The World That Ends In Fire – Chapter 3

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One of the many eccentricities of human beings is that the end of the world can (in the short term) be a profitable business occasion. In the case of Nagoya, the city was more than happy to extend accommodations to the legion of scientists, scholars, charlatans and their assorted hanger-ons who descended on the city from all corners of the globe in response to the outcry for answers as to what had happened to Tokyo.

Dr. Tishone’s team wasn’t the first to arrive, but Hanna was able to take comfort that they were brought in before the real space cases. Their early access to the Effect Zone came with one obvious problem though.

“We’ve been cleared to join the primary investigation team today,” Kimberly said. “Ready to hop into your hazmat suit and go stare at wreckage for twelve hours?”

“Hazmat suites and astrophysics go together like peanut butter and bicycles,” Hanna said, poking at her new cellphone. The DoD could move a hundred scientists and thousands of personnel from the US around the world with a few day’s notice but getting her iPhone to work on Japan’s cell network would have required an Act of God apparently. Intellectually, Hanna knew it wasn’t her sponsor’s fault that the US and Japan used different cellular technology but the cavewoman part of her mind that was still cranky from jetlag wasn’t interested in being reasonable and was looking for something to smash.

“Come on, at least it’s better than staring at gigabytes of meaningless numbers. For another day,” Kimberly said.

“The meaningless numbers aren’t going to collapse on us though,” Hanna said.

“Neither is the area we’re being sent to,” Kimberly said. “Dr. Tishone got us a prime spot on the team. We get to check out the epicenter of the quake.”

“Aoyama Cemetery? Great, so instead of a building falling on us, we’re going to get eaten by ghosts,” Hanna said.

“You really don’t travel well do you?” Kimberly asked with a laugh in her voice, her amusement serving as fuel for Hanna’s cavewoman’s irritation.

“I travel just fine,” Hanna said. She wanted to add a clever quip to that but her brain was too fuzzy from sleep deprivation and spending the last two days reviewing the measurements the JSDF took immediately following the Phantom Quake.

“Come with me then o’ solid world traveller,” Kimberly said and dragged Hanna out of the lobby they’d been loitering in and onto the streets of Nagoya.

To Hanna, the crowds around them seemed oddly subdued. The Phantom Quake was still the top news story more than a week after it leveled Tokyo, and, in her more reasonable moments, Hanna could see how that just might suppress the general mood of the populace. Or, she reasoned, it could be that crowds in Nagoya were normally very different from the ones she was used to in New York or Los Angeles. In either case, she felt like she was being pulled down a street that was the embodiment of the Uncanny Valley. Just familiar enough to be recognizable and just alien enough to set her nerves on edge.

“This will get you back on track,” Kimberly said, turning Hanna to face the shop they arrived at. The shop with the giant Starbucks logo on it.

Hanna wasn’t a coffee fanatic, but ten minutes later as the hot, bitter, (and most importantly) familiar blend warmed her belly, she had to admit that Kimberly had been right. Caffeine was part of the solution, she was far more exhausted than she was taking into account, but it was the reminder of home that seemed to have the most impact on her spirits.

Tokyo was gone. Millions of people were dead. As much as she tried to put a professional face on to face it, there was a little girl hiding inside of Hanna who was terrified at the enormity of what had occurred and what might happen again. With fatigue and unfamiliar work set before her, the cracks in her grown-up facade were starting to show and that little girl was starting to peek out more and more.

“All I need is a trashy scifi novel and I’m good to go for the rest of the day,” Hanna said, curling up on the chair as she sipped the last bit of the magic brew in her hands.

“You’ll miss out on our exciting ghost hunt if you stay here though,” a young man in US army fatigues said. “Assuming you are Dr. Tishone’s assistants that is? Hanna and Kimberely?”

Hanna turned to look at the new arrival. She caught “tall”, “clean cut”, and “early twenties” as qualities for him before she noticed “armed”. It was a testament to exactly how off balance the Phantom Quake had left Japan that US military personnel were allowed to walk around Nagoya with openly equipped sidearms.

Somehow the threat of whatever had happened to Tokyo left the US, Japanese, British and Russian military personnel who were present with the idea that they needed to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice. Hanna didn’t fault them, but given the scale of the Phantom Quake and the Effect Zone the idea that a handgun, or even a battleship gun, was going to provide any protection was laughable at best.

“You’ve found us,” Kimberly said, adding, “Sergeant Garcia?” as she read his name off the tag on shirt.

