When the world ended, there wasn’t any warning, no asteroid heading straight towards Earth with a rag-tag band of misfit demolitions experts saving the day by drilling to the core and blowing it up, no epic tsunami halted by ocean dwellers from unimaginable depths because of the love of a man for his wife and friend, no ridiculous virus transferred to an alien mothership that brought down the fleet.
No, Fargo reflected as he trudged through snow that came up to his knees, when the world ended it was as if Mother Nature grew tired of the humans and tried to shake them off her back. With the global economic crash, things had already been pretty bad: riots in most major cities, governments toppling in places like Finland, Australia, and Canada, nukes fired by both India and Pakistan, though both swore the other shot first.
Unlike Han Solo, there wasn’t any solid proof to see which nation fired first.
Ignoring the cold of his feet and the bitter bite of the air as he drew it into his lungs, Fargo considered the possibility of some future race uncovering the server farms that Apple used for iTunes and – if they figured out all compatibility issues, both technical and language – watching a random selection of movies and shows. What would they think of the former population of this ice planet?
Would they wonder at the fanciful race that enjoyed obliterating universal and scientific constants in the name of entertainment? Or would those mythical future people take any found media as fact and become angered or confused, maybe bemused?
Idly, Fargo pondered what would happen if centuries from now someone found his geek t-shirts. Would they even begin to understand them? Would they think that his shirt with Han Solo on it holding a gun was an important revolutionary or cultural icon? Would they try to find out who he was to the people of the frozen planet?
“Would they want to?” Fargo asked the desolate landscape. “I mean, do they really care if Han shot first? That Lucas turned into a pussy and changed history because he could, then changed it back because he pissed off the fans so badly they were ready to lynch him?”
Suddenly, he had a sharp longing for that shirt and the one that had sported the symbol for Pi cut out of a cherry pie.
Pausing, he looked around, checked his compass and his watch, then wondered why he bothered. “It’s not like it matters if I make there on time; no general is going to yell at me for going over budget on an experimental time dilation device, or tell me how lame it was to even try to make such a pointless device. “
For weeks now, sometimes through snow squalls, sometimes through howling wind, but never in the sun, he’d trudged north with Jo and Zane, sticking to major interstates when they could, only branching off onto smaller roads when fear of lava, sulfur-filled air, or unstable snow forced them.
Pulling out his canteen, Fargo took a swig of water. Of all the devices he’d managed to grab from GD, this self-contained water filtration and purification system in a plain stainless steel container was one of the better one. Along with the organic object modifier, it was what had kept him alive the last six months.
After the megacaldera in Yellowstone went, the whole world seemed to erupt, quite literally; two days later the Abitibi Greenstone Belt in Canada went, then the one in North Sumatra; less than twenty hours later Kagoshima Prefecture in Japan erupted – they also had the misfortune to simultaneously be hit by two earthquakes that were well above nine on the Richter scale – and finally Taupo on New Zealand’s North Island.
“Four out of six knowns,” Fargo mused, watching his breath puff, “are fantastic results for something that was only a theory.”
Theoretically, there were areas that weren’t as badly affected as North America and various parts of the
South Pacific, but after the first two weeks, all communications with Europe and Africa were down. Within days, even with all the amazing tech available to him at GD, they lost contact with the outside world.
But, then again, theoretically, Yellowstone wasn’t supposed to be able to go off without being noticed, so who knew what the rest of the world was like.
When Mount Shata blew its top – four hundred years early according to the volcanologists – Eureka was ordered to evacuate. Because he stayed to make sure GD was secured, Fargo was one of the few who survived when Mount Jefferson – dormant for nearly three thousand years - erupted.
For months now, he, Jo, and Zane had been heading north to the Yukon, on the rumor of a colony living warily in the shadows of supposedly dormant volcanoes benignly named Mount This or Point That. Though they only ran into a handful of people, none of them had any news about any eruptions after Jefferson, and none had had contact with anyone outside of the travelers that rarely passed them by.
It was the hope of seeing Claudia again that kept him going; she was the one who’d told him about the people gathering in northern Canada and Alaska, about the expeditions planned to try to cross the Bering Strait. But on their last communication, nearly two months ago, the Farnsworth that Claudia had acquired for him sparked and whined and with a small puff of smoke and a shower of sparks, it died, leaving him with a faint hope and a minor electrical burn to his right hand.
As no one had any better ideas, they kept heading north. Jo needed to act or go nuts; Zane it turned out needed Jo no matter what the timeline, so followed her. Once the world ended their sort-of thing, became real, and Fargo was almost positive that Jo had told Zane everything from the other time line.
It wasn’t like the U.S. military was going to come and wipe them off the face of the earth. Fargo pretty much assumed the U.S. military themselves had mostly been wiped off the face of the earth.
Two days ago, Zane had slid on some ice and sprained his ankle. He had tried to walk on it, but they all knew that he ran the risk of permanent disability if he didn’t rest and heal.
