“Why was the moon red?” Riker asked from the backseat. Amber looked to her husband, Lawrence who was driving. Lawrence explained their son’s question further.
“The moon was up this morning, and it looked red. I told him that all astronomy questions go to his mother.” Lawrence said. Amber turned around in her seat to give Riker her full attention. She loved that he was interested in astronomy, but how could she explain this without letting on that the world was about to end.
“The moon looked red?” She asked as she smiled at him. She was stalling for sure.
“Yeah, it was dark. The moon looked like a cherry sucker.”
“Well, Buddy, it looked that way because of what we call atmospheric particulate.” She said. She didn’t want to be the kind of mother that shied away from using the real words for things just because he was young. Riker tried the words out himself.
“Atlas-fear-it part-carrot. What is that?”
“When there is extra dust or debris in the air, it changes the way things in space look.”
“Why is there dust in the air?”
“Well,” She slowed, looked to Lawrence for a life line. He shrugged, implying that this was her turf. This was going to be sticky. Maybe she would avoid it altogether. “When a meteorite hits the earth, or a volcano erupts it sends billions of little bits of stuff up into the air. Those bits of stuff bend the light which makes it look red.”
She watched his face as he took in the information. She had hoped he would get distracted before she got to the part of the story where everyone in the world seemed to be trying to kill everyone else in the world. She had hoped to preserve his innocence a little longer, but at the same time she was a scientist. She did not want to sugar coat the truth, but she was finding it hard to tell her child that the world was crumbling.
“So, a meteorite hit the earth?” Riker asked. He was more interested than ever.
“No, not a meteorite.”
“A volcano then?”
“No, not a volcano,” She said. The boy’s face twisted in confusion. Her explanation probably seemed strange considering that she had told him this could be caused by two things that hadn’t happened. She explained further, “this time it was caused by—”
She bit off her words, not sure if she could tell him. Up until this moment she had not processed the information herself. She had been so focused on the world ending due to a run away rogue star, that she had not considered the alternative which seemed to be that the world was going to end by nuclear war. It was a hopeless situation either way she looked at it. She lost her will to soften her words. If the world was ending, Riker had a right to know regardless of his age.
“Look out the window,” She said. He did. “See how the sun seems a little dimmer than normal? The sky is filled with dust from bombs blowing up all over the world. It’s going to keep getting darker as long as the bombs keep going off. Our country is trying to keep us safe, but the bad guys are probably going to win. We are all going to—”
“Ok,” Lawrence interjected loudly. “I think that’s enough astronomy for today.”
“We are all going to, what?” Riker asked. Rather than answer Amber turned around in the passenger seat and faced forward. The gravity of the situation had finally sucked her in. The depression of it all was smothering. This was why she always kept busy. These moments of sweltering heaviness would eventually catch up with her if she didn’t keep moving. The despair that lurked in the deep corners of her mind would periodically sneak out and tempt her to end it all. What is the point, She thought.
“We are all going to the Senator’s house.” Lawrence said. It was a nice save, but Amber had detached. She looked out the window of the car as she became despondent. She felt Lawrence’s hand on hers. The countryside zoomed by in blurry shades of green. Within a month, this would all be brown lifeless scorched earth. She could hardly imagine living out the next two weeks. Something tugged at her. She could see herself pulling at the car door handle and leaping from the car. She could see herself timing it just right so that she would be crushed against something hard like a guide rail, or a bridge embankment. She couldn’t go on—
“We’re here.” Lawrence said.
“Oh.” She sighed. She looked around trying to remember what was happening. They had come to the senator’s house, that’s right. Something had seemed important a minute ago before she had started thinking about suicide. They had to get word to the government, or someone in charge that the world was facing an extinction threat from a run away star. Not that it seemed to matter all that much.
The car pulled up into a driveway of a large estate mansion. Columns rose like smooth white tree trunks at the front porch of the oversized house. The wheels screeched aggressively in the driveway as the car came to a stop. Lawrence was the first out. He zipped around to let Riker out. Amber was feeling lethargic from her trip down depression lane, but she would snap out of it. At least she always had before. Lawrence stood with Riker’s hand in his waiting on her.
Once out of the vehicle she surveyed the property. As they began to walk toward the Senator’s house something told her that things were not right. It might have been the black shiny Mercedes unforgivingly parked on top of a flattened row of hedges. It might have been the front door of the house standing wide open, with the keys still hanging, forgotten in the lock. It however, wasn’t those things that clued her in to the distress this household was experiencing. It was the battery of noises that came from within the house.
Things, possibly dishes by the sound of it, crashed. A man’s voice shouted unintelligible things. Noises of all kinds could be heard from where Amber and her family stood on the front porch. She leaned into the open doorway. She pressed the doorbell button at the right side of the doorframe as she called out to anyone inside.
“Hello, is anyone home.” It was a stupid question. Obviously someone was home, but that someone was in the process of dismantling the house one breakable item at a time. Another round of destructive crashes filled the otherwise pleasant morning air. Amber looked back to Lawrence when there was no response. He took over the investigation. He passed the baton of Riker’s hand to his mother and stepped through the doorway. He called out in the rugged manly voice that made Amber glad she was with him and not on her own. She stood with Riker on the porch as her Husband scoped out the scene.
“Senator?” Lawrence called. “Senator Yates. We’re coming in, we need to talk to you.”
There was no response, unless you counted the loud string of profanity that erupted from one of the many other rooms. They could hear more clearly what was being said, although it was not being said to them. The sound of an agitated man echoed through the house. He was having a one-sided conversation, probably into a phone.
