Maelstrom - Book 2 Of The Rain Trilogy
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by J. Richard Jacobs
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Book 2, Maelstrom, serves as a bridge between books 1 and 3 of the trilogy. It is short, barely a novella, and may be read as a stand-alone. This book provides filler information so that you, the reader, may understand what occurred to bring about the cultural and technological changes you will find in the third instalment, Book 3: Tapper Tom, Mooch, and the Traveler. The first book is solid science fiction based in fact and real possibility. The third book is an adventure, still science fiction, but based more in conjecture, fun and action.
In Book 1 of The Rain Trilogy, Storm Cloud Rising, the unthinkable came to light. There was no refuting that the comets and rocks were there. Many of them could be seen and tracked-but more could not, hiding behind sheaths of carbon black in a huge sky and, unless caught in the frantic radar and infrared sweeps after the first discovery, remaining invisible in the immense darkness of space. It is, after all, a huge sky and it takes some time to map all of it with the thoroughness required to "know" what is coming, where it is coming from and where it is going. Especially in a world where the infrastructure has crumbled, leaving no organized force to do the work of unveiling those clumps of ice, stone and metal hurtling toward the sun from all directions and at incredible speeds. Not everyone knew what that meant, but there were some, nesting in high, untouchable places and they were determined to keep it secret from an unsuspecting public; people whom they knew with some certainty and justification would panic and demand answers. Answers the pundits could not and would not answer. Their people would want protection. Protection that could not be offered. It could not even be lied into existence. But that's what all those governments were there for, right? To defend and protect their citizens from disaster?
eBook Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing/Double Dragon eBooks, 2011 Double Dragon Publishing
eBookwise Release Date: February 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [90 KB]
Reading time: 50-71 min.
Book 2, Maelstrom, serves as a bridge between books 1 and 3 of the trilogy. It is short, barely a novella, and may be read as a stand-alone. This book provides filler information so that you, the reader, may understand what occurred to bring about the cultural and technological changes you will find in the third instalment, Book 3: Tapper Tom, Mooch, and the Traveler. The first book is solid science fiction based in fact and real possibility. The third book is an adventure, still science fiction, but based more in conjecture, fun and action.
In Book 1 of The Rain Trilogy, Storm Cloud Rising, the unthinkable came to light. There was no refuting that the comets and rocks were there. Many of them could be seen and tracked--but more could not, hiding behind sheaths of carbon black in a huge sky and, unless caught in the frantic radar and infrared sweeps after the first discovery, remaining invisible in the immense darkness of space. It is, after all, a huge sky and it takes some time to map all of it with the thoroughness required to "know" what is coming, where it is coming from and where it is going. Especially in a world where the infrastructure has crumbled, leaving no organized force to do the work of unveiling those clumps of ice, stone and metal hurtling toward the sun from all directions and at incredible speeds. Not everyone knew what that meant, but there were some, nesting in high, untouchable places and they were determined to keep it secret from an unsuspecting public; people whom they knew with some certainty and justification would panic and demand answers. Answers the pundits could not and would not answer. Their people would want protection. Protection that could not be offered. It could not even be lied into existence. But that's what all those governments were there for, right? To defend and protect their citizens from disaster?
The cosmic velocities of the incoming rain in many cases exceeded the norm; some of it charging in at close to seventy-one thousand meters per second. They originated somewhere out in the vast Oort Cloud and the outer Kuiper Belt that surround our solar system, though some may have come from elsewhere to start the chain of events.
The Oort Cloud--a cosmic bubble of primordial junk adrift in tenuous, lazy orbits, ominously awaiting an opportunity to move into the system. All it took was a gentle nudge sometime in the dim past and they came falling in. They had to be found, catalogued, their trajectories computed.
