The World That Ends in Fire – Chapter 30


Most days the world is more than capable of saving itself, but sometimes it needs a few extra hands to get the job done.

“What do you mean ‘let’s go catch the moon’?” Kimberly asked, running along beside Hanna as the team sprinted into the last Effect Zone on the Lightning Planet.

“It’s the solution to our problem,” Hanna said. “If we can leash this planet to the Moon there’ll be a source of stability for the people here and we won’t lose our chance to study this place.”

“Leash it to the Moon? What the hell are you talking about?” Laura asked.

“We’re on an outward trajectory now,” Hanna said. “If we sever the anchor at the right time the Lightning Planet will drift into the path of the Moon and it’ll form Effect Zones there, locking the two of them together like it did with the Earth.”

“So you want to hit one celestial body with another and you think this is going to solve our problems?” Kimberly asked.

“Oh, it’ll create a whole new world of problems I’m sure,” Hanna said. “But it’s going to offer us a universe of solutions too. The science we could do with a captive planet made of exotic matter is unimaginable. We’ve lost millions of people thanks to the damage it did. This is our chance to save the billions of people who are left from hunger, illness, disease, and everything else maybe.”

“How?” Kalia asked.

“If we can make humans into whatever we’ve become?” Hanna said. “Even if we can only do it partially? Imagine the advanced in medicine for example. Kimberly was paralyzed from the waist down and now she’s a superhuman.”

“What if it melts the Moon?” Kalia asked. “That could have a lot of bad effects on the Earth right?”

“Or if blows up like a conversion bomb like you said?” Simon asked.

“Melting the Moon’s not a problem,” Hanna said. “Or not a major one. If it goes conversion bomb, then we’re all extremely dead.”

“All of us or all of everyone on the Earth?” Kalia asked.

“I’m not entirely sure the Sun would survive the explosion,” Hanna said. “But I still think it’s worth the risk.”

“You’re talking about global extinction,” Laura said. “As in no more globe at all. What could possibly be worth that risk?”

“If we park the Lightning Planet around the Moon, it should form anchors to keep itself there. If we cut it loose, it’ll shoot off into the space, but we know it’s affected by Earth’s gravity and it’s orbital period has been getting smaller and smaller,” Hanna said.

“Oh god!” Kimberly said. “She’s right. We can’t get away from it!”

“The short form, in English please?” Kalia asked.

“The anchors are a strong binding between the Earth and the Lightning Planet, but they’re short range, cosmically speaking,” Hanna said. “The Lightning Planet made at least two return trips before it had any of the anchor’s active though, which says that it’s been captured by the Earth’s gravity already. So it we cut it loose all we’re probably going to buy ourselves is a slight reprieve, unless we’re very lucky and the anchors have given the Lightning Planet enough velocity to escape from the Earth’s gravitational pull and head out into the cosmos again.”

“Or, the short form; it’s already stuck to us and we can’t get rid of it unless we stick it to something else,” Kimberly said.

“So we shoot it at the Moon?” Simon asked. “You’re talking about moving an entire planet. I know we’re stronger now, but there’s no way we’re that strong.”

“We don’t have to move the planet,” Hanna said. “The planet’s already moving on it’s own. We just have to snap the cord tying it to the Earth at the right time.”

“If the anchor’s capable of holding two worlds together, how are we going to be able to break it?” Kalia asked.

“That’s the tricky part,” Hanna said. “We’re going to need to time it just right. The anchor will be under maximum stress as the Lightning Planet approaches the turn around. That’s going to be our best chance of snapping the cord.”

“There’s a trickier part to this though,” Kimberly said. “How do we make sure it hits the Moon?”

“That’s where we’re doomed,” Hanna said. “To make that happen we’d need to have people who were trained in observing and quantifying celestial data and also able to work out the orbital mechanics from raw numbers. Oh, wait, I think we might be able to dig up a pair of astrophysicists if we looked around here a bit.”

