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Amit doesn’t know whether to call it a nightmare. It’s the first time she’s flown in a dream, but when she looks down she can’t quite make anything out. Pale buildings shift far below, flickering in and out of existence. Sometimes they rush up to meet her, a forest of vast towers appearing all around for a moment and vanishing instantly. The sky is all moon and no stars, a vast glowing presence that draws closer and closer, consuming the ground below in jagged fog that crackles with lightning and TV static. On second glance, it looks like a nature documentary on fast-forward, vague shapes and textures blurring into each other beyond the wall of cloud pressing closer. She can hear it now, a rush of wind and thunder and birdsong and and a thousand people yelling over one another.

She turns back the way she came, but the tower is gone, consumed by the shifting city. The fog is making up the distance, a million different sounds, a TV tuned to every channel, a storm of noise and light coming from above and below and the side all at once, and when it consumes her she makes out three images, three images of herself, before she feels burning lightning all around her and wakes up uncomfortably warm, staring at the ceiling and the same dangling mobile she’s woken up to for 15 years. She keeps staring for a while. Comforting as it is, something about the familiar spirograph shape reminds her of her dream.

It’s about 6:00, almost time to get up anyway. Amit turns over, flopping a hand over the edge of the bed. The mattress feels magnetized, pulling her back to the surface. Nope. If she goes back to sleep, her alarm will wake her up immediately after, so it’s worth another try. Now her leg is dangling down, brushing the carpet. Better. After a minute, she manages to sit up. Standing is pretty easy from there, and once the light is on again she’s awake for real. The dream is mostly gone now, something about flying through a storm, a white halo, a football field, static everywhere. Three images. She stops for a moment, letting her toothbrush hang out of her mouth. That’s interesting, for once. Reminds her of something she should check on.

It’s about that point in spring where the steadily growing sense that time and the calendar year were really just someone’s bad joke in the first place starts to be reeled in by the promise of spring break and the twin threat of group projects and unit tests. Amit needs to know all about gerrymandering and salts and how to graph something, probably, and she needs to know it soon. But Soon is still far enough away that every week is like the next, and every day is like the next, and the usual people are waiting in the usual places at the usual time. So, at the usual time, Amit hits the north doors hip first, backpack second, lunch tray third and sweeps through a precise fifty-eight degree turn to aim at the miserable oak tree on the hill.

Emily waves. Carl briefly stops explaining something to her, nods, and waits a few more seconds before deeming it polite to resume. Ruth stays splayed unmoving across her trombone case like it’s the deathbed in a Renaissance painting. The gang’s all here.

First, of course, is the daily news. Someone spit down someone’s neck in band, Ms. Atkins killed a wasp in the middle of class and wasted ten minutes cleaning the guts off the blackboard, Mr. Donald once again found an entirely new way to be an asshole, there’s another cool new video game coming out but something about the studio is a moral travesty, and art class was actually mundane and productive for once. Then come 46 minutes of small talk and complaining about how mealy the bean soup is and smacking each other on the arm until someone falls over or gets bruises and riding the high of the infectious enthusiasm in Carl’s voice as he brings up some relevant trivia that everyone there will forget by next month. Amit’s watch beeps and the group splits up to each head back to hell alone.

For one hour out of the rest of the day, Amit has an excuse to write some bullshit about ancient curses, a whole soap opera cast of intolerably annoying characters, and a couple of details thrown in from her dream. Visions of fire and blood and all that. After that, an hour of halfhearted soccer and deflecting the compliment-baited hooks thrown out to her by warm, sweaty boys who stand too close and all share the same two faces. Then home, and telling stories to parents, and promising to do homework right away, and rushing down stairs to look through old moving boxes, never unpacked. It doesn’t take too long to find what she needs.

Amit opens the book for the first time in a couple years, cracking into a random page in the middle. The vast pages are crammed with lines of numbers. Two hundred nine to a page in two uneven columns, leaving one space by the spine for a page number that stands out as a speck in the tooth-gap space. One thousand two hundred fifty four pages. Something from the Army, supposedly. Old codes from the war. Three images suggest something else. Each entry has five columns, all mixed together but clear enough now that she knows what to look for. Date, time, latitude, longitude, and something else.

