Excerpt for The Third Wave: Eidolon by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

THE THIRD WAVE: EIDOLON

A Novel by John O’Brien

Published by John O’Brien at Smashwords

Copyright © 2017 John O’Brien



All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review, without permission in writing from the author. You may contact the author at John@anewworldseries.com


Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Cover art by: Dean Samed

Conzpiracy Digital Arts

http://www.conzpiracy.co.uk





Dedicated to my lovely wife, Tiffany. You put up with a lot and thanks for staying in there with all of the time I spend at the keyboard. You’re the best!

This series is a fictional work. While some of the locations in the series describe actual locations, this is intended only to lend an authentic theme. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.



Also by John O’Brien

A New World Series

A NEW WORLD: CHAOS

A NEW WORLD: RETURN

A NEW WORLD: SANCTUARY

A NEW WORLD: TAKEN

A NEW WORLD: AWAKENING

A NEW WORLD: DISSENSION

A NEW WORLD: TAKEDOWN

A NEW WORLD: CONSPIRACY

A NEW WORLD: RECKONING

A NEW WORLD: STORM

Companion Books

A NEW WORLD: UNTOLD STORIES

A NEW WORLD: UNTOLD STORIES 2

A Shrouded World

A SHROUDED WORLD: WHISTLERS

A SHROUDED WORLD: ATLANTIS

ARES Virus

ARES VIRUS: ARCTIC STORM

ARES VIRUS: WHITE HORSE

ARES VIRUS: PHOENIX RISING

Authors Note

So, this was an interesting book to write. The premise of the story came to me one evening a long while ago while staring at the ceiling. I began writing on it and then the energy just faded, so I jumped over to the ARES Virus series while this one lingered on my hard drive. Once I pulled it back up, the story was there again and it didn’t want to end. We fought long hours and both of us ended up on the floor, beaten and bloodied. The story wanted to be a two book series, I wanted a stand-alone novel. In the end, we compromised with a longer book.

I love the creatures inside, ones that are nightmarish to me. And the premise is an interesting one. After all, we’re just a ball of rock hurtling through space circling a huge furnace. In some instances, I’ve kept things simplified in order to keep the flow of the story. I will also mention that some locations, distances, etc. are complete figments of my imagination, whereas some locations are real.

I want to throw a couple of disclaimers in before we begin the tale. These may be somewhat of a spoiler, but I feel them necessary. First, I realize normal EMP blasts may not affect electronics or batteries as indicated in the following pages, but there also has never been one as powerful as depicted in the story. For the sake of the story, the affects depicted follow a powerful solar storm. It also might be that such an event may strip away part of the atmosphere, but that would make for a very short tale.

Second, many of you with an understanding of quantum physics will shake your head at the simplicity with which I’ve stated several aspects. Observation of photons means an interaction of light particles, thus the altered behavior between being observed and not. I didn’t want to break up the story by an in-depth explanation of the quantum world—like I could anyhow. I wanted to keep things simplified so as to not interrupt the flow. And, please keep in mind that this is merely a story.

The locations and distances are purely figments of my imagination, but are based on the localized terrain in the areas mentioned. The actual sites mentioned are real.

The focus of this story is on a few individuals thrown into the chaos of an apocalyptic event. At first, I wanted to focus on just a couple and turn this book into a long, depressing journey across the country much like The Road. But, as with all of my stories to day, it changed the moment the first word was put on paper. Even though I fought with this one more than any other, I just tell the story and what you will find on the next pages is what it wanted.

So, without any further ado, let’s get on with it. I hope you enjoy it.

John


Table of Contents

Prologue

Solar Aftermath

Third Wave

Introductions

Sam Donaldson—Part 1

Sergeant Reynolds—Part 1

Commander Lawrence—Part 1

Sergeant Reynolds—Part 2

Sam Donaldson—Part 2

Erin Donaldson—Part 1

Sergeant Reynolds—Part 3

Epilogue

About the Author

Connect with me online

Prologue

White House, Oval Office: December

“And that’s what happens in the end? Really?”

“Yes, sir.”

“After telling a story that long, that’s how it ends? Are you sure?”

“Yes, but it does have a certain symmetry to it.”

The president, the click of his heels echoing in the large corridor, sighed, saying nothing.

“I’m sorry, Mr. President, but you did ask.”

“I know, but now I’m sorry I did. I don’t even want to read the last one.”

“You asked, Mr. President.”

“I know, but now, well, I wish I had more time to read, and I wish I didn’t have to ask you how that one finished. And get the author on the phone. We’re going to have to talk about that ending.”

With a chuckle, the chief of staff nodded. “I’m on it, sir.”

Ten minutes late for his next meeting, President Kelson, with his chief of staff and usual entourage of secret service in tow, entered the Oval Office. This day, like most of them, was filled with endless meetings. His staff could handle most of them, but it seemed like everyone wanted the president’s ear. In the room, several men set down their cups on matching saucers and rose from where they were sitting in wait on the facing couches. Nods and murmurs of “Mr. President” accompanied his entrance. The chief of staff introduced each of the men and women present, Kelson shaking their hands in greeting.

“Forgive my lateness,” Kelson said, taking a seat in a chair situated at the end of the couches.

Byron Stoles, NASA’s assistant administrator, resumed his seat. Sitting next to him and on the other couch were members of his staff, brought along in case the president had more technical questions that they could readily respond to.

“Mr. President. I know you’re busy, so I’ll try to be brief,” Byron stated, setting a thick folder on his own lap.

“You’d be one of the few,” Kelson stated drily.

A few chuckles came from the group and Kelson was reminded of his service as an Army captain long ago. They had just completed an IG (Inspector General) inspection. He and the rest of the division officers had been ushered into one of the base’s auditoriums to listen to their commanding general give the results and administer praise. They had done well. His first thought was of an old axiom, handed down since the beginning of the armed forces—there were two types of outfits: those ready for combat and those ready to pass an inspection. One was not the other.

