...Continued from Part 1
After Doug's announcement, everyone entered their best wishes. The mood was very gloomy as to the outcome after the objects would strike. It was still cold outside, about zero. Doug noticed that he was soaked in sweat. A cold sweat. He removed his shirt, and pulled out a spare sweater that he kept in the observatory closet. He popped some food in the microwave and poured himself a drink of orange juice. While he was eating, his mind was racing on what to do…
President Mark Swanson notified all the Heads of State in the world at the same time. Basically, he passed on the statement that he had received from the four astronomers. What happened after that, was as expected. Panic occurred in some areas. And relative calm in others. In the Philippines and other islands in the South Pacific, the only thing to do was go to higher ground, or ride it out in larger, seagoing vessels. Indonesia and New Guinea had higher ground; many of the smaller islands did not. Singapore prepared better than most cities, making use of its large buildings as shelters. The government of Vietnam ordered everyone to find ground 1000 feet or more above sea level. The masses traveling inland to find such higher ground were immense, clogging the roadways and rivers like one mass migration of all humanity. Countries like Australia and Japan were well prepared. Taiwan had high ground, but a dense, largely unprotected population. Much of China's coastal area population from Hong Kong to Shanghai moved inland or chose high-rise buildings as a refuge of last resort.
Al Jazeera blamed the Christians for what was about to happen to Iran and the surrounding countries. There was heated rhetoric about a nuclear strike by Pakistan and Iran against Israel for setting up such a scenario of panic for their countries. Young people, tuned into the Internet, took the lead and informed their elders of the truth that there was no Christian Israeli cabal designed to destroy the Arab World, but there was a real, and immediate danger that should be dealt with logically. The truth prevailed, but the rush of people to leave the potential strike zone was so great that thousands were losing their lives every hour in the milieu of traffic headed north towards Russia in the dead of winter.
Once again, Doug got on the phone. He called Marcy first. “Hi girl, it's me. I'm about to come down off the ridge, but I'm afraid it's bad news. The object that Angela found is definitely going to strike the Earth, and there will be multiple strikes, so we must prepare. We have only about thirty-six hours to get everything ready. I'll be there in a little bit. In the meantime, I'm going to call Julie and see if I can get them up here. Bye now.”
Next, he called Julie. “Hi girl, it's me, Dad. It's worse than I thought. At least three pieces of this object that Angela discovered are going to hit the Earth. It's very bad. I want you to come up here on the mountain with us so we can face it all together. We'll have protection in my shelter.”
“Oh Dad. It's Christmas and we're at the Fosters. Can't this wait? The Fosters won't go anywhere.”
“Put Dave on.”
“Okay, but I don't see what good that'll do.”
“Hi Doug. What's happening?”
“I'm calling because the world is about to experience a disaster it hasn't experienced in a very long time. I need you and Julie and Angie to come home here with us when this disaster strikes on Christmas Day.”
“What disaster? There haven't been any earthquakes and I haven't seen anyone panicking. We are having a wonderful time here with my parents.”
“If the President hasn’t already announced it, several pieces of a large asteroid or comet will be hitting the Earth about 2 pm on Christmas Day. There are likely to be earthquakes and mass panic in the California cities like Los Angeles and San Diego. I need for you to take your parents and come here as soon as possible. If you don't start now, the roads will be impassable with others trying to get away.
“I'm sorry. Foster's rules. No television. No cell phones. Nothing to upset our festive holiday spirit. I wouldn't have picked up the phone if Julie hadn't. I'll tell Dad right away. Dad has his corporate jet, maybe we can take that.” David flipped on the television set and it was buzzing with news of the disaster. He ran to the kitchen where his mother and father were preparing lunch for them.
“Mom! Dad! I just heard from Doug in Colorado. It's bad news! He says that a meteor or comet, is going to strike the Earth and we have to leave here."
Bob Foster was skeptical until he watched the news for about three or four minutes. News helicopters were showing gridlock on all the major freeways between San Diego and LA. There were many notices telling people what to do locally and flashes from around the world showing panic and anarchy everywhere. The National Guard in every state had been called up but only about 10% of the troops were reporting and looting had become epidemic with storeowners having shootouts with looters. Bob looked at Mary. Mary looked at David. David called Julie in from the other room to see what was happening on the television. They all came to the same conclusion. They had to get out of there—now!
Julie tried to call Doug back but got a fast busy, all the circuits and alternates were tied up. Everyone was on the phone, worldwide. She wouldn't get through until hours later, although she tried. Julie e-mailed instead. "We are coming!" But her e-mail was bounced back. Things were serious.
They were packed in an hour. Their best winter outdoor and survival gear. Julie and Angela were the least prepared because all of their things were in LA. David had things in the house from his college days and he could fit in his father's clothes. Winter clothes were stressed because of the Rocky Mountain weather. They put everything in Bob Foster's H1 Hummer and headed for the pier. They would have preferred taking a helicopter, and Bob tried. When he finally did get through to the shuttle service, it was booked solid for two days.
The Hummer had only 2000 miles on it. Bob and Mary hadn't had time to do much of any off-roading with it since Bob bought it in 2001. Fortunately, he had kept the H1 in good running condition. Before they left, Bob armed everyone with a pistol and he and David rode up front with shotguns. They locked and shuttered everything as best they could at the house, knowing that it still may not be intact when they got back. Finally they left. Rocky, the Fosters' eight-year-old golden retriever, joined Julie, Mary, and Angie in the backseat.
As they left the deathly quiet wealthy neighborhood, and passed through the wide-open gate to the community, Bob was shocked to see that no guard was minding the gate. He had never seen that before in 15 years of living there. In ten minutes they saw it, I-5, the San Diego Freeway, gridlocked completely and not moving in either direction. Traffic was backed up from the freeway for a quarter-mile in their direction. Bob stopped the truck at the end of the line, got out and went to talk to some of his neighbors also stuck in the line, going nowhere. Dave explained that even if they could drive on the sidewalk or esplanade, they wouldn't be able to cross the frontage road or take the underpass because it was jammed with people in and out of cars. They could wave their guns and push cars out of the way, but that would only lead to mayhem and maybe gun battle. Everyone was getting discouraged when Bob came back.
