“Get back in here and finish those dishes young man!”

“Oh Mum. Can’t I skip them just this once? I really want to build the lean-to with Dad in the woods.”

Ray’s mother quickly wiped her hands on her apron and glanced out the window. She squinted as she gauged how long it would be until the first sun set and the second rose above the horizon.

“Please Mum?” Ray whined.

“Oh get going you scoundrel!”

“Yeah!”

Without looking back (in case she changed her mind) the blond-haired, blue eyed ten year old rushed out through the fly wire door and slammed it behind him. The red barn was on the other side of the family’s old flitter car at rest in the driveway and it did not take Ray long to reach the huge double front doors. As he pulled the left one open, he could hear his father rummaging around for what they would need for building the lean-to together in the woods.

“So your mother let you off the dishes?”

Ray pulled the door of the barn closed behind him just like his Dad taught him since he was little. “Yes sir.”

A broad grin crossed his father’s face. “You’d better do something special for her tomorrow. Come here son.”

Ray ran to his father and felt himself immediately lifted off the ground in a bear hug. “Oh, my you’re getting big and heavy.”

Ray hugged his father back even harder to show off his muscles. He loved hearing his father say that he was growing up. One day he was going to be as strong as his dad and wear overalls and a checked shirt just like him. They both ended up laughing as Ray’s father gave his son a little tickle under the ribs before putting him back down.

“OK, I’ve got the saw and the nails. What else do we need?” Ray’s father said half to himself.

“A hammer! We need a hammer Dad!”

“That’s right, we need a hammer.”

Ray laughed at his dad for forgetting the most critical tool. After packing their things into a bag, Ray’s father grabbed his rifle and they both headed out of the barn and down white fence line that separated the fields of wheat from the woods.

Behind them, Ray’s mother smiled to herself as she placed another dish in the rack. Flicking a strand of hair out of her eyes, she looked lovingly at the two most important men in her life walking side by side away from the house.

After reaching the edge of the forest a few hundred metres from the house Ray’s father asked, “So have you picked a place?”

Ray screwed up his face in concentration. “I think just through there looks good.”

His father replied seriously, “I think that’s a good choice as well. The trees are bent at just the right point to help us with the construction.”

Ray clambered through the fence’s crossbars while his father climbed over the top. They could still see the house not far away through the undergrowth and for the next few minutes, they cleared the area around the base of the selected tree. Ray’s father bent down to check that the tree did not have any spines like many of the species in the woods.

Just after he had married Ray’s mother, they had made the decision to be one of the first farming colonist of this world. The vast wheat fields helped feed the Concord’s core worlds and it was not long before their little farm began to prosper. Soon after arriving, Ray was born and the planet felt more like home every day.

“Dad, what’s that noise?”

“What noise son?”

Just as he asked the question Ray’s father turned his attention to the sky as the screeching wail of something falling reached him. Through the brush, he watched a dark metallic pyramid slam into the ground next to their flitter car, sending a cloud of dirt into the air. The pyramid was a few feet taller than the flitter and at the apex, an energy orb began to pulse faster and faster.

In a strained voice his father said, “Son stay by my side and don’t leave it. Do you understand?”

Ray knew that his dad was using his very serious voice and only replied, “Yes sir.”

With his rifle in his right hand and his son’s hand in his left, Ray’s father abandoned all thought of the lean-to. Skirting along the edge of the woods, with tree branches whipping against them, they ran as fast as Ray could back towards the house.

With a dishtowel still in her hand, Ray’s mother stepped out onto the porch to see what was making all the commotion. She had heard the awful whining sound and the thump as the object fell from the sky. A shimmering purple haze formed at five distinct points around the machine. Within the haze, sparks flashed like small lightning bolts back and forth until the vague shape of men in some sort of strange armour began to form.

She recognized those shapes and dropped her dishtowel as she fled along the porch in the direction where her husband and son had gone.

As he ran to keep up with his father, Ray watched as his mother jumped down to the ground and run towards the fence line. A brilliant beam of red light lanced out and seemed to pin her in the air mid-step. Her face contorted in agony as she collapsed to the ground. Ray watched as his father screamed in a way he had never heard before. He had seen his dad angry with him or yelling at a contractor but he had never seen his father like this.

With tears building in his eyes, Ray’s father dropped to one knee and lifted his riflescope up to his eye. Ray heard the brief build-up of energy and watched in grim fascination as his father’s blue beam fled the rifle’s muzzle. The man that had hurt his mother dropped to the ground.

The earth in front of them suddenly erupted in a rapid series of puffs of dirt. As if in a dream, Ray watched his father tossed backwards by an invisible force and his good work shirt suddenly turn a deep crimson colour. Crawling over to his dad, he looked into vacant staring eyes.

Ray was confused and bewildered. He had never seen anything like this before. Were his mum and dad playing a new game? When was the happy part? He then looked down at his father’s rifle and he knew how this game needed to end.

He had fired his father’s rifle a number of times before. All children that grew up on a farm in one of the colonies learned to fire at targets with their dads. Picking up the rifle in his small hands Ray lay in the grass and looked through the telescopic sights.

He saw the ugly pale faced man with the pink eyes that had hurt his father and squeezed the trigger. The man dropped and Ray felt a little better for it. Just then, Ray’s home exploded in a ball of fire and a wave of heat washed over him. Ray looked through the scope at the big bad man who had hurt his house, just as his father had taught him, and squeezed the trigger again. The big bad man fell to the ground and then stood up again and turned in Ray’s direction.

The bad man smiled with sharp pointed teeth and lifted a much bigger gun toward Ray.That was when Ray’s saviour arrived.

The undergrowth next to Ray suddenly parted and a man in a uniform that Ray recognized from the tridee-reels at school fired his gun at the bad man. The evil man fell backwards and did not get up anymore. This time, Ray felt even happier about that. The uniformed man rushed forward and in rapid succession fired his weapon at the remaining bad men. He then focused on the horrible black pyramid until the ball on the top stopped glowing. Ray was going to have a great story to tell his Mum and Dad at dinner that evening! Why was he crying? What was happening?

That was when he noticed the boy about his age lying beside him. He must have come with his saviour. Like him, the boy was crying. His mother had always told him to help anyone that was crying so he managed to stammer, “Hi, my name’s Ray. What’s your name?”

The boy looked back at him and like all brave boys quickly wiped his tears. “My name’s Thomas. Hi.”

“Thomas, do you want to be my friend?”

“I’d like that Ray.”

By this time the man that had saved, them both returned and squatted next to them. Turning to Ray he asked, “What’s your name son?”

“My mother told me not to speak to strangers. What’s your name?”

“Gasp.”

“That’s a funny name. I guess that now I know your name then you’re not a stranger. Mister, my name’s Ray. I think that my Mum and Dad are hurt. Can you help them?”

“I’m sorry son, I can’t help them but I think that I can help the both of you.” Gasp stood up and looked down at the two boys. “Here take my hands.”

Ray and Thomas looked at Gasp’s smiling face and without hesitation they reached up to hold Gasp’s outstretched welcoming hands. With his other hand, Ray held firmly onto his father’s rifle.