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    C James
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Changing Lanes - 38. Fallen

Chapter 38: Fallen




The morning of the news conference, chaos reigned. Helen took charge, dealing with each item in turn, or trying to. Some things were to prove beyond even Helen’s ability to control.

The first bit of news came from Jim, who told Helen that his wife Linda had grown suspicious that something big was going on. With a sheepish expression on his face, Jim then said, “Helen, that press conference is in a few hours and Linda would see that... I felt I had to tell her about the bombs, but I swear I didn’t tell her their location. I’ll tell no one that.” Helen nodded, knowing Jim well enough that she trusted his judgment. She also had a hunch that he wasn’t done. He wasn’t. “Helen, she wants to come with me to pick up the third bomb. She insisted, saying I couldn’t handle a gun and drive at the same time. She’s right on that, and... Helen, Linda is now my wife, and I didn’t feel right keeping a secret like this from her, especially as you’re about to tell the whole world–”

Helen cut Jim off with a wave of her hand. “It’s okay, Jim. I trust Linda. Frankly, the more people we have with us when we pick the bomb up, the better. It would also be handy to have an extra person around when we show the thing to the press. Bring it to the press conference, but not all the way. We’ll pick a spot on the map a couple of miles away and I’ll bring a few reporters there. Tell no one where, not even Linda, not until you’re en route with the nuke.”

Jim nodded and beat a hasty retreat, relieved that Helen hadn’t had his head for sharing the nuclear secret, short-lived though it was intended to be, with Linda.



Jansen and Keith decided to stay in their suite while Eric saw Helen and the others off. While they felt comfortable with Eric, they hadn’t been around Helen and the rest of Instinct long enough to be fully at ease with them, and still felt, to a small degree, like outsiders.

With Keith in the shower, Jansen lolled on the couch, occasionally casting a glance through the open door at the wardrobe in the bedroom. Inside, as he’d just been shown, were Brian’s AK-47 and RPG. Brian had left them behind, due to concerns over traveling with them by car. The weapons, due to their close proximity, caused Jansen even more disquiet than the nuclear warheads. The warheads, he’d heard, had been moved and were no longer at the resort. That suited him just fine. However, Brian’s weapons, combined with the volcano and everything else that had occurred, gave Jansen good reason to worry that any day might be their last. That made the decision easy, because there very well might not be a tomorrow, not for him and Eric.

Easing himself up off the couch, Jansen headed for the resort’s store. Once there, he looked at the liquor display, and then purchased a half-liter of José Cuervo Gold, which he knew to be Eric’s favorite tequila.



After handling a few more minor crises, Helen rounded up everyone who was going and headed for the parking lot, accompanied by Jon and Eric. Helen put the General, Brandon, Chase, Felecia and Brian in the VW Jetta, while detailing Jim and Linda to follow in the truck. Loading everyone into the vehicles, she said, just before climbing into the crowded Jetta, “Jon, you’ve got the keys to the van. Get everyone out and to the north at the first sign of a major eruption from the volcano. Eric, try to stay out of trouble. Barbra, try to keep Eric out of trouble, and I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

The Jetta, driven at Helen’s suggestion by Felecia, backed out from its parking space next to the van. Jim fired up the truck, and with the Jetta in the lead, they wheeled out of the half-empty parking lot, headed for the mercenaries’ hotel. Jon watched, butterflies in his stomach, hoping that all would go well. Eric, standing a couple of paces behind him, grumbled, “I don’t see why Helen had to say that about me. She’s going to make everyone think I’m always causing trouble.”

Rolling his eyes, not turning to look at Eric, Jon replied, “Yeah, as if those Iranian souvenirs you brought us less than twenty-four hours ago could make anyone think that...” Jon felt a presence at his shoulder, and assuming it was Eric, turned to say, “Don’t worry, they’ll take care of...” Jon let his voice rail off as he looked to his left at the person who had joined him. “Hi, Mom. You’re up early.” Jon said, more than a little awkwardly.

Jane glared at Jon for a moment, before asking in a level tone, “Just where are they going, and who are those people with them? What on earth is going on around here? I tried to talk to Helen last night and she rudely brushed me off.”

