Posted: August 24, 2011 in SciFi

A very distant blood red sun, almost perfectly round due to the filtering effect of the dust, rose over the plateau in the wrong place. Only Oscar was aware of this as his digital navigation watch indicated their magnetic bearings. It rose in the south according to his compass. As it climbed away from the horizon, its effect diminished as the layers of clouds thickened, largely blocking out the rays from the small group of survivors huddling on their mountain top. Oscar realised that something cataclysmic had taken place but could not explain it.

They watched as the dawn broke. The majority did not comprehend what had happened. They certainly did not understand why everything had changed. While they had expected to be in Johannesburg by this time they did not realise that Johannesburg did not exist any more.

The city, built on gold, had collapsed into the thousands of kilometres of tunnels beneath it. Neither did they realise that London from where they had taken off only 18 hours ago, had been wiped off the face of the earth by tidal waves, as if it had never existed. They did not even think about what lay ahead. The only thing that mattered was the immediate, the now, the next moment.

The shock of the disaster as well as the continuing noise of crashing waves below them, combined with the buffeting winds, dust and fumes had battered their senses into a state of incomprehension. Most of them were in a severe state of shock.

The crash-landing had gouged out a scar in the surface of the plateau for about 1000 metres. The detritus of the aircraft and its cargo, much of which had spilled from the hold, as well as human remains, lay scattered along the way.

Peterson was exhausted. She looked out across the horizon which was the edge of their world and the mountain, and did not know what was expected of her now; she had done what she had been trained for, but here were no rescue squads; here were no parameters to refer to; the commander of the flight was dead. Somebody had to take over now.

Donald James lay about 20 metres away. He watched as the sun rose over the edge of the plateau. “Well so much for World Cup 2010,” he pondered aloud. How unimportant a mere ball game now seemed. The sight around him was something he would never forget. The red dust was swirling high above them, while he could hear the crashing of the waves some distance away. The mountain trembled as if mortally wounded and in its death throes. Around him lay a motley group of passengers, scattered like so much chaff by the angry winds; puny beings marooned on a strange mountain top. A short distance away lay the silver fuselage of the British Air flight, its enormous tail wing rearing up like a grotesque cross against the sky. He wondered that so many of the passengers had survived. He wondered where the pilot was, as they all owed their lives to his skills.

Next to him lay June Hailey and her two daughters. They were still sleeping on the hard packed and rocky sand. A blanket of thin red dust covered them. Liz Hailey was still clutching True Confessions to her breast while Rachel’s tear-streaked face was calm now. In her ears almost invisible earphones were playing the latest songs from her solar powered Camcorder which also served as an iPod music recorder.

Dr. van der Merwe lay a little distance away, alone. Her leg was broken, but she did not seem to care. She was sobbing quietly while trying to wash her dust-streaked face with her saliva and a tissue. Her ash-blonde hair hung around her face in thin, red-stained strands. She had managed to smuggle her laptop computer out of the aircraft with her. She used it as a cushion for her head during the night.

Father Ridgeway was wandering around among the survivors. He clutched his rosary tightly in his hands. Kneeling beside a woman who had lost her hand, he prayed while administering the sign of the cross, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The woman did not notice. Her eyes stared uncomprehendingly at him. Blood loss and shock would kill her before the hidden sun rose much further.

Ahmedi Lockhat wandered away from the group and prostrated himself toward what he believed was the direction of Mecca and the Ka’aba and offered prayers to Al-Llah and Al-Llah’s greatness. He did this on a small piece of his cloak. How could he know that neither Mecca nor Medina existed any longer; that these holy cities had been destroyed as so many others?  His family remained behind, huddled in a pathetic small group.

Karl Hofmeyer stood up and stretched his aching limbs. He walked toward the fuselage of the Airbus and clambered inside through a hole created where the wings had been a few short hours ago.

“Help me,” came a call from somewhere down the aisle. Hofmeyer searched among the bodies until he found her. It was a girl in her mid-teens. She was pinned beneath a seat by luggage, which had fallen out of the overhead lockers. He quickly saw that her arm had been broken. She looked up at him as he reached her. “Help me, please,” she repeated.

“Hang on; let’s get this stuff off you. Where does it hurt?” he asked unnecessarily.

“My arm, please it is so sore! Please be careful.”

“Sure, hang on. Let’s see what we can do.”

“What happened, why did we crash?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t been able to find out yet, but it doesn’t look promising,” he replied. He lifted her from the deck.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Amanda,” she replied. “Thanks for helping me, I was so terrified. Something must have hit me on the head because I cannot remember anything. When I woke up after we crashed, everybody had left and it was so quiet except for the storm. I called and called but nobody heard me. I thought I was going to die.”

“Take it easy, I will help you get out. Bring your stuff. The busybody stewardesses are not here to stop you. Where are your things?” he asked.

Placing Amanda on the slide, she slid down gently to the ground where some people helped her. He found her overnight bag and some other articles, which he chucked down the chute.

Somebody else was moaning softly toward the rear of the cabin. When he found the source of the muffled crying, he saw that it was a young boy of about 8 years old. He had a mop of red hair. His left side was covered in blood. Next to him lay a woman of about 35 years with blue eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. Her hair was also red. Hofmeyer knelt down next to the boy and tried to assess his injuries. He could not move him as the bottom half of his body had been pinned under the seat. He had obviously slid forward under his safety belt upon impact to end up under the seat in front of him. The terrified eyes of the youngster followed him as he looked around in vain for something to lever the seat up.

Hearing a sound behind him, he saw the Flight Engineer clambering into the cabin.

