She wanted the chance to apologize for the way she acted at his condo. The argument was uncalled for and she really regretted it, bad enough that it had kept her awake all night long but not in the way she thought. She had thought more about the argument than the solar thingy that was coming. He had been telling her about this stuff and she got scared at the wrong time. She felt stupid now.
She told herself, “This kind of thing has never happened before, he said so himself. It won’t happen this time, right?”
She followed her parents onto the elevator. The ships stewards had already taken the luggage to the van and left for the boat.
Her mom hugged her tightly. “I guess we will see what makes us tick,” she said last night. The realization of financial hardship was taking a toll on her, but Ben had put so many things in perspective. He was right and they knew it, but the people in this elevator car were glum.
As the door opened, spirits lightened. In the lobby were the three that this weekend had become such good friends. They stood from the seats that occupied a space to the right of the elevator. Ben seemed distant but hugs made the whole way around.
Chey noticed that Ben’s pack was heavy and stuffed. She knew that he was worried about what the Sun was doing. He was as ready as he could be and he was very worried that it was not enough.
The television was on a news network and there were news flashes about the really high temperatures, not just for the November winter but a high average for every region. The newscasters were being casual about it. No reason for concern, they said, it was just unseasonal warming. Of course, the liberal media on the other screen was blaming Global Warming.
Thomas guided them through the doors of the building and they headed for the limousine. She noticed Ben watching the sky as she wiped a drip of sweat from her cheek. She thought to herself, sure didn’t need long sleeves this morning.
Suddenly, nearly to the car – Thomas with the door standing open, Ben stopped in his tracks. Wide eyed she turned to see what he saw. An hour an a half before the dawn was supposed to be lightening the sky, the horizon was turning red and right before their eyes the same horizon became heavy with angry black clouds.
“Are the windows of the limo bullet proof?” Ben asked.
“No, its a rental, just a regular car that’s been stretched.” Thomas said, as much wondering why no one was getting in the car, his impatience written on his face. “Why?”
Ben ran to a fire extinguisher on the exterior of the lobby wall, screaming, “Everybody in the car!”
They turned to see what she was looking at. The clouds were coming toward them very quickly. They finally all were in the car as Ben ran up to the door and jumped in. “Driver, hop the curb and head around the back of the building as fast as you can!”
Thomas read his panic, “Just do it.”
“Then what?” asked the driver.
“In the lake then when the impact is over get back here with us. Go – Go!”
As the car cranked the starter and the driver gunned it, Ben opened his pack. “Phones in here now. Thomas tell Bradley to do the same or he dies today. Then put your ear piece in here.”
“Why that pack?”
“Bluetooth can give us a way to communicate while looking for survivors – they won’t be any good if that thing has the electro-magnetic pull they are talking about. Anything outside of a Faraday box will be toast. Frankly, I’m worried about being in this car, it could turn into a microwave oven, but I’m hoping it will give us a little insulation from whats coming.”
The car bumped along in the grass headed for the lake. Behind them Chey saw the van following closely behind them, apparently Bradley was already listening in on the conversation because of the sudden panic.
“Brace, but be loose, I need you all awake. Let the water come in. I have a couple of little breathing devices that will help us breathe underwater. They aren’t very good, but if we’re careful and try to keep calm we may not need them. Just as soon as the earthquakes are over we break windows and go out. Thomas try to make sure where the bank is so we don’t have far to swim.”
The car lurched. Chey bound herself to Ben and squeezed her eyes shut. A second impact on the car and the airbag popped in the driver’s face. Water started in a wave over the hood as the car choked to a silence. The driver started climbing over the seat.
“Down, down, down. Sink car, SINK!” Ben snarled.
As the car, completely vertical, let the water climb to the middle window, Ben touched the cabin window and it rolled up silently. The water was coming in the front seat faster now. The window made it fully up before the battery shorted and the cabin lights went out.
The car had twisted a bit and they could see both the van sinking and the back of the building they had just driven around. As if in slow motion they bobbed in the water. The angry red was making the sky as light as full noonday. Every second made the sky brighter.
Thomas eyed the extinguisher, “So what’s that for?”
“CO2. Not good for our breathing, but it’s cold as it comes out. We may need an ice cube in here when the water starts coming in. I wish I had a couple more of them.” Ben said as if he did this everyday.
“How hot do you think it will get?” his dad asked.
