Some people were calling it the rapture.
Some gathered together in droves in front of all manner of theological representations, on their knees with their hands in the air, and actually welcomed the event with tears in their eyes and a smile on their lips, held fast in the belief that it was some kind of divine event being put in place by a savior returning to strip them of their mortal lives.
Some waited in churches, laid on pews with their families, quiet collections of four or five person colonies, while others waited in the yards, calmly digging their own shallow graves while trying to convince their distraught children that everything would be okay.
Others gathered with weapons and fire and set to destroying shelters. "Repent and be saved" was their message, howling of the hellfire and misery that waited for any soul too lost in their own fear and decadence to turn their heart to God and await the celestial intervention with anything but hope and prayer.
Peter Kirkland thinks that all of them were insane and that any person with half a brain in their head should have known exactly what it was.
The end of the world. Armageddon. The apocalypse.
Scientists put a nicer word on it. They called it 'The Calamity' as if it were a simple misfortune and not the extinction of mankind, and the papers ate it right up. It was softer. A kinder, gentler presentation of information; an elbow in the ribs on the subway rather than a terrified man in the terminal with a cardboard sign shrieking in the face of passers by. Newscasters were more than happy to speculate that, while life would be changing, it was certainly not the end of man so long as every one was to get to a shelter in time.
More people perished killing each other over the scarce places in the bunkers than in the first flash.
In the days preceding The Calamity, Sealand was not sure what to think. He had been in England during the event on June seventh on a 'diplomatic visit' to his part time guardian, waiting in a huddled mass of nerves and fear in Arthur's sitting room while the frazzled Englishmen ran, metaphorically, back and forth between various other representations of the European nations, trying to get the situation under control by getting his terrified people to the shelters or, at the very least, into sturdy buildings that might make it through the first hits.
They were supposed to have another week to prepare when the first flash came.
A horrifying heat, hotter than anything Peter has ever known, swept over them all in one pure, white burst of light, and immediately burnt anything and anyone in the bare air into nothing more than a greasy streak of a shadow on streets and building walls, bricks melting and pavement turning to steaming, black soup beneath their feet. Millions, simply gone in an instant.
The earthquakes did not come until after the second flash decimated the southern hemisphere a day later. All radio contact with Asia was cut in less than an hour followed by Italy, Greece, and Turkey soon after. Sinkholes opened in thousands of cities and with them came tsunamis and floods and soon, low-lying cities were drowning and the nations were crumbling as quickly as their buildings.
The third flash hit central and northern Europe again several days later, but by that time, Peter was already too far gone with fever to remember it, still tucked away in England's sitting room beneath what was left of the collapsed ceiling, pressed between the backs of Arthur Kirkland and Francis Bonnefoy, soaked with the sweat of their own sickness as England weakly hammered away at the broken radio, hoarsely screaming for the help of anyone still left breathing.
Peter cannot remember who it was that finally came for them or how many days later it was.
He had floated in and out of consciousness, barely aware of the heavy rocking of the ground beneath him and the overpowering scent of rust and salt and sulphur and blood, and smoke. Faintly, he had known he was on a boat but his knowledge stopped at that fact and it wouldn't be until nearly a month later that he would learn that it had been a civilian envoy who had pulled him out of the rubble and taken him to the bunker in Munich.
He had woken to the feeling of hands on his arms, much too soft to belong to anyone like him, and found himself before a young woman missing half of her face working a bottle of aloe into his skin. He had been afraid of her immediately. She had no hair and only one eye, her skin black and red and wet looking beneath thin bandages soaked in red and in obvious need of changing, her lips split over her teeth and stippled with the remains of many blisters.
He had screamed.
Or rather, he tried to scream. He tried to scream for Berwald first and then Tino and Arthur and Francis and anyone, but all that came out of him was a series of strangled gasps and coughs that brought red and black ash to his tongue. The woman had pulled him, struggling and crying, to her breast and stroked his hair with her hands, hands that were still too soft, and whispered to him in German in a vain act of calm comfort, her voice whispery and full of gravel, reminding Peter of crinkling paper.
