If you’re just joining us, you may want to click here to start from the beginning.

Into The Night

As darkness closed in on the small apartment, only a single can of fuel provided a source of light. The orange glow on the kitchen counter was enough to allow movement without people tripping over each other but the shadows ran deep and long, especially in the corners. Despite overwhelming fatigue, no one really wanted to sleep. The earlier unseen explosion, somewhere off in the distance, had both Miranda and Adam on edge and they stood quietly gazing out the glass door of the patio into the darkness. Cam stayed close to Reesie, bothered by both the apparent loss of her family and the anxiety of being surrounded by people she was afraid to trust. Gwen was stretched out on the floor next to Roscoe, lost in thoughts of what motherhood might be like in this new environment that was taking shape around them. Hannah, wrapped in a blanket, her knees up to her chest, sat on the couch worried that she had alienated perhaps the only family she had left, arguing with herself whether such steadfast devotion to her faith was worth the loss. Barry and Amanda were the only ones making any noise, talking quietly about what opportunities might lie in front of them after something resembling “normal” started to return. 

Carlson leaned against the counter, close to the light. He was feeling an unexplainable fear of the darkness now that he realized that his failure to make yesterday’s meeting in Milwaukee likely fed, at least to some degree, into the day’s disaster. He continued rolling the chip in his pocket between his fingers. To some degree, the disaster bought him some time. It could be months, possibly even years before technology returned to a state where the chip could be read and its contents fully explored. Between now and then, though, there were consequences that, as far as he could tell, were unavoidable. Being in the Midwest would help some, to be sure. At least they would be spared from the direct impact of the super hurricanes already building in both major oceans. What they wouldn’t be able to escape would be the earthquakes that, by Carlson’s estimates, were no more than a few hours away.

More than twenty years had passed since the problem first began. Geothermal energy had long been touted as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels but resources had seemed to be limited to a few places in the Western United States, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Africa. Then, new technologies allowed companies like ThermoDyne to tap deep resources, the kind that could only be located with thermal satellite energy. Suddenly, the entire planet was open to a powerful source of cheap and infinitely renewable energy waiting to be tapped.

Unfortunately, oil-producing countries feared that the utilization of such resources would upset their economies. Geothermal energy didn’t require near the manpower, was universal enough to provide nationalistic autonomy, and might dramatically upset the global balance of power as third world countries had the potential to lose their dependence upon foreign assistance. As a result, geothermal exploration and development were regulated to the point that it was financially prohibitive to bring the energy to the mainstream. At least, that’s what the politicians were being told.

Secretly, ThermoDyne had gone ahead and started what they called “Tap and Cap” operations where hundreds of powerful deep geothermal stores were tapped and prepared for resourcing then capped, stop valves placed on the structures, keeping the thermal energy below ground until it was needed. The plan was to wait until the next oil crisis, which was inevitable, and then release a global supply of cheap energy, completely sinking oil economies and allowing ThermoDyne-funded politicians to take over entire countries. The coup had the potential to be bloody on the front end but ultimately would serve the planet better while making billionaires of everyone at ThermoDyne.

That was until Carlson started taking a closer look at thermal maps around the capped sites. It appeared that the caps weren’t all working properly, allowing pressure to build to dangerous levels and in many cases causing the thermal energy to leak into the environment. Only Carlson and a handful of other ThermoDyne employees around the world were aware of how severe the problem had become. For all the talk of greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions, much of the problems with global climate change were actually being fueled by these leaks in the global geothermal system. Ocean-based caps were significantly warming sea waters causing ice caps to melt at an alarming rate. Land-based caps were altering ecosystems resulting in mass die-offs of bees and migratory birds. 

Gathering all the data necessary to convince ThermoDyne executives to take any action at all had consumed the past three years of Carlson’s life. He had flown all over the globe personally checking and double-checking reports from the most problematic sites. He had test results not only from internal scientists but independent studies proving the effect the capped sites were having. 

Carlson had finally convinced his boss, Greg Morris, that the problem needed immediate action. The problem was getting the attention of ThermoDyne’s CEO, Boris Kostenrawki, a jet-setting billionaire who didn’t like spending two nights in the same place. Greg had finally managed to get Carlson 15 minutes in front of the boss to convince him that the pressure valves needed to be released on the caps immediately and the sites allowed to cool before cataclysmic weather events started to take place. By Carlson’s estimates, they should have had three months to get the sites shut down. But then, the rental car fiasco caused him to miss the meeting. Kostenrawki was impatient and moved on, then fired Carlson when he heard about the incident at the airport.

Now, adding insult to all the injury, Carlson’s estimates appeared to be wrong. He knew storms of this magnitude didn’t just happen. Tornadoes the size of the one they had seen that afternoon could only be fueled by massive amounts of thermal energy. The caps were likely hours, days at the most, from completely blowing and when they did a literal thermal hell would break loose across the planet. The first one, likely deep in the Pacific off the coast of Korea, would set off a chain reaction that would ignite long-dormant volcanoes and geothermal geysers and triggering massive earthquakes across every continent. The devastating effects would have the impact of a major extermination event the likes of which the planet had not seen since the ice age.

Carlson wished more than ever for a working smartphone from which he could access satellite images. He knew that somewhere in the Caribbean multiple tropical depressions were forming. They would combine to create a massive hurricane that exceeded anything the Saffir-Simpson scale could measure. None of the islands would survive. The storm would likely power its way up the East coast of the US ripping up everything in its path and spawning hundreds of tornados that would carry the terror inland. By the time the first one died somewhere near the North pole, another would have formed and been following an almost identical path. There wouldn’t be time to recover and with communications down people would never know what was about to hit them.

