Not answering the unasked question, Kaleb took charge of the amassed telekinetics. No one, not even Ming, demurred. As Vasic had pointed out, Kaleb could do things they couldn’t even as a group.
“Rescue must be a secondary aim,” he said, and it was a ruthless decision that needed to be made. “If we can stifle the flames, the non-Tk teams can go in to provide assistance.”
“This is a map of the area currently on fire or under threat,” Aden said, putting a small device on the road where they stood. A touch of his finger and a holographic map sprang up. “The central core is gone, no hope of survivors.”
It had to be significantly over a thousand degrees in that core, Kaleb thought. No one could survive such an inferno without specialist equipment and clothing, a single breath burning the throat and lungs to ash.
“This swath of homes”—Aden marked out a rough circle around the leading edge of the flames using a holo-compatible pen—“has been successfully evacuated.”
“Can we push the fire inward?” Ming asked, putting his hands together as if around a neck.
“Strangle it of fuel?”
Aden was the one who answered, though Kaleb guessed the response was Vasic’s. “Not with the core burning as violently as it is—we’d concentrate the entire energy of the fire in one area, risk creating a massive firebomb.”
Kaleb agreed with Aden’s conclusion, which left a single option. “We go outward,” he said and drew a second rough circle inside the first, the real-life distance between the two approximately five hundred meters. “One team inside the fire, the second in the evacuated zone, the aim to compress the fire in between and suffocate it.” The large surface area of the ring would mitigate, if not eliminate, the risk in concentrating the energy to that extent.
“I’ll go in first, into the core.” Kaleb shrugged into the fireproof gear Vasic had ’ported in for him, the Arrows already suited up. “Soon as I’m in, I’ll push the fire outward. Your task”—he pointed to the Tks who’d be positioned in the evacuated zone—“is to make sure the fire spreads no further.
The telepath nodded as the rest of the group started to get into their gear. “I’ll coordinate external placements to ensure total coverage.”
“Easiest way for the internal team to get in position,” Aden said, “is to run in the five hundred meters from the external ring.” Getting no arguments from his Arrows against what would be a hellish run through deadly flame, he continued. “Once Kaleb has pushed the fire to this point”—he tapped the inner circle—“you keep it there. If you can’t stifle it, then you let it burn out. Understood?”
A sea of curt nods.
“If,” Kaleb added, “you feel the ring is about to fail, I want you a l l to ’port to the external perimeter to make sure the fire doesn’t spread. I’ll hold the internal section. Otherwise, I’ll assist in stifling the flames as soon as the ring is stable.” Glancing around to make sure the message had been heard, he said, “Get in position.”
The Tks began to ’port out to the external points using images provided by the fire and medical teams working around the city.
Kaleb, however, had no available image to use to get inside the blazing core. Which was why Aden and Vasic flew him up in a jet-chopper, hovering right over the center of the fire. Using high- definition binoculars, he captured a viable mental image and ’ported . . . just as the jet-chopper exploded from the proximity of the heat.
We’re fine. Vasic was monitoring the fuel tank.
Consumed by the white-hot core, the heat so violent as to create a dangerous level of warmth even inside his fire gear, Kaleb knelt down on one knee and spread his arms outward, palms pushing against the flames that crawled over every inch of his body.
The suits won’t last the expected sixty minutes, he told Aden. Anyone caught in a backdraft will have forty minutes maximum.
I’ll warn the others.
A single calm breath of the air reserves built into the suit, his mind a sea of black ice . . . he unleashed the force of the power that lived in him.
Sahara echoed the anonymous gasped judgment in frozen silence as the comm station successfully linked to a satellite that had zoomed in on Hong Kong, showing its viewers what was happening in the metropolis: the impossible. From the noxious core that reporters had stated was burning at a staggering five thousand degrees at least, according to the most recent estimates by scientific experts, the flames were being pushed outward in a perfect sphere, while the ragged edge of the fire remained stationary, as if held in stasis.
Fear gripped her chest, ice in her veins, but she bit down hard on her lower lip to fight the urge to reach out to the man she knew had been in that cauldron of flame until he shoved it outward. To distract him now could mean his death. Instead, she watched an event so phenomenal even the news anchors had gone quiet, the only sounds that of the seals in the bay and the seagulls overhead.
The blackness inside the conflagration continued to grow as the fire was pushed farther and farther away from the core. And then it came to a halt, a perfect ring of flame in the center of the island that burned a violent white against the night sky in that part of the world.
For two minutes, nothing happened.
Then the fire began to collapse in on itself, slowly but surely, as if it were being compressed by invisible walls. Exactly twenty-seven minutes later, the last flame went out, the glittering lights outside the fire zone making the smoking, darkened core so much more blatant a scar.