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Supernova: A Light on Man

Supernova: A Light on Man

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Supernova: A Light on Man

Longitud:
323 página
6 horas
Publicado:
Aug 19, 2018
ISBN:
9781642371826
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Eleanor, a young astronomer in a small observatory in outback Australia, witnesses a nearby star going supernova. Seeking confirmation of her observation, she contacts the renowned Professor Penrose of the Mount Wilson Observatory in California. Despite being skeptical at first, he soon realizes that the supernova has set off a shockwave of radiation and high energy particles, which will strike the Earth in a matter of hours. He quickly warns the President, who, along with his Vice President Lynda and other foreign governments, take whatever precautions they can.

After the shockwave has passed and the recovery phase begins, it becomes clear that the danger is still not over, as the death toll continues to rise unexplainably. A frantic race against time begins, as Edinburgh-based Sandra and other researchers worldwide try to uncover the mysterious cause of the deaths, and to find a cure, before it is too late. But what happens if they can’t?

Supernova is the debut novel by Dee Amos which sets up a fascinating “what if?” scenario by combining a fast-paced disaster-based story with strong female characters and some of today’s hottest social, political and environmental issues.
Publicado:
Aug 19, 2018
ISBN:
9781642371826
Formato:
Libro

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Supernova - Dee Amos

America

Prologue

About one year ago, Cable and Satellite News Network Studio, New York

I t’s 6 p.m. here on the East Coast and 3 p.m. on the West, I’m Barbra Dale, and this is CSN, your Cable and Satellite News network, bringing you all the news from wherever it is happening, twenty-four hours a day, said Barbra, the anchor of the nation’s most popular independent news station, CSN. With correspondents all over the world, the network was renowned for its global reach, and Barbra was the face of the network.

Coming up shortly on the show, I’ll be talking to a panel of experts to try to understand why a seemingly normal young man from middle America, with no previous criminal convictions or history of mental illness, would—without warning or provocation—go on a mass shooting spree with an assault rifle, killing over two dozen people. But before we do that, first up are your news headlines with Alice Taylor.

The camera cut to her colleague, who was sitting at a desk a few meters to Barbra’s left.

Thanks, Barbra. Our top story today: the small town of Riverside is still trying to come to terms with the shock, as an eighteen-year-old man goes on a killing rampage in his home town with an assault rifle before taking his own life. Twenty-seven people have been confirmed dead, with fifteen more people still in critical condition, making this the worst mass shooting so far this year. A police spokesman has stated that while their investigations have only just started, there is at this stage no obvious motive for the shooting.

The camera zoomed out a little and an on-screen graphic of the world appeared and spun around briefly, before showing the Middle East.

Turning now to international news, the political stand-off between Israel and Arab nations shows no sign of easing, as the Israeli prime minister today announced that he had approved building plans for up to a further 4,000 new units in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Some of the units, which include homes, shopping centers and business offices, are to be erected in isolated communities that are within the area Palestinians are wanting for a future state. Most nations consider the settlements illegal, although Israel disputes this.

The graphic of the world turned slightly towards the east and a picture of a burned-out vehicle appeared.

The security situation in the Afghan capital of Kabul has deteriorated, after a suicide bomber driving an ambulance detonated an explosive device near a hospital, killing at least 103 people and wounding another 235. A Taliban spokesman has claimed responsibility for the attack, which follows last week’s attack by Taliban militants who killed twenty-two people in an armed assault on an international hotel in the capital. The recent deaths are on top of the record 1,662 civilians killed in the first six months of this year, according to UN figures.

The on-screen graphic moved around before highlighting Europe on the globe, and a video showing heavily armed police started playing.

Belgian police have shot a suspected Islamic terrorist at Brussels Central Station this morning. According to officials, the would-be suicide bomber was shot repeatedly after reportedly setting off a small explosion. Luckily the explosive device failed to detonate properly and no-one else is believed to have been injured. Prosecutors later said that the man had died from his gunshot wounds. The Belgian government is treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

The world rotated south to Africa and a picture of crying parents appeared on screen.