For where he stood now, the greatest danger would likely come from the West. Massive pools of deep geothermal energy were centered in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado. As Pacific-based energy rippled outward, earthquakes would take out the existing sites and the sudden release of energy would send dormant heat sources, such as those barely beneath the surface at Yellowstone National Park, into cascading overload. The more the earthquakes triggered explosions, the explosions would then trigger more earthquakes. Simultaneously, with massive amounts of heat and carbon released into the atmosphere, storms such as what had flooded them out this morning would seem small by comparison.

Exactly how the earthquakes would respond East of the Rockies was a geological mystery. None of the mapped faults had been especially active in the Quarternary period, meaning nothing had broken the ground. That was likely to change now and the lack of any available modeling would put major cities such as Chicago, Cincinnati, and Nashville at risk. Existing emergency resources would be inadequate to respond even partially to all the disasters. People in rural areas were likely to be completely ignored. Millions of people would die as a result.

Even standing as close as he was to the light, no one saw the tear roll down Carlson’s cheek. Sure, they were all fine now, but he knew the odds of them all surviving decreased with each passing minute. With the sound of every distant explosion or the rumble of what was assumed to be thunder, he knew a greater disaster was approaching and even if he told everyone there was nothing they could do to stop it, no place they could go that would be any safer than where they were right now.

The ding of an old school wind-up timer signaled the end of the first watch period. Barry and Amanda would take the balcony, Carlson and Reesie would take over for Natalie and Darryll. Carlson felt embarrassingly uncomfortable. While he had coffee in her shop every day he was in town and always sat at the counter and chatted, he knew next to nothing about the young woman. Carlson considered it a strength that he could develop a business relationship with someone without ever getting terribly close. The sad reality was that he never got too close with anyone, including his wife and daughters. He wondered where they were, if they had survived the initial storms, and if they had whether or not they might be frightened. Over the past five years, they had all gotten accustomed to getting by without him. On a recent in-and-out trip home, his wife had half-way joked that she felt a bit like a widow. Even when he was home, he was distracted, little more than a memory of the person she married. He hoped they were all safe. He doubted they cared whether he was.

“I’m gonna come with you,” Cam announced as Reesie stood up and headed for the front door.

Exchanging a quick glance with Carlson, Reesie responded, “Nah, I think you’d best stay in here and try to get some rest. It’s only a couple of hours and it’s not likely to be very interesting. Just a bunch of adult talk, you know?” She took off the jacket she’d been wearing and wrapped it around Cam’s narrow shoulders. “Here, that’ll keep you cozy until I get back.”

Cam wrapped the large coat around her and huddled back in a lump on the floor. Reesie and Carlson stepped out front and found Natalie and Darryll sitting near the railing, their backs leaning against each other. 

“You guys look cozy,” Reesie said. “You can go back inside if you’d like.”

Natalie smiled. “The breeze out here is kinda nice. It’s been pretty quiet. Now that it’s dark, I don’t know that we’ll see anyone.”

Reesie looked out into the inky blackness around them. “I think I worry more about what I can’t see. This feels off, weird in a way that’s difficult to describe. Not having street lights is one thing, but no light at all, looking out there and seeing nothing, makes my skin crawl.”

Carlson walked over to the rail and leaned out, trying to see if there was anything visible in any direction. There wasn’t. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel vulnerable out here. You know we can’t be the only people who survived, but I don’t imagine many were able to find apartment buildings like this. People who are desperate do desperate things.”

“After being out here a few minutes, your ears start to pick up on subtle sounds,” Darryll said. 

“I guess it’s that same kind of adaptation that comes with being blind. There’s so little noise out here and nothing to interfere. You hear every little sound.”

“Have you heard anything odd?” Reesie asked. 

“No, not really,” Natalie said, looking at Darryll. They had already decided to not mention the people who had floated to their deaths earlier. There wasn’t any point.

“Occasionally a piece of wood or something will slam into a car or one of the supports downstairs,” Darryll added. “It’s always a bit startling when that happens. What we’ve been trying to listen for is anything on the stairs or hitting the walls at either end. We’ve not wandered far from the door, though. We lose sight of each other too quickly.”

Carlson turned around, leaned against the rail, and sighed. “It’s going to be a long night. I’d give almost anything for a glass of 12-year-old scotch.”

Reesie turned and leaned on the rail as well. “Make mine a Moscow Mule.”

“Beer, here,” Natalie added.

“Same,” Darryll concurred.

The four of them sat in the darkness, waiting. Longing. Remembering better times, drinking with friends, moments of pleasure that, for now, seemed gone forever.


The Power Of Frustration

Perry sat on the table trying desperately to move his legs. “Mind over matter,” he kept telling himself. “This is all psychosomatic. There’s nothing wrong with your legs. You just have to tell yourself they can move. That’s it. Just move them.” But nothing happened. Nothing had happened for a couple of hours. He sat there on the table, trying to get some feeling, jabbing and poking at his legs, things he knew should have caused some level of pain, but no matter what he tried there was nothing.

Shifting his weight around on the table had almost caused him to fall more than once. While the table was fully capable of holding his weight, its legs were not designed to endure the added pressure of being jerked around in different directions. The momentary panic that came with nearly falling off the table had convinced Perry that sitting still was probably his safest option. Still, the longer he sat there the angrier he became. He had devoted the past 15 years of his life to a project that should have saved people. Instead, hundreds of thousands, at least, had been killed because someone, perhaps more than one someone, had slipped under his radar and sabotaged the whole thing.

