The following excerpt is from Chapter 8 entitled "Purple Haze." Previously Dirck and Win had departed from the Caverns and reported to the Clique's primary military outpost at Apoca Canyon. Creena, her mother, Sharra, and her little brother, Deven, remained behind to continue researching the crystals Deven had discovered that so far demonstrated amazing properties. Dirck didn't like the idea due to the likelihood of discovery by Integrator forces, but the others dismissed his concerns by insisting they could teleport to safety using the Think Tank.
As Dirck feared, the Caverns are discovered and he and Win set out to retrieve the others. By the time they arrive, commandos have already raided the Caverns. So far the others have evaded capture and are gathering in the Think Tank so they tell Dirck he can leave. He doesn't, insisting that they wait a while to make sure the other make it to safety. The following sequence is what he and Win observe.
8. Purple Haze
DIRCK CLEARED A SMALL PATCH of condensation from the shuttle’s window with a gloved hand, startled yet again by how frigid it was. He’d never dreamed anything could be worse than dual suns at Peak Opps, but Dead Drop Winter offered stiff competition. The bone-chilling cold was as lethal as heat, draining resilience from everything, be it batteries or people but, as the season dragged on, what gripped him most tightly in the icy fingers of gloom was the darkness. He stared past his own troubled reflection to the frozen waste beyond, unable to see anything save the distorted image of Nifeir, stars long lost to a persistent haze as the atmosphere’s moisture precipitated from sub-freezing temperatures. The window fogged anew then flash-froze to etched crystal.
It didn’t take long for the cold to penetrate the vehicle’s conductive structure then move through the interior in icy waves that threatened to suck the will from Dirck’s weary body. He folded his arms close, the black, navy and grey shadowed fatigues well-insulated against normal temperature inversions, yet didn’t protect against those invading his heart. The transport shuddered as Win activated the fuel cells, both to charge the batteries and throw some heat to defrost the window. The defogger cleared a small arc that edged upward by millimeters then reached steady-state just below eye level, refusing to progress any further.
He didn’t know what he was watching for, only that something wouldn’t let him leave. Deven’s directive had made sense, that they’d use the Tank and meet at Apoca Canyon, but something wasn’t right. He couldn’t identify it, only knew a deep and ominous fear churned inside.
The past week or so had been rough. With all the resources they had his predominant impression of Apoca Canyon had evolved to that of acute entropy. There were too many people that didn’t know what to do. On top of that, there were different opinions, different cultures, different languages and even different equipment incompatible with the rest.
There were plenty of Cliquers, such that they should have been a formidable opponent but instead it was a covey of confusion, contention and contradictions. Even he and Win had been swept into it, disagreeing more than ever before, primarily over the weapons issue. Nearly two-thirds promoted the development of offensive weapons, the others preferring an emphasis on defensive. Dirck could see the necessity of both, and was thus in trouble with everyone, more often than not. The constant arguing had driven Igni to distraction and he hadn’t seen the Arcturian in days. Storm did well supervising operations yet lacked the ability to instill unity within the troops, something his father had done effortlessly.
“What are you beating yourself up over now?” Win asked, arms slung behind his head.
“Nothin’,” Dirck replied, not moving his eyes from their distant focus. “I’m just worried, that’s all. I should have never let them stay, alone like that.”
“They wanted to, remember? As I recall, they refused to leave. If anything goes wrong, it certainly won’t be your fault.”
Dirck didn’t answer, the issue of blame far removed from his greatest concern. What had really gotten to him lately was loneliness. He’d never thought much about it before, but he’d never been away from his family like this, ever. There’d always been someone there, either ‘Merapa or ‘Merama and Deven, and for the first time he had a glimpse of what Creena must have experienced when she’d jettisoned in the pod. No wonder she couldn’t accept the fact ‘Merapa was gone. A deep and poignant longing had begun shortly after his arrival at Apoca, one he’d dismissed previously by telling himself they’d be together again soon. Now he wasn’t so sure, loss creeping through him like the frigid air beyond the window.
He couldn’t stop thinking about Creena. He’d never made peace with her, as ‘Merama had requested, which nagged him constantly. What if he never saw her again? His excuse that he’d been too busy and distracted preparing for the move fell flat, not even enough to convince himself. Then, during that brief flash when she’d first contacted him with whatever she’d finally come up with, it was as if a part of her had implanted itself in his heart. For the first time he realized how badly he’d misjudged her. He’d always known it with his mind but now he knew it with his heart. He’d actually felt her eagerness to make contact and share her success.
Maybe that was where his own loneliness originated, in that longing he sensed in her for everyone to be together again. A longing that with ‘Merapa gone could never be fulfilled.
His stare focused back to a slight depression occluded by shadow where their ballome had once stood. He’d never imagined that those horrid days of sweat and hard labor when he and ‘Merapa had been building the water distiller would rank among his happiest memories. But they’d been together then, most of them, anyway, and there was hope that Creena would join them shortly. So what did he do when she got back, but immediately start in on her again. What was the matter with him anyway? The energy sink deepened with the ominous feeling he’d never see anyone again, period.
As he stared outside wracked by premature grief a ghostly purple haze formed above the ground about a few hundred meters away, at first seeming no more than another air pocket traumatized by cold. It gathered intensity and crept outward, the brightening glow an apparent chemical reaction or energy field.
The location was where he thought the Think Tank should be, yet ‘Merapa had insisted that there were no visible emissions, only magnetometer disturbances. The wave continued its radial motion, edge aglow as it swept frozen ground.
“Hey, what’s that?” he asked, pointing.
Win straightened in his seat and scowled, reaction abrupt and decisive.
“We’re outa here, man,” he said, not even taking time to warm up the vector disks before throttling to full power.
“What is it?” Dirck asked, holding on as the vehicle screeched in protest then entered a sharp climb and banked toward Apoca.
“There’s only one thing that moves like that,” Win answered, a rare edge in his voice.
“Radiation from a lasoclear weapon.”
Dirck buried his face in his hands as the implications consumed his mind.
Oh, ‘Merapa, I’m so sorry. . .
Win’s hand rested sympathetically on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, man,” he said quietly. “I’m really, really sorry.”
As the initial shock ebbed, denial drove hope to a vain surge and, by the time they got back to the Canyon, Dirck had convinced himself that it had been no more than Tank blooms ionizing hypo-chilled air.
Not wanting to contradict Win or set himself up for an argument he was sure to lose, he’d kept his theory to himself, fully expecting to find Creena, ‘Merama and Deven at the outpost awaiting their return. After all, when Deven had told him to go back, he’d described his quarters so they’d have a reference for the Tank’s telekinetics. They’d be there, waiting, that was all there was to it.
Win had barely docked the transport in its sling when Dirck flew out the hatch and raced down the winding passages, by now certain he’d find a welcoming committee in his room. He slapped the palmlatch and fairly dove through the opening, his presence activating low level lighting. He stopped and spun around, frantically seeking any sign of their arrival. His sleep cyll, comcon, scattered clothing and a few packages of dehydrated fruit stared back from their repose, the configuration identical to how he’d left it, comcon still set to the channel which had alerted him to the raid. He turned again, unwilling to accept the truth, then slowly sank down on his cyll, staring at the door.
And thus he spent the entire sleepzone, drifting back and forth between grief and denial, eyes open but unseeing, until Win came to get him in the morning. His friend said nothing of events recently passed, only made a fast stop at the messhall where he insisted Dirck eat then each returned to what they’d been doing when so rudely interrupted by the contingency at the Caverns.
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