Preface

A quick hack of the cover...

A quick hack of the cover…

The entire room was alive with sound.  It was as if the rock had been swept away and all of the roaches had finally found their voices.  Even the most calm of people in the room was shouting to try to stay above the chaos that had arisen.
Plastered across the walls of the entire huge room were monstrous televisions monitoring only one thing.  The Sun.  Latent images, some at full intensity but covered with a large black circle, others were watching in filtered output in everything from infrared light to Gamma radiation.  The whole point of this room was to use a series of satellites from various agencies across the globe and bring the information into one huge data base.  This would be used to catalog the history of the sun with as much data as possible for the technology of the time.
New technology was coming along, and no sooner was one scientist ousted for outdated equipment, another was bringing his or her new computer online.  The main thing that they all were after though was the Sun’s incredible energy.
They were in hope very soon to be able to harness the amazing power in only a simple tendril of a Coronal Mass Ejection.  A CME is a solar flare and depending on the power of the storm that caused it could be just a flash of light or a tendril that reached for hundreds of thousands of miles.
Today was tense to start with because the two Universities that funded them had called for a Congressional Revue.  The back wall of the busy computer lab was full of Generals and Senators, University Board Members, Presidential staff and even a cabinet member.  Then there was also a cross section of important agencies present too.     NOAA, CIA, a Swiss documentary producer, and even the Center for Disease Control was represented.
However now the Sun had picked today to become super active.  No less than seventy-eight solar storms nearly darkened the entire surface of the glowing image.  The CME’s were being named and screamed across the room as these filaments of light danced away from the Sun.  The names of these flares were just number with a prefix of two letters, but each one seemed to be declaring a self-aware consciousness of it’s own.  Each filament represented a ray of energy that in itself could power the entire Earth for decades.  Each one had such magnitude of energy that if they weren’t spinning haphazardly into space, might reek utter havoc on our little planet.
These numbers were produced automatically by the machines that drove the displays on the walls.  The array of satellites across the globe.  This lab, however, was home to three proprietary satellites named affectionately, Larry, Curly, and Moe.  These three were orbiters that NASA had been kind enough to set off behind the Earth to rotate around the Sun in asynchronous orbit.  The three of them were not only image gatherers themselves, they also relayed the information from each other to the main information unit in orbit around Earth.
There was a latent delay in the information from the furthest satellites but this gave the people in this room a view of what was happening to the Sun’s surface facing away from us.  This allowed the scientists to gather information on storms, CMEs, and collisions into the Sun by comets and asteroids and any other maladies that caused the Sun to churn.  Curly was closest in orbit to the Earth at this time.
Miss Talique Komersada was the specialist in charge of Curly, officially named the Lucid-M1505.  These three satellites represented the absolute best technology from three years ago when they went up on a series of rockets, but already they were obsolete.
Doctor Komersada straightened her collar as an interaction between sunspot JK15045 and JK15017 seemed to be drawing JK14932 into them.  JK14932 had already release huge amount of energy, but if this larger storm converged with the two medium sized storms, the results could be unpredictable.  The unimaginable happened right before her eyes.  All three storms crossed thousands of miles in seconds and they merged in a super spark of an ejection.  She had never measured anything like it.  The huge blight didn’t just release a short burst.  It was a huge amount of energy that seemed to keep spewing from the black storm.  It hadn’t formed an ejection yet, but as it boiled like a festering sore, it would have no choice but to explode into space.
Her colleagues were too busy trying to figure out what to name the miracle of nature.  She raise her finger in the air.  An action that at first, didn’t hamper the screaming, but after several moments the room grew quiet at her direction.  They were all staring at her now.
“1505 is in line with this storm.  If it flares like I believe it will, we may lose Curly,” she said.  Her voice was now unopposed in the stillness of the room, the silence only accompanied by the soft whir of hundreds of computer fans.
They all watched in horror as the radioactive flame rose like the arc from a welder from the violent swirl of the dark spot.  An intense flash of solar radiation lit the entire room.  All monitors recorded the tentacle of light as it rose from the flash, unimpeded.  As they waited for the other two brother satellites to send back their copy of the flash, Talique had the realization that if something happened to Curly, they couldn’t communicate with the other two for several months.  The data stream of numbers riding on a powerful laser communication beam started to arrive.
The other two satellites recorded the flash and the bright swell of power. The occupants of this room held their breath for what seemed like hours. In reality, it only took a few minutes for the blast wave of radiation to reach Curly.  The M1505 was built for high radiation. That would be like water off of a duck’s back.  What they were worried the most about was the wave of magnetism behind the initial blast.
