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|Chapter 19: Revelations|
The smell… it was the smell that reminded him, even more so than the pain, that he was far from home. Pungent, a mix of stale concrete, sweat, and the stale, lingering odors of spices, suffused with dust.
An echoing sound of boots on concrete, growing ever louder, intruded rudely into Brian Bradson’s clouded mind. Deprived of more than a few meager snatches of sleep, he was barely able to focus, but he knew what mattered: they were coming for him, again.
Like so many times before, the senior guard led the way, unlocking the cell, and then grabbing Brian by the arm and hauling him to his feet. A fist slamming into his gut caused his abused ribs to scream their misery, and Brian doubled over, trying as best he could to protect his head as the three guards began working him over.
They no longer asked questions, and the lack of purpose made it all somehow just that much worse, though Brian could spare no immediate thoughts for that. He could only focus on the pain and trying to ward off the worst of the blows.
The three guards took special care to inflict the worst of their wrath on Brian. He thought he knew why; during the ambush, he’d killed three Iranians for certain and perhaps two more, and so Brian assumed that was why he was being singled out for the harshest treatment. In a way, he was okay with that; it meant the guards were not as brutal to Private Earl Johnson, his fellow prisoner.
Their predicament had been evident from the start. The ambush at the oil rig, executed by troops disguised as platform workers, had obviously been carefully planned and had taken Brian’s squad by surprise. The captured men were separated immediately, and Brian had seen no sign of the others, except for Private Johnson.
The clang of the cell door slamming shut signaled that, for now, the beating was over. Brian, curled up on the cold cement floor, his left eye swelling shut and the all too familiar coppery taste of his own blood invading his mouth, knew one other thing: five days ago, the infrequent and inadequate food had ceased coming entirely, and more ominously, the guards no longer avoided hitting him in the face. Now, they no longer cared if he showed outwards signs of abuse. Indeed, they reveled in it with sadistic gusto. From those facts, there was but one obvious conclusion that Brian could draw: they had no intention of letting him live. In that, he was correct.
Shocked back to temporary lucidity by a deluge of dirty, ice-cold water, Brian shivered, wishing above all else that he could sleep. If he tried, he knew he’d get hit with more cold water if the guards were in a good mood, and water punctuated by a zap from a cattle prod or worse when they were not, which was most of the time.
The shock of the frigid water abated, replaced by the dull throb of a thousand gnawing aches, and so began Brian Bradson’s twenty-first birthday.
Wilhelm slipped away from the roaring fire, trying his best to be inconspicuous in his departure. General Bradson watched out of the corner of his eye, suspecting what Wilhelm was up to.
Interposing a building between himself and the General, Wilhelm ducked into the tree line and circled around to meet what he thought would be Felecia’s most likely line of approach. A hundred yards from where he thought they’d be, the point team announced their presence by pegging Wilhelm in the chest with five rounds of paint. Rubbing his stinging skin, Wilhelm growled in the direction the shots had come from, “Okay, I’m dead, now which way is Felecia? This is urgent.”
After a quick meeting with Felecia, where he delivered the news, Wilhelm followed as she stormed towards the compound.
Felecia’s fury knew no bounds. Trembling with rage, she glared at the cracking fire and then at General Bradson. The fact that he, along with several of her men, was roasting hot dogs over the flaming remnants of the flagpole did nothing to improve her disposition. “You fucking smart ass, I suppose you think this means you’ve won?” she snarled.
With a relaxed and confident smile, General Bradson said, “No.” He let Felecia puzzle over that for a few seconds while he spun his hot dog on its stick, and then added, in a more forceful tone. “It means we did win, because we beat you and your force, again.”
“You beat nothing,” she said, and spat on the ground. “It’s just another sneaky fucking trick. You haven’t even attempted any form of combat.”
