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The last light went off in Manhattan three seconds after the bomb blast.
Brooklyn, farther from the epicenter, flickered for another half-second....
The D train had just entered the tunnel under the East River and slammed to a halt, sending its nearly one hundred passengers hurtling toward the front of the cars. The magnetic pulse that had exploded over the Con Ed power yard at the top of the island had wiped out more than just the power; all electrical devices within twenty-five miles stopped functioning -- watches, radios, backup generators, old-fashioned fuses, computers, Walkmen, TV sets, electric toothbrushes, hair dryers, toasters, microwave ovens, fire alarms, security devices, video cameras, and children's toys died, their microchips fried. Transformers, regulators, transistors, capacitors -- they were all cooked by the blast.
With the lights out in Manhattan, two cars ran through Times Square, crashing into the lobby of the Loup Theater, where a crowd had just gathered for the revival of Cats. Flight 704 from London managed to land on the darkened runway at Kennedy but then slid off the apron, just in time to witness the midair collision of two flights trying to land at nearby LaGuardia. The nearly sixty thousand people crowding into Yankee Stadium for the start of the World Series against the Braves began to riot as they rushed for the exits. A fire truck speeding to a car fire on the access ramp of the Brooklyn Bridge skidded out of control at the jammed intersection. Striking an obstruction, it went airborne, flying up and over the bridge into the dark water below. On the George Washington Bridge, a distracteddriver swerved his SUV into a liquid propane truck, sending the truck crashing into a rail. The tank hit the metal obstruction at just the right angle to compress the tank sufficiently to make it explode, turning the exit for the West Side into a yawning gate of flames.
Over on the east side of the island, the tram to Roosevelt Island stopped over the river, perched exactly 250 feet above the water. A woman aboard the car pressed her face to the glass, awed by the sight of New York completely dark. A dark shadow looped toward her; she stared at it for a moment, wondering if it was a cloud or some avenging angel sent by God. In the next moment the shadow materialized into the underside of a traffic helicopter whose gauges and controls had been devastated by the blast. The skid of the helicopter pierced the glass of the gondola, spearing the woman and her nearby companion before tearing the tram and its assembly down into the water in a huge fireball. The flames landed squarely on the deck of the Elflon Oil, a barge en route to a new floating power station about a quarter-mile upriver. The barge began to sink at the rear, leaking its fuel out into the water. Miraculously, the helicopter did not set the oil on fire; that happened a few minutes later when gasoline leaking from a tanker ignited, heating the thin layer of fuel sufficiently to turn the river into a layer of red and yellow fingers grasping desperately at anything in reach.
Then things got really ugly....
"Serves the bastards right for outlawing smoking," said Andy Fisher, turning away from the computer where the simulation was running.
"That help you?" asked the programmer.
"Only psychologically. I can't stand New York."
"Of course, that's only the first five minutes. It'll take at least three months to get replacement parts for that electric yard that was fried in the blast, and God knows what else. It won't be confined to New York, either. Remember the blackout in the summer of 2003? Spread from a few power lines in Ohio, right? Well, this thing will spread twenty times as far and at least as fast. And when the power goes out this time, it'll stay out, at least in New York. Because the E-bomb fries everything. You don't have a chance to pull the circuit breakers: They're all fried. Everything's fried. You know how long it'll take to get replacement parts?"
"In some cases years. So you think: city without power for months? No lights, no elevators, no subways -- "
"Yeah, but I'm sure there's plenty of downsides." Fisher took a last swig of the coffee -- Chase & Sanborn, 2003, north side of the mountain -- then went outside to have a cigarette. He was joined there half a smoke later by Michael Macklin, who headed the CERN-Homeland Security joint task force that had called Fisher in.
"What do you think?" Macklin asked.
Fisher shrugged. "You couldn't have worked Godzilla into the picture somehow?"
"He does Tokyo."
Fisher took a long drag on the cigarette, working it down toward his fingertips. Something about the air in suburban Virginia made cigarettes burn quicker. Fisher had a theory that the burn rate increased in inverse proportion to the distance from Washington, D.C., with the Capitol building the epicenter of inflammability. Undoubtedly there was a flatulence factor involved.
"So is this something we worry about, or what?" asked Macklin.
"Oh, you can always worry," said Fisher.
"Should we, though?"
Fisher took a last drag of his cigarette, then tossed it to the ground and took up another. Macklin had a kind of earnestness -- grating, even under the best of circumstances, whatever those might be.
"Turning lights off in New York -- not exactly the sort of thing that's going to piss off Middle America," said Fisher. "I know a bunch of ministers who might even get behind it."
"The DIA thinks it's a real threat," Macklin said.
