The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chapter Twenty-eight: Singapore

       After the show, there was a party over at Area 52 for the remaining crew of scientists, technicians and other members of the team, complete with a cake and plenty of booze. A significant number of the distinguished academic ladies and gentlemen wasted no time finding the bottoms of the bottles, leading some to wind up getting a little misty over the project coming to a conclusion (or at least a transition), and others to eventually pretty much come to a conclusion themselves, sprawled snoring under various pieces of esoteric apparatus. Sara cheerfully made the rounds of everybody there, while Alex — banged up a little from his fall — was the butt of a lot of good-natured ribbing, which he had to accept gracefully. 
       Susan was automatically monitoring the airwaves so that Sara could select a few choice replays to display on the walls for everyone to see. Though there were sound bites here and there of everyone on the panel (who then each took bows accepting the inevitable heckling from their buddies), the news programs tended to focus on the accident, usually in slow motion. Journalistic reaction and commentary ranged from the incredulous to the ridiculous. Every one of the scientists was systematically misquoted, misinterpreted and generally dismissed by reporters coming to wildly varying conclusions about what they had said. The talking heads contradicted each other and themselves, searching for a handle on the story for which the press conference had only served as a tantalizing morsel.
       Alex, identified only as a stagehand, was not clearly recognizable in any of the clips — all of the closeups had reflexively zoomed in on Sara. She was clearly levitating, showed more than a hint of casual strength, was unfazed by the arcing AC and had displayed preternatural quickness. It was a lot more than Alex, certainly, had wanted to show in this first exposure to the public. Silvers, who had insisted on making a dignified presentation, was more than a little suspicious of how things had turned out, though he appreciated Sara saving him from a nasty concussion — which wouldn't have been necessary for her to do in the first place if he had allowed Security to chase Alex out of the hiding place he had been so intent on occupying for 'mysterious' reasons. Silvers didn't understand musicians — Alex regarded any audience as 'them', and knew he didn't belong there.
       About the time some of the more boisterous and well-lubricated partiers started singing, Sara sat down with Alex and Jesel Assumcion, the microelectronics engineer from Brazil — one of the bright fellows (the other being Conan Rhodes) who had figured out enough about Sara's existence to wangle their way onto the team. They seemed to getting along famously, oblivious to the rest of the noise, sitting in the darkest corner of the conference room.
       Jesel rightly assumed that there was no need to fill Sara in on their conversation so far, so he just came out with it.
       "So, what are you going to do?"
       "You mean," she confirmed, "after meeting with the President next week."
       Jesel nodded. "I am sure you must have given a lot of thought as to what kind of role you will play in human society. I do not believe that you will turn your back on people in great need, so you must surely take an active part. Do you understand how this will change everything?"
       Sara fidgeted uncomfortably. "I don't really know. I don't think I should interfere with people's lives or do anything that would, like, change history or anything. I sorta think that trying to help out too much might do more harm than good."
       Jesel smiled. "Like the proverb, 'Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; let him catch his own fish and he will feed himself for a lifetime.' There are many poor people in the world, wanting of fish. Perhaps they should not be deprived of the opportunity to overcome their poverty.  But what about those who live in a society where they are neither given fish nor allowed to fish? Ours is a world in which oppression can be a greater catastrophe than errant nature. If you have the power, will you also have the wisdom to know how and when to act? "
       "I don't know," she said somberly. "Would it be wise of me to deprive oppressed people of a revolution? I think humans should solve human problems. It shouldn't be for me to decide."
       "Great power can make some leaders inhuman," he said. "Great lies can paralyze justice. What would you have made of the Holocaust?  — for it could not have been hidden from you. Would you have confined yourself to rescuing cats in the face of such evil?"
       "No," she answered, "How could I?"
       "And war itself," he went on, "is a human problem, something to be decided between humans. Some have profound consequences, such as the North American Revolution. Should you be the one to decide historical issues?"
       "I don't think so," she replied. "But things happen in wars that are disasters, and — like you said — I couldn't turn my back on people in great need. Would it be better for me to come to the aid of the victims of a bomb? — or make sure the bomb was never dropped on people in the first place. I think if any leader decided to drop a nuke on some city… Well, I would have to do something to try to prevent it if I could, or at least hold him responsible and make sure that nobody else would want to do that again."
