The Final Six Days: Chapter 2

The follow is an excerpt from The Final Six Days, book 1 of the Time Crossers series. It is available now on Amazon.

Day 2 — December 27

He awakens to a cold, rough carpeted floor. Nonetheless, it is such an upgrade from the icy sand he is actually grateful. Lying near the window, he witnesses the sun emerge above the mountains as its rays pierce through the curtains, reminding him that the day has already started. He enjoys the view of the colorful buildings in daylight; they are much more magnified from the mountainside distance of yesterday. He turns to face the others still sleeping, figuring they are worn from their recent travels.

The room is spacious, decorated in similar dark tones as the hotel main floor, and divided into two parts separated by a guard rail. The upper part contains a large bed where Alaina and Wyatt sleep, and the lower part is for Cassie. Her section is adjacent to the large window that encompasses the entire wall. She has an upfront, breathtaking view of the Strip as well as the entrance to the hotel.

By the time Cassie opens her eyes, Friend is fully clothed and ready to depart. Cassie briefly greets him, feeling a bit embarrassed for him seeing her like this. She makes haste, grabbing some things and scampering into the bathroom.

She debates to herself about what to do with Friend. Her friends had several things planned today. They were going to meet up with some other friends. Should she ditch them and show Friend around? Should she take Friend with them? Should she just wish him well and send him on his way?

She emerges several minutes later, fully changed after taking a shower and freshening up. She reveals herself in her raw state, but she is just as attractive and lovely in Friend’s eyes. He greets her with a smile of adoration, one that she undoubtedly confirms as his feelings for her. The answer then becomes clear.

“Guys, I’m going to show Friend around. He needs help shopping for some more clothes. Plus, he’s never been to Las Vegas before.”

She encounters little resistance from Wyatt. Alaina is a bit more perturbed, but once she witnesses Cassie’s newfound happiness, her selfish desires to spend time with her give way to her joy for her.

“You two have fun, we’ll be fine,” Alaina replies.

Cassie and Friend embark on their journey. They arrive at an outdoor shopping plaza called the Sparq. It is set against the backdrop of a gigantic, towering wheel. A large amusement park sits behind it. Various fountains dot the open space, with laser-projected colors highlighting the water. Windowed buildings house the different shops, with holographic billboards playing messages, luring shoppers with messages of their wares. The lush green landscaping makes the place more inviting, serving as an enclave from the barren desert that surrounds the city.

She escorts him into different clothing shops, using her sense of style to help him acquire more fashionable clothing. Afterward, they have lunch. It’s a peculiar style of food: freshly caught fish, rolled by some hardened leafy vegetable and covered with the discolored grain they call rice. Cassie calls it sushi. He cannot recall any familiarity with eating fish, but whatever, it is delicious.

Throughout the early afternoon, their conversations have yet to slow. She speaks of her mother, with whom she barely communicates and hasn’t spoken to in a couple of years. Her younger brother protects her mother, and thus she feels alienated from him as well. She talks about her future plans, her hope to one day return to college. She draws inspiration from her friend Lila, who recently graduated from Caltech with a degree in physics, and now works at a laboratory nearby for NASA. She explains how Lila has always been her rock, someone who pushed her to excel in high school through friendly competition. Lila emerged victorious in their battle to become valedictorian, the highest honor bestowed for academic excellence at their school.

Through these conversations, he detects an underlying swell of intelligence within her. But she seems to disguise her mental prowess under this party girl façade. He wonders if this social mask is possibly for survival in this complex society.

They continue to enjoy each other’s company into nightfall. If Friend can slow down time or relive this day over and over again, he would. After a brief stop at the hotel room, they set on a quest for dinner. As she’s been acting as his guide of sorts throughout the day, he defers to her choice that she enthusiastically suggests: Italian cuisine.

They find themselves in a dimly lit restaurant, themed with red and brown accents. The table is finely prepared, the candle in the middle providing personal light for the two of them. As he savors the reshaped wheat product they call pasta, he just cannot stop himself from staring into her eyes, noticing the perfect reflection of the flickering candle. Unable to resist the urge anymore, he grabs her soft and silky hand.

“Cassie, I want to thank you for this amazing day,” he passionately explains as he grips her other hand.

