Grace and Joel lay on top of the sheets, fingers lightly touching each other’s arms. Night city shadows striped their bodies; too hot for their legs to intertwine. The open window gave no relief from the suffocating night heat, but it brought in the sounds of car engines, sirens, an aeroplane, a far-off voice, to remind them that the world was still turning out there.

Aperture had reached its apotheosis, or perhaps its nadir, with the release of the Dash Files. All of Hari Dash’s other research, the papers that contradicted Solar Radiation Management, that had been suppressed from the public domain. This misinformation campaign, Dash’s resignation letter, his fears about Termination Shock, about the spiralling costs of reparations that could threaten the Veil. There was a new lexicon now. Termination Shock. Doomsday machine. Omnicide. Termination Shock had taken root like a virus in people’s consciousness. It wasn’t like they hadn’t known about the risk before. But somehow the world had succeeded in turning a blind eye. So busy had they been with trivialities like the Virtue app. And just as the idea of Termination Shock had appeared, so had its reality. The Veil programme halted as the unexpected costs became too unpalatable for the investors.

People had disappeared – the entire consortium of business leaders who had funded the Veil – they had disappeared. It had been Grace, in fact, who broke the story. As she researched Laurent Baptiste and found she couldn’t follow his movements, she searched for others like him and realised that they too had surreptitiously slipped away. Some with their families, some without. It was a real-life Atlas Shrugged, the John Galts of the world abandoning humanity to their fate. Except it was worse, because before stopping the motor of the world, the John Galts had set a new and terrible motor in motion. An irreversible process reversed.

For Grace the saddest moment was not the realisation that Hari Dash, the Veilmaker they had elevated to God-like status, was a nobody – worse than a nobody – a puppet. It was the day that Pastor Rex gave up. Grace had become addicted to his sermons as a sort of guilty pleasure. Or perhaps not so guilty, because he was a voice of reason too. It was so comforting to hear his kindness and common sense. And then one day, just when they all needed him the most, he had given up. Not exactly abandoned them – he just didn’t have the answers anymore. Then he had disappeared too.

His wife Crystal had taken over, and she certainly had the words. Grace had watched her on TV that day, ranting about the Rapture. She was a big solid unit of a woman, thick arms covered in tattoos, big blond 80-style hair and slightly wrinkled cleavage bursting out of her leather bodice. Her movements emulated those of her missing husband as she marched across the stage, gesticulating with a Bible.

“And some say it’s the Rapture?” She shrieked with laughter and read out loud.
“Revelation: Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. Matthew: And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Well I call Bull.Shit.”
This received an enormous roar from the crowd. Grace imagined they would have roared the same way even if she had said the exact opposite.

Now this Crystal Molina was the official spokeswoman, and with added importance, since he had been the spokesman for some social media game, whereas now she was the spokewoman for impending annihilation. She bounded across the stage, trying to emulate the mannerisms of her husband, Grace supposed. And the words were there but it wasn’t the same. That Book of Matthew – coming from him it had sounded profound. From her, a little cereal packet. In fact most of her sermons seemed to be about debunking and making fun of the Bible. Sometimes Grace found herself searching on the internet for different religions’ interpretations of the Rapture, the End Times. All the while wondering if she was being watched, judged, for even considering it. Now that paranoia was a way of life she even checked her own thoughts as a matter of course. It required training but it was possible.

Joel’s eyes were open too, shining in the dark. Sleep would not come to either of them tonight. Nor words. She wondered what he was thinking – was he thinking about the other woman? She had a strange feeling of déjà vu, as she remembered lying in this position with him the first night they had got together, when she thought she might be falling in love. Now he was chastened, nicer, and some days they carried on as if everything was going to be ok. His work would intensify now, as the number of skin cancer victims would increase. He was a hero, and that would help her to forgive him. Her work had also intensified, and she felt a bizarre connection with that Crystal Molina, in that the had both become unofficial spokeswomen for the times. Even though they had no answers and, Grace suspected, they were both well aware of the bullshit they were spouting. Grace came up with clickbait headlines, Crystal with stage soundbites, and it was all the same thing. Depthless.

A slight breeze gave them some relief and she shuffled closer to Joel with a shiver. She marvelled at how they had changed, and not changed. Perhaps they had never really grown up at all. But in any case, all that was behind them now. It was the end of capitalism, but not in the way that Marx had imagined, not with a worker revolution and the overthrow of the bosses. Instead, the bosses had just left. Left behind a legacy of impending apocalypse – of their own making. Triggered a doomsday machine then saved themselves. Abandoned, left to rebuild. People were going offline – that’s one thing Joel had been right about. People had turned off their phones. A lot of other things had been turned off as well. Not everything worked anymore. New supply chains would have to start up. She began to write about the new cooperatives. They were all millenarians now, and new leaders would emerge, from unexpected places. It was time for the next level. But would there be enough time?

They might be moving towards the end now. It might get really hot. They might soon only have each other. She was the winner. She kept thinking about that. She had forgiven him, so she was the winner. Because this might still be a game, it might still be a competition, it might still be a fight. And she was the winner. Don’t think those thoughts, it might know your thoughts. No, it’s ok. I forgive him.

(I am the winner.)

 

 

 

Virtue