“Seriously smartass? You think we’re going to work out the trajectories of a variably accelerating object and the Moon without so much as a pen and pad of paper?” Kimberly said.

“Pen and paper? What is the Mercury program?” Hanna asked. “No we’re going to use computers, like civilized people. Laura, you said your tablet was still working right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t think I have an app on here that will do orbital calculations,” she said.

“Sure you do,” Hanna said. “It’s called a calculator, but we can do better than that.”

“You know that everything here is basically…”, Kimberly started to say and then cut herself off. “Oh, I get it!”

“Get what?” Simon asked.

“Everything here is a ghost of what was in Tokyo,” Hanna said. “But they’re working ghosts! The exotic matter here copied the patterns of the people, places and things in Tokyo.”

“Things which include the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan!” Kimberly said. “We can use the replicas of the computers there! Hell, if we can talk them into it, we might be able to get the Lightning Ghosts of any researchers who were on the premise to help out!”

“Is that where we’re running so fast?” Kalia asked.

“Yep!” Hanna said. “And there it is!”

What followed was a half hour of Laura quickly negotiating with the Lightning Ghosts of the scientists in the Mitaka Campus of the NAOJ. As she explained to them what was needed and what Hanna’s plan was more and more came onboard to help.

Several were brave enough to touch Laura and absorb her ability to speak English so that they could coordinate better with the team.

With a working staff in place, Hanna organized a set of sub-teams for collecting data about the Lightning Planet’s current trajectory. The planet’s speed was constantly changing as the anchor slowed it down for the turn around and the changes weren’t strictly linear. Between the data they’d collected previously, the observations they were able to make and some clever math, the assembled scientists, and ghosts of scientists, were able to plot out the Lightning Planet’s likely course to within a few meters.

“It was a great idea,” Kimberly said. “But I’ve got to say it kind of sucks to see that we’re doomed anyways.”

“What?” Kalia asked. “What do the numbers say?”

“They say that even if we wait until the last second to break the anchor, we’re going to miss the Moon,” Hanna said. “It’s crazy too. We’re really close, just not close enough.”

“What about the Moon’s gravity?” Laura asked. “If we’re close, won’t the Moon draw the Lightning Planet in naturally?”

“We don’t think so,” Hanna said. “Based on the observed effect of the Earth on the Lightning Planet, the Moon’s gravity just won’t bring the Lightning Planet in close enough. Worst case it may even fling the Lightning Planet back at the Earth directly.”

“How can we buy time then?” Kalia said. “We’ve come this far, there’s got to be a way.”

“Sadly, no there doesn’t,” Kimberly said. “Sometimes the number just say that you lose.”

“Then change the numbers,” Kalia said.

“I wish that we could,” Hanna said. “The only way to do that though would be to…”

She trailed off as an impossible idea formed in her head.

“Would be to what?” Kalia asked.

“The anchor’s exotic matter right?” Hanna asked.

“Yeah,” Kimberly said. “It’s impossibly long and impossibly durable. What’s your point?”

“I think I know how to make it bigger,” Hanna said.

“Make it what?” Kimberly asked.

“Make it bigger, longer. If we can give the anchor more length, the Lightning Planet won’t turn around as soon. We can buy the time we need to bring us into a Lunar contact,” Hanna said.

“How are we going to do that?” Kalia asked.

“We need to feed more of the Lightning Planet into the anchor,” Hanna said. “We can manipulate this stuff, thanks to whatever the monster blood did to us. I think we can make more of the anchor rope.”

“This is insane,” Laura said. “But we’re standing on a glowing world, talking to ghosts and there are giant monsters ready to attack the Earth, so I’m just going to go with it I think.”

“Yeah,” Kalia said. “Right there with ya.”

“So who does what?” Simon asked.

“We’ll need someone to feed energy into the center of the Effect Zone,” Hanna said. “And we’ll need someone to channel that energy into the anchor.”

