***Regenesis, West TX***
Lauren Masters-Jacobs watched her husband pace the small space. They had taken this meeting to the bunker, the underground storage facility and safe room that was their last line of defense. She felt the tension rolling off Brent.
It compounded her guilt. For seven years, he had faced this all alone. No one would listen, certainly not her. If she had? Might things have been different? But she had been steadfastly reminding Brent for days that he could not change the past, that he had done the best he could. Didn’t she deserve the same?
But she kept coming back to one thing – she knew Brent. Even during their worst arguments, she had known he wanted the best for Elise every bit as much as she did. And as with this…. Apocalypse. That was the only word for what was happening. It would only get worse.
“Okay, so where do we stand?” The lines around his eyes and mouth were more pronounced. The dark circle under those deep blue eyes attested to the two hours or less of sleep that her husband had gotten in the past thirty-six hours.
The tiny space was filled with Brent’s closest advisors and their wives. The women’s roles in the situation were now as vital as their husbands’. “Zane sent a cryptic message that he was running the data. He promised he’d get the data into the right hands. But that was all he could do. Then he was going to help Kate?”
“Kate? Our Katie?” Lauren was the only one who knew why their carer and friend had insisted on taking the data to D.C.
Daniel Monroe nodded his head, but it was his friend Samuel who spoke aloud what they were all feeling, “But we can’t trust that the politicians will do the right thing with that information.”
Her husband shook his head and laughed as he ran his hands through his blond hair that seemed to have grayed overnight. “Fucking hell, the ‘right’ thing? Is there even such a thing at this point? I spent seven fucking years preparing for this shit, doing what I thought was the ‘right’ thing, and look where we are. Any word from the others?”
Lauren stepped closer, and Brent slowed his pacing enough to reach for her. It seemed utterly inadequate but was the only comfort she had to offer now.
“No word from Monique, but LA and most of Southern California are in total chaos right now. She probably can’t get a signal.”
“Or she’s headed to Rosarita. I know that’s what I’d do. Nothing on Travis?”
“No, his phone is still off.” The earthquake and small tsunami that had hit the West Coast was what precipitated this meeting. They had been so focused on the East Coast and the dangers of Cumbre Vieja that this one had taken them by surprise.
“Any harmonic tremors in the area?” Brent directed this last question at her.
She was grateful to be able to assuage that worry at least, “No, this seems an unrelated seismological event.”
He kissed the end of her nose, “Oh, baby girl, you still don’t believe. Nothing is unrelated.” She knew that he referred to the Gaia hypothesis. A belief that the earth was an interconnected and self-regulating organism all its own was first put forth in the 1970s by chemist James Lovelock and microbiologist Lynn Margulis. It was one of the many scientific arguments they had over the years.
But this time…. Brent might be right. Lauren shrugged, and Brent let it go since they had more pressing matters at the moment. “And the others?”
Lauren could see that Daniel squeezed his wife’s hand as he spoke, “I just got an email from Dec. They were in Senegal refueling. Darren was going to take the shortest trans-Atlantic course to Brazil. But the plane wasn’t in as good condition as we were told. It probably won’t get them any further.”
“Shit!” This time Brent’s fingers pulled his hair. It was her turn to reassure her partner with a gentle squeeze to his bicep and a look. “So, what’s the plan? Can we find another plane in Brazil for them?”
Daniel shook his head, “We’d run the same risk or higher.”
“The vultures are circling already, Doc,” Samuel added.
“They have funds with them,” their mother, Jill spoke this time as she leaned against her husband. “They’re smart boys. They know where we are. I know they’ll find a way.” But the dark circles underneath her eyes and the weak smile belied her words.
Lauren’s heart squeezed tighter. She did not even want to imagine what this woman or her friend Katie were feeling. To be so far from your children and helpless. Of course, Jill’s sons from her first marriage were anything but ‘boys.’ She doubted Royal Marines would take kindly to being called such.
“Okay, give me numbers, folks.”
“One hundred twenty-nine souls,” Simone Jackson, Samuel’s wife, answered.
“Fuck,” Lauren knew if Brent was cussing, things were bad, and his stress was debilitating. An idea began to form.
“By the time the others arrived, we’ll exceed Burton’s number.” She was grateful that Daniel had not said ‘if.’
“Maybe we shouldn’t have….”
She shook her head and squeezed his arm harder, “No, Brent, you know you did the right thing. You had no other choice….”
