Friday, April 13, 2012

2014 The Way The World Ends Chapters 1-9


George Washington Hospital, Washington DC.

September 3, 2014

The janitor for the Center of Disease Control shuffles towards room 133 at the George Washington Hospital. He can’t wait to get away from prying eyes. His hands shake uncontrollably and he is chilled.

Dr. Morris calls out, “Seth, where are you going?”

His superior’s voice berates like nails on a chalk board. A headache rages behind his temples. He tries appearing collected but knows his demeanor isn’t satisfactory. The janitor shakes as he does his best in keeping the twitches of withdrawal away from the doctor.

Seth mutters, “Sorry, I’m tired and have a migraine. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”

The doctor flicks an arrogant look at him, “Whatever, I need you to take these vials to the lab ASAP, I don’t know where the technician wandered off.”

Seth stifles a groan and pockets the vials. He fidgets as the doctor peers into his eyes, his lips thinning to a sharp, disapproving line.

“Your pupils are dilated.” Dr. Morris says, gripping the technician’s wrist. Seth’s mind races but the drug hampers any chance at an adequate response.

Seth replies, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Unhand me this instant.”

The migraine induces body tremors and a slight slur to his words. Beneath the confident façade he’s terrified. Seth tries yanking his hand free of the doctor. He wants to stumble and vomit. His heart beats fast, veins sticking out thick on his neck.

Dr. Morris continues to pry, “Your skin is chilled and your heart is beating fast. Are you on cocaine?”

Finally Seth yanks his hand free and shoves away from the doctor. “I said stop touching me, I have Crone’s disease!”

The CDC doctor continues undaunted, “This is no way for a janitor from France to behave! You’re throwing away your opportunity in America and your workers visa.”

“It’s not what you think, I have a migraine,” Seth sputters.

The janitor’s vision won’t clear. He’s dying to get away but the doctor is his superior. Seth is a low level janitor at the Central Disease Control in Georgia. He started two months ago. He hates his job and his coworkers are difficult to get along with and the attitude of the doctors is insufferable.

Seth asks, “Why do you care? In a couple of months I’m going back to France. My work visa has an expiration you know.”

Seth knows he sounds snotty which doesn’t help matters. Taking a deep breath, he musters all the sincerity he can manage and continues, “But your wrong, I’m not on drugs. I’m just in pain from a migraine and my bowls are acting up.”

The doctor sighs, “Your behavior has been erratic of late.”

Seth snorts. His short and haughty bodily behavior is reminiscent of his own abusive father far away in France, “You Americans think you can fix everything.”

Seth turns and sharply starts walking down the hall but the stubborn doctor doesn’t take a hint. They pause, eyes fixed on each other before their concentration is broken by the intercom announcing a code red emergency. Many staff workers from the George Washington Hospital pause in their routines as they listen.

A RN shouts, “We need help in room 162, code red!”

Half a dozen hospital workers drop what they are doing and rush to the room.

“Why don’t you come to my office later”, the doctor orders, already turning toward to go. “We can discuss your future and your migraines. Come on, let’s see what’s happening, we might need a janitor to clean a mess.”

Seth begrudgingly follows the doctor back to room 162. A black man, tall and broad blocks Seth’s view into the room. The black man is Lin who is a brilliant researcher. He’s one of the few people Seth can stomach. Lin’s name tag is spoofed and rhymes even more then Seth’s. Majority of Seth’s jobs is to clean messes and make coffee. He really hates cleaning toilets.

Seth massages his temples as he pats Lin on the small of the back, “Hey, I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Aren’t you supposed to be in Georgia?”

They enter the patient’s room as Lin steps out of the way, “I was, but I pulled some strings. Isn’t this patient 73, what’s her name?”

Seth flippantly answers, “Who knows, who cares.”

From the doorway the scene is chaos. A half a dozen hospital staff workers hold down a thrashing female patient to the bed. The woman doesn’t say anything but sniffs the air in jerking animalistic motions. Black crud cakes her eyes which seals them shut. Something like blood, but darker and somehow more sinister, leaks from the corner of her mouth.

A RN shouts over the others, “Calm down! Mrs. Smith? Can you hear me Mrs. Smith?”

The woman doesn’t reply. She continues to thrash and sniff at the air like a hungry animal, occasionally silently snarling.”

A brunette nurse comments, “The patient woke from the coma and attacked the janitor to the hospital.”

A male RN interrupts, “Did she hit you Natalie?”

“No but he can’t say the same.”

With a slightly trembling hand the nurse points to their left. Seth sucks in his breath sharply. A janitor from the George Washington Hospital lies in a crooked heap, the side of his neck and upper torso gored and bloody. A second CDC doctor brushes past Seth; he carries a very big and scary syringe.

“Dr. Peterson, this patient is out of control, I hope you have the tranquilizer?”

Dr. Morris presses two fingers into the janitor’s neck in search of a pulse.

The second doctor pauses as he studies the struggling patient. The patient’s muscles are rigid; her fingers are curl into stiff claws as she tries to lift from restraint being places around her wrists and ankles. Her mouth opens and closes but she doesn’t say anything.

Seth’s blood chills as he watches the woman open and close her bloody mouth. She reminds him of a late night zombie movie he saw as a child. In the movie the zombie’s head had been severed, but the mouth just kept going, opening and closing, opening and closing. He had nightmares for weeks.

“This has only been happening with 10% of the patients who received the drug”, Dr. Peterson says as he plunges the syringe into the patient’s thigh.

