“I love you,” she said, feeling inordinately fond of her arrogant, educated husband-to-be. They made a good team. “We should elope right now,” she said. As she spoke, she realized she wasn’t entirely kidding.
Chase saluted her with his glass of iced tea. “Your mom would kill us.”
“I don’t want to wait. We… We could start our honeymoon tomorrow. Tonight.” Emily laid her hand on his thigh under the table.
Chase stared at her. “You’re not serious,” he said.
She was a bit stung by the alarm in his eyes. Chase had always been bolder and more spontaneous, which were traits she admired. Either he had his own doubts about their marriage or he feared crossing her straightlaced mother.
Did she enjoy upsetting her mom? No. Her career choice was not a second child’s act of rebellion, trying to get her parents’ attention. Her mom should have been proud of her even if the Church frowned upon reproductive sciences including biology and genetics.
She gave Chase an impish grin, teasing him, testing him. “I want to do it. Road trip. Vegas. We’ll save at least five grand.”
“Emily, let’s wait.”
“You’re just mad you didn’t think of it first,” she said. Letting him off the hook, she laughed out loud.
“Besides, you need time to get your next paper together,” Chase said.
Maybe he was right. In many ways, her trend analysis was even more intriguing than her work developing gene therapies. Her data definitely needed more scrutiny. The nature of humankind was changing.
But what are we becoming?
She was halfway home when she left the 110 on the first off-ramp she saw, drove under the freeway, and took an on-ramp heading back in the direction she’d come.
Speeding south toward DNAllied, she was frustrated by the traffic. At 3:32, the 110 had clogged with the afternoon commute. At least her rental car, a Nissan hybrid, was even nicer than her Altima.
She didn’t want to lose her job, but she couldn’t ignore her belief that DNAllied would bury her data for a prenatal vaccine.
I can’t be that selfish,
I have to do it. I’ll pirate my own data for the guys at the University of Texas.
“Arrg, I’m a pirate,” she said, trying to keep up her courage.
What if Ray was still at work?
The DNAllied building was on South Union Drive in a light industrial neighborhood between downtown L.A. and West Hollywood. Emily slowed as she reached her off-ramp and merged into the city. Theradio was playing an awesome Taylor Swift song. That felt like a good omen, but as she sat at a traffic light, her windshield glowed with bands of purple and red.
What in the world?
she thought, leaning over her steering wheel.
The radio was suddenly reduced to static. The clear sky erupted with color. Then her vision exploded with blinding white shapes and ghosts.
The next thing Emily knew, she was staggering through her own small hell, moving on foot on the black asphalt of a street. Her cheek felt bruised. Her sleeve was torn. Other people walked around her, many of them crying or yelling. Somewhere a dog barked. At first, the people’s voices were confused. Then the yelling grew louder.
Where am I?
Office buildings, a Sizzler restaurant, and storefronts lined the block. Motionless cars surrounded her. Emily recognized the street as West 6th. She was two hundred yards from the freeway. She saw her rental car down the block.
Most of the abandoned vehicles were in clumps, joined by fender benders and bang-ups. A blue sedan had gone through the glass front of a convenience store. No one appeared to be driving, although she heard a few engines running.
As she watched, an old Buick nudged past a smaller car and rolled several feet before crunching into the side of an SUV. No one sat behind the wheel. The Buick must have been left in drive. But not everyone had left their vehicles. Some people, disoriented,