As soon as Jormungandr had completed its fire-plan for the US ICBM squadrons, it immediately shifted target to other land-based nuclear ICBM facilities and mobile launchers, first in Russia (since its committee of nanites estimated that that nation had the next greatest nuclear capability, as well as the greater likelihood of coming to the US’ aid), then targeting those in China. The only sign of this shift in targets was a brief pause while the automaton’s massive tail changed position significantly.
Jormungandr’s six large tail-mounted rail guns were launching one round roughly each quarter second, each round being launched behind a ball of iron plasma and a thunderous report, sounding rather like some vast hand-cranked Gatling gun. To cover the greater range, Jormungandr was launching these attacks at between around 6.9 and 7.4 kilometres per second to reach targets in Russia, and between around 7.5 and 8 kilometres per second for its Chinese targets.
People across New York City almost universally clapped their hands to their ears in an automatic response to the barrage of thunderclaps that washed over them, turning away from the yellow-white glare that flickered and danced around the tip of Jormungandr’s tail, which had been raised high above the ruins of the city.
Jormungandr had raised the tip of its tail over a mile and a half into the air before opening fire, a measure that was designed not only to reduce the amount of atmosphere that its projectiles would have to pass through, but also to reduce the impact of its firing on the human survivors around it. Had it not done so, many humans might have suffered serious injuries or have died, though as it was, many survivors nearby had some degree of hearing loss, and a few still died as the shock waves of the reports shook loose heart valve replacements and coronary arterial stents, causing them to have fatal heart attacks.
Meanwhile, at the other end of its massive body, tentacles thicker than the trunks of the largest sequoias at their base, but dividing and sub-dividing into more slender tendrils just the right size for each task danced and probed through the rubble, pulling massive steel structural members from the rubble as if they were spaghetti, and feeding them into its voracious maw along with every other smaller bit of ferrous metal it could find.
“Correct, Mister President,” General Levin confirmed. “We don’t know where Jormungandr came from, why it’s here, or who made it.”
“You seem certain that it was made, though, General” the President said.
“Yes, Mister President,” the grey-haired lady replied. “Our experts concur that it has shown far too many abilities that are unlikely to evolve for it to have evolved naturally. That leaves only two options: it was made, or it was designed and then grown, by some intelligent agency. The majority of our experts also believe that no human agency could be responsible for that, Sir.”
“Aliens?” the President asked.
“Yes, sir, that’s the majority opinion, though the experts are quite… polarised in their opinions on that.”
“If it is of alien origin, how did it get here, then?”
“For that, I’ll have to defer to Ray Ogilvy, interim Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” the general said.
“Thanks, Maree,” the JPL director said. “Mister President, based upon our current knowledge, it ought to be impossible for something as large as Jormungandr to arrive anywhere on earth without our having noticed it arrive. Unless whoever sent it has access to technologies that are the stuff of science-fiction, there’s simply no way that it could have come from space without our having seen it arrive — or without it leaving behind a thermal signature that even a blind man would notice — and we simply haven’t noticed any event big enough in all of recorded history that would account for this thing arriving in its current form. That’s not to say that it might not have arrived in a place where history wasn’t recorded and it has been waiting in hiding all this time.
“However, the most logical explanation — other than that there is a group of people on this planet who have been hiding technical abilities way in advance of anything that we are familiar with — is that whoever sent Jormungandr didn’t send it, as it is, but instead sent the means by which it could be built. If we’re talking about nanotechnology, that might be an object so small that we wouldn’t see it if it was sitting on the table in front of us, and we were examining the table where it sat with a magnifying glass. Even if it was bigger, it could be quite large, perhaps on the order of several hundred pounds, and we still wouldn’t think it particularly unusual, since objects of that size impact the earth quite frequently. There are places in the world — like the polar regions or some sparsely inhabited land areas such as the Amazon or the Sahara — where even if we noticed such a thing fall, we probably wouldn’t bother to go and look.”
“So, if it arrived from space, it was as a small object which grew after arrival?” Rich asked for confirmation.
“Yes, Mister President,” the JPL Director confirmed. “That’s the only logical conclusion.”
“Thank you, Mister Ogilvy,” the President said. “Now, can anyone speak to the possibility that this thing was made by humans?”
“Mister President,” Darius Winton, the director of the CIA that Rich had appointed in the days following the destruction of Washington, spoke up. “While we lost a fair bit of data when we lost the CIA’s headquarters, we also had electronic backups. They weren’t real-time, but we would only have lost about a day’s worth of data. Our analysis — based upon the most current data that survived the loss of DC — is that there has not been even a hint that there’s any technology on earth that could allow a thing such as Jormungandr to be built, let alone kept secret from us. The CIA — such as it is at present — must conclude with a high degree of confidence that Jormungandr must be of alien origin.”
“How did you arrive at that conclusion, Mister Winton?”
“Well, sir, our sources around the world haven’t reported anything anywhere that could even be used to make something like this, and Jormungandr’s actions do not fit with the actions we’d expect if it was sent by any known enemies of the US. For instance, its avoidance of substantial areas of parkland, and the fact that it has apparently acted to allow people that crashed their helicopter onto its body to escape rather than dooming them to certain death by simply ignoring them are significant points. We would expect that any of our enemies who would send such a thing as this against us to want to kill as many Americans as they could, not to act to avoid such deaths whenever it seemed convenient for it to do so.”
Montana, North Dakota & Wyoming
Jormungandr had targeted each of the four-hundred-and-fifty US Minuteman-III launch facilities with a single large rail gun round. However, unlike the earlier strikes on US strategic facilities, Jormungandr’s nanites had assessed the probability that the targets were protected by particularly tough, dense doors. External observation by means of its birds determined the maximum possible thickness of those doors at around two and a half metres, potentially with depleted uranium armour beneath their outer layers, despite anything that the public internet might say. To that end, Jormungandr had sacrificed a little of its stores of Tungsten-depleted Uranium armour in order to launch projectiles made from a variant of that material.
The projectiles themselves had only a little internal thruster-based manoeuvring capability, though this was sufficient to increase the angle of descent from around 45° to something a little closer to the optimal re-entry angle of 90° to the horizontal, and the projectiles’ fins allowed a little more correction.
