The fireball and tail shot across the sky, its speed impossible, incomprehensible as it burned through the atmosphere toward Earth. It barely lost any of its immense bulk as it neared, and only a moment later the enormous bulk slammed into Earth’s surface, throwing a circle of light and dust into the air. With it, an ethereal brightening seared the dark sky and, after what seemed like the longest time, the light faded into a shimmering mushroom of debris which began raining back to Earth as if in slow-motion.
From our viewpoint in her orbit screams all around me shattered the night, an echo in a chorus of onlookers’ grief. All I heard as the young versions of my parents collapsed to the ground was Mom, comprehension slamming into her and Dad. They had just lost almost everyone they loved.
Searing pain tore into my gut. I clenched my fists until my fingernails bit into my palms. I barely noticed that I was clinging to Liam, that he held me against him, his arms as tight as the vise gripping my heart, that I shook, sobbed and that tears slid down his cheeks too. My parents’ continued screams cut a burning, stabbing pain through my chest, constricting my throat. But I couldn’t drag my eyes from them or escape the suffocating Virtual Experience. My body numbed. A weighted, nauseated, distant dream took hold. I tried to lift my hand to wipe at the tears burning my cheeks, but my hand wouldn’t move. The VE faded into the swirling mist then slid away. We were back in the room with the familiar leather couches. After the longest time, Liam loosened his grip and I stepped away, wiping my cheeks.
Liam kept his eyes on me. “Are you all right, Cass?”
A choked “Why would they make us—?” was all I managed as my tears gushed.
Some fell onto my wrist, splashing Grandma’s antique, white-gold wrap-around bracelet pen and the sixteen silver sparkle bangles Mom and Dad had given me that morning. My ‘Age of Understanding’ gift. Sixteen. The old maxim really applied to me. But it felt back-to-front, like the soft sensation of a boy’s lips on mine should have preceded what I’d just witnessed. And it wasn’t for lack of wanting. I yearned to be in the arms of a boy tasting his soft, sweet lips. But I hadn’t yet met the boy who had recently begun starring in my dreams—the boy with eyes the color of a tropical ocean, dimples etched into his cheeks and the body of an athletic Greek god. He most likely didn’t exist, but he had ruined me for anyone else.
Another single, soft word made its way through my lips. “Why?”
Liam absorbed my gaze. “Not witnessing this doesn’t erase nor diminish what happened. Don’t you think this a fair way to honor the people who lost their lives?”
The words scraped through my throat. “I thought that was what our annual ‘Extinction Day’ commemoration was for.” I hated the crass term. It didn’t sound at all like an honor. Instead, I added, “I hate Gina for terming it something so cold.”
Liam took my hand. “You shouldn’t worry about her, Cassidy. She’s just a crazy old bat.”
Although it wasn’t his fault, I glared up at him. “Are you sure that’s all she is, Liam? Because I’m not.”