Lightningman Strikes!
  in...


Diet Another Day!

a.k.a. "Genocide as a Method of Insider Trading"

A 13-chapter Superhero Saga!
(Basically.)

By
"Royal" Richard K. Lyon

About the author
"Diet Another Day" is the third Lightningman story.  The first two,  "The Secret Identity Diet" and "The Chocolate Chip Cookie Conspiracy”, are available on request from the author at Lyonheart@cableone.net


PREVIOUSLY: For the past ten years, Double X Oil company has operated the Terminus facility in the South China sea, producing natural gas which is pipelined to shore and sending the byproduct H2S to the bottom of the ocean. No one in the company realized that the H2S has been accumulating on the bottom of the ocean as a hydrate, enough poison gas to kill most of Southeast Asia. Discovering that a plot is underway to make billions on the stock market by releasing the gas, Charles Kent, also known as Lightningman, travels to Terminus. There he finds that all the technicians have been murdered. The explosive mechanism for releasing the deadly gas is already set and no one is left alive who knows how to defuse it...




Episode Ten:

Zen and The Art of Bomb Defusing


I ASKED SISTER ELAINE TO SHOW ME to the control room and she did. It turned out to be a small room packed with as many panels of indicator lights, glowing digital readouts, and computer monitor displays in flashing colors as a missile silo. All this stuff was now a bomb which I must somehow diffuse. As I looked around, I asked Sister Elaine, "You've been coming here for several years, haven't you?"

"That I have," she replied, "and to answer your next question, yes, I was able to learn a lot about the setup here."

"Good," I said, "because if I'm to figure out all this stuff, I'm really going to need a cup of coffee."

"CHARLES KENT!" she exploded, "I'VE BEEN GRIEVING FOR POOR HELEN'S SINS BUT YOU'RE COMMITTING A WORSE SIN! PRIDE! THE MIGHTY MALE EGO THAT SAYS MEN HAVE TO DEAL WITH DANGER AND WOMEN ARE ONLY GOOD FOR MAKING COFFEE!"

With an attitude like that there, wasn't much point in asking Sister Elaine if she could maybe find me some food that wasn't poisoned. "I'm sorry," I said humbly. "You're right. We should work together as equals."

After studying my face for a moment she nodded and, brushing past me, seated herself at the control console. There was only the one chair and, as I now realized, this room was designed to offer all important information to the occupant of that chair.

What did that leave me to do? Make coffee? That or I could do what any good detective would: check the waste baskets.

That quickly led to an unpleasant discovery. A large stack of computer printout showed the late Helen Mary had been doing modeling calculations of the release of the hydrate, printing out maps for different release times, showing how big a slice of the world would be killed. If the hydrate were released now, just before the typhoon got here, it would be much less effective but would still take out Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Delaying the release until several hours after the storm's passage would cause a band of death that would stretch from Vietnam, over the whole of India, and into the Middle East.

Horrible as that was, it did mean that we had some time, but oh dear God what terrible stakes we were playing for!

"KENT!" Sister Elaine exclaimed. "DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT BITCH HELEN MARY DID? SHE BLOCKED OFF THE FLARE TOWER!"

The first rule," I told her gravely, "of crisis management is to always speak in a calm controlled voice."

After taking a deep breath, she said, "Alright, but you'll not be liking what I'll be telling you. Remember how Terminus works. Dozens of undersea gas wells are piped here; the gas is liquefied and goes to a fractional distillation tower, which splits it into the good stuff, mostly methane, which is pipelined to shore and the H2S, which is sent to the bottom of the ocean where it forms hydrate. If any kind of upset occurs -- anything the computer regards as a safety problem -- it's programmed to flare all the gas in the distillation tower. Failing that, it will send it all to the bottom of the sea. The methane won't form a hydrate. It'll become a cloud of bubbles. They'll rise, causing a strong convection current which will release the hydrate and kill millions."

Pausing to finger her rosary, Sister Elaine continued, "What it comes to, Charles, is that we have two choices -- neither of which will work. If we attack the hardware -- go out and start disconnecting automatic controls and turning valves by hand -- the computer will see it as a safety problem and release the hydrate. If we try to reprogram the computer, we need a password we've no way of guessing."

"Well," I replied carefully, "if, for the moment, you don't have anything else to do, it would really help me think, if you made a pot of coffee."

After giving me a very sharp look, Sister Elaine got up and left. Seating myself in the control chair, I adjusted the phone camera so that it would see only my helmeted head and shoulders. To play the role of a superhero I had to look the part.

My call went through immediately. The viewscreen showed Gerald Maritson, the CEO of Double X Oil Company, surrounded by a group of weary men and women I assumed to be his staff. Before he could speak, I said, "I'm Greenblood. Time is short, so please listen carefully and don't interrupt. I'm at Terminus with the Reverend Sister Elaine Smith. Everyone else here is dead and ..."

As quickly as possible, I sketched the situation. By the time I finished, Maritson's face was several shades paler. "While I didn't expect anything this bad," he said, "I did realize that the only reason you'd be calling me would be some kind of crisis, and I called in some people who may be able to help." The phone camera panned back to show the people who were with Maritson. Since they'd been written up in an article in last week's Newsday , I recognized them all.

The three on Maritson's left were Garrick, Allan, and West, supposedly the fastest accountants on Wall Street. On his right was Dr. A. Beauregard Clump III, former child prodigy, youngest Ph. D. ever to graduate Harvard/MIT computer science, a hacker whom his classmates voted both most likely to become a billionaire and most likely to go to prison. While the accountants all stared at me, Dr. Clump continued tapping away at the keyboard in front of him.

Before Maritson could start introducing them, I said, "Please, Mr. Maritson, this is not what I need. The people who can give me the help that's needed are your senior technical people, the ones who designed Terminus."

Maritson managed to look even paler. "The problem with that," he said slowly, "is that I don't have any senior technical staff. For some years now it's been my policy to make them all take early retirement. Replacing them with young guys fresh out of college is a lot cheaper and ‑‑"

"Can't you call them back?"

"Yes," he admitted, "but it'll take the better part of a day. Do we have that much time?"

"Not to worry," Dr. Clump put in without looking up from the keyboard he was punching rapidly. "We don't need those antiquated relics. In another minute or two I'll have hacked my way into the Terminus computer and then I'll ‑‑ there -- that should do it!"

Dr. Clump's round face glowed with triumph as he looked up at me. "I've just," he declared proudly, "taken the Terminus computer off-line! Now all we have to do is ‑‑"

All around me indicator lights were suddenly flashing red! Klaxtons sounded and gauge after gauge was moving out of the green range into the red, then, quite abruptly all was silent. Through a small window I could see the sea.

It was roiling.

When I told Clump what had just happened, he replied, "Oh, do you think I may have made a mistake?"

"MISTAKE!" Maritson exploded. "YOU'VE JUST KILLED EVERYBODY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA!"

 

Back to Episode 9....Dead Men at Dinner

On to Episode 11....Presidential Decision


Back to Pulp and Dagger

Back to Diet Another Day!


"Diet Another Day!" and the character of "Lightningman" are copyright by Richard K. Lyon. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)