The day we finally stood together.
The cheetah was moving silently in Central Park. Julie watched him sneak up on a squirrel from her apartment six floors above. The reddish moon was barely visible in the sky, not completely round anymore. She had never actually seen it round, nor had her parents. Sipping her coffee, she remembered how her grandmother would tell those stories at each and every family gathering. That is, when she still had a family.
She would tell them how it all started with the moon. The moon station, humanity’s biggest pride. Humanity’s first foothold in space. Nobody knew why it blew up. The explosion took with it a big chunk of the moon, throwing it out of orbit. Geologists, physicists, and a lot of other scientists immediately started studying the phenomenon and built a predictive model of the planetary consequences.
“Well basically, they told us shit was going to hit the fan pretty hard,” Grandma used to say (she was not a scientist). “They made us all move to the Midwest, as far from the coast as possible. People did the same all over the world. It was terrible, earthquakes all over the place, it never stopped! But thanks to that, I met your grandfather, and-” That was usually when Julie would stop listening and run away. That exodus had been the first of many. All over the planet, major and not-so-major cities were being destroyed by tsunamis and earthquakes. The Junction. At least 20% of humanity died during the first year.
The cheetah finally caught its target. The squirrel never even had the chance to realize what was happening. Julie always wondered how the hell squirrels survived the Junction. Or pigeons, for that matter. Maybe they were all too dumb to notice the Apocalypse happening around them.
She smiled, sipping her Moroccan coffee. One of the few good things from the Junction. Lots of past delicacies were much easier to get now that North Africa was a few miles away. That is, if you could handle the Zone. The joined coast of North Africa and North America had been abandoned by both their governments and previous inhabitants. Ten kilometers on both sides of the Atlantic River were now considered a Demilitarized Zone between the United States and the Arabic countries. As an added bonus, the shifting continents had made the local climate one of the harshest on Earth. Temperatures frequently reached a hundred degrees during the day, and dropped to freezing point every night. This was considered one of the worst places on Earth, and nobody sane would ever decide to live there. Julie lived there.
Her mug empty, she grabbed her rifle and darted down the stairs. The dry burning air in the street welcomed her, the way sports car dealerships welcome midlife crisis clients. Idriss was there, in the jeep. It was their first run to the Moroccan side of the Zone in about two weeks, and he looked equally scared and excited. He immediately shifted to the passenger seat, knowing full well Julie would never accept anyone driving her through the Zone. She started toward the car and realized the cheetah was standing right there, a couple yards away from her. His jaw still covered in blood, he watched her, immobile. She stared right back at him. Their eyes locked for one, two, three, four seconds. Julie raised an eyebrow, her lips clenched. The animal lowered its head and ran away, moaning submissively.
That’s what most people got wrong. The toughest thing in the Zone was not its climate. It wasn’t the wild animals, crumbling buildings, or shitty political situation. No, it was the people.
Kurt watched the white landscape passing through the window. Not a tree, not a hill, nothing. Only ice as far as his eyes could see. The rhythm of the train’s engine was surprisingly relaxing, and despite his thermos of bad coffee he caught himself starting to doze off.
The trans-Siberian had been the toughest part of his job during his first year as a polar archeologist. The cold, the loneliness, the bears — he could deal with. But seven days sitting on a wooden bench with nothing to see but ice and nothing to eat but dried fish? He used to hate it. Now, he had started to find it relaxing.
Kurt grabbed his bag and started rifling through it to keep himself awake. It was mostly full of electronics and computer parts. The Western world never realized how much it had depended on Asia until the continent was completely covered in polar ice. Now, and until the new Namibia factories were up and running, it was actually cheaper to go to Polar Asia and directly dig out the parts. Kurt was… not one of the best, but still good enough to make a substantial profit.