One advantage of not being able to move around was that it gave Perry a lot of time to think back over conversations he had with Tony Briscane and others. Tony had seemed to be aware of the potential dangers more than Perry was. He had been reluctant to add the FBI’s specialist at first. Keeping out any type of bias had been important in making sure that no possible threat was ignored and Perry considered both the FBI and CIA to be among the most biased organizations in government. Tony had proven himself, though, and had been an important leader in getting the project test ready and meeting what everyone had considered the ridiculous demands of the president.

The president’s insistence that the test be public and take place at the White House was considered ridiculous and inappropriate by everyone on the team. Tests needed to be conducted under controlled circumstances and while there was no question that the White House was about as secure a location as possible, it was still dramatically more open than the systems at the bunker, creating new and unknown dangers for interference or interception. Tony had made it his job to go through every aspect of the White House communications system with a fine-tooth comb before agreeing to conduct the test there, and only if he were the one conducting it. There were too many options for trouble.

Of particular concern was the possibility of espionage on the part of foreign governments, particularly the Russians and Chinese. Tony, Perry, and others on the team had looked at the schematics Tony had created and found numerous points where the system was potentially open to being hacked. While electrical components of the system were all manufactured by US companies, Tony had discovered that critical elements within those components were made in China, components that had the ability to store data and share information independently of the components themselves. Replacing those pieces was not practical so the team had code to shut down the external communication functions of those pieces, code that Tony was constantly tweaking right up until the last minute.

The team had also conducted their own tests within the bunker. They had purchased hundreds of cell phones from every manufacturer on every service provider available in the US, set those phones all over the base in varying conditions, and checked to make sure that every phone received the message at the same time. That aspect alone had taken over two years of testing before they were convinced that they could reach 99 percent of the cell phones in the United States. 

Still, there were limitations for which they could not account in the bunker or on the base. Cell phones depended on relays and towers being in operation. Data from service providers themselves showed that, at any given time, 18 percent of all relay equipment was not functioning for one reason or another. For the major providers, that fact was offset by redundant overlapping from other towers. They had spent billions of dollars to make sure that calls and text went through no matter where one was in the continental US. Communities primarily served by smaller providers, though, did not enjoy such redundancy. Outage complaints were frequent which meant that there were some people who might not receive the messages, especially if they were, for example, riding a tractor out in the middle of a field or driving a semi across the often desolate areas of Interstate 40. 

Tony had helped the team find solutions to all those problems. By the time he left for the White House, Tony had convinced Perry that there was less than .00001 percent chance of failure and that there was a backup to account even for that. By all reasonable estimations, there was absolutely no reason for the test to fail.

Yet, the test did fail, and the results of that failure had been unlike anything Perry had ever seen. He was aware that the government had emergency contingency plans in case there was ever an attack on the nation’s power grid. However, that plan largely relied on communications systems still being intact. Engineers in major cities needed the ability to communicate with each other in real-time as they brought systems back online in order to prevent another cascading outage that would further damage the equipment. They had just killed every cell phone in the US. The contingency plan was worthless.

Lightening hit near the hangar and the resulting thunder shook everything inside, including Perry’s table. He held on to the sides, not sure but what he was going to yet end up on the floor, unable to pull himself back up without assistance. The failure of the test was one disaster. This never-ending storm was a whole other matter, one so severe that no contingency plan, of which the military seemed to have endless quantities, fully covered what was happening at this juncture.

Perry saw Major Davis a few yards away and motioned for him to come over to his tent

“Yes, sir, what can I do for you,” the officer said as he saluted.

Perry returned the salute as best he could before answering, “What’s our status with this storm, Major? It’s been hitting us nonstop for a few hours now. How’s everything holding up?”

The Marine shuffled his feet nervously and asked, “Permission to speak candidly, sir?”

Perry nodded, “Of course.”

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to hold things together, but we’re getting close to the limit of what we can reasonably do. The cover over the bunker is only partially holding out the rain. The other explosion sites are likely severely flooding by now and that is likely impacting any survivors who were able to make it into the tunnels. We’re measuring winds at 70 and 80 knots per hour. I can’t send people out into that for any reason, I don’t care what’s blowing away. The exterior of the facility is taking a pretty severe beating. Again, it’s holding together for now, but if this keeps up we’re going to start seeing some issues soon, probably starting with the roof pieces on the exposed West side. If we could get out there, we could fix it, but again, I don’t dare send people out in this. Our current status is grave.”

Perry grimaced. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that the weather might clear anytime soon.”

Davis shrugged. “Who knows? We don’t have satellite. We don’t have radar. The best we can do is hang a sock on a pole to see which way the wind’s blowing. We’re sitting blind here, Colonel. And it’s dark now so we can’t even see what’s coming at us next.”

“How are our people holding up?” Perry asked as he watched the non-stop activity across the hangar.

Major Davis followed Perry’s gaze. “We’ve set up three shifts of rotation but most of our people are volunteering for double shifts. The downtime makes them more anxious so it’s better to keep busy and keep working. We lost a couple more of the injured and there are maybe ten others I’ll be surprised if they survive the night. We are doing everything we can but with such limited resources, we can’t really give everyone the level of care they need. Were we able to get them to a hospital, things would be different. One of my engineers says if we can get him to the garage he can fix transports to get people out, but, yet again, that means going out in this storm and there’s no way one of those trucks would stay upright in this wind.”

