They danced. At this moment, it was literally all they could do.
It seemed to Grace to be perfectly Darius to have given everyone a reason to hold someone close and move to music. He’d probably cite studies showing how touch, music, and exercise all lowered blood pressure and released dopamine and serotonin. With her, he might admit to needing it himself, but Grace doubted that he allowed many people to see that side.
Somewhere in the middle of the third song, she noticed Liam’s young girlfriend practically shaking as she stood alone to one side of the dancers.
“Harris, let’s head over there,” Grace said, tilting her head toward Jillian.
“Yeah, I think so.”
The fourth song was just starting, something a little faster, inclined to make people switch partners, and that seemed perfectly Darius, too -- an attempt to make certain everyone participated. Grace started to ask Harris to take Jillian to the dance floor, but when she saw how stricken, how close to the edge the young woman looked she changed her mind.
Slowly, Grace rested a hand on Jillian’s shoulder and slid her hand down to grip her elbow. Jillian looked directly into her eyes and said, “Liam just left me here alone.”
Grace said, “I have every confidence that sometime in the next day or two, the elevator will come down and we’ll find out it’s all been averted.”
“Based on what?” the question came from Harris, not Jillian.
Grace turned to him and said, “Based on Liam and Darius and however many brains are left at the complex. Liam wouldn’t have left if he didn’t think he had a viable solution. And I can’t see Darius lying down and accepting death without fighting to live.”
“They don’t have TESS anymore,” Jillian said. “I know they’re brilliant, but they don’t have what they need to run the simulations and … “She began to shake again.
To Harris, Grace said, “Why don’t you see what Darius left us for sleeping arrangements? He implied that we weren’t supposed to get on the ark without some sign.”
Harris started to say something, but after getting a good look at Jillian just nodded. “Be right back.”
Grace held her arms out, and Jillian stepped into them.
“Shhh. Let’s get you away from the group, okay?”
She felt Jillian nod against her shoulder and walked her over to the stairwell. They went down a little way and sat on a step.
“I know I should be stronger,” Jillian said.
“At some point, every one of us will probably have the vastness of this problem hit us. And most of us will probably be far louder than you are.”
“What have you left behind?”
Grace took a deep breath. “Nothing, I hope. Liam and Darius will get us through. If I’m wrong, then my daughter is doomed and it will be messy.”
Jillian said, “Messy?”
“The nuclear countries will be obliterated quickly,” Grace said tonelessly. “The people outside of the nuclear exchange, most of the southern hemisphere, will end up dying of radiation poisoning or the savagery of their neighbors.”
“Oh my God. I hadn’t thought. Of course, you have a daughter. She was approved for the ark.”
“Good. If we ever need it, I’ll make certain she’s somewhere that she can take advantage of it.”
Jillian looked at her with some surprise. “You mean it. You think we’re going to get out of here quickly.”
“I do. Not because I’m some kind of optimist. I don’t think anyone who knows me would call me that, but I genuinely have faith in how much Darius and Liam have managed to accomplish in -- what? -- six weeks?”
“Yeah.” Jillian seemed to pull herself together a little. “Let’s say it takes them a week before they can open the doors to let us come up, what’s the plan?”
“I don’t know,” Grace said. “Let’s see what we can come up with.”
Harris spoke to some of the people who’d worked on building the base that held Salvation. They found the bedrooms on the lower levels, and Harris let everyone else know that there were sleeping quarters. People drifted to the rooms in groups, even those who were usually loners based on the conversations he heard around him. Grace and Jillian were among the last and there were a couple of rooms left.
“I can see about sharing with some of the guys,” Harris said. He watched Grace closely.
Jillian said, “I’ll see if Elena from my unit has space in her room.”
“Are you sure?” Grace asked.
Jillian nodded and went to find her friend.
“There are enough rooms left that we don’t have to share, Grace.”
She shook her head. “No one should sleep alone tonight.” She thought for a second. “I suppose some people might want to, but, personally, I think it’s healthier not to. Did I make sense?”
Harris smiled. “Yeah. As much as anything today makes sense.”
