Flight Time I: Beneath

Flight Time I: Beneath

No one knows, really, because it’s not something for which you prepare. Even if you’d have given it some real thought outside of the beer gardens with fake turf and pine benches and bad friends, it comes on faster in the moment than the ideas for which any of the plans you might’ve made could account.

Every screen cuts to black for a moment, a scrambling with an analogue switch in the studios against the mountain, and there are questions for a moment about its direction before it comes clear that it’s coming for you. All they can do is relay what they’ve heard and they hold out for a moment before the broadcast starts to loop and you realise that they’re fleeing too, hoping to get onto the other side of the range where the Downs will be free at least of the fire. You’re transfixed by the second, the third loop before you realise that it’s over. That you’re too late.

What happens next is that you bargain for a moment with life as if there’s something to negotiate but it counters with the rationalisation that comes with the first in a stream of notifications that won’t end now until there’s no more phone to receive them. You look to the TV and you’re stunned by the paralysis of nothing now saving anything.

You’re lucky you’re high enough up to watch it for as long as it falls, with its great grey trail bending across the overcast morning sky. Here it will end in the moment of the explosion, the heat and the energy destroying you completely. Your memory fails you about whether making your way underground will be at all effective. So little, you remind yourself, to know about these kinds of things. Even if you’d entertained the natural impulse to search for answers, the networks are so flooded with everything else, with calls and messages and queries filled with rich media — audio, images, video — that you’d get nothing. No sending, just receiving, data transfer one way now in the frenzy below you. You’ve barely even noticed the noise of the city falling apart before it has. Below you crowds like ants to become dust.

What doesn’t help are the TVs mounted to the walls in the office just playing those loops over and over, a countdown in the corner now like that’s supposed to help. A missile approaches and instead you’re transfixed on the numbers as they change. You think of the names appearing across your phone over and over and you wonder what they’re thinking of you. You wonder what you’re thinking of them, safe and scared, and it feels like this will all last forever. Everything is probably not quiet. You can’t tell. It feels instead like this will all last forever.

But it doesn’t.

You don’t see what you’ve been waiting for because you’ve forgotten until now that they explode above ground. But it comes through in the moment after the blinding white as an unbearable heat that burns it all away on the edge of the force like a tower spearing the earth that disintegrates the building as it atomises you before the sound arrives. Downtown already crushed and everything flattened faster than you would have been able to believe. Concrete to dust. The river sizzled to steam and hollowed out to cracked and blackened mud as the mangroves don’t have time to catch alight. The air broken apart. Hideous silence behind you and nothing left to save.

A bomb come for you all as a message, a show of force, proof positive of a fearsome strength that can undo more than a million years underground. Sound falls back down as if on the back of the blast like a heavy cloth that ripples and folds on the fiery wind as it drops with the fallout beginning its descent.

Read part two.

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