She has some suspicions about the last one, and she looks carefully down the rightmost columns as she skims further through, stretching her fingers across her computer keyboard to tap in numbers. It’s not long before she starts to see patterns without having to check: Clusters of similar coordinates, neat grids in big cities and more randomly scattered points out of town. Clouds of small numbers and a tiny handful of big ones. There is no code, nothing to hide but the significance of these places. In three images she saw fire. These are targets.


The Mystery Ship, a sunshine yellow wedge of metal, rises diagonally from the mud of the creekside marsh by Brilliant Street. In the years after the storm that swept it up the then-flooded valley, journalists, tourists, looters, and conspiracy theorists, in that order, swarmed into town. They extracted every souvenir, family photo, 15 second ad spot, and spool of copper wire they could and then, when no new developments came, Fire Hill’s moment of fame faded away, no one came up with the money for cleanup, and now the Mystery Ship is a fixture of the north side of town, just barely visible from the inbound highway.

The hull is far from seaworthy, so when icy rain starts to whip over the hills it pierces between riveted armor plates and drips slowly onto Ruth’s head. Her carefully combed curls of brown hair, now starting to clump and mat, drip relentlessly, endlessly topped off by the roof leaks, so she hides her laser-printed sheet music under a propped up notebook and tries not to lean over it. She’s spent her free time out here as long as her parents have let her out of sight alone, so the rain is comforting more than anything. It makes the marsh even more unnavigable than usual, a guarantee of privacy.

Wiping down her mouthpiece is a great way to put off actually starting the line for the twentieth time, and having it roll away just extends the distraction for a welcome bit longer. Ruth lags a bit behind it, relishing the chance to stretch her legs, then she stretches her neck for a second and when she looks back it’s headed straight for a maintenance closet. She dashes, she dives, she slides across the floor, and she’s just a bit too late to stop the mouthpiece disappearing past the half-open door. There’s a little clink, a scrape, a clank, and it’s gone. Fucking hell.

Ruth lost her spare a few weeks ago when the second trumpet player made fun of her for trying to waste time to get out of marching practice, physical contact was made, and the thing went into the street and under the tires of the cafeteria supply truck. She spent half an hour fishing the original out of the storm drain it had spent the last month in and another fifteen minutes rinsing it in the water fountain and trying to invent new prayers to specifically stave off giardiasis, then never, ever told her mother about it. Now, when she checks the wiring closet for a miracle, she doesn’t find one. The mouthpiece went straight down the gap where the pipes and cable conduits used to be, down to the engine deck or the bilge or whatever the fuck it is.

Getting to the lower decks means either climbing up slippery floors to a diagonal staircase full of rusty dining chairs, then taking what will now be a waterslide down through a gauntlet of scrap metal and rubble, or going just a bit aft to the nearer stairwell, conveniently located under ten feet of mud courtesy of the latest flood. Or being a complete fucking idiot. Ruth settles on being a complete fucking idiot. She sits down on the doorframe of the electrical closet and dangles her feet over empty space.

The cross-braces and empty pipe brackets inside the wall make for almost decent footholds, and by some miracle Ruth makes it down intact. She turns on her keychain flashlight, a cheap souvenir from freshman Homecoming. Just downslope of her is a gap, a short cable conduit under the floor in the next room over, and something glints in the darkness. Ruth lies down on the muddy floor. stretches under to grab the mouthpiece and feels something draw a stinging line from the back of her hand halfway to the elbow.

She winces, fishes around a bit more, and grabs something too long to be the mouthpiece. It’s a knife, some sort of dagger with what looks like real gold inlay on the sides of the blade and a ring of tiny sapphires around the top of the handle. Huh. Ruth’s main concern now is that the knife is dull as hell, so the cut on her arm is a jagged mess that’s dribbling blood down to her elbow, where it’s already started to drip onward to the floor. Using her left arm this time, she reaches under again, stretches, covers half her shirt in mud and rust, and finally fishes out the mouthpiece. Now she just has to climb back up.