He had resisted her fiercely. He was terrified of her and her melted face and struggled and kicked, trying to twist from her grasp but only managed to writhe weakly, his skin igniting with pain each time he grazed her dirty clothes. He needed to be free of her. He needed away from her and her red flesh and sodden, stinking bandages. Still, she did not let him go and he had dissolved into tears, clutching the ripped fabric of his ash streaked shirt, and begged for Sweden. At that, the woman had hushed and let a quiet moment pass before asking in English if that is where he was from. He had only cried harder and the woman had bowed her head and whispered to him that Scandinavia was gone.
At that, he had frozen. In the third flash, she had explained, northern Europe had taken the brunt of the heat and thus far, not a soul had been found alive among the charred wreckage. She apologized and stroked his hair and told him that there would be no possibility of going back.
She held him until he sobbed himself to sleep.
He slept for several days, drifting in and out of his fevered haze for only seconds at a time before curling back into himself and trying to drown out the sounds of people screaming, trying to quash the vicious churning of his stomach and the itchy, razing pain of his own flash burns, raw and peeling like a sunburn. Faintly, he had been aware of those soft hands; touching him gently the entire time, soothing him by way of cool gel against his blistering flesh and oily rags against his sweating brow, slow and careful, but without the hard calluses that he had become to accustomed to from his years with Berwald and Tino.
He had, at some time, asked for her name, but by that point, her lips were too blistered and cracked for her to speak any longer and she had simply brushed her long fingers through his hair and lulled him back into sleep, a hand placed over his own.
When he woke again, his ghoulish caretaker was dead in the cot beside him.
Her face was already rotten and yellow and her body raided by the others for her boots and clothes, leaving her stark naked and bruised in the low light of the bunker. Again, he had cried, reaching for her, and pleaded for her to wake again, grasping for her soft hands and shrieking when all he found were mounds of pustules and sloughing flesh where her slow, gentle fingers had once been.
A man two beds away had shouted for him to be quiet and he had complied, turning over to face the wall, trembling and sobbing into his hands.
It was nearly a week later when someone would finally come to remove her fetid remains from her cot and she was replaced by another woman almost immediately, much less kind, but seemingly unmarred. She never spoke a word to Peter and within several days was dead as well. The cycle would repeat it's self for months until Sealand was finally well enough to shakily drag his cot to the far end of the bunker, away from the lights and away from the reeking masses.
Five months would pass until he could stand again and work was immediately thrust upon him. A man had shoved a bucket of brown water and a torn rag into his hands and explained to him that he was in a community fallout shelter in Munich and that if he expected to stay there, he would need to earn his keep. It became his job to scrub cots clean along with three other boys who would later tell him that everyone in the bunker was a refugee from neighboring countries who had been picked up by rescue boats.
"Run by people, not the government," they had explained.
The boats came and went in two-month cycles and each time they returned, they brought with them more people, not a single of them in good health, and the bunker was soon full past capacity and people too weak to stand were simply dropped on the floor where they often remained until someone inevitably came to drag their corpse away.
Peter had gone through every inch of the shelter and was never able to find Arthur or Francis.
He had spent half a year scrubbing death out of canvas. It became a routine; wake, eat his portion of claimed rations, help clear the bodies to be burned outside, scrub the cots, return to his own bed and try to sleep. In the months that passed, he befriended a young, asthmatic boy from Poland. The boy had lost his family and had to wear a thick, black respirator mask over his nose and mouth to filter the putrid air and he had shown Peter the big bag of spare filters he had and made him promise not to show anyone else, since if he were to lose them, he would be unable to breath properly. Peter was quick to agree and took pity on the scrawny child, inviting him to share his cot.
When the boy died several weeks later, Sealand was neither surprised nor distraught. People came and people went and it was foolish to get close to anyone. He simply rolled the young man out of his bed and set to taking his belongings, a routine that was all too common when someone passed away. He had taken the boy's boots, the same size as his own, and his mask and bag of filters, hiding them away in his stained pillowcase before hauling him to the gates where he would later be thrown into the pit outside and burned with the rest of them.
He hadn't shed a single tear.
He hadn't cried as he watched them take the boy out the next morning, too thin and white and stripped naked. He had simply watched, rag clutched in his fist, and gone back to his cleaning as soon as the doors clanged shut.
Some people were still calling it the rapture.
Peter Kirkland still thought they were insane.