Title: The Big One
Rating: PG-13 (T)
Summary: "So was this your first earthquake?"
Notes: Set during the Academy years, as described in "Stone and Anvil." Calhoun/Shelby UST. Possible bad science.
When the earthquake hits, Calhoun is sitting on his bed, studying for his xenobiology exam. He doesn't notice anything unusual at first. Wexler's at his desk, studying for the same exam, and mouthing the terms to himself as he reads over his notes. The room, and the corridor outside are quiet-- it's almost 2300 hours during a busy week and most cadets are cramming for various tests and examinations. Mac himself is absorbed in his notes, intent on doing well on the test.
So when Mac's bed begins to wobble back and forth, he doesn't look up. He's trying to remember all the subtle differences between Vulcan and Romulan physiology, and he thinks it's just Wex, sitting down on the bed to ask Mac to quiz him on terms again.
But his bed doesn't stop moving back and forth. In fact, the shaking gets worse. But when Mac lowers his notes to ask Wex if he would please stop jumping on the bed, he sees that it's not Wex. The bed is just shaking, seemingly of its own accord, and Mac is dumbfounded for a moment, until he sees the rest of the furniture in the room is shaking, too.
Finally he realizes what's happening-- an earthquake.
Wex, mouth open and eyes saucer-wide, has apparently come to the same conclusion. He's dropped his notes and is staring out the window as if expecting to see the ground lurching around outside. "Holy shit," he says, barely audible, and rolls out of his chair, ducks into a ball, and covers his head, gripping the desk leg so hard Mac can see his knuckles turning white.
The tremors last forty, maybe fifty seconds. Mac stays sitting on his bed, unsure of what to do. He vaguely remembers something about "duck and cover" and an instructor demonstrating the proper position, and also recalls hearing Wex talk about the stupidity of building the academy so close to an fault line. But there's no debris raining down from the sky, or monster tsunamis on the horizon, or any of the other things Wex predicted would happen during an earthquake. So Mac holds onto the bedspread and waits for the shaking to end, grateful that everything in the room that could hurt when it came flying at someone's head is bolted to the floor or wall.
"Oh," moans Wexler, once the room is still. "Oh. Oh, boy. I will never get used to that. Never." He looks up at Mac and blinks a couple times, as if realizing for the first time that his roommate is beside him. "Calhoun?"
"I'm fine," says Mac. "Are you--"
He trails off as he watches Wex crawl out from underneath the desk and stand up, quickly brushing off his uniform trousers. His hands are trembling, Mac notices, but he lifts his chin and marches out of the room before Mac has a chance to ask where he's going. As the door hisses shut, Mac hears voices outside his quarters; the shaking apparently got the other cadets' attention, too.
Mac leans over the edge of his bed and starts picking up the padds that slid onto the floor during the shaking. It wasn't so terrible an earthquake, he thinks. Not like the ones he read about in his studies, full of rubble and fires, nor the apocalyptic, earth-shattering temblors Wex predicted. He concludes that this earthquake must have been a small one, and sits back on his bed with a padd to continue his reading. He's taking down the differences between Romulan and Vulcan cranial structure when he hears Wex.
"She slept through it. She slept through an earthquake!" The door opens, and Wex enters, followed by Elizabeth Shelby.
"Oh my god, Wex, get over it," says Elizabeth. She's wearing her bathrobe, and Mac can see her dark standard-issue pajamas peeking out beneath the folds. She's obviously just gotten up from bed, as she smiles at him, a little sleepily. "Hi, Mac. Did you feel the earthquake?"
He nods. "You didn't?"
"I was asleep," she says, casting an annoyed glance at Wex. "I didn't feel anything. Wexler was the one who woke me up."
"I guess there's nothing like a little shifting of the tectonic plates to bring sweet dreams, huh?" says Wex, a little hysterically. He's pacing the room, picking up the padds scattered across the floor.
"You're insane," Elizabeth tells him, then turns to Mac. "He's not used to this sort of thing. He grew up in the Midwest."
"There aren't any earthquakes there?" Mac asks.
She shakes her head. "Mostly just tornados."
"Who's even asleep at eleven, besides?" Wex asks.
"Your girlfriend," Elizabeth says pointedly.
"That doesn't make it normal or anything."
They glare at each other for a moment, but there isn't much heat or conviction in either of their voices, and Mac gets the impression that this is a well-worn discussion. Wex just heaves a sigh and goes back to picking things off the floor.
"So are there many earthquakes in this area?" Mac asks. He's curious now, having experienced one for himself. And, as he recalls, Elizabeth grew up in the area. So naturally, she would be knowledgeable about the subject.