The general had made a joke, to which those gathered erupted with the expected laughter. One of the other company commanders leaned over and whispered, “A general’s joke is always funny. A lieutenant colonel can tell the same joke and get a murmured chuckle, a full bird colonel will get polite laughter, but a general, well, it’s the funniest thing ever heard.”

Kelson had chuckled at that, and replied: “And a master sergeant?”

“I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one tell a joke. I’d be scared to laugh, though, in case they were being serious. In which case, they’d bite our heads off. If they wanted us to laugh, they’d tell us,” the captain replied.

The two had gone on to be great friends after that, keeping in touch during deployments. Kelson had gone on to become president; Matt had lost his life long ago to an IED in the desert.

Emerging from the reverie, Kelson came back to the present, aware that all heads had turned toward him, waiting.

“Again, my apologies. It’s been a busy day. Please…continue.”

With a nod, Byron placed a hand on the folder in his lap. “I’m not sure how much of this report you’ve been able to read.”

“I admit that I’ve only perused the synopsis,” Kelson interrupted.

“I don’t blame you, really. The bottom line of the report, and the purpose of this meeting, is only to inform you that we are heading into a peak in the cycle of solar activity. As you probably know, solar activity fluctuates between periods of maximum and minimum activity on an eleven-year cycle. This year, we’ll be entering the solar maximum,” Byron stated.

“And what exactly will that entail?’ Kelson asked.

“Well, we can expect three to five solar activities per day, as opposed to one every few days.”

“And will those interfere with our communications?”

“We don’t expect so. We’ve come a long way in our ability to shield electronics aboard our satellites, but that still doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s difficult to predict, but even if a CME follows a large flare, the odds of it being in our path are low.”

“CME?” Kelson asked.

“Coronal Mass Ejection, Mr. President,” Byron responded. “Many, but not all solar flares are accompanied by an ejection of the sun’s surface material. That is what causes most of the interference with our satellite communications and problems with our power grid.”

“Very well, and how much warning can we expect to have should something like that happen?”

“That’s difficult to accurately predict. At a normal rate of travel, the particles ejected from the sun take four to six days to reach us. However, they can travel faster or slower, depending on the energy of the CME.”

“Historically speaking, has there been much trouble during these cycles of heavy activity?”

“Not really. There have been instances of power grid failures, limited communications, short outages of GPS satellites, and back in the day, telegraph operators getting shocked. But, in the past three cycles, there hasn’t been anything more serious than the loss of a few satellites—nothing we couldn’t recover from.”

“And, if something does occur, we’ll more than likely get a four-day warning of it heading our way?”

“Yes, Mr. President. But, I want to be clear that this may not be the case. That number of days is only an average.”

“If it happens, let’s hope it’s in the summer. It’s far too cold outside for us to lose power now.”

“Here’s to hoping that it’s a quiet cycle and nothing happens at all.”

“Agreed. Very well, Mr. Stoles. Thank you,” Kelson said, rising and shaking Byron’s hand. “And thank your staff for their hard work.”

“Well, what do you think?” Kelson asked his chief of staff, following the usual smiles and handshakes of a meeting’s end.

“I think, with that amount of warning, we should be able to effectively coordinate our activities overseas.”

“And our military actions?”

“Those included, sir.”

“Very well. Coordinate a message to the defense and state departments, letting them know of the possible ramifications. Include a note to the DoD to structure their operations around the possibility that they’ll either need to scale back if we get a notice, or at least include it in their plans.”

“Will do, sir,” the chief stated, penning notes into the notebook always in hand.

“I can’t wait until Christmas finally arrives so I can take a break. Okay, now, what energy-draining meeting is next on the agenda?”

* * * * * *

CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), Switzerland: December

Werner Ulstaadt stared at the BLT lying against the white background of the plate. Long lengths of bacon poked out from the edges of the sourdough slices. Calculating the sheer number of calories in the extra bacon he had added, he figured it would take at least two miles on the treadmill to work it off…if he even decided to step onto it later that evening.

With a shrug, he lifted the tray and walked across the polished black and white tiled linoleum floor. Amid a background murmur of various conversations drifting in the large lunchroom, Werner spied his comrade and close friend eating alone in one of the far corners. Nearing, he watched his friend empty a sugar packet into a steaming cup of coffee.

“It’ll never work,” Werner said, setting his tray on the table.

Without looking up, Karl responded: “No, I’m pretty sure the liquid’s warmth will dissolve the sugar, Werner.”

“While you are correct in that regard, I’m referring to the attempt next week,” Werner stated, taking a seat.

“I’m well aware of your theories…we’re all aware of them.”

“It has to do with points of observation. Or the matter of being observed at all,” Werner said.

“The particles have been mathematically proven to exist…even you admit that. We even won the award on that matter…so to speak,” Karl countered, both of them falling into a familiar conversation.

“You’ll never find the theoretical particles, though. Just the fact of observation will alter the results. And you know that…being observed will change the nature of the quantum particles. The two-slit test…”

“I know about the experiment’s results. I’m not some physics 101 student, Werner,” Karl interrupted.

“If the observation only measures the impacts, then it shows wave pattern results in that they appear to pass through both holes at once,” Werner said, ignoring Karl’s statement. “If we instead observe their track, the behavior alters and the proton only moves through a single hole, forming the expected two-ring pattern. The method of observation changes the proton’s behavior.”

With a sigh, Karl leaned forward, cupping his chin in his hands, ready for the expected dialogue to follow. It was a familiar pattern, not unlike the behavior of an observed proton. Werner would explain the observed versus unobserved quantum particle behavior, knowing that the interaction with light particles was the likely culprit, before they moved into a discussion revolving around their current experiments to locate said quantum particles.

