In the Severn City Airport, the catastrophe changes the way that time is measured. Dates are measured first in days, then in years after the collapse. Near the end of his second decade in the airport, Clark thinks about how lucky he has been to survive, and to see one world end and another begin. He feels lucky to have lived among all the wonders of civilization.
Again, the problem of chance vs. fate is brought up by the question of who and what survives the collapse, and why. Clark feels lucky not only to be alive, but also to have witnessed and remembered civilization and all its wonders in its prime.
Clark often says to young people who come into his museum, “it’s hard to explain.” But since he takes his role as curator seriously, he believes this isn’t good enough, and he tries to explain everything he can when someone asks about the obsolete technologies and items he has compiled into the a museum. He has to explain to a sixteen-year-old named Emmanuel, the first child born in the airport, for example, the way airplanes used to take off (by gaining speed, not launching straight up). In retrospect, all of the transportation and communication of the past seem like incredible, taken-for-granted miracles.
Though it is difficult to describe to a younger generation what civilization was like before the collapse, Clark feels that, since he possesses memories and experiences of the world, it is his duty to pass them on into communal memory. After the collapse, he recognizes that the interconnectivity and technology of modernity were indeed taken for granted, as they now seem so miraculous.
At this point, near Year Twenty, most people living in the airport walked there or were born there. But there are some people, like Clark, who have lived there since the day their flights landed. While Clark’s plane was in the air, news of the pandemic’s spread to North America had broken. As fellow passengers watch the news, one man asks Clark if he knows where his wife is. Clark decides to pretend that the man asked if he knows where his boyfriend is, and responds that he has no idea. He doesn’t understand exactly what’s happening, or how it happened so quickly.
In the moments of realizing the collapse is occurring, Clark chooses to ignore a comment that mistakenly presumed his sexuality in order to focus on what is going on in the world, and the terror of civilization ending. Clark has no idea how the flu spread so quickly, but ironically, the means for the spread was civilization itself and the interconnectivity of airplanes, though, luckily, his plane carried no infected passengers.
The airline staff has no information on what to do. They give out food vouchers, which makes everyone hungry, so the people of Concourse B line up at the one restaurant. Meanwhile, Clark goes to the Skymiles Lounge and finds Elizabeth Colton next to Tyler, who is playing videogames. The two adults are both shocked by what is happening to the world.
Tyler is able to use video games as an escape for the time being, but readers know that soon there will be no electricity. In the face of loss and death, Clark and Elizabeth are shocked; they can barely fathom how much the world is changing.
As Clark and Elizabeth sit in the Skymiles Lounge, a final airplane lands, but it is moved away from the terminal and left on the tarmac. No one goes to meet it. Suddenly, an announcement is made that the airport is closing for public health reasons. Some people leave, but many opt to stay, as they feel there is nowhere for them to go. Clark finds the security checkpoint unmanned and walks through it a few times for the fun of it, before going to sit alone. Elizabeth says that they just need to wait, and that the national guard will surely be coming soon.
The solitary airplane is symbolic of the difficult choices made for survival, as it remains isolated and quarantined to save those in the airport. Clark’s ability to walk through the security checkpoint at will is a good indicator of how panicked and disorganized the world has become in a matter of hours. Elizabeth here expresses her stubborn optimism, rooted in faith, that things will work out, and that surely civilization isn’t truly collapsing.
The people in the airport are generally in shock. Clark finds and reads Arthur’s obituary in the New York Times, and tries to figure out where exactly in the country he is. He has never heard of Severn City before. His cellphone doesn’t work, and when he tries a payphone all the lines he dials are busy. He rests alone, thinking of his boyfriend Robert.
Already, one of civilization’s technological miracles has failed: Clark can no longer use his cellphone. Interestingly, he still chooses to focus on Arthur’s singular death, which affected him personally, as a means of distraction from the billions of deaths occurring around the globe.
Some time later, while Clark is watching NBC, a teenager approaches him and asks if he has any Effexor, an antidepressant the teenager had run out of.
Medicines such as antidepressants are another example of a taken-for-granted technology that will vanish when civilization falls.
To comfort himself, Clark thinks ahead to a time when he and Robert can sit and talk about how lucky they are to have both survived. He tries to think of anything but the collapse and the Flu, going from imagined futures to memories of Robert and Arthur. All the while, the solitary plane is still alone on the tarmac. He looks around and realizes the world he knew is gone, and, like everyone around him, he waits for whatever comes next.
While he knows in his heart that the world is changing and billions are dying, Clark uses memory as an escape from this harsh reality. He also entertains fantasies of a future where the collapse is over and somehow reversed. But ultimately, he starts to accept that everything he knows about the world has changed, and most people he knew are gone.