Planet Earth 2072 the novel. Story 1
Five Days Before the Storm
Miami knows water. After the King Floods of 2052 and the storms of 2060 and 2061, this city has taken Mother Nature’s best punches, rebuilt herself, and stands in defiance. Yes, Miamians are all sorts of stubborn.
Alicia Fernandez is Puerto Rican-borne, but her soul is from Miami. She stands on the docking platform a few feet off to the side of two dozen souls huddled, waiting for the next ferry boat. Rain pelts the plexiglass roof like stones smacking on the side of a building.
Satie stares forward at the virtual images that hover inches from her face with the gray city as the backdrop.
“Check messages from the office.”
Just above her sightline, a box opens. A British voice responds, “An urgent message from Director Corriente. There’s an all-staff mandatory meeting at noon.”
“Where is the director now?”
The voice answered, “Director Corriente is at the National Hurricane Center for a briefing with the governor.”
“You have a voicemail from Peter Boman,” The recording crackled with the sound of something moving; on the other end was a young-sounding voice with a heavy vocal fry: Hey Satie, listen, if you get this early enough, can you stop by the donut shop and get a few Nutella donuts, like maybe half a dozen? Thanks. Also, we gotta talk when you get into the office. It’s really important, but I can’t say anything in front of anyone. Appreciate it.“
That kid, I swear. “Cube, play the news, local NPR. Start with the latest feed on Hurricane Caru.”
The screen on her AirReal-21 glasses shifted blue before going clear. To the right of her vision, the NPR logo popped up. A female voice followed.
The Florida Emergency Network’s latest forecast shows Caru currently is located at twenty-four-point-five degrees latitude and seventy-one-point-seven degrees longitude. Now a category two, the storm is moving at fourteen miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of ninety-seven miles per hour. There’s a less than five percent chance of a more westerly course toward South Florida. We now turn to the NPR news desk with Erin McPherson.
[Erin] World leaders are meeting in New York for the second day of the Global Conference. Day one of the conference saw tensions rise between some of the leaders of the South Pacific region. Hundreds of protestors clashed with police blocks from the One World Trade Center, with injuries reported. We go to Nageer Madesh, who is in New York. She spoke with the Vice President yesterday.
[Nageer] Vice President Angela McMillan spent most of the day challenging criticisms from global leaders and defending the president’s actions. Four typhoons have displaced five million citizens from the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam over the last three years.
[VP McMillan] Our allies know that we will continue to offer military support to protect the refugees still making their way inland in places like Thailand, China, and south to New Zealand. We have set aside over two hundred billion dollars to aid these governments to assist in taking in those seeking help.
[Nageer] The president of Vietnam continues his attack on US President Charles Perez, claiming the Americans are more worried about the race to Mars with China than the global disaster of rising seas. China meanwhile responded to accusations that it tightened its border along Vietnam’s northeastern region, saying that they are upholding its responsibility under the 2042 EU Refugee Agreement. But, citizens have been posting videos of border patrol attacks on swaths of refugees. It’s believed people are trying to get to Chungzuo, where there are reports of companies needing workers. Chinese officials deny the attacks. The State Department says it continues to monitor possible Chinese aggression. I’m Nagger Madesh in New York.
[Erin] The future of the Santa Maria Della Salute, the seventeenth-century Basilica that’s been teetering on the edge of destruction due to decades of rising waters, could be facing its final doom. Yesterday the Italian Parliament voted to end efforts to save the structure. The incoming waters have threatened the building for the past century, as it has much of Venice. These last twenty years have been challenging as flooding events increased in number and intensity, making the cathedral unusable. The Catholic Church shut the doors to the Salute more than a decade ago. It has struggled to get enough government support and international donations to build a barrier to protect it. One faction believes the government should raise the building. But, the Parliament put that idea to rest permanently. Here’s Italian President Carmela Donatessi.
[Pres. Donatessi] The Italian people want desperately to save this significant symbol. But, we must face the reality that the cost of protecting our cities and citizens is now higher than ever. We must now accept that we will lose much of our history to the sea.
[Erin] Protestors gather in hundreds of boats circling the Basilica. Engineers fear the water damage has already made much of the structure unstable.
Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. The blue symbol flashed in the top lefthand corner of Alicia’s vision.
The A.I. voice boomed in her ears, “An incoming call from Claudia Fernandez.”
“Take it. Hello, mom. What are you doing?”
“I’m worried about you. What’s going on with this hurricane? It looks like it’s heading right for you.”
“No, mom. The forecasts have the storm going away from us.”
“Hun, how sure are you? That storm is making me uneasy. You’ve never been through one of those things.”
“Mom. Relax. There’s a tiny chance it hits us. And if it did, the station is built to handle it.”
