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    C James
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  • 6,101 Words

Changing Lanes - 46. Out of the Frying Pan...

Chapter 46: Out of the Frying Pan...




On board Flight Two, The Scar watched with exuberant pride and delight as the western horizon filled with ash and fire. “We have done it, Yuri,” he said in a triumphant tone, “Prepare for takeoff. The high-altitude portion of the ash cloud will be overhead first, in about a minute from the look of it. As soon as it obscures us from satellite observation, we can leave in a blaze of glory.”

Survov ordered his screening force of five men to run for the plane, but no sooner had he done so than the ground shocks began to intensify. The plane began to tremble and lurch, as if encountering light turbulence. The C-130 could easily withstand the shaking, but other effects were another matter entirely.

The earthquake, generated by both the bomb and the eruption, was at that distance the equivalent of a magnitude four. That was ample to shake the ash from thousands of places: trees, roofs, bushes, and the trembling ground itself. Within seconds, a pall of ash rose into the air, forming a shallow layer akin to ground fog. The Scar stared out in horror, stunned to see his plan go so quickly awry. He waited too long before saying, “Take off immediately!”

The pilot’s agitated voice filled the cockpit. “Sir, I can’t take off in that. The JATOs will barely get us off the ground and if I air-start the engines in airborne ash, I’ll wreck them and we’ll crash. We’ve got to wait until it clears.”

The Scar looked southwards, trying to estimate the depth of the ash cloud and weigh their chances. At that moment, the air shock from Cumbre Vieja arrived as a sudden gust of hot wind, sweeping up even more ash and blotting out the sky altogether.



Felecia had been looking south when a flash of light to her right had caused her to turn, and she had watched in horror as Cumbre Vieja’s eruption began. After watching for thirty seconds, until her view was obscured by the local ash cloud, she phoned General Bradson, hoping for a miracle. There was no answer. As the wind began to blow and the dust became choking, Felecia ordered her men into Flight Three for cover. Once she herself was inside and the door was closed, Felecia clicked on a radio and heard the dreaded bulletin, reporting that the western flank’s lateral collapse had occurred. Felecia sagged down, pain in her heart, for she knew that meant that Walter Bradson and everyone with him, and probably Horst and his force as well, were gone.

Felecia didn’t let herself grieve. Forcing herself to set her own feelings aside, she concentrated on her responsibility to her men. Putting on a blank expression, she straightened her back and said, “We can’t take off until the air clears. When it does, we’ll man the fire trucks and prepare to take off. We’re stuck here for now, and so is Frankenstein.” Felecia was aware that the airport could soon be destroyed by a tsunami, but she reasoned that there was no time to escape on foot and thus no point in worrying her men. Several of her troops were aware of the peril and remained stoically silent, having reached the same conclusion.

Cumbre Vieja’s massive, roiling volcanic plume, at its base over ten miles across, was seething upwards, blasted into the stratosphere by the intense eruption. At high altitude, the prevailing westerly winds took over, pushing the massive column eastward, blotting out the sun. At the airport, the sunlight filtering through the ash cloud began to dim. Within two minutes, it was darker than the darkest night. Shortly thereafter, a fine rain of pumice and ash began.

Sitting in the darkness, listening to the soft rustling of the pumice against the fuselage, Felecia sat down, fighting back the grief. The sound of her phone ringing made her jump. Putting it to her ear, not daring to hope, she said, “Hello?”

“We’re still kicking and Horst’s rescue party is in sight,” General Bradson said.

“I never thought I’d hear your voice again. How... Walter, the radio said that your whole area had dropped into the sea,” Felecia said.

In the grandest of ironies, they – and countless others around the Atlantic basin – had been saved by The Scar’s malicious act. Cumbre Vieja’s eruption had been less than an hour away when the nuclear warhead detonated. That eruption, had it occurred naturally, would have triggered the feared fast lateral collapse.

