Chapter 52

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Like some strange comet, Marilyn blazed towards the Earth, trailing an extended tail of barista-philes, news-ships and assorted hangers-on.

Gathered on her bridge were Mel, Cora, Kiko and Max, the latter now decently attired in the dark maroon outfit Marilyn had printed for him.  The four watched in silence as the pale dot centred in the main viewscreen rapidly coalesced into the majestic, blue-green orb that was the Earth—beautiful, ever-changing and patently, vividly, gloriously alive.

For the moment.

For want of any better sources of information, they had tuned into PGN's coverage of the crisis, and the lined, grim face of Strarl Fabulon was testament to the magnitude of the events that were unfolding.  Even his world-weary and egotistical journalistic soul, hardened by years of exposure to the worst news the galaxy had to offer, couldn't help but be moved by the death of  a planet—and the death of the billions who dwelt upon its surface.

"It is becoming difficult to observe the station now, viewers, as it plunges ever-deeper into the Earthian atmosphere.  Heedless of the danger, I have asked my crew to take us closer, however I'm afraid they were unanimous in their response to tell me to, to decline.

"Nevertheless, even from our current, regrettably safe viewpoint, it is possible to see that virtually the entirety of the enormous craft is now engulfed in flame.  Pieces of armour-plating appear to be breaking free, creating a constellation of fireballs, streaking towards the planet's surface.

"Tragically, there will be no last-minute rescue for Earth, viewers.  It can only be minutes now before the station's inexorable descent comes to a cataclysmic end, as it smashes into the surface, setting up a titanic shock-wave that will reverberate around the world.  Every trace of life will be extinguished, in the planet-wide firestorm that follows.

"Grim scenes, viewers.  And you'll see it all, in glorious three-dimensional high-definition, right here on PGN.  Fabulon out."

The occupants of the bridge stared at the now blank screen.  Slowly, Cora reached out and took Max's hand.

The baristas had known the survival of the Earth was at stake.  They had known that its deliverance was their mission, and they had known just what the consequences would be, should they fail.  They had known these things, and yet, despite the enormity of the responsibility, or perhaps because of it, the knowledge hadn't really sunk in.  It was simply too big, there was too much happening, and just too much to do.

Until now.  Now, in these fleeting few minutes of peace, in this brief interlude as they sped from one crisis to yet another, there was time.  Not much, but enough.  Time to think.  Time to process.  Time to comprehend the cold, stark and utterly horrifying reality of the situation.

Their planet was about to die.  Everything they knew, everything they had ever known, their friends, their family, their relatives, their neighbours, their customers, the people they walked past in the street, the people they had never known and now would never know, the animals, the plants—everything.  All gone.  All utterly, irrevocably gone.  Forever.

Max drew Cora close and held her tightly.  Kiko, her usually bubbly, alert face now stricken and drawn, slumped into a chair.  Looking away from the viewscreen, Mel glanced around the bridge.  She snorted.

"Oh, pull it together, you bunch of wet-wipes.  Marilyn?"

"Yes, Mel?"

"Move your arse."

"But I haven't got a...oh, right."


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