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New – 20 August 2005

A Glancing Blow

Book II

 

“Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? -- Browning

 

Prelude

 

The civilization of man had been virtually erased from the face of the earth. Only the ruins and rubble gave evidence as to the extent of man's former domination. The great cities of the world, particularly the sea ports and river delta cities, had been inundated with water. Cities like Leningrad had seen their great treasures swept away. The Hermitage with its treasures of Rembrandt, Rubens, and Van Gogh had been obliterated along with the treasury room of ancient gold artifacts. The Cathedral of Saint Isaac had crumbled under the impact of tidal crests, its columns of semiprecious stone crushed.

The 'Circle of Fire' rimming the Pacific Ocean had burst into activity, eliminating all life or hope of life from Peru to California to the Aleutians to Japan to the Philippines and the northern reaches of Australia. China had become a land of massive lakes trapped in the newly formed valleys and depressions from the China Sea to the Himalayas. Northern India, Pakistan, and Kashmir were under water. The Middle East from to Libya was ablaze with fire. Only the highlands of Ethiopia appeared immune of the destruction of Central Africa as the rest had been leveled by hurricanes beyond imagination. Of all the major cities of the world, Addis Ababa (and possibly Madrid ) were the only ones that might have been rebuilt; the destruction elsewhere was too extensive.

The Andes had convulsed with such intensity as to cast the bulk of its western slope civilization into the Pacific Ocean. Central America had first been submerged by the joining of oceans but then rose to form a mountain chain, connecting with the West Indies and the northern coast of South America. The southern half of the Gulf of Mexico was raised along with the mountains to form a massive desert.

The east coast and southern states of the United States were underwater, as was Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. The Midwest lay under a shallow sea which reached nearly as far west as the Black Hills and as far east as the Appalachian Mountains. The southwest had been leveled with tides, winds, and quakes but, strangely enough, recovered its former outward appearance; that of a desert with all life in a precarious balance.

Billions of people had died within the midst of the collision itself. Another billion would soon succumb within the next months from disease, starvation, and as losers in the ultimate struggle for survival. Nevertheless, there were those who did survive, perhaps as many as six hundred thousand, scattered throughout the world. And, for now, it was the survivors and near-survivors who were of interest.

A Glancing Blow

1

Diverse Lives

 

Martin Corrin's home normally had a beautiful view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge. But on this day dust and hail had limited visibility to a score of yards. Martin, alone and afraid in his hilltop home, did not witness the wrenching shock of earth that broke the massive steel structure from its moorings and caused it to fall into the river along with its fill of partially abandoned automobiles. Martin felt only the quake itself and the supporting structure of his home shaken.

As the dust and confusion settled momentarily, Martin continued to stare from his easy chair toward the river, which he could no longer see. The world was collapsing about him, and Martin could think of nothing else to do but to wait it out. The cracked and shattered windows of his terrace room he barely noticed, the flash of fires below him in the village he sensed not at all. Then the foundation of his house finally broke apart and the terrace room, with Martin still clutching the upholstered arms of his chair, began a long slide to the river.

 

When Erin Stokes felt the first tremor, he suddenly realized his shortsightedness. His cabin, perched on the rock for that commanding view -- a view now obscured by the dust and wind -- was destined to fall. Crouched near the only door, he looked under the house and saw the dangling, broken pillar which had supported the southeast corner of the cabin. As the cabin creaked and shifted, Erin knew that it was about to go.

He jolted back through the door and began ordering his startled family to begin grabbing everything of value and run for the shed. Instantly they all responded, bolting for the door with anything movable, and running for the small shed set firmly against the mountain and which served as the tool shed and outdoor toilet.

Then, with the first load dumped inside the cramped quarters, they turned back to see the cabin begin its collapse. The south portion broke first as the remaining pillars snapped like dry twigs. The roof ripped from its moorings on the rest of the cabin and followed the broken side of the cabin as it crashed down the mountainside. Trees ripped the cabin into pieces even as the trees themselves were uprooted and broken by the onrush of walls and joists. The remaining half of the cabin, with the roof load suddenly removed, cracked and shattered in place as each of its pillars collapsed. Only the brick fireplace remained perched on the height of the rock cropping in the center of the cabin's flooring.

Unhesitatingly, Erin and his older son began scrambling down the hillside in an effort to salvage anything they could from the wreckage. In a few moments they were joined by Erin 's wife and daughter, who had suddenly realized that survival was a personal thing.

Grabbing blankets and boxes of food, Erin ignored the scattered pile of silver coins.

 

Jeb Henderson had felt a surge of pride when he and his family had survived without any outside assistance the spring floods. But now they were struggling against the remnants of a minor tidal wave. The house was already under two feet of water and structurally damaged by the initial impact of the wave. The shed near the house was crushed completely.

Trying to save everything within the house, the whole family became aware of a loud roaring. Instantly they recognized the sound; they had heard something similar to it just a few hours ago. It had been another tidal wave. This time, however, it was much louder.

Jeb yelled and the whole family began running outside. With a controlled panic they began clambering up the ladder to reach the roof of the house. Scrambling across the asbestos tiles, they reached the exposed brick chimney and began grabbing the ropes and torn sheets wrapped about the bricks. Jeb meanwhile took the rope attached to the small boat and threw one end to his wife on the roof.

His family reasonably safe, Jeb ran for the ladder in the front of the house. Then, in a moment of clearness, he saw the onrushing wall of water. The wave towered over those pine trees still standing. Jeb suddenly realized that there was virtually no hope for them.

But, instinctively, he grabbed the ladder and started up, racing the onrushing water to his family on the roof.

 

Hilda Brandt knew her hip was broken but the pain seemed strangely minor in comparison to all the pains she had endured in the last six or seven years. And the pain she was feeling in her spirit was far greater. She sat braced against the steps, watching her son, Hans, as he struggled to resupport the beam which supported the main floor.

But her mind ignored the struggle as she thought of her Max in the room above, dead of a heart attack. Hilda felt that she should be near him, waiting aside the improvised funeral bier of the only person for whom she had lived for so long. It did not make sense for her to try to live without him.

Then her mind realized that Hans' wife had rushed to help him with the beam, and that young Max, her grandson of only three years, was alone and crying softly. Slowly but purposefully Hilda began to drag herself toward the child.

She had gone less than three feet when the beam broke, shattering its broken pieces into Hans and his wife. The floor broke and began to cascade into the basement even as Hilda tried to reach and shield the baby with her own body.

 

Ahmed tried to peer through the dust to Hatshepsut's Temple. The rock slides from the mountainside towering over the funeral monument of the long dead Queen of Egypt continued to plague any attempt to approach the place to inspect for damage. Ahmed could rely only on occasional glimpses through the dust in order to determine how the Temple had fared.

Standing there, the dust and debris billowing into the air, Ahmed thought momentarily of Karnak. He realized that many of the great columns would even now be collapsing. The shaking earth would allow nothing to stand, even the mountains rising over the Valley of the Kings. Ahmed could only hope that hls Queen's obelisk at Karnak, so beautifully but inadvertently preserved over the centuries by a son's jealousy, would not be destroyed by the falling columns of rock.

And yet it all seemed minor in comparison to what Ahmed now realized was inevitable. The water from Aswan would soon rush down the Nile Valley, destroying all in its path. More than any other thing, water would now be the destruction of Egypt's history, even as the annual flooding of the Nile was the single most important reason for the glory of her history in the first place. For water was also an enemy which corroded, eroded, and destroyed the rock carvings that would otherwise last for thousands of years.

Then Ahmed heard it: The roar of water as it cascaded down the narrow Valley of the Nile. The great Aswan dam had broken and the entire mass of the immense lake it had created was now rushing toward Luxor, Thebes, Karnak, and Ahmed. The Egyptologist could only pray that Hatshepsut's temple was on high enough ground to escape the onrushing flood. But in his heart Ahmed knew that it was not.

 

The massive and multiple quakes were becoming commonplace to Katherine Phillips. All too often the shocks would send each of them flying to the ground. Accordingly, all five of them, her whole family, stayed close and seldom ventured to stand or move about.

The house, garage, and barn were collapsed, but no one had been seriously hurt. They had salvaged most of their supplies, even the small generator which was running to keep the freezer from defrosting. In sum they were holding their own.

They were not aware that the pass through the Sierra Madre had ripped asunder and that the Pacific Ocean was pouring into the Napa Valley from the Bay of a destroyed and burning San Francisco. Even now an avalanche of water was rushing toward them from the northwest. They did not know that the forty foot high wave had already crushed Vallejo and would soon do the same to Sacramento.

 

Ito Torishita pulled the broken blocks of concrete away, trying to free a friend. The violent earthquakes, the loud explosions, the fire and sparks sweeping the sky he tried to put out of his mind. For they were but a part of nature, and the Japanese civilization had lived under the dictatorial whims of nature for far too long to be discouraged now. Life was to be lived for now and death was but a part of life, and to be dealt with only when it arrived.

Lifting aside a heavy block, Ito bent down toward the dusty, bleeding face of his friend. For just a moment his friend smiled. Ito realized that he might yet live.

Then abruptly another quake ripped the earth, throwing everyone and everything to the ground. As Ito raised his gashed head, he saw a geyser of steam rise from the nearby bay inlet. Then suddenly the steam and water were replaced by sparks and red hot lava bursting through the floor of the ocean's inlet. Exploding fire and burning rock were flung into the air and then began to fall about Torishita. Quietly Ito realized that death had in fact arrived, and he pulled himself up to his knees, in order to prepare himself.

 

For Beli Singh, the earthquakes and fire had been minor in comparison to the dust, debris and suffocating pollution in the air. For the survivors of his village, the all important act was to breath. Food was secondary, shelter was non-existent. It was the foul air that plagued them more than anything else. Even the heat was abated as clouds, dust, and smoke from decades of burning cow dung at last sufficiently blanketed the sky to shield the land from the sun.

But Beli would survive. His land, the Dravidian plateau, would some day be a great island rising out of the Indian Ocean, while New Delhi, even now, lay destroyed under what would some day be called the Sea of Ganges.

 

Joe Bratten felt that every bone in his body was bruised and broken. He had never been subjected to such a constant strain on his physical body. As a strategist at DOD, Joe had had relentless pressure placed on his mental abilities and he had kept his body physically fit purely as a means of keeping his mind healthy. But now the constant strains and stresses on his body had jerked and pulled muscles that his free weights program had never even addressed.

As he entered the main control room of the Atlas missile site, he put away the outward signs of physical pain so that Senator Tolman would not see his weakness. The Senator only glanced at Joe as he entered, then turned back to the attractive young brunette that was apparently his present consort. Joe Bratten had learned to hate the Senator and his smugness.

Oh certainly, the missile silo had been a good idea. It had been built to survive a nearby atomic bomb blast. Furthermore, all of its residents had been thankful to the Senator for showing the foresight of ‘acquiring the silo from the government' and stocking it with a year's worth of supplies.

But it had been Joe Bratten who had shown the others that the missile carriage, mounted on springs in the missile hole itself, was the place to ride out the collision. And he had been right. The two people who had manned the main control room were both seriously injured, apparently from concussions they had suffered when portions of the heavy concrete walls had collapsed and literally exploded into the open area.

Joe had realized that his foresight had been the one thing to save the majority of residents from anything more than bruises and sore muscles. Unfortunately, the Senator had taken credit for the idea and no one had been the wiser. Joe had at first been more than willing to go along with the Senator's duplicity, for that was the way the game was played. Only now the game was not on the same field. There was no longer the myriad number of players, each vying with one another, jockeying for position relative to the others. Now there was only one chief and a lot of Indians. Bratten did not like being just an Indian at all.

