It’s a strange feeling when someone in your life vanishes, never to be seen again.
It makes you realize how much people affect each other. And, whether the interactions were good or bad, how much the loss of a single person can change your entire outlook on life.
This feeling is one that most people get at some point in their lives; it’s inevitable. But my question is, why do I feel it?
More importantly … why do I be feel it now?
Eric Dunst sat behind his post watching the same people move past his station as he did every day. He looked alert—that was his job. The people would sometimes comment on how he paid close attention to their every move as they passed by, making sure they weren’t breaking any codes. He would usually play along and hold up a pointed finger as they passed.
Truth was, he was lost in thought during these long shifts, and he paid very little attention to his actual duty. In his defense, he’d thought that a top-secret research facility would be more … exciting. They had their inventions, but most of the time the scientists talked and schemed and theorized about things they were too fearful to attempt.
Even worse, he wasn’t a scientist himself. Merely a Marine who’d been asked to secure the facility. It was secure. No one attempted to get in. His biggest adrenaline rush had come from a few squabbling researchers who’d been far too easy to wrangle.
What am I doing here?
This wasn’t his passion. He’d joined the military because he needed a job, an income.
He wasn’t even sure what he wanted from life. He’d be willing to search, if he knew what he was searching for. Was finding a purpose in life too much to ask? And maybe a pretty girl to share it with?
Eric relaxed his shoulders, his spine. When no one was looking, he released a sigh, hanging his head. I wish I could have stayed back on the aircraft carrier. At least there I always had something to do. It wasn’t a purpose, but—
Eric started. He wasn’t supposed to be at ease, no matter how worn out he was. Glancing up, he saw another security unit stride toward him. Just another macho guy who wondered what he was doing protecting secret labs of bubbling ooze.
Nick Barrier stroked his chin and paused in front of Eric’s cage. “Couldn’t wait a few more minutes to relax? Your shift is over, you know.”
“I lost track of time.”
“Oh, I understand how time flies as this exciting post.” The man playfully shoved him. Eric nearly tumbled off the stool, but he righted himself.
“Git. You shoulder the most boring shift. Go on and do something fun.”
Eric nodded. Then he hopped off the stool and headed down the hallway towards the exit.
Something fun, huh?
He didn’t normally do anything. He didn’t have any friends in this town. Anyone he had previously called “friend” would not be someone he would associate with anymore. There was one person he tolerated more than others. And instead of heading back to his apartment, Eric made a snap decision and turned down a hallway, toward the offices.
The smell hit him first as he entered one of the labs, something he now referred to as “genius smell”—a mixture of body odor and the leftovers from a dozen different food items. He gagged and tried to cover his disgust as best he could.
Almost unchanged from when Eric first arrived for today’s shift, James was still plugging away at his computer keyboard. The wrappers from yesterday’s lunch cluttered his desk.
James was young, one of the youngest in the facility. From what Eric had been told, he’d been recruited while he was still only halfway through high school. A prodigy.
He was a nice enough kid, too. Eric had trouble understanding him when he started going into the details of his research, but he found they both shared a few common interests. He was as close to a friend as Eric had here.
But true friendship with James would require patience. Based on the volume of garbage scattered across the floor and his greasy unkempt hair, James probably hadn’t left the office in days.
“James. You’re leaking again,” he said with a smirk.
The young man seemed confused for a moment, having not noticed Eric’s arrival until he’d spoken. Then, with a smile, he twisted around in his swiveling chair, looking for the drink he had spilled. He found one tipped over on the floor and promptly tossed it into the already over-filled trash can.
“I swear,” Eric said, “they’re gonna quarantine your office one day. You really should clean up occasionally.”
“I don’t have time for that.” The boy grinned, waving him over like he often did when he’d discovered something. “Look at this! I just found something insane.”
“Oh yeah?” Eric tried his best to sound interested as he stepped the chair, looking at the screen. It was covered in various graphs that, while Eric was somewhat educated on the subject, were far above his intellect.
“I found these meteoroids just now. We didn’t see them at all, and we should have, based on where they came from.”
A chill traveled up Eric’s spine. “That’s comforting.”
James turned and changed screens on his computer. This one showed images of the rocks. “No need to worry. They won’t come too close. Close enough to see, but they won’t hit us. But if they did, that would be devastating. There’s a lot of them up there, enough to make us … well, all the USA would be wiped out for certain. The after affects would probably kill off the rest of the population in the following weeks as well …
James changed the window on his computer to a close-up image of one of the meteoroids. “Enough of that kind of talk. This is even more interesting—we’ve never seen anything like them. They look like they could be made of materials we haven’t seen before.”
“That is interesting. Could they have come from another solar system?”
“It’s not likely, but that would explain why they’re so different. We won’t know anything for sure until we get a closer look.”
