Monday, August 15, 2011

2014 The Way The World Ends

Written & Owned by Greg L. Miller

2014: The Way the World Ends:


This is a story about the end of times. There are multiple threads and stories within each of us. Each time we use our free will to make a decision, we start a chain of events which is a story. These events can be fantasized through the imagination which is a stories gateway. Let us take a journey.

Many people believed the end of the world was coming in 2012 but it never came. Don't get me wrong, there were earthquakes and life was hard for some. But for others, life was no different than any other time. People watched as third world countries such as Haiti and Ghana were destroyed, but it still wasn't in our backyard. People have a tendency to not care if it is directly not affecting them. The world paused when Venezuela and its oil fields disappeared in one multiple mudslides, but it didn't affect much outside of increased gas prices.

The end of the world did not come with a bang. Instead it came painfully slow as humanity watched cities fall one by one. Not through war or genocide. Nor was it biological or chemical. Those who believed that population growth would deplete our resources were wrong. Aliens never came from the sky or from the ocean. Strangely, global warming might have had something to do with it. You see, in the end what takes out the world is nature.

Many cultures and people since the dawn of time believe the earth gives us what we need. But what happens when the world decides it no longer needs or wants us? Or maybe a clearer question would be what happens to us when the world readjusts just as all places eventually do? Furthermore, how will people react and is it possible for humanity to rebuild?

These questions came and went during 2012. They were played out through movies, cable television channels and books. I recall many times going to the local grocery store to hear and see people discuss supplies and resources in either hushed or jokingly voices. Entire communities in the heartland of America emerged like mini fortresses that held militia ideologies. Many spiritual extremists took their own lives and the lives of those around them. Tensions created more tragedies such as school and factory shootings. The world continued to experience racial and religious turmoil but this did not attribute to the mass floods and solar flares.

Two years before in 2010, the world watched many changes that would prelude the natural disasters to come. Chile and Peru had earthquakes which knocked out entire cities; Japan and China started to experiences massive volcano activity that disrupted telecommunications. Europe experienced massive blackouts as the ash from Iceland's volcano stopped air travel for weeks and stranded thousands. But for majority of us, life was no different. These events did not pertain to us, for our minds could not fathom the depth of the situation unless it was happening to us. Others took it as signs of revelations and the end.

2011 ushered billions of dollars in lost telecommunications around the world. With this came more civil unrest. The world watched as the Middle East was reformed as dictator after dictator was over thrown. Environmentalists and scientists warned of issues concerning solar flares which we later found out created the big flood. In the beginning the solar flares were light. They started as mellow bursts that gave the earth's atmosphere breathtaking auras but due to depleted resources in our ozone the earth began to experience what some would refer to as nature shifts. To put it simply, solar flares started a chain of events that led to a change in our polarization.

In America we were having our own problems. Current issues during 2011 were about New Orleans and the oil spill in the gulf. Media and fanatics kept on talking about the end of the world in 2012 but others were quick to point out that they have been doing this since as early as people could remember and to put it simple, most Americans did not care. Many remembered the Y2K scare and did not want to repeat it. There were enough problems in the real world. For most, dogmatic questions are not wanted. Real issues are how to get to work on time, what's for dinner, or what should I wear when I go out tonight. All of this changed by 2014.

2011 saw some events that made the world think the end of days were coming. February ushered in New Zealand and Australia having earthquakes and floods that literally reshaped their landscapes. Each time these natural disasters occurred people would band together and communities showed their best. People worked together and rebuilt what was broken. The problem came from the fact that the earthquakes and natural disasters did not stop. Instead, a place would get an earthquake and as soon as the people would rebuild another earthquake would follow. Scientists said that it was all part of the original earthquake and everything that followed was aftershocks. These aftershocks assured the destruction of some cities. As soon as one country would send aid another country would get hit within weeks. By the end of 2011 the world experienced a dozen countries that lost people and cities. Many feared that Peninsulas were not safe to live on but most people decided to stay still and be tough. In the beginning, coastal cities such as San Francisco and islands such as New Zealand and Japan got hit. These disasters did not make many people fear for they were expected. Killer Tornadoes in the summer of 2011 were a surprise and reminded many of a Sci-Fi special.

So what does one do if the end of the world doesn't come in 2012? We did NOTHING. In 2013 I moved to Washington DC with my wife, April. We decided to put fears of the end of the world into their proper place and carried on with our lives. I have a Masters degree in Public Administration and my wife is an illustrator. Naturally, a city like Washington D.C. has much potential so we decided this was the place to start our new lives. We have a 17 year old son and we came from the great Upper Peninsula in Michigan. The UP is in the middle of the woods and has a strong Finnish culture. We are tough and survive 4-5 months of winter a year. I am a scholar and we are an educated couple. On the other hand we lack more practical hands on skills and are clueless on how to survive off of the land. My life centers around the computer and television screen. Instead of living in the practical world I prefer to live in the abstract world. My favorite place is not a bar but the library. I prefer to have friends that are gamers then who are jocks. My parents are professors and dinner conservations pertain to Shakespeare, quantum physics and religion. My wife also lives in the abstract world. She prefers to zone out in front of a canvas for the day and she is dualistic with talent. She knows how to both paint and how to illustrate on the computer. Every six months we travel around the world for three months. This is our life and it is good. At 31 years old I graduated and it was time to look for employment. A few years ago I was an intern at the Library of Congress in D.C. It made perfect sense to start my career there. We never knew what was coming. For that matter, no one knew what was coming. We all thought that the danger had passed with 2012.

This is my story.

This is how the world ends.

Chapter I: First Day


The alarm clock gives a soft buzz as I drift in a dream. I am in a house eating dinner with my wife. She smells of lavender and her gentle eyes tear up as she talks about her son's recent love life. She is 5'6; her dark eyes and hair remind me of the dew on grass at predawn in the summer.

I put my fork down as I listen to her.

"Mike! Do you understand what I'm saying?" She tosses her silverware on the plate.

"Our son, Sam, refuses to get on the air plane! He wants to stay one extra week to be with his boyfriend. Why can't he ever care about what I want?" She huffs and puffs as she jumps up and storms into the kitchen. Dishes and pans rattle as she takes out her frustration on them.

I have a step son who is 17 years old. His name is Sam and he is gay. Deep down I believe its each person's personal decision to be what they want to be but I worry that he isn't mature enough to make such a decision. It seems such an adult thing. I understand what my wife is feeling and decide to remain quiet. It's hard to articulate the pain a child inflicts as they move toward leaving the nest.

I zone out her angry mutterings with some world news. Remembering what a political science professor once said, "CNN is so damn censored it's referred to as Communist News Network by some," I laugh as I settle on CNN World News. Stories of global warming and unrest in Israel and Egypt take my mind off my wife. A most interesting segment catches my attention. A star in the sky is burning out and is going to create two weeks of extra light. Apparently by burning out, the star is going to create a black hole and burn bright for two weeks. The reporter jokingly concludes that perhaps we are living at the end of times and shows a few clips of millions of people gathering in spiritual places around the world. The phone rings and April drops whatever dish she is holding.

"I bet you its Sam." She quickly shuffles back into the living room and picks up her cell phone. I paused as two things simultaneously occur. The first was on the flat screen TV, an emergency warning popped on screen and said to stay tuned. The second was her phone. It wasn't the regular phone she used, but instead it was old cell phone she threw out back in 2012. My mom gave her that phone when she thought that solar flares were going to wipe out everyone. This didn't make sense. I then realize something else as my blood chills. The living room I was in is from 2012 and we were back in Michigan. This was 2014 and I lived and worked in Washington D.C.!

My wife starts to screech, "Oh my God, Sam! What's happening?" Color drains from her face as she instantly looks thirty years older. She looks me deep in the eyes and real tears come to her as her expression goes frantic. She is about to tell me something. Instead all I hear is a buzz. It's distant but persistent. My awareness pulls as I feel myself lift up. My spirit loses touch with the dream as I open my eyes. My wife murmurs in her sleep "Turn that damn alarm off!"

Chapter II: Early Bird Catches the Worm

Its 2014. I am home. What a fucked up dream. I try to remember it but it eludes me. Deep down I feel I missed something vital but can't place it. It's a fine Tuesday morning in September. The alarm clock shows 7:15 A.M. I have to get ready for work. I file the dream away as a nightmare.

