The World That Ends In Fire – Chapter 7


In the wake of the celestial phenomena, world opinion splintered into several camps with vast demilitarized zones of thought separating them.

The loudest (though far from largest) group rallied around the idea that the “End Times” had come and that the investigation into the ruins of Tokyo were a sacrilege against the divine will of whatever supreme being was responsible for ending “New Sodom” as they tried to rebrand Tokyo. The fact that far better candidates for the title of “New Sodom” had been spared were impossible to bring up to this group because either you joined them in their zealotry or you became their absolute worst enemy.

An undeclared war spread across the globe that was fought between the world’s police and security forces and the more actively destructive of the zealot groups. The fighting was sporadic and poorly targeted by both sides, with some areas little better than active combat zones, while other were spared the insanity completely and still others appeared peaceful but only because the local law enforcers were deeply entrenched in the apocalypse cults they were supposed to be restraining.

A quieter but still vocal group, advocated for the sum total of humanities resources and skills to be brought to bear on understanding the strange events which unfolded. The more passionate members of this group were difficult to distinguish from the Apocalypse cult members as they were just as unreasoningly convinced that the world was going to end and only the unrestrained application of Science would allow humanity to survive the cataclysm that awaited them.

Hanna and her associates, also known as the people who were actually doing the hard work of understanding what occurred, took a more moderate path. Unlike the other two groups, they weren’t blinded by ideology and they knew they were working for the largest group of all; the silent people who only wanted to continue their lives in peace and who may not have had the skills to delve into deep scientific mysteries but who were essential to keeping the world running in any semblance of order and sanity.

For the group Hanna was in, any additional resources were welcomed, but everyone who was drafted onto one of the active expeditions or tasked to work on the analysis of the data that was produced knew that there was a limit to how much they could do.

In the wake of the celestial phenomena, and the subsequent connection that Hanna’s team and other groups made between it and the Phantom Quake, the researchers both on and off-site worked long hours and at a fevered pace, but breaks were enforced and all avenues of communication laid open for the workers to connect with their families, friends and loved ones.

Many workers, PhDs, grad students and volunteers, were joined by their significant other in the week that followed the Unidentified Celestial Event, and these additional hands were put to work on projects large and small.

Hanna found herself sitting next to a married couple from Germany at Dr. Tishone’s morning briefing, and felt a small pang go through her at the empty chair on the other side of her. All work and no play had its downsides it seemed.

“Have we received the analysis of the restored blood cells yet?” Gert Hoyer, a balding man with an impressive beard, asked. He was part of the team that was working on re-inducing the regeneration effect in the corpses where its progress had slowed to a standstill. Their goal was to understand the parameters which triggered the regeneration as a precursor to attempting to apply it to living cells.

“We got a big data dump this morning,” Hanna said. “And I think they’re going to bring on more fiber out to us this afternoon.”

The original plan for the expedition had been a simple overnight trip to review the cemetery. When the regenerating dead bodies were discovered the mandate changed to a longer term stay and the Japanese telcomm companies had scrambled to bring in fiber optic cables and switches to meet the exponentially growing data needs of the small town that was rapidly developing around the cemetery.

Dr. Tishone entered the auxiliary tent which had become a de facto town hall for the expedition’s morning meetings and took her usual place at the central podium. Among her degrees, Dr. Tishone didn’t have one which covered personnel management and logistics but Hanna was planning to write whatever the top twenty universities were for those subjects and demand that they count the efforts at organizing the Ghost Walker Expedition as all the coursework Dr. Tishone need to secure a degree in both disciplines.

“Thank you all, I know we each have a lot to attend to, so I’ll try to get through the new materials and findings quickly this morning,” Dr. Tishone said.

“Have we been able to discover why we’re seeing so much data corruption on the fiber optic lines?” one of the British researchers asked.

“That’s item three on my list,” Dr. Tishone said, “And the answer is no. From the tests run outside the Effect Zone the hardware we assumed was defective is checking out as fine.”

“So it’s something about the Effect Zone itself which is causing the continuing disruptions?” the researcher asked.

“I’m putting together a team to look into that,” a researcher from Hong Kong said. “We think it might give us a line on detecting any exotic effects that remain in place.”

“Exotic effects” was expedition slag for “things we can extrapolate to have occurred, or are continuing to occur, but might as well be magic for all we can make sense of them”. It wasn’t that the scientists thought that there were literally mystical forces at work, but the variations from the normally observed laws of the physical universe were severe enough that without being able to recreate the destruction of Tokyo, it was exceedingly hard to make statements that were both meaningful and quantifiable about what was going on.