“And that, dear lady, is the point,” the General said, assuming the tone of a superior officer addressing a junior who had just made an error. “The goal of any mission is to achieve the objective as quickly and easily as possible. I did so. Your operational style is to go force-on-force. For the mission ahead of us, that’s a damn good way to get us all killed. We have to be creative and use the dynamics and structure of the tactical situation to our own ends and execute an asymmetrical operation. That’s what I’m trying to teach you, if you have the wit to learn it.”
Fighting to control her killing rage, Felecia hissed, “With me, now!” and stalked away from the campfire. Taking his time, General Bradson set down his hot dog, stood up, and followed. As soon as they were out of the troops’ earshot, Felecia spun around, and nose to nose with General Bradson said in a whisper dripping with venom, “You will not, ever, talk that way to me in front of my men. Do I make myself clear?”
Not budging an inch, General Bradson replied, “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. You’ve said worse of me, by far and for no good reason, and those men have got to trust me and my planning. I said what I did to make a point. If I’d really wanted to undercut your authority, I’d have mentioned the reason behind the deployment pattern Wilhelm used on the hill today, setting us up to lose. Speaking of which, you’ve got some damn nerve accusing me of being sneaky while you’re trying to rig the exercise.”
Stomach churning, Felecia turned away. Staring into the trees, she said in a calm tone, “What I do, I do for good reason. As for you, your antics would be worthless on the mission. We’re going to war, not to a fucking game.”
General Bradson took the opening Felecia had just unwittingly given him. “You want a real tactical exercise? I’m all for it. Let’s have a realistic scenario, no pennants, and no games. Designate a man and have him play the role of your prisoner. I’ll choose men from Wilhelm’s platoon under my sole command; you take the rest plus Horst’s platoon. Horst and Wilhelm’s platoons were a little understrength to start with, but even after I make my picks, your force will outnumber mine by more than five to one.” Betting that Felecia’s pride would compel her to accept the challenge, General Bradson outlined the concept further. “My goal is to free the prisoner, get him out of here, break him clear of any pursuit, and do so within forty-eight hours. Yours is to stop me. We’ll use your paintball gear, but other than that, no rules, no tricks, and no limits. I’ll win in a way that not even you can argue with, because I’ll win to your satisfaction, via combat. And one other thing: when I win, that settles the issue of whether I go in on the ground or not. No more bullshit from you. Then we’ll spend the next few days preparing for the mission my way.”
Still feeling the cold fury of her wounded pride, Felecia forced her voice to remain calm. “Given the timeframe, you’ll have tactical surprise,” Felecia countered.
“Same as we should have in Iran. So don’t make it easy for me, because they sure won’t. Be creative,” the General said, intentionally injecting a hint of smugness in his tone.
Felecia, rankled by the implication that General Bradson evidently didn’t think her capable of stopping him, said, “The prisoner will be in one of the barracks, but you won’t know which one, and he’s to be considered injured, incapable of walking without assistance.”
“Done,” the General replied.
“Tomorrow morning at dawn the clock starts, and you have twenty-four hours, not forty-eight.” Felecia said. She didn’t see any possible way for the General to accomplish his goal, though she’d learned the hard way that he probably could. However, she was angry enough that she no longer cared if the General won himself a place on the ground mission. ‘It’s his fucking funeral,’ was the thought foremost in her mind.
General Bradson picked his men with care. He’d paid attention during the prior exercises, and had seen which men displayed the talents he knew he’d need. Armed with the paintball gear and carrying field packs and rations, he led his small troop – which had been designated ‘Blue Team’ – into the trees, heading north and then bending east, detailing two of his men to keep an eye out for any sign of pursuit.
Two miles from the compound, he selected a small clearing and gathered his men around. “Felecia and her Red Team will expect us to attack at night, so we’re going to hit them in broad daylight, about twenty minutes from now, hopefully before she has all her deployments made. You’re all ex-special forces of one kind or another, and you’ll need every bit of skill that you possess. It won’t be easy, but together we’re going to win this thing.”
