Tina banked the Deep Sea Rescue Vehicle to port and swung away from the cluster of tall, white smoker columns, saying, ‘Now there’s something that your readers have most likely never seen!’
Arden’s interest was piqued and he leaned forward, quietly releasing his seat belt so that he could see better where they were going. He was rather pleased that the girls hadn’t noticed. He knew it was against regulations, but the belt did so restrict his movement; and what could go wrong?
‘Yeah,’ continued Tina, ‘we have that rarest of things here - an undersea lake !’ Can you just see it up ahead?
As Tina skimmed the flat sea floor, leaving a turbulent trail of mineral dust behind in the water, Arden suddenly saw a wide, dark patch ahead which, for all the world looked like a small lake; around its edge was a zone of starfish and sea urchins, and to his utter amazement, as the submersible swept out over the surface, its passage rippled the surface, sending out small-amplitude waves across it, which actually broke on the banks, washing against the starfish and urchins. ‘Well, I’ll be…!’ he gasped. How’s that even possible?’
Tina smirked. She’d been longing to show this to someone for some time, but never had the chance - till now. ‘The very slow ocean current moves out, round the smokers, leaving this totally still patch in their lee,’ she explained. ‘By chance, there’s a slight hollow in the surface and super-cold, high density saline water has settled into the hollow. The density difference between this very dense brine and the normal sea water is so great as to form an interface surface. Hence the lake of high density brine sitting on the sea bed! Notice how all of the bottom dwellers live round the edge, not in the “lake”. If a fish dies and falls into the lake, it simply floats on the surface and gets scavenged by other fish.’
‘Amazing!’ he said, turning back to his note pad and scribbling furiously. ‘Do we have time to look at it a little more? It’s something I’m never likely to see again.’
‘Sure,’ she nodded, ‘we have ten hours... and what could go wrong?
‘What the…!’ came simultaneously from Liz and Tina. Liz’s head had banged against the console, causing a nose bleed, whilst Mr. Arden was clearly unconscious from his head meeting the viewing window at too high a velocity. The vehicle canted over and the starboard front antenna hit the surface of the lake, keeling the vehicle further over onto its side and starting it cart-wheeling towards the now too-close, nearest smoker column.
‘Fuck!’ said Tina.
‘Shit!’ said Liz.
Mr. Arden, still unconscious, said nothing...
The coming onset of night had only served to heighten the mood of concern on board the research ship. Corrine, poking her head out of the main access hatch, could see John towards the bow, both hands firmly on the rail, his brown hair ruffled and blowing in the freshening wind. She looked past him to the horizon, where a line of towering anvil-headed clouds presaged the developing eye of the storm. The sea was surging with white-flecked waves cutting across the wind, which itself had veered so that it was now coming more from the north, whilst the waves were coming from the storm clouds to the east.
A hand tapped her on the shoulder. ‘Thank God for the European Galileo satellite system!’ boomed a deep voice. She didn’t need to turn to know it was the captain of the Esposa del Mar, on which they were standing; Bio-M’s most advanced bathyscaphe launch ship, she was pleased to remember.
‘Yes,’ she agreed, teasing him a little, ‘since your American system started glitching ten years ago, it’s a good job that we “Europeans” had put up a nice, modern satellite network to replace it.’ She smiled.
‘Bastard!’ he shouted, shocking himself at the noise he made in the silence. He took off his right boot and threw it to follow its mate. The croc caught it and swallowed it just the same. ‘Bastard, bastard!’ he shouted again, and again. But the croc just eyed him. Finally, Joe tore off his frayed, dirty shorts and dangled them down, hoping to lure the croc closer - for what purpose, he had no idea. But the croc didn’t move, so he lost his temper and threw the pants into the water. This time they fell close to him and so the
croc didn’t move.
After standing there on the edge for about quarter of an hour, Joe shouted a number of imprecations at the crocodile, following which he simply jumped into the water.
Now the croc moved.
‘And what happens then,’ Corrine asked mournfully, with a small tear appearing on each cheek.
‘Cheer up, old gel,’ he admonished, ‘I’ve purchased a large, very large, family chalet up in the Norwegian mountains, in the Jotenheimen National Park, near Bergen. I had Scottie look round for the best possible site at the highest altitude available. I’ve had it kitted out with several four-wheel drive vehicles, snow “skidoos", skis, clothing, and all that stuff. Enough for three large families. We also constructed an adjacent warehouse which has been filled with supplies to last them a long, long time. There are tools, weapons, medicines, and everything else that Scottie could think of for family survival. In addition, there are several nearby villages where bank accounts are set up for each of them, so they will all be looked after as best possible in the uncertain world that we face. Oh, yes, at Leeds airport, is a hangar which we own, and within is a very large passenger plane ready at a moment’s notice to take them to Norway, when they decide the time is right. I don’t think I could have done any more!’
