Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Jack nodded. "We've got a full tank of gas. We should be able to get to Iowa, at least."
"Before we run out?"
"Before the sun rises."
"So what's the point?"
"It buys us some time."
"I don't know. Twenty minutes, maybe. But maybe, if we're lucky, it will be enough for the scientists to figure something out." Jack shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. I can't just sit here. I need to do something and this is the best thing I can come up with."
Emily opened her mouth, seemingly ready to argue the point, then closed it. She nodded. "You're right. We can't fight this, but maybe we can run from it."
"Wait," she held up a hand, "What if the President was wrong? What if it doesn't cross the Atlantic?"
"Then we turn around. But every minute we waste waiting to see if there's anything to worry about is two miles we could be down the road."
She nodded again. "Okay. Get the car seat out of the Prius. I'll make a snack."
Ten minutes later he brought the Maserati to life and backed it out of the driveway. Absolutely nothing was stirring in the neighborhood. Quietly, slowly, he brought the car up to speed, trying to avoid over revving the engines and keeping an eye out for police patrols.
"Uh, headlights?" Emily offered from the passenger seat.
"Not until we get on the highway," Jack replied. "I don't want anybody to see us until we're too far away to be caught."
The I-88 on ramp was a two minute drive from the house under normal conditions. He spent ten minutes snaking around to avoid the main roads and the higher likelihood of patrols and roadblocks, finally sneaking through an empty office complex and edging up between the bushes at the entryway to observe the ramp. His heart sank when he saw a police Tahoe was parked halfway across the road.
"Think we can beat it?" Jack asked.
"I don't think we have to worry," Emily pointed. "It's empty."
"Oh." With that he gunned the engine and screeched through a ninety-degree turn, fishtailing slightly but managing to keep all four wheels on the road and pointed in the right direction. He was doing forty by the time he hit the ramp--nearly clipping the police truck in the process--and shot through the I-Pass lane of the tollbooth at 85. The car was at 120 and climbing by the time he merged on to the empty expressway and realized he'd been holding his breath, expecting red and blue strobes from all directions.
Nothing happened. The car's acceleration and the sound of rubber on road were the only sounds other than breathing, beating hearts and a gurgle from Nate in the back seat. "I think we made it," Jack finally said, as much to break the silence as anything else.
"They didn't," Emily said.
An old Chevy was parked on the side of the road, its hood up. As they passed, Jack caught a flash of a desperate tableau illuminated in the stark light of a street lamp. A man stood at the front of the car, desperately hammering at something on the engine while a woman looked on, clutching two small children.
A quarter mile down the road they saw a Honda crumpled against a guard rail. A hundred yards past the car they passed a family running down the shoulder, the parents half carrying, half dragging their children behind them.
"Maybe we should stop," Emily said, "Try to help them."
"You know we can't," Jack said, nearly choking on the words, "There's nothing we could do." He pressed down a little harder on the gas.
As the car neared its top speed he couldn't help but chuckle.
"What?" Emily asked.
"My Maserati goes one eighty-five," Jack sang, "They took my license, now I don't drive."
"I've got a limo, ride in the back," Emily added in the next line.
"Roll up the windows in case I'm attacked," they finished together.
The car redlined and the image of that broken down Chevy suddenly sprang in to his mind. He backed the car down to 150 MPH, willing to trade some speed for the chance to get as far as possible. They were already nearly out of Chicagoland and would be in De Kalb in ten minutes, a trip that usually took a half hour. He turned the headlights on, ready to trade the risk of discovery for the risk of hitting something.
As he did, they passed a pair of school buses headed east. The words "First Baptist Church" were printed on the sides in reflective lettering.
"What the hell?" Emily asked. "Who would be going east right now?"
Jack shrugged. "Maybe they have kids in the city and they're trying to rescue them."
"They're a little late for that."
Emily reached over and turned on the radio, flipping it to an AM news channel. "The rioting in Atlanta seems to have slowed down," the news reader was saying, "Dawn is only a few minutes away and everyone seems to have paused, waiting to see what will happen." There was a pause. "We now have Professor Hintz from Northwestern University on the phone. Professor Hintz, there is a question that I don't think I've heard anyone else ask, and I don't know if it's possible to even answer it yet, but is this going to be an isolated event or will the sun continue to kill our children?"