Light streams into the bathroom as I open the curtain and window; the sun feels warmer than usual but isn't that to be expected with global warming? Even though I am in our nation's capital, I find myself sometimes missing nature and woods. I want to feel a clean breeze; instead I am greeted with a police siren and cars honking. Balancing with these disturbances is shaky so I shut the window. I quickly feed our two cats.

I live in a spacious apartment in a tall building in Bethesda, Maryland. It's a three bedroom apartment and has a very large living room. I turn on the news and make my wife a pot of coffee. My mind drifts to the project of the day as I shrug off the last of the nightmare. Usually my wife doesn't wake up with me. She is an illustrator and painter and works from home.

Today is different though. My supervisor has decided it's time for me to assist in my first public function. He needs me to meet a journalist for CNN. The Library of Congress is working in junction with the Smithsonian to reward a few people for their endeavors regarding education and peace. One of the guests of honor is the vice president's daughter. I need to be there by 10:30 A.M. I have one hour to get ready, I jump into the shower with excitement.

It takes one hour to travel the red line on the metro to get downtown so I have to make sure I don't miss the 8:30 if we want to eat breakfast. For the past six months I have worked at the Library of Congress. As the assistant to the director I enjoy a very nice office in the ancient manuscript division within the Jefferson building. There are three main buildings at the Library of Congress and countless workers that assist in the library's primary function of helping both the private sector and public with knowledge. I often consider the Library of Congress a modern day Library of Alexandria, lost so long ago to Roman destruction. Thomas Jefferson donated his personal library after the British sacked the capital back in the day which started our modern library. My wife loves the Jefferson building because congress used local artists and craftsman to build the magnificent structure.

I hear a rustle behind me as my wife plops down in front of the television set. She sighs in satisfaction as she sips the Costa Rican coffee, "Mike, what exactly do we have to do today?" This is a loaded question for she already knows it's a special day.

I quickly respond with excitement, "We are to be at the capitol building across from the library at 11:30. We are going to meet a whole bunch of important people!" I'm very excited for the vice president's daughter is to give an award to a few writers. I worked long hours to make this happen. This is going to be the first time my work blurred with a public function.

Sleep ebbs from April's expression as she lovingly comments, "You deserve this today! Who knows, maybe you will get a promotion or something!" She looks at the television set and quietly murmurs, "I'm going to check my e-mail. How long until we have to leave? After the thingy we are doing for you we have to be at the airport at 2 P.M. to pick up Sam."

She leaves the living room and I turn on CNN. In the back of my mind I get an impression of déjà-vu but I quickly write it off as anxiety. I hear her call out, "Mike, make sure you take your blood pressure medication. With events like today you don't want to find yourself getting a stroke."

I quickly get up and walk to the bathroom. While listening to my wife's' advice I notice I only have one week of medication left. I dryly comment, "Can you remind me to get my medications refilled at the end of the week? I'm running low. I also have to get some pain killers for my back" I take the blood pressure pill and wait patiently for my wife to finish up. Sadly I have high blood pressure and have to take pain medications for my spine. I have degenerative disk disease which makes moving around a little harder then it ought to be.

We still have 30 minutes before we have to go so I decide to go watch more news. An interesting segment comes on CNN that is airing about earthquakes in the Pacific and Japan when all of a sudden I hear a gasp and crash. For the second time I feel déjà-vu.

My wife storms in the living room, her expression completely changed. A half a broken coffee mug is in her left hand and coffee is dripping down her shirt and hand. My wife has a glass face which makes it very easy to follow her emotions.

"Sam sent me an e-mail!" She rages, "He's staying in Michigan for an extra week to be with his boyfriend and did not get on the plane!" Her anger turns to ache as she cries.

"Damn, why is he doing this?" I respond. I instantly fear this is going to affect the day in a bad way. Instead of saying the right thing I blurt, "What about the airplane ticket?" I instantly regret this as April cries harder.

After a minute she gathers herself, "I don't care about the money, anyways he said his boyfriend's dad will cover it. I guess they have a concert they want to go to in Wisconsin." I am reminded how much I love my wife as she pulls herself together. April prides herself in being stoic, a Finnish trait of being strong and rolling with the punches. My wife often jokes that I am a whiny German.

April looks at the coffee spill and curses, "I dropped my mug and have to clean it up. It looks like we won't have to go to the airport today. I will be ready in 15 minutes; can we eat breakfast at Burger King?" She gets up and kisses me on the forehead with a resigned sigh.

Chapter III: Metro

Washington D.C. has a very pleasant public transportation system called the Metro. The metro has five train lines which are represented by colors. We live on the red line, three stops from the end and have to cross two states to get downtown. It roughly takes one hour. I have to change trains once. The Library of Congress is located on the blue and orange line, on the corner of First and Independence Street. I often hear amazing stories from people before and after work on the train. There is no reason to take our car unless we want to get stuck in rush hour.

The metro station is only eight minutes away from the apartment complex. On the way we pass a small store and two ponds with many ducks and a few trees. If the season is right there are sometimes migrating birds and frogs.

We briskly make our way down to the metro and hop on the train. My wife buys a newspaper. There are two basics that have to be mastered if you want to be successful is our nation's capital. The first one is obvious; networking is the life blood of any career orientated individual. And the second, of course, is always stay informed.

I chuckle as she instantly flip pages to the cartoon section, "April, I swear you would live your whole life in a drawing if you could." My wife looks more professional today than artist though. She is wearing a dress suit and her hair is neatly drawn back, sable strands vibrant in the sunlight. The sun is warm on my shoulders as we pass a clearing before going back underground. The train is making good time. After 9 AM the crowd thins out because everyone is either at work or at school. Two grandma's chatter like chipmunks about their grandchildren a few seats down. Near them is a homeless man who smells of piss and alcohol. Across the aisle two teenagers flaunt matching world of war craft t-shirts.

Maybe they are going to a nerd convention, or a "nerding" event as my son would say.

Looking up I see two advertisements, the first is an air force pilot who is promoting the US military, to the right is second picture of a woman sneezing into her sleeve, followed by her washing her hands for preparation of not getting or spreading the flu.

After a few minutes my wife gives a slight laugh and finishes the comics, "Do you want this?" I answer no. One of the geeky teens pipes up that he loves cartoons so my wife gives him that section of the newspaper.

She gives a slight gasp when she starts to read the international news, "Michael, did you know Japan is still in a recession after they lost their nuclear plants?" I shake my head as she continues to narrate the news article,

"Apparently over 600 people got radiation sickness since the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, they finally plan on helping the families that lost people. Over 20,000 died." I feel sad for them but at the same time I am happy that natural disasters such as that one missed America. We did have a few disasters in the last few years, but not like other nations. The biggest surprise, which wasn't a surprise, was when the earthquake hit San Francisco and Los Angeles in July 2012. Unlike Japan who only had a thirty minute warning, we had ample warning and there were minimum causalities. We did however lose a third of the city when it gradually started to slide into the sea. Government forced an evacuation and only the fanatics, the sick, and the old stayed. There was no tsunami. Much of California's population migrated to Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Seattle.

I ask my wife, "Anything new happening in the world?" After a few minutes of reiterating things I knew she finds something of interest.

"Yes, do you know what happened to China?" I briefly recall that in 2012 they had a crisis. An earthquake did some unexpected havoc in the western part of the country.

April continues, "The disaster relief department of China's Civil Affairs Ministry says they were unprepared for the earthquake that occurred late in 2012! It's been one year and they finally released the reports." I perk up; information like this could really impress my coworkers if they didn't read the paper this morning.

April continues, "The Chinese ministry finally admits that city planning happened too quickly. A few city officials knew they were building in geological unsafe places."

I quickly insert, "They should not have been greedy to outdo the world economically. China could have been content when Japan got hit by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear reactor incident in 2011. Instead they invested billions of dollars to enhance their economy and built entire cities on fault lines. Caution was discarded."

November of 2012 saw an end to China's economic expansion. At 9:43 AM multiple earthquakes started in the Wenchuan, Sichuan Province. The land split and streams became rivers and lakes. Within 6 hours over 75,000 died and millions became refuges. To make matters worse, aftershocks destroyed many of the countries dams and nuclear plants near Beijing. Another half a million died due to floods in the eastern China due to aftershocks.