“I know that the mathematics demonstrate that the particles have to exist, but the fact that you are observing them to begin with will alter their behavior, Karl. As you know, the quantum world isn’t only the building blocks of matter as we know it, but it also represents the possibility of all things that could be. Only through observation are the possibilities brought into reality,” Werner continued.

“But, according to what you say, we’ll never be able to observe those particles…never go beyond a certain point to see them, other than on a chalkboard.”

“Exactly my point. Thus, this,” Werner indicated the CERN facility with a sweep of his arm, “is pointless in that regard.”

“Yet, here you are,” Karl stated.

“Yet, here I am. Your failures are my successes, in a way.”

“Because your theories can’t be proven, either.”

“Precisely.”

“So, you’re hoping we fail again next week,” Karl said.

“No, not at all, my friend. I hope you succeed because that will open up so many new opportunities and theories. It would mean we may have found a way to observe the realm of possibilities…and open up so many more. Of course, there is also a very frightening prospect if, over time, the observations become attempts at control,” Werner replied.

“But, we have to find it first. And not just with a bunch of numbers on a board.”

“That we do,” Werner said, biting into the calorie-ridden sandwich.

* * * * * *

SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) Satellite, 22,000 miles from earth: June

Surrounded by the cold emptiness of space, the SDO satellite, nicknamed Little SDO, completed yet another geosynchronous figure-eight orbit. Its function, were it to realize that it had one, was to study the sun in order to better understand solar variances and the impacts they had upon the earth.

Lifelessly and without feeling, it recorded events taking place on the surface of the sun. The images it sent back to earth in multiple spectrums awed and amazed those who saw the high-definition pictures. Little SDO didn’t know how fascinating the videos of the solar flares arcing gracefully above the surface were to its creators far below. It recorded, analyzed as per its instructions, and streamed the data across the dark reaches of space.

It had received instructions some time ago to turn its eyes toward a large sunspot. Pointed as such, it recorded yet another arching flare from the surface. Its unfeeling sensory inputs didn’t widen with amazement at the size of the arching flare. Nor did they gasp in alarm as the super-heated gasses rapidly snapped back to the surface—with such speed as to leave one wondering if it was really there to begin with. That was, if the satellite were capable of wonder. To the SDO, it was just another event to monitor and record.

With its instruments recording, Little SDO caught the sudden ejection of a large mass of heated matter from the sun’s surface, propelled by the flare snapping back to the surface with such force. Sensors focused on the new event, measuring and analyzing according to its programming. It then plotted the path of the emerging solar storm and compared it with the orbital path of the earth. Satisfied that the data met the preset instructions nestled within its circuitry, Little SDO opened its communications network and sent an alarm across the cold emptiness.

* * * * * *

Goddard Space Center, Maryland

The transmission took a little more than a tenth of a second to reach the communications array situated near the Goddard Space Center in Maryland. Computer processors received the signal, evaluated its importance, and escalated it to the front of the queue. To any person on the outside, the time required would seem negligible, nearly non-existent. To the processors handling the queue, it was the equivalent of shaving days off the transmission. Routing the signal like an air traffic controller, the alarm was directed to its intended designation.

* * * * * *

At first, it was noticed only on a subliminal level. Then, the persistent beeping finally intruded through the layers of deep concentration. With a sigh of frustration, Susan looked up from editing the story she was hoping to finish in time to submit for publication in that month’s journal. She had been working on the document for some time, ever since she was assigned to the SDO project.

“Night shifts were supposed to be slow,” she muttered.

A flashing red light, in tune with the beeping, appeared next to one of the nearby consoles. Marking her place on the red-lined document, she slid her wheeled chair over to the monitor. At the screen, Susan observed several lines of data that were highlighted and flashing. With several keystrokes, the alarm was silenced and the flashing red light went dark. She then returned her attention to the flashing numbers. Seeing the values, she rubbed her eyes and looked again, her heartbeat rising when the numbers didn’t change.

Sliding over to an adjacent console, she pulled up a video being sent from the satellite far above. Seeing that it corresponded with the numbers being shown, she picked up the phone and called her supervisor. After relaying the numbers and her observations, the questions began.

“Yes, sir, I have validated them. The numbers are correct,” Susan stated into the mouthpiece. “It’s moving fast. Initial estimates place it at hitting in nearly twenty-eight hours, although those are just preliminary numbers. I’ll have more data soon and will be able to pinpoint its speed.

“Yes, sir. At its present speed, computer modeling predicts a 67 percent chance of the outer edge of the solar storm impacting earth.

“Yes, sir. I’ll initiate the recall. See you soon,” Susan said.

She replaced the cradle momentarily before picking it up again to start dialing a series of cell phones.

* * * * * *

Bodies were packed tightly around the monitor, shoulders squeezing together as Susan replayed the video. All eyes were focused on the screen as they watched the large flare arc outward, one of the largest any had ever witnessed, and circle around within the magnetic field of the sun. It would be a beautiful sight if it weren’t for what followed. More awful than awesome, the fear it created in each of them, elevating their heartbeats and releasing a flow of adrenaline, made it seem like a monster rising from the depths of a lake.

Eyes stared at the video as the solar flare suddenly snapped back to the corona, traveling the distance from its outermost limit back to the surface faster than any of those watching would have thought possible. There was a moment of calm—then the surface erupted. Heated gasses and material were thrown into space in one of the largest corona mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded. The room was silent as everyone watched in awe, and with no small amount of dread. In their thoughts, each in a different way, they knew that humankind had now stepped into the unknown.

“What’s the current data show?” Susan’s supervisor asked, interrupting the awed silence.

Sliding to the side, Susan’s chair momentarily getting hung up on feet before they shuffled out of the way, she brought up the screen showing the raw data.

