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Chapter One: The Blacklight Event

The pinprick of light went largely unnoticed at first. It appeared as if from nothing over the Dunsmith Harbor, a swath of ocean protected by the Vancouver Island landscape that seemed to curl around it. Along the west of the harbor one could find Transfer Beach, a heritage park accessible from Highway One as it cut its way through the small town of Dunsmith.

To the north and east was a large spread of land dedicated to farming and First Nations. The Hul’qumi’num Band claimed Shell Beach in Whitepoint, on the eastern bank of the harbor, while to the north, the farms and homes of Cedarwood dotted the landscape.

Dunsmith was a hub. It was a through-way. For that section of Vancouver Island, it was the only place one could pass in order to get any further north when coming up from Victoria, or Duncan, and the only place to travel south when coming from Nanaimo or Port Alberni.

In short, it was a crossroads.

This particular crossroads, however, had a population of over eight thousand people, spread out over several districts.

For several minutes, the light went unnoticed by human eyes. However, animals of every sort cast their eyes skyward almost to the moment it appeared. Pets, pests and wild animals could sense the light’s presence, although even they could not know what it foretold. Still, they knew it represented a change.

Constable Cale Shephard, RCMP, was the first human to notice its presence, at five minutes past four on a warm June morning. He caught a brief glimpse of it as it hung in the sky above the harbor while driving southbound on Highway One, just as the trees gave way to a full view of the harbor.

He slowed his Crown Victoria to a crawl and pulled into the shoulder of the highway. He heard the whoosh of other cars rushing past him– early risers on their way to work, no doubt. Dunsmith was a town that woke early;  most of the people were commuters or tradesmen.

He watched the strange light as it hovered in the sky. As far as Cale could tell, it was about six hundred feet up, the size of a car, and bobbed up and down in midair.

“The hell?” he muttered. He opened his door and got out, keeping the object in sight. Wind swept through his short, dark hair as he focused on the unidentified object. As his eyes adjusted to the strange violet hues of the light, Cale realized that it was a blacklight.

“Dispatch,” he said into his radio. “Call Ten-Bravo.”

“Go ahead Ten-Bravo,” came the dispatcher’s voice. He recognized the voice instantly as Jenny, the usual graveyard dispatcher at the Nanaimo Office.

“Yeah, Dispatch, I have an…” Damn, Cale thought. What’s was that? “There appears to be a light above the Dunsmith Harbor,” he said.

“Ten-Nine, Ten-Bravo?”

Cale sighed in exasperation. Jenny had heard him, of course, she just couldn’t make any sense out of what he was saying. Cale would have asked himself to repeat his last transmission as well.

“I said there’s a light above the Dunsmith Harbor. It looks like a blacklight.”

“Ten-Bravo, call Ten-Tango,” his radio rang out. Cale winced at the sound of the voice. It was Sergeant Gerald Boone, his watch commander and staff sergeant. He was a gruff, older man, having served with the RCMP for almost twenty-five years, fifteen of that with the Dunsmith detachment. He was a good man, when he didn’t have his head firmly inserted into his rectum.

“Go ahead Ten-Tango,” Cale replied.

“Ten-Bravo, did you say there was a light?” Boone asked. Cale rolled his eyes. The man’s voice had an aura of ridicule in it.

“Affirmative, Ten-Tango,” Cale replied. “I’m just south of the Airport here, near the turnoff to Cedarwood. It’s small, spherical and it looks like a blacklight. It seems to be pulsing every few seconds.”

“Ten-Bravo, suggest you focus on patrolling, leave the UFOs to the military,” Boone replied sarcastically.

Cale frowned. Bastard.

“Ten-Tango, call Ten-Charlie,” another voice chimed over the radio. It was Shelly Littleton. She had been behind the wheel of the detachment’s single SUV for most of the night, focusing her patrols in the more rural areas along the southern coastline, heading through South Davies to Chemainus, a neighboring town.