In a best case scenario, Curly would just be a hunk of metal floating in space. The last few moments of data collected would be years worth of solar modeling and mining. Worst case, Curly would be completely evaporated.
They waited, however impatiently, with fingers crossed that the wave would somehow miss the 4.2 billion dollar satellite.
Doctor Komersada watched as all of the readings were starting to head for the limits of the measuring devices.
Another scientist, Robert Sanchez, pulled the telescope of the ZDL-4302 hovering in orbit around the Earth, in line to get a better look at the doomed craft.
“Talique, where is M1505?”  He asked, punching the buttons in front of him madly.
The doctor rattled off the coordinates in front of her on the massive monitor.
“We have a problem.”  Sanchez said, in a panic.
The young lady next to him scooted her chair closer to him, “Oh, my God!”
Doctor Komersada turned away from her beloved satellite to see what the problem was. He pointed to another of the large displays as he switched his feed to it.
Komersada’s shoulders sank.
She clutched her breath.
Her face felt as if it were on fire.
Her chest suddenly hurt, she could not breathe.
She felt as if she would start sobbing uncontrollably.
She wanted to run.
But where?
The telescope could not see the satellite. The sun was whiting it completely out.  The telescope was able to catch a tiny flash of light as the instrument feed from Curly went silent.
Curly was positioned between Earth and the Sun.
“Do you think it will hit us?” one of the random panicked voices wheezed.
She could not take her eyes off of the telescope feed as the electro-solar pulse caused a brief few seconds of static in the feed. The ribbon of intensity, now only visible to a few of the instruments.
“I guess we will find out in about ten to eighteen hours,” she said, in a monotone drone.
The infrared and gamma cameras showed the ribbon cloud twisting inward on itself. A display of pure beauty. This was why she became a scientist. Now it all seemed in vain.  The way the ribbon was twisting and turning, it might swing away and miss the Earth completely.
Two other scientists hurriedly ran some numbers, furiously clicking away at the keyboards before them. Only minutes before a mainframe in another part of the building had computed the algorithm.
Ninety-two percent that the flare of the CME could hit the earth, with enough power that it could be an Extinction Level Event.
More numbers were madly typed as the NOAA representative in the room made her dreaded phone call to her superiors.
Doctor Komersada quietly sat back in her office chair to a blank computer screen. She scanned the telescope screen still fed to the huge monitor to her left. The ribbon was also on trajectory to hit Venus. A common thing to happen to the smaller rock. The circumference of the tendril was four times the size of Venus already and it was possible that the scale was tricking her as it would not hit Venus for several hours.  The blob of energy could have enough power to roast Venus for breakfast while it headed for the main course.
“What are the chances of something catastrophic happening to Venus?”  She asked out loud.
“As in what, Talique?” the man behind her asked.
“Could this CME have the power to damage Venus’ orbit, or even worse, could it knock Venus toward us?”
“Not likely, unless Venus gets hot enough to explode,” he assured her.
“Explode? Sending hundreds of thousands of rocks toward our temporarily out-of-order atmosphere?”  Her questions were rhetorical but evoked a strange fear among the people in the room.
“Talique,” he answered anyway, “Even this cloud doesn’t have that kind of power.  It would take a million degrees to make Venus hot enough to explode.”
The distraught NOAA representative, looked at Komersada with confusion.
She saw the uneducated woman’s expression and answered, more to relieve the pressure building behind her ribs. “When the Earth is hit with a large CME we experience a shift. Our atmosphere can expand on the opposite side of impact causing the air to make lower orbit satellites to fall from the friction. On the impact side, under normal circumstances, the atmosphere is compressed, causing barometric changes which affect our weather, our tides, our animal behavior patterns. We are hit by low grade CMEs every few hours during the solar maximum. When in solar minimum, we might not be hit by any CMEs for months. The electromagnetic discharge of electrons in our magnetosphere are what cause our Aurora Borealis and Aurora Australis. As well as the auroras for every planet in the system that we know of.”
The woman was following her so she continued, “The X-ray storm that travels at the speed of light has now already hit us and has moved on. They usually only cause minor radio interference and maybe some cellular interference.  The shielding that the ZDL-4302 has should not have had any response, but this one was strong enough to jar even it. I would guess that there are some power grid failures and cell tower damage to electronics, a few stranded motorists on the highway. That one was the flea.”
