- Naught for Hire
- Manuscript Format
John E. Stith's MANHATTAN TRANSFER Excerpt
Manhattan Transfer Copyright © 1993 by John E. Stith. All rights reserved.
Manhattan never sleeps. It doesn't even blink. By three in the morning, it was as close to lethargy as it ever gets, but that was still busier than a nursery full of hyperactive kids with megadoses of sugar and caffeine.
As something quite out of the ordinary began, Manhattan lay awake in the dark.
Slightly past the orbit of Saturn, over forty degrees above the plane of the ecliptic, ionized particles of the solar wind encountered a disruption where none had existed before.
Space twisted. An artificial rotating singularity deformed the fabric of space, bending it in on itself until a black hole formed. Charged particles that would normally have sped directly through the region instead began to move in arcs, most of which ended at the singularity. They accelerated as their paths curved tighter toward the gravitational lens, speeding faster and faster as they approached, and, during their final nanoseconds of existence outside the event horizon, spewing X-rays like tiny distress calls.
The event horizon bloomed to a diameter of several hundred kilometers before it stabilized. While the solar wind funneled into the region, an enormous black starship emerged from inside the event horizon. The starship, almost as black as the region of space it slid out of, absorbed radiation across the entire spectrum as it spun sedately. As the nearby singularity was switched off, the event horizon shrank until it vanished, and the only obstruction to the solar wind was the ship itself.
The huge squat disk-shaped ship sported octagonal rather than circular endplates. The disk was over 100 kilometers in diameter, as big as a small moon flattened into shape. The ship's spin slowed until it hung motionless in the dim starlight. The black ship then began to pivot into the solar wind. It kept adjusting its orientation until one octagonal surface pointed generally at the distant yellow G-type star. The precise alignment was at the small blue planet, third from the sun. Moments later, the enormous ship began to accelerate smoothly toward Earth.
The whup-whup-whup from the chopper's blades rose in pitch and volume as the pilot pulled back on the collective, and the chopper rose a meter off the concrete at the edge of Manhattan. The six passengers were all secured, and the sounds in the pilot's headphones were positive, reassuring. He let the craft hover a moment on the ground-effect cushion as he readjusted his shoulder strap. As soon as he felt in control, he let the chopper continue its rise. Below him the circular markings of Manhattan's East 60th Street heliport began to shrink. As he rose, he let the chopper turn slowly, and he scanned the space over nearby building tops. When the chopper faced the East River and JFK International beyond, the pilot pushed on the cyclic stick and tilted the chopper slightly forward, still rising as the craft began to move toward the airport.
The pilot enjoyed the runs between Manhattan and JFK, particularly at times like now--the morning rush hour. This was one of the few jobs in flying where you could "drive" over the roads below in Queens. He took a lot of pleasure in passing slow-moving traffic on the Long Island Expressway, BQE, and Van Wyck, cruising right over the stalls and backed up sections, ignoring pileups and emergacharge trucks.
He reached cruising height just before the East River. Below was the Queensboro Bridge, doing its best to jam more people into Manhattan.
A sudden shadow was the first indication of trouble. Reflexes took over and he lost a little altitude just in case. If the passengers complained, he couldn't tell, because the headphones and the rotor roar would block anything up to a scream.
The helicopter pilot had just convinced himself there was no problem when a faint pencil of red light cut the grimy sky vertically in front of the windshell bubble. He jammed the stick and tried to veer away, but he had no time. The whine of the rotors suddenly changed pitch as the rotor blades hit the shaft of laser light. The chopper became a machine gun, firing severed pieces of rotor off to his left. In milliseconds, the slicing light had whittled every rotor down to half its original length, and then the chopper itself hit the beam. A band saw moving at the speed of light, the laser sliced the chopper right down the middle. The engine overhead exploded as the casing surrounding the whirling components split into pieces.
Shrapnel from the exploding engine perforated bodies of the pilot and passengers as the two halves of the chopper began their plunge to the East River. The pilot hadn't even had time to utter the one word traditionally heard as black box recordings terminate.
Matt Sheehan had heard little more than the roar of the A-train subway since it sped away from the Jay Street station in Brooklyn and lurched under the East River. He'd taken a small detour through Brooklyn after landing at JFK and taking the subway through Queens.
