The World That Ends in Fire – Chapter 16


In the hours that followed the third collision, the NATO forces in Germany kept up a steady stream of aerial sortes against the Creature, lobbing every form of munition they had available at it. The creature showed only mild reactions to the cataclysmic might the military expended against it, up until the moment the crystals began to grow. As soon as one of the crystals was caught in the blast radius of an explosion and shattered, the mega-beast turned and became aware of the hostile forces that were assaulting it.

That was when the observers learned that the creature could summon lightning from the clear sky.

Wild, unbelievably large bolts of electricity arced from random spots in the air in response to the creature’s roaring bellow. With Berlin having been long since pounded into a chaotic mess of flattened and radioactive buildings, there wasn’t much additional damage for the lightning to inflict but they still managed to blast great pockmark craters into the ground.

As human observers from around the world watched, the creature stomped and crashed and turned in place, as though searching for the source of the attacks which destroyed its crystals.  With each thunderous step, bolts of lightning arced to ground. In the wake of the earthquake- intense footfalls of the beast the crystals around it shattered into dust, but the arcs of power found each piece of dust and grew them into new towers of gray crystal.

“This doesn’t look like it’s helping,” Hanna said, looking away from her calculations as the destruction and regrowth of the crystals fed her a deluge of new data to interpret.

“It’s reacting to what they’re doing,” Dr. Tishone said. “That’s critical.”

“Could those crystals be its weak point?” Kimberly asked.

“Or its eggs?” Hanna asked.

“It’s protecting them like they were,” Kalia said. “But it’s also crushing them the same as it crushed the buildings.”

“World’s Worst Parent award winner?” Kimberly asked.

“No,” Dr. Tishone said. “Its actions have meaning, we just need to figure out what it’s actions are telling us. Give me your observations.”

“It crushed Berlin and shrugged off multiple nuclear strikes without flinching,” Hanna said. “So it’s not endangered by our attacks and it’s either aware of that or incapable of perceiving them.”

“Good, but it’s responding now that the crystals are being damaged, why?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“It took an action before the crystals appeared that seemed to relate to growing them,” Kimberly said. “That could have been coincidental, but with its response to their destruction I think it’s safe to say that we can bias our hypothesis towards the idea that it was somehow involved in their creation.”

“Good, but write down that assumption,” Dr. Tishone said. “We may need to come back to it.”

“So if the creature is growing the crystals, why is it destroying them and regrowing them now?” Hanna asked.

“It had fewer before, but they were bigger,” Kalia said. “Now there’s a lot more of them but they’re smaller.”

“And spread farther apart,” Dr. Tishone said. “Given the circumstances, that might be evidence of an adaptive survival strategy. Start with large structures which will be more naturally resilient and if those are destroyed then diversify into more numerous and easily replaceable smaller structures.”

“I feel like we need to know what purpose the crystals serve,” Hanna said. “If we could work that out it would tell us a lot about what the creature is doing.”

“That’s true,” Dr. Tishone said. “So what do we know about the crystals?”

“They can grow at an impossible rate but they appear to be standard terrestrial matter,” Kimberly said.

“But when they’re exposed to an electrical current they warp light in a manner we don’t understand yet,” Hanna said. “Except that we know it reveals the light emanating from the Lightning Planet.”

“As far as we know, the Effect Zone crystals are unique in that too,” Dr. Tishone said. “I had a team repeat the electrical experiment with every earthly crystal they could get their hands on and none of them proved to be an effective lens for viewing the Lightning Planet.”

“Could they be a kind of halfway material?” Kalia asked.

“They could be anything,” Dr. Tishone said. “But that’s a good idea to investigate. I had a team research the composition of the crystals but all the elemental makeup came back with was the report that they were only plain carbon. If the crystals are a mix of carbon and some form of exotic matter though, the researcher team could easily have missed the crystal’s other half.”

“How would they test for exotic matter now though?” Kimberly asked.

“I have no idea,” Dr. Tishone said. “Not at the moment anyways. That’s why I’ll make it some other genius’ problem to work out.”

“Whatever they find, it’s a safe assumption, I think, that there’s a purpose to the crystals beyond ‘look pretty’,” Hanna said. “I think we should watch to see if the crystals in Berlin start to form domes like the ones in Tokyo did.”

“Have we re-established contact with the teams in the Tokyo Effect Zone yet?” Kimberly asked.

“Not yet,” Laura, the communications tech, said. “They’re still trying to breach the dome.”

“How tough is that thing?” Kalia asked.

“From the reports I’ve read they’ve worked out a technique to blast holes in the domes now but the openings are closing so quickly they can’t risk sending anyone through.”

“No communications during the time when the dome is breached even?” Kimberly asked.

“No. There’s been radio silence since the dome sealed,” Laura said.

