Missiles exploded beside the pod, shaking the world, signaling the end.
Mara screamed Rafiem’s name, turning back toward the Strategic Combat Site, bumping hard into Asher and Massi’.
“I have to go back!” she cried. “I have to be with him!”
Asher forced her to turn, to run again, toward the shuttle, away from her husband. She fought, slowing everyone, screaming. Then the baby moved and she ran again.
The attack came suddenly, with little warning. Radar came alive with activity, but hot until it was almost upon them. Rafiem and Asher, the colony leaderss, shouted orders over the hysterical chaos of settlers and scientists, all preparing for sudden, mass evacuation.
Rafiem ran into the dwelling he shared with Mara and out again as the assault squadron hit, swooping out of the clouds, destroying most of the living quarters on the first aerial run. The blast threw him onto his face, showered him with rubble that had, seconds before, been his home. He scampered up and ran to his wife. “Here!” he yelled, unheard over the screams of colonists and low flying spacecraft.
Mara took the book he thrust at her—one of the few surviving print copies of the Bible, the only one on the planet. She had a copy on her palmer, like other believers, but this relic was priceless. Rafiem, a non-believer, saw it only as an investment.
Asher yelled into Rafiem’s ear. “Gotta go!”
“The shuttle! The midstation hasn’t been compormised yet! At least it’s defendable!”
Asher shook his head. “Too late! We’ll never get it off the ground without getting blasted!”
Rafiem looked behind him, to the SCS pod, as yet undamaged. “I’ll man the pod!” he yelled. “Get them out of here!” Another flier dropped fire, shaking the ground.
“No!” Mara shrieked. “You’ll never get away!”
In the middle of what had to be the end of that world Rafiem took her face in his rough hands, leaned down and kissed her gently. “But you will.”
Then he was gone and Mara was running with Asher and Massi’ and the others, fighting to go back.
Asher shoved her into the entry of the spacebus, yelled at everyone to prepare quickly for takeoff and ran to the cockpit. Massi’ grabbed Mara and forced her into a seat. Mara noticed that she was crying, too. ‘What have you lost?’ she wondered. ‘Asher is here.’
The shuttle door slid and locked into place and Mara moaned softly. She heard the bone-rumbling hum of the SCS pod and knew Rafiem was there, beginning counterfire, allowing his people at least a prayer of escape. And Mara prayed—for him and the baby and Asher and for all of them.
The shuttle lifted roughly, long before everyone was strapped in. Mara ignored common sense, unfastened her restrains and loped to the cockpit. Her last chance to speak with Rafiem was there.
She heard his voice as she cleared the doorway, saw his face on the videolink. He looked scared and resolute, his jaw set in concentration.
“…power’s at 85922,” he reported breathlessly. “First wave’s over but radar shows another incoming! Get them out of here, Ash! Go!”
“Working on it!”
“Go! They’re coming fast, and there’s ground troops trying to get in here! I don’t know how many I can stop!”
Lights bounced off the screen Rafiem studied, sending kaleidoscopic colors across his face. He frowned, but not at an enemy fleet; Mara had seen the expression countless times—Rafiem trying to frame his thoughts, to clumsily express his heart.
“Tell Mara…tell her I didn’t marry her because of the matching requirements. Tell her I’ve always loved her. Tell her I’m sorry I couldn’t say those words, but I always felt them. Tell her I’ll never stop feeling them.” His voice caught.
Asher heard Mara in the doorway and turned, catching her eye. They were both crying.
“Tell her that I know about the baby. I’ve known all along. Tell her I had a surprise for her, too.” He looked up into the videolink and saw her. “Mara,” he said, “I believe…in God…in Jesus! I fought it for a long time, but I finally understand God loves me…really loves me, Mara, and that I can be loved by Him. I was going to tell you tonight, but…I want you to know. Your love changed my life…my eternity…I love you, Mara!”
Her tears spilled onto her cheeks as the attack began again and the videolink monitor went black.
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