Dr. Morris interrupts, “The janitor is dead.”

Nurse Natalie breaks into tears. Dr. Morris approaches the bed as the drug sedates the thrashing patient.

Natalie cries out, “The patient killed the janitor! This is getting out of hand.”

Dr. Peterson answers coolly, “The patients are all volunteers and have given proper written consent to be here. Can someone please remove the nurse?”

“I will escort her”, Seth volunteers, moving swiftly to the sobbing woman’s side and guiding her out of the room. He doesn’t want to clean the mess from the pother dead janitor.

Lin jumps at the chance to have a few free moments with Seth, “He might need my help, I will go with.”

Seth beams, “I almost forget, the doctor gave me these vials, do your job man!”

No one pays Seth any attention. Of late, normal protocols have been breaking down. Its not been a good week for the CDC or George Washington Hospital.

Dr. Peterson tells the rest, “We almost found the cure to diseases affecting the memory, thinking, and behavior. Soon things such as Parkinson’s will come to a end.”

Seth can hear Dr. Morris justifying the CDC’s presence to the remaining witnesses as they settle Ms. Smith back into her bed.

“A man is dead because their playing God,” Natalie mutters before allowing herself to be removed.

Seth ignores her as they walk pass eleven other rooms with similar patients being treated with the new designer drug. There are three other hallways just like this one. A total of 76 patients volunteered in hopes of being cured, Seth shutters slightly at the thought of the one’s who have been going into comas. Seth and Lin deposit the raging woman at the nurses’ station and hurry off. Down the corridor a middle aged white man in a blue suit looks confused.

The man in the blue suit asks, “Sorry to bother you, I’m here for my blood pressure check up and I’m lost.”

Seth shakes his head, “Sorry, we are with the CDC, if you go to the nurses’ station someone will help you.”

A middle aged woman walks out of the woman’s bathroom, “Mike, did you find out where we are going for your blood pressure?”

The man in the suit points to the nurses stations, “Over there. Thanks!”

Seth replies, “Sure, glad we could help.”

They enter an empty patient’s room near the bathroom. Seth locks the door.

“I think Dr. Morris is onto us,” Lin grumbles.

Seth angrily sucks in his breath, “We both need the money! Is Phillip getting any closer on figuring out a way to combine the two substances without losing its potency?”

The French man fishes out a small baggie from his pocket, in the baggie are four round purple pills. Philip is Lin’s friend who is a researcher who knows how to combine drugs.

Lin’s tall frame gives a slight tremor. “Philip is here in DC. I love this stuff, man. Do you think we will go into go into a coma like Ms. Smith?”

Seth laughs, “Hell, no!”

They use the smooth surface of a stored bedside table to snort from. Lin takes out a lighter and his driver’s license and hands them to Seth.

The man delicately places the license over the two purple pills and deftly uses the lighter to crush the pills to powder. Next Seth fishes out a white pill bottle which contains a gram of cocaine. He chops and mixes the two drugs with the edge of the driver’s license and separates the pile into four lines. Lin rolls a twenty dollar bill into a tube and hands it to Seth.

Lin absently comments, “I can’t believe we found out if we combined the two drugs we get super coke. Do you remember when we made the discovery?”

Seth nods and leans over the table. They discovered the mixture purely by mistake a couple of weeks previous when they ran out of blow. One of Seth’s many low level duties with the CDC is to clean the labs and dispose of unwanted and hazardous chemicals. To the researchers, Seth was on par with the lab rats so it wasn’t surprising they wanted him to clean their dirty work. Many of them openly ridiculed him.

The CDC was working on a new designer drug for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Many of the patients raved on the intense euphoria they got while taking it. Seth couldn’t help but swipe a few. He’s never been happier. After a few days he found himself stealing tons of the designer drugs which were supposed to be destroyed and combined it with his blow. It’s not surprisingly a few other CDC employees such as Lin and Phillip had similar habits.

Within days they shared the combo drug with their friends who shared it with their friends. Within two weeks they had a regular business selling a product no one else could get and the money began to pour in. That was before the comas; before the woman with the ever opening and closing bloody mouth. Seth shakes the image away and hands Lin the rolled twenty.

“I remember.” Seth says. “What am I going to do when I go back to France? How am I going to bring these with?”

He didn’t want to go home. He liked America. He liked American drugs. He liked American opportunities, even if he was a stupid janitor. America is all about opportunity.

Lin says, “You know I have been selling some of the finished product in DC in the last week?”

He draws the drug into his nostril through the twenty dollar bill with a deep snort.

After a moment Lin continues, “I’m getting three times more for it here than in Georgia. Do you want to help? Maybe you can make enough to stay in America or something.”

Seth beams with pleasure, every fiber of his being hums with intense rapture. He tries not thinking of Ms. Smith and the others who went into comas. His vision blurs as rage and bliss becomes one. His body and mind go numb. He shuts his eyes. Lin’s voice becomes a distant buzz. He feels a bottomless hunger which isn’t normal.

Lin continues, “I have distribution set up in DC and in Boston. However I think the CDC might be onto me. We might want to stay in DC and become rich instead of going back.”

Seth mutters, “Sure, whatever you want.”