April concludes, "The Chinese government shot and executed the top officials who built the region. They say that the reason the cities were built at those locations had something to do with political corruption." I notice we are nearing our stop at Union Station.

"That's cool honey, you ready for brunch at Burger King? Good thing we don't live in China. Could you imagine our government shooting our own people because of a natural disaster?" My mind starts to go back to the day ahead of me.

I start shaking with excitement as we walk pass the liberty bell at the entrance of the metro station. There is a homeless person who has a blue plastic beer cup in front of him. There is a sign on his chest made out of card board. I pause for a second and read his message, 'The world ends today', I toss a few dollars into his cup and mutter, "Today is just as good as any other day to die." The rest of the crowd and my wife walk by without noticing.

Chapter IV: Burger King and the Last Supper

I tell April, "I don't feel like Burger King." There are over half a dozen homeless people sleeping in booths. Half wrapped sandwiches give testimony that they once ordered food.

"I don't suppose we could eat at McDonald's, you know, Mac and Donald's fine supper club?" She rolls her eyes and doesn't bother to respond. I shrug off my discomfort and ask her to order me two double cheeseburgers without onions and pickles.

The fast food establishment is packed with people. There are no clean or open seats. There is however one table that has only one individual eating by himself. He is a middle aged white man wearing a blue flannel shirt and stained blue jeans. A pro bass fishing hat fits loosely on his poorly combed hair.

"Pardon me, there isn't any tables open. Do you mind if we sit here?" He looks up and blinks a few times; it's obvious he isn't a morning person.

He waves absently at the open seats. Not knowing what to say I mutter, "My name is Mike." He doesn't seem interested.

He continues to eat his burger and simply says, "Fred."

I should have been quiet but sometimes I don't know when to stop talking. I look down at my watch and notice that I only had 15 minutes to eat. The capital building is 5 blocks away and will take me roughly 8 minutes to walk.

"What do you do Fred?"

My wife comes to the table and gives me two cheeseburgers. She doesn't acknowledge Fred outside of a nod and makes a few noises of pleasure as she chows down her chicken sandwich. I notice my cheeseburger has onions on it, instead of throwing it away I try to pick off the onions with a plastic fork. There is a long line at the cashier which makes it pointless to try to fix it.

Fred rolls his eyes as he watches me pick off the onions, "I'm a machinist for Crown Cork and Seal." He doesn't say anything more.

After a few seconds I ask, "Sorry, I don't know who they are?"

It is obvious he doesn't like conversing and I regret picking this table, "Does it matter?"

He pauses, after eating a few fries he continues, "Sorry, I'm having a bad week. I work for Coca Cola in Minnesota. I fix machines at a factory. If you don't mind I have to be leaving because I have to help set up a stage. I'm supposed to be on vacation but my son volunteered me to help with some big event. I'm going to be late." He gets up and quickly leaves, half his food is still on the tray.

I look at my wife and dryly comment, "I don't think he liked me." She happily continues to eat and shrugs.

Looking down at my two cheeseburgers, I feel queasy and anxious, my stomach starts to turn and I can't finish eating. A homeless guy picks the scraps off of Fred's tray. The staff at Burger King doesn't care. Instead of feeling disgusted I give a different homeless person who is a Vietnam vet my second cheeseburger that is loaded with onions.

My wife quizzically mentions, "You are going to get hungry before lunch! Sorry they didn't get the order right."

Looking over my shoulder I whine and half jokingly answer, "Maybe I will eat at Mc Donald's when we are done; they are cleaner and know how to make a burger!" The homeless war vet thanks me as we leave. He immediately eats the sandwich in three bites. I briefly wonder if karma will ever pay me back for helping people like that.

Chapter V: The Players of DC

It is not far to our destination. After Union station we walk five blocks. All we have to do is stay on First Street. Along the way is Senate State Park where if you're lucky you can sometimes see a congressman or senator eating lunch. Corridors of majestic buildings come and go us as we make our way to the Capital building. Each Marble and granite block gives testament to America's power and prestige.

Pedestrians span from workers in business suits to groups of Asians who are obviously on vacation. I try to pass one Asian group of teenagers but find myself walking behind them. There are roughly twenty teenagers dressed identically in blue uniforms and taking a lot of pictures. They don't say much but they seem to be on the same page. The group maneuvers the street like a snake slithering smoothly through jungle. They have little white masks on to keep germs out and on their backs are three foot rods with red flags at the end.

No chance of stragglers from that group. 

"Now there's something you seldom see around this town," I comment to my wife as I nod toward the Asian students, "A group consciousness. Americans are way too independent for something like that."

We pass The Hart Senate Office building and the Russell Senate House Building. The next street is Constitution Avenue NE. There are road barriers built on every street. Heavy metal machines lift up from the ground, painted with streaks of red and white. On each corner are guard posts but I rarely see them manned. During high level political functions it is common to see military snipers on the buildings and special cops units with super dogs.

This doesn't stop the poor from smoking marijuana in the open, nor does it hamper vacationers with cameras. Today is not a high risk day so there are no snipers. There are a lot of cops but this is America and that is to be expected. Currently, States are becoming pro medical cannabis friendly and many activists come to DC to make a statement. Over a half a dozen states made it legal for the sick and needy to use marijuana as a medication in the last few years. My attention drifts to a few Vietnam vets wandering and begging.

As we pass the Supreme Court Building I get excited and quicken my pace. I see a couple of my coworkers sipping coffee on the front steps of the Supreme Court. Nearby are a few reporters, they have a hawkish air to them as they patiently wait for the next big story.

I yell out, "Mark! Are we ready, and is anyone at the Capital building?" Mark and Irina look up as we approach. I see Irina blush as Mark leans over slightly to whisper something in her ear. Mark is the treasurer of our office; he is a medium black fellow with dark close cropped hair and a proud D.C. native. Always dressed impeccably, Mark's perfectionist tendencies extend far beyond financial expertise.

"Hello Mike and April, nice to see you show." Mark then asks, "Where were you? You missed the drill. Director Maxwell is unhappy with you."

"I don't think it matters." Irina adds, "If your function goes without hitch we will get national coverage and all will be well." She too is dressed nice. A graduate student from Russia, Irina spends most of her time researching through obscure tombs of the library like most fellowship recipients.

They look good together; it is no surprise that Mark is courting her.

"Did I miss anything important?" I notice the blue snake of Asian teenagers has made it to the Supreme Court Building.

"No," Mark quickly answers, "Veronica signed your name to the check in sheet. Homeland Security thinks you were there. She's annoyed at you though." Ever since 9-11 Homeland Security makes everyone do mandatory drills and exercises every month to be ready in case terrorists or nature attacks. Even after America righteously eliminated Bin Laden in 2011 many Americans continued to live in fear and national security protocols never wavered.

"Shit, sorry." Veronica is one of the secretaries. She might have seemed annoyed to Mark, but I know she probably isn't. She has a lot of sympathy for my back disability and usually is a good sport about covering for people for a good reason. Our job is not hard, but rather there are hundreds of small tasks that make up the day and we are expected to do them with perfection. Everyone at the library seems to have a doctorate and is a specialist in some fashion. We're the cream of the crop and really don't need every second of the work day to do our jobs well.

"Well, let us not keep the public waiting." With a grand flourish Mark directs our attention towards the capital building. He concludes, "This is a great day to be on television. Who wants to bet the vice president's daughter will be ten minutes late? There is side game going down in the office, odds will be in your favor if you put your money that she will be 8 minutes fashionably late."

As a group we continue our journey to the capital building.

Chapter VI: Fred

Most people would say Fred Smith is a good man and like all good men, deserves a break in life. The way things have been going for the past few years though have shown Fred the things we deserve often aren't the things we get.

The dark blue Geo Prism rumbles as he roughly switches gears. He was supposed to meet his son in Rockville but got lost in Gaithersburg. Two days on the road has made him tired and plagued with a permanent headache. He didn't care much for the East Coast or its people who look like monkeys in suits.

His son was supposed to have worked in the factory like him, but no, his Kyle believes he is too good for that.

