Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Transmat World: Episode 1
LunchReads™ Episode 1
Copyright 2011 Glen Hendrix
Jakarta, 2045 A.D.
The day the world we knew ended, Daniel Fulbright sat on the fifteenth floor balcony of the Aston Hotel gazing westward over the top of his laptop at a tropical urban landscape sipping iced tea. Occasional high-rises bracketed stretches of hazy green horizon blanched by humidity. He flung condensate off his fingers and dabbed a cloth napkin after each sip before using the keyboard. The smell of clove cigarettes drifted around the privacy wall.
Plans to shop locally during the morning traffic, meet his client during the lull before noon, close the deal on a solar retrofit of the BNI Tower, and get to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in time for the flight home were coming to fruition. All he had to do was throw bags in the rent car and drive to the airport.
He clicked the CNN button in the taskbar after going over the purchase order. Scientists assured everyone the asteroid Isadora would miss Earth by 80,000 kilometers; scary, but a miss. Apophis came close in 2036. Media hype caused people to give away worldly possessions and join cults in droves. An end-of-the-world-weary public was only mildly concerned this time.
The Aston was three red-orange towers, tallest forty floors, impaling a blue mid-afternoon sky. No chocolates on the pillow, but the Plaza Semanggi across the street offered good shopping. He found trinkets for the kids, nieces and nephews, and something more alluring for the wife. It would be her birthday soon. He mentally ran his fingers through her hair. Pool-blue eyes would lock on his and her upper lip would pucker to one side as she smiled. Daniel missed that smile. It would be good to be home. He’d call if it wasn’t 4:30 in the morning in Atlanta.
Sparse traffic murmured through lush cloverleaf landscaping beyond Plaza Semanggi. The interchange soon would find its voice and announce the afternoon rush hour with a hydrogen-powered roar. The street would be damp from their water vapor exhaust. The great white oval of the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium roof floated on an emerald carpet beyond the freeway. Sunda Strait, home of the volcano Krakatau, lay some 150 kilometers due west, and beyond that was the Indian Ocean.
His peripheral vision detected movement in the sky. He raised his hand to block the sun, and a bloated streak of fire and smoke poured out of his thumb headed straight for his crotch. Daniel watched with anxious awe as the glowing smudge slowly widened and disappeared below the horizon.
What a relief! It will probably burn up before it—
God’s camera flash went off, defining the arc of the Earth in stark black and white for an instant. A vacuum formed in the pit of Daniel’s stomach, as if he’d stepped off a ledge in pitch darkness. Eyes adapting, the initial flash was replaced by a glow that lit up the atmosphere. He could not see its source directly, but it grew until the sun seemed dim by comparison. A shadow line developed on tall buildings. Below the line buildings seemed dark, but he could still make out details. It only seemed dark in comparison to everything above the line, where buildings had become preternaturally bright. As Daniel watched, the bright portions of the buildings began to smolder.
He was on his feet, snapping shut the laptop, the tea a spreading abstract on the table. Perceptions now came through a lens of adrenaline, sharp and focused. A flaming sarong dropped past his patio, screams rising in tone and dropping like a train at a grade crossing. He cautiously stuck his head past the balustrade, looking up. Small bits of spalled stone and stucco pelted his face. The Hotel Aston above the twentieth floor was on fire.
He grabbed his laptop, ran into the room, scooped up bags, and opened the door in one continuous fluid motion. Scanning walls for a fire alarm, he ran down the hall to the elevator lobby, bag straps biting into his shoulder each time a foot hit carpet. A small crowd gave evidence the elevators were shut down. Down another hallway a staff member waved his hands.
“Bule, this way! Follow me!”
He would never have heard the common term for “white person” used by hotel personnel under normal conditions. Now it barely registered, and he didn’t care. The assemblage in the elevator lobby could not see the employee around the corner and down the hall. They were still busy punching buttons and scratching their heads.
“People, follow me. There’s a gentleman who can lead us out,” Daniel said. “Come quickly.”
He saw them hesitate.
“Now!” he shouted.
They began following as he turned and ran after the hotel employee. Daniel rounded the corner to see him standing in the open door of a stairwell. Daniel paused in turn until someone spotted him and knew the way, and then bounded down the stairs behind his savior. The man stopped at the next floor and told people standing in the hall to get everybody out. Daniel saw what he was doing and took the next floor. They leapfrogged each other down to the eighth floor when the fire alarm finally came on. Daniel was breathing hard by the time they reached the ground floor. A dinged and rusted metal exit door protestingly revealed a scene of devastation. Like tiki torches of the gods, the tops of all but a couple of skyscrapers as far as they could see were ablaze.
“Thank you—come with me now,” said Daniel.
The man stood in disbelief, blinking as though to clear the cataclysm from deceitful vision. The mind’s cruel assurance of verity brought the tiniest fire-tinged pearl to the corner of his eye.
“I cannot. I must stay here.”
Daniel did not know what else to say and turned to go at a dead run, his mind now focused on nothing but getting home. A prayer he learned in Vacation Bible School when he was eight came to him.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear…
Door unlocked and open, he slung everything onto the passenger seat, folded into the driver’s seat, and punched the start button. The driver’s door slammed shut as he accelerated out of his spot and through the parking turnstile, breaking the flimsy drop-arm in two.
…no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod, and thy staff they comfort me.
An incredible four minutes and thirty seconds after he had grabbed his bags in the room, he was turning onto Jalan Garnisun Dalam 8, close to Atma Jaya University and heading for the freeway when the earthquake hit. The Land Rover swayed and bounced. Like a pronking springbok, it would return to the air as soon as it came in contact with the ground. Daniel was a cowboy on a bucking bronco, hanging on to his pommel steering wheel and watching everyday objects like pens and a travel mug instead of stirrups float in the air at odd angles and impact the floor at the same time his butt hit the seat; then the whole thing would start over. It reminded him of video from the space station, except for the impacting part.
Always fasten your seat belt, thought Daniel.
The vehicle rotated as it bounced, and the Aston jounced into view through the windshield. The tallest tower was collapsing, shedding large, flaming chunks onto the smaller towers which, in turn, began to fail from structural damage and seismic loads. Daniel watched numbly, aware most people had not made it out. There wasn’t enough time.
The Land Rover’s final bounce was into hedges on college property. Daniel sat in stunned contemplation. No point in going to the airport. He had to go east, away from the conflagration. A tsunami was coming. The triangular Sunda Strait would act like a funnel, increasing the height of the wave until it spilled completely over the southern end of Sumatra and northern end of Java. Daniel had no idea if it would reach Jakarta, but there was nothing to be gained by assuming it wouldn’t and everything to lose.