Dan looked at his cold cup of coffee. He was not sure he wanted to drink it, but he thought, ruefully, this may be his last cup for a long time.
Only a handful of people had made it to the office in Virginia this morning. Six or seven employees of the government seismology group which dealt with emergency information stood around. Janet looked like a surgeon with her mask on. This was not a good day for asthmatics. She looked tired as well, but smart in her blue suit. Carrie stared out the window at the grayish-red sky.
"Well, we predicted this, but no one believed us, Jim, " she said to the man sitting near her. Jimmy looked up. "Yeah, and I want to take the generator out and see if I can determined any activity. Do you want to go out?" Carrie lowered her voice, "Yeah, I'll go. Janet will be imprisoned inside while this is going on."
Jimmy stood up and walked over to the window. "I know, but without the air working, this office will not be much better than outside, to be honest."
Dan was taking notes on a small notebook. In the entire area of North America, this reddish-grey cloud covered the land, from the top of Canada to the edge of South America, covering Mexico and Central America.
Last night, about 1:00 a.m.,Yellowstone blew up, setting off a chain reaction of volcanoes and earthquakes from Colorado through California, including Baja. Before his cell died, Dan had three texts from his best friend in Denver, Dave
"7 here, California is dead. Moving out of the building to the south in car. Have generator/stuff."
Stuff meant his mobile instruments. Then, about a half hour later, Dan received another text, "Going farther south. This will be the day that I die. But, want more readings. Stupid song on the car radio-the last song I shall ever hear-American Pie. Why is Sirius working in the Twilight Zone?"
Dan could hardly read the third one, but wrote all these down before his phone died.
"Bye, friend. Pray for me. Dust is poison here. Tell Janet I love her. Can't get through to her. See you all, God willing, on the other side. Radio died. All is silent. God is Good."
Dan stared at Janet. Dave and Janet were supposed to be married in January, right after Christmas.
He had showed her the texts about two hours ago. Now, all was silent.
Janet had gone into a little cocoon of her own, quiet, distant. She knew Dave was dead, out in the field somewhere, covered in ash, in a land where all the trees, plants, people would die completely, perhaps already now, burnt or poisoned, choked,
Dan watched her, giving her space. He understood her and knew that she would work this out by herself and talk when she was collected. He admired her strength.
The two with the mobile stuff moved outside. Dan walked over to the window and watched them set up the generator and instruments on the "flat" as they called it, a small piece of land in a small courtyard. Dan did not expect any activity this far east, but the city was getting a fair amount of dust even in Virginia.
He looked at the sky. Dust fell like rain. "Man," he thought, " the West must be like Pompey. 69 explosions recorded for prosperity, for who?"
As a child, Dan and his parents had gone to Italy and visited both Pompey and Herculaneum. He was eight years, old and then and there, he had decided to go into the science of volcanoes, specializing in debris dynamics. He never thought he would be watching such a show. He had been to Mt. Etna in 2003 when in college. That is where he met Dave and Janet. They became instant friends.
Carrie and Jimmy walked in with the stuff. "Some activity even here-2.5s." Dan looked at them. His mind flew to the map in the staff room of America's fault lines. He had them all memorized. He knew the West, most likely from the Mississippi, was dead, burning, covered with the debris of the sixty-plus explosions which were triggered by Yellowstone.
"Carrie got a message from her sister before the cells stopped. All the airlines are closed. Absolutely no flights from Alaska to Nicaragua. Her sister is stuck in Alabama." Carrie's sister worked as an airline flight attendant for Delta.
Dan stood up. "Well, I would imagine people are alive there." Carrie came over and put her arm over Dan's shoulder. No one said a thing. They all had loved Dave. He was special. He loved people, God, nature. His nickname was "The Monk".
Janet finally left her vigil at the window and turned to look at Dan. Dan knew she would be OK, She had absorbed the tragedy.
She came over and sat down next to Dan. "Want some cold coffee?" She took the cup from Dave.
"At least he is buried. I would not want to think of him just laying out in the open."
"Yes, God buried him with His Own Hands." Janet stared at Dan, "Thank you. I thought the same thing. He was the best man I ever met. Maybe just too good for me, for this world."
Dan knew this was true and said nothing. "Well, I guess we have to think of what to do next."
"My parents live about four miles from here. I can walk it. There is nothing to do here without electricity. Do you want to go?"
Carrie walked over to the small table where Dan and Janet sat. "I'll go. Why not? What about Jimmy?"
"Well, they will have food and none of us have eaten since last night. Sure, I cannot phone, of course, but they would be less worried if they knew I was fine."
Dan murmured, "Can you realistically take the walk?"
"Sure, for my mom and dad, anything."
The other two in the office, Brandy and Mason, said they would stay and hold down the fort. They did not expect anyone else to make it in. Just in case electricity came on again, they would hang around. A seventh person, Adam, had disappeared hours ago. No one knew where he went.
The four got raincoats and the girls changed into their walking shoes, which they kept at the office for field duty. The four set off, south, not knowing what to expect.
to be continued...