Kyle had to be different which began to came out in high school when he was always seen wearing a tie. Too much ambition complicates things and Fred, like his father before him, preferred to keep things simple. While Kyle's brothers and sisters were playing with dolls and footballs, you could find Kyle at the museum. Fred didn't understand how someone could prefer the History and Discovery Channel over ESPN.

Fred snorts which sounds like a laugh and pushes those thoughts aside.

What's the point, it is what it is.

But all the same he wasn't impressed with a son who dragged him out of his comfortable life a week ago. If it was up to him he would be have back in Minnesota, at his favorite fishing spot at White Bear Lake. Life was good when he was fishing and had a twelve pack of beer. Instead he received a call from his son and just like that he was exactly where he didn't want to be.

"Damn," Fred curses. He tried slowing down at the exit sign for Emory Grove, knowing from frustrated study of the atlas sitting on the front seat he over shot his turn.

Fred believes there is only one thing worse than city slickers and that is politicians. Both his grandpa and dad believed firmly in the fact that politics was a lying occupation and he had never seen anything to prove otherwise. All you have to do is turn on the news and you will see how politicians in Washington DC never keep their word.

How else can one explain current budget issues and American soldiers dying overseas? It's the fault of the people who are in charge. People in suits don't relate to the working class. Why did Kyle have to be one of them? 

One week ago, during his lunch break, he received an upset call from his son. Kyle's wife decided she had enough of married life and motherhood, leaving a heartbroken and unprepared Kyle to deal with their two month old son. She died from complications of the child birth, and other reasons Kyle did not understand. The boyish panic in his son's voice made it feel only natural to jump in his car and make the two day trek across country. His boss was not happy he walked out without finishing his shift.

His stomach grumbles as he heads back up I-270 to catch his missed exit and he briefly pondered if he should eat something for breakfast.

During a normal work week he would often eat breakfast at Burger King in Northfield, Minnesota. Always good with his hands and tools, Fred works at Coca Cola as a floor man. Filled with friendly camaraderie and an honest day's work, Fred loves working at the Crown Cork and Seal plant. He loves his job so much he decided to be loyal and swore off all Pepsi products. His family thought he was crazy but he looked at it differently. Why would anyone buy a product from the competition who is trying to put your employees out of business? If everyone bought Pepsi then he would be out of a job. During poker games he boasts his plant produces over two million aluminum cans every shift and back in 2003 he was voted machinist of the year. Coco Cola even put his picture up in the break room where the union leaders play cribbage while everyone else works. Occasionally he dreams that someday he would become a prominent union person who champions democratic principles but these thoughts seldom lasted long. He left higher inspirations, and all the troubles that come with them, for people like his son.

Kyle surprised everyone and went to college after high school. After college Kyle got a job with the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and disappeared for a few years. He did not call or visit on the holidays. That was another problem with politicians and the people who work with them; they become disconnected with their family and community. On the rare visit home, Kyle acted like he was better than everyone else. But even though Kyle had thought he had moved on to bigger and better things, he got a worthless woman knocked up and ended up married to her, just like the redneck boys back home. Of course his family was not invited to the sudden wedding because Kyle viewed them as ignorant red necks.

Who did he think he was to tell his family they were not good enough? 

It wasn't worth holding a grudge. His son and grandson need his help and a good Christian always forgives and forgets. It had been two days of intense driving and his back hurt. He wanted to sleep but Kyle asked one last thing of him last night after getting in. His son didn't care that he was tired and hungry, instead when he got into town his son had the tenacity to ask him to help set up a stage down town before he agreed to let him have his grandson. On the phone before he left, Kyle had agreed to Fred taking his grandson back to Minnesota, to Kyle's stepmother, Sara. The child needed a proper family. Since when did work come before family? Fred grips the steering wheel tighter as he pondered how to drive some common sense and decency into his son. He didn't notice his foot press down on the pedal or his speed steadily increasing toward 90 mph.

Sirens shattered his thoughts as red lights instantly engulfed his reality. Fred's head started to pound harder as he pulled over to a complete stop. Ironically Burger King is advertised a few exits ahead. At least he will have a full stomach before seeing his son. 

What else could possibly go wrong today?

Fred sighs as two cops started walking up to his car with a barking police dog.

Chapter VII: Larry and the K9

The day is going slow. Larry Anderson sits in the passenger seat of the police cruiser and fantasizes what it would be like to die a hero. His partner's voice means nothing and the CB is turned low, mostly static with a periodic voice coming from central dispatch breaks the silence. In his fantasy he's a six foot dark haired cop who is meant to take down bad guys. Getting the damsel in distress would be nice but it wasn't important for he has something much more important.

As long as she's hot and easy, I don't ask for much. What I really want is a new backyard for my dogs.

In the real world Larry is 5'7 and is built like an ox. He has not found true love but is convinced someday the right girl will see him for the stud he is, or so he tells himself every morning as he shakes off the alcohol from the night before. He frequently visits the gym but gym girls act snotty and usually have boyfriends. The females at the police force didn't like him but he has not figured out why not. His mom tells him to go to church or maybe find a nurse but he tells her he would rather focus on his career and dogs. He has too much pride to admit he is afraid of women. He has a badge and gun, most of the time it was enough. 10 years ago he was given the opportunity to raise police dogs in California. With the destruction of San Francisco and Los Angeles, canine training shifted to the East Coast. He was originally a native from California but with all the end of world issues his mom made him move to Maryland/Virginia. She was lucky and found an old miser to shack up with. Larry didn't like being here though and wanted to go back out West. He ended up becoming a slight alcoholic and was always on edge.

It's his job to train and work with K9's to search for narcotics, explosives, and to teach them how to do regular patrols. He had lost count of how many dogs he trained; they all had started seeming the same. He keeps many at his house. He refers to them as his dogs. There are perks with being a police officer.

His partner's voice rudely cuts into his reverie, "Larry, is Pixel ready?"

Pixel is the ridicules name of the current German Sheppard he's training. Larry looks back at the dog in the back seat of the police cruiser.

Absently he answers, "Affirmative." Larry swishes his cheap coffee in an even cheaper coffee mug. His partner didn't know he mixes his coffee with Jack Daniels. Larry did his best to keep the mug away from him. He didn't add much, not enough to smell alcohol on his breath, just enough to take the edge off.

The current dog was a nightmare from the start. It marked low on all its testing but the police force did not want to take a complete loss. The dog wasn't ready and he hated having to bring her out. They are on Interstate 270. It was just as good as place as any to look for bad guys and Pixel needs real world experience. Some geek in computer crimes had given the dog the ridiculous name in passing, remarking on how the ticked color of the dog's fur reminded him of pixilation.

"Shit, we got one!" His partner excitedly flicks on the lights and siren as a Geo Prism speeds past them. The radar gun clocks the car going 92 mph.

Larry beams, "Show time!" Pixel instantly becomes alert in reaction to the police officer's excitement. To her the officers instantly turned from being quiet and docile to sharp predators who are going in for the kill. She couldn't help but bark and think its play time.

Chapter VIII: Alex the Technician

"You would think with the entire money airports make they would invest in comfortable seating along with free WiFi that works!" Alex shifts his weight on the uncomfortable chair and wished he was home in DC in his soft recliner. The Chattanooga airport bustles with people. He looked over to his wife, Jessica, and fondly recalled the last three days. It wasn't worth staying online when he couldn't even get a page to download properly so he shifted his attention.

Jessica is deftly disentangling the sticky hand of their two year old toddler, Becky, from her short dark blond hair. Nearby, his nine year old son, Matt, pokes at his five year old sister, Elizabeth, with one hand as the other held a dripping fast food sandwich. Alex watches as a gooey dollop of ketchup and mayonnaise drip down the boy's favorite Metallica shirt. Matt waves the drippy sandwich around her head.

"Matt, stop getting sauce on your sister and clean up," Alex says with a lovingly sigh. His son puts the sandwich down and leaves for the bathroom without complaint. Elizabeth quickly picks up the sandwich and proceeds to systemically look for tomatoes. She loves tomatoes.

Alex looks back down at his computer and grumbles at the single bar of a weak wireless connection and a new pop up window demanding another six dollars to continue service.

"How much longer do you think we have until we leave this place?" He asks his wife. "It's been six hours since our plane was supposed to be here."

