The metrocab pulled over three blocks from the Reed Building. The amai in the front seat informed me the road was closed ahead and she couldn't proceed. As I opened the door, "Julia" eagerly tried to talk me into going other places around the city... or any city. I ignored her and walked toward the barriers and flashing lights. I knew that, if my hunch was right, there was no way I'd be able to get back to PaciTek.
Many fire trucks and ambulances were visible in the distance and the smell of smoke grew thicker with every step. Several police officers were stationed there to keep spectators back. I decided I wasn't turning back, that, if I were still ascended, I had nothing to lose anyway.
On cue, not one but three large officers approached and ordered me to leave the premises, pointing to the cab I'd come from.
"I have a sister diving at PaciTek," I explained. "She has a rare form of NCFOD and I need to be there when they get her out of the booth."
The battle-ready law enforcement brigade claimed the EMTs were prepared for any crisis and maintained they'd arrest me unless I left immediately. I feigned defeat and strolled back toward the street, glancing at the spectators who'd gathered there. There was no quiet shock among them. No kindness between strangers sharing a tragedy. These were like the extras in some film: melodramatic and scripted, their emotion phony and exaggerated. They were illusions.
Meanwhile, in the direction of the beaches the sky was perfectly clear. Anxiously I scanned the stars. A cheap, twinkling copy, I thought. The same as the stars of Earth.
Except the brightest point of light had vanished.
I reached the curb and ran. The next road was blocked, and the one after that. "I'm not giving up that easily!" I yelled through increasingly heavy breaths.