"Well, Mike, we don't know," came the staticky response, obviously over a less than perfect cell phone connection, "And the frightening thing is, we probably won't know for several weeks or even months."
"Reports are coming out that this wave of disappearances isn't just effecting children. It's also taking the unborn."
"It's causing mass abortions?" came the confused response.
"Miscarriages would be a better description, but, yes." There was a pause. "Even that isn't quite the right way to describe it, though. There's actually a video from Moscow of a woman on the verge of giving birth who suddenly was not pregnant any more. We've had many reports of similar situations, many of which are double tragedies as the complications from the sudden disappearance of a fetus can be quite lethal."
"So, Professor, you're telling us that we will have to wait to see if women can even become pregnant again before we can find out if our sun is going to continue to be deadly to the children of the world."
"Exactly. And I'm sure you know that it can often take weeks or months for the confirmation of viable pregnancies."
"Thank you, Professor," the news reader said, "Now we're going to take you to New York City for a report on the conditions there."
Emily reached over and grasped Jack's hand, squeezing it tightly. He pushed the car to 160, trying to outrun the bad news. But even at that speed the car didn't have a prayer of outrunning the radio.
After he and Arata had done the supper dishes and cleaned up, Jiro had turned the television to CNN, as he did every night. At first he thought there had been a bombing, or something like that cult in Tokyo a few years back—he saw frantic people, a woman screaming, emergency workers in hazmat suits.
He forced himself to focus on the unfamiliar language: “...people, all desperate for flights to the US and Canada, while in Liverpool police have been forced to seal off the port after violence erupted when all Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ferries left port early to escape the encroaching terminus...” Jiro didn’t know what “terminus” meant, but it sounded like the English word for “end.” On the screen, a teenaged boy wailed, a baby bottle in his hand.
It’s like the Bomb all over again, he thought. People were disappearing, just puffing into the air.
No...not all people. That’s not what they were saying. As the sun rose onto a place, all children there vanished, leaving the adults, as far as he could tell, unscathed. Every child. All over the world. This wasn’t the Bomb. This was worse.
“What’s going on, Grandpa?” said Arata, drawn to the screen by scenes of chaos. He didn’t know English.
Jiro closed his eyes. “There has been an earthquake,” he said. “In...in England. We should pray for them.”
“Oh,” said Arata, then wandered to his little desk in the corner of the room. Arata, Jiro’s great-grandson, his last descendant and his dearest one, was five years old.
Jiro sat down heavily, his vision swimming. They vanished with the rising sun. It was 6:37; the weak February sun was already setting. And sunrise was late this time of year, especially this far north. Maybe he had time—but he was 89 years old; even if he could find a car, he could no longer see well enough to drive. Could he run? It was hard even to walk for any length of time. And he didn’t think he could lift Arata for more than a minute. It was hard even to bathe him. They lived on the east coast, but Japan was narrow. Even if he were strong and young, there was nowhere to go.
Arata was singing to himself as he drew. Jiro slowly levered himself to his feet, stood awhile to get his breath, then walked to the boy.
“Hey. What...what are you drawing?”
The plump little boy didn’t look up from his paper. “It’s a rocket ship. See?” He held it up.
“Why, that is fine. Very fine.” Jiro’s chest was tight. He hoped he wasn’t having a heart attack. “That is very fine,” he repeated. He couldn’t think what else to say.
Somehow, he managed to put the boy to bed without screaming.
After Arata was asleep, Jiro knelt over him and brushed the boy’s smooth cheek with his knobbed, twisted old man’s hand. He stayed there for a while. Then he got himself a beer and watched the television with the sound low. He had no idea what was causing it, nobody did. But it was on all the news channels. It was real. Jiro suspected it was some new super-weapon, maybe something electromagnetic. Pretty soon, someone would be at war, if they weren’t already. Jiro hadn’t gotten drunk since the war, but he wished he had something stronger in the house than beer. He was glad that Aoi, Arata’s mother, wasn’t alive to see this happen.