“Well, I’m your mother. I can’t relax. And I just have a bad feeling about this.”
“Mom, the office is practically a bunker. Try not to worry too much. This city can handle it.”
“OK, hun, keep us informed. And please, call your grandmother later. OK? I love you.”
The ferry arrives and bumps up hard against the platform, pushing water up over the deck. The crowd did a collective jump to avoid the wave. The ride through the river is a little rougher than usual, taking an extra ten minutes to get through the choppy waters. It’s rained for two straight weeks, and the lower level highrises pumping systems are at full blast, pushing millions of gallons of water through the bottom floors. Water has been creeping up above the second seawall the past few weeks.
The ferry passes what used to be Brickell Key through the fisherman’s channel and past the tiny mound that once was Fisher Island.
A voice comes over the speaker. Sub South Beach One ahead. Please remain seated until the overhead light turns off, allowing you to roam within the cabin.
The boat bumped hard against the platform again. A second later, there’s a loud clang, and the green light goes off. The crowd exits onto a covered dock that leads into a tunnel through the city wall.
Sub South Beach One is a bustling city of half a million. Ten years ago, leaders came up with the name after the GREAT Reconstruction of 62. A conglomeration of federal and state agencies pitched in half the five trillion-dollar price tag. The rest came from influential international investors. The city became an experiment for other coastal megacities to copy. North Miami Beach was not so lucky. The ocean cut the island in half and turned the northern section into a collection of smaller islands. The government decided to allow nature to retake them. It’s a popular site for divers who want to see remnants of the old Miami.
Alicia entered the city center proper and straight onto Washington Ave. She ascended to the pedestrian level three floors up. On the ground floor, orange, green, and blue autonomous vehicles moved around on electric roads. Below her, on the second level, the occasional Metro Mover car whizzed by.
After a quick stop at the donut shop, Alicia arrived at the Sub South Beach One Resilience Headquarters office. The three-story building had no signage signifying what was inside. The light pastel beige structure had few windows and a rooftop packed with four large black half domes – protective coverings for the satellite dishes.
“Half a dozen Nutella donuts and a latte with a ridiculous amount of sugar. How your heart doesn’t just stop at times is beside me,” said Alicia. She handed her assistant his breakfast. “So, what’s this secret that had to wait? And why do you look like you’ve been up for days?”
Peter takes one donut in two large bites. He motions her to sit as he pulls up an infrared map of South Florida and the Caribbean, “I have been up for the last couple of days. Alicia, the forecasts are wrong. Everything those people over at the Hurricane Center are using to track this storm is wrong.”
Alicia stares at the just-out-of-college assistant she had begun to grow fond of since he arrived. She tries not to give a condescending glance but waits for him to explain.
“OK, look. Everyone goes by the Manchin Model. That “model is shit.”
Alicia had a great deal of respect for the 20-year-old. He graduated top of his class at MIT and probably had the highest IQ of any person she had ever met. But, Alicia had no reference point to question the authority of the Manchin Model. It was the standard for NOAA and all hurricane forecasters. She nodded, signifying she wanted to hear more.
“OK, look. The current model uses twenty-three different formulas tracking temperature, winds, currents, etc. I use thirty, and I’ve been working on the figures the last couple of days. The cone of possibility is less than five percent of hitting Miami. I’m telling you, today; it’s really more like fifty percent.”
“Peter,” Alicia took a deep breath without showing it. “Peter, how can you prove your equations are better than what the experts are using?”
“I looked over the last thirty years, and the accuracy of their calculations is barely twenty-five percent. No one questioned it like they’ve never questioned weather predictors. Think about it. If the model is wrong, they can always say Mother Nature is hard to predict.”
“She kinda is,” replied Alicia, who was now starting to show her frustration.
“Alicia, I checked these figures with some of my friends. My “figures are right. The storm is more likely to head our way.”
Alicia stared into the brilliant blue eyes of the naive genius boy and saw the sincerity, but how could she take his side with the storm two days from turning north as the current model predicted?
“That’s not all,” said Peter as he inhaled a second donut.
“It gets worse?”
“OK, look,” Peter points at the screen. He clicks on the right corner, and a reddish, yellow circle pops up on the map; Hurricane Caru. The storm hasn’t really formed, it’s kinda scattered. But, once it hits the northern Bahama area, it’s going to probably blow up in size.”
He taps a few buttons on the pad. The reddish, yellow dot isn’t turning at all. It’s heading west, passing over the Great Abaco, eventually Grand Bahamas, and straight at Miami. As it edges closer to South Florida, it eventually shapes into a perfectly-formed hurricane; like a table saw about to slice through a log, its color turns intensely red throughout with a perfectly formed eye. “Caru could hit us in four days as a cat five or six.”
