At first, all Elyse and Brian could do was look up at the sky. It was both frightening and beautiful at the same time, a pitch black background pierced by thousands of red and white lights, some no more than pinpricks, others so large they could have matched earth’s moon for size. How many of those pinpricks were suns, how many planets, and how many were comets large enough to crush this planet? Enough.
‘I think I can see them moving,’ Elyse said after a long while. It was true. Brian squinted up at the closest rock and, after a few minutes, he was almost certain it had moved away from its nearest neighbour. Like watching clouds moving on a day with only the slightest wind.
‘Any one of those up there, no matter where it lands, this whole planet will die,’ Brian said.
‘Maybe. We don’t know what the atmosphere is like here. Maybe most of them will burn up. Or all of them, even. There must be an atmosphere, anyway – we’re breathing, aren’t we?’
‘And they’re burning.’ Every comet they could see had a ring of fire, or a tail running behind it. Hundreds of them were burning up even as they watched, appearing and vanishing in seconds, filling the sky with fireworks.
Finally, they took their eyes away from the scene long enough to absorb the rest of their surroundings, and it was just as Matt and Steph had told them: canyons, mountains and cliffs; a desert without end. The sand was reddish brown, and everything smelled like fire. When he turned to Elyse, she was looking at him, shivering. The air had a chill to it, the kind that crept up on you and slowly worked its way into your bones.
‘We’re not going to die,’ she told him, though he wasn’t sure if she meant it as a question or a statement.
He pulled her in for a hug, though his skin was as ice cold as hers. He could the wild, irregular beat of her heart. ‘All we gotta do is wait, now,’ he said.
‘I know, Brian.’ She pulled away from him, and fixed her brown eyes on his. ‘But what is it we’re waiting for?’
‘Death, maybe. Think about it like this. We’ve been playing Russian Roulette, and we just pulled the trigger. Now we’re waiting to see if a bullet comes out.’
‘That makes me feel much better.’
He cracked a smile, the first in what felt like a very long time, and she smiled back, a shadow of the old Elyse in the curl of those cracked, bleeding lips.
‘Hey, come lie down with me,’ he said. He took her hand and led her a little way – not too far – from the door, and the two of them lay on their backs in the cool sand and stared up at the sky, their heads touching.
‘You know, even if we did die. This isn’t that bad a way to go, huh?’
‘No. I guess it isn’t.’
‘I’m really sorry for, you know, for infecting you.’
‘Forget about it. It’s over.’
‘Yeah. How bad are you, right now?’
‘Pretty bad. I’ve got this, I don’t know, this anger. I want to tear things up, and…’
‘I know what you mean. I know that feeling.’
They were silent for a while.
‘How bad are you?’
He squeezed her hand, almost hard enough to break a bone, but she didn’t make a sound. ‘I don’t know if I can make it,’ he said. He swallowed. It was hard to keep his voice steady. ‘I think I might die before that sky falls on us.’
‘Brian? You can hurt me if you need to. If you let me hurt you. Just enough so we don’t… you know, starve.’
His blood was boiling now, but he didn’t reply straight away. They hadn’t come into this world with tools or weapons of any kind, but his nails and teeth had already grown a long way since the last time he cut them. He could smell her skin in the chilled air, and her sweat, and even the dark blood that pumped through her veins.
You never had a choice, anyway, he thought.