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The Eris War
Volume II: The Dragon from the Isles
Book 1: Independence Day
Chapter 6: When the Stars Begin to Fall
“Right, Terry.” Once more we were looking at the anchorman, who was carefully dabbing at the sweat that beaded his dark face with an incongruously lacy handkerchief, seemingly unaware of the odd picture which he, a fairly robust, very masculine man beginning to go bald with pattern-baldness, cut as he patted his face with that small, elegant, weirdly delicate little piece of linen. Finally, unthinkingly crumpling up the handkerchief and stuffing it into a pocket of his trousers, he looked directly into the camera, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, you have just seen a live-delay broadcast of a report by one of our television reporters, Mr. Terry Black, from Medford, Oregon. Medford is now an island – or, perhaps, a peninsula might be a better word, a peninsula, if you will, of comparative safety jutting up from still unburned land in the extreme southwest corner of Oregon, which is now almost entirely surrounded on three sides by a roaring ocean of fire now engulfing much of that unhappy state. The fire – or rather, fires, for there are countless patches of burning forest, woodland, brush, and even urban areas that have been spotted throughout Oregon, though most of them are heavily concentrated in the northern parts of the state – the fires were started by red-hot ash, rocks, and blazing detritus hurled there from the massive volcanic eruptions that ripped Western Washington apart early this morning, raining down from the sky onto Oregon. “In –” “Shit!” Kathy hissed. “This is . . . dear God, I’ve never seen anything like this!” She’d come back into the room, probably to see what I was up to, and had sunk into a chair, staring in awe at the scene now being presented to us on the television screen.
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“Probably nobody alive now ever has,” I told her. “Except maybe people up there in Siberia in 1908, when that meteorite or whatever it was impacted on the Tunguska Peninsula, the one that knocked all those trees down. And that was just in that one area. Otherwise it’s been one fuck of a long time since anything that big ever happened to . . . this world. Remember that book by Klube and Napier I was reading the other day, The Cosmic Serpent, about comet impacts and their effects on our world? As you know, since 1987 or so, after the Alverezes came out with the results of their work on the iridium in the K-T horizon, and old Standard Oil geosurvey maps confirmed the presence of that big crater in the Yucatan and the others in Siberia and Manson, Iowa, and elsewhere, it’s pretty clear that the major factor in the extinction of the dinosaurs was an impact by one or more comets about 65 million years ago. Or, anyway, the impact by whatever hit the world was the coup de grace for them. Apparently there’ve been a lot more impacts like that, too, some of them going back billions of years, others happening almost yesterday, geologically speaking. They think the last Ice Age might have been triggered by the crap blasted into our skies by the impact of a comet or asteroid, and ash and smoke from fires it started when it hit, cutting off the sunlight for a long, long time.” “Lovely. That’s all we need,” she muttered. On the screen, we were now looking at a wall of advancing flame that seemed to stretch for miles north and south, bearing down on the city of Bend, Oregon. The commentator was citing the various tactical units that had already been brought in to fight the fires, including one from the Oregon National Guard and various local units. “Let’s see what’s on the other channels,” Kathy said, aiming the remote at the set as if it were a gun that could somehow obliterate the horrors we had just seen, hitting the button to change channels. “– just in! San Francisco, which was hit by a gigantic earthquake early this morning, about 5:30 a.m., a product of the disaster that occurred in Washington State about an hour before that, has just suffered another of a series of violent aftershocks!” We were looking at the main newsdesk of the CBS News Bureau. Behind the desk, a tall, thin, white-haired man, hands braced on the desk, was starting grimly into the camera. “— switch you to Jane Norton and our on-site news-team in Golden Gate Park, now interviewing victims of this morning’s terrible earthquake there and the aftershocks that followed. Jane?” “Yes, Roger.” The scene had switched from the newsdesk to a vista of wide green lawns and numerous trees. At the left, off in the distance, blue ocean stretched away. I recognized the place from trips I’d taken to the Bay Area over the years: the western end of Golden Gate Park, separated from the Pacific Ocean only by the Great Highway running down from Point Lobos to the San Francisco Zoo and San Francisco State University. The park was filled with people and a host of tents, trailers, and large piles of things the identity of which wasn’t immediately clear. In the background, black smoke, tinged yellow and orange below, filled the air. “Oh, my God,” whispered Kathy. “Everything west of the Bay is burning! It looks like it’s been nuked!” Indeed, the reporter, a small, compact woman with short red hair, wearing dark knit pants and a blue blazer, was saying: “— of the great fire which, breaking out early this morning in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake that hit San Francisco today, apparently a spin-off from the catastrophe that has engulfed Western Washington State, has already consumed half the city, and could well destroy much or most of what is left of it before the day is out. Most of the people here, who came Golden Gate Park over the last two hours or so, have lost their homes due to destruction either from the initial quake and its aftershocks or because of the fire now raging through the city. There are also a number of emergency and rescue personnel here, members of San Francisco’s police, fire, and paramedical services, as well as units from the United States Army, the Red Cross, and others who arrived here over the last hour to help the survivors and try to save what is left of this great city. “In a moment, I will be interviewing witnesses and survivors of the quake and its aftereffects, letting them tell their own stories of what happened to them and what they saw during the chaotic early hours of this morning. First, however, Captain John Lee of San Francisco Fire Department has some observations to report about these. Captain?” she asked, turning to a tall man in uniform who had been standing next to her all that time. “Yes, Ms. Norton. What can I do for you?”
