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Formaldehyde, Part VI

As his memories return, Tesla recounts the events leading up to his awakening in Cripple Creek. The horrific nature of his fate becomes increasingly clear…


The reader will, I hope, bear with me for a time as take a moment to recount what I now know about The Calamity. This information comes from several sources. Some of it, I have remembered since my awakening. Some of it comes from the files I had located; meticulously kept, compiled and enumerated by Caitlin Davies. The rest, we will call educated guess work and just a little bit of poetic license, based on the rest of my knowledge. Not to say that a great deal of science has not gone into this. I am positing my theories based on the data I have available to me.

Caitlin’s notes and record keeping were remarkably detailed, but there were some things which neither one of us could know. We were not there for the last part of the incident so I can only speculate as to how the events unfolded. Even so, I feel that my account of The Calamity will be reasonably close to what happened. Based on my knowledge of how microbes behave, the number of possibilities become finite, after a point.

September 22, 2016

Northwestern United States

4:00 P.M. PST

It was, I Imagine, a beautiful summer afternoon and the sun had only just begun to think about sinking into the Pacific when the people of San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and other coastal cities looked up to find what appeared to be a large meteorite falling from the sky. In reality, it was the bulk of the International Space Station plummeting toward Earth at many times the speed of sound. Large and bright as it was, even the light of the still lingering sun could not hide the flash as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.

There would have been a massive explosion as the monstrous hulk muscled its way through the ionosphere. This would have been some of the more volatile parts of the station reaching what fire science calls the Flashpoint. This is the moment at which a space reaches combustible temperature and the very air in that space bursts into flames.

Considering some of the unpleasant things held within these parts of the station, there would have been a cascading chain reaction. The resultant explosion would have decimated a large portion of the I.S.S. and been visible for hundreds upon hundreds of Miles. It would have been spectacular for those unaware of the details and horrifying for those who knew.

I am quite sure that, at first, there were a lot of oohs and aahs. Like a crowd on the fourth of July, the people on the streets would have been wowed by the beauty of the fireball. They would have thought, oh, look, a shooting star, and made their wish. The average Joe on the street never thinks about the massive destructive power in that fireball hurtling toward Earth. They only see the beauty and the majesty. The reality of a shooting star is best summed up by the Book of Revelations:

“…And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

I could not help but wonder, if I was experiencing part of what John had written about in his gospel. I had never been terribly devout, but I did believe the Bible. Could this be the end of days? Was I going to turn a corner, at some point, and find myself face-to-face with Jesus of Nazareth, reborn?

Having suffered a catastrophic systems failure, the I.S.S. had been experiencing a decaying orbit for days. The people of Earth had not been warned, the government believing it would only incite riots, panic, and looting. In their defense, there has been a history of this in disastrous situations among Human populations.

But Now, roughly seven square miles of titanium and steel was bearing down on the city of Portland like the vengeance of an angry god come to punish them. Having not witnessed such an event myself, it is difficult to describe such a sight for the reader. Suffice it to say, the last time I remember something like this happening was when a meteor of that size exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia with a force over 20 times that of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II.

As terrible and frightening as this was, it was not the sum of the problems facing them. On board the ISS, there had been a top secret and illegal experiment conducted in biological warfare. Called Project Spyglass, the contents of the experiment were a deadly and pervasive super bacterial agent called WILBUR893.

Nearly indestructible, the pathogen could survive in virtually any environment, was Zoonotic, meaning it could jump from species to species, and could multiply at an exponential rate. Once released, WILBUR893 would spread and spread until it took over almost the entire world.

Try to imagine a fungus, like black mold. Imagine that a small smudge of it develops on the surface of the Pacific. A moment later, it begins to grow and grow. In a matter of two weeks, the entire surface of the Earth is covered with this black stain. From space, there is no water, no grass, no trees, no deserts. All that can be seen of our tiny blue marble is murky blackness.

That is the unstoppable hunger that WILBUR893 was poised to rain down upon us.

September 22, 2016

Washington, District of Columbia

7:00 P.M. EST

While all this was happening, I was on the east coast, saying good-bye to my life. My efforts to convince the President and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to warn the public of the bacterium had failed. No, they had decided, there is no escaping the bacterium and warning them of it would have only served to send the masses running for the hills in vain.