“I hope you find out more about them and maybe see them coming next time.” Eric laughed. “Not to be paranoid, but how close will they come?”
“Not close at all. We won’t even be able to see them without a telescope on a day like today.”
A window popped open on the boy’s screen, instantly drawing his attention towards it. From the looks of it, Eric wouldn’t be able to pull him away a second time.
Shrugging, he turned and headed towards the door.
He walked, feigning purpose—a charade to the rest of the office that he had important things to do. Instead, he’d head home and sleep, like usual.
This is my life, I guess. Eric exited the building and then hopped into his car with a grunt and half-heartedly jammed the keys into the ignition. The rusty old sedan started unusually quickly. It roared to life on the second try.
The skies above were a light gray, the clouds not allowing a single hint of blue through their canopy. Despite the warnings they gave, the clouds merely provided a drizzle over the city below. Not enough water to provide any real help for the vegetation, but the gray was as depressing as a real rainstorm.
A world of love, eh?
His mother often said that when he was a child. She dreamed of the world’s potential. He had as well, long ago. But the pain of life had dashed those ideals. What love could there be when everyone who’d loved him was gone?
Eric turned and drove down a street. The sidewalks were covered by hundreds of people who scurried like ants over a rotting piece of fruit.
Eric looked up to the Space Needle in the distance, trying to recall the feelings of excitement it gave him when he’d first arrived. He looked at its magnificence, yet nothing inside him stirred. His soul felt as dreary as the streaks of clouds overhead.
Movement in the clouds caught his attention. A flash of red light that streamed in an arch. Even without a perfectly clear visual he could tell what it was.
Didn’t James say they wouldn’t be able to see them?
Another larger one tore at the clouds, cutting a wide hole through the cloud blanket above.
Catching his breath, Eric cried out then made a U-turn at the next intersection, cutting off a white SUV. The driver blared his horn, but all Eric could think about was getting back to the laboratory,
He had to get back. He had to tell James—warn the others. When was the last time they’d done an evacuation drill on the building? Would anyone even know what to do?
Eric gripped the steering wheel, weaving his vehicle around those who’d stopped to watch the sky. He sped past a police officer, who was, like the crowd, gazing upward.
Eric’s heartbeat quickened. James’s predictions of what would happen if they hit were on the forefront of his mind.
City-wide alarms blared, confirming his fears.
James was wrong.
James was rarely wrong.
The people seemed confused at first, but all it took was one man running for a building for all the others to start to panic. The sidewalks cleared as people hurried into buildings. The street clogged with cars as an unfortunate amount of people attempted to merge. Most were in a rush to get out of the city, not to get back to work.
Eric turned on the radio. The warning service played a lovely screeching tune before the announcement. It advised everyone to remain indoors. Eric pushed the car to its limits. He slowed briefly when a confused straggler scrambled down the street in a desperate attempt to escape. Eric passed the frantic man and then hit the gas again.
Finally, he arrived in the parking lot. The whole building seemed calm from the outside.
He ran up the steps leading to the front door, his hopes of a sane environment shattering at the top. He peered through the glass and watched as scientists ran from room to room, papers and documents in hand. They seemed to be looking for somewhere, anywhere to save themselves.
Eric swallowed hard. He pulled the glass door open, stepped into the chaos. He spotted James, wide eyed and pale, standing just outside his office. Eric approached. “What’s happening?”
James’s body trembled violently. “The meteoroids. They’re going to hit.”
“I know that already!” Eric grabbed him by the shoulders. “What do we do?”
James shook his head. “What can we do?”
“We’ve got to get underground, right?” Eric asked hopefully. “Just bunker down and hope for the best?”
“No, no … that isn’t going to help.” James’s eyes glazed over, and he looked past Eric. “From what I saw … hundreds, and very large …”
Anger, worry, fear rushed through Eric. He shook James harder. “James! Will it help? Can anything help?”
“It’s better than nothing. But from what I saw, our very existence…”
Eric recognized the voice of the director as it rang through the laboratory halls over the intercom. “As you know, a train of meteoroids have been spotted. They are on a direct collision course with earth. All personnel are ordered to stay in the building. Go immediately to underground testing section 703. Remain calm. All of you will be safe.”
It was the room he guarded daily. Every time he’d asked, he’d been told the room housed a new, highly theoretical technology. He’d once heard a rumor that the device was supposed to allow the user to travel through space and time. He’d laughed at that thought. He’d believed they were pulling his leg, but now he wasn’t sure.
Could this be real?
Color rushed from James’s face. “703? But … it’s not ready for trials, let alone human trials …”
Did that mean this thing … was real?
People continued to rush past. No one seemed to have even heard the order. One woman cried. A man kept stumbling backwards as he held a hand to his forehead.
Eric turned back to James. “Go to room 703 like the director said. Forget everything else. Do not stop by your office.”