The nuclear blast had caused the eruption, but in so doing had changed the dynamics. Instead of a simultaneous release and phreatic eruption all along the 1949 fissure, the ground shock and pressure pulse from the atomic blast had triggered the north end first. Seeking the path of least resistance, the main force of the eruption, along with the pressure from the superheated water, had exploded from the northern segment of the rift, causing the supersonic blast front that had raced down the volcano’s slopes to the sea, north of the resort. As a result, there had not been quite enough pressure to lubricate the slide, and it had slid unevenly – slipping more in the north than the south – before trembling to a temporary pause.

The land slippage had caused a tsunami, radiating out in all directions from a focal point two miles offshore. Far smaller than the one that had been forecast, it would race across the Atlantic, diminished further by distance, and hit the eastern coast of North America at a height nowhere greater than four feet; nothing more than a breaker on the beach that would barely be discernable from the others. For the world outside of La Palma, the danger was past.

The eruption itself still raged, and would for another twelve hours. Great fountains of lava grew along the rift, sending their glowing torrents flowing towards the sea. North of the resort, the land devastated by the full force of the lateral volcanic blast was already being covered by an advancing flood of molten lava.

The main focus of the eruption was near what had once been the northernmost of its string of craters, now replaced by a roiling caldera nearly a mile across. Farther south, the rift had become a curtain of fire, though this was releasing a lesser volume of lava than the main caldera. As a result, the flows of lava south of the resort would take longer to reach the sea, as would the lava destined to destroy the resort itself, two hours after the eruption began.



“If we were under water, I think we’d have noticed by now,” the General said in a failed attempt at humor. “I’ve got no idea, Fel. Maybe other areas slid. We did a little; we dropped maybe sixty feet down, then stopped, but I have no idea for how long,” the General said, looking west across the pavilion’s pool at the sea beyond.

The massive slide would continue, but in what the vulcanologists called a Reunion-style collapse, named after the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion. There, a lateral collapse had been underway for over a century, causing the southeastern part of the island to slump into the sea at an average rate of several feet a year. A similar slow collapse, thousands of years before, had created La Palma’s seven mile wide Caldera de Taburiente. The western flank of Cumbre Vieja was on its way to the bottom of the Atlantic, but it would take several centuries to complete the journey. The slippage would not be consistent, instead occurring in fits and starts, every eruption and every earthquake causing it to slip further, up to twenty feet at a time.

What had once been over a hundred-foot drop to the water was now less than half that. Looking farther out to sea, the General saw a long, massive swell, racing towards them far faster than he’d ever seen a wave move. Ignoring his phone, he yelled, “Tsunami, grab hold and hang on!”

The warning came too late to be of use. The tsunami surging towards the shore was in deep water, preventing it from building much in height but preserving much of its speed and force. Forming into an enormous forty-foot breaker, it slammed into the fifty-foot sea cliff at over a hundred miles an hour. The massive force of the impact shook the ground as the water took the path of least resistance and exploded into the air, sending gouts of seawater two hundred feet into the sky. The wave began to recede, and several portions of the cliff face fell into the roiling sea.

Ducking as the sheets of saltwater spray lashed down, the General remembered that tsunamis often come in multiple waves. Fearing a bigger one might be on the way, he yelled, “Let’s go, inland and uphill, as fast as we can!” The General led the way, AK-47 at the ready.

Watching as Instinct and the rest of the wedding party stumbled out of the damaged pavilion, General Bradson told Felecia, “We just had a tsunami, but we’re okay. We’re moving inland in case there’s more. We’ll link up with Horst and I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

The General’s caution was unneeded; the tsunami, caused by the rapid drop of the huge area of land and seafloor, had been just a single wave.

Helen yelled, “Grab the sheets, food, water, and clothes, in that order. We’ve got to move, fast!”



Horst’s force had ridden out the ground shocks in the trucks. The first tremors had brought them to a halt nearly a mile of switchback road from the resort. A few small debris slides blocked the road downhill, blocking their route to the resort. Horst decided, after a glance uphill at the eruption, that there wasn’t time to clear them. The road uphill appeared clear of debris as far as Horst could see, so he jumped out and ordered, “Ten men, with me. The rest stand guard and get the vehicles turned around.”