Most of the missiles impacted their US ICBM launch facility and control centre targets within seconds of one-another, descending at between 65° and 75° from the horizontal. At an impact velocity of between 4 and 5 kilometres per second, any substance found on the face of Earth would behave more like a liquid than a solid, and the launch facility doors and Jormungandr’s projectiles were no exception. Newton’s Impact Depth approximation held that impact depth was proportional to the ratio of penetrator to target density and proportional to penetrator length. Jormungandr’s projectiles were over 6.9 metres long, and even if made from steel, they would probably have easily penetrated launch facility doors intended to protect against a nuclear near-miss. However, since the nanites weren’t certain that the launch facility doors weren’t filled with something exotic like depleted uranium, these projectiles were made from a dense tungsten-uranium alloy, and could be expected to penetrate almost six metres of pure Osmium, the densest substance on earth, or nearly sixteen and a half metres of steel, forty-four metres of basalt, fifty-four metres of concrete or eighty-two metres of packed soil, and that didn’t even account for depleted Uranium’s propensity for fracturing in such a way that its tip remained sharp, thus increasing the potential penetration depth significantly. The projectiles penetrated the launch facility doors, being ablated by the doors’ material, but also imparting kinetic energy upon the material of the doors, and then passed all the way through. What happened next was a matter of chance. Either the projectile impacted the missile directly, passing almost vertically down its length, or it missed the missile, impacting into the wall of the silo. However, the violence of the impact had caused a significant amount of tungsten-uranium projectile material, plus the material of the doors, to be ejected from the shot path. Missile bodies are designed to be light, and are only as strong as needed to hold the missile together in flight, and the impact ejecta tore holes in their bodies. The missiles had solid fuel rockets, and the white-hot penetrator or the pyrophoric fragments of uranium from the projectiles ignited those rockets. In the enclosed environment of the silos, the accumulation of heat caused the solid rocket motors’ fuel to burn more rapidly than might have been the case outdoors.
From the point of view of the observers, there was a vertically descending flash of light, a toroidal puff of dust followed by the launch facility doors seeming to literally jump a short distance from the force of the impact, pretty much simultaneously at each site. Then, within a period of time ranging from almost instantly afterwards to a few seconds later, a column of fire erupted from the hole that the projectiles had made, and a skirt of flame blasted out from around the edge of the sliding doors, the columns of fire growing — either slowly or rapidly depending upon the amount of fuel ignited immediately by the passage of the projectiles — before the rapidly building pressure inside the silos literally blasted the massive doors into the air and the burning solid fuel inside erupted into the air as white-hot bubbles of gas and burning propellant. Even missiles whose solid fuel engines were ignited at their bases failed to emerge from their silos, as they impacted against the undersides of the launch facility doors and then disintegrated before the doors were lifted from the ground by the pressure of their burning fuel.
“Shit!” was the general reaction from the observers in the President’s situation room as Jormungandr’s large rail gun projectiles hit and every one of the Minuteman silos erupted in towering plumes of flame, their massive doors — or pieces of them — bouncing away across the fields like thrown cinder-blocks.
“I should have ordered an all-out nuclear strike against Jormungandr for the instant we were clear, and asked the other members of the Club to throw their nukes our way too,” the President concluded quietly. “Shouldn’t I?”
“Quite possibly, Sir,” General Levin agreed. “Though it’s a hard thing to sacrifice the lives that you’re responsible for, and even harder when you consider that they didn’t sign up for the risk as our people in uniform do.”
Captain King cleared her throat. “Excuse me, but does anyone realise that Jormungandr hasn’t stopped firing yet?”
There was a sudden babble as the meeting’s participants asked questions and speculated as to the answers. It took a few minutes before the relevant experts examined the new trajectories of the radar-invisible projectiles by looking at the glowing trails they left in the air before their velocities carried them beyond the atmosphere.
Ray Ogilvy was the first to offer an answer, which was unsurprising given that he was in charge of the JPL. “Mister President, it would appear that Jormungandr has been firing on targets in Russia, and is now directing its fire toward China.” He displayed a map that showed the probable impact areas in Russia and China, based upon the launch vectors of Jormungandr’s projectiles.
General Levin added, “Given that it has neutralised our land-based ICBMs, it would be reasonable to assume that it is now attempting to neutralise Russian and Chinese land-based ICBMs.”
“That seems reasonable,” Rich agreed.
“Who’s in charge in Russia and China?” Julie asked, speaking for the first time. “Should we be warning them that they are under attack too?”
This question sparked a brief but intense debate between the President’s advisers.
“How long until impact?” the President asked.
“Based on the trajectories we’ve seen…” Ray hesitated as he worked his computer. “Twenty-three to thirty-two minutes flight time to Russia, and…” he paused again while he continued to work. “Thirty-one to thirty-seven minutes to China.”
“Find out who’s in charge over there,” Rich ordered.
The southbound Q-line R160 subway car was rather empty that morning as it slowed in preparation for its arrival at the 72nd Street subway station. Given the DC holocaust, any number of people had skipped town, and the previous night’s snow also contributed to the car’s low occupancy.
The occupants included a beautiful lady in her mid-twenties, with dark golden blond hair, expensive-looking elegant designer maternity clothes and expensive jewellery and the protruding belly of a near-term pregnancy, who sat next to a man at least twice her age, his inky black hair streaked with grey and his face bearing the scars of a childhood encounter with smallpox, who was also dressed in expensive-looking clothing. Despite the large difference in their ages, their closeness and body language suggested that even if the wedding bands that each wore were not from their own wedding, that the two were long-term lovers nonetheless, and that the man was most likely the father of the lady’s unborn child. While the lady spoke with a cultured variant of a New York accent, the man had a mild but noticeable German accent.
A couple of tired-looking young women in their late teens or early twenties sat together, one of purely caucasian ancestry, the other with darker skin and features of mixed African-American ancestry, wearing — as far as the weather permitted — clothes suitable for visiting nightclubs, with makeup that had once been expertly applied, but was now showing the effects of a long night on the town. They were leaned over the darker girl’s iPhone, laughing and scoffing about some news article on it, the paler girl declaring that “It’s too early for April Fools’ day!”
A blind man with shrapnel scars visible on his face beneath his woollen beanie and behind his round-framed black-lensed glasses, with the bulky figure of a bodybuilder, wearing nondescript jeans and a coat and scarf, plus a pair of military-style boots sat next to the door alongside his Alsatian guide dog, which was itself wearing a dog coat.
A couple of firemen in their uniforms sat opposite one-another and chatted as they waited for the train to reach their stop, one an older grey-haired man with handsome features, the other, younger man having quite plain, even homely features.
There were eight people of varying race, gender and age, not all sitting together — though some were — with the common feature that they were all wearing one of several different janitorial uniforms, and had the fatigued demeanour of people who had been working all night. Another three people wearing plain, cheap clothes sat with the main group of uniformed janitors, and from their chatter it was evident that these people were also janitors, though working in places that didn’t have a uniform policy.
There were perhaps six people in business attire, another eight more casually dressed, and three who looked like tradesmen. An African-American couple with an eight-year-old boy sat at the front, a man in decent street clothes with a ten or eleven year old girl who was obviously his daughter given the family resemblance sat near the middle, and a woman bundled up like an eskimo with a pair of talkative eight or nine year old non-identical twin boys who referred to her as ‘Mom’ — but was obviously not their biological mother given the disparity in appearances — sat not too far away, the boys evidently having been dressed in clothing as heavy as that which their ‘mom’ wore, but which was now being carried by their ‘mom’.
As the train stopped and the doors opened, two men and two women in business attire along with four casually dressed people and two tradesmen got off, while a pair of businessmen got on, plus a pair of uniformed transit police and another wealthy-looking couple in their early thirties accompanied by a pretty black-haired girl of around ten years of age. On entering, this couple looked around, and seeing the heavily pregnant lady and her husband — or perhaps lover — went forward and sat next to them, the men and women sitting together, the women obviously discussing their respective pregnancies — the newcomer was perhaps four or five months pregnant — and their respective upcoming checkups at the Brooklyn Birthing Centre that morning. The black-haired girl sat politely next to her mother, but didn’t seem all that interested in the conversation, while the two men began to discuss business, the older man evidently more than just happy with the progress of his now three-year-old startup software company.