"Listen,” Bob said, “I talked to a couple of the guys I know who are in the same boat as we are. I know this area pretty well, and we can go off road about a half mile back, and, make it over to El Cerrito Creek. From there, we can drive down the creek to the three concrete bridges under the frontage roads and I. -5. It won't be easy, but I think we can make it and I know there isn't any other option other than walking and it would take us about 10 hours to walk to the pier, facing, I don't know what kind of obstacles. Once we get to the beach, I know all the little shortcuts and side drives that can get us to the pier."
With that, Bob made a U-turn and soon there are about 10 cars and SUVs following behind them. The Hummer was the perfect vehicle to break the trail. They went off road at a relatively level spot and the grinding, bumpy run to the creek began through brush that occasionally had to be pulled off the front of the Hummer, tall grass, and sometimes, steep and rocky terrain. It didn't take long for the vehicles following to fall behind. Fortunately, the winter rains hadn't fully set in yet, and El Cerrito Creek only occasionally had more than 2 or 3 inches of water in it. The Hummer made good progress downhill toward the beach. When they passed under the frontage roads and freeway bridges at about 10 miles an hour with lights flashing and their horn honking to move the people hanging out from under the bridge, the crowds waiting there cheered them on because they were moving when everything else was stopped. The H1 hit the beach and Bob turned left. No one was following. They hoped that some of the others had made it too, but there was no knowing.
Angela declared, “Wow, Mommy, that was fun. Where are we going and why is Grandpa driving so fast?”
“We are going to Grandpa Doug and Grandma Marcy’s.” Julie held her tight as they bounced along, volunteering no more.
“Good, I can see my cross again. I hope it’s still there.”
They encountered a few people on the beach, refugees from the freeway, but no one in their right mind was going to stay there. In a half-hour, taking beach roads and going off road to get around stalled cars, they finally made it to the entrance of the pier. A guard was still there, with a gun holding off a large crowd of people trying to get out on the pier. The mob at the gate reluctantly parted when they saw the show of guns and heard the power of the Hummer working its way through them. The brush on the front of the truck helped because being poked by spiny brush was no fun.
Finally, after what seemed like forever with the windows up against the angry onlookers, Bob held up his pass and the guard opened the gate. As they drove through, several people burst through the opening with them and started running down the pier. The guard closed the gate behind them, and then began running after the people running up ahead, shooting his gun. Most of the people running on the pier stopped, but five in the lead continued. Bob caught up with them easily and yelled at them to turn back, pointing his shotgun at them. When they didn't respond, he leveled a shot in front of three of them that tore holes in the wooden pier. The runners stopped in their tracks. In a couple of minutes, Bob caught up with the lead two, ordered them to stop, and had to shoot to stop them, too. "Stop! Go back! You are private property!" Bob yelled.
The lead runner, a handsome young man in his 20s, his hands on his knees, gasping for breath, angrily responded. "No, we are not. I am an off duty police officer. We are commandeering your boats to get us to safe haven before the meteorites come. There is no private property anymore. We just want to live!"
Bob tried to explain to the man and his companion that being in a boat was not safe and he had to go inland, but it was lost in the guy's panic. The guard caught up with them, Bob signaled for him to jump on the back of the Hummer and he did. Bob drove off, careful not to lose the guard but wanting to lose the crowd behind.
Thanks to the guard's diligent work, their 27-foot Catalina was still in its berth. No one was there guarding the rest of the boats. The service people at the fishing shop were all gone. They quickly gathered their stuff and threw it onto the sailboat. Bob checked the diesel level and there wasn't enough to make it on the engine alone but there wasn't time to refuel. They had to push off now! As they cast off from the dock, the guard was nowhere in sight. And then they saw him, heading off to the south in a powerboat. They hoped he'd make it.
Just after they pushed off, the crowd had arrived at the boats and many were eagerly commandeering them. Bob and Dave hoisted the sails, having motored into good winds to tack to the island. It was cold, but the sun was bright and helped warm them. Mary had been stoic through it all. But Julie shed a tear for the guard and the others left behind. She could still hear the yelling from the boats being loaded and fights breaking out over taking them. And she had to answer Angie's questions, like, "What are those men yelling about? Can't you tell them to shut up? And what are you crying for, Mommy?"
"I'm crying because we are safe, for now, Baby. We're safe."
"Yes Mommy, we are on Grandpa's boat and Rocky and I like it. And don't call me Baby. I'm six years old and a big girl. Aren't I, Rocky?" She patted Rocky and got his loving acceptance.
Two hours later the winter sun was setting; the beautiful sunset gave no hint of what was to come. They made port on San Clemente Island a half hour after sunset. They had sailed the entire way so there was still some fuel left in the boat if they ever returned for it and it would still be there, tied off with 100 foot of slack rope to ride out any surges.
Three hours earlier, many helicopters had come and gone and the island was abuzz with activity, but now it was all quiet on the airstrip. Most of those that had arrived had flown off to various destinations around the world. Big names. Powerful people. Hollywood stars. Bob Foster was among the lower echelon with his used Gulfstream 3. Although Bob used a hired pilot from time to time, none were available. This time, he had to fly himself. David had been with him many times, so he could stand in as a copilot even though he had not been formally trained to fly the plane. It seemed strange with no one around to help them, but the plane was securely locked up in its hangar, everything was in order, and fuel was available to fill the tanks even though there was no one to pay for the services.
It seemed strange not to file a flight plan, but when Bob got on the radio to LA Center, the traffic was so bad he couldn't raise anyone above the chatter. He cranked up the engines, and, as they took off and rapidly gained altitude towards the east, the last fiery remnants of the sunset to the west briefly reappeared and then died out again. Ahead, lay the lights of the coast, clearly visible in the clear air. There were considerably fewer lights from Bob's memory of many flights this way before. But there were enough to give visual reference to the land, allowing him to fly safely without instruments toward the Rocky Mountains. His radar, however, was filled with planes and helicopters both large and small. More than he had ever seen on the screen in high traffic areas. Bob set his altitude and direction carefully, trying to avoid crossing paths with any of them. All he needed now was a close call to scare everyone on the plane.
