NOT AN EARTHQUAKE.
“What just happened?!”
“Was that an earthquake?!”
The bone-shattering pulse knocked hundreds to the ground.
“Are you hurt?!” Jesse pled as he helped Sarah up.
“No, I’m fine,” Sarah labored while catching her breath.
Random screams and cries echoed throughout the translucent gymnasium vestibule. Panicked students began running back and forth through the hallways.
“Maybe it was a crash nearby or something,” Sarah pled to Jesse.
“Doubt it,” Jesse replied as he and Sarah walked towards the classroom corridor. “It sounded more like a bomb. Could be a power oscillator blew.”
As Jesse and Sarah passed narrow walkway that separated the vestibule from the main parking lot, they noticed the media contingent reserved for Jesse were scurrying to their respective vehicles, most fumbling for their holophones and summoning their editors.
“Why is the press running like that?” Sarah commented. “They’re panicking more than we are in the school. Something happened.”
“Well, at least they’re leaving here,” Jesse replied. “Let’s go to the courtyard!”
As they scampered toward the 300 classroom corridor hand-in-hand, a voice echoed over the loudspeakers.
“Students and faculty, please stay calm,” Pete Harrison said. “Everyone return to your respective homerooms in an orderly fashion and await further instruction. I will make another announcement within the next fifteen minutes. Thank you.”
“Okay, something happened,” Sarah stated with a hint of despair. “When an authority figure pleas for people to remain calm, there’s a reason to panic.”
“We’re going to die,” Jesse sarcastically muttered.
Moments later, Matt flagged Sarah and Jesse down, brandishing a red holographic image on his ultraphone. “Guys, you must see this!” he shouted as he arrived by his cousin and now-girlfriend’s side. What appeared before them tingled their spines and sent shock-waves through their hearts.
BREAKING NEWS: NEW YORK UNDER ATTACK. DETAILS TO FOLLOW.
“You got to be kidding me,” Jesse muttered.
“Did we just get H-bombed?” Matt inquired.
“No,” Sarah nervously murmured, “if we did, we’d be dead. Its blast radius is up to 25 miles.”
“Where’s Mary?” Jesse asked.
“She’s on her way,” Matt said.
“Did you try to call Bob or Stacy?!” Jesse asked.
“Haven’t heard from either of them,” Matt replied. “I guess they’re still in their meetings.”
“Or they could be flaming corpses!” a frantic Mary shouted as she emerged from the corridor and ran towards Matt, Jesse, and Sarah after weaving around a cluster of panicked students. She waived the same breaking news alert on her ultraphone. “What’s going on?!”
“Okay, let’s take a step back for a moment,” Jesse replied, holding back his fear by contracting his chest to avoid spewing out irrational falsities. “You know how the media blows this stuff out of proportion, so let’s wait for the facts to come out.”
“That kind of rumbling does not suggest some random power oscillator blew!” Mary shouted. Matt, Jesse, and Sarah remained silent, realizing no words could calm down a panicked Mary. “I’m going to try mom and dad again! I’ll meet you in 3003!” She then walked away and fretfully fidgeted with the speed dial on her ultraphone.
“Let her go,” Jesse pled, “Hopefully she’ll reach them, but let’s head to Bristol’s room and wait to see what’s going on.”
In room 3003, Bristol stood in the corner directly to the left of the Divine Treatise mural. With more early sixty people, double the normal capacity, packed into the room, Bristol appeared like a small pea in a pod. Those not seated at desks sat on the windowsills, leaned back against the wall or blackboard, or stood in whatever open space they could find.
The fear in the air was palpable, even by this room’s standards. Those that typically cracked jokes and made off-colored comments were silent.
The holographic projectors were tuned to NOR, whose scroll at the bottom of the screens read: BREAKING NEWS: NEW YORK CITY ATTACKED, as a quartet of talking heads mindlessly speculated the unfolding events. One minute later, a pundit announced a new breaking news alert, and that their coverage would be shifting to an announcement from their most famous reporter, Georgina Jackson.
A half a dozen pleas for complete silence ensued, after which Jackson, fraught with stress through her frizzed black hair, and mascara appearing to melt beneath her brown eyes, began her statement. “Good morning, Freedomers,” she said with a slight quiver in her scratchy voice. “Approximately fifteen minutes ago, a TSUNAMIBOMB was detonated in the waters of the Hudson River near Lower Manhattan. TSUNAMIBOMBs, upon detonation, emit an EMP that travels up to a thirty-mile radius, creates tidal waves as high as fifty feet, and depending on the density of its water source, could cause potentially catastrophic damage anywhere between one or ten miles.”
Audible gasps ensued from the occupants of room 3003, some firmly clasping their hands over their stunned faces, others wrapping their hands behind their heads.
“Details are sketchy,” Jackson continued, “but we are about to show you surveillance camera footage from the main entrance to One World Trade Center, and we warn you what you are about to see is disturbing. If you are squeamish, we advise you to turn away from your set for the next ten seconds.”
What it displayed next would embed in the occupants of room 3003’s minds forever.
A black-and-white surveillance screen captured the images outside the concrete plaza in front of the main One World Trade Center entrance. It started as an ostensibly normal scene; commuters scampering to and from, briefcases, backpacks, and other assorted items in tow. Others were loitering under the shining sun, playing with their ultraphones, engaging in conversation, or drinking coffee.
Seconds later, a flash appeared, and the picture shook, instantaneously lifting all within lens-shot off their feet and on to the ground. Then, an inundation of thousands of gallons of river water submerged and catapulted all on the image, then crashed into the building.
The subsequent cries, gasps, and screams of all watching in the classroom drowned out the words of an emotional Georgina Jackson. Most produced their ultraphones in frantic attempts to contact loved ones. Sarah, Jesse, and Matt did the same.
“Mary still hasn’t heard from Mom or Dad,” a panicked Matt whispered to Jesse as he showed a text from Mary in all caps: I STILL CAN’T REACH THEM!!
“Keep trying,” Jesse pled.
“I still can’t reach my parents, either,” Sarah quivered. “They’re in Midtown, but who knows what’s going on there!” As tears formed in her eyes, Jesse gently wrapped his arms around her.
Then, Pete Harrison’s voice re-emerged over the loudspeakers. “Students and faculty, may I have your attention, please?!” he boomed. “There is no immediate threat to the Everton campus at this time, but we will cancel all classes for today and the indefinite future. Please disperse from your homerooms in an orderly fashion and gather in the parking lot. Thank you.”