       Jesel smiled at her. "Perhaps there you have the beginnings of an answer. It took the slow and brutal workings of a war to bring Hitler and his henchmen to an end of their evil. You could not have been prevented from confronting him and the rest of the world with the facts about such a 'Final Solution'. You can go into the bunkers and bring forth the monsters, and you can be the clear, impartial voice of the truth. We humans must then decide what to do."
       "Ah," she frowned, "but even that is still some pretty major intervention, and it could make humans dependent on me. Do you really think it would be a good idea for me to be at the center of human history from now on?"
       He shrugged. "For whatever reason — and you profess not to know — you are here. And you are what you are. The alternative is to turn your back on what you are. To unmake yourself."
       "Maybe…" she began. "Maybe that's something that humans should decide, too."

       "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States."
       Everybody applauded as he strode in, flanked by the Vice-president and Secretary of State, with the usual Praetorians, aides and other hangers-on in in his wake.
       It was to be a brief White House formal ceremony, followed immediately by a lengthy and comprehensive question-and-answer session with the alien in the adjacent Press Room. Most of the reporters present had been in Houston a week earlier and had been studiously cramming. They were ready to pounce this time, practically slathering in anticipation.
       Sara was stationed behind and to one side of the podium in the accustomed spot where foreign dignitaries usually stood. She was in her uniform, with the red-sheened black cape draped completely around her, falling in sweeping folds from shoulder to floor as befitted the solemnity of the occasion. She looked like a golden-haired princess from a fairy tale. Her emblem was still hidden. That would be revealed later.
       The Pres, in his usual slick manner, improvised all the right-sounding phrases, with the Veep beside him nodding vigorously in slavish affirmation.
       "As we look to the stars for our children's future… A historic moment for the peoples of our worlds… The peaceful union of our cultures… Evil Republicans… A spirit of cooperation… Blah, blah, blah…"
       Finally, "And so, on the behalf of the United States of America and all humankind, I welcome you to our nation, to our planet — and into our hearts."
       Then, the photo op, as the Chief Executive shook Sara's hand, protruding from the folds of her garment. Through the partial opening, his eyes glanced down at the symbol on her chest and widened appreciatively — though he had been briefed as to what to expect. As they turned to face the cameras, he put his arm around her shoulders in a spirit of, uh, interplanetary fellowship, turning his head and leaning down slightly to whisper some inaudible words of greeting or encouragement.
       Sara appeared to stiffen slightly, her eyes glazing over as if she was no longer paying attention to what was happening around her. There was an awkward pause, then she slipped the President's embrace, drawing her concealing cape more tightly around her, and stepped to the podium microphone.
       "I have to go," she said. Before anyone could react, she retreated through the wide open French doors behind the podium, hurried through the Formal Dining Room, dodged past the startled Marine guard at the door, and disappeared into the night as Secret Service men scrambled anxiously in her wake.
       The President turned to the stunned reporters, looked defensively at them — eyebrows raised in an air of offended innocence — and said, "What…?"

       Minutes later, on the other side of the world, it was early morning. Sara slowed her headlong rush as she re-entered the atmosphere, not wanting to add her own shock waves to the effects of the earth-bound ones that had shattered the city below. And, she needed a little time to survey the damage and prioritize her efforts. The sight appalled her.
       Singapore lay before her, broken and burning. The island nation had been one of the shining beacons of economic development in Asia, emerging from what had been a third-world colonial outpost only decades earlier to become a gleaming city of steel and glass, bouyed by heady capitalist investment coupled to disciplined hard work.
       New hope had replaced old masters. Where once there had been a dingy tangle of shantytowns and tenements filled with sweaty masses, proud skyscrapers had arisen surrounded by all the accouterments of the modern urban landscape. It had stood as a testament to the ability of industriousness to rise above circumstances. It stood no more.