Soon, everyone was asleep except David, and he was nodding in and out. The scary events of the day had worn everybody out and the food that Mary passed around before they took off was digesting. Bob was fully awake and fully aware that he was in dangerous territory and only his constant attention would get them to Colorado safely. Bob kept a close eye on the radar because anything closing at 600 mph would be hard to avoid if he didn't see it early enough. Still, he could see flashing red lights of other aircraft all over in the sky above and below him. Bob felt like a flight controller at a busy airport. Adrenaline kept him from dozing off.
Two hours later, over the Rockies, traffic was much lighter and Bob felt much better. They were 15 minutes away from Antelope Airpark Airport on Lake George, only 40 miles from their destination. David had lost the battle with sleep an hour earlier. Bob checked the radio, it was clear. "93CO, do you read? This is Gulfstream 4Q968, light, from San Clemente on final approach. Do you read?"
"This is 93CO. We read you loud and clear. Runway A is clear of snow and ice and lit for your arrival. You've got some folks here on the ground waiting nervously the last four hours for you. We are crowded, but will find a warm hangar to squeeze you in. Welcome to Colorado."
Bob breathed a sigh of relief. "Wake up everybody! We're almost here! Get your seatbelts on for landing." It was only 9 pm MST, but it felt much later. Bob was ready for some sleep himself.
Julie quickly got on the telephone and was pleased when Marcy answered at the airport below. "How did you know that we'd be coming here?"
"Woman's intuition. Douglas wanted us to wait at Fairplay, but I knew you'd be coming here. He forgot that time, six years ago, when the Fosters flew you in with your new baby, Angela. Only women remember those things." Marcy smiled, happy that she was right, once again.
The landing went well as could be expected on a rural airstrip. The runways were long on the flat by the lake and Bob needed every bit of it to haul the jet down on the snowy surface. There were hugs and tears all around. And the good folks at Antelope Airpark saw to it that the Gulfstream was neatly tucked into a hangar already packed with light planes and helicopters. They had to load their suitcases on the top of the AWD hybrid and then squeeze seven of them into the five passenger seats. They managed and were soon on their way to Doug and Marcy's. It was night and there was still a lot of snow from the earlier storms, but with all the weight and the white snow banks on either side, Doug made good time on the way home.
An hour later Doug made an announcement. "Hey you guys, I've got to make a stop at the Bearclaw Ranch. They already know you're coming and Lillian has a hot meal prepared. I've already made some plans and I want you guys all in on it so we can begin work bright and early tomorrow morning getting ready for the worst case. You remember old Jackass Pete's mine in Bearclaw Mountain, don't you, Julie?"
"Yes Dad, we used to play there until you forbid us going in. We snuck in any way. That was quite a layout."
"It sure was. Grandpa Charlie Bearclaw got worried in the 1950s with all the missile silos going up all around that there would be a nuclear strike in this part of the continent. Like many others, he built a fallout shelter. Only this shelter is in Jackass Pete's played out silver mine. That's one reason why I didn't want you kids going in there and wrecking the place hanging around. Also, deep in the mine, there's a lot of water—good freshwater from springs—and I was afraid you kids would drown if you fell in."
"Anyway, after the economic downturn in 2008, George and I got to thinking, that maybe we needed to develop a place for us to go if things got tough. Well, we have been gradually building up the place, with emergency power and the option of wind and solar power, if available. Lots of food stocks and other supplies for more than a year if need be. I just didn't know we would need it so quickly or so badly. So, there's still more to be done. That's why we're stopping at the Bearclaw's tonight, to plan what we're going to do before those meteors strike."
Bob, now sleeping in the back seat with Mary on his lap, didn't hear, but David in the front seat with Julie couldn't believe what he heard. "Doug, I thought we were all coming here to die, and now you tell me that you've got a way we can survive this? Who would've thought? Not only did I marry the best girl in the world, I got the best Dad in the bargain. I can't wait to see this place."
"You will, Dave. You will..." Doug could smile in the face of what they were up against. It was a guarded smile.
The Bearclaw ranch house was all lit up in Christmas lights and gave a very festive air to their otherwise gloomy prospects. While they ate a hearty meal of elk meat, Doug laid out his plans to George, Charles, Bob, David, and the others. There was no time to waste. They had to get everything they were going to get into the mine before 2 pm on Christmas Day, only a day and a half away. In the middle of their plans, they heard some shots. Everyone grabbed guns and went to the front veranda to see what was going on. Out on the road, about a quarter-mile away, they saw three pickups with young guys in them, yelling and shooting guns. Thankfully, those pickups didn't turn up the drive to the ranch, but continued on the main road.
As they returned to the planning table, George muttered, "Damn young bucks! It's those Yearwood and Skinner boys up to no good. Hope to hell they'll stay away from here. We'll have to shoot!" A look of disgust came over his face, one not often seen on the gentle giant.
"Well, we'll have to board everything up just in case they do come back after we're gone. Most folks around here won't mess with other people's things. But those guys are different, especially when they get all liquored up." Doug sighed. One more thing to worry about.
There was no sleeping now, that would have to wait until they were all safely in the mine and they had new bedding to sleep on. Lillian put Angela and Luke, 4, to bed in Maria's room. While Derek, 16, John, 14, and Maria, 11, stayed up to help the adults get packed. They split up: Doug, Marcy, and Julie drove back to their house, about 2 miles away, to close it up and bring everything they needed from there. They were in with the AWD pulling a trailer by 3 am. It was a warm night, about 0°F, and they didn't see anyone on the road—a good sign.
