Following several weeks of diplomatic maneuvering, the United Nations announced an accidental explosion had taken place at a developing mountain-site park in Belize during an incident investigation requested by the Belizean government. The announcement was short and stale, arousing little media interest. The battle at the site and loss of lives had been pushed under the rug.
The Chinese had levered a position of acceptance in the Security Council, admitting possession of the scepter taken from the Belizean mountain. They claimed it fell into their hands through the black market and proposed continuing study of the instrument under their tutelage with monitoring by the United Nations. Their real leverage had been derived from deployment of secret laser weaponry at the mountain site. They set a time and identified a target located in a meadow near the park development, and blasted a fifteen-foot crater, revealing for the first time advanced satellite laser capabilities. U.S. CIA Director, Dick Murray, was the only formal U.S. witness to the event.
With U.S. support, the Chinese were able to put a hold on the joint mountain-site park plans between Belize and the UN’s Institute for the Study of Unusual Phenomena (ISUP) until the United Nations studied the matter and structured the project for international participation. Until a plan was approved, entry into the mountain’s interior was prohibited without the presence of an appointed Security Council representative.
The U.S. military was locked in emergency mode. How had the Chinese managed to launch offensive satellites undetected? Where were they, and what defenses could be brought to bear? The problem was confounded by the inability to monitor space from space. With so much junk floating around in orbit, the task was daunting, but adjustments to the Star Wars satellite defense system were underway to enhance its detection capabilities to three hundred and sixty degrees within a year’s time.
The Chinese had been prepared, covering the source of their laser emissions by utilizing reflecting relay points mixed with space debris, rendering the beams impossible to trace. Until the threat could be neutralized, the Chinese at their leisure could quite literally blackmail the world.
To make matters worse, irrefutable evidence, gathered by the CIA from the mountain-site attack in Belize, confirmed the use of shadow technology by the Chinese, forcing an all-out U.S. commitment to develop its own invisibility capabilities as well as countermeasures against the technology.
Iceland: December 25th
Cambridge University maintained a sophisticated seismic recording station in the Canary Islands. Over the last five weeks, its instruments had registered increasing numbers of group disturbances as far away as the Azores and Cape Verde Archipelagos. The only common geologic denominator was the meeting of tectonic plates in the Atlantic Ocean along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
Sent by Cambridge’s Department of Earth and Astronomical Sciences, Dr. Marion Soffle was collaborating with Icelandic geophysicists to determine if their recorded tremor data would correlate.
The Vatnajökull Ice Cap was a rutted weave of undulating whites and grays, stretching away in a vastness of 8100 square kilometers and nestled between volcanic mountain peaks. Under the ice cap, 950 meters thick in some places, lay an intricate series of buried caldera lakes sustained by melt water from geothermal heating. Scientists knew that increased volcanic activity caused the temperature and level of the lakes to rise, producing overflow, dangerous ice-cap sloughing, glacial stream flooding, and the possibility of major eruptions. Constant measurements of volcanic activity was of paramount importance to the safety of Iceland’s population.
Two specks moved east over the surface like tiny orange bugs. Speeding along at twenty-five miles per hour, two Ski-Doos churned out white rooster tails in the fresh snow. They dodged fumaroles and boiling mud pits surrounding the recently erupted Grimsvoltn Caldera and headed toward a distant seismic recording station built into the protruding side of Mt. Breidubunga. The old station was constructed in the early 1930s by the British and wasn’t connected to Iceland’s digital monitoring system or integrated into the UN’s international network.
Lars Hansson from the Icelandic Hydrological Service and Dr. Soffle were making an unscheduled visit. Monitoring stations throughout Iceland had been registering increasing tremor activity in the complex family of calderas underlying the ice cap. Because the old station was nearest to the center of activity, retrieval of its tapes could be important to understanding what was happening.
Quivers rumbled under the Ski-Doos, jockeying them about like toys, and the two geologists knew the screeching and grinding from below were spider veins punching through the ice.
“This is not good,” Dr. Soffle barked into his helmet radio, barely avoiding a collision with the other Ski-Doo. “The activity is increasing. I hope this is worth it. The tape should tell the story. What do you think, Lars? Should we turn back?”
“It’s not where I thought I’d be spending Christmas, my friend. It is curious. The temperature data doesn’t support a change in the volcanics. There is no reason to believe the lakes are causing this. The activity has registered over the entire country. Something unusual is building.”
They slugged through several more waves of shuddering before reaching Mt. Breidubunga’s rocky edge. A fifteen-minute climb brought them to the station. Hansson quickly unlocked the metal door, and the two scientists knelt down in the confined space inside the weatherproof box.
The equipment looked like a Reuters tickertape, a six-inch-wide roll of tape wound on a spool every time readings were taken. The only technological innovation was the solar power cells charging the batteries. The station was scheduled for updating and integration into Iceland’s volcanic recording network, but the remote location made it last on the list. It had been maintained and kept functional because the deep hole drilled at its creation came closest to the principal magma bed underlying the island.
Hansson pulled the metal chain on the sixty-watt light bulb tacked on the wall and shut the door on the wind. “Let’s take a look at the last four or five days.”
They knelt on the cement-slab floor in the confined space of the weatherproof box, relieving themselves of their bulky helmets and heavy mittens. Dr. Soffle pulled a clipboard and a folder from his duffle. He spread three graph records from the monitor on the Canary Islands and two from stations at opposite ends of Iceland out on the floor. Hansson unrolled the last foot or so of the station’s recording tape, tore it off the roller, and stretched it flat on a clipboard, securing it with a rubber band at the bottom. The relative record blocks were similar, except the intensity was far higher here, and tremor frequency and strength had dramatically increased in the last eight hours.