“Go ahead Ten-Charlie,” Boone replied, his voice thick with annoyance.

“I see it too, Sergeant,” she said. “I’m just down on Old Davies Road here. I hadn’t noticed it until Ten-Bravo pointed it out, but I can see it fine. It’s just above Wolf Island.”

Cale smiled. Good old Shelly. She’d been in the local detachment for a good ten years, and if there was anyone she’d learned to dislike, it was Sergeant Boone. Any chance she had of proving him wrong, she’d take.

“Ten-Charlie, suggest you leave the fantasies to Ten-Bravo,” Boone replied.

“Dispatch, Ten-Tango.”

“Go ahead Dispatch,” Boone replied.

“I just got a call from the Gas ‘n Dash down your way,” the dispatcher said. “Clerk said that there’s a purple light over the harbor, and wants to know what we’re doing about it.”

Cale almost laughed. The clerk at the Gas ‘n Dash, was pretty well known to him. Boomer was a good man, but almost always the first to correct people when they had their facts wrong. The kid was as smart as a whip.

“All right, Ten-Charlie, you’re closer than I am,” Boone said. “Go get the clerk’s  statement. I’m going to check this out and make a few calls.”

“Ten-Four,” Shelly replied.

“Ten-Bravo,” Boone continued. “I want you to head on north, have a sit by the airport.”

“Ten-Four,” Cale replied. He took one last look at the light, shook his head, and got into the car. Within a few moments, he had all but put the strange light entirely out of his mind.

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The room was quiet. It was stained in a strange spectrum of light. Red, from the radio alarm clock sitting on the nightstand, but then a dull sheen of white splayed across the ceiling, cast from the display screen of a mobile phone, plugged into its charger. Ryan Stills stared blankly at the light as he lay in his bed.

He had woken up a few minutes earlier, bothered by a strange tinging sensation he had felt on his skin. Originally, he had tried to shift positions and get more comfortable in an attempt to tune out the strange sensation, but still he stared at the ceiling, his eyes feeling neither heavy nor tired.

He sighed in frustration as he turned on his side, then reached out to pick up the phone from the floor. It was fifteen past four in the morning, the middle of the night. In three hours, Ryan would have to wake up and get ready for the day’s work. He’d been working as a dry-waller for two years, and it had become as much a part of his routine as anything else. Up by seven. Out the door by eight, at work by eight-thirty, and then home by five.

He put the phone back down, then swung his legs over the side of his bed. Fine then, he thought to himself. If sleep wasn’t going to welcome him into its gentle warm embrace, then he’d just get an early start to his day. He stood up, stretched and then made his way to the bathroom, flicking the lights on.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the sudden presence of light. His short brown hair was a mess, mussed all about as a result of tossing and turning in his sleep. He rubbed his face and felt the prickle of his day-old stubble. Ryan reached for the razor when something caught his eye. A light reflected back at him from the window in his living room.

Ryan suddenly stopped what he was doing, unnerved by the strange sight. He walked over to his patio and pulled the curtains open, then looked out into the sky.

“Now what the hell is that?” he asked nobody in particular as he observed the strange light floating in the sky. From his vantage point, he noticed that it was pulsing outward. It seemed to be spherical, but the surface of the object appeared fluid.

Ryan shook his head. Was he seeing things? He wasn’t drunk, hell, he hadn’t drank in years, and it definitely wasn’t drugs, unless someone had slipped something into his water. He rubbed his eyes, but the strange light still hovered in the sky, unmoving.

“Weird,” he muttered. He looked over to his mobile phone. Ryan briefly wondered if he was the only one seeing this. He began to reach for it.

Suddenly, the ground started to shake. It started slowly at first, but then  a violent vibration erupted from the ground beneath, throwing Ryan’s balance off enough that he had to reach out to brace himself. The phone forgotten, he whipped his head around maniacally, looking for some escape.

An earthquake? They were common on Vancouver Island, of course, but most of them were only small tremors.