Maybe there were riots already, in the big cities. But Niseko was a tiny town, and it was silent. He fancied he could even hear the sea, over the murmured horrors from the television.
Five children, twelve grandchildren, all adults—and two great-grandchildren. But Miyoko was sixteen. He hoped that would be old enough. He wondered if it was painful, to disintegrate like that.
Jiro had never seen the point of suicide. During the war, they had told him, of course, that if you were about to lose, your duty was not to surrender like some sort of selfish coward, but to die, and if possible, take as many of the enemy with you. And he had nodded with all the rest, young faces glowing with the usual patriotic zeal.
But he had never really, seriously considered that anybody might actually want to stop living. Every day he was alive was beautiful, no matter what was going on. Selfish? Maybe, but he couldn’t help it. Even when his wife had died twenty years before, even when he had lost his granddaughter, the beat of his own heart and the breath in his lungs had been too sweet.
Jiro sat in front of the television all night.
Before the sky was even pale, he got up, joints aching in the cold. He brushed his teeth. He showered. His hands were shaking, but he even shaved. And when he tied his tie, the knot was as neat as he could make it. He put on warm clothes. He wrote a letter to his children and left it on his desk. He wondered if anybody would read it; maybe the world was ending.
Then he woke Arata up. “We’re going for a walk,” he said. As the boy sleepily ate his breakfast, Jiro drank a cup of tea. He would miss tasting things.
On the way out, Jiro made sure to turn the television off and the thermostat down. The sky was beginning to pale. Jiro crept slowly along the path towards the sea, planting his stick into the snow with every step. It wouldn’t do to slip and fall now, to break something. The boy tried to keep pace with his grandfather, but then, bored, he would dart ahead, or scamper off the path to gaze at ice-laden trees, at frosted windows.
By the time they reached the sea cliffs, it was almost dawn. Carefully, the old man picked his way up the slippery rocks and the boy followed him.
“Look,” Jiro said. “Isn’t it beautiful?” They stared out to sea.
“Bu...ti...ful,” Arata said.
Jiro’s heart was pounding, and he felt clammy under his sweater and coat, too hot and too cold at the same time. But he had made it; even now, everything still worked, although not as well as it once had. He would probably live a few years longer. After Arata was dead. He tried to imagine life without him, and found that he couldn’t.
He ruffled the boy’s hair, then set his stick down, stepped behind him, and gripped Arata’s shoulders with both hands. Arata didn’t flinch: Jiro himself had been caned at school, as had his own sons, but in all his short life, nobody had ever done this child harm.
“Little fellow, do you remember the prayer I taught you?”
“Yeah.” Arata twisted his finger in his mouth.
“Can you say it for me?”
“Nam...Namu Amida Butsu.”
“And do you remember why we say it?” The sea wind was so cold against Jiro’s face; he was crying by now. Everything was blurring into light.
“If you say it, you’ll be born in the Pure Land.”
“Do you believe it?”
“Yeah, but why...”
“Close your eyes,” Jiro whispered, and pushing the boy in front of him, stepped forward off the cliff.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Jack had never been able to see himself as a father. He and Emily had met when he was nearly 28. By then he'd been best man at three weddings, a godfather twice over, and developed a bad habit of snickering behind the backs of his friends when they'd traded in their Mustangs for minivans and replaced their wallet condoms with baby pictures. Now here he was, a month past 31 and facing something he couldn't even begin to contemplate.
Diaper bags, baby formula and car seats had once seemed like a death sentence, the mark of lost freedom and the dreaded growing up. But he found himself looking forward to walking in the front door every night and seeing his smiling baby, hearing him laugh, smelling that odd combination of baby powder, baby oil, and tear-free shampoo that now permeated most of the house. He treasured walks around the park with the stroller and was happy to trade in Friday nights at the bar for collapsing on to the couch, wrapping his arms around Emily and tickling Nate's toes while barely paying attention to the latest Netflix DVD.
Bill was the last holdout from his group of bachelor friends turned fathers. They had mocked their friends together, but Jack had ended up feeling sorry for Bill. There was a joy in growing up and starting a family that couldn't be explained to someone who hadn't yet experienced it.