Escape? Impossible. At the least, a few of the big ones were bound to hit Earth. Simply the odds at work. Others would collide with some of the belt mines, Martian colonies and fragile out-stations. That was close to a given--you could bank on it. They raced past the dim outer limits of the solar system as if the Grim Reaper and all his kin were charging toward the sun in reckless abandon, swinging their scythes wildly this way and that as they straddled the backs of swift, all but invisible, black stallions. Mindless, merciless, blind destruction would be left in the wake of the approaching storm.
In Book Two of The Rain Trilogy: MAELSTROM we are confronted with what happens when Earth is attacked, beaten and torn apart by an inept, sadistic surgeon wielding a dull scalpel and a heavy hammer--her thin skin callously ripped apart and her viscera spilling out onto the surface in thick, superheated tendrils, glowing orange and white, then hardening into black rock as they cool. Clouds of dust and ash shrouding Earth, denying the little blue planet most of the life-giving light of the sun and its warmth. The Martian and lunar colonies will fair better if not directly struck--not enough atmosphere to disrupt over a long period.
Not all the people on Earth have had the good fortune of finding a hole to hide in. Actually, most didn't think of that possibility, they just ran helter-skelter toward the south where their sworn protectors had fled. Even though the Pope, his astronomers and their fellow scientists from Vatican City and other places around the globe, stepped boldly to the front and broadcast to the world what was going to happen in great, frightening detail. They suggested ways the people might find protection for themselves; how they could conceivably live through the coming heavenly holocaust to build a new world at the end of the onslaught. They told the people how the great powers, the governments of the world, made self-righteous decisions about who would survive and who would not in a sweeping global triage and how their elected or self-appointed officials had no intention and no means of protecting or defending their people, anyway. They revealed how these "protectors" plundered Earth's seed banks, the so-called Doomsday Vaults, and took all that was available into hiding with them somewhere in the south.
Now, those who didn't listen or paid no heed must bear the full fury of the storm--exposed. Will there be any survivors? Time will tell, but it does not look good for anyone--not even those who found or carved and blasted out holes deep underground in which they could hide from the rain and ride out the long winter to come. There were many who fled southward, blindly following their protectors in a vain hope that they would be given shelter. They all faced an uncertain future and an even less secure present. Around them there was a random, cosmic tossing of the dice going on and no one could say how long the bombardment would endure or the tenebrous, frigid, killing winter would last.
So, what will be left of the monuments to human achievement? Will any of them be useful, or will they all be nothing but wasted ruins, the twisted, shattered remains of cities near impact zones or those unscathed by direct attack but situated in the paths of advancing ice fields sliding relentlessly, scouring the ground beneath--or perched dangerously close to new volcanoes and shifting fault lines? Will any of our technology and social structure be in place after the influx subsides, or will we be reduced to total anarchy and plunged into the abyss of paleolithic savagery?
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* * * *
25 June 2061 in a small pueblo southwest of Cartago, Costa Rica
* * * *
"Hey, Manuel, I thought you were going to the big city today," Xavier Mendez said as he entered through a gate hanging from one loose, rusted hinge that squealed out its complaint at having been disturbed.
"I changed my mind. They are supposed to be hit by a meteor or something tomorrow and I would rather not be there when that happens--if it happens at all. I think it is a sick joke. We shall see, eh? Besides, Julieta says that I have plenty of work to do around here until next week. Would you like to come in for an early lunch? We have plenty of beer in the ice and Julieta is making her world famous Casado."
"That sounds good to me. Are you sure she won't mind?"
"For you, Xavier? No. She is as close to you as her own brother."
"Do you believe that? The meteor, I mean."
"No, not really, but it is better to be safe, eh? If it does not happen and Cartago is still there after tomorrow, of which I am pretty sure it will be, I shall go in next Monday for the things we need. If, on the other hand, it does happen, then there will be no reason to go to a place that is no longer there, no? Come, Xavier, let us forget things that may or may not be. Let us eat and drink ourselves into a better humor to face the heat of the afternoon. After we eat and sleep some, you can help me put up the fence around our little garden, that is, if you have nothing else to do."
