Chapter 42: Impact
Luther scanned the horizon for that elusive fountain white of whale-spout, but by sunset, he had to call it quits.
“Maybe they all have sense enough to seek deep water.”
Deena smiled. “You think they’re listening to the radio, too?”
He considered it. Who knew how widespread the nanobots were, or how long they’d been infiltrating the animal populations?
But Deena was clearly joking, and she would know if anyone could. It wasn’t an issue he was concerned about.
If it misses the Moon, then the next problem will be getting Deena into the sleeping bag.
She seemed quite comfortable, even with an evening breeze that was feeling chilly to him.
If I could get her to go to sleep, it would be even better.
He looped his fingers under his belt. Get her in the bag, and then bind her with this belt.
She still might be strong enough to break free, but the bag would confine her, maybe long enough for him to strap her down on the bike and get moving. He’d have to talk fast to keep her from putting him in the bag if she got free.
She’ll hate me, but I can’t let her die.
The roads would be packed, probably by stalled cars. He would have to take the old forest trails as close to due east as he could manage. If he made good time, he could cross the river and join the Indians on Burrill Peak. Otherwise, he would just get to the highest point on the ridge and wait out the floods.
He’d explained to Deena about the smoke and the dust clouds and the global winter, but he would need to make sure she understood it all. He wouldn’t survive it, but with her nanobots controlling her metabolism, she could make it through.
I’ll have to convince her that she must try.
He looked at the Moon. “I hate that countdown.”
“You want me to stop?”
“No. I need to know what’s going on. I just hate it.”
She nodded towards the crescent moon. “McDonalds Observatory in Texas can detect quakes on the Moon by bouncing a laser beam off some kind of prism left there by the Apollo astronauts. They’re going to be monitoring for any sign of an impact.”
“I wish I could see it coming.”
She apologized, “Sorry, but they say it will be hitting the back side, if it hits. If it misses, we should be able to see it by reflected sunlight, especially when it gets closer.”
She stood up and walked closer to the edge of the cliff. He followed.
If she were the moody type, I’d worry about her trying suicide.
“Deena. We need to get on the bike and make our run for it now. The whole world is probably stopping to watch. We could slip through the stalled traffic.”
She took his hand. “I can’t save Mom. But I can’t run away and leave her either.”
He squeezed. “But you have to survive.”
She blinked. “You mean because of the nanobots.”
“No,” he said roughly. “For me.”
She said nothing, feeling his fingers intertwined with hers.
We’ve wasted our time here. He was angry, angry at the sky, at the waves—angry with himself. I should have made love to her and convinced her she was pregnant, with a baby to save. The idea had intruded into his head several times, but even with so much to gain, the attempt could drive her off. She was uptight and stubborn.
Better yet, I should have hit her in the head with a rock and carried her off.
It had been stupid to come here in the first place. He knew what was going to happen. He should have gone east across the mountains the instant her séance with the Redwood grove was over.
“One minute. Rioting has broken out....”
“I don’t care!”
“When they lost radar contact with the asteroid behind the Moon, the orbital projections were still inconclusive.”
She whispered, “Thirty seconds.”
“That’s time enough.” He twisted her face toward him and held her tight. Her eyes were wide.
They kissed, hard and urgent. For long seconds, he didn’t think at all.
She pulled back. “Ten seconds.”
Reluctantly, he looked up at the Moon, but he wasn’t about to let her go.
“Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Time.”
Four eyes stared at the Moon, just as billions of others were doing.
“The seismologists don’t report....”
And then the dark edge of the crescent Moon began growing a bright white star. Expanding in length and fanning out wide, it began fading in brightness, turning red.
“It hit!” Luther kissed her again, for joy. “You do great work, lady!” He picked her up off her feet and swirled her around.
“We’re alive! We have a future!” He set her down and began hopping and dancing on the rock for the sheer joy of living.
“Get back from that edge!” She grabbed his arm. “You won’t have a future if you fall.”
He spun back into her arms. He grinned and marveled at her face.
“How in the world did I come to fall in love with a woman so bossy?”
Deena couldn’t take her eyes off of him. Her heart pounded. Certain things became clear.
“Luther. I want you to do something.”
“What is that, my little bossy one?”
“I want you to kiss me.”
He gave it mock consideration. “I think I can fit that into my schedule.”
Her face grew serious. “It’s not that kind of a kiss. I want you to think about it.”
In a second, he understood. He nodded. “I think I’m ready.”
“It’s invasive,” she cautioned. “Your body will be doing new things. You’ll have new appetites, new urges, new senses—and the radio takes some getting used to.”
He was serious, but his smile didn’t entirely go away. “Well, as long as you don’t try to program me to destroy Tokyo, I’m ready.”
“Just what I’ve got. No more, no less.”
He nodded. “Then I want you to do something for me as well.”