Jon glanced around, and saw that he was alone except for his mother; Eric had already left, spurred by the sight of Jane’s determined approach and deciding that he could do nothing to help. Biting back a curse at being left to deal with their mother, Jon replied, “It’s business, that’s all I can say. You’ll find out soon, honest.”

Jane glowered. She could tell that something big was being kept from her. Crossing her arms, she said, “I trust this has nothing to do with the cruise ship?”

“Cruise ship?” Jon asked, before he realized what he’d just done. The stress of the nuclear warhead problem had caused the ship to slip his mind for a moment.

Her eyes flashing fire, Jane yelled, “How could you forget? The cruise ship that’s supposed to take us off the island tomorrow! Now, what the hell is going on here? At least tell me we’re still getting on that ship.”

Taking a step back, Jon carefully phrased his reply, though he knew full well that the recent developments had likely derailed their plans to leave the island. “As far as I know, that’s still set. Helen will be back in a few hours. I’ll let her explain. In the meantime, how about joining me for a late breakfast at nine, so I can tell you about our tour and PR plans for the new album?”

Enticed by the offer to include her in the band’s plans, and willing to let the matter drop until breakfast, Jane agreed. Jon walked her back to her room, hoping that taking her to breakfast would keep her from watching the news. He had no doubt that the press conference announcing the nuclear warheads would send his mother ballistic, were she to find out. He doubted that they could keep her in the dark for long, but in his opinion, the longer, the better.



At the resort, The Scar paced impatiently in the suite, and as Yuri returned, The Scar demanded, “What have you found?”

Apprehensive due to his employer’s tone, Yuri replied, “I tried bribery, posing as a reporter. Nothing yet. I still do not know the room numbers of the band.”

The pre-dawn check-in had not gone smoothly. According to Yuri, who had handled the transaction, the lone clerk had been suspicious about a large group checking in, given the ongoing concern over the volcano. That had not pleased The Scar, who blithely overlooked the fact that it had been his idea. However, when he had learned of this, it had been too late to do otherwise, so he and his small force had occupied the suites. The weapons had been spirited in under cover of darkness, which was the one thing that had pleased him. Still, his mood had been soured and he let Yuri know it. “They are here, you said so. Surely if you can track them across the world you can find a group of celebrities in this damn resort?”

Yuri shrugged apologetically. “I am trying. Unfortunately, our troops are largely from Africa and Eastern Europe and are not subject to western media. Therefore, they did not know what Instinct’s members looked like. However, I pulled up some photos on the computer to show them and I have several of them prowling the grounds at all times. We should find out, soon enough.” Changing tracks a little, Yuri said, “Our airport force has some of the mercenaries under observation in a hotel near the airport, where they tracked them in the ash. As yet there is no sign of the bombs. They were not on the plane. Also no sign of the General or Felecia. What we did find on the plane was much of the mercenaries’ heavy weaponry. They will be limited to small arms at most and we can take them by surprise. I suggest that we attack at once.”

Shaking his head, The Scar replied, “Not yet, not until we know where the bombs are. We can risk no rash mistakes. I want to ask some questions of this band. I suspect they know. We can wait a few more hours. In the meantime, find them, and find my bombs!



Helen, along with the others who had yet to see it, were shocked by the bleak, ash-shrouded landscape that awaited them when they emerged from the tunnel. Largely in stunned silence, they stared out at the devastation as they completed the slow journey to the mercenaries’ hotel.

Lacking a private area where the mercenaries could assemble, Felecia moved from room to room, announcing that their money would be in place within minutes.

After meeting Horst and inspecting the third bomb, Helen decided that the pickup truck in which it sat, bulging tires and all, would not suffice, and decided that, as planned, the bomb should be moved to the truck Jim had driven. Horst assured her that it could easily be done, as soon as Felecia gave the order. Satisfied, Helen took a deep breath, phoned the Swiss bank on the General’s phone, and with Horst standing by her side gave the orders to distribute the thirty million dollars to the numbered accounts set up for the mercenaries. It was then that she received some irksome news; the transfer would not be immediate, but would take up to twenty minutes to go into effect, in spite of the bank’s prior assurances to the contrary. Helen walked into the hotel to give that bit of news to the General and Felecia. She found them in one of the rooms, talking to Private Johnson, François, and two other mercenaries.

