The Eighth of June
Do you remember where you were when you heard about the Doomsday Cloud? I remember where I was.
I was sleeping in my bed, and Paula had stolen most of the blankets. At 3:20 am my cell rang. I am not a reasonable man when awoken from a deep sleep, and I think I woke up swearing.
Nobody calls to chit chat or deliver good news at 3:20 am. If the phone rings then, it’s probably an emergency. It was Izabel, and she was hysterical.
At 4:11 am on August 10th, I walked through the door at Sky Harbor Observatory. The entire place was alive. There was a fearless excitement in the air, and to be a part of that was like nothing I’ve ever known.
The Doomsday Cloud had formed in the path of Earth’s solar orbit. We didn’t know where the cloud came from or what it was made of. All our instruments showed was that the cloud was made up of some nasty shit. A cosmic enemy had arrived, and we were about to kick its ass.
That was then.
“Daddy? What happens when the cloud comes?” Lani says.
“Nothing is going to happen, sweetie,” I say. “How many times do I have to tell you that? The Earth has an atmosphere for a reason.”
“The boys on the playground said that the cloud is going to make all the good people go to Heaven and make all the bad people go to… Heck,” she says, hissing the last word like it offends her. Such a good little girl.
“I didn’t realize the little boys at your school were scientists! So what university did they attend? Stout? Harvard? Yale?” I ask. I’m poking her little belly each time I name off a school. “Cambridge? Oxford? MIT? CIT? Princeton?”
“Stop it, Daddy!” she says, laughing hard.
I send her trotting happily away. Alone in my home office, I key my computer to life. The scientific community is active on the D-Cloud Forums. Since I last logged off the DCFs two hours ago, there have been no world saving breakthroughs.
I can hear Lani in the living room, speaking nonsense, pretending to read her favorite book to her princess bear. I have a lump in my throat that’s all too familiar. Since the Doomsday Cloud formed, the slightest gesture on Lani’s part can have me in tears.
I check my watch.
With each tick, we are nineteen miles closer to the cloud. One second closer to…
June 8th. That’s the day Earth will enter the cloud. Of course, that assumes three things:
1) The cloud stays where it is.
2) The cloud doesn’t grow or shrink.
3) Earth continues to orbit the sun as it has for billions of years.
I scroll through the feed on my monitor, check my watch, and rub my forehead. I always feel so helpless here. My home computer is generations behind the machine in my office. I don’t have access to the ocean of data generated every second by the steady stream of res-drones analyzing the cloud.
I gather piles of readouts and put them into my briefcase. Tomorrow morning I’ll go back to Sky Harbor, but I’m ready to go now.
“Hey,” Paula says from the doorway. “You should spend some time with us, huh? We aren’t going to see you for a week and a half when you go back to the lab.”
“Nine days,” I say.
“Well, you better not spend the whole night in here. You still have a family, and we have needs.” She lifts the bottom of her shirt, runs a finger across her stomach, and smiles at me.
Like always, Paula is right. I stop putting papers in the briefcase and sit back down in my office chair. She sits on my lap and looks at the printouts that haven’t been crammed into the briefcase yet.
“Hmm, interesting…” she says. I know she has no idea what she’s looking at. “Just real quick, what’s TRA?”
I tip the page so I can read it. “It’s some kind of radiation. It was first observed by Dr. Jermihl Teourg, and it became known as Teourg’s Radioactivity, or TRA. We don’t know much about it, and that’s exactly the problem.”
“I see,” she says, wiggling her butt on my lap. She reaches in and pulls out another page. “Security and safety memo? What is this?”
I take it from her and put it aside, but she’s looking at me now. She’ll worry if I don’t explain, so I tell her. “There are a small number of “cloud cults” who have attacked some other research facilities. Sky Harbor is in a very defensible location, and nobody can really sneak up on us. They just want us to be aware that other places have been hit. Honestly, babe, we’re safer there than here. That’s why I wish you and Lani would come with me.”
“I know,” Paula says, wiggling her butt again. “But Mom needs me. She hates it at the home, so if I don’t visit her, she gets depressed. Plus, we’d just be in your way when you’re trying to save the world.”
She lifts another page, and I can tell by the letterhead that it’s a res-drone spreadsheet.
“This talks about what research drones have been deployed in the last twenty-four hours. These columns show what type of res-drone it is, who manufactured it, launch site, instrumentation.”
“All these drones launched in one day?”