       As earthquakes go, it hadn't been a particularly powerful one, but there had been no history of seismic activity in the region and none had been expected. Building codes never acknowledged the possibility, so few structures were designed to withstand tremors. Though exemplary in every respect, civil preparedness for fires and the normal types of catastrophes did not forsee the possibility of thousands of conflagrations — with no water pressure, streets impassably choked by debris, power gone, communications scrambled, equipment destroyed, key personnel missing, injured or even dead, and unknown scores of people trapped in fallen buildings among even greater numbers who had been crushed in the first minute. Chaos had begotten chaos — for a few brief, critical moments, panic loomed.
       Changi Airport on the east side of the island had been one of the cleanest and most modern on Earth, but it had been built on 'reclaimed' land whose soil had partly liquified as the seismic waves passed through it. Parts of the airport were now under water, and huge blocks of runway were tilted at odd angles. A jumbo jet had nearly completed its take-off roll when a chunk of pavement heaved up in front of it and sheared off the undercarriage. Another jagged block had hooked an engine, tearing it from the wing, rupturing the wing's fuel tank and spinning the entire plane around. Burning fuel — ignited by sparks — almost completely surrounded the plane where it eventually came to rest. Soon, it was utterly hidden from view by thick clouds of black smoke.
       Flight attendents deployed the inflatable escape slides, but they were quickly consumed by the flames. They slammed the doors, but emergency hatches had been opened by frantic passengers seeking escape. The few who made it out perished, and deadly fumes began to pour through the openings, making the cabin temperature soar and visibility plummet. The only relief was from the dangling oxygen masks. Some passengers never found them, others yanked them loose in their panic. They died. The rest would soon either run out of air or roast. All they could do was wait for airport emergency vehicles and pray. They didn't know that the fire trucks were having their own problems, finding it almost impossible to cross the tortured landscape and fingers of encroaching ocean.
       By the time Sara arrived, burning fuel flowing across the uneven ground had pooled under the belly of the plane, the flames pouring through tears and rips, heating the center fuel tank's contents to near the boiling point. She sank into the pavement, using her body to dig a trench to draw most of the fuel away from the plane. Then she forced her way into the cargo compartment to cool the tank with her cold, nitrogenous breath. As soon as the danger of explosion had passed, she darted outside to slice both wings off with quick, intense beams of concentrated energy, then pushed the body of the plane out of the inferno. She ripped the top of the fuselage open like the lid of a sardine can, releasing the hot, foul smoke and flooding the half-dead survivors with blessed relief.
       But she couldn't stay and finish the rescue. She had to leave the rest to the struggling crew — even though it meant some would not survive as a result. It was the best she could do quickly. Another, more serious threat forced her to leave the island immediately.
       Susan had analyzed the patterns of pressure waves racing beneath the surrounding seas. Some would dissipate their energy in shallow waters and in the mazes of channels and islands that littered the area, but others would be reinforced and strengthened, and still others would be redirected and even reflected. There was nothing Sara could do to absorb or deflect their power. All she could do was scream.
       And scream she did, racing to the spot of coast some distance away across a deeper stretch of ocean, where conditions conspired to produce the greatest effect and where an unsuspecting coastal city lay unprotected. She screamed at every frequency of every radio and TV station she could detect in the area, overriding every local broadcast with her warning in every local language.
       "Tidal wave! Run for high ground! Drop everything and carry the helpless! Warning, warning, warning!"
       Susan gave her a number: 7,401 people were in the wrong place at the wrong time and had less than a fifty-percent chance of survival. But there was time for most of them to move far enough away. As her message blared from countless speakers, the number began to change, quickly dropping below 7,000, then 6,000, followed by 5,000 and decreasing rapidly. It was still too many.
       She turned up the power until even speakers in radios that were turned off began to take up her cry.
       Circuits overloaded and fried as metal everywhere responded to the force of her emissions and shook with sympathetic oscillations.
       Sparks flew from steel poles and danced across tin roofs, turning them into rattling loudspeakers.
       Dental fillings vibrated in sympathy and metal-framed windows blared her voice until they shattered.
       The whole coastline quivered and crackled until it seemed that the earth itself shouted at the now fleeing populace.
       "The water is coming! Run for your lives! Stop for nothing! Flee, flee, flee!"