Xavier removed his coarsely-woven straw hat and drew a sleeve of light cotton across his forehead. He gave a quick nod of agreement.
"Julieta," Manuel shouted, "put on another plate for a starving guest."
26 June 2061: 1 hour before local sunrise
Manuel Orozco-Gutierrez awoke to a cacophony of distressed noises emanating from the corrals where the sheep and goats were supposed to be sleeping. The sound of a rooster's dry-throated crowing and the mindless, frantic cackling of chickens from the hen houses added to the din, though he thought they shouldn't be raising such a ruckus--and it sounded to him as if they felt the same. Dogs throughout the village brought their strained voices into the chorus. They weren't barking. They weren't yelping or howling. To Manuel, it sounded as if they were screaming in mortal fear. He tossed in bed, trying to regain his slumber but it alluded him.
The early morning light invaded their little bedroom. It moved across the wrong part of the wall for that time of the year. It appeared to be moving too fast and not in the right direction. It was the wrong color. It was too early. It was....
He jumped from a warm bed, paying no mind to Julieta who lay snoring at his side.
He threw a loosely woven light cotton robe over his broad, boney shoulders to shield him from the slight chill the early morning air usually carried and padded barefoot out to the patio to investigate the ruckus. His wife snorted her displeasure at his inconsiderate movement, rolled over and went back to sleep.
Perhaps a predator has managed to get through the hole in the fence that I should have mended last week.
When he stepped out onto the cool, flat stones of the patio, what accosted his gaze was not at all what he expected.
"Madre de Dios," he said, gasping for the breath that what he saw stole from him in a blast of cold terror.
He squeezed his eyelids to narrow slits to see a ball of brilliant light in the distance, a light so bright it was painful to his eyes.
His mind raced back to when he was a child and his father had taken him into the big city. They had gone there to pick up the new steel window bars for a recent addition to their house and he had disobeyed his father's admonition not to look at the welder's arc. His vision remained unclear afterward and, when he closed his eyes, he could still see the glaring blue-white light of the arc for what he remembered as days, though that, he was sure, was an exaggeration of childhood memories. Everything that occurred back then became bigger and more important in later life than it was when it happened.
The light in the sky appeared much larger than the sun and was growing even bigger as it moved toward the jagged horizon at an astonishing speed. The blackness of the still dark morning sky shifted to cerulean, then glaring white. The blazing light disappeared below the line of distant mountains in just a couple of seconds, then was replaced by an expanding ball of fire rising from that mountain-toothed horizon. It increased in size and intensity until the entire sky was filled and illuminated with the brilliance of thousands of Summer suns. Suns that reached out with blazing fingers for Manuel and his little village. The temperature climbed astonishingly fast.
Manuel stood transfixed, eyes opened wide in sightless disbelief. There was an odd, acrid smell in the air he didn't recognize and a nasty, acidic taste he couldn't place. He thought to call his wife so she might see this incredible event unfolding before him. His mouth opened, but he found he could not speak. His lungs burned and his throat dried up more than the stream behind the corrals did when the rains refused to come for a few weeks. The animals, too, fell silent in death. Thought vanished from his mind. A few seconds later, his robe burst into a flash of flame, falling as a light sprinkle of smoldering ash at his feet. His wide, brown eyes, first blinded by the intense glare, were seared from their sockets. Large, watery blisters formed instantly in his flesh. They swelled and burst in small puffs of steam. Pieces of skin peeled away from his body and fluttered to the ground like a flaming rain of dead, black butterflies in a field of fire. The fluid squirting from his exposed tissues erupted into miniature tongues of flame, much like the oils of an orange or lemon rind squeezed in front of a burning match will do. Manuel crumpled to his knees on the coarse stone patio. Everything around him was engulfed in scorching, intense heat, exploding into a devil's dervish of violent, gyrating fire, clawing its way skyward in a howling storm of flame, smoke and ash that was then carried aloft on the inrush of surrounding, superheated air. Manuel slumped forward until his head, now a bare, empty skull, rested between his knees and he continued to burn. Long before his knees touched the stones of the patio...he was quite dead. All of this occurred in a time-span almost immeasurably short.