Perry sighed. He wanted, needed, to be up and walking. He needed to talk to the survivors. He needed to encourage the troops. He was an ineffective leader as long as he was sitting on this table. “Major, I have a favor to ask of you,” he said.

“Yes, sir, anything you want,” Davis responded.

“I need a way to be mobile, to get around, talk to the survivors, inspect things for myself. Preferably something that doesn’t involve a motor,” Perry instructed.

“A wheelchair,” the Major said, simplifying the request with the obvious answer.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Perry chuckled. “I just assumed we didn’t actually have one around.”

“I think we can probably rig up something similar,” Davis said. “There are various parts and pieces lying around. The back tires may be a bit broad, but I’ll see what we can cobble together.”

Perry shifted uncomfortably on the table. “Thanks. I’m feeling too damn useless sitting here. I also want to interview that fucking traitor you’re holding. I need to know what’s really going on here and why before I beat the living shit out of him.”

Major Davis leaned in and lowered his voice. “There are plenty of people willing to help you with both parts of that,” he said. “We’ve got a team with experience in Afghanistan. Just say the word …”

Perry nodded. He had wondered in the past whether there might be an interrogation unit attached to security detail. He didn’t want to have to use such drastic tactics if he didn’t have to, but at the same time, it wasn’t going to bother him any if Tom proved less than cooperative. A part of Perry wanted to beat the traitor within an inch of his life.

Another close lightning strike caused both men to instinctively duck as the ground shook beneath them. Dust fell from the rafters, resulting in distant calls for making sure the wounded were sufficiently covered. 

Perry could see the concern on Major Davis’ face. “What are you thinking, Major?” he asked.

“I grew up in Kansas, sir,” Davis started, “and this is starting to feel like pre-tornado conditions. If we start getting hail, even a small amount, I’m moving everything in away from the walls and set barricades in front of the doors. I don’t want anyone being sucked out if a door goes.”

“Think the building can sustain a direct hit?” Perry asked.

David shook his head. “There’s no way. Too much air under here. Anything larger than an F2 is going to yank the roof right off this hangar and suck out anything that’s not tied down, including people.”

Perry didn’t like this prognosis at all. After everything else they’d been through, the thought of people being sucked outward by a tornado felt as though the earth were directly punishing them for something they had no part in causing. “Find me a wheelchair, Major,” he said. “If I’m going to get sucked out of here I don’t want to be strapped to this table when it happens.”

“Aye, sir,” Davis said as he saluted and trotted off.


Grasping The Situation

The light in the re-inforced basement bunker known as the Situation Room had been reduced to two bulbs in an effort to extend the life of the diesel-powered generators. Similar moves had been made throughout the White House, giving the entire building a somewhat creepy feeling. Some remarked that it must be similar to what it was like before the first electric lights were installed in 1891, during Benjamin Harrison’s presidency. Others dared to wonder aloud what ghosts or spirits might be incited to walk among the shadowy corridors. In the SitRoom, however, there was no time for speculation.

Admiral Grace Tennant, acting on behalf and with the consent of the joint Chiefs of Staff, was going over hand-written notes with Rick Angel, president Blackstone’s National Security Advisor, Roger Raddison, director of National Security, and a very frustrated President Norma Watkins, who had been whisked away from the Capitol the instant she had been sworn in, much to the objection of several members of Congress who still had questions they wanted to be answered. 

Admiral Tennant sighed heavily and put the papers on the table in front of her. “We’ve gone to a lot of trouble in an attempt to create a picture of as much of the continental US as possible. We were able to get a limited number of planes back in the air around 1400 hours this afternoon. Considerable care had to be taken since they were having to fly without any satellite or radio support, something these pilots are not trained to do under most circumstances. Fortunately, there were enough pilots with experience over Afghanistan and the Middle East that the lack of resources wasn’t that big a deal. We sent them on a domestic surveillance mission to see what the state is across the country. They took pictures but they were with traditional film cameras. We’re having some challenges finding the chemicals necessary to process them, but they’ll be brought over as soon as possible. What you have in front of you is a written report compiled by the pilots, co-pilots, and flight navigators on those planes. We knew we would be looking at a dire situation, but I don’t think anyone was expecting what these pilots have seen.”

“How much of the country were they able to actually observe?” Norma asked. “I know they can see a lot, but did they get over some of the less-populated regions?”

“I’m confident they had eyes on at least 96 percent of the country,” Grace replied. “In most cases, we had some duplication over some of those least-populated regions. Although, based on what I’m seeing here, it looks as though we may have a whole lot more wilderness than we did when we woke up this morning.”

“Madam President, I’m not totally comfortable being part of this conversation,” Rick Angel said. “This is classified information and, technically, I’m a civilian now. I’m not sure it’s legal or appropriate for me to be here.”

“Roger, your opinion, please,” Norma said. “Is Mr. Angel a threat to the security of this country?”

Roger and Grace both laughed, though Norma’s expression didn’t change. “With all due respect, ma’am, we’ve often asked that same question about your predecessor, may he rest in peace. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Mr. Angel, but legally he’s correct, his presence in this room is problematic unless you want to appoint him to a specific position.”

Norma buried her face in her hands a moment before responding. “Fuck, guys, I don’t know. I’m not ready for all this,” she said. “Rick, I need all the intelligent opinions I can get and I’ve heard more than once how you managed to get Rudy to backdown off some incredibly stupid ideas. How ‘bout you continue as ‘acting’ security advisor until I have time to figure out what the hell I’m doing?”

Rick smiled at the jab Norma had taken at the former president. “I serve at your pleasure, Madam President,” he said.