“At the moment, it appears that the CME is traveling at nearly 2,000 kms. That would place it within earth’s orbit in twenty-one hours, plus or minus four to six hours,” Susan replied.

“That’s the largest solar storm we’ve ever recorded,” a voice in the back stated.

“And the chance of earth impact?” the supervisor asked, ignoring the comment.

“With the increase in trajectory speed, 83 percent,” Susan answered.

“That’s too close for comfort. Initiate a full recall.”

“Shall we begin the alert notifications?” Susan asked.

“No. I’ll be contacting the director within the minute. Stand by and keep monitoring. We’re going to want up-to-date numbers on notice.”

* * * * * *

Air Force One, somewhere over the Atlantic

President Kelson lay on his back atop the covers, his fingers linked together behind his head. His eyes were closed yet he remained awake, enjoying a moment of peace that was a rarity in the life of a leader of state. The refreshing feeling of his feet clad only in his socks was almost beyond compare given that he had to wear dress shoes for most of the eighteen-hour days he put in.

It’s amazing the little things that make a difference, he thought, with a contented sigh.

A soft knock at the door intruded upon his peaceful solitude.

Dammit, this is the only time I can actually get some rest, Kelson thought, relishing any time aboard Air Force One.

“Yes, what is it?” he responded to the knock.

“Sorry to bother you, Mr. President, but there’s an urgent call from NASA,” one of the Secret Service agents answered from the other side of the door.

“Thank you. I’ll take the call in here,” Kelson stated, rising with no small amount of irritation.

* * * * * *

“Well, gentlemen, that’s about the gist of it. I want my cabinet on a conference call within fifteen minutes. Call ahead and cancel our arrival and participation at the economic summit with our apologies,” President Kelson stated.

“How long did they say we have?” an aide asked.

“They said it was fast moving…perhaps twenty-one hours, although the data is nearly an hour old,” Kelson answered, watching the shadows on his desk move as Air Force One began a gentle turn, setting a course for home.

In fourteen minutes, all of the cabinet heads were connected on a conference call. The NASA director gave a synopsis of the solar storm on an intercept course with earth. He continued with the potential impacts, the most serious he noted were the expected communications outages and the possibility of power grid outages.

“How big of a storm are we looking at?” the Secretary of Defense asked.

“The largest we’ve ever experienced was an x40 classification. The initial data show that this one will be as big, if not larger,” the NASA director answered. “We’ll know more as it nears the satellite monitoring it.”

“How long will communications be impacted?” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked.

“That’s unknown at this point. This is larger than anything we’ve ever encountered. Our best guess is that we’ll experience a communication outage across the board for as long as it takes the storm to pass. After that, it depends on how extensive the damage is to the satellites. I think we should prepare for the worst, however, and anticipate several days. General, I want to mention that will also include GPS and Keyhole data,” the NASA director answered.

“So, what you’re saying is that we’ll basically be blind for an indeterminate amount of time?”

“I’m afraid so. I wish I could have better information, but like I mentioned, we’ve never encountered anything of this magnitude.”

“Is there a possibility that the shielding on the satellites will hold up against the electromagnetic radiation?”

“It’s possible, but not guaranteed.”

“Mr. President, this will alter our current plans for operations overseas.”

“Agreed. Plan accordingly, General,” Kelson replied. “I want our reserve satellites on the launch pad and ready to go. And I think we should abandon the ISS.”

“I concur, Mr. President,” the NASA director said. “And we have already initiated the transport of several satellites. We should have them ready within seventy-two hours at the most.”

“So, then, although we may be looking at a temporary outage, we can plan for services to be restored within three days?” the chairman asked.

“Services will have to be placed on a priority basis, but yes, we should have limited services available within that time. We won’t be able to replace everything we have aloft should they go down, but we can certainly have something up and running.”

“Okay, we can’t protect the power grid any more than we already have, so we need to enact our contingencies to provide services to communities in case the power goes out. In most cases, the National Guard can handle that. However, with the number of units we currently have overseas, FEMA will have to take over a lot of that load. Find out which states will need the most help and offer Homeland Security personnel. We don’t have a lot of time to prepare, but I want to make sure we’re as ready as we’re able,” Kelson stated. “Begin moving units into staging points.”

“And the people, sir, are we going to notify the populace?” the director of Homeland Security asked.

“We all know that could go wrong, but the news will get out regardless of what we do. We aren’t the only ones who have this information, so let’s not be seen as withholding it. Our trust level is already low. I think we issue a news release talking about the potential of service outages, like we’ve done in the past. Minimize the severity of the storm and the damage potential,” Kelson relayed. “We want to impart a warning, but downplay it so that we don’t start a panic.”

“Sir, that storm is carrying a lot of radiation along with it,” the NASA director stated.

“Will it be a danger to people outside?”

“I’m not sure. The magnetic shield should protect us from most of it, but we’ve never experienced something like this. Computer models indicate we should be okay, but those also have a small percentage of error.”

“Okay, let’s include in the warning to stay inside during certain hours. When do we actually anticipate it hitting?”

“In the late afternoon for most of the US.”

“Okay, then issue a warning to stay indoors for the day, beginning at noon and ending with sunset. Will that be a sufficient amount of time?”

“I would think so, sir.”

“Okay, this could cause a run on the stores and possibly spark riots. I’ll notify the governors as soon as we finish here to warn them and ascertain what kind of help they’ll require. Also, in order to prevent a run on the banks and a stock market collapse, I suggest we have contingencies in place to close both should we need to.”

“If this is as bad as it seems like it could be, I think we should discuss implementing martial law,” the Homeland Security director said.

“I don’t think we need to go that far; the governors can make that call if they feel it necessary. The populace already thinks we’re looking for reasons to implement that. There will be riots once news gets out, but I don’t see how we can entirely avoid that. In the release, we will stipulate not to panic, that we’ve encountered solar storms in the past and weathered them with little damage or service outages.”

