Chapter 42

Since the collapse, Clark has managed to create a museum in the Skymiles Lounge in Concourse C of the Severn City Airport. He has collected laptops, a radio, an electric toaster, and other devices. He explains why planes needed runways to a 16-year-old who was born during the first year after the collapse. 

On the day of the collapse, Clark learned about the spread of the pandemic after he landed at the Severn City Airport. Shortly afterward, every flight was canceled, and the airport announced that it was closing. Most people, including most of the airport staff, left. Clark found Elizabeth Colton and her son and spoke with them briefly. An Air Gradia jet landed but stayed quarantined as far from the terminal as possible. Cell phones stopped working. 

Clark found a copy of the New York Times and read Arthur’s obituary. Clark thought of his boyfriend of three months, Robert, wondering if he survived. He imagined speaking to Robert sometime in the future, reflecting on the collapse. As the news continued to display stacked body bags, riots, and closed hospitals, Clark realized that the hundred other people left in the airport had all lost someone.

Chapter 43

At the Severn City Airport, all the food has been consumed within the first few days after the collapse. A raiding party gathers supplies from offices and parked cars. Tyrone, the last TSA agent in the airport, goes hunting with his pistol and brings back a deer. After the power goes out, the generators fall silent in a few days. One of the three remaining pilots announces that his plane has enough fuel to reach Los Angeles. The plane takes off successfully, leaving 54 people in the airport.

Elizabeth tells Clark that there have been many events that prompted people to think that the world was ending, but they have always passed. She believes everything happens for a reason. On Day 27, Clark shaves half of his head. It is the haircut he had as a teenager and makes him feel most like himself.

Clark befriends a single business traveler named Dolores and they make a pact to alert each other at the first signs of insanity in the other. Elizabeth insists on keeping a runway cleared and shovels snow, aided by some of the other survivors. Tyler, Elizabeth’s son, isolates himself and reads his comic books and a copy of the New Testament. 

On the night of Day 85, a woman is raped. The attacker is taken into the woods and released. They tell him that he will be killed if he returns. The survivors in the airport debate the likelihood that anyone else in the world has survived; the mortality rate of the Georgia Flu was 99 percent.

A scouting party is sent out to find supplies. Clark, thinking of his boyfriend Robert who was a curator, collects some items in the Skymiles Lounge. He places his iPhone, laptop, a credit card, and a teenage girl’s driver’s license in a case. Several other people donate items. The scouting party returns with supplies. A few days after Day 100, an outsider appears. He tells them that he followed the scouting party’s footprints. He is crying because he thought that he was the last person left alive.

Chapter 44

Fifteen years after the collapse, 300 people live in the Severn City Airport. The Museum of Civilization in the Skymiles Lounge is filled with various items. While Clark used to do maintenance chores (skinning deer, hauling water, planting crops), he is now left to manage the Museum. 

Two years after the collapse, Clark sees Tyler standing beside the Air Gradia jet. He walks out and finds Tyler reading passages from the Book of Revelation to the jet. When he asks Tyler what he’s doing, Tyler responds that he wants “them to know that it happened for a reason.” Clark tries to reason with him, but Tyler is absolute in his beliefs. Elizabeth also believes that the Georgia Flu was a divine act of judgment. A group of religious wanderers passes through the airport, claiming to have been guided by visions, and Elizabeth and Tyler leave with them—much to the relief of many of the remaining survivors. 

By Year 15, there is a school in Concourse C. In the fall of that year, a trader brings Clark several copies of the newspaper published by Diallo in New Petoskey. Clark is excited that someone is publishing a newspaper and is even more thrilled when he sees that there is an interview with Kirsten Raymonde, a girl who knew Arthur and was present when he died. Clark hopes for more newspapers to arrive, but none ever do. 

Chapter 45

This chapter is the end of the transcript of Diallo’s interview with Kirsten. She tells him that she will answer the remainder of his questions if she can do so off the record. He asks for her opinion on how the world has changed in her lifetime, and she replies that her first thought is now of killing. She shows him her two knife tattoos, indicating that she has killed two people. When Diallo interviewed the other members of the Traveling Symphony and asked the same question, they all replied with some version of how they found the Symphony or they said that they were too young to remember the pre-collapse world.

Diallo asks about Kirsten’s brother. He died of infection after stepping on a nail. Kirsten says that her brother never told her what happened in the first year after the collapse, which she does not remember. Diallo understands that Kirsten does not want the end of their conversation on the record, because she does not want to be permanently remembered as a killer.