They headed into one of the smaller bedrooms. Several sets of sweats in various sizes were in the drawers. Grace found something resembling her size and said, “Cool. I like turquoise. Do you suppose there’s toothpaste in the bathroom?”
“And toothbrushes.” Harris stayed with a more traditional grey for his sweats. The silence lasted for a little while as they took care of their nightly ablutions.
When Harris joined her in the bed, Grace said, “I think I was once in an MRI with more room than that bathroom.”
“I was afraid it was going to be open dormitory showers and long rows of toilets like a barracks. I can work with being a little cramped.”
“I hated the dorm showers in college. This is definitely better. I wonder if the larger rooms have larger bathrooms, too.”
Harris said, “What does it matter?”
“It doesn’t, I guess. Just trying to figure things out.”
Harris reached for her, but she shook her head.
Grace said, “Don’t be. Right now, too many things are too confused.”
She turned over to look at him.
Harris continued. “I think it’s pretty clear that we’re over -- especially if your idea that the door will open in a few days is right.”
Grace said, “We’re over because we didn’t trust each other when we needed to. I thought I was protecting you when I stole that key, giving you deniability and someone to blame. I should have trusted you.”
“I wouldn’t have let you take it, you know.”
“I do. But together we might have figured out a different way to solve the problem.”
“I’m not certain we could have. Our ethics are different.”
Grace said, “Different. We both want what’s best for the planet, don’t we?”
Harris took a minute to think. “Yes. But I think our country has to come first. I don’t think you do anymore.”
“Planet before country. Think of it like ‘country before party.’”
“I get it. I told Dylan that I didn’t agree with him, but I admired his willingness to take a stand for what he believed in. It’s the same with you. Without this, I don’t think we’d ever have known that our core beliefs are different.”
Grace nodded her head as she rested on her shoulder. “I was happy with you. I’d forgotten that I could be, this type of happy at any rate. But you’re right. Now that we know how deeply we differ, we can’t be intimate.”
“If the door doesn’t open within the week?”
“Then we talk again.”
“In the meantime, we sleep beside each other.”
Grace nodded again. “As friends. As leaders.”
“People asked you for guidance tonight, and Jillian wasn’t the only one who came to me for comfort. I think we’re the oldest people here.”
Harris chuckled. “I’ve never thought of myself as old before.”
“We’re the elders of the tribe.”
“I think I’ll work out what that means tomorrow.” He pulled her closer and they drifted off to sleep.
The following day was fairly harmonious. The day after that, however, had people more frightened and restless. Something was definitely happening above or they’d already be out. Emotions began to run high, and Grace’s assumption that she and Harris were being looked to for leadership seemed to be confirmed.
With help from Jillian and a couple of the other department heads, they came up with projects. Grace, who was used to being a public face, was the one who handed out the assignments. Harris and Jillian both said that they couldn’t keep up the optimism needed to keep everyone calm.
Communal food preparation took most of Harris and Grace’s day. It made them easy to find, and they had lots of different people coming to ask questions either about the projects they were working on or about the future.
Over the next three days, the different projects coalesced and the idea for the next day was going to be presentations and dialogue about the projects. Most people had specialties, but there was a high level of interest in everything to do with Salvation and the possibilities of the future. More than that, so many of Tanz Corps employees had wide arrays of interests which might, probably would, spark an intellectual cross-pollination.
Just as they sat down to dinner, an announcement came from the computer, “The door is opening and the elevator is engaged.”
Harris gathered a few people by eye; men and women who he knew were veterans and had volunteered to protect the group if it were necessary. “Stay here,” he said to the rest of the group. He and the six people he’d alerted went to the stairs and headed up to the elevator landing.
Jillian said, “This is ridiculous. We know it’s Darius and probably Liam.”
“Sit back down.” Grace’s voice was calm and unthreatening, but Jillian sat nearly involuntarily.
Jillian said, “Don’t you want to know?”
“Want to know? Yes. Need to know?” Grace raised an eyebrow and continued, “Let’s let them do the job they volunteered for.”
Most of the others stayed seated, some even began on their salads. A few stood, but no one else tried to leave the large area which had become their dining area.