“The Beautiful Island” The Same Day

Spain: September 11th 2014

Dr. Joseph Herbert watches as a large migration of birds take flight; he wishes he hadn’t forgotten his binoculars which would have allowed him to see the small critters with solid clarity. Joseph bursts with excitement as he hikes the stone path which is riddled with petro glyphs. Jessica, an undergraduate student in archaeology, has been making him a little uncomfortable of late. She asked him to meet him for lunch at a clearing up ahead. The terrain encompasses three colors which are blue, green and black. The blue represents the ocean, the green the plants and foliage, and the black comes from the volcano rock. The terrain is Spain wasn’t what he envisioned as a child. A lot of yellowish sandy spots full of rocks and brush can be seen on the beautiful island.

Herbert is a conservative and is happily married. Earlier in the day he decided it’s time to put the student in her place. It is university policy that faculty under any circumstances are not allowed to have intimate relations with their students. This still doesn’t stop many of his colleagues from having affairs but he isn’t one of those men. The hills in front of him lazily sprawl in the distance. The island is small; the Atlantic Ocean fills the space around it with crystal blue and green water.

Herbert asks himself in personal reflection, “So why am I out here? I could have e-mailed her.”

The path leading up Cumbre Vieja on the island of La Palma is a very beautiful. Dr. Herbert has been making it a point to study the volcano for the last ten years. Eight months out of the year he teaches at Michigan State. The other four months he’s at the Canary Islands directing study abroad programs and volunteering his time at the observatory. This is his 9th trip. The island is the fifth largest island out of seven. It’s roughly 700 km and is made by a chain of volcanos. The environment consists of a temperate cloud forest with many Jupiter trees; the smell of pine lingers in the air. Paths are not rigid as one would expect but have been smoothed over from much use over the last thousand years. Herbert loses himself in his thoughts. The island has a large highway system made from asphalt but he’s not on that. He prefers dirt and rock under his feet. He ponders his luck on being able to teach on the island which pays for his trips.

This year has been different. For the first time in his career an undergraduate student by the name of Jessica has been making him feeling athwart. Whenever she’s around his heart races and he loses focus.

The professor chides himself, “It’s almost as if I’m in puppy love. There are more important things to worry about then a hussy.”

Michigan State awarded him a grant to help put into place a new seismograph in the volcano. Seismographs detect signs of movement which is a precursor to the volcano erupting. Up to date there are only three devices monitoring the volcano but in his opinion there should be five or six. In 1949 the western flank of the volcano split and a future eruption could possibly generate a tsunami that might destroy the East Coast of America within eight hours. Not to mention many other countries and coasts.

But in all honesty it might take over 1000 years for this to happen. It’s uncommon for earthquakes to hit the Eastern Seaboard and what’s the probability it will happen during his life?

Herbert smiles as he pauses on the path. He sees the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the distance. The observatory is one of the world’s leading astronomical observatories. In conjunction with Michigan University the observatory received a donation from a private donor to install the new monitoring device this summer. They had to cut through much red tape to get this far. The government in Spain has a very slow administrative system which means it takes years to get something like this done. The people in the Canary Islands are not on their list of importance when it comes down to end of world scenarios.

A rustle in the dull green bushes gives Herbert a new pause. Ten feet to his left is a paved road leading to the summit, he’s on the dirt path. Up ahead the road branches to the right which leads to the observatory. The locals call the rock formation around the observatory ‘the lad’. The summit of the volcano is four miles above sea level. He’s supposed to meet Jessica another ten minutes ahead.

Herbert asks himself, “Why is she doing this? I haven’t given her any mixed signals have I?”

A lizard deftly flips flops onto his path with its tiny legs. It pauses as it looks at him with calm eyes. Herbert happily intakes his breath, he fears any movement might startle the magnificent lizard. Until recently the lizard was presumed to be extinct.

Dr. Herbert whispers, “You’re a Gallotia auaritae. You’re a beautiful La Palma Giant Lizard aren’t you?”

The lizard looks at him lazily, after a moment it begins to wobble away. Herbert takes out a dessert made from honey and almonds. He tries making a clicking sound to gain the attention of the lizard. He got the dessert while drinking coffee earlier in the day. The locals refer to the dessert as Pricipe Alberto. Originally the dessert is made with sponge, chocolate and almonds but his has honey in it. Over the years the café owner learned his preferred taste. Now he gets desserts just the way he likes. He really loves the Canary Islands. The giant lizard pauses and sniffs the air. The professor is excited as it attentively becomes interested in his dessert. Herbert urges the lizard to take the dessert by praising the endangered species.

The professor beckons the lizard, “Come here boy, no one is going to hurt you.”

Both Herbert and the lizard smell the honey. Herbert continues, “Your species has been rediscovered in 2007. What came first, the lizard or the egg?”

The lizard flicks its tongue and tastes the honey. After a few licks it darts into the brush. The foot long lizard is gone as fast as it came.

Dr. Herbert continues his hike. He’s surprised the lizard would be this high up on the volcano. Usually they only come up 700-900 meters past sea level. Lizards on the island have become rare do to rats and being a favorite cuisine of the locals.

Dr. Herbert’s thoughts are cut short.

A geeky male yells to him, “Hey Professor, I’m over here, fancy meeting you out here!” It’s not Jessica but a male student who has been giving him grief of late.

Herbert attempts to put on a fake smile but his disdain still comes out. His moment with the lizard is deflated as his attention zeros on the lad in front of him.

“Hello Steve. What brings you out here this fine morning?”

Dr. Herbert attempts to walk around the skinny male student dressed in khaki’s. The lad doesn’t know how to dress properly. The young adult looks like he should be in Hawaii, not the Canary Islands.