“Why can’t we just pull energy from the city itself?” Kimberly asked.

“The city’s too small an area. We’re going to need a thousands of miles of anchor rope to make this work,” Hanna said. “And we don’t want to wreck the one place on this planet that’s friendly to us.”

“I call dibs on drawing power from the wasteland,” Simon said.

“Me too,” Kalia said.

“This is my terrible idea, so I’ll handle converting the energy into anchor rope,” Hanna said.

“Chalk me up for that too,” Kimberly said.

“What about me?” Laura asked.

“We need someone on overwatch,” Hanna said. “The timeframe for stopping the conversion and breaking the anchor is going to narrow. The team here can watch for it but I want one of us to call it out.”

“I can manage that,” Laura said.

“I’ll take the West side of the city,” Kalia said.

“I’ll take the East,” Simon said.

“Let’s do this then,” Kimberly said.

The four donned ghostly radio earbuds and then sped away from the campus. When Hanna and Kimberly arrived at the central anchor point they took up positions on opposite sides of it and waited.

“Even if this works, we’re not getting out of here, are we?” Kimberly asked, shielding her earbud to keep the conversation private.

“Yeah,” Hanna said. “It’s not so bad though. If anyone survives to write a history book about this, our names will be in Chapter One.”

“Right beside a label saying ‘Things not to do with your astrophysics degree’,” Kimberly said.

“That pretty much describes everything that’s happened in the last month,” Hanna said.

“If you could do things differently, would you?” Kimberly asked.

Hanna paused. She’d intended to say that, of course, she wouldn’t. They were in position to save the world, possibly. What more could she ask for?

“You know, I think I would,” Hanna said. “Maybe this is the end, and if so, maybe it’s a great one, but, dammit, I’ve still got things I want to do!”

“Well, we can always pray for a miracle I guess,” Kimberly said.

Before Hanna could answer, she heard Kalia speaking on their comm channel.

“I’m in position at the edge of the Effect Zone,” she said.

“Same here,” Simon said. “What do we do?”

“Channel the energy from outside the Effect Zone right to us,” Hanna said. “Then hope and pray.”

“Sending a world of lightning to you right…now!” Kalia said.

Hanna was ready for the torrent that Kalia fired across the city. She was braced for it and she knew exactly what she wanted to do and the beam of power still almost blew her away.

She couldn’t shape the power with her body. Her physical form swelled, glowed and began to crack under the strain of redirecting the raw force of the planet. The only tool she had that could handle the task was the one she’d been honing her whole life.

With nothing more than her mind, Hanna guided the energy she was being given into the anchor and encouraged it to grow. From the other side of the giant column of light that lead back to the Earth, she saw Kimberly doing the same and on some subconscious level she felt the planet’s movement begin to change.

With more anchor rope, the planet’s slow down was eased. It had enough slack to keep moving so it drifted onwards, racing faster than a supersonic jet, though at a planetary scale it still felt ponderously slow.

Centimeters of rope become kilometers of rope and kilometers became ten thousand kilometers before the word finally came through from Laura.

“We’re coming up on optimal severance time,” Laura said. “If you can destroy that anchor, now’s the time to do it.”

“Stop feeding in energy folks!” Hanna said. “It’s time to snap this thing.”

The torrent of energy Kalia was feeding to Hanna hung in the air as the two of them struggled to uproot the anchor.

“Is it working?” Kimberly asked through gritted teeth.

“No!” Laura said. “The velocity profile is exactly what was predicted for a turnaround at the enhanced distance.”

“Pull harder!” Simon said, his grunting rising to a scream of all out effort.

Hanna, Kimberly and Kalia joined him for a minute that seemed to last an eternity.

“Still no change!” Laura called out.

“We can’t do it,” Hanna mumbled. “It’s not working. We’re not strong enough.”

“The researchers here are asking you to try one more time,” Laura said. “They have an idea that they think will work.”