Ten men joined up with Horst, and Brian dashed to follow, receiving a nod of agreement from Horst. Horst and Brian, along with the ten troops racing along behind, sprinted downhill towards the resort. Brian pulled ahead and rounded the final curve thirty seconds later, giving him a view of the parking lot. There, he could see a line of people coming out of the resort, heading up the road towards him.

By the time Brian approached the first of the evacuees, he recognized his father, who looked a bit harried, heading up the column.

The General was about to shout a warning but held off for a moment, as Horst arrived at a run. “Horst, we’ve got hostiles in the area; your former employer and at least a few men.”

Horst spun on his heel and yelled to his men, “Flanking positions; advance by echelon and cover the evacuees. Hostiles in the area.”

Brian, his gun at the ready, jogged downhill, intending to cover the rear. He saw Eric and Jansen, walking along with Keith, at the rear of the column. Brian let out a sigh of relief at the sight of Keith and the others, but remained focused on his mission. Skidding to a halt halfway between Helen and Barbra, Brian asked, “Anybody still back there?”

Helen shook her head. “I don’t think so. As far as I know, our group was the last at the resort. There’s nobody left at the pavilion; I was the last out. We had a tsunami and there might be more on the way, so we’ve got to get to high ground as fast as we can.”

Brian nodded. “Yeah, we saw the wave. You’re about a thousand yards from the trucks. The guys were turning them around ready when I left. We should be okay when we reach ‘em, that’s about two hundred feet higher than we are here.

Helen grunted. “The more, the better as far as I’m concerned.” Then, she looked uphill, at the massive, roiling column of fire and ash, shot through by lightning, which was boiling up from the crest of Cumbre Vieja and added, “Maybe not too far uphill. That looks bad.” The massive wall of ash, rising into the blue sky and lit by frequent bolts to lightning, towered to their west, the ash pushed east, away from the resort, by the prevailing winds.

Eric spotted a sheet of tin in a roadside debris fall, the remains of what had once been the roof of someone’s garden shed. Breaking into a sprint, with Jansen close behind, Eric raced for it, and then yanked it free. “Find some mud,” he said to Jansen.

Within a few moments, Eric had a handful of black mud, scooped from a roadside drainage ditch. Using it on the sheet of tin, he spelled out, in rough letters, ‘Jim Airport’. Hoping that it would do, he leaned it against a tree by the side of the road, facing uphill. Eric had no idea where Jim was, or if he’d try to return to the resort, but felt there was no reason not to leave a sign, just in case.

As they resumed walking, Jansen heard Eric say, as though to himself, “I got him into this.”

When they reached the two trucks, Helen and the General herded the rest of the people from the pavilion into the livestock transport.

Helen and General Bradson jumped into the tow truck, where Brian was already behind the wheel. Horst came to the window and told the General, “Sir, we saw the blast cloud going downhill to the north. I doubt that route is still passable. We arrived here via the south. I favor using that as our escape route. I do not think that we have an option.”

General Bradson nodded. After exchanging a glance with Helen and seeing no objection, he told Brian, “Back the way you came.”

As they pulled away, Helen asked, “Still no news of Jim, Linda, and the Private?”

Shaking his head, the General gave voice to his concerns. “No, and I’m worried they may have run into Jerry Clump’s men. According to Felecia, they loaded something into Flight Two, and one of the vehicles used looks a hell of a lot like the truck Jim was driving. Now, I have to ask, does Jim know where the other two bombs are?”

Feeling herself shudder inside, Helen replied, “Yes. He helped move them.”

“Oh, shit,” Brian said quietly.

“Jim had his wife with him, Helen. A man would do most anything to save his wife if there was a gun to her head...” General Bradson let his voice trail off. A moment of stunned silence followed, and the General added, “We need to check on them, to make sure.”

Conflicting emotions tore at Helen; fear for Jim and Linda, and her reluctance to trust the General and Brian to act in Instinct’s interests. Sighing, Helen said, “Maybe you’re right. However, those bombs are my only means of clearing the band’s name. I want your word, both of you, that you will not turn the bombs over to the U.S. government, or anyone else, without my say-so. Otherwise, the answer is no.”