He kept searching through the bag, looking for something specific. Something he was not supposed to have. Most of his colleagues went CPU-digging in China’s ice. That was where most of the ancient factories were buried, and it was closer to the trans-Siberian final stop. Kurt was one of the few CPU-diggers to go all the way to the Japan pole. One reason was professional: there was less competition there, and more processed goods which could be sold for a higher price. The other… He finally found what he was searching for at the bottom of his backpack: books. Comics, figurines. His daughter loved them. And if he was honest, some of them were for himself too. He liked the stories. At first, he would just grab a handful of those things and sell them to Munich’s Japanese refugees at a ridiculous price. But then he grew curious. Before he knew it, one of those refugees was teaching Kurt his language, in exchange for toys or goods from the country of his ancestors.
A gunshot outside the train thrust Kurt violently back into the real world. He moved the decades-old curtain to look through the window. Half a dozen snow mobiles were closing in, driven by fur-covered Russian and Asian men. Raiders were more and more common now that they had figured what the train was transporting. Their machineguns were probably older than Kurt’s dad. From the top of the train, guards started shooting back.
Before leaving Munich, Kurt’s wife had begged him once more to stay. “It’s too dangerous,” she would say every time. He would never admit it in front of her, but she was right. It was becoming more dangerous each time. Raiders were more and more daring, he had to dig deeper and deeper, and Tokyo’s buildings were less and less stable. He kept telling Karin it was the last time. And he believed it. He had even tried a couple of times: settle in, teach archeology, take care of his family. But after a while, the humdrum of ordinary life was just too much for him, and he went back to digging.
A raider’s bullet shattered the window near Kurt’s face, letting the ice cold air in. Shivering, he fired back with his old six-shooter. A guard was screaming in pain above him. Kurt held his bag close against him. Ok, this would be the last time. Definitely.
The Mandela tower was the tallest building in the world. And with its almost 200 floors, it would have claimed that title even if all the others had not fallen during the Junction. The newly founded National Bank of Namibia owned the 182nd floor. This was the most prestigious floor in the most prestigious building of the world. And as the CEO of NBN, Nkosana occupied the floor’s best corner office.
The smell of his cup of Kopi Luwak filled the room. For the first time he thought coffee didn’t smell like crap. Far below his office, Nkosana could see almost all of Windhoek. The Namibian capital was bristling with activity, its financial district still new and shiny. All thanks to the new trade agreements with America – well, with South America at least. Calling it “America” was supposedly not PC, but most people would have known he was not speaking about the North one anyway. The North had been too big, too safe, too overprotected. It had never really known hardship, and when the Junction happened, its people were not ready. The continent was not destroyed per se, but morale had been crushed by the catastrophe. Northerners were still bickering about responsibilities rather than focusing on fixing their issues.
On the other hand, Africa and Amer- and South America had thrived. These people were used to hardships. Near the horizon, Nkosana could see the countless fields surrounding Windhoek. Once mostly a desert, Namibia now enjoyed a wonderfully temperate climate. Rain was frequent, but not too heavy. The soil was fertile. The surrounding countries were the richest in the world. There was even talk of several South American and African uniting under one federal government. The United Equator Nations. Nkosana was already pulling strings to have his share. The elders used to tell him how Africa suffered from poverty for centuries. It had only taken the end of the world to end hunger in Africa.
And then, there was that stain. Little China. Dark spots surrounding the whole city, like a gangrenous wound. Asian slums full of refugees from China, Japan, Vietnam, or whatever other lost country they came from. They all looked the same to him anyway. Since the Junction, they were everywhere. Nkosana was partly impressed they had even reached this city. His city. They couldn’t be bothered to find a job, but the little rats could sure as hell walk.
Nkosana scowled and went back to sit at his desk, checking his schedule for the hundredth time. He knew exactly who it was. The only person who could make him check a schedule a hundred time.
His secretary knocked at his door: “Your appointment is here, sir.”
“Thanks, Tomoko.” He had been strongly against taking an Asian secretary, but… quotas.
He stood as a tall man of undefined skin color entered the office, closing the door behind him. The Other. Opaque sunglasses were the only way he could hide his true nature and pretend to be human. They were the only two people in the world – if the Other could even be called people — who knew what had happened on the Moon. The scientists had been too confident, too rash, trying to control forces they had not understood. Nkosana would not make the same mistake.
Based on this writing prompt.