I arrive at Soundstage 47 later than I anticipated. After several successive days of late nights and early mornings, my body decided it had had enough stress. Last night was maybe the third or fourth time in my life that I have come close to passing out. As with the few other times, I was back up on my feet within half a minute, fully recovered.
Cleaner wanted me to spend the night in the infirmary, but I refused. I just needed rest. He walked me home—unnecessarily—, I made a crack about him tucking me into bed—which he didn’t do—, and then went to bed, turning off my alarm so I could give my body an extra hour or two of sleep.
I didn’t walk up until close to eleven am.
KJ tells me that it took four hours for all the video footage to download, despite a connection speed of 622 Mbps, which is 400 times faster than what is available commercially. However, the 4K video quality gives us an amazing amount of detail, she informs me.
The team I assigned to review the footage is busy working in one of the side offices. Greaser split the videos from each UAV into two parts and paired the team off into four mini-teams of two. This gives us two sets of eyes on each feed to make sure nothing is missed due to eye fatigue.
I head over to the viewing room and see that they’ve been at this for a while. Cereal boxes, used paper bowls, half-empty jugs of milk, pizza boxes, sandwich wrappers and open bags of chips are haphazardly scattered around their work areas. The two dozen cans of VOLT energy drink stacked neatly in a growing pyramid of consumed cola juxtaposes sharply with the rest of the mess.
There are four large monitors spread out along two walls. The teams are viewing the video at 3x normal playback speed, but if anyone sees something that warrants a closer look they can slow it down, rewind and even zoom in to study it in more detail.
Collectively, they are able to review twelve hours of footage every hour, which means this first batch will take a little more than eight hours to get through. Tomorrow they’ll start again with a fresh batch of video.
“What have you found?” I ask.
Snowman, a young scientist in his mid-twenties, already with a full head of gray hair and beard to match answers, “Not much that we didn’t already know. We saw a couple things that we thought warranted closer inspection but they turned out to be nothing.”
The video feed Snowman is reviewing is from Central America. The UAV started out flying an east-to-west / west-to-east pattern, making its way to Mexico City before we diverted it east. Greaser made sure to steer clear of Denver where something seems to be interfering and causing them to crash.
“Most of the inland cities are largely intact,” Snowman continues, “except for the skyscrapers. The taller the building the more damage incurred, it seems. But the closer you get to the coast the more outright destruction there is. In fact, it appears that all coastal cities—or what was the coast, rather—have been completely wiped out.”
“We marked the footage and took some stills,” Racetrack says. She turns around and clicks a few keys on the keyboard, pulling up a still picture on her laptop. “See this?” She scrolls through a half-dozen snapshots. “Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio… no visible life of any kind. Trees, plants; all dead. No signs of any animals, humans, or bugs, for that matter.
“Look at these,” she continues to scroll, “Tijuana, San Antonio, and Huston are all completely destroyed.”
On the screen, she scrolls through destruction like I have never seen before. Entire cities laid waste like a massive explosive wave had passed right through them. Not one of them had any identifying landmarks standing.
“So, how do you know those are the cities you say they are?”
“See the numbers at the bottom of the screen? Those are the longitude and latitude, added by the UAV GPS when it took the video.”
“And you’re sure those are correct?”
“We were skeptical at first, but we are double-checking locations and distances between cities and it seems to be dead on with what we would expect.” Her eyes grew wide, realizing the unintended pun. “Oh, sorry, I, uh, I didn’t mean that.”
I wave it off. “What’s this here?” I ask, pointing at the screen.
“That is the Gulf of Mexico.” Snowman says.
Racetrack taps the keys again and pulls up a new snapshot. “And this is the Gulf of California. Both bone dry.”
What about the rest of you?” I say to the other team.
“More of the same thing. The UAV left here and went north to the border then turned west toward Vancouver. Nothing but the occasional lifeless and destroyed cities, just like the rest. Anything within fifty miles of the coastline is pretty much wiped out.”
“No signs of human activity?”
I plop down in a chair hit by the magnitude of it all. The room is silent as I sit and think.
“Did you get a good look at any of the unpopulated areas?” I ask after a minute. “Any evidence of human colonies, nomad tracks, entrances to underground bunkers, or anything like that?”
“No, none. Nothing that indicates any sign of life.”
I sit for another minute in silence.
“Keep looking,” I say as I stand to leave. “If you see any hint of life, whatsoever—I don’t care how small—I get notified immediately. I don’t care what time it is.”