It was about a mile and a half on a ranch road from the barn to the base of Bearclaw Mountain and the mine entrance. They took the snowmobiles and broke ground and followed with a tractor pulling a sledge loaded with supplies and household furnishings. By 4 am they were at the mine and George was removing the padlock. It took a few minutes to get the generator working and they had the mine lit up. The living quarters were about 100 yards from the entrance in an area where the mine widened out and branched off in three directions. From there, there were pipes leading to the surface, for air, generator exhaust, and cables leading to the solar panels and wind mills mounted on the mountain above. Everything was backed up. They had enough candles to burn for a year if the electricity went out altogether. By shelter or bunker standards, they had an ideal setup, thanks to Grandpa Bearclaw's original shelter and the hard work put in since 2008. They doubted that the President of the United States had it any better. They didn't have to worry about heating and cooling because the mine maintained a 55° temperature year-round without heating and cooling. Warm sweaters and boots and blankets at night would suffice without fire. In the deeper reaches of the mine it warmed up considerably to about 80°. The water in the mine was crystal clear and cool. They had to make great effort to keep it from becoming contaminated. Bathing was permitted, but toileting had to be done in a vented branch passage 100 yards or more from the main living area.
The Army Corps of Engineers had sealed the mine back in the 1930s against the wishes of Grandpa Bearclaw. He dug through the rubble the Army had covered the entrance with and build a strong wooden beam entry with a wooden door. Doug and George had replaced the wooden door with a steel one with locks on both sides making it very difficult for anyone to break in unless they had a cutting torch. They built it with the idea they would never have to worry about someone forcing entry. With all of the utilities, including antenna, hidden up on the slope of the mountain by carefully placed trees and boulders, they hope that vandals would never compromise their contact with the outside.
The entire next day was spent making trips back to the ranch and to Doug and Marcy's house. Each time they boarded things up more and brought back more supplies for the mine. By evening on Christmas Eve they had a little celebration in the mine and sang Christmas carols. It only lasted about an hour because there was more work to do. The hard decision was what animals to bring. They set up a corral in a branch shaft just off the living quarters and brought in four goats for milk and to eat. They also brought in two cows for milk and meat that they would have to slaughter within the first year. Hay and grain filled up the whole end of that short shaft where the corral was. A dozen chickens filled out the menagerie in the mine. George's old border collie, Duke, joined Rocky, along with a couple of kittens in case they were mice in the mine. Doug hoped they had thought of everything, but kept bringing more food and supplies because they didn't know how much they would need for how long. Finally, well after midnight on Christmas Eve, everyone slept, and slept well.
At dawn they left the mine for the last time and headed back to the barn where George kept a few horses and cattle through the winter. They said their goodbyes to the animals, provided them with a lot of food and water and left the stalls so they could easily break out. They did the same for the entrances to the barn, sealing it off while making it possible for the animals to escape on their own once their food and water ran out. This was hardest for George to do because these animals were his lifeblood and he knew every one of them very well and didn't want to leave any of them behind.
John and Maria kept asking, "Dad, can we keep Trixie. She won't eat much and she is so old she can't fend for herself on her own. There is room for her, isn't there?" There was a lot of room in the mine, but animals could be a liability they couldn't afford. Sadly, George had to let them down. Older animals had to be sacrificed in favor of younger ones that could live longer and reproduce. In the end, George decided to kill three of his oldest horses and four of his oldest cows. One horse, Red, George had raised from a colt and had been his main ride for 17 years. With tears in his eyes, he led the animals out of the barn a short distance and shot them, one by one. Old Red was the last to die. He was lame, and gave George that one last sorrowful look before he died. George forbid the kids from watching, but they heard the gunshots. George had to get Derek to help him gut and skin the cows. The skins were hung in the barn; the guts were placed where the chickens could get at them except for the hearts and livers. The cow carcasses were dragged up by the mine and covered with snow to freeze. The horses were left for scavengers. It took them all morning to get that bloody task done. They made sure that the water from the cistern, fed from runoff from the barn roof trickled freely into watering places for all the animals. Body heat from the animals kept the barn warm and the cistern from freezing.
Finally, after securing all the vehicles in the barn and covering them up as much as possible to help preserve them, they took the tractor and sledge back to the mine one more time where they erected a shelter for the tractor that would hopefully preserve it and brought two snowmobiles, full of gas, inside the mine with them at the entrance, in case they had to leave while there was still snow.
The kids went outside and slid down the mountain and played in the snow while Doug set up his computer equipment and connected it to the antenna inside the mine. Once connected, they had both television and computer, beamed from the satellites, although the picture wasn't good. Part of the world was still in panic trying to get to some place they felt was safe, yet not sure where that was. Looting had completely wiped out the stores of most warehouses and retail outlets worldwide. Fires were burning everywhere from people who had set them to cover their looting. Various groups were offering solutions for how to survive at tremendous prices. Chaos ruled and many thousands had already died.
Governments and the news media were reporting all this in some kind of grotesque dance to the End of the World that some were predicting. Any number of news reporters had decided that they would be martyrs and be on the scene, broadcasting whenever, or whatever happened. Doug tried to reach his buddies, but communications were so jammed or disabled that he was only able to reach Allen. The others surrounded Doug in rapt attention.
"Allen, so glad to reach you, Mate. How are things down under?"
"I'm still watching the damn things. They're coming so fast it's driving me crazy. Puky's predictions are spot on. It's really hard for me to turn my eyes away from watching them. The comet tail alone is tremendous, stretching more than a million miles. Are you seeing it, Mate?"
"Yes, Allen, I'm watching as I'm talking to you on the side panel from Hubble—fascinating! The way they are tumbling and turning in the close-ups makes me think they are alive. It really is a wondrous time we live in. To think that we are participating in something that only happens once in a few million years. On the other hand, if we are annihilated, all of this history and knowledge will be lost until some future archaeologists find us like some old dinosaur bones."
"Oh, Doug, don't be so pessimistic. Look at it like we Kiwis do—always on the upside. You know, Mate. Cheers, have a beer. Everything will be better tomorrow. I'm having a beer right now in the bunker we built in case of air strikes during WWII. Got me wife and a few mates. And enough provisions to last a year or two. How about you?"
"I've got my family and a good friend's family here in an old silver mine with provisions for more than a year, maybe three, like Puky predicted. It's on my neighbor, George Bearclaw's property, but we are like kinfolk, so we worked together to create this shelter."
