Ninety-Nine Red Balloons
by Nostalgia

It was night when they arrived at the dust world. Cold and black and silent.

Of course, it's always night somewhere, and some places it's always night. Still...

Usually they pulled the ship around to day side of a world, anchoring in the vacuum above seas and continents lit in glorious starshine. But this time it was night, and a blackened world turned its scars away from its star as if ashamed of them.

There was nothing there, he knew, nothing any more. But he wanted to see it anyway. Someone had to, he thought, but he wasn't sure why.


They passed a dead satellite on the way down. He knew that there would have been thousands once, falling and tumbling once their creators were gone. This one might have been a military satellite. It might have been called "defence" or it might have been called "vengeance". He thought of something else instead.


"I wonder who started it?" The voice was slightly behind him and to the left, barely even a whisper.

"It's funny," said another, "How these things always seem to matter at the time." A dry comment, dry like the dust and the ash. And quiet again, somehow scared to disturb the air.

If he closed his eyes he could see falling fire and burning tears. He could hear sirens and screaming children. He saw all the cities crumble and all the cultures fall. He saw the dust rising up to take away the sun. He could feel invisible particles ripping through his skin and burning him to nothing.

He opened his eyes. He saw that there was no port to welcome travellers, he heard the wind flowing lazily between the ruins. A dead horizon lay before him, scorched earth and bunrt-out hills. And dust. Endless black, grey and white dust. He asked his question to the dead earth beneath his feet: If on the last day of this there were two of you and one of them, did you think that you had won?


Before they left he took a lump of rock from the fallen city walls and scratched shaky graffitti into the dust. An archaic mantra from the history books. He saw himself as the woman in a photograph he'd seen as a child, spraying green paint onto the side of a government building. Maybe this dust had belonged to someone's government, once. Maybe this dust had been someone's government. The edges of the rock tore into his skin, adding more blood to the planet's history.

He stood and brushed dust from his clothing. He looked down at his pointless, too-late gesture. He wondered what languages the people of this world would have written it in, if the letters would have looped and curled.

Ban The Bomb

He felt lost, so he went home.


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