Alicia couldn’t pull her eyes off the screen. She watched the loop as the storm formed into a massive storm with intense winds stretching out more than a hundred miles from the center.
“When Caru lands, it could have winds around two-hundred and twenty miles-per-hour,” said Peter.
“What am I supposed to do with this? We can’t just say, hey, the system we’ve all been following is inaccurate. No one is going to listen to us.”
Peter grabbed his third donut. He stared at the monitor for a few seconds, speechless. Eventually, he took another large bite, “I’m lee-bing. I aught uh-buther bob.”
Alicia leaned forward, “Finish chewing your food. What did you say?”
“I got offered a position at Homeland Security,” he replied.
“Wow. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, but I am happy for you. What’s the position, or is it out of my pay grade?”
Peter nodded, “Yeah, it’s some classified position. I’ll be in the Pentagon a lot. But, it’s been in the works for six months. I had to be quiet about it.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Well, that’s the thing. I have to leave now. The new bosses offered to take me on a plane out of MIA tonight.”
“Peter. I’m. Sorry.”
“I know. I can’t say much. It’s all the secrecy. But, forget that because you have to make people believe. This storm is gonna be huge.
Director Corriente arrived a couple of hours later and gathered everyone to the main room for a meeting. She reiterated what everyone knew. Hurricane officials believed the models. The storm was already turning northerly and would more than likely miss Florida. Alicia stood behind the director, looked out to the room, and saw Peter. She stared at the director and got angry. Dammit. He planted the idea in her head, and it was too late to get it out.
Alicia went to the roof after her lunch break. The heavy raindrops were now a drizzle. She stared out across the highrise condos along the city’s eastern edge. Satie could make out parts of the sea walls from her vantage point, a barrier almost twenty-five feet high and as thick as a two-lane road.
The original makers wanted to call it a wall but didn’t because it was too political. A similar barrier exists around Tokyo. A few years ago, a Tsunami struck, and the protective structure did its job beautifully. Humanity celebrated its engineering prowess with a great victory over nature. The barrier around Sub South Beach One had not yet gotten such a test. Would a category six storm be too much of a trial?
Alicia returned to her desk. The hologram screen turned light blue. “Show expected damage from a category three storm.” A layer of blue pixels bounced off the barrier. The computer calculated no flooding and minimal wind damage.
“Now show for a storm with winds 180 miles per hour and a twenty-foot storm surge.”
The blue waves coming in from the right side of the screen hit the city’s edges harder, with some spillover. The readout showed minimal flooding and ten to fifteen percent structural damage.
“Now, winds of two-hundred and ten miles per hour and a thirty-foot storm surge.”
The water breached the barrier and flooded the city, increasing the damage. Flood pumps kept it minimal. The integrity of the municipality was solid.
“What about sustained winds of two-hundred and thirty miles per hour with a forty-foot storm surge?”
The image that came up sent Alicia back into her chair. It’s only pixels on a screen, just blue marks spreading across a two-dimensional city map. But it sent chills down her spine. Alicia could see waves crashing along the city’s outer edges, pouring over the wall and flooding the streets.
Alicia looked at Caru on the radar screen. It was struggling to develop its shape and gain strength. That small storm could become the massive red hurricane she saw on Peter’s monitor.
There hasn’t been a big storm in more than twenty years. The great floods were more than a decade ago. And people’s memories are sometimes as fleeting as the changing seasons in a place like South Florida.
Alicia couldn’t get it out of her mind. What if Peter was right, and the storm of the century arrives here? Everything tells us that Caru will turn and head north and die eventually.
Four Days Before the Storm
The next day, standing on the dock platform, Alicia stopped to look up. She hadn’t even noticed; it had stopped raining. The sun beamed down on the Gem City, light bouncing off the glistening towers with the baby blue backdrop of the Atlantic sky. Was this the calm before the storm? She looked around at the others waiting for the ferry. A storm was just a few days away, but everyone acted like nothing was happening.
The Cube on her wrist began to vibrate. She tapped her AR eyeglasses. “Message from Director Corriente – listed as of the utmost urgency. Will you accept?”
“Yes. Thank you. Director, I’m heading into the office right now.”
“Don’t. Turn around and meet me at the Hurricane Center at the university. We’re meeting at ten. Can you be there?”
“Yes. I’m on my way.” Alicia caught a hover ride from the dock to the Metrorail. Within fifteen minutes, she arrived at the back entrance of the University of Miami. The Hurricane Center Headquarters was hidden behind the school’s physics labs and across the street from multi-million-dollar mansions.
