Chapter 1: The Times They Are A-Changin’
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Mason truly hated parties. Especially the kind of gathering of emotionally weak, socially posturing, shallow socialites his brother Blake attracted like flies.

“You can’t spend literally one hundred percent of your time at work, the gym, or preparing for the end of days,” Blake had told him en route, hand draped casually over the wheel of their parent’s Bentley. “You need to socialize, bro. Expand your horizons.”

“Don’t call me bro,” Mason said for the five hundredth time, glaring out the window with his arms crossed. He was being petulant, he knew that, but he also knew there was a zero percent chance he’d enjoy himself, or ‘expand’ anything.

But as usual, when Blake called, Mason answered.

Puffed up, tryhard, blowhard, know-it-all, preppy, smug, blue-eyed, blonde haired, annoyingly perfect specimen of a creature Blake may be—he was also Mason’s brother. And if Mason had a creed, or a rule in life, it was this: look after your own.

Well, they weren’t technically brothers. Mason and Blake were both orphans who’d been delivered to an orphanage so young neither knew their birth parents. Some kid had stolen Blake’s stuffed rabbit, causing him to cry all night every night until Mason had punched the kid in the head and taken it back. Then he’d returned it to Blake, and they’d ripped up some old magazines someone had left at the orphanage, and laughed all afternoon with pictures stuck to their faces. And that was that. Friends for life.

“Well I can’t drink. And I need decent protein by 2pm,” Mason said. “I have a meet on Saturday and I won’t bloody lose time because I was being ‘social’ with your snobby friends.”

Blake casually popped the glove compartment and took out a plastic bag apparently filled with roast chicken, then gave one of his damned perfect, infectious grins.

“Mom’s special seasoning. Who’s the best brother in the world?”

Mason sighed and took the bag. “OK, I’m glad you brought this, but Mom, really? Can you literally not cook a piece of chicken?”

“Uh, why would I? When it makes Mom happy to do it?”

“You’re literally the most coddled human being on the planet. You need to move out of that house. There’s South Korean, trustfund Youtubers with more practical skills than you.”

Blake slapped Mason’s knee as if pleased, and Mason squinted.

“What?”

“I’m proud you know what Youtube is! And Korea, for that matter. And you’ve answered a philosophical question for me: if it’s not at the gym, does Mason know it exists?”

“Hey I read.”

“Magazines? About guns and zombies?”

“And books about guns and zombies. You know some of us need to be prepared if the power grid goes up in smoke, or if the government turns tyrant, or the damn Chinese invade, or…”

“Or the Canadians!” Blake put on his fake serious face. “I’ve never trusted the Canadians. All that politeness. They’re plotting something.”

He grinned, and Mason rolled his eyes, but had to look away to hide his grin, too.

“You should bring up your plans for a bunker and an arsenal at the party. You’ll be a real hit with the ladies.”

Mason snorted. “Maybe I will.”

They pulled up to a big house on a boojee street, rich and gaudy and exactly what Mason expected. There were spotless high end cars parked all over the road and driveway.

“God, man, do I really have to?” Mason stared out the window.

“You really do,” said Blake happily.

“Fine. I hate you. But fine.” He kicked open the door and walked up feeling like he was back in freshman year. He waited at the door for Blake to stroll up and ring the bell, winking in Mason’s direction.

“Idiot,” he frowned.

“Moron,” Blake just kept on grinning.

“I’m coming!” yelled some high pitched feminine voice from somewhere inside.

“Not yet, but just wait.” Blake wiggled his brow, and Mason pretended to vomit.

A girl you might have plucked from a teen magazine opened the door and revealed shining white teeth.

“Oh my gawd, Blake! I was hoping you’d come!” she stepped out and squeezed her already squeezed tits into Blake’s chest. “And who’s your friend?”

“This is my brother, Mason. He’s a bit shy. So hold his a hand a little for me will you, darling?”

Mason refrained from choking his much smaller, skinnier brother until he was dead.

The girl laughed like it was the funniest joke she’d ever heard, then pulled them both inside. She gave them ‘the grand tour’, which Mason paid very little attention to. Then he turned down a dozen drink offers with a ‘thanks, but I can’t. I have a meet. Yeah, track and field’. Then they’d say ‘oh, it’ll be fine!’ like they knew anything about anything, and he’d say ‘no really, but thanks’ until the next person trying to win Blake’s friendship by being nice to his brother gave it a whirl.

It wasn’t really that bad, if Mason was being honest. They were mostly just trying to be nice. Mason liked to complain, but watching Blake schmooze and charm his way through Houston’s elite like he wasn’t just one of them, but the best of them, was always entertaining to watch. Mason could remember when his brother was a snot-nosed brat crying because he was scared of a new house. Now just look at the magnificent bastard, he thought.

While they weren’t biological brothers, they were in fact technically brothers. They’d been adopted together. At least sort of.

Their eventual parents—some of the wealthiest business magnate types in the city—had made Blake and Mason their experiment. Well, one of their experiments. Blake was the success; Mason…not so much. He did fine, he supposed. He just hated school and wouldn’t even be at university if they hadn’t forced him and paid for it. He wasn’t stupid enough not to realize what a big deal that was, so he went for kinesiology. Maybe he’d be a part time masseuse, or physio therapist, or something. But frankly he’d rather just go work on an oil rig. He’d have joined the army right out of high school but he was pretty sure he couldn’t stomach all the rules, and it would have meant leaving Blake.

