The sequel to Thass Rit.
By Kalin Ringkvist
“I’ve told you many times, never go outside the shield alone, and never without asking me first!”
Zandrae could now feel the tears pushing out, and she fought to hold them in. “Please don’t yell at me, Mama.”
“What am I supposed to do with you?” her mother said, more quietly. “You don’t listen to me.”
“I listen, Mama,” Zandrae defended. “I just forget sometimes. I’m sorry. I’m not perfect.”
“What do I have to do to make you remember? Am I going to have to take away your night light for the night?”
“No!” Zandrae shouted. “No, Mama, please no! I’ll remember. I promise. I won’t go outside the barrier without asking you first.”
Her mother stared down at Zandrae, sitting up in her bed. “Are you sure you can remember?”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure. Please don’t take away the light.”
Her mother paused a long moment. Zandrae remembered a half-dozen times when her mother had threatened to take away the night light, but never had. Zandrae prayed this would be like the other times, but her mother had never been this angry with her before.
“Okay, I won’t take away your light, but I need a solemn oath from you that you will not go outside the shield without my permission.”
“I promise: I will not go outside the shield without your permission.”
Her mother nodded. “Okay, thank you. There are so many deadly things out there, Zandrae. I worry about you so much. You could get eaten alive, or get some kind of poison, or find yourself lost. I don’t understand why you would want to go outside anyway.”
“I was curious,” Zandrae replied. “I never went where I couldn’t see the town, and I didn’t eat a thing.”
“Nevertheless, it’s dangerous out there and you are not to go out again.”
“Okay, Mom, Okay.”
She nodded and flipped a switch on the wall. A small strip lit on the ceiling, and the main lighting went out, leaving a dim room with a plenitude of shadows. “Good night.”
Her mother left, closing the door.
Zandrae stared at the ceiling, beginning to cry. She had been so happy earlier. She’d made a friend. She’d wanted to tell her mother about him, because her mother was always concerned that Zandrae didn’t have enough playmates. Now she regretted ever mentioning the fact that she had gone outside, and almost regretted leaving the safety perimeter in the first place.
It took her nearly an hour to fall asleep. The dark shadows frightened her slightly more than usual, and she couldn’t stop thinking about Aoshi, the friend she had met on the outside.
______ ______ ______
She waited three days for the incident to blow over with her parents. On the fourth day, though, early in the morning, she left home and walked to her uncle Abuc’s home. She knocked and he called for her to come in.
“Are you going outside the shield today, Abuc?” Zandrae asked.
“I was just getting ready to go right now,” Abuc replied. “Why do you ask?”
“I want to go with you. My mom says I can’t go out by myself, so I want you to take me.”
Abuc shook his head. “That wouldn’t be a good idea, Zandrae. I’m going out to see the Reghsalas. I’m not coming back until evening.”
“Oh, please Abuc. I can stay out all day. That doesn’t bother me, and I’d like to meet some of the Reghsals.” She decided it wouldn’t be prudent to mention that she had already met one. She hadn’t told anyone yet.
“Reghsalas, Zandrae,” he corrected. “They might be offended if you mispronounce their name.”
“Reghsalas,” she repeated carefully. “Does that mean you’ll take me? I’d really like to learn as much as I can about them.” Zandrae had discovered that using education was a good way of convincing adults to agree to things.
Abuc stared at her. He did not reassert his original position.
“I won’t be a problem,” Zandrae promised.
Abuc paused a moment. “Have you asked your parents yet?”
“I wanted to talk to you first.”
He waited another moment and sighed. “Go run and ask them.”
“Thank you!” Zandrae shouted as she darted out the door.
______ ______ ______
She reached out a hand as she walked and touched the perimeter shield, feeling the exciting tingle as she passed through. The sensation enveloped her body for a quick moment, and she was outside. The shield that surrounded and protected the colony would not allow her back in. To reenter she and Abuc would have to go around to the other side of the colony to the one entrance gate.
They walked along the path that led into the forest. Along the way Zandrae asked Abuc about the various plants. She wanted to know which were edible and which were dangerous. Abuc seemed to enjoy explaining these things to her. He had an extensive knowledge about this wilderness. It surprised Zandrae a little to find that most of the plants they came across were in fact edible, and only a select few held poisons. The way her parents spoke made it sound like every living thing outside the town was on a mission to kill her. Now she had a clearer picture.