       The number was below a thousand now and still dropping. There would be a few unlucky ones, and those who stubbornly refused to leave some place dearer to them than their own lives. A small township down the coast was well enough protected by a rocky headland, and another township in the other direction would only get its feet wet. The inhabitants of seaside businesses and houses in both directions shouted to each other as they moved inland, leaving few behind.
       Ships far enough out at sea were relatively safe, since it was only where the wave piled up against the shallows that it was dangerous. One ferry with nearly three-hundred souls aboard was hugging the coast. Sara startled its captain, shouting at him through his windows of his peril. He swung the wheel to seaward and rang full throttle, but the ship responded too slowly.
       Sara plunged under the stern and grabbed the rudder post. The sudden acceleration drove most of the passengers to the deck. The ship made frightful noises as it picked up speed, rushing toward deeper water. At thirty-eight knots, Sara could kreen the rivets nearing their shearing points and the steel plates beginning to buckle. She dared push no faster, though time was running out.
       It was a close thing. The little ship suddenly rose on a great swell, crashing into the top of the wave as it was beginning to break from its towering upheaval in its race to the shore. But the vessel held together well enough to sink slowly, giving the captain time to beach it. Sara streaked away as soon as the immediate danger had passed.
       There were two other areas that were threatened, but without the urgency of the first. Standard local warnings sufficed now that the general alarm had been sounded. Soon Sara was racing back to the city.
       She flew quickly over Sentosa Island, just offshore south of Singapore itself. It was essentially a Disneyesque amusement park with hotels, beaches, restaurants, and featuring a fifty-foot high flame-belching 'Merlin' — part sea-serpent, part cat — at the center of it all. The monorail running around the periphery had fallen down in places, and the cable that had once carried diners high over passing ships now swung from its twisted tower like Tarzan's vine. The rest of the place hadn't fared too badly, except that the huge glass tunnels that ran through the underwater gardens and gigantic aquariums had burst. A maintenance crew had been in them. The twenty-foot sharks that they had cared for were attending to their remains. There was little she could do.
       She streaked over the East Coast Parkway on her way back to Changi Airport. Below her, the Strand that paralleled the seashore was packed with seafood restaurants, marinas, tennis clubs, bowling alleys, parking lots, barbeque stands and volleyball pits. Offshore was one of the largest natural anchorages in the world, where dozens and dozens of ocean-going cargo ships had been riding unconcernedly at anchor when the water unexpectedly ran out from under their keels. It had returned a short time later in a tremendous rush, driving the great ships into each other and up onto the sandy beaches like so many toys. Freight containers were scattered everywhere, bobbing in the water or carried inland. Many were crushed or ripped apart, adding their contents to the mass of debris. One stretch of beach was literally paved with hundreds of thousands of computer hard drives — ironically labelled 'Seagate'.
       Many of the trees in the grassy parkland between the Strand and the beach had been swept away by the wall of water, but there had been surprisingly little loss of life — the beach and parkland had mostly been wide enough for the wave to dissipate much of its energy before washing across the Strand and the ECP. Sara didn't bother to slow down.
       The jumbo jet's fuel was still burning, but those who were still alive would probably survive. All of the still-functioning airport emergency vehicles were now on the scene. Incoming air traffic had been diverted. With the causeways to Malaysia down and most of the docks destroyed, Singapore was cut off. Only helicopters and small boats could evacuate wounded or bring in supplies for the forseeable future. Satisfied that there was nothing more she could do, Sara headed for downtown.
       The famous Raffles Hotel was near the city center. Its colonial splendor had been renowned for — among other things — its Long Bar, the place the Singapore Sling had been invented. It remained the most fashionable place to be seen — if you could afford one of the tiny rooms starting at $500 a night. It had been only four stories high and had withstood the shaking quite well, but what was left of it was under what was left of the neighboring Westin Stanford Hotel. The 70-story edifice had been a very slender-looking skyscraper, but it, too, would have muddled through — except that an adjacent tower had toppled into it, sending the hotel spiraling to its destruction atop the Raffles. A few other surrounding buildings were strewn about the streets. Everything was on fire.
