat up and rubbed at her eyes with her forearms. The apartment was so quiet that the sound of her sniffs seemed to echo in her room. Anger and frustration boiled inside her, making her wonder if the rage that was touching her father would come to her too. He never spoke about Gen’s mother anymore and she couldn’t mention her without his mood darkening. It wasn’t fair, Gen missed her too. She didn’t want a canary or to move to another world or anything else. All she wanted was for things to go back to the way they used to be.

Gen pushed back the sheets and slipped off the bed, creeping barefoot to the door. She slowly turned the handle and peered out into the living room. 

The shuttered windows shrouded most of the room in darkness, though a small lamp had been left on just outside her bedroom. Her cup was there too, holding the same water from yesterday. The white light from the bulb made her skin look like paper, and when she placed her hand in front of it, the spaces between her fingers glowed red like the Sun.

She pushed her bedroom door open and closed it softly again behind. The plastic floor was cold underneath her feet, drawing the warmth out from her toes. Water dripped from the kitchen tap, striking the metal sink with a repetitive monotonous sound. She picked up her cup and walked briskly across the room and reached her fingers up toward the tap. The sink itself was as high as her shoulders so that she had to tip-toe and draw herself up with one arm. She pushed at the valve, too hard, so that the water poured out hard, splashing into the sink and spraying up and around, soaking everything nearby, including her. 

“Ugh!” she grumbled quietly, using the sleeve of her shirt to towel the water from her face.

She recalled the games she used to play with her parents, water fights in the summer sun before the rage came. They had to ration the water now and she’d been told she always had to finish what was in her cup before she could have more, but what she had was warm and stale and the smell of it made her wrinkle her nose. She poured it down the sink.

The door to her father’s bedroom opened and he strode out with Carin following.

“…this is just the beginning,” Carin said. “You said it yourself, 'it’s spreading’. This isn’t just rioting anymore, it’s revolution.”

Gen hopped away from the sink and ducked behind the corner where she couldn’t be seen.

“What is it you want me to do?” her father said, solemnly.

“We have to leave! There’re already barricades up in the streets. If we don’t go, we’ll be stuck here!”

“Keep your voice down.” Gen’s father answered. “We can’t leave now, it’s too dangerous.”

“And it’ll only get worse…”

“So we have to wait it out.”

Carin threw her hands down in dismay.

“Sometimes, I wonder if you hear anything I say.” She sighed.

Gen’s father jumped up to his feet, leaning over Carin aggressively

“I made a promise, do you understand that? I made a promise and now… You’re right, we should have left the city when we had the chance, but I’m not going out there again. If something were to happen to Gen, her mother would never forgive me.”

Gen could see her father slump back down again, his hands clasped together as though in prayer. Carin knelt before him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“You’re talking about the woman who left you and your daughter to chase a paradise that doesn’t exist. There’s nothing out there. This is the world we have. To leave you both behind for a fantasy, who would she be to judge?”

“That’s not the way it happened,” her father answered, weakly. “She left with the Pilgrims because she still had hope.”

Gen inched forwards, her little hands pushed against the wall, balled into white spheres of fury. Anger built inside, but in her helplessness and the withering of her father, it transformed into beads of water in her eyes.

“I’m not seven years old. You don’t have to feed me the same lies you feed Gen.” Carin said, “No Pilgrim ever returns. It’s a voyage into the aimless black that only blind faith could provoke. How long ago did you stop believing? It’s not fair for you to have to carry her torch. It’s not fair for you, for me; and if you won’t face reality, what chance does Gen have?”

“Shut up!” Gen blurted, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” She marched out from her hiding spot defiantly, unable to contain her fury a moment longer. “She is coming home, she promised she would and when she does you’ll have to leave!”

Both her father and Carin turned their necks sharply to face her, their mouths open with shock and disbelief.

“Gen? Oh God?” Carin said, shrinking back ashamedly. “I’m so sorry sweetheart, I… I didn’t know you were there.”

Her father rose and went over to her.

“You have to tell her, Dad!” Gen pleaded. “You have to tell her, Mum’s coming home.”

He looked back at her, eyes wide, but didn’t say anything.

“Please…” she whimpered.

“Gen, your mother… She…she won’t be coming home.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I’m sorry.”

His voice was weak, as though whispered through paper.

“I hate you,” she told him. “I wish it was you that left.”

“Gen…” he said, reaching out to her.

She pulled away from him and ran back to her room, slamming the door as hard as she could.

The thunder returned outside, slowly spreading like it had done before. Through the thick glass of her window, she could hear it coming steadily closer. Gen sunk away from the window and sat on the floor with her back to the bed, trying not to listen.

