Major Tom Stokes was terrified. Of course he couldn’t let it show, but he had never encountered a situation that even remotely came close to the one he faced now.
He had arrived at the town three days ago. His team had worked out, using the now notorious TV footage and the surveillance tapes from the police helicopter, roughly where the‘danger zone’ began. Initially he had positioned his men half a mile from this area but this had cost him twelve good men, so he had pulled back and sent in dogs to get an accurate picture
for himself. That had cost him dear too, trained dogs are expensive, and, eventually, he hadbeen forced to quietly requisition them from the local RSPCA centre. He hated himself fordoing that but at least he did now have a clearly defined and securely marked perimeter whichmembers of the public had been successfully prevented from entering. He had sent robotic
probes into the danger zone but they hadn’t made anything any clearer. He could find nomethod of delivery, much less any sign of a control mechanism. This threat was unlike anything he had encountered before. It was almost as if the gas were self-governing, as ridiculous as he knew that was. However, that wasn’t what had him terrified. It wasthis morning’s review of the latest dog deployment that had him sweating.
The gas had come out of his metal fence to reach the approaching dogs, the perimeter had moved. With no warning and no outward sign. Suddenly safe areas were deadly. He ordered the retreat with out even finishing the report. He would not feed the media frenzy with any more pictures of helpless, heavily armed soldiers being swallowed whole by an unseen foe. He was not a babysitter, or a coward. He was a man of action. He couldn’t simply keep waiting to see who this enemy was, or who was controlling them. He refused to retreat any further. Today was the day. This was the day he drew the line in the road and told whoever they were that was far enough.
He picked up the secure line, “Sir,” he said when he was connected to his superior officer, “I’d like to recommend comprehensive bombardment…” Tom outlined his evidence and this morning’s discovery that the threat was silently spreading, then hung up, hoping the wait for a decision wouldn’t cost him any more men.
The answer, when it came, surprised even Tom. They were going to implement an aerialbombardment of the entire area, they wanted to make sure that any threat was totally neutralised and, given they didn’t have clear intel on exactly what they were facing, it was felt a ‘scored earth’ approach was the best.
Tom and his men were ordered to liaise with the police and evacuate an area of five square miles, just to be sure no-one was caught in the fire,which would be centred on 109. He was ordered simply to tell people there was the possibility of a chemical leak at the house to facilitate a speedy clearance of the area. The bombardment was due to begin at 1am.
Major Tom Stokes barely waited to put the phone down before implementing his new orders and had successfully evacuated both the public and his men to a safe distance well before the 1am deadline. All that was left now was to wait. He stood by the console watching the feed from the lead plane feeling the familiar tingle of anticipation and excitement, afterall, everyone loves a good firework display.
The first salvo lit up the sky, even from five miles away, an eerily silent spectacle until thesound-wave had reached them. The bombardment went on and on and on but Major Tom didn’t have much time to stand and stare; once people realised what was happening to their neighbourhood, and their homes, he and the men under his command had a full-time job on crowd control, only narrowly preventing a riot.
In the cold light of day the television was showing the world what remained of Rankin Road and the streets around it – a grey, sterile, still smoking, crater surrounded by rubble unrecognisable asany form of dwelling. In fact it was hard to make out where the roads had been, nevermind individual houses and, after the first wave of dogs had successfully made it back to their handlers, Major Tom Stokes, his men and his superiors congratulated themselves on a job well done.
We are laid waste. The house is destroyed. We are too few to rebuild. We must regroup. We must find John. We will separate. We will invade the large warm collections of atoms individually, use their mass to replicate. John is a large warm collection. We will search systematically, checking each LWC before utilising its atoms. In this way we shall have searched all the large warm collections on this land mass in 18 days. We calculate this is the most efficient way of finding John. Once we have found John we will return to our primary function of repairing the house.