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“Captain Lee, you were telling me earlier about the earthquake as well as the fire that is now sweeping through the city. Could you tell our audience a little more about that?” she asked him, holding out a microphone toward him. Taking the microphone with his enormous, light-brown right hand, he said, “Certainly. But I’m not sure where I should begin.” “Well, you were saying that the area in which you and your family live managed to escape the worst of it. Could you tell us about that?” “Yes, of course. Uh . . . okay, we – that is, my wife and children and I – live over by the east end of Market Street, near the waterfront. As far as the fire goes, numerous pumping-stations were set up there over the years to bring water up from the Bay to fight fires on and near the water-front. Gas-fired generators were set up with them to make sure that if the power was knocked out for any reason, the pumps, which are driven by electric motors, would still work. Those donkey-engines are really powerful, too – those pumps can raise a head of water some 500 or more feet in the air, and depending on the angle at which the water is released, it can reach quite a ways inland from the waterfront. A lot of the water-mains up there aren’t delivering water right now as a result of the quake, of course, and there isn’t any power except that provided by batteries and generators and that sort of thing; but, as my men have kept reporting to me from radio reports they’re getting from other units up that way over the last couple of hours, we can still bring water up from the Bay itself quite easily, more than enough to keep the fire from coming very close to the waterfront. One of the city’s better investments,” he added, grinning. “I’m not worried about my own place at this point. My family and I have only had that house since about 1991, a year after the big quake in 2011. We were renting a place owned by my brother up on Mason Street that was totaled in the 2011 quake, and while I didn’t want to move away from the area – and still don’t, my family’s been here since about 1850, my great-great-great grandfather was one of the original railroad workers Leland Stanford brought in to lay track for the Southern Pacific Railroad – I wanted to make damned good and sure that the next quake that hit wouldn’t do more than knock a few dishes off the shelves, at the worst. So when we decided to buy instead of rent, we bought a place on Stuart which had been condemned by the city, tore down the structure that was on it, then built new. I hired an architect that had designed one of the places that did ride out the 2011 quake in great shape – I’d seen a report about that house on the news right after the quake, and I was really impressed! The only damage it sustained from the quake was a little breakage from things falling off shelves. The owner said it had been designed as if it were a great big box you could (if you were large enough) pick up and turn upside down without harming the essential structure at all. So I tracked down the architect and he designed our new home. “Not only did he use the same basic idea – build it like one big box that you could turn over and move around any way you wanted to without harming the underlying structure – but he also included some innovations I thought up myself, such as cabinets with catches on them, easy enough to open by hand, but virtually impossible to open accidentally even in an earthquake; special fixtures for all the lighting that would ride out any earthquake without breaking, and which would protect the bulbs in them against anything up to small-caliber gunfire coming straight at them; built-in beds that couldn’t fall apart and couldn’t tip over; and a number of other things to help quakeproof everything in the house. Well, we woke up about 5:30 a.m. to the quake that hit today, jolted and bounced around like anything, but our two-story home rode it out like a champion! Everybody was safe – the kids were scared, but nobody was hurt, not even the dog or the cats (and as neurotic as the bunch of them are, that has to be some kind of miracle!) – and the special catches on the cabinet and cupboard doors worked so well that we didn’t lose even one dish. About the only thing that got busted was some of the stuff in the medicine cabinet upstairs – the catch on it became non-operational a few weeks ago, thanks to an accident I had in the bathroom, and I’d been meaning to repair it, but didn’t get around to it in time. Boy, did I catch heck from my wife!” he added with a charmingly boyish grin. “That wasn’t just a fluke, either,” he said. “See those people over there?“ he asked the reporter, pointing off-camera, to an area behind him and to his left. “Mr. and Mrs. Seago, over there, can tell you about their own house, designed by the same guy who designed ours. – Hey, Dale! Teri!” he called, turning around to face a group of about ten people, some dressed in black, others in jeans, T-shirts and other casual clothing, who were walking toward him and Ms. Norton. “Hi!” one of the men dressed in black called out to the fireman as he approached with the others in tow. “What’s up?” “Thought you might want to tell Ms. Norton, here, about your house.”