“We haven’t been through one of this magnitude.”

“That, we don’t mention.”

“What about the press corps sitting up front?”

“They’ll be notified when we issue the press release. Now, we have a lot to do within a short amount of time. I say we get to it,” Kelson stated.

* * * * * *

SDO (Solar Dynamics Observatory) Satellite, 22,000 miles from earth

The coronal mass ejection, along with the accompanying solar storm, didn’t arrive in the anticipated twenty-one hours. It made the ninety-six million mile trip in just over seventeen. Little SDO continued its station-keeping position, sending a stream of uninterrupted data earthbound as it monitored the event driving toward it at 2,500 kms.

The satellite bucked in the sudden turbulence as the leading edge of the storm arrived. It continued sending its data as its programming dictated. Station-keeping motors fired in an attempt to keep it in position. It rode the storm like a small ship encountering hurricane-force winds.

The storm swarmed around the satellite, engulfing it. Electromagnetic energy knifed into its components, penetrating its shielded circuitry. Unable to keep the energy at bay, Little SDO died in a flurry of sparks. There wasn’t any scream or last minute thoughts. It just became another piece of flotsam riding the gigantic wave.

* * * * * *

Goddard Space Center: Maryland

Susan, tired beyond belief from the continual hours of monitoring the data sent from Little SDO, with only a couple of catnaps and lots of caffeine to keep her going, watched as the numbers on the monitor in front of her vanished. Staring at the blank screen, she shook her head not because they vanished, but because of the readings that were transmitted just before the stream stopped. A few keystrokes later, she verified that they had, in fact, lost their monitoring satellite.

A coworker looked on. “Holy shit! Were those numbers for real?”

“I’m afraid so,” Susan replied.

“But…but that last reading showed an x68 classification…and the numbers were still rising. We may be looking at our first ever Z classification. We need to call the director.”

“Too late,” Susan wearily stated, knowing what the numbers meant.

* * * * * *

Six seconds after passing Little SDO, the solar storm reached the first of the outer communication satellites. Their shielding also couldn’t handle the amount of electromagnetic energy carried on the storm. They, too, joined Little SDO as flotsam. Eight seconds later, the storm hit earth.

The leading edge impacted the upper atmosphere, parted, and began encircling the rock and water planet. It took six seconds for the leading edge to pass, meeting on the other side. The earth’s magnetic field elongated from the onslaught. The convergence of the two edges on the nighttime side created terawatts of power that snapped back toward the earth with tremendous force. The electromagnetic pulse created by the collision of the two ends circled the globe in the opposite direction.

It took six seconds for the storm to engulf the world. It took ten for the civilization that had sprung up there to collapse. Waves continued sweeping past, hitting the earth and launching farther into space.

In 17 hours, 14 minutes, and 31 seconds from the first indication of the massive corona mass ejection, all of the lights on earth went dark. Then, 2 hours, 16 minutes, and 48 seconds after impact, the tail end of the gigantic solar storm passed, leaving in its wake a world forever changed.


Solar Aftermath

The leading edge of the solar storm reached the atmosphere, interacting with the magnetic field to produce a light show the likes of which had never before been witnessed. Seconds later, the electromagnetic pulse, that extraordinary wave hosting both high and low frequencies, swept over the world, the second wave to hit both the planet and everything living on its surface.

Most people ignored the alert to stay indoors, carrying on with business as usual—their lives too busy to be interrupted. Many eyes turned upward to witness the streams of glowing green streaking across an early summer sky, visible even during daylight. Where the weather permitted, people stopped what they were doing to marvel at the gracefully dancing lights. Some wondered if perhaps they hadn’t made a mistake in ignoring the alert, but most pointed skyward with ooohs and awwws as if they were watching a meteor shower.

At first, a couple of the onlookers paused in their observations of the light show, then more joined in as something else intruded into their consciousness: silence. Other than the murmuring of whatever crowd they happened to be in, they noticed the absence of all sounds. No vehicles passing on the streets, honks of impatient motorists, background buzz of a functioning civilization—all gone. Heads turned at the sudden hush, sensing that something was wrong and searching for the cause. The tension of the silence built within each of them, as if they’d been thrown into an unfamiliar environment and a predator was nearby. All looked around in wonder at the sudden hush over the trappings of civilization.

The EMP wave that rolled across the planet’s surface wasn’t sentient. It didn’t have feelings, it wasn’t out for vengeance, it wasn’t the voice of God. It didn’t care; it had no consciousness. It merely went on its way, conforming to its physical properties, its energy obliterating everything electrical in its path. Anything that contained electrical power or stored an ounce of electricity, died instantly.

The terawatts of power reached into the earth’s surface and below the waters, affecting electronics buried deep within the depths. Although the oceans acted as a ground and provided some protection, the low frequency waves accompanying the pulse reached below the surface. In seconds, it was over, and in its wake, the EMP wave left darkness and the silence that was just now being noticed.

In those scant few seconds, all of the services people had become used to, taken for granted, came to an instant and silent halt. Banking centers and the computers handling data in secure vaults deep underground went dark. The bits of data denoting one’s riches were gone in an instant, as if those dollars, euros, pounds, and other denominations had been just an illusion.

The stock market floor had been a chaotic frenzy of traders, the shouts of each attempting to rise above others. The market looked to be on an upswing, bringing yet more energy to the hectic mess that was everyday life on the floor. Numbers flowed across screens in a language only understood by those yelling and waving pieces of paper in the air. To an outsider, it would seem a tumultuous orgy, but to those working it, it was comprehended in an orderly fashion. The shouts were heard by those who needed to hear them. Nods and hand gestures finalized deals.