As he stared out the window into the dark, he saw nothing except an occasional utility lamp as the car rocked on its rails. He was aware of snippets of conversation, but paid no attention. The morning rush hour crowd was so dense, Matt held his small flight bag in the same hand that gripped the overhead bar. The woman in front of him faced the door, pretending as he did that it was comfortable to be as close as lovers. The mass of bodies rocked with the motion of the car. Through the front of the car, Matt could see the lead car making small zigzag motions.
The woman suddenly turned and looked around angrily. She scanned nearby faces, returning to Matt's. Her eyes were green. Her skin looked tanned, but the smooth texture said her complexion came from parents rather than the sun. She said, "I really don't appreciate that." Matt got a glimpse of even white teeth.
It took Matt a moment to realize someone in the crowd must have pinched her or touched her in a way even more intimate than the close contact necessitated. He almost said, "You sound like my wife," but instead he hunched up one shoulder and extricated his free arm from the mass of bodies. He held his hand palm out. "I didn't touch you," he said calmly. "At least not anywhere except here." His gaze flicked down to where her shoulder touched his chest.
The woman, whose hair was shiny black, held his gaze a moment before she said, "I'm sorry," and started scanning other faces again.
Me, too, he thought as the subway continued to jostle the riders, a giant hand rocking the crib too energetically. Matt felt tired. He hadn't slept well on the flight from Mexico City to JFK, and wished he had more energy for his stop in Manhattan.
He let his eyelids droop closed, then popped them open a second later, when the car lurched violently. The overhead light went out. In the same instant, a shower of sparks splattered from somewhere behind him, and the screaming and shouting started.
A rumbling series of loud explosions sounded, so many of them separated by so little time that the noise was more a high-speed rat-a-tat-tat than distinct booms. Matt felt his body pushed forward into the woman ahead of him as emergency brakes decelerated the car, and he felt a sudden breeze behind him. The floor of the car lurched again, and by the time the car jerked to a stop, the floor seemed to tilt toward the rear.
As the screams and shouts finally gave way to angry and panicked loud questions like "What the hell's going on?" directed to no one in particular, the car jerked several times and came to a halt in blackness. A woman's voice split the dark, yelling, "Get your goddamn hand off me!"
The echoes from behind him had changed texture and lengthened, as if they no longer came from an enclosed car. People began spreading out, and suddenly a man cried, "Hey--" His voice trailed off until an impact forced more air out of his lungs. A few matches and cigarette lighters pierced the darkness. At first all they revealed were the forward half of the car and a confused throng of people. And Matt drew in a breath as he realized what didn't show--the rear half of the car. He pushed his way toward the back as more cries came from that direction: "Oh, my God." "Harry, Harry! What happened?"
As he got closer, Matt realized that the back half of the car was gone. He swallowed hard. People cowered at the sides of the vehicle, hanging on tightly and looking into the blackness behind the car. A man who apparently was the one who had just fallen got to his feet on the floor of the tunnel and looked up in surprise. Matt reached the severed edge of the car, and the temperature from packed bodies dropped noticeably. He took a deep breath and tried to control his fear.
The subway car had been sheared in half. The metal edges of the floor, walls, and ceiling still glowed a dull red from the heat of whatever had done this. Matt had once seen the edges of a hole created by an armor-piercing missile smashing through a tank wall. That hole reminded him of these edges, but here were no curling can-opener edges, just the shaved nubs, looking like plastic cut with a very hot knife, a hardware-store 3-D model of how walls were made. On the floor of the car and on the clothing of a couple of people apparently in shock, were splatters of what could only be blood. In the air were musty smells of machine oil, ozone--and fear.
In the tunnel behind the car, Matt could at first see only faint reflections from the rails. He took a tiny penlight from his bag. With help from the light, he jumped to the track bed, careful to stay clear of the extra rail on the outside, even though the power was almost certainly off. A couple of meters from the severed edge of the car he found a man lying on the tracks, moaning. Careful not to make body contact, Matt grabbed a hunk of fabric and pulled until the man's leg no longer touched the rail. His heart pounded in his chest, but finally it began to slow as the initial adrenaline rush faded.
The man's right hand was gone, cut cleanly at the wrist. He heard gasps from behind him. The wound seemed to be partially cauterized already, but blood oozed and pulsed into the cinders. Matt took the man's belt, looped it a few times around the bare wrist, and fastened it tightly enough to bar further blood loss. Quietly, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone, he said to the injured man, who probably couldn't hear him anyway, "Okay, fellow, I'm here. We're going to get medical help for you. You'll be fine."