General Bradson considered that for a moment and then replied, “I can agree to that. Believe me, I understand all too well about the need to clear one’s name. You have my word. However, Brian is a serving U.S. Marine and his oath would conflict with what you’re asking. Brian, you’re bailing out and going with Horst for a while. What’s the route south of here?”

“From Las Indias, head towards southbound LP-1, then south to Las Canarios. Just keep following the main highway as it bends northeast towards the airport, and take it all the way there,” Brian said.

“Helen, are the bombs far from Las Indias on that route?” General Bradson asked.

Taking a deep breath, Helen replied, “Not far. It won’t take us long.”

As they reached Las Indias, the tow truck stopped. Brian ran to the following livestock transport and climbed in, and a few moments later, Horst swung past the tow truck, giving Helen and the General a wave.

Helen, in the driver’s seat, waited for them to pull out of sight, and then drove off. “We’re almost there. It’s here in the village, a self-serve storage unit. It uses keycards and the power is out, so we might have a problem getting in.”

General Bradson looked out of the rear window, at the tow truck’s large flat bed and winch system. “I didn’t want to tell Brian and put him in a conflict of interest, but I suggest we take a bomb with us, maybe both. This area might not be standing much longer, and those bombs are your... our only leverage. I’d also like them safe, in case the area is looted. I think I can winch one of them onto the bed of the tow truck.”

As they neared the storage complex, Helen was about to reply when she saw the wrecked gate. Fearing what she’d find, she raced through, and pulled into the back, next to unit twenty. She noticed that General Bradson had his gun out, and wished that she had one of her own. “That one,” she said, flicking her thumb at the unit.

General Bradson jumped out and looked at the door, seeing the dented bottom, where the pry bar had been used. “It’s been forced,” he said, and stooped down to lift. With a heave, he hauled the door up and stared into the dark interior.

Helen, arriving at the General’s side, said, “That police car sure as hell wasn’t here. The bombs are gone... Wait, there’s somebody in it.”

“Stay back,” General Bradson said, squeezing forward between the car and the unit’s wall. A few moments later, he stepped back out of the unit and lowered the door. “There are four bodies in it, dead from head shots.”

“Jim, Linda...” Helen asked, fearing the worst.

“No, no one we know. From the look of ‘em, my guess is they are either Clump’s henchmen, killed to keep them silent, or just some people who got in the way. Looks to me like Clump has the bombs, at least two. We need to find out about the third, but we’ll talk on the way to the airport. Come on.”

They climbed into the tow truck, General Bradson taking the driver’s seat. As they maneuvered their way out of the storage complex, General Bradson asked Helen, “Is there any way Clump could have known where to look without taking Jim?”

Helen thought for a few moments before answering, “Only myself, Jim, Jon, Brandon, and Chase knew where they were. I doubt the boys would have told anyone, but I’ll ask when I can. I didn’t tell a soul. Jim paid cash for the unit, under a false name, and we were careful.”

The General thought he knew the answer. “What you didn’t count on, because you couldn’t know, was Clump and his goons being in the area. Is there any way they could have seen you moving the bombs and followed?”

Kicking herself for not taking more precautions, Helen nodded, “I can’t rule that out. If they were in the area of the complex, it wouldn’t have been hard. In a way, I’d like to think that’s what happened, because then Jim, Linda, and the Private might still be okay.”

Trying to think it all through, General Bradson pulled out of the complex and took the road towards the highway, saying, “Those bodies looked fresh, so that means he probably moved the bombs within the last twelve hours. Why would he delay if he’d seen you put them in... unless he needed to wait for a heavy vehicle, so he could move ‘em. Okay, I’d say that’s the best theory we have. The problem is, it means Clump is sitting on the runway with two atomic bombs, or he might have one and have hidden the other. Helen, he has to be stopped. I’ve got to call Fel and have her disable that plane somehow.” Without waiting for an answer, the General made the call. As he told Felecia what he knew, and what he thought, Helen worried silently about Jim and Linda's fate. Then, the General listened as Felecia explained the airport situation. “Okay, Fel, sit tight, but if it looks like he might get away, stop him if you can.” Ending the call, the General told Helen, “He’s stuck for now. It’s raining ash and pumice there; he can’t take off. I’d like to get the rest of Fel’s troops back to her before we try anything. In fact, we might be able to take ‘em by surprise.”

