Rachel and Clay got their spaceships up off the lawn and hovered to an altitude of fifty meters. Then they flew off just above the treetops, headed westward at speeds exceeding a hundred meters per second. They did not speak for some time.
“Rachel,” said Clay at last, while they were still over the Ontario forests, “can we go somewhere a little faster than this?”
“Where are we going?” Rachel replied in a weary voice.
“I don’t really care,” said Clay. “You say we need to keep looking around or something.”
“Okay, okay,” said Rachel. “Atmospheric flectors up. Let’s go up to 300 meters and increase speed to a kilometer per sec.”
They crossed the broad plains of Manitoba and Saskatchewan in a couple of hours. The orbiting aliens didn’t take any more notice of them than before. Soon the Rocky Mountains were approaching, first as a slight bumpiness on the horizon. Rachel slowed them down and took them lower, and presently they were zipping up the line of a double railway track.
“There was a time in this fair land when the railroads did not run,” Gordon Lightfoot sang from Clay’s playlist, and Clay was surprised when Rachel took to singing along:
“When the wild majestic mountains stood alone against the sun,
Long before the white man and long before the wheel,
When the green dark forest was too silent to be real…”
The mountains were now towering around them, black and green and brown but without a speck of snow in the summer sun. Rachel took Clay to the left, following a broad highway through a sequence of unimaginably beautiful vistas, towering mountains, rolling swift rivers, climbing forests, lakes an impossible color of turquoise. Even Clay and Rachel would not have noticed especially that the old glaciers were all gone, leaving expanses of wet or dry mud. Up at the far end, Rachel took Clay to the right and west again, and down over the British Columbia forest they swooped. They dropped to follow another highway, then another, and a dirty abandoned village shot past before they could think about it. Presently they were approaching a not insignificant town, with hills and a river and farmland and forest around it. Rachel took them down and to a hovering stop over a major intersection with a railway and two highways.
“Fancy a stop?” she called. “This would be Revelstoke.”
“Beautiful British Columbia,” said Rachel. “We used to say, Beautiful British Columbia, Friendly Manitoba, because Manitoba sure isn’t beautiful and BC sure isn’t friendly.”
“Very amusing. What’s the chance of zombies wandering the streets?”
She drew an audible breath and said, “Let’s have a look, shall we?”
So they landed in the intersection. There were vehicles, electric trucks and buses, a locomotive with a dozen passenger cars, two more with a long train of freight cars, but they were all out of the way. The road vehicles were all empty, some with their doors open, but the passenger cars had people in them, leaning dead against many of the windows, several spilling out the open doors. Several more people lounged dead on the streets of downtown Revelstoke. No one made a move.
Clay and Rachel did not say much of anything as they walked a few hundred meters, turned, went down a side road, walked a few blocks more and stopped in front of a diner.
“Fancy a coffee?” asked Rachel, holding the door open.
“I don’t want anything they have in stock at present,” said Clay, but he stepped inside. “I do note approvingly a lack of corpses, however.”
“I do too. Booth?”
So they sat down on opposite sides of the table. The place had been looted in a businesslike way—they could see where appliances had been pulled out, and the payment computers which would have been there were all gone. But the windows were mostly intact, and the place had not suffered much damage. And there was a definite lack of dead people. Outside, birds played among the brush and flitted across the deserted streets: long strips of desert gradually returning, via vegetation in the cracks, to forest.
“So,” said Clay. “It’s bad.”
“Yep. It’s bad.”
“So what do you think they did? The miners? Why go to the trouble of killing everyone? And how did they do it? All those questions.”
“Well,” said Rachel, spreading her hands on the table, “I suppose they assumed it was easiest to just get all the sentient life forms out of the way first. All of them. So they did something specific to kill of Homo sapiens. Why do that? Well, the alternative is to kill everything, or most things, with, oh, a poison or radioactivity, but if the miners were planning on ever colonizing here, that might be problematic. And we don’t know, based on past human history, they might have had some religious compunction that prevented them from doing too much harm while they were murdering a hundred million humans.”
“Of course they could have made a deal instead, gotten us to sell our metals to them.”
“Riiiight,” said Rachel. “Or enslave us, but that would be way more trouble than it was worth.”
“So they must have studied us first,” said Clay. “Figured out our weak spot. And that was what, a hemorrhagic virus?”
“Some of the worst diseases ever discovered or invented are hemorrhagic,” said Rachel. “Ebola, Marburg, the Blur, the blue mumps. Blue mumps practically wiped us out in the 2080s. Of all those, I think only Ebola wasn’t at least partly engineered. So they must have come to the conclusion that they could build, you know, a better blue mumps.”
“Looks of it,” said Clay, “those people died fast. The folks on the train?” They both shuddered.
“Well, what to do now?” said Rachel. “Where to go?”
Clay stood up. “I don’t care,” he said, smiling. “It doesn’t matter. Katmandu! Why not? Ever been to Katmandu?” He held out his hand. “Want to get married there?”
She looked at his hand, then smiled wide and stood up. She took the hand. “It seems like the thing to do,” she said. “Let’s get married.”