This one, on the other hand, had to be at least a six on the Richter Scale. As his apartment shook violently around him, he chose instead to wait out the quake. After all, they usually didn’t last more than a few seconds.

After nearly thirty seconds had passed the ground still hadn’t stopped shaking. His pictures were beginning to fall off of the wall. He watched in abstract shock as small figurines and knick knacks he’d collected since he moved out on his own began to clatter off of shelves.

As his eyes passed over the old blacklight reactive poster he’d had since he was fifteen, he paused.

The poster was reacting. It shone brightly in neon hues, lighting up the area around it. It took Ryan a moment to realize the cause of the effect. He whipped his head back to the strange light.

It was larger now, and growing exponentially. The light grew stronger with each passing second, and Ryan watched in abstract, unknowing horror as it began to expanded to the water below it.

And then it consumed the water. He watched as the light enveloped Wolf Island, and moments later, Tent Island, two small islands within Dunsmith Harbor.

He took a step backwards as he realized the light had no intention of stopping. It enveloped the shore, streets and homes within sight, and reached the outer edge of his balcony before whipping through the window. Ryan threw his arms up in defense. A second later, he grunted as he landed on the floor. As he opened his eyes, he looked around in shock to see that the light had completely consumed his apartment, penetrating the walls as if they were transparent glass.

He quickly got back up to his feet and looked around. Everything in the apartment was reacting to the light. His t-shirts, his posters, even the white enamel on his electric guitar.

He quickly ran to the window, casting his eyes toward where he had originally seen the light.

There was something there.

It moved and thrashed in the air. Ryan couldn’t see it well, but it looked alive, whatever it was. Its body was long and thin, and it had two strange-looking wings, but he couldn’t see it clearly. It was blurry, as if he was looking at it through stained and warped glass.

He’d never seen anything like it. It moved around in the air in spastic circles, almost as if it was bound and trying to break free. Ryan could feel his heart pounding in… panic? No, not panic. It was a sense of awe and wonder, as if he were on the verge of something great.

The figure that thrashed in the distance suddenly froze in mid-spasm, and a great light erupted from within, and for a split second, it had been as bright as day.

A moment later the light died as quickly as it had been born, and the earth stopped shaking. Ryan watched as the lights outside began to die. In moments, he was left in absolute darkness as the electricity failed.

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Awaken, Child of the Halo, something said. Terra couldn’t quite make out what it was, only that it was large. A part of her hoped it was benign as well.

She attempted to say something, but found her lips were suspiciously absent. Not to mention her body, for that matter. It was as if she were floating in mid-air. Below her, she could see the familiar coastline she’d lived along her entire life, but something was odd about it. The familiar lights that should have identified the streets and homes were gone. Still, she didn’t think much of it. She was having too much fun floating freely through the air, without the added weight of her body to hinder her.

War comes to the City Elyctric, Child, the voice said, capturing her attention away from the ground below. It risks being torn asunder by the Old Blood’s wrath.

The voice struck Terra as odd. It wasn’t male. It wasn’t female. It definitely wasn’t human, but despite that, the voice carried with it a gentle peacefulness that tore through its androgyny and gave Terra the feeling the speaker was female. What’s more, she found that she wanted to hear the unseen being’s message. Nothing would please her more. She wanted to scream it, but was reminded again of the absence of her mouth.

Five shall come and five shall flow, three shall stay and three shall go. The daughter of the broken house shall call upon you and the bearer of black blade, the one with many eyes.

Bearer of the black blade? For some reason, Terra found herself deeply entranced by the being’s words.

Heed my words, Child of the Halo. The hand of the Tainted King moves toward you even now. A fall from an iron horse shall show you the way.

Terra suddenly felt a strange sensation. Almost as if she were being bound, her limbs tied down to limit movement. After a moment, she could tell it was not her that was feeling bound, but the strange entity that spoke to her. The voice never changed, it still came through as calm and gentle as it had when it had first spoken, but she sensed distress from it.