"It pays to have good friends at a time like this, mate. The last time I talked to Puky, he said he was going to go it alone. His family had a shelter built a few years ago in case the Pakistanis and Indians got in a nuclear war. But Puky decided to stay in his observatory and report what he saw to the last minute. I sure hope it won't be his last minute, because he predicts that second object to fly over Nepal at low altitude and very high speed."
"If not deadly, it will be a mystical experience, I'm sure. I'm content to view it from the Internet like everybody else. Unlike everybody else, I'm sure we are much safer here in the mountain than most of humankind, caught out in the open with no place to hide. I'm sure the President and much of the United States government has a place I like us. And there is some hint in the news, after his last pronouncement a few hours ago, that he has gone into seclusion with his family and Cabinet. We'll see."
"I know that our Prime Minister and Parliament have had a shelter for some time. But, much of our population has little or no protection except many caves, and I don't know if anyone is using those. I do know that many ships have set sail to ride out any tsunamis created by the impacts. I don't know why, but I can't wait to see what happens."
"Me either. That's a macabre thought. We may be waiting for the world to end. And here we are, excited to see it happen. Weird. I guess we humans are addicted to danger. I bet that everyone that still has reception is tuned in to television or their computers like we are. That's really weird."
A new picture popped on the screen. It was Arni! "Hey there, Doug and Allen, it's me. I finally got through. After the President of the United States made that announcement, none of my uplinks worked, even though I've got the most sophisticated equipment in the world. When all the channels got jammed, there was no getting through anymore. Are you all prepared? We've got a bunker here and moved our celebration there. I'm up here at the observatory until I have to leave... pretty soon."
"We're fine. I'm an old silver mine here in Colorado with my family and friends."
"And I'm in a bunker here beneath the observatory with me wife, Mate. Yes, it's time you have to get back to your family. Have you been watching?"
"Have I been watching? I told everybody that the Christmas celebration would have to wait while I kept track of this thing. I've got some of the youngsters with me, helping me keep track." A bunch of kids stuck their faces in the camera, smiling and waving.
"Just another outing for the kids. Ours are outside playing in the snow. It won't be long before I have to call them back in. Don't get caught there, Arni. Those young ones are going to have to put the world back together after we're gone. If Puky was wrong in his prediction, objects could be arriving early and catch you."
"You're right, we're leaving. You all take care now and hold onto whatever you've got. I'll check with you on the other side if I'm still here. Godspeed everyone. Over and out." Arni's Skype picture clicked off just the way it had clicked on.
There wasn't much time left, less than 20 minutes. Doug told Julie to go get the kids. The image he was seeing on the screen wasn't nice. The objects were tumbling at a faster rate and growing larger by the second, horrifying to view, but he was still transfixed on them. Mesmerized by them.
Puky was working feverishly to finish on time. Soon after President Swanson revealed to the world that danger was descending upon everyone. He felt that he had to get his message out regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, the Indians and Chinese had nearly 4 billion cell phones and other devices, quickly jamming the stationary satellites that were their primary access to the rest of the world. That was why Doug and the others couldn't get through to Puky, too.
But Puky had a workaround. He had a long-standing association with NASA that allowed him to reach the satellites and Hubble telescope through private channels. But that was the easy part. The hard part was what he had been struggling with—getting the ion beam set up to do what he wanted it to do. Puky had been working with an ion beam in an effort to communicate with extraterrestrials for several years, ten to be exact. Over that time, the beam had gone out to the closest stars, but it was the ones 30 and 40 light-years out that interested him. There were stars in that range that had many planets, with more possibility for intelligent life. Life that could detect the ion beam as coming from an intelligent source.
Puky's struggle was to get the ion beam to focus on the ionosphere over the Pacific Ocean where the first large objects were scheduled to pierce the Earth's atmosphere. Where everybody would be looking. Finally, with only 15 minutes remaining, Puky got the carriage under the ion beam to move in the patterns that he and fed into the computer. Quickly, he turned on the motors and let the computer control the process while he watched through a low-power telescope the sky to the east over the Pacific. Within a minute, Aurora Borealis begin to appear in the normal green, spelling out a message: "Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All." The message began to reappear in other languages: Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu, Farsi, and so on until the sky was filled with many images of the same message in many languages.
Once the process was underway and working, Puky overlaid the images being streamed from NASA with the same message in bright red in many languages. When he saw that his message was working, Puky relaxed and watched the show. His brother and the rest of the family were safely in a bunker somewhere in a nearby mountain. Puky wasn't going to be there and miss the show. From his observatory, he would have a first-hand view. No, he wasn't going to miss it for the world.
"I'll be damned!" Doug shouted just as the children arrived back in the safety of the mine and the protective shields had been placed over the sensitive solar panels, antennas, air vents and wind turbines above on the outside. "He did it! Will you look at ... look at that! Sorry kids, but your grandpa's excited. Look at what Puky has done. He sent a message to the world. Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All. What a wonderful message to send to everyone."
Everyone sat, mesmerized, watching the television and monitors. One could imagine billions around the Earth, some in safe quarters, most in not, watching on their televisions, smart phones, computers, and reading devices that huge collection of smashed comet and asteroid hurtling towards the Earth at a unimagined speed. At precisely 2:50 pm MST NASA began a five minute count down for the first impact. Time crawled as the seconds ticked off, 1001... 1002... 1003. Finally the last 10 seconds arrived... 1010... 1009... 1002... 1001
There was a flash that filled the entire screen on what just had been the blue sky over the Pacific. The flash disappeared into a cloud and cameras that were still operating after the initial shock wave from as far away as New Zealand and Australia and the Aleutians caught a giant splash more than 1000 feet high traveling at more than 10,000 miles an hour that rolled over the all of Southeast Asia. The backsplash took less than 10 minutes to reach the Pacific coast of the United States, sloshing over the coastal mountains and filling the Central Valley with water. Only those that had climbed to Mount Kilauea and hid in the lava caves at high altitude survived the wave at Hawaii. No one in the Philippines and very few in Indonesia survived.
