Half an hour later, they had taken stock of the situation—and found it wasn’t good. Standing in the middle of the plaza, they surveyed the wreck of what had once been their university campus. Several of the old, stoutly-built cinderblock, concrete, and glass buildings on the central plaza were already half ruined. All the glass in Au Sable Hall’s atrium was shattered, glittering greenish on the ground. They’d collectively decided that it probably wouldn’t be best to necessarily trust the structural integrity of the rest of the buildings around them—especially in the light of what they continued to watch.
Meteorites continued to lazily rain from the sky, one or two every five or ten minutes. It was hard to tell where they were landing, how far away they were landing. A few times, they could see fire licking into the sky in the distance or feel the earth tremble beneath their feet. They’d seen no sign of other survivors, but they hadn’t expected there to be many people on campus, anyhow—it was a Sunday morning, after all, in the middle of August. Semesters had ended. Most people were back home, enjoying their last few days of freedom before the new term began. Just a few days before, they’d been discussing how empty the university grounds were in these waning days of summer, before move-ins started for the fall semester but after the end of the summer term.
Matthew Astoris had struggled up one steep side of the ravine about twenty minutes after the six had emerged from the library, one of the few relatively intact buildings on this section of the campus. He was tired, and gratefully accepted a bottle of water the friends had looted from one of the broken vending machines in the library’s lobby.
“Something must’ve come down downstream of here,” he reported after he’d gotten about half the bottle into him, slumped against the concrete steps up to the library’s doors. “River’s moving faster than it should be.”
Davon grimaced at hearing that. Drew just shook his head. “Nothing we can do about that,” he said quietly, looking around. “Your phone working, Matt?”
Matt shook his head. “Can’t get a signal. Can you?”
“Nothing. None of us can get anything.” He blew out a breath through his teeth, looking around. A few people were stumbling up form underneath Lake Michigan Hall, they could see at the end of the plaza. Tala was waving.
“Guess they were down in the cave,” Davon muttered, shaking his head. The slang for the anthropology lab in the basement of Lake Michigan Hall was one they’d all become accustomed to hearing.
“Guess so,” Jacqueline echoed. She glanced at Rory, Drew, and Kellin—the trio had withdrawn a little from the rest, each looking at each other with strange expressions on their faces—guilt, was it? No, not guilt. Something else. Reluctance, almost. “What’s wrong?”
Drew winced. “Don’t worry about it. Look, we’re going to go take a look at Little Mac and stuff…why don’t you guys take Matt’s bag and go grab whatever food and water and stuff you can out of those broken vending machines? Might need them before this is over.”
Jacqueline frowned, starting to protest, then nodded. “All right. Come back for the rest of us before you go take a look beyond Commons, huh?”
“We will,” he assured her. She nodded, watching the trio head down the plaza toward the pedestrian bridge over the ravine. Chewing the inside of her lip, she slowly turned back toward the library, mounting the steps.
“I’m getting the impression that this might be a little bigger than a local thing,” Carolyn said quietly.
“I wish I could say I felt like they were wrong,” Jacqueline muttered back.
“…damn. I was hoping you didn’t feel that way, too.”
Jacqueline shook her head slowly. “World feels different, Care. Don’t ask me how, but it does.”
“You bet it does.” Carolyn shouldered the door open, holding it ajar for Jacqueline. Matt and Davon remained on the steps, waiting for Tala and her fellow shovel-bums to make it across the plaza to them. “Nice to know I’m not the only one who suddenly feels that way.”
“I don’t like it.”
“Neither do I,” she sighed. “But something else tells me we don’t get a vote about it.”
Jacqueline frowned, grabbing a few plastic bags from behind the circulation desk, the kind usually used for books. She handed one to Carolyn and began to gather up the bottles of water and juice that had spilled from the broken machine as Carolyn started gathering the food from the other machine up. “Would you really want one?”
“Good question.” Carolyn paused a moment, frowning. “I don’t think I would.”
“I didn’t think so, either.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“Not sure.” Jacqueline paused, too, staring at her friend. “Muddle through somehow?”
“Business as usual.”
“As usual as it can get under the circumstances, I guess.” She resumed stuffing bottled water into her bag, trying to will her stomach to settle down. She felt sick. “…what do you think is going to happen to us?”
“I’m trying not to think about that just yet,” Carolyn admitted, starting to help her with the bottles. “Right now, I’m just trusting Drew and Kellin. And Matthew. They’ll figure something out. Some kind of solution for at least the short term.”
“And the long term?”
“That’s what I’m trying not to think about.” Carolyn blew a breath out through her teeth. “We don’t even really know what happened out there, Jac. Shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves, right?”
The ground shuddered beneath them, more violently than all the previous tremors. Jacqueline muttered an oath under her breath and pushed to her feet; Carolyn was already headed for the door.
“What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know.”
The ground was still moving beneath them as they scrambled outside.
“What’s going on?” Kellin, Drew, and Rory were making a mad dash back toward the knot of survivors gathering outside of the library.
Matthew looked grim. “Earthquake,” he said calmly. “Meteorites probably hit something and caused it.” The ground gradually stopped shaking. The geology student slowly stood up, squinting at the sky. “I think they were wrong,” he said quietly, watching as another meteorite streaked through the sky distantly, disappearing behind the tree line. “These aren’t negligible at all.”
“You’re saying this is from the asteroid they blew up? The one that everyone threw missiles at so it wouldn’t…wouldn’t do something like this?”
It didn’t matter who the voice came from; Matthew answered all the same, voice grim. “I don’t think they exactly knew what they were dealing with, or the consequences that could result from the actions they took. This…I don’t think they expected this at all.” He picked up his bag. “We need to rig up some shelters and get as much food together as we can. Hopefully, this is isolated and the National Guard will show up soon enough to help us sort out this mess.”
The National Guard isn’t going to be able to fix what’s just gone wrong with this world. Jacqueline tried to kill the thought before it manifested, but failed. When had she become such a pessimist? A glance toward the bloody sky answered that question quickly enough—in the moment of a flash of light when the world went dark.