“I don’t want my boys or the people in the wedding party anywhere near Jerry, his goons, or those bombs,” Helen said flatly.

“When we get within a couple of miles, we’ll change vehicles. Horst and his men can ride on the back of this truck the rest of the way. You head for the hotel Felecia and her men were staying at. That should be far enough away, and not downwind, if the worst happens,” General Bradson replied, and Helen shuddered, knowing that in this case, ‘the worst’ meant a nuclear explosion.

Seeing the livestock transport approaching from the opposite direction, retracing its route, General Bradson said, “Uh oh, this probably isn’t good.”

The two vehicles pulled to a halt, and General Bradson, with Helen by his side, walked over to Horst, who said, “We have a problem, Herr General.” Pulling out a map, Horst said, “The main highway cuts across the southern tip of the island here, at Las Canarios. From there it runs northeast, towards the airport. That was our route. We approached within a mile but stopped and turned around when we saw the lava. It appears that the curtain of fire runs directly through Las Canarios. I think this is the issue here,” Horst pointed to a volcanic cinder cone three quarters of a mile south of the village, and then at another, half a mile farther south. “These two cones,” he pointed to Volcan San Antonio and Teneguia on the map, “are the southernmost cones of the long volcanic ridge making up Cumbre Vieja. From what we could see, the erupting fissure extends as far as the southernmost cone,” he tapped at Teneguia. “That – and what we saw confirmed it – means the route we came is blocked by lava and the erupting fissure. The only way that I can see is to go downhill and take the coastal road,” Horst’s finger traced LP-130 southwards, then around the tip of the island, “south and hopefully around the south end of the fissure. From there, we can work our way northeast and rejoin the highway.”

The General took the map, and after studying it for a while, turned to Helen to say, “It’s risky. That coastal road is small and narrower, so would be more easily blocked by collapsed buildings, walls, and the like. It’s also close to the sea, putting us at risk for another tsunami. I think the original danger has passed, but more quakes or earth slippages could trigger another. However, this route appears to be the only way out. I don’t think we have any other choice.”

“Looks like our best chance. Let’s go,” Helen said, looking uphill at massive ash clouds billowing into the sky.

The news was passed to the people in the livestock hauler, and the two vehicles, with the tow truck in the lead, began the drive.



At the press center on La Palma’s northwest coast, the eruption had caused little direct effect. It was well to their south, and the prevailing winds were from the west, so they had even been spared the ashfall. The frantic activity of reporters scurrying to get their stories out proved an unneeded distraction for one newsman, Phil Breslin, the reporter with whom Helen had shared the recording of her conversation with the Deputy Undersecretary, Mr. Graeme.


Phil was working furiously on his story, with visions of Pulitzers never far from the forefront of his thoughts. He wondered if Helen and Instinct had survived the eruption, and decided to call, as soon as he could pry a phone from the hands of a fellow reporter. He hoped that would be soon, but in the meantime, he had a story to finish writing.



In the back of the livestock transport, Jane reached for another valium. Seeing the risk, Jon took her hand and said, “Hold off on those. You don’t want to take too much of that stuff. We’re going to be okay, I know we are. I’ll stay with you.” Jon held his mother’s hand and smiled with a reassurance he did not feel.

Jane battled her inner fears, but the remaining valium in her system, along with Jon’s comforting presence, was just barely enough for her to keep the panic at bay.

Eric, Jansen, Keith, Brian, Brandon, and Chase sat together in a rear corner, every inch of the drive seeming to take forever. Keith, who had never been to the airport, asked Brian, “Do you think we’ll be able to take off with all this ash?”