A knock came at her door. She heard her father clear his throat on the other side.

“Gen, I’m sorry. Can I come in?”

“No! Leave me alone.”

His shadow passed away from the gap under the door, leaving just the narrow strip of light. Gen watched and waited for him to return. When he didn’t, she crawled under her bed and hid in silence and darkness. 

When Gen woke, the red outside her window had long since faded. The clock beside her bed held nothing but an empty display, flashing on and off with three zeros. She rubbed the tiredness from her eyes and stretched her arms up above her head, then, quietly as possible she got dressed and opened her bedroom door.

The sound of her father sucking in a lungful of air made her heart jump. She pulled the door back so it was almost closed and put an eye up to the narrow gap. He was snoring softly on the old sofa, his quiescent face lit with the pale light of the lamp outside her room.

When the canary saw her, it jumped in response and fluttered about in its cage, singing a soft, sweet tune. Carefully, she crept over to it, stepping over her father’s outstretched legs, and opened the hatch. The bird hopped onto the edge of the opening and stood, silently twirling its head left and right, eyeing her expectantly.

Gen took a handful of seed and held it up. In the dark, the bright yellow seemed drawn from its feathers, the quick bobbing movements no longer so graceful. It rested on the edge of her thumb, tapping down at the seed in her palm. She watched it for a while, waiting to see what it would do when it had finished, though when it did, it simply angled its head back towards her, as though asking for more.

She took another handful of seed and tipped it onto the table outside the cage and, leaving the hatch open, she went to fetch her jacket and favourite pair of shoes.

From the lobby downstairs she could see the shades of both moons glowing in the dark. She leaned against the windows and looked up and down the length of the street. The glass felt cold against her fingers, but the road was clear.

Placing a hand around the fixed steel handle, she pulled until she felt the hermetic seal break free. Wind rushed in through the open doorway, cool against her face, smelling of burned metal. Every instinct told her to close the door again, go back to her apartment and into her warm bed, but there was something else now that compelled her even more than fear.

Behind her the door slid back to its original position and re-sealed itself. The streets were empty, it was a ghost town. The heat coming off the blackened cars by the roadside was strong and thick smoke rose from the flames into the night sky, feeding the night. Gen walked down the middle of the road where it seemed safest. The buildings on either side of the street appeared broken and abandoned. There was no light to be seen from any window on any floor. She pictured the monsters of her younger dreams living in empty black holes, watching her in stealth and silence, but there was nothing to be seen and nothing to be heard. If there were monsters there, that was where they chose to stay.

The city looked completely different by night. Homes and businesses up and down the street had been burned and now stood as hollow shells. Darkness filled the hollow spaces, consuming the lives that had once been lived therein.

Gen skirted the ruins, straying to the side of the road to peer up at an overpass that trailed across her path. Beneath, the night looked darker, punctuated only by the faint light of moons on the other side.

As she wandered perilously close to the derelict shells at the roadside, an old man suddenly emerged and leaned from a sheltered alley. Gen froze. He turned his neck slowly, revealing the other half of his face covered by a white bandage stained red.

“What’re you doing out here?” he said in a harsh tone, the bandage only enough to cover half his grimace.

Gen’s throat turned dry. Carefully, she began backing away towards the other side of the street.

Noticing her alarm, the old man’s expression mellowed.

“It isn’t safe,” he said.

He staggered out of the alleyway and the shadows fell away from him. His thin, wiry frame was visible beneath a dirty grey shawl, his arms and shoulders like points of carved wood under the fabric.

Behind her Gen could hear shuffling from deep within the dark recesses of the buildings she had thought abandoned. Her eyes drifted up to the windows of the second floor where fearful and tormented faces looked back at her.

The old man stepped off the kerb and onto the street. Gen could see the spots of dried blood around his ankles.

“This is no place for you to be. Come,” he said, and stretched out a bony arm in her direction.

As he did so, the shawl slipped from his shoulders and fell to the ground.  Underneath was a frail and wizened creature that moved awkwardly with one hand held clamped against the left side of his chest. Smears of red seeped through the gaps between his fingers through which Gen could see a patch of blood-soaked gauze.

Gen’s heart throbbed heavily within her chest and fear welled up inside of her, propelling her down the street towards the underpass. The old man ambled after, dragging his feet through the broken brickwork and shattered splinters of wood that littered the road.

Sudden and real terror shrank Gen’s world, encasing her in the darkest shade of night.  Shouts and calls followed her from behind, gradually diminishing against a deep pervasive rumbling that steadily grew, filling the air around her.