Corrine looked at him through new eyes. This was certainly a side to John that she hadn’t expected to see again, when they were separated. ‘Thank you for that kindness,’ she said, gratefully. ‘These were my family’s people, and I should have been the one to give them consideration. I feel bad about that!’
They held each other close as John said, ‘You’re more than welcome, my love. We work well together, don’t we!’
Then, standing away from her, to indicate the imminent closure of the meeting, John said, ‘OK then, you two wristcoms please negotiate with the staff’s families, let us have your reports, and the suggestion lists, and Corrine and I'll chat about what we want to do and what we want to have put in our Andes home.
‘And,’ he continued, ‘it seems like it's time for us to visit the Hartwells and my folks, and to try and find and speak to my sister as well. So a few private sub-orbital flights wouldn’t be amiss under the circumstances. Scottie will organise that please.’
At the suggestion of Arnold’s wristcom, they climbed into the vehicles again and drove off up the hillside to a suitable vantage point. There they alighted and waited.
‘It’s coming in now,’ Arnold said, in an excited yet awe-struck voice, while pointing out to sea. ‘It’s travelling at more than seven hundred kilometres an hour, you know!’ he said, tensely, ‘so don’t blink, or you’ll miss it!’
What they saw as they looked west, was a simple bright band of reflected light that extended from the south to the north horizons, and which moved rapidly from the far horizon towards them. They could see no more than that. There was a suggestion of increased height, but nothing more.
The first dynamic movement they saw was that the water at the foot of the cliff simply rushed out to sea, leaving a wet coating of bedraggled red water flowers exposed. As a consequence, the sea surface about a kilometre away rose up and up, as if the ocean were being disturbed by the breaching of a gigantic kraken. The huge swell drew that water into itself, and then rushed towards the shore. The speed was frightening, as was the height which increased to double that of the tide itself, breaking against the
cliff with an eighty metre high curving wall of water, throwing a gigantic volume of spray upwards into the air, rising to over a hundred metres above the cliff crest.
Although they were well clear of this natural catastrophe, the onlookers winced. A few seconds later they jumped as the wave disintegrated the cliff base, and a fifty metre wide strip of land simply fell off the whole length of the cliff from the northern to the southern horizon, and - seemingly - beyond.
‘That’s the rate of tidal erosion now, and it’s going to increase, 'said Arnold dolefully.
‘I guess we’ve seen enough of that, thanks Arnold,’ said John with a wry smile on his lips, ‘I’m sure glad we’re all living up at Tahoe!’ He was trying to break the sombre mood that had fallen on them, but he wasn’t being terribly successful, because Arnold said, ‘Oh no, sorry, but we haven’t finished yet!’
‘What d’you mean?’ asked Corrine, nervously.
‘If we all stand here a few minutes longer,’ replied Arnold, ‘if things go as they have been for the last month or so, we’ll see the final stage of the twelve-hourly drama that we experience here.’
‘Wow, more!’ said John. ‘It won’t be dangerous, will it?’ he asked, while taking Corrine’s hand. He could clearly see that she was increasingly nervous.
‘No,’ said Arnold, ‘it should be OK where we are, back up here away from the cliff edge.’
So the group waited, with their mercenaries standing discreetly some distance away, but generally around them. Shortly, Arnold stood very still and said, ‘I think this is it. Stand very still and feel the vibrations through your feet.’ Just as he instructed, the other three stood still, and through the soles of their feet they could feel an increasing vibration in the ground, which grew until it became an air-borne noise and the ground began to shake so that they had to hang onto the sides of the Humvee for fear of being thrown onto the floor.
‘What the heck is that?’ asked John, half hanging onto the vehicle and half supporting Corrine.
‘That, my good friends,’ interjected Dorothy, ‘is our old pal the San Andreas Fault shifting. The constant removal of rocks from the land, washing it away into the ocean abyss, has destabilised faults all over the world, and none more so than our own. We are getting regular category sixes and sevens every day, twice a day. Fortunately, all the buildings along the fault are long gone now, under the sea and dissolved away, but the fault still moves and what does it cause? Tide-following earthquake generated tsunamis twice a day!
They looked out to sea, as Dorothy pointed west, and there they witnessed a withdrawal of the water out off the cliff base for the second time in as many minutes, which then drew up into a huge mound of water that came rushing back into the cliff line, breaking so strongly that the spray lifted clear above the crest of the cliff, blowing inland on the morning onshore wind, and covering them with a fine mist. Had they been any closer they would have been soaked.