My God, why is he wearing flip flops on this trail? I think I will be giving him a C, his papers and topics are always based on the Volcano erupting and the world ending. I prefer more objective students who appreciate the moment, not those who live in a fantasy world where everything is about conspiracies.

Steve comes from a rich family. His air is snotty as he responds, “I’m trying to gain evidence for my blog on the bloody conquest of the Spaniards over the locals in 1400. Check this out, I found this arrow head in a pile of bones. I think it might have come from a Spanish soldier.”

Dr. Herbert rolls his eyes, “You mean you’re not trying to show me how the volcano is going to create a tsunami which will destroy man kind?”

Steve refuses to take the bait. He continues, “The threat is real. Can you look at this for a moment professor?”

Dr. Herbert sighs in resignation. Jessica is going to have to wait a few extra minutes.

“Sure Steve. What did you find today? I hope this isn’t going to be like last week when you found a local fisherman’s wheel and thought it was prehistoric. Do you remember that?”

A week previous Steve thought he found something ancient which ended up being a lost fishing pole that wasn’t even twenty years old. Steve excitedly gestures to the right; it’s obvious he doesn’t feel any embarrassment from past mistakes.

In a hush tone Steve replies, “So I was walking and pondering stuff when I stumbled on this, what do you think?”

They reach a clearing. At first Herbert doesn’t see anything outside of dense folia. Steve directs him to a hollowed out tree.

On the ground is a pile of rags mixed with black volcano rock. Dr. Herbert brushes some of the debris off of the rags and startles with the discovery. In the midst of the rags is a scabbard. Without pausing Herbert brushes off the dirt and whistles in surprise.

“Steve, did this come from in the tree?” The professor doesn’t really care but doesn’t want to be rude.

Steve nods, “Is it old professor? What is it?”

Dr. Herbert smiles in disbelief, he can’t believe this. Without hesitation he brandishes the scabbard and draws out a small short sword with the Spaniard emblem stamped near its hilt.

“Steve, I think you just redeemed yourself from last week’s blunder. If I’m not mistaken this sword is an officers sword from Alonso Fernandez de Lugo.”

Steve replies, “There is more stuff in the tree. Who is that?”

Dr. Herbert can’t keep the disdain from his voice, “Haven’t you been paying attention to anything I teach? Lugo is the Spaniard who defeated the local chief Tanausu in 1493. The Spaniards set the local chief up and ambushed him during a made up truce. What else did you find?” Steve withdraws a few arrows and a Spanish helmet from the tree.

Steve becomes more excited, “Is it worth something on e-bay?”

Dr. Herbert doesn’t bother to give the lad a response. He’s engrossed in holding the odd shaped helmet. He doesn’t understand why the stuff would have been placed into the tree but shrugs it off. He instantly thinks of fame as he starts putting two and two together. He’s sure the new discovery will lead to a wonderful journal or article which would allow him to receive new grants in the future.

The discovery is short lived, the earth shifts as a new tremor mildly rocks the island. He doesn’t pay it much attention for the Island has minor earthquakes and tremors weekly. Steve however isn’t used to it. He’s from New Hampshire.

Steve forgets about his discovery as his eyes go big. The earth under their feet gives off a small rattle. It abruptly stops as fast as it began. They do not lose their footing.

Steve shouts, “Is this the big one professor?”

Dr. Herbert sighs, “No Steve. This is normal for the island.”

Birds fly over head. There must be thousands. They are small birds referred to as ChiffChaff. They have round wings. Dr. Herbert enjoys hearing their sing song chirps. Within moments the flock is gone.

Dr. Herbert tells murmurs, “We need to get this stuff to the capital city of Santa Cruz de La Palma. I have a few friends who can help us determine the age and origin of the sword and helmet.” Steve doesn’t let go of his fear as he starts to hyperventilate. Dr. Herbert doesn’t respect the show of weakness in the lad but tries to hide his feelings. He gathers the sword and helmet.

Steve interjects his fears as he forgets about his discovery, “Professor, what happens if the volcano erupts and we all die?”

“Steve, there is no recorded history of a tsunami destroying the eastern sea board like your wrote about last week. Philadelphia and Delaware experienced a tsunami in 1817 and 1884 but it did very little damage. I tried explaining this to you in your last paper which you got a C on.” Dr. Herbert wonders why the sword and helmet weren’t in a cave and why Steve was able to find them in a tree.

Herbert asks, “Why were you looking in a tree?”

Steve doesn’t calm down. The lad continues his charade, “Professor, I had a bad dream earlier. An earthquake destroyed everything and a tsunami took out our capital! I looked because it was a feeling.”

Dr. Herbert snorts, “Steve, that scenario isn’t possible. If a tsunami hits Washington DC the Potomac River will surge and create only a little damage to DC. Do you remember hurricane Isabel in 2003? The Chesapeake Bay would flood its estuaries and bays which would in turn create minor damage to the city and the surrounding area. Your fears of the capital being destroyed are not real.”

Steve interrupts, “But professor, if Cumbre Vieja erupts it will send a massive landslide into the ocean which in turn would send a three hundred foot tsunami to America, this would destroy everything inland for about twenty miles!”

Not too kindly, “Steve, why do you go on and on about this? Did the volcano erupt? Are we dead? What’s with your morbid fixation?”

Steve stutters, “But Professor, do you deny the 1949 eruption didn’t create a separation in the island? There is a massive amount of earth which is ready to fall into the sea at any time! Anyone can see the rubble in the bay.”