She shifted in her chair then continued, “Then there is the grasshopper after the flea. The mass of solar protons that will hit us about an hour after ejection, causing even more electronics damage and causing our magnetosphere to crack letting in solar radiation. Then there is Goliath. The one hundred percent chance that if one of those big ones hits us, we will get pelted by one or all of those three radioactive storms.  If we do not fall some where in that eight percent for that thing missing us, the face of our planet will never be the same.”
“Why?”  The woman was nearly in tears.
“Even if Venus survives,” she said, glaring at the man behind her, “and we aren’t pelted with asteroids from our neighbor, there is a slight chance one of this magnitude could destroy our atmosphere completely. A catastrophic failure like that and anyone who might have survived the ‘hell on earth’ scenario will die of exposure to the extra radiation from the sun. That is if there is any oxygen in our atmosphere left to breathe.”
The explanation did little to placate the woman who was nearly catatonic already. “Could the Earth explode?”
The scientist who had mentioned that fact answered, “If it does, we won’t be alive to see it. We will have burned up before it got to three hundred degrees, much less the possibility of millions of degrees or more. We get hit with that and we evaporate instantly, like we were standing at ground zero of an A-bomb explosion.”
At that moment, the NOAA representative’s phone buzzed in her pocket, jarring her to almost comical animation; jumping with a muffled screech. She answered and with a nod she replaced the phone to her pocket. “SOHO and STEREO observatories have just confirmed your findings. A high level X-class plasma cloud is bearing down on us seeming to follow the L1 line following the X-ray burst and the magnetic burst.”
These other scientists reporting these things were not surprising to Komersada. All of their satellites are in danger as well. Larry, Moe, and Curly were the first satellites that actually were dispersed in orbit specifically to the sun. SOHO, ACE, and STEREO all had satellites that stayed on a line that marks the straight line to the Earth from the sun. The Earth-Sun Lagrangian point or L1 is where most measurements have been collected during the last several solar maximums on the Sun’s eleven year cycle of sun spots.
“I don’t know what you are all worried about, our atmosphere has protected us for thousands of these cycles, why would this one be different?” the man behind Komersada asked.
“We’ve never recorded a hit of this magnitude. We are possibly looking at a X wave exponentially higher than the Carrington Event of 1859. Take a look at this.”  The NOAA representative pushed her feed of a popular video website to the screen to Komersada’s right. “We are having people upload video already of this flare as being seen by the naked eye. The power has gone completely down in the Pacific. Everything from British Columbia to Chile for several hundred mile in land is dead in the water. I’m seeing social media hype about a rise in temperature already.”
“So how powerful is this thing?  What is it on the scale?” the man behind Komersada asked, now growing skeptical of his own theories.
She grabbed the question herself, saying, “Carrington was hit by radiation into the twenties on the scale. We are looking at a thousand or more.”  She swallowed as she watched some of the video feeds from the internet. If we survive, we will have to make new notches on our scale.”
“What do you mean, if?”  The scientist behind her sounded agitated, but she took it to mean he was scared.
“The Carrington event caused telegraph machines to run completely disconnected from their power source. Something a thousand times more powerful could make this global warming hype seem very tame. The Earth’s surface temperatures could rise to well above a hundred degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t think I need to remind you that this is December.”  She cleared her throat nervously. “That’s if it doesn’t get hotter than that.”
Doctor Komersada took a deep breath and continued as if she had changed her mind about being terrified. If for no other reason than to explain to the CDC supervisor on duty, who for some reason had no knowledge of anything remotely to do with what they did here, but he was here nonetheless.
“We have known for some time that the atmosphere could not be completely destroyed.  There are certain parts that could be damaged, but not utterly destroyed. It would take our sun already being a Red Dwarf with the more unstable storms to do that sort of catastrophe. But that does not mean that the inhabitants of this planet will not suffer for a sudden change. These kinds of numbers could affect our polar coordinates, cause untold damage to the delicate Eco-cycles and do much damage to life that cannot sustain in higher temperatures.”
She turned out of her chair and rose, “If we get hit with an off the chart storm like this one seems to be, it could evaporate our ocean into the atmosphere, at least large portions of it. Storms the like, we have never seen, constant rain, bombardment from torrential rain, and that’s if it doesn’t actually cook the surface of our planet.”
“Where could we run if it does that?”  A woman she barely knew voiced her question from the back of the room, timidly.
“Doctor West, would you like to answer that?”  She turned to the man at the desk to her right.