Jennifer, bouncing the toddler on her left knee, says softly responds, "I don't know."

Alex impatiently looks at his computers clock showing quarter past the hour. He loved his computer but didn't want to pay more money to stay online. He closed the laptop and briefly thought about the day he was going to miss.

"I love the family trip but I think my boss is going to chew me out for not showing. I was supposed to help set a stage for the office." His wife doesn't hear him though, her attention caught by some cute but annoying noise Becky is making. Other passengers comment how cute their toddler is while a teenage boy a few seats down roll his eyes. Most of the passengers that had no patience for kids found new seats hours ago.

Matt comes bouncing back and flicks water at Elizabeth. His sister pretends to not have touched his sandwich and starts to play with a toy train and doesn't fall for his old trick of water being urine.

Alex worked mostly in the IT department of the Smithsonian but also helped out with setting up for presentations. His family was supposed to be back in DC hours ago. He was needed to help set up microphones and lightening for today's guest presentations outside of the Capital building. The staff needed his expertise but they were not going to get it today. Instead he was stuck waiting endlessly at an airport in Tennessee.

He was fortunate though, and found himself not minding missing work. His director was an ass and he was happy to be with his family. They had spent the last three days enjoying Chattanooga and it was a splendid family vacation!

They spent the weekend at Best Western and loved the local aquarium. His son had bought a hat from the aquariums hands on exhibit where kids are able to touch sea critters. Later that day they were able to see the IMAX. Chattanooga is known for trains, Ruby Falls and its Rock City. It was a wonderful family experience and he hoped to repeat it next year.

Alex asked his wife to watch his computer and patted his daughter on the head affectionately as he rose. Heading towards the window overlooking his terminal he starts to do a few stretches. He couldn't help but hear one of the flight attendants whisper to another flight attendant, "They are having issues with the radio tower. Apparently a solar flare is disrupting telecommunications which isn't abnormal. The plane is finally making ready to land."

Alex instantly remembers his college course on power grids and connecting cable lines. According to his professor new technology had to be created that will reflect solar flares from disrupting communications if nations did not want to lose their energy grids in the future. The problem comes from X-ray and UV radiation which fries much of the current technology being used. This answered the question why he wasn't able to get online; at least the airport wasn't scamming him on that service. He also remembered solar flares generally only affect radios, phones and the internet. He wonders if its going to affect his family's flight home.

Once again he was struck with anxiety for missing work. Maybe he should call his director and tell him he was going to miss the entire day.

Feeling a sick knot build in his stomach he calls his director. On the third ring he hears the voice he learned to hate.

"Kyle, can you hear me?" The connection is weak but after some rusting he hears his boss tell someone to give him a minute." Alex reminded himself it is normal for any boss to be jerk and that Kyle was going through a rough time. He tried his best to keep his contempt for his boss hidden. It had been a little difficult lately because Kyle took to sleeping at the office. No one has the heart to tell him to get his life fixed.

Kyle angrily comments, "You are not coming to work today are you?"

"No sorry, I'm still at the airport. Our plane is finally coming to the terminal. I can come later if you want?"
Deep down he hopes Kyle would say no. It would be nice to have another night with his family. Maybe he could talk them into eating dinner at the Olive Garden when they get home.

Without much professionalism Kyle answers, "You are not important; I don't care what you want."
Feeling righteously annoyed Alex is about to respond when Kyle follows it up with, "Sorry, not you. I'm talking to someone else. Do whatever you want. I will see you in the office tomorrow." He could hear Kyle arguing with someone in the background.

Maybe Kyle had finally pissed off the director? One could always hope.

He was about to hang up when he sees his plane making its way to the terminal turn sharply. The two flight attendants behind the counter get excited and one quickly picks up the phone when it rings. They don't notice the plane and how it has turned.

The female attendant looks up and loudly tells the other, "Something is wrong. I was just told to have everyone leave the terminal." Color left her face as her voice takes on a higher pitch.

"They said an earthquake just hit." A couple of seconds later a few security guards show up. A subtle wave of anxious energy goes through the crowd of passengers. Some start whispering to each other as others ask questions. Like them, Alex felt a distinct unease.

The male flight attendant looks up and says, "This is ridiculous. I don't feel anything. He must be high or drunk and is joking." Some people laughed uneasily but started to pack up their belongings as security starts to clear the terminal. Alex forgets about the plane and starts back to his wife. Beck is crying and his wife looks close to tears as well.

"Sorry honey, but it looks like we have to leave the terminal." He takes another step forward and finds his foot slipping.

"What the hell…" He feels as if he is drunk suddenly and reaches out for something to grip. There is nothing. People around him shake like puppets and chairs slide on the floor. Luggage is being tossed around. His knees buckle and he lands on them with all his weight. His left hand is still holding the cell phone. He tries to keep it from hitting the ground like it's made of glass. He quickly registers it wasn't the people shaking but rather the ground is moving left to right. It feels like they are on a rough sea.

Screams echoed through the terminal. He can't see his wife or his kids.

What is happening? This isn't his world! 

Alex's vision blurs and his eyes instantly water as something sharp lands on his head. He reaches up with his right hand and it comes away with something sticky and metallic smelling. What is that? Is that his blood? His eyes clear and he somehow turns around. He is facing the terminals window. The plane his family was supposed to board is still coming. A crack opens up on the runway. The ground simply splits, opening up into an earthen maw directly in the path of the jet. For a split second Alex remembers hearing about the New Madrid fault but then feels someone near him.

It's his wife. She cries quietly. Her eyes are wide and glossy with shock. His kids are all there. They are quiet, even the toddler. Their stunned eyes focus out the terminal window. He looks back to see what they are looking at.

The United Airway jet has finally reached its destination. It came to collect its passengers on their last journey.

Alex knew he was going to die. He drops his phone as he grabs his wife and kids, "I love you all." He didn't have time to see their reaction. The plane's front wheel buckles where the earth split open. In one smooth motion the tail section was sent skyward only to tumble forward to crash into the terminal windows in a shower of glass and twisted metal. The last thing Alex sees before the tail crashes through the terminal is the terror stricken passengers looking back at him through the plane's windows.

Chapter IX: The Paladin

Juliet sighs in exasperation. She is close to leveling. She needs it, she wants it. Her pixilated elf icon showers a skeleton double its size into multiple colors as her sword hacks away the monster's hit points. She is one level away from gaining the Holy Radiance power for her level 82 elf.

Her phone rings out a snippet of Lord of the Rings soundtrack which breaks her concentration. In a blink, Jasmine, her elf paladin perishes; its disembodied spirit reappears in the grave yard near the starting point. In World of Warcraft you get as many lives as you want. Juliet ignores her cell phone and focuses on applying buffs to her character. She'd be damned if she's going to let work get in the way of leveling. Her party reappears and they run back to the instance (dungeon).

Her phone rings again and begrudgingly she disconnects from the game server. She didn't want to listen to her friends chew her out. It's bad to stop in the middle of a dungeon raid and without her in the group they will have a hard time beating the dungeon. She is their healer. She knew it was her boss at the downtown Burger King.

Juliet takes a five second look in the bathroom mirror and carelessly throws her long dark greasy hair into a pony tail. Small and slender as a reed, the baggy boy's clothes she preferred in her off hours made her seem almost genderless. Under it all was a beautiful young African American woman, but sexuality scared her. Being a woman scared her. She wasn't gay or bi. But all the same, despite the romantic name given by her hopeful mother, at age twenty-two she had still never even kissed a boy. With her only perfume being the grease from Burger King and her androgynous looks, it wasn't a surprise people initially thought Juliet was a boy.

She didn't expect much out of life. She has a small apartment in D.C. where tourists seldom visit; it's off of the Anacostia Metro, or the green line. She spent the weekend at her friend's apartment in Maryland. They had a LAN gaming party. Most of her friends play until they pass out; so it didn't matter she had continued playing the game with other people online. Her friends didn't do drugs and only indulged in alcohol occasionally. They mostly live on sugar and caffeine.

She's about to quietly leave when there is a knock at the door. She is startled to see Matt's obese frame when she opens the door.

Without hesitation she whispers, "You are late by a few days. Everyone crashed; want to keep me company as I go to work?" She shrugs her backpack onto one shoulder. Bringing along her work uniform for the weekend gave her more time with her friends.