Then, everything went dark. The scrolling letters and numbers ceased, the monitors showing immense amounts of financial information went blank. Every overhead light winked out, plunging the floor into a deep gloom. Weak light filtered in from the few heavily tinted windows and radiated for a couple of feet from the doorways. The tumultuous roar that filled the large room subsided into a confused murmur. Silence ensued for a brief moment as the traders waited for the lights to come on and for trading to open once more. That didn’t happen.

The silence was so absolute that it almost hurt the ears of those who had become used to the constant noise. Those standing in the confused hush could hear the heavy breathing of others nearby, yet could only see the dimmest outline of anyone. Shoulders were bumped as people on the crowded floor moved, barely able to see.

Each of those present had their initial reactions. Was this a terrorist attack? Was the market shut down on purpose? Are the lights coming back on?

Underlying their individual thoughts, tension built within each as they remembered transactions that hadn’t been completed. That was soon replaced by thoughts of worst-case scenarios—they were under some kind of attack. The deep gloom of the room, without even the emergency lighting, fueled their fears. Time passed and each second seemed like an hour. In reality, it took only a minute for panic to emerge.

At first, it was a single voiced thought, then more scattered throughout the dim room. A momentary hush was interrupted by a sudden outpouring of confused questions.

“Are the lights coming back on?” “What’s going on here?” “Are we under attack?”

Those few voices soon grew to become shouted queries, rising in volume until the floor became a chaos of noise, not unlike when trading was open. Fear took hold and there was a sudden exodus for the radiating light of the doors, those in back having to search for the openings among a packed huddle of bodies. Some fell and were trampled by those behind. Those in front were crushed by the mass of bodies suddenly seeking the daylight of the outdoors, many suffocating from the intense pressure.

On the streets outside in the heavily populated areas, cars, buses, trams, and all other motorized vehicles came to a stop. Traffic lights went dark and gridlocks became fixed in place. Vehicles motoring along in gear came to clunky halts, never to move again.

The electromagnetic backlash was so severe that it destroyed all electrical components. Injuries occurred on interstates when vehicles traveling at speed failed, the cars and trucks suddenly lurching to hard stops, bucking wildly. Others on the freeways, inching along stretches where traffic was congested, climbed out of their stalled vehicles and stared at the green lights streaking across the daytime sky. Trucks ground to a halt, their cargo lying in trailers that would never be delivered. In a single moment, all services came to a silent halt.

Curses and moans erupted from gamers as they stared at their darkened consoles and TVs. Times Square and the neon signs dominating the Ginza district of Tokyo went dark. Telephone calls were dropped mid-word, computer monitors went blank, the hums associated with buildings and homes were silenced. Factories stopped working, the assembly lines halting in mid-action. Power plants ceased functioning. It had taken humankind years and years to build its current infrastructure, and only a few seconds to bring it tumbling down.

On the world’s oceans and waterways, the shafts turning the screws of motorized craft stopped their revolutions. The usual churning of the water behind boats of all sizes flattened. On larger vessels, it took miles before their forward momentum was reduced to the point that they fell to the mercy of the currents. Cruise ships floated, their crews having to overcome their own fears to deal with the panic of their passengers. Tankers with their precious cargo drifted like the other oceangoing vessels, floating hulks on the oceans waiting to collide with land, environmental disasters waiting to occur.

Naval fleets from various nations floundered in place, unable to communicate, steer, or in any way guide themselves across the rolling swells. Each was slowly turned by the force of the waves until they were broadside to the swells. The smaller vessels caught in rough weather eventually overturned and were lost, their crews going overboard where they succumbed to the cold waters. Few in those vessels were able to get into lifeboats. Those who did were at the mercy of the seas, floating aimlessly and hoping that the currents carried them to some shore. Aircraft on patrol around the fleets, their engines and instruments failing, fell from the sky. With all electrical systems down, the pilots were unable to eject from their stricken craft. Many managed to manually eject the canopies and undo their harnesses.

Leaping from their out-of-control craft, they tumbled violently as they entered the high-speed slipstream. Some parachutes became fouled as pilots pulled the releases, some of their limbs becoming entangled in the rapidly deployed chute lines. However, most who managed to escape their aircraft soon found themselves slowly floating to the waters below. The same scenario was played out in fighter aircraft flying overland, except those pilots didn’t have to worry about surviving in open waters upon their descent.

In the Arabian Sea, a two-carrier fleet patrolled the waterways, on station due to the rising tension in the region. One carrier conducted flight operations while the other tied up and took on supplies from one of the supply ships. Powerless in the wake of the EMP pulse, the carrier and supply ship slowly turned in the swells and drew closer together. With crews unable to keep the two steel behemoths apart, they came together, first with an ear-piercing screech of grinding metal. As the swells surged, spray fountained between the two ships. They then again collided with a jarring crunch and the sound of rending steel.

The other carrier was in the middle of recovering a flight of patrol F-18s. The number three aircraft was on short final and on a good flight path down to the steel deck’s surface. The optical landing system, a system comprising lights to let the pilot know whether they were too high, too low, or on a proper glide path, showed a proper descent to landing. Near the threshold, listening to the guidance provided by the landing signal officer, the pilot readied to advance the throttles upon contact in case the hook didn’t catch the arresting cable.

All of a sudden, the aircraft seemed to lurch in the air. With the gear out and the flaps down and at a slow approach speed, drag took hold and its forward momentum slowed. With the decrease in airspeed, the nose dropped. With a sudden rush of adrenaline, the pilot slammed the throttles forward into afterburner. The now useless engines failed to respond.

“Oh shit,” was the only utterance as the F-18’s nose impacted the edge of the flight deck. With a roar, a fireball rolled across the steel surface, spreading metal and debris forward and outward. The aft end of the aircraft, its momentum depleted, fell into the sea astern of the aircraft carrier.

