The Shattered Visage

Exercise: Write a story that begins with “Everything was different after…”

How come every military sergeant-type character I write sounds like Nick Fury? Hmm.

The Shattered Visage

 

Everything was different after the first dome was popped. Video footage piped in around the planet—around the solar system—horrified everyone. Billions of tiny shards of transparent titanium, glittering in the air, showering up into the sky. The column of shattered dome might have been beautiful if not for the bodies of some five thousand colonists lifting up with it.

The other cities immediately went to high alert, and all traffic across Ganymede came to a halt. All the workers in the ice mines were recalled home, and all flights out of New Balaton was grounded. Public events were canceled, schools closed, and a curfew imposed. In all the panic, someone almost forgot to send a rescue mission. I was fine with that until someone remembered that it was my job, then there were ten calls all at once for Sergeant Frederic to go to Qanat and see if anyone had survived, and investigate what might have caused the tragedy.

So there I was, with my crew, on a motorized sled outside the ruins of Qanat. The floor of the city was still intact, or at least everything that had been nailed down. The massive dome that had protected the city from the bitterly cold, low gravity surface of Ganymede was a wreck. The support beams were still largely intact, but the titanium windows between them were just jagged shards reaching up to the sky. There were still bits of debris lifting up, days after the destruction of the city, soaring up into the sky, where the planet above hung heavy.

“A sacrifice to Jupiter,” murmured Raley over the interlink. He had a bit of a flair for the dramatic, which is why I made him ride on the outside.

“Shut the hell up and get moving,” I said. The sled pushed forward. The automatic gates of the city were still functioning, and opened for us quickly and quietly, as though nothing had happened beyond their thick locks.

The streets of the city were empty and silent. All the automated services were still functioning, but had been dormant with no citizenry to activate them. As our sled moved down the main avenue, electric torches and store front windows and traffic lights came to life. Music wafted in over the local shortwave stations.

The sled pulled up to the center of the city, where a tall tower marked the city control center. Many lights were out here, telling me that whatever happened to turn this place into hell, had happened here. I signaled the team to pile out.

“It’s cold out here,” Jarson said. “The heaters must have blown out trying to keep it warm in here with the dome gone.” He was right; even through our suits, I could feel the chill. There was a thin layer of frost over the floor of the city, too. Ganymede was already working to reclaim this chunk of itself.

“Can it be noted that I already knew it was damn cold out here?”

“Shut up, Raley.”

We crept forward, all a little jumpy in the dark hole at the center of the ghost town. In the shadow of the control center, we could make out scorch marks around the gaping maw of what had been the front door. We shined our lights across it, and could make out dark red smears around the edge of the twisted metal, and more spattered all over. Clearly, some kind of fight had taken place here.

Vedrana shuddered. “If there were anyone left, they’d have signaled for help,” she said quietly. “Everything else is still working fine.”

“Sarge, look,” said Jarson. His flashlamp slowly worked its way up the side of the tower. There was a long, red streak, as though someone had been hanging on as they were sucked out into the void above. Alongside the streak was written, barely legible, “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Vedrana reached up to her helmet, instinctively trying to cover her mouth, her eyes wide. The beam from Jarson’s lamp shook.

“Some bastard did this on purpose,” I muttered. I looked to Raley, expecting some smart-ass reply. He was looking up the tower, his light vanishing into the infinite.

“A sacrifice to Jupiter,” he said again. “Who will be on the alter next?”