“You can call me Simon,” he said. “Dr. Tishone sent me to find you. We’re heading out in fifteen minutes.”

“I thought she was going to call a briefing before we left so we’d know what to look for?” Hanna said.

“Change of plans,” Simon said. “Dr. Tishone’s coming with us. She said she’ll do the briefing en route.”

“Has something happened?” Hanna asked.

“My pay grade doesn’t go that high,” Simon said. “I’m just here to make sure all you sciencey types get where you’re supposed to be going.”

“How do we rate a Sergeant as a chauffeur?” Kimberly asked as she and Hanna cleaned up their drinks and napkins.

“More handler than chauffeur,” Simon said.

“Like we’re rockstars?” Kimberly said. “I could get to like that.”

“You should,” Simon said. “You guys have the whole world watching you.”

“And now comes the performance anxiety,” Hanna said. Outside the Starbucks there was a humvee with American insignia on it. A woman of roughly the same age as Hanna, Kimberly and Simon was waiting in the driver’s seat and the passenger side doors were slightly ajar.

“You know what they say for that?” Simon said. “Just imagine everyone in their underwear.”

“Mmm, I think I can manage that,” Kimberly said. Hanna glanced over at her fellow researcher and caught the predatory look she was giving their handler. Kim was between boyfriends by her own choice but the look she was giving Simon suggested that she might be altering that decision in the near future. In theory Simon had a voice in that matter as well, but Hanna couldn’t remember the last time Kimberly had set her eye on a boy who chose to pass up her charms.

Under the present conditions, Hanna couldn’t imagine going to the trouble of hooking up with anyone, there was literally earthshaking research to be done after all, but she didn’t begrudge Kimberly her hook up either. Everyone needed to relieve stress somehow and Hanna had never seen Kimberly leave one of her boys unhappy with their encounters.

“The timetable has been pushed back again,” Private Kalia Keoloha, the driver, said as Hanna and Kimberly climbed into the backseat and Simon took the front passenger seat.

“In the last two minutes?” Simon asked.

“Yep, just as you went in,” Kalia said.

“Sorry to interrupt your coffees then,” Simon said turning back to face Hanna and Kimberly.

“When will we be gathering for the expedition?” Hanna said.

“They pushed it back two hours,” Kalia said.

“I don’t suppose we could get a tour of Nagoya while we wait?” Kimberly asked. “All we’ve seen of it so far is our hotel rooms and a pair of tiny cubicles with even tinier laptops in them.”

“The rest of our detail is gathering now,” Kalia said. “I think they want us to wait there until we’re called.”

“Hurry up and wait has been how the Army moves since my grandfather was in it,” Simon said. “I think we can afford to take the less busy routes back to HQ though, wouldn’t you agree K?”

“I’m hearing orders to avoid tying up the civilian thoroughfares,” Kalia said and set off into the city.

Their odyssey through Nagoya didn’t take them two hours to complete, but it did give Hanna a better sense of the city that the flight into the Central International Airport and subsequent limo ride to their hotel had.

Predictably, although they arrived early for the two hour delay, they were nonetheless late since the departure time was pulled forward by a half hour as they were parking.

“Someone is terrible at scheduling,” Hanna complained as the four of them jogged to the meeting room for the Aoyama Cemetery Expedition. Dr. Tishone fell into step beside them, jogging and rearranging a series of folders as she went.

“Of course they are,” she said. “Too many smart people here for anyone to be useful for anything practical.”

“That’s what we’re for m’am,” Simon said.

“I don’t envy you at all Sergeant,” Dr. Tishone said. “After this trip you might want to transfer to something relaxing like Explosive Ordnance Disposal.”

“Been there,” Kalia said as they arrived at the staging room.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dr. Tishone said. “Let me welcome you to the Ghost Walker Task Force. Preliminary results are back from the analysis of the Aoyama Cemetery and the picture they paint is a fascinating one.”

“Do we need proton packs?” one of the other scientists, a Nigerian researcher named Osaloni Ajayi, a few years younger than Dr. Tishone asked.

“That might not hurt,” Dr. Tishone said. “There’s some unusual…chemistry let’s call it, occurring in Aoyama.”

“I thought the findings were showing everything in the Effect Zone was strangely inert?” the Ghostbuster’s referencing professor asked.

“In most places, yes,” Dr. Tishone said. “Aoyama has something that the rest of Tokyo is missing however.”

“Dead bodies?” Professor Ajayi asked.

“Yes, except the ones in Aoyama seem to be regenerating.”

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