Alicia walked in and made her way to the central comm room. She noticed about half a dozen mayors in attendance, including their aides, the governor’s aide, the Police captain, the Fire Chief, and four other resilience officers. Director Corriente walked up behind Satie and led her to a side office, “Alicia, I need you to be me. I have to handle something vital – something personal. Gather whatever notes are necessary, and if there are any questions for me, you know how to handle them. We have a two o’clock mandatory meeting back at the office where you’ll update us on what happens here.”
Alicia recorded the entire meeting and watched as the Hurricane Director, Samuel Borden, gave an uninspiring speech. He talked about projections; the information seemed to be what everyone hoped to hear. Satie felt fidgety. Her mind immediately drifted to Peter.
“Caru has increased in strength and speed within the last twenty-four hours. Then cone of possibility still has it at eighty-five percent; it should make a sharp turn north within twelve hours. But, we expect the turn to begin later this afternoon. By tomorrow it will be heading north, northeast, up and out into the ocean.”
That eye. The bulging, red storm eye, now starting to form into a perfect circle, glared back at Alicia. No. Peter, you can’t be right. How could all of these experts be wrong? What if you messed up?
Director Borden finished his presentation, “Any questions?”
Alicia didn’t want to be first, but her arm didn’t listen, “Sir, the likelihood of turning is smaller than before. Should we be thinking about evacuations?”
“Officer Fernandez, evacuation protocols don’t kick in until we’re forty-eight hours from a direct hit. And all the models show a high chance of turning with the pressure from this front. By 36 hours, the chances of the storm shifting north go up even more. All the models tell us we’re in good shape.”
Alicia continued, “Sir, what about the storm strengthening into something far bigger than it is now?”
“Officer Fernandez, yes, it can. But, again, our models show that it should remain as it is, hit the Abaco Island and turn as a Category two, maybe a three, then weaken over the next few days.”
“One last question, I’m sorry, these models haven’t been the most accurate in the past few years. They were way off four years ago when Hurricane Dion struck Puerto Rico. They missed the hit from Windsor in 67. Isn’t it true that folks at Colorado State have questioned the models’ validity, claiming a low success rate?”
The Hurricane director is a middle-aged man with a lean frame and wide jaw. He stood at the head of the room with his arms folded and his eyes fixated on Alicia, “Well, officer Keins, I dispute the folks at Colorado State, and besides, the European models back us. Anything else?”
Satie had used all the research she could find the night before. The director was hedging; hopefully, others in the room had seen it and would start asking more challenging questions. The mayor of Coral Gables spoke next, asking about expected rain for the area and potential flooding. The governor’s aide mentioned that her office was ready to provide any support. The National Guard and Coast Guard are at the ready.
Alicia’s questions didn’t raise any concerns or follow-ups. She felt immense pressure in the back of her head. Peter was likely in some secret chamber deep in the bowels of the Pentagon doing top-secret work. Did he play a game with her? No. He wasn’t that kind of person. But, he dropped this on her with little to work with just as he left.
The meeting ended. Alicia gathered her things and started for the door when a hand tapped her on the left shoulder. It was one of the center’s meteorologists, “Excuse, Ms. Fernandez?”
“I’m Sam Arnold, one of the older meteorologists here. I just had to ask, do you think the models are inaccurate?”
Alicia looked the man over, wondering if she wanted to engage in the conversation, “I have questions. That’s all. My motivation is to protect the people of my community. So I need to be sure.”
He looked around the foyer, then over at the service window to ensure the area was clear, “I’m glad you did. Just between us, there’s a lot of bullshit bureaucracy around here. And there’s no incentive to fix it; it hasn’t been for a while. Look at who’s in the White House. That idiot Perez. He believes we’ve solved the climate crisis. He’d rather spend the money on Mars. They’ve cut our budget year after year since Perez got into office. I mean, look at that moron running this place. He’s a friend of Perez. You heard him in there. The guy is clueless.”
“Wait, but Perez got in as a champion of the environment. He was going to pump a ton of money toward all scientific…”
“Come on, you should know better,” Mr. Arnold shook his head with a smirk. “He sold himself as an environmental Democrat, but he’s more interested in the Space program and beating the Chinese at everything.”
“So, what are you saying, sir?”
“The models we’ve been using were flawed from the start. I know; I was there when we started using them thirty years ago. And there’s been no impetus to change anything. We’ve been lucky to go this long without much of any storm. And that’s allowed apathy to set in.”
“Why haven’t you spoken up?”
Mr. Arnold dropped his eyes, shaking his head, “Who would listen? It’s not about me, though. If you have a hunch, then follow it. Follow that instinct.”
The man waved and walked away. Alicia stood in the center of the foyer, directly above the center’s logo on the floor. That’s when her Cube began to buzz. She didn’t recognize the number.