“Those aren’t clouds. That’s sea water and ash.” He pointed at the rear window at the clouds rushing over them at a speed that looked unimaginable; faster than in any of Chey’s rides in a jet plane. “The Atlantic Ocean is turning into steam instantly. Does that tell you what kind of a chance we stand to have here?”
Utter silence fell on the interior of the car. The water was covering the rear door windows now, but still clear enough to see the last seconds before the ground level steam started hitting the buildings.
“We aren’t far enough down. I hope when it hits the trunk it doesn’t suck us out of the water. Brace, and don’t touch anything metal. All jewelry off now!” Ben hollered.
“Damn, my watch is getting hot!” said the driver.
The car started to roll from the force of the steam driven wind buffeting the trunk. The car began to sink faster with every piece of debris. Just as the out line of the building was becoming hard to see from the lake water covering the windows, it was obliterated by the force of the winds Debris pelted the car that had now turned away from the building with the water starting to finally slip over the huge trunk.
The smell of hot metal was becoming intense as it began melting the plastic trim in the car. The lake was taking the form of a storm driven sea. Waves shook the car until finally the front bumper struck bottom. The waves kept rolling the car. The passengers went from seats to roof about three times until the car settled into a more horizontal position. Finally the rear wheels touched down.
The door seals were failing against the water. “Still not as bad as I figured.” said Ben but he scowled when the water was steaming against the air. Ben handed the small emergency hammers from his pack to Thomas and his dad.
He took two small cylindrical devices from his pack and handed them to her mom and Cici. “When the water gets above our head or if the air in here starts getting too bad to breathe, take a deep breath from this and pass it to the next person, hold the breath as long as you can. Try not to take more than about fifteen seconds per breath so the devices can make the rounds to everyone.”
He pulled the pin on the extinguisher and made ready to fire it under the water. “Every body huddle together so we can make this last as long as possible. We don’t have any idea how long this will last.”
The car still rocked from the battering of the lake.
“I hope Cal and David are okay,” Thomas said.
“Me too,” her dad whispered.
Ben started giggling against her hug, “Look at it this way Everette; I don’t think you need this place anymore.”
They all shared a slight chuckle before a strong earthquake shook the car making the water enter faster.
Chey shrieked slightly with a hard gasp of the strong plastic smelling air. Ben hugged her tighter, then zipped his pack back solid.
“Where is the bank, Thomas?” Ben asked.
“I’m usually better than this, but the water is so dirty now. But I think, that way.” He pointed to the rear of the car.
“Dude. What about my family?” the driver asked glumly.
“Where do they live?” Ben asked.
“Probably not good. We’ll see as soon as we can. What’s your name?”
“Ryan – Ryan Shell.”
Another earthquake shook the car violently and lasted several moments.
“That one was close. It was hard to tell but the epicenter had to be close,” Ben said.
He let off a burst of the extinguisher as the water finally cleared the seat. The water in the car bubbled with the exhaust and didn’t seem to do much to the heat of the water. It still felt very hot as it came over the top of Chey’s flip flops.
“Ouch, that’s hot!” she yelped.
“It’ll get worse before it gets better.” Ben shot off another round of short bursts. “I should have been doing that all along I guess but I didn’t want to run out.”
Thomas was still scanning the water to try to locate the bank. He reached our to touch the window. It burned him to the touch. “How are we supposed to swim to shore when that water will boil us before we get there?”
Ben shook his head. “We can only do with what we have. I’m hoping for the majority of the lake’s water to be gone by the time we need out of here. Besides it’s like a normal lake, right. It get’s shallower toward the shore. And those waves are pushing a lot of the water out of the lake.”
“I think so,” her dad said.
Another earthquake shook the car, but not so violently. Chey heard something on the roof of the car. A slosh.
Thomas was first to shoot Ben a questioning gaze. “The lake was deep enough to hold this car nose to tail, and now the water is at the roof?”
“That’s why the water coming in has slowed. There’s not as much pressure behind it,” Ben said, letting off another volley of sprays from the extinguisher.
“So we have no insulation between us and the heat out there now?” Gary asked.
“I have no way of telling how hot that steam was of how fast it was going when it went over, but I would guess the half of the Atlantic Ocean just went over our heads at more than a thousand miles per hour and probably more than fifteen hundred degrees. The hundred and thirty or so that will be out there when we get out will be welcome.”
“So how hot is this water?” Chey asked.
Ben answered, “About hundred twenty or thirty.”