"Oh, yeah," says Elizabeth. She comes over and sits on the edge of his bed, pushing aside his padds to make room. Mac pulls his legs up to his chest and sits up against the headboard, wishing that he'd properly made his bed and not just thrown the duvet across the rumpled sheets. "San Francisco and the rest of the California coast are located on the North American plate, which has been moving against the Pacific plate for millions of years. This city is sitting on fault line, so whenever the two plates shift, the entire bay area shakes."
"Damn bad planning, if you ask me," says Wexler. He hands Calhoun a padd. "I believe this one is yours."
"Of course, there are little quakes every day," Elizabeth says. "So really, the plates are shifting all the time, but it's only during times like this when we actually feel them moving."
Mac nods slowly, considering this. "That's interesting. Where I lived on Xenex, we were in the middle of the continent, in the capital city, and we didn't have earthquakes."
"Sounds nice," says Wexler.
"We had sandstorms instead."
"I take that back, then."
"So was this your first earthquake?" asks Elizabeth.
"It's his second," she says, nodding toward Wex. "The first time was when we were kids, up at the cabin for the summer. We were out hiking. It was just a little one, but Wex swears he saw the trees pitching back and forth."
"And I did at that," says Wex, sitting back down in his desk chair.
"Was this a small one, too?" Mac asks.
"Yes," says Elizabeth. "There haven't been many big earthquakes around here in the last century."
"Which means that we're due," says Wexler.
On Mac's look, Elizabeth nods. "He's right, actually. There's supposed to be another big one soon. Scientists don't know when exactly, but they've managed to narrow it down to within the next couple years."
"They can predict when earthquakes are going to occur?"
"To some extent. There are patterns to look for, telltale seismic activity. Scientists can figure out down to the week when most minor earthquakes are going to happen, but it's more difficult for the major ones." She shrugs. "And of course, no one knows exactly where the quake will hit."
"So let's just keep our fingers crossed that we've graduated here by the time the big one rolls around," says Wexler. "Because it'll come, probably sooner rather than later, and the epicenter will be somewhere on campus-- and with my luck, right beneath this room--and afterward I'll be too traumatized to leave my quarters. Provided, of course, that I still have quarters to leave."
"I think I'll second that," says Mac, who has decided that he prefers sandstorms. At least during a sandstorm, you could go inside and be safe there. No such thing with earthquakes.
"I feel like I should be toasting you," says Elizabeth to Wex, shaking her head.
"Cheers anyway," Wex replies, raising an imaginary cup in mock toast.
Suddenly, the ground begins to shake again.
This time, it's less violent and more controlled, a tight thrill running through the ground, rattling the desk and the bed. Elizabeth, perched on the edge of his bed, yelps and grabs at the covers as she begins to slide off the bed. Mac reaches for her, slings his arm around her waist and hauls her back on the bed beside him. She holds onto his arm.
The ground is shaking beneath them, but the thing Mac's most aware of is Elizabeth. He looks at her, at her wide eyes and flushed, excited face, and follows her gaze out the window. The lights are on in the surrounding buildings, their occupants presumably woken by the earthquake, and Mac can see through the dim lights that the horizon line is moving, jerking across the landscape like a shiver. The bed is trembling, and he braces himself against the headboard with his free hand, the one that's not holding onto Elizabeth. She's close to him now, pressed against his side, and it's weird because the angle's uncomfortable and his arm is starting to hurt and her boyfriend is five feet away with a death grip on his desk, and at the same time it's not weird because her being there, so soft and close, feels really, really good and Mac's attention is split between her nearness and the aftershock, which is still rippling through the ground, making the room shake and the furniture wobble.
The aftershock is over within seconds. He had been closing his eyes, waiting for things to stop shaking. Now that everything is still, he opens his eyes and looks around. His padds are on the floor again, but nothing seems damaged. Elizabeth has turned around and is looking at him. "Thanks," she says.
"Sure," he says, and she's still looking at him and so he starts looking back at her and they end up staring at each other for a long moment, while Mac notices how blue her eyes are up close, and starts feeling a little dizzy. She is very warm against him and that's not helping, either.
"Oh, man. I hate earthquakes."
Wex is holding tightly to the edge of his desk, face screwed up and eyes shut.
Mac lets go of Elizabeth and they shift away from each other on the bed. She gives him a sheepish smile and readjusts her robe. "You okay, Wex?" she asks.
"I hate aftershocks."
"I'm not a big fan, either," Elizabeth replies. She stands. "I should get back to bed. I've got an exam tomorrow morning."
Wex collects himself long enough to get up from the desk and offer to walk her back to her quarters. On their way out, Elizabeth smiles at Mac.
Mac leans back, holding his notes in front of him but not looking at them. He feels oddly rejuvenated, more awake than he has been in a long time. He can still feel the push and tremble of the earthquake, the shivering that ran through the room, the way it felt to hold Elizabeth in his arms, if only for a few brief seconds. He liked those feelings, in particular the last one. He thinks he could get used to them.
An earthquake, he thinks before resuming his studies. An earthquake.