Dr. Herbert explains, “The threat can happen anywhere between 10 years to 50,000 years from now. The likely hood of us being alive is almost zero, and that’s if it happens. Current scientists have rebuffed your fear, why don’t you take comfort in what the professionals have to say?”

Steve kicks at the dirt. He shrilly responds, “Professor, I read your marks against my paper. I understand that a massive flank failure on the left flank is unlikely and is a rare phenomenon. Please hear me out. The volcano has already erupted twice in the last hundred years in 1949 and in the 1970’s. We already have a large section of earth on verge of falling into the ocean which would create the tsunami! Anyone who visits the island can see it.”

Dr. Herbert doesn’t want to deal with this outside of the classroom. He would prefer Jessica’s company over Steve’s any day. He attempts to walk past Steve but the lad doesn’t catch a clue.

“Steve, why don’t you head back to the observatory and see of the new monitoring device came?” Herbert thinks it’s amazing that Fed Ex is global, twenty years ago it would have taken 4-6 months to ship something to the islands, or so he assumes. Steve doesn’t want to stop talking.

The kid won’t stop being annoying, “Professor, I think the situation is direr then you give credit.” Dr. Herbert doesn’t hide his annoyance from his voice as he quickens his pace. He forgets about Jessica as he tries explaining to Steve how wrong the lad is.

Dr. Herbert goes into lecturer mode, “Even though there is evidence within the world’s history stratovolcanoes fail in their underwater flanks, there is no written account of what you postulate. It’s an idea based not on fact. Current data shows the western flank of Cumbre Vieja to be made of pillow lava which is supported by pyroclastics. In other words, your worry is simply an unjust fear. You can learn from Freud when he says sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Steve doesn’t want to listen which is typical of most students.

“Professor, what happens if the sea floor buckles with an earthquake? Would this not create a gravitational pull which in turn would send a landslide into the ocean which could create the tsunami?” Steve is out of breath, Dr. Herbert hopes the lad will run out of steam if he keeps his fast pace.

“Steve, I know you fear the 2.5 kilometer rift which was created in 1949, but the depth is only 2 meters deep. There is no scientific data that shows the volcano is unstable.” Steve is losing ground; the lad is now five to six feet behind.

Steve counters while puffing with exertion, “What happens if magma is rising and if the volcano blows? This would create enough inertia to create the landslide and tsunami.”

Dr. Herbert wipes the sweat from his brow, “The BBC document END DAY blows your hypothesis away. By the way, you really should do thorough research. Your idea was originally voiced by BBC Horizon in 2002 and was shown to be a fallacy. If you would have written this in your paper without citing the proper sources you would be plagiarizing. Recent documentation shows the 1949 eruption did not drop the earth towards the sea and there is no evidence the rift you mention is a threat. For that matter there has never been a written record of a mega tsunami in the Atlantic Ocean. Why don’t you do proper research before bothering me with your fears? We have gone over this many times in the classroom.”

Dr. Herbert enters a clearing; and almost trips over a large black lava rock. He’s stunned when he sees Jessica. He forgot about her.

Jessica is dressed in a red slip. She is 5’6 with blond hair going down to her waist. Her crystal clear blue eyes go big as he bustles into the clearing. She smiles and stands up in one fluid motion.

Jessica’s voice is full of sultry intent, “Professor, you came!”

Dr. Herbert’s freezes and his heart beats faster. This isn’t what he wants or is expecting. Within seconds Steve plows into Dr. Herbert and they both fall to the ground in the small hamlet. The sword and helmet roll to the side.

Steve looks up in confusion, “Holy shit Jessica! Why are you here? Why are you dressed like that?”

Jessica shrieks in embarrassment, “Professor, why did you bring him with you?” She wraps herself into a summer blanket which is sprawled on the rock overlooking the bay. Fruit and flowers go flying. Among the tossed items are the islands ingenious Bird of Paradise flowers, avocados and grapes. A bottle of wine with an assortment of cheese can be seen to her left.

Steve gets to his feet. He can’t help but scan Jessica with amazement and lust. His voice takes on new understanding, “Professor how could you? You’re married and have children.” Steve’s voice takes on sorrow as he loses respect for his instructor.

Dr. Herbert counters without much conviction, “This isn’t what you think Steve.”

Steve retreats a few steps, “Sure professor. Now I understand why you were trying to lose me on the trail. You leave me no choice but to report you to the department head. What you’re doing is ethically wrong.” Steve picks up the sword and helmet.

Dr. Herbert instantly sees his career and marriage disintegrate if Steve reports him. Thinking fast he counters, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what you think. How about I give you an A and you forget about this?”

Jessica quips, “Please Steve, don’t do this. We never did anything.”

Steve replies, “Even if you didn’t do anything you were going to do something. The only reason you didn’t is because I am here. How could you do this Jessica?”

Both Jessica and Dr. Herbert look at the ground. They don’t know what to say, it’s really hard to deny her intentions. At this moment the unexpected happens.

The earth under their feet starts shaking with a deep rattle. At first Dr. Herbert isn’t concerned but within seconds the rattle becomes a deafening roar. Dr. Herbert and his two students fall to the ground as the earth pitches forward. Thousands if not millions of birds take flight. A cloud which encompasses the Bay dissipates. Dr. Herbert is speechless as he watches the upper half of the volcano shoot lava high into the sky. His mind goes numb as he watches the impossible happen; the pitching earth prevents him from getting to his feet as he falls again. Never in his life has he seen the volcanoes shoot lava straight into the sky, it’s often a small trickle when it erupts. The rattle changes and now feels like a train is passing by. The middle of the bay boils as brown mud lifts from the sea floor. It’s obvious a great massive shift is occurring near where the boats are docked.