Nigeria’s president has said that his government hopes again to successfully negotiate the release of some 200 girls who were abducted yesterday from a school in the northeast of the country by the jihadist group Boko Haram. This recent kidnapping is just the latest carried out by the terrorist group, who are using the ransom payments received from the government to finance their operations.

The graphic changed to show a picture of Wall Street and the famous bronze bull.

Turning now to finance news: the Dow fell five percentage points today, extending its run of recent losses to eighteen percent. A senior analyst from brokerage firm Gauner & Raeuber said that this is not surprising and that he expects further losses over coming days, as companies are just not able to produce the instant profits that investors these days are demanding, denouncing today’s investors as having ‘the attention span of a goldfish.’ And on that slightly comical note, said Alice, as she looked over at her colleague, it’s back to you.

Thanks, Alice. I hope the Nigerian government can secure the release of those poor school girls.

Based on past experience, I think there is a very good chance of that happening. Boko Haram are choosing their targets very carefully in order to garner a passive response from the international community.

Yes, I can well imagine what we would do to them if they had instead kidnapped 200 American cheerleaders! said Barbara, before looking into the camera. As I mentioned at the top of the hour, I have with me here in the studio four guests to help shed some insight on this latest mass shooting. On my far left I have sociologist Dr. Samantha Shields; next to her is behavioral expert Professor Barry Egret. Continuing on my right is the very Reverend Victor Rigsby; and finally, from Feminists Against Guns I have Fiona Agatha. Welcome.

Her guests acknowledged her introduction and warm welcome and she prepared to start the discussion.

I want to begin with getting your opening remarks, so let me start with you, Samantha. When individuals act so brutally against society, as in this case, is the individual to blame or the society in which they were raised?

In my view, it is not a question of blame, Barbra, but one definitely has to ask the question: why, in a civilized society like ours, do we continually see people who feel that the answer to their own personal problems is to grab a gun and kill innocent people? answered Samantha. What our government needs to do is start examining the root cause of the issue. Once we understand the problem, we are halfway to finding an answer.

Barbra nodded in acknowledgment before moving on to her next guest. Turning to you, Barry, and following on what Samantha just said, what can society do to stop individuals from behaving in such appalling ways?

It’s a good question, Barbra, and one that political philosophers have been struggling with for centuries. It ultimately boils down to the fine balance of the rights of the individual versus the rights of others. In this country, we value freedom and individual rights above all else, but maybe that needs to change in light of how a small minority are using this freedom to take the lives of others. It could be that we need to change the balance of rights in this country, if we are serious about wanting to address this ongoing issue, he concluded.

Change is never easy, particularly when it comes to the Constitution, Barbra noted. I’ll come back to this point again shortly, but first let me move on to the Reverend, she then added, before turning to her right. Reverend, when 300 million Americans pray to God each day to protect them from evil and one man prays to God to help him kill others, why is it that God always seems to listen to the guy with the gun?

Barbra, it has nothing to do with God listening or not, rather it’s a question of the free will that all men have been given. The choices that every man makes every day, based on his own free will, cannot be taken away through prayer. But if, as a nation, we are serious about wanting to curb violence and, in my opinion, we should be, then we need to start dealing with the issues driving this and not simply sweeping them under the carpet each time it happens. In this respect, one cannot expect God to help us.

Not even when it involves crazed gunmen, it seems, she noted, before moving on to her final guest.

Fiona, turning now to you. There was some talk earlier today about the government introducing a complete ban on the sale of ammunition for assault weapons. Naturally, the NRA was quick to respond, arguing that bullets don’t kill people, any more than guns do. If guns and bullets are not at fault, then who is?

I’ll tell you whose fault it is—

I’ve seen enough news for tonight, she said, turning off the TV with the remote control. They have all gone mad; the whole lot of them! What is happening in the world today is simply unbearable. It cannot go on like this any longer; it has to stop.

Yes, dear, he said casually, as he turned the page of his newspaper and kept on reading, only half listening to what his wife was saying.

