“It’s about damn time,” Ingrid grinned at Mason. The two close friends sat in the park at a concrete picnic table in the shade of a large mesquite tree. “You kind of picked a bad time to ask, but,…” she leaned forward and kissed Mason’s tan, flushed cheek. “Of course,” she said.
Mason exhaled a sigh of relief, which quickly gave way to regret. Her answer made it clear he should have asked long ago, not when the world was about to end. Not that she knew that.
“I’m in the middle of a big project this week, but I’m free all day next Friday. I want to spend it with you,” she said. She remained close by his side after she pecked his cheek. Mason felt ecstatic and crushed at the same moment.
His father made him promise not to tell anyone. Mason’s dad was one of the scientists that discovered the impending Gamma burst. He was important enough to be on the team, but not important enough to join the politicians and their wealthy friends in bunkers. His father gathered the family, Mason, his mother, and sister at the table the previous evening. He explained that nothing could be done. Even the bunkers wouldn’t offer any protection from the massive burst, the Earth was doomed. The governments of the world decided to keep the information secret, panic wouldn’t help anything.
“Oh, what are you working on?” Mason asked. “Is it important?” Ingrid rolled her eyes but giggled.
“If it wasn’t important, we could have gone out tonight, or tomorrow,” she replied. “It took you three years to ask me out. Get a clue, handsome,” she said. “I like you. A lot. Just bad timing right now,” she said.
“But like. Important for this week… or important for your future?” Mason pressed. He was ready and willing to break his promise to his dad, but he wouldn’t unless he thought it would help. Ingrid tilted her head at him and leaned back a bit.
“Since when are you pushy about anything?” she asked. It was a valid point. Mason remained passive for most of their friendship. He fulfilled his end of conversation but did little to help carry it. He’d always been comfortable letting questions go unanswered.
Mason sighed. He didn’t have time to try and deny a change; and, he had a pretty compelling reason for it.
“Since yesterday…,” he said. “…my dad gave us some news.” Ingrid was smart, it was a big part of the reason Mason enjoyed her company so much. She knew his family well, and what his dad did for a living. She leaned closer to him again and took his hand in hers.
“How bad is it?” she asked. Mason looked up from the ground and turned to meet her auburn eyes.
“Apocalyptic,” he replied. She yanked her hand out of his and hopped up from the bench. She took two steps forward, then paced a tight circle. She left Mason confused. That was her, ‘I’m thinking and I’m angry,’ walk. It helped that she was always communicative.
“GRAAgghh!” she let out the frustrated grumble. Finally, she stopped pacing in front of Mason and looked down at him.
“You waited until the end of the world to ask me out!??” she stared at him with an odd mix of amusement and anger that he’d never seen in her before. Her auburn eyes seemed a shade or two more red.
“Sorry?” Mason shrugged. He didn’t know what else she wanted from him. She rolled her eyes again and shook her head, but a faint smile tugged up at the corners of her lips. She sat down next to him again. In the same motion, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out a glass card. Mason had seen it a few times over the years, but it was one of the things he was comfortable letting go unanswered. He assumed she’d tell him about it when she wanted to.
“You’re so going to make it up to me for making me wait until the last minute,” she mumbled while her focus stayed on the card. Mason never saw her use it before; she tapped and swiped at it like a cellphone.
“…What exactly are you mad about?” Mason asked. He got the impression that she wasn’t upset at him specifically, but he was just the closest target.
“Because if I couldn’t fix it, we’d have less than a week together apparently,” she said idly. “It’s just an infuriating thought. What’s going to happen exactly; and, when?” she asked. Ingrid paused her movements but kept her thumbs on the card waiting for his answer.
“…gamma-ray burst… Thursday…” he said. “…what do you mean, fix it?” her thumbs jumped into action again at the answer. After several more taps, she nodded to herself, then dropped the glass card to her lap and look at him.
“I mean, save the Earth. So, what are we doing Friday?” she asked.
“How are you going to save the Earth? You have some secret superpowers I don’t know about?” Ingrid grabbed his hand again, with her left hand. She made a ‘so-so’ gesture with her right.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, but I want to tell you,” she said.
“Ingrid Toft?” Mason jumped slightly when an unknown kid called Ingrid. He looked up and saw a chubby teenager with a mountain of dark-brown curls on his head standing by their table. She hopped up and nodded at him. “You called a mod?” he asked, then extended his hand. “Aurelio Luna.”
“I submitted a ticket that explained the situation,” she said while shaking his hand. He nodded.
“It’s not a bug,” he said. “Since you discovered it, I can tell you that Sharp Development is planning a surprise event on this server next Thursday.”
“So.. we’re going to be okay?” Ingrid asked. Aurelio shook his head.
“Nope. The end of the world is the event. Players will be prompted to change servers as it winds down.”
“Oh. Then we’ll just change servers before then to avoid it. Thanks,” Ingrid grinned.
“You’re welcome,” Aurelio nodded. A black portal opened in the air next to him and he turned to walk into it. He paused halfway in and looked out at Ingrid.
“But, that only applies to players,” he said. Then, he nodded at Mason. “Not NPCs.” Then, he disappeared into the portal and it closed behind him.