Timothy West was the overseer and handler of Moe and was infinitely more qualified at these questions than she was, but he just stared at his screen as if it held all of power of the though. “Are you seeing this, Tali?  The storm conglomerate dissipated after it released that Ejection. Four huge storms gone. Like they never existed. This never happens!  They shot their entire load of energy at us.”
“Tim. Colonel Reiner asked you a question.”
He quickly refocused his attention, but occasionally still peeked at his monitor. “There is only the dark side of the Earth at the time we are impacted by the plasma. We should not be inside of a flying craft of any sort should this happen. It’s possible that any airplane in flight would become a flying microwave to the occupants. Especially to one this strong.”
“What about a cave?”  Komersada noticed that the young lady, Colonel Kathy Reiner of the Navy Nuclear Program was especially nervous, possibly on the verge of a panic attack. This was very unlike her. Reiner was typically a reserved sort.
“Unless you had a way to breath for how ever long the storm took to pass. If it burns the surface, there is a chance it could ignite the oxygen in the atmosphere, can you hold your breath in searing heat for several minutes? Possibly more than ten or fifteen minutes? How ever many minutes it takes for the storm to pass and stop charging our ionosphere?” His blank stare intensified, “No, I don’t think so. Most cave systems are even more delicate of an ecosystem than the surface, many have methane deposits from key minerals and decay of cave creatures, that could ignite as well, rendering even caves uninhabitable for an extended amount of time as the oxygen will not return to a cave as quickly as it burns out.”
The Navy Corporal sat back to her seat, looking as if someone had just killed her only child.
That thought was echoed around the room in the faces of scientists and Federal task force appointees who were looking at the operation in a simple observation role today. The satellite conglomerate was about to get another grant extension. Much needed money to up grade the computers and servers that would make the computations go faster.
Many people from various offices and backgrounds had converged in this room for the simple task of asking questions and gaining perspective on how this program could help their branch of the Federal government. Agricultural experts, military, economists, corporate heads, legal administration, and members of two different Congressional Way and Means Committees filtered through the scientists and astronomers in the room.
All now understood what this event could mean, and there was nothing any of them could do about it.

****

Time elapsed slowly as the huge cloud was dissipating but only so slightly.  For hours they had stared at the oncoming behemoth silently. Only an occasional cough punctuated the silent room’s eerie quiet.
As they sat and waited, the collision with Venus had come and gone. The planet was buffeted but without any real sensors on the planet’s surface they could not know the extent of the damage until an observation could be made. This would be after the plasma cloud leaves the space between Venus and the Earth.
The videos uploaded by the diligent social networking crowd were starting to show a rise in temperature, now starting to go in excess of ninety degrees. Places that were experiencing normal lake effect snow and blizzard conditions were now greeted by an Indian summer. Clouds rolled quickly away. And the temperature climbed quickly.
The sudden change in temperature caused cars to sputter to a stop at the side of many highways.
Komersada now just surfed the internet, looking for reprieve from what she knew was coming. Everything was pointing toward the tragedy that was looming on them. The geological websites were registering several dozens of earthquakes every few minutes, mostly in the low 5.0 on the Richter Scale, but as the heavy gravity of the huge plasma cloud approached, the numbers were climbing, especially on the daylight side of the Earth.
Daylight beaches and lakes were experiencing high tides even though the moon was out of that phase.
Volcanoes on the daylight side were especially violent and several long dormant volcanoes were exploding with huge pyroclastic flows with little or no warning.
Thousands of people were dying and the final wave of the solar storm had not even reached Earth yet.
Still several thousand miles away, birds were now starting to fall from the sky, cooked alive as if stuffed in a microwave oven. The heat index on the daylight side, now noon in the Alps, has risen to 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The glaciers were rolling away like butter on a hot stove. Flooding of near Biblical proportions from the mass of ice melting and the tidal influx.
Slowly the cloud enveloped the planet that it dwarfed. Now noon in Germany, the devastating earthquakes and severe heat wave caused people to be torn between cowering indoors and scampering about in terror outdoors. The gravitational pull was so great now that the Eurasian plate had broken in two. The huge crack in the Earth, now over a mile wide, split Russia into two new continents.
All of that was irrelevant because at that moment the cloud poured itself over the surface of the Earth. The ground burned. The cloud was dealing a subdued blow as it glanced off of the side of the Earth, sparing the Asian countries the utter scorching that the Atlantic Ocean was about to receive. All of Europe melted under the weight of the plasma cloud. As it passed by the ocean, steam erupted skyward. Hundreds of feet of ocean dissolved to gas at the touch of the cloud, a monstrous cloud boiled forward before the plasma as it scraped the surface of our planet.