Still, that old "just the guys" machismo was why Jack had told Bill that Emily didn't like the Maserati. In truth, the car terrified him at the same time he was thrilled to see it in the driveway. He squeezed Emily just a little tighter, remembering the accident that had almost cost him everything. She mumbled something and pressed her head against his shoulder, but didn't share her thoughts with him, didn't save him from his memory.
He'd been at work when the call came from the hospital. A drunk driver had run a stoplight in an SUV, rolling over the Toyota Corolla driven by his six-month pregnant wife. He'd rushed to the hospital, arriving just in time to give the doctors permission to perform an emergency c-section on the still unconscious Emily. From there that terrible day had been a blur. He mostly remembered sitting in a spartan waiting room, staring at the floor while his parents and in-laws sat on either side, saying all the inane things that are supposed to be said to and by the terrified, helpless loved ones.
The only clear recollection he had from that entire day was the doctor. He'd limped out of the surgical theater and taken in the motley collection with weary eyes. But when he pulled his mask down he was smiling. "Your wife is okay," he'd said, "And so is your son."
In the end, the insurance settlement had paid for the new Prius out in the driveway, allowed them to pay of a substantial portion of their mortgage and given them a fine start on both a retirement and college account. But the money wasn't worth the cost. For nearly a month the only way he'd been able to touch his son was with rubber gloves pushed through holes in a plexiglass box. For two weeks he'd had sleepless nights on a reclining chair in Emily's hospital room. Then there was the rehab and the frightening, barely considered, possibility that Nate would be Emily's only child.
"I love you," Jack murmured in her ear. "We'll get through this."
She turned from the crib and wrapped her arms tightly around him. "I know," she said after a long, deep silence. "Maybe...maybe the President was wrong. Maybe it won't come here."
"We can only hope." They fell silent again, this time not quite as alone as before.
Nate suddenly woke up, hungry. Emily picked him up and helped him find a nipple. She leaned over to kiss him on top of his head. When she looked back up her eyes were filled with grief.
"I can't lose him, Jack," she said as a tear ran down her cheek. "I just can't."
He caught the tear on her chin with his finger, then traced its path back up to the corner of her eye. "I...I can't, either," he said. "We'll think of something, though. I promise."
"Don't make promises you can't keep," she said hoarsely, "No matter how much you want to."
Nate finished and snuggled up against his mother's breast. She hefted the baby over her shoulder and pulled her shirt all the way back on. Then she walked out of the nursery and in to the master bedroom. Jack followed the pair, unwilling to let them out of his sight.
She laid Nate down on their bed, then picked a book up off the dresser. It was a baby blue album emblazoned with the words "Our Littlest Treasure" in gold on the cover. A tiny black hand print was beneath the words, the print of a preemie who'd miraculously survived a traumatic first day.
Emily folded herself protectively around her son on the bed and opened up the baby book. Jack slid on to the bed behind her, wrapping his right arm around his wife and propping his head up with his left. Together they shared the too few memories of their son.
The first few pictures were of mother and son in the hospital. Doctors and nurses filled in the space in those shots, their names gratefully recorded so no one would forget how much work had gone in to that one little life. He smiled as she flipped to the page with the picture of four smiling, paint splattered grandparents. They'd barely talked to each other in the months leading to the wedding and nearly come to blows at the reception, but while Emily and Nate were in the hospital and Jack barely saw his own home they'd decided to prepare the nursery together. Since then, his parents and in-laws had been inseparable friends whom no one who didn't know the history would believe had once despised each other.
Too soon, though, they came to the blank pages where the six month and one year pictures were supposed to go. Emily closed the book, turned off the light, then rolled over and placed Nate between herself and Jack. They'd laid in that exact position many nights already, amazed at the little person they had brought in to the world, dreaming of the man he would grow up to be. Now Emily looked in Jack's eyes with an unspeakable grief. He knew that his eyes mirrored hers.
After a while they fell asleep. Jack dreamt that he was standing in a big field with his son at his feet. A great, terrifying beast approached the pair, intent on devouring the helpless baby. Jack scooped his son up in his arms, then turned and ran as fast as he could. Away, always away.