After going through this trouble and pain for the knife, Ruth can’t imagine just leaving it down here. The mouthpiece goes into her jacket pocket, the knife pommel-to-thumb in one hand, and she awkwardly wedges it against each handhold with the careless grasp of a fifteen year old who really, earnestly believes that rules are for other people. After one slip and close call that nearly send the blade right into her thigh, Ruth thinks for a moment, stretches just enough to reach the doorframe above, and gives the thing a light toss over the edge. It clanks onto the floor a presumably safe distance away, and the last few feet of the climb up become much easier.

The cut on Ruth’s arm looks worse than it feels, but it feels bad enough, and she doesn’t want to get any more blood on her jacket than she has to. She shoves the binder, backpack, trombone, and knife into the one dry corner of the room, flips up her hood, and starts trying to put together an explanation for this that doesn’t make her seem like an utter disgrace. Her first step outside the Mystery Ship lands her knee-high in mud.


Carl and Emily do their homework in Main Street Park, turning up the volume on the shitty boombox every time Route 418 spits another car past them. The usual spot in Big Jenny’s shadow is crusted with half-melted snow, so they sprawl awkwardly on the half-dead lawn and try to ignore the muddy stains that creep into the margins of their notebooks. It’s too far into sunset, still cruelly early, for the sun to hit the grass and too bright to see by the anemic mercury lights over the highway, so they sprawl out on a relatively dry patch of higher ground and take a break from math and lit. Carl rolls his head out of Emily’s lap to face her.

“I just look stuff up, Emily. I really don’t know that much.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit. You made that flash game last year, right?”

“10 percent of that was actually making anything. 40 was ripping off other people’s work, and 50 percent was figuring out how to do any of it.”

“That’s work too, man. And Dan spent longer playing it than you did making it.”

“Yeah, so I wasted his time as well as mine. It was way harder than I wanted to be. Not even fun for anyone else.”

Emily laughs, “And you call yourself the optimist!”

Carl squeaks quietly instead of laughing, as he does. Silence stretches out for a minute longer. A streetlight half a block down snaps on.

“Do you think they’re going to have the pear cobbler tomorrow?” asks Emily, putting off homework a little longer.

“Probably. I hate the pear cobbler.”

“Awww, how?” Emily prods Carl in the shoulder and he giggles. “It’s way too sweet, just like you. I like that.”

“It has a weird chemical aftertaste. It’s probably full of preservatives. Just like me.”

“Give me that, then!” Emily reaches over him to slip her hand down the throat of the bag of donettes leaned against her backpack. Carl flails to push them away.

“I paid for those!”

Emily struggles to cough out words without spraying chunks of pastry across Carl’s face. “I paid fmm- for the chips.”

Carl sighs, reaches into the bag himself, and comes up empty. He stares blankly at Emily, tosses the bag at her, and sits up to wipe powdered sugar across the grass. He flips his notebook back open at the dog-eared page, carefully placing the adjacent library copy of Lord of the Flies in Emily’s lap where his head just was. The streetlight overhead turns on with a tink.

“C’mon, Em.”

She flips the book open.


--3/31/09--

[...]-7410 (4:18:31AM):ur all nuued 4 snaks or w e aftr schl
[...]-7410 (4:19:08AM):*nvted i fkng h8 txtnf
[...]-7410 (4:19:35AM):*txtng fuuuuvk

Amit doesn’t care about the timestamps making her seem deranged. Ruth has her beat on that. She quietly shuts her phone and closes her eyes, still trying to remember her dream. Something about it makes her shiver, not quite as though someone is watching her. It feels like she’s watching someone else. All she can remember are glimpses of familiar faces in the fog, half-heard words, and flashes of emotion she can’t quite describe. Was that Michael making out with Susanna Green in an RV? Something about an email worm? There was something she had to do, or remember, or ignore. She settles for distastefully wiping a string of drool from the corner of her mouth, rolling over, and getting in her last two and a half hours of sleep.