Very few of the ships that set sail to try to ride out the tsunami survived because most were capsized by rogue waves hundreds of feet high. The few cameras on the Pacific Rim that survived the shock waves and the tsumnis captured huge icebergs floating near Vietnam, icy remnants, part of the huge comet. The rest of the collection of debris was flying by leaving long trails stretching thousands of miles behind. Fortunately, the Moon was on the opposite side and was not hit by the thousand or more pieces of the comet and asteroid. Many small pieces were streaking across the sky and burning up or bouncing off the atmosphere like rocks skipping on the surface of the lake.
As predicted, a huge solid chunk burned past Nepal, India, and Pakistan and slammed into Iran, dead center. Cameras there and from space picked up a shock wave that traveled around the world several times. The initial heat of the wave scorched everything for 1000 miles in every direction. Debris from the impact initially landed over 1000 miles away and some of it reached the stratosphere. An impact crater 5 miles across was left smoldering in what had been the center of the country of Iran.
Three minutes later, as predicted, a smaller, but still deadly solid chunk of iron and nickel slammed into Jerusalem, scorching the area into northern Syria, northern Egypt, all of Palestine, Israel and Lebanon. The resulting tsunami in the Mediterranean affected all areas with hundred foot waves all the way to Spain and North Africa as far as Morocco. Mounts Etna, Vesuvius, and other Mediterranean volcanoes became violently active and spewed fire and brimstone on the Holy Father's Christmas mass. The Great Rift Valley shifted and all of the volcanoes along its path began erupting. Earthquakes accompanied these eruptions, making everyone in bunkers unsafe as well.
Finally, when almost every piece of the string of pearls had passed the Earth, a final chunk of ice exploded over Spain and landed in the Eastern Atlantic, creating a tsunami that washed over Britain, most of France and reached the eastern seaboard of the United States at 60 feet high.
And so it was with that series of blows from the hand of God, all of the religious centers of the Earth, from Bali, to Angor Watt, all along the Ganges River and the coast of Arabia, the shrines and sepultures of Judea and Rome, all of the mosques from Egypt to Morocco, and all of the magnificent temples and cathedrals built by the hand of man along every coast on this planet called Earth, ceased to exist.
Remarkably, cameras in space and on the ground captured most of this in real time. The shock of it was over in fifteen minutes. The tsunamis took about two hours to stop sloshing up against distant shores. Earthquakes and volcanoes erupting lasted hours, days, and months more. The rains, caused by ice that had instantly turned to steam and water vapor from the comet, lasted 40 days and 40 nights. And, finally, all the debris and sulfurous gases in the air did not clear out for three years, turning the whole planet colder, bringing on a tiny ice age, where snow fell year-round and didn't melt and the polar ice caps and glaciers grew by miles each year because temperatures in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres never rose above freezing until the sun finally broke through.
Doug and the others watched it all in rapt attention. It was like a movie of apocalyptic proportions that had become all too real. The shock wave from the second object had knocked out television reception, but their G5 connection to the satellites overhead still operated. It was amazing that these satellites were still working, allowing world communication to continue. Shortly after the blasts, news media appeared from those news sources, largely in places like southern Australia, Argentina, and Finland that were still on the Internet.
As soon as the shock waves had passed, Doug checked the conditions outside from remote sensors he had placed at the entrance to the mine. The temperature outside was elevated, 80°F, on Christmas day, the air quality was very bad, showing high concentrations of sulfur, carbon and other elements normally not in the air. Doug wanted to know if there were any television stations still operating, so he decided to go outside. To protect himself, Doug donned a wet suit and oxygen tank that he had used for skin diving. Instead of flippers, he put on his winter boots. It was awkward with the oxygen tank, but he felt it necessary given the conditions outside. Goggles were also a necessity to keep his eyes from being scratched by volcanic ash in the air.
Doug cautioned the others to stay away from the entrance when he left and not to come out after him if he did not come back right away. Fortunately, Doug had some old walkie-talkies and took one of them with him to communicate with David and the others inside. As he opened the entrance to the mine, dust and dirt rolled in, so he moved outside quickly and closed the door behind him. What he found outside was strikingly different from what had been before. Most of the pristine white snow had melted and what was left was with a yellowish brown coating of dust. The sky was also thickly clouded with the yellowish colored clouds allowing very little of the late afternoon sun through, creating a weird half-light as though near sunset in a fog bank.
Doug clambered up the steep slippery slope to where the instruments came up from the mine below. The satellite dish that had been pointed toward the television satellite had been knocked over by one of the shock waves. Doug straightened it while on the walkie-talkie with David, George, and Bob below, until they got good TV reception. Doug then removed the protective shields from the two vertical wind vanes and got them spinning in the wind that was picking up. He left the solar panels covered with canvas because it didn't look like there would be any sun for some time. By that time he was getting very hot in the wet suit and glad that his work was nearly over. Doug turned and started down the mountain. From this vantage point, he could see some flattened buildings on George's ranch. He could also see some fires in the distance, the smoke adding to the dark yellowish pall of the sky. He slid down the mountain to the entrance. The carcasses outside the entrance had lost most of their snowy protection. Doug noted that the melting snow had kept them frozen and coated with ice. Surmising that the air would turn cold again very soon, he hoped that they would stay frozen. Just before he opened the door to reenter the mine, it started to rain, dirty rain. "Good," Doug thought, "rain will clear out the dust in the air." He was wrong.
Doug was glad to get back in the mine and out of that hot wet suit. Carrying the oxygen tank was not easy either, but he was glad that he didn't breathe the chemical laced abrasive air. The exposure he had to the danger outside was worth it because they now had wind power providing hydrogen for the fuel cells and lights to keep their dark home brighter during the day. They also had television and were surprised to find President Swanson on television reporting what he knew about the condition of the United States and the rest of the world. It was not a good picture. Of the 7 billion people on the Earth, barely 2 billion were estimated to have survived the shock waves, the heat, the earthquakes, and the tsunamis. Of those, only about 200 million had resources for long-term survival like the President's bunker and many others like it throughout the world.
