The dots, Carter realized, were individual earthquakes recorded by USGS instruments over the course of a week, and the sizes of the dots were a measure of the respective intensity of each quake. According to the legend at the bottom of the map, yellow dots indicated quakes older than twenty-four hours, tan meant quakes less than a day old, and red was reserved for quakes less than an hour old.
All the dots on the map were red.
“That’s not…” She glanced at Dourado. “Is that right? All those quakes happened at the same time?”
The other woman didn’t reply, but continued to stare at the map, eyes wide in horrified disbelief.
Carter gave the map a second look. There were several red dots, many of them overlapping, up and down the Italian peninsula. They ranged from small to moderate in size, which Carter supposed was a good thing. There were a few very large red dots scattered around the globe, mostly along the Pacific Rim, but by far the largest concentration of quakes was in an area comprising Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and all of Europe, as far east as the Urals.
Carter let out a gasp as the significance of that hit her. Now she understood Dourado’s concern. A medium-sized red dot covered the border region of Russia and Kazakhstan—the area where the Cerberus team was operating.
“I’m sure they’re alright.” The platitude sounded hollow in her own ears. She swallowed, feeling helpless, and turned back to the map. “Did all these earthquakes really happen at the same time?”
Dourado tapped a few keys, opening a sidebar next to the map. There was a list of quakes, with detailed information about the location, depth, magnitude, and time of occurrence, and while the screen only showed the first ten or so quakes, one commonality was apparent.
Every single quake had occurred at almost the same time: 1000 hours UTC.
As if reading Carter’s mind, Dourado brought up several different news feeds from all over the world on different screens. The BBC newsroom was in chaotic disarray, the anchors apologizing for the lack of information and admitting that they were unsure if their broadcast was even hitting the airwaves. The American 24-hour news networks seemed to have a better handle on the situation, with bold graphics and screen crawls repeating what little they knew. Reports were still coming in. Most of the quakes, including the one that had rocked Rome, were minor—5.1 magnitude or less. Enough to break a few windows and crack the sidewalks, but not enough to cause major structural damage. Less developed areas in North Africa and the Middle East, where building codes were lax if they existed at all, had not fared as well. Some places had suffered extensive damage. The number of casualties was unknown, but estimates ran to seven figures. The one clear message they were sending out confirmed what Carter had surmised from the USGS map. The quakes, hundreds of them, had occurred simultaneously, and that was indeed remarkable.
A bleach-blonde anchor on CNN asked her guest, a seismologist, about it.
“It is unusual, Ashley,” the man replied. “Large earthquakes can be felt around the world. The magnitude nine Indian Ocean earthquake in 2004 caused the whole planet to vibrate.”
“But that was just one quake,” Blonde Ashley said.
“Right. We’re breaking new ground with this one…if you’ll pardon the pun. This wasn’t a domino effect, with one quake triggering others. These were simultaneous earthquakes, and that’s something we can’t explain.”
Carter had heard enough. She turned to Dourado and made a cutting gesture, a signal to mute the audio. “We need to look into this.”
The other woman returned a blank look. “Our people might be in trouble. That’s the only thing that matters right now.”
“And what are we supposed to do to help them?” Carter shot back.
“What are we supposed to do about that?” Dourado asked, pointing at the screens. “It’s terrible, but natural disasters aren’t our job.” She winced, as if regretting the comment. “I suppose we could coordinate with the Red Cross, but—”
“Is it?” Carter asked. “A natural disaster, I mean?”
Dourado’s expression changed to reflect confusion. “What else could it be? You don’t think…” She trailed off as if unable to even speculate about Carter’s thought process.
“You heard what he said. Simultaneous earthquakes don’t happen. Not naturally. This is something else.”
“A new weapon. Some kind of earthquake machine. Runaway fracking. I don’t know. But we need to find out.”
Dourado gasped and whispered something to herself. She swung her attention back to the screens and began entering information. After a few seconds, a list of search results for ‘earthquake machine’ appeared on one of the screens. One particular term stood out to Carter. “HAARP?”
“It stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program. It’s a U.S. military research facility in Alaska, supposedly built to study the ionosphere for the purpose of improving radio communications.”
“Supposedly,” Carter echoed. “What was the real purpose?”
“Well, if you believe the conspiracy theorists, they were trying to build a weapon that could create extreme weather, control people’s minds, set the atmosphere on fire, or…” She allowed a dramatic pause. “Cause earthquakes.”
Carter chose her next question carefully. “Is that what you think it is?”
“I believe that powerful people would like to be able to do those things, and that the U.S. government could probably do some of it if they wanted to.”
Carter couldn’t disagree with the latter sentiment, but that didn’t mean she was ready to get fitted for a tin-foil top hat. “I’ll take a look at it. Can you send these to my tablet?”
Her tablet was back in her lab, which was still trashed. She wondered again at the overall wisdom of staying underground, but then decided that Dourado was right. Cerberus HQ was the place they needed to be.
“On second thought, I’ll just work on it here, if that’s okay with you.”
The other woman appeared somewhat discomfited at the prospect of sharing a workspace, so Carter added, “If there are any aftershocks, we may need to evacuate. Probably best that we stay together. And I want to be here if…when…you make contact with the team.”
Dourado gave an unenthusiastic shrug. “I guess you’re right.” Her gaze flickered to a news broadcast and then her eyes went wide. Carter turned and saw a message displayed in bold graphics: ‘Sun Stands Still?’
Dourado restored the audio.
“…unconfirmed reports from observers that the sunrise on the East Coast was late.” The anchor drew out the last word for emphasis. “By at least a full minute. John, is that even possible?”
The guest commentator shook his head. “Ashley, sunrise and sunset times vary from place to place because of the Earth’s curvature, so it’s not unusual for there to be disagreement between the time when the Internet says the sun should rise in a given place, and when you actually see it happen.”
“But John, these reports are coming from observatories up and down the East Coast. They’re saying that the sunrise was late. Now, we all know that it’s the Earth that moves, not the sun—”
“Most of us,” the seismologist said with a nervous laugh. “There are still a few Flat-Earthers out there.”
Ashley pressed on undaunted. “People are asking, is there some connection to these earthquakes? Did the Earth stop moving?”
John shook his head. “No, Ashley. That’s just not possible. Look, people are freaked out right now. I get it. This is nothing more than a misinterpretation of the data. I promise you, there’s a rational, perfectly boring explanation for this.”
Carter wasn’t so sure. She turned back to Dourado. “Something’s going on. Something big, and we need to figure out what it is before it happens again.”