Authors: Sam Fisher
Tags: #Thriller, #Fiction/General
It was close to midnight at Base One. The night shift was manning their stations in Cyber Control. Tom was in his motorised wheelchair studying the holoscreen on his laptop. He looked up as a loud buzzing sound reverberated around the room and zipped over to the control console where two techs were running some software checks.
âWhat's happened?' he asked.
âOn the main screen. And get the others here.'
The screen was filled with a green smudge, but gradually it cleared. The image was coming from BigEye 9, one of 32 satellites in geosynchronous orbit about the earth. Each BigEye was loaded with detection equipment supplied by CARPA. They could detect any form of what was designated as an âunconventional' disturbance on the planet. They were also programmed to act intelligently â that is, to filter out any âdisturbances' that fitted acceptable parameters and analyse any form of explosion, landslide, seismic or volcanic activity, any unregistered troop massing, gunfire or other military signature. If anything untoward was detected, the BigEye raised the alarm and transmitted the information to Base One.
The screen began to show the outline of an island. It resembled a larger version of Tintara. As the camera on BigEye 9 zoomed in, the image moved to a spot a dozen kilometres off the north coast of the island.
âSybil. What are the coordinates, please?' Tom asked.
â16' 46” 39.9”' North, 179' 14” 31.8”' East. A point 12.2 kilometres off the north coast of Fiji in the Pacific Ocean.'
The middle third of the screen expanded and the outer edges of the image fell out of sight. The picture was now an unbroken blue.
âWhat are we looking at, Syb?'
âThe Neptune Hotel.'
âThe what? Info on screen, please.'
A block of text appeared.
âDo you have a schematic, Sybil?'
Two diagrams appeared, artist's impressions showing the view from above and another from the side. The first showed three circles in a linear arrangement. They were linked by passageways approximately 20 metres long, 5 wide. To the north of the middle circle lay two smaller circles with a channel running from each to the central dome. The side view was from the south and portrayed the three huge domes constituting the hotel. It offered no sense of scale.
âHow big are those things?' Tom asked.
âEach dome is 60.34 metres high and 51.2 metres in diameter.'
At that moment, Mark and Mai strode in. Mark looked tired. He had just finished a double shift. Mai had been in the shower when the alarm sounded. She was in a fresh jumpsuit, her jet black bob still wet. Without makeup, her high cheekbones were even more striking than normal. She somehow looked younger. Pete arrived a few moments later, dumping a backpack on the floor. He had just returned from a training exercise on the other side of Tintara.
âWhat's happened?' Mark asked.
âNot sure yet. The epicentre of the trouble is this place.'
The three new arrivals stared at the screen. âWhat the hell...?'
âA hotel complex 100 metres beneath the Pacific. Quite amazing,' Tom replied. Then he turned to the two technicians. âAnything more from BigEye 9?'
The screen lit up with a live image of the Neptune Hotel. It was obscured by churning water and sediment, but it was obvious something terrible had happened to the building. The most easterly dome was tilted as though its foundations had been damaged.
âAn earthquake?' Mai queried, standing next to Mark.
âAnything?' the E-Force leader asked, turning to Tom who had returned to the main control console. âData are coming in now,' he said and tapped at his laptop. Numbers and symbols skittered across the holoscreen. âLooks like a quake,' he said after a moment. âSybil? Project data from BigEye 9 on the screen.'
A set of coloured graphs appeared. Pete took two steps towards the screen and scanned the information. âHard to tell from this if it was a quake or a bomb, to be honest,' he said. âCould be both of course. A bomb that caused a quake.'
âI seem to remember Fiji sits on the boundary of two tectonic plates,' Mai said. âSybil, show the plate arrangement on screen.'
The screen split. The graphs moved to the left, a new map appeared on the right. The map showed Fiji and the ocean around it. Superimposed onto this was a series of jagged lines.
âFiji is located at the boundary of the Australian and Pacific plates,' Sybil said. âThese two plates are opposite-ffacing subduction zones.'
âMeaning?' Mai asked.
âThe plates move in opposite directions which means their movements have caused transform faults in the past. Fiji was also once a volcanic island but has been inactive for a long time.'
âSeems like an odd place to put a hotel, don't you think, Sybil?' Tom remarked.
âI would have to disagree,' the computer replied. âMy analysis shows that the region to the north of Fiji where the Neptune Hotel has been constructed is, in fact, unusually stable. The ocean floor in this region is known as the Fiji plateau, a relatively flat and rocky area formed millions of years ago. Furthermore, the nearest fracture definitely produced by tectonic activity within the past million years lies approximately 298 kilometres to the north.'
âWell, what about a quake some distance away that caused a disturbance under the hotel?' Pete asked.
âBigEyes 9, 16 and 21 confirm no sign of seismic activity within a 1000 kilometre radius of the site during the past 48 hours.'