Matt played his penlight over the nearby ground, but he saw no sign of the man's missing hand. Behind him a couple of people jumped to the cinder track bed. He called toward them, "A man here needs medical attention if there's a doctor around."
He moved farther down the tracks. The next couple of meters could have been the aftermath of combat. There would be no helping the people here. What was left of a man had been cleaved vertically just to the right of his head. The rest could only be described as large and mostly recognizable pieces of human bodies.
Matt had seen casualties this horrible before, but he had always known why. Here he was totally confused. Was this the result of some terrible accident? Earthquake? The work of terrorists? Nothing made any sense. Somewhere behind him a nervous laugh got out of control and turned to a repetitive wail before it ended with the sound of a slap.
He walked past the remains and stopped. Instead of the rear half of the severed car, or even empty rails extending under the river, here was nothing. The rails themselves were severed, butting up flat against a dark wall that completely blocked the tunnel mouth. As Matt came closer, he could feel the heat radiating from the dull-black surface barring the way. Water pooled on the tunnel floor. Where the hell was the rear half of the train?
As he played his light on the mottled surface, voices behind him said, "What the hell is that?" and "Mother of God."
Matt glanced behind him and saw an array of tiny flames piercing the black. A man in a business suit stumbled forward. "Agatha. Agatha! Can you hear me?"
Matt walked back to the man, passing a couple of onlookers with lighter flames flickering. "I'm sorry, but unless Agatha is in the car you just came from, she probably can't hear you. Come on. We've got to get out of here fast. We're probably still under the river, and something's cut the tunnel. We could be flooded at any time."
The suited man shook, his gaze directed toward the blocked end of the tunnel. The man who had lost his hand still lay on the ground, surrounded by three people who looked at him with horrified expressions, but weren't helping. Matt moved closer.
"Help me carry him out," he said to the onlookers. He forced his voice to be calm despite his urge to run. "It's risky to move him because he might have a concussion or broken bones from the fall, but he's got to get medical attention, and it's going to be a while before any help gets down here."
"What happened?" asked one of the three, a woman with dazed eyes.
"I don't have any idea at all. Maybe a bridge above us collapsed. I hope we'll find out when we get above ground." He hoped the prospect of finding out more when they got moving would appeal to them, but he didn't give the bridge theory any real credence. This was something worse. How much worse, he had no idea.
"Take off your coat so we can use it as a litter," Matt said quickly to the taller man, who wore a raincoat.
The man didn't respond.
"Come on." Matt grabbed the man's arm.
The man took the coat off as though in a trance. Matt laid out the coat next to the injured man.
"Come on," he said as he knelt beside the man. "Help me move him."
Like obedient automatons the three each gripped a shoulder or a leg and helped shift the injured man onto the coat. Matt took the edge of the coat next to the man's damaged arm so he could make sure nothing bumped against it. Together the four of them lifted the man to waist height and started up the tunnel. "If anyone gets tired, say so before you lose your grip. We're taking a big enough risk already."
As they reached the severed car, Matt stopped to retrieve his bag, and he found some passengers were still inside the car. "Something is blocking the tunnel back there. Everyone who can walk had better get started. No help is going to be here anytime soon from the way things look. Walk forward to the next stop. Anyone who's in good enough shape to run should do it and call nine-one-one. And stay away from the extra rail. Move fast, but stay calm."
Someone in the dark said, "My buddy says you can call for help from phones on the tunnel walls."
"If you see one, try it. Otherwise just keep going. But help anyone who needs it. Who can pass the word to the people in the lead car?" As soon as he heard a voice say, "I can," he and the others moved forward with the victim. Seconds later Matt realized that a blinking minivid "active" light was tracking them as they walked. Whoever it was even had a pinhead lamp shedding dim light on the tunnel walls. Irritated that someone was photographing them, he said, "Take your home movies somewhere else, why don't you? We need to get out of here."
A feminine voice sounded from behind the light. "This is for WNBC. What's your name, please?"
The voice seemed familiar. As a man with a lighter moved closer to the person with the minivid, Matt saw that it was the black-haired woman whose shoulder had bumped against his chest since the last stop. Matt made no reply.
They maneuvered past the walkway beside the severed car and past the lead car. Matt made sure no one was left aboard as they passed. Flickering light illuminated a scattering of possessions left behind. A headphone lay near a dark spill of blood on a bench. Someone must be in one shoe, because a lone sneaker with its laces still tied rested in a corner. An expensive video player had been left behind, along with a few coin-sized disks that by now would have footprints on them. A half-eaten sandwich wrapped in a deli bag lay flattened on the dirty floor. As they passed the lead car, Matt understood why the motorman had been no help. He was dead, smashed against the glass by the sudden stop.