“Hello! Lend me a hand. I have an injured chap here,” Karl called.

Oscar called to someone else outside and presently Esme Peterson entered the hull with a first aid kit and oxygen bottle. Together they were able to lever the seat up and gently slide the boy out. His stomach had been ripped open, with dark blood and body fluids oozing from his wounds. The smell was overpowering. Esme dressed his injuries expertly and applied a shot of morphine. They carried him to the slide and while holding him on his lap, Karl slid down to the ground. Finding a suitable spot in the lee of a rocky overhang, he lay the boy down and sat beside him. Peterson and Oscar joined him thirty minutes later. They had brought the emergency water supplies and some rations, which they had found in the aircraft. The passengers crowded around for some relief.

“Easy now,” Oscar called out, “there’s enough to go around, please first the injured and frail. Line up and we’ll help everybody. Make sure that everybody gets water and please don’t waste it. We don’t know how long we’ll be here.”

Each passenger was given a plastic cup of water and two chocolate covered whole-wheat biscuits.

“What happened to us?”

“Are you the pilot?”

“Where are we?”

“When will help arrive?”

“Will we be rescued?”

The questions poured forth as if the water had suddenly loosened their tongues.

Assuming responsibility as the senior flight officer, Oscar addressed the survivors seated around them.

“We have come down somewhere in North Africa. According to the calculations I made at the first sign of trouble, we should be in northern Chad. Something that I cannot explain must have happened, some type of natural disaster at a mega-level. This plateau we crash-landed on and the waters around us do not correspond with the geography of the area that we were supposed to have been over. Our instruments failed about seventy-five minutes before the crash-landing, so it was impossible to figure out our exact co-ordinates. I will get hold of my log and try to trace our estimated position according to the old dead reckoning method as the GPS we have is also out. Maybe I’ll be able to take a sighting of the stars as soon as the sky clears.”

“Yes, but what’s going on around here?”

“Where do all these waves and the dust come from?”

“Was it an earthquake?” someone asked in the rear of the crowd of survivors.

“Well, I have no…” Oscar started saying.

“The earth’s crust shifted,” somebody in the group said.

All heads turned towards a well built and athletic woman who was accompanied by two young girls. She looked in her mid forties. She stepped forward somewhat diffidently.

“I’m June Hailey. My husband is Dr. Hailey who has been predicting this for the past couple of years. My daughters and I were on this flight to get away to a safe spot in South Africa.”

“Are you crazy, woman?” the same voice shouted from the rear of the crowd.

“No, I’m not crazy and neither was my husband. The research was conclusive. He was however not sure when it would happen, but there was no doubt that it was overdue. It has happened before.”

“I read about it on the ’plane.” said a woman lying on the ground to the right rather haughtily. “I’m a professor in economics and know nothing about the theory, but I read that your husband was ridiculed by the establishment for his predictions.”

“Yes that’s right, I wonder what his critics say now,” was June’s calm response.

“What’s earth crust displacement?” an elderly man asked. “I’m John Duguid and I’m a mechanical engineer. From what I know, this theory has never had much support.”

“That’s true John. The earth is made up of several layers much like an onion,” June explained. “The outer layer is called the lithosphere and is relatively thin. Below it you have another layer which is viscous. The theory is that given certain conditions, the outer crust could slip, displacing continents and the seas in a very short timeframe. This is what my husband had been researching for a number of years, but most scientists rejected the notion as being farfetched. He believed that the Petrovic comet could be the trigger which, when combined with the melting of especially the North Pole would create an imbalance between the poles and make the earth wobble. These forces could be enough he believed to cause the earth’s crust to slip.”

“Inshal-Llah,” came a comment from the Muslim family.

“Slipped to where?” asked someone disbelievingly.

“According to his calculations, the slippage could be as much as 2000 kilometres. Whole continents could appear and disappear. Some of these could be displaced to the South or North Poles and suffer a rapid onset of an ice age and vice versa.”

“So what does this academic discussion do for us?” a young, muscular man with long hair, asked angrily. “As I see it, we’re in deep shit regardless of whose theory was right or wrong. I want to know how the fuck are we going to get out of this?”

Oscar intervened. “Let’s take it easy and not panic. What we have to do right now is to assess our position sensibly. I propose that somebody write down all our names, what we can do and how we are able to help, or what injuries we may have. Can somebody volunteer please? Is there anybody here who is medically qualified? Someone who could have a look at every passenger who needs assistance?”

“Hang on guys, we can do that later. Let’s just understand what our options are. Lady, you say that the earth’s crust has shifted some 2000 odd kilometres?” It was John Duguid again. “What are the implications for us?”

“No-one actually knows,” Oscar intervened somewhat irritated. “First of all we have no confirmation of what has happened except that something very dramatic has occurred and has wrecked us. While it is all good and well to argue and discuss the slippage of the earth’s crust, our first priority is to survive the immediate future and protect ourselves from whatever threatens us, whether it is injury, disease, hunger, thirst or attack from unknown dangers. These are the realities what with earthquakes, tidal waves and what have you.”

Every body shifted uneasily and cast their eyes around them.

Esme, in support of Oscar’s earlier suggestion then proposed again that everybody’s names be recorded and that any special issues be addressed immediately. Everybody agreed.

“I’m a nurse,” a pretty auburn-hair woman in her mid-thirties said. “My name is Christine Brown. I’m British and we will survive!” Her cheery response drew some laughter.

“Rule Britannia!” someone piped up from the edge of the group.

“Al-Llah will decide,” Ahmedi Lockhat said.