âAll right,' Mark said. âTom, we need more information on this place. Was anyone in it at the time of the shock?'
Tom touched the keys of the virtual keypad â a strip of lights on a plastic plate under the holoscreen of his laptop.
Mark ran his hand over his cropped hair and turned to the techs. âI need a full infrared scan asap,' he said. Then he glanced back at Tom. âAnything?'
âThere's almost nothing online about the place. Just permits for construction, design drawings and schematics. There're a couple of very vague articles about the Xavier family, the bunch behind the scheme, plus lots of hits for the designer, Felix Hoffman. But he's put nothing on record about working on the project. It's sealed pretty tight.'
âFantastic,' Mark retorted and whirled towards the techs. âGuys? Anything from BigEye?'
âComing through now.'
A black outline appeared, superimposed over the distorted live image. It was a computer-generated image of the way the structure of the hotel should have been. They could see how all three domes were now misaligned and how the top of the most westerly dome to the left of the screen had shattered. Then, as they watched, scores of red dots appeared within the outline. Most of these were concentrated at the top of the dome on the right of the screen. Each one represented a warm human body.
âHotel staff and guests,' one of the techs commented gravely. âSome alive and some newly dead.'
When Harry opened his eyes, he thought he must be dead. All he could see was a blurred yellow light. It took his eyes a moment to focus, and his brain a few more to process the fact that he was actually looking at a flame, a couple of centimetres from his nose. Then he felt the heat. He recoiled, and realised he was lying on his side. Rolling over, he felt a stab of pain in his left arm and shoulder. He kneeled up and wiped a hand across his face, and it came up wet with blood.
The room was almost black, the only light coming from fires dotted about the vast expanse. Then, as Harry tried to see through the gloom, the emergency lights flickered and stuttered into life. They cast a greenish, unhealthy aura over a scene of abject horror.
There was dust everywhere. It fell like fine rain drifting down onto twisted human shapes. There was debris scattered all around â paper, tablecloths and cutlery, pieces of crockery, food, smashed wine bottles, shards of glass and lumps of twisted metal. Harry had been thrown against a column, and remembered how he had grabbed at it as the room swayed and the world seemed to be ending. Now he pulled himself to his feet, using the column to steady himself. He was covered in fine powder, from head to toe. His jacket was ripped to pieces and there was a gouge in the leather of his right shoe. Something had cut through it, narrowly missing his foot.
He tried again to rub the dust from his face, but only succeeded in driving the powder into his eyes. He blinked away the pain and felt again a sharp stab in his arm and shoulder. He pulled off his jacket and his shirt sleeve was red with blood. He tore at the sodden fabric and saw a deep cut in his upper arm, just above the elbow. It jolted him. He felt a rush of adrenalin, snapping him into the moment.
âHelp me, please.' The voice came from behind him. He turned and saw Jim Kemple. He was pinned under a table.
Harry crouched down and tried to pull the table away, but it was too heavy. âCan you push up, Jim?'
âOn three. One, two...'
The table began to lever up and Harry suddenly felt the weight lighten.
Turning, he saw Jim's partner, Alfred Taylor. He had his shoulders under the edge of the table. âGot it,' he said. âGet Jim out.'
Harry ducked down, squeezed his hands under Jim's shoulders and dragged him to his feet as Alfred let the table go with a dull thud.
âYou okay?' Harry asked.
âI think so.'
Alfred stepped over and hugged his partner. âNothing broken?'
Jim patted himself. âNope. Just the usual maddening knee,' Jim replied, rubbing where his cartilage hurt. âYou?'
Alfred looked down at the fabric of his trousers clinging wet to his right leg. âCut leg and a few bruises but otherwise...'
They turned in unison as a horrible scream cut the air. In the half light they could just see a figure a few metres away. The person sat up from a prone position on the floor, convulsed then fell back, lifeless.
Harry was first over there. It was a woman who had been at a nearby table. He didn't know her name. She was dead.
He stood up. âWhat the fuck happened?'
âNo idea. A quake?' Alfred offered.
Their eyes had begun to adjust to the light and now they could see the whole room, albeit through a haze. The stage had collapsed, and the lighting rigs had crashed down onto it. The dance floor was dotted with shattered bodies. Harry jumped back suddenly as he realised the lumpy object at his foot was a human arm, mangled, red and grey. âFuck,' he exclaimed.
âOkay, what do we do?' Jim asked.
Harry was about to try and answer when they heard another sound, a child.
It came from their left, near the edge of the circular pool. They made their way towards the source of the sound, picking a route through the mess. The light was fractured, a pallid, sickly glow. A few moments later, they had reached the edge of the pool. There was nothing there but piles of debris. Then they heard the voice again, a child calling for help. They edged their way along the rim of the pool, the green glow producing a sinister pallor in what they knew had been pristine water just a few minutes ago.