“Alright, ladies,” Amit begins. She is eyes deep in her element now, perched diagonally on the peeling pleather couch like the armrest is a podium and she’s announcing her bid for President. “Step aside, because I’m going to be the weirdo of the team today. I think I figured out what the code book is.”

“Your granddad’s weird shit?” Ruth asks.

“Exactly!” Amit is grinning now. “Remember how we thought it was coordinates and times at one point? But they’re all out of order and all over the place, so it must be a code, right– Nope! Nope, nope, nope. I had an idea — would it be weird to say it came to me in a dream? — and I checked, and it matched up. They’re meteor impacts.” She pauses to bask in the reaction like a smug lizard.

“Huh,” says Emily.

“Fucking what?” is Ruth’s reply. Amit looks like she’s going to split her cheeks open.

Carl, having taken a moment to recover, asks “Weren’t most of those, like, in the future?”

“They were! They are. It is complete bullshit. Most of them are dated to 2009. But the ones in the past, meteorites found in the desert and shit, match up with the book even between 1944 and now. Plus, and you’ll love this, there was one around here. I put it into MapQuest and it came out just inside city limits on the north side of town. 1988.”

“The mystery ship.” Ruth’s expression sets solid from boredom to ice. She stares intensely, through Amit’s eyes and through the wall behind her to infinity. “Appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the storm, as though–”

“As though it fell from the sky. And!” Amit gestures wildly, trying to cut off three interruptions at once. “And if that’s not enough of a bombshell for you, here’s the real one: the world is going to end next week.”

“Show us the book,” Emily says. She does.

There was a summer afternoon once, before remedial classes and burnout and convenience store morning shifts, when the four were bored enough to take turns copying faded, typewritten digits out of the old brick of a book into a spreadsheet. Now Amit is scrolling through it for the first time in months, flipping through the original to keep up.

“On page 38, look, mystery number 1.72, that’s typed up correctly, right? I put it in and-”

Sure enough, it is just on the edge of Fire Hill. Carl dives in front of Amit and she trails off mid-sentence, awkwardly twisting away. He ignores the conversation behind him, closing his eyes and humming when it approaches shouting. Amit is laughing and waving her hands, Emily saying something witty and unsettling enough to quiet everyone down for a bit.

“Thanks, Em.” Carl says, getting his rhythm back. He set up the spreadsheet in the first place, so it’s not too hard to figure out the sorting once the columns are split properly. He waves at the screen every couple minutes, not really listening to anyone’s reactions. He sorts by dates, latitude and longitude, size. He focuses on the satisfaction of discovering a great secret to distract him from the realization of what it means.

“Shit, you’re right, those are all the week after spring break.”

“See? No, Carl, that’s just the Mystery Ship again. But put the others in- Yeah.”

“That’s my house!”

“And that’s mine.”

Carl doesn’t see a good way out of this conversation, so he settles for a bad one. He scoops up his backpack, mumbles goodbye, and walks straight out the door. Even Emily doesn’t follow, not right away. The scruffy hedge at the end of the block gives him enough cover to curl up in the dirt and close his eyes. Timed by his scratched up little watch, it takes him three minutes and forty seconds to get up and go home.