“More,” I say. “That’s one of six pages. Those are just the ones that launched from Britain, France, and Germany.”
She drops the page and goes to the doorway. In the living room, she sees that Lani has fallen asleep on the couch. She closes the door most of the way and comes back to me. Paula swivels me around in my big office chair so if Lani wakes up and peeks in, she won’t see anything. What happens next is beautiful and private.
It’s September 23rd.
In my room at Sky Harbor, I listen to the news feed while sitting in the massage chair. We take turns with it, and tomorrow it will be gone. My back aches constantly from hunching over keyboards and monitors, but the chair offers some relief.
The news feed tells of a prison that’s been discovered. The warden and the guards have abandoned the prisoners in their cells. After the power failed, many died of dehydration. Most starved. Three or four are alive, but they won’t live long.
The news goes on to talk about a church where so many people showed up for Sunday Mass that only a fraction of them could get in. A riot broke out, and thirty-some people were trampled to death. Another six were shot to death by church guards. I’m amazed that people could be so desperate for salvation they’d trample their neighbor to get it.
It’s so goddamn overwhelming, I can’t help but light a cigarette off the one I’ve just finished. I’ve only recently started smoking, but I don’t see the harm anymore. I’d kill to live long enough to die of cancer. I gulp a horrible swig of vodka straight from the bottle. Genocide, church riots, food riots, rape, cannibalism, torture. I think, if this is how we behave when the storms come, maybe it’s all for the best.
Christ, it would be so easy to start one of these cloud cults. As a researcher, I could probably be more convincing than most of the other charlatans. All I’d really need would be some technical jargon, some mysticism, and cosmic permission for everyone to take drugs. These cult leaders all have scores of followers they lead into the hills. Presumably to drink, party, and screw right up until the end. I think about that, and I think, Why not? Why go on?
It’s because of Lani and Paula. That’s why I’m doing this. That fucking cloud. It has a chink in its armor, I know it, and I want to help find it. I have to. I have to save the world for my girls. I’ll fight for them to the bitter end.
“Henry, you look like a fucking ghoul.” I didn’t hear Izabel come in. She could have knocked, the jerk.
“Thanks, Iz. And, please, come right in. No reason why I’d want any kind of privacy in my room.”
“Have you been sleeping?” she says.
“Has anyone?” I say. “We learned how to function on next-to-no sleep in grad school, didn’t we?”
“That was a long time ago. You should sleep when Paula gets here, at least. Otherwise they’ll think you’re turning into a mole-person or something.” She’s trying to joke with me, but neither of us has had a real laugh in weeks.
“Did you hear they attacked Goldboro?” I ask her, but I know she’s heard. “The whole place is just… gone.”
“I saw that on the feed. It’s a goddamn shame. We needed them most.” Izabel looks blankly at a spot on the floor.
“That’s why they got hit. Fucking cloud cults. They ought to kill their own damn selves and let the rest of us take our chances.” I light another cigarette.
“I wonder when they’ll come here,” Izabel says, only half speaking to me.
“Sooner or later. That’s why I wasn’t sure about bringing Paula and Lani here. I’ve gone back and forth on it so many times, but we should be together, you know? If the end is coming, I want them beside me when it gets here.”
I don’t tell Iz that Paula’s drinking heavily these days, but I think she knows. Everyone’s getting heavy into something. For some it’s booze, for some it’s religion. Some folks want to have sex right up until the end, others want to murder everything in sight. Humanity’s true faces.
“Stay positive, Henry. Sky Harbor has much better security than Goldboro.”
I don’t know if that’s true, but I nod. We had colleagues that worked at Goldboro. Hell, Frank Zumski was there. He was one of our crew back in grad school. We called him Frankie Nutso—partly because he ate pistachios nonstop, but mostly because he was an absolute wild man when there was a party happening. Neither of us says anything about him, but we both know the other is thinking about Frankie Nutso.
A group called the Heralds of Blessed Redemption were responsible. In a surprise rocket attack, they killed Goldboro’s power and opened gaping holes in the perimeter. Then truckloads of gunmen stormed the complex, slaughtering security and research personnel alike. Finally, they planted heavy explosives. No doubt, the Heralds thought they’d be gone before the military response arrived. They weren’t, and there was a standoff. I can only imagine what went through their minds: do we sit and get blown up by our own explosives, or do we get blown to pieces trying to break through the army’s blockade? It all went up in flames.
It’s October 18th.