“Good, let’s get on with this,” Norma said. “I’m looking over these notes and I’m not seeing a damn bit of good news here. Do we have any casualty estimates?”

Admiral Tennant shuffled through the notes to confirm her answer before speaking. “No ma’am, there are none included. However, given the severity of this report, I think it’s safe to say that there are not going to be as many members of Congress next session. Our country has taken a pretty big hit.”

Norma looked through the notes for the third time. “Roger, can we be sure none of this is the result of some form of foreign attack? How much of this is a natural disaster and how much did we do to ourselves?”

“The worst definitely appears to be a natural disaster,” Roger confirmed. “I can’t say that the whole mess wasn’t started by China, though. I’ve talked with people at the National Weather Service and they say there was absolutely no indication of these weather patterns 24 hours prior to the first events. According to their information, the only way this could happen would be for there to have been a sudden, large-scale underwater event that dramatically warmed the oceans by over 50 degrees. That could be consistent with an underwater nuclear detonation.”

Feeling her stomach churn, Norma put her forehead on the table. “Great. I’ve been in office how many minutes before we have a nuclear war scenario? Are we sure China has that capability?”

“They have two 093-type subs,” Grace answered. “They’ve been working on a naval base near Sanya in the Hainan province for at least six years. Previous satellite imagery has shown they’re working on at least four more subs but we don’t have confirmation on how close those are to being in service.” 

Rick absentmindedly drummed his fingers on the tale, causing Norma to sit up and glare at him. “You have something to say, Mr. Angel?” the President asked, her voice tense and tired.

He smiled a half-hearted apology. “Roger, help me remember here, but didn’t you say something about a year or so ago about putting down some mines somewhere along there? I don’t remember it being an actual mission, though, just something we discussed in regard to that portion of the South China Sea. Am I remembering that correctly?”

Sitting back in his chair, Roger sighed as he gave the matter some thought. He knew the answer but he didn’t want to be the one to say it out loud. He didn’t know the new president well, but he was certain that she wasn’t going to like what she was about to hear. “Admiral, you want to handle that one?” he asked, artfully passing the buck to avoid inevitable ridicule.

Grace glared at Roger, well aware of what he had just done to her. “You chicken-shit son-of-a-bitch,” she said, then turned to the president and added, “I apologize Madam President, but he just threw me under the submarine, in a manner of speaking. Yes, we did discuss the possibility of putting down mines in the South China Sea. China has been particularly aggressive in their attempts to lay claim to many of those islands, land that Japan claims is theirs.”

“Mr. Raddison, if you insist on continuing misogynistic behavior I won’t hesitate to ask for your resignation,” Norma warned. “Admiral, so there’s a chance our mines blew up their subs and that caused this whole mess?”

“No ma’am,” Grace responded, shaking her head. “First of all, even if we had mines in place, they would have had to blow up both subs at the same time. Our last recon imagery shows they were nowhere near each other nor that area.”

“Do I even want to know where they are?” Rick asked. 

“One’s about 80 miles off the coast of Japan and the second is near the Bering Strait, giving the Russians something to worry about,” Grace said. “But there is some related information that could be important. We sent the Montana down there to take a look and possible mine locations and they discovered several structures on the surface apparently installed by ThermoDyne, the US energy company. We don’t know exactly what they are but they seemed to be capping something as best we can guess.”

Norma was sitting up and paying careful attention now. “Wait, you’re telling me a US company, ThermoDyne, the one based in … where is it, Indianapolis? That they have some kind of operations going on in the China Sea? How does this even happen? Why is this the first I’m hearing about this and why hasn’t the CEO of the company been subpoenaed to provide information?”

Uncomfortable glances were exchanged around the room. No one wanted to answer the question.

“I’ll take the hit on this one,” Rick finally said. “Admiral Tennant brought the matter to President Blackstone as soon as she got the information. I remember the meeting well. She was visibly upset by the time she got to the Oval. The President, on the other hand, was in one of his “look how funny I am” moods. She told him what the Montana had found and almost demanded that we push ThermoDyne for some answers. Their equipment was directly in the way of a US military operation. We needed to know why.” Rick paused to take a deep breath before continuing. “Rudy tried making a weak joke, something about ThermoDyne doing our job for us. He then went off on a tangent about how he personally knew the CEO, that he had donated to the President’s campaign, ‘really nice guy,’ and on and on, something about how they were going to change the nature of energy one day. When Admiral Tennant tried pushing him that we needed to do something, he essentially said she was stupid and that ThermoDyne was probably just gathering information.” Rick paused again and looked at Grace. “Do you want me to go on?”

“That’s okay,” Admiral Tennant said. She sat forward in her chair. “This is one of the reasons I’m not crazy about taking the positions as Joint Chief. When I told President Blackstone that we needed some answers from ThermoDyne, he called me a bitch, said I was stupid because ThermoDyne is based in Indiana and Indiana doesn’t have an ocean, and then told me to go make sure everything in the Navy was ‘ship shape’ in case he wanted to ‘take a cruise,’ then said he’d bend me over his lap and spank me if I didn’t drop the matter. Had General Lang not stepped between us I was ready to kill the President myself. I’ve not been back to the Oval Office since until you called for me this afternoon.”

Norma slammed both her fist on the table and stood up, forcing the other three to stand as well. “I don’t normally condone speaking ill of the dead but that goddammed mother fucking sonofabitch had better be glad he’s dead,” she fumed. “Admiral Tennant, on behalf of the United States of America, I apologize for the manner in which you were treated. I will personally make sure that you are given an official commendation for your service and effort. No one should have to put up with that bullshit from anyone, especially the President of the United States.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Grace said quietly.

