Skylight Dying by Damian Sitaram Johari by Damian Sitaram Johari - Read Online

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SKYLIGHT DYING chronicles the history of an extra-terrestrial virus, 'AE1', through the eyes of Samantha Hayes, a member of the CDC's Rapid Response Team. 

Samantha takes us back to a world united in celebration for a rare cosmic event - a collision between two Asteroids, 17,000 miles from Earth. With an unprecedented following, the event culminates in a breathtaking meteor shower, sending meteor fragments to the Earth's surface. 

As the celebration comes to a close, a horrifying truth begins to emerge. 

Outbreaks begin to devastate the world as it discovers a highly contagious pathogen among the meteor fragments, which brings our modern societies to its knees, dialing us back from the age of touchscreen devices and social networking to an era of a modern black plague. 

Samantha takes us through a journey across the world, following the trail of death and destruction the pathogen leaves behind, with her team forging relationships from Portugal to the ICDC in Israel in a race against time. While the death toll mounts, the team tries to unravel the mysteries behind this Alien Virus - dissecting its biology and behavior; studying its patterns, mechanisms and capabilities - in an effort to save our species, while witnessing the entire world from Antarctica to the Middle East, falling victim to this biological attack on mankind. 

SKYLIGHT DYING is Samantha's story - From the pathogen's emergence on our planet, to the global pandemic that follows. Her account of the diversity of opinions, intellect and behavior of our civilization in the face of an unimaginable threat and the vulnerabilities which exist underneath the foundations of our modern societies. It is a story of unraveling mysteries that reach beyond the realm of our imagination, of human perseverance and sacrifice, and a relentless pursuit of our survival.

Published: Damian Sitaram Johari on
ISBN: 9781524215163
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SKYLIGHT DYING

DAMIAN SITARAM JOHARI

©2017

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

SKYLIGHT DYING. Copyright © 2017 by Damian Sitaram Johari. All Rights Reserved.

CONTENTS

i. FRAGMENTS

ii. PATIENT ZERO

iii. PANDEMIC

iv. "AE1"

v. STATE OF DECAY

vi. "NASCENTES MORIMUR"

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

- Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio

William Shakespeare

SKYLIGHT DYING

1

Years ago, through the little window in my bedroom, on a warm summer night, I saw a shooting star in the dark skies. I was six years old. I had never seen one before. Although I was too young to understand the nature of the universe and all the little fragments it was made of, yet, for days thereafter, my mind could not disconnect with the vision of that bright light moving rapidly across the night sky, leaving a streak of glitter behind in its path. All the other stars and bright lights stood still in their place; but this one bright ball of fire hurried in the endless dark void, and then disappeared.

That night I ran to my father to tell him what I saw, and he explained to me that it was a space rock, travelling through the vastness of the Universe, long broken or lost from a bigger meteor or asteroid. He explained, the light I saw was the rock glowing because it travelled so fast that it heated up when it hit the Earth’s atmosphere. That it was this heat which produced the glow I saw as a ball of fire.

I was fascinated. I began to learn about meteors and asteroids, about stars and space, and I realized how big and vast space actually was. I realized that there was so much out there, so much more then what we could imagine. That there were millions upon millions of objects, further then we could see with our own eyes; further then all our giant satellites and telescopes could see. Far distant then what we were capable of exploring – beyond our Sun, the Moon, our solar system and the galaxies.

From that moment on, in understanding the vastness of space, I began to understand the possibility of life beyond Earth. I began to believe, that perhaps we were not alone. That the people, the creatures, the organisms that existed on our planet, may not be the only living beings in our endless Universe.

Through the years growing up, I strongly believed that one day we would make contact with another species. That someday, either they would find us, or we would find them. I used to imagine that they would come in a Spacecraft from their world, and be greeted by us as ‘visitors from another planet’. Perhaps traveling in a large, futuristic Spacecraft, something we would look at in wonder and awe. I imagined we would welcome them, exchange knowledge and learn much from them, showing them our world, our civilization, our way of life. And through passage of time, a lot of unanswered questions would be answered. We would learn of new worlds, new civilizations, and we would finally realize that we are not alone – that we were never alone.

My father was a big fan of an old Jodie Foster movie called ‘Contact’.