Brian thought for a few moments, and then replied quietly, “We’re planning to wet down the runway with some fire trucks we took. The trouble is, that won’t work if ash is falling, because it’ll still be in the air and wreck the engines. We might have to wait until the eruption tapers off or the wind shifts.” Brian lowered his voice even further. “Anyway, that’s not our biggest problem. Jerry Clump has a plane there, in the middle of the runway near the terminal, which amongst other things blocks our plane in. Felecia’s in kind of a standoff with him. There’s also a chance he might have a nuclear bomb. Felecia thinks she saw that truck your friend Jim was driving, and Clump’s goons had it.”

That bit of news shocked everyone within earshot. Eric felt his gut clench. That, he thought, would explain Jim’s disappearance. Driven by hope born of guilt, Eric would not consider the possibility that Jim and Linda were dead. Instead, on a deeply subconscious level, he chose to believe they had been captured.

A few half-hearted attempts to make conversation began and faded as they watched the passing landscape through the vehicle’s slatted sides.

Five times in half as many miles they had to stop while Horst’s men cleared debris falls, twice with the aid of the tow truck’s winch. Rounding a curve, they encountered a new sight; the road ahead, for over a hundred yards, looked as if it had been covered by a flood of wet concrete. On the road, it was over two feet thick in places, and still steaming. General Bradson and Helen got out to test it, finding it relatively firm, like hard-packed gravel, and hot to the touch, though no hotter than asphalt on a hot summer’s day. What they did not know was that several inches down, the pyroclastic debris retained much of their original six-hundred degree heat. Looking upslope, the General said to Helen, “I think this was an ash flow. Basically, an avalanche of hot ash. We’re in danger from those as long as we’re down slope from the eruption.”

Helen shuddered at the news of yet another danger. Nodding once, she got back into the tow truck. General Bradson crossed the remains of the flow at twenty miles an hour, relying on momentum to keep from getting bogged down. Arriving safely on the far side, having found the dense material little different to driving on a dirt road, he waved for the truck to follow. The Livestock transport roared across, it too saved by its speed. Had they driven slowly and had a tire penetrate a few inches into the debris, it would have been destroyed by the heat, of which they were unaware.

By pressing on, working as fast as they could to deal with the obstacles, within three quarters of an hour they were just over a mile from the southernmost tip of La Palma, driving through the banana plantations half a mile south of Teneguia cinder cone. Twice they encountered fissuring that had buckled the road, but careful maneuvering allowed them to drive over it.

Looking upslope, they could see the southernmost end of the active volcanic fissure, a third of a mile to their north. It was the road ahead that caused them to stop; it was obscured by billowing black smoke, coming from the banana field in the inland side. Another glance uphill revealed a streak of dull red and back, which allowed General Bradson to figure it out first. “There’s lava in the banana grove, heading for the sea. That means the road will probably be cut soon, if it isn’t already. It’s now or never.” Waving for Horst to follow, General Bradson nosed the tow truck into the thick, hot smoke. Shutting off the tow truck’s vents only slowed the choking fumes, and the smoke was thick enough that they could only see a few yards ahead.

Driving as fast as he dared, General Bradson felt the temperature rise. The first flicker of flames to their left, combined with an odor of sulfur, told him they might already be too late.

Pushing on, the smoke and heat grew worse, causing the people in the livestock transport to cough and choke.

Glancing fifteen feet to his left, the General saw a low pile of black rubble, which reminded him of barbecue coals: a red glow from the interior escaping between the jumbled pieces. The heat, even through the window glass, was enough to make him raise his arm to shield his face.

The unexpected glare of sunlight made the General and Helen blink, and the General looked ahead. “I think that’s it, we’re past the flow now and passing east of the fissure. I think we’re through the worst of it.” They had made it through barely in time; ten minutes later, the lava blocked the road.

Helen glanced back at the livestock transport. “I hope so. I thought we’d all cook. However, soon we’ll be in that,” she said, pointing at the billowing clouds of venting ash. From her vantage point south of Cumbre Vieja’s north-south rift, she could see the ash cloud’s southern edge, paralleling their course. “We’ll be in it in a mile or so, when we bend back northwards. Stop just short of it. The slatted sides of the livestock truck will let the ash in and we have to get everyone prepared. Wait until we’re just short of the ash cloud to stop; I want to put some distance between us and the eruption.”

