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.The boiling, turbulent fireball resulting from a surface laydown expanded in a fraction of a second until it was over a mile in diameter.At its periphery, the temperature was over a hundred thousand degrees: Stone boiled, the bodies of man and animal flashed into vapor.A short distance beyond it—out to five miles—the heat was enough to melt iron structures.Castles and palaces only a mile or two beyond the fireball, be their walls made of stone and never so thick as a man’s body, slumped and then shattered on the shock wave like a house of cards before a hand grenade.There would be no survivors in Niejwein.Indeed, there could have been no survivors in the open within fifteen miles, had not the other bombers of the strike force continued to plow their fields with the fires of hell.It was not the intention of the planners who designed Operation CARTHAGE to leave any survivors, even in subsurface cellars.The firestorm raged steadily down the coast, marching at the pace of a speeding jet bomber.Behind it, the clouds boiled up into the stratosphere, taking with them tens of millions of tons of radioactive ash and dust.Already the sun was paling behind the funeral pyre.In the aftermath, the people of the Gruinmarkt might well be the luckiest of all.It was their fate to be gone in a flash or burned in a fire: a brief agony, compared with the chill and starvation that were to follow all around their world.* * *Huw was in the shed near the far end of the vegetable garden, tightening the straps on his pressure suit, when Brilliana found him.“What in Sky Father’s name do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.She was, Huw realized abstractedly, even more pretty when she was angry: the brilliant beauty of a lightning-edged thundercloud.Not even the weird local fashions she wore in this place could change that.He straightened up.“What does it look like I’m doing?”Yul chipped in: “He’s getting ready to—”Brill turned on him.“Shut up and get out,” she said flatly, her voice dangerously overcontrolled.“But he needs me to—”“Out!” She waved her fist at him.“Give us some space, bro,” Huw added.“Don’t worry, she won’t shoot me without a trial.”“You think so?” She waited, fists on hips, until Yulius vacated the shed and the door scraped shut behind him.“You’re not going to do this, Huw.I forbid it.”“Someone has to do it,” he pointed out.“I’ve got the equipment and, more importantly, the experience to go into an uncharted world.”“It’s not an uncharted world, it’s our world.And you’re not going.You don’t need to go.That’s an order.”“You’re not supposed to give me orders—”“Then it’s an order from Helge—”“—Isn’t she busy visiting her special friend in New London right now?” Huw raised an eyebrow.Brill glared at him.“It will be one, as soon as I tell her.Don’t think I won’t!”“But if the Americans—”“Listen to me!” She stepped in front of him, standing on her toes until he couldn’t help but see eye-to-eye with her.“We got a report.”“Oh?” Huw backed down.Heroic reconnaissance into the unknown was one thing, but wasting resources was something else.“Who from? What’s happened?”“Patricia’s guards came across.They wired us a report and Brionne’s only just decrypted it.They were in the palace when the sky lit up, the entire horizon north of Niejwein.Helmut reported at least thirty thermonuclear detonations lighting up over the horizon, probably many more of them, getting progressively closer over the quarter hour before he issued the order to evacuate.They were carpet-bombing with H-bombs.Now do you understand why you’re not crossing over?”Huw looked puzzled.“How do you know they were H-bombs?”“Hello?” Brill’s nostrils flared as she squinted at him.“They lit up the sky from over the horizon in clear daylight and they took a minute to fade! What else do you think they might be?”“Oh.” After a moment, Huw unbuckled the fastener on his left glove.“Shit.More than thirty of them? Coming towards Niejwein?”Brill nodded mutely.“Oh.” He sat down heavily on the stool he’d been using while Yul helped him into the explorer’s pressure suit.“Oh shit.” He paused.“We’ll have to go back eventually.”“Yes.But not in the middle of a firestorm.” Her shoulders slumped.“It was only a couple of hours ago.”“There’s a firestorm?”“What do you think?”“We’re stranded here.”“Full marks, my pretty one.”Huw looked up at her.“My parents were going to evacuate; I should find out if they made it in time.What about your—”She avoided his eyes.“What do you think?”“I’m sorry—”“Don’t be.” She made a cutting gesture, but her eyes seemed to glisten in the afternoon light filtered through the hazy window glass.“I burned my bridges with my father years ago.And my mother would never think to stand up to him.He told her to stop writing to me.I’ve been dead to them for years [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]