April 12, 2004. All of us old enough to remember the morning of the Great Shake have a shared, communal insomnia. Never really resting easy, knowing that from that day on our lives literally rest on shifting sands. Sixteen years have passed and, still, sheer exhaustion is about all that can put me under, into a state of involuntary slumber.
Indian summer, 2020. I'd spent the afternoon hiking up to my favorite campsite in the Saddle-back Preserve. The Reconstruction Corps, in its frigid mercy, had finally given me a weekend off, and I intended to spend the time under an open sky. Back in the last century, campers used to come from all over the county to smell the orange blossoms and lose themselves in the view of the Promised Land, the stuff of panoramic postcards--from the foothills to the Pacific. Then the brown soup started closing in.
Well, now you could see Catalina most every day, and we had a different type of bumper crop--the kind that grew on local communes, not on freeways. History may never repeat itself, exactly, but it tends to have the last laugh.
I wriggled into my sleeping bag with the first evening chill, the thermals set extra warm. Lying on the ground, both the earth and I seemed at peace, or at least in a state of armistice. I made the mistake of dropping my guard and, having done so, closed my eyes just for a minute . . . .
Something snapped me awake. What, I wasn't sure. 2:32, my chrono said. Stars profuse and unblinking overhead, no breeze in the nearby chaparral, not so much as a cricket stirring. I didn't like the quiet, not this kind. I knew it too well.
The ground started trembling in the absolute silence. Nothing drastic, a mild jittering. Then a deeper lurch, as if all of creation was on a particularly bumpy flight.
I scrambled for the one piece of electronics I'm never without. First I took a laser reading of the horizon, then a fix due north. Nothing else I could do besides wait and count the duration. One thousand nine . . . 10 . . . Jeez, a real grabber . . . finally fading away on the count of 18.
The readout winked CALCULATING , then RICHTER 4.25 . A low-to-medium shaker, the epicenter displaying on-screen now. About 6 kilometers offshore, near Corona del Mar. Probably new pressure on the Newport-Inglewood Fault now that we had Hydrofracturing Plant No. 2 in full operation, slowing the drift of the San Andreas. The tremor was most definitely not on the forecast, and little shocks could often be the worst.
As if anybody needed reminding.
I sat very still and watched the entire Metrobasin light up, from the foothills to the county line and beyond. The Enclaves glowed first and brightest, of course, but there were even furtive pinpoints in the Abandoned Areas. Five million households checking the power and the foundation-probes, praying that their feet weren't made of clay, that their little wigwam would survive until morning.
Most of the lights, once on, stayed that way the rest of the night. All those poor bastards just like me, hoping the Next One could be kept at bay, if only we gave up dreaming.
By sunrise, I was already hefting my backpack, the gyros set on auto, trekking out of the foothills toward the nearest TransitGrid station. I'd left my hoovie in my garage, back when I had delusions of being on vacation.
But, no doubt, Dispatch would be buzzing presently; they'd be needing help with those frantic 711 calls that follow any slippage: "Come check the mercury bearings under the Marriott." Or, "Please bring an exorcist; my swimming pool is possessed." What I wasn't prepared for was Manny Fuentes beeping me direct on my portable.
"Tom? How's your beauty sleep?" He laughed, unoffended by my reply. "Don't complain. I jumped out of bed when this one hit and nearly broke a toe. Anyway, we've got a call. I'll explain on the way."
We arranged for a rendezvous at the corner of Chapman and Tustin avenues. Manny turned heads as always, pulling up in his screaming red Ford bimode, a '17 coupe with the vintage rocket-ship lines. He kept the wheels in place until we got to the freeway, then rose up on the Ford's air-cushion down-draft. It seemed strange seeing traffic again after all these years. The passable Caltrans routes were actually getting some use now that the hoovie plants in Detroit, Seoul and Volgograd were finally catching up with demand.
"Headquarters got a tip." Manny kept his eyes on the fissures that still ran like petrified lightning through the concrete, not trusting the autopilot. "A Viet woman in Pagoda Gardens. Her name's Mai Diem, legal since '09, the first in her family. She's involved with Sanctuary. The word is, she's approachable.
I groaned inwardly. The charter of the Reconstruction Corps says nothing about pursuing or courting para-illegals. Our board of directors, and especially our bankrollers on the other side of the Pacific, prefer to set themselves above the untidiness of U.S. policy and American public opinion.