Farther out to sea, a parachute could be seen drifting slowly down toward the water. Without power, the carrier was unable to launch its usual sea rescue procedures. A nearby destroyer, seeing the pilot drifting down under a canopy of silk, launched a small craft and manually maneuvered the boat over to pick up a very wet, unhappy, and confused pilot.

Prowling the depths below the waters, the few submarines deployed by various nations motored silently along in their patrol areas. Some patrolled shallow waters, but deep enough to prevent any MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) detection. Some were near the surface in order to receive radio communications, while a scant few quietly pushed through deeper waters.

When the wave hit, filled with terawatts of energy never witnessed except through observation instruments looking at galaxies, the oceans were able to act as a ground to a certain degree. However, the pulse penetrated to great depths, enough to affect most of the submerged hunters and man-of-war vessels of the deep.

Within those unfortunate enough to be caught at depths, power surged and then failed entirely. No shrill blast of alarms sounded, no blinking red lights to indicate problems. It just went dark inside each of those hollow tubes. Motors stopped and the coolant pumps feeding the nuclear cores of the vessels so equipped failed. Most of the captains fortunate enough to be in shallower waters, after exhaustive attempts to get their vessels underway again, initiated the underwater egress system and abandoned their boats. Some made it to the surface, only to join the others on the vast ocean surface, drifting aimlessly along the currents. Those who weren’t able to get into rafts succumbed to hypothermia within hours of reaching the surface.

In other places, sensing the loss of electrical power, nuclear power plant systems successfully scrubbed their cores. In an instant, fission processes across the world were shut down. However, in the storage facilities containing spent fuel rods, the pumps supplying a continuous supply of cool water to the ponds failed. Over time, without the fresh supply of water, the rods grew warmer and began evaporating the waters that were meant to keep them cool and under control. The water dipped lower, allowing the rods to heat even more rapidly, evaporating the water at an increased rate. Eventually, many of the facilities erupted from the built-up pressures, releasing continuous waves of radiation into the surrounding areas.

* * * * * *

Near the French-Swiss Border

“Have you ever seen the lights at this latitude?”

At an altitude of 37,000 feet, Captain Stefan Frehner leaned forward and glanced through the windscreen toward where his second officer, Lars Glauser, was pointing. Outside, the starkness of the usual nighttime sky, with the stars twinkling against a dark background, was diminished by waves of green and yellow streaks of light. A glow of light would begin, and then streak across the heavens as if blown by a fierce wind. In other places, it wavered in varying lengths and thicknesses.

It was a beautiful sight to behold, and it was nights like this that energized Stefan’s love of flying. The sights he had witnessed during his seventeen years with Swiss Air were unsurpassed, ones he would never have seen if he had kept his feet planted on the ground during his lifespan. The light show above, with its dancing movements, was almost a direct contrast to the steady glow emanating from the cities miles below. Yet, at the same time, the two together provided a certain symmetry to the clear night.

The jumbo Airbus 340, much like the old workhorse 747, sliced through the air like a smaller aircraft, its four huge turbo-fan engines humming with precision. With a quick look inside the cockpit to ensure all was right, Stefan glanced over to Lars. The glow emanating from the instruments of the glass cockpit lit the officer’s face and Stefan grinned at the wonderment written there. He knew he’d had similar looks on his own face many a time. With a smile still plastered on his face, Stefan turned once more to the light show outside.

They had an hour before their scheduled landing, and as wonderful as the light show was, he was more than happy to be able to set down after their long flight across the Atlantic. He hadn’t seen his family in several days; tonight, he would be able to go home to his wife and two kids. They would land a couple of hours before the imposed no-fly times established by the airline, and others across the world, due to the impending arrival of a solar storm. Although there had been a few during his long flying career, only a couple had significantly impacted communications. It was the possibility of interference with the GPS satellites that was grounding air travel. They could fly without GPS, but it would sure be a lot more difficult.

As these thoughts cycled through his head, his smile turned to a frown of concern. If they were seeing the lights in the sky so soon, especially at this altitude, then the solar storm must have arrived early. With a quick glance at the navigation instruments, he noted a small blinking notice at the bottom of the screen: “acquiring satellite.”

As he turned to Lars in order to direct his attention back inside the aircraft to begin diverting to a closer airfield, the interior of the cockpit went dark. Adrenaline coursed through his body, elevating his heart rate. Flying was said to be long hours of boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror. Seven miles above the earth’s surface, Swiss Air flight 1248 had just entered the latter.

After both pilots donned their emergency oxygen masks, Stefan gripped the control wheel tightly, as it had suddenly become heavy in his hands. The nose lowered as the aircraft attempted to keep its trimmed airspeed, the only way it could do so without the engines operating. The controls didn’t budge, even with Lars grabbing and both pilots pulling back. The triple-redundant electrical and hydraulic systems were rendered inoperable by the terawatts of power that had just passed them by.

“Switch to battery power,” Stefan yelled, the intercom useless.

The move was to no avail, as the lights remained dark and the Airbus continued on a downward glide path. Luckily, the air was smooth and the aircraft trimmed to near perfection—if it started to roll in any direction, they would be hard-pressed to do anything about it. They tried using their mini flashlights in order to see anything, but found they didn’t work either. Without any source of light, they had to run through the emergency checklists by memory. In the darkened cockpit, the light show in the heavens above forgotten, Stefan and Lars fought with what was now a very large and heavy glider.

Using the manual trim, Stefan managed to slow the aircraft’s speed and bring the plane onto a glide path that would provide for the farthest distance traveled for altitude lost—the best glide airspeed. He knew the terrain hidden in the darkness below was rugged, and they were going to be hard-pressed to find a suitable place to land. Even if they were able to, timing it right with the trim to rotate the giant aircraft was going to be tricky. Their best bet was to figure out the problem and get the aircraft running again. Glancing at the altimeter winding down, they didn’t have a lot of time to get that done.