Chapter 46

In Year 15, Jeevan lives in a settlement called McKinley and is married to a woman named Daria. He is the settlement doctor, having partially trained as a paramedic, and then having trained with the previous settlement doctor for five years. While he is debating the value of telling children how the world used to be, a man named Edward arrives with his wife, seeking a doctor. Edward’s wife has been shot. Jeevan treats her while talking to Edward, who describes how the Prophet arrived in their settlement. The Prophet held Edward’s son at knifepoint and forced Edward and the settlement to trade their firearms in exchange for the son’s life. Edward’s wife was also taken, but the Prophet promised that she would be returned after the Prophet and his group had passed safely north. When Edward’s wife refused to join the Prophet and become the wife of one of the followers, the Prophet shot her and left her on the side of the road. While Jeevan sterilizes his medical equipment, Daria comforts him. Jeevan is relieved that the Prophet seems to have traveled away from McKinley. 

Chapter 47

In Year 19, Clark is 70 years old. He has recently made all his work interviews available for public viewing. A friend of his marvels over the business jargon used by Clark’s interview subjects. Clark dozes off.

Sullivan, another citizen of the Severn City Airport, wakes Clark to tell him that they have visitors. Charlie and Jeremy are introduced to Clark, who sees from their tattoos that Charlie has killed four people and Jeremy has killed two. Charlie tells Clark that they were part of the Traveling Symphony but have recently fled from the Prophet. Charlie tells them that the Prophet and his followers claimed to have come from the Severn City Airport. When he hears the Prophet’s age and that he quotes various verses from the Book of Revelation, Clark realizes that the Prophet is Tyler. Clark asks Charlie if she ever saw Tyler’s mother (Elizabeth). Charlie has no recollection of seeing an old woman with the Prophet, and Clark wonders what happened to Elizabeth.

Analysis: PART 7. TERMINAL

Throughout the novel, characters realize how much they took for granted in the old world. Clark reflects on the miracles of civilization that they all had taken for granted, and this is part of his drive to build the museum and to bring a too-late gratitude for all that was lost. Clark is grateful not just for surviving but for having been part of the great experiment of human civilization. Like Miranda on her deathbed, Clark appreciates the simple everyday pleasures he took for granted. These pleasures seem sweeter and more beautiful for being lost perhaps forever. This suggests that by honoring what civilization created, people in the future might not take the miracle of community, communication, and creation for granted again.

Along with appreciating the beauty that was lost, the collapse also gives the characters new perspective on the absurdity of civilization. When Clark and Garrett read the corporate reports in Year Nineteen, the waste and farce of corporate jargon gives insight into all the time and energy that was wasted in the old world. The people the reports were written about are likely dead, and what remains in those reports presents a remarkable hollowness. The work that the people in the reports did every day was so important to them, but now, just a couple decades later, it’s so meaningless that the language and culture of work is almost incomprehensible even to people who lived through it. They make fun of the absurd turns of phrase, the shortcuts and abrupt manner of speech, and the casual violence of corporate culture. Garret mourns that his last phone call on Earth wasn’t to his wife or daughters whom he would never see again but to his boss. By exploring the absurdity of what seemed so important before the collapse, the novel suggests how easy it is to sleepwalk through life.

This section traces three reactions to the tragedy of the collapse and the miracle of survival: gratitude, prayer, and insanity. Clark exemplifies gratitude as he looks back on his life before and counts his blessings. It’s this gratitude that inspires him to make the Museum of Civilization to honor all that came before. Elizabeth exemplifies prayer and faith. In this section she reaches a state of equilibrium with her increasingly fervent belief that the collapse happened for a divine reason. In the girl who runs out of her antidepressants, Mandel explores insanity as a reaction to tragedy. During the first year after the collapse, Clark notes, everyone experiences some insanity. This suggests that breaking with reality is to some extent expected when your reality is shattered. These three responses can each be taken too far. Clark finds himself laughing and talking to himself about the beauty and loss of oranges and sometimes loses touch with reality. Elizabeth and Tyler become overly zealous in developing an unnerving and dogmatic belief system that foreshadows Tyler’s violent cult. The young girl off her medication ultimately loses her life. Though reaching for appreciation, faith, and other remedies can help soften the blow of tragedy, these coping mechanisms can be dangerous when taken to the extreme.

In Kirsten’s interview with Francois, the painful violence and brutality of the new world becomes apparent. Kirsten confesses that she has had to kill other people in order to survive, and this suggests that this brutality has changed her fundamentally from the person she used to be. The floral summer dress which Kirsten wears contrasts with the three knives attached to her belt. This suggests her softness and violence exist simultaneously. Both are essential for her survival. The stories of the Symphony members also reflect the contrast between the brutality of surviving alone and the softness and relief in finding the Symphony. In some ways, art itself is the balm which helps soothe the grief the troupe feels at being drafted into a new violent world.