Scientists fight to stop the most devastating natural disaster in history.
The next day, Carl sat in his office on the phone with Steve Malquist, the FEMA director. "Listen, we need to start taking some precautionary measures."
"Do you have any indication that this is actually a real threat?" Steve asked.
"Not yet. But if the volcano explodes, a huge chunk a' the island's gonna' go down."
"And how do you know this?"
"The first debris fall-off that caused those two waves has left the remaining hillside hanging by a thread," Carl explained.
"So, you want me to evacuate 20 million people because of a disaster that could happen," Steve said.
"Look, if that thing goes off, we're talking about a wave that would leave the entire Eastern Seaboard under 50 feet of water."
Steve thought about the tsunami warnings he'd all but ignored a week prior. "Alright Carl, I'll start putting out some bulletins," he responded grudgingly.
Meanwhile, George walked into Carl's office to deliver the bad news about the experiment.
"Well, perhaps there's another solution," Carl said putting his fingertips together. "There's someone at Yale who's been doing work on Epipelagic Zone wave deterrence. He's proposed the use of something known as acoustic gravity waves to offset tsunamis. Unfortunately, so far it's just a theory."
"What's the difference between that and what we've been trying?" George asked.
"Well, the sonar pulse we've been experimenting with is strictly a longitudinal compression. We've been ignoring the power of fluid interference. An AGW Device would combine both of these forces."
That afternoon George looked up the name of the scientist Carl was referring to. His name was Doctor Kirit Patel and he'd been working on tidal waves for over 30 years. George picked up his phone and dialed the number listed for the professor on the Yale website.
"Hello, my name is George Campbell," he said. "I was referred to you by my supervisor. We're attempting to develop a tsunami deterrent system and we'd like to know more about your theory on AGWs?"
"Well, I've been working on it for a while, but still don't have anything that could pass as a prototype."
"Could we take a look at some of your data?"
"Sure, I'll send you the specs I've come up with," the professor said. "My plans are all yours if you can figure out the next step," he added.
"Appreciate it," George answered.
The team at the Institute began researching the new model. Dr. Patel had explained that the difficulty he was having was in synthesizing the two refractional forces. The problem ultimately came down to scale. Both systems could emit frequencies of relatively equal size when producing a sonic blast even 1/50 of the size of a standard tidal wave. However, given the amount of fluid displacement within something of this magnitude, the question remained how to employ a large enough amount of gravitational pressure that wouldn't offset the force generated by the sonic transmission.
George recognized that the research necessary to effectively match the two the system could take years. While running some of the numbers, he realized that what was needed was an underwater combustion on the order of a hydrothermal explosion. The more he thought about it, the more clear it became to him that the goals of the AGW process could be met, in an extreme measure, through a decomposition reaction. George had looked into the physics behind the acoustic systems that'd be involved in the surge of a mega tsunami. While the details did seem like something out of a science fiction novel, he discovered that it would be possible to shift, if not offset, the power of the wave with carefully timed detonations. Instead of neutralizing the waves, they would be split like a knife slicing through warm butter. The motion could potentially refract the two halves of each tsunami in nearly opposite directions. George was nevertheless wary of such a solution, as promising as it sounded. Aside from the fact that he'd never worked with explosives in his entire life, the radiation alone could devastate entire ecosystems within the southern Atlantic.
He called Dr. Patel and conveyed his hypothesis.
"Hmm, that sounds rather dangerous," was Kirit's first reaction. "I'll do some calculations and see if the reward would be worth the risk."
Dr. Patel began testing the theory and realized that it wasn't as far-fetched as it sounded. He plugged in the trajectory data for a standard decomposition reaction. When he finished crunching the numbers, he recognized that the solution would actually work, but only if the munitions were detonated with enough open ocean to absorb the waves. This, he realized, could potentially create a catastrophe for Latin America and Africa rather than the US and Europe. He also recognized that based on the magnitude of the waves, common explosives may not be sufficient.
He picked up his office phone and dialed George. "Hello Dr. George, it's Dr. Patel. It's risky but the plan could work under one condition."
"Which is?" George asked.
"Well, the detonations would have to be precisely timed...otherwise you could be risking severe damage to the South American and North African coastlines."
"Okay, that's great news," George replied. "I'll pass that on to my team."
George rushed into Carl's office as soon as he hung up the phone.
"I think we may have a solution," George announced beaming.
"And that would be?" Carl asked turning around in his chair and looking at George suspiciously.
"Well, we need don't necessarily need to stop the wave. All we really have to do is divert the tsunami's force so that it's absorbed by the ocean.
"And how would you recommend we do this?"
George stretched out his fingers and moved his open hand up and down. "By using something with oomph."
"What are we talking about here, dynamite?" Carl asked incredulously.
George began nodding his head. "An explosion would be the only thing with enough power to divert the underwater currents at that speed."
"Have you thought about the effect of detonating munitions in the open ocean? You could potentially create another wave not to mention what it would do to 100s of square miles of marine life."
"That's a risk we might have to take."
The next day, George continued plugging away at the data he'd collected regarding the dimensions of the refraction. The more he studied the scenario, the more he recognized the power of the decomposition reaction that'd be required. When he saw his investigation heading into an area he dared not even imagine, he shut off his computer and headed towards the break room for a cold soda.
Meanwhile, in La Palma, a village policeman who noticed smoke coming from the Cumbre Vieja stopped his car and stepped out. He'd seen that kind of activity before on a smaller volcano on the island of Tenerife and realized such a phenomenon signaled that an eruption wasn't far off. He jumped back into his car and sped through the small streets of the town as he headed towards the mayor's office with siren blaring. A truck transporting vegetables was forced to stop short to avoid hitting him.
When he finally arrived at the town center, he jumped out of his car leaving it blocking a traffic lane in front of the government building. He ran inside and up two stairs at a time until he reached the floor containing the mayor's office. He rushed past a series of fogged glass offices until he made it to the town leader's suite. Bursting through the door, he saw the mayor, a paunchy man in his fifties, leaning back in his desk chair and scrolling through messages on his phone.
"I think the volcano is going to erupt very soon!" the officer began shouting. He threw his head up and pulled his hands apart indicating the magnitude of the wave. "This could send a giant wave towards America and Europe."
The official looked up at him. When he'd first heard of the Cumbre Vieja threat, his first thoughts were of the historical inequity in cases involving such potential natural disasters between places like his island nation and the West. Along with his countrymen, he'd condemned the fact that the sonar detection systems technology that served wealthy western nations were ponderously lacking in places devastated by the 2003 Boxing Day tidal wave like Pago Pago. He picked up a cigar sitting in his ashtray and took a puff before looking at the policeman. "15 years ago, did the people in the South Pacific have any warning when the tidal wave hit?"
The mayor leaned forward. "Let the Americans save themselves!"
The policeman once again said nothing but looked at the official for a few moments in disbelief before turning away and exiting the building. Heading back to his office at a local precinct in defeat, he sat down at his desk, leaned his elbow on the table and put his head in his hand. Finally looking up, he began searching the web until he found Carl's number on the Oceanographic Institute website.
After the facility supervisor picked up his call, the policeman described to Dr. Moffit in vivid detail exactly what kind of pre-eruption tremors he'd witnessed. Carl thanked the officer profusely and stared out of his office window for a few moments before standing up and walking into Eric's office.
"I just got a call from a cop in the Canaries. Apparently, our smokestack is about to blow."
"How much time?" Eric asked.
"His English wasn't great, but from the sound of it he seemed to think a matter of hours."
"Well, I guess we'll know soon enough if we're right about this doomsday myth or not," Eric said.
Carl looked down and then back at Eric. "I suppose we will."
That afternoon, George and Amy walked along the Baltimore waterfront.
"This is where we had our first kiss," George said.
"That's right...I guess it was," Amy responded.
Each time she visited this locale Amy was reminded of her past. There'd been an amusement park along the boardwalk in the same town where her sister was killed. Her family had stopped there for ice cream en route to their beach house that summer. Sometimes as she'd walk past the waterfront stores, she'd hear her sister screaming her name right before she was pulled under by the current.
"I really miss this place," George continued. "Hey, I still owe you the teddy bear I promised I'd win for you," he added.
Amy stared out at the ocean. "I keep having this dream," she began. "I'm on a beach and the water begins to draw back...what Japanese sailors used to call 'Ushinareta Shio,'... 'The Lost Tide.' My sister is sitting down on the sand. I start shouting at her but she doesn't hear me. Then the wave comes."
George put his arm around Amy. "Hey lightning's not gonna' strike twice alright."
Amy continued to look vacantly out at the surf. She lowered her eyes and shook her head. "George, this isn't gonna' work. We've got enough to worry about with trying to save the world. Spending time Skyping with someone 4000 miles away isn't practical for either of us at the moment."
"But I told you I can -- " George began to mutter.
"Right now we both need to stop living in the past...." She stared out again at the ocean, "or there's not gonna' be much of a future for either of us."
George glanced at Amy. This time she turned away again without looking back.
At the Institute, Carl and Eric walked into Jenn's office. Among the pictures she'd decorated her work abode with was a photo of her and her two brothers fishing off the coast of Seaside Heights. A giant picture of her holding a 20 lbs. catfish included a shot of the boat that her family owned, the Dolce Vita, a schooner that her father had bought for a mere $5,000. She and her two brothers had worked for an entire summer sanding and painting the vessel until it became the envy of the entire dock. She drank her first beer aboard the Vita and just below the boat's deck, before she'd recognized her preferred choice of partner, she lost her virginity at the age of 16.
Jenn sat at her desk looking over the data they'd collected while Lisa banged away at the keys on her laptop. The room had become somewhat cramped since the addition of her new officemates and both Carl and Eric remained standing.
"I've got some bad news," Carl said to the group.
"What's that?" Lisa inquired turning her head slightly.
"I just heard from the Canaries."
"And?" Lisa asked.
"It looks like this puppy's about to explode," Carl continued.
"Oh boy!" Lisa said. "We've gotta' warn people before it's too late."
"Hold up!" Eric said trying to slow down the group's rush to initiate DEFCON 1. He'd seen his team become overwhelmed by such scenarios in the past. When the Exxon Valdese crashed, Lisa and Amy had been on the first flight to the Prince William Sound to help with the clean-up. He'd been perceived by his workmates as callous in his lack of empathy towards the dead otters and crabs. Eric didn't want to exhibit the same indifference to the potential victims of the impending catastrophe. At the same time, however, he sensed that reasoned calculation rather than a panicked, knee-jerk response was the only practical solution. "We don't know for sure if the bottom's gonnna' drop out of this thing even if it does boil over."
"He's right," Lisa said. "We need eyes on the ground," she insisted turning towards Carl. "Can you ask whoever you spoke to if they could send us a feed?"
"Okay, I'll try," the Institute supervisor said heading back to his office.
Carl stood holding his phone waiting for a reply from the man whom he'd just heard from. After a few rings, he checked his mobile to make sure he hadn't accidentally redialed the wrong number.
The village policeman reached over to the passenger seat in his car where his phone sat ringing when he noticed something in the distance. Looking up quickly, he saw that a chunk of volcanic rock was headed right for his windshield. The officer attempted to swerve but he was too late and the boulder slammed right through his front window killing him instantly.
After witnessing the event, a group of teenage boys watching from the side of road ran up to the car. One of them tried to open the door, but as was common in La Palma as a result of assaults on local officers, it was locked from inside. They put their hands against the windows as they pressed their face up to the glass. The adolescents shouted repeatedly to try to elicit any kind of response from the unmoving policeman. As they waved their hands, banged on the window and screamed, the boys heard the muted sound of the cop's phone's ring as it sat vibrating on the seat.
Carl lost hope of reaching the officer after five rings. After another five, he realized no voicemail option was even available. He finally dropped the receiver back into the cradle and shook his head.
"No answer," he said to Eric now standing right beside him.
Moments later Carl rushed back into Jenn's office with Eric following closely behind. When he arrived, the supervisor folded his arms as he leaned against the wall of the office, a gesture he often used in the presence of his children to feign equanimity.
"I tried calling this guy back, but there was no answer," Carl explained.
"We need to know what's going on," Lisa said. "Should one of us fly down to the island?"
"There's no time," Carl responded. "We've gotta' get in touch with someone else."
"I'll contact the mayor down there," George said.
Moments later, he recalled his trip down to the Canaries. Thinking of their fruitless encounter with the island's local law enforcement, he suddenly recognized what he'd be up against in attempting to obtain vital information from the La Palma government.
"Alright. But meanwhile, we need to notify Washington," said Carl.
"Hopefully if we can't get in touch with this cop, we can find someone down there'll keep us in the loop," Lisa said.
"But even if we don't get first-hand info, the tsunami warning system should give us some time," George explained trying to reassure himself as much as his colleagues.
"A few hours isn't much notice if this thing's really gonna' wipe out a quarter of the US," Jenn replied.
"She's right. We need to begin thinking about a way to stop it," Amy insisted.
Carl looked at George. "We might as well start considering your plan," he said to his colleague.
"What plan?" Eric asked.
"George said that explosives might reduce the some of the impact," his tone conveying his doubt in his subordinate's idea from the start.
"Come on! We're talking about a 500-mile wall of water," Jenn interjected. "You think some firecrackers are gonna' do anything?"
George looked down. "Maybe," he said lifting his head up. "If those firecrackers were nuclear."
"Nuclear?! You wanna' set off an atomic explosion in the middle of the Atlantic?" Jenn exclaimed in disbelief.
"Correct me if my memory of college physics is a little rusty, but wouldn't that create an even bigger wave?" Eric asked.
George composed himself. He'd been preparing for this discussion for a week. He recognized the struggle he'd have in convincing his colleagues of the merits of his proposal. This kind of response flew in the face of nearly every theory ever implemented in the study of wave rarefaction. Nevertheless, he knew that it was very likely the only possible solution. "Not if we release the munitions early enough. A series of explosions could divert the wave without causing more damage."
"What do you mean 'divert?'" Jenn asked.
"Think of it like a lens," George explained. "If we detonate the bombs around the perimeter of the current at the correct moment, it would redirect the force of the wave towards the open water."
"Why not as early as possible after the eruption?" Carl asked.
"Because if the explosives are detonated too early, the wave will destroy the coasts of Morocco and Brazil." In addition to the potential impact of the wave on the shores of America and Europe, George realized that the team would have to take into account certain political concerns as well. The governments of Rabat and Brasilia could rightfully challenge the plan. And saving Western nations but killing thousands or even hundreds of thousands on two continents in the southern-hemisphere could sock the Institute with vicious legal repercussions.
"What if the bombs are dropped too late?" Lisa asked.
"Well, then the explosions won't have enough of an impact, or worse, they would create an even larger tidal wave."
"This is crazy! We cannot detonate nuclear bombs over the ocean," Jenn declared to the group.
"She's right," Lisa said. "We've gotta' focus on getting everyone out!"
"That might not be possible in time," George responded. "The reason there was so little warning for the first wave was that tsunami notification mechanisms have only been set up in the northeastern Atlantic."
"The warning system will give us at most eight hours," Carl interjected. "Either way, we need to let FEMA in on the measures that this is gonna' require."
The next day, Carl was talking on the phone as he drove down the expressway. "Well, if they don't believe us, we've gotta' convince them," he shouted to Jenn. Arriving back at the Institute, Carl walked in to Jenn's office where Amy and Lisa were sitting at the extra table. "So far nothing's happened, but at this point I don't think there's any other option. I have to go to Washington."
"Who are you planning on talking to?" Lisa asked.
Carl said nothing but just pointed skyward with his finger.
President Geoffrey Anderson, a distinguished statesman in his sixties, sat at his desk. He'd taken office at a time when the EPA was calling for further cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. A number of business leaders were instrumental in getting him elected and he remained loyal to their company's interests, as opposed to those of the few environmental groups who supported his candidacy, following his instatement. He'd just recently faced a major winter storm in Massachusetts that had been billed as one of the worst jet stream depressions in the state's history. The Commander in Chief, however, still saw such events as rare and had been left weary by perpetually shifting FEMA protocols, televised press conferences and sensational journalism incessantly hyping climate change in order to sell more papers.
Jacob Simmons, the president's Chief of Staff, was a man in his forties who never failed to back up his briefings to the president with accolades over how he'd handled a similar crisis in the past. "Mr. President, the head of the Oceanographic Institute in Baltimore would like to meet with you," Jacob said rushing in to the Oval Office, but stopping teen feet short of the president's personal space.
"For what?" Geoffrey inquired. "He says that the initial landslide that caused the tidal wave in North Carolina has left the area beneath the volcano extremely unstable. They believe that it could collapse in the event of an eruption."
"Alright, fine," the president responded. "But after my golf match," he added.
"With all due respect Sir, I think that this situation requires immediate attention," Jacob insisted.
"Well, has anything happened yet?"
"No, nothing specific."
"Then get me my clubs."
"Yes, sir," Jacob said lowering his eyes and walking out of the Oval Office to retrieve the president's equipment.
Eric's wife Sara, a woman in her thirties, sat in bed reading the latest installment of Vogue. She bought the "Home Face-lift" issue she happened to see in the supermarket in the hopes of finding new drapes for their living room. Eric and Sara had been married for three years. They'd been attempting to conceive since nearly the day after their wedding, and when his wife discovered she was going to give birth, the father-to-be never let a day go by without mentioning something about the pregnancy to his colleagues.
They'd been debating baby names for quite some time. They'd gone through numerous books but hadn't found any moniker that Eric felt was quite appropriate for his future son. A discussion about what to call their new arrival became their routine bedtime activity.
"Rex?" asked Eric.
"No," his wife said mechanically.
"How about Brock?"
"Sweetheart, there's no guarantee this child is gonna' be an NFL quarterback...or a test pilot," Sara responded.
"How about Daniel?" Sara suggested.
"Daniel's an insurance salesman," Eric replied dismissively.
"Well, there might be a need for him if everything you're talking about actually happens," his wife said turning to look at him.
Eric had filled Sara in on bits and pieces of the impending disaster that his colleagues were warning him of. Given her delicate condition, he attempted to avoid putting any undue stress on her by sparing her some of the details of the threat to life as they knew it.
"Let's not dwell on that possibility," Eric said.
"That reminds me," she continued. "I have to finish the will."
Eric sat up. "Forget about that alright. We don't need to start planning for our demise any time soon." He lay back down again. "Nothing's gonna' happen to you...or Brock."
"What about you?" she asked.
"Sweetheart, I may be studying this thing but I'm not paddling out into the ocean to get a better look at it."
Sara sighed and began to stroke her husband's head. "Good. Remember, you never passed your advanced lifeguard test."
Eric slid up to his wife's face. "I told you, it was fixed. Mr. Dunleavy just didn't want me hanging around his daughter all summer."
