Willems’ boots crunched over broken glass scattered across the floor. Torn out walls were all around, the innards of the building exposed to anyone who cared to look. But there were no longer any eyes in this particular high-rise, though many once resided here. Now there were only two pairs: the ones belonging to Willems, and the ones belonging to the man she was here for.
Willems stepped to a wide opening in one of the walls, the vast city laid before her. The wall had been blown away by a rocket at some point. War and violence had ravaged the city for years and this sort of destruction was commonplace. Who knew how long the building had been abandoned, even? Perhaps people had lived here last week, maybe they had all fled years ago. Willems took in the smoldering city as it stretched on for miles, wondering how people could still be fighting over it.
“How did you find me?” Carter asked from the floor to Willems’ right. Willems glanced over to see the mess of a man slumped against the wall, a bottle of whiskey in his left hand. His black hair was matted, no longer the usual lively spikes. His eyes had bags under them and the front of his shirt was wet with spilled spirits. Willems could smell it from ten feet away.
“You made so much noise I could have found you with my eyes closed,” Willems replied, turning to face her old friend. She pushed back her duster and placed her hands on her hips as she looked down on the man.
“Thought I was being quiet,” Carter mumbled as he ran his fingers through his hair.
“Are you kidding? You were singing not two minutes ago.”
Willems stepped over to him and held out her hand, gesturing for the bottle. He looked at it, then at her, then handed it over reluctantly. It was nearly empty as Willems swished it around. She brushed her blonde hair from her eyes and read the label.
“Not bad,” she said, smiling. “I didn’t know that you had good taste in booze.”
“I just grabbed whatever,” Carter replied as he moved to stand. His legs were unsteady beneath him as he pushed himself up using the wall. “Doesn’t matter, long as it gets the job done.”
“Kind of our mantra, huh?” Willems said as she put the bottle to her lips. She took a small sip, swirling the liquid in her mouth and swallowing it down. She passed it back to Carter. “You really want to be wasted at a time like this?”
“I sure as hell don’t want to be sober.”
“I didn’t take you for a coward. Or a drunk.”
“Doesn’t make a difference anymore, does it? Not gonna have a reputation to protect in about five minutes, will I?” Carter smiled weakly as he took another drink.
“I don’t know,” Willems replied, “I think I prefer to go out with my head held high. We tried our best. That’s the thought I want to go out with.”
“I prefer not to think about our astounding failure. I wanna be so drunk that I forget my own name. Hell, maybe I’ll throw myself from this building, that way I went out on my own terms, not theirs.”
“Ah, that’s the easy way out. Can’t do their job for them.”
“Fuck, it doesn’t even matter,” lamented the young man. “Whether I kill myself or they kill me, dead is dead, isn’t it?”
“We tried our best,” Willems repeated.
“And we suck, apparently. Couldn’t save the world, couldn’t save the city, couldn’t even save that coupl’a kids.”
“They didn’t want to be saved.”
“Couldn’t have saved them even if they did. You do realize that. Not with your plasma-fiber armor, not with your cryo-gun, not if we had a thousand years to plead with them. It’s like they wanted to die.”
Willems ran her finger along the weapon on her hip, which was still cool from the last time she had used it.
“Maybe they were right,” Willems suggested. “Maybe you and I are wrong and we’re not doomed.”
“You don’t believe that. After everything we’ve seen, all the innocent people who have died because of what we know? All the people we’ve killed to try and get the word out?”
“We could be crazy.”
“I have no doubt in my mind about that, anymore. But we’re not wrong.”
“No, no we’re not.”
Willems took the bottle, this time without asking. Carter protested timidly but allowed it.
“Think anyone will make it?” he asked.
“Some people off-world, they have a small chance. But without supplies from Earth, I doubt it. Would take a miracle.”
“But if they did, they could do it right after, couldn’t they? They might not cock it all up if they make it. Have a second go at doing fucking civilization right.”
“If the world’s not too useless, sure. They might do it right.”
Carter inhaled deeply as he looked over the city. A loud explosion echoed from miles away. In the distance, two ships chased each other through the sky, energy weapons screaming at one another. The space complex appeared faintly, light twinkling in the twilight sky next to the emerging stars.
Carter pulled out a flask from his vest pocket. He unscrewed the lid and raised it to Willems. Willems glanced at him from the corner of her eye, a wry smile creeping across her face.
“Tooo th- end of the world,” Carter slurred, his eyes drooping. Willems raised the bottle, clinking it against the metal container.
They drank deeply as the sky erupted.