Matt and the others were able to walk without jarring the injured man too badly, and they began to head up the moderate slope as quickly as they could without risking further injury to the victim. Steam rose slowly from a grate somewhere ahead. A couple of other people stayed close to them, holding cigarette lighters and matches in turns so the group could see a little of their surroundings. The woman carrying one corner of the raincoat got a couple of offers to have someone else take her place, but she turned them down. Ahead of them, the other passengers seemed to be taking it all in stride. Matt supposed living in New York required people to be adaptable.
Matt kept walking, trying to jostle his passenger as little as possible, as he wondered what they would find when they got out of the tunnel.
Rudy Sanchez got a second cup of coffee from the machine in the hall and took it back to his office. The hall was dark. No one else was in yet, and Rudy liked to savor the feeling of being in before the rest of the offices began to fill. He got twice as much done when the building was calm and quiet as he did when office hours began. Beating the morning rush enhanced the feeling.
He glanced out the window at the stream of cars coming across the Brooklyn Bridge and sat down, ready to get back to planning the replacement for the old generator on the upper east side. He'd been thinking about how to start the next phase when he realized something about the sound of the city had changed. He went back to the window.
At first everything seemed normal. Traffic was a little slow, but that was hardly surprising. As Rudy watched, his eyes widened as a black shape of some kind came out from behind the Chase Manhattan Bank tower. What the hell? It seemed to be some kind of craft, paralleling the coastline, and as it moved, it directed a dim red pencil of light through the dirty air, toward the ground. Where the pencil touched land or water, destruction followed.
In awe Rudy put down his coffee cup and stared. What the hell was going on? He put his face nearer the glass and looked to both sides. Another identical black ship was moving along the coast farther to the north.
Both black, windowless craft flew an even course as they slanted what had to be high-power lasers toward the Manhattan shoreline. Rudy looked at the nearer craft. From just aft of the laser's origin, a gun muzzle threw a stream of pellets so fast and so frequently, there seemed to be a brown shaft of light right behind the laser.
A deep rumbling sound reached Rudy, quaking the floor under his feet and vibrating the windows. He had the impression of thousands of small explosions occurring in the slit opened up by the lasers.
As Rudy moved to turn on the radio on his desk, the lights went out.
Abby Tersa had left Grand Central Terminal and was on her way to the United Nations General Assembly Building when the traffic lights went off. Normally she enjoyed the six-block walk, but today she stood on the sidewalk in front of the Chrysler Building and backed against the wall as the crowd roared and the car honking intensified, as if to fill the gap caused by the sudden absence of subway sounds and the hubbub from freight elevators and exhaust fans.
Abby had never seen a power failure since she'd moved to the Bronx three years earlier. It made her nervous.
She edged along the base of the building, feeling the urge to get to work quickly, but knowing that without power for microphones, amplifiers, recorders, and lights, she wouldn't be needed for much translating. She was wondering if the power would return anytime soon when she saw the black craft move from behind the tall slab of the U.N. Secretariat Building. The craft aimed its laser down toward where the East River met the Manhattan shore.
Fighting down the panic, Abby began sprinting toward the U.N. Fifteen years ago she had been in training for the Olympics. In a timed run during physical education in junior high, she'd been surprised to learn that she was the fastest runner in her class. Encouraged by her parents, who saw running as a good thing to balance out all the hours that she spent in her room studying, she had gone out for the track team. At first she had rationalized the activity partly because it was one more way she could exercise her foreign language skills, but she grew to enjoy the running itself, finding that when she hit her stride she could block all her worries. This time she found herself unable to block the image of that strange ship.
Arsenio Hecher pulled into the right lane fast, finding a spot that wasn't directly behind a delivery truck. His fare, a white couple with a kid, didn't complain. Out-of-towners were quieter than the natives.
Arsenio kept watch in the cab's rear-view mirror as the vehicle moved onto the Brooklyn Bridge, heading northwest into lower Manhattan. The traffic was moving fast for rush hour, but it was never fast enough. Sometimes Arsenio thought about finding someplace less congested so he could really move, but when it came right down to it, he liked the way New York itself moved. Anyplace else would seem like a sleepy country afternoon, and he could never go back to that.