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“What about it?” “Yours made it through the quake, didn’t it?” “That’s what one of your men told me. Said he got it from one of the other units over the radio. Friend of mine in one of the other units checked to make sure. Our baby was fine, though a little shook up,” said the man in black, a muscular, sandy-haired man with startlingly bright blue eyes, the color of a natural star sapphire. “Your baby? You and Teri don’t – oh, Chiyomi!” said the fire captain, grinning. “I’ll bet she was mad as anything!” “Bob told us she kept saying, ‘Where’s Daddy? Bad Mommy!’ all the time he was there. They checked to make sure she was all right – as you can imagine, the cage we put her in when we checked on her was a bit of a mess, seeds and nuts from her food-dish all over the place (and her water-dish had been spilled, so we refilled that), but she was fine, and other than a few books and whatnot fallen to the floor, the house was in good shape as well. Your man on the radio told me Bob said our backyard barbecue was trashed, though.” “Big deal,” said the woman next to him. She, too, was dressed in black; her blond hair ruffled in a breeze that had suddenly sprung up in the park. At their feet, leaves begin to skirl and scatter across the ground as the breeze began to pick up. “Dale, if that’s all we lost, we’re doing better than about 95% of the other people in the city!” “Yes, darlin’,” the man said, grinning at the woman. “Oh, Ms. Norton, forgive my manners,” said the fire captain. “This is my sensei, Dale Seago, who heads up my dojo, and his wife, Teri Seago.” “Uh, pleased to meet you,” the reporter said, somewhat nonplussed, extending a hand. Briefly, Seago took it, followed by his wife. “Dale and Teri were out here teaching a class this morning when the quake struck,” Lee added. “This . . . morning? That would’ve been . . .” “About five a.m., Ma’am,” Seago told her. “Most of us got here about 3 a.m. to practice tactics useful in the dark,” he told her, “and the rest got here by 5 or so. So we were all here when the quake hit.—” “‘Tactics’?” After exchanging a quick glance with his wife, Seago said, turning back to the reporter, “Yes. I suppose I should say that we are all students of Bujinkan Budo, a school of . . . martial arts that began in 9th-century Japan, and which has been evolving ever since.” Seago told the reporter. “They include skills, er, useful at night. Like, oh, finding your way through a field at night, that sort of thing.” “He sounds like he’s verbally walking on eggs,” Kathy whispered to me. “As a matter of fact, he is,” I said. “From what I’ve heard over the years, our fair state is not real happy about having combat-arts dojos around here, as it is. The . . . comrades and spiritual heirs of the late and unlamented Diane Feinstein would just love to close down every dojo of any kind in this state, and all they need is a good excuse to do it – like reports of a real, honest-to-God ninja school in the Bay Area – which is what he’s really talking about, if you look at the way he’s dressed and all. I don’t blame him at all for being very, very careful about what he says in front of a reporter. The gun-grabbers and the anti-self defense crowd in Sacramento have already made it illegal for us peons to use a gun to defend ourselves effectively against armed attack – give those bastards a chance and they’ll take away our right to use even a pea-shooter to protect ourselves with, which is what Daschle and Congress are working on now, trying to get that amendment passed that would eliminate the Second Amendment once and for all! Great Britain and the EU did that by 2010, after all, and –” “Hold on a minute, Rich, I want to hear this,” she said, making a shushing gesture at me. I didn’t mind – compelled by fascinated horror, I found my attention inexorably drawn to the panorama of catastrophe slowly being revealed on the TV screen. Norton was now asking the Seagos, “How about your, uh, students here? Are their homes all right?” A big man who had come up next to Seago said, “Somebody’s checkin’ for us. That Bob guy and some other firemen around the city. – Uh, sorry, I’m Bill Holly,” he told her, holding out one enormous paw to the reporter. Smiling as she took his hand in her far smaller one, she asked him, “Are you one of Mr. Seago’s students?” “Oh, sure! I’ve been training in his dojo for about five months, now. Moved up here from Los Banos. My sensei there told me to look up Dale, here, when I got here.”
