The World That Ends In Fire – Chapter 9


In the days that followed the second Phantom Quake, the world reacted to the disaster differently than they had to the destruction of Tokyo.

Relief aid was sent to Buenos Aires, but not as much as had been sent to Tokyo. In part there were fewer rapid response teams available since Tokyo had absorbed a large portion of the prepared disaster response resources. Even taking that into account though, the outpouring of aid was on the low end. Many relief agencies still had plenty of food and temporary shelter available but people were beginning to plan for the third Phantom Quake.

The prayer on the lips of many coordinators lips was for the next disaster to occur in some place less populated than either Tokyo or Buenos Aires. Behind those prayers were words they could never voice. They could never speak of how fortunate, in a ghoulish sense of the word, they were that the Effect Zones completely obliterated the people within in their boundaries, but left anyone outside their area undamaged. Physically at least.

The psychological trauma on those who lived close to the Effect Zones was incalculable. Many lost family or friends, and all had their lives upturned by the sudden loss of a population center which influenced the region around it in millions of ways, large and small.

For all the fighting and chaos and fear though there were forces acting against the tide of misery. People from around the world reached out to the survivors in the vicinity of the Effect Zones. From message board threads, to emails, and tweets and videos, the world tried to make up for the fact that there weren’t enough mental health counselors in existence to provide therapy for all of the people who were affected.

The survivors rallied too. They helped each other and they offered hope to the world, showing that even in the face of unfathomable tragedy, people could still carry on.

For the scientists at the Tokyo Effect Zone, the nights and days blurred together. Sleep was discarded as a luxury until exhaustion began to degrade the working results. Dr. Tishone and the other lead scientists instituted a policy of enforcing rest periods and sleep breaks after a researcher had to be evac’d by helicopter for injuries brought on due to inattention.

There was push back the first day the policies went into effect, of course, with serious abuse of caffeine and less healthy stimulants attempting to substitute for the downtime required by the human body. That form of rebellion was shut down almost immediately though. The Japan Scientific Task Force didn’t have room for the kind of mistakes those crutches injected into data collection and analysis.

“This sucks!” Kimberly said, dropping down onto the bench in the dining tent beside Hanna and Kalia.

“Today’s bacon day,” Kalia said. “How’s that bad?”

“Bacon’s fine,” Kimberly said. “I just got my work period assignments.”

“Let me guess,” Hanna said. “Your downtime covers the midnight check in with the team that’s forming in South America?”

“I thought Dr. Tishone had us on the list to join them,” Kimberly said. “But it looks like we’re being held back here.”

“She was here earlier,” Hanna said. “She said she’s got a new avenue she wants us to investigate.”

“Buenos Aires is where the action’s at now though,” Kimberly said. “With the things we’ve seen here, we could provide some real help to the teams there.”

“We’re already shipping people down there,” Kalia said. “And they’re flying in new recruits from all over too.”

“How many scientists are working on this now?” Kimberly asked.

“Pretty much all of us I think,” Hanna said. “Every scientist in the world and any grade schoolers we can catch with a textbook in their hands.”

“Not quite that many,” Kalia said. “But it’s good that we’ve got nothing but allies in this, at least officially. Moving the number of people and amount of material around that you folks need takes a lot of coordination and good will.”

“How’s the Army holding up in all this?” Hanna asked, taking a bite of her pancakes.

“Our Army and the other military forces are doing as well as anybody, I guess,” Kalia said, “And better than some of the civilian groups I’ve read about.”

“This isn’t the kind of stuff you trained for though right?” Kimberly asked.

“We train for all sorts of things,” Kalia said. “I think we’re having an easier time with the craziness that’s going on because we’ve got a structure to fall back on and jobs to do.”

“You’ve just been helping us out for the last week or so though,” Hanna said.

“Yes, because that’s my job,” Kalia said. “I can think for myself, but when everything goes to hell, it’s nice to know that there’s people who are watching the big picture and keeping all of us productive.”

“I can believe that,” Kimberly said, relaxing as she gobbled down a triangle of toast and jelly.

“That’s basically what Dr. Tishone’s been doing for us I guess,” Hanna said. “I can’t imagine the toll it takes on her though.”

“I think she’s been cheating on those sleep policies,” Kimberly said. “She’s available day and night, it’s freakish.”

“Professor Ajayi is helping her a lot from what I’ve seen,” Kalia said.

“Did the two of them know each other before this? Kimberly asked.

“I don’t think so,” Hanna said. “Crisis just brings some people together well.”

“Go humanity!” Kalia said, raising her orange juice in a mock toast before downing the entire cup in one gulp.