“Take a message,” she said into her earpiece. A moment later, the message was ready to hear.
“Alicia. Hey, it’s Peter. I know you didn’t recognize the number. I’m calling you from an undisclosed Cube. Gotta be careful these days. Listen, I wanted to share one other thing with you. Since I can’t help you much anymore, you need to check in with a friend who has all the info. He goes by the name Legalos. Use that name when you call, or he won’t respond. Tell him who you are; he knows you because I already told him. He has some interesting stuff to tell you. Gotta go.”
Alicia needed to check in with someone before heading back to the office. She needs to talk with Alejandro at the city’s barrier control center.
Sub South Beach One’s barrier control center looks like a perfect sphere half growing out of the ground. Inside the hollow structure sit four crescent rows stretching from one end to the other. Each possesses a half dozen workstations with two large transparent screens.
Alicia walked through the back hallway and entered the most organized office she had ever seen.
“Armando, are you ready for this storm?” Alicia smiled as she had to catch her breath from Armando’s hug.
“We’re as ready as we can be. But, come on, this thing is supposed to turn. We should miss it, right?”
The young resilience officer faked a smile as best she could, “Let’s do a hypothetical. What if we got hit by a Category Five?”
Armando stared at his friend for a moment, “A category five? Well, even though the barrier has never had to deal with a storm that big, it’s supposed to be able to handle just about anything. But, why do you ask? What aren’t ya telling me?”
Alicia saw the lines of Armando’s brow deepen, “The reports say it will turn. But, I have to be ready for anything. What if it doesn’t? That’s my concern. Tell me, how high of a storm surge can the barrier handle?”
Armando leaned back in his chair, “The barrier is supposed to be able to handle a category five with storm surge up to thirty feet.”
“Armando? What if we had a storm with two-hundred ten, twenty-mile-per-hour winds and a forty-foot storm surge?”
“OK, you’re going to be more straightforward with me. Cuz, honestly, you’re making me uncomfortable.”
“The barrier can handle it. The city can handle it.”
“OK. I don’t think Caru is going to turn. I have reason to believe that it’s going to hit us. And, it could be even more than what I said.”
“Wait! What? A storm with more than two…” The six-foot-three, two-hundred-thirty-pound Cuban leaned forward on his desk with his face planted in his massive hands. “You gotta explain.”
“It’s hard to explain. But, do you think we can escape a forty-foot surge and even stronger winds?”
He leaned back, “Yes, but the system would be at capacity with that kind of surge. Then there’s the city pumps. That flood would be epic if we lost two of the three pump engines. I hope you’re wrong and that doesn’t happen.”
“Armando, please make sure your family is ready. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope I’m wrong. But, I need to make sure the city is safe. Please, don’t tell anyone we spoke.”
He gave her a reluctant nod.
As Alicia returned to the office, she saw that people were enjoying the sunshine again, filling both beaches on either side of the wall.
Three Days Before the Storm
“It’s all one big fat lie,” the voice bellowed over the other patrons standing at la ventanita. An elderly man waved his arms around, turning and pointing at different people. “They’re lying to us. They always have. That storm is gonna kill us all.”
“Eddie, how many have you had?” the woman behind the window yelled. Eddie never misses a morning at La Gallina ventanita. He asks for handouts and eventually convinces the women at the counter to give him a pastry and a coffee if anything to silence him.
“You think that storm is coming this way?” she asked him as she passed him a cafecito this time.
“It’s coming, and it’s going to destroy us all—Mother Nature’s fed up with humans. You’ll see,” he said as he took the cup in his hand. “This may be my last coffee, ever.”
“Eddie, go sober up. And stay out of trouble.”
“Give me another. I want to remember this place before it’s gone,” said Eddie with both hands on the counter. The woman wasn’t smiling. She pointed for him to walk away.
Alicia watched it all before heading toward the ferry boat docks. She was an hour earlier than usual. Director Corriente called for a special meeting. Alicia was on the Cube trying to reach a number but no one answered. After the sixth attempt a voice picked up, “The Ringmaster told me you would call.”
It took a second for Alicia to grasp the moment. Peter was a huge Lord of the Rings fan. Of course, he called himself the Ringmaster, “Hello, is this Legalos?”
“It is. Let’s keep this brief. Do you want to know if the Ringmaster’s figures are correct? Well, I ran three tests on his equations. He is correct.”
“But, what proof do you have? I need something to go to the people in charge. They won’t take just anyone’s word on it.”
Alicia heard a huff on the other line, “If you want to believe the mental dwarfs from the Hurricane Center, of which most are government lackeys, then go ahead. The Ringmaster is right. And according to these figures, the odds keep growing. You’re running out of time.”
