Chapter 1: Do I Have Your Attention Yet?
Copyright© 2010 by RicS
Day One/Hour Zero
"Welcome Back to 'Good Morning Sydney'. It's just gone 8.33am and the big story of the day is the shock resignation of the Treasurer. Over to you Mal."
"Why thank you Damian. And it is nice to see you in today even with that torrential thunderstorm that swept through Central and Eastern Suburbs of Sydney early this morning causing massive disruption. So you managed to drive in from Rose Bay even with the water all over the roads out that way?"
"Well actually it's Vaucluse Damian mate, but thank you for your concern. It was certainly a huge storm all right. Trees down all over our street. But I made it in. What is it they say about news reporters, neither rain nor sleet —"
"Ahh, Damian, I think you'll find that is the US Postal Service but it certainly was a torrential storm. I only just made it across the Bridge this morning before they shut down part of the approaches due to localised flooding."
"Good morning Chantelle. You look especially lovely this morning. But back to the big news of the morning. Federal Treasurer, Phillip Tanspire, announced his resignation late last night, citing family reasons. This has shocked most political commentators considering there is a critical general election with its Double Dissolution for the Global Warming legislation that thrice failed passage through both houses. And on top, we also have the State Parliament sitting the last time today before it recesses and an election must be called within the next three months."
"Yes Damian, politics has not been a picnic for either party of late but even so it doesn't usually get this messy so close to two critical elections. Any hint yet as to what might be the real reason for Tanspire's shock resignation?"
Gareth normally couldn't stand the prattle that went on between the partnered male and female talking heads for 'Good Morning Sydney', along with the inane so-called commentary of Mal Stromberg concerning all things political. But today was by no means 'normal'. Gareth's heart was pounding strongly. He had planned for this day meticulously. Every conceivable eventuality had been evaluated. Every possible variation fed into Gareth's computer like mind. The result was a plan and execution that Gareth thought was as solid as such things could be that rely on human variable and therefore are prone to failure.
Gareth, not for the first time, wondered why he put himself through such tests, considering he told himself with monotonous regularity that he did not have the nerves for such schemes. However, his schemes had never failed. This one was just a teeny bit bigger than those that had come before.
Sure that his heart would burst soon, Gareth started to think that something had gone horribly wrong. That moron Guido who was in charge of the crew on the Gladesville Bridge or the psychopathic thug, Thomas, who had a crew in the Harbour Tunnel, could either or both have stuffed up.
Mohammad, at least, he could count on to get things right. He had been put in charge of the technically most complex operation but with his fundamentalist views, Gareth had no doubts he would perform flawlessly. Not that he considered a fundamentalist to make a decent terrorist. Far from it. Anyone willing to blow themselves up really needed to be watched as far as Gareth was concerned. Mohammad could be trusted because not only was he a fundamentalist but because his training had been extensive. Gareth had made sure he was so thoroughly drilled in his tasks that the only way a mistake could occur was if Mohammad had suffered some bizarrely rare condition such as a stroke or something else that physically stopped him from operating.
Gareth at least knew that he was protected by several levels of separation from these men. The men had their uses although Gareth could not help considering they really had no right to inhabit the same planet as he did, let alone the same city or to talk to him as if they were equals when they most certainly were not.
Gareth was a worrier. He planned meticulously because if he didn't, the stress would probably kill him, or so he would tell himself. However, even with the most meticulous plans, he still worried constantly to the point where he would be physically sick when a plan actually went into operation. And this one involved 36 men, 3 women, and over $2 million dollars of Gareth's own money.
It was 8.34am for God's Sakes! "Christ Almighty!" thought Gareth, "Why had nothing came on yet?" And with that, Gareth swiftly leaned over his chair, watching his twelve banked computer screens, until the last second when he gave into to the violent queasiness in his stomach. He retched mightily into the lined waste paper bin. He had purposely had a large breakfast from McDonalds this morning just so he had something to bring up. Two sausage and egg McMuffins, two bacon and egg McMuffins and an egg wrap.
Thomas looked at the swirl of bright colours the vomit now covering the bottom of the lining and wondered not for the first time if the yellow of the eggs was natural or the result of dyes. Certainly, the smell of his own sick that permeated the room or the look of the copious vomit did nothing to cause Gareth to be sicker, although it probably would have caused anyone else to have less than a fully settled stomach had anyone been there. However, as was customary for Gareth during these operations, he was utterly alone, sealed in his control centre.
