III

A sunlit afternoon, my younger self chasing a familiar yet distant face through the tall grass overlooking the sea. This feels like a memory, but I know that it’s not. I dream so rarely that it’s usually easy to tell when my mind has escaped reality.

Right now in this moment I’m about 12. I haven’t actually been 12 for decades. And possibly I haven’t felt this free for just as long.

Nothing seems to matter, no consequences, no expectations, no judgement. There are other people around, they don’t see us or simply don’t care, it doesn’t matter which. Relaxed, free, comfortable, all the things missing from everyday life.

I

He stood in the centre of his 37th floor apartment gazing out at the Japanese city. Surrounded by a small crowd of faceless bodies, he had no idea why or how he had gotten to be there.

What appeared to be a nuclear power plant in the distance was spewing purple lightning into the sky. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Something clearly was not right.

The building began to quiver as the light show intensified, slowly but steadily building to a violent shake. The tone and pitch of the buildings rumble suddenly changed, dramatic, like cutting into a harp with a chainsaw.

Floor to ceiling plate glass windows exploded outwards as the ceiling began to crumble. The tower collapsing in on itself, debris enveloping a final pulse of the distant light show. No pain was felt, just darkness.

He awoke in a cold sweat. 3:21am. Wednesday.

X

Even with this in mind, and knowing they only had about a hundred metres between themselves and relative safety, the next few minutes would not be without obstacles.

Thus far they’d been sticking to the side-streets to avoid drawing the attention of the guard posts that had been set up along the main strip.

This itself wasn’t as simple as it sounds, as most of these side streets had been cut or blocked off in some way – and moving or getting around these blocks quietly wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

II

You think you know someone. We had left dinner early, not even lingering long enough to consider dessert. Eve seemed in a particular rush but wouldn’t say why. Maybe it was something she ate.

We were headed towards the station when her phone rang. Barely removing it from her inner jacket pocket she glanced at it and dismissed the call. I couldn’t see who it was, but I do the same with work calls all the time so I wasn’t concerned.

As the lights of our train came into view Eve casually turned, looking half at me, half through me – just as she had done a thousand times before – and smiled.

“None of this is what it seems. Jasper will explain.” she said softly with an oddly apologetic tone. The words had stunned me, was that her intention? Turning further to face me, she took two quick steps backwards, my outstretched hands clutched at the air.

She was gone.

VIII

The shock wave rippled through their camp site, and several hours earlier than they were anticipating. The plan had always been to be further from the impact site, but communication delays had hindered them before their egress had even begun.

By the time they got out they knew they were unlikely to get as much distance as desired, still they had pushed on long enough to ensure they’d be safe, and they were.

While they were all now awake, it would still be hours before they would know if it had worked, and to what extent. Only then could they return.

XIII

Day 4000.

I’m the only one up, everyone else is still tucked away in ‘bed’. It’s my turn to run the system checks. We only have to do this every 500 days, unless word comes through that they’ve found it — if that happens we all get up.

Because all our communications are pre-recorded we don’t really have to worry about any lengthy lag, the messages are just there ready for us when we get up. The sunlight though, it has diminished entirely. ‘Our’ Sun is now just a star like all others, including the one we are headed for.

Ok, technically, we aren’t headed for a star, but a planet. The catch being that they haven’t actually discovered the planet yet, the technology required for that wasn’t around when we launched, and apparently — 4000 days later — it still isn’t around.

All systems are functional. Back to ‘bed’. Onward to wherever we are headed.

VII

As the elevator ground to a halt the doors slid open behind them. It had been so dark when they entered they hadn’t noticed the alternate set of doors.

Stepping out into a barely lit corridor the doors swiftly shut behind them, about 20 metres ahead of them a corner that hid an occasional flicker.

The corridor was completely empty – at least leading up the corner – they set off in single file. Those with weapons had them drawn. Just in case.

IV

Their nightly routine was always the same.

