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Ninety Degrees Out

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Chayton Stargazer wakes up facing the sun streaming in his bedroom window. The problem? He lives in Alaska and its the middle of January. When Alicia Stroman rings his doorbell asking for help, they team up trying to figure out their new reality. The world has turned and it's Ninety Degrees Out. Thank you to @myie_love for the cover.

Scifi / Action
Karin Venables
4.5 8 reviews
Age Rating:


A/N: The way I do chapter headings is a way for me to keep track of my editing process. I start with Chapter One as a raw first draft. Chapter 1 would be the first grammar / punctuation / spelling edit. One is the third edit for clarity and continuity. The final draft will be 1 and that is a close as possible to what I want to publish.

What the fuck? How the hell is it sunny and freaking hot in my bedroom?

Chay kept his eyes closed against the red glow leaking through his eyelids. Living in Alaska, especially mid January, meant no sunlight. The sun set in November, and they wouldn’t see the first glimmers of dawn until the middle of February.

The window in his bedroom faced south, and he’d gone to sleep a couple of hours before noon. He was going to the observatory to set a scan of the northern sky, and fighting with the computer, setting the exact sectors would take him until well into the early morning hours. Last night’s computer crash and reload of the complex targeting program for the telescope had taken all his patience.

It shouldn’t be this warm. I can’t sleep, and why the hell is my phone pinging and beeping? Everyone knows I sleep during the day.

He opened his eyes shading them against the glaring light streaming through the triple paned glass. The few streaks of high cirrus clouds were lit in glorious orange with pale yellows closer to the white ball of the sun, dead center in his window. Totally alert, he dumped the down comforter on the floor and sought his slippers with his toes.

When his bare feet found warmth instead of burning cold, he stood, forgetting about his fur lined moccasins. Walking over to study the sunrise spread across the horizon, he tried to understand how he’d moved to the tropics. Water was running through his yard like it was mid May, and the sun was in the wrong quadrant of the sky. Not to mention, how the hell was it early morning when, he’d gone to sleep at noon?

How the hell am I facing east? Where the hell am I? Am I even on Earth anymore?

He spotted his redwood deck furniture, already more than half exposed. The table had more than two feet of snow on it when he went to sleep. Now rivulets of water drained toward the back of his property running through channels carved in ice as the accumulated snow of half a dozen blizzards disappeared.

His phone pinged again, and he went to look. There were notices for email, and more than three dozen texts from family and colleagues.

Turn on the news

Have you heard?

This is a disaster

We’re on the equator now.

How come you didn’t wake up? We set the telescope without you.

He opened his bedroom door and went down the hall into his office. Booting up his computer, he found the CNN news stream.

The headline story, in bold print, half a screen high, read:

The world has turned ninety degrees.

Holy fuck, I need to get my meat into the freezer. My entire supply for the winter is in the snowbank under the north eaves.

He turned back into the bedroom, grabbing clothes from the night before, leaving his thermal underwear draped over the easy chair in the corner. He’d left his entire cache of elk, moose, and bear meat buried in the snowbank against the north side of his house. It was going to thaw and every scavenger in the forest would be there to take advantage of a free meal if he didn’t get it into cold storage. He needed the protein frozen, or the mess would be spectacular.

Propping the door open with a stone he found already exposed by the side of his brick pathway, he began the mindless task of moving supplies. Thank God his freezer was empty and clean. He always cleared it after the first winter storm.

At least the frozen packages of meat wrapped in brown butcher’s paper were still solid and no harm was done. Only the very top layer was semi-thawed, and he’d throw it into a stew pot as soon as he finished moving the rest of it.

As he began cutting up the steak, he’d earmarked for first sun celebrations, he tossed it with spiced flour and dumped the chunks into a frying pan. The bear fat sizzled, and he lifted the lid off the huge slow cooker sitting on the counter. Stew was the easiest way to make sure precious supplies wouldn’t be wasted.

What had happened to my alarm? I had it set to automatically go off on weekdays. Did I hit it and turned it off? Wouldn’t be surprising, I was so damn tired. Too many all nighters trying to get the computers to do what I want with the radio telescope. And now the immediate threat to his meat cache threatened survival. Who knows when I can get out to hunt and what this has done to the wildlife around here.

Mindlessly he continued until he nearly cut his thumb when the doorbell rang. He wasn’t expecting anyone, his home was well out into the back country. It took him an hour to get into work and longer to get into Anchorage. He checked his freezer on the way to the front door. It was on, and everything inside was solid. At least one small piece of his world was under control.

Opening the door, he prepared to tell who ever was out there to get lost, but the child looking up at him smiled.

“We moved in down the road, but mom’s worried,” the little girl said, “Can you help us?” Her ringlets shone with blue highlights and her tiny pointed chin gave her a sprite like appearance.

“Arimina! Honestly, you can’t just go ringing the bell when you have no idea who’s in there. I’m sorry, but we’ve got a problem. I’m flooding up the road there. The creek is up by at least 20 feet. I live where it goes into the little canyon.”

Her mother’s voice drew his attention, with its velvet steel control.

“Holy God. I forgot about the creek. My meat cache was thawing, and I had to move it first. Let me go look how far up it’s got. Come on in. Is that your Jeep?” Chay felt a little tongue tied. “Come in. I’m cooking. First order of business up here, is never waste your food supply, survival depends on it.”

He led them through into his kitchen.