Just when Gareth considered pulling the plug on the whole thing and washing his hands of the $600,000 already spent in the operation, the TV screen on the on the monitor just to the right of his 26" main screen suddenly came up in volume as it had programmed to do when certain key words were used. The image automatically switched to the centre monitor.
"My Goodness! Brandon in our traffic chopper has just reported a massive explosion on the Gladesville Bridge. A tanker or something large has just exploded on the northern approach..."
"Thank you Chantelle, yes Brandon Thomas reporting from our eye in the sky. What you should be seeing now is the huge smoke plume rising from the northern approach to the Gladesville Bridge. We have had to move out of the way somewhat because of the enormous updraft and intensity of the fire shooting up from the Bridge itself ... I ... I cannot believe that, according to our pilot, the highly experienced West Macklin, we were mere metres away from being incinerated in the blast plume. The helicopter has sustained some damage but is still flyable and whilst this story is unfolding we intend to stay in the air and report it to you, live and on the spot!"
"Brandon, it is very brave of you to stay there at risk but please do not put yourself in unnecessary peril to do so. You be careful."
Real concern was evident in Chantelle's voice. She may not have had all that many brain cells but she was super hot in bed and Brandon was rather fond of her, as clueless as she really was. It really wasn't an act. She really was a ditz. But Brandon's tolerance of her habits because of her phenomenal ability to do the most amazing acts in bed and on the kitchen table or over the balcony or pretty much anywhere else for that matter, meant that Chantelle mistook Brandon's desire not to fuck up a good thing as true love.
Gareth was aware of none of this, nor would he have cared. He cared little for the relations of mere humans that were pawns in his games. What he cared for was that Stage C had started. He waited anxiously for the helicopter to turn back around and show the extent of the damage to the bridge. He had only seconds to wait. He couldn't then help it. He let out a gasp of excitement. It had done far more than he had dreamed. The entire northern structure of the bridge was history. There was nothing but a huge plume of smoke and bluish orange flame and a gaping hole where until only a minute or two before there had been one of the major arterial bridges of the Sydney metro area.
"Fuck, Brian. What in the hell has happened? Do we even know what caused it or how many dead or dying? What about ambulances? Hospitals? What do we need?"
Mark Brining was the duty Superintendent currently in charge of Police Operations. He was watching a bank of TV screens while glancing at the many CCTV camera displays showing the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Harbour Tunnel, and the Gladesville Bridge amongst other traffic areas.
"What's the next bridge west, Clive? The Hornsby-Strathfield main line isn't it? Get the trains stopped NOW!"
Probationary Constable Scott rather reluctantly spoke up, "Actually Sir I think the Ryde Road Bridge comes first then the rail bridge is a little further west.
"Oh Christ, another bloody road bridge. Get the Highway Patrol or local patrols out there right now. Block it off from both sides back at least 500 metres from the river. Do it now!"
Just as Brining was giving the order a CCTV camera on the rail bridge went black and then whited out. Another news helicopter, the Channel Seven copter had been flying from the Penrith area and was filming along the river panning towards the huge plume from the Gladesville Bridge when a spectacular jet of water shot out next to the rail bridge. An Interurban was approaching the bridge at the maximum speed for that track of 70 km/h when Channel Seven started showing the bridge.
It thus far looked to be intact. Some unidentified section of something had fallen from beneath it though and something else had exploded on or near the water. Then as the camera zoomed in further, as if the bridge had all the time in the world to do so, the northern edge of the bridge started to sink slightly. Then it accelerated as if shot all in slow motion. That is until seemingly without reason the bridge section snapped partly across the River and the northern section dropped neatly into the water.
Because of the distance from the chopper, there was no noise to accompany the bridge dropping into the murky brown water of the Parramatta River but Brining could sense the grinding and screeching noises of the metal as it let go. Superintendent Brining winced as if he could hear the sounds clearly, as he watched in horror as the section continued to collapse.
Bining caught a train in a few days a week and well knew the noises of the brakes thrown on in a panic. He knew that the passengers in the packed train from the Central Coast would be hearing that noise right now. Inexorably, the train continued towards the gapping hole in the line that was now only a couple of hundred metres in front of the train. The train was slowing and for a time it looked like it might just stop before reaching the section of missing track. Bining knew better. He knew just how long it took for a train that long and going that fast took to stop. There was not a chance in hell the train was going to slow down in time. The camera crew held it steady as some people started to pile out of the leading car, having forced the doors open. They didn't stand a chance at the speed the train was still going but somehow Bining couldn't bring himself to think they were doing the wrong thing. Plunging into murky water at high speed from a height of probably 50 metres or more didn't seem to be a good prospect for survival either.