Steve shouts, “I told you professor! I dreamed about this today! I told you!”

Jessica shrieks in her blanket as she rolls on the ground. It’s apparent she is stuck in the thick cloth. Dr. Herbert doesn’t know what to say. It appears the earthquake started in the Bay!

Ocean water surges towards the capital city of Saint Cruz. Fishing boats ride the wave as the city and its 90,000 inhabitants instantly disappear. All around them steam shoots from the ground. The steam blocks their vision of the volcano. The earth underneath their feet rolls towards the ocean as 500 kilometers of earth rush downwards as the wave reaches for its newest victims. The Western flank of Cumbre Vieja speedily meets the ocean. It feels like they are on a very large slide within an amusement park. Mud from the center of the bay and lava from the volcano shoot into the sky.

Dr. Herbert cries out in disbelief, “NO! This wasn’t supposed to happen!”

Steve has to have the last voice which makes Dr. Herbert insanely mad, “I told you professor! The end of the world is at hand just like I dreamed! You and all your scientific data are wrong!”

Dr. Herbert ponders the implication; he knows there isn’t anything he can do. Today is the day he dies. The world isn’t ending with a whimper but with a bang. The first wave is going to be over 1900 hundred feet high. It will travel over 600 mph through the Atlantic. In six to eight hours our nation’s capital will be destroyed! This won’t be the only wave. Many more will follow but they will be around 100 feet high. We should have implanted the warning devices in the volcano much sooner!

Dr. Herbert looks up one last time, it’s a clear day and the sun seems much brighter than normal. The sun looks a little larger than normal.

Chapter 1: Early Bird Catches the Worm

Bethesda Maryland: 8:45 AM

Mike nudges a croissant on his plate while he blinks. His wife smells of lavender and is 5’6; she’s a brunette.

Mike has a step son who is 17 years old. His name is Sam and he is gay. Mike believes its each person’s personal decision to be what they want to be but he worries his son isn’t mature enough to make such a decision. It seems such an adult thing.

He remembers what a political science professor once said and says it to himself for no particular reason as he tries finding a news channel, "CNN is so damn censored it's referred to as Communist News Network by some."

Mike laughs as he settles on CNN World News. A story of global warming and unrest in Israel and Egypt takes his mind off his wife. A most interesting segment catches his attention. A star in the sky is burning out. It’s going to create a few extra days of extra light. Apparently by burning out, the star is going to create a black hole and no one knows what will happen. The reporter jokingly concludes that perhaps they are living at the end of times and shows a few clips of millions of people gathering in spiritual places around the world. The public is informed to expect power shortages and a lack of internet. Flu season is on the rise and people can pick up a new flu shot made from the CDC. The phone rings and April drops whatever mug she’s holding in the kitchen. Mike shuffles into the bathroom and forgets about his croissant.

Light streams in as he opens the curtain and window; the sun feels warmer than usual but isn’t that to be expected with global warming? Even though he lives in our nation’s capital, he finds himself sometimes missing nature and woods. Mike wants to feel a clean breeze; instead he’s greeted with a police siren and cars honking. Balancing with these disturbances is shaky so he shuts the window and feeds his two cats.

Mike lives in a spacious apartment in a tall building in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s a three bedroom apartment and has a very large living room. His mind drifts to the project of the day. Usually his wife doesn’t wake with him. She is an illustrator and painter and works from home. She’s more a noon person.

Today is different though. His supervisor decided it’s time for him to assist in his first public function. 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. Mike needs to be at his destination by 11:50 A.M. He jumps into the shower with excitement.

It takes one hour to travel the red line on the metro to get downtown so he has to make sure to not miss the 10:30 train if he wants to eat breakfast. For the past six months he has been working at the Library of Congress. Mike is the assistant to the director. He enjoys a very nice office in the Kluge Center 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. He often considers 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. His wife loves the Jefferson building because congress used local artists and craftsman to build the magnificent structure. Mike hears a rustle behind him as his 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.

He responds 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!”

Mike is excited for the vice president’s daughter is to give an award to a few writers. He’s worked long hours to make this happen. This is going to be the first time his work blurs 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 says, “Make sure you take your blood pressure medication. With events like today you don’t want to find yourself getting a stroke.”

Mike gets up and goes to the bathroom.

Mike takes the blood pressure pill and waits patiently for his wife to finish up. Sadly he has high blood pressure and has to take pain medications for his deformed spine. He has degenerative disk disease which makes moving around a little harder then it ought to be.

They still have 30 minutes before they have to go. Mike decides to watch more news. An interesting segment comes on CNN that is airing about earthquakes in the Pacific and Japan.

His wife storms in the living room, her expression has completely changed. A half a broken coffee mug is in her left hand and coffee is dripping down her shirt and hand. April often 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?” Mike instantly fears this is going to affect the day in a bad way.

Instead of saying the right thing he blurts, “What about the airplane ticket?” He instantly regrets this as April cries harder.

Mike understands what his wife is feeling and decides to remain quiet. It's hard to articulate the pain a child inflicts as they move toward leaving the nest. Mike zones out her angry mutterings with some world news.

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.”

She prides herself in being stoic, a Finnish trait of being strong and rolling with the punches. She often jokes that Mike is a whiny German. She coughs and sneezes as she takes a pill she refers to as ‘Tylenol’.

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 her husband on the forehead with a resigned sigh.