Harris voice called down, “All clear,” as they heard the group come back down the metal stairs.
Jillian shot to her feet and ran into a beaming Liam’s arms. Darius was a little behind him looking tired and amused.
When Grace got in earshot, Darius said, “Is it my imagination, or did they go into slow motion?”
Grace giggled quietly. “I’m pretty sure I saw a meadow growing under their feet as they ran.” She and Darius stood and grinned at each other as they watched Jillian and Liam attempt the world record for kissing.
Harris came up and said, “Get a room, you two. Seriously, take Grace and mine’s if you need privacy.”
Jillian and Liam broke apart both blushing.
“Er, yeah,” Liam said, “Jillian was just going to show me the living area.”
Harris nodded. “Uh-huh.”
Grace glanced up and noticed that, without moving his feet, Darius was farther away than he’d been before Harris came up. His face had lost the amusement and a little bit of a glow.
Harris glanced between them. “As Grace put it, we’re the elders of this little tribe. A little privacy seemed warranted. I’ll let her explain it. Join us for dinner and we’ll leave in the morning?”
“Sounds like an idea, though I may go sleep in the treehouse,” Darius said.
Harris just nodded and headed back to the communal table.
There was a long awkward pause.
Finally Grace said, “I should have asked while Harris was still here. Did the asteroid cross the Rubicon line?”
“Just a minute.” Darius walked closer to the group and raised his voice. “Everyone: we’re safe for now. Those of you who know about the Rubicon line, we managed not to cross it. For everyone else, the Russians managed to take their weapons systems over and sent the missiles out of the atmosphere. They knocked out a couple of communications satellites, including one of their own, so I don’t think it was intentional, but they managed to prevent nuclear detonation.”
Someone called out, “And our missiles?”
Darius said, “Thanks to internecine fighting between the two presidents, the launches never took place. That’s still a huge issue. I don’t want to think that you’ll be stepping off that elevator tomorrow into a perfect world, but we’re more secure than we were when you were sealed in here five days ago. I’m sorry that I took so long to get to a point where it felt safe to open the doors again.”
There was a cheer from the table. Darius said, “Please don’t let your meal get cold. Grace and I will be joining you in a few minutes.”
They walked back to a seating area by the stairs.
Darius broke the silence this time. “I wasn’t prepared for how happy I’d be to see you.”
“I wasn’t prepared to feel shy around you.”
“No, shy is not a word I associate with you at all.”
“Harris and I slept beside each other. He’s lost his son. I thought I’d lost Zoe, but nothing more… I didn’t want more than the comfort of another person.”
“Grace, it’s none of my business. I have no claim on you and frankly, any comfort you were able to find while you didn’t know if the world outside still existed is a good thing. I know you two have a history and we never… a couple of kisses in Russia don’t mean a commitment.”
Grace took a deep breath to give herself a moment to think. “Does that mean you don’t want a relationship?”
Darius looked up in surprise. “It’s the absolutely worst timing in the world, but there’s nothing I want more than a chance with you.”
“You really are a romantic,” Grace said. “Can I come to the treehouse tonight? I’m not sure I’ll want more than to sleep beside you -- mostly because you look physically exhausted and I know I’m emotionally exhausted -- but I want us to have a chance, too.”
“Do you think they can see us from the dining area?”
“Is that your way of saying you’re going to kiss me?”
Darius smiled sweetly. “With your permission, of course.”
“Then you have my permission whether or not anyone can see us.”
He put his hand on her cheek, leaned in, and kissed her gently.
“That was nice,” she said licking her lips. “Shall we head back and try for wicked?”
“Let’s eat first. I want to hear what everyone’s been up to, and Liam’s not there to answer questions.”
Grace chuckled. “Youth.”
As they stood, Darius put an arm around her waist, and she smiled up at him. “Grace, you know that I won’t be on the ark, not unless they come up with a cure for Huntington’s or a way to turn it off genetically.”
“Make sure Zoe gets on one of the arks, and I won’t care. I’ve left my legacy to the future. If this comes up again, I’ll stay with you.”
Darius bent down and kissed her thoroughly. She sighed with pleasure when they parted and said, “Let’s eat.”