Matt agrees, a slight pink brightening his cheeks. It had been obvious to everyone he likes her but he wouldn't act on it. She was grateful for that. She didn't want to deal with dating and though shy, still knew a chubby guy wasn't what she wants. She believed someday she would find her companion when the world was ready for it to happen.

After they were a block away and half way to the Metro she found herself evaluating her Paladin's performance the night before, "Matt, it's too bad your hunter wasn't in the group, we could have used him."

"Sorry about that. My mom and brother needed some help at the church. Since I still live with them, I got to help." He then goes on a rant on how his stats need to be improved for his dwarf hunter character if the gaming guild they were both apart of was ever going to take him serious. Juliet half listens as they walk, enjoying the warmth of the sun shining down from the pristine blue sky.

Matt's rant continues as they board the Metro. Tired of it, she puts him on the spot and asks him about his relationship status. She wasn't interested in him but it would stop his ranting. He just didn't know how to play the game right in her opinion. Instead of playing strategically with the group, he played more like a mad man on a suicidal hack and slash mission.

"I don't have anybody." He continues, "So the other day, I was trying to fight a mob after farming and this other player came and kept on killing me over and over!"

As he goes on, Juliet watches a nicely dressed couple board the train. It's obviously to Juliet they are heading somewhere important. The woman has a newspaper. After a few minutes she looks up and asks the passengers if anyone wants the comics. Not wanting to listen to Matt anymore, Juliet snags the offered paper and buries her-self in the world of grainy newsprint cartoons.

At Union Station Juliet says bye to Matt. She is hungry and craves some McDonald's. After eating she changes into her work outfit in their bathroom. Eight minutes later she arrives at Burger King. It's near lunch time and the rush was starting to come in. She is surprised to see the couple from the metro leave the lobby as she enters. She tries to nod to them as the guy gives a cheeseburger to a homeless vet, and shrugs as they don't notice her.How would they notice her? She was dressed differently.

Saying hi to her coworkers at the cashier counter, she goes to the back and clocks in. As she straps on an apron, Juliet closes her eyes for a moment and sees herself as her paladin.

Is it possible to ever live in a world of fantasy? 

She wishes she was the paladin in the game. With a sigh, she picks up a spatula. This was the real world, the real world of flipping burger patties, not killing monsters or healing her misfit band of friends. There are no heroes in the real world.

Chapter X: The Vet

The river stunk of things best not thought of. Driftwood and garbage pile in heaps off of the far shore near a sewage drain. Cars could be heard on the highway.

"Give me your hand, man!" Harry Faust quickly tucks his tattered right sleeve under a pin and then reaches for his friend Tom Verde. Tom was thrashing in the water, spittle dribbled down his chin as he cussed his ill fortune. A fishing line was tangled in his left fist and he was trying desperately to catch the fish that broke his rod.

"I can't believe I slipped. The ground shifted!" Tom wasn't doing a great job keeping his balance and went under water again.

"You're a poor miserable liar. Now let me help and take my hand." Harry reaches out with his right hand, his only good hand. He lost his left arm during the Korean War in the 1960's. He is a proud, if hungry and homeless, U.S. veteran.

Shifting his weight to his left side, Harry balances and extends further, "Take my hand if you want a chance in catching that fish!"

Tom resigned himself to the fact that he needed help and grasps Harry's outstretched hand. He never understood how a one arm man could be so damn versatile with only one arm. Tom gasps in pain as the wire from the fishing line dug into his other hand. Blood appears on his palm. Deciding its not worth losing a hand, he lets go of the line and his fish dinner. They would have to scavenge in some dumpsters for food. Not wanting Harry to get to mad for losing dinner, he pulls Harry into the water with him. Nothing like a good water fight to ease hunger pains.

Ten minutes later they sit on the bank drying off as they go through discarded fast food wrappers. Garbage is everywhere and large city buildings can be seen in the distance. The area had been an old factory district, abandoned for a decade. People on the interstate often throw garbage out of their car windows while passing. It was common to see birds and homeless people scavenge for food.

Harry is wearing old military fatigues that he bought at the Salvation Army. He never wanted to let go of who he was. A person with a fine eye would note that he wore an assortment of things that are all sewn and patched together. His jacket boasted of wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq to name a few. In the real world he was a Special Forces officer who was stationed in the 6-2-5 war or what others would know as the Korean War in 1950's.

His job was to deliver sensitive data to the allied forces before they bombed a bridge on the Han River. He succeeded but a crazy ROK Korean officer blew his left hand off. He was now a 70 year vet who had medals and honors, one hand, no money, no home, and no food. Where was the justice in life? He did however have his health. He was lean, hard and faster than most twenty year olds. Having one arm did not hamper him in the slightest. It just embarrasses him.

Tom wraps a rag around his wounded palm and asked Harry, "Want to look at McDonald's for some dinner?" Tom was once a banker but lost his family and careers to the bottle.

After a minute on careful thinking, Harry decides it would be best to find dinner on his own.

"Nope, I think Burger King is training new people in. They won't be paying attention to the lobby and I can get some grub when people leave their trays." He didn't want to dig through garbage if he could have food served on a tray.

Tom looks up from his hand and mutters, "Maybe I will meet you there after I do my thing. You want to meet at DuPont Circle and play some chess at 1p.m.?" Homeless people play chess there to scam people who think they know how to play. It was common for a person to lose ten dollars a game. Of course if they won they would get their money back plus another ten dollars, but those people who wandered in thinking they could easily beat the grubby homeless guy never won. How could someone beat a homeless person who has been playing for 40-50 years? Harry smiles as he ponders what he could do if he made a few dollars. Maybe he could rent a cheap motel room for a few hours and get a hot shower.

He gathers his stuff and heads towards Burger King.

Chapter XI: Presidential Limo

You never know what kind of turnout will occur during a public presentation. There are roughly seventy people at the eastern end of the National Mall who are taking their seats. Visitors and delegates often meet at the East Front of the Capital Building. It is only natural to have our guest speakers situate themselves comfortably in such a fashion that would allow for easy transaction of speakers.

The public was not allowed inside the Capital Building outside of designated tours, a few guards smartly stand at attention at the front doors. When the President or foreign delegates are visiting it is customary to screen guests and have armed body guards keeping an eye on everyone. Washington DC has a policy regarding people not entering the general proximity of world leaders, if you enter their bubble and are not invited their body guards and military personnel will simply shoot you. We didn't have anyone important like that supposed to show today.

The Capital Building is amazing. American Neoclassicism architect spans the magnificent building that started in 1793. It was not finished until 1819. Modern architect have been combined with traditional craftsman skills to create the marvel that easily matched any building built in ancient Rome or Greece. Known for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty", it is prized for its wedding cake cast iron dome. Fantastic artwork and statues such as the colossal statue Freedom greet visitors. A recent addition to the building boasts of the Capital Visitor Center.

I introduce April to a few scholars. Shaking my head in amazement I feel every particle in my body respond like it's positively charged. I always feel power and humbled in the National Mall in DC. She instantly connects to a writer from England who is a visiting fellow. April and her new friend, Mary Scarlet, instantly hits it off after I tell April that Mary was doing research on contemporary romanticism. Mary has a PhD from Cambridge and could talk for hours. She was working on a new fictional book that had a dark character she liked to talk about. The story was about a modern day kid who is misunderstood by his community. He becomes the next biggest artist even though he is a loner throughout his life. Deep down I found myself wondering if she was the character in the book she was writing.

Sheepishly I tell my wife, "We've been here for six months and I never have been in the Capital Building. Is that bad?"

She looks at me and answers, "Yes, let's go in after this. I would like to get some more coffee."

I tell her to enjoy the show. At the far end of the lawn there is a private table with refreshments under a beige tent. Everyone important has gathered, there seems to be two groups at the table. The first groups make up the staff and visiting scholars from Congress. The second group had two staff workers from the Smithsonian.

I was expecting a few more. I make my way past the podium with the microphone to their table. Behind the microphone is a flat screen that the stage setters put up, right before the steps. It is normal to have a lecturer give visual images with whatever they are discussing. There are a few people I don't recognize but my pace quickens as I recognize CNN journalist.

This is truly going to be a great day.