“Bullshit, we’ll decide. There’s no Al-Llah here, pal,” someone said from the rear.

“I also suggest that a group of guys reconnoiter and find out where the hell we are,” said the long-haired young man again. “Who will join me? For the record, my name is Gary and I cannot do much as I am a professional rugby player, but I will help where I can. I spent some time in the army though. Maybe that will help.”

About ten men, including Oscar joined him, some just to escape the dismal sight of the wrecked aircraft and carnage lying around and they left.

In the meantime, June had found a pen and some paper and started to take down the details from the survivors. Christine checked the medical supplies with Esme Peterson, and started doing her rounds. The young redheaded boy who was lying sobbing quietly to the side was the first one to receive her attention. His injuries did not look promising but Christine helped by Esme, was able to make him comfortable and stabilise him.

The woman who had lost her hand had lapsed into a coma, and when Christine reached her she saw that there was little they could do for her. After administering a shot of morphine, she gently covered her with a blanket.

Amanda’s arm was properly set in a plastic splint from the first aid supplies and she seemed to be quite perky. A number of other passengers received treatment for the cuts and abrasions they had received. Surprisingly the rest of the passengers were physically unscathed but the large majority was showing signs of shock which manifested in withdrawal in some cases, raucous and stupid jokes in others while some walked around in a daze trying to find some semblance of order in a new chaotic world, a world none of them were prepared or equipped for. Dr van der Merwe lay on her side looking at the edge of the mountain; from somewhere out there, help must arrive. Her leg had been placed in an emergency splint and for the time being she was comfortable.

The administrative and medical activities and questioning from June, Christine and Esme seemed to have a calming effect on the survivors who settled down in small groups discussing the new information they had.

Gary and Oscar walked towards the outer perimeter of the plateau with the rest of their small scouting group, to see what they could find.

“Well, what do you think of the earth crust displacement theory?” Gary asked Oscar.

“I don’t know; never knew much about of it though. It will certainly explain our strange surrounds and the raging seas we saw as we came in. What it means to us in terms of survival I haven’t thought about at all yet. If what the woman said is true, we could be anywhere between what used to be Niger and India. I don’t know in which direction the slippage went. At least it is not cold here. It seems as if we are somewhere in more temperate climatic zones. Small comfort though given the position we are in!”

Overhearing the discussion, one of the other men in the party enquired from the rear: “If the crust shifted, what has happened to the rest of the world?”

“Again, I don’t know enough about it but I would imagine that untold misery and destruction has occurred everywhere. The geography of the world would probably be totally different and when we think about what a small earthquake can do in a built-up area, imagine what the effects of this would have been. Remember the earthquakes in Sichuan in China a couple of years ago?”

“Well, I think it’s a crock of bullshit,” a stocky and well-built man with thick hairy, forearms said. “I think a meteorite or something hit the earth and caused these tidal waves and we lost our way in the dust and winds. Once things calm down you’ll see the water will recede and we’ll be rescued by the outside world.”

“Well, I guess that’s another theory that we’ll find difficult to prove either way. It makes no difference to our position though. Looking at the raging seas around us, I very much doubt that we’ll be seeing rescue attempts in the foreseeable future. It seems as if everything’s been screwed up. If anybody’s left alive besides us they’ll no doubt have their hands full,” said Gary.

The group fell silent as they thought about their families and friends, their jobs and colleagues, their mistresses, debtors, creditors and bank managers. The implications were just too unreal for their senses to grasp. Slippage of the earth’s crust or meteorite impacts made no difference to their position. The world had not been prepared for this.

Predictions of apocalypse such as those predicted for 2012 had only served the selfish ends of fanatics, the religious and mystics over the ages; it never served to prepare the world for a disaster of such magnitude despite the evidence that this had happened before.

Man had once again become victim of his own arrogance and ignorance.

As the group reached the edge of their tiny new world, they gasped at the scene before them. At least 300 metres below them, enormous waves crashed against the cliff sides in a filthy brown froth of animal and human bodies mixed with the wreckage of homes, buildings and remains of trees. This was being flung up against the mountain-sides and sucked back to be flung back again and again. Some members of the small party crossed themselves; it was the wrath of God.

The man with the hairy arms watched the scene uncomprehendingly.

All the while the mountain shuddered in its very foundations as if horrified by the sight of it all.

The cowed group caste around the perimeter and noticed that the mountain was much larger than they had thought at first. At least it was not of volcanic origin. It seemed to stretch for at least another couple of kilometres ahead of them. They could not see how wide it was, but a hillock to their left would give them a better vantage point.

They trekked for about an hour away from the wreck and then walked around the edge of the plateau before finding a slope that showed signs of having been a pathway down the mountainside. There was no way down now with the water blocking their way. The path, which seemed to follow a very precipitous route, disappeared into the turbulent waters below them.

Moving toward the hillock, they easily scaled its rocky but low gradient. From the summit they could see that a small forest of trees and a hardy brown grass covered the other side of the hill. Obviously this was the side which received the most rain, however sparse. The opposite edge of the plateau could be seen roughly another two kilometres away. Another slightly larger hill lay out in that direction.

Further on, they chanced upon a shepherd’s tiny shelter and the remains of his herds’ enclosure, built to protect his charges against predators and winds. Nearby a small spring was still flowing with clear cold water. The group was astonished and quickly slaked their thirst in the small pool. Much refreshed, their moods improved dramatically. A quiet banter and talking ensued.

“Well, at least we found water,” Gary commented. “Now we will do battle for the water rights, right?”

He had no idea how close his prediction would be to the truth.