Time grows short. Remember what I have said. Go in peace, Child of the Halo.

And with that, Terra Murphy woke up.

She opened her eyes to absolute darkness. Not even the standby indicator on her stereo was lit. She rubbed her hands over her face and sat up in bed. Leaning over the side, she felt around on the floor for her sketchbook. She had been drawing in it before she fell asleep. The torn and battered cover felt rough under her fingertips and was easily recognizable to the touch. She picked it up,  then opened up her nightstand drawer and pulled out a pen and a small flashlight.

Her sketchbook wasn’t just a sketchbook. She wrote notes, journal entries, and doodled in it as well. It was a general purpose notebook that now acted as a dream journal. Holding the flashlight between her teeth, she vigorously scribbled what she could remember of her dream. Terra believed in the power of dreams. That in some cases, they could foretell the future. She didn’t know if this case was prophetic, but it was vivid nonetheless.

After taking a moment to write down everything she could remember, Terra closed her sketchbook and lay back down. Checking her watch, she saw that it was only a little past four in the morning. She wouldn’t have to be up and awake for work for another four hours, but Lily had to be up in an hour. Terra knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep, so she got out of bed and stumbled through the invisible clutter to her bedroom door. A cool air swept into the room, and Terra realized that it had been inhumanly warm inside. She could feel the sweat stick to her face and forehead as the cool air struck her. She brushed a thatch of her blood-colored hair from her face and took a deep breath.

From her bedroom doorway she could see the thin line of light emerge from under her front door, likely from the apartment building’s emergency lights that lit up the hallways in the event of a power outage. Terra went into the living room and sat on the couch. She set the flashlight down next to her and pulled a small tray onto her lap. She then reached over to the coffee table and grabbed a small glass jar filled with a thick green substance, a small metal grinder and a pack of Zig-Zags.

A moment later, Terra and her freshly rolled joint stepped out onto the patio. The night was dark, clouds had quickly settled in above the town, and even the moon was blotted out. Terra could see the dull light of the moon shining through the haze of clouds. The haze reminded her of something, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

She was briefly blinded by the small spire of flame that sprung up inches from her face, but after a moment she managed to guide the end of the joint into it, and puffed as she allowed her mind to wander.

Her mind still lingered on the dream, but as she cast her gaze out over the Dunsmith Harbor and saw the moonlight cutting through the clouds in the distance, illuminating a vast swath of ocean, she found herself admiring the beautiful light. It seemed almost unnatural, brighter and bluer than it should have been. But her eyes were still adjusting.

“Terra?” a voice whispered from below. It was an unwelcome voice that cut into her concentration. “Is that you?”

Terra recognized the voice right away. It was Ryan. “Yeah,” she whispered back. What was he doing up? It was four-thirty in the morning. Terra was used to being up at such times, having worked the occasional night shift at Dunsmith Press since she graduated, but Ryan was strictly a day-shifter.

“Did you see it?” he asked.

“See what?”

“The… light. The blacklight.. thing. And that thing over the bay!”

“You’re dreaming, Ryan. Go back to sleep.”

“No, no. I’m serious,” Ryan pleaded. “You didn’t even feel the earthquake?”

“Earthquake?” Terra asked. She raised a skeptical eyebrow. “There was an earthquake?” But had there been? She’d never have noticed if she slept through it.

Ryan never replied, however. Terra looked down at him. He seemed to be staring off into space, a strange look on his face.

“Hey,” she said. “You still awake?”

“I… The…” He began, but couldn’t quite catch his voice. He just pointed.

Terra looked up to the sky. More specifically, the moon. It was in full view in the sky above, larger than she had ever seen it before, and she could clearly see the sun reflecting off of its distant waters.

Wait. Distant waters? On the moon?

