By Jeff Rovin
St. Martin's Paperbacks Copyright © 2005 Jeff Rovin
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780312936945
Rogue AngelPART ONEWaterONEFuzhou, China
The heavens were rich with stars, making the sky a paradox: as brilliant as it was dark. It was a view that always reminded Dr. Christine Chan of a letter her older brother had sent to her when she went off to college. Lieutenant Commander Bruce Chan of the Republic of China People's Liberation Army Navy had been on an extended year-long mission onboard an aircraft carrier.At sea, we are surrounded by water we cannot drink. At night, we sit beneath a million suns that provide no light. It seems to me a very strange way to have designed a world. I hope one day you can explain to me why it is so!
As a geologist, Dr. Chan understood why the ocean was salt water and starlight did not reach the earth in significant quantities. She could explain the mechanics but she could not explain the logic.Perhaps "one day"
she would, as her brother had written. That is, if she survived her apprenticeship.The young woman was crouched on the grassy edge of the oceanside cliff. In front of her, on a concrete slab, was her backpack and laptop. The computer was jacked into a six-inchsatellite dish which was mounted to the slab. The screen gave her a ghostly iridescence. If there were boats close to shore they could easily mistake Chan for one of the demons her father carved for a living, with her white, twin-peaked wool hat for horns and the ends of her long tasseled scarf dancing fitfully behind her like wings.It was well after midnight and the scientist was three hundred feet above the East China Sea. The howling winds swallowed the sounds of the unusually tranquil waters below. Tall, brittle grasses grew around her. The constant winds had bowed them permanently toward the north, which made them like many of the academics she worked with: prickly to approach but easy to leave. But leave them she would, gladly, just as soon as she finished the readings.The scientist did not enjoy the outdoors. This was especially true here, at night, where the elements were raw and unpredictable. When she joined the Academia Beijing's Institute of Earth Sciences (IES) one year before, Dr. Chan expected to be working in an air-conditioned laboratory. She was a metamorphic geologist who had been hired to study rocks. Through them, she was supposed to ascertain the force, movement, and regularity of earthquakes of the past. But IES Deputy Director Leng believed that a scientist could not know the earth if he had hands that had not touched dirt, eyes that had not been bitten by dust, and hair that had not wrestled the winds. "An earth scientist has to feel the earth underfoot,"
he once told her. The twenty-seven-year-old scientist did not agree. But she did not argue. Working for the IES guaranteed endless professional challenges and job security. Chan did not want to endanger that. Her parents sold handmade ceremonial masks of dancing demons to tourists in the village of Tungkang. When sales were poor they always had firewood but they didn't always have food. Happily, Chan's brother had asked a continuing education liaison officer in the navy to help her get a scholarship to the National Chinese Ocean University. Otherwise, Chan wouldstill be in Tungkang, carving frowning, wild-eyed faces in wood and modeling them for foreigners.Besides, even on warm and blustery nights like this, Chan had to remind herself that being employed by the IES was more than just work. It was an honor. Founded in 1928, the Academia Sinica is one of the oldest and most prominent educational and research facilities in China. Twenty-five distinct institutions are housed in three separate facilities--one in Beijing, another in the south in Kunming, and a third in the far northern city of Mishan. These institutions study all branches of science and technology, though the Institute of Earth Sciences is arguably the most significant.Fuzhou, situated near the Ryukyu Trench, shares a transition zone with the Manila Trench. Due to the instability of the underlying Philippine sea plate, the region is one of the most geologically active on earth. Recently, the United States and China initiated a détente program called Plate Boundary Observatory-Far East. PBO-FE has access to dense instrumental coverage in and around China, but incorporates data from American instruments throughout the South Pacific. The purpose is to try and forecast earthquakes in the region to save lives. The United States was hoping to network in seismological instruments based in Taiwan to create an even larger network. Thus far, Beijing had refused; China did not recognize the status of the breakaway nationalists. But if recognition were ever to come, it would probably come through the baby steps of programs such as this. The influx of American funding allowed the IES to expand and created the position Chan held.Chan's slender-bordering-on-bony legs were cramped. She stood and stretched as she waited for the data to appear. The bright screen attracted small, dark moths. They were the reason for the wool hat and scarf. She did not like insects. When she was growing up, termites were frequent visitors to the Chan home. They had been everywhere: in the masks, in the walls, in her bed. When she went outside there weremosquitoes day and night and gnats at