“So we get used to how hot it is and we’ll be ready to go outside?” she nudged him hopefully.
He only shrugged, “We won’t know for sure until we open a window that we can’t close.”
Cici’s cheeks were muddy with black streaks of mascara and she had been the most vocal about all of this, her screams were deafening. But she took this moment to say, “Just open the stinking door.”
Ben waved the hydrant nozzle in the air, “Stick your hand in this water Miss Hooker Boots, it’s hotter out there.”
Like the punch line of a bad blonde joke, she did it. She stuck her hand in the water and yelped in pain, bringing the hand to her mouth.
“And you want to let more of that in here?” Ben asked.
Chey tapped Ben on the shoulder and pointed up. “The sun roof.”
She could tell he was very unsure, then reaching up, he pulled the moon roof cover back from the headliner.
Several inches still covered the glass but they could tell it was still dark in the sky above them. Tense moments passed, the water continued to rise in the car, with Ben spraying the canister in the floorboard every once in a while.
Minutes turned into an hour and the air was putrid from the fumes and heat even with the special tubes, which were starting to lose their effectiveness as the chemicals were nearly gone. The water had started cooling on it’s own, but with the water to their necks, they broke the window of the sun roof anyway.
Once into the hot open air with only about six inches of water at their feet, free of the sauna of the former limousine, they stood on top of the car and surveyed the surroundings. The heat was stifling and hard to breathe. Sweat poured from their wet bodies.
Nothing was standing in a whole piece. Cars that were blown everywhere were piled up and burning. Buildings were skeletons of twisted steel and piles of rubble. The condos they had just spent the weekend in had been reduced to a pile no taller than the first story.
Pulace’s surveillance van was wheels-up in the lake and was now a burned out hulk. There would be no reason to check it for survivors.
“Will there be a tsunami?” her dad asked.
Ben was in grief for not being able to save anyone else. In a very depressed tone he said, “Not likely, there isn’t enough water out there to make one, but we will want to take shelter fairly quickly. When the atmosphere snaps back into place like it’s supposed to there will be a jet stream surge. Not as bad as the one the Sun caused, but bad storms will be likely. Anything that wasn’t blown off the face of the planet, soon will be washed off of it.”
“How long do we have?” asked Ryan, the driver.
He shrugged, “I have no idea how strong this was. If it hit us broadside the wake around the Pacific Ocean could cancel out the heavier storms or it could make them worse and more turbulent. If it side swiped us, we may have a few minutes to a few days. Nothing like this has ever happened in recorded history.”
Thomas couldn’t stop staring at his van, “So we should get off this island?”
“In a few hours of drainage time, this may not be an island anymore. I’d be willing to bet that there is no water for a mile or two out there.” Ben pointed to the beach.
Chey grabbed his hand again. “What if the whole rest of the world is like this?”
Ben shook his head. “Parts of the world have been vaporized. If it hit New York as hard as it hit us or worse, Manhattan is probably a pile of molten glass. I’d bet that most of Europe is a black crust now. That thing couldn’t have hit us head on though. We were feeling the jiggle after the punch. We didn’t have a direct hit from that thing, or they wouldn’t even have found our ashes.”
Suddenly they saw movement from the shore.
“What is that?” Chey cried.
Thomas jumped from the top of the car and started swimming for the shore. Chey realized, in the dim morning light, that it was a person.
Ben jumped from the car and started treading the water that came to his shoulders. Her dad picked her up and after a slight struggle in the predawn light she was atop his shoulders. The water burned her legs and feet. They all followed Ben and Thomas to the shore.
As soon as Ben had reached the shallower water he was struggling to open his pack. Thomas was already dragging the person to the shore. The closer they got they realized that it was Calvin Bradley from the van.
Ben handed Thomas a pair of shears. “Clothes off now! We don’t have time to wait. He’s already in shock. We might loose him if we wait anytime at all.” Ben screwed the top from a bottle of pills.
“Dude, it’s garlic. Hold it under your tongue as long as you can. It’s the closest thing we have to antibiotics at the moment.”
Bradley tried his best, but his involuntary shaking from the shock was making even the basic movement impossible for him to control. Her mom and Cici reached the man and knelt, helping free the clothing.
“Anything that has blistered, leave the blisters alone. Anything that is white or leathery start wrapping this gauze around him. I only have a couple of ice packs but we aren’t going to hold them there long enough to make him numb. Keep them moving over the gauze in a slow motion. If I had running tap water we would turn a light hose spray on him, but we don’t have that luxury.”
