A Tale of Daylight, by Brother Grimace
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), usually called the Alyeska Pipeline in Alaska or the Alaska Pipeline elsewhere, is a major U.S. oil pipeline connecting oil fields in Alaska's North Slope to a North Pacific seaport where the oil can be shipped to the Lower 48 states for refining.
The main Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs north to south, almost 800 miles (1,300 km), from the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to the Gulf of Alaska at Valdez, Alaska, passing near several Alaskan villages and towns, including Wiseman (pop. 21), Bettles (pop.39), Livengood (pop.29), Fox (pop.300), Fairbanks (pop. 34,540), and Glennallen (pop.554) [see map].
Construction of the pipeline through the sparsely-populated region presented significant challenges due to the remoteness of the rugged terrain and the harsh environment along the route. Between the North Slope and Valdez, there were three mountain ranges, active fault lines, miles of unstable, boggy ground underlain with frost, hundreds of streams and rivers, and migration paths of caribou and moose. Geological activity has damaged the pipeline on several occasions.
Since its completion in 1977, the pipeline has transported over 15 billion barrels (2.4 TL) of oil.
- from the Wikipedia entry on the Alaska Pipeline
Burn baby burn! Disco inferno!
Burn baby burn! Burn that mama down!
Burn baby burn! Disco inferno!
Burn baby burn! Burn that mama down!
- from 'Disco Inferno' by The Trammps
As she hovered seventy miles above the surface of the Earth, Julia Carlyle remembered a panel from an old comic book that her fellow Alliance member Jeffrey Brace had in his (to be conservative) vast collection.
The book was called Strikeforce; Morituri, and the issue began with the Morituri (government super-soldiers, much like they were, she mused) returning to Earth from a successful mission in orbit around Jupiter to see a sight much like what she was looking down upon now...
Oh, God... Alaska... it's on fire...
Her large, jade eyes were wide open, allowing the biofiber-nanotech video cameras in the contact lenses she wore to take in the images of the forty-ninth state far below, a full third of the land engulfed in raging flame; a massive cloud of smoke and burning debris was moving towards the east and southeast, covering a good portion of Canada and expanding further...
From what we heard, the Pipeline exploded all at once – and there's probably no way that anyone could stop the fires, not even with powers... what? What the heck is that?
Julia looked down to the Legion flight ring on her right ring finger. It's receiving a signal pulse – a Legion distress signal? From Alaska? What the hell?
The redhead turned herself slightly; with a single movement of her wings, Julia exploded downwards towards the Kodiak Peninsula. I didn't know that there were any Legionnaires in Alaska – only Tom and Jane have that kind of range when they fly – Jane. It must be Jane. The way the CMEs are screwing up the Earth's magnetic field must be screwing up her magnetic powers – but that's weird, because it hasn't affected anyone else with her powers like that, only telepaths. Their powers have all been boosted, as if some form of dampening field was blown when the first wave of CME's hit...
A sonic boom split the air as Julia re-entered the atmosphere. That special EM 'flux' that somebody tweaked the Earth's magnetic field with to inhibit long-range psi-communication – it's fading now, being erased by the massive EM shockwaves Earth's been getting hit with... the only good thing about this mess. Psychics will be the new communications system by this time next month, when the flux is fully gone...
Wait a minute. I know this heading. That's Grace Island - where the Legionnaires went for survival training... it has to be Jane.
Three minutes later, Julia soared through surprisingly clear nighttime skies, sparing only a slight glance for the backlit wall of blackness on the horizon before she glided downwards – and pulled back in surprise as she saw a giant black arrow appear in the moonlit sky, pointing towards a spot near the north end of Grace Island.
Okay. That's not Jane or Tom – but I didn't know any Legionnaires had that power-
She jerked in surprise as her tac-com radio – a system hardened against the EM fields – crackled to life. "Worthingham? Is that you? Guthrie? Respond if you are able to pick up this transmission! Carlyle – is that you up there? Respond! This is Lieutenant Commander Mallory Dean, U.S. Coast Guard! Respond!"
Recognizing the voice, Julia stopped in mid-air and reached for her microphone. "Ma'am? Cadet – I mean, Commander Dean?"
Relief all but flooded from the speaker. "Thought I recognized that flight path – you always move as if you're avoiding ground fire. The Professor's training, right? Never mind that – get down here! Tell us what the hell's been happening in the world!"
Moments later, Julia soared over the north end of Grace Island to see the burnt-out remains of three boats moored to a dock, and a small crowd of people shouting, waving and applauding as she headed in towards them.