Eric's wife smiled patronizingly. "That's right. I forgot," she said eliciting a mocking tilt of the head and a sneer from her husband.
Meanwhile, back at the Institute, George dialed the La Palma Mayor's office. "Hello," the mayor said picking up his phone.
"Hello," George returned. "Anglais?" he inquired.
"A little," the official responded.
George thought for a few moments of the best way to get the attention of the Spanish official. He knew that coming across as overly anxious in the absence of any documented incident might appear as a "wolf" cry to the jaded Spanish leader. He also realized, however, that if he didn't convey any sense of urgency, his concerns might be dismissed altogether. "We need to know if the volcano is showing any further signs of eruption," George continued.
"One please second," said the mayor in broken English. A minute or so of a muffled conversation in the background elapsed before the official picked up the call again. "We go out and look. Then we call you."
"You welcome," he replied.
Suddenly George thought it odd that the mayor had promised to get back to him without having asked for his contact information. "My phone's "410-555-297 -- "
"Okay, thank you," the leader said hanging up as George was giving him the last digit of his number.
George swiped off the call but continued to look at his cell unconvinced that the mayor would follow up. The scientist went on to a La Palma civic administration site and found the number for the local police station.
He dialed the commissioner who picked up the phone after four rings. "Hello," the officer said.
"Anglais?" George asked once again, but this time the person he was speaking to possessed no such communicative ability.
"No," he muttered, one of the only words he knew in English. "Un momento." The chief of police put his hand over the phone. "Maria," he shouted.
Maria Juarez, a woman with black hair cut in a demi-bob and dressed in a business suit, walked over to the policeman's desk and took the phone. "Hello," she said in a thick Spanish accent.
"Who's this?" George asked.
"I'm the secretary here," she responded.
"Can you ask the commissioner to please inform us about the status of the volcano?"
George heard another incomprehensible discussion between Maria and the head of the La Palma police force.
"Yes, yes. The commissioner say he will call when emergency occur."
George felt slightly more optimistic knowing that someone in La Palma actually recognized the severity of the situation. "Okay, thank you. Let me give you my supervisor's direct number."
Maria wrote down Carl's contact information and handed it to her boss before hanging up the phone. "Here's the number for the leader of the American scientists," she said placing the piece of paper squarely in the middle of the officer's desk. The commissioner nodded his head looking intently at the telephone digits.
Maria went back to her office. She remembered an errand that she'd planned to run but decided that she should put it off. If the volcano's eruption was as imminent as it appeared, she might be needed to translate again for her superior. Waiting the rest of the afternoon in her office, Maria was relieved that no further contact with the American institute was necessary. She watched her boss collecting his things as he prepared to leave the office that evening. Through the glass partition that separated her cubicle from the police commissioner's chambers, she could see the officer drop Carl's number into the trash bin.
In the White House Situation Room the next day, Carl sat at a table with the president and his advisors. The nervous scientist turned and motioned towards a PowerPoint slide displayed behind him. "Here is the volcano," he said before moving the beam of a laser pointer until he reached the nether portion of the mountain. "The stability of this entire area has been severely compromised."
"What about the retaining wall?" the president asked.
"The entire project has been wiped out," Carl replied causing Geoffrey to shake his head.
Carl returned to his presentation. "It's believed that the landslide was caused by the initial tremors from the volcano. If this thing erupts, God help us all."
"Have you considered trying the system that's been used in the past?" asked one of the president's advisors.
"We tested the impact of sonographic pulses on something of this magnitude," Carl said. "The largest emission we could send wouldn't have any effect."
The president shifted nervously in his seat. He was all too used to being sold such a bill of goods by meteorological "experts." The longer he'd served in his current position, the more he recognized the importance of selectivity in decided what cataclysmic threats were worth pouring federal funds into. "Well, do you have any other suggestions?" he asked.
"It's possible that a wave this size could be stopped with some form of explosives?"
"What kind of explosives?" the president inquired.
Carl turned around and looked at the screen -- then back. "Nuclear explosives."
"You want to detonate a nuclear bomb over the ocean?" the commander-in-chief asked incredulously.
Six nuclear bombs. Three over the eastern Atlantic and three over the western Atlantic."
"I'm sure the Prime Minister would love this idea," the president retorted cynically.
"The power from the munitions might be strong enough to deflect the waves and spread them out across the ocean," Carl said.
The nation's leader knew next to nothing about seismographic events or wave trajectories but he did have something of a background in the physics of munitions. "Yes, but wouldn't that cause a devastating underwater explosion as well?" he asked.
Geoffrey's advisors all wore faces that expressed their concern but still said nothing. They'd felt the pressure to act on the situation coming from their districts, yet they still deferred to the president in such matters.
"Not if the force of the detonations was contained by the pressure of the wave itself."
"This is insanity!" President Anderson shouted. "We can't risk creating catastrophic destruction to prevent a few flooded basements." Geoffrey was also wary of the backlash from the South American government were the plan he was being presented to save his own people responsible for the death of millions of Hispanics. The president looked at Carl. "Can you give me an idea of the areas that might potentially be in danger?"
Carl flipped the slide revealing a map of the United States with a red line sectioning off nearly a quarter of the country. "All of these, Sir."
The president and the advisors all stared at the slide in silence before feeling out their colleagues' reactions with subtle sideways glances.
At the Institute, Lisa sat at a table looking over reports that Carl had given her. Amy walked in with a glum look on her face. "That bad huh?" Lisa asked.
"Ya' know, I went into this business cuz' I thought I could do some good," said Amy.
Lisa looked up. She could sense the miasma of pessimism spreading through the office, and Amy's statement was just the first vocalization of it.
"When it comes down to it, we're a group of pioneers essaying to stave off disaster with our "doctorate level plus one" experience.
"She's right," Jenn interjected overhearing the conversation as she walked in. "Years of college and graduate school and look at us now? We're a bunch a' blind moles trying to save humankind from itself."
"Well, better us than anyone else," Lisa said, repeating a mantra she'd assumed to quell her own insecurities about her and her colleagues' qualifications for the task at hand.
"I don't know. I'm really not sure that anything they taught us in Geology 101 quite prepares us to go playing around with nukes," Amy said.
"I guess that's what they call 'on the job training,'" Lisa responded with a wan smile.
Later that night, Jenn sat in a bar staring into a gin and tonic. It was the first drink she'd taken in two months. She'd been recovering from an alcohol addiction for over a year. She'd been to AA meetings for the last three months and had finally quit the bottle cold turkey. Recent events had brought back a lot of the stress that she'd experienced after breaking up with her ex-girlfriend Allison 11 months prior.
She and Allison were together for five years. Ali, as Jenn called her, had been orphaned as a child. Her father left a year after she was born, and her mother, who was diagnosed with cancer when she was six, sent her to a foster home before she died. Jenn had been most drawn to Allison because of her love of animals. Her ex-lover even featured a photo of herself and her two dogs on her dating profile. Though Jenn had no pets of her own, she had a German Shepherd growing up that became an important source of comfort for her after her mom passed away when she was eight.
Allison worked at an animal shelter in southern Baltimore. Ali'd spent years at the children's home being passed over by prospective parents uninterested in a girl her age. When she was first hired by the rescue unit, she couldn't help but identify with the strays she pulled off the street. The difficulty started when Jenn began to feel that her girlfriend was so devoted to the animals in her life that she had very little room in heart left for a human companion.
After the two women finally broke up, Jenn had spent every night for a week at The Tavern, a local pub near her. Finally, Mickey Dawb, the manager there had suggested that she should take it easy. She was able to lay off the bottle for three days before coming back with a vengeance. It was at this point that he recommended she consider the therapy group.
Carl walked out of the White House gates feeling both a sense of elation at having spoken to the President of the United States as well as disappointment at how ambivalently his idea was received. He ambled down the streets of D. C. looking out over the hordes of people he imagined being swept away by a threat very few of them had any idea even existed.
Following Carl's return from Washington, he walked into Eric's office and slumped down in a chair.
"So how does the president feel about the plan?" Eric inquired.
"Like I've got a screw loose," Carl said looking down. "But who knows," he continued facing his colleague again, "maybe if he recognizes how many lives could be at risk, he'll understand the limited number of choices left on the table."
As he briefed the scientific team, Carl tapped a pen. "Well, we've at least planted a seed," the supervisor explained to his group of young prot. "Now it's about making it clear what's at stake."
"Any progress on the evacuation request?" Lisa asked.
Carl averted his eyes. "Negative. The president says he doesn't plan to create chaos unless we can convince him that it's absolutely necessary."
Carl looked up. "Okay, let's go over our game plan one more time." He glanced at Lisa. "Lisa, you're gonna' play damage control at FEMA. If this thing does actually happen, there'll be a lot of questions about the evacuation routes."
"Which I may or may not be qualified to answer," Lisa replied.
"It's not that complicated. You've got to let them know that there are only a few options available." He pointed to the map of Baltimore. "We get people out these main arteries," he said indicating the interstates and local parkways leading out of the most densely populated metropolitan areas. The fewer obstructions to emergency vehicles on local routes, the better. If the wave hits, it'll also be important for as many people as possible to be close to elevated areas. If we keep people on I-82, there's at least a chance that they can get to higher ground."
"Got it!" Lisa said.
"Eric and Jenn, I need you to stay here and field questions from our boys on the Potomac."
"Check," Jenn replied.
"I got no dinner plans," Eric responded.
"Now on the chance that George's strategy gets a green light, we gotta' figure when the munitions would have to be dropped to redirect these two monsters." He turned to Amy and George. I need both of you to follow me to the play room pronto.
Minutes later, in the Oceanographic Institute's wave room, Amy and George stood by one end of the wave machine while Carl started a wave from the opposite side. Amy held a notepad and began recording the numbers that appeared on the tank's LED display.
"Alright, that was your run-of-the mill tsunami," Carl said. He recalibrated the machine. "Here's what Thing 1 and Thing 2 would look like." He started another wave, five times the height of the first one.
After watching the demonstration, George walked over to a map. He pointed to locations approximately 1600 miles west and 400 miles north of the Canary Islands. "It looks like based on the speed at which these things will be traveling, the bombs would have to be dropped right here and right here."
"Sounds pretty accurate," Carl said. "We'd have about three hours to slam the wave heading towards the US. The Brits would have an hour, tops. I'm gonna' go brief the rest of the team."
"I'll stay here and work a little bit more with the splash puddle," Amy said to Carl.
"Roger," her boss replied.
"Need me to stay and help you?" George asked.
"Up to you," she said as Carl headed out of the room.
She then looked back at the wave machine. "I wanna' make sure we've thought this through, and I don't think these specs are completely correct."
"They're within a fraction of a decimeter?" George said.
"Close only counts in horeshoes and..." Amy paused. "Something else," she muttered forgetting the final part of the maxim.
"Hand grenades," George said. "Well, this is a grenade of sorts," he added.
"Yes, but this isn't a human foe. We're trying to offset a physical motion. Giving our enemy a flesh wound isn't gonna' to do the trick," Amy responded.
George looked down. "I suppose," he said thinking about his years and years of study of wave frequencies. He wondered if anything he'd learned about fluid displacement in a geology lab could really prove useful in this specific scenario.
The next day, Amy filled the team in on their collective findings. The more she spoke, the more convinced Carl became that simulation was insufficient to establish the viability of the operation.
Looking further into the calculations on his own, Carl had already decided that given the magnitude of the potential threat, a scale model wouldn't do for diagnostic purposes. "The data we've compiled isn't gonna' cut it," he said following Amy's presentation. "We have to determine if the force of the explosions relative to the size of the waves will be enough to do the job. What we need is a test of this theory in the open water." Carl turned to the members of his team. "Amy, Jenn...and George. I want you to try this out for real."
"Where?" George inquired.
"Well, I think we need to give this a shot in a place with waves proportional in intensity to the kind that the slide would generate."
"There's nowhere in the world where you're going to find waves like that...unless we wait for a hurricane," George insisted.
"There's one place," Carl replied.
Suddenly Amy felt a knot begin to form in the pit of her stomach. Early in her career at the Institute Carl had suggested a South American research expedition. She was enthusiastic until she found out the destination he had in mind.
"The water around Cape Horn," Carl replied confirming her fears.
As a child Amy's class had been studying the explorers who'd discovered the Americas. When the teacher showed a video of the waters at the Southern tip of Chile throwing vessels mercilessly against the jagged rocks, she jumped up from her seat and darted out the door.
"Where ships go to die?" George asked.
"That was years ago," Carl replied. "But basically we need to recreate those conditions."
"So, we're supposed to find currents that are exactly like the ones that destroyed all of those vessels."
"Essentially, yes!" Carl responded.
"Great" said George nodding his head slowly.
Over the next few days, Amy, George and Jenn prepared themselves for a journey to the very tip of South America.
"So, you all set?" Jenn asked poking her head into Eric's office a few minutes before their scheduled departure where George sat working.
"Yeah, just gotta' pack a windlass to help determine our ship's direction as we sail into certain death," George replied.
"Would you relax," Jenn said. "It won't be that bad."
"No, you see fact that it is that bad is exactly why Carl is sending us down there now."
"What do you mean?" asked Jenn.
"The Skipper wants to find conditions that will parallel those of a tsunami, right?"
"Mhmm," Jenn answered. "Well, that's why he's sending us now. It's hurricane season in the southern hemisphere and the waves are at their peak."
"Guess I missed that memo. Perhaps I should consider bringing along a rain coat," Jenn responded facetiously.
"I'd suggest a wet suit," George replied.
When they arrived at the airport, each of the three researchers checked their ticket.
"7C, George said.
Amy looked at her seat assignment and then at Jenn's. Her ticket said 7B and her colleague was in 7C. "Can we switch?" asked Amy discreetly as she and Jenn walked behind George.
"Sure," Jenn said. "But if you think that not sitting next to him is going to make this any easier, think again."
"Everything helps," Amy replied sheepishly.
The group landed in Punta Arenas, the largest town in southern Chile. Hauling their luggage as well as the equipment they'd brought with them was no small task and the amount of baggage they were carrying made the act of finding a cab that much more difficulty. Outside the main terminal, George used the phrases he'd picked up reading a Berlitz Spanish guide on the plane to locate a taxi large enough to accommodate them and their ponderous collection of recording devices. After he'd finally found an appropriate cab, the driver popped the trunk but offered nothing in the way of assistance to the frazzled researchers. George saw Jenn heading towards the back seat after she'd stored her luggage with Amy quickly following close behind her after she'd tossed her suitcase into the boot. George put his own bag along with the group's equipment into the hatchback storage area and climbed into the front seat where an the octogenarian Chilean driver with a statue of the Virgin Mary affixed on his dashboard was listening to a heavily syncopated salsa beat. He queried his front-seat passenger with only an interrogative extension of his forefinger. He then started the trip after George replied with a terse nod of his head. George observed the many outdoor bazaars they passed as the cab took them through the narrow unpaved streets. Though considered one of the country's major cities, it reminded the scientist more of La Palma than any large urban center on either side of the Atlantic.
As they rode, Amy began speaking to the cab driver in Spanish. George turned around and watched his ex-wife with a combination of shock and bemusement. How could he have been unaware that his ex-wife was fluent in a second language?
"Since when do you speak Spanish?" he asked Amy.
"I've always spoken Spanish," she responded. "You'd have known that if you'd come to Leslie and Brad's wedding."
George thought back to the trip. They were supposed to go together but he had to cancel due to professional obligations at the last minute. Amy ended up taking her sister instead. Another poor choice, he thought to himself.
The group finally arrived at the hotel, a 19th century Baroque in the center of Plaza de Armas. The Institute had sprung for five-star accommodations to ensure the three researchers' comfort as they prepared for their brush with death.
"Two rooms," the concierge said holding up the keys, as they stopped at the front desk to check in. George and Amy immediately looked in opposite directions.
"Thanks," said Jenn grabbing both sets.
After they'd climbed the stairs and walked onto the landing, George counted the numbers down until he reached his room.
He and Jenn stopped, but Amy kept walking.
"What time are we doing breakfast?" he asked Jenn.
"Let's say 6:30," Jenn said as she continued on.
"Where are you guys gonna' be?" he asked.
"Down the hall," Jenn responded.
"How far down?" George asked.
"Far," Jenn mouthed to him before quickening her pace to catch up with Amy.
The next day at breakfast, the team sat discussing their plans for the experiment. "Our first task is to find a boat that can withstand the kind of beating it's gonna take out there," George said.
The three scientists set out that day to find a vessel worthy of their expedition. The group spent the entire morning walking ship to ship where Amy would inquire with each captain while George and Jenn stood listening to the incomprehensible dialogue. Three hours later, the scientists still hadn't found anyone willing to risk going venturing the distance they required at that time of the season. By 2:00 pm, the oceanographers had all but given up.
"Well, we can explain to Carl that we tried," George said.
"Not hardly," Jenn insisted. "We need to do this!"
"Ya' think we can navigate ourselves?" George asked.
"Not a chance. We'll just have to keep upping our price until we find someone game for our suicide mission," Jenn replied.
At that moment, they were approached by a young boy of no more than eight or nine years old. "You want to go out there?" he said in passable English pointing towards the horizon.
"Mhmm," said George. "Are you offering your services?"
"My papa will take you," the boy said. "Follow me." The child led the three researchers to a dilapidated fishing cabin 300 feet down the shore.
Inside the group encountered a young girl of about three peeling potatoes alongside a woman of around 30, who washed her hands and then dried them on her apron before shaking hands with the three guests. The woman introduced herself as Antonia. Once her son mumbled a few words to her in Spanish, she asked the group to wait in the dining room while she fetched her husband. The tiny area consisted of a table and three chairs, one of which stood at an angle and wobbled when Jenn sat on it. A colorful painting of a net filled with exotic South Pacific fish adorned the wall.
A few moments later, a Spanish man in his late forties walked out. He wore a sombrero and what looked to the Americans like a sleeveless rug. He had a grizzled beard and an eye that didn't appear to follow the other when he shifted his gaze. Both Jenn and Amy crossed their arms over their chest. "My son tell me you want to go out on the water," he said.
"That's right," George answered taking the lead in negotiations after recognizing his two female companions' reaction to their host.
"You very brave Americans. No one in Tierra del Fuego sail that far during temporada de huracanes." The man, who the group would later learn was named Giuseppe, pointed to a beach through the window of his cabin. "You see ships," he said. "Each one of them was a boat that go out in storms. They only come back like that."
George swallowed hard as he viewed what appeared like at least half a mile of schooner skeletons. Regaining his composure, he continued forgetting the need to take his audience into account. "Well, unfortunately we don't have the luxury of playing it safe. We're trying to research a tsunami deterrent system and our boss sent us down here because of the waves you have here in Tierra del Fuego."