Hanna put everything she had into pulling up anchor. She fed every erg of power that her mind could direct back to Kalia and felt something within herself approaching the breaking point.

Then another pair of hands clasped the anchor rope and pulled with her. And another pair. And another.

Thousands of hands joined in the struggle as the Lightning Ghosts of Tokyo lent their strength to the effort and the anchor started, thread by thread, to come loose.

“It’s working!” Laura said. “The velocity profile is changing!”

There was a brief cheer from everyone on the comms line before Laura came back.

“We might be too late though,” she said. “It’s taking too long to break the anchor loose. We’ve only got five minutes left.”

“Maybe that’s all we need,” Kalia said. “I think I’ve got more help on the way!”

“Who’s left on this planet?” Laura asked.

As if in reply, the cry of the Phoenix split the Lightning Planet’s sky.

“I’ve been dumping the energy back into the planet,” Kalia said. “And it felt like something was homing in on it!”

With a trail of multi-chromatic flames, the Phoenix swept through the anchor rope and began to tear at it with it’s beak and talons.

Thirty seconds later the anchor rope finally let go.

“We’re on course!” Laura screamed. “We did it! Lunar impact trajectory achieved!”

Hanna collapsed onto the ghostly pavement, a silly smile on her face and a disbelieving joy filling her heart.

“No resting yet,” Kalia said. “Everybody should get to my position in about five minutes or you’re going to miss your ride home.”

“Our what now?” Hanna asked.

“The Phoenix doesn’t seem inclined to hang around here,” Kalia said. “It seems pretty eager to leave. I think I can convince it to stay for a little bit but you should all be moving, right now.”

“We get to go home?” Kimberly asked, in a daze.

“Yes, now move!” Kalia said.

Hanna didn’t need to be told again. Faster than her eyes could quite process, she raced through the streets of Tokyo to the edge of the Effect Zone where the Phoenix had landed beside Kalia. Kimberly joined them ten seconds later and Simon was a minute behind them.

“Laura, the clock’s ticking,” Kalia said.

“I know,” Laura said. “But I’m not going.”

“What?” Kalia asked.

“If everything goes well, we’re going to need an ambassador between the people here and the Earth,” Laura said. “I’m the best suited for that of anyone who’s available. And, this is the kind of adventure I’ve been waiting for my whole life. I’m not leaving it behind for anything.”

“That sounds fine. You’ve got radio equipment there, right?” Kimberly asked.

“Plenty of it,” Laura said.

“So stay in touch,” Kimberly said. “You’re about to become one of the most famous researchers of all time. And probably one of the busiest.”

“Okay, let’s get out of here,” Kalia said, and with that the Phoenix lifted off from the Lightning Planet’s surface, carrying them out into the void of space.

As the Lightning Planet’s atmosphere fell away, Hanna discovered that her suspicions were correct. They had no real need to breath in their current state and exposure to vacuum presented no difficulties.

Unbound by a planet’s gravity, the Phoenix’s flight accelerated at a rate no human could have endured, but to Hanna and the others it felt gentle and relaxing as it brought them ever closer to the big blue sphere they called home.

They were halfway back to the Earth when the Lightning Planet made contact with the Moon. The planet seemed to shrink as it came into contact with the smaller body, though it remained the larger of the two, forming a strange sort of golden halo around the silver surface of the Moon.

The scientist in Hanna was thrilled to see that her hypothesis that the Moon wouldn’t be detonated with supernova level force was correct. The stargazer in her was pleased with that as well, but was also delighted that the beautiful radiance of the Moon was unmarred by its newest addition. Whatever the process was for transferring energy between the Lightning Planet and the Moon, it appeared that the lower surface area of Earth’s companion reduced the heat exchange rate to where the Moon’s crust was not reduced to molten slag.

As they descended into the atmosphere, Hanna thought of all the things she still wanted to do and felt a wave of gratitude wash over her that she had plenty of days ahead of her to do them in.