The General outlined his plan and issued his tasking orders. Standing, he said, “Time to gather some shrubbery, and then let’s go get our man.”
Twenty minutes later, approaching the compound’s perimeter in five two-man elements, Blue Team crept through the foliage – some of which they’d donned with the aid of some fishing line from their field-packs, for additional concealment. They moved by inches, freezing in place to listen and look, before moving again. Knowing his own limitations, the General let his partner lead their element and direct him via hand signals. General Bradson could not match the silent skill of his troops, and had decided to use that fact to his advantage. He had in essence detailed unto himself the role of bait.
Following the signaled commands, General Bradson inched forward, becoming aware of a slight rustle a few dozen feet ahead and to his left. He was unsure of the source of the noise; it could have been anything, though his guess was otherwise. Pretending to ignore it, he inched onwards, drawing the attention of the hidden Red Team sentry.
The sentry was amused, and waited as his target inched into his kill zone, focusing on the approaching man, anticipating the easy ‘kill’. Easing up off the ground, he crawled forward another foot, raising his weapon at a snail’s pace in order to avoid alerting his target via movement. Lining up for a torso shot, he noticed a cold sensation across the front of his throat. Freezing in place, he glanced down to see the tip of a combat knife, which was held across his windpipe. A whispered, “You’re a silent kill. Stay put and keep your mouth shut for one hour,” let the sentry know that, for him, the exercise was over. Gingerly, mindful of the very real blade at his throat, the sentry nodded once, signaling his compliance, and the General’s man sheathed his knife and crept away, in search of his next target.
Two more sentries met similar fates, falling victim to other two-man elements of Blue Team, and the General achieved his first objective; gathering his force – save for a two-man team he’d sent to circle the compound – in the cover of the tree line, just fifty feet from the first of the barracks.
Old, decrepit buildings, raised a foot off the ground, their crawlspaces choked by a skirt of weeds, the three barracks stood in a row, a few yards apart, facing the compound with their backs to the tree line. They had their main doors on the south side, and a back door to the north.
Several off-duty soldiers stood about, armed and ready, making no effort at concealment. The General, peering through the brush, spied four more, busily stringing fishing line, threaded through the brush, to cans full of rocks; a simple but effective alarm. General Bradson regarded the effort with approval; Felecia was indeed being creative, not that it would matter.
Checking his watch, seeing that it was time, the General commanded his men with a silent motion of his hand.
Proceeding according to the General’s plan, three two-man Blue Team elements crept into their positions in the trees, facing the three bunkhouses and moving as close as they dared. Partly concealed by their gathered clumps of grass, leaves, and weeds, they watched Red Team’s soldiers, moving forward an inch at a time whenever the Red Team soldier’s eyes were elsewhere.
Still in the tall grass, ranging from twenty to thirty feet from their respective targets, the three Blue Team elements had gone as far as they could. To go further would risk discovery, due to the lack of cover. They froze in place, weapons at the ready, and waited.
The lone two-man team that the General had dispatched to circle the camp and approach from the opposite – southern – direction waited until it was exactly the specified time.
From their concealed positions in the brush, they each lined up a shot on the nearest of the unconcealed Red Team soldiers. Squeezing off aimed shots, which announced themselves with a hiss and a thump, both men tagged a target in the torso for their first ‘kills’ of the day.
Shifting fire, they dispatched four more Red Team soldier before the remainder dived for cover, several shouting out to sound the alarm. Edging through the brush to shift their position – now thirty feet apart– the Blue Team unit fired again, achieving one more kill, before backing away a few feet into the brush, dodging the poorly aimed, chaotic return fire.
The commotion raised by the diversionary attack had its desired effect, drawing the attention of Felecia’s remaining posted troops as they took cover and looked towards the attack. Moving with both haste and care, the three two-man Blue Team elements behind the barracks scurried forward, darting through the skirting weeds to take cover under their respective targets: the three barracks buildings. Once there, they did what they’d come to do: they listened.