Then followed the now-familiar thundering crashes as huge blocks of the cliff face fell away into the sea, while the wave’s force dragged the earlier falls out, onto the wave cut platform to be attacked and ground away in that huge, natural rock mill.
‘This is a new type of global erosion that we’ve never experienced before,’ said John. ‘And according to my reading Arnold, impressive as that was, the rate of erosion is forecast to get much worse, as the height of the twice-daily tidal wave increases with increasing ocean depth!’
Arnold looked across at them, ‘Enough!’ he said....
Outside the perimeter of the double razor-wire fencing, well away from the noses of the patrol dogs, Bert Dawson sat on the far side of a Doberman 520 six-wheeled armoured troop carrier. Where the hell he had got it from, no one knew. The guess was that he won it gaming, down in Carson, from some displaced and disgruntled General. But whatever the truth of that, there it sat, painted in camouflage colours, and armed with a Gatling machine gun on top, and the very modest supply of ammo that came with it. Bert had never managed to access more ammo, so he guarded it like a miser; no target practice was allowed! It was the latest Gatling 3000 spinning gun with a refrigerated cooling system, and blast-protected ammo feed boxes. The weapon got its name from its rate of fire - three thousand heavy bullets per minute. A staggering rate. Brought down to its lowest denominator, the gun fired fifty heavy-duty rounds every second. This rain of metal was sufficient to cut through reinforced concrete at close range - the bullets travelled much faster than the speed of sound, at about one thousand metres a second. The only problem was that Bert only had about six thousand rounds left in the box he had acquired with the vehicle. That would last him just two minutes! He had never fired it in anger, but kept it for that “one day” when he would need it.
He sat on the carrier’s far side because the mercenaries inside the perimeter used any person sighted as target practice. He at least wanted to be able to stand up and take a piss without getting anything valuable shot off. The bastards used the latest infra-red and LIDAR equipped sniping rifles, so even if their eyes couldn’t see you, their weapons could. He had lost three men before he realised what was going on. But that had been some time ago. Today he was going to give them payback. Yes, today was payback day!
Bert was a big man, living up to his “mad bull” name; he was two metres tall, built like a bull, and he easily got mad - especially if things didn’t go the way he wanted them to. He’d put up with those bloody Fords long enough, and had spent the last six months organising tonight’s attack. He’d had observers watching and recording every move in the compound and knew all their routines down to the smallest detail. He may have been just a bouncer at the Crazy Horse in Carson, but now he was the boss of more than four hundred armed bandidos , who were bored out of their minds with nothing to do. But not tonight! Tonight they could let their hair down, kill the mercenaries, kill the Fords and their friends, and then take the place over as a nice, comfortable, well-defended headquarters for himself.
But four hundred men weren’t enough...
Bert’s forward spies had reported back that something was definitely going on in the compound. They had noted bags being packed into one of the choppers and extra troop movements.
‘The bastards are movin’ out!’ he shouted. ‘Pass the word, we’re goin’ in!’ With that, he picked up his Kalashnikov and shouted to his carrier crew, ‘Come on you lazy mothers, get in here and get it goin’. We don’ have all bloody night!’ Three men scrambled quickly into the six-wheeler and he climbed up last, sitting on the top of the Gatling turret. No one was going to fire that gun but him, he thought - if it had to be fired, that is!
The engine fired up, spraying water and steam across the ground, and then heaved forward towards the campsite area in the woods where his bandidos had been assembling all day. As the machine broke out of the trees into the camp, Bert noted, with some pleasure, that all the men and women were there, standing, guns in hand, ready to go. They gave out a mighty roar to greet him. That’ll give ‘em somethin’ to think about in the ranch! Bert said to himself.
Then, as the vehicle stopped in the middle of the crowd, he stood up on the top of the transporter and shouted out, ‘OK, shaddap, shaddap will ya! Now listen up you lot. This is your big chance for a damn good fight, good killin’ an’ some very good lootin’. Wha’dya say about that then?’ A big cheer went up with much rifle waving. ‘Now this is how it’s gonna pan out,’ he continued in his loud ‘bull’ voice. ‘First, Joe and Arnie,’ he pointed to a small group, ‘and his mates, are gonna take this ‘splosive,’ he tossed the canvas bag to Joe, ‘and blow a bloody great hole in the fence. Then you lot,’ he waved at the crowd, ‘are gonna run in through the hole and kill the lot of ‘em. Does that sound difficult to you? Does it?’
‘NO! NO!’ came back the unanimous response.
With that, Bert had the vehicle fired up and headed out towards the compound. As they went, he shouted, ‘What’ll we do with the bitches?’
‘KILL ‘EM!’ came back the response.
‘What did you say?’
The mob started to run wildly to keep up with the six-wheeler.
‘KILL ‘EM, KILL ‘EM!’