Surprisingly, James nodded and rushed down the hall. Satisfied, Eric turned back to the rest of the crowd. He spotted Nick. His co-worker wandered aimlessly in the center of the mob as if trying to figure out who to help first.
You would have been a lot more help at your post!
Eric ran up to him, shoving frantic people out of his way as he moved. “Nick! I need you to get the opposite side.” He motioned to the far side of the hallway’s entrance. “We have to direct the crowd to 703!”
Nick looked up, his eyes reigniting with life. He nodded and rushed to his designated location, tapping people on the shoulders and offering short directives as he moved past.
Eric moved back towards his spot, waving his arms. “People! Get to 703 now!” He grabbed a man who was frantically picking up papers scattered on the floor. “Leave those! Go to 703. Now.”
Finally, the scientists started to get the idea, allowing themselves to be directed. The progress was slow. There were many people in the facility, all attempting to pile through a single hallway.
Soon enough, the crowd had almost emptied from the foyer its end. Optimism buoyed in Eric until one woman made a sudden break for the door. “My kids! I have to go find my kids!”
There’s always one.
Eric chased her. The female scientist was no match for his speed. He came upon her before she made it down the first step out of the building. He grabbed her shoulders firmly.
She cried out, pulling against his grip. “I have kids, a husband! I have to get them!” Her trembling hand reached toward the parking lot.
Sympathy shot through him, but how could he let her disregard her own safety?
“Your only chance is to follow directions. There’s no time.”
“I don’t care!” she wailed. “I won’t live if they can’t!”
Eric’s face darkened, and he lost the will to fight the woman any longer. He released her, and she scampered to her car.
This could be it. He looked up to the sky. More flashes of light streaked across, only lasting a moment. They did no harm, but it heralded what was to come. The end for everyone.
Eric’s feet moved on their own. His body’s desire to live propelled him back into the facility.
What do I do now? He didn’t have an answer, not now. But he still ran.
Eric entered the front doors of the large lab. He scanned the crowd. It appeared most people had made it into 703. He had to make sure though. With a jog that turned into a sprint, he moved from room to room to check for any stragglers. Thankfully there didn’t seem to be any, but he knew that he had just wasted a lot of time. Everyone was gone now, everyone except him. Seeing that his task was done and all the staff had been corralled, he made his way to room 703 and stepped into the elevator, finally going past the station he had guarded for so long.
The elevator whirred to a start and sped downward. Anxiety tightened Eric’s throat, making it hard to breathe. He’d wasted too much time. The meteoroids could crash at any moment. And if the facility lost power, he’d be done for.
Would it really be that bad? Do I deserve to live?
He allowed thoughts—memories—to push into his mind. Ones he’d tucked away behind a brick wall around his heart. Money wasn’t the only reason he’d joined the Marine Corp—not really. He’d thought that maybe the only way to make up for his past sins was to give all of himself—to sacrifice his life for something useful. But it hadn’t worked out that way. He’d ended up here. Too safe.
He looked to his hands, hands that had caused so much pain. Why did he deserve to be here? After all he’d done…
The elevator opened revealing a massive room. Four large cylinders, one at each corner of the room, were filled with energy rhythmically pulsating through them. Connected to them with thick cords at the room’s center was a large machine.
It stood at least twenty feet high. Two large arches crossed over each other to form an X. A brilliant white light shone underneath them, giving the appearance of a large orb. The last stragglers of the crowd fearfully made their way into the light. Good, he hadn’t been completely left behind yet.
Motion caught his attention, and he spotted Nick waving his arms from the machine’s base. “Eric! Quick! They said it’s unstable, we don’t know how long it will hold!”
A loud crack sounded from above. A great force rippled through the facility, rattling everything in the room. The generators started to grind, causing the light to fluctuate sporadically.
Only one explanation crossed Eric’s mind. The first meteorite has hit.
Eric frantically waved him forward, sprinting across the wide opening. Nick stepped into the light, melting into it during the last step as if he’d turned light himself. The sight stopped Eric in his tracks.
I’m supposed to walk into something like that? Are they crazy?
Cautiously, he made his way towards it—the sheer brightness of the device now making his steps difficult. He lifted an arm to shield his eyes as he tried not to stumble up the last step.
His foot touched the step, and then the ground boiled and shook beneath him. The sickening sound of rock meeting rock thundered. They were deep underground. What did that mean for the world above? Did Seattle even exist anymore?
All four of the generators burst in unison, showering the entire room in sparks. The teleportation device wavered. Light and energy ebbed from it, twisting unnaturally. Yet despite losing its power source, it continued to run.
Eric’s whole body burned from the rivers of vibrations sent through him. It took all his strength not collapse. With a final effort, he threw himself forward, following Nick into the river of light.
White enveloped him.
And then, only darkness.