One of the two Blue Team men to the south, having melted back into the bush and who so far had eluded the countering fire, drew a bead on the wall of the first barracks. Raising his gun to compensate for the distance, he lobbed two rapid shots that spattered and burst against the side of the building. Shifting fire, he repeated the process on the other two barracks.
Inside Barracks Three, alongside the ‘prisoner’, Felecia, Horst by her side, covered the closed and locked main door with her gun. Other men guarded the rear door. Hearing the impacts, she said to Horst, “That’s one gun, to the south. The bastard’s trying a diversion.” She knew that the General must have disposed of her sentries, rendering her tactically blind and giving him the initiative, and that made taking his force out of play a priority, making her next order sensible and nearly automatic. “He’ll be coming from the north. Take him out.”
Under Barracks Three, the General’s two men heard what they sought: the distinctive sound of a female voice coming through the floorboards. One man scrambled to the edge of the building and with one fast movement, waved his gun in the air before retreating further under the building.
Seeing the signal, General Bradson held up three fingers to the man still in the tree line to the north of the barracks. The lone Blue Force man opened fire on barracks three, the sound of his shots smacking into the old wood a pre-arranged signal designating the primary target. General Bradson had correctly assumed that Felecia and her commanders would be with the ‘prisoner’, and had used the fact that she was the only female in the force in order to determine the prisoner’s location. Now, all he had to do was defeat a much larger force in order to free his prize.
Felecia’s deployments had been sensible and practical. Due to not knowing when the General would attack, she could not keep all of her force in concealment or on combat alert, and had organized them into three shifts, two being on alert at all times. Therefore, she’d retained most of her men in the barracks with a smaller force stationed outside, at a lower alert state.
Horst charged out the barracks door, dropping and rolling, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Reaction force, with me! They’re to the north; sweep the tree line, prosecute all contacts to a kill!”
Barracks one and two emptied quickly, the men storming out, racing around the buildings to join Horst’s pell-mell charge. It was not as sloppy as it seemed; given their advantage in numbers and the tactical objective, they could afford to lose a few men in order to dispatch the attacking force.
Playing hare to their hounds, the Blue Team man in the tree line to their north retreated noisily, pausing only to snap off a few covering shots. Snatching a few rocks from his pockets, he slung them one after another, side-hand, into the undergrowth, where their sounds created the impression of more retreating men. Every few yards, he chucked a few more rocks.
Thinking that he was pursuing eight or nine men instead of one, Horst led the designated reaction force, which consisted of himself and his platoon, northward away from the compound. The man they were pursuing eventually took cover, thinking to let them pass and surprise them from behind, but bad luck reared its head, and one of the pursuing men of Red Team blundered right into him. After a brief, outnumbered scuffle, Blue Team had its first ‘fatality’ of the day. Although he’d been ‘killed’, the Blue Team man’s mission had been a success; Red Team’s reaction force was a mile north of the barracks, under the impression that Blue Team was lurking in the trees around them. Suspecting a possible ambush, Horst ordered his men to advance with caution, inching their way through the thick tropical undergrowth. The General’s plan to take much of Red Team temporarily out of play had succeeded.
With his men to the south still taking pot shots and keeping the remaining outside guards occupied, General Bradson ran a quick estimate, determining, based on a rough head count, that Felecia could only have six or seven men remaining with her inside Barracks Three. A dozen or so more remained ‘alive’ outside, having taken cover from the harassing fire of the Blue Team ‘snipers’ to their south. In doing so, they’d, as expected, presented their backs to the row of barracks and the three Blue Team elements underneath.
Firing his own gun for the first time, General Bradson scored his first kill of the day, clipping and then hitting the closest of the Red Team men. Most of the remaining Red Team men in the compound were quickly dispatched, via shots to their exposed backs, by the General’s men sheltered under the bunkhouses. The lone survivor scurried for cover, shielding himself from the new threat axis, only to be taken out by an aimed shot from one of the two men in the southern diversion force.
