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First North American rights 3,500 words
The Eris War
Volume II: The Dragon from the Isles
Book 1: Independence Day
Chapter 8: Baby the Rain Must Fall
Channel after channel flickered by, some just filled with rainbow static, the electronic ghosts of dead stations. Other channels, as before, offered only reruns of old sitcoms, Saturday morning kiddy shows, ancient movies that neither of us had any interest in. From time to time the picture on the screen shimmied a little as yet another part of the Grid went down, sending a huge surge through the lines that even our Godzilla-sized UPS was hard-put to compensate for. Then the rest of the Grid took up the slack once more, but with more and more lag and hesitancy as the Grid slowly died. So far, however, except for poor Seattle, this coast hadn’t been nuked. Maybe, if we avoided that fate here in the western half of the country, eventually the power companies would be able to somehow separate our half of the Grid from the eastern half, so we would only have to deal with our own outages and not theirs. If so, maybe we could recover from this yet. Maybe – “— KTLA 5!” exclaimed the announcer of the station Cathy had finally managed to sift out of the electronic chaos of cable-space. “We will return to our live coverage of events now taking place in the Pacific Northwest in just a moment. But first, we bring you an interview with Dr. John Peterson, Director of Planetary Science Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, concerning the scientific analysis which his unit has been conducting all morning on the data that has been received there on the massive eruptions in Washington State early this morning and the earthquakes that have ravaged the West Coast since then. – George?” “Yes, Jan.”
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“George, you were about to introduce our viewers to Dr. Gerald Peterson, Directory of Planetary Science Studies at UCLA, and ask him to tell us the latest scientific information available concerning the earthquakes that have shaken the West Coast this morning.” We were now looking at two men, one of them a dapper, youngish man dressed in a gray suit that had probably set him back several hundred dollars, the other around forty-five or fifty, with thinning dark hair and intense blue eyes. Behind and around them was an impressive array of equipment, including computer work-stations, numerous television monitors, and various items of unknown purpose. There were also a great many other people in the room, most of them male, tie-less and in shirt-sleeves, enormous sweatpatches darkening their clothing, looking harried and worried, working feverishly at their computers or running madly hither and yon through the large room that housed them and their equipment. The reporter was extending a hand-mike toward the older man, saying, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is George Hirai, a reporter with KTLA 5 news. As you doubtless know by now, we have pre-empted all our usual programming in order to be able to bring you the latest news on the catastrophic events which, beginning about 4:30 a.m. this morning, have plunged the West Coast of the United States and much of the rest of the Pacific Rim into chaos. At that early hour, as you have probably learned by now, the detonation of a thermonuclear device in the Puget Sound area of Washington State triggered the simultaneous eruption of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, and several other volcanoes in the Cascade Mountain chain, which in turn apparently set off a number of huge earthquakes up and down our West Coast. “With me now is Dr. Gerald Peterson, Director of Planetary Science Studies at the Mt. Wilson Seismological Laboratory of the University of California, Los Angeles. For the last two or three hours, Dr. Peterson and his staff have been analyzing seismological and other data on the disastrous events of this morning. Dr. Peterson, what can you tell us about the disaster in Washington state and the swarm of earthquakes that has plagued our West Coast this morning?” Taking the microphone which Hirai extended to him, Peterson said, “Thank you, Mr. Hirai. Well, we do now know quite a bit about the eruptions that have effectively destroyed Western Washington State, but we are still catching up with the earthquakes that followed those eruptions. However, I can definitely say a few things about those quakes” Suddenly the picture shimmied. Hirai, his eyes gone huge, staggered to one side, managing to grasp the edge of a nearby heavy GI desk and use it to keep himself from falling over as the picture bucked and wriggled. Dr. Peterson had likewise clutched at another desk to keep himself upright. Finally the picture settled down. The two men relaxed a little, both of them looking dazed. “Another quake, Doctor?” “That it was, Mr. Hirai, that it was.” “Is – is everything all right in here? And please call me ‘George.’” “Surely, George. As long as you call me ‘Jerry,’ all my friends do. – I don’t think we’re in any danger here,” Peterson said, pulling a large, rumpled handkerchief from his pocket and using it to mop his forehead, which was running rivers of sweat. “This building was designed