Jeff Brackett

Half Past Midnight

Chapter 1

June 13 / 10:14 a.m.

Les fleurs passes diminue le monde,

Long temps la paix terres inhabitees:

Seur marchera par ciel, serre, mer amp; onde:

Puis de nouveau les guerres suscitees.

Pestilences extinguished, the world becomes smaller,

for a long time the lands will be inhabited peacefully.

People will travel safely through the sky, (over) land and seas:

then wars will start up again.

Nostradamus — Century 1, Quatrain 63

Doomsday fell on a Saturday.

I was at work. But then, I was always at work, or at least that was how it seemed. I didn’t know at the time just how easy I had it.

In those days, I was a CNC machinist and programmer. I worked in a small, family-owned, high-volume, high-precision machine shop. Quite a mouthful, isn’t it? The key words there are “family owned,” and the family that owned this particular business was the Dawcett family. It was, not so coincidentally, my family.

I was the only son of Raymond and Elizabeth Dawcett, owner and office manager, respectively. That effectively gave me the unofficial title of S.O.B., supposedly standing for “Son of the Boss,” but some of the employees used it a bit too gleefully.

That particular Saturday morning, I was tweaking the setup on a CNC lathe to run an extremely close- tolerance job. It was a tricky setup, requiring all of my concentration. On a weekday, there would be all the myriad distractions that come with Monday through Friday’s nine to five. So I had come in on Saturday.

My dad was also in, working in the office on a proposal for a new job. He’d been forced to cut back on his workload ever since his heart had gone bad and he’d gotten the latest model Jarvik. The doctors had restricted him to light workdays, warning that he would tire much easier for the next several months. So in his typical fashion, he’d decided if he had to work fewer hours per day, then he would do it seven days a week. We often joked about the limitations of his bionic heart, but we both knew he wasn’t getting any younger. And he wasn’t even close to being completely recovered.

Everything was going smoothly with my setup, and I was nearly finished when the power abruptly went out. Sudden darkness. Safety mechanisms on the lathe kicked in, immediately clamping the brakes onto the spindle, winding it down from fifteen hundred RPM to a full stop in less than two seconds.

Great! Just my luck. Try to get ahead and see what happens? Then, in my best Dangerfield voice, I said, “I don’t get no respect.”

I stood there a moment and considered my options. There was a slight chance the power would come back on momentarily, but I didn’t think it very likely, since both the one-ten and the two-twenty had gone down together. The loss of power to either system wasn’t that unusual, but I could count the number of times we had lost power to both on the fingers of one hand. On each of those occasions, the electricity had stayed down for several hours.

Lucky me. I got to add another finger to the tally.

As my eyes began to adjust to the gloom, I saw the darkness was not as absolute as it had first seemed. Far across the large machine shop, I could make out the dim outline of the door to the office area. That was my beacon as I made my way through the otherwise pitch-blackness. Stumbling over pallets and tool chests, I cursed quietly with each bump. Soon the cursing wasn’t so quiet, but I finally made it into the adjoining office.

I entered the office through the door behind Dad’s desk, but he didn’t turn to greet me as he normally would. Instead, he remained facing forward, his attention apparently focused outside.

“What’s going on, Dad? We just lost all the power in…” I rounded the desk and saw that he wasn’t paying any attention to me. He just continued to stare outside with a puzzled expression on his face.

I followed his gaze and saw what held his attention. “What is…?”

For several seconds, my mind simply refused to accept what my eyes conveyed. The sky was one of life’s constants, one of those things one could always count on to remain within a specific set of parameters. On a clear summer day in June, I knew I could count on seeing the blinding yellow disk of the sun in a deep blue sky. What I saw instead took me aback.

“What the…”

The sun was indeed a blinding yellow but, past that point, I had trouble comprehending what I saw. The sky was not the normal crisp blue of a hot Texas summer morning. Instead, it dopplered into more of a shimmering violet, with the deepest of the color centered around a second glowing orb about fifty degrees to the north. It was almost as large as the sun, though not quite as bright. In fact, it seemed to be fading slightly even as I watched. The sky around it shimmered slightly, like an aurora borealis.

“What the hell is that?” Even as I said it, though thirty-seven years old, I realized I still wanted to flinch when I forgot myself enough to curse in front of my parents. But still, Dad didn’t comment and, when I looked back at him, I saw he still hadn’t moved. Not at all.


Still nothing. Alarmed, I stepped toward him-and stopped. It wasn’t until then that I finally realized what else was wrong. Dad wasn’t just motionless-he wasn’t breathing.


Knocking over his guest chair, I scrambled to my father’s side. I hesitated a second, irrationally afraid to touch him, knowing at the same time that I had to. My hand shook as I felt for a pulse.

“No, no, no, no, no,” I chanted over and over, as if willing it not to be so would bring him back. In desperation, I dragged him out of his chair to the floor. Laying him on his back, I grabbed the portable defibrillator from the wall and ripped open his shirt. The sight of his surgical scars stopped me. Could I use the defib on him? Would it interfere with his Jarvik? I considered CPR, but another glimpse of the healing incision on his chest halted me yet again.

“Shit!” I opened the Portafib and ripped open the adhesive electrodes. Reading through the instructions, I applied them to his chest as shown in a diagram and glanced at the indicator on the box. “God damn it!” The indicator was as dead as the lights in the shop-as dead as my father on the floor before me. I flung the Portafib across the office.

“What the hell am I supposed to do?” I screamed at the ceiling. The world had gone mad, and I didn’t know how to react. The sky, Dad’s heart, a second sun-suddenly I knew what had happened. All the pieces abruptly fell into place, and I knew what the fireball outside was-what had killed my father. Worst of all, I knew he had died just a few minutes before, while I was stumbling around in the darkness of the shop and cursing at boxes. The last thing my father had heard had been me cursing. The shame and sorrow of that knowledge freed the tears I didn’t know I’d been holding back.

Somehow I felt that I had betrayed him by not comprehending what had happened until after I realized he was dead. It was as if he had died so I would know what had occurred and, if I had caught on sooner, before I

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