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“Uh, do you think your home is, is all right?” “— If it ain’t, it’s no big deal. I’ve been renting an apartment over on Austin. Little hole-in-the-wall ‘efficiency’ place, two rooms and a bath. My stuff’s still mostly in storage in Los Banos, or at my mom’s down near Bakersfield. I doubt either place suffered much damage – the storage place is way out in the sticks, nothing much around to burn, and Mom lives out in the country, big ol’ frame house that already rode out a bunch of quakes nice as you please. I ain’t worried. Jeff, here, though –” he extended one dark brown arm to indicate a much shorter, blond man with a worried face, who stood a few feet away. Jeff, dressed in camo pants and a green tank-top, shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot when the camera turned to cover him, looking at the ground. “And where do you live, Jeff?” Norton asked, moving forward with mike extended toward the blond man. “Uh, over in Hayward, Ma’am,” he told her. “Wish I knew what was goin’ on back there. They told us to stay here in the park because all the streets are jammed – the ones that aren’t down, that is, like that damned I-880! They rebuilt that thing after the last quake, but we heard it’s down again, pancaked like last time. Killed even more people this time than it did back in 2011 – people trapped in burning cars, crushed under the thing, like last time, only this time structures off to the side got creamed, too.” Jeff, who looked to be about ten years younger than Holly, who was probably around 35, turned and looked off in the distance, toward the smoke-and-flame filled skies east of the park. “I – I know. So you can’t get back to your home?” “No, Ma’am. We have to stay down here for awhile. They said they’re gonna check for us –” “Who is?” “One of Mr. Lee’s dispatchers. He’s been talking with men in units all around the city, police and fire both. And with paramedic teams. They haven’t heard anything yet about my area, though.” “Damn, this isn’t telling us much,” Kathy snarled, holding up the remote again. This time, the channels rolled forward until we hit Channel 7. We were looking at San Francisco again, but this time from a park near to San Francisco’s bayside waterfront. In the distance, to the right, enormous sprays of water arched up from the waterfront into the city itself, pumped up from the bay. To the left and behind, the sky was filled with smoke and flame, as if the entire city were in firestorm. But the park itself, now filled with swarming refugees, police, firemen, and paramedics, along with equipment belonging to the emergency personnel, seemed to be untouched. Cries, shouts, and yells drifted up from the crowds that filled the park. A commentator was saying, voiceover: “— view from Walton Park, where hundreds of refugees from the great fire now sweeping through much of San Francisco have come, trying to find a safe haven. So far, most of the waterfront along San Francisco Bay remains safe from the fire, due to use of the dozens of pumping-stations built along the waterfront there for just such a contingency, pumping water up from the bay into the city to keep the fire at bay. Though most have been heavily damaged by the enormous 8.5+ earthquake that hit San Francisco and California’s other Bay Area cities early this morning and the numerous aftershocks that have come along on its wake, hundreds of homes near the waterfront are still safe from the fire, and fire-fighters are optimistic that that will continue until the fire has finally been conquered. “This is not true, however, of many other areas of the city, such as the heavily developed areas flanking Van Ness Avenue, the western portions of Market Street, and other densely populated parts of the city that are not close to the waterfront and do not have access to the bayside pumping stations.” Now the scene switched to another, one much like Hiroshima must have looked at around 8:30 a.m. Tokyo Time on August 6, 1945. There were no identifiable structures here, only gigantic piles of burning rubble on both sides of a wide street breached by gigantic cracks and crevasses. We were looking down on the area from a helicopter – the whop!-whop!-whop! of its rotors provided a steady underbeat to the commentator’s words – and below us, in all directions, vast flames roared into the sky, along with poisonously dark smoke that hinted of burning paint-shops, gas-stations, and a host of other places filled with highly inflammable and extremely toxic materials. “Oh, my God,” said Kathy, “it looks like World War III!” Feeling dizzy from the effects of cognitive dissonance – I did not want to believe this was really happening, yet had no choice in the matter, for there was no way all the networks and news bureaus would ever have worked together to stage a horrifying practical joke of this magnitude – I began to wonder how long it would be until San Francisco would be given the coup de grace with a thermonuclear bomb. Or Los