Lackeys? Alicia tried biting her tongue at the man’s disrespectful tone. Then she thought about the meteorologist from the center. He didn’t have much faith in his boss either, “OK. So…”
“That’s as long as our call can go on. Please have faith in the Ringmaster.”
“Wait, how is Peter…I mean, how is the Ringmaster?” Legalos disconnected from the call. Satie stared up at the sky. How does she convince people at this point that danger is coming?
As she walked along the pedestrian Skywalk, Satie thought of every way she could to get the word out when it hit her, “Of course. Dark Monkey.”
Alicia tapped the side of her glasses, “Ernest, send an encrypted message to D-M-2-0-2-0. Put the following message: Need to meet. Secret info. Urgent. Same place.”
Twenty minutes later, after a couple of encrypted messages, a man wearing blue camouflage pants and a green t-shirt with the words Culebra Cubano sat next to Alicia at the Cubana Cafe. She tried not to laugh, “Well, Dark Monkey, your choice of costume is fitting.”
“Officer Fernandez, the government knows who I am. There’s no hiding that. I’m just a huge fan of the band.”
“When’s the last time you saw them?”
“Last year in Havana. It was the thirtieth anniversary of el Segundo Liberacion de Cuba festival. Hell of a show.”
“So you’re not hiding anymore?”
“Hell yes, I am. Just because I’m out in plain sight doesn’t mean I’m not taking precautions.”
“Does that mean you’re wearing…”
“Yes, a double false microchip. The top of the line. I can’t tell you how expensive one of those will run you. But let’s stop talking about my dazzling shirt. You said you have secret information, urgent.”
“First, we have an understanding. We never met. You don’t mention where this came from or anything…”
“I’m insulted. I don’t talk. But OK, this meeting never happened, and I’m in Costa Rica. So, spill.”
“Caru is very likely going to hit us.”
“No surprise there. What do you know?”
Alicia slipped a packet of sweetener across the table. Dark Monkey pulled up, and with his index finger and thumb, he pulled from underneath it a microchip. “That’s a formula that shows why Caru is likely going to hit us as a massive storm.”
“It’s almost eighty percent now. You must ensure that hits all platforms and has the local news media talking about it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll have that bobble-headed weather girl on Channel Seven singing this shit on the lunch news,” Dark Monkey leaned against the table, ready to leave. “It’s got to be hard for you, Officer Fernandez. You, an agent of the law, have friends like me in such dark places. How does that feel, knowing you’re dancing on the fire’s edge like that?”
Alicia threw him a crooked smile. He wanted to laugh but instead left. She was back at her desk within the hour when her wrist Cube glowed. The word Caru was now the highest searched word in South Florida. Dark Monkey kept his vow; it hit the local news by the noon cast.
Director Corriente walked into the control center of the office and screamed at the top of her lungs. “The meeting is starting; let’s go.”
Alicia stood behind the director as one of the two first lieutenants. The fury in the director’s eyes resembled that of a dog about to attack, “All I’m going to say is that I’m disappointed. I’m hurt, and I’m disappointed. The news is reporting a story that Caru will likely hit us. The source says it came from the Second Web. It was an insider who gave someone on the second web information, and now it’s everywhere. People in the city are beginning to panic. There’s a rush to the stores for supplies and a rush to get out of the city. One thing is for sure, I will find out, and that person will regret their arrogance. We’re now in Code Orange. Let’s get control of the situation. Work with all local law enforcement to calm residents,” The Director paused. No one said a word as all eyes were on her. “Dismissed.”
Alicia started walking toward her desk when a hand grabbed her arm, “Director? What’s wrong?”
“My office Alicia. I’ll be there in a moment.”
It took the director ten minutes. For Satie, the time felt eternal. Corriente entered in a huff and sat behind her desk, “Sit, Officer Fernandez.”
Alicia prepared herself for anything, getting fired. Possibly being arrested.
“Officer Fernandez, can you tell me about yesterday’s morning meeting at the Hurricane Center? I received several messages from the Director and some of the staff. Please, tell me about what happened.”
Alicia took a deep breath, defiant as she never took her eyes off the Director, “I had a question about the system’s accuracy and their confidence in the models.”
“And why, Alicia, would you have to question the models?”
Never give him up. Protect Peter at all costs. “I just had concerns from research about the system’s accuracy over the last twenty years. We’ve seen the percentages of those predictions drop year to year. I was curious about their confidence in it.”
Director Alexa Corriente leaned forward, “Who told you about the system’s faultiness?”
“No one. Why would you…”
“I didn’t hire you because of your math skills or ability to read algorithmic data. You are a social science major with a law degree. I hired you to help push public policy and organize the city during danger. So when did you become so good at higher math?”
