Humans often speculated the meaning of their existence. They knew life on the planet had begun in the form of plants and fish and smaller mammals. Life itself was pondered by many humans because it seemed near unfathomable that they were the result of extreme chance; of being on a planet that held an atmosphere and was the perfect distance from a star whose orbit did not deviate enough to prevent conditions that encouraged life. This chance, however great, created a rift between many, causing humanity to segregate itself into different sects of ideology. However, all of them were correct in a way that the others could not comprehend. They were allowed to grow and populate the planet because the planet itself allowed it. The human population grew and grew until it reached ten billion inhabitants. It was around this time when the tremors began.
Earthquakes became consistent. After the first year, when the earthquakes grew in frequency, many governments dedicated teams to study the cause of them and provide insight into the changes the planet was undergoing. Arthur Denali was recruited by the Chilean government to study the earthquakes and provide insight as to how they might alter the nations landscape. The main concern centered on how the quakes would impact the mining industry.
Arthur took the job for several reasons. He had been studying earthquakes for over ten years and knew his field, he needed the money to support his two young boys who were both starting their teenage years, and he was genuinely interested in what was causing the quakes themselves. He was certain there was a cause, and he wanted to be the first to find it.
Leon and Christian were on the couch watching the game when Arthur walked in. They were sharing a bag of chips and never tore their eyes away from the screen.
“Did either of you make dinner?” he asked. Leon shook his head without looking away from the game. Arthur sighed, put his bag in a chair, and turned on the stove. He grabbed a pot and a pan and made a simple pasta with meat sauce. When he was done, he divvied the meal onto three plates and took two of them to the boys.
“The last one to finish does the dishes,” he said before returning and grabbing his own plate. They tore into the food, occasionally eyeing each other’s plates as they raced to finish. Arthur watched the game while he slowly picked at his own plate.
“Done!” Leon yelled and slammed the plate down on the coffee table.
“There are still noodles on your plate,” Christian objected.
Arthur pretended to look over their shoulders before saying, “Sorry Christian. He finished first.”
“But…” The younger boy began and turned toward Arthur with sad eyes that were growing too old to draw much empathy.
“You can wait until after the match,” Arthur said. Christian smiled and turned back to the game.
Arthur finished his plate then grabbed his computer before sitting down in the chair next to his boys. He opened the laptop and logged into an international database established to share information regarding the earthquakes and speculate the cause of their increasing frequency. Arthur primarily logged in as an observer. He rarely posted more than the day’s readings at his location. He scanned the readings from other parts of the world hoping something would come together from the information. After gathering what he could, he set up his seismometer and settled in to watch the final twenty minutes of the match with his boys.
The rumbling woke him. He sat up and looked around for Leon and Christian. The later opened the door of their room letting Arthur breathe before turning his attention to the seismometer. This quake had been greater than any previous ones. It stopped after nearly three minutes. He scanned the readout. It had maxed at 6.0. As he began his calculations to predict the next cycle, he was surprised by another quake. This one was softer, measuring in at 5.4, but also lasted nearly three minutes.
“What’s happening dad?” Leon asked, more curious than scared. The quakes happened often enough that they had grown used to them.
“I’m not sure,” he answered. The quakes had never been back-to-back before. They were consistent but spread out over several hours. If his new calculations using the previous time-frame and the new data was correct, the next one would come in roughly four hours. He packed his equipment and loaded the car. He returned and gave the boys his usual speech. Go to school, do your homework, clean up the kitchen, and try to make dinner that was more than simply chips. When he left, another quake occurred. He kept his eye on his watch and he waited until it was over. It lasted three minutes and had happened only forty-five minutes after the previous two. A second quake followed, just like earlier, and his phone rang as the trembles subsided.
“Yeah,” Arthur answered. “I know, I know….Yeah….It may be too soon to tell….Tell you what,” he pulled out his notes from the morning quakes and looked them over, “If we get another round….Yeah, two in a row….Yeah….If we get two more in the next hour, let’s call it….Okay?….Okay.” He hung up.
“Everything all right dad?” Christian called from the doorway.
“We will see,” he saw the concern in Christian’s face, “Go pack a bag and tell your brother to do the same. You two can come to work with me today.”
“What about school?” Christian said, trying to act genuinely concerned about missing his education and failing miserably.
“You can skip today.”
Before Arthur finished his sentence, Christian had bolted back inside the house. Arthur packed extra provisions for a worst-case scenario that he couldn’t shake out of his head.
The boys had loaded into the car and Arthur was driving toward the office when the quakes began again. And again, there were two, lasting three minutes each with a five-minute pause between them. Arthur’s phone rang.
“Yeah…Yeah…Okay.” He spun the car around and headed toward the ocean. Within twenty minutes, they were safe from any areas at risk of landslides. His phone rang again and he answered it. “Denali……what do you mean underground?………..Okay, okay, send me the coordinates and I’ll meet you there.” He dropped the phone in the cup holder and adjusted his course yet again.
“Dad…” Leon started from the backseat.
“Everything’s okay,” Arthur cut him off. He was too panicked to worry about lying but he didn’t want either of them to know how worried he really was.
They drove for another hour. The rumbling of the quakes stayed consistent but increased in magnitude. Arthur had Leon pull out the seismometer and place it in the empty seat. Taking readings in a moving car skewed the results, but it provided Arthur with the information he needed. The quakes were increasing gradually. The last one had been a 6.8 give or take a few decimals for the road conditions.
The steady frequency of the quakes gave people an expectation and allowed their fears to subside a little. Many had gathered out in open areas. Only a few had packed up and gotten on the road. Arthur weaved through them on his way to a place he’d never been. The sky was growing dim when they pulled up to the gates. It was still mid-day, but dark clouds filled the sky. Two guards approached Arthur and asked for identification. He provided his government issued badge and they let him through. He drove into a hangar and they were all escorted into a small transit car that took them below into a bunker.
Arthur was greeted by his boss who hurried him down a long hall. They passed a series of doors and Arthur saw the president sitting with a group of men in heated discussion.
“The president? Yeah. They brought him here this morning after the second set. I need you to give me updated data after each grouping. They have been consistent so far. Your boys can stay with you. In fact, they won’t be allowed outside the room.” Arthur was led into a room full of equipment. “Use this phone,” his boss showed him an old landline receiver, “to contact me.” Then he left.
Arthur surveyed the room and rolled up his sleeves. “Leon. Look after Christian. Don’t leave this room.” He could see fear in their eyes. He bent down and placed a hand on each boy’s shoulder. “Everything’s going to be okay.” He pulled them in for a hug.
He ran from machine to machine for the next several hours, calling his boss after every set of quakes. The quakes were growing stronger. The last set registered at 7.6. They were also beginning to grow in frequency. Arthur predicted the next wave would come in seventeen minutes. His boss came in twenty-three minutes later when the next wave subsided.
“Arthur,” he said, “It’s over.”
“Everything. The president called a national emergency four hours ago urging everyone to get below ground. The first volcano erupted two hours ago, since then-”
“Yeah. There have been hundreds, maybe even thousands, erupting all over the globe. Spewing ash and gas into the atmosphere. No one can survive outside. The earth is cracking to pieces and-”
“Hold on,” Arthur stopped him. He grabbed papers from all around him, scanning the information, processing the meaning within it. He was on the edge of understanding what it all meant.
Then it clicked. “Oh my god,” he whispered. He looked at his boys.
“Arthur! What is it?” his boss nearly yelled as the next set of quakes began.
“They’re not earthquakes,” Arthur said, “They’re heartbeats.”