Ten minutes later, past the southern tip of the island and heading northeast, General Bradson pulled to a halt. He and Helen, joined by Horst, got out, and listened as Horst’s men gave the civilians under their care what tips they could for surviving in the ash. There really wasn’t much that could be done, except for breathing through whatever cloth was available, and trying to keep the ash out of their eyes.

Jon saw his band mates and some of the crew tearing up the bed sheets that Helen had ordered them to grab when they left the resort, and then handing out the strips, along with towels. He knew he should help, but his mother’s death grip on his hand kept him in place. He hesitated, and then, seeing that his help might be useful, told his mother, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I won’t even leave the truck, okay?”

“I don’t want to be alone. Please, stay with me,” Jane said, her voice thick with panic.

François, who had just finished helping some of the civilians cover their faces with the strips of cloth, sat down beside Jane and said in a formal, convivial tone, “Fear not, dear lady; you are not alone, for I will stay with you.”

Helen chewed on her lip, trying to decide whether to share the news of the two missing bombs, and the possible news about Jim, with Instinct. She was unaware that Brian had already shared Felecia’s report about the truck. Helen decided against telling them right away, thinking that they didn’t have time, didn’t know for sure about Jim and Linda, and that her boys had enough to worry about at the moment. ‘I’ll tell them when we reach the hotel,’ Helen thought.



The unusual seismic signature that had immediately preceded Cumbre Vieja’s eruption was first noticed by Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which was one of many sites receiving live feeds from La Palma’s seismograph net, which showed clear characteristics of a shallow underground nuclear explosion.

Explosions tend to blast outwards in all directions evenly, producing a strong compression wave. Earthquakes, on the other hand, are produced by rocks sliding against each other along a fault line, yielding strong shear waves and a gradual increase, lasting for several seconds, in the intensity of the seismic signal. If the seismic signal has a near-instantaneous beginning and then tapers down in a linear profile, it indicates that the event was a nuclear explosion.

The sensitivity of seismic monitoring depends on how close to the blast epicenter the seismographs are located. Due to the volcanic activity, there were several seismographs on La Palma, which gave a very clear dataset. A few quick glances at the clear signal showed the unmistakable characteristics of a nuclear blast. The remote feeds from La Palma’s seismograph net allowed the epicenter to be triangulated to within one hundred yards.

Less than an hour after the blast, its characteristics had been confirmed by five geological laboratories, and its position had been fixed near the center of the La Palma highway tunnel. The proof was not yet definitive; it would require radionuclide-bearing air samples for certitude, but what they had was judged to be more than good enough.

News of such magnitude, when known by so many people, cannot long remain secret. In this case, the reports were burning up the news wire services fifteen minutes after the seismic signature had been recognized.

The word was out; the Cumbre Vieja disaster, as it was now called, had been caused by a nuclear warhead.



Deputy Undersecretary Broderick Worthington Graeme IV received the news that a nuclear explosion had caused the disaster with cold, unbridled delight. Alone in his State Department office, he stared at the printed report and thought, ‘I’ve got them now. They, by their own admission, had all the bombs, and so it must have been one of theirs that was used to trigger this calamity. I can certainly make the case that they are attempting to extort money via this heinous act.’

Lifting his phone, the Deputy Undersecretary called the Department of Justice and gave them his version of events. He then proceeded to order the DOJ to issue warrants for Helen and Instinct. The Deputy Undersecretary had no authority to issue such orders, but the Department of Justice complied. The DOJ had no wish to offend the officials they knew to be behind the Deputy Undersecretary, but that point was, in their judgment, moot; based on what they had been given, a monstrous crime had been committed, and that was more than sufficient for arrest warrants to be issued. Within the hour, the members of Instinct and Helen joined General Bradson on the FBI’s most-wanted list.


© 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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This story is not good for my blood pressure! lol Two more great chapters. I can't wait to see how they're going to get out of this.

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Oh this is so not going to be good for Helen and her boys. How will they get themselves out of this mess? The US government will sure look stupid when the whole truth comes out! lol

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