The first time Lance took a swing, the head of the sledgehammer sunk into the temporal boundary that surrounded the ship. It was like somebody grabbed it out of his hands.
He fell forward and splashed against the cold sphere. Like he was trying to pick it up out of its crater.
Lance growled in frustration. He spun around and eyed the sledge still hanging in the air.
It bobbed up and down like it was trying to shake his hand.
Drying blood spread from his belt to his knees. Stained the bottom of his shirt.
His queen still loved him.
He had screamed in horror and agony until he was hoarse and puking. Blood splattered the floor between his feet.
Then his queen forgave him. Healed him. Took away his pain.
Cammie grinned to show him his own blood in her teeth, then she had leaned forward, and the punishment had started anew.
Over and over, until he was exhausted.
When it was finally over, his queen healed him again. Cammie stood and walked to her corner, then his queen stood on her tiptoes. Kissed his wet cheek. Whispered in his ear.
It was the greatest sexual experience of his life.
He wrestled the sledgehammer out of the bubble, being careful not to enter it himself, then he turned to strike.
The metal rang off the ship like an anchor chain dropping a link.
Chips flew into his face. Flecks of silver glass. They hit the barrier and froze in flight.
Lance pulled the hammer back. Swung with a grunt of effort.
He never wanted to disappoint his queen ever again. But he couldn't stop thinking about what might happen if he did.
The hammer struck with another shower of glass. Like the coating on the back of a mirror.
Lance lost track of the number of swings. He swiped blood out of his eyes. It was full of crystalline grit.
He wiped his hands on his pants. The fluid from the burst blisters mixed with the bloodstains.
Inside the bubble so near the ship, he could no longer hear the mind of his queen, but he could see her in his imagination. Her slight smile as she watched his punishment. Her tongue as it darted out between her parted lips.
He would be with her tonight. Lance would gain access to the ship and kill anybody who tried to enter.
He hammered on the ship, and the point of impact increased in diameter and depth with each swing. Chips flew, layers were exposed — glossy sheets of colored glass like hardened sediment.
Lance let the head hit the ground, then he leaned on the handle. Spots danced in front of his eyes. His lungs burned.
He worked his hips back and forth to release the sticky fabric of his underwear from his balls without using his hands. He was sweating like a linebacker in the red zone.
Lance leaned forward and put his hand in the jagged divot he'd created. No way to tell how much was left. The thing could be ten feet thick.
He thought about what she would do if he succeeded. What she would do if he failed.
As Lance set his grip and heaved the hammer up for another round, the sky lit up like the sun bursting through a rain cloud.
He dropped the hammer and turned to look up.
Fire leaped into the air. White centered on a blinding flash of orange. The silhouette of the pear tree stood out in relief at the edge of the parking lot.
The church's tower tumbled over. Crumpled against the ground. The rumbling vibration hit before the sound washed over the bubble.
Lance pushed off the ship into an arrested run.
He was stuck in time.