“That’s not a great sign,” Hanna said. “What about via the fiber optic cables? I’m guessing there’s no net traffic coming out of the dome either?

“The fiber optic cables were severed when the dome sealed itself shut,” Laura said. “We’ve been blind in there since the third collision.”

“We should have the team that’s blowing holes in the dome take some careful measurements,” Kimberly said. “They should at least be recording the size of the hole and the speed it closes up at. We’re seeing different behaviors for the crystals that seem to depend on size and location, and anything we can learn might tell us something important..”

“They’ve called off further airstrikes on the creature pending evaluation,” Laura said. “Who else is evaluating this?”

“NATO has several teams working on the data,” Dr. Tishone said. “We’re one of them, though officially we’re an ancillary advisory group, which is why we’ve got access to all this classified information.”

“Are we not supposed to know this stuff?” Kimberly asked.

“Given the situation, we have a level of unfiltered access that would not normally provided to civilian consultants,” Dr. Tishone said. “That said, we are still invited guests, as are hundreds of other groups around the world.”

“How did that happen?” Hanna asked. “I thought keeping secrets was something people did as naturally as breathing.”

“Usually that’s true, but the right people were able to see that what happened to Tokyo could happen anywhere and they made it a priority to put understanding what occurred first and foremost,” Dr. Tishone said.

“I’ve got the data loaded from the new batch of crystal growths!” Hanna said. “You were right, they’re not growing straight. There’s a subtle but measurable curve to the tallest spires that are developing.

“Do crystals normally grow in curves?” Kalia asked.

“Not usually, but it can happen,” Dr. Tishone said.

“I matched their growth over time to the Earth’s rotation and it looks like some of them are growing towards either each other, while the rest are growing towards a common area of the sky.”

“Is the common area they’re growing towards where the Lightning Planet is, or was?” Kimberly asked.

“Not directly,” Hanna said. “In fact by these projections the Lightning Planet is currently moving out of alignment with the point the crystals are focusing on.”

“So what’s out there that they crystals are being drawn towards?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“Nothing obvious,” Hanna said. “I’ll keep running the equations to see what exists on the line that they’re focusing on, but that may take a little while.”

“The creature has stopped moving around,” Laura said. “It’s bending down again and the lightning discharges near its feet are intensifying.”

“Are the crystals continuing to grow?” Hanna asked.

“Yes, faster than before,” Laura said.

“So it wants bigger crystals, but why?” Kimberly asked.

“Well, what do we know the crystals do?” Hanna asked.

“They grow, and can regrow,” Kimberly said.

“They react to electricity, and they bend light,” Dr. Tishone said.

“Bend light or change light?” Kalia asked. “I mean if they were just bending it wouldn’t we be able to see the Lightning Planet with a regular prism or something?”

“That is an excellent point,” Dr. Tishone said. “See, even careful old things like myself can fall into traps in our thinking.”

An idea began to kindle in Hanna’s mind, awoken by the thought of shifting light.

“Do we have anyone with a crystal enhanced telescope near enough to Berlin to get us an optical view of the creature and the crystals?” she asked.

“I thought all the small crystals sublimated away?” Kalia asked.

“Do we have confirmation of that?” Hanna asked. “We know the ones here did but what about the ones we sent around the world?”

“Checking now,” Laura said.

“What are you hoping to find?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“Whatever exotic matter the Lightning Planet is composed of, it emits light which is only visible through the crystals or when it’s changing direction for some reason,” Hanna said. “If there’s exotic matter at work with the crystals in Berlin or the creature itself, and I really think there must be, then maybe we’re not seeing the whole picture yet.”

“I’ve got a confirmation from three sites in the UK,” Laura said. “Their crystals were unaffected by the third collision!”

Within an hour, two of the high altitude surveillance drones monitoring had been refitted with crystal enhanced optical lens and shortly after that they took up position to provide an enhanced video feed of the remains of Berlin and the creature that destroyed it.

Everywhere the crystals were growing, the familiar brilliant yellow light of the Lightning Planet was visible. The creature itself was wreathed and shot through with the cackling golden glow as well.

“That’s why nothing is affecting that thing,” Kalia said. “It’s got some kind of exotic matter forcefield around it!”

“That’s probably not our worst problem,” Hanna said, inspecting the video feed.

“What else is wrong?” Kalia asked.

“They’re very fine, but can you see the thin yellow lines that are rising off the top of the crystal domes that are forming?” Hanna asked.

“Oh yeah, they’re really faint,” Kalia said.

“They’re faint but long. Really long,” Hanna said. “I don’t see an end to them on any of these feeds.”

“I have a photograph from a proper telescope that’s still crystal enhanced,” Laura said. “You can see all the lines running together here.”

Laura pointed to a thin ray of light leading up into the sky from beyond the horizon.

“It’s like thread,” Kalia said.

“Yeah, and the question is; what is it stitching us too.” Hanna asked.