“The ‘right’ thing? What the fuck is that now? I thought I had this whole thing planned….”
“But the realities of the end of the world as we know it is some theoretical bullshit that no one can plan for. And trust me, I’ve seen some of the Pentagon’s protocols.” Daniel attempted to reassure her husband.
“Yeah, but what do I do now? I can’t just let all those people….”
The quiet voice from the shadows startled Lauren. Her heart beat frantically as she turned to her older daughter, “Megan….”
It was Brent who squeezed her shoulder this time, “Hey, sweetie, we were just finishing up our debriefing. Did you need something?”
“I came to let you know that Stan was looking for you. Dad, I know we’re in this situation because of me. If I hadn’t insisted that you bring my friends and their families….”
“No, Megan, it was the right thing to do.” He repeated Lauren’s earlier words. Whether he meant them or not, she couldn’t tell.
“But we don’t have the room for extra people, I knew that….”
“We’ll figure something out. We have the other safehouses. If we can manage to outfit them with more supplies, then we can redistribute the load….”
“But that’s only a few hundred of our closest friends and allies, dad. As you said, what do we do about the rest of the world?”
“And I think that’s what’s important for you to realize, Brent.” Jill Monroe stood a bit taller, “This isn’t just you, Doc. You did the best you could. And you’ve built a hell of a team. You’re not alone in this.”
Daniel kissed the top of his wife’s head, “My beautiful wife is right again, Doc. We have to work as a team. Together. That’s the only way we’ll come up with those solutions.”
Brent smiled and nodded, “You’re all right. I’ve been the crazzy, loner scientist for so long that I’ve forgotten it’s teamwork that gets the job done. So, ideas, people? How do we responsibly get the word out? Without inciting panic?”
“What about partnering with existing community networks, dad?”
“What do you mean, sweetie?”
“Well, there are thousands of local, as well as international organizations, that are already trying to address the issues of climate change, social and environmental justice. Many of them are working at the grassroots level using mutual aid. What if we connected with them? Gave them the information they need to prepare for what’s to come?”
“I mean, except the people along the East Coast and closest to the volcanoes, aren’t most of the effects long term? People still have weeks and months before the worst hits, right?”
His face lit up, and Lauren could almost see the relief as he held out his hand. Their daughter joined their embrace. “We did good, Dr. Masters.”
She smiled and kissed first Megan’s and then Brent’s cheeks. “We sure did, but that’s Dr. Mrs. Masters-Jacobs.”
They all laughed. Even during stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and chaos, laughter felt good. “So, how about you work with Dwayne to build a database of those groups, Megan?”
Their daughter nodded as he turned back to the others, “Jill, can you get some grow your own and recipes together. And Simone, can you draw up a list of emergency supplies, especially for those along the East Coast who should bug out.”
“We should reconsider that timeline, Doc,” Daniel spoke frankly. “Without Monique as a backup and not knowing how things will go for Zane, we should have that list of East Coast organizations ready. Maybe even go ahead….”
Brent shook his head, “Even if we target specific groups, words going to get out, and that’ll make people panic. Let’s wait to hear from Zane before we do that. Lauren, where do we see harmonic tremors?”
“Santorini and Etna, but they have started and then stopped a couple of times.”
“And Cumbre Vieja?”
She shook her head, “But it’ll take a couple of days in some cases to evacuate the larger cities. And you saw how quickly things happened with Vesuvius. So….” She shook her head. Lauren knew they were playing god with this information. But as they had discussed over and over again, what other choice did they have?
She knew how heavily that weighed on her husband’s shoulders as he made the call. “We wait for Zane. Now, let’s get to it, folks. Samuel and Daniel, you know what to do?”
Lauren made a note to ask Brent about the glance and nod that passed between the men. Later, when her husband was in a better headspace.
And she knew just how to get him there. It wouldn’t hurt her either. Well, it might, but only in a good way. Yes, they needed laughter even in times like these. But they required love even more. She didn’t plan on letting him forget that.
“Third drawer from the top, last cabinet on the left, don’t forget,” Simone winked at her as her husband pulled her from the room and the other followed behind.
“Did Stan say what he wanted, Megan?”
She shook her head, “No, but he’s seemed pretty upset.”
Lauren’s shoulders slumped. She supposed those plans would have to wait. Sometimes this end of the world shit screwed with your sex life. But she was determined to help Brent relax before they faced whatever news Zane brought them tomorrow. Even if she had to handcuff him to bed…. Yeah, that might be just the thing.