After nearly half an hour of walking, they came to the village of the Reghsalas. They stopped for a moment without entering, and Zandrae stood staring at the creatures. They were short; most barely taller than she. Their long arms jutted from a point low on their torso, almost at their waists. They wore no clothing, but their thick brown fur provided the same effect.
Most of the Reghsalas gave Zandrae and Abuc quick glances; a few waved. She saw one coming forward. “Abuc!” it shouted. “You bring uss another wits you.” The creature indicated Zandrae, speaking in a hissing dialect, barely intelligible.
“Hello,” Zandrae said.
The Reghsala reached out a hand enthusiastically and took Zandrae’s, shaking vigorously for a quick moment. “I am Imuma. You are?”
“I’m Zandrae,” she replied.
“Zssandra,” Imuma repeated. “Zsandrae.”
The three began walking into the village. Zandrae studied the structures, little wooden buildings with roofs of large broad leaves. Abuc and Imuma began talking, but she found it nearly impossible to follow, since Abuc now spoke in a heavy accent, much like the Reghsalas and they didn’t seem to take much care in forming their words so she could comprehend.
She looked around, searching for Aoshi, the young Reghsala that she had met several days earlier and played with for a few hours. They all looked the same, though. She could only see four varieties of the creatures: the adults, children, males and females. Beyond that, she could not tell them apart.
Imuma looked at Zandrae for a moment and carefully said, “If Zsandrae wish to exssplore Reghsala village by hersself, she may.”
“Would you like to?” Abuc asked her, glancing down. “It would be okay as long as you don’t leave the village.”
Zandrae considered this for a moment. “No, I think I’ll stay close to you for a while.”
“It won’t be very exciting,” Abuc told her. “I’m just going to be teaching them our language.”
“There are many young Reghsalas, Zsandrae,” Imuma said. “We are friendly Specssies.”
They entered an area near the center of the village with short logs lined up on the ground for use as seats for a small crowd. They stopped. This must be where Abuc teaches them, Zandrae realized. “Maybe I will walk around a while,” she said, and began to slowly wander away.
“Check back with me occasionally,” Abuc said.
She walked away, glancing around at the little huts and the aliens. Once in a while one of them would try to say hello to her, usually mispronouncing it, but she could not help but be amazed by their friendliness and their enthusiasm for the human language. Zandrae didn’t have the faintest idea how to say hello in their language.
After wandering around the village for half an hour, the initial awe of seeing these strange aliens in such plenitude began to wear off. She decided to go back and see what Abuc was doing. But as she turned, one of the Reghsalas came up to her, saying with extreme care, “Zandrae?”
She peered at the alien, just a hair shorter than her. “Aoshi?”
“Yess. It’ss I,” he replied.
She grinned, unable to help herself, and Aoshi took a sudden step back. Zandrae snapped her mouth shut, remembering that showing teeth was not a friendly gesture in Reghsala culture.
“I not know iss you,” Aoshi said. “Human’s all look like ssame. You come withs Abuc to vissit?”
“Yes,” she replied. “I’m staying for a few hours.”
“You want come see my–my–” He paused. “Place.”
“Your home?” Zandrae asked.
“What?” He shrugged and grabbed her hand, and led her down the path between the huts. A minute later they turned and Aoshi pulled open a flap on one of the structures and led her inside.
The hut had a dirt floor, and a mat of leaves laid against one wall. A burnt-tipped spear stood in the far corner. The simpleness of the place surprised her, its only purpose being a dry place for Aoshi to sleep.
“I build myself,” Aoshi told her.
“You did this all by yourself?” she exclaimed. “No help at all?”
“Well,” Aoshi replied and made the Reghsala sound equivalent to a laugh. He extended two claws on his left hand and pinched them together, showing Zandrae. “A little help.”
Zandrae watched Aoshi as he walked to the corner and picked up the spear. “You come along and hunt with I?” he asked.
“I don’t think I can. Abuc told me not to leave the village. I need to check back with him anyway.” She started backing out of the hut.
“No?” Aoshi confirmed. “I am go now and find food.” He headed toward the door, carrying the spear.
“Well,” she said. “Why don’t you come with me and I’ll ask.”