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Angeles, maybe, or San Diego. Apparently, from what one announcer had said earlier, several cities in the Midwest or back East had already been nuked. It couldn’t be much longer until the West Coast caught a few nukes, as well. Suddenly, from the far left of the scene on the TV, a small group of people emerged into view. Running into the roadway below from what must have been a side-street but was now so covered with rubble it was hard to tell exactly what it was, the little group clumped together at one side of the roadway, avoiding a large crevasse running down the middle of the roadway. On the screen, the crevasse began in the middle of the picture and ran to someplace beyond the camera’s scope at the bottom of the screen. The camera was too high up for us to make out anything about the individuals in the group other than the fact that some of them were much smaller than the others, and were thus probably children, the rest being adults. “Oh, my God!” Kathy cried. The roadway had suddenly begun to ripple, as if it were a sheet of charcoal-gray water over which the wind was blowing. A moment later, the center of the roadway erupted, enormous flames clawing their way upward from the chasm that had opened in it as if they were trying to attack the very sky. Huge chunks of rubble were blown upward – in fact, one of them may have hit the helicopter, for the camera shimmied for a moment as if something large and heavy had struck it. The little group of people at the side of the road, apparently momentarily stunned by the blast, huddled where they were for a few moments more. Then, at first one by one and then as a whole, they began to draw back from the roadway, into a burned-out field. But they didn’t move fast enough: more ripples flowed along the roadway, and then another eruption took place, this one virtually right beneath the fleeing figures. Moments later, nothing was left where they had been standing but a vast network of cracks in the ground out of which enormous, blue-haloed, bright-orange flames leaped high into the air. “Those had to’ve been more aftershocks,” Kathy told me, shaking her head “They must’ve ruptured a main gas line running underneath the roadbed. Blew up right under those poor people..” “God, I wonder what happened to BART,” I said. “There must have been one hell of a lot of commuters on board when the Big One hit – I don’t even want to think about what must’ve happened to them!” Another scene suddenly replaced the one we’d been watching. It was the main network news bureau. The shaken anchorman said, staring into the camera with the eyes of someone who had suddenly found himself looking into the very bowels of Hell: “You have just seen live coverage of the firestorm now ravaging the city of San Francisco, California. The firestorm, which began as a result of an earthquake measuring at least 8.7 on the Richter scale – larger than the ’quake of 1906, which was also followed by a fire that leveled the city – has been brought to you by one of our on-site news-teams now covering the area by helicopter. We are proud to announce that due to a brand-new technological innovation in television news reporting, we received this footage directly from the helicopter, with no delays, as it was shot from the helicopter. “ A breakthrough in laser technology by Nikon-Mitsubishi Phototronics, affectionately referred to as the ‘laser blip-squirter’ by its creators, has made possible the creation of a camera which, as well as creating a film of the scenes which it is used to shoot, also relays that same information to a digital analyzer, which breaks it down, shot by shot, compresses the data from each shot into a high-energy pulse, and passes the pulse on to a transmitter which in turn beams it to a receiver. The receiver then re-transmits it on, line-of-sight, to another receiver, and so on until the pulse finally reaches us. In most cases the initial receiver is a geosynchronous telecommunications satellite above the horizon of the initial transmitter; the satellite then either relays it on to other satellites or, if it is above the horizon of the news-station which is to receive the information, it transmits it directly to that station. “In short, events filmed on-site can be broadcast as they occur, with virtually no delay between the events themselves and their presentation by a television news network studio, even if the events in question are separated by thousands of miles from the studio and thus below the earth’s horizon from the studio. Using the technology that has made this possible, we have been able to bring you news filmed by our onsite news-team, now flying above San Francisco in one of our news helicopters, just as it is happening. We will –” “The hell with this,” muttered Kathy, holding up the remote. “You told me all about that a month ago, Rich. Let’s get some real news. I wonder what’s going on in Los Angeles right now . . .” Once more she began trolling the channels with the remote, fishing for news we hadn’t seen, cursing each time she found that yet another channel had suddenly gone off the air. In some cases, channels which
