The flight had taken the better part of four hours. Most of which, Lena and Carl spent sleeping while the Professor went over the data and added notations. Lena felt better rested as she awoke at the pilot’s announcement that they had finally touched down in D.C. When they descended the steps from the shuttle-jet, another black Valiant Q7 was waiting for them.
“Don’t they know there are more colors than just black,” Lena commented. Her companions just chuckled.
They were taken to a hotel that was close to the Pentagon where rooms were already reserved for their group.
“Let’s get our things situated, grab some dinner at the hotel restaurant,” McNeil suggested. They agreed and headed up the lift to their rooms.
An hour later, Lena found herself standing in the foyer of the hotel restaurant waiting on the guys to join her. She had taken a quick shower before coming down to the restaurant and had changed into a pair of denim- blue high-waisted skinny jeans and a dark grey camisole that she wore tucked in under a white cardigan. She had pulled her damp mass of curls into a ponytail and slipped on her favorite pair of high-top Chuck Taylors that her younger cousin, Jennifer had given her for her 16th birthday.
Glancing through the large glass walls that sectioned off the restaurant, she began to feel underdressed. The crowds were typical of a metropolitan area on an early Friday evening. Most of the customers were business professionals in suits, enjoying drinks with co-workers and the rest seemed to still be working as they idly picked at their plates.
She was about to run back up to her room to change when Carl and Professor McNeil got off the lift. She immediately felt foolish. Carl wore his signature graphic tee and dark, denim-blue jeans while the professor wore a simple blue button-down shirt and grey suit pants.
“Called in a reservation and it should be ready in just a few minutes,” McNeil said, checking his antique wristwatch.
They walked over to the hostess stand and checked in at the touch screen display. Several minutes later, and after watching several small groups exit the restaurant, a hostess approached them with a wide and welcoming smile.
“McNeil, party of three,” the woman asked.
“That would be us,” McNeil responded with a nod and followed the hostess to a table that was located outside on the deck of the restaurant.
The woman was a few inches taller than Lena with a tan, unblemished complexion. Her dark blonde hair was held back tightly in a French braid that wrapped around her head like a crown. She wore a long-sleeve, bright-white blouse that was buttoned up to her long, slender neck where white lace peeked out to form a collar. On top of the blouse, a sleeveless, slim-fitted black vest with a plunging V neckline held together by three polished silver buttons accentuated her slim waist. Black business slacks and close-toed, high heels finished her ensemble.
When the trio reached the table, Carl pulled out a seat for Lena and then took one for himself. Professor McNeil took the last seat and the hostess pressed one of her slender fingers to table which lit up, displaying the restaurant’s menu in an elegant flowing script.
“Tonight’s specials are listed here,” the hostess said, indicating a section of the menu that read:
TOMATO, LEMON TART 28 C
SEARED SALMON & ROASTED SUMMER SQUASH 31 C
“The catch of the day is Alaskan Salmon,” she continued. “What drinks can I get for you?”
“Earl Grey tea and a glass of water for myself,” Prof. McNeil said.
“I’ll take a cherry cola,” Carl said.
“Lemonade,” Lena added.
“Great!” the hostess said, entering their order into an over large datapad. “Your server, Gemma, will be with you shortly to get the rest of your order,” the hostess finished before heading back to the foyer to greet the next guests.
Lena had been looking over the menu for a few minutes when another woman, wearing a uniform similar to that of the hostess, walked over to their table bearing a tray with their drinks. The woman wore a nameplate on her left breast pocket that read ‘Gemma’ and had an apron tied around her waist. She was about Lena’s own height with pale freckled skin and warm cinnamon hair that was tied back in a simple ponytail.
Smiling warmly, the woman placed their drinks down on the table before retrieving a small data note and stylus from the pocket of her apron.
“Good evening,” Gemma said. “Have you decided what you would like to start off with?”
Lena ordered the Chicken and Mango salad, while both Carl and Prof. McNeil went with the Seared Salmon and Summer Squash. After the server left with their order, they spoke quietly of unimportant things.
Soon, Gemma returned with their meals and refreshed their drinks. When they finished, Prof. McNeil pressed his thumb to the payment scanner on the table which turned green, confirming payment. Bidding them good night and reminding them not to stay up too late, the old man headed back to his room.
Lena and Carl moved inside to the bar where a bartender with blonde, curly hair, wearing an all-black uniform and a name tag that read Jax was wiping down the countertops. The bar was beginning to empty, making it a simple matter to find two seats.
Noticing their arrival, Jax the bartender, finished his task quickly and walked over.
“What will you be having this evening?” he asked with a smile that dimpled his cheeks.
“White Russian,” Lena ordered.
“Jack and Coke, thanks,” Carl added.
The drinks were made quickly and set down before them on small square coasters. “That’ll be fifteen credits.”
They each pressed their thumb to the payment pad and sat there in silence as they sipped their drinks. Lena finally broke the silence,
“I called my aunt when you went to take a shower back on campus this morning,” Lena admitted.
“How much did you tell her?” Carl asked, concerned.
“Pretty much everything.”
“How did she take it?”
“How did she take the news that the world is coming to an end? She said that she was going to throw a party,” Lena said, voice dripping with sarcasm as she chuckled mirthlessly at the fatalistic humor. Catching herself, she lowered her voice and breathed out a sigh.
