(In 1908, the last major Earth impact from an asteroid or comet occurred in the unpopulated expanse of eastern Siberia. 830 square miles of boreal forests were leveled. In this latest fictionalized history series, we travel back to 1908 to experience the "Tunguska Event." Prior series: X-ray Martyrs and Westinghoused.)
Just joining us? Go back to Part 1.
8 Time Zones West of Tunguska
After 11:00 p.m.
"This is kind of boring," she said.
"Boring? Working for Professor Chewning is the best job on campus."
She rested her head on the table.
He gestured his responsibilities with his hands. "Once in a while, you check the instrument array. Then, you check the electricity over there. You check to make sure the recorders are working. The rest of time, you do whatever you want. I get paid to do my class work!"
"Plus," he said, smiling suggestively, "there's no one around."
A door clicked shut somewhere in the building beneath them.
She shot up.
"Relax," he said. "It's just the janitor."
"He can catch us just as easily as someone else!"
"Easy for you to say. If the Headmistress catches me sneaking back in, I'm finished."
"Well, I could sneak over to your college instead," he said.
"Please. That would be so much worse."
"Oh, I've heard the stories," he said. "Those old ladies love catching the boys. They use all sort of creative punishments."
"Don't be foul," she said.
A devilish spark gleamed in his eyes.
"Kiss me," he said.
She pulled away. "No!"
"Close your eyes, then."
"Go on," he said. "I want to whisper a story to you."
"How stupid do you think I am?"
He stared. Daring her. And one thing she couldn't ignore was a dare. She closed her eyes, and her skin felt fluttery as she waited.
But nothing happened.
She opened her eyes to see him fixed on one of the nearby instruments.
"Oh, that was magical," she said.
"This is the microbarograph," he said, pointing.
"Fascinating. But this is the girl."
"Weird," he said.
Perturbed, she moved closer to see the pen drawing a sharp peak on the paper.
He tapped the instrument.
"I've never seen anything like that," he said.
"So. Maybe a thunderstorm is coming."
"Weather changes wouldn't do this. It's way too sharp and quick. This is a pressure spike. A big one."
"What would cause it?" she said.
"I don't know. An explosion maybe."
"But I didn't hear anything."
"Neither did I."
She yawned again. Her interest was waning. "Maybe I should go. I'm getting nervous about being gone this long."
He looked up.
"No. Wait. Don't go. Not yet."
She started arranging her things. He watched her hands for a few moments.
"You're really beautiful," he said.
"That's not going to work."
"Like a painting."
She reached for her shawl.
"And the smooth skin on your neck," he said. "Right here."
He moved to kiss it.
She struggled a little, but relented when he poked at her and made her giggle.
"Are you ticklish?" he said.
"No," she said.
"I think you are."
He moved in again, and she curled into herself.
"See!" he said.
She shook her head at him. Why did he have to have such beautiful eyes?
Maybe it wasn't time to leave after all.
He was getting closer, and she let her lips begin to part.
"Wait a second," he said, diving back to the instrument.
"I just thought of something." He checked his watch.
"Fabulous." Now, she was exasperated.
"If I'm right, it should be...."
He hovered over the slow rolling graph.
"I don't believe this," she said.
The pen swept up.
Smaller, but still a clear spike.
"See!" he said.
"Hey," she said, her voice changing. "It happened again. How did you know?"
"Something big happened. That's what I think. Something really big just happened on the Earth."
"How far away?"
"Who knows," he said. "Maybe the other side of the globe."
"I think we just saw a blast wave circle around the planet. The first spike was it's first trip. We just saw it come around again."
"The same blast wave?"
"Yes," he said. "And if it's big enough, we'll see it again. And again."
"Oh my God. Should we tell someone?"
"Not much we can do now. I'll show the Professor in the morning," he said.
"We should watch the newspapers for clues."
"Great idea!" he said. "And we should contact some other universities to see if they recorded something."
She pulled her chair closer.
Her heart was beating harder.
"You know what I think?" she said.
And they talked until dawn painted the long row of windows.
Back to Part 3.