With the compound cleared, the only immediate danger came from the Red Team men taking shots from the windows of Barracks Three. Felecia, still blissfully unaware of the Blue Team forces under the barracks – the sound of their firing had appeared to come from elsewhere, due to echoing off the neighboring buildings – glanced out a window, to see her men in the compound lounging around where they’d fallen, per the rules, and thus ‘dead’. Beginning to suspect that she’d fallen into a well-laid trap by sending her reaction force north, Felecia issued a recall order to Horst over the walkie-talkie, and then said to both Horst and the men in her barracks, in a quiet but deadly voice, “He’ll hit us now, he has to.” Her warning came almost in time.
With the compound cleared and the reaction force out of the fight for the moment, General Bradson initiated phase three of his plan. Advancing, darting from cover to cover, he closed the gap between himself and Barracks Three, drawing the attention of its watching defenders.
While the General kept the defender’s heads down by firing a few rounds at the windows, which served to draw attention in his direction, the two men from the southern diversion force charged up, peppering the southern windows, as the three two-man elements all converged, as yet unnoticed, under the steps leading to the main door.
Given the position his attacking force was in and the tactical situation, General Bradson felt confident of victory even if he himself played no further active roll. However, he wanted to win big and do so with bravado, so he went through with his plan, charging forward, darting to the side, angling towards the building and out of the fields of fire from the windows. He felt the punch of a paintball round against his left shoulder, rendering him ‘disabled’ and unable to use that limb. He didn’t need it. Charging up the rear stairs, he kicked in the back door and stormed in, firing wildly at the Red Team men inside, who focused on the intruder. Three rounds thunked into the General’s chest, and abiding by the rules, he dropped his gun and sat down as the barrack’s front door shattered, falling inward as the General’s remaining eight men charged in from the other side of the barracks. Most of the surviving Red Team men, caught looking the wrong way due to the sudden shift in threat axis, proved easy marks for the invading Blue Team.
The first thing the General noticed was Felecia, with a blotch of white paint from his own gun dripping from her face shield. Already ‘dead’, she wiped the paint away and saw the similarly ‘dead’ General Bradson. Then, her spirits sank as she observed that every Red Team man in the building was down, and five surviving Blue team members were already helping the hobbling ‘prisoner’ out the door, unopposed.
General Bradson broke the ensuing silence to say, “Horst and his force are out of position to the north and won’t get here in time. My guys will break south and then take a random heading, detaching a few men to set ambushes. There’s no chance of effective pursuit. Game over, you lose.”
Glancing at Wilhelm, ‘dead’ by her side, she could see in his eyes that the General was right; they were beaten. Feeling the bitter taste of defeat in every fiber of her being, Felecia replied with calm detachment, “Fine, you win. You’re going in with us, just like you wanted. Now, what’s your strategic concept for the mission?”
“In air combat,
it’s called getting inside the other guy’s
decision loop. That’s how I defeated you and
that’s how we’ll win in Iran. Let’s go for a
walk and I’ll give you the details,” General
Bradson replied, a little smugly, doing so as a
test. Felecia noticed the smugness but let it
pass. As far as she was concerned, he’d earned
After two hours on the phone, Eric greeted the end of the conference call with a smile; it had gone well, and a little faster than he’d expected. Pushing the remains of his dinner aside – he’d eaten during the call, to Helen’s consternation – Eric checked the clock and saw that it was only a little past nine. Getting up to stretch, he walked across the room and pulled his boardshorts on over his speedos before heading for the resort’s main building and the shop he’d noticed.
Arriving in the small store, he browsed the liquor section and although tempted, limited his purchase to a bottle of good scotch, hoping that Jansen and Keith would like it.