This is exactly how it’s going to happen! Someone will find a signal from them, and we’re going to find maps or a way to build a machine to visit them! It makes so much sense! He exclaimed every chance he got. That movie was his ‘go to’ for extraterrestrial contact.

After my parents passed away in a car accident when I was 11, I was raised by Aunt Linda and Uncle Jeffrey, who was a big fan of ‘The X-Files’ TV series. Don’t fill up that little girl’s head with all your spook, Jeff! Aunt Linda used to remark.

I remember my Uncle Jeffrey talking endlessly about UFO sightings and alien abductions; about short, bald, green creatures with large eyes - the proverbial ‘little green men’. He used to bring up a UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico in the 1940’s, and how the government had covered everything up. He firmly believed we not only had their Spacecraft, but also their alien bodies and their technology, possibly hidden away in a top secret military facility in Nevada. He was an avid believer of everything from Area 51 and the MAJESTIC-12 documents to alien abductions and government conspiracies. He even believed there were alien survivors, perhaps working with the government, aiding them with their technologies, helping us reverse engineer modern devices from their technologies.

He used to play his tapes of the X-Files for me whenever Aunt Linda was not around, and he would say to me, When you grow up kid, you’ll understand all of this better. Watch them from the beginning!

I never got a chance to see the series, although I always found ‘Fox Mulder’ very cute, what little I saw of him. Uncle Jeffrey’s message was never lost on me regardless. Everything he shared with me, showed me and taught me, only fueled my curiosity, my wonder, and my intrigue about the worlds beyond, and all the possibilities that existed with them.

Both my father and Uncle Jeffrey were avid believers in the existence of extraterrestrials - It was almost inevitable that my own beliefs evolved any different than theirs. 

Some friends I grew up with loved those science fiction movies about hostile aliens coming in their big spaceships with massive weapons, annihilating everyone on Earth so they could harness the planet’s resources. For most people that was a fun and entertaining two hours full of special effects, scary creatures and action, but there were always those watching who actually believed the notions behind the stories, including my friend Stuart. He firmly believed the visitors would be hostile - no two ways about it - he would remark.

He was always eager to explain his point of view. Think about the facts, He would say, "They’re able to travel from a distance so far away that we can’t even detect its existence. They use Spacecraft that can sustain life and whatever they need to survive and exist comfortably for that long. These are machines that we’re clearly not capable of building; Spacecraft traveling at speeds we’re clearly so far from engineering. Now think about those Spacecraft they are traveling in - being able to navigate successfully through all the rocks, the meteors and asteroids, the gravity pull and cosmic collisions, all the debris floating about in space - yet they arrive intact and in one piece all the way to Earth!

Imagine the navigation, the collision and impact avoidance systems, all the technology that would go into a safe and comfortable journey that spans immeasurable distances. Obviously not something we humans can fathom anytime soon. Doesn’t that unarguably prove that they are exponentially more advanced and capable then we are? If yes, they would see us no different than the White Man saw the Native when he first arrived on American soil; or any other superior species that encounters a far inferior species. They might shake hands in the beginning; put on a façade – but in the end, it always ends the same way." 

Stuart was convinced that our species, the human civilization, would be annihilated by these far advanced and superior creatures, if they ever visited our planet, just like in the movies; no different than what the native suffered at the hands of the visitors to the new world.

Throughout history, people from all walks of life have held different beliefs. I remember this documentary series on television, the History channel if I remember correctly, that described how the extraterrestrials would visit us in the ancient period and helped build the pyramids and other structures and monuments. The large temples dedicated to deities which we do not fully understand, or structures like the Stonehenge which continue to mystify us. They spoke of evidence left behind as hieroglyphics and art in these structures and monuments, telling us, showing us, that we had already been visited by extraterrestrials before.

There were also those who believed we come from them, that the entire human civilization was seeded by the visitors – that life on Earth was perhaps forged out of alien civilization that long ago visited this planet, explaining the sudden emergence of the single cellular organism in the seas, and the boom of life that followed on this planet so rapidly, yet mysteriously.

And of course, there were a whole lot of people who simply did not believe in the existence, or the possibility of contact with an alien civilization. From the common man to the highly skilled and educated, which included scientists and even space explorers, and everyone in between. They ridiculed believers in extraterrestrials and UFO sightings – people like my uncle Jeffrey.

