Previously: Refusing to live the rest of their lives in a bunker, Lyra and Alice are taking one last grand tour road trip during the apocalypse.
“I miss real camping,” Alice sighs, leaning back on her elbows.
Lyra bites a hunk of SPAM off the skewer. “I miss real food.”
The portable stove they sit around isn’t an actual campfire, but it’s made to flicker like one for ambiance. Soft orange light dances on the walls, bounces off the shiny fabric of their Envirosuits, laid to air out next to their sleeping bags. The Envirosuits probably don’t fully protect from the radiation outside anymore, and the basement of this abandoned office building surely isn’t deep enough in the ground for them to safely take the suits off, but they agreed that some shielding is better than none. After all, there’s a huge difference between getting cancer in a few years from a slow build-up of exposure and the more acute effects of radiation poisoning. Lyra would gladly lay uncovered beneath the desert sky if her skin wouldn’t blister over in the night.
“Vegetables don’t grow so well anymore,” Alice reminds her, “Be grateful for the SPAM.” At Lyra’s disgusted noise, Alice says, “If you close your eyes, it’s almost bacon.”
Letting her eyes drift shut as she chews, Lyra finds she can’t disagree. “What do you want to do tomorrow?” She asks after a moment, “Hoover Dam?”
“I had something a bit more fun in mind first.” The tone in Alice’s voice manages to somehow pique both Lyra’s interest and concern.
“What is it?”
“Tell me, Ly,” Alice grins. “Do you want to believe?”
“Oh, Jesus Christ.” Lyra shakes her head, laughing. “No. There is no way we’re getting in there.”
“What, you think anyone’s still guarding it?”
“Well, no,” Lyra admits. “But if that’s the case, you think they left anything worthwhile behind?”
Alice waggles her eyebrows. “Only one way to find out.”
“God. I can’t believe you’re making me break into Area 51.” Thoughtful, Lyra tilts her head. “Actually, wait. I can totally believe it.”
“And it’ll be fun!” Alice says, clapping her hands together.
Lyra mutters, “It’ll be something,” and switches off the portable stove.
“Okay, to be fair, I’m not sure what I expected. But this is literally just a bunch of buildings,” Lyra complains as they step out of the transport.
“Well, it is an airbase.” Alice starts walking towards one of the larger structures. “Besides, most of the cool stuff is supposed to be underground.”
“Yeah, in one of the U.S. Military bunkers,” Lyra quips.
Shooting her a glare, Alice rolls her eyes. “Stop being such a pessimist and help me look for an entrance.”
Lyra walks the perimeter of a building, watching the air shimmer over the pavement from the sun beating down on the baked earth. The cooling system in her suit protects her from the brunt of the heat, but she can still feel it radiating from outside, like standing next to a fire.
The outside of the building seems to be covered by a metal shell, pulled down to shutter it from intruders. Squinting from the glare of sunlight off the walls, she can’t even see a window to smash.
“Any luck?” She calls out to Alice.
“Maybe?” Alice shouts back. “Come over here.”
Poking her head around the building, Lyra sees Alice standing by a metal box next to the road. After making her way over, she asks, “What’s this?”
“Not sure, but it has a keypad,” Alice explains. “Maybe it raises the shields? I’ve got no clue about the passcode, though.”
Lyra hums and feigns scratching her chin over her helmet. “Lemme try,” she says, reaching across to the keypad. After a moment’s hesitation, she types in 1234 and hits Enter.
The panel blinks red and reads, “Incorrect Passcode: 2 Attempts Remaining.”
Lyra snorts, and Alice nudges her shoulder, chuckling. “I could’ve told you that wasn’t going to work, dumbass,” Alice teases.
“Think you can do better?”
Grinning, Alice says, “Yes, actually.” With a flourish, she brings her hand to the keypad, typing in 42069 and pressing Enter.
As expected, the panel turns red again. They turn to look at each other, bursting into laughter the moment they make eye contact.
Lyra clutches her stomach, doubling over. “Oh my God,” she wheezes.
“What if that was it, though?” Alice asks, tears of mirth shining in her eyes. “Could you imagine?”
Taking a few deep breaths, Lyra attempts to collect herself. “We probably shouldn’t try again, right?”
“Yeah, no, I don’t wanna get blown up just yet.” Alice lowers herself to the dusty ground and sighs. “Damn. I wanted to see the aliens.”
Lyra takes a seat next to her. “You really think the military wouldn’t have whipped out the secret alien tech in the eleventh hour if they had it?”
Frowning, Alice stares out at the dust being blown in the wind. “You’ve got a point. I guess I just wanted there to be … proof, you know? That there’s something else. That we’re not all there is.”
“Statistically speaking, there are definitely aliens out there somewhere. If that makes you feel better.” Lyra traces idle patterns in the dirt with her fingertips. “But I get what you mean. It’d suck if we were the only life in the universe, and we burned ourselves out.”
“Yeah,” Alice says, voice soft. “It really would.”
There’s nothing in the clear blue sky but a few drifting wisps of white clouds. Lyra tilts her head back to peer up at it, anyway.
Join us next week for another installment of this term’s apocalyptic roadtrip serial: Almost Heaven! Missed a chapter? Catch up on lawrentian.com.