Ben pulled a tiny card from his pack. He turned a crank on a self powered flashlight and shined the light on the card. It was a light brown. “Good, not enough radiation at the moment to be worried, but we can expect that to change soon, we need to try to get him to cover, preferably a hospital.”
“There’s a surgery clinic on the island.” Her mom said.
“Where?” Ben said hopeful.
“Over th…” she turned to point but there were no buildings standing for their entire line of sight. “Oh no.”
“Okay, try to find some conduit, or pipe, or even broom handles, and then any sheets or anything,” Ben said.
“A stretcher!” answered Thomas.
While Ben and the women tarried to make Colonel Bradley as comfortable as possible and take stock of all of his burns, the rest of them scoured the blight. In a few moments, they had found some basic materials. There was so much destruction most of them returned with their scavenging in utter shock.
Chey could not shake the image of the mother and child she had stumbled across in the awakening sky light. Burned to a char.
Ben worked diligently on the man and then he and Thomas set about building the stretcher. The two of them acting like this was a regular activity for them. In minutes they had Bradley on the stretcher and Ben had tied a thermal blanket around him from his pack.
“Up. Up. We gotta go. Maybe Miami didn’t get hit as hard, I’m hoping the causeway didn’t get obliterated,” Ben said in a rush, packing the contents of his bag back in place.
Gary and Everette picked up the stretcher and followed Ben and the women. Chey walked next to Ben.
He pulled out the static free package with all of the phones in it. He switched all of them on and worked on each one before handing it back to it’s owner. He had, in only moments, set them to where they didn’t waste battery by looking for towers. Then with an app he wrote earlier in the week, he connected all of the bluetooth systems together. Now they could see every phone as a colored dot on a GPS map, even though there were no satellites to get the information to draw the map, they could still see where each one was. They could also text between the connections.
“Thomas, yours and mine are connected directly through the bluetooth. Your headset should be functional as is mine, and we should be able to talk freely between them. I need you to pick our route, we’ll go faster if we have no obstructions.” Ben said.
Thomas nodded and ran ahead. By now the sun was coming over the horizon, but was completely obscured by the clouds. At least it created some light.
They looked out over the damaged ruins to the ocean, or what should have been the ocean. They could see clearly all the way to what seemed like a mountain range now about twelve miles from what was the beach. There was water but it was receding quickly toward the deeper parts of the sea.
Ben kept pulling out a new card and peeling a protective plastic off of it, then dropping it, every few minutes. Thomas would return occasionally and have them take a side street because Crandon, the main road through the island, was completely obscured. They were still hours away from the causeway at this pace, and because of that wouldn’t reach Miami beach until night fall.
On Thomas’ next return, Ben asked, “What’s the chances of finding an older car in one of the under ground parking garages?”
“Why an older car? There should be all kinds of stuff in them,” asked Thomas.
“Newer cars have ECM computers which were probably fried in that electromagnetic hell we just went through. We’d be lucky to find a HUMVee in working order without having to work on the ignition.” Surprisingly it was Gary that had fielded this one, huffing from the exhaustion of carrying the man. Ben nodded.
Colonel Bradley had passed out earlier but still roused around enough for Ben to stuff a new pain killer in him. It was just simple over the counter stuff. Ben couldn’t get more powerful stuff because of his age, Chey was sure.
“We’ll keep on in this direction if you can find a car that will start,” Ben said.
“I would but I don’t know anything about cars. The man on the stretcher is my car guy. He could hot wire a B-1B and fly it in a pinch.”
“Good to know. But that’s why we have to get moving faster than our legs can do this. We need him, and if we don’t stabilize those burns he’ll be dead by tonight.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Thomas stared at the ground.
“Chey and I will come with you,” Ben said, “The rest of you just keep heading in that direction and we’ll catch up.”
Chey was ready to switch gears from the drudgery of the caravan, even if it meant seeing more dead people than they were running across now.
Before they were far from the other group her father asked, loudly, “What about my ship?”
“We could look, but it would waste time for Bradley, and you may not like what you see,” Ben yelled back. “Besides it has taken over an hour to get this far. You’re boat is twice that distance from here and slightly back south. We need to be going north.”
Her dad hung his head, knowing that his boat would be a disaster. All of his employees were likely dead. If they weren’t, then they weren’t prepared for this and would soon die from the same burns that Bradley had or worse.