Some people simply maintained a balance between both beliefs. They were open to the possibility of life existing out there, but required definitive proof. They required the definition of biological life to follow with the words ‘as we know it’. This was common for most of my colleagues and peers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where we were constantly surrounded by a highly scientific environment. Doctors, researchers, physicists, chemists, medical technicians and investigators; some of the most qualified minds in our society, working in some of the most advanced laboratories with the very best apparatus at their hands.

For those who believed, it was simply a matter of time before conclusive proof would be found; for those who didn’t, we were the anomaly - we were unique, and Earth and its species were a gift to the universe.

As it turned out, we were all wrong.

There were no Spacecraft; no mother ships being followed by a fleet of smaller spaceships with massive weaponry. There weren’t any giant planet harvesting machines. Nor were there any little green men or government conspiracies. There was no exchange of knowledge or wisdom. There was no signal, no maps and no instructions to build a machine. There was nothing in the hieroglyphics or ancient structures that foretold what was to come.

And as it turned out, we weren’t the anomaly, the gift of life to the Universe either.

In order to give you the true accounts of ‘AE1’, or ‘Halel’ as some called it, or a name it was sometimes referred to in the period that followed – the ‘dying skylight’ - I have to take you back to the beginning. To the month of March five years ago, when at the age of 24, I became one of the youngest minds to join Dr. Stefan Wierzbowski’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) at the CDC, after completing three years of field assignments, lab research and writing an acclaimed paper on virus intervention. This was also the time when what was later discovered and generally agreed upon, the first report was ever broadcast about the LM75.

This was before the ‘Asteroid Event’ - before DA15 - and over a year before ‘Day Zero’.

FRAGMENTS

1

"… Joanna will keep us posted on all the updates on that as they come in.

And here’s an interesting report we just got from our affiliate up in Issaquah, for all you sky watchers and astronomy fans out there - an asteroid nearly 35 meters wide, that’s roughly a little less than half the length of a football field, will pass by Earth in about 12 months. But there’s no need to hit the panic button! We’re told the asteroid, named LM75, poses no threat to Earth and its closest pass should be in March of next year, expected to be at a distance of approximately 16,000 miles from the planet.

Now you may remember that last month we had the ESNA DA14 asteroid pass us by at around the same distance, I believe it was just a little further out, around 17,000 miles. Interestingly from what I’m told, the LM75 asteroid also falls within the geosynchronous satellites orbit, just as the ESNA DA14 did.

They’re saying the asteroid will only be visible to people viewing it through a telescope and should be most clearly visible from the eastern hemisphere of the globe. The asteroid was actually detected by a group of young astronomers from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. They say the data is still being read and analyzed as they try to get better and more accurate measurements.

We have no comment from NASA yet but we’ll follow this story and bring you any updates we get. It certainly appears to be a very exciting time to be an astronomer."

This was a short and casual news report in the Northwest region of United States, by a local Washington State television station, morning news crew, broadcasting in a small region, about 20 miles south east of Seattle. A report that would become part of human history.

In the immediate aftermath of the dying skylight, historians and researcher’s alike scoured news and media archives to determine the first report of the asteroid flyby. While most researchers claimed ‘historical accounting’ as the purpose of this effort, in truth, ‘curiosity’ was perhaps a stronger factor amongst us all, about the first knowledge we had and how far back it dated.

Whether or not we had any knowledge of what the space rocks would bring was never in question. Almost everyone believed we had no idea what was coming. I say ‘almost’ because there were certain groups of people, those who would be known as conspiracy theorists, who claimed the government had prior knowledge all along. These groups had little support from the masses, but this did not deter their personal beliefs from persisting.

Although most everyone seemed to agree the Washington State report was the very first, there were some researchers who claimed that a small publication in Australia, which was in touch with the UNSW students who discovered the asteroid, published a report prior to the Seattle news broadcast; however, no traceable evidence to substantiate their claims was ever found. Ultimately, it was widely accepted the Washington State report was the first.