Helen saw no reason for privacy so she explained the short delay, earning her a scowl from François. The French mercenary then said in a haughty tone, “We had a deal, which you have now broken. No money, no bomb.”

Felecia rounded on François, bringing her face inches from his and snarling, in a voice dripping with menace, “The last time I checked, I command here. I speak for us. We will get our money. You will keep you damn mouth shut.”

After checking her watch, Helen announced loudly, “We’re tight on time. The press conference is at ten and according to Jim it could take over an hour to get there, depending on the roads.” Consoling herself with the fact that the loan was guaranteed by the two nukes already in her care, Helen continued, “I’ll leave Jim and Linda here. They, plus Brian and Private Johnson, can transport the bomb once you have confirmation and hand it over. The General, Brandon, Chase, and I, need to leave for the press conference. We can’t wait. Would that be agreeable to you, Felecia?”

Smiling, Felecia replied, “We keep the bomb until the money is confirmed, so no problems here,” Felecia cast a glare in François’ direction. Looking back to Helen, Felecia continued, “For what it’s worth, I’m well aware that transfers often take a little time. There’s only one issue; we will probably need the satellite phone to get the confirmation, but you’ll likely need it right after the press conference to talk to Washington. So, leave me the little pickup truck and I’ll bring you the phone. I’ll probably be there before the press conference is over. I’ll tell no one where you are staying, you have my word.”

Helen blinked at Felecia’s words. They made sense, but what surprised Helen was that she found, at a visceral level, that she was inclined to trust the tough mercenary commander. Rationally, that feeling could not affect Helen’s actions; Felecia already knew where Instinct was staying and was also aware that the bombs were no longer there.

General Bradson made one small change. Turning to look at Felecia, he said, “Bring either Brian or Private Johnson with you to the press conference. They’re further proof of what happened in Iran and having one of ‘em there for the press to see would help.”

By nine, Helen, the General, Brandon, and Chase were in the Jetta, approaching the tunnel. Felecia was busy at the hotel; for each mercenary, she checked to make sure the million dollars was in their account, and then handed the phone to the mercenary so that they and they alone could select a control number or give further transfer instructions. Several chose to move the funds to other countries. In François’ case, he moved the funds to his Cayman Islands account, and for the first time in ages, a smile cracked his dour face.

Once the mercenaries had each confirmed their accounts, Felecia marched down to the garage and told Horst, “Turn over the bomb. We’ve been paid.”

At Horst’s direction, Jim backed the truck up to the pickup, and then Horst smoothly supervised the efforts of ten mercenaries as they manhandled the bomb, dragging it out of the pickup and onto the bed of the truck. This occurred, by necessity, in the open. They had no way of knowing that, concealed in some bushes on a hilltop a half a mile inland, a man with a spotter scope was watching, and giving a description into the satellite phone clutched in his hand.



Yuri quickly gave the news to his employer. The Scar’s ruined face twisted into a hideous smile. “Excellent. Can they intercept?”

Yuri nodded. “They’re in a good position near the likely route, assuming the bomb is coming here, and they’ve also hotwired two cars so at least some of the force can pursue if need be. Should they seize it now or should we wait until it arrives here?”

“Take it now!” The Scar roared. “We don’t know for certain they will come here. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, so take it at once, as soon as they are clear of the bitch’s force. Small arms only; we dare not risk damaging it.” The Scar shuddered at the thought of having the bomb destroyed – when so nearly in his gasp – by a stray mortar or RPG round.

Yuri gave the order over the satellite phone, “Seize it as soon as they’re clear, any means necessary, small arms fire only.”

The Scar paced for a moment and then said, “Once they have it, tell them to seek cover and a good defensive position anywhere they can, but not too far from the airport. Can our C-130 still get here within the hour?”

Yuri smiled, glad he’d already called. “Yes. The plane is on Tenerife, about seventy miles from the airport here. I told the pilot to stay in the cockpit and to be ready. He is already refueled and has the JATO rockets mounted.”

“Yuri, I want you with the bomb. You are the only one I fully trust. Steal a vehicle and go. Once you have the bomb in a safe location, wire a shaped charge to the case above the pusher high-explosive charge so that we may detonate the warhead if need be. I do not expect to, but one never knows when one might need a bit of leverage and persuasion, something nuclear weapons do very well indeed.” The Scar, his mood vastly improved, sat down, and poured himself a vintage brandy from the mini-bar.