The two apparent businessmen had entered at the far end of the carriage from the pregnant ladies and their companions, but their chatter drew their attention. After looking at them for a long moment, the younger of the two — a nondescript sort of middle-aged man who you might forget after five minutes, save that he was wearing a yarmulke — nudged the older — a tanned, white-haired and weatherbeaten-looking man in his late fifties who looked as if he’d be more comfortable in cowboy gear. “Whadda ya think, Mike?” the younger nodded slightly toward the heavily pregnant lady. “All that ice, that much younger… an’ those maternity clothes look like they cost a bitta cheese, she’s gotta be a trophy wife or a gold-digger, huh?”
The older man looked over out of the corner of his eyes for another long moment. “Maybe,” he replied, shrugging. “Sure looks like it… but I’m not so sure. Somethin’ about her says she might have more between her ears than first meets the eye. But if you’re lookin’ at people, the kid with ‘em’s more interestin’ than the rest put together.”
The subway car’s doors closed and it began to pull out of the station.
“Yeah? She does seem a bit chill for a kid. So, what?”
“You don’t wanna take it there with her, take it from me. I’d sooner take it there with those cops than her.”
“Get the fuck outta here!”
“Joe, I didn’t spend a quarter century in the Navy, doin’ shit I can’t tell you about in places I can’t tell you about for the next forty-some years, without learnin’ a bit about people an’ what they can do to each other. That kid… right now, I could take her down, but in less than ten years, if she keeps goin’ the way she seems to have been ’til now… I wouldn’t want to cross her, not even if I was twenty years younger than I am now. Heh, especially not if I was twenty years younger. Those cops… Not a chance.”
“She doesn’t look that bad-ass.”
“Son, that’s part of it. She looks just as sweet as pie right now, and in another eight-odd years she’s gonna be every red-blooded guy’s wet dream, but I saw how she was movin’ on the platform and how she was watchin’ everythin’, and I’m tellin’ you, she’s gotta have been learnin’ dancin’ an’ martial arts since she was three, and probably shootin’ since five or six, and it looks like she’s taken to it all like a duck to water. If she’s got half a brain, she’ll cry crocodile tears and play the ‘Poor little me’ card until you’re close enough, then you’ll never know what hit you.”
“You’re shittin’ me!”
“She might be ten or eleven, but she’s got real old eyes, y’know. I’ve seen ’em on kids carryin’ guns in places I can’t tell you about, but you already know.”
“So, Mike, you never told me how a respected pshrink like you had such an… interesting past.”
“The short story is, I was a hick farm-boy with neither dollars nor sense, and when my Pa died, my older brother inherited the whole farm since he was interested and I wasn’t. I got a bit too used to havin’ a lotta cheese, and then before I knew it, I didn’t have it any more, an’ that woke me up right quick. I was too proud to play the prodigal son and go and beg my brother for a job, and he mightn’ta given me the time of day anyway, since we’d had words before I left. So, I signed up with the Navy, and ended up as a Seal, and then, ’cause I was still a bit dumb, ended up doin’ all kinds of secret ‘if you screw up, we don’t know you’ shit that I’m still not allowed to talk about. I even got medals for doin’ that shit, but I ain’t even allowed to show them to just anybody. Anyway, before I started doin’ all that secret shit, I got bored, believe it or not, and the Navy paid for me to go to school to keep me busy, and because even as a kid, I was good at dealin’ with people, I ended up with a medical degree and a speciality in psychiatry, and spent time bandaging and pshrinking Seals and bad guys in the field before the people I can’t tell you about took an interest in me, and things got real crazy. What about you, Joe?”
“Me? I didn’t think I was gonna get to college at all until my Gran died and left me just enough that I could scrape through along with a night job. I spent a couple ‘a years workin’ in a bodega before I got my degree, and then right after 9–11 I joined the Army an’ fulfilled my duty to Æsir and America to go to war, but I never did anything like you have…”
Jormungandr had already destroyed the MTA headquarters in Brooklyn, and the antiquated equipment that was still used to control much of New York’s subways was not able to cope with the general collapse that Jormungandr’s passage overhead caused along most of the lines. Only the L-line had communications-based train control automation, and that system coped as expected with the destruction of its infrastructure: trains were stopped in order to prevent a collision, often between stations, leaving their passengers wondering what was happening and angry at the delay before Jormungandr reached them, and put an end to their speculation. However, the MTA staff who were aware of Jormungandr had better things to do — like fleeing — than to try to salvage something from the situation in the rail network that was both immensely complicated and opaque even to its operators. No one person could oversee the entire system, the ‘towers’ where the operators worked were frequently underground, right alongside the tracks they controlled, and failures were so common that few of the people who worked the system realised that the situation was any worse than yet another piece of faulty equipment that had left them even less aware of what was going on than usual. Even with a fully implemented CBTC system, it would have been difficult to direct trains away from Jormungandr, without it, it was impossible. Drivers of trains headed toward Jormungandr either saw the usual signals despite the hazard ahead, or the signals themselves simply went dark, leaving the drivers wondering if this was just another fault in the antiquated system, or something worse. A few drivers, after passing several dark signals, stopped their trains. Some of those were rear-ended by other trains whose drivers had been less cautious, while yet other drivers continued on until they reached a section of track beneath Jormungandr’s body. The shallow depth of much of New York’s subways ensured that Jormungandr’s vast bulk would destroy them as effectively as it did surface structures. However, the Lexington Avenue–63rd Street subway station was deeper than most, at around a hundred feet.
With the almost constant noise of the subway trains as they followed their routes, nobody on the train noticed the unusual rumbling as Jormungandr reached Manhattan. It wasn’t until they were pulling into the Lexington Avenue–63rd Street Station that anyone on board — driver or passenger — realised that something was wrong — when the railway carriages began to shudder far more than usual and the walls of the subway began to crack and buckle. People began to scream as the roof of the subway caved in and chunks of falling concrete began to cave in the metal roof of the carriage, twisting the upright stanchions into curves before their hollow metal tubing creased, and they took on a sideways-V shape. One curving stanchion creased, the failure propelling the point of the crease away from the stanchion’s usual position and into the belly of the tradesman who was holding it. Falling debris also hit near the side of the roof, and the impact dented the metal of the carriage enough that any people sitting against the side of the carriage below the impact would be hit by the side of the carriage to which the momentum of the debris had been transferred. A huge metal beam with a number of twisted and broken bolts at its end crashed down almost vertically through the roof of the carriage, fragments of the concrete that had once surrounded it falling away as it hit, then after a moment of stillness, it jerked sideways, slamming both the blind man and his guide dog into the side of the carriage and pinning them there as yet more rubble cascaded down, smashing the roof down still further, pouring in through the hole it had torn in the metal of the roof and also flowing over the sides of the carriage. Whatever pressure was causing the collapse increased still further, compacting the rubble, which burst through any windows that were still intact after the mistreatment that the carriage had already suffered. All the lights went out as the power failed. Then it was over, and the shuddering died away, though muffled rumbles still echoed through the compacted rubble on occasion. The occupants of the carriage were trapped in a space two to five feet high. With the sounds of the collapse mostly gone, that left only the cries of fear and pain from the occupants in the pitch blackness.
