The winner of September 2011 Writing Challenge "Stars' Fall"
I would like to thank my beta readers, kes7
and Lil Black Dog
, for their valuable suggestions
: Nokar and Eheen are continents on Cardassia Prime.
Where Stars Sank
Rafgan, a small island near the east coast of the continent of Nokar, Hebitia One, the Third Hebitian Republic
Fisherman Kodir Matassan woke up and at first he wasn’t sure what had happened. Had it been noise or a tremor? It took merely a few seconds to know that it had been both. Kodir’s wife sat up and gave him a scared look. “What’s happening?” she asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” he answered shaking his head and getting up.
Sanit got up, too. “I’ll check the kids.”
He nodded, not even sure if she could see him in the faint light that was falling through the only window into their bedroom and followed her out, passing by the children’s room, though, and heading for the main exit.
Barefoot, he stood outside their small house, which he had built seven years ago with his own hands, and looked up at the dark sky.
But the sky was not completely dark. Beside the familiar blinking spots of distant stars, it was marred by golden lines. He knew what it was: more fragments of what used to be the planet’s only natural satellite.
Not long time ago a comet or another meteorite—Kodir was never good at that scientific terminology—had hit their moon and caused its destruction. Not only the satellite had been pushed off its orbit but also small debris had broken off and now they were littering Hebitia’s surface, causing unimaginable damage and countless deaths. The fisherman understood little of the scientific babbling from news broadcasts, but he understood one thing: this was just the beginning. Without their moon, the planet’s tilt would not be as stable as it used to be and that would bring some disastrous changes to its inhabitants—the Hebitians.
Smart brains had calculated where the debris that used to be the dark side’s surface of the moon would fall and the most endangered regions had been evacuated, but it still was not enough. Rafgan was one of those high-risk places, though it was not in the top ten, just merely in top twenty, but almost everyone had refused to leave, hoping that Oralius would steer the moon’s fragments away from them.
Now, looking at the sky, for the first time Kodir wondered that maybe the decision to stay hadn’t been such a good idea. The points of impact were beyond the island, but he knew how dangerous the sea could be if not treated with due respect and hitting it with huge rocks of a celestial body was not respect.
He felt Sanit’s hand on his shoulder. “What’s going on?”
“I am not sure,” he answered, realising that he didn’t feel any more tremors. “But it doesn’t look good,” he added, pointing to the sky.
She raised her head and squinted her eyes. “So they were right when they said that one of the ‘moon rains’ was going to hit us.”
“How are the kids?”
Kodir’s eye ridges shot up. “It didn’t wake them up?”
“It would appear that yester—” Sanit didn’t have a chance to finish when another tremor moved the land under their feet. Kodir thought he heard an explosion somewhere in the distance, but his ears were more susceptible to crying coming from the house now.
Without a word, Sanit returned inside, leaving her husband in the cool air of the night in his pyjamas, standing barefoot in mud.
The crying subsided but another explosion-like noise sounded and Kodir had no doubts this time—something had blown up. But what could that be? He looked toward the sound and reflections of flames cast shadows on his suddenly pale face. “Sweet Oralius,” he muttered. He turned and ran back into the house, not paying attention to all dirt he brought in on his feet. “Sanit, get the kids and leave the house! Now!”
“Daddy!” Nakor pulled his hands toward his father and Kodir raised the boy, who immediately wrapped his hands around his dad’s neck. “I’m scared. Did the moon monster come to eat us?”
“The moon monster?”
“The moon monster that ate the moon and now will eat us?”
“No, my sweet Soldier. No one will eat us,” his father assured him, praying to Oralius that he hadn’t just told a lie. He turned to his wife, who carried their younger son. “To the boat.” She nodded and followed him outside.
The government representative had come to them some time ago and suggested to evacuate to another place, to a city in Nokar, but Kodir had refused. He had been born on this island, he had learnt his profession from his father on this island and he always thought he would die on this island. What could he, a fisherman, do in a big city? Though, he had hoped he would die on this island many years in the future, not now
They arrived on the beach and Kodir led his family to his boat. Then he headed back down the gangplank.
“Where are you going?” The panic in Sanit’s voice was palpable.
“I must get the others, I must get the guide.” He knew his boat was a fairly safe means of escape from the island, but he couldn’t just run leaving literally everyone behind. He had to try to get as many people on the boat as possible, as he was certain that the air transportation wouldn’t suffice to take everyone to Nokar in time.
His wife was just about to say something, but her mouth shut without a sound and she looked beyond her husband. He turned to see a group of people running to them. Someone stumbled and fell, as the ground shook again.
“Fisherman Matassan, we must leave the island!” someone shouted.
“What’s going on?” Kodir asked, trying to locate the owner of the voice in the crowd.