They heard a groan and Harry almost tripped over the small boy huddled against the edge of the pool. He was shivering and sobbing. It was Nick Xavier. Jim crouched down beside him. âNick,' he said.
The boy looked at him uncomprehending.
âHe's in shock,' Harry said. He turned to the boy. âNick, come on. Up you get.' He made to lift him from the low wall at the water's edge, but the kid pulled back.
âIt's okay. We're here to help you. There's been some kind of terrible accident. Are you hurt?'
Nick shook his head, but stayed silent. His eyes were huge in the green half-light.
âCome on. We've got to get out of here.' He took the boy's arm, and this time the kid did not resist.
âHow's that?' Harry asked when Nick was standing up. âEverything working?'
The kid nodded. âWhere're my mum and dad?'
âI'm sure they're not far,' Jim said reassuringly. âWhere did you see them last?'
âThey were close by at the table. Some of the others had gone up to dance. I went up there. My sister stayed behind. Then...'
âOkay, Nick. Okay.' Jim gripped his shoulder.
They made their way back towards where they had been eating, stumbling through the wreckage.
Alfred made them stop. âHang on. What're we doing?' he asked, turning to Jim, then Harry.
They turned at the sound and saw two shapes approaching. In the dim light they could make out little more than the outlines, but as the pair drew closer, they recognised them. It was Danny Preston. He had his arm around the shoulders of a young woman, Kristy Sunshine.
âAre you hurt?' Harry asked.
âI'm okay,' Danny said.
âAnd you?' Harry asked, stepping forward to look at the singer. He lifted her chin and saw that she had a cut on her forehead. Blood ran down her right temple. She was in shock. âNothing too serious,' Harry concluded and helped the two of them back to the others.
âDid you see anyone else?' Alfred asked the new arrivals. Kristy looked at him, speechless, her eyes slightly glazed.
âThere's a group over there,' Danny said.
âDid you see my mum and dad ... and Emily?' Nick asked, his eyes desperate.
âI think I did,' Danny replied. âThere was a group of about 30 people. They were nearer the stage. Kristy and me were separated from them when the first lighting rig collapsed. Kristy ran stage right. I was in the wings. We dashed this way because it seemed the safest place to be. Not sure why now.'
âAll right...' Harry was about to say something else and stopped suddenly, mentally checking himself. What was he doing? What had come over him? Why was he playing the leader all of a sudden? He hadn't behaved like this in years. But a second later he was stepping forward, doubts swept away by the desperate urgency to survive, to get out of this place at any cost. âFollow me,' Harry declared and headed into the murk, back towards the wrecked stage.
It was hard going. The floor was slick with liquid. Metal beams and chunks of plaster had scattered at random. As they approached the stage they could hear moans and cries for help. From further off came an ominous creaking, the sound of the infrastructure of the dome reacting to the strain.
Then they saw the main group of survivors. They were close to the devastated stage, around 30 of them huddled together. But as Harry and the others drew near, they were pulled up short by a great fissure in the floor. It ran across the room, 3 metres wide.
Harry edged towards it and looked into the opening. Through the gloom, he could see lights. Flames were licking up from the third floor, some lapping over the edge of the fissure. Jim approached and stopped a metre or so behind him.
A figure appeared on the other side of the chasm. It was Michael Xavier. His suit was in shreds, his face smeared with blood and dust. âWe can't get across,' he called.
âIsn't there an emergency exit your side?' Harry shouted back.
âIt's sealed shut.'
Nick took a couple of steps towards the fissure.
âNick,' Michael exclaimed. âThank God. I thought...'
âI'm okay, Dad. Where's Mum? And Emily?'
âThey're here. They're fine.'
âAre you hurt?'
âDad, what do we do?'
âLook, everything will be all right, Nick. Trust me. If there is any problem in the hotel an emergency signal goes out to the surface and the authorities on Fiji will know about it straight away. Help will already be on its way, I guarantee it.' Then he turned to Harry and the others. âYou have to get to the other side of the dome. Over there.' He indicated the far wall, back the way they had just come. âTry the exit there. If that doesn't work, there's another staircase. That will get you to the very top of Dome Beta â an observation deck on the mezzanine.' He pointed up to a gallery some 10 metres above the floor of the dining hall. You'll then have to work your way down the back stairs. There's a set of emergency subs on the lower ground floor. It's the best chance you have.'
âIsn't there another staircase your side?' Jim asked.
âIt's blocked. We're working on it.'
âNo buts, Nick. We'll be okay here. You have to get out your side. I'll get everyone to the other subs here in Gamma.' He turned to Harry. âLook after him please, Mr Flanders.'
At that moment Harry could barely imagine how he was going to look after himself. He turned and led the others away.