The dual light of the moons shone like beacons at the far end of the underpass and fear blinded her to everything but their distant façades, drawing her on. She ran and ran, throwing her shoulders and arms back and forth to propel her along the road, but the noise only grew louder, swallowing form and definition from the world. She could feel the wind blowing against the tears on her face, cool and dry and desperate whimpers of fear and exertion rose up against the background noise sporadically, punctuating its steady monotony.

Emerging on the other side of the underpass, she was struck by a beam of brilliant white light. She stopped and peered up through her hands to the source, her skin glowing red against the glare. Heavy, shuffling footfalls echoed behind her and she turned to see the old man, just feet away, his arm stretching out like a wrinkled branch on a dying tree. He gripped at her shoulder and threw her aside with surprising ease and stood himself within the beam of light, closing his eyes.

A shot angled down to him from above, slamming into his chest and he fell limply to the ground. Gen scrambled to her feet and began to run again, casting her eyes back over her shoulder to the man’s motionless body and the light which momentarily left him and began to sweep the street behind her.

The night wind came stronger, chasing her down the street like a gale. Stones lifted and tumbled through the air while slivers of broken wood careered forward like darts. Gen dodged the debris, stumbling as she went. The light followed behind, moving steadily over the street in an angle toward her.

As it lifted and passed overhead she saw the dark metallic body of a ship and an array of burning blue rockets spaced along its undercarriage. The heat was strong and the rising engines blew an indiscriminate swathe through the ruins, shaking the husks of empty cars and flipping them over with ease. The air caught Gen like a fast advancing wall, striking her in the chest and lifting her off her feet. She flew backwards like a rag doll being thrown through the air and landed awkwardly on the hard concrete, scraping a long gash in the side of her knee. She yelped in pain and cradled her leg in her hands, feeling the wet warmth of her blood slipping through her fingers. Then the ship turned and hovered back in her direction, throwing its light over her once, then twice before it rested, bathing her in cold illumination.

She sobbed, lifting one feeble hand up in front of her face and begged for forgiveness thinking of home and her father.

Immune and uncaring to her pleas, the vessel loomed up above her ready to strike. Gen drew her hands over her ears and cowered.

From a dark window on the side of the street a loud searing bolt shot out, crashing into the side of the ship in a ball of flame. The ship veered and twisted in the air under the impact as smoke poured from its side. The engines screeched in agony and the ship spun wildly out of control, thundering into the ground.

The earth rose up before Gen in a wave of concrete and steel, lifting over her before crashing back down.

Gen’s world went black.

Darkness filled the air, wavering and restless. Shapes swirled and grew in the smoke, and voices like distant echoes, rose and fell against each other. Gradually, the stars broke through, puncturing the black and outlining the figures that loomed above.

“She’s alive,” one said.

It was a woman’s voice, soft and light. Her hands reached down and closed around her waist, pulling her upwards and out of the gloom. Smoky air drifted over her, carried by the wind, and filled her lungs. Gen coughed. Her chest felt heavy, as if weighed down by an unseen object.

More hands coiled around her arms and legs, drawing her up to her feet and gently brushing the dust from her hair and shoulders. Her eyes sharpened to focus on the man in front of her with deep blue eyes and a face sticky with blood and dirt.

“We can’t stay here,” he said. “They’ll be sending reinforcements right now. We don’t have much time.”

A woman pushed forward next to him and knelt down before Gen. She had a kind, pretty face, framed with long brown hair. Dark smudges lined her pale skin beneath large doleful eyes. Her sombre expression reminded Gen of her mother.

“Are you one of the Pilgrims?” she asked.

“No,” the woman answered. “There’re no Pilgrims left anymore. People are leaving this place. It’s not safe anymore.”

She tilted her head away from Gen, her face touched with a sudden sadness. Her wide eyes rested upon the end of the road where two tall buildings thrust up into the sky. In the space between them, ships could be seen rising softly and silently from the ground.

“This is no place for a child,” the Kindly Woman said. “We need to get you away from here.”

She clamped gentle but firm hands on Gen’s shoulders. Gen squirmed, trying to wrestle free but her grip was strong and the man with blue eyes helped her.

“It’s ok,” she said, soothingly, wrapping her arms around her and holding her close.

Gen’s eyes trailed up and saw the ships beyond growing smaller. “No...” she whimpered.

Carefully, the Kindly Woman guided her towards the edge of the street, reassuring her and lifting her up and over the tall kerb towards the nearest building. She winced as she was placed down again. The gash at the side of her knee was still raw and covered with dirt. The Kindly Woman saw it and drew a coiled rag from around her wrist and wiped at the wound.

“What’re you doing out here?” she asked.

