Author : J.D. Rice
The last camel died at dawn. Doctor Peterson and the other survivors worked quickly to salvage what meat they could from the corpse, then pressed on into the desert. Unending waves of sand rose and fell ahead of them, ripples of heat pulsing from the surface as the sun rose higher in the sky. At their backs, a massive, city-sized metallic sphere hovered miles above, looking down over the entire region.
“Three days before it overtakes us,” Mary, Doctor Peterson’s assistant, said as the sun reached its apex. “Assuming our supplies lasts that long.”
Two of the other survivors, a couple whose names Peterson couldn’t remember, urged each other on with increasingly desperate voices. They had offered no objection when Peterson suggested stealing the camels from the last village. Doing so had saved the lives of their tiny group but had also doomed the villagers to a fate worse than death.
“Is there anything ahead of us on the map?” Peterson asked, trying to forget the faces of those he had abandoned.
“A fueling station, with maybe a few homes nearby for attendants, but that’s all.”
“Maybe someone abandoned a car.”
He knew it was hopeful thinking. Even if a car had been left at the fueling station, the Spheres had bombarded the Earth with so much electromagnetic radiation that not even Peterson’s watch worked anymore. He couldn’t dream they’d find a car old enough to run without an onboard computer.
Mary had brought up an entirely different problem as well: their supplies. Almost everything they’d taken from the village was gone, and the camel meat would only last so long in this heat. Even if their water stores held out, the weakness from malnutrition would slow them down. And that meant being taken by the Sphere.
On the group trudged, throughout the day and into the night, the Sphere drifting closer all the while. Mary suggested more than once that they might turn east or west, head deeper into the desert and out of the Sphere’s course. But the maps said there was nothing in either direction. Just sand, sunlight, and death. If they didn’t stick to the trail, all hope would be lost.
Peterson kept thinking about the children in the village. Had the Sphere overtaken them by now? Had they screamed as they were pulled from their beds by an unseen force? Did they cry for their parents as they were lifted into the sky and melted into the body of the sphere, their physical matter converted into that strange, floating mass? Peterson had seen the recordings. Watched live as cameramen were caught in the disaster. It made his stomach turn.
No one in the group slept well that night, their tired and hungry bodies protesting in the face of oblivion. Before sunrise they took stock of their food and found the camel meat had gone rotten. They marched on anyways.
Mary lagged behind the rest of the group, slowing them down. The Sphere was getting closer, and all Peterson could think was that if they just left Mary behind, he might live another few hours. She was his only friend in the world, and he would trade her away for a few extra hours of misery.
On the second night, Peterson waited for the others to fall into fitful sleep. Then he went looking for a knife. The young couple from the city had brought one along as a precaution, thinking they might fend off scavengers.
Finding the pair curled up together at the bottom of the next dune, Peterson carefully pulled the knife from the husband’s belt, his surgeon’s hands allowing him to deftly work the hooks without making a sound. The deed done, he marched his way back up another dune, away from his party, and found the Sphere staring down at him from the sky, less than a day behind them.
“What do you want from us?” he whispered. “What have we done to anger you?”
The Sphere did not answer.
Peterson collapsed at the top of the dune, his legs failing him as the slow moving Sphere drew closer. He looked down at the knife in his hand, unsure what he meant to do with it. Kill himself? Kill Mary so he could have his few extra hours of life? Charge at the Sphere like a madman and let himself be absorbed?
He couldn’t bring himself to do any of those things.
With no strength left, Peterson let himself drift into an uneasy sleep. Perhaps the Sphere would overtake them in the night, giving them a painless death. Or maybe they would die in the desert, falling one by one just as the camels had. In either case, they would all share the same fate – strangers and friends made companions at the end of the world.
If humanity must die, they may as well do it together.