It was supposed to be their last day at the main Pleasuredome hostel—they’d booked a private cottage in the “wilderness adventure” section of the dome for the next week. Hostin and Demis’ leaves would be up at the end of the week and they’d be leaving, Hostin for deployment on Hecht, and Demis back downside on his regular assignment at the Centrum Bek Home Legion supply office.
They had taken the children to the Grav-Krazee park that afternoon, and mostly stood around while they went on ride after ride. Jamed admitted he was flagging by midafternoon, and although the kids were adamant that they were good until until closing time, Francet and Orshel had vetoed it on the grounds of early bed and an early departure for the cottage next day.
So they’d gone for dinner while it was still daycycle, at one of the restaurants that catered to children with “fun meals” and costumed characters for service and entertainment.
“We’ll meet you in the Homelight,” Jamed had told the two girls as they’d shepherded the youngsters off to bed, and won a grateful glance from his younger son and son-in-law. It was still early enough that they managed to get a domeside table, though the credit chip Jamed had palmed to the maiter hadn’t hurt, either.
“Holy Warrior,” Hostin muttered as they sat down. “I think I’m as tired as you, Fa.”
Demis grunted in agreement. “If I had to ride that TowerTwister one more time, I was seriously considering jumping off.” He caught the eye of one of the servers, and raised an imperative hand.
They gave orders for drinks, Hostin and Demis considerately ordering for the girls. No one had much conversation left, after the strenuous afternoon. They’d eaten all they needed with the kids; no one had the energy for another restaurant, but Jamed ordered a platter of fingernibs to accompany the drinks.
The huge, slightly curved glasteel wall that butted up against the very edge of the tavis field enclosing the Pleasuredome resort was still a trifle opaque from the glare of the fading day lights, but the outline of Reveille C could be discerned, a vast bulk hanging beyond the short horizon. The planet orbited far enough out from the primary that its natural daycycle was all but irrelevant; the jathrin domes that enclosed its two rings of habitats were engineered with supplementary light cycles, just like Pleasuredome. The habitat domes were beads of light, like necklaces draping the poles.
An attractive female server in the brief Homelight Lounge uniform (well, brief for women—the male staff had ordinary service keks and tunics with a formal sash) brought their drinks. Jamed eyeballed her cleavage and had a moment’s dreamy reminiscence of that amazingly nimble and good-natured dancer from the show lounge. Really, it was a shame he wouldn’t have time for another visit… maybe when they returned from the cottage.
“What the…?” he heard Hostin exclaim, and turned.
His son was staring at the planet.
Jamed followed his gaze.
Among the lighted “beads” of the south polar habitat chain, was an expanding, multicolored sparkle effect.
He could feel the color draining from his face. His head felt light, and very far away from the rest of him.
There was a murmur rippling through the lounge, now, and more and more of the patrons and staff were turning to the windowed wall.
Someone muttered, “Creator have mercy…”
But there was no mercy today. The sparkling effect continued to expand, and small strands of incandescence began to form, fringing the main blur.
Not many in the Homelight lounge had ever seen a tavis field in catastrophic failure. But everyone knew that this light show was no part of the Pleasuredome entertainment schedule.
Helplessly, Jamed Ursek watched millions die. “Demis.”
His son-in-law was staring out the window, brows twisted in confused alarm.
“Wha…” he turned. “Is that…?” His voice was hoarse, a little breathy, his eyes unfocused.
Abruptly, Demis’ eyes focused. He looked at Jamed with the automatic response of a legionary to a commander. His lips parted, then closed again.
“Demis, go and tell the girls to stay in their rooms, and keep the children there, as well. Do it now. Then get your uniform brassard and shockwand, and report to the Security desk in the lobby.”
Another half-second of frozen regard, then a truncated nod, and Demis was gone. Jamed would have been glad to follow, to have something useful to do, to have a need to fill. But there was nothing he could do, not now. Kalven… Pranis… the grandchildren… everyone.
Around them, the murmur was swelling. A woman’s voice rose keening above the crescendo in a high, hopeless descant. The sound of someone retching violently close at hand. Crockery breaking. Something heavy hitting the floor. Splintering sounds.
A man flung himself against the window, fists pounding. “No! No! NOOOOO!!”
Jamed took one last look out the window, then turned to Hostin, watching mesmerized as the incandescent fringe wove itself into twisting tentacles, reaching north… breaking off…
He shook his son’s arm. “Hos!”
Hostin turned his head, looked at his father as though seeing a stranger for the first time.
“Hos, we’d better go meet Demis at the Security station. Come on.”
It was something to do. Better than standing, watching.
Hostin looked over his shoulder, more than once, as they left, shoving their way through a growing chaos. As though the view might change. As though it might turn back into the peaceful bulge of Revielle C, with its serene necklaces of habitat domes, homes to half a billion people. As though the nightmare might end.
End. That was it.
“See the World End From Pleasuredome.”