Faint sunlight hit gray waves cresting in the East River. Arsenio honked a reply to a fellow yellow as the other cab edged past him. Why was the other lane always faster?
The cab had just emerged from the shade of the large bridge support near the Manhattan shore when a moving shadow flashed over the roofs of cars and trucks ahead. Someone must have been on a hell of a low path to La Guardia. Arsenio craned his neck to see what kind of plane it was.
The woman in the back seat asked, "Does this sort of thing happen a lot here?"
He didn't know what she was talking about until he looked forward again, A field of red taillights glared at him and horns began to honk even faster. As he watched, a sparkling red light flashed across a truck ahead of the car in front of him.
Arsenio slammed on the brakes as the truck exploded. The car behind him smashed into his rear bumper, and the man in the back seat yelled, "What the hell!" as in the rear-view mirror Arsenio saw a truck plow into the guy behind him. The kid began to cry.
From the corner of his eye, Arsenio saw steam explode from the water at the edge of the river, as though a long thin heater lay just below the surface. As the cab finally showed signs of stopping successfully, the road surface began to tilt forward. The bridge was coming apart! "Crap!"
The Goddamn bridge was turning into a drawbridge, but backwards. The section Arsenio's cab was on tilted down. As his panic rose, and he jammed his foot on the brakes hard enough to force the antilock on, he could see cars on the other side of the break burning rubber as they tried to gun it up the slope. Electric motors whined, climbing to the top end of the scale as the wheels spun, and cars slid backward, smoke rising from their tires. His heart raced even faster than the time he'd been mugged.
For just an instant, Arsenio thought the cab was stopped precariously on the slope, but the bridge lurched again, and the car behind him hit his bumper one last time.
The cab slid off the end of the broken bridge. The screams from the back seat blended into one loud roar.
Arsenio cursed uncontrollably, his hands locked on the steering wheel and his foot still pistoned into the brake pedal for the entire time it took before the cab smashed into the water.
From his darkened office, Rudy Sanchez looked out at the destruction along the Manhattan shore. The Brooklyn Bridge had been severed, two trucks sliced in the process, and cars had spilled like toys into the river. Boats docked along the piers had been cut in two as steam roiled into the morning air. Rudy stood in shock, the dead telephone still gripped in one hand.
He had been tempted to run to help someone, anyone, but now he just stood, temporarily locked by indecision and fear. It seemed to him that anything he did now would be bailing a tidal wave with a teaspoon. A couple of fires had started where natural gas lines ran under the East River to Brooklyn, but cutoff mechanisms that didn't depend on power would limit the amount of gas available to burn.
The black craft closest to him switched off the red light, undoubtedly some unbelievably high-power laser. The craft rose swiftly with no vapor trail until Rudy lost sight of it.
The city sounded sick. The occasional rumble of a passing subway hadn't been audible for several minutes. The increased frantic honking from cabs and trucks gridlocked without working traffic lights more than made up for the lack in volume, but provided no comfort.
A flicker of black caught Rudy's eye. The craft were returning. He leaned forward and could see two more of them flying in formation but spreading the pattern as they fell. And what they were doing was even stranger than before. There seemed to be some filmy transparent material stretched between the craft. They looked as if they held some enormous soap bubble. What in God's name was happening?
The nearest black craft settled slowly toward the shoreline, stretching its corner of the bubble as it fell. Moments later the craft hovered over a severed dock. The corner of the soap bubble widened, and the edge of the bubble began to pull itself down toward the shoreline, apparently sealing itself to the ground or to some material the ship had deposited in the groove it had cut earlier. Within minutes, the filmy bubble had settled into a smooth seal for as far as Rudy could see. It seemed big enough to be covering the entire island of Manhattan.
The black craft rose, moving away from Manhattan as it did. Another one entered Rudy's field of view. Seconds later they both stopped, and stayed where they were, hovering.
Rudy had no warning. In one moment the ships just hovered. In the next moment a giant flashbulb went off. Rudy could see nothing but sparkles surrounding a large red spot for the next minute, but slowly his vision returned. When it did, he could see the bubble was still in place, but now it seemed more tangible. It was still transparent, but the reflections seemed brighter and they no longer wavered.
The hovering craft were gone. As Rudy tried to see where they might be, an enormous shadow crept over lower Manhattan.
Julie Kravine took a last few shots with her minivid, then shut off the sand-grain light. The image of the stalled subway cars faded from her retinae, and she turned to follow the stragglers up the tunnel.
