One of the great unappreciated places in the solar system happens
to cover most of the Earths surface. Deep and glistening blue-green, for
many it is a large and mysterious plain at whose edges are scattered a few
waves and beaches. However the ocean, origin of nearly everything living on the
thin veneer of what people call home, hosts mysterious depths where wonders lie
uncounted and unseen.
But it is
the dark oceanic crust that lay at the very base of the crushing depths that
has always fascinated Talrensin, a middle-aged batur geologist. This particular
day however, had not been very inspiring. Out at sea far to the south of La
Paz, he had first suffered the frustrating loss of not one, but three deep sea
probes. And now he was getting nothing but bad data from the one that would at
least function at shallower depth. Considering their inherent reliability and
noted deep water performance, having three of the units fail on the same day
defied belief. None of that mattered though, because here he was on his fourth
unit and still collecting precious little data that made even less sense.
problem now was recovery of the last failed unit, which reported its return to
the surface over an hour before. He checked his display and sure enough there
was his probe, rising lazily with 20 meters remaining in its ascent.
Unfortunately there seemed to be a sea disturbance interfering with his
remaining active unit. It briefly occurred to him that maybe the disturbance
caused his units to fail, or maybe a giant squid had stumbled onto to them and
objected to their presence. None of that was likely, so he would just have to
relaxed a little and took another sip of beer, his failed number three unit
finally bobbed to the surface and moved sleekly toward Talrensin. When it came
alongside he was shocked to see that it had been damaged. It had long score
marks along one side and there were holes torn in it.
What!? he exclaimed. How did this happen? He looked
around as if in search of someone to blame. Checking back to his surviving
fourth unit, it continued issuing strange readings from the bottom. A quick
review of the data showed bottom motion being reported across a wide area, but
at a glance it was too difficult to tell anything more. But he suddenly felt
uneasy, and as he watched the data stream unfold his unease turned to fear. It
slowly dawned on him that something very strange was happening over a large
area of the seafloor beneath him. Finally unable to resist himself, he moved
the damaged third unit into its bay and ordered the ship to prepare for
departure. Immediately the propulsion plant came on-line and the ships
systems sped through their pre-run diagnostics.
With a last
glance out to sea he saw a large area of ocean surface off to starboard turning
a gentle white. It looked like trillions of microscopic bubbles churning to the
surface. He hoped that was the reason, the ocean is a big place for someone on
it alone. Feeling almost scared, he commanded the fourth probe to self-destruct
and ordered his ship away from the area. The vessel steadily lifted out of the
water with a surging shove as it quickly moved off. Talrensin looked back, but
he could see nothing. For some reason however, he felt relieved to be getting
away from the area. He wanted to report this to the university as soon as
possible and quickly brought up his viewer he needed to find out if
anyone else had seen this.
walked through the main halls of the state department offices beneath El Cajon
Mountain with a nervous excitement. Only in the last few weeks had the many
pieces of some larger puzzle begun to fall in place. But there were still too
many blank areas. Hopefully this meeting would help move the ball forward, it
remained to be seen just how fast everything needed to happen. She had
personally been feeling a greater sense of urgency lately, although she
couldnt really say why just a gut hunch more than anything.
walked along the smooth stone floor of the main hall, her display assistant
sent a quiet ping showing that General Johns was not far behind her. She
stopped and turned.
afternoon General. she said.
afternoon Miss Ortiz. replied Johns as he walked up to her, he was
impeccably uniformed as usual. Im pleased that the State Department
could make it, and particularly that you are attending. Having the right people
should mean we dont have as much convincing to do.
you General, dont worry though, this is still a priority for me,
especially after reviewing Stantons latest report. Im curious, has
Sweeneys reconnaissance team tracked any more of those dark clouds they
saw out to the northeast?
they have not, just the one time. Unfortunately we did not have anything to
spare when the data stream came in from Lieutenant Talaes unit. Its
a big continent and we still cant be everywhere at once.
idea what it was? she asked.
Stanton and his supports at Banning said it reminded them of a locust
swarm, but the way it showed on radar was all wrong for that. Unfortunately we
only have the one visual and that was from far away. Trust me, they are
watching for it now. I think most of Sweeneys people did not take
Stantons work seriously until they saw that clip. They are taking it
seriously now I assure you. Even General Johns had to admit that the data
stream from Sweeneys recon unit was a bit spooky North America did
not get locusts anymore, it was too cold for them.
Interesting. commented Ortiz. So we are still going to push
for contact with Dr. Zimles fellow researchers down on the coast,
correct? The general nodded his head.
looked at each other in silence. After a thoughtful pause General Johns said
Well get it.
at him intently, nodded her head slightly and then opened the door to the
in the age of instant communications it was still easier to convince people of
something in person. Humanity remained primitive in many ways, whether that was
an advantage or not remained to be seen. This gathering was taking place in one
of the open rooms located high in the face of the sheer mountain cliff. It was
not a large room, but the view was spectacular and the beautiful walls of
polished stone were gently serrated. Down one wall slid a sheet of water,
offering a subdued trickling sound in the background.
