Warning Signs, Pt. 2 – Pandora
Warning Signs, Pt. 2
Bangor Naval Base Kitsap is the third-largest Navy base in the U.S. It features one of the U.S. Navy’s four nuclear shipyards, one of two strategic nuclear weapons facilities, the only West Coast dry dock capable of handling a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the Navy’s largest fuel depot.
When Kat first showed the shelter to Charlie he was amazed. It was a lead lined, concrete tube, hand dug into the side of the hill. Kat’s grandfather made it big enough for his family of 4 to live comfortably. It was a product of fear: the family’s farm was within 10 miles of Bangor Naval Base, one of the largest nuclear submarine bases in the U.S.. During the 1960s nuclear arms race Kat’s engineer grandfather saw a bleak future and began digging.
Schematics for the mechanical systems were still hanging with yellowing tape to the mint green walls. The red strawberries she and her grandmother had stenciled on the walls during Kat’s childhood summer visits were still visible.
“Look at these diagrams!” Charlie had exclaimed as he scrutinized the highly detailed and illustrated manuals.
Meticulous, step-by-step instructions explained to shelter evacuees how to operate the electrical system, the heating, the generator and the well.
“And then after my grandpa died, and grandma moved to Hawaii, my uncle Rick took over the farm,” She’d explained to Charlie, “And he went a little nuts with the Y2K stuff.” She gestured to a composting toilet and shrugged. “There’s a whole store room of dehydrated food, canned meat and powdered milk and eggs. It’s gross.”
“Kat, do you understand this is our ticket to survival? If the whole thing ever goes, this is where we need to be.” Charlie hugged her.
She’d glowed with pride that she had something to do with a survival plan, a plan that involved only the two of them. That night 3 years ago they’d spent their first full night together in the shelter, bedsprings squeaking. This was before A.’s diagnosis and Charlie could still get away. Other than their time on Rainier, it had been the only time they’d spent a full night together.
Kat pulled the car up alongside the dilapidated farmhouse. She looked out from the hill that overlooked Puget Sound and saw Mt. Rainier in the distance. It all still looked calm and peaceful. As the moon rose over the mountain, she thought about the last time she was out during a hunter’s moon, the time here with Charlie. She grabbed her phone from the seat and checked for messages. None. It was 4am.
Stepping out of the car, Kat felt the earth move. She’d been in her car and on the boat for the majority of the earthquakes and this was the first time she actually could feel it shake. It jolted her out of her reverie and got her running.
“I’ll be back for you in a minute,” She told the cat who still hid under the front passenger seat. She grabbed the survival bag and her laptop from the car and slammed the car door after her.
She ran down the backside of the house to the opening of the shelter. A rusted metal gate was padlocked over the shelter opening. It looked like the entrance to a mine. The black and yellow fallout shelter sign still hung by rusted bolts to the concrete face of the entrance. After scratching at the lock the gate finally screeched open reveling the lead door inset with a thick red glass panel at eye level. She fumbled with her keys to find the right one. Once inside she flicked on the light switch, almost expecting in not to work. A florescent light flickered to life above.
“O.K.,” Kat said to reassure herself. She dumped the bag and set her computer on the desk that still had a rotary black phone sitting on it. She wanted to pick up the phone just to hear the dial tone. The room smelled musty and stale. But there was no time to air it out. “Cat!” She reminded herself. She ran back out to the to the car. The ground began to shake again, this time more violently as she was trying to reach under the seat to grab Heph.
“Damnit!” She yelled as her head smacked into the glove box. The cat was not having any of it. He hissed at her as she put her hand around his neck and pulled him out from under the seat. His claws dug into her arms but she held him tight.
“You’re all I’ve got!” She tried to explain to the growling cat. As they came up over the hill towards the fallout shelter, the ground seemed to fall away from beneath her feet, knocking Kat to her knees. She looked across the water and saw the steam, ash and smoke begin to shoot out of the top of Mt. Rainier. The plume seemed to unfurl in slow motion, although Kat knew the rate of the ejecta was faster than any manmade vehicle had ever travelled. Kat saw small jets of brown and black ash, along with white steam plumes suggesting phreatomagmatic activity (i.e. interaction of water with magma). Her scientific mind marveled at what she was witnessing. Red glowing lava began to light up the underside of the blooming mushroom cloud of ash and steam.
Still clinging to the cat she stumbled towards the shelter opening. The sonic blast of the eruption stopped her in her tracks. The rumble started as a low frequency sound, almost more felt than heard, but grew louder until it was like a jet engine accelerating in the atmosphere directly overhead. The windows of her car blew out and the car alarm began to sound. Kat instinctively tried to cover her ears from the deafening roar of the eruption. Heph dropped from her hands and sped away into the darkness.
Kat couldn’t hear herself yelling but she felt the air sucked out of her lungs. She lunged for the gate of the shelter and dragged herself in. The lead door swung closed silently behind her. She turned the crank to the air seal and sank down with her back to the door. In the silence of the shelter all she could hear was the ringing of her blown eardrums. All else was quiet.