Looking outside to see if he could find a good landing spot, he realized that the light of the cities, once glowing in the distance, was gone. The only thing he could get a solid visual on were snow-capped peaks rising from the darkened landscape, poking skyward as if from a black void. Their whitened tops and sides seeming to glisten with the partial moon and lights generated from the storm.

Using the rudder trim in small increments in order not to begin a roll, Stefan and Lars steered the jumbo jet toward the largest patch of darkness they could find. They both knew they couldn’t maneuver the aircraft for an optimal point, should they find one, and would have to settle for wherever they arrived. Even though there wasn’t any apparent power to the aircraft, Stefan tried to send out several mayday calls in the blind without receiving a response.

With a faint roar of the wind streaming by the windscreen, Stefan tried to get some power to the aircraft. After pulling non-essential circuit breakers, then turning all systems off, he still wasn’t able to restore power or get any of the engines started. Glancing at the altimeter for perhaps the thousandth time, he felt a small measure of dread settle in his stomach, too busy for anything larger than that to arise.

The terrain below continued to pass underneath the stricken aircraft as it descended toward earth at close to a thousand feet per minute. That time seemed to both pass by in a second and last an eternity for Stefan. He knew the systems inside and out, and was baffled and frustrated by his inability to restore the Airbus to some kind of flying condition. He felt deep inside that there was a way—that he could figure it out, if he only had time, but that was a commodity in short supply.

As the two experienced pilots battled with the controls, the large aircraft continued its slow descent through the cold night air. Several times, the aircraft wanted to roll to the side, but that was countered by timely adjustments to the rudder trim. Stefan was vaguely aware that one of the flight attendants, wearing a portable oxygen bottle and mask, had entered and was standing behind his seat. He could imagine the scene in the passenger compartment, the passengers sitting in the dark, oxygen masks to their faces and eyes wide with fear, but he was too busy to issue any instructions or give an update to their situation. Besides, what could he really say that wasn’t already apparent?

They were still a little ways above the glowing peaks of ice and snow when the first bump of turbulence hit, sending a tremor through the aircraft. Stefan and Lars both paused in their actions. Their faces were lined with concentration and a fair amount of stress. They looked up from the numerous dials and switches plastered all over the cabin’s walls, instrument console, and overhead panels, glancing outside as if they could see the actual air currents.

A second, harder bump jostled the aircraft. Stefan felt his heart solidly jump. With eyes widening in alarm, they simultaneously turned and looked at each other. Glancing back outside, Stefan could vaguely see feathers of ice and snow being blown from the tops of the surrounding peaks, driven by strong winds.

The turbulence increased, shaking the aircraft with a series of sharp bumps. Stefan’s hand went to the rudder trim, ready to attempt corrections should the turbulence they were descending into attempt to send the aircraft into a roll.

“I’ll take the trim, you keep working on the systems. We have to get the engines back online,” Stefan yelled to Lars.

Turning to the flight attendant, “Go back and make sure everyone is strapped in, then secure yourself.”

A moment of calm. With one hand on the control wheel, attempting to feel the aircraft’s motion almost before it happened, the fingers of Stefan’s other hand were poised on the manual trim wheels. The corrections would have to be instantaneous, and then the counter-correction so they didn’t start rolling the other way.

A series of shudders went through the aircraft and the air became calm once more. The altimeter continued its slow unwinding. Lars tried different things, which were mostly random attempts, having long ago left the emergency checklist items behind. Stefan yelled suggestions, but his concentration was focused on the motion of the Airbus. Ahead, there was only a darkened landscape between peaks to the side that were about to rise above their altitude.

Beads of sweat trickled down Stefan’s temples and across his jawline. Although he was focused on feeling the aircraft and poised to counter any adverse motion, thoughts raced through his mind. For the thousandth time, he went through the systems and tried to come up with a way to bypass them in order to get the engines lit, or some way to restore partial power.

The calm air ended abruptly as a hard bump sent the nose rising. A quick movement on the stabilizer trim brought the nose down. Stefan quickly returned the control to its previous location. They fully entered the turbulence and, although the large aircraft wasn’t affected as much as smaller craft, it was still tossed and thrown in the sky. The high winds whistling across the mountain peaks created waves and vortices in the unseen air. It was like coming off a calm, smooth stretch of river in a kayak and plummeting into canyon rapids.

Stefan’s instinctual moves kept the aircraft semi-upright as it descended below the tops of the peaks.

If I can just keep it upright, there’s a chance of calmer air below, he thought, constantly making adjustments.

The land below was still lost in darkness, but for now, this was his battle. Shudders and hard bounces rocked the jumbo jet, each one threatening to send it over the edge and into a spiraling descent toward the rugged terrain.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit…” Stefan uttered as a particularly hard series of bounces shook the aircraft.

The aircraft rolled to nearly forty-five degrees of bank before he was able to stop the turning motion and right it again. With his heart pounding, Stefan tensely waited for the next bit of turbulence.

The ridgeline, hidden within the darkened valley and suddenly appearing, came as a complete surprise. The sight of the boulders and steep, rocky cliffs, only a shade lighter than the surrounding darkness, barely registered before Stefan felt a sharp tug on the shoulder harnesses. It happened so fast that it didn’t have time to enter into consciousness. It was anticipating the next series of bounces, a startled gasp knowing that it was over, then darkness. Outside, above the glow of fires streaming down cliff walls and within steep ravines, the green lights continued their ballet across the nighttime sky.

* * * * * *

Western Pacific Ocean

Lieutenant Jenny Carlson rolled out from the turn and levelled the aircraft. Forty-two thousand feet below her F-18, the endless waters of the Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon in every direction. A hundred miles south of her position rode the carrier task force patrolling the region between Taiwan, Guam, Japan, and the Philippines.


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