The World That Ends in Fire – Chapter 6


The regenerating dead had caused a stir among the scientists on the expedition, but that was because of what they could envision it meant on a broader scale. The glowing planet that flickered in the sky didn’t require any imagination to perceive as a large scale threat though. Seeing something that large dominating the sky was an experience no human had encountered before, but which everyone present knew was a cataclysmically bad event.

If humanity, or at least the portion of it capable of perceiving the new world that eclipsed a giant swath of the sky, found itself collectively unable to process or respond to what it was seeing for a long, silent moment, they could take comfort in the fact that no other species was able to either.

Artists often render the moon as a ridiculously oversized disk because of the impact Luna has on the human psyche. In truth the moon can be eclipsed by a thumb tip held at arm’s length away and in unmagnified pictures appears quite tiny, due to the hundreds of thousands of miles it is distant from the Earth.

As later measurements showed, the new planet was substantially larger than moon, roughly the same size as the Earth itself in fact, and it was much closer.

“We came out here to look for anything odd,” Hanna said. “Is anyone else seeing anything odd?”

She was looking straight up at the blazing yellow light in the sky and was unable to shift her eyes to anything else. The planet had captured her attention like the first controlled fire must have captured the minds of her earliest ancestors.

“That’s…It’s…What is that?” Kalia said. Her firearms was unholstered with the safety off.

Hanna blinked and tried to suppress an insane giggle at the thought of their military escort shooting down a rogue planet. It would be the best present you could give an astrophysicist ever. Except for the part where the planetary collision would not only wipe out all life on Earth but also the structural integrity of the Earth as a whole. And the part where a pistol was probably not the proper weapon to hunt rogue planets with.

Her giggle suppression failed as the last thought occurred to her and, in a fitting touch of lunacy, she broke down into a fit of laughing that took a dozen seconds to get under control.

As the giggle fit passed, so too did the planet from the sky above them. Hanna looked up just in time to see a final shimmering wave pass over the planet before it faded away like an image disappearing from rippling pond.

“Sorry,” she said, not sure who she was apologizing to or what she was apologizing for.

“We all just saw something in the sky, right?” Kimberly asked.

“Yeah, or at least I did,” Hanna said.

“That wasn’t the sun and it wasn’t a plane,” Kalia said. “There’s nothing that big on Earth.”

In the wake of the giggling fit, and the lunacy inducing vision in the sky, Hanna felt unstable and, if she was honest, terrified, but letting the craziness out in laughter had helped her somewhat too.

“We need to get back to base,” she said. “If we’re the only ones who saw that then it could be a shared hallucination.”

“Seems unlikely,” Kimberly said.

“Yeah, and we’re not in the ‘unlikely’ end of the pool already right?” Hanna said pointing at the weird landscape around them.

“Common exposure to a hallucinogenic gas?” Kalia asked. “Maybe we cleared the need for hazmat suits off the list too quickly.”

“Maybe,” Hanna said. “The first thing we need to do is check in and see if we were the only ones affected.”

“And then see if anyone outside the Effect Zone saw the same thing we did,” Kimberly said.

The trek back to the Ghost Walker Expeditions base camp went quick, neither Hanna, nor Kimberly, nor Kalia had any reason to delay, though running into a ruined cemetery after a shocking discovery did strike each of them as somewhat counter-intuitive.

When they arrived at the base camp the flurry of excitement answered their primary question which anyone having to say a word. The expedition was comprised of researchers from many different locals and Hanna heard a flurry of English, Chinese, Spanish and a few languages she couldn’t recognize as people called their contacts and loved ones to see what the extent of the phenomena they’d observed was.

“Good, you’re back and safe,” Dr. Tishone said when she found her proteges. “Where were you?”

“Outside of the cemetery,” Hanna said.

“No, I mean exactly where were you?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“Due west from this tent, I’d have to check our equipment for the precise coordinates though,” Hanna said.

“And what did you see?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“A large aerial phenomena,” Kimberly said.

“Luminous,” Hanna added.

“Apparent magnitude and Size?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“I don’t trust my memory of the event,” Kimberly said.

“It was almost as bright as the sun and about a thousand times bigger,” Kalia said.

“I would want to review any images we captured of the event,” Hanna said. “I don’t trust my memory either, but Private Keoloha’s description matches the perception I recall of it.”

“I don’t suppose any of you thought to photograph the object?” Dr. Tishone said.

Hanna considered protesting that they hadn’t brought the proper sort of equipment for sky photography but the reality was even a poor picture from a cell phone camera would have given them been more to work with than unsupported memories.

