The War of Immensities Online - Barry Klemm

1. THE VOLCANOES OF TONGARIRO

For Andromeda Starlight, as she chose to call herself, there was an amazing sensation that she was flying. What was remarkable about it was that she was both straight and sober at the time and sitting in her bath which, she was absolutely certain, was firmly bolted to the floor of the bathroom. In that she was quite mistaken—it was really flying through the air. Andromeda had dropped enough tabs and sniffed sufficient lines to recognise the sensation immediately—the only trouble was that there had been no tabs for a year, no coke for a month and no booze since last night. Nevertheless, it was one hell of a trip.

She had been lying back, wallowing in the self-indulgence of the hot, steaming water laced with lavender and patchouli, when suddenly she noticed that the water was rippling—the surface was quivering slightly. She frowned. Had she made some movement she would have understood, but she was quite inactive at the time. Then her buttocks informed her that this was because the bath itself was vibrating, and at a rapidly increasing rate.

Even that was not really surprising—the whole north island of New Zealand was prone to shaking frequently and here, near Mt Ruapehu, more so than anywhere. But it would be so bloody inconvenient for there to be a major earthquake right now; just when she was settled into her bath... then the lights went out.

Now she knew that was definitely strange, because the light that went out so suddenly was daylight, provided entirely by the sun, shining brightly through the opaque window to her right. It was as if she suddenly went blind... not quite blind. There were all sorts of spots and ghost images floating in the blackness that said she was still seeing—there just wasn’t anything to see anymore. And it was in that time, when she knew she was still conscious, that she had the very distinct impression that the bathtub had sprouted wings and taken to the sky.

*

Someone struck Chrissie Rice with a rabbit-chop to the back of the neck. In the last instant before unconsciousness enveloped her, she realised that no one could have because there was no one back there, for she was sitting in the rearmost seat of the helicopter. What had actually happened was that her head, thrust back by the impact, hit the bulkhead and knocked her out. She remembered that she had just heard Lorna saying urgently. “Shit, look at that!” and was turning to look when the blow occurred.

Lorna Simmons, sitting beside Chrissie, had a moment longer. She had been looking out the window at the plateau below, trying to catch a prospect of the three snow-capped volcanoes in a line as the helicopter banked around the slopes of Mount Ruapehu.

They had flown up to the crater rim of Ruapehu three days earlier and then ski-ed down—Chrissie, who boasted that she had skied everywhere, regarded it as one of her best experiences. Now, they were returning from a sight-seeing flight across Tongariro National Park—this chap from Western Australia named Joe Solomon was footing the bill for the helicopter so the girls went along for the ride.

Lorna tried to pinpoint the Mt Ruapehu Chateau which, she was sure, had to be at the foot of the volcanic cone over which they flew. It wasn’t there, and neither was the rest of the snowfield over which they had just passed. What she saw instead was a huge grey cloud billowing toward them from behind. She spoke and then immediately felt the helicopter jerk violently as the cloud overtook it. Everything went black and then even blacker as she too lost all sensibility.

For Joe Solomon, sitting beside his wife Melina in the forward seats, there was just a little more time still, for when he heard Lorna’s cry, he turned and saw the towering black billows of ash overtake the helicopter and engulf it completely and there was a sense of the helicopter flipping onto its back before his vision vanished. Joe Solomon, lawyer and union man, was fifty and overweight and tired of life, of his wife, of conferences and briefs and boozy lunches and scowling judges. He was a Rumpole-like man with no poetry and he came to New Zealand for a holiday that Melina and his high blood pressure insisted upon. Only to be killed in a freak helicopter crash, he thought, before there was nothing else.

In the same instant that Andromeda Starlight’s bathtub flew, the tourist