Ellie heaved the black stone into the trailer. Shadows stretched across the ejection zone. The sun dropped behind the Ring. She cranked the half track to life and made for home.
It was dark when she reached the cluster of trailers and RVs. Jamal and Paula were cooking and Hutch was working on an engine by lamplight. She pumped water to drink and wash, then found Luiz in his Airstream.
“Good batch today?” he asked from behind his paperback.
“Yup,” she said. Then, “It’s getting closer.”
“What happens when–”
“Don’t know,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
Ellie frowned. “Yeah.”
Monitors depicted the Ring from different perspectives: far enough away that waves could be seen lapping at its base; close enough to reveal the individual ridges in the structure; from orbit. Other monitors displayed only data: numbers, graphs, charts.
Bae Hyong stood, eyes flicking from one monitor to another as he tapped his tablet. One stream of code caught his attention and his fingers danced. It was replaced by a multicolored chart, jagged but its steady rise unmistakable.
“Miss Ryu,” he said into the air.
“Yes Doctor,” the intercom answered.
“Tell the Supreme Leader I must speak with him. Immediately.”
Genet sat on the boulder and studied the Ring before beginning to sketch. While his hands conveyed the structure of the Ring in charcoal, his mind drifted. He wondered if the boulder had been hurled up onto the surface by the impact. Perhaps it had flown so fast and high that it nearly escaped Earth altogether, only to tumble back down to where it began.
Finished, he compared this sketch to his earlier ones. The Ring was definitely closing. There was no doubt. Anticipation stirred in him.
Genet left to tell Ephrim that the time was near.
Ellie peered across the ejection zone. After thirty years, new life had begun to take hold in that wasteland. It was gnarled and mean and stubborn life, just like Ellie. And just like her, it lived in the shadow of the Ring.
The Ring stood as tall as the skyscrapers from Ellie’s childhood. It was a jagged circle against the sky, nearly complete. The gap was only a few degrees across now. Twenty years ago, the first time Ellie had seen the Ring, it had almost been a semicircle. At that rate, in another year it would complete.
Up until the moment that fragments hit London, Addis Abada, Beijing, Delhi and New York everyone still believed it was a meteor. Even after the rock fragmented, even after the pieces drifted differently than the models said they would, even after the first piece set off the Yellowstone caldera, we thought it was an accident or an act of God. But then the biggest cities on Earth were targeted, vaporized. Then we knew. We knew we had been attacked.
We didn’t really know. Not yet. We would not know for another thirty years, not until after the Ring was complete.