Yuri took a satellite phone, leaving one for The Scar, and then he, together with five of the ten men with them, headed for the parking lot. Yuri, a former Spetznaz, was well trained in both covert and overt operations, but he strongly disliked operating brazenly. It was always a risk, and worse still when in unfriendly territory. However, he saw no option under his present circumstances. He needed transportation immediately. Scanning the parking lot, he selected his target with care; he wanted an older vehicle – thus easier to hotwire – and he preferred something large enough to move the bomb should the truck prove unserviceable. One vehicle met his criteria so he walked towards it, fingering the unraveled wire coat hanger he’d hidden inside his jacket, next to his gun.

Detailing the five men to keep watch, Yuri used the coat hanger to unlock the driver’s side door. Scrambling in, he set to work bypassing the ignition key. It didn’t take long; part of his basic training for the Spetznaz – Soviet Special Forces, intended to operate behind enemy lines – had involved how to steal various kinds of vehicles.



Jim watched in the rearview mirror as Private Johnson and the bomb were covered with a tarp. Jim felt a sickening sense of unease; the mercenaries milling around made him nervous. Horst had given Private Johnson an AK-47 and a grenade launcher, but the fact that the bomb was worth millions and surrounded by a band of armed mercenaries was never far from Jim’s mind. He felt Linda give his hand a squeeze, and relaxed, just a little, his other hand coming to rest on the pistol General Bradson had given him. Linda had an AK-47 resting across her lap.

After what seemed like an eternity, Felecia walked up to Jim’s window. “That’s it, you’re good to go. Brian and I are heading for the press conference. I’m leaving first because we’re in a hurry; they need the phone. However, if you want me to escort you, I will.”

Jim just smiled and shook his head, declining in a friendly way. He felt that letting Felecia – the leader of the mercenaries – know his route was an unnecessary risk. He was still thinking that the greatest danger came from the mercenaries, should they have second thoughts.

Felecia took her cue from Jim’s response and with Brian by her side wheeled the small pickup out of the hotel compound and roared away, heading for the press conference as fast as she could. Jim exchanged a friendly wave with Horst and put the truck in gear, gently easing it out of the parking lot and onto the street.

With Felecia already out of sight ahead and no sign of pursuit from the mercenaries, Jim breathed a sigh of relief. Gradually, he accelerated through twenty miles an hour, rumbling along the rural road and kicking up a dust cloud from the ash that covered everything.

Jim made a left turn, followed by an immediate right, as he drove through the farmland uphill from the mercenaries’ hotel, heading for the tunnel. By the time the hotel was half a mile behind him, he was on a road bounded by low stone walls. He relaxed enough to say to Linda, “That was the hard part. We’ll be okay now. I know the way for a few miles; we’re heading back the way we came, through the tunnel, but then we head north, not south, because we have to go meet Helen and some reporters... You really didn’t have to come, you know.”

Linda looked at her husband and grinned. “For one thing, you’ll need me to read the map. I know how you navigate, and ‘badly’ is an understatement. You didn’t think I’d let you face a mess like this alone, did ya, you big lug? We’re a team. ‘For better or for worse’, ‘till death do us part’, and all that. Besides, riding shotgun on a stolen nuclear bomb is something I can tell our grandkids about.”

At the mention of grandkids, Jim had to fight the urge to take his eyes off the road and look at Linda. Something about the way she’d said it let him know that it wasn’t just a passing remark. “Linda, does that mean you think you’re–”

A quick flicker of light – sunlight reflecting off the barrel of a sniper scope – was all that Jim had time to see before the first bullet slammed into the truck’s windshield, plowing into his right shoulder. Flinching from the sudden burning pain, Jim tried to keep his hand on the gearstick and downshift – he wanted to speed up to escape the ambush, as he now guessed it to be. His shattered shoulder left him no way to control his hand. Turning to his bride, intending to tell her to shift for him, his eyes meeting hers just in time to see her head explode from a second sniper’s bullet. “Linda!” Jim cried out in anguish, for he knew that she was gone.

On the bed of the truck, Private Earl Johnson, laying prone, heard the first shot, then the second, and felt the truck lurch to the side. Rolling onto his stomach, he clicked off the safeties on the AK-47 and the RPG.