Alicia’s throat almost choked when she tried to swallow. She kept her eyes on the director, “Director Corriente, my mission is clear. I am here to help protect the people of Sub South Beach One. And I will respond by any means. And even if I am a lawyer with a Ph.D. in social sciences, I tested Mensa. Getting data on the hurricane center’s weather tracker algorithm isn’t something only higher mathematicians can read. So if I decided there was something of concern, I wanted to make sure.”
Alicia saw the veins in the director’s temples flare up, “Well, then, I’m glad to hear it. So, I want to put you in that case. Find out who talked. Someone is going down for this.”
“Director Corriente, wouldn’t my time and energy be better spent preparing for the storm?”
“Officer Fernandez. Do you know what’s happening right now? The police department is trying to keep a civil protest from erupting into a violent riot. They’re diverting all resources to Overtown West. The last thing we need is panic and everyone trying to leave all at once. I want you to report back within 24 hours. You’re dismissed.”
Alicia returned to her desk. The thought of being arrested now fought with her fears of all of this getting back to Peter. But none of that really mattered. She couldn’t let go of the reality that she needed to be helping the residents prepare. Alicia tapped her wristband Cube, “Ernest, call Sub South Beach One PD. Get the chief.”
A moment later, “Officer Fernandez, what’s the deal here? I’m getting a thousand calls a minute, but everyone says the storm is still leaving.”
“Chief, we must start evacuating people as soon as possible.”
“Alicia,” his voice dropped an octave. He couldn’t hide his fear, “You know I can’t do that without a call from the mayor and your boss.”
“Well, the mayor is AWOL, and my boss isn’t here either. Chief, do it without ordering one. At least for now. By tonight or tomorrow, you’ll get the official order.”
“Alicia, how the hell do I order an evacuation without making it official?”
“Chief put out a message on the boards. You recommend people start making an effort to leave. You can still open up a few evacuation centers anyway.”
“And if they ask me where all this is coming from, what do I say?”
“I need you to believe me. If I’m wrong, I’ll take the fall. But, I need your help.”
A pause on the other end lasted a few seconds, “OK. I’ll start the process. God help us, Officer Fernandez.”
Two Days Before The Storm
The news anchor’s voice in Alicia’s earpieces shifted when he began talking about Hurricane Caru. His voice lost that confident resonance, which added to his words’ starkness. It was as though he had entered a pressure chamber.
[Anchor] We have this latest report from the National Hurricane Center. As of this morning at oh-four-hundred and thirty, Hurricane Caru has shifted. The storm increased by almost twenty percent and turned due west, not northwest, as the models expected.
Hurricane Center Director Samuel Borden spoke this evening from the Biscayne operations center.
[Borden] “I can confirm that Caru has not made the expected turn. We did say that there was a ten percent chance that the storm could turn our way.”
Reporter interrupt: Sir, you’ve been saying barely five percent, and if it turned west, it would still be likely north of us. Now you’re saying it’s heading directly at us?
[Borden] “The cone of possibility has shifted west, but there’s still a twenty to twenty-five percent chance it turns northerly. Meanwhile, the storm has slowed to a crawl of two miles per hour and is growing in strength. So, we request people in Sub South Beach One begin evacuating. We are now in Risk Color Red. At noon today, there will be a full report alongside the governor, the mayors, and emergency management directors.”
[Anchor] The storm is now a category four and is battering the Great Abaco island of the Bahamas. At its current speed, it would hit us within forty-eight hours. Director Borden did not answer any other questions.
Alicia looked over at what used to be Peter’s desk. The emptiness bothered her. She needed to talk to him. The director was still missing in action, probably helping in the search for the mayor. The police issue in West Overtown had escalated to an all-out street battle. She opened her Cube and asked her Cube’s A.I. assistant, “Ernest, how many cases of a storm stalling before hitting Florida?”
Hurricane Dorian. Ernest responded quickly, “It was 2019. It was off the coast of Florida, right over the Grand Bahama and Abaco Islands. It was a category five with winds of 185 miles per hour. It missed Florida.”
Alicia took a deep breath. Maybe Caru will turn. Luckily it stalled. Every hour is an hour we need.
Everyone’s Cube buzzed. The Director is calling an emergency meeting on the third floor.
Corriente looked frazzled; her usual clean business attire appeared wrinkled from sleeping in it. Her hair appeared unraveled. Alicia walked in, then over to the line of officers next to the Director. Corriente looked at Satie as she passed by. The glance was not one of anger, it was fear. Then Alicia wondered, had the Director ever been through a storm like this?
“Ladies and gentlemen. Here’s the situation. You are to make sure your families and property are secured. You have twelve hours to take care of that, then return here. You will be hunkering down at the base. This facility is a Cat-5 structure; you will be safe. The storm is now eighty-five percent likely to land on Sub South Beach One within the next couple of days. We have all we need here to stick it out for a week. Any questions?”