Aoshi’s face seemed to light up. The Reghsalas did not smile to show happiness and Zandrae was still having trouble interpreting their expressions, but she knew that a contortion of the cheek muscles was a good sign.
She went back to the meeting place, followed by Aoshi and asked Abuc if she could witness Aoshi’s hunting techniques. “I want to learn about it,” she said. And to her amazement Abuc agreed after only briefly questioning Imuma.
About a dozen Reghsalas had congregated in the area in front of Abuc. One of them had been attempting to read from a book that he now held on his lap, but paused for Zandrae’s interruption.
“Be back in no more than two hours,” Abuc told Zandrae. “Don’t eat anything, and set your wrist compass to direct you back to this point if you get lost. Don’t let yourself get separated from Aoshi.” Abuc nodded to the young alien. “Enjoy yourself.”
______ ______ ______
They crouched silently in the thick bushes, Zandrae concentrating on keeping her silence as they watched a small animal Aoshi called a Segssmol. It was virtually hairless, and had a pointed snout that it used to dig in the dirt. It paced back and forth, snorting continuously, searching for insects just under the floor of the forest.
Aoshi stood suddenly, pulling his spear back and hurling it at the animal. The Segssmol let out a high pitched scream and darted to the side of the small clearing, avoiding Aoshi’s toss. It ran into the forest, its feet pattering loudly.
Zandrae stood, almost glad that Aoshi had missed, and stared at the short spear standing at an angle in the ground.
“I have practicssed not much,” Aoshi said, stepping through the bush to retrieve his weapon.
“I’m sorry,” Zandrae replied. “I was too loud. I scared him away.” She began to feel sorry for Aoshi’s miss. She had hoped he would succeed but she also didn’t want to see the animal killed.
“I no want hunt anymore,” said the alien. “Frustrating.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I know underground place. Is nice place.”
“Like a cave?” Zandrae asked. “You want to show me a cave?”
“Yes, yesss. A cave.” He waved a hand, motioning her to follow and moved into the woods.
Walking behind Aoshi, Zandrae checked her wrist compass and saw that they had been out for only an hour. She still had plenty of time to get back. She stared at the compass a while longer. Her father had given it to her shortly before she had gone outside the barrier shield with Abuc, and Zandrae now felt a little more mature because she wore it. She did not feel exactly like an adult, but having something on her wrist that older people wore gave her a feeling she liked.
Aoshi walked quickly compared to Zandrae’s preferred pace and she had to ask him a couple times to slow down. He slowed agreeably, but would unintentionally speed up again.
They reached the cave after about a ten minute walk and stopped just outside. The rock face opened nearly twice as tall as she, and she could not see how far back it went. Aoshi took a step in and beckoned her to follow.
She took only a few steps in before the darkness began to envelop her. The musty, rotten smell caught her senses. As the fear began to overwhelm her, she said, “No, no. I can’t go in, Aoshi. Let’s get out of here.” She turned and fled.
Several meters from the opening she stopped, and half a minute later Aoshi appeared. “You run out,” he said. “You no come inside?”
“No. I don’t want to. I’m sorry, Aoshi. I’m–I’m scared.”
“Sscared? Is just cave. Nothing inside–just rockss, a little water. Nothing scary.”
“It’s dark in there. I’m sorry, I just don’t want to go in there. Let’s do something else.”
“Okay,” he said. “What now?”
“Maybe we should go back to your village,” Zandrae replied.
“Okay,” Aoshi said. “I follow you.”
Zandrae smiled, keeping her lips together, checked her compass and began walking.
______ ______ ______
Aoshi and Zandrae spent the next several hours playing around the Reghsalas’ village. Neither felt the urge to wander off into the woods again. When their day neared its end and Zandrae had to leave with Abuc, Aoshi asked the girl if she would meet him the next day, outside the Humans’ colony. She did not easily agree to this because of her promise to her mother, but Aoshi pressed her on it. He didn’t seem to understand the concept of doing something simply because someone tells you to. Zandrae finally agreed, thinking she could possibly convince Abuc or another adult to go with her.
Ten minutes later Abuc and Zandrae started their walk home. Zandrae told him about her day with the Reghsalas and Abuc expressed pleasure at knowing that she had learned to accept the aliens where so many of the Humans living on this world could not.