-- naiveIdeation [NI] joined the bucket at 16:18 --
BB<w>: Welcome to the SkaiaNetFanForum Chumbucket, naiveIdeation! Use /list to see a list of online users and /help for more commands.
TL: so I think this is just another way for IDC to launder money for SNS
IN: Hi naive!
NI: /list
BB: Online users: bucketBot [BB], augustRoyalist [AR], illuminateNothing [IN], naiveIdeation [NI], traditionalLunacy [TL]
TL: hello NI
NI: Hi all
AR: lol NI you just missed a great tinfoil hat session.
TL: never too late to grab your own TFH though
NI: Hi all, no worries about TFH discussion because I brought my own
NI: What do you all think of meteors
TL: YES
TL: THAT’S THE GOOD STUFF
IN: Oh boy if luna knows what you’re talking about I’m scared :P
TL: fair, IN, but you have to know about the gary event, april showers, jacob eisner, the z tapes, right
IN: LOL, you’ve really gotten naive in on your stuff
NI: Yeah like how Sburb is going to cause the end of the world
IN: Holy moly xD
TL: YES YES YES
AR: lmao
TL: seriously though if you’re going to complain go read the megathread instead
TL: mod kate stickied it in meta
TL: this is legit
IN: I’ve read it, isn’t it more like “Sburb was made by aliens”
TL: p much, SITR theory is the absolute deep end of “skaianet and indico are really shady” talk
TL: personally I won’t go to “literally the rapture” but there’s no way jacob eisner wasn’t involved with ufo shit
TL: why else would indico pay millions for some random rich asshole to pretend to be an archaeologist
AR: nepotism.
TL: apart from n
TL: fuck
NI: Damn I didn’t know this was that much of a thing
AR: SITR types stayed pretty quiet for a long time. someone just saw a chance to make waves with a big reveal.
NI: But conspiracy theorists are usually pretty loud about spreading the word
TL: hey
AR: they’re a doomsday cult. there are only so many copies of Sburb. if you believe the only way to survive the apocalypse or w.e is to get you are going to want to hog them.
IN: Yeah naive, what’s gotten you into this stuff?
NI: One of my friends seems to have found some actual evidence
NI: I think
IN: What do you mean?
NI: I don’t know how to explain
NI: But if it’s right my friends and I are going to all individually explode on the 18th
NI: Or have UFOs land on our houses or something
NI: You know what brb I’m going to read the thread
IN: Wait!
-- naiveIdeation [NI] left the bucket at 16:32--

Carl carefully closes the smudgy lid of his school-issue laptop. He takes a deep breath, adjusts the hem of his shirt, and stares out across the street. Clean rain is spattering against the window again tonight, drowning out the evening’s last few minutes of sunlight in a rising mist. His heart is racing and he’s trying not to think about why. After a few minutes, Carl feels ready enough to open the laptop again and head to the forums.

argentDialysis, 18:30:48 2009-04-06
Re: [TFH thread of the century] SBURB IS THE RAPTURE

Quote from gloriouslyCatastrophic:

Quote from argentDialysis:

[...]
Class 3:
[...]
Fire Hill (General Mills packaging factory, Emerging Technology In Education NCLB grants sponsored by SkaiaNet, Skyship)
[...]

Why is Fire Hill not class 2? There was already confirmed ET activity there in 1989, what more do we need? These lines you’re drawing are totally arbitrary, and if anyone wants to help investigate in the last week before release, it would be better to prioritize places that still have clear-cut unanswered questions.
Calling the Skyship “confirmed ET activity” is ridiculous. Why don’t we put the entire state of Pennsylvania down as Class 2? This isn’t about digging into your favorite cold case UFO bull****, this is about identifying key locations before the event.
Just play the game, go on whatever road trip you want to go on yourself, and don’t tell everyone else in this thread what to do. You’ve been bordering on flaming for the last couple pages, none of this rearranging lists is helpful to anyone, please just go calm down and come back when you can actually contribute to the thread.
—————
Quote:

I've started project 'Fuck The World,' a top secret attempt to funnel magma to the outside. I'll kill those elephants. I'll kill all those fucking elephants.

Masterwork Gauntlet, my WIP webcomic

Carl has to remind himself to breathe. His shirt feels like a coffin. He pulls it off and swings the laptop around so he can wrap himself in his bedsheets and click to the first page.

delphiVapours, 12:00:08 2009-04-02
Re: [TFH thread of the century] SBURB IS THE RAPTURE

I’ll keep this simple for now, I will follow up with more explanation and evidence. You’ve heard of April Showers. This one will start on April 13. It will mark the end of civilization as we know it. It is no coincidence that Sburb will be released on the same day. It is a way to survive. SkaiaNet Systems has been preparing for this day for decades. Sburb is focused on building, teamwork, and self-defense. It teaches the skills that will be necessary to rebuild the world. Compare this to whichever apocalyptic narrative you want. I chose the Rapture because we know there is a way to be saved. We will all need it. Good luck.

