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Zero K
Don DeLillo


In the Time of Chelyabinsk

- 1 -

Everybody wants to own the end of the world.

This is what my father said, standing by the contoured windows in his New York office—private wealth management, dynasty trusts, emerging markets. We were sharing a rare point in time, contemplative, and the moment was made complete by his vintage sunglasses, bringing the night indoors. I studied the art in the room, variously abstract, and began to understand that the extended silence following his remark belonged to neither one of us. I thought of his wife, the second, the archaeologist, the one whose mind and failing body would soon begin to drift, on schedule, into the void.

•  •  •

That moment came back to me some months later and half a world away. I sat belted into the rear seat of an armored hatchback with smoked side windows, blind both ways. The driver, partitioned, wore a soccer jersey and sweatpants with a bulge at the hip indicating a sidearm. After an hour’s ride over rough roads he brought the car to a stop and said something into his lapel device. Then he eased his head forty-five degrees in the direction of the right rear passenger seat. I took this to mean that it was time for me to unstrap myself and get out.

The ride was the last stage in a marathon journey and I walked away from the vehicle and stood a while, stunned by the heat, holding my overnight bag and feeling my body unwind. I heard the engine start up and turned to watch. The car was headed back to the private airstrip and it was the only thing moving out there, soon to be enveloped in land or sinking light or sheer horizon.

I completed my turn, a long slow scan of salt flats and stone rubble, empty except for several low structures, possibly interconnected, barely separable from the bleached landscape. There was nothing else, nowhere else. I hadn’t known the precise nature of my destination, only its remoteness. It was not hard to imagine that my father at his office window had conjured his remark from this same stark terrain and the geometric slabs that blended into it.

He was here now, they both were, father and stepmother, and I’d come to pay the briefest of visits and say an uncertain farewell.

The number of structures was hard to determine from my near vantage. Two, four, seven, nine. Or only one, a central unit with rayed attachments. I imagined it as a city to be discovered at a future time, self-contained, well-preserved, nameless, abandoned by some unknown migratory culture.

The heat made me think I was shrinking but I wanted to remain a moment and look. These were buildings in hiding, agoraphobically sealed. They were blind buildings, hushed and somber, invisibly windowed, designed to fold into themselves, I thought, when the movie reaches the point of digital collapse.

I followed a stone path to a broad portal where two men stood watching. Different soccer jerseys, same hip bulge. They stood behind a set of bollards designed to keep vehicles from entering the immediate area.

Off to the side, at the far edge of the entranceway, strangely, two other figures, in chadors, shrouded women standing motionless.

- 2 -

My father had grown a beard. This surprised me. It was slightly grayer than the hair on his head and had the effect of setting off his eyes, intensifying the gaze. Was this the beard a man grows who is eager to enter a new dimension of belief?

I said, “When does it happen?”

“We’re working on the day, the hour, the minute. Soon,” he said.

He was in his mid-to-late sixties, Ross Lockhart, broad-shouldered and agile. His dark glasses sat on the desk in front of him. I was accustomed to meeting him in offices, somewhere or other. This one was improvised, several screens, keyboards and other devices set about the room. I was aware that he’d put major sums of money into this entire operation, this endeavor, called the Convergence, and the office was a gesture of courtesy, allowing him to maintain convenient contact with his network of companies, agencies, funds, trusts, foundations, syndicates, communes and clans.

“And Artis.”

“She’s completely ready. There’s no trace of hesitation or second thoughts.”

“We’re not talking about spiritual life everlasting. This is the body.”

“The body will be frozen. Cryonic suspension,” he said.

“Then at some future time.”

“Yes. The time will come when there are ways to counteract the circumstances that led to the end. Mind and body are restored, returned to life.”

“This is not a new idea. Am I right?”

“This is not a new idea. It is an idea,” he said, “that is now approaching full realization.”

I was disoriented. This was the morning of what would be my first full day here and this was my father across the desk and none of it was familiar, not the situation or the physical environment or the bearded man himself. I’d be on my way home before I’d be able to absorb any of it.

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