Swanson's message to the world was one of cautious hope:
"My fellow citizens of this great planet we call Earth. If you are hearing or seeing me now you have survived the greatest disaster to befall humankind since the beginning of history. I can't imagine your loss. I can't imagine your suffering. It is beyond all understanding. I can only hope that you have prepared enough and have enough resources to last the troubled times which will follow. As president of one of the richest and most productive countries of the world before the disaster, I pledge that we will do everything in our power to replant and repopulate the Earth with as many species as we can. Fortunately, before this happened, there was a seed bank developed in Norway on the island of Spitsbergen, buried in a vault deep in a sandstone cavern that should help us replant food crops for the world. Unfortunately, most of our animals were lost. Those animals that have survived and have enough food and shelter to survive the months and years to come will be provided everything we can so they will reproduce and repopulate the globe. There is much work to be done, and I am counting on every one of you to help bring our world back to the beautiful place it was before this happened. Bless you all and goodbye for now."
The news reports went back to describing the disaster, focusing mostly on the rain that had become continuous throughout the globe, projected to last a very long time because of all the moisture in the air from the remains of the shattered asteroid and comet, now permanently named Angela-Beauregard 1, scheduled to return to this part of the solar system in 55,000 years, provided any of it survived passing the Sun. Shortly after that, as debris filled the atmosphere, first television, and then satellite telephone and Internet failed, leaving Doug and the others without communication, only hope.
The rain proved to be devastating. All of the water from the comet took 40 days to ring itself out of the atmosphere, taking with it most of the dust and debris from the lower atmosphere with it, and creating biblical floods in all low-lying areas that hadn't been hit by the tsumnis. People who did not leave their shelters in those areas near rivers or streams soon found them flooded and nearly impossible to leave. At the mine, it rained for a week before the rain turned to snow and temperatures dipped below freezing for the first time and never returned.
Life in the mine became a dark routine of rationing food, exercise, playing games with and without computers and teaching the children. Communication with others was impossible, Doug tried daily to pick up and sent signals to the satellites. He even rigged a camera outside so they could see the daily gloom and snowstorms, endless snowstorms. The big concern was psychological, averted by the routine and forced activity. Squabbles broke out, but didn’t last long. They knew they had to be patient.
Bob Foster succumbed to the gloom and dark first, becoming deeply depressed over losing everything he had, even the Gulfstream. One morning in June. Mary woke to find him dead of a coronary. “His heart just couldn’t take it,” she cried.
They buried Bob in an unused branch of the mine, promising Mary that they would bury him later in the Bearclaw cemetery on the ranch. Angela often asked in the months that followed, “Where’s Grandpa Bob? Is he back yet?” Mary had lied to her when she first asked that he had left the mine to the ranch on a mission.
Grandpa Charles Bearclaw was a light in their dark world. Every evening after their boring meal and chores, Grandpa Doug would light up the campfire on the big monitor and the children would sit around to listen to Grandpa Charles spin tales of Indian lore that were enchanting. Often, they were fables offering a life lesson. Charles’s memory of the days of his youth were endless, and each night the children had dreams of the wild and wonderful world he spun.
After the rain, the dust and debris in the stratosphere and ionosphere did not settle out so easily, blocking the sun and creating unbearable cold. In Midsummer, July 20 to be exact, Doug, George, Derek, Julie, and David launched an expedition to George's ranch to see if they could salvage anything. They picked that day because it was warm, about 0°F, and all they had to do was put on their winter clothing because the surface air, while still smelling of sulfur, was much cleaner and breathable than before with paper face masks. A tremendous amount of new snow had collected and covered the carcasses outside that were now frozen after being washed by all that rain. One had been recovered and butchered in March. It was time to butcher another.
They dug out and took the snowmobiles on the drifts of snow that were not as dirty as before to reach the barn and the farmhouse. A cloudless overcast, like the dark before a strong storm, cast an eerie gloom over the morning endless snow. The barn was partially caved in, probably from the shock waves. When they got inside, George cried. Half the horses were gone, just like they had arranged for them to escape. Of the six that were left, three were dead and the other three were emaciated. A few chickens were running around and they saw a couple of cats that came out, purring and looking for milk. They set about making sure that the animals had food and water again and decided to drag two dead and frozen cows back to the mine to the butchered. They didn’t want to eat the horses, but buried them outside the barn for insurance.
After seeing the dead animals, George and Doug decided to try to keep the two cows and goats in the mine alive as long as possible and eat the dead ones. They regretted not having any bulls to help reproduce the herd. George had put aside some frozen bull sperm so that hopefully, they could artificially inseminate any fertile cows left alive.
The farmhouse was piled high with snow, and had broken windows, but otherwise looked fairly good. They filled up the tanks of the snowmobiles and headed back to the mine, wary of breathing too much of the air. Another storm came over the mountain before they got back and they struggled to get what they had gathered back in the drifting snow. By nightfall it had dropped to 20° below zero again.
A long period of bitter cold and less snow ensued. Excursions outside the mine were brief and short. Doug’s outdoor camera froze. They couldn’t retrieve it. The wind turbines froze, too. It was a long, cold winter, but they persevered. There was nothing else to do but survive. Gradually spring came, and with it, warmer temperatures outside.
The following summer in July, they returned to the barn again. This time it was nearly covered with snow and the ranch house had become completely engulfed. The remaining animals were in better shape because there was enough food for them with so many missing. In the rafters, they spotted sparrows, pigeons, a barn owl and a red tailed hawk—a good sign. Those birds must've been coexisting with rats and mice because the chicken population, surviving mostly on grain and animal entrails, was stable with some young chicks seen being protected by their mother.
Occasionally, they heard the roar of avalanches on the higher slopes as the built up snow grew too heavy and released. The wind turbines had to be relocated and lubricated often because snowdrifts would build up around them and even with high winds they would stop turning and freeze up. They didn't know of any place on the earth that was free from the freezing temperatures and constant winter storms. Returning to the mine in September after a trip to the barn, it had already become bitterly cold, 60° below zero. In the dark distance, the party was disturbed to see a huge glacier descending from the nearby mountain range and headed their way. Another winter like the ones they'd been having and the glacier would reach them, forcing them to leave the mine.