Wracked by agony, grief, and growing rage, Jim ducked as he heard a third shot slam through the glass. Driven more by fury and hate than logic, thinking there was a lone gunman ahead, he let his left hand slip from the wheel and bring up the Makarov pistol he’d been given. Thumbing off the safety, he returned his arm to the wheel, trying to steer with his wrist while pointing the pistol through the windshield. Snapping off three shots in the direction of the flash he’d seen, Jim struggled to see through the myriad cracks that now partially obscured his windshield.

Sheltering behind the stone walls with a dozen other men, the second sniper waited until the cab of the truck drew parallel to his elevated position, and fired slightly downward at the passenger-side window. The bullet slammed into Jim’s thigh, causing him to jerk the wheel to the right, sending the truck careening into the wall, grinding to a noisy, dust-shrouded halt.

Pushed beyond rational thought by the pain of his wounds and the greater agony of the sight of Linda’s corpse, Jim gritted his teeth and rolled out of the cab, crashing to the roadbed in a bloody heap. Struggling to roll over, choking in the ash, he brought the pistol up, seeking any target. A dozen feet away, he saw three black-clad armed men scrambling over the wall. Focusing on them, oblivious to the enemy behind him, he fired. Jim’s first shot went wild, but his second found the chest of the nearest target, who was dead before he hit the pavement. Shifting fire, Jim sent three rounds in the direction of his second target, who unwisely froze, like a deer in the headlights, upon hitting the pavement. That allowed Jim, in spite of his shaking hand, to send a round smashing through the man’s gut, a slow but fatal wound. As that man went down, Jim began to line up on a third target.

Jim neither heard nor felt the volley of shots from behind that ended his life. As the big biker’s head dropped to the pavement and the final darkness closed in, his last thought was of Linda.

The staccato bursts of gunfire from so close to the obscuring green tarp gave Private Johnson a dilemma. He could fire from cover, but that would mean firing blind, likely to little effect. He could throw back the cover, but doing so would make him a target. He remembered that his first duty was to keep the bomb from falling into unfriendly hands, at any cost. He was well aware that the price would be his own life.

Rolling onto his back, he cradled the RPG in his left arm and aimed it at the center of the cylinder-shaped casing of the nuclear warhead, just five feet away. General Bradson’s instructions, identical to those given to his son, had been simple: fire the RPG at the nuke to prevent its capture. By aiming in the center, the RPG would destroy the barrel that connected the two masses of uranium, making it impossible for the bomb to detonate as a nuclear explosion. What the General, Brian, and Private Johnson well knew was that doing so was a death sentence to whoever fired the RPG. They had no hope of surviving its blast, which would be immediately followed by the detonation of the nuclear device’s high explosives. The explosion would not be nuclear, but would be large enough to kill anyone within a hundred feet, and contaminate a large area with radioactive debris.

Taking aim – at that range, he could hardly miss – Private Johnson waited, intending to fire at the first sign that the unseen enemy were taking the truck. The Private had no way of knowing that Jim and Linda were dead, nor who had shot them. He thought, or at least hoped, that there were not many, because then he would still have some chance. He was willing to die, though not eager; he still clung to a shred of hope. He heard a soft rustle to his right, and used his free arm to swing the AK-47 in that direction, brushing against the tarp with its barrel.

Seeing the motion, one of the attacking troops jammed his assault rifle into the tarp and fired a five round burst. Private Johnson never felt a thing; the first bullet hit him in the head, killing him instantly.

Two minutes later, the leader of the assault force was able to report to Yuri by satellite phone. “We have the device and the truck is damaged but running. Relocating now.”

Yuri, who was just passing through the village of Las Indias in the van he’d stolen – and unbeknownst to him he was only yards from the other two devices –, relayed the welcome news to The Scar.

There were a few farmhouses within hearing distance of the gunshots, and all but one had been abandoned as their owners fled the ash. The one remaining owner, a widowed man in his eighties, had decided that he had little to live for if he lost his home, and had stayed. His hearing was poor, but he couldn’t mistake the sound of gunfire. He tried his phone, finding it still out of order, and grumbled a few curses. He decided to wait a few hours and drive to the local police station, to report what he was sure were looters or vandals.



