Day Zero – Chapter 5 – 01

            Two big tents got set up before the first fat raindrops splashed down on the terrain—they’d had more time than any of them suspected.  Matthew and Carolyn, between the two of them, had managed to get enough wood for at least three fires, with some extra.  Current head-count of survivors stood at forty-seven.  Not many—probably not enough—but almost too many at the same time.  Dinner had been a cobbled-together stew that had been surprisingly edible, crafted by Matt from food scavenged from refrigerators—food that wasn’t going to keep for more than a day or two.  In the morning—at least that was the talk—Davon and another survivor, an engineering student, were going to try to rig generators up to some of the refrigeration units in some of the buildings, so they could keep some of the stored food cold so long as the fuel held out and the buildings stayed standing.  How long that would be was anyone’s guess.
            Most bedded down on mattresses under the tents, with blankets and pillows salvaged from the camp stores.  A few lingered awake, staring at each other over the light and warmth of a fire, as the rain pounded down onto the tent’s roof above.  It was getting colder.  They could all feel it.  The earthquakes had subsided—for now.  Matt didn’t seem to think they’d felt the real end of them, though.
            Ten huddled by the cooking fire, in a half-circle around it, avoiding the way air currents took the smoke out of the tent.  Thom lay with his head in Marin’s lap, dozing as she stroked his hair.  J.T. had rewrapped his fractured ankle after Jacqueline had done it, double-checking the work already done.  Thom seemed all right, except for sore, maybe bruised ribs and lots of black and blue marks, including the nasty knot on his head, and the broken ankle.  Most of the injured weren’t hurt that badly, mercifully enough.  More of the ones rescued from the Mac complex were more shaken than hurt.
            Matt frowned to himself, pulling a blanket tighter around his shoulders and taking a slow sip of coffee from his salvaged mug.  They’d raided the machines in the coffee shop for the beans that were already ground and made at least some coffee.  He wasn’t sure how long the stuff was going to last—they’d have to see.  They’d have to see a lot of things.
            We’re all talking like it’s the end of the world.  He glanced toward his sister, then stared at the fire.  “This is it, isn’t it?”
            Marin looked up, brow furrowing.  “Huh?”
            He shook his head slightly, sighing and looking at the others.  “This is the end.  We’re what’s left.  The unlucky few.”
            J.T. snorted at the reference—they’d all always said, Marin the most often and the loudest, that they weren’t lucky enough to die at the end of the world.  He caught a sharp elbow from Carolyn for it, who grimaced and inched closer to the fire.  J.T. rubbed at his side, giving her a dirty look before leaning back on his hands and sighing.  “Looks that way.”
            “Looks that way,” Matt echoed.  Kellin toed him gently.
            “Not as bad as it sounds, Matt.  Staring over?  We’ll be okay.”  She pushed some hair out of her face, eyes bright as she stared not into the fire, but through it.  Matt grimaced, watching her.
            Wish I understood all this shit better.  He rubbed his eye, casting a quick glance toward his sister, who was quiet, not looking at anything or anyone but Thom.  He sighed silently, trying to hide it.  At least they’re not fighting again yet.  Worse than Tess and I toward the end sometimes.  He smiled to himself.  Almost a relief to know I’m never going to have to deal with that again.  It hadn’t been a pretty break-up, but he hadn’t been able to take it anymore.  If Marin was right, there was someone else out in the world for him—somewhere.  Provided she was still alive after this mess.
            He had his own strong theories on what had happened, and a few shaky ones on why other things were happening.  When various governments had launched their missiles into space in order to take out an errant asteroid on an unswerving course for the planet—one large enough to take a nice chunk out of the Pacific, if they were lucky—they had anticipated that there would be some debris leftover, but nothing all that substantial.  Every estimate they’d made, all the computer models they’d designed, had what was left after the asteroid was hit by multiple missiles burning up in the atmosphere on the way down.  Earth would pass through the debris field and the debris field would pass through Earth with nothing more than a spectacular meteor shower.  No harm done.
            To the best of Matt’s estimates, they’d been dead wrong.  He didn’t think anything all that huge had survived, but even the smaller array of good-sized chunks were bad enough.  Matt was fairly confident that those good-sized chunks had chewed up a good portion of the landscape—and probably not just in their immediate area.  What the others knew by gut feeling and intuition, he knew from childhood research, a morbid fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios, and a solid grounding in science.
            He watched the fire crackle and pop.  The rain continued, drumming on the roof of the tent.  Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, he finally said quietly, “These tents aren’t going to do for shelter for long.  And we can only live for so long on the food we can scavenge out of the campus stores.  What are we going to do?”
            “Tomorrow, a couple of us are going to hike out to the strip mall up M-45 and see what we can scavenge out of there.  Send a few more out to the orchard, see what there is there.”  Drew chewed the inside of his lip.  “Professor Doyle may have some ideas about how to put together some sustainable food sources, wouldn’t he?”
            “Maybe,” Matt shifted his weight, settling on the ground and taking another slow sip of coffee before setting the mug down near to the flames.  Wonder if the greenhouse off Padnos is intact.  If it is, we might be able to use it.  For as long as stuff there stays stable, anyway.  He frowned to himself.  “What about shelter?”
            “Something you and I can work on.  When Thom’s better, he can help,” J.T. mumbled, pouring himself a little coffee from the pot precariously perched over the fire.  “Maybe when the rain lets up in the morning.”  He looked toward Davon, flicking a woodchip at him.  “He can help, too, assuming that he’s finished with those generators and shit.”
            Davon snapped out of his daze; he’d been staring out at the rain, at the lightning that lanced through the clouds, at the play of the smoke from the fire against the rain and wind.  “I can help with what?”
            “Shelters, Davon, shelters.”  Jacqueline rolled her eyes at him and shook her head.  “What were you looking at?”
            He shook his head slightly.  “Nothing.  Thinking.”  He shrugged a little, glancing toward J.T.  “I’ll do some sketches, but that’s not my strong point.”
            J.T. rolled his eyes.  “Do some thinking and some mental engineering.  We’ve got tools, right?”
            “Plenty of them, now, I think.”  Davon scratched the back of his neck.  “What we don’t have, I’m sure we can find someplace.”
            “Acquire somehow,” Rory snorted.  “Shouldn’t be that hard.  Most people are already dead.”
            Carolyn shivered and Jacqueline glared.  “Rory!”
            Carolyn shook her head.  “Let him talk.  He’s probably right.”
            Jacqueline stared at her for a moment, then shook her head and stood up.  “I’m going to bed.”
            A chorus of quiet good-nights at counterpoint to each other echoed as she turned and made her way to the mattress she’d claimed, not far away, but far enough away that she wouldn’t hear the rest of their conversation if they kept their voices down, as they’d been trying to.  If their current line of discussion had been enough to banish her to bed, she probably didn’t want to hear what the conversation would progress into quickly enough.


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