I hear Mark joke with the CNN Journalist and the Russian visiting scholar Irina, "…And that's why the French lost the bid on the original architect design for the capital building." Mark loves discussing DC's history and you can see the passion pour from his eyes as he loses himself I his story.

"Michael, I would like you to meet some friends of mine, this is Susan Bishop." He introduces me to the CNN journalist. For the second time today I find myself not knowing what to say outside of hi. Deep down she stirs a slight memory and for a third time I feel déjà-vu.

Susan Bishop is a striking woman. She managed to get the image down of being a progressive independent female. She is 5'6 and has a stylish short dark hair. She knows how to get her way and her presence draws stories out of people and places. To put it simply, Susan has an Amazon presence that demands respect from all classes and people around the world.

Her crystal blue eyes instantly scan me. How could she do that? I squirm and try to give a charming smile but it comes out more as a grimace.

"Hello, I'm Michael." I fidget and look for Mark for support. He rolls his eyes and nudges Marvin, another coworker from the adjacent office in the Jefferson building.

Susan smiles, her demure changes and I can see the expression she shows her audience on CNN every night. Everyone quiets down to hear what she says.

"It's nice to be here. I only have thirty minutes. There's a conference occurring at John Hopkins University in a few hours, a panel will be discussing the current solar flare phenomena and its consequences on the global market."

I instantly look to see if the vice president's daughter has shown up, she hasn't. Everything seems to be in ready and the seats are quickly filling up.

Susan continues to captivate her us, "Did you guys know that there will be two suns tomorrow?"

We all say no and she continues, "The University will be addressing this through a panel discussion in which astrophysicists will give a full description of what's going to likely happen. To make it short, the star Betelgeuse is losing its mass."

Mark gasps and blurts, "Isn't that the ninth brightest star? What are the implications of the gravitational collapse and earth?"

Susan Bishop looks at him in slight surprise and jests, "I guess you congressman and staff are smart after all! There isn't supposed to be anything drastic. There will be two suns for a few weeks, no darkness or night. Maybe there will be a higher flux of solar flares and we will be able to see some pleasant atmosphere auras. Some say it could disrupt telecommunications for awhile but it won't be a big deal."

Getting a chuckle out of her audience she concludes, "Seriously, can you believe some people? There a few who take events like this and profit of the fear it can generate? It is not like the end of the world is coming."

Susan excuses herself and heads to her camera man. Media reporters and government staff set up the cameras and microphones in a spot in the shade near a granite wall. There was only one large tent and the stage. The audience was sitting on the lawn and it was sunny. There was no breeze. I notice there are two cops walking a young police dog near the back. The Asians who I saw at the Supreme Court Building have reappeared. As a group they snake into the Capital Building. It is too bad they didn't stay to see the presentation. I look down at my cell phone and note that the event will start in five minutes.

Moments later Mark leaves our little group at the tent and goes to where the visitors are sitting. He comes back with two people. To my amazement one of them is the redneck I met at Burger King, I think his name was Fred? He seems to be arguing with a younger man who is wearing a disheveled business suit.

Mark looks a little bothered as he introduces the two individuals, "Michael, this is Kyle. Kyle works for the Smithsonian." Kyle ignores what Mark is saying and instantly walks to his coworkers. The redneck says something thing that I can't understand and Kyle responds by talking over Fred to his coworker.

This wasn't cool. I didn't mind rednecks but this wasn't the time or place for someone with a non professional attitude.

What was going to happen if Susan Bishop caught wind? Why wasn't someone telling the man to go take a seat?

I'm about to say something when I hear the man in blue jeans and a flannel blurt, "For Christ sake Kyle! Let me have my grandson and I will leave you alone!"

Mark is at my side. I look at him with bewilderment. He rolls his eyes and mutters, "This isn't the time for family drama. I would have expected more from the Smithsonian."

Kyle's phone rings and he answers as his father continues to belittle him in front of his peers. I feel sorry for whoever is on the other end when Kyle angrily tells his dad, "You are not important; I don't care what you want."

Kyle gets his desired results as his father spurts a few curses. Mark takes advantage of the moment and steps in.

"You folks obviously have some issues to resolve but this isn't the place. We are about to have national coverage and the vice president's daughter is coming anytime." Mark reaches for the rednecks elbow and starts to direct him to where the audience is sitting.

Kyle apologizes profusely to whoever is on the phone and the people around him. He is very embarrassed. His attention keeps on going back to his cell phone and back to Fred.

Susan Bishop is walking back to our table with her camera man. She obviously missed everything and gives the redneck a peculiar look.

We hear the crowd murmur and look out to First Street. Mark stops directing Fred and quickly walks to the stage and microphone.

"It's the vice president's daughter. It is show time!" Mark starts to introduce the event while bringing people's attention to the limo. Everyone at the table takes their designated places. Kyle is still looking at his phone and can't stop shaking.

What is wrong with the guy?

The dark blue limousine is about to come to a stop. I try to get my first glimpse of the vice president's daughter but the car window is to dark to see past. Outside of Kyle's outburst and my son not getting on the airplane this was going to be a great day.

The limousine did not stop. Instead it picks up speed and drives forward. Within seconds it's gone.

Mark loses his professionalism as he blurts into the microphone, "What the hell?"

The same can be felt from everyone. Instantly I feel embarrassed and then mad.

Why did they drive off?

I'm confused as I take a few steps forward.

Who do I talk to when I am the person who is supposed to have the answers? 

The guest speakers are asking why the limousine kept on driving; I don't know who to focus on first. The
guards at the entrance of the building have gone inside but no one notices.

Marks phone rings. His voice cuts through the confusion.

I focus on his words, "Michael! Director Maxwell wants us back at the office. It sounds urgent!" Mark looks down at his phone and curses a second time, "Shit, I can't hear you Maxwell, there's too much static on my phone! If you can hear me we will be back there in five minutes."

Mark looks at me in confusion and doubt. The audience is now standing and people are pointing to the roof tops of the surrounding government buildings. Military snipers appear on top of the buildings but do not act menacing. This isn't abnormal but I start to feel a sick ball in my stomach. I'm becoming more anxious as the sick ball in my stomach starts to feel like dread. I start to think about 9-11 and terrorists. The metal police barricades built in the road activate as they rise to attention. It was not going to be possible for anyone to drive on the streets.

Looking at Mark I blurt, "Are terrorists attacking?" I feel stupid as soon as I say it. People around me instantly go frigid and I regret asking it.

"I don't know. This isn't how Washington DC acted when 9-11 happened." He lost his phone connection and stops trying. On the other hand Kyle did not lose his phone connection and is drawing attention as he starts to shriek at his phone.

Kyle sounds frantic. I can't help myself as I start to listen. Deep down I'm beginning to feel that whoever he's talking to is connected with what's happening here.

He screeches into his phone. I'm about to ask what's happening but as soon as I open my mouth I'm cut off by something I did not want to hear.

The natural disaster siren for DC could be heard and felt everywhere as it fills the city. It sounds like a high pitch whine, almost as if an old world war two bomber was flying over head. An electronic loop is built into the siren and it's now louder than the people in the audience. I feel scared. It was obvious that no one knew what to do. Simultaneously I could hear cell phones ringing.

April is at my side. She too is scared. That's when it starts to happen.

Mark swaggers on the steps. A second later I watch him fall. I didn't understand what I as seeing. I'm about to ask him if he alright and if we could bring my wife to the office when I see the stairs underneath him bubble up. The stairs behind him looked like they are part of an escalator and start to move upwards a few inches. Just as fast they moved downwards and then started to move back upwards. The stage and microphone simply fell forward with Mark. The screen from the monitor fell onto his head but it looks soft.

I feel a lack of space under my feet and find myself falling; the ground underneath me feels like a cushion is under the cement. I reach out but can't seem to grasp anything. Everything instantly goes dark as the canvas from the tent encompasses us in its embrace. People scream as the siren continues to send its message of doom.

Chapter XII: Lights out at Burger King

Juliet puts a smiley face on the cheeseburger she is preparing. A couple of deft hand movements later and the cheeseburger are done. If she was roll playing in Dungeon and Dragons she would have passed her dexterity roll perfectly! A yellow smiley face is imprinted on the burger, she puts pickles were the eyes are supposed to be. She made two burgers like this and puts special allergy stickers on them warning against onions. With any luck she could eat them for lunch if no one orders them. Worst case scenario, some stranger who doesn't like onions will find themselves with a couple of smiley burgers.

