Chapter 41: Countdown
“Meet me tonight, on the far shore....”
“Deena?” Luther asked.
She opened her eyes. “Oh, sorry. I was singing.”
“I recognized it. Were you listening to the radio?”
She nodded. “It’s coming back. At first I wasn’t sure if my radio nanobots had fried, or if the whole system was down, but it must have been me. The local entertainment stations are getting louder by the minute.”
He sat down near her on the rocks. “Can you tell anything about the asteroid? I’m tied up in knots, not knowing which way to run.”
She looked at his troubled face. I feel the same way.
“Hang on a bit.” She closed her eyes and listened.
Her tuning skills were still there. She isolated and quieted the rock station and the classics station.
“Billy-G, did you hear about the asteroid? NASA says we’re doomed!”
She spoke the snippet of talk radio.
“Is there anything else?” Luther asked anxiously.
She held up her hand for quiet. There were dozens of signals to sort through. After a few minutes, she shook her head.
“It’s all just rumors right now. Yes, NASA did report that the asteroid broke in two. Anything past that is just guesswork.”
“How about your friends in the trees? Do they know?”
“Deena? Is there something wrong?”
“Ah. No, Yes. I think....”
Touching that presence was like touching a raw wound. It wasn’t exactly pain, but her mental muscles recoiled from making contact.
“I think I strained something. Something in me. It’s hard to reach them.”
“Okay. But if you get anything, tell me. My scared rabbit nerves are telling me to head for the hills, but I don’t have anything solid, just fears.”
“Oh, I will!” So, Luther is afraid too. It didn’t make her feel any better.
She tried to relax, staring at the waves while sampling the radio waves around her. She had to make the effort, to listen to one at a time. More than that was just noise.
“Crescent City, this is Four. I’ve a confirmation on the bikers. I’m going to check Coastal Loop Road.”
“The police are coming this way—looking for us!”
“How much time?”
She shrugged, “Five minutes?”
“Help me with the bike.”
They hid their gear and manhandled the bike down a narrow trail to hide it out of sight of the parking lot.
Quickly enough, the patrol car pulled into the area.
The door slammed. Luther pulled Deena in close behind the outcropping. His arm circled her back, keeping her next to him. She leaned into its strength.
Deena’s heart was pounding. Luther’s face was so close she could feel his breath stirring her hair.
“It’s my first time,” she whispered.
“First time what?” He was even fainter.
“Hiding from the police.”
“Second nature with me.”
They heard another car door slam, and the sound of his engine. Neither of them moved yet.
“This is why you wanted to be Luther Jennings?”
“Yeah. It was nice for awhile—to be someone who had done nothing and had no fear of the cops.” She could hear the wistful longing.
“I wonder why they are looking for us.”
“Doesn’t matter.” His voice turned bitter. “Bend a rule to save my neck—it just adds another item to the list. It’s a no-win situation. Even if Benedict were to vanish from the face of the Earth, I’d still have the cops hunting me the rest of my life.”
He released his hold, and eased her out to arm’s length. “You don’t have anyone chasing you. They’re only after me. No one wants to arrest brown-haired Deena. You could have walked out there and waved the guy down and asked for a ride home.
“Do it. Once you get on my merry-go-ride, there’s no getting off.”
But what about you? She wanted to ask, but something had happened between them. Certain questions were too sensitive, too dangerous to ask.
She cocked her head.
“Do you hear something?” he asked.
Deena frowned, “Yes. The police car answered a call from town. He’s being called back.”
“I don’t know. I can’t hear the other side of the conversation—but it isn’t just him. They’re calling all the police back in to town.”
Luther edged past her and moved to where he could see the road. In seconds, he saw the police car whip by, going fast.
He looked at her. “Something’s up. Listen around. See what you can find.”
It didn’t take long. Deena followed Luther back to the picnic table. She held up her hand.
“We interrupt our regularly scheduled program for a special announcement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” she quoted, and then began stumbling, trying to keep up with the announcer.
“Just paraphrase,” suggested Luther.
She nodded, looking distracted.
“NASA reports that an asteroid that had been in a safe orbit has split into two chunks. While one piece does not appear to be any threat, the other chunk, over a mile in diameter, is headed towards the Moon and if it does not hit the Moon, will continue on to strike the Earth.”
Luther whispered, “Where?”
She held up her palm and frowned. She was trying to listen.
“The President has authorized an evacuation of the West Coast...evacuation details. I’m changing to a different station. Here! Press conference.
“...estimates that the asteroid would strike somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, probably south of Hawaii.”
Luther grabbed her hand. “That’s it. That changes everything. We’ve got to get out of here.”
She struggled. “Wait! Tell me what’s going on!”
He paused to explain, like to a small child.
“The asteroid is going to hit in that ocean.” He pointed to the waves. “It’s going to kick up a tidal wave greater than any tsunami in recorded history. It certainly will hit this shore with a wave taller than this cliff! We have to get over the mountains before then.
“Help me with the bike.”
Deena tried to imagine a wave that large.