“I think we need to start getting back to the others,” Oscar said. “There is still a lot of work to do to prepare for the night.”

“Yes,” said a man who called himself Graham, “I saw some arse I’d like to prepare for, for the night as well.” A few sniggers were quickly smothered by Gary’s look.

Back at the crash site, Dr Van der Merwe was complaining bitterly and loudly about everything; her broken leg; the situation they found themselves in; her husband’s death and the lack of home comforts such as decent shelter, ablution facilities and clean water.

“Yes, yes, Professor, we all realise that you have had tough breaks and certainly no one denies this, but could you please keep it down?” implored Christine as she tended to her leg. “You’re upsetting the other survivors. Everyone here would prefer to be elsewhere, but these are the cards we’ve been dealt. Each one of us must now play his or her own hand. Hopefully a rescue mission will find us here and take us all home.” The woman’s complaining irritated her. “Let’s get ourselves comfortable for the evening; it is going to be a long night.”

“I don’t know when or whether any rescue mission will reach us, if ever,” she muttered under her breath as she walked away from the now more comfortable academic.

Walking up to Peterson, she said, “Some of the passengers are quite weak and suffering from shock. What can we give them for food?”

“I’ve recovered some of the on-board catering meals and I think we can actually prepare something if we can get a fire going,” Esme replied. “I’ll need a few pots to throw the meat and veggies in and reheat it. We have a lot of cheese and biscuits, as well as sweets including chocolates and even some bottles of wine and port, which survived the crash.”

“Well it sounds as if we can have a real party,” Christine said jokingly. “Is there anything to build a fire with?”

“Oh yes! We have a lot of paper and even fuel we can light the fire with but we need something more substantial to take us through the night. It will cheer everybody up as well, I think,” Esme replied.

Overhearing the discussion, John Duguid and Father Ridgeway volunteered to search for firewood.

Sitting to one side, June Hailey was talking with her daughters.

“Your father expected this to happen and he also prepared us for this eventuality. We have an advantage over the other passengers in being able to understand what is happening to us.”

“Mom! It doesn’t improve our position at all!” Liz said impatiently.

“Of course it does, it makes us special. It gives us an edge.”

“Mom, we’ll still get cold and hungry and suffer like any of the others. We’re not special,” said Rachel. “We could all die here on this mountain.”

Liz agreed.

“Listen to me girls, we have to stick together. We’re still a family. Look at that poor woman over there that lost her husband and broke her leg. She’s quite pitiful, while we have each other. As long as we realise that, we’re strong. Once we feel sorry for ourselves or fight among each other, we’ll be the same as the others. We must look out for one another but remember to help others as well. That way we can remain strong and gain the respect of the others as well. It’s more important however to have discipline for ourselves and above all to keep our sense of values and reality.”

The girls looked at their mother impatiently, but nodded their heads more in acquiescence than in agreement, to avoid being further lectured. Rachel continued to listen to her music. It drowned out the sound of the thunderous waves.

Twenty metres from them lay the body of the woman who had lost her hand. Nobody had noticed that she was dead.

A group of the older women started scavenging between the luggage and wreckage of the Airbus. Everything which they considered useful was stacked in a heap. Some of the stuff disappeared into pockets or was secreted under underwear. Pieces of aluminium were used by some men to build primitive shelters as protection against the wind and red dust which seemed to be everywhere and penetrated every pore, nook and cranny. Lifebelts served as cushions while blankets would serve as their beds for the night. The bedrock was nonetheless hard and cold. It would be an uncomfortable and long night.

Equipment, such as charts, emergency position indicator beacons and even a hand-held compass, was salvaged and stored by Peterson close to where she could keep an eye on the stuff.

After the scouting party returned, a ‘council of war’ was held, chaired by Oscar by common consent.

“Well, we scouted around and assessed our situation. I believe that the earth as we knew it has ceased to exist. We’re very lucky to have been able to land on this mountain, which has now become an island in a particularly unfriendly and totally unknown sea. I also believe that we will not be rescued quickly and that we have to look out for ourselves. The sooner we accept this, the quicker we’ll be able to cope with the situation.”

“Are you suggesting that we’ll be stuck here indefinitely?” asked John Duguid.

“Yes,” Oscar replied. “I’ve no idea what’s going on in the outside world and our communications equipment has been destroyed. Nobody knows where we are; neither do we know where we are for that matter.”

“But does that mean that we’ll die here?” asked Dr Van Der Merwe plaintively from where she lay.

“No, that’s not what I mean. Our position is desperate but not hopeless. We discovered a freshwater spring on the mountain and we’ll have to build shelters and find ways to produce food until the seas have subsided and we can caste out further. We must stand together and help each other. The strong will be called upon to help the weak and injured. We’ll all have to contribute in some way. The situation has levelled the playing field for all of us.”

John Duguid stood up to accentuate what he was about to say. “I agree with the Flight Officer. If we hope to survive, we must work together as a team. Some of us are strong, others not. Some of us have skills that may be useful here, while some skills will have become redundant. Humans are flexible and adaptive beings, which has been the key to our survival in the millions of years we have been on this planet. The trick will be to adapting to our current situation again.”

“Oh come on, the Bible is very clear on this matter. Earth is no older than six to ten thousand years and our survival has always depended on God; it’s only by God’s grace that we survived.” It was Father Ridgeway responding. According to conservative creationist theories, the world and indeed the universe was created by God in 6 days. While this notion had been rejected most conclusively by the scientific establishment over the years, ‘flat earth’ society types, mostly of a religious bent, still clung blindly to these outdated theories. The rest of the world couldn’t care less. Fr Ridgeway clearly believed in the creationist theories as behoove religionists.