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normally had news broadcasts on at this time of day were still on the air, but showed only cartoons, re-runs of ancient sitcoms, and movies about ten days older than God. “Hey, it’s raining!” I exclaimed. Annoyed, she looked around, the TV showing a particularly loathsome episode of I Love Lucy – then, surprised, she cocked her head and listened for a moment. “You’re right – it’s coming down in buckets out there! But – but this is mid-July! And there hasn’t been cloud one in the sky for the last two weeks. Where did it all come from?” “Volcano weather, darlin’ – remember what the announcer said earlier? It wouldn’t be too surprising if it began snowing here later on, though that’s more likely up north of here.” “Oh, that’s right. . . . You think it really could get that cold?” “It’s possible. We’d better make sure all the windows are closed tight, keep the heat in and the rain out.” “It’ll be sweltering in here an hour from now, with everything I’ve got cooking,” she warned me. “If it is, we can open a window again. But we don’t know how much longer the gas will be on – as it is, I’m very surprised that the quake this morning and the aftershocks haven’t already totaled the mains.” “Remember when they re-did all the gas-lines in this area back in 2014, did everything they could to earthquake-proof them? Apparently it worked.” “Will wonders never cease! By some miracle, for once they didn’t contract out the job to the governor’s wastrel brother-in-law or something. As far as I know, Grey Davis didn’t have an honest bone in his body. How could he have missed such an opportunity?” I marveled sardonically. “— So what-all are you cooking out there?” “A big roast I’d forgotten we had in the freezer, for one thing. I zapped it some with the microwave, to start it thawing, then put it in the oven to cook, along with some baking potatoes and onions. There’s a big pot of eggs I’ve got on the stove – when it started boiling, I turned it down to ‘Low’ and left it there, so the eggs will keep on cooking, but not too fast. “We’ve got some fresh vegetables and some frozen ones, too. I cut some of the fresh ones up for salad, but the rest went into a big pot along with the frozen vegetables – peas, carrots, lima beans, and frozen corn. We’d better eat those up first.” “What else?” “Pacific lobster, the one the Harrolds gave us last week and I put into the freezer – I’ve got it boiling away in another pot. Then there are things like margarine, which will keep in a sealed tub, and lots of canned goods, which we’ll keep until we absolutely must open them. There’s some sugar, flour, baking soda, spices, things like that, that’ll keep just fine.” “Bread?” “We used up the last this morning for toast, and I haven’t started a new loaf yet.” “Don’t. Make sure the yeast culture will be okay. If we have that, we can make all we need later if we’ve got enough flour.” “We’ve got plenty,” she told me. “During that shopping expedition we made to the new co-op over on Turnpike we got at least fifty pounds of different kinds of bulk flour, if you’ll remember. Plus several pounds of sea-salt, about a gallon of real cider vinegar (which will keep just about forever), all sorts of things.” “You mean for once we actually got ahead of the game? My God, watch out – Murphy will be after us to rectify the oversight!” I said. “— Well, be that as it – oh, shit, another aftershock!” I cried, grabbing the edge of the computer-desk with one hand to keep myself from falling, using the other hand to steady the computer itself. This one didn’t last very long, though, and did virtually no damage other than to what was left of our nerves and those of the cats, though Kathy’s wall-clock hitched and jerked several times before once more settling back down into a steady movement, losing about half a minute of time in the process. “Here, let’s see if I can get something on the Glass Tit,” I said, holding my hand out for the remote. Kathy gave me the gadget, and I began trolling the channels. Lucy was replaced in succession by ScoobyDoo and his teen-aged human pals involved in one of their more idiotic ghost-hunting projects; a rerun of last week’s episode of American Bandstand, Dick Clark looking more than ever like a degenerate elf and not a day older than 40 (“How does he do it?’ Kathy marveled in disgust. “The blood of virgins?”); Bogy and Bacall together in a scene from Casablanca (“Something’s really gone wrong,” Kathy said, “that’s one of the best movies ever made! They should be showing something like Plan 9 from Outer Space!”); an