       Sara's supply of nitrogen was sufficient to douse a house fire or two, but took too long to replenish to do any significant good. What was left after the jetliner incident would have to be carefully doled out for only the most extreme emergencies as her system worked at full speed to separate out and compress as much as possible from the relatively too-thin atmosphere. The only thing that would prevent the fires from linking up and creating a firestorm was lots and lots of bodies with lots and lots of hoses spraying lots and lots of water. All three items were in vanishingly short supply.
       So what should she do first? Clear the streets. Make it possible for whatever equipment and manpower that was available to get to where it was needed. The quake had not damaged everything. Most places had been almost completely spared. The areas that had suffered damage — mostly where the tallest buildings were crowded together — were almost completely leveled. The rubble choking the streets in the devastated areas divided the city into irregular sections that were nearly cut off from each other. The whole city was threatened if the fires spread.
       Utilizing whatever she could improvise into something she could use like a giant bulldozer blade, she powered as much crap as she could out of the main streets, carefully making sure not to bury people as she shouted her way clear. It actually didn't take Sara long to punch enough holes through the debris barriers to allow free passage to the worst areas. Once that happened, people became available. After all, nobody had a job to go to at the moment, and everybody could see the danger.
       Expensive suit jackets came off, tools were produced, and thousands of workers, managers, clerks, technicians, students, bosses, the unemployed, bureaucrats, teachers, professionals, laborers and anyone else who could still walk swarmed into the stricken areas and went to work.
       Women set up impromptu aid stations and kitchens or shuttled cars back and forth carrying supplies, workers, the wounded and the dead. Leaders emerged to take charge of impromptu damage control and rescue parties, coordinating with city officials and the police and fire departments. Industries with their own emergency equipment dispatched whatever they had wherever it was needed. Order was being restored to a population used to discipline and hard work.
       But there was still not enough water. The power was completely gone, most of the mains were ruptured, and there weren't nearly enough pumpers surviving to make a difference.
       Seawater would have to do. Sara streaked to the debris-littered anchorage and grabbed a couple of empty cargo containers with each hand — linking them together with her slender fingers through the oval support holes at the corners — forced them underwater to fill them and then rushed back to the center of town. The upended containers leaked, but they held together. She dropped off two of the first four near a roaring blaze and then dumped the contents of the other two on the middle of the fire. Her aerial bombardment was spectacular but inefficient, as well as dangerous to trapped victims. She saw that it would be the people on the ground who could do the most good. She rushed back to the anchorage to fetch more containers.
       The men who had received the unexpected miracle had no time to ponder the mystery. Word spread quickly as more and more containers full of precious water showed up where they were needed most. Pumps were needed. If not pumps, then buckets. Hoses were scavenged from wrecked buildings and appropriated from whole ones. Yachts were relieved of bilge pumps, swimming pools were raided, car engines and portable generators were hooked up any way that would provide power.
       Sara began to speak to the network of walkie-talkies, CB radios and police and fire units that were becoming coordinated into a coherent command organization.
       "Hello everybody. This is Susan, your friendly neighborhood alien. I can deliver four shipping containers of water every couple of minutes or so. If I go any faster, they tend to fall apart. What's slowing me down is having to get a bunch of these things together. There's plenty of empties floating around, so if you can get some people in boats to round 'em up and pair them together and sink 'em about three-quarters of the way, that'll save a bunch of time. We can get a sort of assembly line going, know what I mean?"
       There was a brief flurry of explanations around the network. They understood, and decided to be astonished later, when they had time. They were ready to grasp at any straw, especially one that could deliver water. Orders were given and a fleet of private boats filled up with volunteers to do as she asked. They even figured out a way to chain a dozen at a time to a girder, tripling her efficiency. It made enough of a difference to turn the corner. The fires began to subside.
       Sara got back on the radio network. "This is Susan again. Let me know as soon as you have enough water to stay ahead of the fires. I can help with locating survivors and digging them out. There are twenty-seven people still alive under where the Raffles Hotel used to be. I can get them."
       She got calls from four more places for water-filled containers, and then they told her to go ahead.
       The still-smoking wreckage was a treacherously slippery pile covered with wet ashes and mud. She yelled at some people in a relatively clear area to move and then started tossing steel beams and reinforced concrete into a big pile. She quickly burrowed her way down to the first survivor, flying her gently to the aid station nearby. Then she went back to work, delicately moving tons of rubble rapidly, but with great care — so as to reduce shifting as much as possible.