Chapter 2: The Coca Cola Machinist

Interstate 270 Maryland: 10:22 AM

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. There were a lot of military vehicles on the highway.

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.

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 tries 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.

To Fred the answers to life are simple. 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.

One week ago, during his lunch break, he received an upset call from his son. Kyle’s wife died, leaving a heartbroken and unprepared Kyle to deal with their two month old son. She died for reasons unknown. 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. For some reason many of the radio stations do not work. The news reports it has something to do with a solar flair.

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.

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.

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

Chapter 3: Larry and the K9

The day goes slow. A lot of people are missing, half the office called in sick with the flu. 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, he didn’t ask for much.

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 4: The Paladin

Washington DC: 11:02 AM

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. For a brief moment as they pass the Medical Center Metro Station something catches Juliet’s eye which chills her. While admiring the spray painted graffiti in the tunnel she sees movement near one of the utility rooms. A few figures pin a man to a wall. They blur into one image as the train continues on the tracks, she briefly wonders if a few homeless men are mugging a public worker or something. The person pinned to the wall looked like a man, it didn’t look like rape. It almost looked like the group pinning the man were licking or kissing him. He didn’t seem to be enjoying it. It’s too weird to think about, she shrugs it off.

Juliet closes her eyes for a moment and sees herself as her paladin. She wonders if it’s possible to ever live in a world of fantasy.She wishes she was the paladin in the game. She sighs and opens her eyes. This was the real world, the real world of flipping burger patties, not killing monsters or healing her misfit band of friends.

She mutters, “There are no heroes in the real world.”

Chapter 5: The Vet

The River stinks 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 and it felt like something touched me!”

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 it’s 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 wears old military fatigues which he bought at the Salvation Army. He never wanted to let go of who he was. A person with a fine eye would note 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. Sam is busy looking at a cut on his ankle. Harry decides it would be best to find dinner on his own.

His friend sounds confusing as he adds, “It looks like something bit me but it’s not deep! Are there alligators in this river?”

Harry replies, “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. I think you cut yourself on some garbage or glass.”

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 6: 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. Mike and April live on the red line, three stops from the end and have to cross two states to get downtown. It roughly takes one hour. They 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. People can often hear amazing stories from locals before and after work on the train. There is no reason to take your car unless you want to get stuck in rush hour and pay a lot for a parking spot.

The metro station is only eight minutes away from the apartment complex. On the way they 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. A small commotion occurs near where they get tickets. First Responders help a ticket booth employee who is experiencing a heart attack or something. Mike and April walk past without commenting, Mike tries to not look. Medical emergencies are a normal part of life in the city.

They briskly make their way down to the metro and hop on the train. April 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. April chuckles as she flips pages to the cartoon section.

Mike says, “April, I swear you would live your whole life in a drawing if you could.”

His wife looks more like a professional employee going to an office then an artist who works from home. She is wearing a blue dress suit and her hair is neatly drawn back. A few sable strands of her hair appear vibrant in the sunlight. The sun is warm on their shoulders as they 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. Mike enjoys loosing himself in personal thought as they travel on. Maybe they are going to a nerd convention, or a “nerding” event. The obese male sneezes and looks like he has the flu.

Looking up he sees 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 his wife gives a slight laugh and finishes the comics, “Do you want this?” He answers no. One of the geeky teen’s pipes up he loves cartoons so April gives him that section of the newspaper.

April gives a slight gasp when she reads the international news, “Michael, did you know Japan is still in a recession after they lost their nuclear plants?”

He shakes his head no, 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. Another story says the current flu is putting people into comas who are taking the flu vaccine. Imagine that?”

Mike feels sad for the Japanese but at the same time he’s happy natural disasters such as that misses America on his coast. 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.

Mike asks his wife, “Anything new happening in the world?”

After a few minutes of reiterating things he already knew she finds something of interest.

“Yes, do you know what happened to China?”

Mike briefly recalls 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.”

Mike perks up; information like this could really impress his 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.”

Mike inserts, “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 adds, “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.”

He notices they are nearing their 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?”

She concludes, “Oh look, FEMA camps are being made around America, they say they are for ‘times of need’ and in case an epidemic comes. Why would FEMA be making camps in America Mike?”

Mike doesn’t answer, he isn’t listening. He shakes with excitement as they 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.

He pauses for a second and reads the message, ‘The world ends today’, He tosses a few dollars into the man’s cup and mutters, “Today is just as good as any other day to die.”

The rest of the crowd and his wife walk by without noticing. Many people cough and have the flu which is odd for September.

Chapter 7: Burger King and the Last Supper

Mike whines, “I don’t feel like Burger King.”

There are over half a dozen homeless people sleeping in booths. Half wrapped sandwiches and overflowing garbage cans give testimony they once ordered food. Many of them cough and look sick. Two act aggressive with each other but are keeping to themselves.

“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. She shrugs her temples as if she has a headache.

Mike shrugs in discomfort and ask her to order him, “I will find a seat. Can you get me two double cheeseburgers without onions and pickles?”

She replies, “Sure.”

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. The solo eater is a middle aged white man who wears a blue flannel shirt and stained blue jeans. A pro bass fishing hat fits loosely on his poorly thin combed hair.

“Pardon me, there isn’t any tables open. Do you mind if we sit here?”

The redneck 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.”

Mike should have been quiet but sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop talking. He looks down at his fancy wrist watch and notices he only has 15 minutes to eat. The capital building is 5 blocks away and will take them roughly 8 minutes to walk.