“I need to ask you a favor,” Abuc said after fifteen minutes of walking. “Don’t tell your parents that I let you go off alone with Aoshi today.”
Zandrae looked up at him, momentarily stunned that he would ask her to hide something.
“They don’t trust the Reghsalas,” Abuc told her. “Most of the people at the colony would be appalled if they knew that you spent the whole day with one of them.”
“I won’t tell them,” Zandrae said.
“Don’t make it a habit. I don’t like hiding things from anyone and I’m reluctant to encourage you to do so.”
“All right.” Zandrae nodded. “Just this once.”
After a short period of silence Zandrae asked Abuc to explain to her all of the various uses of her wrist compass. She didn’t know quite why she was so curious about the little device designed for survival in the wilderness of this planet. Abuc did not seem reluctant to tell her about it.
More than halfway home, Zandrae noticed the night beginning to close in on them. “Do you think it will be dark by the time we get back?”
“Probably,” Abuc replied.
She took a quick look at the sky and saw the first stars of the evening. Taking Abuc’s hand, she urged him to move faster. “Come on. Let’s hurry home now.”
______ ______ ______
The next morning Zandrae gave herself a shot from a hypo-syringe, set to ANTIBIOTIC. The hypo was necessary for survival on this world. The Human body did not have natural defenses to the bacterial and viral diseases on this world, so everyday, each person had to administer a shot to himself. The syringe had numerous other uses but the antibiotic was the most common.
Usually her mother or father helped her with the shot. Zandrae always knew that they didn’t need to, but before now, she had never felt the urge to perform the ritual by herself.
She turned to put the hypo back on the shelf in the washroom, but thought twice about it and slipped it in her pocket. She walked out of the room, down the ladder to the lower floor and out onto the street, still wondering if she would actually disobey her parents and go outside the shield. Aoshi would be with me, she thought. I wouldn’t be alone. But she felt that that would be stretching the rules a little too much.
Reaching the edge of the colony, she looked out through the shield at the open area and the forested hill beyond. She thought about going back and asking Abuc if he would accompany her outside, but decided she didn’t want to go through the bother. He probably already left for the Reghsala village anyway.
As she stood, considering what to do, a movement near the forest caught her eye. She could tell it was one of the aliens, but at this distance had no hope of determining specifically who it was. She waved, but the creature did not seem to notice. Continuing to wave, she considered yelling something, but decided she didn’t want to tip off any of the other Humans. Finally, the Reghsala noticed her and waved back. She motioned for him to come toward her, and he did so reluctantly. As he approached, Zandrae recognized him as Aoshi.
He slowed as he came toward her, stopping several steps from the shield. “You come out?” Aoshi asked, motioning to her.
“No. I can’t,” Zandrae replied. “They don’t want me to leave the town. I could let you in though.” She didn’t know if this was a good idea but there was nothing else she could think of. “Come on.” She motioned for him to follow.
They walked along the perimeter of the colony, Aoshi just outside the shield, Zandrae just inside. Ten minutes later they reached the gate that would let the alien in. Zandrae touched the pad on the side of the gate and let it scan her fingerprints. It would allow only Humans to deactivate the shield within the gate.
The shield flashed and disappeared, and Aoshi stepped through the gate. She released the pad and the force field flashed on again. They stared at each other for a moment, and Zandrae said, “Would you like to come to my home?”
Aoshi nodded and they started walking together. Her house was close and they did not meet anyone along the way. Aoshi glanced back and forth at the buildings as they walked. This town was certainly much different than any he would have seen before.
“Big,” Aoshi commented when they entered her home.
“Come on,” said Zandrae. “I’ll show you around.”
______ ______ ______
They played together for more than an hour. Zandrae enjoyed herself but began to wish that she could take him outside. She knew the rest of the colonists would not accept Aoshi in their midst, and she was not allowed to go outside of the perimeter shield. She wanted to go out and explore the woods again. For a moment she considered breaking all the rules and running off with Aoshi for the rest of the day. Instead they sat in her room and played simple board games.
But their games did not last. Zandrae’s mother walked in on them and stopped in the doorway, staring at the alien in her home, her mouth hanging open. “Get it out of here, Zandrae,” she said.
“Come with me! Both of you.” She motioned them to come out of the room. As she walked by, Zandrae could almost feel the waves of anger surging from her mother. She decided she probably should have thought a little harder before inviting Aoshi into their home.
