A disaster that wipes one of the largest cities on Earth off the face of the planet will capture the news cycles of the world media like nothing else. Add to that the inexplicable nature of Tokyo’s destruction and the world more or less lost its collective mind.
Conspiracy theories couldn’t be spun fast enough or in elaborate enough detail to satiate the demand for them and countless “apocalypse sects” sprang up on the borders of the world’s major religions. On a more rational front, international diplomacy shifted into overdrive as humanitarian aid groups rushed supplies and personnel into position to be flown to Japan.
Normally relied efforts would have begun deploying immediately but the ruins of Tokyo presented a special set of challenges, specifically in how Tokyo had met its end.
Observers flown to the sight of the former city reported that it was a wasteland. What few building remained were broken and shattered wrecks, but the danger they posed was mitigated somewhat by their scarcity. Most of the city had been reduced to a crushed and crumpled mess, as though a titanic force had fallen on it and driven everything into the bedrock. The world stood ready to rescue Tokyo, but from the reports that emerged, there was nothing left to rescue.
The destruction was noteworthy in several other particulars though.
First, it was sharply limited. The effect of whatever had occurred followed a razor sharp line that described a circle with a ten kilometer radius and a center point in Aoyama Cemetery. That fact alone spurred a thousand theories, each of which citing that nature was never that precise and only something “man-made” could be responsible.
The second unexplained element to the disaster was the lack of subsequent quakes in the wake of the one which the nearest surviving sensors were able to confirm as registering at 9.2 magnitude. Any shock of that scale inevitably resulted in subsequent tremors, but in the wake of Tokyo’s destruction there were none.
Even stranger, seismographs outside of Japan weren’t able to confirm the occurrence of an earthquake of any magnitude, which contradicted not only geological science but also basic reason.
The “Phantom Quake”, as it was swiftly dubbed, did leave evidence in its wake beyond just the annihilation of an incalculable amount of infrastructure though. In the “Effect Zone”, among the destroyed building, gray crystals spiked out of the landscape, soaring upwards to heights of several dozens of meters or more.
The crystals spawned countless conspiracy theories but any relationship the conspiracies had to the truth was accidental at best.
Then there was the matter of the bodies. Or more precisely, the lack of bodies.
Bodies weren’t the only things missing from Tokyo. They were simply the first thing that people looked for and couldn’t find. In time, the aid workers who risked venturing into the effect zone began to notice that other things were missing too.
Not only were the bodies of the human residents of Tokyo absent, the bodies of the animals in the area had vanished as well. As had the cars which should have been rolling along Tokyo’s many roads when the earthquake struck, and the various trains and buses and planes that were in service. Lights and computers and medical equipment and consumer electronics were missing from most structures, though that took careful investigation to determine, given the extent of the damage that was done.
As though the landscape were a photograph of a trauma, rather than the site of a disaster, various areas of Tokyo were burned in addition to being crushed, but when the first rescuers ventured into the city, they found no fires in evidence at all.
A week after the destruction, the world was still no closer to an answer concerning the cause of Tokyo’s fate.
“And that’s why they’re asking for us to go,” Kimberly said.
“No, that’s why US DoD is asking Dr. Tishone to join a team of specialists to investigate the Effect Zone,” Hanna said. “What I’m trying to figure out is why she’s offered to take us with her?”
“We’re gophers,” Kimberly said. “Trained gophers, educated gophers, but in the end, we’re minions that Dr. Tishone can dispatch to handle the work she doesn’t want to do or have the time to bother with.”
“I’m familiar with the grad students place on the academic totem pole,” Hanna said. “I’m just pointing out that our position does not usually include all-expense paid trips around the world, and especially not to sites to do research that’s outside our area of study.”
“That’s the problem,” Dr. Tishone said as she swept into her office with an armful of textbooks. “My friends in the DoD are grasping at straws at this point. No one knows what area of study applies to what happened in Tokyo.”
“But astrophysics?” Hanna asked. “That seems like a stretch doesn’t it?”
“Not necessarily,” Dr. Tishone said. “We won’t be doing much work in your major while we’re there, but we possess a knowledge set that others may need to draw on.”
“You mean in case things like the Dark Matter theories come up?” Kimberly asked.
“Exactly,” Dr. Tishone said. “We can explain to them in detail why that idea is rubbish.”
“That makes sense,” Hanna said. “But why bring us? I mean, don’t get me wrong, this is an amazing opportunity, but I kind of feel like a five year old who just got an invite to sit at the grown-ups table for Christmas.”