"Well, there you go, then," said Fisher. "Obviously it's nothing to worry about."
"You're joking, right?" Macklin eyed his cigarette, but Fisher wasn't sharing, at least not with him: The head of Homeland Security had just suggested a five-cent tax on smokes to help pay for his department. "They say it's good intelligence. There are intercepts between this Muslim cell in Syria talking about power going out. Problem is, they're to a cell phone that no one's been able to find. But the DIA thinks it's good intelligence."
"They ever tell you they had bad intelligence?" asked Fisher.
Macklin shifted around nervously. "Should we go to an orange alert?"
"What color are we at now?"
"You get a raise if the color changes?"
"Sucky job. You should never have left the FBI, Mack. You wouldn't have had to worry about colors or the DIA. New York gets fried, it's somebody else's problem."
"Hey, come on, Andy, give me a break here. I didn't want to work for Homeland Security. Leah made me do it."
Leah was Macklin's wife. The pair had met while working together at the FBI several years before and, despite extensive counseling, had gotten married. From the moment he uttered the words "I do," Macklin's life had nose-dived: The poor slob had given up smoking, cut back on coffee, and according to the latest rumors even enlisted in a health club.
"I'm sorry for you, Mack. I really am," said Fisher.
"So, can you help me out?" asked Macklin. "I need to make a recommendation to the big cheese in the morning."
Fisher shook his head. It was pitiful, really. In the old days, Macklin never would have called the boss -- anyone, really -- the "big cheese." Marriage really did screw people up.
"I asked Hunter to send you over because I figured you could help," added Macklin. "Come on, Andy. Help us out here. Help me out. For old times' sake."
"I am helping you," Fisher told Macklin.
"All you're doing is busting my chops."
"That's not help?" asked the FBI agent. He looked at his cigarette thoughtfully. Jack Hunter was executive assistant director for National Security/Special Projects, a kingdom within a kingdom within a broom closet at the FBI. He was also allegedly Fisher's boss. Hunter had in fact sent him over to talk to Macklin, but the executive assistant director -- ex-ass-dic to people in the know -- had specifically instructed Fisher to be not particularly useful.
Or, as Hunter put it, "If I wanted to help them, I'd send somebody else."
"Turning off the lights seems too simple," said Fisher. "All that's going to do is make people mad at Con Ed, the power company. That's not exactly a major accomplishment."
"It's not just turning off the lights," said Macklin. "An E-bomb -- whether they explode it over New York or Tokyo or Des Moines or wherever -- every electrical device within twenty-something miles goes out. It takes months to get everything back online."
"Yeah, I saw the show. Something else is up."
"Mayhem's not enough for you?"
"I like mayhem, personally. It's just not enough as a motivating factor."
"So, what's going on, then?"
Fisher sighed. "Jeez, Mack, do your own detective work. You used to work for the FBI, right?"
"Yeah, but I wasn't like you," said Macklin. "Come on, Andy. You're the hot-shot hound-dog snooping machine. You look at an airplane crash and you can figure out what the pilot had for lunch."
"Well, sure, if it's splattered on the windshield," said Fisher.
"I heard what you did with that Cyclops case."
Fisher shrugged. He'd just about single-handedly broken one of the most far-reaching, diabolical conspiracies ever to rack the American military and political establishments. The President had personally thanked him. Even better, Hunter had avoided him for forty-eight hours after the busts were made public.
That and five bucks would get him a pack of cigarettes. Two packs if he got it through his Indian friends online.
"You got to help us," said Macklin. "We could be facing a major terrorist operation here."
"No offense, but all you have to go on is a three-sentence report from the DIA and one intercepted e-mail that the NSA says could be either about an E-bomb plot or the opening of a new pizza restaurant. Not a hell of a lot to go on," said Fisher. "I will say one thing, though."
"The kid who wrote that simulation program's got a real future. I like what he did with Yankee Stadium."
"Jeez, Andy, if you don't help me, I have to rely on the DIA."
"That's kind of an ugly threat, Mack."
"What if I asked Hunter to permanently assign you to Homeland Security? You'd love it over here. Get your own expense account, nice car. We have our pick of impounds. I can probably hook you up with a drug dealer's condo or something. You should see our office up in New York. Out in the suburbs, on the water. Tell you what: Come by around noon tomorrow and I'll set up lunch with the big cheese himself."
"I have a question for you."
"When you join Homeland Security, do they make you go through a behavior modification program to learn to call the boss 'big cheese'? Or do they do it with drugs?"
"Shit, Andy." Macklin sighed. "Can I have a cigarette?"
Fisher reached into his jacket for the pack and shook one out. "You owe me a nickel."
Copyright © 2005 by Jim DeFelice