“The orchards are on fire and it spreads quickly.” It was Rafgan castellanis called Fagor. Kodir noted that he was unbelievably calm under the circumstances.
“Castellanis Fagor, but...” Kodir didn’t understand anything. “Where’s the point of impact.”
“The west coast of our island,” Fagor explained. “Some rocks fell into the sea, some hit the trees. They have already reached and destroyed all transportation shuttles. Support troop emergency boats are also gone, as for some reason the sea level lowered and the fire reached the boats, spreading on the dried bottom on the sea.”
Now Kodir understood what kind of explosions he had heard: the shuttles. Rafgan had regular shuttle connection with the mainland and three of shuttles were parked on the island, while the other three on the other side of the strait, on the continent’s shore. With them gone and with the military boats destroyed there was no other way of leaving the island...except for his boat.
He started calculations in his mind: what kind of cargo the boat could manage to take and how many people lived on the island. He didn’t need any computer-like skills to know that there was no way for everyone to get on board.
However, Fagor seemed to have everything planned. “Gostan, didn’t I tell you to bring the guide?”
A young man, whom Kodir didn’t know, said, “She refused. She said she wanted to stay in the temple and pray to Oralius for our safe escape.”
The castellanis rolled his eyes. “Tell her Oralius would hear her from anywhere. Bring her by force, if you have to, damn it, but I won’t leave her here!”
Gostan ran back toward the village in the middle of the island, while Fagor looked at Kodir. “Can we use your boat?” he asked.
The fisherman was surprised at first; such a dire need and the castellanis was asking
him for permission to use his boat? “Naturally,” he replied, hoping that no one took his surprise for hesitation. “First, we’ll need to remove any non-necessary items from the boat, so that it could carry more people.” He looked toward the small crowd. “I need ten people to help me,” he said louder. He chose volunteers and told them to follow him.
They threw out the whole cargo, all pieces of sparse furniture and everything else that was not really needed. Some people brought food, while the castellanis returned to his office in an attempt of notifying someone in Bavosal, the nearest Nokarian city, where to look for the boat with the survivors.
Kodir also noticed that some people sailed from all around the island in their small recreational boats. They weren’t able to take many people and they would not be able to sail far, but they would keep people alive while the whole island were to be consumed by fire.
People were slowly gathering on the beach and Kodir’s heart started to slowly sink. His fishing boat was a big one—after all his business was not only for the local market but also for Bavosal and other villages along the coast—but far from sufficient for that kind of crowd. When disassembling the crane that carried nets with caught fish, he glanced at the gathered people—in spite of his own promise not to do that for he didn’t want to see how many there were...going to be left—and noticed that the guide was among the others now. He was glad to see that the young man had managed to convince her to join. She was too important and too wise to let her die. He also noticed the inquisitor, who tried to control a group of young teenagers. With a startle he realised that most of the people on the beach were below twenty years of age. Where were their parents? A second later an explanation shot through his head—the parents had decided to make sure their children would survive even if they wouldn’t themselves and sent them alone to the beach to spare the kids the horrors of farewell—so he refused to dwell on it and returned to his work, trying to concentrate on it and not anything else.
The castellanis called him, so Kodir returned to the beach. On his way down the gangplank he noticed orange light above the island had become brighter—the fire was consuming more and more of the small land. He also realised that the gangplank was now in a bit different position than it had been when he had boarded the boat the last time. Had the sea level lowered?
“Matassan, we will try to fit all younger children on your boat plus the guide and the inquisitor. All kids know them, so they wouldn’t be so scared. You also must go, as you are the only one you can drive that thing.”
“Steer,” the fisherman corrected him.
Fagor nodded. “Steer that thing. The older children will get on smaller boats, since they are big enough to understand how to behave on such a small craft not to fall overboard.”
“I understand.” And he did, but it felt awfully wrong to escape while so many others couldn’t.
Everyone who had helped to clear the boat of the unnecessary stuff left the boat and the inquisitor led the children of all ages aboard. Kodir stood near the gangplank, making sure no one fell into water and he did his best not to panic. From the corner of his eye he observed his wife, who stood on the shore with a solemn look on her face. It hadn’t been said yet, but he knew what it meant—she had to stay. He had to leave her behind. But how could he leave, knowing that his beloved would...he felt tears filling his eyes and wiped them away with a sleeve, realising that he still was in his pyjamas. He looked toward the village again and then toward the sea. He saw that some of small boats floated very near the beach and wondered why people pulled them that far into the sand. He knew it would make it much more difficult to sail away if a boat was in shallow water. He looked at his own boat and with a start realised that the fire wasn’t the only problem that threatened the inhabitants. Not only the boats were in shallower water now, but also his fishing vessel. He had not moved it, but it didn’t change the fact that the water level was different: lower. No natural tide would behave like that—and he knew it was not the time for this kind of tide—so there had to be another reason. His heart almost stopped beating when he understood what it was: a drawdown. If he had any hope that they would survive, it was gone now, as his practised eye of a man of the sea interpreted the sign: a drawdown meant that a tsunami was coming. One of moon rocks had to be big enough to cause giant waves, which were now closing to the island to consume it.