Purchase in hand, Eric walked out via a different route, and as he neared the end of the building, he heard the deep bass thump of the disco. Deciding to stop and have a look, he entered, taking a moment to let his eyes adjust to the flashing lights emanating from the dance floor. There, a dozen or so guests danced in couples, and Eric glancing around the room with casual interest before he noticed one familiar blond-headed face in a booth, holding hands with a guy he didn’t recognize. Backpedaling, hoping that he hadn’t been seen – he wanted to have some fun first – Eric ducked out of sight and made his way out of the disco. He strolled out into the night air, heading for Jansen and Keith’s suite.
Eric heard the TV inside and tapped on the door. Jansen, in white shorts, opened the door with a smile, and Eric could feel the unease as he was invited in. He didn’t mind one bit; he was well aware of the cause and intended to make the most if it.
Jansen ushered Eric to the couch, where Eric placed the scotch on the table. With a grin, though choosing his words with care, Eric said in an offhand way, “I figured you guys might like to celebrate with me. You saved my ass today. I totally blew it with the wedding.”
His voice a little uncertain, Jansen got up to get some glasses off the counter and said, “I like scotch, thanks. Keither was tired so he went to bed early, and he’s a grouch if anyone wakes him up.”
Glancing wordlessly at the two open bedroom doors – though the beds were not visible from that angle – and then at the loud war movie Jansen had been watching on DVD, Eric said, “Okay, just you and me then,” as Jansen sat down beside him.
Eric poured a healthy shot into both glasses, and added some ice water to both. Eric watched as Jansen tasted his, smiled approvingly, and took a drink. Eric knocked back his own glass, and poured another round. Sitting back, glass in hand, Eric casually scratched at his bare pec as he asked, “So what did you think of the idea I had, of you guys sucking face at the party?”
Eric watched Jansen’s bare chest tense slightly and listened to the expected unease in Jansen’s voice as he said, “Uh, we don’t do stuff like that on stage.”
With a casual one-shouldered shrug, Eric took a drink before replying in an offhand tone, “Yeah, I guess in a club it might be kinda strange, but it’s a small, private party, and it’s not like you guys don’t kiss all the time anyway, right?”
“I’ll have to talk it over with Keither,” Jansen hedged, trying to stall, and then took a very big drink before pouring himself another, stronger one.
Eric watched the movie for a few minutes, feeling the warm glow of the scotch. He could feel Jansen’s unease, and didn’t miss the occasional furtive glance at the door. Smiling to himself, Eric asked, “So what did you guys do tonight?”
Relaxing a little – the scotch helped – Jansen replied, “We had dinner, and then walked around until we found the disco. Keither likes to dance. This is a really great place, it has fucking everything…”
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Nice disco too. I stopped by on my way here to have a look,” Eric said while pretending to pay attention to the movie, listening instead for the sharp intake of breath he knew he’d be hearing. He wasn’t disappointed.
Jansen remained silent for a few seconds as he poured himself another drink. “Pretty cool place, huh?” he finally said.
Watching Jansen out of the corner of his eye, Eric waited until Jansen was taking a drink before saying in an offhand way, “Yeah, your brother looks like he’s having a good time with his date.”
Jansen choked in
shock, coughing into his drink, spraying whisky
and water over both himself and Eric.
Standing on the porch of his house, The Scar smiled. He had greatly enjoyed watching the tactical drill and Felecia’s third consecutive defeat. Turning to walk back into his house, he breathed a sigh of relief before closing the door and saying to Yuri, “That makes it certain: General Bradson has the ability to win, including in a real combat situation. This means we’re a go for Iran and our objective.”
Nodding, Yuri asked, “What about the money for the additional gear the General has requested? Shall I ask him for a further payment?”
The Scar shook his head. “No. If your estimate of his net worth is correct, he would have difficulty raising the money and his efforts to do so could serve to draw unwanted interest, so I have told him that I will cover the difference, for now, and will expect payment once the mission has concluded. That might make him suspicious, but better that than drawing any outside attention our way.”
“What of the Iranians, sir? What if they release his son?” Yuri asked.