Of course, at that time the news report went virtually unnoticed. Asteroid flybys of this nature weren’t as rare by the beginning of that year. Just the year prior everyone had seen or at least heard about the meteor impact in the Ural region of Russia that came out of nowhere, completely undetected, destroying properties and damaging objects on the ground. Some fatalities were also reported amongst the damage caused by that impact.

The images of space rocks crashing down in the streets and on apartment buildings gained a lot of coverage in the news and on social media. ‘Likes’ and ‘Views’ on YouTube videos of the impacts were staggering. It seemed that objects falling from the sky was no longer limited to science fiction and entertainment in movie theaters or the television.

Ukraine and Italy had also seen some small meteor impacts over the previous few years. There had been at least 2 different asteroid flybys in just the first quarter alone that year, including one that gained a lot of attention as it brought with it a tiny moon of its own. It was in the news almost every day.

I was working at the Infectious Disease Research facility in Atlanta at the time, a sister organization to the CDC where I spent a considerable amount of my time. We were trying to theorize a contagion model for a highly infectious virus that was jumping from host to host in random sequences. It was a challenging and somewhat frustrating study. The media coverage of that Asteroid carrying its moon was a welcome distraction. It would take my mind off the study for brief intervals. Being a believer in the possibility of extraterrestrial life and contact, something I didn’t necessarily share openly with my peers at the CDC, I always found space related news quite interesting, especially concerning asteroids, comets and planetary exploration.

Over the course of the decade gone by, between the landings by the rovers on Mars, which were celebrated worldwide and garnered unprecedented notoriety, and planetary exploration undertakings by NASA using the Kepler space telescope - Space news had become steadily visible on the front pages and in general news as opposed to just the ‘Science and Space’ sections.

It was a period in our lives when the common man was starting to get used to news of asteroid and space rocks flying by Earth, even occasionally entering our atmosphere. In the couple of years that followed it, the mass fear and hysteria of December 21st, 2012 were all but gone. It wasn’t the sort of news that would spread panic and hysteria any longer.

The timid news flash about the passing asteroid in Washington State was barely noticed by anyone, including myself and most people I knew; perhaps only the sky watchers and astronomy enthusiasts were paying attention at the time. And although over the next few months more news stations and broadcasts included tiny articles and mention of the approach, it never really gained too much public attention.

In those days I was in the last stages of the study and had already met Dr. Wierzbowski, who was waiting for me to finish my research before announcing my official induction in the Rapid Response Team he led. It was the start of a new path, a new journey for me, and I was both excited and nervous.

2

Sometime early that summer, the asteroid story gained some momentum. There were reports of unusual elements and materials in the composition of the asteroid which differed substantially from most asteroids we were able to detect and study. Scientists and astronomers were very interested, and it also caught the attention of the common man interested in Space news. These reports brought the asteroid story on the main headlines for a short period again. That was the first few weeks of my job in the RRT, and at the time I was too busy acclimating myself with Dr. Wierzbowski’s team, working, learning and understanding the team’s routines, techniques and methodologies. I never got the chance to look into the news stories any further, and they dissipated quickly into the background.

In June that year, at the peak of summer, however, a national headline changed this casual perspective and brought the ongoing asteroid flyby story front and center across all forms of news media, and in the homes and lives of people around the world.

This was a CNN breaking news, quite unlike the March report near Seattle. I received text messages from Caitlin before I heard or saw it on the news.

Caitlin and I grew up together. She didn’t have a big interest in space exploration or extraterrestrials like I did, but doomsday prophecies, or even a slight hint of one, usually grabbed her attention pretty quick. I had an endless barrage of text messages from her around December, 2012 – and I’m thankful to this day for unlimited texting.

Caitlin had been my closest friend since middle school. She still lived in Monig, Rhode Island, where we grew up, not far from both my parents and my uncle and aunt’s home. First my studies, my research and then my work at the CDC kept me at a distance from my hometown. My aunt and uncle’s passing distanced me from my childhood and my hometown even more so. I devoted myself to my studies and work and never went back to my hometown again. Most of my time was spent between the LA division of CDC and the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. Unless we were on the field, which could be anywhere in the country. During all of this time, Caitlin and I stayed in touch via text messages and social networks.

In many respects, Caitlin and I were quite the opposite. She loved dressing up, the short skirts and frills, make-up and tiaras, while I was a bit of a tomboy. Our professional ambitions differed vehemently, and so did our educational background.