Giuseppe looked at George for a few moments. "How you plan to stop giant wave?" he finally asked squinting.
"It's kind of complicated," George replied. "I'd explain the whole system to you but we're a bit short on time."
Giuseppe nodded. "You meet me here tomorrow at noon. I take you on my boat."
"Thanks a lot," George said nodding his head appreciatively.
The three oceanographers got up. George bid the man farewell as they walked out of his home. Jenn and Amy just smiled politely as they made a B-line for the door.
As the group drove back to the hotel, Amy outlined the steps that'd be required for the experiment to be conducted successfully. "In order to simulate the dimensions of a tsunami, we're gonna' have to get out there when these breakers are at their highest," she explained. "We'll also have to put out the equipment into the water that'll monitor the impact of the explosives on the wave. Any delta less than 100 meters and the whole process is a no go. After we drop the munitions off the ship, we'll only have about two minutes to sail clear of the blast."
After procuring explosives from a local road construction company, the oceanographers stored them gingerly in the car they'd rented before they set out to meet Giuseppe. The roads leading to the dock were certainly not conducive to safely transporting delicate, unstable materials. George turned around every five seconds to check that the tethers keeping the dynamite in place remained securely fastened.
The group met their guide at the warf on schedule. "Put these on," he said handing them life jackets as they boarded the boat, which they proceeded to lay aside temporarily so as to remain unencumbered during their experiment preparation. The ship was an old fishing vessel that Giuseppe had earned his living with for over 25 years. The majority of its keel was rusted and there was a rope holding the ice machine together. The three scientists looked over their equipment.
"Here's the measurement apparatus," Amy said. "First, we're going to sail out and anchor this down."
Jenn attached a buoy to the device, which was already tied to an anchor. Once this part of their operation was completed they could move on to the far more exciting segment of their expedition, preparing to detonate a decomposition explosion. With the final checks on the battery and timer done, the group strapped on their life vests and waited for Giuseppe's directions.
As they began to set sail, Amy started to wonder if they really would make it back alive. A storm had started and rains began pelting the boat. The group put on their rain parkas over their life jackets and moved the equipment back under the ship's awning. It wasn't a hurricane, but it was enough to kick up a great deal of nasty surf. The wind blew the rain in horizontal sheets that drenched the team as they attempted to prepare the equipment. As they sailed out into the vicious current, Amy watched as wave after wave began to increase in amplitude to their west.
"This is too much," Jenn shouted. "We need to hold off until it's safe to go out there."
"We can't wait any longer," Amy insisted. "We've wasted too much time as it is."
George walked back up to the bridge and walked inside. "Are they all that big?" he asked their captain.
"No," he replied. "Further out they're twice as high."
The ship pushed on and the team prepared to drop the apparatus into the open ocean. Jenn and Amy carried the device to the edge of the boat.
"Don't let us down," Jenn said as the two women eased their precious equipment into the water.
George attempted to pick up the schooner's anchor, incomparable in size and weight to the one that moored their research vessel back home. Giuseppe was forced to leave the wheel to assist the scientist in his effort. Out on the water, the mechanism resurfaced and bobbed for a few seconds. The group was ready to give Giuseppe the "Okay," to proceed when they noticed a problem. The tether holding the buoy and the anchor to the apparatus had come lose and the device floated freely.
"Shit!" George shouted. "We've gotta' reattach it."
Jenn looked at the device bobbing helplessly in the surf. The rope from the anchor swayed back and forth in the water kept up only by its shoestring connection to the buoy. "Well, isn't this whole area enough of a frame of reference?" Jenn screamed over the sound of the storm. "Why couldn't we just take the measurements from wherever the apparatus ends up and compensate for the discrepancy?" she asked.
"We can't do that," Amy responded. "The direction of the current has to be calculated at a precise point or the trajectory data's useless."
The three scientists looked out over the water all feeling defeated for the second time in as many days. When Giuseppe overheard their conversation, he stopped the engine and walked over to where they stood staring out over the side of the boat.
"Looks like you have problem."
"We sure do!" Amy replied.
"I'll fix it," Giuseppe said taking off his shirt.
"Sir, you can't get into that water, it's suicide," shouted Jenn.
Giuseppe laughed. "Then I should be dead by now," he said. Giuseppe dove into the water and was immediately shoved under by the force of the surf. He came back up and waded for a few moments. The three scientists marveled at the force of his strokes against the current.
"Throw him a line," Amy shouted.
Jenn ran to where a coiled safety rope hung on the wall of the deck. She pulled it off its hook and threw it to Giuseppe. In spite of his powerful thrusts, the fisherman's strong strokes against the current barely generated any forward progress. After a concerted effort, he was finally able to reach the rope and began pulling himself towards the buoy. His hand was inches away from the end of the line when a wave knocked the tether loose. Giuseppe had only moments to retrieve it before it was lost. Seeing the cord slipping away, the scientists' guide dove below the surf. He disappeared after descending past the first 10 feet of the murky ocean water. The three team members looked at one another. What would they do if their captain was killed? The closest any of them had come to manning an oceanic vessel was taking the helm of the Institute's motorboat. They'd never be able to maneuver the ship back safely through the conditions they were witnessing.
Giuseppe kicked as hard as he was able, but the tether sank faster than he was able to swim. He'd finally descended close enough to reach the end of the rope when a manta ray darted right past him. The rope caught on the back of the animal's barb and Giuseppe was forced to swim after it. The Spaniard tried as hard as he could to keep pace with the fish, but after a few moments of chase, the ray spotted a scrumptious looking grouper immediately beneath it and dove down to seize the prey. The creature's abrupt turn carried the rope further into the depths and this time Giuseppe recognized the pressure in his ears was telling him he'd reached his limit. He was about to rise back to the surface when the rope slid off the back of the plummeting fish. With one final lunge before the line dropped beyond a survivable depth, he grabbed on to the tip of the rope. Now lacking any energy to carve out one more stroke with his arms, he allowed his buoyancy to return him to the surface. The line itself weighed nothing, but the fierce current held it back nonetheless. Now Giuseppe was so out breath that he feared even the milliseconds of delay its downward tug created would drown him. As he finally pierced the ocean surface, he gasped desperately for air as the three researchers looked on with a mix of awe and guilt.
After taking over a minute to catch his breath, the seaman tied the anchor rope tightly to the buoy. With this accomplished, he followed the line that the team had thrown him back to the boat. As Jenn and George pulled their guide over the side of the schooner, Amy hugged the nearly frozen fisherman, nearly squeezing out completely what little air remained in his lungs.
When the boat finally reached the apex of the two currents, George signaled to Giuseppe that it was time to release the dynamite. Jenn was the only one of the three scientists who had any experience with explosives. As a teenager, she'd volunteered to help assist firefighters prepare fireworks for the Seaside Heights Fourth of July celebration. As the ship slowed to a halt, Jenn walked over to where the munitions were stored and began to ready the charge. George and Amy watched as their colleague adeptly plugged the battery into the C-4. When the dynamite was ready to be dropped, the team carried the plastique explosives as well as the detonation mechanism over to the edge of the vessel. Amy held the timer and carried it alongside Jenn who gripped the munitions tightly. They'd decided not to connect the two devices until they were prepared to let go of the entire apparatus. It would be prudent, they surmised, to give themselves as much time as possible to dodge a blast should the detonation jump the gun. Amy stepped back in case somewhere in Jenn's rudimentary training in the art of ballistics, her colleague had missed a key instruction. Jenn gripped the charge tightly. She slowly inserted the end of the battery wire into the clay. Amy and George, now 15 feet away, held their breath until she'd completed the procedure.
Once the device was dropped into the water, the team would have only two minutes to escape from ground zero. Amy was well aware that allotting themselves such a narrow window would pose a formidable threat to their safety. She chose to limit their cushion out of a concern that allowing themselves any more distance would hinder their capacity to document the wave's apogee at the time of the explosion. Without a sufficient visual of the crest, the team would be hard pressed to calculate even the approximate height of their watery ogre.
Amy and Jenn held the explosive devices together and agreed to drop them into the water at the count of three. Once the apparatus was released, it would be almost impossible to retrieve if the battery wire became detached. After finally letting go and watching the mechanism hit the water, they breathed a sigh of relief that the wires remained intact. With the device in place, they gave the sign to Giuseppe who quickly started up the motor to pull them out of harm's way as quickly as possible. The captain sailed for 75 yards before stopping and letting the motor idle.
After another minute went by, George looked out at the location. He remembered a time when he was nine years old and some of his friends were setting off holiday fireworks. Being the overly cautious youth that he was, he stood much farther back than any of his companions. One of his bolder friends had remained only 15 feet away hoping to catch a close look at the explosion. When the M-80 went off, a piece of the explosive hit him squarely in the shoulder sending blood dripping down his arm. Thinking about that moment, George insisted that everyone in the group take cover inside the bridge.
"If we're hiding in there I won't be able to get a decent shot of the wave," Jenn said twisting the cap of the camera. In spite of George's warning, the determined photographer walked farther over to the deck and glanced back out. "Look, you can barely see it as it is!"
"Have you ever initiated an explosion like this before?" George asked her.
"Then how do you know how far it'll reach?"
"I don't exactly, but we didn't come all this way to err on the side of caution."
"Okay, stay low!" George instructed her before he and Amy went to join their captain in the bridge.
George indicated to Giuseppe that he'd prefer him to move out a little farther. The captain turned on the motor again and sailed another 50 feet from the range of the explosion.
"I'm still not gonna' have a clear shot," Jenn yelled back.
"Clear enough!" George mouthed to her pedantically through the glass as the boat chugged further along.
"Here goes nothing," Amy said glancing at a wrist watch chronometer she'd synced with the timer.
The team members stood inside and out counted down to the moment of the explosion. When the device finally went off, a huge rift formed in the current sending half of the ocean one way and the other half in the opposite direction. A massive precipice began to form where the waves sunk deep down as they gathered speed under water.
For once, George hadn't been paranoid enough. "Jenn!" he shouted rushing out to grab his colleague who remained so focused on her videography that she was left oblivious to the approaching wave just below her purview.
The boat first leaned starboard where a crevice had formed nearly toppling into the canyon formed by the retreating surf. Then with the ferocity of freight train, the wave crept up from the depths and struck the boat with such force that Jenn thought they'd been hit with shrapnel from the explosion itself.
While the ship's rail was nearly parallel to the surf, water came crashing over the deck and tore a hole in the side of the vessel. The impact of the wave tipped the boat 180 degrees so that it now leaned nearly parallel with the water on its port side.
George looked around and saw no sign of Amy or Jenn. He scrambled hand over fist along the deck outside that now rested at a 30 degree angle until he reached the main cabin. He put both hands up against the glass and peered inside. Underneath the steering column that'd been dislodged from its base, he could see Amy trapped with her leg sticking straight through the fractured wooden floor. Water poured into the bridge through a gaping hole in the bottom of the ship had begun filling the room. With her free hand Amy reached out and tried to pull the door open, but it was held by the water pressure. George suddenly saw Giuseppe lying on the floor a few feet away from where Amy was pinned. He'd been knocked unconscious by a signaling lamp sent flying by the wave's impact. George watched in horror as blood started seeping out of their captain's nose and ears. A moment later, Jenn waded up alongside George.
"They're both still in there!" he shouted.
Amy was still conscious but she had only three or four inches before the seawater pouring in to the compartment rose above her head. George kept trying to turn the handle, but the force from the water kept it locked in position. Amy's nose and mouth were now nearly submerged. She gasped for breath as she desperately attempted to break the wood that held her leg fast. As the water climbed over her nose, she took a deep breath and punched at the ship's jagged carpentry. Just as she began shaking from oxygen deprivation, she was finally able to pull her leg out of the loosened floorboards.
Finally liberated from the damaged structure, Amy swam up to the door and tried it but it wouldn't budge. Jenn realized that this entrance wasn't going to offer Amy any hope of escape. She swam around the other side of the room where a narrow window opened onto the deck. She used a pole to pry open some of the loosened wood around it. As she did so, water immediately began spilling back out of the cabin causing a portion of the wall to give more and more. Finally, Jenn was able to break off a section of the window frame just large enough for Amy to fit through. With her head and shoulders out of the hole, but still stuck from the waist down, George stepped forward and unsuccessfully attempted to pull her out the rest of the way. A final tug, rather than freeing his ex-wife, sent him hurdling downward towards the deck knocked nearly unconscious by the impact of his head against the wood.
Jenn swam back around realizing the water displacement had alleviated pressure on the door. Reaching the starboard side of the cabin again, she tried turning the handle. This time, she could pull the door open far enough to squeeze inside. Amy still remained wedged into the hole unable to pull herself back out or continue to make any progress climbing through. The ship's deck now slanted up at a 45-degree angle as the vessel began sinking into the water.
Once Jenn had made it into the room, she moved right up behind Amy, who sat watching helplessly as her husband toppled over. Jenn pushed her the rest of the way out the narrow hole and immediately upon her liberation, Amy shouted for her rescuer to help her with George. Jenn was about to rush of the room when she spotted Giuseppe's sombrero floating next to where his body lay. She grabbed the hat before wading out to join Amy. The two women rushed over to where George lay on the deck of the ship. They grabbed him and put both of his arms over their shoulders. Together all three dove into the water just as the schooner went under.
The boat's life-raft had been jarred loose from its moorings when the vessel was hit. It bobbed in the water 20 feet from the ship. The three scientists swam against the vicious ocean current, being pushed back a foot after every two feet they managed to advance. George was the first to make it to the dingy. He then helped Jenn flop onto the skiff's floor right before assisting Amy who swam up behind her companion. As George was pulling Amy into the boat, he lost his footing on the wet rubber. He came down hard on the floor of the raft with his wife right on top of him. For two or three seconds, the former couple lay winded with their faces inches apart staring into one another's eyes. The life boat had only a small outboard motor and navigating the craft through the treacherous waves would pose a significant challenge. Amy, who'd had the most experience working on the Institute's research vessel, took the engine and instructed George and Jenn to bail out the water with a survival blanket stored in the raft. Amy gunned the motor and the little dinghy bounced from one wave crest to the next.
The boat nearly capsized twice as it hit the tops of a series of 10-foot waves. George sat on the edge of the raft watching the face of his ex-wife set in an expression of complete concentration. It was the same look she wore when attacking a computational problem in her research that reminded him of the first day they spent in the lab together.
"We have to get that device!" Jenn screamed.
"She's right," George said acknowledging her directive. "We're never going to get more explosives from anyone in Latin America after this. This is our only shot."
"Okay, I'll turn us around," Amy said.
The group realized it was only a matter of time until the recording mechanism was destroyed by the waves. Amy spun the boat to the right and headed in the direction of the equipment. The buoy was located in one of the most treacherous areas of the inlet where two large sets of rocks created a natural whirlpool. In spite of the anchor, the current pulled the device much closer to the swirling eddy. It was imperative that no one be jettisoned out of the skiff or they might be sucked down into the churning waters. When the castaways pulled the boat alongside the apparatus, Amy attempted to keep the raft as steady as possible by sailing just slightly against the oncoming waves. Jenn leaned over the side as she reached for the apparatus while George held her feet. The impact from a wave nearly sent her plummeting into the water. Amy left the motor and took hold of her friend's calves as she dangled in the water. Together she and George yanked her legs and dragged her soaking torso over the side of the dinghy. As Jenn collapsed onto the floor of the skiff, she began to breathe heavily.
"Thank God," George said. "Now let's get out of here."
Amy redirected the rudder and began guiding the raft back towards the shore. However, at that moment another enormous wave hit the outboard motor and the engine began to sputter.
"Shit!" Amy exclaimed as she tried desperately to restart the engine.
"It's stalled," she shouted. "Grab the oars."
George and Jenn took hold of the two emergency oars attached to the skiff's sides. They began rowing as hard as they could, but the force of the swirling waters was too intense. They slowly started drifting towards the whirlpool and the tiny plastic boat was being pulled in to the churning surf.
"Row!" Jenn shouted feeling the raft begin to tip.
"I'm trying," George yelled looking behind him to see the back of the vessel being sucked down. The safety rope as well as the first aid kit that sat in the dinghy fell over the side and were pulled into the circular current.
Amy kept yanking on the string of the motor. As the vessel began standing up on its end, the engine gave a slight sputter. With another pull of the cord a consistent hum began. The raft jumped up and bounced its way over a wave until finally landing with a smack on the water's surface. Amy was then able to begin steadily guiding the skiff out of the whirlpool and back towards calmer waters.
15 minutes later, the group finally ran aground on the beach. The three scientists climbed out of the boat and collapsed onto the sand. Jenn began sobbing hysterically but Amy just sat propped up on her elbows staring out into the waters. When Jenn and Amy had the strength to sit up, they hugged one another tightly. George began reciting a prayer. He'd never been very religious but he decided the fact that they were still breathing could only be the result of some kind divine intervention.
Moments later they were approached by a group of curious fishermen. "Where's Giuseppe?" one of them asked.
Suddenly the group's achievement was put into perspective. The scientists'd gotten the data they needed, but the treachery of the La Palma volcano had been responsible for its first human casualty.
"He didn't make it," George admitted shaking his head.
One of the men grimaced. "That's his hat?" he asked.
"You should --," the man continued.
"We know," Amy said. "We're heading there right now."
Later that day, the group returned to Giuseppe's house. His wife opened the door and the three Americans stood in the entryway.
Jenn held up the sombrero and his wife began to cry immediately. Moments later, both his son and young daughter appeared next to their mother. The little girl buried her face in Antonia's leg. The boy just stood stone-faced upon learning his father's fate. He'd seen many other men meet the same end. He lived with the assumption that the water would someday claim his father. His mother took Giuseppe's hat and placed it on Pablo's head. It was common practice in the family's culture that when an angler died, his son would continue to support his family aboard his brother's fishing vessel.
Amy reached down and hugged the young girl. Even as they walked back towards their car, she continued to watch the child clinging to her mother's side. Amy didn't utter a word the entire drive back to the hotel. Arriving back at their temporary abode, Jenn parted ways with her colleagues hoping that a walk amidst the thoroughfare might quell her addled nerves. She thought of Allison and wished more than anything at that moment to hear her voice again.
Amy and George said nothing on the way from the car into the lobby and rode together in the elevator like two strangers whose prior associations would never bring them together again. The moment Amy reached her room, she buried her face in her pillow and drenched the linen with long sobs that shook her entire body.
After returning to Baltimore, the team drove back to the Institute from the airport together.
"Welcome home," Lisa said as the group walked into the conference room where she and Eric were working.
"Heard you guys had quite a scare out there," Eric added.