Dawn had come and gone, and to the distress of the vulcanologists, the situation on Cumbre Vieja showed no sign of easing. A hurried conference was called, and as such things are wont to do, it stretched for hours past their self-imposed deadline. Driven by caution over the panic they knew they would cause, the scientists at last decided that they had no remaining options. The lone voice of dissent on the panel had pointed out that not all lateral collapses are fast enough to cause massive tsunamis, but the presence of the vast amounts of superheated water made that scenario highly unlikely. The consensus – a rare thing amongst vulcanologists – was that a high-speed lateral collapse was a near certainty and their best-case estimate, unlikely in itself, called for a tsunami considerably larger than the 2004 Indian Ocean event. The scenario judged the most likely was worse. Thus, the decision was made: they had to issue the warning and do so immediately. The problem they faced was that the eruption would likely be triggered by one of the numerous earthquakes accompanying the volcanic activity, and they could not know precisely when. What they did know, at last, was that the feared eruption and accompanying catastrophic lateral collapse would almost certainly occur within hours or days.

The warning went out, first to civil defense authorities throughout the Atlantic Basin. It was terse and clinical in its wording, as befitted the professionals who had drafted it;

28°35'54.08"N 17°50'22.15"W Summit Elevation 7959 ft
Current Aviation Color Code: RED
Current Volcano Alert Level: RED: Special Alert

Current activity at Cumbre Vieja suggests that a significant explosive event is imminent in the coming days. The level of seismicity, rate of magmatic incursion, and gas output indicate that an explosive event could occur at any time with little or no warning. Shallow earthquake activity beneath the actively growing magmatic rift system has been slowly increasing. Recent observations indicate that massive volumes of subterranean water have been superheated, with no sign of significant release.

The seismic activity consists primarily of seismic shocks up to magnitude four occurring several dozen times a day, in conjunction with continuous volcanic harmonic tremor. Ground deformations are occurring and growing at an accelerated rate along the western edge of the 1949 fault. As the western flank swells and deforms, it grows increasingly unstable and is more and more likely to experience a complete or partial failure. An earthquake could trigger this at any time. Should a significant explosion and flank collapse occur, the event will likely produce high altitude (>30,000 ft ASL) ash plumes, localized devastation, lahars and flooding throughout the southern region of La Palma, and pyroclastic flows in the immediate vicinity of the volcano. The phreatic-eruption driven full lateral collapse of the entire western flank of Cumbre Vieja is likely to generate massive tsunamis throughout the North Atlantic Basin.

The resulting initial wave may attain a local amplitude (height) in excess of two thousand feet and a peak-to-trough measurement of over a mile. The wave will rapidly diminish in height in deep water, traveling at over six hundred miles per hour. The tsunami would strike the southern coast of Europe in less than four hours and the Eastern Seaboard of the United States roughly two hours later. The wave’s arrival time is predicated mainly upon distance.

In deep water, the wave height will be under a foot but as the wave reaches the continental shelf it will begin to build, growing larger as the swallowing water slows its forward progression. Computer models indicate an average estimated wave height of no less than eighty feet along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, though localized seafloor contours will mitigate the wave force in some areas while enhancing it in others. Due to the angle of Long Island relative to the New Jersey shore, wave height in Battery Park, New York City, is estimated at three hundred feet. Localized distortions and reflective redoubling may cause wave heights of several hundred feet in some areas.

La Palma Volcanic Observatory is monitoring the situation closely and the observatory is staffed 24/7. La Palma Volcanic Observatory will provide frequent updates of the volcano's status and the earliest possible warning of significant explosive/collapse activity and other hazardous phenomena. Until further notice, La Palma Volcanic Observatory considers the eruption scenario outlined above imminent and likely to occur within hours or days, and recommends the immediate evacuation of all at-risk areas. The at-risk areas are the entire Atlantic Basin.

Shortly thereafter, at nine-thirty in the morning on La Palma, the press was given a copy, and all hell broke loose.

Around the North Atlantic Basin, evacuation warnings were posted by all available means, kicking off the largest evacuation ever attempted. The task would prove impossible; there was simply no way to transport, let alone house, so many people in so short a time. Chaos, devolving to panic in some locations, reigned supreme. The situation quickly surpassed the ability of the various national governments to cope. The scientists on La Palma had feared this result, yet they had felt it better than the alternative.