Lights began to appear as people pulled out their phones and turned on their screens and lights where available. One of the transit cops pulled out his standard-issue flashlight. There was a sudden babble of voices as people began to talk, to ask what happened, and the result was that no-one could be heard.
The older of the two transit cops, a thirty-year veteran with something of a paunch to explain his lack of promotion or transfer to more desirable duties, felt his head where his hat had been. It came away with a little blood and a lot of dust, but he had been shot in the line of duty during his career, and this tiny scratch was nothing. Satisfied that he wasn’t bleeding to death and that his brains weren’t leaking out of his head, he raised his voice.
“Hey! Shut it, everyone!”
“Says who?” one wise-ass quipped into the relative silence from a fair way back in the carriage.
“I’m Officer George Pirelli, New York Police Department,” he replied grumpily. “And I say, shut it!”
When there was relative silence once more, Officer Pirelli continued more calmly, “Okay, if you haven’t figured out that there’s been a structural collapse, say so now, since you’ll have a head injury, and we need to figure out who else is hurt too.” As some of the people nearby chuckled briefly at his attempt at levity, he looked over to his partner. “Sam, can you go forward, and I’ll go back…”
“Don’t think I can, Geor,” Sam replied weakly, with a catch of pain in his voice. “I’m feelin’ a bit light headed, an my back hurts, and I’d’a laid down already, ‘cept I can’t.”
Officer Pirelli took a closer look at his partner, whose face was deathly pale, then looked behind him to see that somehow a length of rebar had punched through the buckled side of the subway car and into his partner’s back, between the shoulder blades and just to the right of the spine, but not passing all the way through, angling upwards at over 45° “Shit, Sam! Try not to move,” he added.
“Trust me, not a problem,” Sam replied.
Officer Pirelli reached for the radio handset at his collar. “Charlie Seven Seven to dispatch, K.” When there was no reply after a long pause, he tried again, and again with no response beyond a faint crackle. “Charlie Seven Seven to any station, K,” he tried then, again with no response. “Shit!” he swore as he realised that his radio was useless. He pulled out his cell and looked at it, then raised his voice, calling, “Anyone got any cell reception?” His cell showed no reception, not even an ‘Emergency Only’ message that meant that the cell phone’s current service provider’s cell towers weren’t in range, but other providers’ towers were, but they would only take emergency calls since no arrangement had been made for them to carry any paying calls from that provider. He tried calling 911, and the cell emergency number, 112, neither with any result.
A man was slithering up the length of the carriage from the rear on his hands, knees and occasionally his belly, wriggling expertly over and around the rubble that lay scattered across the buckled floor, stopping momentarily wherever a person lay and exchanging a few words with most of them before continuing. When the weatherbeaten, white-haired man reached the place where Officer Pirelli squatted beneath the caved-in ceiling, he introduced himself in the cop’s torchlight. “Officer Pirelli?” he asked. “I’m Mike Damson… Doctor Mike Damson, psychiatrist, and formerly Senior Chief Petty Officer Damson, US Navy Seals.”
“Uh, hi, Doc…” Officer Pirelli was a little confused, still thinking about his partner and contacting central dispatch.
“I’ve assessed the passengers to the rear of us,” Mike went on quietly, all but whispering into Pirelli’s ear. “We have two deceased, two seriously injured and unlikely to survive until we could get dug outta here, and one serious injury that I’ve treated as best I can with improvised materials, but will need to be re-treated if we come up with better first-aid gear. The rest of the passengers have minor injuries that won’t get worse if left untreated. We ain’t gettin out of this car at the back either, the space between this car and the next is filled with rubble.”
“Okay…” Pirelli hesitated. “Sam… uh, My partner…?” he asked hesitantly, unsure if he should be prioritising Sam over the other passengers.
Mike cast an expert eye over Officer Sam Greeney, looked behind him and examined the length of blood-stained rebar, then felt his belly and listened to his chest.
“Why can’t I move?” Sam asked.
“Son, you’ve got a length of rebar in your back,” Mike said to the young police officer. “It’s stickin’ through the side of the car.”
“Get it out!” Sam pleaded.
“That wouldn’t be a good idea, son,” Mike said. “Right now, it’s keepin’ you alive. Gimme a moment an’ I’ll see if it’ll move, it might be better if you could lie down.”
Mike wrapped his arms around Sam to keep him from moving on the length of rebar, and then wrapped his hands around the ridged, inch-thick length of metal. He locked his arms and used his body weight to see if he could move the bar, but it appeared to be fixed to something immovable beyond the buckled side of the subway car.
“Sorry, son, that bar ain’t goin’ anywhere. Try not to move, OK. As long as it stays in and you stay still, you’ll be fine,” Mike concluded with a cheerful lie.
“Thanks, Doc,” Officer Pirelli said.
Facing George and with his body between Sam and George, Mike pointed back to Sam and then to his watch and swept his finger around the dial, indicating hours, then held up his hand, showing five fingers and then one, then crossed himself, indicating his opinion that Sam had no more than six hours. “He’s gonna need proper medical assistance eventually, of course,” Mike said, far more cheerily than the expression on his face.
At the front of the subway car, the two firemen, young Dave Anselmi and old Joe Torres, had been checking on the passengers too. The African-American family at the front had cuts and grazes, but the front of the subway car was able to support more weight than the middle, and it hadn’t collapsed as far. The two pregnant ladies had only bruises and grazes, though the less homely of the two husbands seemed to have broken bones in his left foot, and his pretty ten-year-old daughter didn’t appear to be injured at all, or at least didn’t want to tell men where she was injured. The other husband with facial scarring had a moderately serious laceration on his left arm, but that was easily treated.
A couple of people wearing janitors’ uniforms were dead, but while their fate was tragic, they weren’t of any great immediate concern. What was more concerning was that a couple of their friends, who were also wearing other varieties of janitorial uniform, had severe head injuries, apparently as a result of the same heavy impact from some large fallen object that had killed their fellows. However, head injuries, while of great concern, weren’t really treatable in these conditions, and all anyone could do was to protect the victims from any more head trauma and hope for the best.
When the firemen crawled under the lowest point of the caved-in subway car’s roof, they encountered another person whose plight concerned them far more. A blind man and his Alsatian guide dog were both pinned against the wall of the subway car by a girder that had fallen more or less vertically, and had then been knocked sideways by the falling debris, its end, complete with broken bolts, pinning its victims.
The dog’s head was pinned against his owner’s abdomen, and a couple of the broken-off bolts had passed through the dog’s neck and into his owner’s belly. Joe and Dave were somewhat surprised that the dog was still alive given its neck wounds, but it appeared that the bolts had only passed through its skin, above and below its neck — dogs’ skin is only loosely attached to the underlying muscles, unlike human skin, which is tightly attached — leaving the vital structures in the neck relatively intact.