“Where did the maid store the ammunition?” The voice shouted. Lawrence followed the sound of the voice, although considering the subject of the conversation Amber didn’t think it was a good idea. Lawrence was fearless. She loved him, but she was scared. The voice continued, “I already looked in the safe! It doesn’t matter. No… No! Listen… Stop talking and listen to me! If you’re not here in fifteen minutes the chopper will leave without you. No… Shut up… They said family members only. I told them you were my fiancé… I’ll propose if we survive… Shut up… Fifteen minutes… I don’t care, drive faster.”
Lawrence located the room that the voice was coming from, and passed through the half open door. Amber stood on the other side. Her body was tight and she could hardly breath. This was so uncomfortable. She could hear the conversation between her husband and who she quickly realized was the senator.
“Who are you?” Yates said.
“I’m Lawrence, I built this house for you.”
“Well you can have it. It’ll be toast in about an hour.”
The sound of footsteps followed the statement. Amber pushed Riker behind herself as a fourty-something man erupted from the office door. His suit was wrinkled, his tie loose, and his shirt untucked. He looked as if he’d had a terrible night. He quickly glanced at Amber then at Riker. His eyes were frantic. He looked like a wild animal running for his life. Without a word he jogged toward the stairs showing no concern for the intruders. Her husband followed him out of the office door. Lawrence looked to Amber and gestured to the disheveled man.
“Meet Senator Yates,” Lawrence said ironically as the man climbed the stairs. Amber returned Riker’s hand to his father. She turned and followed Yates up the stairs trying to get his attention.
“Senator Yates,” She called after him. “We’ve been trying to reach Washington all morning but we can’t get through. We were hoping you could help us contact the pentagon, or someone in charge.” Amber intoned. The senator leapt into the open door of an upstairs bedroom. She was hot on his heals, and followed him through.
Yates was standing at a bedside table. In his hand was a small container. It looked like a bottle of prescription medicine. He dumped its contents into the sweat covered palm on his right. Without water he tilted his head back and dropped the entire fistful of pills into his mouth. A hard gulp and he was in motion again.
Yates then went to a closet door and swung it open, pulling clothes from hangers like a mad man, slinging them to the floor. He assaulted the contents of the closet for a few minutes before he found what he was looking for. He stuffed a wad of cash into his suit pocket and then turned his attention away. He went to a chest of drawers and began ransacking it in a similar fashion. Amber tried again.
“I have a message that Washington needs to hear.” Amber said. Without looking, the man spoke, almost to himself as if the was unaware that it was Amber speaking to him, and not a voice in his head.
“Washington needs to hear. Washington needs to hear.” He giggled with a note of insanity seeping through. His handful of pills was already taking affect. “The only thing Washington needs is butter,” He said. Maybe this was a bad idea. Senator Yates was gone, and replaced by the mad hatter.
“The only thing needed is butter, because Washington is toast.” He finally looked at Amber raising his eyebrows and letting a wild smile split his face. She was officially freaked out. Her instinct was to back out of the room slowly. However after a second of consideration, the statement clicked.
“Toast? Do you mean Washington’s been hit?”
“Maybe a little strawberry jelly,” he added going back to his task. Wow, this guy was nutty as a candy bar. He pulled at the clothes in the drawer and tossed them over his head until he found what he was looking for. A box of ammunition apparently. He pulled at the top of the box and emptied the contents on the bed spread. He began filling his pockets with the shiny brass bullets. There was plenty of ammo, but she didn’t see a gun. She didn’t want to point out his obvious oversight, thinking it would be better to keep him unarmed.
“Senator, I need to talk to someone in charge. We are facing an extinction level event,” She begged.
“Extinction,” He laughed. “Obviously! We’ll go the way of the dodo bird!” he exclaimed as if it were the most exciting idea he’d ever had. “Bombed out of existence.”
“No, not the war. I mean there’s a rogue star heading toward Earth. I didn’t introduce myself, I’m Amber Hope-Levy. I’m an astronomer.” She reached out her hand to shake. He didn’t notice. He was looking for something else now. She followed him. “The rogue star, it’s going to collide with Earth in a few days. It will kill everything on the planet. People have the right to know.”
The words had no affect on Senator Yates. He ducked into the master bathroom and emerged a second later holding his tooth brush up in front of his face. He mumbled something about finding his closest companion, talking more to the tooth cleaning utensil than to Amber.
Apparently he was finished with his search because he headed for the door. Amber went for broke. She planted herself, legs in a wide power stance right in the doorway. She grabbed the door frame and held on. She would not let Yates leave the room without listening to her.
“Are you hearing me, Senator? We are facing extinction.”
He paid no more attention to her than he would have a piece of furniture that had carelessly been stacked in the doorway. Instead of remove her from the threshold, Yates knelt down and continued his forward motion on floor. He placed his tooth brush in his mouth and began to belly crawl between Amber’s legs. She wasn’t going to let him off so easy. When he was halfway through the passage that her legs made, she plopped down hard on his back. She let her full weight press him into the carpet. He let out a grunt.
“Are you listening to me Senator, the human race is going to be extinct. I need to talk to the president, or somebody in charge.”
“The President’s toast. Or I mean, the President is toast. He should have gone to Deep Stone. Good boy Mr. President, Washington’s the toaster. President Toast.” The senator said with another wild laugh. As if her weight was nothing, he lifted up and began to crawl. She continued to sit on him for a moment longer trying to decide what to do. He was crawling for the stairs. She didn’t want to ride him down the stairwell, knowing that would end badly, so she released her mount. Once she was off of him he stood and bolted. He took the stairs three and four at a time.
Within another few seconds he was out the front door. Shouting something about a chopper.