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
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?"
she confirmed, "after meeting with the President next
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
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."
"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?
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?"
answered, "How could I?"
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."
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."
she began. "Maybe that's something that humans should
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
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
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
"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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
performed wonderous deeds in her strangely familiar
Chapter Twenty-nine: Interview
© Patrick Hill, 2000