“What will you do once you remember who you are?” she wonders with a playful concern, enjoying this day but unable to ponder what the future holds.

“When that time comes we’ll share it together. Because of you, I’ve been able to find myself today.”

She smiles, feeling the same spark, no, a sustained current, a force of attraction that cannot be slowed or turned off. It was fate, she believes, that brought him into her life at that moment, this stunningly handsome man in need of her help. The feeling is likewise for him. He questions it somewhat, figuring he had more control over his emotions. But like gravity, you can only fight it for so long. There is little doubt between them, they have fallen in love.

After dinner, they stroll along the busy walkway, dotted with engaged tourists and eager street vendors, with a perfect view of the northern Strip painting the background. They hold hands, then eventually lock arms as they battle the cold using the shared heat from their bodies. The feeling of bliss permeates through the both of them, as they have achieved the pinnacle of the human experience.

Above the street at various stations along the long road of the Strip, holographic images appear from time to time accompanied by sound or voices. They bring messages of commerce, sometimes news reports, other times updates from the daily sporting contests. Most of the people take at most a passive glancing interest. But it’s hard not to notice these large holographic displays stretching the width of the street from one end to the other, projected from tall, black poles from each side, and reaching dozens of meters into the sky. They are impossible to ignore from any spot.

This current one is different. The interest in this particular message is orders of magnitude more captivating, freezing everyone in their tracks and fascinating them beyond capacity. The images are synced with the others down the walkway as far as they can see. There’s not a lot of motion, no music of any kind, just an empty podium decorated with a large symbol of an eagle covered by a striped shield. The words “BREAKING NEWS” are anchored on the bottom of the image. Suddenly, a man steps to the podium and the crowd silences so much so that one could hear a pin drop.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is with heartfelt sadness that I bear this news tonight. The attempts to disrupt and destroy the Icedragon asteroid have failed. Space agencies worldwide worked so tirelessly, so diligently, bringing the Asteroid Defense System online, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The asteroid will make landfall on the early morning of January 1st, at 7:21 Eastern time, 4:21 Pacific time, somewhere southwest of Las Vegas.

“The impact of the one-point-five-kilometer-wide asteroid will be devastating. It will create an impact crater roughly fifteen kilometers wide, and radiate a ring of fire spreading hundreds of kilometers. Within days, the dust plume from the impact will blanket the Earth, heating up the atmosphere for weeks, before eventually plunging us all into an impact winter that may carry on for years. The freezing climate will kill off most of our food supply and many species of life.

“The asteroid may not wipe out all life, but the era of modern civilization is coming to an end. If you can, get as far away from the west coast as possible. Try to find shelter indoors, away from the endless dust that will cloak the globe in darkness over the first few months. Remember, we may be down in the fight, but no asteroid can kill the human spirit. We will eventually emerge, renew, regrow. It was my honor to serve as your president. May God be with you in your prayers.”

The images disappear shortly thereafter. Friend looks around at the absolutely stunned crowd, witnessing the look of fear and terror on their faces, the seemingly happy lives suddenly shut down by a kill switch. Friend turns to Cassie and sees a face engulfed in sadness, with tears flowing from her eyes. Those plans of hers to return to school, to renew her life, even the prospect of a new man to comfort her and be her best friend and most diligent supporter, all of it is now washed away by a crashing wave, never to be seen again.

“We need to get back to the room!” she cries out, grabbing Friend’s hand.

Frozen terror turns into chaotic panic. The crowds become raucous, full of shrieking and loud screams. People are moving in every direction, even spilling into the streets and forcing traffic to a standstill. Cars are colliding with one another as they attempt to swerve out of the way of the frenzied crowds. The endless sounds of shattered glass remind them of the increasing peril. All around, fights are breaking out, amplifying the mayhem to dangerous levels. As they try to escape the frenzy, Cassie looks around to plot the best course of action.

“There!” She points as they dash through the middle of the street. They slither through the swarm of cars, encountering several near misses as they desperately try to get to the other side. They fight their way across, then run toward the hotel where they are met by a wall of security guards.

“Sorry, miss. Hotel guests only. Do you have a room tag?”