"That doesn't quite capture it, I'm afraid," George said.
"What happened?" Lisa continued.
"It's not important," Amy replied intent on putting the entire nightmare behind her.
"It's terrible about your guide," Lisa remarked.
"The Institute's going to see that Mr. Vasquarez's family is well provided for," George interjected.
"I certainly hope they will," Jenn said. "Giuseppe saved our experiment. The world owes him."
"Let's hope he didn't die in vain," Carl responded walking in and joining the group. "Unless these results tell us what we're hoping for, your Chilean captain might just be the first of many."
"Guess there's only one way to find out," said Jenn.
The data recorder had taken quite a beating. "How does she look?" Jenn asked Carl as he stood rotating the device in his hands and inspecting the damage.
"Well, it's pretty banged up, but the internal drive could still be intact."
The laboratory supervisor opened up the sliding door on the mechanism's posterior and pulled out a USB drive. "Here goes nothing," he said.
Plugging the device into his desk top, Carl clarified for his colleagues the intent of the experiment in further detail. "We're looking for refraction of at least 30 degrees," he explained. He then pointed to the screen as his computer was booting up. As long as the Pentium core wasn't damaged, this should tell us if we made it over the goal line."
"And if we didn't?" Lisa asked.
"Well, that depends. If we're only off by a little, we can consider increasing the distance between detonations. If we're talking about two or three orders of magnitude, we might just have to give up on the idea altogether."
The whole group stood around nervously as Carl pulled the results up on his computer. Even when the information appeared on the screen, no one else in the group besides the leader knew what to make of it. Everyone looked at Carl as he scanned a set of columns waiting for his official pronouncement on the experiment's outcome.
The supervisor pointed to the screen. "I'll have to go over some of these numbers in a bit more detail but at first glance they look promising. According to these stats, the waves refracted at an angle of 37 degrees. That should be enough to turn our La Palma waves in the right direction, give or take a few miles of coastline. We'll probably need to put a few more towns in South America on alert, but I think the general idea is sound."
The group all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
"I guess the next step is to start crunching some numbers," Eric said.
"We're gonna' need to know the exact detonation latitudes and longitudes," Amy explained drawing the eyes of the entire team. "That was just a general statement," she added.
Her colleagues continued to look at her expectantly.
"Okay, I'll do it," she said exhaling.
The next day, Carl was explaining the urban evacuation procedures to Jenn and Lisa. He pointed to locations on a map of the US. "Some of these wetlands here are densely populated with Mangrove trees. Those'll act as a bit of buffer against the force of the wave." He motioned towards the Baltimore Harbor and an inlet south of Charleston, South Carolina on the map. "These kinds of areas will be much more vulnerable. The natural enclosures will create a funnel that'll increase the height of the wave."
"How far west should we tell people they need to travel to make sure that they're safe?" Jenn asked.
The next day, Carl was sitting at his computer when he received a text message from Maria down in the Canaries. In the correspondence, the secretary explained that La Palma had begun to experience a series of earthquakes around the perimeter of the volcano.
Carl read the message and stared at his phone in horror. The Cumbre Vieja was no longer just blowing smoke. He knew that such pre-quakes, as they were called by geologists, were a sign that it was only a matter of a few hours before the entire stack went off.
Later that day, Jacob sat talking on his office phone. He hung up and jumped up from his desk. Moments later he rushed into the Oval Office where the president sat reading over the daily briefing. "Sir, we've just received word from Baltimore that the volcano is showing signs of imminent eruption. They say that we should begin evacuations immediately as a precaution."
The president glanced down at his paperwork. "Jake, ya' know what I'm looking at here?" he continued without waiting for a response. "It's a description of the estuary off the coast of Washington. They're asking for $500,000 because oil from offshore drilling is polluting the feeding grounds of the egrets. Do you think I can afford to take the word of every eco-nut out there at face value?"
"Well, sir, the potential of a wave is a greater threat than oil seepage into an animal breeding ground," he said more forcefully than he'd ever responded to Geoffrey before. "An eruption could potentially affect millions of people."
"I don't care! I'm not going to start a mass panic on the speculation of some biblical flood."
"Okay Sir," responded Jacob. "I'll ask Mr. Moffit to keep us apprised of the situation as it develops."
At the Oceanographic Institute, the scientists reconvened at the conference table for another discussion of their battle plan. Eric and Jenn held coffee. They were the only ones who continued drinking it since the first signs of the volcanic disaster. Jenn's cup was decaf.
Carl sat with his arms folded. "This operation would have to involve at least two of our team members."
"How come?" Eric asked.
"There's no way to determine the precise point at which the waves can be safely refracted remotely. The best we can do is estimate." Carl paused. He looked at one side of the table and then the other. "One of us would have to be on each of the two point planes."
The scientists exchanged glances before turning back to their supervisor. "Should we draw straws?" Lisa asked.
"I'll do it," George said.
Amy turned to her ex-husband. "George, no! I mean, do you really think you're the most qualified for this?"
"I know more about tsunamis than anyone here. If someone has to be on one of those birds, it should be me."
"Okay," Carl said. "Now we just need someone on the second plane."
"I'll do it," Amy responded.
"Amy, are you sure?" Jenn asked.
"Just put me on a jet flying in this hemisphere. Someone's gotta' try to save my mom's Marigolds."
"George, you okay handling this from the other side of the pond?" Carl asked.
"Why not? Can't let the Queen's jewels float way."
Carl began planning another trip to Washington. He'd arranged for him and his two proteges to meet with the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon. Amy took her own car and George and Carl traveled in the vehicle George had rented. George was set on staying over in D.C. Since Carl had another official meeting with the president of Brazil the next day, who happened to be in Washington for a peace summit, he and George had planned to ride back together. Carl attempted to steer the conversation clear of any discussion of the dynamics that had existed between George and his former beloved. He filled up empty gaps in their conversation by offering instructions on ways to field the questions they'd receive from the Air Force's top brass.
Immediately upon their entrance into the military complex, the group was guided into a meeting room where the secretary of defense, Lewis Braun, sat awaiting them. Next to him was Richard Shornwick, the General appointed to oversee the potential operation, wearing an army uniform with decorations crawling upwards from his chest to just below his shoulders.
"Mr. Secretary," Carl began as if continuing a previous conversation, "I feel it's imperative that you're aware that once the eruption begins this thing could fall at any minute."
"I understand that. But you've got to appreciate our position. Using nuclear weaponry to offset a natural disaster is highly unorthodox."
"We know that, Sir. But we're convinced that if the explosives were dropped at the right moment, it could severely weaken, or even neutralize, the impact of the wave."
"And how would the pilot know when to drop the nukes?" General Shornwick asked jumping in.
"Members of our team would have to be on both point planes."
"So, you'd want three jets abreast with your braniacs in the middle fighter of both squadrons?"
"That's the idea," replied Carl.
The general looked at the secretary of defense. "And exactly what kind of eggheads are you planning on sending into the wild blue yonder?"
Carl motioned towards George and Amy. "You're looking at them, Sir."
The general glanced over George and Amy. "You ever flown shotgun in an F-16 little lady?"
Amy shifted nervously in her seat.
He turned to George. "What about you fella'? You think you can hold your lunch at 500 miles an hour?"
"That's the least of my worries, Sir.
"Alright, I'll talk this over with my commander. But God I hope "Operational Splash" never sees the light of day," he said shaking his head.
Following the meeting, Secretary Braun's assistant saw the three scientists out of the building. Amy headed back towards her own car and George and Carl walked out of the mall together.
"Well, that went better than I expected," Carl said.
"Out of curiosity, do you really think this could work?" George asked.
Carl turned to his colleague. "Your guess is as good as mine."
The next day, Carl was ushered into a meeting room at the State Department. He greeted the president and nervously took his seat besides the vice president. President Anderson had had his fill of catastrophe for the moment and delegated the responsibilities to his right-hand diplomat before excusing himself from the meeting.
Meanwhile, Jenn was handling calls from one of Brazil's congressional leaders. She listened patiently before addressing the issues that the South American leader had brought up. "I assure you that the most careful calculations have been made to ensure that this event does not harm anyone in your nation."
"Ms. Caruso, we simply don't see how it's possible that you can carry out this procedure in a manner that will take our country's safety into consideration."
"Sir, please believe that the utmost precautions have been taken to ensure that the waves will remain 100s of miles north even outlying facilities off the coast of Recife."
The Moroccan president was equally suspicious. Apparently, the site most in the potential path of the wave would be the nation's capital. A recent government investigation had led to the detection of a terrorist cell in the northwestern part of the city. When the president'd learned of the situation, he immediately began to perceive it as a political maneuver targeting what other countries perceived as the unsavory elements of his populace.
Jenn was immediately struck by the politician's hostile tone. "I've already been informed of the intention of your organization. We are not a terrorist nation nor do we appreciate being treated as an expendable municipality in the eyes of the West."
"I assure you Mr. President that this is wholly unrelated to your political or religious affiliations. This is simply a precautionary measure to ensure that the people of your nation are safe in the unlikely event that the operation proves unsuccessful."
"Well, perhaps you should go back to your supervisor and explain that the potential "error" you refer to will have significant consequences for the relations between our two countries."
"I...yes, I'll make that clear to him," Jenn said feeling utterly defeated.
After hanging up the phone, she walked back into Carl's office. "Brazil's on the fence, but Morocco's not gonna' budge. Their president believes that this is a plot to destroy a terrorist cell in Rabat."
"That's absurd!" Carl shouted.
"Tell them that!"
"Okay, we're gonna' have to come up with a new strategy. The waves will have to be redirected into the Bering straight just below France. The people will already be evacuated and at least there'll be fewer political repercussions in the event this fails."
That evening, Lisa sat on a couch in her apartment talking on the phone. A picture of her and her brother as children hugging one another at the base of a totem pole was perched on an end table. "Mom, it's Lise."
Lisa's mother stood in her kitchen staring intensely at her spice rack debating which seasoning to use in that evening's meal. "Hi Sweetie, I've been following the news about this volcano. It's just awful!"
"I know...listen Mom, I don't have time to talk but I want you to go get Sam out of the hospital and then drive to Aunt Barbara's house," Lisa said.
"Oh honey, I can't do that. He's not well...and my sister's house is over an hour from here," her mother replied.
"Mom, listen! I don't want to argue with you. Sam is healthy enough to travel at this point, and I don't want you or him anywhere near the coast right now."
"Well, if you say so. But do you know anything for sure?"
"I know I love you and Sam. That's about it right now."
"I love you too, sweetheart."
The next day, the British Prime Minister Lionel Turner, a distinguished looking official with flecks of grey hair along his temples, sat in his office typing a memo to one of his staff. On his shelf stood the crew trophy he'd won at The University of Manchester, and on his walls hung a dozen framed accolades including a note of thanks from the Queen. He'd been inundated recently with reports of one natural disaster after another. The Thames was being polluted with murk from a local fertilizer producer. An aluminum siding company had started dumping its refuse into the British Highlands placing the pristine condition of Bronte's moors in jeopardy. Lionel too had seen it all and remained unimpressed with the emergency reports that the US Dept. of Homeland Security had been sending him.
One of his aides rushed in. "Sir, a Mr. Moffit from an oceanographic research center in the United States is on the line."
The prime minister picked up the phone and hung it up moments later. "Get me President Anderson!"
At his office in Washington, the president saw that the call was from England and watched it ringing for five seconds before finally lifting the receiver.
"Mr. President..." the aide said, "the prime minister would like to speak to you," he continued before transferring the call to the president's office.
President Anderson stared at the receiver for a few moments before picking it up. He and the prime minister had had these kinds of conversations before. However, none of their previous discussions had ever been on a subject of quite this nature. Recently the strength of the alliance that joined the two nations had been compromised after the UK accused the US of an increasing insensitivity to its growing vulnerability to Islamic terrorism. He was worried that a disagreement over how to handle a mutual potential disaster might strain already tense relations between the two countries.
"Geoffrey, I've received notification that half of one of the Canary Islands are on the verge of falling into the ocean," the prime minister said. "Is this really possible?"
"Sorry Lionel, we have no way of verifying those claims." The president didn't like the idea of giving false information. He had to sound knowledgeable, he thought to himself as he spoke. If there was a danger posed by the wave, it'd be far more perilous for a nation only 1800 miles from La Palma.
"So, you wouldn't advise that we start evacuating?"
The president paused. "No, not at the moment."
"Okay, can you provide an update as soon as you know anything further?"
"Of course." The president hung up the phone and stared blankly ahead.
That evening, Amy realized that she needed information about the water temperatures off the coast of the Canaries. A quick surf of the National Oceanographic Information Site failed to uncover any of the information she was looking for. She knew George would have that data. He was probably gone for the --click, clack, sounded from the other room destroying the excuse she was forming in her mind. Amy was about to go into his office when she realized that they were the only two people left at the Institute that evening. It could wait, she decided.
The group members sat around the following night triangulating the coordinates for their bold initiative. This time Carl's presence made Amy feel a little more comfortable sitting down with George and hashing out details of the operation. She walked into the hall and towards the empty office George was sharing with Eric where her now officially ex-husband sat crunching numbers.
"I need some specs on the temperatures in the Mesopelagic Zone west of Tenerife," she said.
Suddenly George was pulled out of his work trance by Amy's entrance.
"I haven't had dinner yet, have you eaten?" George asked spinning around.
"Let's grab some Chinese. What do you want?"
"Not, hungry. I'll go see if Carl is --" Amy said.
"He's gone already," George replied.
"Oh," Amy said suddenly feeling as if her security blanket had been yanked away from her. "Well, find me after you've eaten she said suddenly noticing how quiet the office was. Half an hour later, Amy was looking at a map on her computer when George walked in holding a container of beef lo mein and took a seat behind her.
"Want some?" he asked offering Amy an unopened pair of chopsticks.
"No thanks," she responded.
Turning back to a map of the Western Hemisphere on her screen, Amy pointed to a location in the middle of the Atlantic. "Based on my calculations, if the wave left the 28th parallel at this time, it would split off right around here."
George had now stopped eating. He continued looking at Amy rather than the screen.
Amy felt George's eyes on her. "All three planes targeting the eastern wave would have to drop between 257 and 259 minutes after the landslide. If you missed that window, you'd risk creating a larger wave and destroying the Moroccan coast."
George pulled back and put his chopsticks into the white take-out box. "Whew! That's not a lot of time."
Amy continued, "Assuming that the explosives would require between 15 and 19 seconds from release to detonation, you'd have to get as close to the wave as possible in order to minimize the effect of wind shear." Amy turned around and looked at George. "Any questions?"
"Yeah, why did I ever give you up?"
Amy spun around again quickly and picked up a spiral binder. "While we're waiting for the sky to fall, memorize the coordinates," she said slamming the notebook into George's chest.
"Got it," he replied standing up clasping the binder with one hand and his container in the other.
The next day at the Institute, Eric stuck his head into Carl's office. "Any more luck with Washington?"
"No, but some of the leaders of Western Europe have called a meeting to discuss the situation. I'm heading to Paris tomorrow."
"You do get around don't you?" Eric said.
"Au Revoir!" Eric said jocularly.
In Washington, Lisa sat in the FEMA director's office fielding inquiries from local authorities about evacuation procedures. As she went over the information Carl'd given her, she received a call from her mother.
"Lisa, honey, the doctors are saying that Sam cannot be moved. The nearest hospital was still recovering from the last tidal wave. They're taking all of the rest of the patients and transporting them to St. Catherine's. The nurse I spoke to told me people in your brother's condition will only be moved when the threat is imminent."
"Mom, the threat is imminent. You have to get him out of there."
"I'm sorry honey, there's nothing I can do."
Lisa paused for a second. "I think this is gonna' require a little leg work. I'll talk to you later, love you."
"I love you too, honey."
After hanging up her phone, Lisa dialed the chief of staff at the clinic. "Hello, my name is Lisa Porter. My brother is a patient at your hospital. I work at the Baltimore Oceanographic Institute and my team has been monitoring the progress of this volcano. Based on our predictions, it's imperative that you get everyone out now," she said.
"We're doing our best but the condition of some of our patients is too critical for our staff to safely transport them," the administrator replied.
"You don't understand. Their conditions can't be worse than underwater!"
"I'm very sorry, ma'am."
Lisa exhaled sharply. "I'm checking him out."
"I don't --"
"Look," Lisa interrupted the administrator. "I'm not asking your permission."
The woman hesitated before finally responding, "Very well. I'll pass on what you've told me to the other staff."
Lisa hung up and dialed her supervisor. "Carl, it's Lisa," I'm heading over to the hospital in Brookeville to get my brother out."
"But that's an hour away. I thought your mother was going to pick him up."
"She was, but they're not transporting certain patients and Sam happens to be in the "do-not-move" category."
"I'm sorry Lisa. If there's anything I can do or anyone you need me to call, let me know."
"Thanks, but I already tried flashing my government badge. I have to do this in person or it's not going to happen at all."
"That's med folks for you. Speaking of curmudgeons, any luck with the folks down at FEMA?"
"Well, they're not chartering any busses but they seem to have finally started listening. They're at least putting local emergency crews on alert."
"Glad to hear it. Keep me posted."
"Will do," Lisa replied. She Google mapped the hospital location, grabbed her purse and headed out to her car. Jumping into her Camry, she hit the stereo button and the sounds of Nina Simone started wafting out of the speakers offering a slight salve to her growing tension.
When she arrived at the hospital, her brother sat in his ward scrolling through Reddit posts.
A nurse walked in and gave her the medications her brother was taking. "Make sure he gets this one every four hours."
"Okay, thank you," Lisa said.
Sam was still too weak from the radiation to walk, so he sat in a wheelchair as his sister rolled him down towards her car.
"Wow, haven't been outside in weeks," Sam said.
"Don't get too used to it," Lisa replied. "We've gotta' get you back into a unit before you're due for your next chemo."
The traffic caused by the preliminary evacuations was already starting to pick up. Lisa was driving as quickly as she felt was safe, but the density of cars made travel at any faster than 40 mph close to impossible. "This is taking too much time," Lisa said realizing that her rescue operation was lasting much longer than she expected. "I know an alternate route," she told her brother, pulling off the highway.
Lisa and Sam travelled along a local road for 20 minutes. They were making good time when suddenly the street took them into a declivity. "Oh shit!" shouted Lisa. "It's flooded."
"It's not that bad," Sam said. "I bet you could make it through. It'd take two hours to go back."
"You're right," Lisa said. She slowly started driving through the water keeping as far over to the shallower edge of the run-off as possible. Suddenly, the car stopped. "Damn!" she shouted. "It's not moving."
"What should we do?" asked Sam.