Both dog and owner were taking their plight stoically. The blind man, one Brandon Hall, formerly a lance-corporal in the US Marines before his medical discharge, was a Gulf War veteran, blinded by a suicide bomber’s explosive device in the months after the collapse of the Iraqi army. Brandon claimed that he had been cured of impatience, since it was impatience that had led him to sticking his head out of cover when he and his squad had known that there was a suicide bomber on the street, a very young, bearded Arab man wearing a bulky waistcoat, holding a dead-man’s switch and shouting radical Islamist slogans. The last thing he would ever see had been the flash of the explosion before the nails that had lined the suicide bomber’s explosive vest had taken his sight.
While Dave engaged Brandon in conversation in an attempt to distract him from his plight, Joe examined him. While Brandon had a couple of long bolts in his belly and many small lacerations on his head, shoulders and knees from debris that had fallen through the hole the girder had torn in the roof and through the broken window nearby, he didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger of bleeding to death. However, his abdominal injuries were still quite serious, as the bolts had potentially torn his bowels, and since they were far from sterile, peritonitis was pretty much inevitable.
When they were satisfied that Brandon wasn’t in any immediate danger, and they had treated his injuries as best they could, they asked another of the passengers who was also relatively uninjured — a middle-aged woman in business attire who introduced herself only as ‘Anne’ to sit and talk with Brandon.
The nine-year-old twin boys, Jacob and Rohan, seemed to have had their talkativeness knocked out of them. Both were snivelling quietly, and Rohan was pinned to the floor by a chunk of broken concrete that didn’t really look all that big, but held his left forearm down as effectively as if it had been bolted to the floor, and it took both strong firemen and his step-mother and brother to lift it enough to free him. He had a broken forearm, both radius and ulna snapped cleanly near the wrist. The eleven year old girl near them, named Riley, was in an even worse emotional state despite her lack of any injury more significant than bruises and grazes, and was no help at all, even a hindrance, as she demanded that they attend to her injuries, even while her father attempted to calm her and explain to her that her needs weren’t as great as those of the other, more severely injured passengers’.
“Morgan! Come back!” a woman’s voice called from near the front of the carriage. “It’s not safe!”
“It’s not safe anywhere, Mom,” came the calm, girlish response. “I’ll come back if you need me.”
“I need you!” her mother called.
“You’ve got Dad and Mr and Mrs Grafenwöhr, and you don’t really need me.”
“Morgan!” came the plaintive protest.
“Let her go, Sierra,” her father said. “Where could she go, and who’s to say if any part of this car is any safer than any other?”
The ten-year-old girl with black hair came slithering up the length of the carriage to the two firemen.
“Can we help you, miss?” Dave asked her. He had already examined her as much as she had let him, and found nothing much amiss with her.
“Can I help you?” she asked. “I can’t just sit back there when I could be doing something useful.”
“I…” Dave started, at a bit of a loss as to what to get the unexpectedly calm girl to do.
“Why don’t you help settle Riley, there?” Joe suggested, referring to the hysterical eleven-year-old
“Okay,” Morgan replied calmly, then crawled over to the still-hysterical Riley.
“W…What do you want?” Riley asked her between sobs, her tears still making her mascara run. “Can you help me?”
“Are you injured?” Morgan asked the older, bigger girl, looking at her with an expression of concern.
“Yes!” Riley practically shrieked. “Look!” she showed Morgan her minor injuries.
“Oh, I meant worse than these,” Morgan said, showing Riley her own injuries, which while also minor, were worse and more extensive than Riley’s.
“No…” Riley had to admit. “But they hurt so bad, and no-one will help me…” she began again.
Joe and Dave, who were splinting Rohan’s broken arm, both expected Morgan to hug the hysterical Riley and sympathise with her, but her actions surprised both of them.
Morgan merely gave Riley a disgusted look, and said bitingly, “Oh, grow up!”
Far from making Riley’s emotional state worse, Morgan’s brief expression of utter disgust got through to Riley where none of the soothing words from her father or the two firemen had had any effect, and she stopped sobbing and dried her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket, her mascara adding to the garment’s dishevelled appearance, and also being spread around her eyes, making her look rather like a cross between a raccoon and a sad clown.
“Better,” Morgan said approvingly. “If you don’t feel up to doing something useful, at least act your age, keep quiet and stay out of the way,” she suggested.
“Okay…” was Riley’s whispered response.
Mike Damson had been watching the exchange out of the corner of his eye, as had Officer Pirelli.
“What the fuck happened there?” Pirelli approved quietly, as surprised as the two firemen at the way Morgan turned Riley’s emotional state around.
“Morgan’s a clever girl,” Mike murmured approvingly. “Can’t you see from her clothes and makeup that Riley wants more than anything to be an adult? Morgan just reminded her that adults don’t act that way, and provided a better example of behaviour than her own. Riley couldn’t let herself be outdone by a younger girl.”
“Great. One less thing I haveta’ worry about, then,” the officer said with relief.
Morgan had made her way to the middle of the car, and looked over the situation there. “Do you need any help?” she asked, her question directed toward both the police officer and the doctor.
“Morgan, isn’t it?” Pirelli asked.
“Uh… Okay…” Pirelli was at something of a loss.
“I’m Doctor Mike Damson,” Mike introduced himself, holding out his hand to her.
Morgan shook the doctor’s hand solemnly. “Morgan Scheinberg. How do you do?”
As Mike assessed Morgan at close range, and vice versa, the former noting her very firm handshake, one of the men whom Mike had assumed was an un-uniformed janitor approached on hands and knees from the front of the carriage.
“When we gonna get outta here, Boss?”, the man in his early twenties asked the transit cop, coming to his feet and squatting near Sam.
“Just chill, son,” Pirelli replied soothingly. “We’ll get outta here soon enough.”
“Can’t be soon enough,” the man answered.
“If you want something to do, miss,” Mike was saying to Morgan as he released her hand, “you could go around the car and get people’s names and addresses, and maybe have a few words with them.” Mike pulled a notebook and a pen from his jacket pocket and offered it to Morgan.
“Okay,” Morgan said with a little smile, and reached out for the stationery that Mike was offering. “I can do that.”
“Hey! Are youze listenin?” the young man snapped at them. “Let me the fuck outta here!”
It took only a moment for Mike to assess the young man’s mental state from his actions and demeanour and for alarm bells to start ringing in his mind, but Officer Pirelli opened his mouth and spoke without thinking first.
“Son, don’t spaz on us, none of us are goin’ anywhere for a while, k?” Pirelli said calmly. “Not with all the rubble…”
The young man snatched the SIG Sauer P226 DAO pistol from the dozing officer Sam’s holster and immediately cocked it by pulling the trigger slightly with the ease of someone familiar with the weapon. “I aint yo ‘son’, pig!” he spat, pointing the pistol in Pirelli’s direction. “Now get me the fuck outta here, right fuckin’ now!”
“Shit!” Pirelli swore as he fumbled for his S&W Model 64 revolver, taken completely by surprise.
“Leave yo heater be or I’ll plug yo fat ass, pig!” the man warned him, pointing the pistol at Pirelli’s head at near point blank range.