The mine became more and more confining and squabbles over little things and dwindling supplies became more frequent. Everyone had cabin fever, so, whenever the weather would allow, they would put on their heavy clothing and head out into the dark and cold for a little exercise and relief. One by one, they dug up the carcasses outside the entrance to the mine and used a chain saw to cut it up. The constant source of beef from the carcasses enabled them to feed the dogs and keep the goats and cows alive for milk and cheese. Finally, in February of the second year, they got so tired of beef they killed a goat. No one ever thought that eating old goat would be welcome. Their stores of everything were dwindling. Strict rationing of their food had the children crying and everyone losing weight. Doug and Marcy took store and figured they only could last another year eating everything left in the mine and barn.
And then, a miracle happened. At the end of March, 825 days after the disaster, the sun came out, briefly, and then disappeared in clouds again. Each day, there was more sun, and reception over the Internet and television appeared, reporting what was happening all around the world. By May, the snow was melting and there were streams everywhere just outside the mine as all the snow melted and rushed down to the valleys, probably causing massive flooding downstream. Everyone in the mine came out and basked in the sun and began to have hope.
Muddy ground appeared beneath. Soon, grass was sprouting, followed by wildflowers. Magically, bees and butterflies appeared in the wildflowers. The grazing animals were set free. By June, everyone was out of the cave daily, working on the barn, gathering food wherever they could, mushrooms, wild leeks, cattails, and even some fish to go along with angleworms they fried for food. Primitive though it was, life was coming back to normal. The solar panels were uncovered and made active, increasing the power supply to the mine. They spent the following winter once again in the mine, but came out whenever they could while the sun was shining. The kids enjoyed sliding down Blearclaw Mountain and snowmobiling. The following spring, the families returned to George Bearclaw's ranch house and spent a month repairing it. They had no glass to replace the windows so they made do with lacquered paper and screens until they could get to town and get some glass.
The closest town, Rimrock, was in the path of the glacier and completely destroyed. In the barn, they got Doug's AWD hybrid running and used it to go up the road to Doug and Marcy's house. The house was flattened by the heavy snow and would take a lot to restore. Doug’s observatory had blown away by one of the shock waves and all that was left was the floor and some of the built-in furniture. Doug cried when he saw it, but vowed to rebuild and hoped he could find the telescope in the snow down the mountain and restore it.
Everywhere, there was work to be done. And they had to grow and gather food for the coming winter, still harsh under the circumstances. They salvaged all they could, and looked forward to the day when they could drive to the nearest town with hopes of finding someone alive there. There were other people alive in Colorado, but not many. Some were military or with the government and some, like Doug and George, had made preparations and were able to survive. Others had made preparations too, but still did not survive. Word was, from the United States government, that of those that survived the initial disaster, only 50 million were still alive after three years of winter in the northern and southern hemispheres. The Internet proved to be an invaluable link for finding people, and before the following spring, they knew where their nearest neighbors were, over 200 rugged miles away near, Colorado Springs.
One winter night, while Doug was online gathering information from government sources, he got an email from Arni. Soon they were on Skype.
“How are you fairing?” Doug asked as Arni’s bearded face came on the screen.
“Not so well. We held out as long as we could, but we were starving when the sun came out. We lost five of our 25 family members before rescue reached us. The volcanoes were terrible. But we wouldn’t have made it if we hadn’t had hot water pools at the compound from the damned things.” He looked haggard and worn, prematurely gray from his ordeal. Doug was sure he looked thinner too, but not as bad.
Families from both sides of the screens gathered round and exchanged greetings. Doug brought up the sad news. “Near as I can tell, Arni, Allen and his wife didn’t make it. My contacts in New Zealand tell me that those 500 feet above sea level survived the tsunamis, but maybe they didn’t have enough heat or supplies to make it. Guess we’ll never know.”
“Probably not. We know what happened to Puky. He sure got in the last word. It’s a changed world, that’s for sure. We hope we all can get together before we get too old to travel. We’ll all have to travel a lot to pull the remains back together. Until then, let’s get together here, regularly, say once a week, and compare notes.”
“Sounds like a plan. We’re all for it.” Everyone clapped in agreement. They chatted for a couple of hours and signed off.
Fifty miles away was the little town of Preston Corners. George, Doug, David, and Derek made that drive on flood damaged road one spring day and found the town in shambles. They saw deer, antelope, hawks, ravens and eagles on the way, a good sign. And, coyotes and vultures in the town, scavenging on the bodies there. It was a humbling sight to see the bodies, some people they knew. But there were too many to bury. Better to leave that to the scavengers. They loaded the trailer with building supplies, including the glass they needed for the windows blown out, and headed back home to the only home they would have, the ranch house. Mary Foster, the stoic one, much older now from her experience, no longer thought of flying back to San Clemente. She would live out her lives here, in what was now, home. Charles Bearclaw, still active after all he had been through, proved invaluable for his survival skills and ability to teach the children how to live on the land. They all had become seasoned survivalists, ready to face the new world ahead.
A month later, Derek saw a military truck coming up the road, its horn honking and its lights flashing. He fired off a couple of shots to alert everyone. Two young men and a young woman emerged from the truck and ran on over to greet them all with hugs. Marcy broke out the wine she made and there was a big celebration that night. Angie, at 9 years old, a big girl now, matured far beyond her years, joined in and would lead the human race forward to recovery and the stars.
Birds could be heard singing in the twilight. As night fell over the mountain, the owl in the barn was hooting to its mate in the nest and wolves were heard howling their rallying call to hunt bison in the distance. Doug left the party with Angie to take in the warm night sounds and shimmering mantle of stars so close in the clear air you could almost touch them.
Angie exclaimed. “Look Grandpa! There’s a comet over Bearclaw Mountain!”
Douglas Beauregard so it clearly this time. He patted Angie gently on the shoulder as he watched the familiar sight set against the stars. His universe was in order. All was well.
My gratitude to Douglas W. Boucher for his contributions in making this story possible and correct regarding the danger of near Earth objects and editorial changes making the story better.
Copyright 2012 © Ronald W. Hull
4/4/12 Revised 4/27/12, 5/31/12