The World That Ends in Fire – Chapter 13


Berlin didn’t die like Tokyo and Buenos Aires did. The destruction of the first two cities was was instantaneous and total. Berlin wasn’t as fortunate.

“Nothing can be that big,” Hanna said. “That’s not possible.”

On the screen the impossible creature continued its rampage, destroying an entire neighborhood with the stomp a foot.

“Nothing made of matter we’re familiar with can be that big,” Dr. Tishone said. “We have multiple camera feeds reporting its existence though, so clearly it is possible.”

“That thing’s made of exotic matter?” Kimberly asked.

“I don’t know,” Dr. Tishone said. “But as working hypothesis go, that seems like a solid candidate.”

“I don’t understand,” Kalia asked. “Why can’t something be that big? I mean it’s gigantic but there are mountains larger than that aren’t there?”

“It’s called the Cube-Square Law,” Hanna said. “The short form is that volume rises faster than surface area, so something that large would have so much mass there’s no way it should be able to move. Or breath. Or anything.”

“We don’t know that it does breath,” Dr. Tishone said. “Or how it’s moving.”

“If it’s exotic matter, it may not be affected by Earth’s gravity how we expect it to be,” Kimberly said.

“If it’s the same exotic matter as the Lightning Planet though, it shouldn’t be able to interact with normal matter at all should it?” Hanna asked.

“We need data on that thing,” Dr. Tishone said.

“Are you saying we should capture it alive?” Kalia asked.

Dr. Tishone laughed.

“Not in the slightest. I have no idea if we can even affect that thing and people are dying right now,” she said. “We need to stop it if we can, however we can. For now the data we generate in doing that should be plenty to work with, assuming anything we have will affect it.”

“We’ll find out in a few minutes,” Kalia said. “NATO’s scrambling a fighter squadron to engage that thing. Orders are to destroy it using all available ordnance.”

“What about the people in Berlin?” Hanna asked.

“The squadron’s still five minutes out,” Kalia said. “By the time they get to Berlin there’s not going to be anyone left alive in the city at the rate that thing’s going.”

“Someone needs to tell the people who are filming and broadcasting it!” Hanna said.

“Listen to the audio,” Laura, the communications tech said.

As the display switched from one feed to the next, the audio clicked over to follow it. Each voice was different but the same fear and sorrow rippled through each of them.

“I don’t speak French, what are they saying?” Hanna asked.

“They…they know what’s happening,” Laura said, fighting to keep her voice even. “Some of them are leaving, they just needed to know which direction to run.”

“What about the others?” Hanna asked.

“They’re staying,” Laura said in a tight monotone without looking away from her screen.

“They’re going to die though!” Hanna said.

“There’s no path out for them,” Laura said. “The creature’s destroyed most of the roads and bridges and there are too many buildings down. They’re hemmed in.”

“Can’t we see anything? What about with satellite photos?” Hanna asked, knowing those weren’t really an option between the cloud cover over Berlin and the smoke and ash that was being kicked up by the creature’s rampage.

“We have nothing,” Laura said. “They’re our only eyes on the scene and we’re losing them.”

“Do they know an attack is coming in?” Hanna asked. “Can they at least hide from that?”

“Some can,” Laura said. “Some are saying they don’t want to. They think this is the end of the world.”

“They may not be wrong,” Dr. Tishone said. “If you can get messages to any of them tell them to hang on. We’re not done yet.”

“They’re being flooded with messages from around the world,” Laura said. “Everyone is watching this.”

“What can we do?” Kimberly asked.

“Nothing. We couldn’t be farther away from the action if we tried,” Kalia said.

“Not for Berlin,” Hanna said, picking up Kimberly’s meaning. “For here. We can’t work that problem, but there are ones here that we can do something about.”

“Will any of those matter if that thing can’t be stopped?” Kalia asked.

“Yes,” Dr. Tishone said. “They will. Whether that thing can be destroyed and by what is something that will be decided without us. There are all kinds of other effects from the third collision that we need to work out.”

“Oh god, I just thought of a really ugly one,” Hanna said.

“Spit it out, nothing’s too scary to talk about under the present circumstances,” Dr. Tishone said.

“What if the creature in Berlin isn’t the only one to land on Earth?” Hanna asked.