In a matter of seconds, a temblor rattled the Earth. The violent shaking tumbled all the block and adobe structures in the village to the ground. Even the sturdily built church in the town center, a building that had weathered test after test for more than two hundred years, collapsed as if it were nothing more than a wobbly mound of loose rocks piled up by children at play. The bells, clanging against loose stones, sounded out a death knoll as they tumbled from the crumbling tower. Then chunks of the Earth's innards, some boulder large and some small, mixed with a fine, sharp, scorching dust and ash fell as a dirty, dry rain. It covered Manuel's village with about a forty meter thick layer of what remained of the cities of San Jose, Cartago and others that were once situated some sixty-five and more kilometers to the northeast. A few seconds later, a blistering wind, traveling at more than nineteen hundred meters per second, swept everything away and smoothed out the covering of dust and grit. The searing blast of the shockwave flattened the forests above and far beyond the continuous ejecta blanket. It denuded the toughest of trees, those that refused to topple in the searing blast, so that they appeared to be nothing more than bent, black spikes jammed into the ground by a giant, demented planter of dead trees. After all of that, a pall of choking smoke and dust lingered everywhere, filling the sky with a dull brown and orange veil. The sky darkened. On that day the sun did not rise over central Costa Rica. Of course, Manuel was unable to appreciate any of it, being already dead and buried as he was. Buried deep like everyone and everything else. His little village and all of its people disappeared from the face of the Earth as if they had never been. A dense fog blanketed the region. Only a sloping layer of now muddied dust and slick, steaming, broken rock remained.
That is how the deadly deluge began. It was the end of time and the beginning of pain and suffering, followed quickly by the welcome peace and blessed silence of death. The predicted maelstrom had begun.
All the volcanoes in the region stirred to life, belching ash, poisonous gas and vapor into the air as if the gods were angered by their rude awakening. New volcanoes, spewing molten rock through freshly opened vents, joined in. Glowing snakes of lava slithered down the sides of growing cinder and melted stone cones. It oozed from cracks in the ground and ignited more fires. Fires that indiscriminately consumed all the vegetation in that part of the Central American isthmus, transforming its lush, verdant hues to a covering of smoldering gray and black. Great fissures opened in the ground around the gouge in the Earth that was, no more than a few seconds before, the major population center of Costa Rica. The entire planet trembled and rang like a giant bell from the cosmic knocking on her door.
Death was everywhere. Escape? Escape was hopeless...impossible. Death came instantly, mercifully for the fortunate ones such as Manuel, more slowly and painfully to those four hundred fifty or so kilometers from the impact center of Cartago, but it came, nonetheless, heedless to the cries of the victims.
An immense storm, sparked by the sudden heating of the atmosphere and the inrush of moist Pacific and Caribbean air drenched the region. It raised charged dust particles from around ground zero, dumped a dirty, acidic rain over the area and turned the ejecta blanket into a slurry of sticky, rocky slush that burned the flesh of anyone or anything it touched. Incessant lightning strikes, stopping the drops of liquid, muddy agony in mid-fall with stark, stroboscopic flashes of brilliant light, rekindled the fires that had been snuffed out by the incredible wind-driven rain.
A choking, toxic steam arose where the rain came into contact with the hot melt in the bottom of the gouge scooped out of the Earth. A gouge that formed a broad ring around the crater's growing central mount. Noxious, poisonous fumes and boiling fluids sprang from volcanic vents and open flows of lava. Hot mud gushed and bubbled from the crazed, cracked ground farther away. Hell had come calling--without invitation.
* * * *