The Final Six Days: Chapter 3

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

Day 3 — December 28

He observes the Strip through the window. Its diminished vibe is a stark contrast from yesterday, as the people are mostly gone. He spots only a few stragglers here and there, but even they are loaded with luggage and escaping town. Some damaged, abandoned cars dot the edges of the road.

On the hologram monitor, they show endless feeds of the turmoil. There’s a mass exodus into Mexico, overwhelming border guards in both countries and slowing it to a crawl. Meanwhile, some type of army regiment is being deployed to assist evacuees throughout Las Vegas.

The normally headstrong Cassie watches with unflinching interest, succumbing to anxiety as she keeps her eyes glued to the monitor. A combination of tears and intense breathing renders her numb. Friend, starting to realize that these broadcasts are designed to pollute everyone’s minds with fear, turns away in disapproval. Besides, the real action can be seen through the window. But Friend has had enough, and steps in.

“Off!” he shouts to the monitor, using his voice to control it after learning about doing so the day before.

He takes Cassie’s hands and stares into her alluring brown eyes to console her. “Cassie, these broadcasts exist to propagate fear, creating an endless fear-curiosity loop that hooks you in. Beyond the obvious message that we are all doomed, there’s nothing left to learn from it. Let’s enjoy these last few days of our lives to the fullest.”

“You are right,” she gasps in relief. “Thank you for making me realize this.”

She then laments, “How could the whole world have been so stupid, including me? They’ve known about this asteroid for a year and a half, but they’ve failed to deflect it away from Earth every step of the way.”

Friend ponders on her concerns, asking her, “How can a society allow itself to submit to such a horrible danger, and deceive itself all the way through the process?”

“They’ve been telling us all along we are safe. There were skeptics, questioning whether the government was misinforming the public, but they were dismissed as crazy conspiracy theorists,” she explains as she slowly regains her upbeat matter. His words have sprung her into action. “Let’s head downstairs and gather food and supplies.”

They tiptoe down the hallway like frightened kittens until they reach the elevator. Being on the nineteenth floor means a longer trip down, and the creaking sounds through the shaft adds to their angst a bit.

They arrive to an empty casino floor where they find tables are flipped over, and gambling chips, papers, and trash litter the ground. There is an air of silent intensity, knowing that a day ago this place was a bustling scene. A scan of the gift shop nearby shows it has been completely ransacked, with all food and drinks cleaned out. Every minute or so there’s a distant noise, like a falling set of heavy plates or a pounding of the wall that ricochets through the vast interior. This gives Friend and Cassie some pause.

“We need to find some food soon,” she whispers.

There has to be ten or so restaurants here, and one of them must have some food left in a pantry or closet. They check the café where they had the late night breakfast two nights ago. At first glance nothing, refrigerators and shelves empty, but then Cassie spots something. Wedged underneath a large pile of bakery racks, toward the back of the wall, there’s a bag full of rolls. Plentiful and enough for the two of them for a day or so, they figure.

Suddenly there’s a rattle in the distance, like a large tub of silverware hitting the ground.

“Others are coming,” she warns.

There are two exits in the kitchen, the one from where the sound came, and the other that leads toward the side. They head toward the latter. Peeking through the small window, they watch as another couple scours for food, making their way to the first kitchen door. Timed right, they wait for them to enter, then slowly tread out before running.

They retreat back to the room without being noticed. After an hour they both crave information and turn on the monitor, even Friend who swore it off earlier. The live broadcasts show military armored vehicles traveling down the Strip. They talk about martial law being imposed, and all citizens ordered off the streets. Next, they show the airport, with hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers crammed into the ticketing areas, pleading for a way out. Most planes have departed by 11:00, and no more planes are returning. They show other areas outside of Las Vegas where there is rioting, fires being set, and mob violence.

“Eventually all of this will subside,” Cassie proclaims, mostly to assure herself.

18:11

Later in the evening, Cassie suggests going out, to assess the scene below and possibly find other travelers. Being holed in a room is not her style. They dress warm and make for the bottom floor.

Cassie wears her favorite black jacket, a bomber jacket made of a mix of some type of synthetic waterproof fabric, insulated with wool extending through the collar, and containing a few zipped pockets. It’s short and thin, yet designed to keep her warm in even the coldest elements. The jacket nicely matches her dark-as-night hair and eyes. She explains how it is her favorite jacket, as it is a perfect blend of style and function.