“Now, let’s begin re-thinking these possibilities,” Norma continued as she began pacing around the room. “We know that a sudden warming of waters in the Pacific is likely responsible for some if not all the dramatic weather we’re seeing. We know that ThermoDyne has, or possibly had, some kind of equipment at the bottom of that ocean. We know that China had no nuclear devices in those locations. Is there anything else out there that I don’t know about?”

As if in answer to the question, there was a knock on the outside of the SitRoom door. Since she was the closest, Admiral Tennant walked over and answered the knock, taking a piece of paper from the person on the other side and responding, “Thank you, ensign,” as she shut the door. Grace looked at the note and said, “Ma’am, this is not good news.”

“Of course it isn’t,” Norma said, throwing her hands in the air. “Why would there be any good news? That fat fucking bastard left us a mess that will take forever to correct!” She walked back around the table and sat in her chair before saying, “Go ahead, have a seat and drop the bomb. And please tell me it’s not a literal bomb.”

Grace and the two men took their seats.

“No ma’am, it’s not an actual bomb, but it might as well be one,” Grace said. “Our planes have been searching the islands South of Miami, into the Caribbean. Nothing is there that is supposed to be there.”

Roger sat forward in his chair. “Excuse me?” he asked. “Are you saying that all those islands, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, Virgin Islands, Aruba, all of them are gone?”

“That seems to be the case,” Grace said. “Pilots say there’s nothing there but ocean, and …” she paused for effect, “Seven hurricanes in various forms of development.”

“What the fuck!” Roger exclaimed as he leaped to his feet, knocking his chair over backward. “We’re not in hurricane season! That’s not even supposed to be possible!”

“Wait, it gets better,” Grace said as calmly as she could. “US Geological says that their instruments, which all operate on batteries and buried cables in the first place, are picking up seismic activity off the West coast. You’re not going to believe these numbers.”

“Numbers tend to be meaningless. How much damage to where and when?” Norma asked. 

Grace looked carefully at the paper, turned it over, then took an ink pen from the inside pocket of her uniform to draw a rough map of the Western Coast of the United States. She then made a small circle about half an inch off the coast of Oregon. “That’s where the epicenter appears to be,” she explained as she continued drawing additional circles down the coastline. “Each of these circles represents a place where seismic activity is peaking. They’re radiating out with a strength in excess of 9.4. By the time they reach Portland, San Francisco, and all the way down to San Diego, they’re going to be around 8.5. Not only is there not a building standing that can hold up to anything more than an 8, anything jarring the coast that hard is going to trigger all the other faults in the area.”

This was devastating news. Military attacks they could handle, there was an appropriate response to that. Earthquakes that hit a city were challenging but could be managed. This was different. California had never seen anything larger than 7.9 and even that had been all the way back in 1857 when the state was considerably less populated. Oregon and Washington had never felt anything close to what was about to hit them. Millions of lives were at risk and they had no way of even warning them.

“I’m open to any ideas, even if they’re stupid,” Norma said as she leaned on the table. “At this point, I’d send elephants to hold down the ground if I thought it would work. I … I just can’t fathom … all those people.”

Admiral Tennant moved her chair over and took Norma’s hands in hers. “Madam President, this is when the American people need us to be the strongest. We can’t always stop bad things from happening no matter how much we try. We can’t take back what’s already done. As much as it feels like it’s our job, we don’t control the world. We don’t control much of anything, it turns out. Things happen and we respond. We respond with medical assistance. We respond with security We respond with financing. We respond with food and water. We respond with more than thoughts and prayers. When the United States of America sees people in need, anywhere in the world, we respond with boots on the ground, often on the same day, doing everything we possibly can to help those lives. If we do it for every other country in the world, how much more do we need to do it for our own? You have the power of martial law. You can put the full weight of the US military wherever it needs to be. The Navy and Marines are already in San Diego. We’ll take care of them. There are other forces all up and down that coast. We do a lot more humanitarian missions than we do military and I’m happy that’s the truth.”

Norma smiled at Grace as a tear rolled down her cheek. She was glad she wasn’t having to make these decisions on her own.

Grace wasn’t finished. “Now, the sad reality of the situation is that there aren’t as many people to save as there was this time yesterday. You’ve read the summary. Wildfires have already consumed everything from Carlsbad to the Olympic National Forest. They’ve not left much in their path. What hasn’t burned is flooded. Everything docked at San Diego had to move out into the ocean by ten miles. All our desert bases had to evacuate. Mud and rock slides are completely reshaping the coastline. The only reason our military bases have largely survived is that they’re designed to be mobile and they have the tools to protect themselves. Most people don’t have that luxury. They were caught off guard with no warning. They were on their way to school, to work, to the beach, and already, before this earthquake ever gets close, they’re gone. None of LA’s freeways are still standing. There’s not a building anywhere in the country taller than five stories. Anywhere.” 

“I’m sorry Madam President, but we’re witnessing the largest extinction event to hit this planet in tens of thousands of years. There will be survivors, but they won’t be many and it may take us months to find them all. When these earthquakes hit, they’ll open up some cracks in the ground, they’ll rearrange the rubble, they might even change the flow of some rivers. But they’re also going to bury the dead. They’re going to stop some of the mudslides. They’re going to consume a lot of the detritus that is currently sitting on the surface. Look at is as nature’s way of helping to clean up.”