to withstand anything up to an earthquake of 8.5 or greater on the Richter Scale – after all, we can’t have our seismological facilities brought down by a mere earthquake, now can we? Think how embarrassing it would be!” he laughed shakily. “Er, yes,” Hirai said, dusting himself off and straightening his tie. He looked as if he’d have loved to strip off that heavy coat and constricting tie, as everyone else present had, but didn’t quite dare. “Uh, Dr. Peterson – I mean, Jerry – Jerry, could you tell us something about these . . . quakes?” “Yes, certainly. Right now, we are pretty sure that there will continue to be aftershocks throughout the West Coast and even in parts of the Midwest. Did you know they felt the initial quake, the one in Washington State that resulted from the eruptions there this morning, as far east as Chicago, Texas, even New York State? It was rather like the New Madrid quake of 1813, which knocked trees over in California, some 2,000 miles westward of New Madrid. “At any rate, the eruptions and that first, gigantic earthquake in Washington State, which we now think may have exceeded 10.0 on the Richter Scale, as you can imagine put enormous stress both on the North American tectonic plate, where these originated. In turn, these transferred much of that stress to adjacent plates, especially the Pacific Plate, which extends well out into the Pacific Ocean to the west, and slides beneath the North American Plate to the east, something that is intimately bound up with the infamous tectonic instability of that area, a condition that has been the norm there for millions of years.
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“In reaction, over the last several hours, regions as far east of Washington State as North and South Dakota, as far north as Victoria Island, which is part of the Yukon Province of Canada, as far south as Sonora, Mexico, and as far west as Japan, China, and Vietnam have experienced earthquakes and aftershocks of varying intensity. In general, the closer to the area in which the original eruptions took place, the stronger those quakes have been, and the more time that has passed since those eruptions, the weaker they are. However, there have been some exceptions to this. For example, while San Francisco, which is some 500 or 600 miles away from Mt. Rainier and Western Washington State, suffered an enormous earthquake this morning at about 5:30 a.m., of intensity 8.3 or greater, plus numerous aftershocks since then of intensities varying from as low as 3.3 to as high as 7.9 or greater, Northern California from Redding north to the California-Oregon border has experienced only a few minor jolts of no higher than 3.1 on the Richter scale. “Why this is so we do not yet know. Doubtless it has much to do with the chemical and physical composition of the earth’s crust and mantle under all the affected regions of the earth, and I imagine we will learn a great deal about such things from the data we are gathering here today. “We expect that numerous additional aftershocks will continue to hit much of the Pacific Northwest and the rest of the West Coast as well as many surrounding areas throughout the remainder of this day, and probably for many days to come. Many of these could be quite severe, up to 7.0 or greater in intensity. In fact, aftershocks, though generally of significantly lower intensity than the original quakes which they follow, could continue for as much as several months, because the Pacific Rim in general and the West Coast in particular are so very seismically active anyway. Cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and other great Pacific Rim cities could be very dangerous for their occupants for at least the next few days, and possibly for many weeks or months to come.” “That’s . . . that’s very interesting.” “You must live here in the Los Angeles Basin yourself – you might want to find a place to stay well outside of the city for the next few days, perhaps in the Mojave or in some other area where the danger won’t be so great ” “Well, I’m afraid that isn’t possible, sir. After all, the, uh, news must go through . . .” Hirai laughed weakly. “Tell me: we’ve been hearing some things about the possibility that the eruptions in Washington State could affect the weather here on this coast. Do you know anything about that?” “I . . . well, my colleagues over in Meteorological Sciences might be better prepared to answer that one than I am. I’m a seismology man, myself. However, I do know that due to the detonation of the thermonuclear bomb in Puget Sound that set off those eruptions early this morning, as well as the eruptions themselves, an incalculably vast amount of dust and gases of all kinds has been released into the upper atmosphere of our world. That could in turn bring about a situation made famous by the scenario postulated by astronomers and various other scientists, which they call ‘impact winter’ or, more recently, ‘nuclear winter.’ Depending upon exactly what sort of material the eruptions injected into the atmosphere, how much of it was released by the eruptions, and how high into the atmosphere it was sent, we might expect a significant lessening of the amount of sunlight reaching the ground over the whole of the Northern Hemisphere, maybe even the planet itself, for periods that could last several months or more, perhaps years. “And, of course, the tremendous forest-fires we’ve heard are now raging throughout Oregon, Idaho, and Northern California as a result of flaming debris coming from the initial eruptions will put additional material into the atmosphere, which could make the problem even worse.” “What sort of problems would that cause, Dr. – uh, Jerry? – And by ‘significant lessening of sunlight,’ what do you mean? Just how bad will it get? Will it be dark at high noon, or what?” “Actually, no, it shouldn’t be that bad, not by any means. But there could be a drop of as much as 510% or more of insolation – incoming sunlight – received at ground-level, even at altitudes of a mile or more, over the entire Northern Hemisphere, or even the planet as a whole. That would be enough to make for a much colder Spring and Summer, causing extensive damage to crops and greatly lowering the amount of food harvested in the late Summer and Fall of this year. “In fact, we expect that because so much water-vapor was injected into the atmosphere from the initial eruptions – water is relatively plentiful in magma, and a great deal of magma, as you can imagine, was released by those eruptions – we can expect that much of the West Coast and areas inland from it, as well as a good deal of the Pacific Ocean, will experience heavy rains by this afternoon or this evening – and may be experiencing it even as we speak. And those rains should continue in many places for several days and
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maybe longer, depending upon meteorological factors that were already in place throughout that area at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time, when those eruptions took place. We –” “‘Water’? How much water is there in magma, anyway, uh, Jerry?—” “A lot. Hydrogen and oxygen, the elements that make up water, are among the most plentiful elements in the universe, and this holds true for the earth’s mantle and core, as well. That they frequently combine to form water under the extreme pressures and temperatures of those regions deep within our planet is no surprise – the core and mantle are gigantic chemical factories for the production of everything from molten granite and basalt and similar materials to liquids and gases of every kind. Once formed, water, being one of the more stable compounds in the universe, does not easily break down again. So, once formed out of free hydrogen and oxygen, or, at any rate, oxygen liberated from other compounds by free hydrogen (which, under almost all conditions, will combine more readily with oxygen than with any other element), that water will remain down there until released into our atmosphere by an eruption of some sort, or as a result of material welling to the surface in other ways. “To understand just how much water may be down there, many scientists now believe that almost all the water on the surface of our world got there as a result of volcanic eruptions and related processes. And there is no reason to think that the processes that brought that water into being ever ceased. There may be as much water still down there, in the form of vapor dispersed throughout the molten material that makes up our world’s inner layers, as there is in all the world’s oceans today.” Hirai gave a long, low whistle, then said, “That’s an awful lot of water, Jerry!” “Yes, it is. Countless billions of tons. And, as I just said, there may be as much below ground, or more, than there is above. “At any rate, when the water-vapor released by this morning’s eruptions reaches a certain elevations in the Earth’s atmosphere, due to the increasing cold at those heights it will condense out of the atmosphere, the particulate matter vented along with it providing ‘seeds’ for such condensation. Spreading in all directions as the day wears on, by nightfall the clouds formed by the condensation of this water-vapor will cover much of the Pacific Basin as well as the entire West Coast of North America, and possibly much of the Midwest. By nightfall, if not before, with the temperature-drop that comes with it, we will have rain. A great deal of it.” “They say that into every life a little rain must fall, Jerry – but they also say that every cloud has a silver lining. Won’t all that rain help put out the forest-fires now devastating so much of the Pacific Northwest?”’ “Exactly, George! Go to the head of the class!” Peterson told the other man, laughing broadly. “I wish all my students were that astute! Yes, that’s one good thing about all this: the eruptions may actually provide a good deal of damage-control for their own aftermath. We have heard that dark clouds have already massed over much of Oregon and are steadily expanding southward and eastward, toward California and Idaho, something that will give a great deal of happiness to everyone out there fighting those fires and all those living in those areas. “The downside of this, however, is twofold. First, once the fires are out, the burned-over areas of land could be subject to severe flooding. They may have to begin evacuating large portions of the Willamette River Valley in Oregon and the Clearwater and Snake River areas of