They venture outside into the cold night and not surprisingly, the streets are a lifeless ghost town. Many the street lights still operate, but most of the gigantic laser-based signs in front of the resorts are dark. There is eerie emptiness everywhere, with broken windows or doors laid waste by the melee.

As they continue their walk north of the hotel, they proceed with caution, keeping cover in the darkness of night. To their surprise, much of the military presence that was rounding up citizens earlier has vanished. They may have retreated for the night, or possibly for good.

Despite the perceived danger, they dare each other to push forward, hoping to find some signs of life. A few minutes later they notice a small crowd gathering up ahead, piquing their interest. They strut over at a fast pace.

As they approach, they notice a smaller, well-kept restaurant, lit up and open for business. It is situated in a tiny shopping complex, sandwiched between two megastructure resorts that tower over it. They glance through the door to see a gathering of twenty or so people enjoying their food.

As they walk toward the door to enter, a woman exits. She appears a little older than Cassie, with red hair and a unique look of independence.

“Isn’t this chill?” the woman gleefully asks, walking opposite of their path. “The owner said he will never evacuate, and is staying open until all his food is gone.”

“Wait, what?” Cassie asks. “What about the armed military vehicles roaming through?”

“There’s a rumor they were ordered to pull out about an hour ago. They are mostly gone now. I’m not going anywhere I can tell you that much. I’d rather be here with a city to myself than trying to fight my way into Mexico,” the woman replies as she walks away.

“See you around,” Cassie says in a fading tone as the lady vanishes quickly into the night.

They enter the restaurant, where the owner welcomes them. He conveys a pleasant, lively mood as if he just won big at the blackjack table. The restaurant interior is aged for sure, decorated with plain shades of white and yellow, with endless numbers of photographs hanging from the walls with ink markings, many containing images of the host.

“You too look like a lovely couple, choose anything on the menu!” he suggests. “Don’t worry about the price, it’s on me.”

“You are amazing for doing this,” she states, extending the duration of his smile. “But why?”

He leans in close to the two of them. “This has been my ship for the past thirty years. Las Vegas is like my ocean. A captain never abandons ship. Besides, these mega-resorts next to me have been trying to squeeze me out of business for so long. It’s a funny thing, now that I’m getting the last laugh.”

Cassie and Friend order enchiladas, which he promptly whips up and brings to the table. After a day of only bread, food has never tasted so good. As they sit and enjoy their meal they embrace the mood of their host, joking, laughing, feeding each other. As they finish up, Friend can’t help but keen in on the conversation next to him.

“This is an outrage!” the man irately states to his female companion. “We should nuke China for this!”

Cassie looks with a cautious eye, knowing that tensions between the United States and China have made Asians, even mixed Asian people like herself, a bit uneasy. Wishing to not partake in an ethnic backlash, she stands up, smiling as she grab’s Friend’s hand. She thanks the owner with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, for showing her the best of the human spirit.

On their way back to the hotel, he questions her urgency to leave. “What did that man mean by nuking China?”

The question stirs up a bit of animosity, and she desires to free the negativity from her chest. “The United States, our nation, and China, another nation across the globe are in what is called a ‘cold war.’ The official title is the Second Cold War. Tensions between the nations started during the renewed space era. When the asteroid was discovered to be headed toward Earth, many blamed China since it is technically ‘their’ asteroid. But both nations have cooperated at least to divert it.”

She tenses up at her own words, giving her pause, before she continues, “The asteroid discovery stirred up a lot of anti-Asian attitudes. Since I am of mixed ancestry, actually a quarter Chinese, I am sometimes made to feel like an enemy in my own country.”

“How can you be an enemy when you share the same fate as that man?”

Friend’s question is interrupted by a group of armed men drive up the street, pointing guns through the window. Cassie motions quickly, forcing her and Friend to the ground, tucked behind an advertisement sign. They hid just in time to avoid detection. Gradually looking up, they see the vehicle much further down the road, emitting flashes and popping sounds. It appears they were chasing someone who was trying to flee.

Friend is intrigued by the popping sounds, and the apparent fear they have instilled in Cassie. According to her, those are called guns. Unfamiliar to him, she goes on to describe how they fire a high-speed projectile called a bullet, capable of penetrating flesh and bone and killing a person instantly. He wonders why anyone would want such a weapon. His intuition tells him that he has experience with weapons, but only those used for defense. Sensing the danger that these so-called guns pose, and concerned for her well-being, he insists they take shelter back in the room.

“Are you satisfied with our night out now?” Friend asks with a sarcastic face, to the amusement of Cassie.