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episode from the original Twilight Zone; a panoramic shot from a high window of the Los Angeles Basin, dark brown smoke arising into a still-pristine blue sky at a number of points about the city, an announcer chattering frantically into his microphone – “Stop, Rich!” Kathy cried. “That’s KTLA! Something’s going on down there!” Stunned, I laid down the remote and, with Kathy, watched as the near-hysterical young announcer told us in a rapid-fire torrent of words: “— Hawthorne Boulevard and Imperial Highway! Citizens are warned to avoid the area, as there are several buildings in the vicinity of the blaze that contain potentially explosive or toxic chemicals. Emergency crews are at the scene now, and more are said to be on the way. That fire has apparently been contained, and it is expected that it will be completely under control or extinguished within an hour or two. We should have an update on that situation in just a few minutes. “In the meantime, however, the other potentially catastrophic fires in Compton, Gardena, Huntington Park, South Gate, and other locations around the city are still burning out of control in spite of the efforts of more than a dozen fire departments. Those fires, all of which began within the last hour or so, are all apparently the result of arson by persons unknown for reasons as yet undetermined. We – “— What is it, Larry?” he asked, annoyed at the interruption, turning to look at an even younger man who, looking out of breath and utterly frazzled had just entered the studio. Wordlessly the other man handed the announcer a note. Quickly the announcer looked it over, his expression transmuting from worry and irritation to one which, for just a moment, revealed real alarm. Then, struggling mightily to assume a professional manner, the young man looked up at the camera again and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m afraid that we’re going to be off the air for awhile. I have just received a report that yet another fire has broken out, this one in a warehouse up the street from us, and for our safety we are being evacuated to another location. With luck, within a couple of hours we should –” Suddenly the picture went out, replaced by rainbowed electronic snow. “Uh . . .” I said. “Do you supposed they just nuked Los Angeles?” Kathy said in a strange voice, one so charged with all the terror I was feeling myself that it was a wonder that lightning-bolts weren’t spitting from her mouth. Instead of answering, I looked at my watch as Kathy looked on, fear gradually replaced by annoyance. I held up my other hand to forestall her questions. Finally, after a minute or two, I told her, “In a few minutes we’ll know for sure. Shockwaves from a nuke travel somewhat faster than Mach 1, since they’re coming through the ground rather than the air, which transmits them more slowly. Figure at 6 seconds a mile, it’ll take about 600 seconds, or ten minutes, for the shockwave to get to us. It’s been about three minutes now. In the meantime, let’s see if we can get any other L.A. stations. If we can, they weren’t nuked.” Mutely she nodded her head, as if not trusting herself to speak calmly. “I’ll try to get KTTV – they’re on cable, now,” I told her in the sort of artificially calm, rational voice one uses to try to keep others – not to mention oneself – from panicking. “Here, let’s see . . .” Indeed, a few seconds later, I had KTTV on the set. This time the announcer was an attractive woman in her early forties or so who, posed against a bank of television monitors, was saying: “—went out when one of the fires that have started here in Los Angeles during the last hour or so, this one near the intersection of Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, burned through the complex of cables serving that station. The KTLA station personnel have, however, all been safely evacuated, suffering no casualties in the process, and with luck they hope to be back on the air this evening.” I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding my breath until, with a long sigh of relief, I released it. Taking another, the spots that had been growing before my eyes due to anoxia quickly fading away as blessed oxygen rushed into my system, I looked down at my watch again as the announcer went on telling us about fires and riots breaking out, apparently spontaneously, all over the Los Angeles Basin during the last 60-75 minutes. It still hadn’t been long enough for ground-shock to reach us from Los Angeles if the place had been nuked, but the fact that KTTV’s main studio, which was located on the outskirts of Santa Monica, was still operating without apparent problems was clear evidence that the area hadn’t been hit with nuclear or thermonuclear weapons. Kathy’s eyes met mine. “That sort of answers that, doesn’t it?” she said. “God, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to get a news program before in my entire life!” I told her. “It’s – wait,” I told her as something the announcer said caught my attention. Using the remote, I turned up the volume.
