Two hours after sunrise we were in the truck, headed east on I-10.
It should have taken us less, but we were so disorganized. Living in the shadow of the end of the world hadn’t encouraged us to keep the clutter under control. The comet was coming to take out the human race’s trash soon enough, we figured. In the meantime, why bother?
We ransacked the building for water and food. Some of the other folks who had lived here had stashes, but even so it wasn’t half as much as I would have liked, especially water. The desert in July was deadly.
I still had most of my tools, and we grabbed the clothes that we could stand to carry—laundry was something else that we had figured we didn’t need to do.
Katherine had a gun, a small boxy automatic. I didn’t know where she’d gotten it, and had no idea if she even knew how to fire it. What the hell, it might work as a deterrent. Me, I figured if it came down to violence I was already doomed. I was an electrician. Maybe I could hit someone with a conduit bender.
There was scattered noise from the rest of the campus. Other people waking up, realizing that today came after all. From the sound, most of them weren’t happy about it. Somebody started playing music at a painful volume, somewhere across the quad, and it was silenced by what sounded like a shotgun before the first chorus.
The whole time I was urging Katherine to hurry, hurry, hurry. Her name was on the comet, and while she didn’t have a damn thing to do with the current crises except pull the wrong graveyard shift at the observatory, people were scared, and scared people loved scapegoats. The university had a generous tuition reimbursement program and I had taken a couple of history classes. The one inescapable lesson of history is that when things get bad, somebody has to take the blame.
I liked Katherine. I didn’t want it to be her.
She was trying, but her hands were shaking and she was weak as a kitten. Alcohol poisoning. In a sane time I would have taken her to the emergency room. Instead I tried to encourage her to retch up everything she could and then fed her as much water as she could hold. Once we were on the road maybe she could sleep it off.
Finally we were ready to go. The only person we saw on the way out of the campus was a figure standing on a corner in a black robe and a sign that read, “The End Is Not”.
I thought it was a cute joke until I got close enough to see that it was a fresh corpse, a young man, zip-tied to a street sign.
I had decided to take Broadway through downtown to the highway. Going south would have been quicker, usually, but there had been some kind of half-assed camp city on the golf course, and I could see clouds of smoke billowing up. Whatever was going on there was something I didn’t want to get close to.
There was no rush hour this morning, though. The only living people we saw were a couple having sex in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and Kino Parkway—right in the middle. If I hadn’t been paying attention I would have run right over them. They didn’t look up as we drove past.
Once we were on the highway the road was empty and I put the hammer down. It was a good truck, a newish Ford, and I wanted to get some distance. I cracked the driver’s window and let the air in. It was already warm, but I needed something fresh to breathe.
Katherine was staring glassy-eyed out the window at the city drifting by. She looked like she was about to pass out. Good. She needed it.
Me, I needed to think.
Somebody had screwed up.
Wait, strike that. Everybody had screwed up. It wasn’t as if plotting the comet’s trajectory and calculating the force of the impact was something that only one man in the world could do, and he did it wrong. The numbers were available to anyone who looked up into the night sky.
Everybody agreed that it was going to hit the Earth, tear a hole the size of Great Britain in the floor of the Pacific Ocean, and it was curtains for the human race. It wasn’t just some lone conspiracy nut working out his mom’s basement, it was every major university, every big government lab. People who were supposed to know this kind of shit. MIT, JPL, NASA, all the big alphabet soup boys agreed.
We’re all supposed to be dead by now, or dying in some ugly way.
But I wasn’t. I was on Interstate 10, eastbound, leaving Tucson, AZ for Las Cruces and points east. I hoped to make Midland, TX before I had to pull over and get some sleep. I had lived in Odessa, I knew the area. I should be able to find some place to hide, maybe get supplies if we were damned lucky.
The good thing about I-10 was that it was empty—a whole lot of nothing but sun-baked dirt. Ordinarily I would have headed north at Las Cruces and picked up 40 at Albuquerque, gone through Amarillo and Oklahoma City. That was the way I’d always gone home to visit my Ma in Atoka. It was longer, but there were people, civilization, things to see, places to stop for gas.
On this trip, I didn’t want to see people if I could avoid it. The southern route was good for that.
It meant skirting the Mexican border for most of the trip, but I wasn’t worried about Mexico. Everything we’d heard up until the government went into official media lockdown mode suggested that the people down there were too busy just trying to stay alive to be any kind of a threat. Besides, all the ones who could leave were already here.
I wasn’t far outside the city before I realized that I didn’t have sunglasses, and that was a problem, particularly because we were driving straight into the sun. I nudged Katherine and she jumped. Damn, I didn’t want to bother her if she was dozing off.
“You got any sunglasses?”
She stared at me, then dug through her pack and came up with a pair of gold rimmed aviators. They didn’t fit that well, but they would keep me from going blind and running off the road.
“Thanks,” I told her, “You can go back to sleep.”
I think she did, or maybe she was just thinking. I wished I had some music, but I didn’t bother messing with the radio. If anybody was broadcasting I doubted seriously it would be classic rock. The truck was a work truck, it didn’t have a CD player, much less a USB port.
Instead I turned on the air conditioner and listened to the whistle of the wind and the hum of the tires on the pavement and let the miles roll on.