Marshall sat on the ledge of the fountain in the square in front of the Naluo Center, tucked between the imposing towers of the city and the more imposing crowds that scurried frantically at street level. He was early for his interview; career change. Naluo had a good program, or so he’d been told.
He liked the sound of the fountain. It was constant and natural and it drowned out the tension of nine-million heartbeats in such close proximity. Then he heard a flutter.
He looked up.
Birds were swirling overhead. He hadn’t seen where they’d come from or the threat that launched them into flight, but here they were anyhow, uninvited and unwelcome. Dark birds with dark intentions, following the flight patterns of instinct. Of survival. They were grackles. But Marshall saw G34 Cataphracts.
Sharp somber shapes rushed past each other in torrents against the sky that hung taught like a reserve chute stretched over the antennas of the skyscrapers. Black shapes whirled, making hairpin turns, diving, overshooting, looping. He was back in the high atmosphere of Alterna Delta’s largest moon, the howling wind whipping past his cockpit sounding like the screams of his mother, and he squeezed his thighs and his abdomen with all his might to keep enough blood in his upper body to stay lucid, or at least conscious, or even just enough to go blind but still keep his trigger reflex. Cataphracts and those growling, churning Spawnships tearing each other to shreds, and hydraulic oil and blood and molten tungsten and flakes of boron-11 geysering out of the sky in equal measure as if the world’s jugular had been severed by their wingtips; a world so far from Earth we hadn’t even named it yet. And the world was white and he was falling and he didn’t know how he’d gotten out of his ship or why and he went to clutch his chest in shock but his arm wasn’t there anymore and he gasped in horror—
—and he was sitting on the ledge of a fountain. The Cataphracts were gone. The Swarmships too. Now there were only grackles and gawking onlookers. Sweat soaked through his suit jacket. He buried his face in his arm, turning away from nothing in particular. He wasn’t ready for an interview today.
Another time. Maybe.