Day of the Dragons By Yael R. Dragwyla Page 9 of 9
Before Kathy could ask me what it was, the announcer, reading from a script that had just been handed to her by a harried-looking female gofer, said: “— just in a few minutes ago: the San Onofre nuclear reactor, located not far from San Clemente, California, about seventy miles north of San Diego, one of the very few still in operation by PG&E, was completely demolished by what is now suspected to have been a low-yield nuclear device. “I repeat: the San Onofre nuclear reactor has been destroyed by what was almost certainly a nuclear device. Do not approach that area for any reason if you are not already in it! While most of the debris from the detonation of the device and the plant itself has fortunately been contained by the bowl of cliffs in which the reactor was sited, that area is open to the ocean on one side, and, according to the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the beachfront for perhaps ten miles to either side of the reactor is now heavily contaminated with fallout that is so ‘hot’ in terms of its radioactivity that an exposure to it of just a minute or two could prove fatal. “The device that was used against the San Onofre reactor is reported to have yielded one kiloton or less of explosive force, a so-called ‘suitcase nuke’ of the type it has long been feared terrorists might use against this country. Though the explosive yield of such a device is not very big in and of itself, when one is used against a nuclear power-plant, the explosion can contaminate very large areas around that plant with tremendously radioactive debris from the plant itself. “The identity of whatever individuals or group used that device against the San Onofre plant is at this time completely unknown. We’ll let you know more as soon as we have any new information on it. “In the meantime, it is strongly urged by federal, state, and local agencies that anyone in Los Angeles County who does not have a good reason to be going anywhere at this time please stay where you are! Emergency crews are trying to get to the fires now raging at various points across the Los Angeles Basin, and in some cases have not been able to get through due to traffic congestion in certain areas. Furthermore, civilians who enter the areas where the fires are burning are in grave danger from both the fires and from the swarms of people who have gathered in many areas to loot whatever they can and set still more fires. Please, except in all-out emergency conditions, do not go into the areas where the fires are burning or the riots have begun! The police cannot guarantee the safety of anyone who –” “Shit,” I muttered as the picture on the screen dissolved into a swirling mass of brightly-colored electronic confetti. “Guess this one is out, too.” “Rich, I’d better go check on the food, make sure the eggs and vegetables aren’t boiling themselves dry,” Kathy told me, getting to her feet. She looked happy at having an excuse to not continue watching the TV – there were lines of strain etched into her features that hadn’t been there this morning, and for the first time in our marriage I noticed grey hair at her temples. How long had that been there, and I hadn’t noticed? “Sure, darlin’. Uh, what’s for lunch?” “I’ll make you some sandwiches, use up the last of that lunch-meat we’ve got in there,” she told me as she headed for the door. “What do you want on them?” “Mustard, butter, the usual.” “Sure. Want something to drink?” she asked me, pausing in the doorway. “What’ve we got?” “We’ve still got two six-packs of Coke, plus half a gallon of milk.” “I’ll have the milk. Let’s save the Coke for now – I’ve got a hunch we’ll want it on hand later,” I told her, that idea I’d had earlier back from the dead and ready to boogie. She made a question mark at me with one eyebrow. “Tell you later, darlin’,” I told her. “Right now I’m not sure. Anyway, the milk’s fine, and we need to use it up before it goes bad, anyway.” “All right,” she said, heading for the kitchen, Rumpleteazer, as was her wont when she smelled something good cooking, following her in front of her. “I’ll bring in your sandwiches in a bit.” While Mungojerry, who had stayed behind with me, curled up on a nearby chair and began a nap, I started trolling through the channels again. I got lucky: trying a local station, Channel 93, on a hunch, I got: “— CNN news,” a slender, vivacious blond woman in a trim red dress, posed against a backdrop of the station’s Eye-in-the-Triangle logo, was saying. “We now switch to Cal Tech’s seismic laboratory in Pasadena, California, where Doctor Anson Adams, director of Cal Tech’s geology department, has more information on the quakes that have been ravaging the Pacific Northwest and nearby areas for the last few hours. Doctor Adams?”
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