Gen tried to ignore the stinging pain in her knee. She pointed off down the street in silence towards the spaceport beyond two towering apartment buildings. The Kindly Woman stopped wiping Gen’s knee and gently tied the rag around her leg to cover the gash.

"There’re no more ships,” she said. “There’s no more space.”

Gen could see a sadness in her. A grim determination that propelled her on past the point of hope. Tired lines trailed down her face like soft wrinkles and she looked at Gen with wide, desperate eyes as though she waited on her to provide inspiration.

“I need to find my mother,” Gen told her.

The Kindly Woman’s eyes drew down to the ground, still sad, and fixed on the join between two slabs of concrete. Crumbs of loose mortar rattled freely along the groove. She placed the flat of her hand against the concrete and Gen watched as terror crept into her expression.

She grabbed at Gen and began to push her hard towards the withered shell of a building behind her. A wave of rage swept the street towards them and a host of lights emerged at the far end of the street in a sudden strobe.

Panicked voices and the screech of machinery filled Gen’s ears and the whole street erupted with fire and flame. The Kindly Woman pushed her to the ground and shielded her as metal tore through masonry and ripped the derelict home beside them to pieces. Splinters of white hot steel shards fizzed through the air and brick dust poured over them like a cloud.

Huddled beneath the woman’s protective form, Gen clamped her hands over her ears and screamed. Her tiny voice proved shallow against the extremity of noise all around her, the attack was answered by a roar and an array of gunfire opening up from inside every building still standing.

With the ochre dust still hanging over her, Gen slipped out from beneath the Kindly Woman who rolled onto her back and lay staring sightlessly up into the sky. The shadowy, monstrous forms of ships passed her overhead, throwing the cloud into patterns of coiled spires. Searchlights cut through the haze and struck down at the houses as fire tore through them. Gen staggered to her feet and ran as the world ruptured around her.

Bright spots of flame illuminated the dust cloud like points of lightning, their impacted violence obscured though the sound was deafening. Gen stumbled on, her hands up before her, as though to cut a path through the smog. It cleared briefly as she happened upon the blunted edge of a building that rose up in her path like a wall. She skirted around the corner and used her hands to guide her along its side.

She could hear her own cries as the extent of the violence faded gradually. The jagged edge of her sobbing contrasted with the distant sounds of war so that she could no longer deny her own fear. She pushed on, trying to distance herself from the rage and anger, finding a hastily assembled barricade blocking the street. She clambered up the broken furniture and dislodged car doors to the top and dropped to the other side.

She fell awkwardly, the ground rising up to meet her quicker than she expected. Her knees buckled and her arms went out in front to break her fall, scuffing over the surface of the road. Her wrists and elbows reddened and welters of blood broke through her skin as though punctured by a thousand needles but she refused to stop, and quickly drew back to her feet, running on.

Fierce down winds pushed the cloud and smoke away to reveal the night sky and half a dozen ships still lifting towards the stars. She raised her hands above her and threw them through the air, shouting as loud as she possibly could, but it was too late. Slowly, the ships faded against the night and disappeared into the heavens.

Gen fell to her knees. Tears streamed down her face in a gentle tide. The city was tearing itself apart, she was lost and the noise began to grow again as men and women began to scale the barricade, desperate to escape the violence.

Refugees poured into the spaceport, swarming past her, each of them trapped into their own unique crisis. Gen didn’t move, her eyes stayed fixed on the sky, waiting for the lights to return.

Ahead of her, one man stopped. She noticed him from the corner of her eye, his still and familiar posture.

“Dad!” she cried.

His dark eyes darted to the sound of her voice. His face was tired and pale, though a light sparked in his eyes when he saw her.

Quickly, he pushed a path through the swarming crowds and ran to her, wrapping his strong arms around her, lifting her up. Gen cradled her head against his chest, feeling spots of water fall like rain. She looked up to see tears streaking his face.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

His eyes were creased with sadness. All hint of the rage she’d seen before was gone, like a façade stripped away, exposing the fragility of the man beneath. She pulled her hand inside her jacket and wiped at his tears with the soft cloth of her sleeve. He took her hand and pressed it into his.

“I swore I’d keep you safe,” he said, holding her close.

The soft light of a new dawn cut across the horizon, shining upon his pale face. He narrowed his eyes, the dark points shrinking against the sunrise.

“How did you know where to find me?” Gen asked.

“Faith,” he said, turning her away from the burning city. The red sun cut the cracks of the distant ridge, spilling long fingers of light that reached towards them. “You have a courage I lost long ago. I see so much of your mother in you. I know you miss her, Gen. I miss her too, but she’s gone and nobody ever comes back.”