She sped downwards and landed on the dock; the people ran down towards her, but a very familiar sound and flash – the sound and flash of a PFT weapon discharging in the air at nearly full power – halted the people in their tracks.
Hey - the blue-pink color of that blast - that's an Academy-issue PFT! It is Cadet Dean!
As Julia watched, a short-haired brunette in Coast Guard fatigues and tactical gear, an M9 service pistol on her hip and a PFT-M2 in hand, walked through the cowed crowd of about one hundred people (who looked a little rough around the edges this close-up, Julia observed) and looked her over; Julia immediately saluted her.
"Carlyle. They made you a butterbar." Commander Dean returned the salute, and looked her over. "You're a, what now, a first-year, right? You and the rest of the Professor's personal litter of pups in 2996 – they commissioned you and put you all in the field, did they?"
"Yes, ma'am." Julia remembered Commander Dean – a Cadet First Year when she and the rest of The Alliance began their studies at USAES, and a Phantom Eagle who didn't give a single break to anyone, but pushed the younger cadets to always find a bit more in themselves when under pressure – and remained at attention.
"At ease, Carlyle. If you've got information – any information – we can use it. The Academy's running at Code Acheron, right?"
Several people moved away from the crowd to listen, including a pair of Coast Guard officers, a man in a sheriff's uniform, and a forty-something woman with long brown hair and glasses that made her look like a stereotypical librarian. "You're a Federal Marshal. I had heard that you were gunning for an FBI badge – what happened?"
"Ma'am, maybe we should find somewhere to talk," Julia spoke up, "but first - I picked up a Legion distress signal that led me here. Who-"
"That's me," a beautiful, platinum-haired girl said, stepping from the crowd. "I sent the signal."
"I know you," Julia said, remembering the girl's face from somewhere. "Where do I know you from...?"
"Langston – Langston Chambers," the girl said, smiling at her. "I'm a friend of Charles – he had let me hold onto his ring until he came back up."
"Really?" Oh, the jokes this will make...I'll just bet that he let you hold onto something – or was it a mutual holding-on thing? "He showed you how to work the ring?"
The girl blushed down to her toenails. "Later, Lieutenant," Dean snapped, her voice focusing Julia instantly. "Follow me."
She turned to the crowd, which had been all the while inching closer towards Julia. "As for the rest of you – get back to the visitor's center. We'll let you know what's going on later."
"Lieutenant Carlyle – Master Chief Rand, Chiefs Sanders and Rowe, Petty Officer Second Class Wittforth, and Ensign Cudahy... my only remaining officer," Dean said, escorting Julia into a large room with several black burn marks on the walls where lighting fixtures once were. "Seamen Terrence, Hughes, Trudeau, Kowalski. We're all that's left of the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Centralia."
"Short version – the day it all hit the fan, your Legion friends up here were having a big PR event to show this off – a National Legion camp for Legion kids all over the state to come to. All those people out there – parents of the kids, news people, and local officials – the lady with the glasses? That's Sarah Palin – she's running for Governor, and all four of her kids are in it, so she's a big-time supporter."
One of the seamen coughed; Dean turned to him. "Trudeau – how are you feeling?"
The sitting Guardsman shook his head, and coughed again. "Good to go, XO."
Julia noticed just how pale the seaman looked as Dean continued. "We were here because the higher-ups wanted the publicity – let the kids come aboard and all that; we ferried them over from Kodiak."
"It was supposed to be a nice little goodwill thing," the Master Chief grumbled, and Dean nodded in agreement. "Sorry for speaking out of turn, XO."
Julia brushed her hair back. "Where's the Centralia?"
"On the bottom of the Gulf," PO2 Wittforth spoke up; Julia cocked her head as she heard his voice, and took a close look at him. "Yeah, Lieutenant. You know me."
"Danny Wittforth," she said. "Cadre 3062. You got sent down as a second-year." Pervy jerk – always shadow-sliding into girl's rooms and showers, spying on people - I'm glad that Zoey and Maryann kicked the crap out of you.
"Kicked out," he said, the loathing he felt for her totally absent from his voice. "Two years ago, I went through the SSC – got my stripes."
Dean continued to speak. "What really bit was that we had to get them all here before sunrise – the Inuit were going to do some ceremony that had to be performed just as the sun came up. We'd finished offloading the passengers and all of the crap they brought when we got an SOS from a salmon trawler. Captain decided to have some of us stay here and watch over the people; folks up here stay calm when there are a lot of uniforms around, and there was a storm coming in anyway. Gets better and better, huh? We grabbed some gear and a few extras, came on shore and the Centralia went out, about ten minutes before sunrise."