"We need to get out of the water. If I restart it while we're this deep it could destroy the engine." She turned to her brother. "I'm gonna' get out and push. Put the car in neutral and sit tight."
"I can help. I'm not totally useless," Sam insisted.
"No way. I've got you stuck out here in a flood because I just had to get back to work. I'm not gonna' add you dying of pneumonia to my list of mistakes right now."
Lisa climbed out and stood knee-deep in the muddy water. She leaned against the back of the automobile and pushed the car as hard as she could. Miraculously the vehicle started to inch forward. "Turn us towards the curb!" she shouted to Sam, who was able to hear her in spite of the window being closed. Sam spun the wheel as far to the right as it would go, and Lisa was able to guide the car out of the deepest of the water.
"Not bad, Lise," Sam exclaimed as his sister climbed back into the car. "Looks like you've been hitting the gym."
"When I can," responded Lisa.
"Just one question," Sam said. "What happens if it still won't start?"
"Then we call a tow-truck and I sit here twiddling my thumbs while the world falls into complete chaos."
"Let's not blow things out of proportion. They can always call your cell."
"True, but when decisions are being made at a national government organization, out of sight is out of mind. Okay," Lisa then said taking a deep breath, "let's give it another try."
She turned the key and the engine began to pout. It made some clicking noises before dying again. Lisa let out a huge sigh.
"Should I start looking up some vehicle recovery numbers?" Sam asked.
"Maybe it just needs a little more juice," Lisa responded. She began pumping the gas pedal ferociously until her ankle grew tired. She closed her eyes and turned the ignition again. The motor began to sputter once more, but after a few weak growls it finally turned over. Lisa laid her head on the steering wheel. "Thank You!" she exclaimed.
They'd travelled for another half an hour when Sam began to nod off slightly. As he came to, he started looking around and noticed that the traffic was moving slightly faster. "Are we almost there?" Sam asked nonchalantly.
"It shouldn't be more than about 15 minutes."
"It's been so long since I've been Aunt Barbara's house. I wonder how Mr. Chompers is holding up. They got him what, six years ago?"
Lisa looked over at her brother. "Aunt Barbara's house? We're not going to Aunt Barbara's house. We're going to the hospital. Don't you remember?"
"The hospital, why?"
Lisa looked at her brother. "Are you feeling alright?" she asked reaching over and putting her hand on her Sam's forehead. "Oh my God you're burning up!" she said. Then she looked over at her brother's arm and noticed that a rash had stared to break out right below his elbow. "Was that there before?" she asked.
"I don't think so," Sam replied.
"Something's wrong! I'm gonna' call the hospital." Lisa pulled the car over to the side of the road and dialed Sam's attending physician. "Dr. Rehnquist, this is Lisa Porter. My brother's started running a fever and he's got a rash on his arm."
"Oh boy," the doctor said exhaling.
"What is it? What's wrong with him?"
"Well, Sam might be going through septic shock. It can happen when a patient is undergoing chemotherapy."
Lisa felt a cold chill spread down her spine.
"You have to get to St. Catherine's immediately!"
"Okay!" she said sliding her phone call to a conclusion. "We need to get you to the hospital pronto. Sam...Sam?" she shouted.
Lisa's brother didn't answer. He'd begun to drift into a coma and lay slumped over against the door.
"Jesus!" Lisa yelled. She started honking her horn intensely at the vehicles in front of her. "Move!"
Lisa knew that her brother wasn't going to make it if she continued traveling at her current pace. She pulled over onto the shoulder and started driving past the rest of the traffic. She made it about a quarter mile when she came up behind a car that had the same idea. She could also see that past that sedan there was another vehicle also trying to get ahead of the crowd. She looked back at the line of traffic on the road. A few vehicles ahead of her she saw a police cruiser wedged in among the other automobiles. She pulled back onto the highway and began forcing her way between the sandwiched cars until she reached the cop. She started beeping and gesticulating wildly to get the policeman's attention. When the officer finally rolled down his window, she began yelling, "My brother has cancer and he's gone into septic shock. I need to get to the hospital immediately!"
The officer hit his siren and began clearing a path for Lisa to follow. Lines of automobiles began shifting aside for her and her escort like the parting of the Red Sea.
Minutes later the caravan pulled in to the hospital parking lot and drove up to the emergency entrance. Lisa stopped the car and ran around to the other side of the vehicle where her brother still leaned against the door completely unconscious. "He's out," she said the cop.
The two of them put Sam's arms around their shoulders and began carrying him into the waiting room.
"My brother's in septic shock!" she screamed to the nurse at the triage desk.
The physician's assistant began shaking her head. "We've got a lot of people suffering from heat stroke ma'am. You'll have to wait a few minutes until a doctor is available." The officer walked up right next to Lisa. "Ma'am find a doctor now!"
"Okay," said the nurse sitting back quickly and nodding her head.
Lisa took a seat in the waiting room. She sat for a half hour biting her nails expecting at any moment for a physician to come out and inform her that her brother had succumbed to his fever. She started cataloguing all the rash actions she'd taken in her head. Immediate evacuation, she thought to herself as if she even knew that the wave was going to hit Mulverton General. Rushing her brother to a hospital at a higher elevation, as if that would really matter when half the eastern seaboard was inundated by the flooding. And then of course there was trying to off-road it in the wake of a natural disaster because she was so essential to the FEMA operation at. She looked down and shook her head wiping a tear from her eye.
Finally, a nurse walked in to the waiting room. "Ms. Porter?"
"Yes, that's me!" Lisa exclaimed jumping out of her seat.
"We gave your brother some anti-biotics and he's begun to stabilize."
"So, he's gonna' be okay?" Lisa asked anxiously.
"He should be," she replied. "His blood pressure dropped significantly. A few more minutes and he might not have made it."
"Thank You," she responded collapsing back into the seat and letting the tears flow freely. With a renewed sense of commitment to her mission, she ran up to another nurse making her way down the hall. "I'm part of the FEMA disaster core. You need to board up these windows," she said pointing to panoramic glass panes that offered a stunning view of the surrounding valley.
"Yes, we're already working on that," the nurse said pointing to a custodian carrying a hammer and nails.
Admiring the natural beauty outside the hospital as she walked to her car, Lisa felt a momentary sense of relief. The world might flood, but her brother was safe or at least safer. As she drove, she called Jenn and explained what'd happened. Her colleague began to cry before she could conclude her story.
"Thank heaven for small miracles," her friend exclaimed.
Lisa asked her colleague if she might be able to sub for her at the disaster center until she could get back.
"Sure thing," Jenn replied. "Carl and Eric seem to have things under control here for the moment."
Minutes later, Jenn was on her way towards the FEMA headquarters. As she drove, she played over in her mind the evacuation measures that Carl had discussed with her. "Mangroves, funnel," she said to herself out loud. When she reached FEMA, she approached Steve and asked him for an update on the emergency exodus.
"We've gotten a good portion of the population in the coastal areas out, but a lot of folks further inland have decided to stay put."
"But they're in danger. Can't you force them to get out of there?"
"According to Maryland law, residents can only be required to leave their homes if the governor instates a mandatory evacuation protocol."
Jenn left in a fury. She couldn't believe that an organization entrusted with people's safety was so ineffectual when it came to making a threat clear to the general public. She jumped into her car and headed towards the interstate. On the way back to the Institute, she passed right by The Tavern where she and her ex used to hang together. She wanted to stop. She knew it was a bad idea to visit a place with so many associations, but she was angry, really angry, and had been itching for a drink for days.
She pulled into the parking lot and turned off the engine. "One drink," she said to herself with her hands still on the wheel.
As she walked towards the bar, she began hoping there wouldn't be any old friends there who might ask about Ali. The familiar smell of hops that hit her immediately upon opening the door made her long for Allison. She looked at the juke box in the corner where she and her girlfriend had picked out Liz Phair and Indigo Girls songs together. She glanced at the dartboard where they'd won an annual competition against two of the best throwers in Baltimore.
No one looked familiar except for Mickey. She walked right up to where he stood washing a glass and took a seat.
"Jenn!", Mickey said with a slight southern drawl he'd dragged along with him after moving from Virginia to Maryland. "Been a long time since I've seen you in here."
"Yeah, well, this place has a lot of bad memories for me."
"But some good ones also," Mickey protested.
"Yeah, a few good ones," Jenn said staring at a Yuengling cocktail coaster. She took out a cigarette. "You mind?" she asked the bartender. Mickey'd always been fairly lax about smoking regulations when the bar was nearly empty.
"Na', go ahead."
"Thanks," Jenn said lighting up.
"What are ya' drinkin'?" he asked.
"White Russian," she said naming her old staple cocktail.
"Comin' right up," Mickey said walking to the end of the bar and pouring some vodka and coffee liqueur into a shaker.
"Here ya're Sweetheart," Mickey said handing Jenn her drink.
"Cheers," she responded downing half the cocktail in a single gulp.
"So, how're things over at the Institute?" Mickey asked her leaning his elbows on the bar.
"We're trying to stop a giant tidal wave from destroying the entire East Coast," she said laconically.
Mickey let out a chuckle. "Well, least ya' haven't lost your sense of humor."
"I wish I was joking, Mick. There's a volcano off the coast of Africa that might erupt and then collapse into the ocean. It could cause a tidal wave that would leave this whole area under 50 feet of water."
Mickey began to stroke his goatee. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely!" Jenn replied. "But no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it."
"I got a couple regulars here who're teamsters. I could get 'em on the horn and tell 'em ta' start warning people."
"Thanks Mick," Jenn said taking another swig and finishing her drink.
Jenn then looked at her empty glass.
"Pour y'another?" Mickey asked.
"No, that's it for me," Jenn said. "Not goin' down that road again."
"That's my girl!"
Jenn smiled at Mickey as she grabbed her cigarettes and left the bar.
Watching the news that evening, Jenn saw a report about the tsunami warnings and advisories about the danger of leaving pets behind. She looked up at her wall at a photo of her and Allison with her ex's two dogs. She picked up her cell and started scrolling through the numbers on her speed dial until she got to Allison's. She hovered her finger hovered over the button for a moment before turning off her phone.
Meanwhile, in Paris, France at an international summit of dignitaries from all over Western Europe, leaders slowly milled into a conference room at the Palais du Luxembourg. Carl set up his slide show as the dignitaries continued to parade into the room. He hoped that he had all of the information needed to convince the officials that the danger was not only real but imminent.
Before everyone had taken their seats, the anxious English Prime Minister spoke up. "The people of my country need to know if this is going to happen or not," he said looking at both Carl and President Anderson. "What can you tell us for sure?"
Carl pointed at his first slide. "Here gentlemen, is the volcano down on the Island of La Palma in the Canaries. If this goes off, you'll have at most two hours before the wave hits."
"Is a tidal wave a certainty in the event of an eruption?" the French Prime Minister then asked.
"As of right now it looks very likely," Carl responded. "Our geological surveys have revealed that the structural integrity of a large portion of the volcano is extremely tenuous. There's very little chance the mountain's base would hold up under the pressure of significant seismic activity."
When he'd finished his presentation, the leaders all looked at one another.
"And where will the wave strike in France?" asked the French Prime Minister.
George pulled up another slide. "From here," he said pointing to the southern coast France "all the way up to here," he said sliding his hand up to the northwestern edge of the country.
"What about Spain?" the Spanish Prime Minister asked in a nearly incomprehensible accent that still conveyed the fear in his voice. Aside from Vigo and La Caruno, cities with strong levees that protected them against the tidal bores sweeping up from the South Atlantic, he hadn't anticipated that this event would put his nation in jeopardy.
"I'd say everything north of Lisbon should be evacuated completely," Carl replied eliciting a look of disbelief from the the Spanish leader.
"How long would we have to get people out in the event of a tidal wave?" President Anderson asked.
"Without prior warning, the tsunami notification system would give us about eight hours." He motioned with his head towards the foreign leaders. "Three at most for these folks."
"Very well. But why is the warning time so little?" the president continued.
Carl pulled up a map and pointed to an area off the coast of Florida. "Earthquakes are not common in the southern part of the Atlantic. There's no warning system below this latitude."
"Well, then shouldn't we establish contact with someone on the island?" Geoffrey asked.
"I spoke to a government official when we were there. He assured me that he would notify me in the event of an eruption."
"Let me get this straight!" President Anderson said. "The fate of half the Western World is riding on a phone call from some bureaucratic underling in an obscure island chain?"
"Well, other members of the government in La Palma haven't been very cooperative."
"What about satellite imaging?" the British Prime Minister inquired.
"Apparently, that technology wouldn't enable us to differentiate between the lava flow and debris from the volcano."
The leaders began talking amongst themselves. The French Prime Minister turned to Carl again.
"Are there any possible deterrents?"
"We've devised a plan to intercept the wave. It would be risky and could cause more damage. But so far it seems like our only hope."
The French Prime Minister sat back in his chair. "And what would that be?"
Carl paused. "Detonating nuclear munitions to refract the waves."
"Mon Dieu!" the official cried out. "Surely you can't be serious!"
"Unfortunately, I am."
"There's got to be another way," the English Prime Minister interjected.
"I'm afraid there isn't one. We've researched all of the deterrence strategies that've been tried in the past. A plan proposed by someone at Yale University to use acoustic gravity waves to offset the tsunami is still in its incipient stages. Even that mechanism would be unlikely to work against something of this size."
Back in Baltimore at the BWI Airport, Amy had just pulled up with George at the passenger drop-off. George opened the door and then turned back towards Amy. "We're at the kiss and ride curb," he said.
"Your point being?" Amy asked nonchalantly.
"Nothing," said George. "You know I could stay here a while longer. Volcanoes can pout for quite a while before they blow."
"Well frankly, I don't know what would keep you here," she replied.
"Oh come on! Don't tell me all of this hasn't changed anything between us."
The idling motor hummed as Amy looked straight ahead at the traffic flowing past the terminal.
"George," she finally said turning to her husband. "You're a great guy. You were even a pretty good husband. But people just grow apart."
George turned away.
"You can't expect things to magically restart between us because we happen to both be trying to play God," she continued.
"Forget all this for a second. Is burying your nose in seismographic data volumes really making you happy? Some people might say you're hiding."
"George, we've been through this already. Your life is over there now."
"Okay, so maybe I didn't really think things through while I was tinkering away over there. But, I'm older and wiser now. Nothing I might ever do in England could mean as much to me as you do."
Amy looked her husband squarely in the eyes. "Ask yourself this question: If there was no fighter plane in London waiting to carry you to a nearly inevitable death, would you be as hesitant to get out of this car right now?"
George thought carefully. "Maybe not! "But I'm positive that I love you."
Amy laughed. "I thought as much."
"Anyway, before I go, I wanted to give you this." George handed Amy a necklace containing a picture of the Virgin Mary with lava in the background.
"What is it?"
"It's the Virgin of the Volcano. I picked it up in La Palma. Maybe it'll bring you luck."
"Thanks," Amy said smiling as she kissed her ex-husband on the cheek. "There, there's your kiss."
"Appreciate it," said George exiting the vehicle. Closing the door, he looked back one more time before grabbing his suitcase and walking into the terminal.
Later that day, Jenn headed directly to the office of the Maryland governor. After leaving her car far away from the section of the parking lot reserved for administration officials, she made her way into the building. After finding the governor's office, she headed towards the reception area outside the leader's chambers. A huge Maryland flag hung to the right of the secretary's desk. On the wall, the state motto was embossed on a gold plaque. "I need to speak to the governor," Jenn said after she was greeted by his assistant.
"I'm sorry, but the governor is very busy right now."
"Yes, I know that, but he needs to know how imminent this disaster is."
"The governor is aware and local authorities have begun evacuating people from coastal areas," she replied.
"That's not enough!" Jenn insisted.
"If you'd like to write down whatever you feel the governor should be aware of, I'll make sure Mr. Watkins gets your message as soon as he's free."
"No thank you!" Jenn said as she pushed past the secretary and stormed into the governor's office where he sat talking to one of his cabinet members.
The governor's assistant stood up. "Miss, miss you can't.... " Rushing in behind her, the secretary exclaimed to the official, "Edward, I'm sorry, I told her --."
"It's alright Francis," said the governor, a graying man in his fifties wearing a red and blue striped tie.
"Mr. Governor," Jenn began. "I've just come from FEMA. The number of people leaving is far fewer than we established would be directly threatened by the wave."
The official looked at Jenn. "Excuse me for a second, Don," he said to his staff member.
The man nodded at Jenn as he passed her on his way out of the office.
"We've given the people of this state exactly the instructions that were handed to us by your supervisor."
"Yes, I'm aware of that, but as long as the evacuation is voluntary, a lot of people will stay where they are," Jenn insisted.
"Well, that's their decision, isn't it?"
"But the state of Maryland sanctions mandatory evacuations. You have the authority to require them to leave."
"I know that your little of band of merry scientists are convinced that Neptune is planning to let out his wrath on Baltimore, but we've yet to see any sign that this cataclysm is actually imminent, if, in fact, it will actually occur at all. Now I've told the people of Maryland that it would be in their best interest to move farther inland, but so far no other states have exercised this statute. I could be blamed for unlawful imprisonment if I sanction the arrest of someone for ignoring what could very well be a false alarm."
Jenn said nothing but stared at the governor.
The secretary overhearing the conversation walked up behind Jenn and took hold of her arm.
"Okay, I'm leaving!" she shouted yanking herself free of the woman's grip and slamming the door as she passed through.
Meanwhile, in La Palma, villagers started to walk out of their houses as smoke began to rise from the mouth of the volcano. A man pointed towards the top of the mountain and started shouting. Lava began to pour out of the opening in thick rivulets and slide towards a set of houses at the town's northern edge.
At a police station, local cops scrambled around, some rushing down out of the precinct to rescue families trapped in their homes and some attempting to get through to outlying districts to notify fellow officials of the danger. Others sat on the phones talking with nearby hospitals telling them to prepare triage units for the wounded. Maria ran into the police commisioner's office and started asking for directions from her supervisor. He told her to wait a minute while he consulted with some of the other cops. He then walked quickly out of the office and towards the chambers of his deputy.
Maria rushed back to her office with the intention of calling the fire department for help. As she looked up the number, her eye was drawn out the window towards someone running down the steps of the building. A closer look revealed the commisioner glancing over his shoulder at the lava flow as he followed the escaping crowd toward his car.
At this point, Maria sprinted out of the headquarters. Moments after she reached the street, she stopped. She ran back upstairs and into the chief of police's empty office. For once she was grateful for the custodial staff's perennial delinquency. She reached into her boss's trash bin and pulled out Carl's number. The assistant tried dialing it, but the phone was dead. When she pulled out her mobile she couldn't get a signal. She stared out of the window at a cell tower that sat two miles from the station before darting towards the precinct's exit and rushing down the stairs. When she got to her car and tried to start the motor, the ignition wouldn't turn over. She kept cranking the engine and the vehicle finally jumped into motion. Just as she was pulling out, a telephone pole fell and smashed into the ground right where she'd been parked.