With a start he found himself back in his bedroom. Emily slept quietly, one arm around their son. Moonlight streamed in through the open window. Jack got up and walked to the window, straining his eyes for the slightest hint of a terrible dawn on the eastern horizon. All he saw was his quiet, empty street. Then his eyes fell on the Maserati, glowing slightly under the white, soft light of the moon.
His eyes widened as the solution hit him. He spun and looked at the clock on the nightstand. It was 5:30. There was still time, just barely.
He jumped on to the bed and shook his wife's shoulder. "Em, wake up," he whispered, "I have an idea."
Her eyes fluttered. "Wha...what?" All of the sudden they snapped open. "Nate?" she asked, then squeezed the baby. She smiled. "Are we okay?"
"It's not dawn yet," Jack told her. "We've still got an hour, hour and a half."
"Then what's going on?"
"I have an idea."
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Cathleen Silver had never been the type to watch CNN. Even before Pastor Billings had warned - nay, outright forbidden - dutiful wives like herself from worrying themselves with issues that bore no particular relevance to serving God, husband or family (in no particular order), Cathleen had never understood why she should be interested in the particulars of that brief Russia-Israel war that had, after all, not a single casualty. Nor why anyone should care about some trifling election in some Eastern European country she'd never even heard of. And had she not pressed the wrong button on her remote control trying to switch off her television set before bed, she'd have missed their exclusive coverage of the end of the world.
"Starting from 6.15 AM, Israeli time, children have been disappearing in a wave that follows the sun as it rises across Europe and Africa."
Newsreaders, outwardly calm and dignified but inwardly either terrified for their loved ones or ecstatic at breaking what was the story of the century, spoke in the flattest General American monotone they could muster under the circumstances, interspersed with vignettes from reporters across Europe.
A reporter standing at the peak of a wave-beaten cliff (a small red bug on the screen informed Cathleen that these cliffs were somewhere in Britain - specifically a place called "Dover") gestured towards the ominous red glow on the horizon. The air above the waters was thick with the exhaust fumes of ferries, warships, freighters and yachts, some commandeered by the French Navy, some piloted by altruistic individuals who had picked up as many desperate families as they could from the Calais coastline. All the boats carried European refugees across the Channel to England, in the hope that perhaps, just perhaps, the island would be safe from the plague that had swept the mainland.
"The ships will arrive to an empty town," the man said, clutching his microphone hard as the strong sea winds howled against the chalk face below, "as many of the residents of Dover have already evacuated to the West Country.
Reports are coming in from Heathrow and Gatwick of queues, some of made up of well over two-thousand people, all desperate for flights to the US and Canada, while in Liverpool police have been forced to seal off the port after violence erupted when all Dublin and Dun Laoghaire ferries left port early to escape the encroac..."
Cathleen shut-off the set and picked up her well-worn, hand-annotated Bible. Many of the notes were based directly on Billings' sermons, and were marked by a veritable forest of fluorescent, brightly coloured post-its that poked out of its pages. Green notes were about the Second Coming, red ones were about Hell, and yellow ones were about the Rapture. There were a lot of yellow ones.
Billings had explained all of this - the regeneration of Israel, the massive nuclear war, and now the Rapture. And it was all in the Bible, or so Billings had promised. She took his word for it. He'd never mentioned it coming in a wave, but then it doesn't matter if a few small details were wrong. The important thing was that true Christians would get to Heaven early, while the rest of humanity would be forced to sit through the apocalypse. So, who could Cathleen save?
Ronald, her husband; he'd never been the religious type. He was a train driver on the Chicago-Dallas railroad, and Cathleen worried that he was happier alone in his cab with a stack of those 'magazines' than he was at home with her. Besides, he was driving the night freight tonight - railway regulations forebade Ronald from carrying a cellphone, otherwise Cathleen could have called him, tried to score a last-minute conversion.
What about her daughter Zoe? She was away at college but then, she was probably beyond saving anyway - joining either the Feminist Society or Friends of LGBT was risky from an "I want to be Raptured" perspective, Pastor Billings had explained. Joining both was spiritual suicide. Her son Michael on the other hand... well, he was young and innocent. He got the free pass. And Cathleen? Well, she'd never sinned... at least, she couldn't remember doing any of those things the Reverend had called sinful. And she knew the Sinners' Prayer off by heart, that had to count for something.