Ahead of her were the four people carrying the man who had lost his hand. Julie cringed, just thinking about it again. And she remembered the severed bodies they were leaving behind. She had taken shots of them, too, more so that people would believe her report than because they'd be used on the news. She hadn't felt this ambivalent since she left Tom.
Julie felt uneasy. The ground rumbled with some unidentifiable tremble, and things just felt wrong. If the tunnel collapse was some localized catastrophe, she'd be hearing the rumble from other subways as they traveled nearby. Instead, the only vibration was that constant faraway tremor.
The rumble stopped. Suddenly the underground felt completely quiet, unnatural. Something was definitely very wrong. Julie hurried ahead, following the flickering lights. She stumbled, then got back to her feet and started picking cinders out of her palms. The tunnel smelled oily.
She caught up with the foursome. A couple of men walked with them, holding cigarette lighters, obviously ready to take over for anyone who got tired. She turned on her tiny light and minivid, capturing ten seconds before turning them off. She felt a pride in how well New Yorkers were responding to the trouble. Her sister in Columbus complained about the crime rate and the apparent unfriendliness, but when things got tough, New Yorkers found ways to cope.
Julie moved to catch up again. She was tired from covering a late-night hostage crisis in South Brooklyn, but the good part was that it had left her with all her recording gear and a moderate battery charge at just the right time.
She caught up with the others and turned on her minivid, set to voice-only to save the charge. The tall man who had been next to her in the subway when it all started gripped one corner of the raincoat holding the injured man. He was the same one who had calmed the crowd with sensible directions and a take-charge attitude that didn't smack of dictatorship. And he was the same one who had declined comment earlier. Was he a cop?
The man was going to be the focus of this piece, whether he liked it or not, Julie decided. She moved deliberately to one of the other three people carrying the injured man.
"I'm Julie Kravine with WNBC," she said to the woman who carried one corner of the raincoat. "What's your name?"
"Bette Waylon." The woman wore a dark jacket with the bracelet cuffs made popular in Way Down and Way Over.
"Can you tell me what you thought when the lights went out?"
"Nothin' I guess. That I'd be late for business."
"Any ideas about what might have caused this?"
"Naw. But we can find out on TV when we get back up."
"Anyone else here with a theory?" Julie watched the tall man. He opened his mouth but he didn't say anything.
Julie moved around until she was next to the tall man. He glanced at her, then looked ahead.
"And your name is, sir?"
The man replied without looking at her. "Matt Sheehan."
As she formulated her next question, Matt added, "And I apologize for being rude back there. I thought you were just another idiot with a camera. I guess I was a little edgy."
"I think we're all a little edgy," Julie said, thinking that he seemed the least edgy of anyone down here. "You a cop?"
"A cop? No."
"You seemed to adapt pretty quickly to the situation. What's your background?
"I've spent some time in the service."
"Ah. So, do you have any theories about what happened back there?"
The man was silent for a moment and several pairs of feet crunched gravel on the dark tunnel floor. "Not really."
"Nothing at all?"
"No. Just that I'm betting the problem isn't just down here."
"Why makes you say that?"
"Just because this section of tunnel goes under the river. It's got to be going through bedrock. Anything generating enough force to do damage like what's back there isn't going to be confined to one tunnel."
Julie had been so intent on getting pictures and reactions that she hadn't thought much about anything else, but a sudden lurch in her stomach told her the man was probably right. An instant later she wasn't so sure the reaction had been nerves.
The ground shook. People carrying the injured man stumbled as they passed through a plume of rising steam.
Julie crouched in the dark tunnel, feeling the same sensation she felt in an elevator as it accelerated upward.
In the Columbia University computer science department building, Dr. Bobby Joe Brewster awoke with a start.
For an instant, he felt he was at sea. The desk his head rested on didn't seem solid, and neither did the chair he sat in. He jerked his head upright.
"Piss!" Bobby Joe looked at the dark computer screen in front of him. The atmospheric simulation run had been almost complete when he must have finally fallen asleep. And now he'd have to start over. The power had gone off, and it had stayed off long enough for his uninterruptible power supply to use up its charge.
The floor lurched, and a stylus on Bobby Joe's desk rolled a few centimeters and stopped. "What--"
Either some of the students in his computer modeling class were playing one hell of a trick on him, or something was really screwy. He rose and moved to the window.