So now Zane and Jo were miles away and all Fargo had was a promise that they would catch up to him in a couple of days.
Except the fierce hug that Jo had given him felt horribly like a good-bye.
“One more day,” Fargo muttered to the empty surroundings, the trees long dead from the endless winter. “Then I’m turning around.” Not that turning around was a good plan, but from the sounds he’d heard last night, there were wild things around and there were only two bullets left in his gun.
“And maybe you should turn around now,” a hoarse voice said from behind him. “Slowly. Hands reaching for the clouds.”
Fargo froze and hoped he wasn’t about to die. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was worried; everything he’d ever really cared about was gone or dead.
Stupid survival instinct that was hardwired into all living things.
Raising his hands, Fargo slowly turned around and let out a whoop of joy.
“Claudia! You’re alive.” Flinging himself at her, Fargo wrapped his arms around her and crushed her to him. Or at least hugged her as tightly as their slippery and bulky outer clothing would let him.
“Fargo?” Claudia’s muffled question came as she tried to wriggle free from his grasp. “Getting squeezed like a Florida orange here. You know, if Florida had oranges anymore.”
“Right. Sorry.” Fargo let her go so quickly that she stumbled back a step. “It’s good to see you.”
“Yeah, I figured that out when you were crushing the air out of my body.”
“How’ve you been?”
And how was he a genius? Life as they knew it had literally ended since he last seen her and he was asking her banalities. If he could have, Fargo would have snatched the words that hung on the air with the puffs of his breath.
“Pretty much cold all the time. Also, needing a shower. But apart from that, life’s a popsicle in December.”
Not entirely sure what she meant, Fargo just smiled at her. “I can’t believe you’re still alive.”
“Let’s face it,” Claudia said, grinning at him. “Of the two of us, I’m the one way more likely to have survived the end of the world.” Her grin turned to a smirk. “And you’re the one who was more likely to have caused it.”
“Statistically, I’d say it’d more be like a forty-sixty likelihood of me being the one to cause it and you to survive it.” He gave her a smug look. “I’ve read the reports about the time with Midas’ glove.”
“That wasn’t nearly as bad as Artie said it was!” Claudia protested.
If the amount of indignation in her voice was any indication, the reports on the incident were vastly sanitized.
“So, you didn’t touch a power pole with lines that led back to a hydro plant and the whole place didn’t turn to gold. And it didn’t take Myka using Georg Cantor’s infinite abacas to stop the power grids all over North America from shutting down?”
“You put on one pretty glove…” Claudia shoved his shoulder and started walking. “At least I didn’t end up in space by accident.”
“Despite almost dying three times, that was pretty cool.”
“I heard you hit Mir.”
“That was classified!” Fargo squawked in outrage. “Where did you hear about that?”
“Like the DOD’s files were that hard to hack into.”
“I tried to tell them that the algorithm they used to encrypt their files was a joke.”
“Pete’s passwords were harder to guess.”
“Didn’t he use ‘password13’?” Fargo asked.
They grinned at each other and kept trudging through the snow.
“So, where are we going?” Fargo asked after they’d been walking for a while.
“North still seems good,” she said, eyes flitting to his, then away. “I didn’t think you got my message.”
“The four sets of coordinates you sent out were the last things I got before that jury-rigged Farnsworth blew. After talking it over, Jo, Zane, and I figured north seemed as good a plan as any.”
The various unstable experiments at GD, not to mention the newly active volcanoes in the immediate area, made staying in Eureka stupid.
And while he’d been accused of many things, stupid wasn’t usually one of them.
“Last I heard there were still people heading that way.”
They continued to walk, their breath puffing out like small storms in the failing light, until a long howl filled the air.
“If you know of somewhere safe for the night, we should probably stop soon,” Fargo said, trying to suppress a shutter that had nothing to do with cold and everything to do with the exact knowledge of what an animal made crazy by starvation could do to a human.
Pulling out a small gunmetal grey box from her pocket, Claudia flipped back the protective cover and slid the power switch. Instantly, the screen lit up with a small red car on a straight road.
“A GPS?” Fargo exclaimed, completely enthralled with the first working computer he’d seen in nearly a year.
“The world as we knew it may have ended, but the satellites in geosynchronous orbit still go on.”
Another howl sounded and was echoed by one much closer.
“Great, love the GPS; does it have an app that’ll tell us where to hide from the hungry dog packs? Preferably somewhere without bears or wild cats.”
“Less than a mile and we should be safe.”
They set off at a brisk pace. Fargo hoped that two bullets were enough if they didn’t get there before the pack of whatever caught up to them. He hoped that Jo and Zane were safe and that he could convince Claudia that South was a viable direction as well. At least for a few days. Until they met up with Zane and Jo, then they could all head north.
The noises of pack animals drew closer. There was safety in numbers, Fargo thought, as he slipped the gun into his gloved right hand.