Terra dropped her joint as she stared up in disbelief. The last time Terra had checked, the moon wasn’t blue. Nor did it have an ocean. She blinked her eyes, trying to focus her vision.

It was an ocean. The moon was one giant ocean. She could also make out a small green landmass. It was like nothing she had ever seen before.

“What the hell is that?” she asked. “What’s going on, Ryan?” she looked down at him.

“I dunno,” he replied. He looked to the people now starting to come out into the streets, pointing excitedly at the sky. “I think… I think we’d better get downtown. That’s probably where everyone’s going to gather.”

Terra stood in silence for a moment, her joint all but forgotten. “I’ll wake Lily up,” she said. “Give me five minutes.”

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Cale swore to himself. The power was out all over town. Not even the traffic lights were working. Cale had been sitting quietly in a vacant lot just south of the airport when the ground had started to shake. It distracted him enough that he never even noticed the strange light had begun to expand. At least, not until it had expanded enough to envelope him, his squad car, and even the airport. After it had done its thing, the ground stopped shaking, and the light had gone dead. Cars had pulled to the side of the road once the ground had started to shake, but once the earthquake had subsided, they continued their way north.

“Dispatch, call Ten-Tango,” Boone’s voice called through the radio.

Cale listened silently as he started to scribble his report onto his notepad. When Boone repeated his transmission, however, Cale looked up.

“Shit,” Boone swore after the third unsuccessful attempt. “Ten-Bravo, you there?”

“Ten-Bravo,” Cale said.

“I can’t reach Dispatch,” he said. “You want to give it a shot?”

“Dispatch,” Cale said into the radio. “Call Ten-Bravo.”

Nothing.

“Ten-Tango, I’m not getting through,” he said. The dispatch office was in Nanaimo. It could have meant that the communications antenna was damaged in the Earthquake, but even then, someone should have replied.

“Can we get through to the Nanaimo boys at all?” Boone replied. “Eight-Tango, call Ten-Tango.”

Still nothing. It was as if they were ignoring them entirely.

“Shit,” Boone said again. “Okay, give us a check-in, will you?”

“Ten-Bravo,” Cale said.

“Ten-Charlie,” came Shelly’s familiar voice.

There was nothing else after that.

“What the hell?” Boone replied. “That’s it? We’ve got two units? What about Highway Patrol? Anyone?”

Still silence.

“Ten-Bravo, you still up by the airport?” Boone asked.

“Affirmative,” Cale replied.

“Okay, I want you to drive up to the dispatch office,” he said. “Find out what the hell their problem is.”

“Ten-Four,” Cale replied. He put his notepad down on the passenger seat and threw the car into gear, turning north as he pulled away from the vacant lot.

The earthquake had been strange, but the light had been even stranger. It had expanded and stained his vision, his squad car, his town with sudden force, and yet it seemed gentle. Having been engulfed in that light, he felt no heat, no strange sensations. In fact, he felt… comfortable, despite the panic center of his brain being in distinct overload.

Cale rounded the corner next to the airport and came onto a long, straight stretch of highway. Up ahead, he could see a lineup of vehicles, all parked on the side of the road. There were people mulling about outside.

As he approached them, Cale noticed something off about the road. It looked different somehow, but he couldn’t quite place it. It wasn’t until he drew nearer to the train of vehicles that he really got a good look at the highway north of the airport.

It wasn’t there.

It was gone. Cale blinked in surprise. He looked over towards the airport and noticed that the terminal building wasn’t all there either. The southern wing stood silently in the dark, but it just seemed to end, like the highway, and carry on into a strange forest, without any sort of buffer in between.

Cale pulled up toward the vehicle train and slowed as he approached the people gathered in the center of the highway. At the front of the train, a large truck seemed to be teetering over a lip in the road. Beyond that, the ground continued a few feet below the level of the highway and carried on northward through the forest.

Cale took a moment to get out of his car. He had to be sure of what he was seeing. As he walked towards the crowd of people, a large man with a bloody nose ran up to him.