The lunch shift just started. Her two bosses are out smoking a cigarette and will be back inside in a few minutes. They told her to watch the newbie's. Only eight employees worked the undermanned shift and four of them were on their first week. There were not many people in the lobby. A few people on lunch break, a few college students, and a whole bunch of homeless people. Most people arrived after twelve and it was still quarter to noon.

One of the homeless people freaks her out. She sometimes wished they would leave. There's a bunch near the entrance that are eyeballing people's trays. She tells two of the newbie's to work the lobby and to keep things in order. They keep on slacking and were not in the lobby.

The other two newbie's are helping her prepare food. Preparing sandwiches is not hard. Everything being cooked has timers and bells. The tricky part is to make sure sandwiches are made the same and that food was made fresh. The two new employees are Sara and Dawn. They are on a work study program from high school that allows them to work at Burger King for half the day.

Behind the cash register is Tim. Tim is a long term employee. The other gentleman is Roger who is a retired professional who likes to work mornings. She does not understand why someone would want to work at a place like this if they didn't need money. They had things under control. She wasn't sure where the other worker was.

Maybe he was smoking a cigarette with the boss or maybe he was goofing off in the freezer?

Juliet tries to have a conversation with Sara, "Do you roll play?"

Sara is startled, she can't figure out how to put the lettuce on the chicken, "What's that?"

Juliet instantly knows the conservation will not go anywhere and despairingly mutters, "It doesn't matter." It's obvious these teens prefer cooler activities.

She decides to ask something else. She deftly wraps five burgers within ten seconds. Dawn can't wrap one burger in a minute.

"Dawn, can you salt the fries?" She wonders why Burger King hires teens that don't care about doing a good job.

Who knows, maybe other Burger Kings are better than hers?

She's about to start working on another chicken sandwich when she notices the ketchup miss the burger patty. She tries again and watches as it misses a second time. The burger slides down the metal rail and falls to the floor.

Dawn screams and she looks up. Her vision tilts as she feels her whole body pitch to the left. Sara falls into Dawn whose hands reach out to grasp for leverage. Dawn's hands miss the sides of the grease pit and fully emerge into the hot oil. The fries are boiling in the pit and the timer rings as the metal crate holding the fries lift up. Dawn screams louder.

Juliet feels her toes grip the hard tiles through her tennis shoes but it isn't enough. She falls where Sara stood moments before. She feels food from the plastic containers fall on her as freshly made hamburger patties hit her in the face.

Over head lights flicker off and on. She hears something that sounds like a crash coming from the entrance followed by a boom. Windows instantly shatter as beams crash down around the entrance. She tries to squint through the patties as briefly sees the light dissipate around two homeless people near the entrance as her vision completely goes dark. One man has only one arm and the other has a card board sign saying the end of the world was coming.

She briefly wonders if she is hearing a siren in the background or maybe the ringing is coming from her own ears. She loses grip of her awareness as darkness comes crashing down.

A few minutes later

Juliet found herself somewhere else. She is not Juliet, she is Jasmine. She is a blood elf and was in the process of buffering her party. They were on a quest. There was a dragon up ahead. Her hunter has a keen eye for traps while looking for treasure and was also a thief. She needs some manna to cast a healing spell.

Where was her manna?

She heard a rustle and felt something hot shoot by her. The hunter is screaming and is on fire.

The dragon wasn't supposed to attack them at their camp! 
Jasmine frantically scours her memory for a spell that could protect against fire.

Wait, where was the priest? Where was the tank? 

The rest of the party runs. The dragon eats the hunter. Fire is everywhere. She hears a feint noise that sounds like a siren.

Is that the smell of burned flesh?

The dragon turns its eyes towards her. She looks deep into its amber pupils. She could piss herself but doesn't. Teeth glimmer with blood while its tongue flickers in the air. Its eyes won't leave her. She knows she has to strike or die. Finding strength she doesn't know she posses she passes her fortitude check and leaps at the dragon. There's no going back.

Right before her blade meets the dragon's eye she hears a loud siren. She isn't Jasmine. Who is she? She wants to be Jasmine.

Something oily is on her face. She sneezes as she breathes in pepper from the beef patty. She can't see.

Why can't she see? 

Her ears are ringing but she hears the siren. Her name is Juliet. She hears sobbing. She flings food off of her face and sits up. She's surrounded by something that smells like food. She still can't see but she can hear voices.

Is that Sara? She calls out, "Sara, are you there?"

She hears Sara's young high school voice break the sirens repetitive loop.

"I'm alright," and then more frantically, "What happened! I can't see! I'm blind and I can't see!"

Sara's screams are met by other yelling. Suddenly over a dozen voices all try to talk at once. She can hear others cry. Juliet cannot pinpoint who or where they are. She tries to get up but ends up falling again. The ground hasn't stopped rolling.

Unlike the beginning the tremors become slighter. The ground moves one way a few inches before it moves the opposite. As the ground shifts she hears cooking utensils slide on and clatter to the ground.

The ground stops moving a few minutes later. It's very dark and she still couldn't see. Others had cell phones which shed very little light in the darkness.

What happened to Dawn?

"Dawn, are you there?" Nothing but silence answers her question.

A minute later she hears Sara shriek, "Oh my God, I think I found her. She isn't moving. Do you think she is dead?"

Juliet couldn't help herself and answers, "If she isn't answering she's probably dead." Sara didn't try to be quiet as tears pour freely.

"Juliet, what do we do?"

Juliet did not know what to do. She screams out for her boss but he does not answer.
After a few minutes of intense crying something good finally occurs as one of the homeless people takes out a flashlight from of his pockets.

The light instantly becomes a symbol of hope. It came from the homeless vet who has one arm.

He calls out to everyone, "People, we have an emergency. We need to keep calm and get our wits together."

Juliet instantly calls out to him; she stands near the cash register. There are a few Burger King Toys that have flashlights made in the plastic. The toys come from a new Disney cartoon. There were also matches and batteries near the toys.

The vet makes his way to her as he introduces himself, "I'm Harry, sorry to meet you under these circumstances. How can I serve you?" It's obvious that Harry was once respected. She instantly feels herself trusting him.

Juliet doesn't want to be scared. She decides the best course of action is to try to make things as best as it could possibly be. She does not look in the direction of Dawn. She knows the girl is dead but doesn't know how to feel.

Better to feel nothing. 
The best thing is to keep busy and think of it later .

The cashiers are not behind the register. She doesn't have time to find them. She calls out their names and is relieved when Rodger answers. He somehow made it the middle of the lobby.

"Rodger, help us find more flashlights." He agrees and slowly makes his way back to them throughout the rubble.

Harry interrupts, "If you don't mind, I have a plan after you hand out the lights. By the looks of things we are blocked in and there was an earthquake." He turns the flashlight to the entrance. Everyone around Juliet and Harry gasps as they see the carnage.

The front entrance caved in. Unlike most Burger Kings the building was built in an old strip mall complex. There were no windows outside the ones at the entrance. The earthquake knocked out the supporting beams and completely blocked the entrance. Light is not coming into the cracks and they cannot see outside.

What was happening out there?

Harry reminds Juliet of a natural leader. She agrees to let him take initiative and is relieved that she doesn't have to make decisions. She quickly shrugs off any responsibility of Burger King as she reminds herself she's just an employee who makes minimum wage.

"The first thing we have to do is take inventory." Rodger and Sara are near them and agree to help. The other homeless people and scared college students wait to be told what to do.

Harry continues his insights, "We need to determine who is healthy and who got hurt. How many people do we have and what are our resources?"

Juliet responds, "What do you mean by resources?" She has a bruise on her right arm. Within seconds over half a dozen small light beams are turned on and people make noises of comfort and happiness as Rodger finishes handing them out. People have stopped screaming but many are still crying. For some reason people have a phone connection but can't dial out.

Juliet shines her light at Sara and Rodger and asks them to help figure out the damage. Three of the homeless people know Harry and volunteer to help. The college students gather in a group and huddle away from the others as they urgently try to get their phones to work.


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