“There is little danger of that. They are rather fond of the high-speed magnetic bearings I have been providing. I threw in ten units on the last shipment, in return for their agreement that they keep his execution secret if they kill him, and not release him for a few weeks even if they struck a deal with Washington. They were eager enough for the extra bearings that they did not trouble themselves to even ask for the reason behind my request.”
“Ah, I thought it coincidental that Bradson’s son was one of the two they kept. I should have known you’d set it up to prevent his release,” Yuri said in an admiring tone.
Chuckling, The Scar replied, “I thought so at the time but as it turns out, the Americans won’t agree to the Iranians’ absurd terms. Hence, the Iranians will likely execute the two prisoners. Therefore, I find myself in the unenviable position of having paid the Iranians to do something they would have done anyway. An irony indeed, but one I do not appreciate. I expect the Iranians may wait a week or two in order to make certain that any hope of a deal is dead. It will not matter if they kill them, for they will do so in secret and so long as the General does not find out, it should not affect our plans. The General, after all, will be conveniently deceased by the point in the mission where that would prove relevant,” The Scar said with a smile.
Pleased that The Scar was confiding in him, Yuri decided to ask one question that had been on his mind. “Did you arrange for the son to be held near our target? That was brilliant.”
Laughing, The Scar replied, “No Yuri, that was true irony and the benevolence of Lady Fate. I can claim no credit there. The Iranians needed to keep the prisoners in a secret yet heavily defended location. Therefore, it apparently made sense to them to utilize their most secure and well-guarded facility. They were, in a way, prudent to do so; the Americans were able to find out the location, as evidenced by the fact that our General knows where his son is being held.” Then, preening a little, The Scar added, “This is a case of making one’s own luck. Had I not developed a source for the bearings and thus put myself in a position to deal with the Iranians again and develop some useful contacts within their regime, we would not have the information that we now possess. I would also have not been in a position to point out to them that one of their prisoners was the son of a former and very famous general, something they had not the wit to notice for themselves. Fortune favors the bold, Yuri, indeed it does.”
With a TV set turned to a cable news channel blaring in the background, Brandon and Chase finished packing in their Los Angeles suite, making ready for their trip. They could barely contain their excitement; their big day was nearly upon them, and the act of packing brought a sense of imminent reality to their long-held dreams. Meeting Chase’s eyes, Brandon smiled and angled his head towards the bedroom. Within moments, they had left a trail of clothes leading to the bed, their attention on each other and not the television, on which a reporter had just begun mentioning a reawakened volcano on La Palma.
Rolling into bed with laughter, passion, and joy, sparing but a glance at the nighttime city skyline from their forty-story vantage point, Brandon and Chase reached out for one another, but Mother Nature had a few surprises in store.
Just east of Los Angeles, miles below the earth, the incremental increases in tectonic pressure, built up over centuries, at last reached the limit that the rock could withstand. It began in a small way, as such things do; an area of rock no larger than a football field broke, sheering along the old fracture zone as if cleaved by the Devil’s own knife. That, however, was but the first step, as the rock fracture spread in both directions along the fault line with lightning speed. Within a second, an eleven-mile long rupture of the northern San Jacinto fault, east of Riverside, was underway, releasing pent up energy equivalent to a six-kiloton nuclear weapon and generating seismic ground shocks that spread out like ripples from a pebble tossed into a pond.
The quake, registering at just over six on the Richter scale, spent the majority of its fury on the areas within four miles of the rupture. Dozens of buildings, both large and small, collapsed, while others failed partially. Thousands more were severely damaged, many beyond hope of repair. The hard-hit area was plunged into darkness and chaos before the ground had even stopped moving. Amongst the damage were many broken gas lines, vastly complicating the rescuer’s task, as they sought out the living and counted the dead. It took the gas company over two hours to shut off all supplies in the region and depressurize the lines, but during that time, explosions rocked the beleaguered area. All through the long night, fires resulting from gas leaks and other sources raged unabated, overwhelming the resources of the fire department. By the early hours of the morning, reinforcements from nearby cities would turn the tide, but the coming dawn would reveal that hell incarnate had come briefly to earth.