Anyway. The Nimitz’s—their foster parents—had really only wanted Blake. But by seven the boys were pretty much inseparable already. The Nimitz’s had come in and seen Blake’s bright baby blues and melted like candles, the same as everyone. They’d wanted him right then and there but had to jump through all the paperwork, and never looked at old brown haired, brown eyed Mason twice.

Seven year old Blake said not to worry. He said he wouldn’t let them be separated, not ever, and Mason had said ‘yeah sure’ because even at seven he was a professional orphan and knew how it was. But that was the thing about Blake. When he said a thing, straight to you one on one like that, he meant it.

So ten days later that same waspy, rich couple who hadn’t looked at the plain, dirt smudged, frowning boy twice, came back with red, glassy eyes. They hadn’t been sleeping, looked like, and Mason guessed a certain blue-eyed angel had spent the whole time howling like a banshee, promising it would go on forever until they gave in. So the Nimitz’s talked to the orphanage people. They filled out more paperwork. And then they gave big fake smiles and loaded Mason into their expensive car, where Blake was waiting with his lopsided smile. And from that day on, they were brothers for real.

They did all the same sports. They joined all the same ‘advanced education programs’ and summer clubs and music lessons and got all the same tutors. Mason crushed the sports, but struggled through everything else. Even at seven the boys were opposites, and that didn’t change a jot by twenty. But they hadn’t changed how they felt about each other, either, and remained not just brothers but best friends. As Blake sometimes put it, they ‘ironed down each other’s edges’. Or ‘looked out for each other’s blind spots’.

Mason mostly just smiled and nodded when his brother waxed poetic. He didn’t have a damn clue what he’d do with his life, but if all he did was look out for Blake when he got lost in some crazy idea, maybe that was good enough. Maybe that was his purpose. Because even as a boy he knew that damned crazy kid was meant for greatness. And though Mason wasn’t good for much in the civilized world, he’d been kicking the shit out of bullies for more than a decade, because Blake had attracted them like flies, and because Mason was a damn good kicker.

Mason blinked back to reality. Apparently some rich kid in a plaid jacket was telling him all about his investments. “ETFs man,” he said for what seemed like not the first time. “ETFs are the way to go.”

Blake pat Mason’s arm. “Sounds capital. Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”

Mason stared daggers before noticing the pin-up girl who’d let them in giving his brother the ‘come fuck me’ finger from the edge of the hall. He rolled his eyes, and focused on Mr. Plaid Jacket.

Since they were about sixteen, his bastard brother practically tripped over eager girls. And sure enough while he chatted about ‘Exchange Traded Funds’, he just barely heard the stifled moans from some back room down the hall. He finally accepted a drink, and by the time he’d powered down his whiskey Blake wandered by with a few ruffled, wet spots on his clothes, and the blonde went the other way as she adjusted her dress.

Mason sighed, and kept on ‘socializing’. He ate his protein. He told rich kids about track and field.

Then later he and Blake were finally standing on the balcony, looking out at the sunset over the East river, an alcoholic drink in both their hands. They grinned at each other.

“Life’s not so bad, eh brother?” Blake elbowed him.

“No it isn’t,” Mason accepted with a frown. “Though it would be better if there was some bimbo everywhere I went ready to suck me off.”

“That is why we socialize,” Blake wiggled his plucked eyebrows and yawned. “Now what the hell is that?”

Mason followed his brother’s gaze, and his heart skipped a beat. He saw the rippling wave of force, first, rolling down the river like the tide. It was like a movie. Or a nightmare. He knocked Blake’s drink from his hand as he grabbed his arm, and ran.

“Basement!” he called, pulling and running. “Now!”

“Mason,” Blake’s voice sounded panicked. “What the…what? Relax…it’s just…I mean I’m sure it’s just…”

It was a giant explosion. Or a meteor. And Mason leapt past chatting, still smiling co-eds as he dragged his helpless brother down two flights of stairs like they were flying. He found the huge, stainless steel refrigerator he’d seen in ‘the grand tour’ and sprinted straight at it, throwing all his weight to knock it over.

“Mason! Jesus Christ what the hell is…”

People upstairs were screaming now. A low hum of something like thunder filled the air and rose until it drowned out everything. Mason pulled out the drinks, food, and racks from the fridge and turned it over, ripping out the stuff like innards.

“Underneath. Now!” He screamed over the din. Blake knew his brother well enough not to argue. Mason picked up a metal lamp and jammed it out the huge fridge’s metal door before mostly closing himself and his brother inside.

“Mason?” Blake’s voice was subdued as they huddled together. He was afraid, and Mason didn’t blame him. Suddenly they weren’t in his world anymore—the world where he understood all the rules and was there to guide Mason through it. They were back in the orphanage, with mean little boys who’d take your things and laugh in your face if you let them. A world of strength and cunning, cheaters and violence.

“It’s alright, brother.” Mason put a hand to Blake’s shoulders in the gloom, thinking about his bug out bag, fresh water, radiation and being buried alive. “You’re such a lucky son of a bitch,” he forced a smile. “Somehow you’ll be the only guy who survives whatever this is.”

Blake smiled back in the dim light, the confident young man again. They held each other, but Mason kept his eyes and ears open, listening, watching, trying to understand, to be ready. Then it all went dark.

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