Michael was in bed at the moment. In a few short hours, they'd both be with God. But then, how long's a few hours? Cathleen glanced at the clock, eager to see the morning for the first time since her eighth Christmas. What! Not only just gone midnight? Sunrise isn't until eight o'clock 'round this time of year!
"There must be some way to speed this process along," she thought.
Then it hit her. If she drove towards the East Coast, she could meet the Rapture head on! New York was about 12 hours drive from Mount Prospect, so if the Sun is going to rise in about 7 hours time - Cathleen flicked open the road atlas - they'll be saved somewhere on Interstate 80 outside Pittsburgh. Not the most glamorous place to be saved, but it'll do.
Cathleen shook Michael from his sleep, packed the leftovers from the Sunday meal into a picnic basket, and bundled both boy and basket into the backseat of their station wagon.
"Where are we going, mom?" asked Michael, still in his teddy-bear pajamas.
"To God" was her simple reply. She'd never explained the Rapture to him, but she saw no point in confusing him with it now. She could tell him after the fact.
"But we went to church yesterday" Michael muttered, drifting in and out of sleep.
The tank was full - Ronald was always so particular about preparing his trips in advance that he even prepared for journeys he hadn't planned - and Cathleen floored the gas pedal. The car screeched through the leafy suburban streets towards the on-ramp. The eastbound lanes of the freeway were totally clear while the westbound stood bumper to bumper all the way from New York - it was only 2 AM, but a few insomniacs lulling themselves to sleep on rolling news had learnt of the horrifying disappearances sweeping across the continent. They'd telephoned friends, friends telephoned other friends, until most of the country was either driving straight for California, or lining up at airports where a handful of lucky souls could snatch a few extra hours together on the Pan-Con flight to Tokyo.
After hundreds of miles of featureless grey concrete, Cathleen spotted the first light on the horizon. Unfortunately, it was just the urban glow from Cleveland, streetlights still buzzing unaware that half the city had left, and the other half would shortly get a very rude awakening indeed. Nevertheless, Cleveland meant she'd been driving for the best part of six hours. Slightly less actually - the roads were clearer than usual, and since the police were more concerned with getting people away from the steadily approaching sunlight, Cathleen was exceeding the speed limit by a good 20 mph. She was tired - she'd been up early to get everything ready for church, dressing Michael in his Sunday best, washing Ronald's clothes for his shift – but it wasn't far now. If she could just her eyes open and on the road for a couple more hours, she could make it.
As the station wagon passed the Punxsutawny junction, the first shafts of real sunlight danced across the night sky. The gas tank was running low, but there were only a few minutes of night left anyway. There's no harm in running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere if you're going to be Raptured away to safety.
"We're almost saved Michael!" Cathleen yelled, brimming with excitement.
"From who?" Michael groaned.
The first sliver of the Sun edged over the horizon.
"Exciting isn't it!" asked Cathleen.
No response. Michael must have drifted off again.
Cathleen jammed the pedal to the floor one more time, and charged towards the morning, drawn to the light like a moth to a table lamp. She kept going until a splutter from the engine told her that the petrol was almost gone. By now, the entire sun had risen over the horizon. "No point going any further", she thought, "let's stop here". She watched as the deep black of the night was slowly chased away by the light blue daylight.
Any second now... any second now.
Cathleen realised suddenly that she wasn't especially presentable to God - she'd been driving all night, with no sleep, no shower, still in her mucky apron. God probably doesn't care about appearances, but nevertheless, I might as well brush my hair, make it look like I've made an effort, she muttered to herself. Michael too - his hair is so scruffy first thing in the morning. God shouldn't have to see him like that!
She took the brush from the glove compartment and turned to the backseat of the car. A pile of teddy-bear pyjamas lay across the seat, flapping loosely in the breeze that drifted through the open window, glowing in the dappled morning sun.
Friday, May 23, 2008
"Hey, jackass," Jack smacked his friend on the back of the head, "Respect the dead."
"Sorry." Bill shrugged. "I didn't get a car like this when my uncle died, though."
