Sally sat poised on a high bar stool, her third cocktail in her right hand. No point in staying sober tonight. She looked around her at the odd mix of people, thrown together by a confluence of natural disaster and human design.
Two men in their thirties sat playing cards at a low table, each sitting forwards as if ready for action. They looked as if they had passed time this way many times. One wore a light sweater with the sleeves pushed up to expose dark hairs on his forearms. The other wore an open checked shirt over a simple white T, suggesting downplayed affluence. Their short haircuts betrayed them as soldiers. Army medics, Sally guessed.
In a corner, one portly man leaned against a wall with a glass of whiskey in one hand and a kindle in the other. Sally wondered what he was reading. A novel? Or government documents, perhaps?
She had got the call just 12 hours ago. Given two hours to pack her most needed possessions and forbidden to say good-bye to anyone, she had made her way shaking and tearful to the airport. She had been warned that airport security would be even slower than usual, and instructed to arrive several hours before her flight. A ticket would be waiting for her.
The flight took off at 4 pm, just as it was beginning to get dark on the ground, but as they rose above the clouds heading North, the sun lit up the sky to her left, red blood rising to orange, then blue. The flight from Manchester to Edinburgh was all too short, and soon they descended into blackness. An anonymous man met her at Edinburgh airport, with a placard bearing her name. Sally noticed that she was the only one being met, and slowly it dawned on her that her fellow travellers were innocent of the fate that awaited them.
They drove silently through the dark, foreboding Scottish countryside for what seemed hours. Hills and then mountains loomed like giants, obscuring the moon. Her eyes smarted, but Sally resisted sleep. Finally, the car stopped, her door opened, and she emerged to see her small case before her. In an instant, the man who had just saved her life was gone, presumably to pick up more travellers. She hoped she would see him again, safe and sound, this angel of the night.
It did not take Sally long to work out why she had been chosen. They must have started with lists of people who excelled in areas that might be useful for the building of a post-apocalyptic Britain. Team GB winners, people on the New Years Honours lists and so on. She had been awarded the MBE for services to art therapy in the previous year’s Honours List. The idiots at the top would have thought that somehow she could deal with unprecedented psychological trauma on a massive scale. She wondered how many people would be kept in bunkers, and how many therapists to a bunker. She hoped she was not the only one here. Sally felt an urgent need to find a colleague, as the panic began to rise in her throat. She did not want to have to deal with other people’s trauma right now. She would have enough of her own. True, she had few personal losses to face, unlike some people here she supposed. She had one younger brother somewhere, she knew not where. He had been a talented runner at the age of 11 when their parents split up acrimoniously. He had gone to live with his Dad, and Sally had taken her mother’s side against the two of them, angrily rejecting her little brother for wanting his misogynistic father’s love, not realising at the tender age of 14 that this would mean she never saw him again. Sally never knew what happened to her father. She had watched, helplessly just 18 months ago as first her mother, then her own lover died of cancer within two weeks of each other, and then while still in the grip of grief she had watched her brother win Olympic gold on her tiny TV, with a mixture of pride and regret, tears streaming down her face.
Sally visibly pulled herself upright on her stool. At least she had never been able to have children, and so now did not have to face the unthinkable pain of leaving them behind, or coping with their boredom and then horror in this underground bunker, for months or maybe years. Still, she wished she had someone here, with her. Maybe her old Professor would turn up. He was always in the news, and so was bound to wangle a place in one of the bunkers. She had always fancied him, and this time he would be unlikely to refuse her. Desperate times, she knew, made people behave in ways that under different circumstances would be taboo.
She looked towards the door, where a tall, athletic man was being shown in. Then her heart missed a beat as she recognised Miles, older than when she had last seen him in the flesh but with the same brown eyes and shock of blond hair falling over his face. He pushed it back with a characteristic casual gesture as he stood, scanning the room. Then his eyes fell on her, and his face broadened into a smile as he walked confidently towards her. Sally’s own legs turned to jelly as he greeted her with a peck on one cheek, then the other. ‘Sals,’ he murmured into her hear. Then, pulling away, he looked straight into her eyes, piercing her very being. ‘I’ve missed you. Looks like we will be seeing a fair bit of each other for a while. Can you bear it?’ Sally wanted to shout ‘No, I can’t bear it. A mile wide asteroid is about to hit Britain and the world as we know it is about to end!’ But instead, she remembered what she had read in some trashy women’s magazine and, hoping she had got it right she turned to the barman and said ‘Bourbon and soda on the rocks for the gentleman please, Frank.’ Then she turned back to meet the eyes of her little brother.