In Paris, Carl was writing a text to Eric letting him know that he was on his way home as he sat in Charles De Gaulle Airport waiting for a flight not scheduled to leave for another two hours. Suddenly, he received a new message from Maria informing that the volcano was draping the town in molten lava. Carl ran to the flight board and saw that another plane bound for Baltimore was leaving momentarily. He sprinted a quarter of a mile through the airport and reached the gate just as the last passenger had begun heading down the jet bridge. He rushed up to the airline desk where two French attendants with scarfs sat with their arms crossed. While he knew very little French, he could understand enough to realize they were criticizing the quality of the in-flight meals ordered through an American distributor.
"Listen, you've got to let me on this plane."
"Can I see your ticket," the women asked in a strong French accent.
"I'm booked on another flight, but I need to be on this one."
"I'm sorry sir, but you'll have to wait until your scheduled reservation. The plane door is about to close."
Carl realized that this woman had probably fielded requests from thousands of individuals claiming that their particular emergency warranted a significant change in airline procedure. "I'm sorry Ma'am, but I cannot wait for another flight," he explained as calmly as possible.
"I apologize sir, but it's too late to change your reservation."
Carl could feel the heat under his jacket collar increasing. Once more he continued, "You don't understand. I work for an oceanographic institute. The volcano in the Canaries that produced the recent European and American tidal waves has just erupted. Half the island could fall into the ocean at any moment."
The stewardess looked at Carl and tried to decide if he was in earnest. The beard and the glasses as well as his tweed jacket did lend an air of legitimacy to his statement. However, she could lose her job if his story proved to be fabricated after she conceded to his demand. "One moment," the stewardess said. She walked over to another airline employee and pointed to Carl, who sat waiting nervously wondering what to do next if his request was denied.
She picked up her phone and continued to glance at the scientist as she spoke to the airport's security.
A minute later, two French police officers approached Carl. "Monsieur Moffit?" one of them said in a tone that reminded him of Maurice Chevalier.
"We've been informed that you need for us to delay this flight because of a "natural disaster?"
"That's correct," Carl insisted.
"You are aware of the penalty for giving false information to an airline employee?"
"Perfectly," Carl said beginning to fume.
"Do you have any papers verifying your professional affiliation?"
"Yes, here you go," Carl said pulling his Institute badge out of his wallet and showing it to the two officials.
The man looked at it. "Oceanographic Institute of Maryland," he said casually as if reading a resort brochure.
Behind him Carl could see the stewardess closing the door to the jetway.
"Do you have any documentation of your research? Any files related to this "giant wave?"
Carl thought for a second. He'd packed the folder containing all of the physical volcano specs in bag he'd already checked.
"No, not on me," he said about to begin cursing out both employees in the few French phrases he'd gleaned from subtitled reruns of Premier Baisers.
Just at that moment, a news announcer on a television just behind Carl began describing in French the potential disaster.
"Authorities are warning people about the threat of a volcanic eruption on the Island of La Palma that could cause a major tidal wave."
Carl hardly understood a word of the broadcast but he recognized the name of the island and spun around immediately. In the next shot, he saw his own face plastered on the screen.
"This man, Carl Moffit, spoke today to heads of state from around Europe about the situation. Dr. Moffit..."
The two officers looked at Carl and then back at the television.
"Au revoir!" Carl said curtly grabbing his carry-on and running towards the gate door.
"Je m'excuse!" the stewardess said as Carl rushed down the jet bridge.
The moment he sat down, Carl picked up his phone and dialed Eric. Another stewardess was about to ask him to please put his mobile away when one of her colleagues stopped her. She subtly indicated that he was not a passenger to be lessoned at that particular moment.
"Hello," said Eric picking up the phone.
"Eric, it's me. I just got a message from a police office secretary in La Palma. The volcano's finally blown its lid!"
"Hmm. Any word on the impact?"
"Not yet, but we'll know pretty soon. I'm getting on a plane right now. Write this lady's number down and I'm gonna' give her yours."
Eric began jotting down Maria's information.
"If anything happens while I'm in the air, you're in charge.
"Got it," Eric said.
After hanging up, he ran into Jenn's office where she sat at her desk having just returned from her visit to the governor's office. "Carl just called. He said that the volcano is erupting!"
"Oh my God!" Jenn said.
"He gave me the number of someone down in the Canaries," Eric continued.
"Some kind of secretary."
"A secretary?" Jenn asked in disbelief.
"Yeah," Eric said putting his hands on his hips and shaking his head. The Spaniards discovered America. I can't understand why the government would just sit back and let this happen to us."
"Well, perhaps they're bitter that they never got their spice," replied Jenn.
Eric nodded his head. "Maybe."
"Anyway, I'll see if this might change some people's minds at the governor's office," she said. "What about Washington?"
"Well, Carl didn't have much luck with them the first time. Plus the president's still in France," Eric said.
"People need to know," Jenn insisted already formulating her speech to whichever federal official she could get a hold of next.
In downtown La Palma, a police officer shouted directions in Spanish to villagers running through the town's center in a mass panic. Lava started to flow through the main streets igniting buildings in its wake. Ambulances and police cars sped through the central square. Emerging from one of the burning homes was an elderly woman uttering a prayer who limped with her arm thrown over her son's shoulder.
On a beach in South Carolina, two men, one wearing a Hawaiian shirt, who bore a strong resemblance to a young Tom Selleck, and the other sporting a goatee, had set up a camera on a boardwalk.
A cop made his way over to them. He'd seen a great deal of thrill seekers in his time walking a beat in a shore community. He'd even been forced to rescue a pair of onlookers who got swept into the surf during the preliminary hours of a tropical storm. The officer approached the two men as they continued their preparations and pointed at the ocean. "What are you doing? A tidal wave's gonna' hit this beach in a matter of hours," he informed them.
The mustachioed member of the pair continued to adjust the camera. "My videos have been passed over for "Clip of the Day" five times," he said. "Not today!"
"Are you insane?" the policeman asked looking straight at the man.
"It's okay," his friend said opening up an umbrella. "We've got protection."
The cop assumed the beachgoer was joking but he didn't want to take any chances. One, or even both individuals, he surmised, may indeed have had a screw lose. Claiming that he told such gawkers to leave wouldn't do much in the face of a negligence charge.
"Look. You two have 30 seconds to get off this beach or I'm taking you both downtown."
"For what?" the man in the Hawaiian shirt asked.
"For reckless endangerment."
"But the only people we're endangering are ourselves."
"And the only person a suicide victim is killing is himself," the cop insisted. "That doesn't make it legal."
"What about if we moved into the parking lot?" asked the first man.
The officer sighed. "Let me give you a little info on the natural event you're attempting to chronicle. This isn't a tidal wave, it's a mega tsunami. Do you know what the difference is?"
Both men shook their heads.
"A tidal wave is caused by things like earthquakes. A mega tsunami, on the other hand, you get from a large anomaly in a planetary system."
"Such as?" the surfer asked.
"Depends," the cop said. "Could be a lot of things, a landslide like this one happens to be...or a comet."
"You mean like in the movies?" one of the men asked.
"Yeah, like in the movies," responded the officer.
"Okay, we're leaving," the film star double replied as he started to pack up the equipment.
His friend remained motionless except for a slight squint. "How big a comet?" he asked.
The cop's sudden change of expression told him it'd be in his best interest not to wait for an answer.
A few minutes later, Jenn was on the phone with a White House staff member. "Yes, I know that the president is flying back from Europe," she said to the aide. "But we need his permission for a large-scale evacuation."
The man then informed her that the president had rejected the idea of beginning such an operation when the Institute's predictions of the disaster's imminence was called into question.
"Yes, I'm aware that he negged the idea. But that was before the volcano erupted."
The aide was wary of the idea of asking the president to make another decision before he had further time to discuss the issue with his advisors. He queried Jenn as to the implications of this turn of events. "Does the volcano's eruption guarantee that this disaster will actually occur?"
"No, we don't know that the island is gonna' collapse, but can we really risk letting millions of people drown?" Jenn asked. When she was met with the same polite apology after this statement that she'd received from the governor, she finally gave up in frustration. "Okay, just please tell the president I called and give him this number."
Meanwhile, Eric was trying to brief the staff working at the Tsumani Center in England on the situation. When the phone rang, another one of George's colleagues, Liam Bertols, a man with mussed hair in his thirties, was discussing the latest reports that they'd heard from the prime minister. Liam walked over and picked up the phone.
"Liam, it's Eric from the Institute."
"Eric...what's new? You guys finished bailing all the water out of downtown Baltimore?"
"That might be rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Listen, we got a call from the Canaries. The volcano just blew."
"Bloody Hell!" Liam exclaimed.
"We're trying to get the government over here to start extensive evacuations, but they're not responding very enthusiastically."
"Well, I'll contact the prime minister," Liam said. "I don't think he wants downtown London to look like another Cork."
Later that afternoon, British Parliament members sat at a meeting. When the last aide entered and took his seat at the conference table, the prime minister began, "I've been advised by a national scientific institute that the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja Volcano in the Canary Islands could cause a major landslide at any minute." The official paused and took a deep breath. "If this were to occur it could result in a tsunami that might reach English shores at a height of over 300 feet." The whole parliament started to murmur. "I am authorizing preliminary evacuations. We will remain in contact with the American government. If we receive word of any further threat of a tidal wave, we'll have no choice but to commence a full evacuation of the entire western portion of our nation."
That evening, President Anderson sat on Air Force One flying back across the Atlantic. He looked out the window at the tranquil waters of the ocean and pondered how this seemingly innocuous entity could pose such a threat to the American people's way of life.
Across from him, Jacob was finishing a phone conversation. "Mr. President, I've just received notice that the volcano is erupting," Jacob said hanging up. "Are you prepared to sanction an evacuation of the eastern United States?"
The president shook his head. "No! I'm not going to create the biggest traffic jam in the history of the Delaware Turnpike on the basis of a hunch."
"Um, Mr. President, that highway was already shut down after the first wave."
The president looked out the window. "Volcanoes have been erupting for millions of years without creating the kind of Armageddon they're threatening." He turned back and looked at Jacob. "We have no reason to believe that this one is any different."
In the early morning hours on La Palma, Maria lay in bed asleep when she was awoken by a loud rumbling sound. She ran outside in her nightgown and saw a large crowd of villagers staring at an enormous landslide. She took out her cell phone and began recording the devastation. Billions of tons of debris slammed down into the ocean obliterating an entire marina of fishing boats.
Moments later, Eric stood in the Institute break room making coffee.
"Any news?" Jenn asked entering the lounge. "None yet. Maybe this'll all blow over."
At that moment, Carl rushed in. "I just got a call from La Palma," he exclaimed. "I need everyone in the conference room, now!" Moments later, Carl uploaded the video of the volcanic collapse and streamed it for the whole group as they watched in silent shock. "Alright, everyone knows the drill, let's roll!"
At the White House, Jacob burst in to the Oval Office. "Mr. President, we just heard from Baltimore. The collapse of the volcano has dropped over 500 billion tons of debris into the Atlantic Ocean. The fighters are prepared for the mission. Shall I tell them to commence, "Operation Splash?"
The president turned away in disgust. He walked over to the window. "I guess at this point we've got no choice." He looked at Jacob again. "Tell them to proceed," he said shaking his head.
"Now we've got an even bigger problem," Carl said hanging up his phone two minutes later and rushing into Eric's office. "There's a small island off the coast of South America that's directly in the path of the wave."
Eric began shaking his head.
Carl called Lisa who'd returned to FEMA. "Listen, if we don't get some kind of warning to those people, everything that's not bolted down, and a lot of things that are, are gonna' be washed away!"
"Okay, I'll let the people here know," Lisa replied.
"Unfortunately, just dialing these folks won't be enough," Carl continued. "This isn't exactly a place that'll have the resources to get the inhabitants off the island on a moment's notice. It's going to take some kind of military intervention."
"Roger," Jenn said hanging up and rushing into Steve's office. "We've got another wammy," she explained. "There's apparently an island directly in the path of the wave. We've got to get some kind of emergency personnel down there that can help get 'em out."
"Don't we have enough to deal with trying to evacuate people in this country? Now you want us to be the world's fireman."
"Just give me the number for the coast guard and I'll take care of it myself," Lisa said.
Steve sat down at his computer and opened up a database. He scribbled down a number on a scrap of paper and handed it to Lisa. "Here you are," he said. "Good luck."
Lisa grabbed the paper and ran into an empty meeting room. She took out her phone and dialed the main headquarters for the US Coastguard. "Hello, my name is Lisa Porter and I'm working in concert with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to evacuate people from the Eastern United States in anticipation of the tidal wave coming from the African coast. We've discovered that there's a group of men mining ore on an island that need to be rescued."
"What are its coordinates?" asked the officer.
"It's at N 37 and W 24."
"Well, that's quite a bit outside of our jurisdiction."
Lisa sighed with disappointment. "That's what I figured."
"I'll contact the Navy," he continued.
Lisa face brightened. "Excellent!" she said with the mix of excitement and surprise of a teenager whose friend'd just scored tickets to their favorite band.
A Coast Guard officer stood on the phone with the Naval Office at a base in Tampa. "Curt, this is Brad. Apparently we need a rescue operation in the mid-Atlantic.
Curt Lewis was a thirty-year veteran of the SEALS. He'd pulled people out of shipwrecks during storms, and out of buildings in the wake of floods. He could handle just about anything but non-compliant individuals under such circumstances.
Once, he was trying to get a woman out of her hut when she continued to insist that she'd left her mother's diamond necklace and had to retrieve it. She rushed to her bedroom but the wind had knocked her jewelry box onto the floor and rings and pendants scattered about across the tightly-packed dirt. After two seconds, Curt grabbed the woman, picked her up and carried her over his shoulder.
The NAVY officer took out his phone and dialed his wife. "Sweetie, looks like I'm not gonna' be home as early as I thought. Someone just spotted a tiny outpost the size of a postage-stamp that's in the path of the monstrosity I told you about."
After five hours the NAVY cruiser finally reached the island harbor, and dozens of individuals who'd already gathered on the dock boarded the ship immediately. Some of the men and women explained that their children were still in their homes. The NAVY personnel had only a matter of minutes before the wave was set to hit. The men began combing the island for miners who were stationed there as well as their families. When they got to the main office and shouted instructions to the operation leader, a number of men scrambled around trying to collect their belongings.
After more excavation, Curt and his men came upon a group of children sitting in a house. They tried to explain why they were there, but even hand gestures proved insufficient to convey their message. Unable to get their instructions across, Curt went back out to find someone who could translate for him. When he returned with someone who was able to convey the information, the children said that they refused to leave without their mothers and fathers. Curt told the man to explain to the boys and girls that their parents were already on the ship. Hearing this, the kids began to rise grudgingly. Just as they'd walked out of the make-shift home, one of the girls' mothers showed up. Immediately upon seeing her, the seven-year-old realized that the man's statement had been a ruse. She ran back towards her mom and grabbed hold of her while all of the other children remained stubbornly rooted where they stood.
Curt glanced at one his crewmen as he contemplated the best procedure to follow in such a scenario. After a few moments of deliberation, he grabbed one of the kids, threw him on his back and shouted to his team to follow suit. As the men ran with the children to the boat, Curt saw a swell far in the distance and realized that there'd be no time to sail eastward out of the way of the tsunami. He instructed his second in command to move the boat behind the island so that it would be protected from the brunt of the wave's force.
When they reached the ship, the soldiers delivered the children into the arms of their parents. One of the women aboard the vessel shouted, "My husband!"
"What did she say?" asked Curt.
A nearby miner explained, "She say her husband is working in mine shaft."
"Okay, take these kids he shouted to one of his men. I'll go get 'im. He left his lieutenant, Eliot Waxman, a two-year petty officer who'd served alongside Curt during a hurricane evacuation in Haiti, in charge of the boat. "Where's it located?" he asked the miner.
"About 200 meters," he replied pointing down the main road.
Meanwhile back at the Institute, Eric was called to a location in downtown Bethesda where a power plant that supplied energy for most of the grid in Western Maryland was located. It stood at the head of a narrow mountain pass where the most intense surge would be headed. This put the South American Evacuation squarely on Jenn's shoulders. She concentrated on the map of Brazil and tried to avoid thinking how little qualified she was for the task that had been plunked down in her lap. Jenn tried calling Eric but the natural declivity of the gorge cut off the phone reception in the valley. She was attempting to determine the coordinates of the areas off the coast of South America that would have to be evacuated. She'd been working for an hour when the phone began to ring. Checking the number on the caller ID display, she saw that it was from Brazil. As the phone continued to ring, she searched around for Eric's notes but she couldn't remember where they were. She tried to calm herself with the reminder that it wouldn't be that big a deal if she got it wrong. Worst case scenario would be that she inconvenienced 20,000 people who might have not had to suffer the trouble of leaving their homes.
Then suddenly she realized the implications of an error in her calculations. Were she to misinform the government and they ordered out hundreds of families unnecessarily, it could create excessive crowding on the roadways such as the kind they were experiencing in Maryland. Increased traffic along routes would delay the escape of people whose lives really were in danger. Jenn thought of her recent trip to Chile and about the roads they'd travelled along near the coast. She then imagined those streets with thousands of hysterical Brazilians all trying to flee from what American "authorities" were informing them was imminent death. She poured her decaf into a plant and tried to refocus.
Meanwhile, on the Eastern Atlantic island, Curt darted towards the shaft in the interior of the small community. When he got there, he saw a Spanish man operating a drill wearing headphones. Beats of Marc Anthony emerged over the sound of the equipment.
"You have to leave now!" Curt shouted at the laborer.
"What?" the man asked him in Spanish.
"Big wave is coming," Curt said making a sign with his hands.
The worker took off his headphones. "My children" the miner said in Spanish holding his hand flat at his waist.
"They're already on the boat. Let's go!"
The men began running past a set of huts towards the street but it was too late. Curt looked out at the ocean. What he saw reminded him of a day when he was five years old and his father took him to a baseball game. He remembered getting out of the car on the sidewalk right next to the stadium while his dad went to go park. A set of low lying clouds shrouded the building and made it appear as if the top of the complex extended straight into the heavens. In front of him, no line clearly divided the water him from the sky above. Curt grabbed the man and pulled him into the enclosure before shutting the door. Moments later, torrents began sweeping over the island and water started flooding into the shaft.
