Friday, January 25, 2008

Tunguska, Part 4 (fictionalized history)

(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.

Picture of the Tunguska Blast Zone
Taken by the Kulik Expedition

London, England
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!"

She yawned.

"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.

"Pardon me?"

Perturbed, she moved closer to see the pen drawing a sharp peak on the paper.

He tapped the instrument.

Nothing changed.

"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.

"Now what!"

"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.


SzélsőFa said...

It feels as if these people were the same as those in 'Soft Ground'. I know they are not, but they have a similar atmospere to them. Which is quite a reassuring, soft, and relaxing one.
And dang comes an earthquake.
I liked this piece, too.

Bernita said...

Nice counterpoint.
It may not be, of course, but the use of the word "campus" strikes me as anachronistic.

Vesper said...

Yes! Excellent!

Jaye Wells said...

I love all the different perspectives of one event. I really like this series, Jason.

The Anti-Wife said...

I agree about having so many POVs. It really makes the story come to life and provides perspective on how large an event this was.

Aine said...

"Oh, that was magical," she said.

You know what I think?...

Sarah Hina said...

Excellent use of dialogue, Jason. You conveyed a lot of playfulness and humor here, which serves as a poignant counterpoint to the high drama of the last piece. Every impact has its reverberations, of course, even eight time zones away. They're just flutters instead of bombs.

This series is just great. Can't wait to see how you conclude it! :)

Anonymous said...

Szelsofa, there are similarities, but I imagined these two to have different personalities driving their actions. These folks are more cerebral, rational. Although I could hang with these two, I feel a bit more affinity with the "Soft Ground" couple.

Bernita, it very well may be an anachronism. I flip-flopped between a couple of terms, but overall, I just didn't have the energy to try to nail down historically correct speech. I find that task daunting. How do we really know? We either have modern interpretations, or literature of the period, which itself may not be an accurate transcript of speech. I wonder if there are good linguistic studies on idiom during different historical periods.

Versper, thanks! :)

Jaye, that's what drew me to this idea. The ability to show it different ways, and to show that for some people, the event was huge, for some beautiful, and for some barely significant.

Anti-Wife, we'll get a couple more perspectives before I'm through. :)

Aine, ha! Yeah, I loved that little bit of sarcasm too. These two may indeed be very well matched.

Sarah, here, the event serves as a spark for two intellectually minded people. It's a bonding energy to rescue an evening that was beginning to flounder. I really like exploring the different emotional effects the Tunguska Event had at a distance. (Two more parts left!)

virtual nexus said...

Think this is excellent - right choice sticking with the modern interpretation. It would have seemed stilted otherwise.

Chris Eldin said...

I agree with Szelsofa that it feels like the couple in 'Soft Ground.'

Authentic, natural dialog. And (this is so geeky) I love your use of dialog tags--meaning when to use them and when to hold back. Perfect!

Anonymous said...

Julie, I wouldn't mind if it reflected period speech. However, if it's not done well, it can be dreadful. I just don't know anything about 1908 English idiom.

Church Lady, thank you for that compliment! :) It's not geeky at all. About a year ago, I finally reached a comfort level with the technical aspects of dialog. It's much harder than folks might think to make dialog live without the words on the page jarring the reader out of the illusion.

anne said...

Yep, I like the different POV/different treatments as well. And you do have a good dialog ear too...

Ello - Ellen Oh said...

Really enjoyed the dialogue here Jason. It sounded so real - hmmmmm, maybe from real life? ;o) I love how different all the vignettes sound from each other even as they are all tied together. I love reading them!