Caitlin loved to party, while I was the shy and quiet one, a bit of an introvert. She loved her job at the shoe store; and liked boys, girls and everything in between. I had been dating my laboratory for as long as I could remember. Her existence on social networks and social media was as definitive as her physical, human existence. The number of ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ on her Facebook page or her YouTube profile mattered to her; while I was what they called a ‘lurker’. I never really got too involved, or too interested in social networking, but being in a profession that saw frequent traveling and moving from place to place, it helped me keep tabs on friends and home. I could stay in touch and know what was going on with everyone, without over-indulging, or picking up the phone, just shadowing from the sidelines. That was comfortable and close enough for me.

That evening in June, I was at the CDC’s research lab in Los Angeles, California. We had been working in LA the last few months, but were expected to head back to Atlanta shortly. It had been a casual, uneventful day, when I got her text messages.

[Caitlin] Did u hear about the 2nd asteroid?

[Me] 2nd asteroid?? What r u talking about?

[Caitlin] Ck news! It’s all over! Another asteroid is going to fly by us.

[Me] Can’t C! I’m @ the lab. When’s the 2nd one coming?

[Caitlin] Same time as the other. They’re saying it’s gonna be close 2 it.

[Me] Really? That’s pretty cool.

[Caitlin] I dunno Sam! What if they hit each other? Won’t they like explode or something?

[Me] I’m pretty sure they won’t C! Are they saying they’re going to collide?

[Caitlin] No. I dunno. They’re talking about chances or something. Sounds Scary!

[Me] Don’t worry. I’m sure it’ll be fine. I’ll ck news later. Will txt you back.

[Caitlin] K! TC. Luv n hugz.

Caitlin’s text messages had sparked my curiosity, but I was too wrapped up in the laboratory to look into it. It was still early in the evening when she had sent me the message.

I had been working with Izabella Epstein, a senior technician in the team who had been a colleague of Dr. Wierzbowski for about 15 years. We were working on a biological culture that we were trying to develop for testing the presence of strains of a parasite found in high moisture environments and areas close to tropical waters. These cultures were useful during an outbreak. I had developed a good working relationship with Izabella, and her experience in the field as well as a veteran member of Dr. Wierzbowski’s RRT helped me tremendously during the adjustment phase.

Izabella was an extremely smart, highly educated, 39 year old woman. Although she was short, at only about 5’ 4", she was a very attractive woman. She shared a Polish-Slovakian ancestry, and her eastern European features were distinct. Despite having a vividly academic background and upbringing, Izabella had an extremely warm, helpful and welcoming personality, one that became a big comfort for me during the first few months of joining the team. I always presumed her personality was a heritage trait, passed on from generations, and immune to the worldly sciences and evolution. I held great admiration and respect for her, both professionally and as a friend.

That evening, by the time I was finished with lab work and had the chance to tune into CNN, back at the temporary housing provided by CDC in Pasadena, it was already around quarter after eleven. I switched on the news just before hitting the bunk. The asteroid story was already running, which surprised me a little bit.  I hadn’t realized at the time, from the little information Caitlin had given me, that it was a big news that day. The story seemed to be heavily covered and was on a loop-rotation. The large red ticker at the bottom of the screen, covering a quarter of the space, with white text in bold font, flowing seamlessly left to right gave an impression of the matter …

BREAKING NEWS

SECOND ASTEROID TO FLYBY EARTH

POSSIBLE CHANCE OF COLLISION WITH LM75

EARTH NOT AT RISK, NASA

"… which is correct. And you have to remember that extensive studies that were conducted on the small fragments from the Chelyabinsk meteor, which made it through the explosions in Russia last year and landed on the ground, have very concretely shown that the meteorite’s that rocked the region may very well have been sent on a collision course with Earth AFTER colliding into another asteroid in space. In other words, they were never heading towards Earth when they started their journey in space.

There are a lot of findings that suggest that the parent asteroid, which was probably a much larger asteroid, did in fact collide with a smaller asteroid which resulted in the meteorites heading towards Earth. Think of it as a bullet straying off course after encountering an obstruction, after hitting something on the way towards its destination, which alters its trajectory.