"It is a sweet ride," Jack nodded, running his eyes over the smooth, aggressive lines of his newly inherited 2008 Maserati Gran Turismo S. "Emily hates it, though."
"Of course she does, man," Bill shook his head, "She's a woman."
Jack snorted. "She would have loved this car before Nate was born. Hell, she'd probably have been the one who wanted to keep it. One of these days you'll find a woman who can stand you and is willing to have a child with you and you'll understand."
"Nope," Bill frowned, "Don't see it happening..."
"Well," Jack shrugged, "You do suck at life."
"So, uh," Jack raised an eyebrow, "Wanna take it for a spin before mommy takes it away?"
Jack reached for the door handle, but stopped as his wife shouted from the house.
"Jack! Come here, quick!"
The pair ran in to the house, prepared for an emergency. Everything seemed completely normal. Emily was standing in the middle of the room, staring blankly at the TV news. It appeared to be nothing more than a standard nighttime shot with an on-location talking head standing on a rooftop above an anonymous city.
"Sunrise is coming quickly to Berlin," the reporter said, "Too quickly. There are no answers to the questions that everyone is asking. Are the children here going to disappear like they have everywhere else on this frightening day? Is there any way we can figure out how to keep our children safe from the suddenly deadly sunrise?"
"Wh...what?" Jack asked as the words began sinking in. "What's happening to the children?"
"Nobody knows," Emily said, voice barely above a whisper. "It started a few hours ago in Asia. Wherever the sunrise hits, people disappear." She sniffled. "Including every child."
Jack involuntarily glanced toward the room where Nate was sleeping and shivered slightly, "Disappear? What? How?"
"They're there. Then they're not." Emily slid closer to Jack and he slipped his arm around her waist. "There's a big conference of physicists already meeting in Berlin and they're trying to figure out what to do about it."
"What do they think they're going to accomplish?" Bill asked. "There's no way a bunch of physicists can do anything about something that doesn't make a damn bit of sense."
Emily spun around. "Shut up, Bill!" She pointed at Nate's room. "You don't have a kid. You don't know what it feels like. If they can't figure out what's happening I'll," she began to sob, "...I'll lose my son in just a few hours."
Jack turned around. "You, uh, you'd better go, Bill," he said, grabbing his wife's hand, "Now."
"Yeah,” Bill nodded once, slowly, “I'll see you later."
He walked out the front door without further comment, leaving Jack and Emily alone with the television. It had switched to a sunset shot above New York City. People streamed over the bridges from Manhattan and Long Island, seemingly desperate to chase the setting sun west while police and fire fighters stood by, hopeless to stop the mad exodus.
"Most of the governments of Europe have declared a dusk to dawn curfew," the anchor said, "And American cities are expected to follow suit soon." He paused and the camera switched back to an in studio shot. The anchor put one hand up to his ear and nodded, "In fact, we've just received confirmation that Atlanta, Miami, and Boston are declaring city-wide curfews. New York City already has, but as you can see from the footage it's probably not going to be effective. We are also just now receiving news that the White House is planning on making an emergency statement. We're going to take you there immediately."
The scene shifted to the White House press room. Press Secretary Fleming stood in front of the blue curtains, resting her hands on the podium. Her jacket looked slightly rumpled and her hair and makeup were a far cry from her usual standards of perfection. The obvious haste with which the usually impeccably prepared Press Secretary had set up for the conference would have been bad enough, but there was an even more frightening tell. When she finally looked up in to the camera it was with haunted eyes. She knew something. Something that no one should ever have to know.
"The President will be up shortly to make a statement," Fleming said, voice wavering slightly, "We will then try to answer as many questions as possible." With that she turned and stepped back from the podium.
The President looked slightly better than his Press Secretary when he took his place in front of the camera, but not much. His suit was freshly pressed and his hair was properly combed, but he shared one trait with Press Secretary Fleming. He looked scared.
"My fellow Americans," the President said, "It is with a heavy heart that I come before you now. A great tragedy has befallen the world and continues to spread. We do not know why, we do not know how, but our greatest ally has become our worst enemy. Our sun, which from time immemorial has brought life to this world comes this morning with death instead. In the great cities of Asia, from Tokyo to Beijing to New Delhi people have been disappearing at the moment of sunrise. Although some older people have gone missing, so far it seems to be..." he paused, wiping a tear from his eye, "...It seems to be children that are bearing the brunt of this mysterious, destructive force.
