Ty stood on the National Mall in Washington, DC, the moon glowing overhead. In the place where the soldiers had been, there was only an overgrown field, swaying in the wind.
The group that had pursued him, Nora, Kato, and Maria in the tunnels below was also gone.
In fact, there was no one in sight. It was completely quiet. The streets were empty. The buildings were dark.
The night sky was brighter than Ty had ever seen it. Stars burned white and yellow across the streaks of purple, blue, and green. Ty had only seen a sky like that once in his life, while camping in the Sahara, far from civilization.
The sky wasn’t the only change.
Nature had reclaimed America’s capital. Vines climbed up the walls and into windows like snakes invading a carcass. Weeds split the roads and sidewalk.
Ahead, the Smithsonian Castle was a crumbling ruin. The beautiful red sandstone building with its Gothic and Romanesque architecture was half gone. The towers with pointed roofs were collapsed.
To the left of the Smithsonian Castle, Ty expected to see the Hirshhorn Museum, which held art and sculptures. There was nothing there, only trees and tall weeds.
To the left, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum was gone too. Growing up, it had been Ty’s favorite museum in DC.
In the distance was the US Capitol. Or what was left of it.
The sprawling white building looked as though a giant had smashed it with a massive hammer. The dome was gone. The north and south wings were in shambles, like a mouth open to the sky with teeth missing. The corridors connecting them were mostly collapsed.
Still panning left, Ty got a glimpse of the National Gallery of Art. The massive building that stretched from Madison Drive to Constitution Avenue was, like the Capitol, a crumbling heap. Its marble facade lay in jagged pieces.
The block that held the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden was overgrown with tall grass and small trees. Immediately to the left, on the north side of the mall across from the Smithsonian Castle, stood the National Museum of Natural History.
The wide neoclassical building had fared better than many of the others. Though the left side was collapsed, the central mass was mostly intact. The golden dome that covered the rotunda, however, had several holes. The pedimented portico with its fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters stood resolute in the quiet night, like the face of a proud fighter who had been hit repeatedly but refused to collapse.
To the left, the National Museum of American History was as Ty remembered it, though some of the walls had taken damage and the windows were broken.
At the end of the mall, the Washington Monument had been demolished. The white obelisk that had once towered over 550 feet in the air was now a pile of marble, granite, and bluestone. Steel from the elevator shaft and stairs lay in twisted red strings weaving through the rubble.
Ty felt eyes upon him and turned to see Nora staring at him, the ruins of the Capitol behind her. The question in her gaze was clear. What happened here?
Before he could answer, a crack sounded in the night. He stared up at the sky, where the roar of jet engines grew louder, followed by the rapid tat-tat-tat of gunfire.
Two jet fighters were racing toward DC, the guns flashing from only one plane—the pursuer.
Ty couldn’t make out the insignia on either aircraft.
A shot ripped through the leading plane, partially severing the wing.
Another shot hit the fuselage near the engine, and then a final burst slammed into the vertical and horizontal stabilizers at the rear.
The bubble canopy over the cockpit blew open and a seat blasted skyward before the jet lurched sideways, the fire of its single engine fading.
It tailspun through the sky, pieces flying off as it plummeted toward the ground.
“Run!” Kato shouted. He turned away from the plane, which was spiraling toward the mall.
Ty took a step back, spun, and sprinted, a mad dash that lasted only a few seconds before the ground shook from the plane’s impact.