Yes, I had thought to myself, why would we want to panic the people? No need to worry. After all, it’s only a deadly disease coming to kill us all.

But, to no avail. Instead, the President had ordered myself, a few other scientists, and his executive assistant, Caitlin to the Cripple Creek Scientific Center and Bunker Compound to survive the disaster. Caitlin, the last addition, was due to the fact that she could help with clerical duties and that she was my girlfriend. It was thought that once the worst was over, we would be able to do something for the survivors. That and they worried, and rightly so, that I would not leave without her.

I could not make out their names in the files, but there were a microbiologist, a Botanist, and a medical doctor who specialized in diagnosis of infectious disease. With all of these fields – in addition to those I had studied, covered, the thought was that we should be able to understand the pathogen as well as understand its effect on plants, animals, humans, other microbes and the world at large. That was the theory, anyhow.

So it was that Caitlin and I found ourselves standing over three graves in D.C. at around the time the Falling Object became visible in the sky over the opposite coast. I was there to say good-bye to a wife and two children whom I still cannot remember. I remember that they had been killed in a terrorist attack when their plane crashed into a very important building at the bidding of religious zealots.

But I can’t remember them. I remember that they existed, but, not their faces. Their faces, voices, all aspects of them are completely gone from my mind. I can’t even remember the gender of my children. You can’t imagine the agony of knowing that you once had children but are unable to remember a thing about them. How old were they? Were they good children? Was I a good father? Worst of all, was I a bad father, or did the criminals do them a favor, freeing them from me?

I remember that I had descended into a terrible downward spiral of anger, alcohol and sorrow afterward and that this woman who owed me nothing had held me up when I could no longer stand. Later, when I was able think of my wife without wishing for death, she would become my girlfriend.

One more time, this angel stood by me and offered her strength as I said good-bye to my murdered family, possibly forever. She waited silently as I said my good-byes to three cold and lifeless pieces of stone. She gingerly kissed each of the stones and, for the last time left her beloved lilies for my family. She then moved back to my side, hooked her arm in mine and kissed me gently on the cheek.

And then we walked away.

September 22, 2016

Portland, Oregon

7:00 P.M. PST

With a deafening sonic boom, the falling object broke through the lower stratosphere and began careening toward the surface. The people of Rose City, I imagine, gazed up at it with a mixture of awe and terror. It was beautiful. It was magnificent. And it was unspeakable.

When a falling object impacts the Earth, it does so with mind numbing force. The damage it does is completely disproportionate to its size. There was a meteor crater near where I grew up – the Impact site of an ancient event. The crater itself was three-quarters of a mile across, and it was suspected that the meteor that made this hole in the Earth was about 160 feet across. Translate that to seven square miles of titanium hurtling toward Earth, and you’ve got a recipe for the end of the world.

For years the people had been told that the National Air and Space Administration kept track of all near Earth objects and there was currently nothing to fear. In fact, in 2015, NASA had responded to the reports by doomsday wackos by releasing a report to the media. According to that report, there was very little chance anything could strike Earth for the next few hundred years.

Tell that to the people of the Pacific Northwest. In their defense, I doubt anyone considered to look at the things we had put up there. I suppose it was only a matter of time. We spent ages putting things in orbit and letting them fall to Earth in controlled falls. Eventually, we were bound to lose that control.

That time had come. In a blazing fireball, the ISS Struck the Pacific Ocean miles from the City of Portland. So powerful was the impact that it powered through the ocean water and slammed into the bedrock with the force of a 300 kiloton bomb, digging a hole several miles deep.

September 22, 2016

Washington, District of Columbia

10:00 P.M. EST

As the ISS took its nose dive into the ocean, the President and the Joint Chiefs were watching their schemes come to fruition in the Oval Office. I was watching through a wireless feed on board Marine One. I was watching the evidence of my failure. The cosmos had handed me the responsibility to save the world and I had failed. The very idea was sickening. But there was more to come.

All I could do is sit there and watch, tears welling up in my eyes. Caitlin, at my side, leaned her head on my shoulder and prayed for it to be over. Again, I wanted to say something, anything to make it all better. Again, there was nothing I could say. There was soon to be a cataclysm from which the world may never recover and the weight of fixing it was going to rest squarely on my shoulders. For the moment, all we could do was bury our heads in the sand and wait for the worst to be over.