Someone needs do something about it.

And I suppose that someone should be me! he said, somewhat flippantly, ruffling his newspaper in the process, slightly annoyed by the continued interruptions.

She looked at him as he continued reading his newspaper but said nothing.

No, that is not what I had in mind, she thought.

Chapter 1

October 15, 9 p.m. (T-19.5 hours), Stockport Observatory, Outback South Australia.

T hey make life possible, but can also destroy it in an instant, said Eleanor, more to herself then to Paul, as she gazed up at the stars through the open telescope observatory window.

Eleanor had a passion for astronomy and would readily make the hour-and-a-half drive north of Adelaide to the observatory with Paul, her lecturer and friend, whenever they could secure some telescope time.

After I finish my studies, said Eleanor, this time looking across at her friend and mentor, I want to become a professional astronomer.

What ‘become’? You’re an astronomer now, said Dr. Paul Macpherson, astronomer and lecturer at the Adelaide University. OK, that’s the coordinates entered into the system. It’ll take a few minutes for the telescope to swing around though, said Paul.

There was a low humming noise as the telescope’s electric engines slowly moved the telescope around the dome to the required position.

"No, not really; I’m just a first-year uni student." She had recently turned seventeen and was always the youngest in her classes, having earlier skipped a year of high school. University life was also not made any easier by the fact that she barely looked sixteen.

"Yes really! said Paul in a slightly mocking, but friendly way. Look, you’re here in the absolute middle of nowhere, on a balmy spring evening, with clear, dark skies and a 20-inch Newtonian-Cassegrain reflecting telescope sitting in front of you. Life doesn’t get much better than this for an astronomer!"

Eleanor smiled; he had a point. The life of an astronomer was pretty lonely and usually dreadfully dull. But there was always the hope of finding something new and being the first human ever to see it.

Wouldn’t that be something? Her mind started to wander as she looked up again at the heavens and followed the Milky Way galaxy from one side of the sky to the other, naming constellations and important stars as she did.

Earth calling Ellie; come in, Ellie!

Sorry, Paul, she said, coming back to Earth, did you say something?

Yes, I asked you what we are looking at tonight.

"Oh! IK Pegasi in the constellation Pegasus, she answered. She thought for a moment about what Paul had just said, about her already being an astronomer. You’re right, as always. I guess."

No guessing. I’m right; trust me on this one. We lead a very dull and sleep-deprived life and I am happy to officially welcome you to the astronomers’ club. OK?

A big grin appeared on her face. She liked Paul. He was more than just her university lecturer; he was also her best friend, despite the large age difference. She had other friends her own age too, but they didn’t get her love of astronomy; not like Paul did anyway. It was actually during her very first university tutorial that Paul had recognized her keen mind and interest in the topic, and had decided to encourage her further by offering her the unofficial roll of lab go-fer, which she had eagerly accepted, as it meant being able to work closer with the department’s professors.

"So, IK Pegasi? Any reason why we are looking at this particular star?" he asked.

Actually, it is two stars. It’s a binary star system of a small A-type star and a white dwarf companion, she answered confidently.

"OK, then why are we looking at these stars?" repeated Paul.

Oh, no particular reason, replied Eleanor. I guess it’s just because I haven’t seen them yet, she said, smiling, as she looked up again through the dome’s open window in anticipation.

"See, you are an astronomer," said Paul, mumbling to himself.

What?

Oh, nothing, he said, as the humming of the telescope’s electric engines finally stopped.

All right, that’s the telescope in place now. All yours, Ellie.

Eleanor took up her position at the monitoring station and began adjusting the depth of field and focus in order to zoom in on IK Pegasi as best she could. The star was only 150 light years away; relatively close in astrological terms, but there is only so much zooming you can do with a 20-inch telescope. Not that she ever complained, of course. The 20-inch Newtonian-Cassegrain was a hundred times better than what she would otherwise have had access to as a lowly undergraduate.

With a further click of the mouse, she brought everything into focus. There it was on her screen: IK Pegasi. She smiled.