The steam cloud and then the burst of heat impregnated solar dust swept toward the East coast of the United States.  Only early morning in America, sun just starting to wake the atmosphere, the temperature went from just above freezing to summer heat in under four hours. Now, only six in the morning, the rising residents were surprised that the sky had turned to summer day at noon.
The clouds mixing together, slamming the coast with unmatched fervor. While not as destructive as the instant melting of metal in France as the traffic came to a dead stop, it was still evaporating human and animal life very quickly, adding to the onslaught of steam rising into the sky.
The elements that usually burned, were cooked to charcoal instantly and left in ruin. As the plasma started to roll away from the carnage, it passed over the Appalachians leaving some of the west faces intact of some form of wilted life then for a few hundred miles more, burned the great plains. Much the same in South America, where the remnants of rain forests were obliterated instantaneously.
Komersada was not able to see the damage to her supplanted home in St. Louis, Missouri because all of the satellites in the eastern hemisphere were now dust.
The cloud was gone now, moving on to reek havoc on some other poor heavenly body.  It was replaced by an unbearable heat. She knew that would soon dissipate as the steam cloud would soon start to cool the Earth to a then unbearable cold, blocking all sunlight for who knows how long.  Rain would come in torrents, and oh, the storms.  Now that the jet stream had been so violently opposed and such intensified areas of high and low pressure would upset the balance of life so drastically.
If there were any survivors on the sunny side of the Earth, they would not survive long after.
She wondered how they continued to have power. She knew that this cloud must have had enough x-ray and magnetic power in itself that the bulk of the transformers in the remaining parts of the world were probably chunks of molten copper and aluminum. Most of the world would be without power for decades now.
The room was silent as the majority of the earthquakes had subsided with the cloud moving toward Mars. They all stared up at the blank, bluish-black screens on the walls, a faint hint of blue the only illumination in the room.  An eerie silence prevailed as they all thought about what this might mean for life on this planet.
She stood to leave the room.
“Where are you going?” the Congresswoman on the back wall asked, seeming to have a terrified tone to possibly indicate that she feared any movement on their parts would cause the tendril to come back and finish what it had started.
“We can’t stay in here forever,” Komersada said grimly.
“But the radiation?”  The woman muttered nearly under her breath in a gasp.
“Might as well die of radiation poisoning in a few days rather than starving to death when the food runs out here, in the next week or so. That and our power isn’t supplied by the city, but our water is. If the city is without power, we are without water. I doubt if any of it’s fresh now anyway.”  She turned to continue her trek toward the corridor then outside.
She heard a few foot steps behind her.  It was very early morning here in the Colorado mountains. The darkness pervaded the landscape still, but the humid landscape and the quick moving clouds, rapidly moving back against the pressure that had pushed them out of the way so forcibly, now proved to her that the ninety degree heat wasn’t a false alarm.  But as she scanned the landscape before her, the oxygen hadn’t burned out.  As horrible as this was; there were going to be pockets of humanity that might survive.
There had been thirty-five inches of accumulation from the last snow storm here at the facility, and she saw no evidence of it.  Melted in only moments, the heat here must have been well over one hundred. The air smelled of sulfur and ozone.  That smell if you walked into a room that had just burned, or the smell of a volcano that had erupted.  Strangely it smelled clean.
The soft patter of a light rain began, and slowly rose in power, so that in the few minutes she stood there, it soaked her to the core. She did not care. The ashen rain was washing the burnt ozone smell from the air. The water was gritty. Much like that summer she and her brother spent at the beach in Nagapattinam while in her home country of India. Her brother, Turil, had thrown a bucket of water on her, and between the sea salt of the Bengal Bay and the high content of sand that he had scooped up as well, she was pelted with more solids than water. Yes, that was how this felt.
Then, it struck her; the bizarre nature of this rain.  This ash.  This gritty, muddy, dirty water falling from the sky.  Warm enough to feel like a hot shower, but this ash.  Was it a whale in the ocean?  A fish?  Or was it from a thousand year old castle or cathedral?  Was it a car?  Trees that were hundreds of years in the making, evaporated into dust in mere microseconds?  Was it someone’s home?  What if this grit was someone’s hand?  Or maybe even their child?
Her thoughts melded into one.
Was it possible that there may be survivors?

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