Castaway Resolution – Chapter 22

Chapter 22.

Even without Whips’ terrifying message, Laura would have known that something was horribly wrong. With no visible warning, the quadbirds and other flying creatures suddenly burst from their perches and flew, whistling and hooting and screeching, away, all in a mingled, multicolored mass that arrowed off to the south.

Almost in the same moment, she could see movement on the ground and the trees — animals large and small running, scuttling, swinging through the branches, and all going in the same direction. A herd of capys hurried straight through the center of the clearing. As Akira came up next to her, she saw a tree kraken bound through the area from tree-trunk to tree-trunk. She released her grip on the sill, realizing her hands ached from the tension. “The other girls –”

“All safe.” She heard the rapping of feet coming up the stairs; at the same time she heard the rapid dialogue between Whips and his crewmates.

Then she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. That crazy boy is trying to save the engine when a tsunami is coming!

It took both her and Campbell to get Whips to accept that there was no sense in this quixotic attempt and concentrate on getting himself inside and strapped down.

Sakura was next to her now, and her face was white under the dark tan. “Whips. . .” she whispered.

“He’ll be okay, honey,” she said, trying to convince herself. “Those shuttles are tough and he knows enough to strap in well.”

Emerald Maui isn’t configured for a Bemmie passenger,” Akira said quietly. “I hope Harratrer had time to –”

Hold on!” came Whips’ voice — and then a rumbling roar that cut off.

Sakura didn’t scream, but her grip on Laura’s arm was tight as a tourniquet.

Then Laura heard a noise — a hissing that became a rattling, rushing sound, and a deep rumbling underneath.

A brown-gray carpet burst into view, enveloping, tearing and crushing the undergrowth and grinding it down, sweeping the remains up into the tide of destruction that was already more running mud and debris than water. Laura heard screams of disbelief, some of them her own, as the tsunami surged across the clearing below. The temporary shelter that had been their town square, their meeting place and theater, was torn from the ground, its solidly-anchored pegs no more able to resist that savage torrent than they could a bulldozer. Over the public channel she could hear Tavana’s disbelieving curses in three languages; Xander was murmuring “no, no, no” over and over, and she could hear Pearce praying.

The tsunami flood reached Sherwood Column, and Laura gripped the sill harder as she felt it, felt the vibrating impact of water, mud, and debris being dragged and ground against the base of their home. “My God, Akira, will the column hold up?”

Akira’s face was pale, but he answered, “Of course it will. Remember how hard it was to cut into.”

But his eyes met hers, and Laura shivered, seeing the real answer: I don’t know.

The water was roaring now, a snarl and a deep basso thunder and a shrieking hiss all combined. The level rose higher, a wave in truth, driving hard against the trees and columns, sending fountains of spray a dozen meters into the air. There was a groaning crack, then another, and now trees were falling, torn from their roots and then dragged down, to collide with other trees or the bases of columns and be stuck, barricading the flow until its implacable force tore the trunk to splinters.

A screeching, grinding sound from below, and with horror Laura saw the ramp-door to the column ripped away, drowned and destroyed in the black-brown flood. “Is everyone upstairs?” she demanded.

“We’re all here, Mom,” Caroline said, her words shaking like the column.

The sound of rushing water was coming from inside now, the water pouring into the lowest section of their house, the foyer. “If this keeps rising –”

“– then there’s nothing we can do,” Akira said grimly. “All we can do is –”

There was a sudden shock that transmitted itself through Sherwood Column, and now the water was thundering inside. For a crazy instant Laura harbored the insane conviction that the water was coming up the stairs, charging up for her and her family.

But the water levels weren’t nearly that high yet, so what. . .

“The bottom floor — it’s gone!” Melody shouted. “We’re hearing a waterfall going down through our house into the island!”

“Naturally,” Campbell’s tense voice said. “Get that many tons of water and who-knows-what on that one floor, it had to give way.”

“Ours, it has a solid bottom,” Tavana added. “That will not happen here.”

A third time the water rose, and more of the trees — wooden and otherwise — leaned and fell with groaning, splintering sounds that blended with the growling thunder of the tsunami. A writhing shape was briefly visible in the horizontal cataract — an immense wormlike thing, twin to the creature that had nearly killed Whips on one of their first nights on Lincoln. But huge as it was, its strength meant nothing to the meteoric flood; it was dragged back under, hammered against stumps, crushed and swept out of sight, farther into the flooded woods.

Sherwood Column thrummed like a bass string being struck by an angry god-child; another of the columns they could see shuddered visibly and then tilted, fell. The girls screamed, even Caroline; Laura only kept herself from doing so by clamping her mouth shut, and she could see the fear in Akira’s eyes when she glanced to her husband. None of us will survive if the column falls into the flood. . .

She closed her eyes and held on, hoping that she would not feel the terrible disorienting sensation of the room she stood in tilting. . .

Then Laura became aware that the roaring was diminishing, more a grumble and hiss, and even that fading. She opened her eyes, looked down.

The water had stopped its headlong flight; for a few moments it eddied in seeming confusion, and the sound of their indoor cataract ceased. Then the water began to recede, flowing away, dropping down.

In a few minutes, there were only scattered pools across the devastated floor of the forest.

Laura glanced around, assuring herself that all of her family — minus Hitomi and Whips — were there and save. “Sergeant, are you all okay?”

Campbell’s shaken voice replied after a moment. “Except for our boy on Emerald Maui, all present and accounted for. You?”

“Everyone’s fine here.”

“Then we’d better go check out our columns pronto; you saw that one fall, right?”

Laura understood his point. “All right, everyone grab your go-bags and get outside now. . . wait.” Realization struck her. “Sergeant, we may have a problem.”

“Dammit, yes,” Campbell said. “You might not have a floor to walk out with, just a long drop to nowhere.”

“I’ll go check it out,” Sakura said.

I will do it,” her father said, his voice iron-hard in a way it very rarely was; Laura saw Sakura freeze, then nod.

In a few moments Akira was back. “The whole bottom floor is gone, including storage. The steps end hanging in midair, a long way from the entrance.”

“You have any rope?”

“I will check, but most of that was stored on that floor.”

“We’ve got some, so no biggie. You’ll have to go out your largest window. Wait a few and we’ll be along to help.”

“Understood. We’ll wait.” She raised her voice. “Whips? Hitomi? Francisco? How are you?”

Moments stretched out, and there was no answer.

“Whips? Answer immediately! Hitomi, are you there? Francisco?”

But no matter how many times she, or the others, repeated the words, the airwaves remained silent.