“I almost regret my words just now,” Dr. Tishone said. “But you’re right. We know of the Berlin creature because we have people who are able to tell us about it. What about locations where it wiped out either the people or the communications infrastructure before they could word out?”

“Or worse,” Kimberly said. “What about locations where there aren’t any people to observe the arrival in the first place. Like in the deep desert or at the bottom of the ocean. You know the places we were hoping the third Effect Zone would appear.”

“Here’s a terrifying thought,” Kalia said. “How do we know there weren’t other Effect Zones on the previous two collisions.”

“Those we can be pretty sure of because of the seismic…readings,” Hanna’s voice trailed off as she fully considered the question Kalia had asked. “Except we don’t see proper seismic data if the sensor is too far away from the Effect Zone. Which means any place sufficiently far from a seismograph could have been affected already.”

“Or could have monsters swimming around in it! That’s just great.” Kalia said. “Why didn’t we think of this before?”

“Because you’ve been focusing on other things,” Dr. Tishone said. “As have I. Call the Japan team and see if we’re covering ground the seismologists have already explored. If not, get them to work on exploring it.”

“Update from Japan,” Kevin, one of the other communication techs said, “There’s trouble there.”

“The crystals were growing weren’t they?” Hanna asked.

“Yeah, the report says the explosives weren’t enough to hold them back,” Kevin said. “The crystals accelerated their growth when the first charges went off. They’ve finished forming the dome and we’re not able to communicate with the people inside any longer.”

“What are they doing about that?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“They’re trying to blast an opening but the explosives don’t seem to be affecting the crystals anymore,” Kevin said.

“Who’s doing the blasting?” Kalia asked.

“A Joint Task Force team, Japanese and US forces,” Kevin said.

“How thick are the crystals?” Kalia asked. “Are they just growing too fast to get through?”

“I don’t think that’s it,” Kevin said. “Their message said the explosives are having no effect whatsoever.”

“The strike squadron is beginning their run on the creature,” Laura said.

“It’s exotic matter,” Hanna said. “This isn’t going to work.”

She looked to Dr. Tishone but her advisor was silent.

On one of the central display screens, Laura placed a window which showed a computer generated tactical map which was being updated in real time. Beside that she positioned a few of the remaining video feeds that were still broadcasting. The live feeds were all far away from the creature, showing it only in the distance but at it’s massive size it was still easy to make out amidst the smoke and debris.

“They’re going to be within firing range in five, four, three…” Laura counted down.

On the combat map, Hanna saw stylized missile launches being animated to depict the release of the air to ground missiles. As the missiles were released the fighter craft that fired them peeled away.

“Are those nuclear?” Hanna asked.

“No,” Kalia said. “They’re not going to start with nuclear ordnance. That’s a last resort.”

“Why are the planes flying away? Can’t they shoot the creature if the missiles don’t work?” Kimberly asked.

“Missile impacts detected,” Laura said. “We’ve got a spotter plane in the area. I’m putting their view up now.”

The new video window offered a very different look at the creature than the civilian cameras could capture.

From above the monster looked like a four legged lizard with two pairs of tentacles waving from its back. In place of a lizard head though, the creature had a neck that looked like an earthworm which ended in a distended maw that was filled with gray crystal fangs.

The video feed from the spotter plane showed an incredible barrage of missiles slam into the creature, each striking roughly where the body met the neck.

When the dust cleared, the creature was left in exactly the same state it had been.

“It didn’t work,” Kimberly said. “Why are they running away? Don’t they have to stop that thing?”

“They’re not running away,” Kalia said. “They’re restocking for another sorte.”

“How much of Berlin is going to be left by the time they get back?” Hanna asked.

“Nothing,” Laura said. “There’s not much left of it now and the creature wasn’t slowed down by the missile hits. If anything it seems to be moving faster now.”

“They’re going to go for the nukes then aren’t they?” Hanna asked.

“We have other weapons, but in this case, I don’t think they have a choice,” Dr. Tishone said.

Hanna put her hand out and found a chair to sit on. Nuclear weapons had always been the ultimate boogeyman for her when she was growing up. They were the symbol (and most likely cause) of the end of the world. Hollywood treated them like really big, magic firecrackers, but they weren’t. They were uniquely destructive but they also carried a terrible cost when used.

If there was anyone left alive in Berlin, they wouldn’t be once the next attack wave on the creature launched, and in her heart Hanna found herself wondering if those people might not be the lucky ones.