Yup, something was really screwy, Bobby Joe decided.
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and took another look over nearby building tops and watched New Jersey sink.
"All right, you guys," he said loudly. "It's a convincing display."
He listened for laughter or some other response. Nothing. He looked out the window again, first as far to the left as he could see, and then as far to the right. He'd spent enough time in VirtReal simulations to know what was real and what wasn't. This was real. But it was unreal.
Traffic had come to a complete standstill on every road he could see. In the distance a huge mall vaguely resembled an aircraft carrier from this high up. Boats left their trails in scummy water. Slowly moving out into the Hudson was a line of turbulence.
He looked up as best he could with his cheek flattened against the glass. Overhead was a solid black cloud. Or was it? The edge looked awfully straight.
Bobby Joe looked back at New Jersey. He could see roads he'd never seen before, and the shoreline was beginning to disappear from view as it fell below nearby rooftops.
Fear forced him into nervous humor. This was not going to be a good day.
Annie Muntz was eating breakfast and watching the morning news in Queens when the lights flickered and the TV picture froze on the last frame. Motion out the window caught her eye.
On the table next to the couch was a thick tumbler with an inch of Scotch in it. She rose and moved closer to the window for a better look, taking her drink with her.
At first, Annie thought somehow her apartment building was sinking into the ground, because the Manhattan skyline was slowly but undeniably rising into the air. And the skyline was under a huge transparent arc, as if all the buildings had been put under a giant cake cover.
As she watched, her knees felt weak. The entire bubble-covered island of Manhattan was slowly rising into the air. As it continued to rise, she saw what was underneath the island. Below street level was a huge cone that extended even deeper than the Empire State Building was tall.
A dozen dark lines led from points all around the island up into the air. Annie's gaze followed the cables and saw an enormous black ship even bigger than the captured borough, hovering above it. A puzzled expression wrinkled her forehead. The alcohol level in her blood was high enough that for a long moment she considered the possibility that she was witnessing the advertising stunt to end them all.
Finally Annie yelled to her husband in the next room, "Hey, Herb, come here. You really should see this."
The rear half of the A-train subway had sustained far more damage than the front half. The rear half had crashed into something very hard.
Groans filled her ears as Shirley Hamilburg regained consciousness. Her first thought was that she'd had a super-realistic dream about going to work, and then she worried that she'd overslept. Finally she opened her eyes and managed to convince herself she really was awake despite the fact that she couldn't see. Where was Frankie, and what was wrong with her eyes?
Light flickered somewhere to her left. She turned her head to see where it was coming from, and she finally realized that she really had been on a subway car. So where was she now? The light flickered again. It was someone with a cigarette lighter or a match. Suddenly she realized how hot she was. The air was stifling. She was still in the car.
Shirley lifted her head, feeling the pull of pain from her shoulder as she shifted position. Lights flickered from somewhere outside of the car. She was in a mass of bodies like some nightmarish orgy.
Shirley tried to extricate herself from them. When a nearer flame lit the darkness, she saw that the man ahead of her must have hit the handrail support pole very hard. From near the front of the car came the sound of someone throwing up, and Shirley winced. She'd almost rather be dead than be throwing up.
Shirley finally managed to free herself. She moved over a few still bodies by supporting most of her weight from the overhead bar. The door had already been forced open. Outside, to the right, near the front of the train, lights flickered. She edged between the car and the side of the tunnel. The car itself was obviously not sitting evenly on the rails, and it leaned toward the opposite side of the tunnel. She passed the end of the car and walked beside the car ahead, which had jackknifed.
Shirley caught up with a small group of people holding flickering matches and lighters.
By the wavering light she could see that the first car in line had somehow been cut off as though God possessed a giant meat cleaver. The crumpled half-car rested against a solid obstruction blocking the entire tunnel. Two lifeless faces gaped and stared unseeing through the blood-smeared window.
Shirley stared at the blocked end of the subway tunnel. A man beside her said, "I don't understand. What's going on?"
Shirley shrugged. She had no answers.
A sudden rumbling and creaking began. Someone in the small crowd said, "It's moving!"
Sure enough, the black barrier at the end of the tunnel was sliding upward. And outward. Light filtered into the tunnel, and Shirley squinted as her eyes adjusted.
The gap between the tunnel mouth and the upward-moving plate widened. The gap kept on widening. Instead of revealing the other side of the tunnel, though, a chasm opened just past the mouth of the tunnel. Someone in the group murmured, "Holy crap."