He spends a bit more time scrolling aimlessly back and forth, showers, reads a couple more pages, and tucks the laptop onto its shelf with the charger brick laid neatly on top. He paces circles around the room. He barely knows what to think about, let alone what to think of it. To some extent, his plans aren’t changing. He’ll bang out some crappy, fun code over break and have a few lunches out with Emily, then he and his closest friends will play Sburb together, like they’ve been planning. Maybe the world will end. Probably. He eventually tires himself out enough to go to sleep. It’s well past midnight.


Ruth wakes up hoarse, her throat throbbing. She makes a cup of tea, stands over the kettle in the cramped little kitchen, and dumps way too much honey into it. Her mom says hello, good morning, and did you walk the dog when she comes down the hall, probably woken up by the whistling even though Ruth tried to cut it as short as possible. No, Ruth has not walked the dog. She takes a cracked, off-white mug in one hand and Susie’s retractable leash in the other when she steps out into the gray.

It already feels like the rain has been going on forever, even though it was sunny just yesterday afternoon. Stray drops ricochet off roofs and bare branches into the mug as though trying to undo her honey-pouring excesses. The tea remains at around the sweetness of straight buttercream syrup. Even with Susie finishing her business in half the usual time, Ruth is done drinking by the time she gets back inside to grab her backpack and a scratchy maroon turtleneck. Her throat still hurts.

It’s really just not a great day. By the last bell, Ruth just can’t remember a single thing from any of her classes. Only one casual insult is thrown her way all day, better than average. She walks out the north doors still feeling like she’s waiting for the day to start, crashing off the caffeine from the syrupy Earl Grey, and really not feeling up to wading a third of a mile through the marsh on this of all days. She still wants to get some privacy, though, so she heads to the edge of town and circles around on the side roads covered in potholes and dead branches.

She runs her fingers across the hoods of rusty dead cars, waves to Tommy, whom she’s barely seen at all lately, and somehow finds herself on entirely the opposite side of town from her house. Amit’s house is only a couple blocks away, so, for lack of anything better to do on the first night of spring break, Ruth takes the next left, turns between the overgrown hedges at the first sight of viciously yellow siding, and knocks on the door.

Amit takes half a minute to open up, wearing the intense expression she only ever puts on during a serious conversation. Her dark hair isn’t quite perfectly combed, another sure sign something is on her mind. Sure enough, the gang’s all here. Carl is standing just behind Amit, obviously accepting no interruption to whatever he was trying to say.

“Hey Ruthy, good to see you. I was just about to send a text,” says Amit.

Carl keeps on rolling. “There’s not really a goal to it, it’s a sandbox. You just sort of do whatever. Or maybe there is a goal, it’s hard to tell. You build houses and you level up your- I mean, it doesn’t really work like I said earlier, there are these gates and, uh, hi Ruth. The gates are the sort of overall milestones and they switch you to…”

Carl keeps talking as Ruth sheds her backpack and heads for the living room couch. Emily scoots over to make room, Amit rushes to the kitchen for a scratched-up plastic cup of tap water, and Carl tries to get Ruth, still reeling from geometry, up to speed. Death, destruction, aliens, video games. Okay.

“So we’ll play it together, right? Like we planned to. We’ll be OK. It just feels so-”

Ruth can’t really pay attention to what Emily is saying. She feels like she’s been reduced to a single facet of her existence, a thin barrier between the thing she needs to say and the time to say it. There’s nothing more important than to say it, as soon as she can remember what it is and how to say it. She feels like the universe is about to pivot on the tip of her tongue.

“Why just us?” she asks. “Are we just going to watch everyone die? Can other people get pirated copies? Can we give them to them?”

This manages to stop Carl’s train of thought dead, which Ruth takes some pride in. He lets out some sort of leftover sound for a couple seconds as he hesitates.

“I don’t know why not.”