That Night

YC106. The second year of the Empyrean age, more and more people choosing to take to the skies thanks to our ‘gift’ from the Jovians. A year not without turmoil, but one that heralded new discoveries and advances; of alliances and great structures in the stars.

The year that changed me.

The party was set to be suitably lavish; intricate ice sculptures and small holoprojectors adorned tables filled with every miniature party delicacy you could think of. Soft purple lighting faded between hues, tinting the ever-growing crowd in the colours of the evening. The trays of the serving staff concealed small decorative smoke emitters, dense coils of silver and purple fog wending their way around the stems of elegant cocktail glasses. Music played but went largely unheard amongst the chatter and laughter and excited whispers when another starlet swept into the main hall.

My father was trying to make light conversation with one of the event organisers; she’d clearly sampled a few too many of the cocktails already, and kept listing sideways slightly towards him. I tried not to laugh as I scanned the room for my mother, knowing she too would get a kick out of his predicament. Behind the swathes of gowns and dress coats, I finally picked her out. Even in her server uniform for the evening, she still seemed to rival many of the visiting holostars in their effortless beauty. The smiles that the men – and indeed some of the women – were giving her as she offered them fresh drinks were more than just smiles of gratitude.

“Can I get you a drink, miss?”

I jumped at the voice. “Oh, thank you, but no,” I managed, quickly recovering my composure. “Not while I’m working.”

The man’s smile was warm and apologetic. “A little too young too, I suppose,” he replied, smile widening as I failed to stop the blush. It was true; at just 16 years old, it had been hard for my father to get the management to agree to my presence here at all. It had been my mother’s suggestion of giving me a ‘tucked away’ role for the evening that had finally seen them relent, as it would free up more of their own staff to mingle with the elite and spread the word of the fine facilities on offer at the Pleasure Gardens. “At least behind this cloakroom desk you’re free from the wandering hands of the entitled masses out there.” He made a sweeping gesture to the guests, eyes lingering on a man whose hand was slowly sliding down the exposed back of the young woman next to him. I fought the urge to shudder a little, though my expression was enough to cause the man to give a short bark of laughter. He placed a heavy dress coat on the table in front of me. “I hope you have a chance to enjoy it,” he said softly as I registered its description and handed him his checking ticket. “We may not see a night like this again.”

With that, he disappeared into the crowd. His coat, like all the others I had taken that evening, was cut from exorbitantly expensive material. Tonight was very much a night for the rich and famous.

 

A short time later, the light-hearted chatter and tinkling laughter started to be interspersed with hushed tones of whispers and shocked gasps. Some guests were tapping on small datapads, flicking quickly through messages or media channels or news headlines. Tucked away in my booth, I could neither listen in nor look over a shoulder to see what had occurred. I wouldn’t get any answers til much later on- far too late to take the event as the warning it should have been.

 

As time passed, the party settled back into excitement and frivolity. Guests continued to arrive as a stream of shuttles and escort ships could be seen flying over the huge dome a hundred metres above us. Stars of a whole host of Gallentean entertainment were here, along with many of the top producers and directors that the cluster had to offer. Opportunistic agents were sliding between the talent, no doubt name-dropping and info-gathering to see who they could poach from their rivals.

As the night drew ever on towards the main attraction, the second shift staff started to drift in. The party had already been going for a number of hours, but was set to carry on long into the early hours of the following day. Not wanting their staff to lose their ‘peppy’ demeanour, the organisers had arranged for relief staff to take over just before the guests started to move into the premiere’s viewing theatre. As much as my feet were aching from standing and my jaw from smiling, I was quietly disappointed that I wouldn’t get a chance to see any of the main event itself. Sure enough, as 2100 approached I was joined by an over-eager young man who would be taking over my role. He chattered away excitedly about the the stars he hoped to meet, how many times he’d watched the holoreels they’d been in, how he’d simply die of joy if any of them spoke to him.

His choice of words seemed bitterly ironic in the hours that followed.

 

Eventually, my father came to say that we were done. Seeing my disappointment, he managed to sneak one of the bubbly concoctions from an unattentive server for me to try. Horrendously sweet gave way to a strange burning from whatever alcohol they had chosen, and I quickly found somewhere to hide the almost-full glass. My mother joined us, she too complaining of burning feet and massaging her cheeks. With last farewells to the relief staff, we made our way to the shuttle port and our arranged flight back to the surface of Elarel IX.

None of us noticed that the stream of high-profile ships carrying celebrities had stopped docking. Nor that many of the station’s dock staff were scurrying around a little more frantically than was expected. Our shuttle pilot was eager to leave too, though at the time I just assumed he was keen to get home after a long day.

Within a matter of minutes, we too would be eager to get home.

The smaller ships arrived first. Frigates and their heavier-armed Destroyer kin began circling the station; though, being of Gallentean design, no-one suspected they were anything more than an honour guard or surprise entertainment piece. It was only when a larger cruiser force came out of warp within a hundred kilometers of the station that the true nature of the new arrivals was revealed.

They took up positions all around the station, and opened fire.

The whole structure shook violently as the initial volleys of blaster and autocannon fire hit the shields. Laughter was replaced by screams and yells, a palpable wave of panic and fear flooding through the station. The bombardment was relentless, only a few seconds between each new tremor that signalled another battering of the shields. We ran onto the shuttle, the pilot barely letting the doors seal before breaking away from the landing pad and speeding towards the open exit into space. More and more people were streaming into the docking bay, desperately trying to get into their own transports and get to safety. Few of the ships were even ready to launch; their passengers had not been expected to return for many hours yet, so the ships and crews were barely refuelled, let alone prepped for undock.