Norma was sobbing hard by the time Grace paused. Roger took the handkerchief from the breast pocket of his suit coat and handed it across the table for Grace to give the President. They waited, quietly, until Norma composed herself enough to respond.

“I’m sorry, I guess that’s not very presidential of me, is it?” Norma said as she dapped at her eyes. “Roger, I’ll have to buy you a new pocket square. This one’s going to be covered in makeup.”

The National Security director laughed. “Don’t worry, Madam President, I get them by the dozen. I’m always leaving one somewhere.”

Sitting back in her chair, Norma tried to compose herself. As much as she hadn’t wanted to be President, had even worked up a plan to avoid the situation, here she was, facing a crisis larger than any world war. No matter what she did, good or bad, history would remember and define her by this moment and nothing else. She could already feel the wrinkles deepening on her face from the strain.

“Okay,” she said with a sigh. “The West coast is about to get hit with the force of a nuclear attack. Let’s start working up a rescue plan. Roger, have the geological folks communicate directly with Grace’s people so they know when to expect aftershocks. If we get hit with anything over 8, the aftershocks are still going to be as strong as anything we’ve felt previously. Let’s try to make sure they have some warning.” 

Pausing to look through the report again, Norma added, “I’m not seeing much around the Baltimore, DC, Arlington area. Have we been spared?”

“No, we’re just on the backside of what’s hitting everywhere else,” Roger said. “That line of devastating storms is already crossing Virginia and tearing everything up as it does. We’ll likely see it here within the hour.”

As if on cue, one of the massive trees outside the West Wing took a direct lightning strike. The percussion was strong enough to even shake the SitRoom.

“I think your estimate may be off by a few minutes. What are our options?” Norma asked.

“Protocol calls for all federal employees to take shelter in the basements of their facilities. It will be a little crowded in places like State and Interior, but they should all be secure enough to protect their staffs,” Grace said.

“What about everyone’s families, though?” Norma asked. “We have an obligation to protect them, too.”

Roger and Grace both nodded but it was Roger who spoke first. “Remember that pen you were given a couple of years ago, the one you were told to activate if you were ever threatened?”

Norma instinctively reached for her purse before remembering it was now in the care of a Secret Service agent. “Yeah, I remember. I’m guessing most members of Congress might have forgotten or even misplaced them, though.”

Roger smiled. “They did. However, we have an override that, fortunately, uses old-fashioned low-wave radio bands. We activated the alert system with the first reports we got this morning. I can’t speak with great certainty, but I know we’ve moved several hundred thousand people in the past few hours into military bunkers. We’ll save more here and within a three-hundred mile radius than we were able to do elsewhere.”

“That being said,” Grace interrupted, “We’d best buckle up. As crazy as today has been, it’s about to get a lot worse. Madam President, for reasons I’m sure you now understand, I request that you stay put right here in this room until everything is over. We’re going to need your leadership.”

“But, what about my family?” Norma objected. “Is anyone bringing them here?”

Grace looked at Roger who shook his head. “No ma’am, we didn’t have time for that. We’ve moved them to a secure bunker outside Alexandria. We’ll bring them here when we’re absolutely certain it’s safe to do so.”

Norma gave a heavy sigh. “They don’t even know …”

“Yes, they do, ma’am,” Roger said. “Our driver said your husband was thrilled and that your eldest daughter seemed upset to learn that she’ll now have a Secret Service escort on all her dates.”

Everyone in the room laughed, breaking the tension that had steadily grown over the past several minutes. No matter how serious the situation might be, humor is consistently the one trait that allows all humans to survive even when the odds are heavily stacked against them. Grace and Roger both knew this and knew how to use the tool effectively to inspire those under their leadership. At the moment, that included the President.


The View From The Outside

As horrific as matters appeared from inside the White House, those with a view of the global situation saw something even worse. No country was spared Nature’s wrath or ThermoDyne’s error. Once the caps in the Pacific began to pop, the unstable effect on the planet’s tectonic plates caused others to burst as well. The destruction and chaos were universal. 

Across Africa, desert tribes that were accustomed to only a few inches of rain a year were especially unprepared. Flash floods swept across the plains taking everything in their path. Entire villages were wiped out without a single survivor. Rivers that barely trickled outside of the sparse rainy season lept from their banks and consumed massive swaths of land, forever altering the terrain. In Egypt, Cairo was inundated first by the rain then caught by surprise as tornadoes, something no one alive had ever seen, seemed to spring from nowhere, completely wiping out the city. Terrorist cells across Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Botswana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) were not merely rendered powerless but eliminated along with their weapons. Explosives that had been stockpiled were either drowned or, in some surprising instances, accidentally detonated as they were being moved to higher ground. Worshippers praying in mosques died clutching their prayer blankets. From South Africa up the Western coast to Namibia, Angola, and all the way to Guinea, cyclones of previously unknown power ripped apart port cities with winds in excess of 300 kilometers per hour and rain falling as much as half a meter per hour. 

The few thousand on the continent that did survive were among the oldest of tribes, those who still understood how to watch the movement of the animals and make adjustments accordingly. The wild birds and animals had started migrating three days before anyone knew of the impending danger. Some headed for deep caves, others took to the highest parts of the mountains, and others created barriers that would protect them. Tribal leaders took the warning signs seriously and moved their people, saving countless lives. Unfortunately, those that had been polluted by outside religions and modernism failed to pay heed and died not understanding what had gone wrong.

