Ankh leaned her back against the wall of the classroom, holding the butt of her laser gun tightly against her shoulder. Footstep after footstep drew nearer. She pressed a finger to her lips, signaling to the radiant five-year-old children who hid beneath their desks—not that it did them any good. The shimmering bio-luminescence of their skin cast shadows, even in the brightly halogen-lit room.
“All you children!” shouted a deep, booming voice. “Look at yourselves! Hiding as if already in shadow. Night will overcome you.”
Ankh closed her eyes for a moment, lost in the sound of her own heart pounding. The children let out stifled whimpers.
Why them? Ankh thought, adjusting her sunglasses. The children had done no wrong. They did not ask for the genetic anomaly that caused their skin to shine like daylight. No one knew what had caused it—these were, after all, the first generation of children born on this new planet. Was it something in the water? In the air? In the food that grew in the strange soil of Terra Nova? Was it the same thing which had caused every grown man on the planet to become engulfed in lunacy and darkness over the last year?
“You all deserve to die!” the deep voice said, this time, right outside the classroom door.
Ankh saw the shadow he cast, oozing like tar through the cracks around the door’s edges. She tightened her grip on her gun. “Step inside this room and I’ll kill you!”
The man laughed. “All it will take is time. Death will take them, you’ll see. All I wish to do is bring it sooner.”
“I don’t want to die, Miss Ankh,” Mirage said, peeking over the top of her desk. Her deep skin cast a warm brown light across the floor, driving back the darkness creeping through the door. Tears, lit up like diamonds in sunlight, rolled down her cheeks.
Ankh’s stomach flopped. “Hush. Hide.”
Mirage let out a sob and ducked beneath her desk again.
The door opened with a hiss as the magnetic locks released, overridden. The man loomed in the hall, a manifestation of darkness so thick not even the features of his face broke through. With a scream, Ankh opened fire. Blast after blast of the lasers hit him.
Impervious, he advanced into the room. “You defend them? These creatures as bright as the fires of Hell?”
Ankh dashed to the center of the room, placing herself between the man and the children. She fired again, this time striking him on the forehead.
The man charged her and slapped the laser gun out of her grip. It fell to the floor with a clatter like despair. “You think your petty light is enough to overcome the darkness?” He grabbed her wrist and twisted her around, then pulled her in and pressed his arm tight against her throat. Whispering and crying came from behind the desks.
“Darkness—darkness is nothing more,” Ankh choked out, “N—nothing more than the a—absence of light!”
“Listen. Don’t you hear your own fear? Darkness is power, darkness is everything! Darkness is death!”
Mirage stood up from behind her desk and held out her hand. Within seconds, all the other children did the same, their faces taut with rage like a child in a tantrum. Their skin flashed brighter, and brighter until it was blinding.
Ankh squeezed her eyes shut. Even her eyelids could not hold the light out—her world lit up with the red of her own blood vessels. The man holding her vanished like a vapor blown away by wind. Collapsing to the floor, she lay sobbing as her world was filled with bright green retinal impressions. She shook her head, trying to clear her vision. Within seconds, she was surrounded by children, hugging her and telling her that it was okay now; the bad man was gone. Their light had gone back to bearable levels.
“Don’t be sad,” Mirage whispered. “He was already dead.”
But all Ankh could do was keep on sobbing, wondering if he was right. Would the beautiful children die too soon? Would their radiant light fade? Was it inevitable that light would turn to darkness, and presence become absence?
After all, Terra Antiqua only died because its sun did.
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