The massive hull of a Thorax-class cruiser burned across the docking exit, temporarily blocking our route. Its huge turrets were all fixed on the station, pumping round after round into the slowly failing defenses of the Pleasure Garden station. There was no-one returning fire, no retaliation against the unexpected offensive; they just kept firing, unopposed and unrelenting.

Alarms and sirens were blaring all over the station, loud enough to be heard even within our tiny craft. As the Thorax finally cleared the docking port, our pilot hit the engines and made a beeline for freedom. Our speed restricted by the fact we were still inside the structure, we began to hear the groans and screams of the structure itself, its shields now unable to stop the incoming damage from bleeding into the armour protection provided by metal constructs and plating around much of the body of the station. The beautiful twin glass domes would not be afford such protection.

At the time, the next few minutes seemed to last an eternity. A direct hit to the hangar bay itself caused a number of fires to break out, an ear-splitting explosion signalling the destruction of one of the docked ships. As much as we were horrified by the chaos around us, none of us could tear ourselves away from the tiny viewports. Beyond the flaming wreckage and scattered debris, numerous bodies lay twisted and unmoving on the gantries. We crossed the threshold of the shields just as they failed, hoping against hope that our little speck of a ship wouldn’t drawn the attention of any of the attackers. Instead, them seemed focused on nothing more than the total annihilation of the station and everyone still on board.

A numbness took over me. I watched as shots continued to rain down on the station as it slowly drifted into the distance. Scorch marks and stress fractures started to form on the armour plating. Only a handful of other small ships seemed to have made it out so far. A few escape pods, two or three shuttles, nothing more.

The ships continued to fire.

Comms traffic was full of distress signals and calls for aid, panicked and garbled; and cut off too soon to get a response. The station was now on fire in multiple locations, venting valuable oxygen and pressure into the void. The glass dome I had been standing under less than an hour ago finally shattered, opening a vast hole through which countless things started to drift. Pieces of the structure itself, tables, scenery pieces. Bodies.

Almost as one, the ships stopped firing and started to draw back. Their work was done. With a final scream of tortured metal, the station succumbed to its wounds and the many internal structural failures. In an almost hypnotic series of explosions, the station began its collapse. More debris was propelled out into the starlit expanse as, in a final blinding flash of brilliance, the heart of the station itself detonated.

My ears rang with the sound for a number of minutes before the deafening quiet returned. What had once been a beautiful scene of joy and revelry was now scattered across kilometres of open space. The bodies of the rich and famous froze, twisted and charred, alongside those of the many station staff. Staff that we would have been among, had it been just a short time earlier.

 

I don’t remember landing on the planet’s surface. I have some memories of being greeted by emergency teams and medical crews, of being taken to a facility to be checked over and treated for shock. For days, the news was filled with nothing else but the ‘massacre at the ‘Ultra!’ premiere’. The death count changed every hour, rising steadily. While many of the holoreel stars and high-flying production guests would have had clones sitting around in safe facilities for them to return to, the workers of the station itself were now just numbers. Once the Federation Police had declared the scene no longer under threat, the retrieval crews were sent up to bring back the bodies of those for whom immortality wasn’t an option.

To this day, I wonder if that excited young man got to meet any of his heroes before his death. I wonder what became of the man with the expensive coat, and the tipsy young organiser who my father had been speaking with.

No longer do I wish to live amongst the stars. Gone is my wistful dream of being one of the pilots in command of my own beautiful cruiser. I have seen what they are capable of from one side- and do not wish to be the monster on the other.

————————–
Author’s notes.

I spent a long time researching events in New Eden in YC106. It had to be *that* year, and a suitable disaster that would have had significant media impact. Once I found the news articles about this event, it seemed to fit. So, taking many creative liberties with the small amount of available content, this story came together.

Why?

YC106 was the year 2004. On this day 12 years ago, my parents and I would also have our lives changed forever by a catastrophic event. Not at a lavish party, but on a sun-soaked beach on the island of Sri Lanka.

Almost a quarter of a million people lost their lives when an earthquake off the coast of Indonesia triggered a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It devastated many island nations, as well the coast of India and South Africa.

My parents and I were taking a nice Boxing Day walk on the beach when it hit the west coast of Sri Lanka. We were in the direct path of the waves as they hit the shores.

I almost watched them both drown.

Thankfully, we were rescued by two local Sri Lankans who heard our screams and shouts. They lost everything they owned, but came back into the danger area to rescue three tourists who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. We owe them our lives.

Much like the young girl in my story, I witnessed death first hand that day. You can’t be the same person after that, I promise you. While our physical injuries were thankfully minor, it is the psychological ones that hurt the most, particularly at this time of year.

It took 9 years for me to be formally diagnosed with severe PTSD. It was a single day that literally changed my life.

I have achieved so much since then. I have tried to make the most of opportunities and live the most fulfilled life I can. Because I have seen how quickly it can end.

Every year, I write a new version of my story. It hurts as much as it helps, but it does help. And every time I’m brave enough to share it, I feel like I’m winning over my fears just a little bit more.

So thank you. Thank you for reading. To those who have had direct interactions with me (either in person or online), I hope this goes some way to explaining why I sometimes disappear. And I hope it shows how much it means to me to still be here with my friends, and to still be able to enjoy life wherever and however I can.

Thank you.

-Eli

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One thought on “That Night

  1. Hugs, Eli. That was a powerful story even before I came to the afterword. You are a talented writer- all the emotion comes through loud and clear. I’m really glad you’ve found a helpful way to reflect and process on what must have been a horrendous experience.

    Like

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