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdulla bin Salman al Saud was standing on a balcony in his palatial estate watching his young son playing with a ball in the courtyard. He was smiling with the knowledge that he had an heir who would one day inherit the rule of the country. As the skies above them grew dark, he worried not so much for the weather but the fear that the cover might be just the thing that Iran would need to bomb the city. Rumbles of distant thunder he mistook for distant bombs. He called everyone inside to the inner and most secure part of the palace and began attempting to call the country’s defense ministers and others only to find that no one’s phone was working.

Still convinced that the outage was the work of Iranian fighters, Prince Abdulla took to his laptop, hoping that social media would inform him what was going on. When he discovered that there was no Internet service, he began cursing at everyone around him. He walked out into the middle of the courtyard in an effort to hear the planes he was certain were flying just above the clouds. He had no reason to suspect the storm that was bearing down on the city. He was still looking upward when a massive bolt of lightning hit the top of his head, leaving only a three-meter crater and scorched cloth where he had been standing.

Over the next several hours, storms and tornadoes thoroughly ravaged all of Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Israel along with all the other surrounding countries. Oil operations were not merely disrupted but completely annihilated with massive fires burning so hot that firefighters were consumed and died before they could ever get close enough to challenge the flames. Ports were left in tatters. Tankers were overturned, their crude spilling into the ocean. The initial response in each country was exactly the same as Prince Abdulah’s and as a result, no one made any moves to protect their people. First came the floods, then came the tornadoes, and by the time the rain finally stopped, there were fewer than 100,000 people left in the entire region.

In Ho Chi Minh City, trouble had taken a different route. Long before there were rains or storms, there had been a steady rising of the tide along the coast. The cities of Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, and Phan Thiet had been among the first to report a problem. The streets were already filled with water and people were leaving for shelters further inland when the first Tsunami warning was issued. Then came the second warning, and the third right behind that, then a fourth and fifth. Communist officials were sure that there couldn’t possibly be that many massive waves headed their direction. Something had to be wrong with the equipment. Scientists in Ho Chi Minh City refused to certify the threat and order full evacuations. 

By the time those same scientists and communist officials felt the rumble under their own feet, more than half the small country’s population was dead. Centuries-old buildings crumbled. Waves more than 30 meters high crushed everything and everyone beneath them. What the waves didn’t take, the earthquakes did. Less than 10,000 people survived.

Earthquakes also played a heavy roll in the destruction of India and China, the two most populous countries. Coastal cities that never seen a tidal wave were swept into oblivion. Earthquakes brought down tall buildings and ancient temples. In the mountainous regions of China’s Xinjiang province, the unprecedented earthquakes caused massive avalanches and opened a web of crevices large enough to swallow entire villages.

Neither Russia nor Europe faired any better despite their advanced warning systems that rivaled those of the US. Large portions of the Kremlin had crumbled. The Tower of London had been shattered by a lightning strike. The islands of Sardegna and Palma were gone. Nice, Cannes, and Marseille were under six feet of water. Large portions of the Netherlands would never be recovered. All around the world, people were dying not by the thousands but by the millions as the planet heaved and groaned as deep pockets of thermal energy exploded to the surface.

Sitting back, watching it all, were Raphael and Caim, the two celestial beings who had at first thought this would be a chance to gain considerable power but were now exhausted by all the work that Nature had created for them. Just as none of the human leaders had been ready for what happened, both beings had misjudged the severity of the death toll and their ability to manage it.

“I don’t think she’s done yet,” Raphael said to no one in particular, though Caim was the only other being close enough to hear.

“I’m sure she’s not,” Caim responded. “Though, I certainly wish she’d take a fucking break. I never thought I’d see the day when this hoard of demons would complain that there was too much death and destruction.”

Raphael waited as hosts of angels zipped back and forth past him in their attempts to account for everyone. “The last time she got this pissed there weren’t nearly this many people involved.”

Caim nodded. “Do you think we let it get too far out of control?”

“Oh heavens, yes,” his counterpart said. “When this is over I think we’re going to make some adjustments, emphasize the whole birth control thing.”

“Because that’s worked so well for you in the past,” Caim sneered. “You know that’s going to make abortion that much easier to sell if having children becomes a social pariah.”

“You have a better idea, smart guy?” Raphael challenged.

“Let’s talk to Nature, both of us. See if she’ll make more of the planet uninhabitable,” Caim said. “Maybe they won’t breed so much if they don’t have as much room.”

Raphael nodded and then had to move quickly to avoid being run over by a phalanx of demons racing toward an explosion in Ukraine. “All she has to do is leave the water where it is. Humans never did evolve well enough to work with that, did they?”

Caim stretched and shook his head. “You would have thought regaining gills would have been a natural part of the process, given that’s where they started. Not sure how that got so fucked up.”

“We let them grow too large a brain and then they never have figured out how to use the damn thing,” Raphael responded. “They have no clue what they’re capable of doing. If they had, this never would have happened.”

“You’re guys were the ones who introduced them to wine,” Caim grumbled.

“And then your brilliant cohorts took it a step further and taught them how to make liquor,” Raphael shot back. 

“But they came up with beer on their own,” Caim reminded him. “We really should have zapped them then.”

Dozens of angels and demons flew past in neat rows. “Do you think they’ll learn this time?” Raphael asked.

“Sure,” Caim laughed. “Right about the same time they stop doing my work for me. Seriously, they have turned killing into a fetish.”

Raphael sighed and began walking away. “You never cease to disappoint me,” he said before he disappeared.

Caim looked around at the temporarily empty space. “I’ve turned disappointment into an art form,” he said to himself, and then laughed hard and loud so that every human on earth was startled by what they thought was the sound of thunder.

Leave a Reply