“Sam, it’s time to go to sleep, lights out…”,

“But Mum,” he protested, “I don’t like the darkness, I’m afraid of the monster in the closet”,

It was always the same reason, like a recording being played back repetitively for comedic effect. The response of Sam’s mother too was always the same.

“Sam, we’ve been over this, there are no monsters in your closet, I promise. You’re perfectly safe in bed.”

Sitting bolt upright, arms crossed, Sam would never back down. The resulting compromise was always to leave the night light on.

The soft yellow glow of the night light was just right, and as always its presence ended the nightly battle peacefully.

Even better yet, it perfectly masked the pair of glowing yellow eyes that belonged to the creature Sam’s parents kept under his bed.

IX

I’d tell you how all this started if I actually knew. All I have are rumours and tall tales. Everything from a bad business deal, to the assassination of some high ranking official.

Whatever it was resulted in all communications from the government ceasing, it’s as though they no longer exist. However we know that’s probably not the case, as someone had to have given the order for the national guard to step in.

XII

Charles, only five-nine, but built like a tree and dressed head-to-toe in black tactical gear.

Handguns holstered on each leg, a small knife strapped to one ankle, and two of the biggest machetes I’d ever seen – one hanging over each shoulder.

Honestly, given the stories I’d heard, I was expecting more guns, but I had a reasonably strong feeling that the machetes weren’t just for decoration.

We hadn’t been told her first name, and none of us were particularly eager – or game – to ask… so ’Charles’ it was, and Charles meant business.

V

Upon arrival they sat, impatiently, in the van as the gates to the compound slowly opened. The journey had been slow, in the same way a long afternoon at work is slow, although in reality it had only taken a little over an hour.

There was still an uncomfortable feeling lingering within the group, unsure if they had been successful. Sure, they heard – and felt – the blast, but the haste with which they had left meant that the charge hadn’t been set in the location that had originally been planned.

It would likely be a couple of days before they knew for certain if it had worked.

VI

Reaching the corner Miles, the self designated leader, went first. What he found was a whole lot of nothing, he motioned for the rest to follow him.

They had no other choice, the elevator had closed and there were no controls to call it back again.

Rounding the corner they were greeted by more corridor, devoid of all features aside from a pair of flickering fluorescent lights about half way down that provided intermittent illumination.

XI

They landed on April 7, just before dawn. There had been no warning, no hint at all that this was coming. We weren’t prepared, but they were. Coming in from the south-east was the last thing any of us were anticipating.

Since then they’ve moved swiftly along the coast as far west as Texas, and north towards Georgia. They’ve seized control of 5 states, with their efforts currently concentrated on making it to the makeshift capital in Chicago.

XV

We both know that you know where they are.

Tell me.

Where can I find Zenith?

XVI

Day 86.

It’s been a little over 12 weeks since we undocked and were flung into the vast blackness of space, we’ve got 2 weeks left until we enter the suspended state that will allow us to carry out the mission.

What’s the mission? Good question. When we left they hadn’t exactly worked that out. They’ve pointed us at a distant star, but it will be years, or decades, until we’re told what we’re looking for. Hence the suspended state.

Once in suspension they’ll wake one of us every 500 days or so for routine systems checks. Sam’s up first, so that should be fun for her, running diagnostics solo while everyone else ’sleeps’.

Until then we’re preparing everything for the journey, most importantly the bio-rings which will become our primary food source – but don’t worry we’ve also got a stack of pre-packed meals just in case something goes wrong.

And failing that we’ll just have to start sacrificing crew members to satisfy our protein needs. Kidding. Or am I.

XIV

When the first pod of whales beached themselves no one really thought much of it. When, two weeks later, a second pod beached themselves several hundred miles south, again, no one thought much of it.

That was 8 months ago. Now, not only are the beachings a daily – world-wide – occurrence, they aren’t limited just to whales.

There have been several reports of dolphins, sharks, and in some instances giant squid.

Initially scientists had suspected that it was the result of climate change or rising pollution. However, after months of testing and analysis on the deceased sea creatures they found no evidence supporting that theory.

They had come to one conclusion – they weren’t simply beaching themselves they were trying to escape from something…