Dr. Tishone laughed and started sorting the textbooks that she brought in with her. Some went into a box with a shipping label on it for Nagoya Japan. Others went onto her bookshelves in an order that was either random or uniquely her own method of filing.
“Well, we had planned to network at the symposium this week,” Dr. Tishone said. “Think of this as networking on a wider stage. You’ll get to meet scientists from around the world who are experts in every discipline you can imagine. You’ll also get to meet quacks and charlatans of every stripe. I’ll leave it as part of the lesson plan for you to try to figure out which ones are which.”
“Won’t we be helping you though?” Hanna asked.
“Of course,” Dr. Tishone said. “There’s going to be mountains of data to analyze. Your primary role is going to be to look through that data for anything and everything that stands out.”
“That’s a pretty broad mandate,” Kimberly said. “It kind of feels like the fate of the world is resting on our shoulders here.”
“It is,” Dr. Tishone said. “But you won’t be alone. I suspect we’ll have a few thousand grad students there to act as our analysis corp, and probably ten or a hundred times that back at each of my colleague’s home universities.”
“That’s incredible,” Hanna said.
“It’s human nature,” Dr. Tishone said. “Hit us with a disaster and we rally to aid the survivors and help in the rebuilding. Give us a disaster where we can’t do any of that and can’t make sense of what happened in the first place and we let loose the hungry weasels of Science on it.”
“We count as weasels?” Kimberly asked.
“If you’re clever,” Dr. Tishone said. “Work hard and you can get promoted to octopi.”
“We can’t be anything cute?” Hanna asked.
“Pick smart over cute,” Dr. Tishone said. “Smart stays with you long after cute has faded.”
With the last book placed carefully into the shipping box, Dr. Tishone broke out a roll of packing tape and sealed the flaps closed.
“What are all those for?” Hanna asked.
“They’re my reference books,” Dr. Tishone said. “Outdated a bit, but still good for looking up the more well established information I might need.”
“Don’t we have the internet for that?” Kimberly asked.
“We do, but these are more reliable,” Dr. Tishone said. “Plus I know where to find things in these and there’s no pay walls inside a book to lock away the data I need.”
“I notice the ‘Bill To:’ on the shipping label for these is listed as the Department of Defense,” Kimberly said.
“There’s that too,” Dr. Tishone said. “If Henry wants to ship me halfway around the world with one day’s notice, then the least he can do is pick up the tab for supplies I need to make my work space comfortable.”
“Henry?” Hanna asked.
“General Henry Kinomoto,” Dr. Tishone said. “We’ve worked together on a few projects before. He’s an officer and a gentleman and his wife makes the best scalloped potatoes I’ve ever had.”
“You’ve worked for the Department of Defense before?” Hanna asked. “How much do they do with astrophysics?”
“More than you might imagine, but I wasn’t working with Henry on astrophysics problems,” Dr. Tishone. “That’s only one of my degrees after all.”
“How many degrees do you have?” Kimberly asked.
“Well, eventually I’d like to have all of them,” Dr. Tishone said. “But at the moment I’ve only earned six, with two honorary degrees as well.”
“When…” Kimberly began to say and sputtered out trying to organize her thoughts. “How did you find the time to do that?”
“The time’s there,” Dr. Tishone said. “It’s just a matter of deciding what you’re going to spend it on. Six degrees don’t come quickly, but when you’re working on them time does seem to fly, and then you turn around one day and you’re done and you’ve got a baker’s handful of diplomas with your name on them.”
“I don’t know if ‘baker’s handful’ is an actual idiom,” Kimberly said. “Maybe go for an English degree next?”
“If this trip goes as I expect it will, I suspect we’ll all qualify for degrees in a variety of new xeno sciences,” Dr. Tishone said.
“Xeno Sciences?” Hanna asked. “You think aliens are behind this?”
“Not aliens, but think of what we know of the Effect Zone,” Dr Tishone said. “We have proof of an event that defies what we’ve thought of as fundamental laws of the cosmos. Do you know what that means?”
“That we’ve been wrong this whole time?” Kimberly said.
“No,” Dr. Tishone said. “It means that there’s more out there than we ever dreamed and we’re the ones who get to discover what that means.”
Hanna reflected on those words on the plane trip to Nagoya. The prospect of being an explorer in a new field of human endeavor was undeniably exciting. Her name might appear in history books for centuries to come. The only thing that bothered her was an awareness of the kind of fates that befell unlucky explorers coupled with the idea that she was venturing into territory which was more uncharted than any distant shore which the explorers who came before her had ever sought out.