Her hands shake in gripping nervousness as she pushes them through her purse for a card. She silently scolds herself for not synching her room tag to her watch. Crowds are amassing near the doors, slowly pushing her out of the way. Friend extends his arms to protect her as much as he can. As she is nearly pushed down, she finds it and holds it out. The guards promptly nod them in, and they escape the exponentially growing turmoil.

They are confronted by the even more heightened chaos inside. They push their way through crowds until they reach the elevator. They are stonewalled by more guards, but this time, she has the card in hand. A rowdy mob greets them next, all fighting over eight different elevators. Like a panicked mother, she grabs his arm, tugging it hard while forcing them through the combative crowd and onto the next elevator, not letting anyone deny her.

Down the endless hallway, decorated with midnight purple and maroon ornate, patterned carpet, they swiftly make for the room. Cassie quickly puts the key card to the door and flings it open, before rapidly closing it.

Looking dead ahead are a somber couple, eyes glued to a wall where a crisp moving holographic image projects outward. Wyatt immediately stands up to greet them, shouting “mute” at the hologram monitor as the sound ceases a fraction of a second later. Friend studies the monitor, observing the two poles connected to a base that powers the three-dimensional illumination.

Alaina follows closely behind Wyatt as they offer Cassie a warm hug, Alaina’s face still worn with tears.

“What are we going to do?” Alaina asks, looking to her wiser friend for answers.

“What can we do?” Cassie responds, offering little comfort for an answer. “Is there even a point? Like they said the aftermath will be far worse. Have you heard of the term ‘impact winter’?”

Wyatt’s face turns as pale as his white teeth. Under normal circumstances in a crisis, Cassie would turn on her left brain, executing a plan with vivid and precise logic. But she is smitten, in love, disconnected from that side of her brain. She questions her own will to survive, giving way to the ecstasy of passion, having never felt this way before in her entire life. Besides, she feels a premonition, something strange telling her to follow this path.

Friend, on the other hand, is completely on her wavelength. He has no history, no identity, and her presence completely fills in that void. Right now, he would follow her to the ends of the Earth. Ironic that he feels in a past life he would be in charge, as he senses his own leadership skills. But in this instance, he is more than willing to submit to her. This is her world, after all.

“I’m with you, Cassie,” Friend affirms. “When I’m with you I truly feel alive.”

Alaina’s eyes roll. What has this man done with my Cassie? She may be right, that escaping the asteroid might be pointless, but so is staying in this city, right in its path. It is clear to her that Cassie is not herself. I just hate her right now, she cries to herself as a swell of sadness overtakes her. Wyatt steps in and comforts his girl, always ready to read her needs and respond accordingly.

“Look you two, take my car. Pack what things you have. Head to Mexico. That is your best bet.” As Cassie firmly demands, Alaina and Wyatt do as she asks. They make haste, packing their suitcases, throwing what stuff they can fit in a hurry. For a brief moment, Alaina is comforted that Cassie rejected her idea of taking the Hyperloop, opting to drive instead.

“I love you Miss Cassandra Whittle,” Alaina tells her, planting a kiss on her cheek. Wyatt, face down in a dejected stance, concurs, also with a kiss to the cheek, “Me too, Cassie. Take care.”

They are gone. Minutes of sadness and silence follow. She whisks herself under Friend’s arms, resuming the volume on the monitor. It shows images of large swaths of those speeders, called cars, trying to evacuate the city, using vastly wide road structures called freeways. These news reports appear to flame the anxiety in her. Friend strangely does not fear death, and wishes he could offload some of his tranquility onto her.

Hours pass into the night. After the weight of the situation sinks in, she resumes opening up to him. It is therapeutic for her, and he knows it. He loves listening to her and absorbing her every word.

She talks about a past boyfriend, a man who abused her in an emotional way. He convinced her through his actions to drop out of Caltech, a decision she has always regretted. This regret is further amplified by Lila’s success at NASA. She also opens up about her adventures as a bartender, talking about people she’s met, and the relationships born in her presence.

He continues to hold her in his arms, as they are both spread out on the bed. They are fed an endless stream of holograms bringing coverage of despair throughout Las Vegas and the rest of the world. Her words eventually slow, becoming quieter and murmurish, until she snores off to sleep.

Continue to Chapter 3…

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