“Sir…?” Mike began to say, but was interrupted by Morgan.
“Hi, I’m Morgan,” she said calmly to the unhinged young man. “What’s your name, sir?”
Mike approved of Morgan’s choice of words, though he didn’t think that she should have drawn attention to herself.
Just then, Joe, Mike’s fellow psychologist, made an appearance, ducking under the low caved-in roof awkwardly. “What’s goin’ on?” he asked calmly.
The gun-wielding man was distracted by Joe’s arrival and looked away from Pirelli, who began to draw his revolver, very awkwardly given the confined space.
“Shut yo Jew mouth, asshole!” the young man screamed at Joe. “I don’t wanna hear nothin’ from no stinkin’ Jews!”
“What the fuck?” Joe asked in surprise.
“Shut yo fuckin’ guap-grabbin’ Jew mouth or lose it!” the young man insisted.
“Oh, the yarmulke,” Joe said, finally understanding.
“I said shut it, Jew!”
“Fugeddaboudit, I’m not Jewish, I just gotta go to a Bar Mitzvah this…”
Joe’s words were abruptly cut off as the young man shot Joe just above the bridge of his nose, the sound of the shot deafening in the confined space of the subway car, blood and brain tissue spraying against the caved-in carriage roof. Joe’s body collapsed limply, dead before he hit the floor.
The sound of the shot was replaced by screams and shouts of surprise.
As Pirelli took advantage of the gunman’s distraction to finally extract his revolver from its holster, the gunman’s left hand whipped out and seized the front of Morgan’s expensive coat, jerking her toward him and knocking her off her feet and onto her knees, before backing away toward the front of the carriage from whence he had come.
As Pirelli and then Mike ducked under the caved-in roof to follow, they heard the gunman shout, “Move it, niggers, ‘less you wanna get what that lyin’ guap-grabbin’ Jew banker just got!”, and when they had cleared the obstacle, they could see the African-American family scurrying away from their place near the carriage’s front door as the gunman moved backwards, now holding Morgan with her back to his chest and his left arm around her neck.
As the gunman moved backwards, the roof clearance increased, and he was able to stand upright. He was apparently holding Morgan very tightly, since she had both her hands on his forearm and she was touching the floor with only the tips of her toes, like a ballerina en-pointe. The gunman was holding the muzzle of the SIG against Morgan’s right temple.
“Please don’t hurt me, sir,” Morgan whimpered.
“Morgan!” a feminine voice screamed from the back of the car. There was the sound of a scuffle.
“No, Sierra, you can’t help,” a man’s voice said, sounding strained with exertion.
“I… I’ll be fine, Mom,” Morgan sniffed. “Really!”
“Drop the piece and let the girl go, buddy!” Officer Pirelli snapped as he emerged from under the caved-in roof, finally in a familiar situation. “Be a man, you don’t need to hide behind an innocent girl.”
Mike moved out from behind Pirelli and looked toward the hostage situation. He noted that even while Morgan was apparently sobbing in fear, her eyes were dry and she stared at Pirelli, then looked hard at the gunman’s protruding right elbow, then back again.
“Son, let Morgan go right the fuck now!” Mike added urgently. “Dead-ass, you don’t wanna take it there!”
Morgan did the staring thing with her eyes again, glaring at Pirelli, then looking pointedly at the gunman’s right elbow.
Pirelli failed to notice, even though he had his torch alongside his revolver, pointing straight at the man and his hostage. “Do as the Doc says, buddy, drop the gun and we’ll get you some help.”
Morgan rolled her eyes in frustration, scowled and clenched her jaw, still unnoticed by either her assailant or Officer Pirelli.
“Last chance, Son,” Mike said gently. “Drop it now or you’re a dead man.”
“Fuck you, Doc!” the gunman said to Mike. “I do that an’ I’m dead!”
Morgan decided to take her own action at that point. She was standing on the tips of her toes like a ballerina one second, then the next she lifted her knees, bringing her full weight to bear on the gunman’s arm, while her right hand shot up beneath the pistol’s barrel. Apparently she had been deliberately walking en-pointe, rather than having been manhandled into that position, as her sudden weight jerked the gunman’s left arm down far enough that the pistol was no longer pointing at her head, but well above it. She stepped to her right, her head going right under the pistol’s barrel as it discharged harmlessly above her, then her left elbow hammered back into the gunman’s solar plexus, her left fist snapped down to impact with a thud against his genitals, and she pirouetted gracefully to her left as the man began to fold over with a cough of pain.
“Shiit!” Pirelli swore with respect as he watched the young girl efficiently demolishing her assailant.
However, Morgan wasn’t finished there. Her hands came up and twisted her assailant’s SIG to the left as she turned, and as it came free of his hand, she fitted her own right hand around the grip, pointed it upwards, pressed it beneath her assailant’s chin and fired a single round before continuing to dance away from him. The 9mm bullet transited the gunman’s head from beneath the jaw right next to his adam’s apple and emerged half-way between the top and the back of his head, having passed right through his brain-stem. A gout of blood and brains erupted from the wound, but Morgan had already danced away from the area, and hardly a drop reached her. Her assailant’s corpse slid limply down the subway car’s metal front door, leaving a streak of blood and brains on the cracked glass window above him.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” Pirelli swore in surprise.
Morgan turned toward Pirelli in surprise at his oath, the pistol coming up to point toward his solar plexus, but after a moment, Morgan lowered the muzzle to point toward the floor, ejected the SIG’s magazine and pulled back the slide to eject the live round from the chamber, locked the slide back and caught the ejected cartridge in mid-air. She loaded the cartridge back into the magazine and presented the unloaded pistol and the magazine to the police officer, who took them without a word, an open-mouthed expression of unutterable surprise still fixed on his face. Then, Morgan let out a quiet sob and scurried away toward the back of the carriage.
Officer George Pirelli put away his revolver and went to check the corpse as he had been trained, but there was no doubt that the young man was dead. As he rose and turned back, he noticed that his hands were shaking violently. “W… What the f-fuck?” his voice shook too. “I d… didn’t s… shoot the fucker?”
Mike approached him and put an arm around his shoulders. “It’s a perfectly normal post-combat reaction to all the adrenaline in your system,” he said. “Come, sit down over here and relax.”
Pirelli let Mike lead him to the side of the subway car and sat down as instructed.
“There’s a hole in the floor to your left in case you need to vomit,” Mike added, practically. “Let’s try to keep things reasonably clean in here, okay? God only knows how long we’re going to have to stay in here, so let’s try not make any more mess than we already have.”
“You okay?” Mike asked then. “I’d like to check on Morgan.”
“’M ’K,” Pirelli said, breathing deeply, his head in his hands. “Go… Poor kid…”
Mike wriggled and crawled after Morgan, through the rubble and past the other trapped straphangers huddling near the walls. He paused beside his deceased colleague and gently closed the man’s open, staring eyes. “Told you so, Joe,” he whispered. “She’s given you a side-party to Valhalla.” He wiped away a couple of tears, then pulled the yarmulke off his colleague’s head and stuffed it into one of Joe’s coat pockets, then pulled the intricate Thor’s Hammer pendant from beneath his colleague’s shirt and laid it on top of his clothing, before continuing on toward the back of the car.
