The deep blue crescent of Surefire grew to unfathomable size as the shuttle descended on the night side. High white chains of clouds disappeared behind the orange glow of reentry flames. Tina kept her dark eyes downcast and rubbed her fingers. She was collected but didn’t want to invite conversation. Speculation as to what had happened.
Are the rumors true? Where did everybody go?
Surefire was only the latest colony—the fifth—to suddenly go dark, its people vanished. The fifth. And no one yet knew why.
The shuttle descended gracefully like an elevator, its motion only apparent when it landed. Tina sealed herself in a bulky hazmat suit that fit like it was designed for a man. Typical. She didn’t think she really needed it anyway; it was just a precaution. Whatever had happened wasn’t something a hazmat suit would stop. She walked down the ramp, escorted by a squad of six young marines from the nearest ship. She wondered if they were volunteers or if they drew the short straws. They were probably just happy to spend a few hours on a rocky body.
The landing pad lights were off, and it was obvious it would be more of the same outside the complex. This was Derambi, home to a million people, but it may as well have been a desert. The empty lightless buildings cut through the limestone steppes like a snaking canyon. She heard the whimpers of the wind and nothing else.
She walked through streets illuminated only by the red glow of her headlamp. Surefire had no moon, and it was never more apparent. For their part, the marines had sophisticated optics within their helmets with no need for lamps. They generally kept her off their comms loop; probably a lot of adolescent chatter she wouldn’t want to listen to anyway.
Surefire was turning out just like the others. Nothing looked abandoned mid-use. She found no cups of coffee still steaming, no machines left still running. Everything was put away, clean and orderly; doors were closed but not locked. Tina entered one home after another. Clothes were hung and folded neatly in closets. Cabinets were full of food. Boxes and bags and backpacks and totes were all present—nothing had been packed and taken. It was like everyone knew they were about to disappear and stopped to tidy up first. It made absolutely no sense.
She’d seen enough. “Alright, let’s head back toward the shuttle,” she said. But when Tina turned around, all six marines were gone. Disappeared.