       Unfortunately, there were many more corpses than there were survivors, and most of the latter were mangled and torn. Some would not make it. It was heart-rending work, but she soon had all twenty-seven. From the surrounding wreckage she pulled a score more. She began to systematically work her way through the city, sometimes just telling rescue workers where to look, other times telling them not to bother.
       Marina Square hadn't had as much of a problem with fires, but it had been built on reclaimed land, which was particularly vulnerable to quake damage. The land itself had collapsed, and had been covered with 50-story buildings full of residences, hotels, and vertical shopping malls. The toll of human life was staggering. Sara could be heard sobbing as she went about her gruesome task.
       Finally, she worked her way to Orchard Road, between Tanglin and Bras Basah. It had been the Rodeo Drive of Singapore, lined on both sides by ten- to twenty-story buildings housing thousands of upscale stores. Singapore's 'beautiful people' had strolled under hundreds of thousands of blue and white lights hung in delicate strings from the trees, and blue and red garlands of lights above the streets. At the intersection with Scott Road, the four-story Millenium Clock had wound down the year in every time zone.
       Now, the street was covered in too many places with the rubble of collapsed buildings and the glistening shards of broken lights. The clock had stopped.
       But far worse was far below. Deep beneath the street, the MRT subway ran. Incredibly sturdy, it had been built to serve as a nuclear bomb shelter if necessary, supposedly an impregnable fortress of civil defense. It had been cracked in places, but mostly held together — though the shaking had caused some hurtling trains to derail in the sudden darkness. In most cases, the passengers picked their way to the next station.
       In only one place had the tube failed, where it ran through a patch of the infamous reclaimed land. Bereft of proper support, a whole, long section of tube crumbled in a chain reaction, burying a derailed train as the loosened soil poured through the gaps. The sturdy cars kept the commuters packed into them from immediate harm, but they were trapped, sightless, in communal coffins, waiting for rescue from above or the oxygen to run out.
       Dispatchers knew their train was the last to be acounted for. They knew approximately where it should have come to a stop when the power failed. They soon knew that rescue workers did not dare even come close to where they might be dug out — if anyone was still alive — for fear of further collapse in that section. Eventually, they had to contact Susan. She came as soon as she could.
       Sara told them exactly how many were buried alive. She queried the radio network about where she could get some sturdy and fairly wide steel pipe, then fetched it. Sinking through the street and into the ground, she dragged the pipes down until she could carefully punch through the remaining subway wall — which was still supporting the overburden — and then through the roofs of the cars. She ran two tubes to each car, front and back, and as soon as she cleared them, fans were rigged above to force air through. Flashlights were appropriated and dropped to the thankful passengers, followed by water bottles. Then ropes were lowered and the slow process of hauling them out began. Sara removed the badly injured first by pushing them up the tubes. It looked for a while as if one obese American tourist would have to stay below until he lost some weight, but a little vegetable oil and a push from Sara did the trick.
       The day waned, but the work did not. Sara toiled through the night, trying to be everywhere at once. She cleared more debris, carried more water, rescued more trapped people. Then the authorities asked her to carry containers of desperately needed fresh water and medicine in from the mainland. She restrung the high-tension wires that carried electricity from Maylasia. She helped clear a few docks that could be salvaged quickly and pushed sunken ships to deeper water where they wouldn't block the channels. Other ships she pushed from the East Coast Parkway.
       Eventually, the jobs that were left were best done by the the people themselves. Sara could do little to combat the spread of disease, or heal the wounded, or find shelter for the thousands of homeless. By the third day, the city was already starting to clean itself up and rebuild. She had no doubt that they would emerge stronger than before — and with some drastically revised building codes.
       There was no ceremony when she finally took her leave. Everybody was too exhausted, and Sara herself was numbed by the seemingly unending tragedies she'd witnessed.
       Gradually, the rest of the world learned the details of the catastrophe, the news shows replaying scenes videotaped by Singaporeans whose ubiquitous camcorders were there to record the alien angel as she performed wonderous deeds in her strangely familiar costume.

Chapter Twenty-nine: Interview

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© Patrick Hill, 2000