The Director looked around, her eyes stopping at Alicia. She almost seemed to be begging the young first officer to speak up. Satie gave a light nod, “Dismissed. Remember, twelve hours. This building goes on lockdown at ten PM.”
Corriente waited for everyone to leave the room, then turned to look at Alicia, “Tell me, please, how did you know?”
Never give in, never tell it was Peter, “I can’t. I need to take the fall for this.”
“There’s no fall. I’ll take any bullet that comes at you. I need your help. We have little time to get this city ready.”
“We have an extra day. We can do it.”
“You don’t understand, Satie, the mayor of Miami, has disappeared, and police departments are trying to handle that issue out west. It’s a warzone out there. We’re going to struggle with this one.”
“I’ll start at the north end and check on the shelters. Then I’ll work with the PD and do what I can.”
“OK, thank you. Alicia, I hope someday you tell me how you knew,” Director Corriente left for her office. Alicia went to her desk to grab her emergency backpack.
The Sub South Beach One northside police station sat at the northernmost bridge to the island. A large crowd had formed around the main entrance as the metro-mover edged closer to the docking station.
Alicia entered a side door and walked through the back corridors to the chief’s office. The mass of people stuffed into the train as everyone now wanted to get off the island as fast as possible. Those who decided to stay swarmed the grocery stores, tearing everything off the shelves.
“We have reports of fights breaking out at the supermarkets. There were a couple of arrests, but I’m not keeping anyone here during this storm. What’s the plan?”
“Captain, set up a barrier two blocks from here and tell everyone to turn back. I’ll go on air and tell people that only those living from the first to fourteenth blocks are allowed out now. This afternoon we’ll shift to the next corridor and so forth. The people to the north, same thing, everyone at the north end can take the southbridge. Close the middle bridge to only those residents of the island.”
“I don’t think I have the manpower, but we’ll try.”
Alicia stepped into the broadcast room to spread the word on how the evacuations were to take place, “Stay calm. The storm is stalling and will give us time. All stores will close tonight. We should have plenty of supplies at the shelters.”
One Day Before the Storm
Traffic clogged all roads out of South Florida. It took more than nine hours to get from Miami to Sebastian, a trip that typically took three. People stood in front of their buildings in large groups waiting for their cars to arrive to take them out. Evacuations were supposed to be a smooth process. Ever since cars went autonomous these sorts of jams were supposed to be avoidable. The traffic center supercomputer could get people out fast and with no gridlock. But the system has never faced a challenge like this. It’s not the algorithm that’s the problem, it’s human nature. People waited till the last minute.
Alicia received more than three dozen calls from friends and family, mostly living up north in Wisconsin. She told them all she would be fine. But she didn’t know that.
“Ernest, play me the local NPR station.”
[Erin] This is Erin McPherson from the NPR desktop. We now go to Daniel Willis in New Vegas. He has the latest update on the attack on Hoover Dam.
[Daniel] We’re into the second day of the Seige at Hoover Dam. Federal officials aren’t releasing much information, but people keep talking about the group Planeta Terra. Homeland Security lists them as a global eco-terrorist group responsible for attacks at the Nuclear Plant in Egypt in 2064 and the Emerald Tower Development attack in Sao Paolo in 2068. It’s believed that there were fatalities at the dam from the explosion yesterday, but law enforcement hasn’t been able to verify.
[Erin] That was Daniel Willis reporting from New Vegas. We also want to bring your attention to two stories in Miami. We go to Angelica Cabrera.
[Angelica] It started two days ago at the Riverdale Community. A police shooting led to a full-blown violent battle between law enforcement and an organized group from the community. A thousand or more cops surrounded the area and closed it on all three entrances. The collective effort by folks in the community may be a gathering of local gangs working together. Unverified reports tell us that Puerto Rican and Dominican rebel exiles are leading the efforts.
[Erin] All of this is happening in South Florida; an area bracing itself for Hurricane Caru. Caru is currently a category four storm and strengthening. Hurricane officials now say the chances of a direct hit are more than eighty-five percent. Officials are about to call all law enforcement back from the Riverdale Community to prepare for a city’s total shutdown.
Three Hours Before Landfall
Alicia stares out over the city barrier at the ocean. The water is turning dark. The horizon line disappears into a dark gray hue as the clouds and water meld into one ominous beast reaching from a distance with its claws. The temperature drops significantly within a few hours, and no birds are flying in the sky. Hurricane Caru is moving toward its next victim.
Alicia looks at her Cube. It’s a message from an unknown source.
“Good luck, boss. I hope you get through this.”