Everyone in the area had just made it aboard the vessel when the wave hit. The island's trees snapped like twigs and the corrugated aluminum houses were knocked flat. The excavation equipment floated out to sea along with the items jettisoned from local residences including bedframes and loose doors. A bulldozer caught in the one of the few trees remaining upright hung from a branch that had impaled its window.
The officers had ordered all of the rescued islanders aboard the cruiser to act as human ballasts against the force of the wave. On one flank the island's natural terrain had formed less of a barrier against the deluge. Eliot instructed the men to try to position more of the families taking refuge on the ship on its starboard side. When the wave struck the vessel, water flooded over the deck of the ship like a firehose hitting a toy boat. The boat tilted significantly to its port flank as it was pelted by water from the exposed direction. The ship swung to within feet of capsizing before resuming its equilibrium for a moment only to be thrust the other way once again. As this continued, the cruiser took on three feet of water forcing the passengers to wade towards the stairways leading them above deck.
The deluge filling the shaft where Curt and the miner had taken shelter was now only five inches from the top of the enclosure. The officer and the man gasped for breath. Curt estimated that the run-off would take about two minutes and they could only pray that the space in the tiny hole would permit them enough room to breathe until the water had dissipated.
Now reaching their mouths out of the water where only an inch of space remained below the roof of the mine, Curt opened his eyes for a brief moment. When he did, he saw light streaming through a crack in the enclosure's roof. Throwing open the top of the shaft, he and the Spanish man gasped for breath as they climbed out of the pool that had formed inside the declivity. After lying on the ground for over a minute, they began to stand up. What they saw was the remnants of an environment where flora only gave the slightest appearance of having once stood. Trees lay scattered on the ground like trunks at a logging site. The few remaining aluminum walls around them reminded the laborer of cardboard homeless shelters that were strewn about the island's streets in the wake of a recent monsoon.
In London, British fighter pilots had been joking about the wave deterrence operation ever since the head of the country's Air Force informed them of the strategy.
The group sat in the headquarters briefing room. No one could quite believe that the American government had sanctioned such a plan and seriously doubted that her majesty would actually green light the mission.
Captain Paul Reardon, a highly decorated English airman who'd directed bombardments in the Falklands War, stood at the podium. Members of a British Air Force unit sat slouched in their chairs.
"Okay, gentlemen," the Captain began. "Now I know some of you are feeling a little cynical about this entire shebang. It might seem far-fetched, but the one thing I can assure you of is that these people have done their homework. They've put a lot of man hours into researching this scenario and they've exhausted every other possible solution. Right now this is the best defense we've got against this thing."
The captain pulled up a slide behind him. "Here are the release coordinates."
"We'll only be at 10,000 feet. Uht 'appens if the giant wave knocks us outta' the skoie?" one of the men asked in an exaggerated cockney accent.
"Very funny," the captain replied.
"Any serious questions?"
The group all scoffed, but no more hands went up.
"Okay, we'll convene at the base at 08:00 hours tomorrow."
The next day at a Royal Air Force Base hangar, Captain Reardon stood prepping the eastern plane group pilots for their mission. Among them were Niles Opprist, a relatively new cadet assigned to the mission after he topped men in dogfight accuracy who'd served in the force for 10 years. Alongside him was Chris Abernathy, a blue blood Englishman, chosen to pilot the center plane. His experience was in recon and assault sorties in Iraq and Afghanistan. He felt a mix of honor and amusement when he'd first heard about the deterrence mission. He'd never flown with a civilian copilot, much less someone with no aviation training whatsoever. He wondered if he'd be able to effectively navigate the assigned course while worrying about his travel mate slipping from his harness or passing out.
George stood and watched the men preparing the jets for takeoff. The deafening sound of the engines added to the consternation of a man already feeling far out of his element. The cloudy sky and light drizzle that'd begun to fall reminded him of early April in Baltimore. As George imagined jetting at Mach speed, the idea of facing a rainstorm struck him as one more X-factor in an already unpredictable attack strategy. It was one thing to map out a battle plan against mother nature in a simulator or in some heavy breakers at the bottom of Latin America. Somehow the very idea of facing the real thing led him to question a lot of variables he'd ignored while hatching his half-baked strategy in the Institute's wave room.
"Gentlemen. This is George Campbell. He'll be advising you on the logistics of the drop. You will follow his directions precisely." Captain Reardon handed George a pair of goggles. "You need to wear these."
"Can I keep my glasses on?" George asked.
"Yes, they'll fit over your glasses," the captain replied impatiently.
As the three pilots boarded their plane, George was about to follow Chris into the cockpit of his aircraft when Paul put his hand on his shoulder. "One second Mr. Campbell. Before you head off into the wild blue yonder, there's a few rules I need to go over with you. Lean into turns. It'll help avoid a stiff back when you deplane...if you deplane. Keep the conversation to a minimum. All communication should be on a "need-to-know" basis. If there's something about combat aviation you find yourself curious about, read a Wikipedia page. And finally, "Don't touch any buttons!"
George nodded his head. "Got it," he said beginning his ascent up the plane ladder.
The men all sat with their cockpit hatches still open.
The captain walked out in front of the three aircraft. "Good luck gentlemen. May God be with you!"
At the Institute, Jenn was sitting at her desk when she received a call from Eric.
"Jenn, hey it's me. Sorry I missed your call. Receptions non-existent in the valley. Listen, we're searching for a cruise liner to block the inlet down here. You alright holding down the fort for a while by yourself a little longer?"
"No problem, I can take care of things here," she said momentarily distracted by a siren outside.
"Okay, call me if you need anything," Eric said.
"Will do," Jenn answered. "Oh, wait Eric, I need to know where..." It was too late. He was already gone. She hit the redial button but was sent straight to voicemail.
"Shit!" she shouted.
Suddenly feeling completely overwhelmed, she broke down and began crying. Moments later, she finally decided to call Allison.
Jenn's ex was sitting by the dispatch module of the shelter fielding calls from panicked pet owners when her cell rang.
"Hi Allison," Jenn said using her ex's full name for the first time since they started sleeping together. "I'm working on getting people of out of the city and I...uh...just wanted to check on how things are going with the animal rescue."
"Well, it's getting a bit crazy," Allison responded more than a bit surprised at Jenn's call. "We're...uh...not really equipped for something like this."
"I could contact some emergency crews if necessary."
"No, we're managing for now, but thanks." There was a brief silence before Allison continued. "I've been reading the reports about what you guys are dealing with. Are you doing okay?"
"I'm fine, just a little stressed."
"So, you're not...?"
"Nope," Jenn replied. "Been sober for three months,".
"That's good," Allison said exhaling softly.
Suddenly Allison's switchboard lit up with another frantic call.
"I gotta' go. Take care a' yourself."
"Yeah, you too."
At Andrews Airforce Base, General Shornwick walked Amy towards a group of F-16 pilots. Among them were Bryan Kemp, a skeptical young man in his thirties with a grass head haircut, and Matt Lucius, a cadet who spent every moment not attacking enemy squadrons training for MMA bouts. Both fighter pilots stood at attention.
"At ease. Gentlemen, this is Ms. Woodson. She's a scientist at the Geological Center in Baltimore. She's going to be flying shotgun with Major Kemp." He motioned to Amy. "Each one of these planes will be carrying two nuclear explosives in the event that a second attempt at detonation is necessary. You'll need to put this on," he then said to Amy handing her a helmet.
Amy thanked the general and placed the protective gear over her head. It was the smallest one they had but it was still at least two sizes too big for her. As she stood fumbling with the strap, General Shornwick walked over and offered her his assistance.
"Here, let me help," he said.
All of the pilots looked down and smiled as General Shornwick tightened the helmet straps around Amy's chin.
Once ready to take to the skies, Amy followed Bryan towards his aircraft and climbed into a cockpit awkwardly behind him.
General Shornwick took one last look at Amy sitting in the rear of Major Kemp's plane. "Ms. Woodson, we're counting on you up there," he said.
Amy saluted the officer. "I'll try my best, General."
Minutes later, Jenn saw the phone ringing again and this time had no choice but to pick it up. "Hello," she said to the Mayor of Buenos Aires on the other end of the line. "Yes, I'm working on that information as we speak. Well, he had to go to a plant that's in danger of being flooded." Jenn realized that she couldn't delay her report any longer.
In desperation, she decided that she would take the mayor's number and try Eric one more time. As she expected, he was still in a dead zone. She returned her attention to the wave coordinates and the map. She tried calling Lisa in spite of the fact that her efforts were focused solely on the East Coast. More voicemail. After swiping off the call, she wondered if Amy would have climbed into the MiG yet. She began to panic. "Do something!" she shouted to herself.
She took one more look at the data and decided that she'd just have to give the administration her best guess. She chose to err on the side of a larger municipal evacuation, and hoped that the police could keep things moving along the dirt roads as quickly as possible.
"Hello," she said after dialing Brazil. "This is Ms. Maruso returning your call. It appears that the extent of the wave will hit as far south as Vitoria -- ."
Just at this moment, Eric came rushing into the office.
"No," he mouthed with his lips while thrusting his hands back and forth past one another in front of his face.
"Um, actually...could you hold on just a minute." Jenn almost threw the phone into Eric's hands.
"Hello Mr. Sanchez, yes, this is Eric Valence from the Baltimore Institute. According to our calculations it appears that the evacuations should involve everything between Rio and Natal. You're welcome Sir. We'll keep you updated with any further developments."
"Thank you!" said Jenn breathing a sigh of relief after Eric hung up. "I was even further off than I thought."
"Sorry to dump everything on you like that."
"Well, I'm just glad you're back," Jenn said. "It's bad enough feeling like the world's about to end without being stuck alone in a place that might be floating in the Baltimore harbor in two hours."
"Well, this joint should be safe enough," Eric said as he looked around the room for a few moments. "The wave room has water-tight seals to keep water in...hopefully they'll be as effective at keeping water out. Okay, now it's time to start focusing on something relaxing like reviewing nuclear detonation coordinates."
Jenn attempted a wan smile at her colleague's joke. For the first time in her life, she was even grateful for Eric's sophomoric humor.
Back at the Institute, Carl had finally returned from Paris. As Eric leaned into the doorway of his supervisor's office, he overheard his conversation with Lisa.
"What do you mean they're not willing to force evacuations of the rest of the state?" There was a pause as Carl listened to Lisa on the other end of the line. "Well did you tell them how big this thing is?" he asked.
"Yes, we explained it them. They've sent out warnings along the coast. They say that they still can't initiate mandatory evacuations without a definitive threat."
"A definitive threat? A 300-foot wave isn't a definitive threat?
"The government doesn't believe any wave coming all the way from Africa could actually be that large."
"Okay, well keep trying." Carl hung up the phone.
"Guess some people don't want to believe bad news when they hear it," Eric commented.
Carl looked up. "Well, maybe 'hearing news' just isn't enough." Moments later, he opened up his mailer and sent the video of the collapse to a local TV station. He picked up his phone. "Pete, it's Carl. I just forwarded you a video clip. How soon could you get it on the air?"
Peter Fulton, a news anchor who'd interviewed Carl on a number of occasions when a talking head was necessary for a story on local marine life, stood holding his mobile phone. "15 minutes maybe," he replied.
"Great!" Carl said. "Could you send it out to every major studio?
"Geez!" Peter responded. "I'll try."
"Thanks," said Carl.
Later that day, a group of people in a town in West Virginia just over the border from New Castle, VA stood gathered around a broadcast of the volcanic collapse playing on a television inside an electronics store. A collective expression of horror emerged from the bystanders. Some of pedestrians began running to their cars while others jumped onto an overcrowded city bus.
Moments later at FEMA, Steve rushed up to Lisa. "Alright, you've got our attention. We'll try to get everyone out from the area that you think is in danger. How far west should we evacuate?"
Lisa walked over to a map and drew a line down from Western Pennsylvania. "Everyone east of this line is in jeopardy!" she said.
"But that's impossible! We can't evacuate that many people in five hours."
"Well, that's why you should have started yesterday!" she shouted angrily.
Folks at the animal shelter had been so concerned about pets left in homes that they hadn't thought at all about the zoo animals. Allison called up the Baltimore Zoo and spoke to the manager. "We need you to get these animals out!"
"What do you want us to do, build an
"I'm not sure. Let me look into it." After half an hour of unsuccessfully attempting to solicit the assistance of law enforcement, Allison looked at the phone and dialed Jenn's cell. "Hey, it's Ali...I...think I'm gonna' need some help after all," she explained to her ex. "We need to evacuate zoos and none of the local precincts seem at all interested in helping us out. Any chance you could talk to them?"
"Okay, I'll see what I can do. Just one question, how high up are you guys?"
"Okay, you should be alright."
"That's good to know. But there's just one more thing."
"We're running out of cages."
Jenn thought for a moment. "Well, I know this might sound crazy but Waynesford prison's been cleared. You could put them there."
"A prison, really? Would they get a phone call?"
Jenn suddenly began to miss her ex-girlfriend's wry sense of humor.
A few seconds later, Allison continued, "But if the prisoners have been taken out, doesn't that mean that it's not safe?"
"It was a judgement call. The facility is far enough inland and surrounded by some no-nonsense barriers. If it looks like it's gonna' take a direct hit you could always drag the Persians and Chihuahuas up to a higher floor."
"Copy that," Allison replied.
"Okay, this thing is for real," the police chief at a precinct in Northwest Maryland said as he stood in front of his crew of 16 officers. "I need you fellows to begin instituting a mandatory evacuation. We've got a direct order from the governor to get people out if they like it or not."
"So, what are we supposed to do if they don't want to leave?" asked one of the policemen.
"Bring 'em downtown," the sergeant responded.
"But that's not safe. This place'll be under water if that thing hits us."
"He's got a point," the department commander interjected. "We need to set up a bus. All detained citizens will have to be taken to a precinct in Pennsylvania."
Officer Frank Bevins, a slightly overweight peace officer in his mid-thirties, was a new cop on the Baltimore force. Frank had gone into law enforcement after being employed for a number of years as a third-grade teacher. Even in the short time he'd been in the department, he'd worked his share of disaster situations, but never one that involved involuntary evacuation. He got in his squad car and headed to a neighborhood in the southern quadrant of his district.
Half an hour later, he climbed out of his vehicle and walked up to the door of the first house on the block.
An old woman answered. "Hello," she said in a quiet voice.
"My name is Officer Bevins. I've been told to inform everyone in this area that evacuations have been declared mandatory."
"Oh, we know sir. I've been trying to get my husband to leave, but he's just so stubborn. He says that this is his home and he's not moving from it."
The policeman caught sight of an elderly man in the next room sitting on an ottoman reading a newspaper.
"Would you talk to him, officer?"
"I'm sorry ma'am, I've got a number of --."
"Please sir. I even got his brother to attempt to reason with him, but he just won't budge."
The policeman looked once more at his watch. He let out a small sigh and finally said, "Okay."
The woman, whom Frank learned from a quick glance at a letter sitting on a table in the couple's foyer, was named Mary Gustafson, led him into their living room. It was decorated with a series of oil paintings and a crotched sign reading, "There's no place like home." Albert Gustafson's eyes stayed focused on his reading material when the officer entered the room.
"Hello Mr. Gustafson," said Frank. "I heard you're not too keen on leaving."
Albert put down the paper and looked squarely at Officer Bevins. "I built this home 41 years ago. Seen it through hurricanes, a fire and even an earthquake. I ain't leaving just cause some 'guberment' fancy pants tells me I'm in danger. I'll scoop that water right out with a bucket if I have to."
As they spoke the ticks of a grandfather clock echoed ponderously in the hallway.
"Sir, I understand how you feel about your home, but it probably won't be standing if this wave overtakes it," the cop explained.
"Are you saying I don't know how to build a house?" the man asked peremptorily.
"No, I'm...," Officer Bevins began. "Sir, you do realize that I have the authority to arrest you for refusing to evacuate?" Frank said.
"Then go ahead, arrest me."
The officer looked at the man and decided that his efforts would be better invested elsewhere. "Okay, sir, though I'd advise you to at least protect your windows."
The man continued to stare straight ahead.
"I'll go get some plywood from the cellar," Mrs. Gustafson said. "Thank you, officer," she added.
"My pleasure," returned Frank over the tones of the clock signaling the hour as he made his way to the door.
Meanwhile, back at the Institute, the barrage of inquiries that Eric and Jenn were fielding had significantly diminished. Most of the distress calls now coming in were from confused evacuees who wanted to know how long it'd be until they'd were able to return. Jenn had mentioned to her colleague that Allison was working with local animal shelters to get abandoned pets to safety. Once it became clear to Eric that he could handle the situation there on his own, he realized that her service might be more valuable elsewhere.
"How's Allison's four-legged evacuation going?" Eric asked avoiding any hint of an ulterior motive in his inquiry.
"Comin' along. I contacted a few precincts that are sending out vans."
"Even if they've got the vehicles, I'd bet they're still understaffed."
"A little," Jenn replied looking down.
"Well, why don't you go help her. I can handle things here for now."
Jenn suddenly grew hesitant. "Hmm...well Carl's coming..."
"Forget Carl. I can tell people when it'll be safe to return back to their vacation homes on my own. Stop making excuses and get over there!"
"Fine," Jenn said grabbing her purse and heading out the door. As she was driving towards the shelter she wondered if her volunteering to help Allison out was a good idea. There were too many innocent animals lives at stake for her to waltz into the shelter and distract her ex. She decided another drink would help. She'd be much less tense about seeing Ali again after a beer. She stopped outside a bar and was about to turn off the ignition. "Ah ah!" she said to herself out loud. "This time, no baby bottle!"
Meanwhile, in the White House Situation Room, the president and his cabinet members were gathered along with heads of coordinating disaster response agencies to discuss the progress of the evacuation procedures. A map of the United States hung behind the president.
"Okay, so what's the status of the measures taken in the Southeast?" asked President Anderson.
"We've managed to clear parts of the coast," an aide responded. "The floods from the last wave are slowing down the effort."
"We need to get those people away from the shore!" the president shouted. "I want all commercial jets leaving the East Coast grounded. Tell the airlines they need to fill their planes and get people out of the danger zones!"
An hour after they'd left London, the western plane group was passing over rural terrain. "Hummingbird, what's your position?" Chris asked in an accent that made George feel as if he'd stumbled onto a James Bond movie set.
"40 miles east of you sir," he replied.
"Roger Hummingbird." Chris surveyed the fields of a British farm. He marveled at the acres and acres of pristine turnip fields that spread out to their east. "Look at that beautiful countryside mates," Chris said. "Sure would be a pity for all of that to be 60 feet under."
"No doubt," one of the other pilots responded shaking his head.
George looked out of the window nervously.