“Other than that just now, yes,” she responds in a low voice.

They make it back to the hotel, and inside, notice some of the lighting has dimmed. She hears footsteps in the far distance, and turns to urge Friend to keep quiet. Just then she spots more trouble, a gang of three or four, armed and scavenging for anything, food, clothes, anything useful.

“Quick!” She hides behind a flipped over Pai Gow poker table, waving Friend over. She whispers softer than a mouse, “Remember those guys from outside with the guns? Seems there are more like them over there.”

The men mill around, seemingly going in circles, until one points in their general direction. They steadily approach, with a heavyset man in black jogging clothing leading the group. She wonders if it’s a coincidence, or if they heard or saw them as they hid. She puts her lips right into his ear. “We’re going to have to run for it.”

But just before she gets up, a couple shots ring out, punching holes in the wall behind them and screeching loudly like bolts of thunder. The hollow reverberations remind them how desolate the hotel has become.

“Change of plan,” Cassie utters. “On my command, run to the elevator, hit a bunch of buttons, then meet me at the stairs.”

Friend immediately objects. “Wait, we need to — ”

Before he can say more, she stands up, looking directly into the eye of the heavyset leader.

“Looks guys. What a cutie we got here.” They all lower their weapons as they turn their attention on her. Soon after she gives Friend a forceful nod. He emerges immediately, running with all his power toward the elevator. They turn their focus back on Friend, three of them even giving chase, but by then he is dozens of meters away. When the focus returns to her they are stunned to see that she has vanished!

She crawls along the floor and soon finds herself among the taller slot machines. She slithers among the maze of tables and machines, carefully avoiding them by observing their shadows. With enough distance she finally makes a run for it, converging on the stairwell that is situated opposite of the elevator room entry. There she finds a concerned Friend grateful to be united with her. They glance through the crack in the door once more to see the men out of view.

“I don’t think they saw us come in here,” she tells him. Without delay they both race up the stairs, gaining several floors in case she is wrong. By the time they hear the door open, they are up to the seventh floor. They pause for a moment, trying to be silent. They hear footsteps, then one man telling another something, before the armed group finally retreats back into the casino.

“Did you hit the elevator buttons?” she sternly asks. He nods, wondering what the point was.

She gazes into his eyes to assure him. “If we took the elevators they may have caught our floor on the monitor. Good thing we’re young and can handle these stairs.”

“How did you get away?” he wonders.

“I guess all those women’s ninjitsu self-defense classes finally paid off,” she laughs. “Those chubsters appeared to be out of shape, and going invisible wasn’t too hard.” She escalates the stairs without slowing down, but at about the fifteenth floor Friend is exhausted and longing for an elevator ride.

They eventually make it safely to the room. Cassie is cautious about turning anything on, the lights, the holographic monitor, anything with light. Someone from the Strip can spot their lights through their large windows. To mitigate this, she closes the curtains, leaving a sliver to keep some light in the room.

Minutes go by as they sit in the darkness, having nothing but each other for entertainment. She introduces him to the game of “Truth or Dare,” hoping it will draw out a playful and desirous mood. The first few rounds are mostly truths, silly questions like asking “what would you do” in certain scenarios. Do to his absent memory Friend doesn’t have any truths to parlay, so eventually she forces him into dares. Innocent dares like taking off a shirt eventually turn into more lustful ones, like a silly kiss on her neck.

Friend prefers asking truths, as it gives him the opportunity to learn more about her and the world around them.

What would be the first thing she would do if they could stop the asteroid? Return to Caltech, if they would let her back in. Who does she envy the most? Her brother, for graduating from UCLA and being her mother’s favorite. Who is the most important man in her life? Her father, even though he died when she was nineteen. He has an insatiable curiosity about her, and never fails to come up with another question when it’s his turn.

Eventually, Friend’s unabashed and unconditional admiration for her causes her to lower her guard. She steers him into more naughty questions, like, what is his ideal woman, and was her favorite sexual moment? The intimacy of these truths would seem to tempt her jealousy, but being together now, pouring their souls into each other, makes her feel alive. His natural restraint against giving into the ecstasy of passion is tested for sure. But in a few days, will it even matter?

On a final dare, when it’s her turn, she stares deep into his eyes, thinking of what to pursue next. He stares back, with passion overflowing from being tormented and teased all night. With their shirts already off, he leans over and locks his lips onto hers, then their tongues. Nothing more is said after that.

Continue to Chapter 4…

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