Mike found Morgan embraced between her parents, sobbing quietly. The Grafenwöhrs were sitting supportively nearby.
“Hi,” Mike murmured. “Do you mind if I talk to Morgan?”
“Just who are you?” her father asked.
Mike fished a business card out of a jacket pocket and offered it to the dark-haired man. “Doctor Mark Damson, psychiatrist. I specialise in all sorts of combat trauma, mental and physical.”
“I’m Mark, this is Sierra.” He introduced himself and his pregnant wife, then hesitated. “You can talk to Morgan if Morgan says it’s okay.” He patted Morgan’s hair. “Hon?”
“All right,” Morgan sniffed.
The Grafenwöhrs discreetly got up and moved a few yards away to give the Scheinbergs some privacy when the heavily pregnant lady discreetly jabbed her husband in the ribs with her elbow.
Mike looked closely at Morgan, then at her parents. “You already know, don’t you?” he asked in a barely audible whisper, nodding toward Morgan.
Both Morgan’s parents nodded mutely.
“Who’s she seeing?” he guessed.
“Doctor Van Haas,” Mark replied
“Hmm… Jan… or Alexander?”
“Jan Van Haas,” Sierra replied quietly.
“Ah, yes, he’s pretty good… How long?”
“Of course… I only hung up my plaque in The City last year, so you wouldn’t have heard of me then. Did Dr. Van Hass suggest martial arts?”
“Well… he did suggest she do some physical activities with a bit of discipline in them, but…” Sierra didn’t say any more, but looked down at Morgan and stroked her black hair again.
“Morgan? Was martial arts your idea?” Mike asked in a whisper.
Morgan continued to sob quietly onto her mother’s breast.
Mike leaned down so that his lips were an inch from Morgan’s ear and whispered something that only she heard.
“Yes, Doctor, it was my idea,” Morgan sniffed.
“What style do you do?”
“How good are you?” he asked.
“You’re, what, ten?”
“You must be pretty dedicated, then,” he complimented her. “What else do you do?”
“Do you mean hobbies?”
“Ballet, shooting, hunting and computer programming.”
“That’s some list,” he said, impressed. “Ballet and programming don’t seem to fit the theme, though. Why them, when the rest are survival skills?”
“Doctor Van Haas suggested dancing, and I just like doing ballet, I suppose, the formality of it, and using movement to make others feel certain things. Programming… that’s because I’m lazy.”
“Lazy? With all your accomplishments, you don’t sound lazy.”
“I don’t like doing things over and over again, so why do it if you can get a machine to do it for you?”
Mike gave a snort of laughter. “That’s a good point.”
“What about you?” she asked. “You don’t seem like the average doctor. You move like my martial arts instructors, not a doctor.”
“Very insightful, miss,” he approved. “I was a Navy SEAL for more than twenty years, as well as a doctor.”
Her eyes opened wider. “Really?! That’s very interesting. Where have you been?”
“Oh, lots of places. Grenada in ’83, Panama in ’89 and ’90, the Persian Gulf in ’90 and ’91, Somalia in ’92, Afghanistan from ’01 to ’03, Iraq in ‘03… and a lot of other places I can’t talk about,” Mike replied, then changed the subject. “Now, I’d like to talk to your parents, okay?”
“What can we do for you, Doctor?” Mark asked.
“Given the recent events,” Mike nodded toward the other end of the subway car, “I’m not sure that Jan Van Haas is the best doctor for your daughter any more. He’s a paediatric psychiatrist, and my speciality is in combat and trauma psychiatry, and I believe that I’d be more able to help her now. You have my card?”
“Yes?” Mark replied.
“It has all that you need to look me up and find out about me. If you think that you might want me to take over, have a talk with Doctor Van Haas first, give him my card and see what he thinks.” Mike offered another card to Mark. When Mark frowned in puzzlement, and began to open his mouth to say that he already had a card, Mike added, “For Doctor Van Hass, in case you want to talk to him about me.”
“If we’re interested, couldn’t we contact you directly?” Sierra asked.
“No,” Mike replied. “Courtesy, law and practicality all require that Doctor Van Hass be a willing party to any change in your daughter’s care, and he would have to send me your daughter’s records.”
“Oh. Can you tell me what happened back there?” Sierra asked. “Morgan just said that she’d had to shoot a man.”
“Well…” Mike hesitated, thinking. “In my expert opinion, a young man whose name we don’t yet know had a psychotic episode, probably as the result of claustrophobia. He seized the injured officer’s handgun, shot my colleague when he approached to see if he could help, then took your daughter hostage and held the gun to her head. When it appeared that Officer Pirelli wasn’t going to be able to obtain her immediate release, she defended herself, getting herself out of the line of fire and then seizing the weapon and using it to neutralise her attacker.”
“Neutralise?” Sierra asked.
“Sorry, that’s a military euphemism for ‘kill’,” Mike explained quietly. “She shot him up through the head from under his chin, and killed him instantly.”
Sierra didn’t appear to notice the tears that began to run down her dusty cheeks. “Is she going to be charged?”
“I doubt it,” Mike said. “The man had just killed my colleague for no good reason, and was threatening her life. Pure self-defence, if you ask me.”
There was the sounds of someone crawling closer, and Officer Pirelli appeared. “No, it’d be a waste of time charging your daughter, ma’am,” he added. “Even a public defender’d get it thrown outta court in a heartbeat as self defence, and if you ask me, the prick spazzed an started killin’ innocent people an’ takin’ hostages, and Morgan just happened to be the one to give the jerk what he deserved.” He paused, then continued, “I came to see if she’s all right. Killing someone, even in self-defence, is a hard thing for an adult, and I can’t imagine what it’d be like for a kid. I went through it myself some years back, and while I’d never met him before today, I’ve heard that Doctor Damson here has worked with other NYPD officers after shootings.”
“She’s very upset,” Sierra said. “Doctor Damson here has offered to work with her, though.”
“Well, I’m here if any of you need to talk,” Pirelli offered. “I don’t have a degree, but I do have experience, and speaking from experience, I found that the best thing to do is to keep busy, keep helping people. Otherwise you start dwelling on things.”
“Actually, a dose of Propranolol has been found to be quite effective at reducing the impact of traumatic events. It doesn’t remove the memories, it just makes them less traumatic and less memorable.”
“Do you have any?” Sierra asked.
“It’s useful enough that it helps for a psychiatrist in my line of work to always have some on hand.” Mike glanced briefly at Officer Pirelli out of the corner of his eyes, and bent down to whisper something to both Sierra and Morgan as he pulled a bubble-sheet of pills out of his pocket, then once he had finished speaking, he popped one pill through the foil and handed it to Morgan.
“What was all that?” Pirelli asked Mike.
“Doctor-patient confidentiality, Officer Pirelli.”
“Oh… Sorry. Forget I asked.”
“Morgan,” Mike said then. “You might feel like doing something useful in a half-hour to an hour or so. If that’s the case, go ahead, doing something other than brooding will help too.”