It was little more than a point of faint light against the black background on her view screen, but then, without warning, it suddenly brightened before her eyes, quickly outshining everything else on her screen. IK Pegasi was actually the brightest thing in the entire galaxy at that one particular moment in time, which meant only one thing.

Whoa! she exclaimed. That is NOT supposed to happen!

What’s not supposed to happen? asked Paul, who was sitting at a nearby workstation, working away on his laptop.

That just can’t be! she said, even more excitedly.

What, Ellie? What can’t be?

"IK Pegasi!"

What about it, Ellie?

It just went supernova!

What? Are you sure? he asked somewhat disbelievingly. "IK Pegasi is an A-type star. It should be way too small for it to go supernova."

Well, it just did. See for yourself.

She rolled her chair slightly to the side, making room for Paul to see the screen for himself.

Whoa!! said Paul, not really believing what he was seeing. But what else could it be? He quickly ruled out technical problems and software issues, and it obviously wasn’t a weather balloon—always a good one to rule out so as not to embarrass yourself in front of your colleagues. There were no other alternatives. His prodigy was correct. He fell back into his chair, still staring at the screen in stunned silence.

What do we do now? asked Eleanor, looking over at Paul, but there was no response.

Paul’s mind started spinning at a thousand miles an hour. He had never seen anything like this happen in our galaxy before; no one alive today had. The last time anyone had seen one was in 1604, made famous by the astronomer Johannes Kepler. Paul thought for a second, trying to recall everything he had ever learned about supernova.

OK, first thing we need to do is stay calm, he said, taking a deep breath. Stay calm, Paul, stay calm, he reminded himself. Let’s start by following standard operating procedures. First, we need a second observatory to confirm our observation, just to make sure we have really seen what we think we have seen. Paul shook his head slightly, still unable to believe what was happening. "Get on the phone and call the Mount Wilson observatory in California. IK Pegasi should still be visible in the sky from there. The number is there on that sheet by the phone. Ask for Professor Penrose. The old guy practically lives there, so there’s a good chance he is there at the moment. Give him the details and ask him to confirm the observation. In the meantime, I need to research this a bit more. This is probably not good news," he said, hurrying back to his laptop.

Eleanor reached for the phone and began dialing the number. She could feel herself beginning to shake as the adrenalin rushed through her veins.

Mount Wilson Observatory, Brian speaking, said a young man as he answered the phone.

Hello, my name is Ellie. May I speak with Professor Penrose, please? she asked, doing her best to at least sound calm.

OK, hang on a second, he said, putting the phone down on the table. Professor, it’s for you.

The professor—actually Professor Emeritus—was a legend in the astronomy world. He had already had a long and distinguished career, both in academic circles and in the field, and was recognized worldwide as a leading expert in astronomy. He had long since passed the official retirement age, but had said that retirement was for old people and not something he would ever consider doing anyway. These days he was just happy to spend his remaining few years in the peace and quiet of the observatory.

The professor stopped what he was doing and made his way to the phone. Hello? he said somewhat hurriedly, clearly annoyed by the interruption.

Hello, Professor. Sorry to disturb you. My name is Ellie Davies and I am calling from the Stockport Observatory in South Austral—

Who? he asked abruptly.

Eleanor Davies, she answered, this time a little slower. I am here with Dr. Paul Macpherson and . . . , she managed to say, before getting interrupted again.

Look, young lady, I’m a busy man and don’t have time for. . . .

"I’m not a young lady!" she yelled, startling the professor in the process.

What? he asked, taken aback by her sudden outburst. It was not something that people of his generation were used to.

I’m not a young lady, she repeated, this time a bit calmer, having regained her composure somewhat. I’m an astronomer and I am here with Dr. Paul Macpherson at the Stockport Observatory in South Australia! she said. I need a confirmation of an observation.

What observation?

"IK Pegasi just went supernova. Do you want the coordinates?" she asked, as she reached for her tablet.

The professor shook his head. "No, no, no. IK Pegasi is too small to go supernova. You must be mistaken youn—; er, who did you say you were?"