He shot a glance at all the small boats near the shore and closed his eyes, trying not to burn in his memory all those faces, because he knew that there was no chance the boats and their passengers would withstand a hit of a giant wave. He was torn between telling them it was hopeless and letting them fight for their lives. Which was less cruel, Oralius, tell me, please!
He glanced at the immersion sensor installed on the hull of his boat and instinctively raised his hand. Normally it meant that the boat was full and the load of cargo should be stopped, but in this case the meaning of this simple gesture hit him like a hammer. No one else could board or they would all
die. He realised that the surprisingly calm so far crowd grew nervous, as parents of the left-out children started to panic. Someone started to cry and beg to let her child board the boat. Some voices joined her, some tried to hush her and some scolded her. Someone intoned a prayer to Oralius—Kodir guessed it was the guide—and many people joined the singing.
His brain started making a new calculation. He looked at his thin wife; she had helped him to fish many times before and she had some knowledge of sailing. But what was more important—she was half his weight. If he meant four kids, she meant eight. That’s the only thing he needed to know. One of them had to stay aboard to steer the boat, but it had to be the lighter one.
He waved for her to approach the gangplank and left the boat. “You will take them,” he whispered to her and before she had time to protest, he raised his hand with four fingers stretched and shouted, “Four more kids!” Her eyes opened wide, as she fully understood what he was doing. She shook her head, speechless and he wrapped his arms around her to give her the strongest and warmest hug of her life...and the last one from him. “Remember,” he whispered to her ear, “remember and never forget.” She nestled her face in his chest, but she didn’t sob. She was the bravest person he knew.
One of teenagers pushed his younger sister toward the gangplank and the inquisitor helped the girl to board the boat. Due to their young age—and low weight—they managed to save four more in addition to the girl. Five in total.
He gave Sanit the last kiss and gently pushed her toward the gangplank. Instead of goodbye, he said, “Take them all under deck. Tsunami’s coming—don’t let them see that.” Don’t let them see the huge wave washing us all off the shore into the sea. Don’t let them see how scared we were and don’t let them hear how loud we screamed in fear and pain. Don’t let them remember their parents as fragile, dying and terrified people; make sure they remember brave mothers and fathers who sacrificed their lives for their safety. He didn’t say all that but he knew she understood him well.
Tears shone in her eyes. “I won’t,” she said bravely, but she didn’t look brave.
“And make sure the boat is at the correct angle to waves not to be turned upside down,” he continued instructing her, but she grabbed his head, neared her face to his and kissed him, stopping his fast speech. She was shaking and for a second he feared that she wouldn’t manage, but a moment later, seeing her climbing up the gangplank and instructing the inquisitor to take the kids under the deck, he knew that he had underestimated her.
She leaned over the board toward him. “I won’t let anyone forget what you did here today,” she said.
The boat unmoored and then left.
Kodir turned to the people in small boats. Some had already left and were to far to hear him, but he called them anyway. “Return to the shore! Return now, tsunami is coming and those boats—”
“We’ll take our chances,” someone shouted back.
“The boats are too small, the run-up will destroy them.”
A few faces expressed doubt and looked uncertainly at others.
“Get on the boat!” the local grocery clerk yelled at his wife. “We won’t be any safer on the island and this way we at least have a chance!”
“No, you don’t,” Kodir whispered resigned.
The clerk’s wife followed her husband’s instruction and got into a small boat, in which there were already too many people and water was getting inside.
Kodir wished he could do something more, but he knew he was helpless. He looked toward his boat and prayed for its passengers and their survival. It brought him some relief to see that the boat had been steered correctly not to be turned upside down by the run-up. The position didn’t guarantee complete safety, but it maximised their chances.
As the boats disappeared in the darkness of the night and the sea, the sounds on the beach faded away. Many people left—Kodir was guessing—in a futile attempt to find a way to survive the disaster. Many stayed, though, and fell almost completely silent, unless counting soft singing. Kodir couldn’t believe how quiet it became. All they could hear was the song to Oralius, hum of the black sea and crackling of orange flames behind them. He sat on sand and closed his eyes. His duty as a Hebitian was fulfilled—he had sacrificed his life for the good of others. Oralius should be satisfied and he hoped she’d accept him in her kingdom.