Thursday, July 26, 2012
He had to find a tower that withstood the earthquake and was not burning. He knew just where to look—the BNI Tower. He had studied the plans for days to make the deal he finalized today. It was built with large safety margins for seismic loads, and the fire control systems were the best in the city. Plus, it had a somewhat aerodynamic wing shape with the leading edge pointing west, toward the asteroid strike. It might make a difference when the water came. It was a couple of klicks due east. He could see it from where he sat. It was one of the very few buildings just smoldering, not actively burning.
He hit the accelerator hard. All four of the Land Rover’s wheel-mounted electric motors dutifully assumed an emergency and delivered. Rooster tails of dirt flew into the air as it spun out of the hedges onto the blacktop, uprooting bushes and fishtailing for a split second before the computer found traction and stability. People vacated their vehicles at whatever angle the earthquake had left them. Autos had turned upside down or bounced over freeway guard rails—very unfortunate at the overpasses. He swerved around copulating taxis and headed for the feeder road, going east to get on the Jalan Jenderal Sudirman. He braked to avoid a wide-eyed, twisted face in a Toyota Hydro going 160 kilometers per hour in the other direction. Daniel had gone but another fifty meters when he heard the complaint of tires asked to stop too quickly and aluminum-can-crunching noises. The poor frantic soul had not made the curve. In his mirror he saw people abandon their own plights and run to the wreckage.
Weaving through islands of catastrophe, going was slower than hoped. Small groups gathered animatedly around stricken vehicles. Many struck out purposefully in quick strides with evident destinations in mind. Clamorous beseeching sought out Daniel from all directions. He decided to save as many as he could. Shoving his now dented laptop between seat and console so it wouldn’t be further damaged, he slowed and started yelling “BNI”. A woman and her daughter climbed into the front seat, the little girl perching on the woman’s lap, both offering profuse thanks.
“I am Sujatmi, and this is Liani,” the woman said. “Thank you so very much.”
A man told his three sons to get into the cargo area in the back. He got in the back seat, and a young man with his wife got in with him. Two adolescents approached.
“I am Guntur, and this is Chahaya. We will ride on top.” As they clambered up, Guntur handed Daniel a 1,000 rupiah note, about ten cents American. “Make it snappy, bule.”
Daniel could not help but laugh at their bravado and the rest joined in, easing tensions. The SUV was full. He pulled away as others approached. He couldn’t carry them all. The load was noticeable as he dodged wrecks pulling onto the freeway. Bounced up and down by an earthquake going down the road at eighty kilometers per hour was evidently not what the typical passenger vehicle was designed for. Slewed, on one side, and bottoms-up vehicles were everywhere. Air bags hung out of windows like deflated viscera.
A methane-to-hydrogen converted bus lumbered along the relatively clear shoulder; wide-eyed driver hunched over the wheel staring straight ahead while passengers animatedly discussed their situation. Daniel zigzagged through several lanes for a position behind it and took advantage of a clear section of the freeway to pass it on the right.
The Land Rover was a meter from the front of the bus when the bus windows exploded in a maelstrom of bloody glass. The tires on the bus and the Land Rover blew at the same time. Particles of glass stung the back of Daniel’s neck as he instinctively looked away and closed his eyes. Being at the same elevation as the bus windows, Guntur and Chahaya were swept from the top of the Land Rover, and it surged forward from the lightened load. The headlights, grill, and most of the front bumper disappeared in an instantaneous cloud of bits and slivers as the front of the Land Rover edged past the front of the bus.
Passengers screamed in terror, yelling at each other and Daniel. His hormone-drenched perception of time slowed to a crawl as he touched the brakes to stay even with the now tireless, driverless bus as it lurched to a stop against the guard rail. Wheels made a combination of rubber flapping and metallic scraping noises as the SUV ground to a halt next to the bus’s engine compartment. Sequential concussions strung together in a continuous roar from the far side of the bus.
His passengers now gaped in wide-eyed shock. A distant phalanx of thousands of .50 caliber machine guns had targeted the bus, but it was not just the bus. As their immediate death now seemed less imminent, they took in more of what was going on around them. Everyone was dead or dying. People in other cars, people standing in clusters, and people walking were all dead and now being reduced to something unrecognizable as human. The smell was of someone putting out a burning tire in a slaughterhouse with a can of talcum powder. Daniel closed his eyes and tried to shrink into a smaller, untargetable self.
He had not even thought of it and it nearly killed him. Molten bits of rock up to twenty-five millimeters in diameter traveling more than 8,000 kilometers per hour—ejecta—had arrived just over eight minutes after the asteroid strike. The larger pieces were still molten soft and expanded like red-hot hollow point bullets when striking flesh. The smaller stuff solidified into streamlined slugs of destruction. The heavy gauge steel of the bus engine compartment and the engine block had shielded Daniel and his passengers from certain death. As the sound of ejecta strikes died down, a curious dull roar could be heard growing in volume.
Oh, God, now what? thought Daniel as he felt a warming on his face, opened his eyes a slit, and saw.
The burning towers were now shrouded in glistening clouds of nearly atomized glass. Ejecta had exploded it and kept breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces. Ejecta had then shredded combustible material in the tops of the already burning buildings, increasing its surface area hundreds of times for super-efficient burning. The ignition and consumption of this material is what he heard. The fires had increased to such intensity that miniature suns sat atop shining pillars of sparkling mist.
He looked in the rear view mirror and saw Guntur and Chahaya lying on beds of glass, rivulets of blood finding their way outwards through shards. He remembered Guntur was wearing orange and Chahaya white but now he could not tell one from the other. Daniel’s lips became thin lines as he looked away from the mirror. He made a conscious effort to control his emotions, to contain his fear. He looked at the dimpled metal of the bus centimeters from his face because it was not horrific and kept telling himself over and over he was lucky to be alive. He was brought back to the moment when Liani reached over and tugged the sleeve of his shirt. She reminded Daniel of his youngest girl, Samantha.
He looked at her and managed a smile, “Yeah, Daniel is okay. Let’s all go to a safe place now.”
He looked at Sujatmi. Her face was an impassive mask, drained of emotion and glistening with sweat. Her eyes were wide, even bands of white encircling the irises. Arched eyebrows conveyed desperate hope when Daniel spoke.