"The sun will soon rise, as it does every morning, on the cities of the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. We suspect that Baghdad, Jerusalem, Moscow, Cairo, Berlin, Rome, London, and Johannesburg will face the same terrifying morning that Kyoto, Shanghai, and Singapore have already. My fellow Americans, I wish that I had better news to share with you.
"The Atlantic Ocean has always been this nation's bulwark, the vast moat protecting us from invasions by the powers of the Old World. We have felt impervious behind the fastness of that distance and used it at times to isolate ourselves or attempt to project an arrogant power forward, smug in our satisfaction that no one could possibly strike back at us. I wish I could tell you that the Atlantic Ocean will once again protect us from harm..." he paused again, "But I cannot." The President's voice dropped to a hoarse whisper, "I have no such hope of deliverance to offer."
He cleared his throat. "We are world citizens, my fellow Americans, for better or for worse. This tragedy may have only hit exotic, foreign lands like Indonesia and Vietnam, but it will soon hit Israel and Venice, then, probably, Indiana and Vermont. The sunlight we so cherish is taking away our children. Scientists all over the world are joining forces to attempt to come up with a solution as quickly as possible. Tonight as you sit around your dinner tables or put your little ones to bed pray that we will find a way to fight this."
The President paused once again, then slumped forward almost imperceptibly. "Because of the chaos we have seen in Asia and Europe and are beginning to see here in America, I have been forced to take drastic measures. I am declaring a nationwide state of martial law and a curfew effective from this moment until our present crisis has passed. I have asked local law enforcement, the National Guard and the armed forces of the United States to take to the streets to enforce this curfew. They have been authorized to detain anyone found outside of their homes until the curfew is lifted. This is a temporary measure taken to combat desperate times, but it is not one I take lightly. We do this for your own safety.
"Please stay inside tonight. Do not panic. Be with your loved ones and cherish every moment you have with them.
"And may god have mercy on us all."
Thursday, May 1, 2008
(Re: Not Quite Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time)
Peter Marcus lounged in his business class seat in the plane flying toward Europe. Even working for a magazine as prestigious as the National View, he rarely got the chance to fly business class, and was only doing so now because he was marginally a Pan-whatever airline rewards club member and they'd bumped him up due to overbooking.
A pretty brunette stewardess wandered by. They'd just been introduced, but she was already calling him Pete. Everyone did, even former presidents and heads of state. Sometimes it put people at ease, and allowed him to get in questions that they might otherwise have objected to from a more combative reporter.
Technically he was a senior investigative reporter for National Review, but that didn't really mean so much. These days it was better to be a talking head, but Pete wasn't very telegenic, nor did he have a speciality upon which he could B.S. to keep an audience entertained. His specialty were written interviews with minor dignitaries and overseas investigations into corruption. There was never a shortage of either and, although his job could have been a lot more glamorous, it kept him steadily employed.
Sometimes though, he did have the worst luck. Like that time when he was sent to Israel for an interview with a biochemist and Israel had claimed that Russia attacked them. Another competing news magazine, one that Peter was beginning to suspect had no editorial review at all, had reported that Russia had launched a full out assault on the Jewish homeland.
Allied with Ethiopia and Libya.
He'd been sick in the Tel Aviv hospital with food poisoning that night, but he'd see a few flashes through the curtains in his room, and read the report a few days later just before he flew back to the States.
After he'd finished laughing, Peter had called a contact that he had in the Russian government who referred to the incident as a "mistake made during a training exercise" and offered to allow a photographer into a Moscow area military base to prove that Russia did indeed have planes left.
Even the Israeli governments were skeptical about the other magazine's reporting. True, some of the extremely conservative Zionists in the National Religious party called it a miracle of god, but the Kadima run government had pointed out that there hadn't been a single casualty in all of Israel. There had been a few ironic comments by several people that they didn't think the Russians were quite that incompetent, and things had returned to normal.
. . . to be continued with Weird Science. Sorry for the odd post break.