“Speaking of exotic effects,” Dr. Tishone began. “We’ve received the data analysis of the Unidentified Celestial Event.”

Rather than an uproar, the tent quieted to an eerie silence.

“The short form; it’s as exotic as we could imagine,” Dr. Tishone said. “Independent viewing arcs confirm it’s size was not an illusion, but tidal monitoring showed that it had no discernible mass from a gravitational perspective. Conversely, optical imaging showed that it did bend the light of the stars which it overlapped in a manner consistent with a planetary body of equal mass to the Earth.”

“What about the luminosity?” Professor Ajayi asked

“You’ll love this one,” Dr. Tishone said. “The light emitted from our visiting planet was sufficient to completely occlude some but not all of the stars which lay behind it from each vantage point where the planet was visible from Earth. That’s consistent with the odd translucency which we all reported seeing. The stars on the periphery of the planet though? None of those showed the slightest sign of being obscured by the intervening light. Furthermore, surface photography on Earth showed that in each location where the new planet was visible, the ambient light available on the ground was unchanged from its state before or after the planet was visible.”

“None of that sounds even slightly possible,” Professor Ajayi said. “Are the analysts telling us that the planet was one vast illusion?”

“The analysts aren’t telling us anything,” Dr. Tishone said. “They’re just boiling the data down and giving us the relevant pieces. It’s our job, collectively with everyone we can call on or lend assistance to, to put those pieces together.”

“We know the question that everyone is looking for an answer to,” Professor Ajayi said.

“Yes; ‘how did this happen’.” Dr. Tishone said.

“No, that’s not what people care about,” Professor Ajayi said. “What the world really wants to know is; ‘will this happen again’.”

“I concede to your point,” Dr. Tishone said.

“If I may,” Dr. Hoyer, the researcher sitting near Hanna said, “There’s little data that we can collect here which will answer Professor Ajayi’s question. The data we can collect might answer a different set of questions though. One’s which people will want to know the answer to, if we see another Phantom Quake; Specifically ‘where are these Phantom Quakes likely to occur’ and ‘what, if anything, can we do to warn people in time to evacuate’.”

“I conceded Professor Ajayi’s point because I believe we already have the data to answer his question,” Dr. Tishone said. “Dr. Hoyer however raises issues to which I do not have the answer but would suggest that we focus on discovering as soon as possible.”

“You say you have an answer to my question of ‘will this happen again’?” Professor Ajayi said. “And you ask us to redouble our efforts at detecting where it will occur. How do you know we will experience another Phantom Quake?”

“The imaging of the exotic planet showed one other point of data which I need to make you all aware of,” Dr. Tishone said. “In the brief time it appear in the sky, it’s visual diameter changed, first shrinking by two percent and then expanding by a single percent from its smallest observed size.”

“So it is unstable?” Gert asked.

“The change in diameter followed a regular progression from larger to small and then larger again over the elapsed viewing time,” Dr. Tishone said.

“As though it were drifting away from us and then back towards the Earth,” Professor Ajayi said, piecing the idea together as he spoke.

“From the rate of its return, how long do we have before it intersects the Earth again?” Gert asked.

“We don’t know,” Dr. Tishone said. “From the data we have, it should have collided with the Earth yesterday.”

“Then we are safe, are we not?” Gert asked. “If it’s trajectory was to have overlapped the position of the Earth yesterday, then we should be thousands of kilometers distant from the point of impact by now.”

“It’s millions of kilometers actually,” Dr Tishone said. “But our rogue companion is not following standard physical laws in any other manner so I’m not ready to discount that it’s orbital pattern may be linked to ours.”

“What do you base that on?” Professor Ajayi asked.

“The chance for a rogue celestial body to intersect the Earth’s orbital path at the proper time for a collision is astronomically slight. Factor in the incredibly exotic nature of this celestial body and the chance should be so remote as to be non-existent, unless something about the Earth has captured this object.”

The meeting fractured from there into separate discussions about every aspect of the celestial interloper and the problems it presented.

Sadly despite the discussion and investigation that was delved into during the course of the day, no verifiable theories were produced before dinner time rolled around and the next worldwide news alert went out.

There had been another Phantom Quake. This one registering as a magnitude 9.4 in the center of Buenos Aires.