The stars of the beautiful night sky shown down their lights above. Each of those tiny spotlights was so mesmerizing, so alluring. How many of the stars up there had a life-supporting planet or two to call their own? Some of those pinpricks of light were actually their own galaxies, holding thousands of thousands, maybe even millions upon millions, of stars. The universe was so humungous, with so many places to escape to. So, then, why did I feel so small?
Aiden was yelling at me. I did not have to read his lips; he was telling me to run. Amir was too, but he was further ahead of us. I knew I should be moving, but I could not take my eyes away. My knees almost buckled forward, but I kept my feet under me. I just wanted to stare at the stars in amazement, in wonder. Maybe that way we could leave all our troubles behind.
A hand was on my arm. Gripping me with the force of a rocket’s take-off, that hand nearly yanked my arm out of its socket. There was Aiden pulling at me, trying to get me to run. He wanted us to get out of here, to survive. But then what? We had no future here. Against my will, I was being pulled away. Away from the stars, and off towards an uncertain oblivion. I sent my eyes back up.
“Stars.” I whispered aloud, still staring up at them. I did not look to see if Aiden had heard me. Even in this chaos, I wanted to go up to those distant stars. I could picture myself lifting up Amir and Aiden, pulling them up there with me. We would soar through the cosmos with the force of will. Or maybe with a stolen starship, if Aiden could acquire one. That was a pleasant thought: escaping in the luxury of a starship.
My feet were scrambling to keep up. Aiden was succeeding in pulling me, just not as fast as I could have run on my own. I knew he was screaming in my ears, but there was no point; we both knew I could not hear his words. But that did not keep him from trying.
I blinked, and the sky was ablaze. Our stars were being blocked out by an inferno, a colossal cloud of burning fuel. The bright orange was billowing up in a cloud-like shape, hiding our stars from us, taking our stars away! There was light in the explosion, and black, competing for space against the orange. The colors were feuding, fighting against each other in the sky, in combat displaying the chaos of our world. It was this chaos that was keeping us from our stars, from our escape! But, even so, my eyes were glued to it. The explosion began to die down. The earth started shaking: a warning. My feet almost fell out from under me.
They even sought to take away our stars. Finally, I pulled my eyes away. Aiden had a cut on his cheek; I could see the blood running from it. Was he in pain? He really was screaming at me. I could read his lips: Run! He was still screaming at me to run.
Amir was beyond him. He was jumping up and down, waving his arms about in the air. I could see the urgency on his face, even as the air began to sting my eyes. Particles of dust and debris were floating, coloring the air. It was like the dirt was rising up, spreading itself around to mimic and mock the stars in the galaxies. The grey of the world around us was so bleak, so devoid of possibilities. Why did the Pyrrh even want it?
My lungs were starting to burn.
Grabbing Aiden’s hand, I began to run on my own. I could feel that we were picking up speed, sprinting across this desolate antique industrial zone. We would reach Amir, regardless of what happened after then. If only we could all just disappear to the stars. I had to hold onto that thought: escape. It was our only hope.
There was a door behind Amir, old and grey just like the rest of this place. The burning of my lungs was too much; I had to give up on breathing. As soon as we were safe, I would take in air again. Until then, my adrenaline would just have to make up for it. The bursts of pain had started among the burning of my lungs, like little, tiny, bursting supernovas. It was like the galaxies were exploding inside me, even more forceful than the inferno in the sky. Some were imploding, sending shockwaves through the rest of me. Aiden and Amir must be in pain too. Aiden was starting to weaken – my hand was beginning to pull him.
Amir had the door open. He was already through, clutching at his lung with his other hand. I could see his blue bracelets. Just a few more steps to go. We were so close. I grabbed on tighter to Aiden.
Just one more leap.
I kicked off from the ground, propelling us through the air. We went shoulders first, desperately praying to make the distance in through that door. I could not let Aiden die! The tiled floor scraped against my side, pulling at my belt. I could feel my exposed skin trying to catch on it as we collided. But there was no time! I was lifting myself up, desperate to keep going. This time, it was my turn to pull up Aiden, helping him stand as I did. Amir threw himself back at the door behind us, forcing it shut by putting his weight into it. He was only maybe one hundred twenty pounds, but his desperation was enough to force it.
Into darkness we fell.
Deep, gulping breaths. We all stood there, in the dark. Just breathing for a bit. Aiden was hanging onto my shoulder; I could feel his weight there. His lungs were gulping for air, his ribs awkwardly jutting in against my skin. Right then, I could feel him: his pulse was racing against mine. I blinked, and the darkness spun a bit.
The burning in my lungs had dissipated, but I could still feel it: something was wrong with the air here. We were all breathing; we should be recovering, not watching the darkness spin. We needed cleaner air. That was the only solution I could find: the air was contaminated. My brain was fuzzing; I was getting dizzy, unsure how well I was standing upright. I had to act, to do something. Was I starting to smell crushed garlic? Spaghetti sauce?
The Pyrrh do not need to breathe.
“Air!” I forced the spoken word out of me, crushing my abs and sending pain into me in the process. It was like taking an uppercut to the gut; I had to blink for a moment, trying to save what little food I had had today. I remembered reasonably well how to say that word aloud. I lost my hearing around twelve or thirteen, so I could not hear my own voice. But maybe Amir or Aiden understood me. There had appeared some lights behind Amir. Desperately, I tried to sign the word, wondering if he could see me. Air!
Outside was a no-go; I could still feel the convulsions of the earth between my feet. It felt like the ground itself was writhing about in agony! Aiden fell more onto my shoulder, putting even more of his weight onto me. The fogginess in my brain was getting worse, even as I was trying to think. Amir was at some panels on the wall, pushing buttons. I could see his outline in between me and the lights, with his little hands darting about, hitting everything he could. Sometimes mashing buttons can be a lifesaver, right?
Ow! In one sudden moment, the air was forced out of me. I fell over, with Aiden’s weight entirely on me. I was trying to breathe, but no air seemed to come. I could not let Aiden die, but I could not tell if he was still conscious. My head landed on my arm, making the darkness spin even more. In a daze, I watched all the little lights circle us. Wait, when had those lights appeared? Last time the world spun, I could not see so many of them. Was this a trap set by the Pyrrh? They looked almost like a myriad of stars. Hopefully Amir was still mashing buttons.
I blinked, feeling that the floor was gone. My right hand grabbed onto Aiden. In that moment, we were both weightless, falling. Frantically, I moved my other hand around, trying to find something, anything, to hold onto. My blood was rushing through my veins; my body was screaming at me to find some way out. I could not see enough to know where Amir was. But the lights were gone.