Ash rained from the sky in little snow like flakes. The roman architecture looked like a zombified version of it’s former self. Although it was the middle of the night, the particulate combined with city lights to give the atmosphere an eerie glow. The city was still alive even at this late hour.
Commander Liakos stepped out of the Italian parliament building intending to climb directly into the car that would carry him to his hotel. Apparently the mob of international reporters had a different plan. It had been a long day and Liakos was not yet used to the spot light that came with his new position, but he didn’t mind the attention. The white ash coated all of the reports, making them look as if they were grey headed. A cacophony of voices erupted but one distinguished itself above the others.
“Mr. Liakos, Would you care to give a comment on the progress of the world summit?” A young attractive reporter said before pushing a mic into his face. He was surprised to hear his own name. Was it possible that he had become famous over night? Fishing Zao out of the water of the Mediterranean had been a good choice. Other reporters stood around waiting for his response.
“We’ve received commitments from the ten nuclear capable nations. With these flag ship countries and their many allies the New World Alliance will have the best chance at standing against galactic tyranny.” Liakos said. Wow, he thought, I sound like a politician. Another reporter thrust his mic closer as he asked a more penetrating question.
“What type of strategy will be used to defend against this extra terrestrial threat?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss this administrations military strategy at this time,” Liakos said, definitely sounding like a politician. He honestly didn’t know the answer to that question, but he didn’t want to broadcast his ignorance on international news. Another reporter pushed through the crowd as voices began to raise.
“There are many who think that this entire endeavor is a great deception. How would you answer your opposition?” The reporter said. Liakos took a long breath. The air tasted like soot on his tongue. He looked at the reporter and regarded him coldly.
“I saw Zao come back from the dead. I’ve seen him heal. I’ve seen unexplainable things. If it’s a deception, then I don’t want the truth. He’s more real to me than any of you standing here.” Liakos could feel a knot rising in his throat. He didn’t want to let his anger get out of control, not here in front of these cameras.
“Do you really think he can save us?” The same reporter asked. Liakos softened and took a different approach. He shoved his anger down deep, hiding it the best he could.
“He saved me.” Liakos said simply. With that he pressed his way through the crowd of reporters. They continued to launch questions at him like mortar shells, but he ignored them as he climbed into the car he had called. Although it was shiny, it too was covered in grey ash.
“To the hotel.” Liakos said to the driver as he slammed the car door. The resulting calm of the car’s interior was a sharp contrast to the storm of prying news men and women outside. They continued to film and take pictures as Liako’s car pulled away from the front steps of the Italian parliament building. He was ready to get some sleep, something that Zao apparently didn’t ever do. The command team worked in shifts in order to keep up with their superhuman captain. This was Liakos’ first break, and in fact, the first time he’d been away from the team for days.
He watched the hazy glow of city lights blur by. The scene was almost spooky. If he didn’t know the cause of the ash, nuclear detonations across Europe, he’d feel extremely tense. The scene could have been a scene from a horror movie. As it was, not a single nuclear bomb had been dropped, launched, or detonated in over 24 hours. He’s done what we couldn’t do- brought peace. Praise Lord Zao, he thought.
The train of thought had been running through his mind almost unattended. Almost as if he were listening to an inner voice he didn’t know he had. It took him a second to realize the strangeness of the words that had just run through his mind. His internal voice had said, “Praise Lord Zao.”
“Where did that come from?” he whispered to himself. No body called him Lord Zao. It felt as if Liakos’ mind was splitting in two. Almost as if he were having a conversation with himself he responded to the inner voice.
“Why shouldn’t he be called ‘Lord Zao’? He’s worthy of the title isn’t he.” He saw the eyes of the driver flit in his direction through the rear view mirror. He needed to get himself under control. He was feeling quite schizophrenic at the moment. He bit his lip, hoping that would keep him from talking to himself any more.
“What the—” The driver said. Liakos looked to the chauffeur, but immediately saw the scene through the forward facing windshield. All of the cars ahead of them had stopped. Many of their drivers and passengers had gotten out of their vehicles and were starring at the sky.
The eerie night scene began to grow brighter before his eyes. The hazy glow began to build until it was a full bodied atmospheric illumination. Within ten seconds it was as bright as daytime outside of the car. Liakos glanced to the dashboard clock. It was approaching midnight. The driver pressed the brake hard. The tires screeched. The car stopped just in time to narrowly miss a distracted pedestrian who was also looking upward.
Now that the car was stopped, Liakos reached for the door handle. The light was even brighter. Ash glistened as if they were living in a giant snow globe. Liakos stood and looked to the sky.
He had to squint. It was impossibly bright. He put his hand up to half shield his eyes. Passing overhead, and moving quickly was an incredibly bright orb. It had an apparent size five or six times larger than the sun. Liakos, the driver, and about a hundred others in the immediate area watched as the burning ball arced across the sky with a methodical path. The exact lines of the sphere of light were obscured by the ash, but it was unmistakable. The rogue star had arrived.
The shadows cast by the star crept across the ground steadily. Liakos had to look away when the fiery ball reached its zenith. He could hear a woman crying in the distance. Another man cursed. Liakos kept silent.
Through thin lines between his fingers he tried to continue his observation. The viewers heads moved in slow unison as they watched the ball migrate slowly across the filthy sky. Within a few minutes it was cresting the far horizon. Another minute and the scene had returned to night. The observers standing around shared a meaningful glance before they all began to climb back in their cars. Many were crying from terror. Still Liakos stayed quiet.
He was one of the last, continuing to watch the sky as if the ball would come back. He very much wished he was with Lord Zao right now. No not Lord Zao. Oh it didn’t matter. He knew Lord Zao would know what to say. He pulled the door of the car shut and hit the lock. It wouldn’t help he knew, but it made him feel better.
“Turn on the radio please,” he said to the driver. Without a word the driver did what he was asked. Liakos didn’t want to talk, nor did he want to leave a silence that the driver might be tempted to fill. The radio came on, in the middle of a news report.
“…Eye witnesses confirm. The world morns together at the bright sight. The rogue star has taken up a position in far Earth Orbit. It’s speed is steadily decreasing which means it’s getting closer to Earth by the second. Scientists are stunned at the apparent phenomenon. As of yet no one can explain why the star doesn’t incinerate the Earth. It’s speculated that some type of containment field is being used to control the incredible heat produced by this mini-star. It’s unthinkable that…”
“Change the channel,” Liakos barked. He didn’t want to hear about the problems that the world was facing. The driver pressed the button, and the radio jumped to a station in a language he didn’t recognize. The driver hit it again. A female news caster spoke.
“… Is in session. The world summit in Italy has turned out to be full of surprises…”
“Never mind. Turn it off.” Liakos said. “Maybe just some silence.”
“Yes, Sir.” The driver said politely.
Liakos didn’t like the silence either. His thoughts had become noisy. He had been with Zao for so many hours straight, he had hardly spent any time considering the things that had been going on in the world around him. Everything had changed in the last few days, and there seemed to be no going back.
He wished that he could return to his boat in the middle of the Mediterranean. He imagined his little ship drifting aimlessly somewhere. It may have run aground on some island by now. He was beginning to think he should have stayed with his ship. He reached for a cigar and bit the tip. This was nothing a good smoke couldn’t fix.