The others in the crowd seemed as speechless as Shirley was until the bottom of the moving shape reached eye level. More and more light filtered down until daylight finally reached the bottom of what was an immense cavity like a strip mine. And above the void, an incredibly large dark shape floated higher and higher.
Water began to spill past the tunnel mouth, but not before Shirley had gotten a view of gaping tunnel mouths on the sides of the elongated chasm. The pair of holes more or less in line with the direction the severed subway tunnel pointed had to be the Holland Tunnel, and just to the right was a PATH rail line tube. To the north were another pair of severed tunnels that would be the Amtrak rail lines. God almighty.
Even farther north was a trio of tubes, the Lincoln Tunnel. Grimy black smoke poured from the rightmost circle. Water began to slosh past the other tunnel mouths as Shirley's mind finally began to come to terms with what was fairly obvious but very difficult to accept: all of Manhattan was rising into the air, leaving a huge long hole in the ground in the same shape as the island.
The waterfall grew louder and louder, but for the moment, the water was moving past the tunnel mouth fast enough that little water entered. By that time, the entire perimeter of the lip looked like Niagara Falls.
A man in a sweater and a vest said slowly, "Oh, God. Do you realize what will happen when the water fills the hole and reaches this height?"
Suddenly Shirley knew exactly what would happen. At about the same time someone else said, "We'd better schlepp our butts out of here!"
A kid in a black jacket said, "We'll never get all the way back before the water runs down the tunnel and reaches us. We'd be better off jumping in." By now the falling water made a thunderous noise.
"Yeah, sure," said the man in the sweater. "Be my guest. Go ahead and jump. It's like a Goddamn blender out there. And if we wait for the water to reach here, we'll just get caught and sucked back down here as the water drains into the tunnel."
"We'll, we gotta to do something," the kid said.
"Right. I'm running." The man ran back into the dim tunnel. Most of the others followed, and Shirley went, too.
They ran through the nightmare blackness until Shirley's lungs threatened to explode. They hadn't even managed to reach the lowest section of the tunnel before the water began flooding in. The whooshing made her heart race even faster. Wind started rushing out of the tunnel, and two cigarette lighters went out. Cold water swept past Shirley's ankles, and seconds later she was sloshing though calf-deep water.
The water suddenly seemed to move faster, and it swept Shirley off her feet. The current carried her in total darkness. Her feet dragged against one wall. Her body tumbled in the turbulent current. She couldn't tell which way was up, but she had to breathe.
Shirley had held her breath as long as she possibly could by the time the current smashed her head against a maintenance panel.
Rudy Sanchez stood transfixed at the window as the Municipal Building creaked around him as though in a high wind. Some enormous ship above the city was obviously lifting the entire bubbled island into the air. A disturbance spread into the water in the Upper Bay as though a drain had opened in a giant bathtub. The Staten Island ferry had been moving toward Manhattan, but by now it had turned 180 degrees and was trying desperately and in vain to move south before it was dragged backward into the depression. Rudy could see a mass of people at the back rail of the ferry as the crest of turbulent water began to shake the ferry apart. Rudy had to shut his eyes.
When he opened his eyes again, Rudy could no longer see the ferry, but as he craned his head and looked southwest he was just in time to see the Statue of Liberty disappear below the horizon, looking for all the world as if she were waving good-bye.
In less than a minute Brooklyn dropped from sight, and within minutes Rudy could no longer see the Atlantic Ocean. The atmosphere slowly shifted from blue toward black. The image of the Statue of Liberty still burned in his memory.
Rudy glanced at people on the ground. Hardly anyone was moving, and almost everyone seemed to be staring at the dome.
The sky outside the dome now looked almost black. Rudy could see stars around the edges of the huge black shape overhead, and on the ground shadows seemed sharper than normal. The sun was brighter than he'd ever seen it.
As Rudy watched, the dark shape overhead suddenly grew wider, blotting out more and more stars until the only stars Rudy could see were almost level with him, visible through the side of the dome. His stomach twisted as he decided the ship towing the city hadn't come closer, but instead they were now underneath a ship that dwarfed the one that had picked up Manhattan. Rudy swallowed hard.
The black shape started to blot out more and more stars, as though a huge black cylinder was being lowered around the island. Rudy watched helplessly as they were pulled upward into the giant ship.
The light from the sun was cut off, and Manhattan moved into darkness.
End of Excerpt
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