The boy should have been in school, but the afternoon was too warm to endure another instant of stuffy classroom. He had not bothered returning to his school console; it might be an hour before a random check showed he wasn't working. He leaned back in the center of the grassy meadow, head resting on his folded hands. He had plugged in an old math drill program he had finished weeks ago. Computer teachers were so dumb sometimes.
Not that he minded. The warm air turned him drowsy, and the few breezes blowing up from the valley carried a hint of rain that might fall later. He remembered distant Earth with no real pleasure. The weather there was too predictable. Anyone could vote on what they wanted. It seldom rained because everyone insisted on sunshine.
He liked occasional rain. It made him feel ... sinful. That was the only way he could describe it. He wasn't supposed to get wet. His clothing disintegrated, and his mother had to reprogram and use precious ration units, but he didn't care.
He liked the feel of rain against his face.
He drifted, more asleep than awake. The roar like a million thunderclaps brought him bolt upright. His eyes widened as he stared at the cloud-specked turquoise sky. Huge patches of festering black appeared everywhere. At first, he thought it might be stormclouds forming. Then he caught the glint of sunlight off flat black metal.
"Ships," he whispered, as if someone might overhear. "There must be a million of them up there."
There were only ten thousand, but they worked in perfect coordination and performed the deadly work of orders of magnitudes more.
The grin faded when he realized that the bright rainbow did not bring assurance but death. Anything living within the path of the rapidly sweeping shaft of radiant energy died horribly.
The boy grinned when he saw a rainbow arch down from a black ship. It was so gentle, so peaceful, such a promise of rain and freedom and everything he enjoyed so.
He shot to his feet when he saw the blackened grass appear at the edge of the meadow. A tree exploded and spewed boiling sap in all directions; the burned-out carcass looked like a flailing black skeleton. One finger pointed at him, marking him for death. He didn't bother putting on his boots. Barefoot, he ran for his life, crushed grass wetly staining his feet.
The swathe of death followed--too fast.
He never saw the lovely rainbow. The ionizing radiation from the warship burst apart every cell in his body. He experienced a surge of pain and then infinite blackness and death possessed him.
The rainbow scoured the meadow of all life and swept on, seeking anything living and leaving undisturbed all inanimate objects.