Later that day, the American fighter squadron carrying Amy cruised over D. C. airspace in a triad formation. "Blue Jay, this is Kitty Hawk, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear Kitty Hawk," the pilot of one of the formation's outer plane's replied.
"Sparrow, what's your speed?"
"Steady at 200 knots," the other pilot, Damon Gelrast, replied.
"10-4 Sky. Over," said Bryan confirming the transmission.
45 minutes later, the planes in the western squadron flew over the ocean. Bryan turned back slightly towards his co-pilot. "Out of curiosity, won't the nuclear fallout from the bombs affect millions of people?" he asked Amy.
"If the explosives land right in the center of the waves, the water'll contain the radiation," she replied.
"And if they don't?"
"Well, then people in Rio are gonna' be growing some pretty enormous papayas."
A little while later, the members of the western squadron looked out over the ocean and collectively spotted a gigantic swell 100 miles away.
"Holy Mary Mother of God!" Bryan exclaimed.
"Look at the size of that baby," Damon added.
"Well boys. Let's go say hello," Bryan said.
In Hong Kong, the anchor of a Chinese news program was conveying information about the joint military strategy. "Two enormous tsunamis are heading towards the United States and Europe," he said in Cantonese. "Sources tell us that the Air Force of both America and England will be attempting to divert the waves with nuclear explosions," he continued eliciting a loud murmur from the restaurant patrons.
Back in Baltimore, Jenn pulled into the parking lot of the shelter's building. The rescue center was housed in a skyscraper on the western end of the city.
As she walked inside, she saw Allison adding a Corgie to an already overcrowded cage.
"Hey," Jenn said.
"Jenn!" Allison exclaimed.
"Hi, still need a hand?"
"Absolutely!" Allison replied. "We were just heading out on another run. Wanna' join us?"
"Sure," Jenn said.
Jenn joined Allison along with other shelter workers including Deshaun, an African-American man in dreads and Sydney, a granola feminazi with a tattoo of a cobra winding its way around a rose. Jenn volunteered to sit in the back but Deshaun chivalrously took wheel hump next to the empty cages. The group travelled in the shelter's 1988 Dodge Astro Van towards the abandoned Park Circle neighborhood of Baltimore. Allison carried with her a laundry list of animals to rescue that'd been left by their owners whose priority had been getting their families to safety.
"How could people just leave their pets like that?" Jenn asked in mild horror.
"When it comes to emergencies, most people's immediate reaction is humans first. Plus, a lot of folks didn't take the threat that seriously. Figured their pets could just climb some stairs if their house flooded.
As they searched the neighborhood, Allison continued to receive calls. Every time she got another, they would arrive at the house to find the animal scared out its wits. In one case, they had to hike all the way to an attic to retrieve an Abyssinian cat that refused leave an old wicker basket stored under a broken dresser.
In another case, a German Shephard had somehow managed to trap itself in a bathroom when the sweatshirt it had anointed its chew toy pulled the door shut behind it. The canine kept trying to free itself but it couldn't turn the handle. Many houses were left open in the event that people like Allison would have to make just such a rescue. In this case, the front door was locked. Knowing that the animal would be facing dehydration and starvation, not to mention the peril of the flood, the crew broke down the door. However, their initial reconnaissance didn't turn up any sign of an abandoned animal.
"This place is empty," Deshaun announced. "Fido must have fled."
They were about to leave when Allison noticed a scratching sound. "Wait," she said to the group.
The shelter staff walked upstairs and traced the sound of scraping paw to the bathroom. They opened the door and leashed the very appreciative pooch as he licked the stranger's faces profusely.
Back in the air, with only minutes to go until they reached their target, Chris attempted to prepare his team for the munitions deployment. "10 minutes and counting boys. Are you ready?" he asked.
"Ready sir," the Sky Angel steward responded.
"Roger that," the Blue Jay pilot said.
"What about you Georgie Porgie?" Chris inquired.
Hearing this nickname made George cringe. "Could you do me a favor? Could you not use the phrase 'Georgie Porgie.' That's what the bullies at school used to call me."
"Sorry mate," said Chris apologizing. Chris got back on his intercom. "Please be advised. Our friend does not fancy the name 'Georgie Porgie.'"
"10-4 sir," Niles responded.
Two minutes later, the western plane squadron was crossing over New York. "One more thing," Bryan said to Amy. "How are we gonna' know if the Limies succeed? I mean, will the pilots be able to tell if the packages hit their mark?"
"Well, not necessarily. But I'm sure if it works we'll hear from someone on shore."
"And if it doesn't work?" he continued.
"Well, if it fails, I doubt we'll hear anything from anyone," Amy said looking westward out the plane window.
Moments later, the British plane squadron was approaching the target. George looked out over the massive wall of water and steadied himself. "Okay boys, one minute," Chris announced.
"10-4," responded the Hummingbird pilot.
"Alright Mr. Campbell, waiting for your sign."
George stared at the coordinates intently. He gave a quick last thought to the amount of wind shear he'd estimated they'd be facing. He then reviewed his final set of calculations before glancing at the wave one last time.
There was no point in second-guessing himself now. He'd run out of time for any further deliberation. If he was wrong, he'd rather err on the side of prematurity. He surmised that the tsunamis that'd be sent towards South American and North Africa wouldn't be quite as devastating as the ones that threatened the United States and Europe. Too late, and the beast already hurdling towards the pilots' loved ones would only increase in both magnitude and speed.
Trying to muster as authoritative a voice as he could, George began the countdown. "Okay, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...now!" The bombs all dropped within milliseconds of one another. George couldn't quite see the full mushroom cloud-effect from his vantage point. However, what he did witness looked like the trucks carrying the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks had careened off the FDR drive and detonated every rocket in the show simultaneously. Beneath the ocean surface, the water churned straight down to the sea floor drastically altering the direction of the underwater current.
"Woo-hoo!" one of the other pilots shouted over the intercom.
"Not bad, for a Yankee!" Chris said turning back towards his co-pilot.
"Thanks," George replied with a thinly veiled tone of self-satisfaction.
On a French news broadcast, an anchor was speaking on a television in an overcrowded Normandy restaurant. "We've just received word that the wave threatening the eastern countries of Europe has been redirected towards open water by the efforts of a special British Air Force team."
Everyone in the restaurant started to cheer. The reverie began to pour out onto public thoroughfares. People started darting out of their houses into the roads. More than one fellow running along the town's cobblestoned streets found himself the recipient of a kiss from a perfect stranger.
Half an hour after the successful drop by the team
that George rode shotgun with, the western squad had travelled
half-way to the drop point. "Good news fellows," Bryan said.
"Fantastic," shouted one of the other pilots. "Now it's our turn. One hour to drop. What's your position Blue Jay?"
There was no response to Bryan's inquiry. "Do you read me Blue Jay, over?"
Nothing but the sound of the wind came back across the line. "Sparrow, we've lost communication with Blue Jay. Did he send out a distress signal?"
"None that I know of, Sir," the pilot replied.
With still no sign of a response after another 20 seconds, Bryan relayed the pilot's radio silence back to headquarters. "General Shornwick, this is Major Kemp. We've got no sign of Blue Jay."
General Shornwick sat at a microphone in the Pentagon Control Room. "Blue Jay had an engine failure. He just bailed out. His intercom was disabled by the fire that spread into the plane's main electric console. Hopefully his nukes'll sit tight until we can fish 'em outta' the water."
"Can you send another bird all the way out here?" Bryan asked.
"We're looking into it, Major."
Five minutes later in the Pentagon Command Center, General Shornwick sat with military staff including Robert Canes. In his late forties, Admiral Canes had specialized in such disaster scenarios. He'd been in charge of helicopter relief operations for Katrina as well air support during a number of peacekeeping missions in the Middle East. This, however, was uncharted territory for him. He couldn't help but question the applicability of his skills in such a situation. "General, do you really think that we can get another fighter up there in time?"
"I don't think so. It looks like our only hope is to turn one of the British planes around and get it over here."
"Those fighters can't make it across the Atlantic in under two hours," he replied.
"Luckily, they won't have to." General Shornwick walked over to a map on the wall and pointed to a position. "The northernmost drop point will be here, nearly in the center of the Atlantic."
"Alright, we better get in touch with one of those boys pronto," the Admiral said.
Moments later in the control room, Richard was talking into a microphone. "Eagle, this is General Shornwick. Do you read me?"
"This is Eagle," Chris replied.
"Congratulations Major! Hell of a job! Now do you think you can make it two for two?" asked the officer.
"Another of our planes went down. We need someone in your group to hyperspace it to the third release point over the western wave."
"Roger General. I think I can swing it."
"Thank you Major," General Shornwick responded.
"Might have to drop my extra baggage back here into the drink." Chris turned around and faced George. "That'd be reasonable payback for '76, no?"
"Sorry, I think it's a little cold down there for a swim," replied George.
"Hmm, well, then maybe I'll take you along."
George nodded his head slightly. "Much obliged," he said as the jet dipped into a sharp 180 degree turn.
Meanwhile, at the Oceanographic Institute, Carl burst into Eric's office. "One of the western planes has gone down. We need new coordinates for a jet coming towards the target from the east."
"How much time do we have?" Eric asked.
Carl looked at his watch. "45 minutes, maybe."
Eric took a deep breath and started re-triangulating the new detonation points.
20 minutes later in the White House Situation Room, the president sat with other members of the joint-task-force he'd created as they considered their next move.
"Mr. President, we've received word that the air strike has successfully neutralized the threat of the wave in the eastern Atlantic," Jacob informed him.
"Thank God!" the president replied exhaling.
"One down, one to go," another member of his cabinet said.
"Mr. President, we think that you should move to the bunker," Jacob remarked.
"I'm not going to hide underground while half my country is washed away," Geoffrey responded.
"Well, then you need to get to a location that's at least 100 miles west of Washington," Jacob said.
An aide rushed into the Situation Room. "Mr. President, I just got a call from FEMA. They say that only 125,000 people have evacuated. How should we proceed?"
"How can we proceed? At this point, the only thing to do is to wait...and hope."
As Amy's plane approached the wave the jet began to rumble. "Looks like we've got trouble. The force of the wave is pushing the plane back."
"Can you stabilize it?" Amy asked.
Bryan struggled with the throttle. "I don't know. It's pretty fierce."
The aircraft began to shake more violently. Bryan tried to hold the joy stick, but it rattled in his hand. The wings flaps turned upward and the engine began to stall.
"It looks like we're going down," he shouted. "Mayday! Mayday! Brace for impact!"
The plane started nosediving towards the Atlantic. Bryan and Amy both ejected and parachuted down into the water. Once she'd dropped into the ocean, Amy pushed her parachute aside and swam over to the pilot.
"Well, it looks like we're sitting ducks out here for 100 million gallons of water," Major Kemp said.
Amy nodded her head as she stared out at the horizon.
"Let's hope your friend gets here in time," Bryan continued as his teeth began to chatter.
After news of Amy's bailout reached Washington, a Pentagon aide rushed in to the command center interrupting the general and the admiral's reluctant commendation of the Institutes' work. "Sir, it appears that the second jet in the mission has been knocked down by the force of the wave."
"Oh my God!" the general exclaimed. "Get me in touch with the scientist flying co-pilot in the other plane."
"Right away, Sir!"
General Shornwick rushed into the Pentagon control room and grabbed the microphone. He patched in to the plane George was flying on. "Mr. Campbell, this is General Shornwick. We've lost the central fighter in the western formation."
George paused -- horrified. "That was Amy's plane, right?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it was."
"What happened?" asked George.
"They were knocked out of the air by the force of the wave," the general explained. "Is there any way we could complete this mission with two planes?" he continued.
George thought for a second. "It's possible. But the coordinates would need to be changed. We'd have to determine the exact locations at which the force of the remaining munitions could be divided evenly."
10 minutes later in Baltimore, Carl rushed back into Eric's office. "Strike that last command. Amy's plane's gone down. They need to split the two birds up and hope that they've got enough juice between them to do the job."
"How much time do we have?" asked Eric sliding his hand up his forehead.
"About 15 minutes."
"Alright, here goes...." Eric said taking a deep breath before beginning yet another set of calculations.
Above the eastern Atlantic, only five minutes remained until the scheduled drop.
"Sky Angel, this is Eagle coming in from the east. Do you read me?"
"Go ahead, Eagle"
"How far out are you?"
"About 100 miles," Bryan replied. "Okay, stand by for new coordinates."
"Standing by. Over."
Chris pulled the plane into a sharp dive. "Let's pray your friends in Baltimore get this one right," he said.
Eric sat in his office typing frantically on his computer when Carl ducked his head in. "One minute," he said.
"Got it!" Eric shouted jumping up and grabbing his phone.
A military technician sat at a computer in the control room. "Eagle do you read me?" the private asked speaking to the major over the intercom.
"Loud and clear," Chris responded. The technician began reciting the new coordinates as George struggled to write clearly while traveling at Mach-4.
Meanwhile, Amy and Bryan floated helplessly in the water. The oncoming tsunami had begun to increase the height of the waves.
"It's getting rough out here," Matt said.
As Amy nodded her head somberly, she suddenly noticed that she no longer felt the familiar sensation of her necklace bumping up and down against her collarbone. When she grabbed her neck, she realized that the Virgin of the Volcano pendant was gone. She looked down and saw it fluttering in the water. At that moment, she ripped off her life vest and dove towards the sinking memento.
"Sparrow, do you read me?" Chris continued moments later.
"Right here, Eagle."
"Approaching target. Prepare for munitions deployment."
"Roger that," Damon said.
The two fighters had reached their mark, but a set of low-
lying clouds forced them to descend much further than they had on their initial drop.
"Are we gonna' be safe at this altitude?" George asked nervously.
"We will be if we don't hang around to watch the show," the pilot replied.
"Waiting for your signal," Damon transmitted to Chris.
"Alright, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...now!"
Amy continued to dive at the same time that the bombs started to drop. The moment she reached the necklace and grabbed it, the explosives hit their mark. Enormous detonations occurred simultaneously. The impact shot the wave straight up into the sky just as the planes flew out of danger.
Chris watched the explosives fall and the waves change direction. "Brilliant!" he shouted.
"Nice Shot!" George exclaimed.
Moments later in the Pentagon Control Room, General Shornwick sat at his microphone. "Mission accomplished," the official announced to the room with another sigh of relief. "Thank God!" he continued looking up.
Pentagon staff members in the control room all started to hug.
10 minutes later at a crowded restaurant in Savannah, GA patrons watched as a news broadcaster explained the results of the mission. "The effort to deflect the trajectory of the tsunami was severely jeopardized after two planes in the squadron went down, one just minutes before the final detonation. Many questioned whether two explosives would be sufficient to affect the path of the wave, but it appears that except for a few wet seagulls in Brazil, the mission was a success."
A number of beer steins were knocked over as everyone in the restaurant jumped out of their seats to celebrate the news.
30 minutes later over the southern Atlantic, a helicopter hovered over Bryan and Amy. A rope was dropped down to them and one at a time they were pulled up into the chopper. The aircraft flew the heroic pilot and co-pilot to the Andrews Air Force Base. The helicopter landed on the tarmac and Amy stepped out of the chopper wrapped in a blanket. Jenn and Lisa both ran up and hugged her.
George stopped right behind them. "Congratulations Ms. Woodson," he said.
"Congratulations Mr. Campbell," Amy replied. They started to shake hands when Amy hugged George and began to cry.
Moments later, Carl walked out to where the group was standing. "Congratulations to both of you," he said. "You've gotta' be the two bravest pencil pushers I've ever known," He then started leading the group towards the hangar. "You know Campbell, if you want your old spot back full-time, it's still available."
"Sure, why not? That is, if no one would prefer I didn't take it," George said loud enough for his ex-wife to hear.
"That depends on whether you plan on staying for good."
"Don't see why I shouldn't. Project in England's almost done and they can finish it without me anyway."
"Then welcome back, Mr. Campbell," Amy said putting her arm around George and kissing him on the cheek.
George looked at Carl as he put his arm around Amy. "But you're really gonna' give up your second office?" he asked smiling.
Carl grinned. "One den of iniquity is enough," he replied.
A few days later in a small plywood hut located at the foot of Mt. Akutan, a volcano situated on one of the easternmost islands of the Aleutian chain off the coast of Washington, a scientist named Mike Warner stood brewing a cup of coffee. Mike wore a heavy winter jacket with a thick down hood that flopped below the back of his neck when he moved. He was a geologist who'd been doing research on the igneous rock formations in the Aleutians. His research facility contained a stove with a single burner and a tiny refrigerator that housed beef jerky and Coors. There was no TV in his cabin and the Wi-Fi was very spotty. Receiving mail required a nine-mile drive to the post office in downtown Akutan. Mike was reading a three-month-old copy of Scientific American that he'd brought with him. At another desk sat the only human being he'd seen in over two weeks, Drew Matherton. Drew was a grad student doing research for his dissertation on sea lion migration off the Akutan coast.
Five miles away, Abe Turner, a local angler, was dropping a netfull of carp onto the dock to be sorted and whisked away to a nearby fisherie. Just as he had stepped off his boat, he felt the ground begin to shake. There was a construction site nearby, but the rumbling didn't feel to Abe like the vibrations from a jackhammer.
As Mike flipped through the pages of a tiresome article on stalactites in the Dixie Caverns, his phone rang.
"Hey, my name's Abe Turner," he said in a thick Alaskan accent. "Awm a fisherman...work over at a port in the Sarana Bay. Gawt' your number from the Geological Survey website. Listen, I was unloading my catch yesterday when I felt the ground start ta' shoik a bit. I know these smokestacks haven't gone off in a lawng time, so I just wanted to give someone a heads-up case one a' these fellas gets itself a mind to blow its top."
"Thanks for the information, Abe," Mike said. "I'll definitely look into it."
After taking a set of readings from the monitor he'd set up along the perimeter of the volcano, Mike became convinced that something was definitely amiss. He picked up his phone and got in touch with the chair of his program at the University of Washington, Gerald Bunton. Gerald, a greying septuagenarian who was only a year from retirement at UW, led the school's Geology Department. He also happened to be a former grad school classmate of Carl Moffit's as well as a recent collaborator with the Baltimore researcher.
"Jerry, it's Mike. Listen, we got a situation out here. I just got a call from a local fisherman about a smokestack here in the Aleutians. Apparently the Akutan volcano's not sounding too happy."
"You mean the one right along the whole Ring of
"Yeah, that's the one...."
Thank you so much for reading The Lost Tide. I hope you enjoyed the story but also that you recognize the importance of the danger this book addresses. I'm currently in the process of drafting the novel's sequel and would love your input. Please leave a review on Amazon and let me know what you liked about the first book or what you felt could have improved the story: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B9HJQNW.