The three of them walked out of the house, Zandrae in front, her mother behind. Zandrae glanced back for a moment but looked away immediately, not wanting to see her mother’s expression of anger or Aoshi’s obvious fear and confusion. Several passers-by noticed them and gave startled stares. They reached the perimeter shield after a few minutes of walking and Zandrae stopped. Her mother gripped her shoulder in such a way that would make it difficult for Zandrae to break free. She looked at Aoshi who seemed to know immediately what she wanted. He backed several steps away, through the shield and looked sadly at Zandrae.
Her mother took Zandrae by the wrist and forcefully turned her around. Zandrae glanced quickly back at Aoshi. He stared at her for a moment longer then turned away. Then her mother’s tight pull forced her to turn from Aoshi and concentrate on her walking.
______ ______ ______
“What were you thinking, bringing one of those things home?” her mother shouted. “Where does somebody come up with an idea like that?”
“I didn’t think I would be doing anything wrong,” Zandrae said, shrinking away. She sat in a simple wood chair in the main room of the house. Her mother stood above her.
“What do you think we have the shield for? To keep the Reghsalas out!”
“But Aoshi is a nice person!” Zandrae shouted, the tears starting to form in her eyes. “He just wants to learn about Humans, and I just want to learn about them. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”
Her mother paused for a long moment, rubbing her eyebrows vigorously. “You’re the first Human born on this world, Zandrae. You should know better than this. Those creatures are aliens. You don’t know them. You don’t know what they’re capable of. They have teeth and claws and can rip you apart without any problem, if they find some reason to do so.” She shook her head. “From now on, I’m keeping a much closer eye on you. You’re not going outside the barrier for any reason–do you understand me?–no matter who’s with you. You’re not to have any contact with those creatures. And I don’t want you talking to Abuc anymore. That man isn’t right in the head. He’s spent far too much time with the aliens.”
“But Mother,” Zandrae choked through tears, “I haven’t done anything bad. Nobody’s gotten hurt from me letting Aoshi in.”
“You could have been hurt. Someone probably will get hurt if you keep this up.”
“Don’t argue with me Zandrae! Now, go to your room for the rest of the night. I’ll discuss this with your father when he gets home and we’ll decide what your punishment will be.”
Zandrae sat quietly, shrunk back into the recesses of the chair, unmoving.
“Go.” Her mother pointed.
She stood up and slowly walked toward the ladder to the upper level. She looked back before starting up. “You know you’re taking away my only friend.” She began climbing the ladder.
“You need to find a Human friend, then.” Zandrae barely heard the words.
She entered her room and sat down on the bed. Eventually she stood up and wandered the room, searching for something to do, something that would take her mind off the trouble she was in. Her face burned from her crying, and the tears that she still vigorously rubbed away.
She went to the window and opened it, breathing deeply. It still had the dusty smell that was so familiar in the town. The dry weather of the planet caused the dirt paths between the buildings to cloud and pollute the air. The elements did not pass easily through the perimeter shield. The air was not as fresh within the town, and when it rained, it rained harder outside the force field. Zandrae suddenly longed to be out there, not to play with Aoshi, but just to smell the forest air.
After more than an hour of staring out the window, she saw Abuc walk past, probably coming back from the Reghsala village. He looked up at her and waved, quickly. She gave a sheepish wave in reply. He walked on.
A while later, Zandrae heard the door open downstairs and heard her father’s voice. She prayed her actions would not upset her father as they had her mother. She listened to their voices for a time, but they were not loud enough to make out what they were saying.
Looking at her wrist compass, Zandrae thought about her feelings the day before, when she’d had the sense of being more mature. She’d felt as though she was becoming an adult, receiving a few more freedoms. Now, because of her mistake, she had lost what few freedoms she had gained. They were being taken from her.
Eventually she had to urinate and decided she needed to go downstairs to the washroom. She went out of her room and down the ladder. Her parents stopped talking and watched her as she passed by. She said nothing to them.
After relieving herself, she noticed the three hypo-syringes recharging on the counter. She picked one up and dropped it in her pocket, not knowing exactly why. It gave her a feeling of power. The hypos were required for survival on the planet, and most adults tended to carry one around with them wherever they went, not only for their antibiotic, but also their multitude of other uses. They could be used as pain killers, or even defensive weapons.