The ground shook and the old steel record-station creaked. Dr. Soffle’s eyes met Hansson’s, terror written across his face. “Lars, it’s not like any pre-quake activity I’ve ever seen. The frequency pattern in the groups is consistent, but the groups are random. And look, the strength here is ominous. Something’s going to give. We better get the devil out of here.”
“And it’s going to happen right here,” Hansson said helping Dr. Soffle stuff the record graphs back into his duffle. “We’ve got to alert Interior at Reykjavik. We should be able to raise the park station at the edge of the ice cap by the time we get half way across. They can relay us to Reykjavik.”
From afar they looked like racers coming down the slope of Mt. Breidubunga’s into the bowels of the ice cap. As far as the eye could see, steam and pumice issued forth from hundreds of new blow holes and old fumaroles, leaving yellowish orange debris-markers and gray-black projectilate on the snow pack. The ice cap was breathing.
Engines whined full-out passing the halfway point. They had traversed through two more sets of ferocious tremors, and the sound of the cracking ice was horrific. They were riveted to their vehicles, hanging on for dear life.
Behind them in the distance, arising from the talus-laden ring around the Grimsvoltn Caldera, a tearing ribbon serrated its way through the ice toward them. The horrendous sound was like the shriek of a tornado. The wake spreading behind it was unimaginable. It was gobbling the snow and ice, tunneling downward, and leaving a gaping black crevasse hissing and spitting out yellow steam.
“What in God’s name?” Hansson screamed into his helmet. “Can anybody hear me?”
What he was saying was too loud, sounding like gibberish to Dr. Soffle. “Lars, turn off to the left,” he yelled, and then he nudged Hansson’s Ski-Doo to get his attention. “Get out of the way,” he screamed and nodded left.
Hansson looked quickly to the left and jerked the vehicle right.
Steam obscured the front of the vicious tear as it clawed toward them, cracking like lightning. Both turned away from it, but the fracturing was encompassing them. They looked back; the wake of the splitting ribbon was now a ragged, hundred-foot open mouth coming for them like the blast of an atomic explosion.
“Go back to the right, Lars.” Dr. Soffle looked over his shoulder. Hansson wasn’t there.
Comboquake: December 26th
Ed, come take a look,” Sgt. McDermott called from across the work area. “The photos from the third pass are coming through.”
The two-man, aerial reconnaissance team had been at it throughout the night, ever since the NRC satellites picked up a gaping fissure forming on Iceland’s Vatnajökull Ice Cap. Massive tectonic plate movements over the last nine hours at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean were causing the birth of the feature.
Fixed photo images from the first and second satellite passes, representing the rift’s development, were laid out side-by-side in stereoscopic pairs on the refracting table. Air Force Master Sergeants Ed Lacey and Spider McDermott had been sitting at computerized view stations, examining the videos from the two previous satellite runs. Even though the equipment could pick up the writing on a Coke can, the weather had been a problem. High clouds and heavy snow affected the clarity. The third pass was expected to be perfect.
Sgt. McDermott, sleeves rolled to his elbows, removed the third-pass photos from the processing equipment and laid them in pairs on the viewing table. Sgt. Lacey slid out of his position scrutinizing the two videos derived from photos of the first two passes, anxious to examine pass number three. He cleaned the accumulated oily residue from the nosepiece of his glasses and peered at the first pair, a small-scale overshot. “What the hell’s going on here?” he mumbled. “It’s clearer now—better conditions.”
Sgt. McDermott arranged the last photos on the table and joined Sgt. Lacey at the overview pair, taking a turn through the viewer. “Man, it’s ten times as wide and twice as long.”
They set up two more photo pairs in separate viewing stations and moved down the line.
“Look at the steam,” Sgt. McDermott said, backing off the last station.
Sgt. Lacey leaned over the viewer. “Yeah, and this is the change in six hours. I’ll go for the director. You better start working on a master slide-show video. He’ll want it all yesterday.”
It was labeled the Comboquake, and it affected the twenty-five hundred mile extent of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Reykjanes and Midocean-Ridges straddling Iceland. This submerged mountain range stretched from near Iceland to about three hundred miles south of Cape Town, South Africa, boasting many peaks dwarfing Mount Everest. It represented the meeting edge of the geologic plates responsible for the present shapes of North America, Europe, and Africa.
The heaviest earthquake activity had been dispersed along the northern half of the Mid-Atlantic and the full lengths of the Reykjanes and Midocean-Ridges. Initial Richter Scale readings from 6.2 to 7.7 registered over 102 reporting stations, providing data on hundreds of major epicenters along the plate borders. Aftershocks were still taking place.
Heavy structural damage was being reported across Iceland and the Atlantic Archipelagos, making up the Madeira, Azores, and Cape Verde Island chains. Tsunamis had been expected along the coastlines of Europe, Africa and North America, but sympathetic canceling had occurred. The development of waves from the sheer number and dispersion of earthquake epicenters had affected each other, limiting the height of coastal wave development to less than thirty feet.
A pattern of precursors had been absent. The seismic record was devoid of clear warning signals, limited to the anomalies recorded in Iceland and several Cambridge-University measuring stations. Geologists were mystified as to why the combination of events wasn’t hundreds of times more destructive.