It wasn't. One by one the carriages hit the empty space where the bridge should have been and like a model train on Gomez's track they toppled still linked together into the water, each carriage that came after the first pancaking the carriage in front into small pieces of twisted and mangled wreckage that quickly proceeded to sink. The train had been pulled to the side by the twisting motion of the cars as they crashed into each other so they didn't even have the small chance of being held up by the bridge remains. The entire eight-car train slid into the water. Most was gone within two minutes.
The operations room had been reduced to a stunned silence then pandemonium erupted. Calls were made to every conceivable operations centre. 'Triple Zero' was shut down. They would need it and the flood of calls just couldn't be handled at the moment. A disaster plan for a terrorist attack such as this had been practiced only eight months before and it had demonstrated the need for doctors, nurses, paramedics, and ambulances, every conceivable ambulance.
But it was flu' season. At every hospital that morning there was at least a half dozen ambulances piled up waiting for an ED bed so they could go back out in the street. At the big hospitals, Royal North Shore and Westmead they had reached 18 ambulances backed up. There were less than a dozen ambulances currently free to transport patients in the whole of the metropolitan area.
It looked chaotic, but not three minutes after the bridge went down, every emergency vehicle within 100 km radius was called onto the street to await instructions. Rescue vehicles from all major Fire Stations were leaving their stations, heading for Gladesville and for Concord where the Ryde Railway Bridge was. SWAT teams were called out to accompany the rescue units. The hard lessons of previous terrorist bombings had been learned that often the biggest bombs were reserved for the first responders. All bomb squad units had been contacted.
Bining was watching the screens and yelled, "Why are there still vehicles on the Ryde Road Bridge and the Harbour Bridge. Get them shut down, NOW! Fuck that should have happened five minutes ago when Gladesville went up. Oh, GOD ALMIGHTY..."
Bining leaned in although that did little good. The chopper that had been shooting the film of the rail bridge abruptly lurched through a massive arch with a noise so loud it caused the speakers of the screens to distort. The pilot was good and stabilised the helicopter. The next image was of utter devastation as the twin concrete sections of the Concord Bridges broke off neatly at both ends and splashed in an almost perfect horizontal drop into the river. For that seemed like ten minutes but actually was only three, cars, trucks, semis kept driving off the two ends of the bridge dropping dramatically onto the largely intact bridge sections settling in the water. An oil tanker followed by a natural gas tanker set the southern section of the dropped bridge into an inferno. People that miraculously survived the drop were pulling themselves out of their vehicles desperately as the flame simply engulfed them.
"Sir, there has been an explosion in the Harbour Tunnel. The southbound section just before it leaves the harbour floor. Look at monitor seven." Every head turned to monitor seven to see a smoke filled section of tunnel with a mountain of rubble in the distance. The politicians had been too cheap to specify colour or heat sensing cameras so the black and white image was difficult to follow clearly. That was until the cars started lifting off the road deck. Water was coming in!
Within thirty seconds of being drawn to the monitor, the camera went out, submerged in water. No one had managed to close of the Tunnel entrances either. What had started out as a merely the worst disaster ever to befall Australia had turned into an absolute cluster fuck merely because no one had managed to close off the approaches to all the other harbour crossings after the first disaster.
Gareth had his own access to the CCTV cameras and was well pleased with what he saw. The timing had been off by as much as 3 minutes and 20 seconds, which he found intolerable, but all major explosives had performed as advertised. It just left one more thing. A number of fire vehicles, ambulances and police vehicles were assembled on the on ramp sweeping from Victoria Road to the Gladesville Bridge approach when one more massive explosion occurred inside a 'cement' tanker that had pulled to the side of the road to clear the road for emergency workers. This blast was monumentous. Windows were shattered 15 kilometres away from the centre and an ominous mushroom cloud rose from what was now a very deep and very wide crater that had not only taken out all of the roadway for more than 100 metres in all directions but the blast had destroyed everything for several hundred metres.
"What do you mean, they'll all gone? Weren't we meant to be protecting the responders against secondary explosions? What the hell happened?"
Bining's anger was not really directed at anyone in particular. He was simply overwhelmed by the devastation and senseless loss.