“I do not wish to get into a debate, father,” John replied, “but our position requires more than God right now.”

“It is written in the Qu’ran. It is the will of Al-Llah, blessed is He. We are but the subjects of Al-Llah and the sooner we listen and obey to what is written, the easier the way forward will be for us,” Ahmedi added. “We cannot function without the foundations with which we have been brought up. We may have different values and beliefs but we are ultimately all dependent upon God or Al-Llah. There is no alternative.”

“Neither God, Jesus, Mary, Al-Llah, Buddha or Krishna will help us now. We have to help ourselves. I say we elect leaders and plan our way ahead. While prayers may give some of you solace it will not help us survive and face the challenges,” John replied.

Quite a large number in the group nodded their heads in agreement. Ahmedi and Fr John looked on silently but clearly disagreed with John’s sentiments.

“So how are we going to decide who’s going to do what with whom?” piped up Graham Grant from the rear. He had an irritating habit of talking whilst behind others, instead of facing the group.

“Well, that’s one of the first things we need to organise. Some form of structure, which will be respected and supported by all of us. How do you propose we set this up?” was Oscar’s response.

“Do we really need committees and structures? Good grief! I would have thought we could do without such niceties here. For God’s sake we’re in a crisis situation!” Gary retorted.

“What’s your alternative, Gary?” June asked.

“First of all, I think we should ask for volunteers,” he responded. “Who’s willing to do certain tasks? For example, who’s going to bury the dead? If we don’t start doing that tomorrow, we won’t like the results.”  There was a concerned murmur of assent from the gathering. Some people started crying again.

Encouraged, Gary continued: “Then I believe we can set up volunteer groups to fulfill certain functions and report back to the whole group every day on progress and problems. We can have evening sessions to review things. Let’s keep it simple.”

“And who tells the groups what to do?” somebody yelled.  It sounded again like the man, Graham from the rear.

“Christ guys, we’re adults here, surely we know how to manage the simple things and allow each group to determine its own work plan,” Gary retorted.

“Where the hell does a rugby-jock learn about management?” jeered another sullen-faced man from the rear of the crowd.

“You may be surprised by what you can learn from sport and teamwork, pal,” Gary shot back. John Duguid looked at him with a calculating expression on his face.

“OK, OK!” intervened Oscar feeling that the control of the meeting was slipping away from him. “Let’s discuss Gary’s suggestion.”

As he spoke, the group felt a vicious tremor, which shook the mountain and caused a number of rocks to tumble down the slopes.

Screams and sobs arose from the small group as they huddled closer together in an attempt to find strength from each other.

“Stay away from the cliffs and outcrops,” shouted somebody. “Watch out for falling rocks.”

The red dust rose anew from the surface and in some areas, especially near the edges of the mountain, small cracks appeared. The fuselage of the Airbus tilted to one side with a splintering and tearing sound. A crack developed in front of the tail causing it to sag down as the force of gravity made itself felt.

In the swirling waters below the mountain, the tremor created a whole new series of tidal waves which marched across the unknown seas like so many military battalions. The rumbling and crashing would make for an uneasy night for the small band of survivors on King ‘Rat as some started calling the mountain in a tongue-in-cheek reference to being holed up like rats on Mt. Ararat which had been Noah’s refuge after the mythical deluge referred to in the Judaic Torah.

Everyone huddled together waiting for the next tremor, until Esme Peterson, ever the efficient and practical one, started cooking in makeshift utensils scrounged from the wreckage. Some women jumped to help her while men packed fires from the scrub-wood, that had been gathered by a small group earlier and soon a few fires were roaring.

Enticing smells were soon emanating from the pots and the mood quickly improved. Small groups started gathering around the fires. Even the injured young Alistair and Suzette van der Merwe were carried to a comfortable spot near a fire while Amanda sat herself beside Alistair. The body of the dead woman was left where she had lain.

“Do you think we should give them some of the wine, Oscar?” asked Esme. “We also have some cans of Coke and orange juice left.”

“Yes let’s do that but keep the wine down to one drink per person. Let’s not tempt the gods too much. There seem to be some funny characters here.”

“Great, that will perk them up no end,” she said, and me as well, she thought to herself.

“Will you do the honours and take their orders, please?” she asked him sweetly.

“Of course, ma’am,” he responded with a mock gallant bow.

A hundred metres away, Graham watched the little show with interest.

When the food was ready, Esme called out to the survivors to line up. As they settled down to enjoy the food and beverages, Father Ridgeway stood up: “Brothers and sisters, we have suffered great deprivation and now we are about to receive the bounty of the Lord. Let us give grace for what we are about to receive.”

“Father, keep your grace to yourself. Was it not the Lord who cast us into this situation? Bounty? What are you on about? Bollocks to you for giving grace. Here we are on our own and the church is no more, neither is your Lord, Al-Llah or any other god!”

The surprising source of this opinion was the nurse, Christine Browne.

Surprised Father Ridgeway looked at her, taken aback. He had not expected such a response and certainly not from this small, petite woman.

The crowd watched expectantly. This was a reasonable replacement for the soap operas at home.

“My child….,” he started saying in what he believed was a soothing and fatherly tone.

“Ha!” Christine exclaimed.  “Father, don’t call me your child. I’m nobody’s child, because your Lord destroyed my parents, my children and my husband. And for your own God’s sake, do not invoke the cowardly argument that the ways of the Lord are mysterious. Our situation isn’t mysterious father; it’s a bloody disaster and your God did not help us. In fact if he did exist, he has a hell of lot to account for. Now let’s eat.”

