Warning Signs – Pandora
Before an eruption, magma moves into the area beneath the volcano and collects in a magma chamber, or reservoir. As it comes closer to the surface, the magma releases gases. These events can offer valuable clues about the likelihood of an eruption. For example, the movement of magma produces small earthquakes and vibrations (seismicity). Magma gathering in a chamber causes slight swelling of the volcano’s slopes. Gases released near the volcano can be measured for changes in quantity and makeup.
When her buzzing phone woke her up at 1:47am, Katla knew exactly who was calling. She saw all 3 of her computer monitors lit up in the corner of her apartment. The seismic alert had triggered her sensors as well.
“Kat, it’s happening.” Dr. Charles Giddens voice sounded preternaturally calm, but then again it could just be the British accent that made him sound so composed.
“Are we going to meet on the ferry?” she asked in a panicked voice.
“I’m still at the lab. There’s no time for me to make it downtown from campus. You go. And I will try to meet you at the shelter before the blast.” His voice sounded more strained.
“But if you miss the 2:10 there wont be another boat until morning…” she began to argue, knowing full well that there probably would not be another boat. Ever.
“Kat…you must go. Now!”
“Wear the mask after the blast even if you don’t detect any particles. And don’t forget the sat phone and the friction charger. The solar charger will be worthless if there is a volcanic ash veil. I left everything in the bag. Hurry!”
Kat heard the cold digital beep as he ended the call. She hadn’t even told him she loved him. And now the world might be ending.
She looked at the time on her phone: 1:50. That meant she had 20 minutes to get from West Seattle to the ferry dock downtown. In test runs she’d made it in 12 minutes. But she still raced to grab the pre-packed survival bag. A large sleek black cat was curled on top of the bag.
“Oh Heph!” she cried scooping him up. “What am I going to do with you?” She held his warm purring body and decided that she didn’t care if he wasn’t part of their plan, she’d bring him anyway. She stuffed a nearly full bag of dry cat-food into the survival bag. With the cat in one arm and the large duffel bag slung over her shoulder, Kat grabbed her laptop, trailing its cord behind her as she raced out of her apartment to her car.
She pulled up to the ferry ticket booth just as the ticket seller was putting on her coat to leave. The clock in the window read 2:08. The woman looked irritated as she slid the window open.
“Bainbridge.” Kat held a $20 out, her hand shaking slightly. She’d never run so many red lights in her life and the adrenaline was just kicking in. The cat, who had been curled up on her lap, suddenly sat up and stared with emerald green eyes at the woman in the booth. The woman raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything. Kat held Heph’s collar so he couldn’t escape out the car’s open window.
“Lane 1,” the woman said tiredly as she handed Kat her change. There was a dog biscuit on top of the bills that she handed to Kat.
Kat thought for a second of warning the woman. But she knew she would just sound like some deranged cat woman who had gone off her meds if she began yelling about the impending eruption. So she simply smiled, took the change and the dog cookie and drove as fast as seemed acceptable onto the awaiting ferry. She saw the dockworker slowly lower the red and white arms in her rear-view mirror. Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion. She wanted to honk the horn and yell, “Hurry the fuck up!” but again, crazy cat lady behavior would not help the situation.
As the boat left the dock Kat sent a text to Charlie.
Made the 2:10. Where u @?
Her phone buzzed seconds later. At first she felt relief he was responding so quickly, but then she read his text.
Lab offering us to shelter in place. I’m on my way to get A. Check the report I emailed you about blst radius and prjcted gas emissions. Check filter status…may need to chnge carbon more frequently than we est.
Kat felt a new kind of dread welling up inside her. Not because the sensors that she and Charlie, (aka Dr. Giddens, her volcanologist graduate school professor) had installed last summer on Mt. Rainier were predicting a catastrophic mass eruption (the eruption of all Cascade volcanoes simultaneously) but because of A.
“A” was Annalise, also known as Dr. A. Giddens, a seismologist, aka Charlie’s wife, who had been diagnosed 3 years ago with early onset dementia at the age of 45. She was the specter hanging over their whole relationship. And he was her primary care-giver. And he had chosen saving her, over being with Kat.
Kat quickly keyed a reply that said more by saying less.
Kat stood at the back of the boat watching the receding downtown Seattle skyline. It filled her with sadness. All those shining, twinkling city lights would be extinguished when the power grid went down. All the people extinguished as well by the gases and ash that would blanket the entire city when the mountains erupted.
The boat chugged across the Sound and Kat watched the city grow smaller. Rounding Alki Point the view suddenly opened up to reveal Mt. Rainier to the south. A full moon illuminated the volcano. Kat thought she could detect a faint orange haze above the mountain. They had installed correlation spectrometers (COSPECS) on Rainier to measure sulfur dioxide–a telltale gas that is released in increasing quantities before an eruption. Were gases already releasing from the swelling magma chamber? Kat asked herself, or could that be a lenticular cloud lit up by the moon? Charlie would know the answers. But he wasn’t here with her.
She felt her phone buzz in her pocket. It was like he knew she had been thinking about him.
USGS going to issue the Emergency notice. Evac to start immediately. Go directly to the shelter.
She returned to the car and pulled the door closed behind her sitting in the silence for a moment before replying.
U and A back at the lab?
His reply said everything in a single letter.
They wouldn’t make it back to the lab once the evacuation alert was sounded. The streets and highways would be jammed with hysterical masses with nowhere to run. She was alone. There was only one option. Survivial.