September 22, 2016

Portland, Oregon

7:15 P.M. PST

The force of the impact shook the City of Portland to its foundations, tumbling buildings, destroying bridges, and terrifying the people. The streets cracked open as if in an earthquake, swallowing people, pets, and vehicles without discrimination. This was not an angry and vengeful attack. It did not care what or who you were. Good and evil were of no consequence here. There were only living or dead. But, it still was not over.

At the shore, seamen and onlookers watched in horror as the entirety of the seawater touching the city receded by miles. It looked for all the world as if a titan had finished his bath and removed the plug. There was a deadly silence in the air that was chilling. The calm before the storm, as the saying goes.

Suddenly, the silence was shattered by a deafening roar. Like an army of a billion tanks rumbling across the seafloor, it came at the defenseless people and washed over them with an almost physical blast. Immediately on its heels was the source: a massive tsunami of incomprehensible proportions. Through the feed on the helicopter, I could see the gigantic wave form, and was reminded of a quote by a famous scientist during the second world war: “Now, I am become death, destroyer of worlds!8” Looking back, even a worldwide war pales in comparison to such an extinction-level event.

Three miles tall and traveling at over one hundred miles per hour, it bore down on the defenseless city like a bloodthirsty monster come to claim its prey. Without ceremony or show, the gigantic wave dumped itself upon the city and tore through its streets and beyond. It continued past the city limits and went on its merry way to wash up…God knows where.

That is what I know. Based on what I remember and what I read in Caitlin’s reports and files. From here on, I can only offer conjecture based on what I’ve read and what I remember. I wasn’t there so I can’t be entirely sure, but this is what I believe to be true.

As the ISS slammed into the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, it crumpled and pulverized itself into titanium soup. The contents of the station – people, equipment, specimens and all were crushed along with it. Like an egg thrown at a wall, everything was scrambled into one big mess. I realize one might find that analogy to be disgusting, but it is also accurate. The result was a simultaneous release of all of the microbial specimens in the microbiology lab.

As the west coast was suffering a massive catastrophe in the form of the deadliest and most destructive tidal wave in human history, a veritable soup of deadly toxins and diseases was festering in the ocean mere miles off shore. Some of these microbes were killed on impact or due to environment. Some remained, chief among them was WILBUR893: an ageless, faceless, mindless killer…waiting for a host to carry it to a rich new hunting ground.

As simplistic as it sounds, an unsuspecting fish swam through the muck, becoming infected before swimming into the city streets, which were now rivers. In these rivers, humans floated, the lucky few who had survived the wave. The fish made contact with a human, whether by touch or being eaten, and the apocalypse had begun. Every person that human made contact with became infected, and everyone those people came in contact with, and so on, and so on… The rate of infection multiplied exponentially, spreading from species to species until only the heavily forested evergreen areas remained.

Only there, where the air was thick with the oils of pine trees, was the disease unable to kill its victims. But here, in these heavily wooded areas, there be monsters. Rather than kill, the bacterium drove its victims mad. So, while “safe zone” seems an oversimplification, that is all that we can call them. Outside the safe zones, people died by the millions. Inside the safe zones, they went mad. Stuck between a rock and a hard place would be the understatement of the century.

We had known the ISS would crash into the ocean. We had known there would be a tsunami as an after-effect. We had even known that the collision would release Wilbur out into the world. What we hadn’t known, what we could not predict, was the immense psychological impact Wilbur could have on the mind of a survivor.

Most people were catatonic within days, some hung on longer before going mad. A few managed to cling to their mental faculties a little longer. I can imagine that it must have been terrifying as the human race went insane one by one. Much worse, however, would be watching people die slowly, with no way of knowing what caused it.

I was one of the last group to go. Even I, however, gave in to the madness eventually. As I watched my comrades and my lover go insane, one at a time, the sickness took a toll on my mind as well. My mind became lost for weeks or months on end, and it took my body with it. I have no idea how or why, but something pulled me out of my stupor on that winter morning. I was alive and coherent…ready to submit myself to another psychological beating…

© 2016 Phyksios

Next: Chapter VII: No Memory

This post first appeared on The Viking Barbarian Speaks! | Original Recipes, M, please read the originial post: here

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Formaldehyde, Part VI


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