She felt him hold her tighter. “What is it?” she asked softly.
“I've been thinking about you and me, probably since you asked to come along on our Saturday trip to see the log. So don't think this is an impulse question. If I’m going to become something...different from human, I’ll want to stay with my own kind, forever. Can we make it a pact?”
She could see the intent in his eyes. She whispered, “I can live with that.”
“A kiss, you say?”
She nodded, her smile flashed. “A slow kiss. It will take a little while.”
They arranged their sleeping bags to make one thicker cushion, and they stretched out on them.
It doesn’t have to be a kiss, she thought. I let Ruben bite me. I cried tears on Katy.
But a kiss is nicer.
He put his arms around her, cradling her head on his shoulder. They kissed. A tentative little kiss at first, then it grew longer.
Deena tried to divide her mind, part organizing which and how many nanobots to move, part giving Luther’s new symbiotes instructions on how to interface with his human brain.
But mostly, she just wanted to sink into the kiss, forever and forever.
There was one distraction, when she caught his hand stroking higher and higher along her thigh. Reluctantly, she snagged his hand and directed it to a safer place.
Through the corner of her mouth, she mumbled, “Don’t get any ideas. Not...just yet.”
Mara Brooke pulled into the grocery store parking lot and checked her list. The store windows were boarded up, not yet repaired from the looters.
When she got out of the car, she was startled when a motorcycle pulled up beside her.
Mara looked again at the young woman. She took off her helmet. “It’s me.”
“Deena?” With close-cropped hair and so thin, she looked so different, but it was her daughter. “Deena! You’re back!”
“Mom, we’ve got to talk. Get on the motorcycle, behind me.”
Mara was bewildered. Her? Get on a motorcycle?
“Mom. You have to trust me. Come on, I’ll show you what to do.”
It wouldn’t have been mother and daughter without an argument, but Deena was surprisingly firm. Mara feared she would break her neck, but there was no bending the girl.
Hanging on tight, Deena drove off. Mara clutched both arms tight around her daughter, her handbag around her elbow flapping in the breeze.
They arrived at the back door to the church building. Deena helped her mother get unsteadily back to her feet.
“Mom, I’ve been a good girl all my life, even when it was hard.” Mara saw a glow in her face.
“But sometimes when you grow up, being a good girl means something more.”
They entered the church offices. Jeff Speer, the preacher was sitting, listening to a blonde, muscular young man.
“...can check the Las Vegas records of two years ago to confirm my story. But you can see why we have to keep moving.”
The preacher stood up when Mara entered. “Mrs. Brooke. I’m afraid my services are being hijacked.” He smiled and offered her a seat.
“It’s nice to see you again, Mrs. Brooke.” Luther extended his hand and she shook it automatically. His voice was the same, but he looked different, just as Deena looked so different.
Deena explained. “We can’t afford to get a marriage license, not while we’re on the run. But the church, the vows, Mom watching—it’s enough for me.”
The preacher asked, “Are we ready?”
“Just another minute, I think.” A car could be heard outside.
Bryony burst into the room, a large bundle of white in her arms. “Am I late?”
“You’re just fine, Bryony.” Deena went up to her friend.
Bryony ran a critical eye over Deena’s figure. “You are my size! Great! Here’s the closest thing I have to a wedding dress.”
She looked over at the others. “Luther? You’ve gone all surfer and buff!”
He nodded and flexed his biceps. “Yeah, Deena has me doing some exercises.”
Bryony grabbed her friend and dragged her off to get dressed. “This is so cool! Nobody at school is going to believe it!”
After the ceremony, with Bryony snapping pictures and Mara crying all over her daughter. Luther slipped the preacher the traditional envelope for his services.
“Tell the police as much as you want. They’ll probably be too busy to worry about us.” In the aftermath of the evacuation, thousands of meteor trails could be seen in the night sky as rubble from the asteroid impact made its way to Earth. Millions of people were frightened and uncertain.
“I’ll do my best. I just hope you can find a safe place to live.”
Luther nodded. “I hope it’s some place like Crescent City. I enjoyed my time here.”
“Mom, listen to me. Luther and I have important work to do. We will have to be on the move to stay safe. You won’t be able to contact us.”
“I know, but...” Mara couldn’t understand or believe half of what her daughter had told her.
“Mom. I need you to do something for me. I want you to get a job and when you can afford it, buy a nice, new car. Some day, I’ll call. Some day, you might need to make a trip the old car can’t handle.”
Deena gave her mother a big hug. She whispered, “Mom, make me proud of you!”
Luther started the motorcycle and Deena broke away from her mother and hopped on.
“Bryony, thanks again for the dress, and this outfit. You’ve always been my best friend.”
With a handful of rose petals tossed their way, the new couple roared off.
Luther shouted over his shoulder, “Ready to go save the world, again?”
“You bet! Now I’m finally ready.”