“Did Dr. Tishone say what her other plan was for us?” Kimberly asked.

“She’s still shipping us out,” Hanna said. “But we get to go to a slightly nicer research site than the ruins of Buenos Aires.”

“Where else is there to go?” Kimberly asked.

“Remember the lensing tests we did with the gray crystals?” Hanna asked.

“Yeah, that was completely freaky,” Kimberly said. “Does she want us to look into your hypothesis further?”

“This is where the crystals are bending light that’s near them right?” Kalia asked.

“Yes, like stars do, but they manage it because they have so much mass that the curvature they’re putting in spacetime distorts the path light takes in a measurable, and useful, fashion,” As she spoke the words Hanna was gripped with concern that she was once again nerding out above and beyond what the conversation called for.

“Ok, that makes sense,” Kalia said. “But the crystals are nowhere near as massive as a star.”

“And that’s the freaky part,” Kimberly said. “They’re either bending spacetime in some other manner or they are made of an ultra-dense material and are magically not detectable as such.”

“It’s not magic,” Hanna said. “Just an insufficiently understood physical phenomena.”

“Which is why we’re sciencing it to hell and back,” Kimberly said. “But I can’t blame the people who are breaking out their wizard wands and broomsticks.”

“Well we’re not heading to Hogwarts, but according to Dr. Tishone we go have three plane tickets to Hawaii!”

“Hawaii?” Kimberly asked. “Wait, she got us time at Subaru?”

“Not exactly,” Hanna said. “We’re not going to be working with a time slice there. We’re going to be bringing some large crystal sections for the people working at the observatory to image through.”

“You’re going to Mauna Kea?” Kalia asked.

“Technically, we’re all going,” Hanna said. “As in all three of us. You’re being detailed as our military liason while we travel. And the plane tickets are more ‘seats on a C-5 Galaxy’ than business class on a passenger jet. How do you know about the Mauna Kea observatory though?”

“I grew up on Hawaii,” Kalia said. “And I was kind of geeky in high school. I used to dream about working at the observatory and getting to play with the big telescope, the Subaru.”

“You should have gone into astronomy!” Hanna said.

“Ha, you should see the grades I used to get. I’m happier in the Army I think,” Kalia said. “School and me never got along all that well.”

“How are we going to get big enough pieces of the crystal? They’ve only been chipping off tiny samples so far, I thought?” Kimberly asked.

“They’re planning to drop a few of the larger crystal trees today,” Hanna said finishing up her orange juice and wiping her lips clean.

“Drop them? With what?” Kimberly asked.

“C-4 charges,” Kalia said.

“Why do we have C-4 charges here?” Kimberly asked.

“Because it pays to be prepared,” Kalia said.

“To be fair, no one knew what those crystals really were,” Hanna said. “Given that we’re standing on the largest mass grave in human history, I’m ok with having ‘blow things up’ as an option that’s on the table.”

“Which ones are they going to take down?” Kimberly asked.

“One of the central ones,” Kalia said.

“They don’t want the canopy to connect completely until we have some sense of what that might trigger,” Hanna said. “They’re also taking down a couple of the big ones that are on the periphery. They’re growing side branches down near ground level.”

“If we let them go, they’re going to grow into a dome aren’t they?” Kimberly asked.

“That’s what the projections are showing,” Hanna said. “Assuming they don’t run out of power before then. I saw the projections on that last night and it didn’t look like the crystals had much growth left in them. Their expansion really slowed down yesterday.”

“That’s why we’re taking them down now,” Kalia said.

“Wouldn’t it be safer to leave them up?” Kimberly asked.

“We need them for the work at the observatory, and people are getting worried about what might happen with them when the next Phantom Quake hits,” Hanna said.

“Everyone’s resigned to that now aren’t they?” Kimberly asked.

“I think so,” Hanna said. “After the second one happened a third seems that much more likely. The only good news is that the Effect Zone is in Buenos Aires really was smaller than the one here. If that keeps up we’re looking at horrible damage, but it should be less and less catastrophic each time.”

“Part of me is praying that will be true, but another part’s saying the worst is still to come,” Kalia said.

“Unfortunately for whoever’s at ground zero of the next Phantom Quake it’s not going to make a difference either way,” Kimberly said.

“Unless we can find out how to predict where the quakes will occur,” Hanna said.

“We’ve never been able to do that with regular earthquakes, working that out for these magic quakes might be impossible,” Kimberly said.

“There are lots of people trying to work on the impossible at this point,” Hanna said. “How could we do any less?”