Red listened attentively to the Live Procellan Global Broadcast on the way home.
"Does anyone know what caused the disruption?"
"Scientists are still analyzing the waves that it's giving off. They say it's likely that it formed naturally. People wanna blame other planets, but really, the star has probably just reached its time..."
He already knew all about it. He was a scientist, and all he'd been thinking about lately was the end of the world. His team had been studying it in and out. Red was pretty sure they had all the information they were gonna get. What difference did it make where the spacial disruption came from? Even if they managed to prove that this was all the Gloupunk's fault, how would that save them?
He smiled a bit. He couldn't believe they were still calling it a "spacial disruption." Apparently calling it a "black hole" was a bit too scary for the public.
"Most riots are occurring in wealthier clanzones in the North. Those clans are demanding that Gloupunk's take responsibility for the disruption. The Gloupunk government has yet to respond, but most reason that they had nothing to do with it..."
"Actually, it's been reported that Gloupunk scientist have been experimenting with solar weapons. They've been in an ongoing war with the Lunifan Empire for years, using nuclear weapons, outside of atmospheric range. Apparently that wasn't enough..."
Red turned his receptor off. He didn't want to hear any more talk against the Gloupunks. They were supposed to be their allies. Actually, why weren't the Procellans helping them with their war? They wouldn't have to turn to solar if they had a bit of help coming up with battle strategies. Why all the sudden tension?
Red had to move quickly. It was late, and the lightsprites were starting to sink into the ground. Once they were gone, the Mysts would rise.
Red caught a lightsprite in his hand as he passed. It was about the size of his thumbnail, and glowed faintly, dimming more and more as night came. He could see its little heart beating through it's white-gray translucent skin, and its veins pulse as blue blood passed through them. It had no bones, and no brain. Sprites were fascinating. He wished he had chosen to study them back in training instead of "spacial disruptions." He let the sprite go. It floated in the air for a moment, and than slowly, so slowly, continued to sink to the ground. Red did not have time to wait for it to fall. He knew once it was hidden in the grass, it's light would go out, and it would die. Lightsprites only live one day.
He followed the signs he had made for himself. There wasn't a path here; making a path to his home would be stupid. Mystsprites liked to follow paths, and some of them could open doors.
Instead, he had painted his clan's mark onto trees: a storm cloud, with a lightening bolt. His clan had a reputation of staying out of trouble, but when they fought, they fought mean and dirty. The symbol was usually warning enough to keep other clans away. It was also a very handy landmark.
The Mysts started to rise. Red started running.
His home was hidden behind a steep hill, shrouded now by Mysts. He climbed over the hill, holding his breath, and slipped inside, locking the door behind him. He sagged against it a moment, catching him breath.
His wife, Pin, looked at him with wide green eyes. "Red? What's wrong?"
"Uh," he motioned to the door. "I almost got caught in the Mysts."
She relaxed and grinned at him, almost evilly. She was a real gem. She looked beautiful- even wearing that awful white suit that the government had sent them. Everyone had to wear one. It was supposed to protect them from the effects of the "disruption" on the atmosphere. It looked kinda funny on her, because of the baby. Her belly was big and round.
"I thought you got over your fear of the Myst." She said. She was sitting on the only chair in the house, grinding herbs into powder. Red often offered to just buy her powdered herbs, but she liked to grow them herself. He watched her hands, fascinated. They moved in circles against each other, crunching leaves between the heels of her palms.
"I'm not afraid of the Mysts," he said. "I'm afraid of the monsters that hide in the Mysts."
"Red, Mystsprites aren't monsters. They're just bigger than what you see during the day."
"And they have teeth. I had a friend who was killed by Mystsprites. I saw it. They bit off his hands and carried them away. He died within two minutes. Shock and blood loss."
"I don't believe you. Last time, you told me they ate his eyes."
Red tsked his tongue and came closer, leaning on the back of the chair. "Did the kid already come by with...?"
"Dinner? Mmm hmm. Yours is on the table."
That was one of the things about being in the clan. Everyone with paying jobs pooled their money together, and the clan distributed everything equally. Sure, it meant that Red was giving a lot more than he got. But was that a bad thing? He had everything he needed, and the clan was happy. They even had electricity. A lot of clans this far West couldn't afford that.
Red ate his food, happily. He wasn't sure what it was. Stu with some kind of smoked meat in it. You could hardly taste the meat past all the smoke. It was good that way.
When he was done, Red rinsed out the dishes and put them back in the bag that dinner had come in. He set it outside, locking the door again quickly. Some kid would come around to get it early in the morning, before another came around to pass out breakfast. Children got all the easy jobs.
Pin watched him as he walked back across the house toward her. He gently picked up one of her hands and began massaging the fingers. Bits of crushed herbs rubbed off onto the floor.
"You doing okay?" He asked.
"Mmm hmm," said Pin. "Little one's been good. He hasn't been beating his poor mother much today."
"That's good. But that's not what I meant. You look anxious."
Pin looked away from his eyes, watching his hands. "Well, everyone is saying the world is gonna end. No body knows when. Within the year. It's scaring me."
Within two months, actually. But Red wouldn't bother his wife with that little detail at the moment. He moved to her shoulders, rubbing away hard knots. Her eyes closed.
"They're saying it's the Gloupunks. That they're sucking up the sun to use for weapons."
"Who said that?" asked Red.
"Some of my friends sent their daughters to help me around the house while you were gone. Such nice girls. They kept talking about it when they thought I couldn't hear them."
Red sighed. Rumors were like roaches. "It's not the Gloupunks. That's just what the Northerners are saying. They just hate everybody who doesn't give enough attention to their whining. Guess the Gloupunks have been a little too focused on their war, and the North doesn't like it."
Pin smiled. She used to belong to a North clan before Red married her and practically kidnapped her. "Oh, okay, . Let's just blame the North clans for everything."
"Yep," said Red, moving on to the small of her back. "Solution to life."
They were quiet for while. Red continued to massage Pin's back, her shoulders, her arms. She slumped against it. He would have thought she had fallen asleep, except she would occasionally squirm or giggle. Sometimes he forgot how ticklish she was.
After a while, Red was almost sitting in the chair with her, hanging off the side. He settled an arm over her shoulder and massaged one of her temples. Pin opened her eyes and looked at him with a sleepy smile.
"Baby loves you," she said.
"Well, he'd better." Red said, smiling back. "After all I do to keep his mother happy? That kid already owes me."
"He's gonna look just like you."
"Except less Southern."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I mean he's gonna grow up, and we're gonna teach him to shave properly."
Red fingered his thin beard. He thought it was pretty stylish. He gave Pin a pouty look. She giggled and rested her head on his shoulder, closing her eyes again. She sighed.
"That black hole is ruining everything," she whispered.
Red didn't know what to say.
"We're gonna die. And my baby's gonna die. I don't want it to be over, Red."
"It's not over yet," Red whispered. He rubbed the back of her neck, and rested his other hand on her stomach.
They both felt the baby kick.
"Ah, see, he agrees with me. Smart kid."
Pin smiled a little.