Markham was already there. Sonya had requested he attend in order to represent
the intelligence services. Also attending was Willis Bradshaw, from the House
of Representatives National Security Team. His presence was requested by
General Johns, and that fact alone spoke volumes about Bradshaws likely
Ortiz. began Bradshaw. I recall we have met before, it is good to
see you again and I thank you for coming. Please feel free to start at your
leisure. He added in his polite but no-nonsense manner.
you sir. she replied as she sat down. She quickly slid her hands through
the air in front of her as she delivered several threads of information to the
others. Gentlemen, I am sending several reports which you will find
helpful. As you can see, it has come to our attention that the undeveloped
lands to our north and east are becoming populated by new types of life that
are not native to the area. This life is fundamentally different from existing
flora and fauna, and if not checked it poses a serious threat to current
ecosystems. We do not know where they come from, and we may not be able to stop
them using standard pest retardants. All of our samples indicate they have a
very different biological makeup than we are used to seeing and it is unknown
how existing suppression systems will work.
to allow those at the table to browse through some of the presentations.
Our current plans are to continue active field observations, use the
resulting data to continue development of suppression strategies and
simultaneously prepare for a security response should that become
Security response? asked Bradshaw. He looked at General Johns.
Edward, I suppose that is why you are here?
is correct sir. replied the general. If you look at our current
appraisal, you will see that we have activity ranging from far into the North,
and across to areas east of Alamo Mountain. Our ground expedition turned up a
surprising amount of information about this, and they are working with local
researchers to collect more. There also appears to be subsea activity which may
or may not be related, we are working to clarify that.
interference from the local black market bosses? inquired Bradshaw as an
sir. replied General Johns. Of course they are not crazy about our
presence, but it does bring in some extra money and in the end, they dont
really have a choice. They dont want to cause trouble and end up getting
annexed. the general grinned fiercely. In any case, it is a
perfectly safe environment for the researchers. To be honest, they may be in
more danger from their research subjects than they are from the local
Markham browsed through their viewers. I see what you mean.
commented Markham. It looks like a number of people have been killed and
as many more gone missing. How many new species have been identified as being
part of this migration or whatever you call it?
so far. replied Ortiz. However there have been some observations of
existing animal groups changing their behavior. It is possible that some of the
native ecosystem is somehow being infected or modified. We are not sure how
that fits in.
sort of resources and timeline are we looking at? asked Bradshaw.
should definitely involve the Armed Forces Research Institute at Cowles
Mountain. commented Johns. I believe Miss Ortiz is ready to notify
the Parks and Counties Department, which actually should have been the one to
discover this. No insult to them, this came to the State Departments
attention because the first major incident happened outside the border.
he nodded at Ortiz and continued. Also, the folks at JPS should be
notified; their MGV designs may need modifications. I believe from what I have
seen so far that microweapons may end up being used in roles we had not
previously envisioned, their operating ranges will almost certainly need to be
increased. Light aviation suppliers should also be notified, as they may end up
having to carry more ordnance than was originally anticipated. We may need to
share some technologies we have been holding back in case of emergency.
think it will come to that? asked Bradshaw.
safe than sorry and yes. replied the general. We will make sure the
suppliers understand that this entire subject is classified until further
notice. Having said that, I believe your people will want to work with the
administration on a public announcement strategy better to hear it first
from us, or at worst second! Academia is apparently catching on to this.
Agreed. said Bradshaw thoughtfully. It seems like you both
have this well thought out. Miss Ortiz, I have to congratulate you for taking
what appeared to be a fairly mundane accident report from the northern wastes
and tying in with the General to track down its implications. It has apparently
revealed something none of us expected. he paused for a few moments while
he pondered his options.
Alright. he said. You may proceed with your plans and I will
make the case for funding. I do not think this is something that should be
ignored, and appreciate that your groups have been able to get things rolling.
Otherwise, proceed as you have and keep us informed.
looked over at Ortiz and Markham for questions. There were none.
well, thank you. he said as he stood and walked out.
looked over at Markham. Well Jonathan, keep your ear to the ground. We
will need to know if anyone else across the ocean is seeing this. But I do not
want this information going into academia unedited not yet at
Strictly between the three of us, Markham replied, I think
others are seeing this, or something
like it. We have heard the slightest of hints through our network, there has
been some chatter across the Pacific and some of it may be about this same
subject. We have not been able to ascertain whether it is Australia or
Selangor. But it appears to be one of them.
Well. Ortiz replied. I guess we should not be surprised. Not
after what we told the Australians. But we have not heard back from them, so I
wonder now whether the chatter you are hearing is them, the Selangor or someone
else. Ill look forward to anything else you might hear.
over at the general. I would start working with your associates in
Southern Command and the Navy on response options, there is no telling where
this will go.
Already under way Miss Ortiz. responded the General with
terse familiarity. She nodded her head. At least we are doing something
about it . she thought.
Next: 22 -
The Third Man