For Brandon and Chase, locked in a passionate embrace, the earth truly began to move, though in what was, for them, an unaccustomed manner. The first component of the ground shock, slammed into the base of their hotel, causing it to sway. Brandon felt it first, and glanced around, becoming aware of the sickening sense of movement, combined with the growing sound of the protesting building united with the noise of countless small falling objects. “Earthquake,” he said in a stunned tone, and pulled Chase into a tight embrace as the building lurched again.
Twenty seconds later, spared serious damage thanks to being over fifty miles from the quake’s epicenter, the hotel settled into an eerie calm. Pulling on some shorts, Brandon and Chase dashed from their suite to see if Jon was okay. Helen, vacationing in the Poconos with Barbra, would not hear of the disaster for several hours thanks to the time difference and millions of agitated callers swamping the local telephone network.
It was not until the following afternoon that a geologist reviewing the quake’s initial data in the U.S. Geological Survey office noticed the possible far greater danger that the quake may have unleashed.
The geologist, a short, bespectacled man to whom geology was not just a job but his life, knew that the San Jacinto fault was a minor danger when compared to its much larger neighbor, the San Andreas. The San Andreas fault is the largest in California, running from the Gulf of California northward, paralleling the coast for over six hundred miles before submerging itself in the sea north of San Francisco. It is known to create massive quakes. The 1906 quake that had resulted in the destruction of San Francisco was caused by the San Andreas.
The southern segment of the San Andreas fault, often referred to as the Mojave segment, begins near the Gulf of California and runs northwest, paralleling the San Bernardino Mountains before angling westward through San Gorgonio Pass, also known as Banning Pass. From there, it bends northwestward again, tracing a route along the southern base of the San Bernardino Mountains, before leaving the Los Angles Basin via the Cajon Pass. That segment of the San Andreas had not slipped for centuries, and it was widely believed that the angling of the fault as it exited San Gorgonio Pass and intersected at a shallow angle with the San Jacinto fault provided what might be described as a giant chock, locking the southern San Andreas fault in place. This ‘locking’ merely allowed the inexorable stress caused by the northward motion of the Pacific Plate – the San Andreas is the boundary between the Pacific and North American tectonic plates – to grow, decade by decade, century by century.
What most concerned the geologist was not the quake on the San Jacinto itself, but some minor subsequent shocks emanating from deep beneath the Crafton Hills fault zone, located at the thick end of the wedge of land between the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults. Looking at more printouts, his palms beginning to sweat, the geologist saw what he feared; a series of small, deep quakes along the Banning fault line, coupled with sensor data showing that the area between the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults had shifted over five feet to the southeast during the quake. That fit all too well with the theoretical model he'd developed.
The scenario that the geologist thought he could see unfolding was at once both simple and complex. In its simplest form, the ‘chock’ that had held the San Andreas motionless was no longer locked in place; the San Jacinto quake appeared to have had relieved the pressure that had held it in position for so long, and the smaller quakes indicated that the San Andreas, freed of its constraints, was about to move.
The San Jacinto quake had been just over a magnitude six on the Richter scale, releasing energy equivalent to one million tons of TNT, or a single one-megaton nuclear warhead. The southern segment of the San Andreas fault was in another category entirely: it had the potential to cause a quake of magnitude nine on the Richter scale, the equivalent of over thirty-two billion tons of TNT, or thirty-two thousand one-megaton bombs.
All those facts raced through the geologist’s frantic mind, his hands beginning to tremble as the icy breath of fear traced its way down his spine. He reached for the phone to begin spreading the unwelcome news.
It might take months, or weeks, or merely hours, but of one thing he was now nearly certain; the fuse was lit, and the entire Los Angeles area was staring right down the barrel of The Big One….
© 2008 C James
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Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
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 for his advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.