“Mirra found an apt visual metaphor for both the hidden smoldering of human emotion and the literal unraveling of the colony in the crystal clear video footage of the hydroplant before and after the flames. It was replayed countless times, from countless angles in the days that followed, enough for her to connect the three as cases where the cause manifested only after the effect.”
Far From Home: The City Under the Sea is my first novel, a classic science-fiction tale.
Far From Home tells the story of Mirra, a young archeologist in the distant future who flees a war-torn Earth to explore a strange new world untouched by humanity for over 25,000 years. Joined by a diverse team of scientists and other colonists, her mission is to discover the secrets of an ancient city hidden under a storm-tossed ocean, the only surviving metropolis after a massive nuclear war drove the prior inhabitants to extinction eons before.
The following scene is from the second half of the novel, when disaster befalls the colony, threatening their very existence.
Mirra found an apt visual metaphor for both the hidden smoldering of human emotion and the literal unraveling of the colony in the crystal clear video footage of the hydroplant before and after the flames. It was replayed countless times, from countless angles in the days that followed, enough for her to connect the three as cases where the cause manifested only after the effect.
The flames began deep inside the complex, burning for some time before becoming visible on the external feeds. At first, the central solar dome and its surrounding girders, scaffolds and outbuildings were so cold and still they looked frozen in time. Like an ocean can seem calm while currents rip below the surface, the silent exterior gave no indication of the extreme heat and chaos churning within. Even the thin plumes of smoke that provided the first sign something was terribly wrong could be easily mistaken for tendrils of creeping fog or some other mundane visual distortion.
The illusion became more difficult to maintain as the smoke got thicker and the source became clearer. Soon, it became obvious the plumes— which were now roiling and pitch black, like a section of the image was cut away entirely, revealing only emptiness beneath even with the advanced night vision and digital processing equipment that adjusted for such things—was coming from the massive dome itself, snaking outward around the edges of the many seals and joints that gave the structure shape.
The darkness of the smoke was enhanced and contrasted by the first glimmers of the growing flames within. They appeared at first as a gentle glow emanating from the very center of the dome, a deceptively soft, almost pleasant light beating in the heart of the complex. As strange as it seemed, the hard to determine scale of the satellite feed gave the hydroplant—with its large, circular center and the network of smaller buildings and support structures radiating outward—what Mirra could only describe as the appearance of a night flower awakening with the setting Sun.
But that was only before the flames trapped inside reached critical mass. Once they ignited the stored hydrogen, the solar dome lit up like the Sun itself, briefly overwhelming the video feed in a brilliant white flash that lingered in her vision. As if the smoke and heat had somehow escaped the screen, the sequence of images that followed wavered like a dream. The initial explosion ripped outward from the dome. The plastiglass and nanotubes that held the thing together tore apart like little more than fragile crystal and sewing thread, leaving behind only a raw indentation in the ground and a thick ring of fire that continued to expand.
The subsequent explosions were smaller and less intense but equally capable of destruction, consuming the remainder of the complex from the inside out as surely and inevitably as any unchecked cancer. The circle of flames continued to expand, punctuated frequently at first with blasts of various sizes as buildings detonated and then sputtered, collapsing in upon themselves like doll houses. Soon there was nothing left but a few carbon struts and girders that wouldn’t burn. The charred remains sticking from the ashen ground like the ribs and random bones of a well roasted swine left in the fire after it’s been picked clean.
The fire crew arrived on the scene well before this point, but there was nothing much they could do except circle the proverbial wagons and prevent the flames from spreading any further. The teams were visible on the outer edges of the video feeds, their flashing lights appearing as their own little flames and accompanying explosions. Between a combination of their efforts soaking the ground, dousing any sparks that threatened to escape, and the natural course of a fire with little left to consume, the circle of flame flickered out shortly after reaching the edge of the hydroplant complex, but the damage was already done: Six night-time security personnel were dead and the only large hydrogen plant on the planet was destroyed.
Of course, much of the subsequent concern and frantic conversation following the fire centered around the Molecular Assembler itself. Thanks to Calvyn’s secret, still completely unexplained ability to access and ultimately manipulate colony records, no one knew that the device had been removed three days earlier. Therefore, a critical piece of infrastructure—perhaps the critical piece of infrastructure as Buchanan hydro-generation provided a substantial amount of the colony’s energy needs, especially transportation, equipment, and other portable devices—was believed lost forever.