The Jetta, with Helen at the wheel, arrived at the hotel the press had chosen as their media center. Helen took one look at the reporters racing around, at first thinking that the response to her call for a press conference had been far better than anticipated. It took her only moments to realize that the frenzied activity was far in excess of anything her call could create, and the fact that the reporters were ignoring the approaching Jetta reinforced that deduction. “Something big is happening,” she said, stating the obvious and casting a nervous glance south, half-expecting to see Cumbre Vieja erupting violently.

The volcano’s ostensibly tranquil appearance did nothing to solve the mystery, so Helen gathered Brandon, Chase, and General Bradson on the sidewalk. Putting Brandon in the lead, she said, “We’re going in. Whatever is going on has the press distracted but we’ve got a news story that will trump whatever they’ve got.”

Rarely had Helen been proven so wrong, and never quite so quickly. Ten minutes later, inside the press center, Helen struggled to digest the news. Shocked, she told Brandon, Chase, and the General, “All we can do is hope the damn volcano doesn’t blow. Everyone will be trying to get off the island. General, unless you can get that C-130 off the ground again, we’re stuck here until the ship arrives tomorrow, though with this news they likely won’t come anywhere near us. We’ve also got to keep an eye on the damn bombs. So, change of plans. Part of the deal with the government will be that they evacuate us and our party along with the warheads. Any objections?”

General Bradson glanced at the tsunami impact map before replying. “If that works, great, but it may take a while. In the meantime, I may have another option for you. I can’t take off in the loose ash, not without a JATO pack, which we don’t have. I’ve been thinking about that, because I do need to help Felecia and her men get off the island, now more than ever. If we used fire hoses to wet down some of the runway, that should lay the ash enough that I can do a short-field takeoff, provided there’s no wind to stir up any ash. We can’t take off if the ash is airborne. Also, looking at that,” The General flicked his thumb at the tsunami map, “It seems to me that areas due east of Cumbre Vieja will be safe from the wave, thanks to the shielding effect of the island. Seems to me that the safest place to be is on the east side of La Palma, like at the hotel Felecia and the troops are at, until we can fly out. After the conference, why don’t we get everyone to bug out and head over there?”

Helen considered that, not liking the idea of taking Instinct to the mercenaries one bit. However, she had no better ideas and agreed. “Sounds like a plan. I don’t like sending them through that damn tunnel under these circumstances, but it’s by far the fastest way. I’ll call Jon right now and tell them to get started.” Once again, Helen found her cell phone useless. Snapping it shut, she said, “Felecia should be here soon with your phone so we can try then, assuming the resort’s phone lines are working, which they probably aren’t. Let’s get the press conference over with, then we can drive down and tell them in person.”

Helen did her level best, but in the end, only a quarter of the reporters present bothered to attend Helen’s press conference, and those few had only done so based on General Bradson’s assurance that they had a critical story to tell, one having nothing to do with music.

Brandon and Helen stood on the stage and Helen prompted Brandon to make the initial announcement, which Helen had written: “I’ll make this short and General Bradson can fill in all the details. Jerry Clump is alive and almost got his hands on three nuclear warheads. General Bradson stopped him and the warheads are now temporarily in my manager’s custody, here on La Palma, until they can be turned over to the U.S. Government.”

It takes a very great deal to silence a reporter, but that did it. A stunned hush replaced the murmur normally present in a press conference. It lasted ten seconds, and then a wave of shouted questions deluged Brandon and Helen. That was General Bradson’s cue. He strolled onto the stage, standing tall, and faced the gathered reporters, motioning with his hands for some quiet. At first all he could do was say, over and over again, “I’ll answer any questions you have but first, let me speak.”


© 2009 C James

Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent.

Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"



Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.

Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.

A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick and Talonrider for Beta reading and advice .
Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Copyright © 2009 C James; All Rights Reserved.
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Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.


What a chapter. I cried for Jim, Linda, and Pvt. Johnson. Why couldn't it be some mercenaries instead? I know, mean, right?


Now that The Scar has one of the nukes, this is not going to be good. Wouldn't it be great if he got caught up in the tsunami? lol

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