“No, to be honest, my brain kind of froze and I didn’t even think of it,” Kimberly said.

Dr. Tishone sighed, but smiled at them when she raised her head.

“I’d berate you for failing to properly document a once-in-a-lifetime stellar event, but I had a camera in my hands and I didn’t think to use it either,” she said.

“Fortunately we brought more than PhDs on this expedition,” Professor Ajayi said. “The press photographers recorded both video and stills of the phenomena.”

“Imagine that,” Dr. Tishone said. “It’s like someone thought that including experts in fields other than the sciences might pay off.”

“Yes, you are very clever Jean,” Professor Ajayi said. “And we are very glad for it.”

“I know that everyone is excited by this new development, but we need to make sure someone stays focused on our cadavers,” Dr. Tishone said. “There’s no clear connection between the two but the timing of the Phantom Quake and our newest phenomena seems unlikely to be a coincidence.”

“Actually,” Hanna said. “We might have found something that could be related here.”

“And you were going to keep this discovering to yourselves till when exactly?” Dr. Tishone asked.

“Until we had a chance to verifying that a wild guess has any substance to it,” Kimberly said.

“If you’ve got something to pursue, then get back out there and build your case. Recruit anyone who’s standing around looking dazed and confused if you need extra helpers. Oh, and keep your cellphones on. We’ve got the trouble with the mobile tower cleared up. I want to be able to call you back here on a moment’s notice.”

“Do we know if this event could be environmental in origin?” Kimberly asked.

“And are we going to switch back to hazmat protocols?” Hanna asked.

“I don’t think there’s a need for that yet,” Professor Ayaji said. “I’ve checked with our support team back in Nagoya and they saw the same thing we did. From what I’ve overheard of the other scientists’ calls it sounds like this was visible across half the world.”

“Not a hallucinogenic gas then,” Kimberly said.

“That would have been a whole lot better,” Kalia said.

“Maybe,” Dr. Tishone. “Whatever it was, the one thing we know is that the phenomena wasn’t what it appeared to be.”

“How can we know that?” Kimberly asked.

“It appeared to be an object with mass but it clearly didn’t behave as one,” Dr. Tishone said. “If a celestial body of that size actually appeared as close to the Earth as the phenomena did, the effects would be catastrophic and we’d see evidence of them already.”

“I think the catastrophes are waiting for people to get over their initial shock,” Kalia said. “Then we’re going to see the rioting begin and the crazies come out of the woodwork.”

“That’s already happening, but you’re right, this is going to make it worse,” Dr. Tishone said.

“Why wait for a giant sky orb to kill you when you can die today in a surge of drunken brawling,” Kimberly said.

“It’s worse than that,” Kalia said. “No one on Earth is going to feel safe for a long while to come, even if nothing else weird happens, and people who don’t feel safe can do some terrible things.”

“What can we do about that though?” Hanna asked.

“Nothing,” Kalia said. “It’s like trying to argue with the tide. You can shout yourself speechless but the ocean’s just bigger than you are.”

“You just need to know how to talk to the ocean in a language it understands,” Dr. Tishone said. “Ask the Dutch how their conversation with the ocean went once they started speaking in dikes.”

“I’m not sure I approve of the idea of building space dikes to hold back rogue planets,” Professor Ajayi said. “I suspect we’d just create other problems if we did that.”

“That’s job security,” Dr. Tishone said. “Solve one problem, create two others and watch the grant money flow in.”

“Your American system is very strange,” Professor Ajayi said.

“Yes, for example it allows promising students with brilliant ideas to sit around and listen to their instructors banter,” Dr. Tishone said. “Get back to what you were doing. At this point we need every clue we can find.”

It took Hanna and Kimberly, plus Kalia, Simon and a half dozen other “assistant” whom they conscripted over a week to reassemble enough of the area around the Aoyama Cemetery to support their thesis.

The lines in the crumbled pieces of material from around the park was scarred by burn marks which presented a coherent striation pattern, or, as Kalia put it; something had blown up, or rather blown in the direction the celestial phenomena had appeared in.

It wasn’t conclusive proof that the two were related but when Hanna, on a whim, cross checked streaking on her ruined picture from the night of the Phantom Quake she discovered that the blur offset in the image was almost identical to the angle of the scars on the Aoyama rubble.

Whatever had destroyed Tokyo had affected her telescope half a world away but hadn’t tripped seismographs even fifty kilometers outside of Tokyo.