“I was just getting ready to throw the meat into the crock pot. And of course, that’s your Jeep. Not thinking real straight this morning.” Chay ran his hand down one of his dark brow braids tugging it as was his habit when things were overwhelming.

“Leave me to it, I see you’ve got the veggies prepped. Do you have beef broth? And yes, that’s my Wrangler. Thank God, or I would be stuck in the mud. I don’t think anyone is very sure about what to think right now.”

The mother was a curvy solid woman. Her eyes almost the same shade of brown as her daughter’s. Her willingness to pitch in impressed him. You had to be willing to help out in order to survive in Alaska. Where had she come from?

“Use whatever you find in the fridge for the stew. Anything goes,” Chay said. He pulled his rubber boots on as he talked.

“I have about a five-minute walk to the top of the cliffs. The canyon is about fifty or sixty feet deep, and the same across at the edge of my property. I’ll be right back.”

He jerked the back air lock open and stepped through slamming the interior door before opening the next one. Really, why was he worried about cold air? He splashed through puddles as he hustled through the backyard toward the path into the forest. Breaking into a run, he jogged the path, now more muddy than snowy.

Puffing hard, he arrived at the edge of Twig Creek and peered over the canyon edge. The roiling muddy torrent wasn’t ten feet from the top and he scrambled down toward the edge of his property line wondering what was making it back up. Runoff usually went easily, no more than a twenty-foot rise in the water levels and only for a couple of weeks.

Racing toward the right turn in the canyon, he heard the roar of a waterfall. Not good. Sometimes debris and ice piled up there, but it hadn’t happened in the last five years, not since he’d blasted an undercut in the opposite side of the narrow passage.

“Fuck me!” he yelled as he saw what the problem was. Broken sheets of thick ice had piled up filling the gap almost to the top, right where the bend was, and the canyon walls lowered.

Ticking off the calls he needed to make to warn his down stream neighbors, he hoped his brother had already noticed the stream was down to a trickle. Water was oozing between the cracks in the ice wall, but the cascade thundering over the top, was only a minor trickle compared to the normal flow of the creek. He loped up the overgrown path back to his house, long legs weaving through the brush and mud. Stopping at a puddle which formed at the base of a terrace he rinsed of his boots before he went in through the open outer door.

“Well?” The woman standing at his stove was browning the last of the meat he’d cubed.

“Ice dam. It’s almost blocked the entire canyon where it makes a ninety-degree bend at the edge of my property,” Chay said, puffing a bit to catch his breath.

“How are we going to bust that up? It’s going to flood me out in about another day or so, it’s already halfway across the back yard. I’m lucky I’m up a steep slope but still,” she sounded worried.

“Did you rent the old Markham place?” Chay was trying to picture what she was talking about. He knew they’d done a bit of work over the summer, but then decided to move to the lower 48 to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren.

“Yeah, it’s a bit big for the two of us, but it’s cheap. I’m up here for a year or maybe longer to study wildlife migration patterns.”

“Zoologist?” Chay asked and saw her nod. “Did you snag one of the grants the University of Alaska was offering?”

“I did. I wanted a change of pace. I’m from New Mexico.”

“Are you teaching too?”

“Nosy, aren’t you? I don’t even know who I’m talking to.” The chuckle accompanying her question told him she was teasing him.

“Chayton Stargazer, astrophysicist and professor. I’m on sabbatical this semester. I’ve got a major project going out at the observatory.” He grinned, hoping she’d take it the right way.

“Stargazer? Really? That’s just too funny.” Her laughter bubbled up spontaneously. “Alicia Stroman, zoologist and no, I’m not teaching this semester. Strictly research on polar bear movement and the shrinking ice. It’s going to be a whole different problem now though.”

“I know, with my name, astronomy was a given. And your little girl? Is she in school?” His name broke the ice more times than he could count.

“I’m in grade one. I can read already, and I know my times tables, so I’m bored,” Arimina piped up from the chair by the kitchen island. She’d picked up the book he’d been reading before bed.

“Um, I don’t think this is a good book for you, Arimina.” He snagged to from her hands and reached up to put it on the shelf behind him to stowing it away.

“But Mommy, I can read it, and it was a great story about a shark.” The girl’s lower lip trembled into a pout.

“Jaws isn’t great unless you let her read gore and guts already?” Chayton wasn’t going to make anymore assumptions.

“She smart, and way ahead of the curve as far as what she understands. And when Ari has a question she always asks.” Alicia said wryly. “Give it back to her. She knows sharks can hurt people.”

“Here you go.” Chay handed the worn paperback back to the little girl and she settled back down to read.

“On a more important note, do you have a way to blow the ice dam up? Otherwise I’m going to have to move out. And on another related side topic, did you feel dizzy and a bit woozy this morning when you woke up?” Alicia asked.

“I sleep like a rock, and I’ve got an iron stomach, so no on the dizzy. But considering what our good old Earth has done, I think your reaction is normal.”

He dug his phone out of his pocket and started to dial his father. All circuits busy. He tried again and spoke as he redialed.

“Give me a few minutes. I think I can get my father down here with some dynamite. He’s got a few sticks left over from some terraforming he did up at our homestead. I’ll let them know in Anchorage, and we’ll set it up for tomorrow. We’ve won’t have trouble with permits with the emergency.”

“If he can get them here, everything’s flooding.” Alicia dumped the last of the meat into the slow cooker. “This whole thing is surreal. I’m not sure I’m awake.”

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