Morgan finished swallowing the pill, helping it down with a mouthful of juice from a small bottle her mother had been carrying. “Okay, Doctor.”
“I’ll be around if you need me,” Mike said. “It doesn’t look like any of us’ll be getting out of here any time soon, given all the rubble.”
“No kidding,” Officer Pirelli agreed. “We’re about a hundred feet down just here, so digging us out won’t be quick.”
“If it’s going to take such a long time, should we be rationing food, drink and battery power?” Morgan asked.
Mike and George stared at her.
“Why are you grilling me?” she asked.
The two men looked at each other, then.
Mike smacked his forehead. “I’ve been in just this position in the field, and I still didn’t think of it.”
“Outta the mouths of babes,” Pirelli said, shaking his head.
“Well?” Morgan asked.
“Yes, it’s a very good idea, miss,” Pirelli replied.
“We’re just annoyed with ourselves for not thinking of it sooner,” Mike added.
“All right,” Morgan sniffed. “If you give me that notebook, I’ll add food, drink and phones to the list, then.”
“Already?” Mike was surprised.
“Did you forget I’ve been doing martial arts for years?” she asked, pulling out a flowery handkerchief and wiping at her tear-streaked cheeks and eyes, frowning momentarily at its grubby condition when she was done. “JKD is one of the more practical schools. I’ve been training for that kind of situation. I just didn’t expect a gun to be involved, that’s all.”
“This is New York,” Mike said dryly. “I’m sure you won’t make that mistake again,” he handed her a brand-new notebook and a moderately expensive pen.
“Absolutely not,” she replied.
When Morgan began to write in the notebook, the officer cleared his throat loudly. “Okay, everyone, listen up!”
The subway car was already pretty quiet, but the murmur of quiet voices died away. Pirelli wasn’t satisfied, and whistled shrilly. “Quiet! This is important!”
When all that could be heard was the drip of water, rubble shifting slightly, and people moving occasionally, Pirelli continued. “Thank you. Now, we all gotta face the realities of this situation. We’re at the Lexington Avenue — 63rd Street Station, and we’re about a hundred feet below ground. I’d guess that there’s been a major structural collapse up above us for us to be affected all the way down here, and that means that it’s gonna take a real long time to dig down to us. My dad and my baby brother work in heavy construction and demolition, and so did I before I decided to join the NYPD, and while I haven’t driven any machinery lately, I still remember how fast they work. People, it’s gonna be a minimum of a couple’a days before anyone could get down here to us, an’ that’s only if they know right where we are. Since I doubt that’s the case, we could be lookin’ at a week, minimum, stuck in this shit-hole, before we could hope to be rescued.”
“A week!” a female voice exclaimed. It sounded like twin boys Jacob and Rohan’s step-mother.
“Yes, ma’am,” Pirelli confirmed. “A week — minimum. To be honest, I’d guess more like two, or even three weeks.”
There was a sudden burst of babble as people variously questioned, protested or cried.
“Hey! Hey! HEY!” Pirelli shouted until everyone quietened down again.
“Since it looks like we gonna be down here a long time, we gotta get together all the food and drink we can lay our hands on. We’re gonna be rationing it to make it last. That also goes for cell phones and torches. We should have only one on at a time, and keep the rest off — all the way off. If we need light fast, we’ll use my torch, or any other torches we find, but only long enough to turn on a cell. We also keep the light off unless we need it…”
“Who died an’ put you in charge, Officer Pirelli?” an older male voice challenged, possibly one of the janitors. “When all’s said an’ done, you’re just, what, a twenty-odd-year veteran of the NYPD who’s never managed to be promoted?”
Pirelli opened and closed his mouth a few times in surprise and growing anger, looking as if he was about to launch into an angry diatribe.
“I’ll handle this, officer,” Mike interrupted in an authoritative voice. “In case any of you missed it, I’m Doctor Mike Damson. I’m a psychiatrist, which means that I’m a fully licensed doctor, but I just happen to specialise in treating psychological cases. Also, until just a few years ago, I used to be Senior Chief Petty Officer Damson, US Navy Seals. Now, who are you, sir?”
“I’m Linus Grissom, Head Custodian at The Mark. I dare say that either of us are better qualified to be in charge of this disaster area than a low-ranking police officer, Senior Chief.”
“Quite possibly, sir,” Mike replied.
“We need to vote,” a German-accented man’s voice interrupted. “I’m Wolf Grafenwöhr, founder, owner and CEO of a company of a hundred and twenty people. I may not be an American by birth, but I’m a citizen, and voting’s the American thing to do. Anyone who wants to be in charge can nominate themselves, everyone votes, and then we all abide by the results.”
There was a murmur of agreement. It took a few minutes for the candidates to nominate themselves. Officer George Pirelli, Doctor Mike Damson, Linus Grissom, Wolf Grafenwöhr and fireman Joe Torres. It took a further few minutes to agree on voting. There would be four rounds, with everyone voting for their preferred candidate, and the candidate with the lowest number of votes would be eliminated after each round, until only one was left.
Before the voting began, each man gave a speech. George Pirelli claimed that as a police officer, he was the only person present actually authorised to manage an emergency. Joe Torres claimed that as a member of the FDNY, working at FDNY Engine 22/Ladder 13/Battalion 10 on East 85th street, he was better trained and authorised to deal with an emergency situation. Wolf Grafenwöhr and Linus Grissom both claimed people and management skills, and Mike Damson pointed out again that he was a doctor and a former senior chief petty officer in the Navy Seals, and had experience dealing with traumatic and difficult situations from within, not just from the outside.
Then came the voting, which was conducted verbally, each person stating their preferred candidate or abstaining. Linus Grissom was eliminated first, followed by Wolf Grafenwöhr and then Officer Pirelli. The vote between Mike Damson and Joe Torres was a tie, until one of the abstaining voters changed her vote from an abstention to a vote for Joe Torres.
Joe Torres confirmed Officer Pirelli’s earlier instruction that resources be conserved, and also ordered that the passengers be moved where possible to the rear end of their subway car. “That’s the strongest part of the structure,” he argued. “The rear wall of this car and the front wall of the next will support more weight before they buckle than any other part of the car, including the front.”
As they were moving the passengers — with the obvious exceptions of Officer Sam Greeney and Brandon Hall and his guide dog, who were both trapped — Mike noticed that Mrs Grafenwöhr seemed to be breathing a bit too rapidly given the circumstances.
“Are you all right, ma’am?” Mike asked.
“Oh, it’s just an upset tummy,” she said after a moment, putting a hand on the top of her pregnancy-swollen belly.
“Are you sure?” Mike asked. “You look pretty far along.”
“I’ve had an upset tummy on and off for months,” she dismissed his concern. “Thank you for asking, though.”
“You’re welcome,” Mike said. “Let’s move up to the back with everyone else, now. Do you need a hand?”
“That would be good… Moving’s so awkward these days, I’ll be glad when I lose some of this weight in a few weeks time.”
As Mike and Wolf helped Heather move, there was the sudden, prolonged sound of liquid splattering on the floor.
“Oh, dear,” Heather Grafenwöhr said. “It seems that I’ll be losing that weight rather sooner than I thought.”