Setting aside how difficult it would be to build a new plant, the entire planet was now at the mercy of Buchanan Pod mutation in the backup strains stored safely off-site. The inescapable laws of physics meant it was a calamity that would occur at some point. The exact timeframe for the mutation was impossible to know with any precision, but the experts on such things believed the Pods would stop working long before they had the technology and manufacturing acumen to build a new Assembler.
That the total destruction of the plant left little concrete evidence of the cause didn’t prevent the large majority of Shareholders from immediately jumping to dangerous conclusions. Unfortunately, the colony management’s insistence it was nothing more than a freak and potentially devastating accident weren’t much more effective than the fire crew’s attempt to douse the flames in the first place. The few pieces of circumstantial evidence they were able to present—transcripts of the security logs, surveillance video showing no unusual entrances or exits, and diagnostic reports suggesting an unexplained, but not entirely out of the ordinary energy spike spilling over into the main hydrogen capture tanks as the likely cause—fell on largely and almost willfully deaf ears.
The inescapable conclusion was obvious: Somehow, some way the Emperor of the Infinite Stones, Lord of the Living Rock had made good on his threat and the war had come across the stars. Mirra was once again reminded how thin and fragile the social fabric of any society truly is, tearing easily to reveal the primitive ugliness beneath, especially when faced with potential oblivion. It was not long before a demonstration demanding answers turned violent. In Nerb-C, a group of scared, desperate colonists gathered to press the Managing Director for more information than what was provided in the public news feeds. The purpose was peaceful at first, but when the answers no one could provide—
How could Bondoskin strike here?
Who among us is secretly a ‘Roider sympathizer?
How are you going to prevent another attack?
What do we do when the Buchanan Pods fail?
How long before they could build another Assembler?
Could they even build another Assembler?
The questions themselves were not asked that succinctly or rationally. They blended together in sharp and sullen cries, the eerie cacophony of vultures descending on freshly killed remains. And, when the answers didn’t come, the small crowd was rapidly transformed into an angry mob, their pinched and hopeless faces suddenly lit with a frustrated fury. Human eyes turned into beasts as their temporary leader—a fairly unremarkable man with dark, wavy hair, a long unshaven face, and a jumpsuit so carelessly put on it appeared ready to fall off—attempted to storm the corporate headquarters.
The man would later be identified as Jondore Nicklas, a low-level transportation technician with a history of instability but no prior outbursts. In the video, he was a scream of panic filled rage, hurling a stone at the Deputy Managing Director. The small, bright eyed woman with a name Mirra couldn’t remember was offering faint assurances that everything possible was being done and would continue to be done. The first stone bounced harmlessly off the headquarters’ plastiglass doors, leaving not even a scratch, but others soon followed. The Deputy herself suffered a blow to the head, nastier in appearance than actual injury as the blood streamed down her face, before she could be safely escorted inside.
Ultimately, the riot and subsequent assault was unsuccessful, of course. The building was well protected by a security detail that repelled the poor attempt at a charge. The entire effort was useless even when the rest of crowd joined Jondore, flowing forward in an irrational, inevitable rush as mindlessly as the rocks they hurled would follow an avalanche. As was often the case with these sorts of things, the rioters themselves suffered the majority of injuries. Some were hit by stones thrown from further back, others trampled into the street, and a few stunned into unconsciousness by the guard’s tasers.
Fortunately, no one was killed, but the violent turn of events was shocking enough to both Colony Management and the seemingly small percentage of Shareholders who remained sane that martial law was established shortly thereafter. The strictly enforced curfew except for official business helped keep people indoors, but—again, as is usually the case—the restrictions on information access only seemed to add fuel to the growing fire. The rumors and whispers often proved louder and more powerful than the corporate sanctioned megaphone.
Above, beyond, and somehow beneath the fear of ‘Roider infiltration and potential future attacks, the focus on the Molecular Assembler was so intense that Calvyn had to practically restrain Mirra from confessing everything to let her fellow Shareholders know it was safe. She became convinced that the colony’s remaining fears would evaporate like rain in a puddle if they knew the energy supply and the technologically advanced lifestyle it supported were not at any immediate risk.
But, somehow, Calvyn managed to equally convince her that it was better to continue their current course. After quite a bit of back and forth, Mirra accepted his rationale that they would keep the existence of the Assembler a secret no longer than absolutely necessary. It was highly unlikely that the existing Pods would mutate and be rendered non-functional in the short interim. The vague indications that he was not working alone—that others in the Cooperative security unit were aware of their actions and supported his decisions for whatever reason—certainly helped. Of course, he couldn’t promise the whole lot of them wouldn’t be prosecuted for theft and possibly treason in the long run, but what did it really matter when your whole world was falling apart anyway?