Pennington Wax was standing in the bathroom of a strip mall Szechuan joint. He fixed himself, making sure his turtleneck covered his neckbeard. When he returned to the table, his date had not yet arrived. The server provided more water, and Wax returned to his breathing.
He perused the menu and coughed. Why would we pay so much? This date must be pivotal. Recent history told him which direction. He stepped out to see if any stars were visible. He saw four.
When he returned Maryann was at the table. Her hair was arranged in waves, and her face was painted in the manner of the affluent. “I ordered wine for us,” Maryann said. “Would you like some?”
Wax shrugged and tried it. The wine was red. It reminded him of grapes. “How was work?” he asked absently.
“I graded all the papers. You?”
“Worst fears confirmed.”
“Come on. There is always something worse to fear,” Maryanne said with a small smile.
“Yes. We tend to think of it when the worst fear has been confirmed.”
“Do you have the data?”
“This will cost me my job, but yes, of course.” Wax passed her a flashdrive.
Maryanne pulled her tablet out of a jacket pocket. “You must have made an error. You never were very good at statistics.”
“Unfortunately it’s not my work. There are no obvious errors.”
“You don’t think I’ll catch any?”
Wax’s cracked a smile. It was only then that he realized his face must have been placid for hours. “You know I would never doubt you. I merely wish to give you context to work with. Many specialists were consulted. Do what you need to do, but don’t get lost in it. There is more to life than clawing for longevity.”
Maryanne scowled. “I have no intension of clawing for anything. It’s likely that the issue begins with the coding of the data. Can you tell me more about what I am actually looking at?”
“Recent dimensional science findings show a geometric weakening of the barrier between the worlds at every measured location. The prediction is that as barrier between the worlds weakens, the rate of daemon attacks will rise. The rising rate of daemonic consumption is in line with this hypothesis. This and Cadence’s accounts of their movements on the other side, show a coming onslaught we cannot be ready for.”
“A person who disappears and reappears with tales of glory is no basis for predicting anything.”
“I could defend her, but even without the intelligence she gathered we still have more daemons appearing than we have the means to fight. Others will cross over and back soon enough. They will report an enemy stronger than us.”
Maryanne’s fingers flew from attack rates to dimensional science findings. “We have been making strides in our ability to project force and defend. There is plenty to be hopeful about.”
“Not in the time frame.”
“These timelines look like poorly founded inferences.”
“Follow the footnotes. Critique the analysis. Cast doubt on our assumption. Prove us wrong. No one wants this.” Wax stood.
“What about dinner?” Maryanne asked without looking up.
“We both know what this dinner is about.”
Maryanne looked up and raised an eyebrow. “I was going to ask you to move in with me.”
Wax took a step backwards and squinted. “I stand corrected.”
Maryanne adjusted her bangs. “Apocalypse or no, the world is not getting any safer. Neither of us has time or attention for dating. Maybe it’s time to make a life for ourselves while we can.”
“But you don’t like me.”
“I like… some of the things we do together.”
“Yeah me too, but cute activity partners don’t make lives for each other. That’s what lovers are for.”
Maryanne sighed. “Remember how we used to talk about how most courtship rituals revolve around 50 year lifespans in hopeless small towns. You said that the world would be better off if the notion of love was replaced by interest, pace, and location. We have those three.”
“Reductionist models, no matter how brilliant the author, tend to miss things. Let me put it this way. Under what circumstances will you admit that humanity is doomed?”
“There is always something to hope for.”
“And you commit your remaining labor the pursuit of this hope?”
“What else is there?”
“I’m not sure exactly.” Wax stared down at his empty glass.
“I get that you have a lot to process. We both do. Maybe we should take some time and talk about this in a few days?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t listen, talk, or wait anymore. It’s time for something different.”
“One unpleasant result and you just decide to end everything in your life? Is that it?”
“Many unpleasant results, one catastrophic conclusion, and yes I’m done pretending that precise predictions of the end of the world can help anyone.”
“Why does quitting the work mean you have to quit us?”
“It’s not just the work. It’s the life I built around it. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but this will all get worse if I stick around.”
Maryanne sighed. “I knew who you were when we started. You are too free to ever consider developing duties to others. Take care of yourself. No one else will.”
Wax nodded, forced a smile, and departed. Maryanne returned to the data.