“I mean, she was upset. Who wouldn’t be, right? She didn’t become hysterical or anything, she was eating lunch at Dalilah’s Café on 1st Street. She would never allow herself to be caught causing a scene in public, but I could hear the fear in her voice. I’m afraid of what will happen when they announce it to the country. Hell, what will happen when the entire world finds out?”
“Do you think they will?”
“What? Make a national announcement? They would have to, right? If they don’t and another country announces it first, our country will either not take it seriously or there will be mass hysteria,” Lena said, finishing her drink and waving to the bartender for another round.
“I think there will be mass hysteria no matter how it comes out,” Carl said.
“It won’t be so bad if the powers that be, come up with a good plan before they make the announcement,” Lena theorized.
“If so, they would have to make a plan and the announcement within twenty-four hours. A major storm was over Japan when they had their chance to see the cloud today,” Carl informed her. “Tomorrow, their skies should be clear.”
They lapsed into silence again. Lena looked sidelong at her friend. They had become close friends since coming to CU. He really was quite attractive, at least for the nerdy type. His brown curly hair was messy, he wore thick, black-framed glasses and his clothes were usually pretty wrinkled, but he was tall and had an athletic frame, all wiry muscle. She knew he worked out regularly and had joined him in the gym a few times. His eyes thou, were his best feature in her opinion. They were a warm brown that you just wanted to melt into.
Lena caught herself staring and looked back at her drink before he noticed.
“Maybe we should head back to our rooms,” Lena said.
“Probably a good idea, early morning and all,” he replied, taking a gulp that emptied his glass.
They took the lift back down to their floor, stepped off the lift, and made their way to their rooms. Carl checked the time on his wrist chrono and frowned. It read 8:38p.m. “It’s still pretty early,” Carl said. “Want to come in and raid the mini-fridge?”
Lena looked at her friend. They really did need to be up pretty early in the morning, but she didn’t really want to be alone. “Sure,” she said, hesitantly.
Carl pressed his thumb to the entry scanner and the door slid open. The lights in the suit flared to life before dimming to an evening setting. Identical to Lena’s, the suit was grand with beautifully crafted furniture and a lush, king-size bed. Lena’s favorite part of the suit was the view they had of the D.C. skyline. It was breath taking.
Just over the Highway, lit in an iridescent blue glow, The Pentagon stood out starkly in the forefront of her view. Behind the intimidating building was the Potomac River where a myriad of colorful lights twinkled on floating crafts that were navigating the dark water ways.
Even further still was the Unity Tower, a beautiful spiral building of glass that became the home of the U.S. Congress after terrorist had blown up the U.S. Capitol Building in 2038. Finally, scattered around the darkening landscape, bright white spotlights lit up the many monuments dedicated to the United States’ history.
Standing at the window, taking in the view, the reality of their future finally sank in. Lena wrapped her arms around herself as she braced for the emotions she felt beginning to spill out. As the tears began to fall, Carl appeared by her side and encircled her within his arms. She leaned into his embrace, finding comfort and a release for her built up fear and uncertainty.
Carl stood there holding the woman he had come to know so well over the past few years, as she sobbed into his shirt. His heart ached for her. Unlike him, she had a family that she cared about deeply, and he knew that she feared for them more than herself. He only had his twin brother Caleb and he had not spoken to him in years.
Carl and his brother had been adopted when they were only a few weeks old. Their mother had dropped them off at a church shortly after they had been born with a note that had simply stated her desire for her sons to remain together.
Carl and his brother had found out who their parents were when they were sixteen. Their mother, Jeanette Brocklyn, had been an addict who had not been able to care for herself and had died of an overdose a few days after they were born. Their father, Alejandro Rossi, was a criminal who had spent most of his life in and out of prison before all records of him had disappeared around the time they were eight.
The couple that had adopted them, Jim and Barbara Ranson, were from West Lancaster and owned a small dairy farm and creamery on the outskirts of town. Jim and Barbara had been unable to have children because of an accident that had left Barbara unable to have children.
Carl had been as close to Caleb as two brothers could be when they were growing up and had even attended M.I.T together but during their last year of college, they had both met Felicity Dubois.
Carl pushed thoughts of her from his mind and breathed deep of the sugary, sweet scent that clung to Lena’s red mass of curls and it pushed the painful thoughts of Felicity and Caleb from his mind. Her sobs soon ebbed.
“We should probably get some sleep,” Lena whispered.
She was suddenly looking up at him with her watery green eyes. The pain and fear he saw there tore at him. In that moment he knew that what he had felt for Felicity had been, but a drop compared to how he felt about the woman standing with him. He wanted to make to tell her that everything would be alright. He wanted to demand that the universe destroy the devastation that was coming for their planet just to stop the pain he saw in those beautiful, watery green eyes.
Still holding her within his arm, he lifted his hand to her face and wiped away the tears that stained her cheeks.
“I must look horrible,” she half mumbled, half laughed.
“You look beautiful,” he countered as he leaned down and kissed her. He felt her stiffen briefly before she melted back into his arms. The taste of salty tears mingled with the sweet taste of coffee liqueur was intoxicating but the moment was over too soon.
“We probably should get some sleep,” Carl amended.
“Would you mind if I slept in here with you tonight?” she asked. “I don’t want to be alone.”
Carl answered by taking her hand and leading her to the bed in the center of the room. They fell asleep curled up together under the goose-down comforter, taking comfort in each other’s presence.