Father Ridgeway sat down abruptly and contemplated his bowl of food silently.  He lay his Bible down on the ground next to him. The response to his attempted ministrations was totally unexpected.

The Lockhats had separated themselves from the main group. Ahmedi and his family silently gave thanks while they washed their hands in preparation of the meagre meal. They did not partake of the wine but drank some of the last fruit juice still available and ate their food in silence.

A subdued chatter arose with the odd guffaw and giggle here and there. Nobody really worried about tomorrow as the food and wine brought much needed sustenance and a degree of normality.

As night approached, the survivors prepared for their first full night in the New World. It would also be the last night where the habits and traditions of the past still applied. Tomorrow a new set of rules would start evolving. The learning would begin. New traditions and myths had already started to form.

Without any of the survivors realising it, this night would be the first of the New Age as the previous night had been the last of the modern world as they knew it.

From a ridge that stretched for over a kilometer along the mountainside, two sets of eyes silently watched the survivors below.


They settled down for the night as near to a fire as they could, clutching some of their own belongings they had reclaimed during the day from the wreck. Each fire cast a tiny circle of security and beyond it, it was pitch dark. There were no stars or a moon to be seen. These would not be seen for a very long time. Oscar was wrong. He would not be able to get a navigational bearing on any of the known stellar constellations in his lifetime. The skills of the navigator had become redundant in their new surrounds.

June Hailey and her daughters lay huddled together. She was awake and listened to their deep breathing. Tears were coursing down her cheeks through the red dust on her skin, creating rivulets of salty red mud. She was crying silently. She realised that she would never see Mike again. She also realised that every day that lay ahead would test them for things they had never been prepared for. She took a silent oath that she would stand by her daughters even if it meant that it could cost her, her life or someone else’s. Tomorrow she would start her quest to ensure that what her husband had wanted for them would be realised.

Suzette v/d Merwe lay next to the same fire. She was dozy, drugged by painkillers administered by Christine. But her thoughts too were on tomorrow. She would have to bury her husband or find someone to do it for her, and then they needed to start organising themselves. They had to get help or get out of this dreadful place. Nobody seemed to be taking the initiative.

About five metres away Bennie Smith lay with a group of about 20 survivors. He was just staring up into the dull sky wondering how he could get his slice of the pie. He was not prepared to be dictated to by anybody. Here the main rule would be the survival of the fittest and he would see to it that he was one of them. The rest of the group was just quietly talking about the situation they found themselves in. Graham Grant lay on his side. He was watching what Esme was up to. She had a lithe and attractive body and seemed to move with the grace of a leopard.

Another member of Smith’s group was female. She seemed to have no family or friends with her and kept mostly to one side although she seemed to associate more readily with Bennie than with any of the other survivors. She was particularly striking and her poise belied her breeding. Her hair was braided in the traditional Zulu style with hundreds of beads and hair extensions. She also wore the small beadwork symbol used in the fight against AIDS. She carried herself with confidence and seemed to have an inner balance which testified to some athleticism. Her name was Zyndile. She was a daughter of the Zulu king in South Africa, King Zwelethini but no-one in the group of survivors was aware of this. It was not an issue in any case as the Zulu nation, once proud warriors, had been decimated by the world-wide disaster. There was no kingdom any longer. Zyndile was the only survivor of royal blood. As she lay on the hard rocks,0 she felt very lonely and different to the rest. She had been observing all that had happened thus far but was not able to grasp the full import of her situation. She just wanted to get back to Nongoma, her home town and to her mother who was but one of the King’s many wives.

Gary was also staring up at the unlit sky. He had not expected the curved ball passed to him and wondered what had happened to Linda and their little baby, Rocky who was only six months old. His heart ached to hold them. Linda’s smile and the thought of her lithe body caused a different ache in his loins.

Oscar and Esme Peterson lay close together, not touching but close enough to take comfort from each other’s presence. A couple of metres away the Lockhats covered themselves with their clothes and were sleeping. Earlier Ahmedi had offered his prayers to Al-Llah. This time the group could actually hear his “Al-Llahu Ahkbar” call to prayer. It did not sit comfortably with a number of the survivors.

“What are we going to do tomorrow with the dead?” Esme asked Oscar.

“I don’t know. We’ll have to have a meeting and discuss it. The problem is that the ground is rock hard so we’ll have to bury them under stones or burn them. We can douse the bodies with some jet fuel. There may still be some in the tail-end tanks. It will also send up a good smoke signal if there is anybody to see it.”

“There will be some resistance I think, especially from the religious ones.”

“Why? Burning bodies is quite biblical isn’t it? Indian people still do it. Anyway it’s hygienic, if not a pretty sight.”

“God Oscar, imagine burning Paul and Fred and the rest of the crew. I shudder to think that it could have been me.”

They fell silent at this, each with their own thoughts.

Beyond the comfort of the firelight, two bodies crept stealthily toward the small circle of fires. The smell of food churned the juices in their stomachs, but the light and flickering of the flames drove them back. They circled the camp just beyond reach of the light. The fires would die down during the night and the spotted hyenas were patient. This was not the fist time they had stalked humans.

As the grey morning light stole over the group, Gary woke up and quietly jogged away from the makeshift camp. He circled clockwise around the mountaintop island, the opposite side to which they had reconnoitered the previous day.

As he rounded a long ridge along the side of the mountain, he heard sounds coming from behind a clump of rocks. Slowing down, he approached the area silently. The noises stopped.

