“Five…four…three…two…one…” Damjan flipped a finger at the display just as the trace jumped. “Right on schedule. Exactly one sidereal day from yesterday’s quake.”
Albertson rested one hand on the back of Damjan’s chair as he leaned closer to the display. “When you’re right; you’re right. And as much as I hate to say it, you’re right. Look at it go.” The trace wobbled wildly. “If it’s the same location.”
“It is. Bets?”
“If it is,” Albertson said, “Then that’s got to be an eight point five, maybe a nine.” He stood and turned aside. Damjan turned to follow the direction of his gaze. A chart on the White Board marked the daily increasing strength of the seismic anomaly. “A nine,” Albertson said. “A nine would keep the trend going.”
Albertson shook his head. “If the trend continues it will pass the Valdivia quake tomorrow.”
“And in a week?” Damjan looked from the chart back to the seismograph readout, then back to the chart. “It can’t. The trend has to stop sometime.” His voice softened, took on a distant quality. “In fact, I’m sure this is an eight point five. It’s already leveling off.”
A few minutes later the computer spat out the numbers combining the results of their own observations with those of all other seismograph stations in the network. Magnitude nine. Still gaining half a magnitude per day.
Captain Jamal White, USAF, looked up in time to snatch from the air the ball his daughter had thrown. He grinned and threw it back, then turned back to the cooler. He grabbed a soda for his wife, Amber, and a beer for himself. While he still had the cooler open, he called out to his daughter, “You want a drink, Bobbi?”
“Orange!” Bobbi called back.
White dug a can of orange soda out of the cooler and turned to face Bobbi.
“Here, catch!” He tossed the can underarm toward her.
Bobbi dropped her ball and snatched the can out of the air.
White turned to Amber and grinned. “She’s going to be a good fielder some day.” He held out the soda.
Amber took the soda and held the can to the side of her face. “Maybe she won’t want to play baseball.”
White laughed and sat, leaning back in the shade of the beach umbrella. “Then she won’t have to.”
He sipped at his beer while looking at his wife. She was as beautiful as the day he’d met her at his younger brother’s track meet. She’d been a senior on his track team. Slim, hair trimmed close, with milk chocolate skin, she left all the other girls in the meet behind, in more ways than one.
He asked her out that afternoon, eight years ago. A year later they were married. Two, and Bobbi came along.
“Have I told you lately that I love you?” He asked.
“Not in the last–” Amber looked at her watch. “–hour, I think.”
“Well, I do.” He leaned in toward her and ran his hand up her side, allowing it to drift forward on her torso for just a moment.
Amber laughed and slapped at his hand.
“Daddy?” Bobbi called from behind him. “Where’s the ocean going?”
“Where’s the…” White turned. His beer slipped from nerveless fingers. The waterline had retreated far beyond the normal low tide line and was still retreating fast.
“Bobbi,” White said in as calm a voice as he could manage. “Run to daddy, please.”
“Run to daddy, please.”
As Bobbi began to run, White turned his head to his wife. “We’re leaving. Now.”
White scooped up his daughter onto his left hip. “Now. Run.”
He lunged to his feet and grabbed Amber by the arm pulling her up.
“But our stuff…”
“Leave it.” Despite his best efforts to remain calm, White could hear the fear breaking through in his own voice. “Run!”
Amber’s eyes opened wide. She turned and started to sprint toward the lot where they’d parked their car.
White followed. Eight years since she’d given up track but she could still run. “Just go!” He said when she slowed. “Don’t wait for me.”
His words were useless. Amber kept glancing back and White knew that she was restraining herself, not letting him fall behind. In response he pushed himself harder, driving himself faster.
They reached the car, a small Toyota which White wished were a Ferrari, a Porsche, anything fast. He dumped Bobbi unceremoniously in the back seat, then scrambled into the driver’s seat.
“Buckle up!” He said as he started the car. He did not wait for them to comply as he pulled, tires squealing, out of their parking space.
Horns blared as White swerved past cars looking for places to park. His right rear fender bounced off a parked car as he half-slid out of the lot and into the street.
He had minutes, and very few of them to get to high ground. It might already be too late.
Which road? Which road led uphill? He turned left, blaring through a residential area at increasing speed. Willing the car to go even faster.
Light reflected from the rear-view mirror, blue and red. White ignored it. Straight road. Foot to the floor.
“Jay Jay,” Amber said, “The police…”
White just shook his head slightly, pushing the distraction of the blinking lights behind him to the back of his mind. He glanced in the rear view mirror. There was the police cruiser all right and behind him? Behind him the ocean rose in a wall.
Ahead rose the crest of the hill. Were they high enough? They had to be. They wouldn’t get any higher. He took his foot off the throttle and gradually started to brake, timing his braking so that the car rolled to a stop at the very crest of the hill.
The police officer pulled up behind him and got out of his cruiser. He approached White car with gun drawn.
“Out of the car! Out of the car now!”
White released his seatbelt and opened the door. He placed both hands on top of his head as he stepped out of the car.
“Officer,” he said, his voice mild, “I think you’re about to have a whole lot more to worry about than a few traffic violations.”
“A few traffic violations?”
Keeping his hands on top of his head, he folded his right hand into a fist while keeping the index finger extended, pointing back the way he had come.
The officer scowled, then, after a moment, glanced in the indicated direction. His face paled. His gun arm drooped. “My God,” he whispered.
“Officer,” White said mildly, “I think you’re about to get very busy. And I’m going to have to get back to base since we’ll probably be doing search and rescue right alongside you.”
“My God,” the officer repeated.
“Officer?” White raised his hands from his head, keeping them open and just above and outside his shoulders.
“Am I free to go?”
White shrugged, got back in the car, and drove off.
In the meantime, you might take a look at my recently released fantasy novel, The Hordes of Chanakra: