Riding the Storm
New – 20 August 2005
A Glancing Blow
Roster of the Enclaves
Riding the Storm
With the gale winds and twisting earth -- accompanied by a crushing rush of water, rocks, and violent debris -- an enclave called Corsair was carried by the torrent, rolling and churning across low hills and shallow valleys; its inhabitants thrown first one way and then another -- each thrust unexpected and at always yet another angle.
Every muscle in Lawrence Thomason's body was tensed for the next shock. It seemed that they would never end. He watched the others intently, expecting someone's courage to break; someone's other than himself. It seemed inevitable if only because of the days of shocks and the rolling, and the low, intense noises of the world in pain.
He thought briefly that they might have a reprieve. But then it hit with an incredible fury. Steel structural members heaved and broke. Like a swipe across glass, objects flew across the interior of the enclave. The screams of pain and death were lost in the noise. As the ruddy dust settled, he saw Carol Small's loose, lifeloss body. Instinctively he knew she was dead. Then he saw Larry Scott's son, Patrick, his neck wrenched to a horrible angle.
Unthinking, Thomason began to unstrap himself to go to the boy. Another crushing shock and he felt the sense of an impending destruction. He grabbed for the hand of the person next to him, Sally Hammond, only to have it torn away by a violent lurch. Then he saw it: an I-beam careening for his chest. Horrifying pain screamed throughout his entire body as the steel javelin rammed itself through his rib cage -- and then an utter and welcome blackness.
The cataract of water, filled with the bones and debris of a thousand dead animals and countless lives continued its rampage toward a new horizon. Finally, as its mass decreased, it left in its wake, the 'Viking' enclave shuddering in the aftermath.
For Jon Trippe, everything seemed blurred and nonsensical. Then he remembered his captaincy. Dutifully he forced the fog and blur from his mind and looked to the others. No one appeared seriously hurt and, in the momentary clam, there were even thoughts of smiling. The last shocks had seemed easier.
Jon realized that the interior air was clear; that for a moment it seemed strangely undisturbed. Abruptly, he felt his wife's arm reach his. "Okay, honey?" she said simply.
Across from him Mike Sienstra blew an impatient snort. Jon watched him for a moment, before turning to his wife. "How long have I been out of it?"
"Don't know," almost chuckling, "Maybe an hour?"
"Has it been quiet all that time?"
“If you mean no shocks, yes.”
Trippe listened to the earth's groaning for just an instant before acknowledging his wife's answer. Slipping his arm out, he checked his watch.
“Time to go out?” Mike Sienstra was watching Trippe closely.
Quietly Jon answered, “Not yet.”
“Why the hell not?”
“There's no reason to believe that it's over yet. Just another lull. We've had plenty in the last several days.”
“How the hell would you know? You've been out for hours.”
Jon ignored the remark. Mike was clearly on edge from the inactivity. He managed to contain it for only another five minutes.
“Aw, Christ! I'm unstrapping."
“No you're not!" Jon ordered. “You stay in harness!"
"What's it to you? I'm gonna get some food. You can hang around all you like."
“Look, Mike. I could care less if you drive your pointed head through the wall. But I'll be damned if I want your ugly, dead body bouncing around the enclave.
Before Mike could retort, Ted Andrews interjected, “Yeah, Mike. Better cool it for now."
Even Jack Beckman joined with Trippe. "I agree. It would be exceedingly unwise for you to venture out now."
Mike could accept Trippe's logic, but the manner of Beckman's made his stomach turn. He glowered at the dentist, thinking he'd like to kick his ass. The revengeful stare startled Beckman and momentarily unnerved him. Mike sensed it immediately and smiled.
The naphtha and gas, bursting in explosions of fire, lit the limited view of sky where an enclave called 'Eagle' laid partially submerged in grimy water and oily mud.
The last shock had been a heavy, sharp thud. As things cleared, Tom Griffith looked about. The enclave was no longer shuddering after a shock as it had before, and Tom realized the possible importance of this fact. As he began to glance around at the others, he saw his wife, Penny, already checking each of the children. When she was satisfied, she turned to smile at Tom -- all was okay.
Then he saw the blood around her foot's bandages. It was a mixture of dried and fresh blood and Tom started to wonder if he dared try to tend to her again. He could see her pressing the foot against the strap to bear the pain's burden.
He looked to George Harvey but the doctor was already busy with his own wife. Then Tom realized why. Shari Harvey's breathing was clearly labored and she was in pain. George threw an object away from him and concentrated on something on Shari's side. For a moment the blood gushed but Harvey quickly controlled it.
Tom started to unstrap; Shari would need more help. Then Pat Wells screamed. Her son's neck was twisted and the boy was clearly unconscious.
“Mikey!” she yelled. “Oh God, someone help him!”
"Everybody, stay put!" Tom ordered.
Tom's voice stopped a hesitant Jim Wells, but George Harvey had other thoughts. Having his wife hold the bandages, he started to unstrap. Tom was already moving around the interior to George and Shari. By the time he reached Shari, George was working his way to six year old Mike Wells.
Tom grabbed the temporary bandages at Shari's side just as she was losing her grip. Almost in a faint, Shari struggled to regain her faculties as Tom applied pressure to her side. Then he turned to watch Harvey check the Wells boy.
After a cursory exam, George turned to Tom for a moment, his face grave. Then, to Pat, "I'm sorry, Pat. He didn't make it.”
Pat Wells remained shock still, her mouth open, as George moved back to his wife. Then she began. "No! He can't be. You're mistaken. Oh, God, no!"
George had already returned to wrapping Shari's wounds. He could no longer concern himself otherwise.
Pat was sobbing hysterically. "No, he can't be dead! You're wrong!” Then, with increasing bitterness, "You're lying! You just want to help only your wife!"
"Patricia, take it easy," Jim yelled, reaching for her.
She dodged his arm, screaming, "Damn you! He's not dead. You've got to help him!"
George was furiously working with his wife. Quietly he said, "Tom get back to your place. Shari's okay now."
But Tom had no chance to even answer. A thundering shock wrenched the enclave from its mud and water mooring, tossing him about. He clung to some interior ropes -- clung for his life as the shocks seemed never to end.
With the ground and wind momentarily calmed, fires begin to rage in sporadic outbursts. The flashes of fire in the midst of darkness -- in even greater profusion and intensity than one might ever expect -- began to light the 'Intrepid'.
Unaware of the exterior light show, Ed Parsons began to unstrap. There had been no major shocks for almost twelve hours; maybe the worst was over. He fervently hoped so, for the structural damage had already been severe. The integrity of the enclave was breached in three or four places at the very least.
Still, it had held. It still shielded out the wind, the heat, and most of the red crude in the air. If it were not put to the test again, they might yet survive.
At least everyone but Harvey Murphy. He had died in the first hours -- probably a heart attack. Ed wondered for a moment how someone could have kidded themselves in thinking that they might survive with a bad heart. Wouldn't it have been preferable to let another take his place?
But the memory of Sophia's low scream and silent sobbing prodded him to forget about it. He could still see her, trying to unstrap and reach Harvey, and almost being killed herself in one of the worst blows to be delivered to the enclave.
Starting to move about, Ed glanced toward Aekie. She had been watching him and instantly smiled. It seemed as if they were going to make it.
For almost five minutes Fred Smith studied Les Rodgers. The former high school teacher was clearly shaken from the previous days. After almost twenty-four hours of comparative calm, with some members preparing to open the enclave and a gentle swell of excitement through the group, Les was simply not responding. Perhaps it was an assumption of old age by Les that his premature grey was a sign that he could not adjust. Or his self-generated dignity, which had been erased when Rodgers had begun screaming on the first day of the collision. Fred only knew that Rodgers looked far older today than he had a week ago.
A violent shudder ran through Fred's spine. As captain of Challenger, he suddenly had new concerns. Would they all break apart like Les? Would they all come unglued and start to drift away from reality? It would have been understandable had they suffered heavy casualties. But, much to his amazement, the enclave had come through practically unscathed. So what was with Rodgers? And, worse yet, was he merely the first? Then he saw Beverly Losten making her way through the ropes over to where he stood watching the muted activity.
She looked at his expectant face and then answered, "Everything's okay. Outside of a wide variety of rope burns and bruises, no one is really hurt. The most serious injury appears to be a deep cut in Diana's arm. But that seems okay now."
"What about Rodgers?"
Beverly glanced quickly in the direction of Les. Then, "I'm not real sure. He bothered me for a moment when I realized that he was doing nothing. But I talked to his wife, Sally, and she doesn't seem too concerned. Apparently this is nothing new. I guess he stares a lot at the wall normally."
"Maybe. But I want you to keep an eye on him. Something's just not right."
Beverly studied Fred for a moment, trying to gauge his concern. Subdued, she answered, "I'll watch him."
"What about medical supplies?"
“Great. Apparently no breakage at all. At least, I can't smell anything and it's too early to unpack.” When Fred only shrugged a smile, she continued, “I guess I expected a lot worse. I mean, didn't you?”
Fred watched her for a moment. "Just between you and me, I expected to have about thirty to fifty percent casualties.” Then, with a quizzed expression, "It's really incredible."
"I know. Do you think the others came through as well as we did?"
“I'd like to think so, but I doubt it.”
"Then it may be important for us to get out and help them as soon as possible.”
Fred did not answer immediately; another thought had entered his mind. He had become accustomed to turning his back on others and not considering the idea of allowing anyone else in the enclaves. Now was he to change all of this? Then he remembered that he was still responsible in some ways for all of the enclaves. Yes. They would have to go and help the others.
Then Beverly interrupted his thoughts, “Can't we radio them?"
"Evan has already tried.” Briefly Fred flushed as he recalled that Evan had tried without checking with Fred first. Then he said, "Apparently the antenna's grounded. We can't send or receive any signals."
"Then we go outside?”
Beverly looked somber for a moment. "ls it possible that it really hasn't started yet? Or could this just be a lull?"
Fred smiled, for the first time truly confidently. "It could be, but I strongly doubt it. The physical forces involved don't lend themselves to a long-term encounter between the earth and the comet. Actually, I had expected the major effects of the collision to last a little over five days. As it was, it was closer to seven.”
“But you think the worst is over?”
“0h, yes. We'll still get some minor after-shocks, but we can handle that.” Then he saw Evan Hendricks approaching them.
Joining the conversation, Hendricks reported, “Well, boss, no structural damage that we can find. There's been some slight warping, but that we had accounted for."
“No real damage at all?"
"Nope. I guess that makes me one helluva engineer."
“Or a very lucky one.” When Evan did not retort, Fred added, "Well, it's time we took a look at our world."
“Great!” Evan yelled. Quickly he moved to the lower hatch to loosen the retaining bolts.
George Frederick, standing close by, glanced up for Smith's confirmation. Then, with a smile, he leaped to help. By the time Fred had carefully moved himself to the hatch, they were ready.
George asked, “Shall you do the honor?”
“Just open it, George.”
George gave the last hand hold a kick to allow the hatch to swing out. Only it didn't open at all. It didn't even budge.
“I was afraid of that,” Smith announced. “We're sitting right on it and the ground is all the way up to the hatch. We'll have to go out the top.”
Someone murmured, "Why can't we open it and see?"
"This hatch opens to the outside. If there is any obstruction it won't open. On the other hand, the top hatch opens in. We'll just have to crawl out the top.”
As Fredericks replaced the retaining bolts and resealed the hatch, Evan made his way to the upper hatch where Tom Warren had started to work. Quickly they were ready again.
"Okay, Tom,” Evan said, "Stand clear. When this one opens, it'll really part your skull if you get in the way."
Pulling the latch, the hatch swung open with a bang and a bushel of dirt and debris was flung into the enclave. A wet coolness quickly enveloped the interior while the dust, debris, and a hint of water settled in the enclave. Then, looking up, they saw a hatch clogged with a muddy debris.
Instinctively Evan took a heavy bar to break open the clog. After several 'yard loads of dirt had cascaded to the lower hatch, the only visible sight through the hatch was that of dirt and some occasional mud.
Finally someone spoke. “My God, we're buried!"
Mike moved about the Pioneer enclave with apparent ease, checking with each person. It seemed like everyone had rope burns, bruises and cuts -- all of varying seriousness. Diana Snapp (Lew's youngest) and Ted Middleton were dead -- each apparently killed in a melee of broken straps and flying objects when the tool chest broke loose. The disaster had almost taken Lew Snapp too, with the chest crashing past his head by less than an inch. Fortunately his indomitable will brought him back quickly.
More serious was Linda Middleton. Having lost her husband of only four months she was very badly shaken. Doc Steward had her under sedation for now, but eventually she had to recover on her own strength. Mike sincerely hoped she would.
As he turned he saw Steward standing next to him, his face seemingly preoccupied.
"We've got the bodies wrapped, but I do feel that it would be best for us to get them outside as soon as possible. We need a burial to prevent a backlash of remorse.”
“I suspect you're right, Doc. But I don't want to risk too much on just a morale question."
"Not morale, Mike, sanity."
“The last shock was less than ten hours ago."
"Nevertheless, eventually we have to leave the womb. It comes down to a question of balancing our need against the risk.”
"Okay. If we get no more major shocks in the next two and a half hours, we'll go outside.”
“You have any objection to my telling the others that two o'clock is the opening time?"
"No, go ahead."
At two o'clock, with excitement already built up and the lower hatch -- now positioned at about thirty degrees from the vertical -- was primed for opening, Mike gave the word. Lew Snapp threw the final latch and gave a good, experienced kick to the hatch. It fell open with singular ease. Collectively they felt the strong blast of hot, dingy air, saw the ruddy colored fog and dulled, diffuse light, and heard the whistle of the wind across the open hatch. No one made a movement or a sound -- at least no sound above the background's low roar.
Finally Mike carefully moved to the hatch, hoisted his legs through, and then sat on the rim. Ducking his head, he tried to look out.
As quickly, he was back in. "Can't see a fucking thing." Then, with one arm attached to a handhold, he lowered his body on through. His body extended, he tried for force a smile. Letting go of the handhold, he dropped another half foot, his feet obviously on solid ground. Now smiling for real, "I'm happy to report that we are, apparently, still attached to the earth.”
A low, rumbling, hoarse laugh came from most everyone. A certain tension eased. Quietly they began to climb out, with Mike cautioning each to keep a hand on the enclave for both support and to ensure they knew exactly where the enclave was at all times. Each person noticed the roar of the wind overhead and the lesser currents darting about the enclave's exterior structure. Oxygen seemed either less in supply or masked by the dust, heat and wind.
Mike still had one hand on a structural member as many of the people had grown bored with the extremely limited view and started to crawl back into the enclave. He ignored the hot touch of the steel, thinking more of the security of holding onto the enclave. Momentarily he realized that, for the burial, everyone would have to be tied together and to the enclave. It would be so easy to get lost in this world.
Chapter One -- Diverse Lives
Chapter Three -- A World in Chaos
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]