Idaho, for just that reason. “Worse, however, is that not only may the driving rains themselves heavily damage many crops throughout the West Coast and in other areas, but the general reduction of sunlight over a period of weeks, months, even years, due to all the dust and ash lofted high into the earth’s atmosphere from those eruptions could make for a much shorter growing-season in many areas of the Northern Hemisphere, significantly change weather-patterns throughout our hemisphere, and in many other ways create enormous problems for farmers, leading to growing food-shortages. “Mind you, the amount by which the sunlight is reduced by this will not, on the average, be noticeable to anyone save in the areas closest to the initial eruptions. That is, on a clear day the amount of sunlight will on average seem to be pretty much that normal for that time of year and that area of our planet. But that’s on a clear day – and clear days may be noticeably scarcer than they have been, just about everywhere, for some time to come. “But it may not be anywhere near as bad as the ‘nuclear winter’ scenario postulated by scientists such as Dr. Carl Sagan and his colleagues. Their scenario is predicated on assumptions that thousands of multimegaton thermonuclear weapons would be used virtually simultaneously on most of the world’s major industrial, urban, and military areas, causing the burning of countless millions of acres of buildings, forests,
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industrial complexes, and so forth, as well as throwing tons and tons of dust and ash into the upper atmosphere due to the bomb-bursts themselves. Due to the combustion of so much material, combined with all that dust and ash, a blanket of dark smoke would cover the entire Northern Hemisphere and much of the Southern Hemisphere for weeks, months, even years. “So far, at least, that’s not the case here. We have had one humongous series of volcanic eruptions this morning, true, but they have all been concentrated all in one relatively small place. The forest-fires triggered by them are likewise confined to some sections of the Pacific Northwest. Yes, San Francisco and a couple of other major cities on the West Coast are in flames, due to the savage earthquakes they suffered this morning, and we have heard that a few of our major cities as well as some in Europe have been attacked by what might be thermonuclear bombs. Now that’s bad, very bad, and I do not mean to belittle the hellish conditions which so many people are now experiencing as a result. “But there’s a vast difference between those events and a total thermonuclear holocaust unleashed on the whole world! We may have a couple of bad growing seasons here in the Northern Hemisphere, and maybe a few nasty Winters until the dust settles out. But unless things have gotten totally out of hand and World War III really has started, we should be back to normal, more or less, within a year or two, and maybe, with any luck, within just a few months. Whereas in a worst-case scenario such as that postulated by Dr. Sagan and his colleagues, it’s possible that the whole world could be sent into an ice age for millennia as a result, billions of people dying within a few months from the combined effects of cold, starvation, disease, and so forth. “The problem, though, is that –” Suddenly the channels began rolling again. “Aw, honey – that was interesting! Why can’t we –” “Because, Rich, it is, in the words of the good author Rob McCammon, just a little frosting on the shitcake. It doesn’t tell us jack-shit about whatever’s going on up there in Washington, or whether we’re about to find ourselves in the middle of an all-out thermonuclear war or worse,” she told me, clearly shaken – the only time she used all-out obscenities was in moments of enormous emotional stress. “If we all make it through this mess in any kind of shape, you’ll be able to read up on all those cute little scientific details in the next issue of Science or something – and if you want to know if it’s going to rain tonight or any other time, you can look out the window.” “Yeah, yeah, Cathy, I know – but things like this matter. Long-term, broad-scale changes in weatherpatterns matter, because they affect everything – the price of food, whether there’s going to be food, politics, you name it. But this – the thing that happened up there in Washington State early this morning matters one hell of a lot more. On top of that, Cathy, look – we’ve been nuked! They keep saying several of our cities have been nuked, not just Seattle! What do you think the odds are that it won’t happen again? That’s what I want to find out more about, dammit! So let’s keep channel-surfing until we find something about that!” Looking a little shaken, Cathy mumbled something that sounded like agreement. Then, turning back to the TV and using the remote again, she suddenly stopped at a chaotic riverside scene in which countless people milled about in all directions, several huge Bell medevac helicopters, dozens of jeeps and other official-looking vehicles, and squads of armed soldiers in the background. “Hey, this might tell us something – that looks like the Columbia River!” she exclaimed.
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