Gary paused to pick up a stone the size of his fist and edged around the rock, and looked straight into the baleful eyes of a large hyena, which snarled at him in defiance. Behind the hyena, another one had its blood-covered head inside the stomach of what remained of the woman who had lost her hand. Hurling the rock at the hyena’s head, he retched and backed away rapidly from the disgusting scene. The tearing and knawing noises accompanied by deep growling started again.

He ran back to the others as fast as his legs could carry him.

Yelling as he approached the sleeping survivors, they jerked themselves up and stared at him and at his white vomit-stained face.

“Hu, Hu,” he gasped more out of shock than from the running.

“What’s happened?” shouted Karl.

“Hyenas, two of them about half a kay away,” he gasped.

“OK, so what?”

“They were eating, for God’s sake,” Gary yelled

“So what shit-head? Calm down,” another shouted.

“They were eating one of us!”

“Oh shit,” someone said behind him. “Who? Who were they eating?”

“I don’t know her name but it was that woman who died yesterday. She was lying over there.” He pointed to the area where she had lain, alone.

Her spot was empty.

Nobody knew her name.

The group instinctively moved closer together and looked around as if other carnivores were waiting for a morsel. The vultures on the nearby ridge seemed to have also moved closer.

“OK, so we have company. Let’s listen up, everybody!” Oscar shouted. “Gather around,” he added unnecessarily. “So we have some hyenas that did the job they were designed for. Here we are part of the food chain and whether we like it or not we are going to have to understand that.”

“So who elected you captain of this ship?” shouted the same swarthy man who had been lurking at the edges of most discussions without contributing anything.

“What’s your name?” Oscar asked.

“What’s it to you?” came the surly retort.

“His name is Bennie Smith.” Esme was looking through her notes taken yesterday of each survivor.

“OK, Bennie. Nobody has elected me. Would you like to take over?” Oscar said angrily.

“No, just asking,” he replied looking around for support from his new-found friends.

“Right. Now let’s just check what’s happening here. This is the position. I am the senior flight officer and until you decide to elect a leader or a leader emerges, I will continue to act as organiser. If you have a problem with that please say so now.”

“Yeah well you may be the senior flight officer, but that don’t entitle you none to be bossing us around,” Bennie piped up again.

“Come on guys get on with it!” Gary said angrily. “Bloody hell! One of us is being chewed up and will be shat out shortly while we are standing here bickering over who’s Mr. Big.”

He was pacing around trying to get to grips with what he had seen. “There’re a helluva lot of bodies lying in the wreck of the plane and yesterday we did not get around to burying them. We better do something pronto or every beast looking for a quick meal for hundreds of square kilometres will be on our doorstep in no time.”

“Peterson and I were discussing this last night and we would like ideas how we could dispose of the dead,” Oscar said nodding his head in agreement. “The ground around here is unsuitable to dig hundreds of graves. In any case, we have no tools for it. I believe the most decent way is set up a giant funeral pyre and burn the bodies.”

“Now listen here, it’s against my religion to be cremated,” a woman with mouse brown hair objected righteously.

“Madam, I’m not going to cremate you, only those who are already dead, is my suggestion,” he replied patiently.

“Well my husband is in the group who did not survive, sir. And I object to your flippant tone,” she replied.

“Lady, do you have another alternative?” Christine asked irritably.

“Can’t we bury them decent like?” she asked less sure of herself.

“Under what?” Gary retorted. “For the number of bodies, you will need about 50 tons of stone to be carried from those hills over there, where the hyenas are. I support the proposal that we burn them. We have enough jet fuel left to do that.”

“Excuse me, I have another idea,” said Donald James stepping forward. “Why not throw the bodies over the edge into the water? There are thousands of bodies in the water below, a couple of hundred wouldn’t make a difference!”

“Good grief man, have you no respect for the dead?” Karl objected.

“Well it’s not as if burning is any better, think of the smell and the smoke. We’ll smell the burning bones for days on end. And what if some bodies are not fully burned? We have no lime to cover the bodies. We could be worse off.”

“Jesus man! Just imagine hurling a little child or possibly your husband or wife over the edge,” Karl continued, shuddering at the idea.

“If the task is too much for some, only people who have not lost a relative or loved one should be tasked to do it,” was Donald’s reply. “I volunteer to lead the burial task force.”

“Great, at least someone is being practical,” Gary retorted.

“Well, what’ll it be ladies and gents?” Oscar asked. “Do we burn the dead or dispose of them over the edge of the mountain?”

Father Ridgeway stood forward and facing the group said, “When man is faced with challenges he does not know how to deal with, it is advisable to refer to the Lord’s Holy Bible.” He opened a small version of the Holy Bible. “I shall read from the book of Psalms, Psalm 29.”

In a stentorian voice, he intoned before anybody could interrupt:


“Ascribe unto Jehovah, 0 ye sons of the mighty,

Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength.

Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name;

Worship Jehovah in holy array

The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters:

The God of glory thundereth, Even Jehovah upon great waters.

The voice of Jehovah is powerful;

The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty.

The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars;

Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars of


He maketh them also to skip like a calf;

Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire.

The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness;

Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve,

And strippeth the forests bare:

And in his temple every thing saith, Glory.

Jehovah sat as King at the Flood;

Yea, Jehovah sitteth as King forever.

Jehovah will give strength unto his people;

Jehovah will bless his people with peace.


Father Ridgeway closed his short sermon to say: “If we commit our actions in God’s holy name, God will understand and bless our actions. Amen.”

Several people crossed themselves, while the Lockhats nodded in agreement with Father Ridgeway’s sentiments.