"You grabbed your PFT, ma'am?" Julia let a smile cross her face, and Dean smiled back; even though the Academy issued PFT's to graduating cadets, the weapons were not exactly cleared for use in view of the public. Until now, she thought.
"Ever seen a Kodiak bear up close? One blast in shock mode will knock even one of those monsters silly," Dean said, once again glad that she decided to grab her meta-operations 'bolt bag' and take it off the ship with her. "I decided 'better safe than sorry' and grabbed my 'bolt bag'. Thank God I brought it with me, all things considered – my shielded tac-com is the only radio working."
Julia felt the tension rise in the room; she knew what was coming next. "All that night, the Northern Lights were really bright; the show kept the civvies occupied while we had gotten the work done – but Wittforth had a feeling something was wrong, and he kept going to shadow-form."
"Everyone on your ship knew about his powers-" Julia's eyes went wide. "They all know about yours, too."
"You've worn that uniform long enough to know that there's no secrets," Dean said. "Fifteen of the crew were metas – the Captain likes the extra firepower. Wittforth locked his power down; the news people started filming their live shots as the Inuit began the ceremony, the Sun came over the horizon – and that's when Hell opened up. The equipment they had shut down, the microwave uplink superheated and melted down, every cell phone in sight either melted in someone's pocket, blew up or started spraying lightning bolts out of people's pants."
"The Centralia was still in sight, so we saw as she blew – it looked like she took a torpedo strike, went up like a Roman candle, cracked in half and went under... of course, we didn't pay much attention because that's when we heard it go up."
"The pipeline," Julia nodded. "I was looking it over for the people back home. We have to get you guys out of here soon – it's worse than it looks. What's your situation here?"
"Thirty-six injured civilians, nineteen in serious or worse condition," Dean told her. "From what I remember, you can take care of that, right?"
"One hundred and fifty-two civilians overall, plus my detail. Another forty-four dead from the wounds they got when-"
"Zero Hour hit," Julia announced. "That's what they're calling it. Let me tell you everything that's happened in the past forty-eight hours or so, since the end of the world as we know it...
Twenty minutes later, the Guardsmen and civilians in the room were either crying, in total disbelief or struck dumb by the real-life horror story that Julia had just finished telling them. "...If you hadn't seen me with your hyper-vision, ma'am, and had Langston activate the signal in the hopes that it was somebody who could pick it up..." Her words trailed away.
One of the Guardsmen spoke up. "Is anyone coming to rescue us? Can anyone rescue us?"
Julia skipped the questions as she turned to Dean. "How many metas do you have left, ma'am?"
"Wittforth's powers are what's keeping us alive now – he's got a dissipation field over the entire island that's damping down the higher levels of radiation and the EM surges; we figured that's what took out the electronics..." Dean stood up and began to pace the room. "We thought that we were at war – that someone had nuked Anchorage and Elmendorf Air Force Base, and hit the Centralia because she was a target of opportunity. This..."
She turned back to Julia. "The entire world?"
Julia nodded. "As of six hours ago, estimated global casualties from the CME strikes were calculated at almost four billion. Australia's taken the least damage, Europe and North America the worst. U.S. civilian casualties are estimated at between two hundred fifty and two hundred seventy million. Every city in North America is in flames or been turned into rubble save two; Las Vegas, Nevada and Ottawa, Canada."
The room was suddenly filled with sound; Ensign Cudahy, a tall, slender and incredibly handsome young man who was the textbook definition of the word 'bishonen', snapped back into attention. "My family's from Vegas – it's still there?"
"Yeah – I saw it yesterday during my first global recon flight. No idea how or why it didn't go up in flames. As for Ottawa – some form of heavy electromagnetic shielding is protecting the city. The Canadians have Department H, and the guy in charge there's named Hudson – he's a specialist in EM radiation. They're taking in refugees now, and preparing for the effects of the pollution from the pipeline fire and all of the other fires and effects across the continent – it's probably going to cover most of Canada, and probably North America before this is through – God knows how far the fires from the pipeline are going to spread; you might lose the entire state. You've been lucky here so far because of the winds, but as soon as they shift..."
"Right. We need to get out of here – but first things first." Dean walked back to the table and handed Julia a pack of chewing gum before setting a small cup in front of her. "We've got injured people here. Get busy – we need that saliva of yours to take care of them. Think of that Farrington kid, if that helps. I remember you spent a lot of time around him."
In any other setting, Julia would have had serious words with her; the redhead took the fruit-flavored stick of gum and began chewing...
