“Daddy! Daddy! Wake up! It’s snowing!”

He blinks open half asleep eyes, forces his head up, squints by means of the whiteout glare.

Astrid has her face pushed up towards the ground to ceiling glass that traces the bed room, her tiny body a black smudge of a silhouette towards the superbly rendered white coated lawns. Through a hangover haze he focuses, impressed by the depth and scale, on the dusted, towering redwoods, the snow topped mountains rising even larger behind them, the sky heavy with frozen clouds.

“Daddy! It’s snowing!”

“Of course honey, it’s Christmas.”

“Can we go outdoors? Can we exit within the snow?”

“No honey, not now.” Guilt burns behind his eyes, flushes his cheeks purple. “It’s too chilly.”

“Later, then?”

“Maybe. We’ll see.” He stretches a hand out to his facet, looking out. Finds nothing however a definite absence, and a few residual warmth left behind within the mattress. “Astrid, the place’s mommy?”

She doesn’t break her gaze, her nostril nonetheless pushed up towards the cool glass. “In the gymnasium, I feel.”

“Okay. The gymnasium.” He sighs to himself, swings his legs out of the mattress, lands naked ft on precision heated picket floorboards.

“Daddy, can’t we exit within the snow? Please?”

“Maybe later, sugar. Maybe this afternoon. But actually, I don’t know why you’re so obsessive about going out in all that chilly and moist when there’s presents to be opened?”

“PRESENTS!” And with that she’s gone, working out of the bed room.

*

The gymnasium is huge and effectively geared up sufficient to assist a soccer workforce, however he solely ever sees her utilizing the one machine, this treadmill she’s pounding proper now. He sips sizzling espresso from a Y Combinator mug as he watches her. He says her identify.

No response.

He says it once more, louder.

Still nothing.

He reaches out his left hand and clicks his fingers within the course of an embedded management panel. Somewhere, one thing chimes. The partitions of the gymnasium dissolve to glass, the house filling with white glare, as the identical winter wonderland reveals itself round them.

She glances again at him, managing to keep away from direct eye contact, plucks one airpod from her ear.

“What?”

“Astrid is opening her presents, I assumed you may like to come back be part of us.”

“In a bit.” Her respiratory is heavy, sweat runs down the again of her neck. “I’m almost carried out right here.”

“Okay.”

She glances again at him once more. “Don’t drink all of it.”

“What?”

“The espresso. Don’t drink all of it.”

“There’s a lot left. Don’t fear. It’ll final.”

She snorts, shakes her head in virtually imperceptible anger. “Sure.”

As he turns to go away he sees her slip the airpod again in, and watches her swipe frustratedly on the air, flipping the glass again to stable wall, the daylight evaporating, the gymnasium seeming to shrink and encase them.

*

Christmas lights refracted by means of a bourbon glass, purple and gold emitting diodes straining by means of clouded amber.

He lowers his drink, watches Astrid blissful on the ground, surrounded by 3D printed toys and 2D printed wrapping paper. Mariah Carey seeps from unseen Sonos audio system.

She sits reverse him, contemporary and showered from the gymnasium, her gaze nonetheless avoiding his, staring vacant out throughout snow-swept Californian forests.

“You desire a drink?” he asks her.

Pause. “You don’t suppose it’s a bit early?”

“It’s Christmas. C’mon. Have a drink with me.”

“I’m high-quality.”

“There’s a few of that glowing white left. And some juice. I may make mimosas.”

“I stated I’m high-quality.”

“Daddy?” He’s changing into satisfied Astrid is studying to intervene, understanding when to interrupt pressure.

“Yes honey?”

“Can we go outdoors now? And play? Maybe we are able to go see Charlie and Erin?”

“Not now, sugar. Dinner is within the oven. It’ll be prepared quickly.”

“Then after dinner?”

“Maybe. We’ll see.”

Astrid seems heartbroken, downtrodden. As if she is aware of already what the reply will likely be. And then she flips, to hopeful, in that approach he thinks solely kids can. At least today. “What about grandma and grandpa? Can we go see them?”

“Well, no… probably not sugar…”

“What about calling them? Can we Skype them? We have not seen them in eternally. Daddy pleeeeeeeasse…”

He swallows again concern and guilt. “Later. Maybe. After dinner.” He stands up, learns over, plucks the VR headset from its charging cable. “Hey, why don’t you play with this for some time, huh?”

“I assumed we’d agreed we have been going to restrict how a lot time she spent in that?” her mom says.

“It’s Christmas,” he says.

“Yeah Mommy, it’s Christmas!” Astrid takes the headset from him, slips it on, is immediately transported to someplace not right here, someplace away from her household, someplace with anthropomorphic raccoons and 4K extremely high-definition rainbows, whereas her mommy sobs quietly within the chair.

He steps over to her, kneels down beside the chair, locations a hand on her arm. She shrugs it away. “Don’t contact me.”

“Look, child, it’s going to be-“

“Stop. Just cease.”

He touches her arm once more. She shrugs it away once more. For the primary time that morning, for the primary time in what could be weeks, she matches his gaze. Looks at him. Her eyes are purple and damp.

