Flight Time II: Nearby

Flight Time II: Nearby

Read part one.

It’s always someone’s responsibility and today it’s his because he’s the oldest and he’s built this all up and he’s paying — well, his wife is — for them all to be here today but there’s no time to get hung up on anything that’s not what’s coming with little warning. A young team plugged into their phones today an asset as they knew as soon as it was to be known. Every screen in the office, in the city, says to go. Red circles overlaid on familiar maps showing what’s already dead, what’s got a chance, what’s safe. They’re moving because of the regular luck for which he’s always been grateful.

“Go, go,” he keeps saying as he holds the door open with his phone on hand with a message half-drafted. The rusted-on staff still need to know where to go to get to the fire escape down to the carpark without the elevator that’s now filled and in doomed demand. He’s pointing and shouting as his wife takes the lead at the other door, personnel through and through, shepherding them all out then outside then downstairs.

They keep asking if he’s sure and he has to keep lying because what else is there? “Yes. Go, go.” He remembers the posters out of Shoreditch from before his time, a wannabe Madison Avenue man who replaced the responsibility of a hard national sell with a softer local one that’s more about the look and feel than the message. He’s counting them as they go. And he cannot help but panic.

He’s sure he’s missing one. He counts the abandoned computers on the long communal desks, points at them all to count them, to hold the number better in his mind. He double checks with a count of the wine glasses on the far shelf for the days when they do launches and how there’s one for everyone except for the days with the part-timers who aren’t here, who he wonders about now, before realising he’s missed counting himself. Of course.

He closes the door behind him, considers locking it, and doesn’t. He follows.

His phone’s vibrating as he makes his way down the corridor and his emails are both mundane and morose — desperate cries from clients wanting to help in any way they can in the last moments sandwiched by uptime monitors saying a tyre fitter’s site was down, now up. He reaches the door to the loading dock before he lets himself sink into the depths of his inbox. He doesn’t want to hear from anyone right now, really, but he does wonder about the kids. The kids. He looks to his phone and unlocks it as he walks and reaches the fire escape where his wife’s waiting and he pushes her along, not thinking. As he looks to his phone he wonders if he should learn for a fact whether descending into the concrete depths will save them.

He probes his scattered memory for any line from a half-remembered Sunday evening documentary on the Wars that might have something to do with this somehow. But he’s a proud man after all and what he remembers has more to do with Europe than with Japan and so all he does is press on as the blur of his phone erupts into a call that’s made it through. One of the kids. Halfway across the loading dock, he stops. Holding his wife’s hand to pull her forward before, he instead stops her now.

She comes back to him and sees his phone and she answers it for him. She speaks first.

“Are you safe?”
“The news says we’re okay. The circles. But you’re —”
“Going into the carpark. Get under cover anyway. Stay away from the windows. Be careful with the dog.”
“Okay, okay.”
“Are you all at home?”
Three voices: “Yes, yea, yep.”
A moment.
“How are we going to find you?”
“We’ll be underground. If you don’t hear from us come find us.” She starts to cry. He can barely help it. He will when they hang up. “I love you all,” he says. “We love you all.” She’s weeping into his shoulder.
Three voices: “Love you too.”
“Speak to you soon.”

He hangs up in a moment because he has to or he never will. Too formal. Suddenly he wants not to die more than anything so that he can speak to his kids for the last time like friends not clients. But the door erupts open behind them as residents from the apartments above, sweaty from the stairs, unable to take the lifts now, burst out about them. In the gathering crush, he walks her to the edge of the loading dock and through the door and onto the harsh solid stairs to the sloping concrete of the carpark.

Staff waiting. They gather and his wife steels herself as best she can and he bites his lip a moment, his eyes wet but not crying, not crying, not crying, and they proceed down towards the bottom of the structure where they trust the earth will be harder, more compact; where Brisbane tuff, delaying the railway once, will now — with continued luck — hold fast.

About them people are coming deeper, deeper too, around and around, until everyone’s at the bottom corner about a smattering of cars, their service cut out. Only whispers and fear in the air. And someone counting down, to the best of their memory. Six, five, four…

But they’re off by a moment like you would be. It comes as a rumble and the earth shakes like its been stabbed by a serrated blade and the building tries as it might to go refuse to go lightly but it’s unfeasible in the face of unbelievable strength and it falls over above them, down over the road, into the empty lot at the junction, a great boom rolling through as the stadium over the road shatters eastwards into its field. Mains sever and everyone screams but they’re inaudible over the roar of destruction. The rock holds as best it can but it bends and breaks and the cliffs char and crack and water leaks in through where the concrete snaps and hot earth spills through. Effluvium fouls the air as the fireball heats the city, threatening but not committing to the ignition of their clothes before it fades as it passes. Petrol and oil mixing with the water as it congeals at the base of the carpark, filling with speed, pushing the gathered crowd back up towards the road.

They would swear later on, with video recordings from high above on the moment before and the moment of and the moment after, that they could feel the river banks moving about them. Elevator banks with intact doors belying the shattered cars behind them, the shafts open now to the sky, accumulating radiation as they all would be now. Someone coughs from the dust on the wind and he knows but cannot convince himself that it is too soon for all that now. Sunlight filters in now through the darkness into which they were plunged as the tower fell. He doesn’t know how it’s happened but his curiosity’s getting the better of him so he’s ahead of the crowd, pushing on as the lead, around and around back up, and he sees the garage door crushed shut but the door at the fire escape smashed open but escapable.

He makes his way for it as the tenants behind him want him to be careful but he’s not. He gets to the doorway and kicks what’s left of the door open and breathes in the dangerous air like wine before he realises but he figures if it’s too late it’s too late. The office and the tower smashed apart and scattered across the street as ash and pieces of steel and rent bitumen like sea-battered rocks in the old coves back home. Amongst it all what was left of some people who didn’t make it in time. Red all over like silhouettes coloured in crayon. A groan nearby as someone somehow sitting in the wreckage stands now and most of them remains on the broken ground.

The crowd now filtering out through the door behind him. Gasps and concerns and some Samaritans making for the man who’s halfway to the afterlife. His wife and his team come up behind him. She takes his hand, comes about him, holds him tight. He does a headcount again, everyone now with blood-red eyes and all dishevelled somehow by the safety from the blast. Lingering radiation coming down about them as their phones start to ring again.

Read part three.

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