She walked out of the washroom and passed the main room again. Before going up the ladder she looked at her parents, who had again halted their conversation.
“We’re not finished discussing this yet,” her mother told her. “Go on up.”
She turned, and without speaking, Zandrae climbed the ladder.
In her room Zandrae sat in front of the window and watched as dusk approached. She noticed that she had stopped crying but a moment later when she started thinking about Aoshi, trying to understand why her friendship had to be denied, it started again.
A short time later, her mother walked in. “It’s time for bed, Zandrae.”
Zandrae quietly walked across the room and crawled into her bed.
“I’m turning off the night light for tonight.”
“No!” shouted Zandrae. “No, please. You don’t need to. There’s no reason.”
“Don’t argue with me. You need to curb this irrational fear of the dark anyway.”
Zandrae watched as her mother clicked off all the lights and ducked out of the room. “We’ll discuss what you did more tomorrow.”
The shadows engulfed her as the door closed and she began breathing heavily. Glancing quickly around the room she searched for anything that might be lurking. Logically, she knew there’d be nothing, but being in the dark, a completely unnatural environment, made her senses do strange and frightening things.
She lay in the darkness, her covers drawn tightly to her neck, doing nothing but feeling her fear. Eventually she started fighting it, trying to think of herself as someone older, a little more mature, who was not afraid of such childish things as darkness. There were more important things to worry about–like her lost friendship with the little alien.
This thought sparked the change in her mood. Anger suddenly built within her, blocking out her fear–anger at her parents for taking away something so important to her and for throwing her into this world of blackness. She made a sudden decision that made her smile.
She stood up, no longer so scared that she needed to huddle in the blankets. She walked to the door and flipped the lights, but as she expected, they did not work. Her mother had shut off the main power to her room. Pausing to listen, she heard her mother and father downstairs. Slowly, Zandrae opened the door and once again entered into a world of light. She felt a little relief, but not as much as she hoped.
Crossing the hall, slowly and cautiously, she entered her parents room, thinking of nothing but what she was about to do. Glancing up on the wall, she saw the one thing her parents had always told her to stay away from, no matter what. The fusion torch sat on it’s recharging perch high above her head. She looked up and tried to reach it, but found it far out of reach. She tip-toed across the room and grabbed a wooden chair. Not wishing to make the noise of dragging it across the floor, she heaved it into her arms and carried it to the spot under the torch. She climbed on the chair, stood, and plucked the fusion torch from the wall, and held it in her hands, mesmerized.
Climbing down again, she set the torch carefully on the floor, and carried the chair back to its original resting place. She could still hear her parents voices below her. They laughed, and she decided that they had probably stopped talking about her.
Zandrae picked up the torch and carried it into the hall. Carefully avoiding the trigger, she ran her hands across its surface. The fusion torch was a common tool. Most households had one. Like the hypo-syringe, it could be used for a number of different purposes: as a flashlight, a cooking device or a heat gun, depending on which setting was selected. Zandrae knew the dangers of such a device, and knew she wasn’t supposed to be touching it, but she had ceased to consider the differences between right and wrong, and only thought about what she wanted.
She turned the safety off, set the torch to ILLUMINATE, and, gritting her teeth, pulled the trigger. The barrel lit and projected a wide and bright beam across the hall. Zandrae stepped back into her room and closed the door. She walked to the window, but halfway there she clicked the torch off again. For a reason she could not define, she wanted to feel the fear again, but it wasn’t as powerful this time.
Thrusting her head out the window, she breathed the air and looked up at the stars, dimmed from the shield. She stuck the fusion torch in her pocket with the hypo and stepped out the window onto the overhanging roof and walked to the edge. She sat down and dangled her legs over the edge.
It took several minutes for her to build the nerve, but finally she turned, slid off, held to the edge and hung for a moment, then dropped to the ground, falling on her side. Picking herself up, she brushed the dirt from her clothes and looked back at the house. The downstairs had no windows on this side so her parents could not see her and did not know she was gone.
She looked up at the night sky for a moment, then she turned, placing a hand on the torch in her pocket and started at a dead run toward the edge of the colony. A minute later she felt the quick tingle as she passed through the perimeter shield. She continued running, without looking back, toward the alien’s village, through the blackness of night.