Portal – Chapter 2

“The President laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery this morning marking the beginning of the day long memorial to the destruction of Los Angeles,” headlined the 24 hour news channel that was running at the courthouse.

Michael arrived a half hour early to his court time so he had plenty of time to catch up with the news. His mom did not have a TV in the apartment and refused to buy one. He would often study at the library while in High School just to watch the occasional television. After his mom screamed at a friend’s mother in a drunken rage for letting Michael watch television, he was never allowed over anyone’s house again. After he was arrested, his already few numbers of friends dropped to zero. Anti-Enhanced hysteria was much lower with the Joint Task Force program to integrate the more powerful Enhanced with law enforcement units, but most people still were uncomfortable with Enhanced on a personal level.

The news channel continued to show memorials around the country. Most of downtown Los Angeles had been destroyed in the initial blast but surrounding areas were lost when the coastal and Santa Ana winds spread the radioactive debris across the San Fernando Valley, Orange County, and Inland Empire. For weeks, millions fled the greater Los Angeles area leaving behind a hundred thousand dead. Hundreds of thousands more died within a year from radiation exposure illnesses. An estimated 100,000 more died within five years after Apocalypse from cancer. Officials initially proclaimed the radiation contained but Arizona State professors, testing the Colorado River, found the ground soil to be irradiated by the winds from Los Angeles. The Colorado River south of Lake Mead was declared unsustainable for human life. San Diego, Imperial County, and the other areas, including parts of Baja California, that relied on water from the river were ordered to evacuate.

“Today marks the 15th anniversary of Apocalypse,” a voice stated over the memorial images. “These are the final shocking images we have from Los Angeles at ground zero.”

The image changed to a long lens shot of Atomic Power and Steel Spike fighting each other.  Everyone had seen this shaky footage before on television and online but every anniversary every news channel would show it again. A news crew was at the LAPD command post at MacArthur Park filming the fight between the two Enhanced. Atomic Power had just blasted Steel Spike off camera to the right when the sound of a rifle echoed between the buildings and down the block. Atomic Power was down, holding his head, as the crowd was in a panic. Something had gone horribly wrong.

 “Ceasefire, 44 David!” screamed one of the LAPD officers in tactical gear with SWAT written across his chest. A few seconds later, the footage just stopped.

“Those images were the last beamed to us before Atomic Power exploded in an estimated 1.5 megaton blast,“ said the news reporter on a voiceover as images of Congressional hearings were shown. “During Congressional hearings, investigators determined that a SWAT marksman, Officer Thomas Collins, accidentally shot Atomic Power, causing the chain reaction.”

Michael looked around the room. Although everyone felt the aftermath of Apocalypse, no one really cared about it anymore and did not bother to even watch the news story. During the first few anniversaries, houses of worship were overflowing with people still grieving about the destruction and even President Bennett called for a National Day of Prayer. But over time, people wanted normalcy and focused on the present, not that horrible day. Everyone made a big deal about it during the 10th anniversary, like the number 10 had any more meaning than 9 or 11. Michael expected the television news would run the story a few more times today than normal anniversaries because the media can divide evenly by five.

Michael was only four years old when Apocalypse happened. His mom had raised him as a single parent in Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles. Michael remembered the lights going out, then loud sirens blaring all over the city. At first Michael had no idea where these sirens had come from with their horrible wailing noise but his mom told him later they were from her childhood when people thought the old Soviet Union would attack Los Angeles with nuclear tipped missiles.

Like many others that survived, Michael’s mom threw everything she could fit in or on the SUV that evening, before authorities ordered all the areas around Los Angeles to be evacuated. The smell of fire and the falling ash were more than enough encouragement for her to leave with her child. Michael did not remember most of the trip because they left around his bedtime. His mom drove all night, using back roads and 4-wheel drive, when necessary, straight to Scottsdale, Arizona where her parents had retired. A few hours later, the traffic out of Los Angeles was bumper to bumper to the Arizona border. Years later, many people wrote books about surviving the great escape from Los Angeles. Many vehicles ran out of gas in the deserts of California and were abandoned. Thousands perished from exposure or violent attacks from others trying to flee.

All connections to Los Angeles were severed as the scope of the disaster grew. The National Guard was activated and prevented non-emergency vehicles from entering Southern California. The rail lines to Los Angeles were cut and all flyable commercial aircraft departed Los Angeles, Burbank, Ontario, and John Wayne airports within 72 hours. Everything else was abandoned. Those that chose to remain behind were left to do so. No one knew how long they lasted, but every expert agreed that they were dead within weeks from radiation poisoning or the environment.

After living in Arizona for almost a year, the radiation from Los Angeles had been detected at the Colorado river and even minute amounts were found in Phoenix. Government officials repeatedly declared the environment safe but doubts remained. Michael’s grandparents did not want to leave Arizona but gave Michael and his mom money to make the  trip to Indiana, where most of his mom’s family still lived.

When they arrived in Indiana, the family was very supportive. Michael had plenty of cousins to enjoy and was enrolled in one of the best schools in the state. The family never found a cohesive bond and had a serious falling out after Michael’s grandparents died of cancer a few years later. Michael and his mom were blamed and they were pressured to leave. They moved to downtown Indianapolis just over 10 years ago to the apartment complex his mom still lived in.

Michael had tried to contact his family a couple of years ago to help his mom when he moved out for college, but they had severed all contact. Their phones were disconnected and they had moved on with no forwarding addresses. Michael’s mom simply screamed incoherently at him when she found out. He decided not to make that mistake again.