Roger Whitfield gazed out over the Napa Valley wine country from 1000 feet in the air. The sun was shining; there wasn't a cloud in the sky until you looked inland to the Sierra Mountains. Below him stretched endless fields of grape vines, as he guided Eureka on what was probably one of her last flights. The word from the head office wasn't good, they were some $5 million dollars in debt and with the crashing economy there weren't many people who would shell out $500 for a sightseeing trip, even one as nice as this.
He glanced to his right and saw his copilot intently monitoring the instruments as the 245 foot long Zeppelin cruised along at 65 miles per hour on this beautiful California day. Glancing back into the spacious cabin, he saw the two young ladies chattering away, pointing out landmarks to each other and snapping photos with their cameras. Roger had chatted with them for a moment when they boarded the airship. He remembered them saying they were a couple of college students out from New York on a 7 day California package tour, taking in the sites by air.
Oh well, he'd known the gig was too good to last. His dad had laughed at him when he'd applied to Airship Ventures with a freshly minted Commercial pilots rating, but miracle of miracles they'd hired him over some Air Force and Naval Aviation types with thousands of jet hours. It seemed that they figured it would be easier for him to learn Lighter-than-air piloting than it would be to convert the other fellows. Not to mention cheaper. So here he was, Captain of a Zeppelin, owned by a company about to go bust.
He flicked a switch on the radio panel and a local new station came over the headphones. He listened as Governor Swartzenegger spoke to the public, announcing that the recent spate of earthquakes was over, and that they hadn't had any tremors in some hours. In other words, "don't worry, be happy". He'd seen photos of the supermarket torn in half the night before and some other news camera coverage of large cracks in the ground down near the water. According to his Nibs the Governor, this was nothing serious and no cause for alarm.
Suddenly he started hearing crashing and banging, followed by screams and cries coming over the airwaves. Then the radio went to static. At just about the same time George reached across and grabbed his arm, gesturing out the window on his side with his other hand. Roger pulled off the headphones and leaned over to look out Georges' window. What he saw confused him. He thought he was flying over a set for a war movie or something. Houses were crumbling and bursting into flame, cars scattered every which way on the roads and smoke and flame erupting on a massive scale.
"Holy Shit! What the hell is going on? Are we under attack?" He asked.
"No, look at the ground over there at 1 o'clock. See it sinking? See the sections rising up? I'll bet we're seeing the "Big One" they've been promising all along. Jesus, I'm glad I'm up here and not down there. George replied, pulling out a pair of binoculars.
As they watched, Roger could hear the two young ladies in the back start to scream and he turned to look out his window. Below him, the land was sinking fast in a chasm a mile or more wide. Even from this height, and with the engine noise to mask it, he felt more than heard an unbelievable roaring rumbling sound, and as he looked towards the north he could see dark blue water rushing in to the sinking valley as the Pacific Ocean started to build a new island.
As they continued on southward back to San Francisco, the devastation increased and the airship started bouncing around in the turbulence caused by the massive blocks of land rising and falling, and the never ending sea of flames below them. Roger pushed the throttles to full and put on some climb trim, and Eureka started to climb higher as they neared the bay area. As they watched, the land all around subsided and the blue of the Pacific Ocean came rolling in, covering large parts of San Francisco and the inland areas in a matter of minutes.
As they watched, container ships, tankers and the old WWII freighter that made her home in the bay washed up miles inland. Tall buildings fell over or were inundated as the land they were on sank beneath the waves. Thankfully they were now some 3500 feet above it all and the show was now more like a nightmare video as they headed inland looking for a place to land. The radios were full of mayday cries from aircraft coming in to land at airports now under water, desperately looking for a place to set down in the 45 minutes they had left before their fuel ran out. Roger listened to higher flights that had just left San Francisco heading east reporting massive fractures in the earth, and incredible damage to towns and cities on the other side of the Sierras.
Someone come up on the frequency and said that he'd been listening to some nut on FM radio who had been telling everyone for a couple of years that the world was about to blow up, it being the end of the Mayan calendar and all. This guy said it had been known since the Mayans did their calendar and it was inevitable. His latest broadcast went on about some deep core drilling at Yellowstone and how the rig was surrounded by US Army and Marine detachments, all of it being very hush hush and public access no longer allowed. According to this guy, Yellowstone was about to become the world's largest active volcano. Apparently this Charlie something or other was still yapping nonstop from a mountain top in Yellowstone.
After staring out the window in shock for what seemed like hours, Roger finally pulled it together and started thinking about how they were going to survive. He checked the fuel and was happy to see that they still had better than ¾ tanks, which gave him a working range of about 400 miles. Their base was gone, as was his apartment, his parents and girlfriend, and just about everyone he knew. George was in the same shape. Everything they had had was gone, destroyed in the quakes and tsunamis. He glance back at the two girls and saw they had huddled together, arms around each other, and were whimpering and shocky. He tapped George and pointed to the controls.
"I'm going aft to talk to the passengers."
"Ok Roger, I have command."
With that, Roger unfastened his belt, got up and headed back to the mini galley. He poured four cups of coffee and brought one to George, then took the other 3 and went over to speak to the two girls.
One of the girls had stopped whimpering and watched as he came aft in the small cabin. Brunette, brown eyes, about 5 foot 5, a slim figure, and a face that had appeared both intelligent and fun loving when they'd chatted, her name was Samantha. Her friend, a slightly taller blonde, a bit more meat on her bones than Samantha, but also very pretty, went by the name of Candace if he remembered it correctly. Candace looked to be in worse shape, still cowering away from the sights below, trying to bore a hole in Samantha's shoulder with her face. Samantha had her arm around here, shushing her from time to time.
Roger knelt in the aisle beside them and offered up the coffee. Samantha nudged her friend and asked if she would like something to drink. The blonde looked up, face tear streaked and stared at the hand with a coffee cup in it. Then she turned her face back to Samantha's shoulder and continued to whimper.
Samantha stroked her hair a couple of times, and then reached out for the proffered cup. She took a sip and then looked back at Roger.
"We're in some deep kimchi aren't we?" she asked.
Considering they were witnessing what could well be the end of man on earth, Roger was amazed at the calm in her voice.
"Yes, ma'am we are. We're OK for now but we have no supplies beyond what's in the galley, and a limited range before our fuel runs out... But for now, we are still alive and that's what counts." he replied. "How are you and your friend holding out? She seems to be pretty out of it right now. I'm surprised you are as calm as you are. Myself, I'm still trying to get my head around what I'm seeing and I'm not making much head way."
"I learned to control my fears a while ago. I decided to take a survival course through the college I was attending. 7 days of class work, and a ride in a truck up into the bush for a "one day" field exercise. Turned out to be a "3 day freeze, starve and get eaten by bugs" field exercise. And like it says in Dune, fear is the mind killer. Defeat it or channel it and your chances of living go up a good deal. So, I am calm. I'll freak out later when we are safe." Samantha told him.
"Yeah that makes sense. My Boy Scout leader taught us much the same thing when I was a kid. Sit down, build a fire and the panic will go away. Pity I can't build a fire in here."
"So now what are we going to do?" she asked.