“Hey! You got any idea what this is about?” he asked. Cale assumed he drove the Big Rig at the front which appeared to have gone off the edge of the road and crashed into a tree.

Cale made a calming gesture and continued to walk up to the cut in the road.

“What happened?” he asked.

“You tell me. I’m making my run, the ground starts shaking, then this goddamned light blinds me. The next thing I know, the highway’s gone and I’m slamming the brakes to avoid hitting them trees,” he said. The man frowned. “Fat lot of good that did me. I tell you what, ICBC better not up my premiums.”

Cale walked to the edge of the road and ran his finger along the pavement at the break. It was a clean break. Like it was sliced with a razor. He looked to the remains of a tree where only minutes earlier asphalt had been. It, too had been cut cleanly through the middle. Cale ran his hands along it. Not even a splinter. It was if the trees had been sanded down to perfection. He looked again to the airport, it had only half a runway before the strange forest took over. The small RV dealership on the side of the highway was faring much the same. Some RVs stood there, motionless, but others had been cut in much the same fashion, leaving half, or even a quarter of an RV standing lopsided. A few old planes littered the grounds, and he could see what was left of a Cessna, leaning against a tree beyond the border of the cut.

Cale traced the cut past the airport, into the farming areas in Whitepoint. It seemed to curve around to the east. Looking west, he managed to make the same trace, following the cut as it curved around in the distance through Cedarwood.

He noticed something else too, looking west. A mountain. A mountain that hadn’t been there the last time he drove past. He had no doubts that the strange cut in the road curved all the way to the south of town, and met up in a fashion like what he was seeing.

“Ten-Tango, call Ten-Charlie,” his radio rang out. Shelly’s voice sounded frantic.

“Go ahead, Ten-Charlie,” Boone’s irritated voice said.

“Sir, there’s something wrong. We’re not… the moon, sir. I–“

Cale’s eyes whipped up to the sky, where the moon should have been. It was behind low cloud cover, but Shelly would probably be able to see it fine from where she was.

“Christ, Littleton!” Boone swore. “Collect yourself!”

“Sir, the moon is… different,” she said.

The people gathered around Cale heard, and each whipped their heads upwards. The cloud cover was beginning to slide over the edge of the moon. The blue edge, of a large blue moon. But it wasn’t a moon. It was a Goddamn planet. He could hear gasps from all around him, and his own jaw dropped in the midst of it.

“Aliens,” the trucker said. “Goddamn aliens, man. They took us.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” one of the other people standing around said. Cale looked over to see Randy Curtis, one of the local loggers, obviously on his way to his work site. “Have you seen any little gray men?”

“Then you explain that!” the trucker exclaimed, stabbing his finger towards the offending heavenly body.

Randy shrugged. “Can’t. Maybe it’s not for us to know. Act of God and whatnot.”

Cale heard no reply from Boone. He assumed that Boone was seeing what Cale was seeing, and he needed a few moments to collect his thoughts.

“There’s a damn planet up there!” the trucker exclaimed.

Cale was looking at a planet. An oceanic moon, to be precise. Complete with an atmosphere, as evident by the cloud cover moving across the surface.

He picked up his radio and spoke into it. “Ten-Tango, Ten-Bravo,” he began. Without waiting for a reply, he continued. “We’ve got more problems, Tango.”

“Christ, what now?” Boone came back, angrily.

“Nanaimo’s gone,” Cale said. “The road ends by the airport. We’re at the edge of some kind of forest. I don’t think we’re… I don’t think we’re home anymore.” He didn’t need to specify what he meant by home. “I think the whole damn town’s somewhere else.”

There were a few more moments of silence. Cale assumed Boone needed another moment or two to assimilate the new information.

Finally, Boone replied. “All right,” he said. “You two are on your own for a little while. Try to keep people calm, I’ve got some waking up to do. We’ll RV at City Hall in an hour.”

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Published inChildren of the Halo
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