The Guardsmen, armed with Julia's saliva, went out to take care of the injured people as Langston stayed behind. She sat down next to Julia, not even flinching as Julia held another cup up to her lips and let saliva flow over the rim.
"That's a helpful ability." Langston shifted in her seat. "Charles can't do that."
Julia's head jerked around. "You know about his power?"
"He came up last week," the girl said, smiling as she ran a finger over the Legion symbol on the ring. "He visited the Anchorage Legion chapter to give us the check for the Quest Foundation grant to help with National Legion activities, and to drop off a prerecorded message for the opening, because they wouldn't be able to make it up here... Charles took an extra day, and we went hiking."
"I thought Charles was more of a romantic than that."
The girl laughed along with Julia. "I know what he was like before the Legion – plenty of the tabloids have tried to make fun of him about it. I don't care about that – he's always treated me nicely..."
Julia looked Langston directly in the eye. "No. You and Charles – you didn't. Oh, my God, you did." God, the things guys do when they're crazy about some girl – or the other way around..."I can't believe he gave you his ring."
"Well, he said it would give him a reason to come back up and see me again." Langston brushed platinum-blonde curls out of her eyes, and smiled at Julia. "Charles told me all about the Legion's trip to your alma mater, too. He told me about your intramural match... and other stuff."
They both broke out in laughter. "Stop making me laugh – I'm trying not to swallow," Julia said – and as she realized what she had said, broke out in even louder bursts of laughter. "Oh, God, I did not just say that..."
Sunlight was about to break over the horizon as Julia stood on the dock with Commander – now Lieutenant Colonel Dean, and Langston. "I'm glad that your photographer friend's going to be okay."
"Thanks to you," Langston said, handing Julia a small case. "Even after he got burned, Hank was still taking pictures with his Pentax – he got shots of the Centralia when it blew. Maybe they'll be of use to someone."
"I'll tell them that you're here, and you need to be evacuated," Julia said, adjusting her shoulder holster. "I'm going to Legion Tower in Maryland as well – between them and the Academy, someone should be able to bring you back. I'll be back in an hour or two with news."
Langston's eyes went wide. "You can fly that fast?"
"I'll make it to Legion Tower in five minutes, talk fast, and get to the Academy in a minute or two. The rest of the time will be on debriefing. If you don't see me in two hours, I promise that someone else will be here with at least news of what's happening."
She looked around. "How are you guys doing on food, anyway?"
Dean patted her PFT. "Like I said, a blast in shock mode knocks these huge bears silly. Two turns them into dinner – and these are Alaskans. They know hunting. We're okay on food."
Julia looked back over to Langston. "Charles said that you're some sort of trail guide, right?"
"Like she said – I'm an Alaskan, born and bred. I've been shooting and camping since I was little." She watched as Julia took her badge out of a pouch on her uniform's right pant leg, pulled out her badge and tossed it to her. "What's this for?"
"I'm a U.S. Marshal – that means I have the power to deputize persons," she said, "and I doubt that there's any law around here. I also have the feeling that you don't want to leave, do you?"
The young woman looked off towards the mainland. "There's people who'll need some help."
"Do you know how to use one of these?" Julia unfastened her waist holster, and handed it and her PFT over to Langston; the look she gave Julia made the redhead want to laugh. Next time I see Charles, I am so going to talk to him. "It's better than a regular pistol in some respects – just don't ever fire it underwater. You won't like it."
With a thought, Julia let her wings spread forth, and a slight gust of wind swept the deck as they fluttered gently. "I'll be back – I promise."
In the blink of an eye, the winged redhead leaped into the sky, and disappeared faster than even Major Dean's radar sense could follow. "Well. Deputy Marshall Chambers," she said, looking about the area, "Better strap that on, since you're the law around here."
"We're under martial law, if I heard her correctly. You're still in charge."
Petty Officer Second Class Daniel Wittforth – now Sergeant Daniel Wittforth, USMC – listened in on the conversation from beneath the dock, where he was floating above the surface of the water in shadow form.
Nothing new there – but from what that bitch Carlyle said, the news about Las Vegas is more than enough. That has to be where Arcana's taken over.
Daniel's shadow form flowed across the surface of the water, over the shore and solidified near the treeline.
I knew that it was a good idea to stay on the island. With the aurora borealis lighting up like it did, I knew bad things were going to happen. Now, all I need to do is wait until they send someone to get us, and then, find a way to get to Vegas... with as much info as I can get. They'll be happy about that.
Oh, and if I can do some damage to some of their heavy hitters – less people to come after us later. Maybe I'll visit my former alma mater, and renew some old acquaintances...