“Thanks father,” Oscar said, “I believe that we needed to reflect and the words from the Bible were very apt. I move that we remove all the bodies from the wreckage of the aircraft and that Father Ridgeway conduct a short funeral service here. After that we will need to dispose of their bodies. I suggest we find a spot along the mountainside which will allow us to cast the dead into the waters below without any impediment.”

There was general assent. Burning seemed to be the least attractive option.

“While the men remove the bodies and prepare them for the service, I suggest the women return to the camp and prepare food for the day. After the disposal of the bodies, I believe we should have a meeting to discuss the way forward and start allocating responsibilities.”

Nobody had any objections. The task ahead had sobered the group. Nobody was looking forward to this.

The men moved toward the wreck and some clambered inside to pass what was left of those killed to those waiting outside. It was a grim job and the sweet, sickening stench of putrefaction was already evident. With cloths covering their noses and mouths, the bodies were removed one by one. In some cases, a body had to be removed in pieces and or be cut from the wreckage inside the cabins. After three hours the pilot and co-pilots’ bodies were the last to be removed and laid out alongside the others. Further body parts and the torn bodies of passengers who had been ripped from the aircraft during its torturous path along the mountain top were located and placed alongside the rest.

It was a grim task and a number of volunteers vomited and left the scene.

One man who seemed to have no friends or relatives walked from the scene and calmly stepped off the side of the mountain to plunge into the raging waters below.

The service was short and to the point. No one wanted to delay the process any longer than was absolutely necessary. Those survivors who had loved ones to be buried were also allowed to say something or make a small gesture of farewell.

Using pieces of aluminium from the wings, four teams of four men each, lifted the bodies, and carried them the thousand odd metres to the mountain’s side. Here two teams swung the bodies out over the cliff and dropped them into the waters. Others were placed on pieces of aluminium and slid off into the void. The process became substantially less gentle as the day wore on and as their senses became inured to the grim reality of what they were doing.

The women busied themselves with chores in the camp, preparing food and generally organising the camp but also largely to avoid looking at what the burial detail was doing. Many of their relatives had died. Their dulled and shocked senses protected them from the trauma that had affected all of them over the last 36 hours.

Was it really that short? It felt like a lifetime.

By early afternoon the task had been completed and the weary group settled down to a welcome rest. The mood was subdued but somehow the weight of disposing the dead had an alleviating effect on them. The combined effort had also started to weld them together into a more cohesive entity; the beginning of a new community, for better or for worse.

Meanwhile in the aircraft, another smaller group of men had been sifting through every piece of luggage and equipment left behind. These were assessed for their immediate as well as long-term value to the small community. Eating utensils were stacked together with cushions and blankets. Lifebelts, seat cushions and rolls of toilet paper were collected and stacked in neat piles ready for removal to the camp. Cameras, palm recorders, Walkmans, laptop computers and other electronic gadgets were dumped in a heap with other useless objects. Electrical- and stainless steel cabling was stripped from the overhead panels of the craft.

About twenty crates of bottled drinking water were salvaged together with a similar number of crates of fruit juices packed in small carton containers. Sweets and chocolates were carefully packed in boxes.

In the hold, they discovered tons of cargo, some of which had been damaged beyond use, but some had real value. One container was full of canned foodstuffs destined for the restaurants of South Africa. They would have enough smoked oysters and salmon to last a substantial time! Another container was packed with rolls of textiles seemingly designed for use in the manufacture of motorcar upholstering. The most exciting discovery however was the mini-container filled with cases of whisky! Miraculously most of the bottles were still unbroken. Other cases contained machinery and pieces of equipment, which had been built for purposes unknown to them. Some cases were filled with electronic circuit boards and even microchips. These joined the growing pile of useless objects; so much junk.

The booty which had some apparent use was removed from the aircraft and stacked close to the camp where everybody had an opportunity to inspect and remark on possible application and uses. Bennie was quick to point out the practical value of the materials to construct bivouac shelters. The women were delighted with the toiletries and foodstuffs.

By this time the scene around the camp resembled a military supplies depot. Someone suggested they write down the inventory and meet to discuss the use of the stuff and how it should be allocated. Ten women and some of the children volunteered to do this and they scurried around in great glee, counting items and listing them on writing-pads, which had also been found in the wreck.

The smells emanating from the fires started telling on the appetites of the group and by late afternoon the resistance to eating which was caused by the grisly task of disposing the bodies waned sufficiently for every person to enjoy the last of the in-flight meals scrounged the previous day.

Drinks were passed around and soon a friendly chatter arose.

As the day wore on, the mood in the camp seemed to have changed. A sense of purpose had developed. They had achieved something today. They had coped with the challenges. There was some cohesion for the first time. Only a few of them became aware of this change, and it did not suit all of them.

A small gathering of Bennie’s friends were talking among themselves to one side. Zyndile was there as well. “Are we going to sit around to be told what to do by that fancy pants pilot chappie?” the man called Graham asked no-one in particular.

“Well he is in charge, or was anyway until we crashed,” one of their group replied.

“Well, we’re in a different ball-game now. Here it’s dog-eat-dog,” Graham continued. “More like hyena-eat-man, bru,” one of the group quipped, laughing at his own sick joke.

Bennie stood up from the ground and stretched himself.

“I agree with you,” he said looking at Graham. “We’ll  ’ave to look out for ourselves. I say let’s stick together come what may. Nobody’s going to dictate to us then, now will they?”

There seemed to be general consensus except for Zyndile, who realised that the group she had unwittingly joined was very different from her in more ways than just race.


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