“Don’t you ever get bored with mendacity to her?”

Now he has to interrupt eye contact, to gaze on the ground.

“Don’t you ever get bored with mendacity to me? To your self?”

Silently he stands, downs what’s left of the bourbon. “I’d higher examine on dinner.”

*

A couple of minutes till the meals will likely be prepared. Some time to himself.

He’s drunk. Sits within the Tesla. In the hermetically sealed storage. Parked between the Hummer and that boat he purchased to go fishing, that he’s nonetheless by no means used.

He powers the Tesla up. It’s silent. He tells it to run by means of a full diagnostic. The dashboard display flares, checking off working methods in inexperienced textual content. The lights. The battery. The suspension. The cameras. The rear and entrance sensors. The auto-drive. The bioweapon grade air filtration methods. The solely issues that come again purple are the navigation, the info hyperlinks, the stuff that wants a community connection.

There’s by no means good vary within the storage, he chuckles to himself.

And then, like Astrid in reverse, he slips from blissful to unhappy. He wonders when he’ll get to drive it once more, if ever.

His telephone chimes softly in his pocket. Dinner is prepared.

*

Christmas dinner is fairly good, contemplating. Despite the constraints he’s pulled out all of the stops. Vat grown turkey meat, cranberry sauce from a can he discovered within the pantry. Potatoes and carrots he grew himself, in aquaponic tubes from a start-up based by two ex-NASA guys. He’d put in cash on their second spherical funding. Looks prefer it paid off, he laughs to himself.

He cracked that bottle of glowing white, too. She even had a glass, she’s on her second proper now. Smiling. Playing with Astrid. Singing her Christmas carols, however getting the phrases incorrect on objective, so Astrid is sort of sobbing with laughter. We three kings of orient are, one in a taxi, one in a automotive. While shepherds washed their socks by night time.

It’s Christmas, see. Just a standard Christmas.

after which
the entire room
shakes
and theres a sound
like an explosion
“What the fuck was that”
spilt wine and clattering cutlery
yep positively an explosion
“DADDY!!!”
after which once more
this time louder
from the storage?
and the room shakes
and the Christmas tree slams into
good hardwood ground
“What the fuck-“
exploding into glass shards
and scattering synthetic pines
and the world outdoors disappears
changed by movement sickness-inducing
holographic static glitch
and all of the lights exit
pitch black
“What the fuck simply occurred?” she asks him as he makes all of them get below the desk.
“I don’t know” he lies.
“Was it an earthquake?” She’s holding Astrid to her chest within the darkness, muffling her sobs.
“I – I don’t suppose so”
“Then why are we hiding below the desk?”
“Shhhhh”
“What the fu-“
“Shut up.”
Silence. Then coughing, distant. Voices from the storage. Someone shouts. The scent of smoke, electrical fireplace.
Footsteps.
A door opening.
All three of them, huddled collectively below the desk, in silent terror.
He at all times knew this second would come, it was inevitable.
For too lengthy, nothing. Just black. Then two beams of sunshine, scanning the room with handheld inaccuracy, choosing out suspended motes of mud and shattered Christmas ornaments, dropped meals and discarded wrapping paper.
And then a voice, feminine, barely breathless however calm. “It’s okay. Do what we are saying and no one will get harm. Nobody must get harm. We’re simply right here for the meals, water, and the batteries.”

*

The storage is a fucking mess. It seems, fairly actually, like a bomb has gone off. Everything is coated in a high-quality mud. The Hummer, The Tesla, and the boat have all been pried open like oysters, their useful batteries ripped out. Everything smells like fireplace. It’s unbearably sizzling, sweat begins to prickle on his brow. At first he thinks one thing have to be burning, however then he realizes the storage door is open, punched by means of by explosives like a fist by means of moist paper.

And the warmth is getting in.

“Daddy! Snow!” Astrid lets go of his hand, runs forward.

“Honey no, wait!” he shouts, making an attempt to maintain up together with her, following her outdoors.

The very first thing he notices is that the mountains are burning.

It’s late afternoon, however the sky is black with smoke. It’s sizzling, exhausting to breathe. The forests have gone, all that’s left of the redwoods are blackened stumps, poking up by means of the fields of white powder.

There’s two vans parked close by, possibly half a dozen raiders stood watching him with disgust. Their chief, the girl, begins to stroll over.

“Astrid!” He can’t see her at first, scanning the horizon in panic, his eyes stinging from smoke and tears. He glances again, the opening punched within the slope of the mountain the one seen signal that the bunker even exists. Then he finds her, her tiny body a black smudge of a silhouette towards the superbly white lawns. She turns to face him, confused and harmless, white powder slipping by means of the fingers of her upturned palm.

“Daddy, why is that this snow heat?”

He can’t converse, feels tears roll down his cheek. No extra lies.

The girl stops by Astrid, takes a knee.

“Oh honey, that’s not snow,” she says, tenderly working a hand by means of the kid’s hair. “That’s ash.”

*

This article sources data from Motherboard