“But ... all the people in Crescent City! My Mom!”
His face was grim. “All the people on every shoreline in the Pacific Basin. Whole islands will be gone. The people will have no place to run.
“And neither will we if we don’t move now!”
She shook her head. “We have to get Mom to safety.”
Luther yelled at her, “We can’t! Don’t you understand?”
He pointed to the motorcycle. “Two people. One bike. You don’t know how to drive and I am not leaving you behind!”
She clenched her fists and stood taller. “I’m not leaving Mom behind.”
He gestured north. “That’s why the police headed back. They’re going to evacuate the town. Your mother will be fine with them.”
She could tell he didn’t believe his own words.
He nodded to the east. “We have to get over to Highway 96 before the roads fill up. The smart people are already in their cars. Mountain roads aren’t designed for the kind of traffic that’s going to hit them.
“We have to get out fast, before everyone else figures this out.”
“I’m not leaving without Mom!”
He yelled, “Well, I’m not going there! Riding into a panic is crazy.”
She yelled back, “Then I’ll run it. It’s only twenty miles. I can do that!”
He started to say something and then stopped. One look out over the normal Pacific surf, then quietly he said, “Yes. I know you can. I know I can’t stop you.
“But don’t. Please.”
He was pleading. “Because... because, if you go, I’ll never find you again. I don’t want to lose you.”
His quiet words defused her anger.
“I have to do something. I have to try to rescue Mom.”
He looked again out at the water. “Perhaps you already have. The radio said, ‘If it misses the moon’. Maybe you succeeded.”
It was less than an hour later that an old pickup holding a family of eight arrived at the overlook.
“They look ready to stay,” commented Luther. “I’d better talk to them.”
He walked over and held up a hand in greeting. Deena moved to where she could hear what was going on. They were from Klamath and had heard of a tidal wave warning.
Luther spent fifteen minutes convincing them that the two hundred foot tall cliff was nothing compared to the wave caused by the impact of a mile wide rock.
Deena had been listening to the same story from him over and over herself. The two of them were caught. He wouldn’t leave her, or go with her into town. She wouldn’t head for the hills, but neither could she leave him. Not now.
So, they waited, here on the cliff.
The Indians drove off. Luther came back to join her.
“They’re going to try to make it up the river to Burrill Peak. They invited us to join them.”
She had pulled out her sleeping bag and arranged it over the rocks for a place to sit. Luther had been right, there was more to a blanket than warmth.
“What did you tell them?”
He tried to keep a straight face, but the left corner of his mouth crept up.
“Okay, Luther. What did you say?”
He spread his arms. “Okay, I admit it. I have an inappropriate sense of humor.”
She just waited for the explanation. He told her about the hikers when she was in the Redwood Grove. “I couldn’t think of anything to say, other than the truth.”
“And what story did you give to these people?”
He grinned. “It’s better to keep a consistent story don’t you think? I told them you were a priestess in contact with spirits from another star, and that you were interceding with them, trying to stop the asteroid.”
Deena felt the first hint of a smile cross her face since she found out about the aliens’ doomsday plan.
“Don’t you dare tell my Mom that story! Just a hint that I’m some kind of a new-age mystic and she’ll disown me.”
She looked out over the surf.
“I just wish I could do something!”
“You already gave it your best shot. It was either good enough, or it wasn’t.”
Luther brought his sleeping bag out on the rocks as well. “But I need it for warmth. These stones drain the heat right out of me.”
Deena watched his profile as he peered out over the ocean. The urgency had gone. He hadn’t argued with her for several minutes.
He glanced her way. “I guess we’re committed.” He nodded back to the road. “The Indians said the roads were already backing up.”
Impulsively, he picked up a blade of grass and plucked at the leaves. “If I’ve got only a few hours left, I’d rather be here, watching for it, rather than be trapped on the road by the river, waiting for it to come barreling up behind me.
“Besides, I’d kind of like to see another whale-spout, before....”
She didn’t prompt for the rest of his sentence. She knew what he meant.
Her last-hour wish was twisted up inside her. Sitting together here on their respective sleeping bags brought back her idle romantic dreams.
It was useless to think about that now. If there was to be a happily-ever-after, then Luther should be more upbeat. He was the smart one, he should know.
“How much time do we have?” he asked.
“One of the stations has a countdown. Four hours and thirteen minutes until the asteroid’s closest approach to the Moon. If it keeps coming, they will reset the clock to Earth impact time, about eight hours after that.
“How much time would it take for a tidal wave to get here, Luther?”
He shrugged. “They move pretty fast, slower in the shallows, almost like the speed of sound in deep water. Three thousand miles. Make that...”
“Four hours,” she finished for him.
“Give or take.” He nodded. “That would put it tomorrow morning after sunrise. Good. I want to be able to see it.” He turned to her, “Anything you want to do for sixteen hours?”
Yes. Kiss, cuddle, get dangerously close to breaking my promise to Mom.
She shrugged. “Watch the waves. I’ve been doing that all my life.”