sunset. She did not mind sharing the world with other species but she did mind sharing her personal space.Chan squatted again and watched as the numbers began coming in. This remote station was part of the BACS array--Broadband Array in China for Seismology--a system of sensors sunk deep into the earth and seabed. These were attached to 24-bit digital recorders that broadcast data from beacons and buoys throughout the East China Sea and into the Pacific Ocean. Seventy-eight sensors were anchored in the seabed or utilized computerized star charts linked to automated Location Adjustment Engines to stay within specified regions on the surface. Once the information had been harvested the recorders were cleared. The main purpose of the BACS program was to pinpoint the source and parameters of earthquakes throughout the Pacific Rim, particularly offshore events.Twice each week, Chan came to the Fuzhou dish after work--a drive of two hours--to collect the data and also to run a systems check. The water and sea air were corrosive and if any of the regional buoys was inoperative she would be able to execute diagnostics from here. The IES had insisted that each station be a dedicated system when a scientist in Beijing was found to be stealing data. In theory, enemy scientists could still pluck information from the BACS sites. But they would have to be at each dish to do it, and those facilities were password-protected and monitored by surveillance equipment. In case she were ever accosted by a spy, Chan had a cell phone as well as a wireless Internet connection. Within minutes of receiving a speed-dial alert, help would be dispatched from the local police station.However, no one believed that would be necessary. In response to increased Chinese aerial and naval maneuvers in the region, F-16A aircraft attached to the 427th Tactical Fighter Wing in Ching Chuan Kang made twice-daily passes along this section of coastline. Offshore naval patrols were also ongoing. Chan did not fear mainland Chinese as muchas she did the sea spray that soaked her when the direction of the wind changed.She waved bugs from the screen because she was impatient and felt like attacking them, not because it did any good. They were back within moments. She looked at the data which came in the form of both numbers and waveform displays. The graphic representation consisted of red, blue, green, and yellow lines representing different strata. The scan covered an area that stretched from east of the Hawaiian islands to northeast of the Philippine Sea. The lines were straight, not a sawtooth segment in sight. In twelve months, Chan had never seen a reading so even.Suddenly, the calm blue center line on the monitor began to jump. The wind and the bugs seemed to vanish as Chan bent closer to the laptop. She checked the reference points and used them to bring up an inset map. The fluctuations were originating at the fringe of the Hawaiian Ridge where it intersected the Emperor Seamounts--a string of underwater volcanoes that parallels the western coast of North America. Chan waited to see which way the underwater shock wave moved: toward the South Pacific islands or to the nearer North American continent. The direction would be indicated by a spike up or down, respectively, along the blue line. Earthquakes tended to roll one way or the other, not both.Much to Chan's surprise, the wave moved in two directions, southwest and northeast. Moreover, the blue line quieted after just seventeen seconds. Temblors in this region usually lasted twice as long. That meant something underwater had given way, stopping the tectonic movement cold like a stubborn carrot in a blender. Perhaps a landslide resulting from the collapse of a shelf.Almost at once the yellow line began to move. That meant there was unusual movement in the ocean's middle geostrophic currents, the currents tied to the earth's rotation. These sweeping, powerful currents controlled over 50 percent of the water volume of the Pacific Ocean. It was probably a rush of seawater and detritus into the earthquake zonethat had caused the plates to lock up. Most likely a downward flood of water into a fissure at the subduction zone. If that were true, this brief earthquake could have catastrophic ramifications.At almost the same moment, the red line at the bottom of the graph began to dance, mostly toward the bottom. Those signals were coming from rift zones beneath the surface of the ocean. The young scientist leaned closer to read the bottommost extension of the spikes. They were coming from eleven kilometers below the sea's basaltic layer. That would put it in the Mohorovicic discontinuity, the boundary between earth's relatively thin crust and its thick mantle. It was in this region that a great deal of the Pacific region's volcanic activity originated.A major geological event was taking place, one that would affect hundreds of thousands of people.Though it was late, Chan put in a call to Dr. Leng. He would want to go to the IES and watch for the aftershocks of this event. It was probably too
late, she thought as she speed-dialed his home phone number. The disturbance would be registered at seismology monitoring stations in other nations, but that was not going to help the impact zone. Nothing could.Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Rovin. Continues...
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