"Eleanor Davies, and I am not mistaken! Will you please just look? she asked pleadingly. Here, I will give you the coordinates."

There’s no need; I know where it is, he answered grumpily, as he turned his head towards his colleague. "Brian, move the 60-inch around to the constellation Pegasus. We’re interested in IK Peg."

Professor, look!! shouted Brian excitedly.

What are you talking about? You can’t have it there already.

Not the telescope. Look up there, he said pointing skywards, out the dome window!

It had now grown to be bigger than any other star visible from Earth and was so bright that it was outshining everything else in the night sky.

Oh no, said the professor, who realized immediately what he was seeing. OK young lady, you’ve got your confirmation, he said, before quickly hanging up the phone.

It was immediately clear to the professor what this meant to the Earth and everyone on it. He glanced at his watch; it was quarter to four in the morning, or quarter to seven East Coast time. His thoughts started racing, and after what felt like an eternity, but was actually only a matter of seconds, he picked up the phone and started dialing.

Who are you calling? asked Brian.

Who everybody calls when there is going to be a global catastrophe: the White House.

Eleanor stood there, holding the phone in her hand. How do you like that? He hung up on me, she said, before placing the receiver back down.

She looked across the room and saw that Paul was just staring at his laptop. She knew something was seriously wrong. He had a very strange look on his face; one that she had never seen before. Paul? she asked worryingly. What are you doing?

At first there was no answer. He just continued to stare at his laptop.

Just some quick research on supernova, he answered very slowly, before finally looking up at Eleanor. I’m an astronomer, not an astrophysicist, but I think we are in trouble, he said, closing his laptop slowly before putting his head in his hands, his elbows resting on the workstation top.

In trouble? Who’s in trouble? asked Eleanor concerned, not really understanding why Paul was looking so worried. A nearby star went supernova; it was a great discovery and not something to be worried about; it’s not like it was our Sun going supernova! This star was 150 light years away and so was too far away to be a danger to the Earth.

Everybody, Ellie, he murmured, shaking his head slightly, before looking up at her. We’re all in serious trouble. Well, at least I think we are. I’m going to have to research this further to be sure, but for now I. . . . He stopped speaking as his thoughts focused again on the supernova and what might be about to happen.

She had never seen him look so worried. He took a few more seconds to compose his thoughts before jumping up from his seat and packing his laptop away in his bag.

C’mon, Ellie; grab your things, he said to her, reaching for his coat, obviously now in a hurry. We need to head back to Adelaide. We will be safer there, I hope!

What do you mean ‘safer you hope’? Paul, I don’t understand, what. . . .

Not now, Ellie!

He could see that Eleanor was full of questions, which he had always encouraged previously, but now was not the time.

I’m sorry, but please Ellie, just do what I say. We have a long drive ahead of us, and I want to get moving. I will explain everything to you on the way. I promise.

Chapter 2

October 15, 8 a.m. (T-18 hours), White House Oval Office, Washington D.C.

Y ou wanted to see me, Mr. President? said a sharp-dressed, thirty-something, glasses-wearing man standing in the doorway of the Oval Office. He was the White House Chief of Staff, who was known to everyone by the nickname CoS. He could see the president was busy writing something at his desk.

The president was a tall man in the later years of his life, but solidly built and outwardly fit for a man of his age. He enjoyed his early morning jog with his Secret Service agents, and took some pleasure in outrunning some of the agents thirty and even forty years his junior. He was competitive by nature. His gray hair and permanently serious expression were the result of a lifetime of negotiating business deals and running a corporation, his corporation. It had been his lifelong passion before he entered politics three years ago.

The president looked up. Yes, come on in, CoS, he said, signaling to his chief of staff to enter with a wave of his hand and to take a seat.

CoS closed the door behind him, walked over and sat down in a chair opposite the president.

"CoS, I’m calling an emergency meeting of the National Security Council. I also want the boys from NASA to sit in on this one, as it concerns them, too. I’m expecting a special guest to arrive at the White House

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