“What do you do Fred?” Mike sits down.
April 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. Mike sighs in defeat and tosses the food back on the tray.

He whines, “The cheeseburgers have onions on it.”

He tries picking off the onions with a plastic fork. There is a long line at the cashier which makes it pointless to try to fix the problem.

Fred rolls his eyes as he watches Mike pick off a few onions, “I’m a machinist for Crown Cork and Seal.”

He doesn’t say anything more.

After a few seconds Mike asks, “Sorry, I don’t know who they are?”

It is obvious he doesn’t like conversing and Mike regrets picking the table, he answers,

“Does it matter?”

Fred 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 leaves, half his food is still on the tray, homeless people are on it within seconds.

Mike looks at his wife and dryly comments, “I don’t think he liked me.”

She happily continues to eat and shrugs.

Looking down at his two cheeseburgers, he feels queasy and anxious. His stomach starts to turn and he can’t finish eating. A homeless guy picks the scraps off of Fred’s tray while putting his back to his companions. The homeless men act like vultures and make Mike uneasy. The staff at Burger King doesn’t care.

Instead of feeling disgusted Mike gives a different homeless person, who is a Vietnam vet, his second cheeseburger that is loaded with onions. A simple looking Frenchman glares from near the trashcan. A homeless person argues about the price of a drug the little man gave him. Mike is aghast as he watches the man shrug and hand a few pills from within his jacket. He doesn’t cough like the rest of the poor people and doesn’t fit.. Mike briefly worries about getting the flu.

April quizzically mentions, “You are going to get hungry before lunch! Sorry they didn’t get the order right.”

Looking over his shoulder Mike whines, “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 Mike as they leave. The one armed man immediately eats the sandwich in three bites. Mike briefly wonders if karma will ever pay him back for helping people like that.

Chapter 8: The Players of DC

It’s not far to their destination. After Union station they walk five blocks. All they 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. Mike tries to pass one Asian group of teenagers but find him-self walking behind them. There are roughly twenty teenagers dressed identically in blue uniforms and they are taking a lot of pictures. They don’t say much but 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. On their backs are three foot rods with red flags at the end.

Mike comments as he watches the Asian students, “Now there’s something you seldom see around this town. They have a group consciousness. Did you know Americans are way too independent for something like that? I bet you they don’t get sick wearing those masks.”

They 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 Mike 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. Mike’s attention drifts to a few Vietnam vets wandering and begging.

As they pass the Supreme Court Building Mike get excited and quicken his pace. A couple of his coworkers sip 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.

Mike yells, “Mark! Are we ready, and is anyone at the Capital building?”

Mark and Irina look up as they approach. Irina blushes as Mark leans over and whispers 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.

Mark sounds brisk, “Hello Mike and April, nice to see you show. Where were you? You missed the drill. Director Maxwell is unhappy with you.”

His companion adds, “I don’t think it matters. If your function goes without hitch we will get national coverage and all will be well.”

She’s dressed nice. Irina is a graduate student from Russia; she spends most of her time researching in the obscure tombs of the library like most fellowship recipients.

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

Mike asks, “Did I miss anything important?”

The Asian teenagers snake their way to the Supreme Court Building.

“No.” Mark adds, “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 partake in 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.

Mike is embarrassed as he replies, “Shit, sorry.”

Veronica is their secretary. She might have seemed annoyed to Mark, but Mike knows she probably isn’t. She has a lot of sympathy for his back disability and usually is a good sport about covering for people for a good reason. Their 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. They the cream of the crop and really don’t need every second of the work day to do their jobs well.

“Well, let us not keep the public waiting.”

With a grand flourish Mark directs their 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 they continue their journey to the capital building. A lot of people seem to have the flu. The streets are emptier than normal but no one things twice of it. It is flu season after all. April makes an excuse to take one of her ‘Tylenols’.

Chapter 9: Alex the Technician

Tennessee: 11:53 AM

“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 deftly disentangles 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.

Alex says with a loving sigh, “Matt, stop getting sauce on your sister and clean up.”

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! The only thing he didn’t like about Tennessee was all the gentlemen clubs and the adult toy stores. They had to change hotels their first night. Their first hotel was a Days Inn off of I-40. The hotel was not really a hotel but was more like a seedy motel which somehow passed as a hotel. An adult superstore and a strip club was part of their accommodations. Their second hotel was much better. Another thing unnerving was all the signs asking for a missing girl named Holly. Every single business had signs showing her face and billboards offered money rewards for her discovery. Needless to say he kept his children close.

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 it’s 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, he hears his boss say the name Seth a few times. Alex reminds himself it is normal for any boss to be jerk and that Kyle was going through a rough time. He tries 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. He thinks Kyle is on drugs but doesn’t want to get involved.

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 hears Kyle argue with someone. He’s 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.

The flight attendant continues, “They said an earthquake just hit and the east coast is being evacuated because a tsunami threat.”

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 start to pack up their belongings as security proceed to clear the terminal. Alex forgets about the plane and goes 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.

He mutters, “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.

Alex’s vision blurs and his eyes instantly water. 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. He’s reminded of the ferry from Greek mythology that takes the dead to their new resting place.

Alex knows he’s going to die.

He drops his phone as he grabs his wife and kids, “I love you all.”

The plane’s front wheel buckles where the earth split open. In one smooth motion the tail section goes skyward only to tumble forward to crash into the terminal windows in a shower of glass and twisted metal a moment later. 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. They appear to be scared of something in the plane.


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