But for now he could do nothing about it. So he reported dutifully to the head man. "Senator, the damaged ready room has been cleared and sealed.”

The Senator appeared to hardly notice him. “How about the water leakage?"

“Thomas thinks that it was only the water table. And we've closed and sealed the door so that, even if the room floods, we should be okay.”

“Excellent!” The Senator turned back to the girl, effectively dismissing Bratten. But before he could leave, Tolman added, “You might check out the periscope again. Perhaps the visibility has improved somewhat.”

Joe knew that the Senator could care less what was happening outside. Rather, he wanted simply to put Bratten in his place before the eyes of the girl. It was just one of Tolman's techniques for maintaining his leadership position. Nevertheless, Bratten did as he was ordered.

The periscope gave them their only real access to the surface short of the upper hatch (which was only barely accessible through a jumble of rubble in the tube), the main 20-ton door (which would not open without more power than they could hope to generate at the present time), and the missile doors (which could be opened by hand with only the greatest difficulty). As Bratten took his first glance into the eyepiece, all he saw was black. He did a quick check of the controls and filters, but it was still black. Then he tried to turn it, but it wouldn't budge.

One of the army technicians, a man named Lenz, came into the control room and Bratten immediately asked for his help. Lenz went through the same procedures as Bratten had just done, but with the same results. Then the two of them tried to turn the periscope manually.

At first it did not budge. Then suddenly it broke loose. Almost simultaneously they heard breaking glass. Then the eyepiece of the scope ripped away as a gusher of water came roaring into the room. Lenz reacted quickly and slammed home the emergency swing valve in the periscope to shut off the flow. The Senator was quickly on his feet, shaken but still in command.

“What the hell happened?"

Lenz was the first to speak. "We must be underwater. The periscope simply provided a simple means of piping the water down to our level."

"Underwater?" The Senator's question was a challenge to the others.

Bratten ignored the panic in Tolman's voice. “The scope is only a couple of feet off the ground. There may be some flooding above ground, but we can handle it for a little while. Remember, this place has been sealed off so that we can live for a month or more without the need for fresh air from the surface. Of course the concern was for radioactive air instead of water, but I see no problem."

The Senator looked relieved but Lenz did not immediately react. Thinking quickly, Lenz said, "We'd better check the missile doors.” With clear purpose, he left the room.

When he reached the missile compartment's heavy entry door, it was being forced open by one of the men. When he saw Lenz, he immediately reported, "The missile doors! They're leaking water." Lenz ignored the man and scrambled to where he could see the extent of the leak.

The missile doors had apparently been damaged enough to allow for a long thin crack between the two doors. Water was spraying into the missile hole, but Lenz felt reassured that it was not coming in any faster than it was. It would still take several weeks to fill the large missile hole and they would have time to do something about it. And, of course, the surface water might recede in the interim.

Back in the control room, Lenz told Bratten and Tolman what the status was. Then another man came in and said that the water was coming through the doors even faster. Lenz started to dismiss the man's description at first, knowing that it was unlikely that the flow would increase without a considerably higher back pressure. And the pressure would only be increased by a much greater depth of the surface water.

For a moment Lenz hesitated. Saying nothing to the others he crossed the room to the retractable radio antenna. By flipping a switch the radio antenna began to slide upward until its base was a full thirty seven feet above the ground. Lenz smiled as the antenna moved smoothly up. Then he checked for a ground on the antenna. To his dismay it was completely grounded.

Lenz suddenly realized that the surface water level was more than thirty seven feet deep. The Atlas missile site was now under an ocean, an inland sea, or at best, a large deep lake.

 

                                        Chapter Thirteen -- Lamentations of the Sage, Manus

Forward to:

Chapter Two -- Riding the Storm

               

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