A bomb squad expert answered, "Sir, the assembly point was well back from the scene. They were waiting for the primary site to be secured before moving in. Only a small number of rescuers had gone in to tend to those most seriously hurt. Then there was a monstrous explosion right at the assembly point. It seems from the footage we've just looked at that a number of vehicles had been pulled to the side of the road to give clear passage and one of these exploded."
No one even needed to ask what the question meant but no one was willing to answer just the same.
"Someone estimate. We must have known roughly how many responded."
"Ahh, more than two hundred Sir, not including the civilians in the cars, the school across the road that seems to have been partly flattened and then burnt out so quickly that it was all gone before even one hose could be brought to bear on it."
"So we are looking at hundreds then?"
"Probably well over a thousand Sir. The school had six hundred children and there was a preschool even closer to the blast area. There seems to be nothing at all left of it. Nothing at all!"
It was eerie on the Harbour Bridge. Because it was one of the first places in the world to see in the New Year of any large population the Bridge and the unique Sydney Opera House was familiar to a great many all around the world.
It wasn't that the Bridge itself was even unique. There were arch bridges just as impressive around the world and certainly longer. It was made somewhat unique by the four pylons of granite and concrete but it was iconic more because of the beautiful harbour it framed than for much of anything else.
Before its opening in 1932 those that lived on the 'North Shore' an upper class region of Sydney were required to travel by ferries, including car ferries which plied their way across the harbour. With eight lanes of traffic and two heavy train lines, it was thought more than capable of carrying the needs of Sydneysiders until the city outgrew its bridge and the peak hour crushes become a nightmare. A tunnel was planned and added four more lanes of vehicular traffic to the system, easing the congestion. Further changes were made such as the tolls only being for southbound traffic, automated tolling systems and flexible lanes so that six lanes could be allocated for northbound traffic in the afternoons and six southbound lanes for the morning.
Other changes occurred including extensive works on the approaches but the Bridge still remained a choke point for Sydney's traffic system both road and rail. An eminently sensible proposal was made to add a second level of traffic to the Bridge but this was squashed primarily because it might have made the Bridge 'unsightly'. The bridge was utilitarian in nature. It might have been something that Australians identified with but it really was not the most elegant bridge in the world.
Gareth had taken a keen interest in the huge hysteria that had been whipped up over the, to him, perfectly logical solution of adding a second deck. It was then that he realised that to Australians this was not simply a bridge that helped with traffic. It was an icon as distinctively Australian and important to them as the Kangaroo. It had value way beyond its monetary worth or its utilitarian use as an ease to transport.
Sydney had developed straddling firstly Sydney Harbour, a gash in the Sydney Basin that ran almost directly inland from its ocean opening. At some point, the Harbour turned to the Parramatta River. Parramatta River was not particularly wide and certainly was not much of a river on a world scale. It travelled only a few kilometres before it turned into a rather narrow often highly polluted stream. It puttered out almost entirely at Parramatta, a city in itself that was wholly contained within the Sydney Metropolitan area around 23 kilometres almost directly due west of the centre of Sydney.
What the Harbour and then Parramatta River did was divide the metropolitan area of Sydney almost in half. A number of crossings sprang up to bridge that division and as time went by these crossings were modernised. By far the two most important were the Harbour Bridge/Tunnel combination and the Gladesville Bridge. The Gladesville Bridge was, when built, the world's longest single arch concrete bridge. However, because of the topography and connecting roads leading onto the Bridge from the north, it had three main ramps on the North and a section of roadway above the northern headland that was high above the land but beyond where the main span connected with the ground.
Gladesville Bridge was barely 8 kilometres or five miles from the CBD of Sydney. Next to cross the Parramatta River was the Ryde Bridge, rebuilt to twin concrete crossings in the 80s, was a further 6 kilometres west of the Gladesville Bridge. From this point on the river became easier to cross until when it reached Parramatta the bridges were quite small.
The loss of any one major arterial connection over the Harbour or Parramatta River would cause traffic chaos. The loss of the Sydney Harbour Bridge would cause the almost complete shut down of Sydney as a commercial centre. The suburbs to the north of Sydney were mostly in the million-dollar class. A great many managers lived in what is called the 'Northern Beaches', the 'North Shore' — a little ironically because it was nowhere near water, and the northern harbour areas. In addition to all of these suburbs were business centres of Sydney that were very significant in themselves. There was North Sydney, that echoed the CBD but on a smaller scale. There was also Chatswood with several high rises and a large commercial and retail section.
In all of the contingency plans for disasters in Sydney, whether they be natural or terrorist, none had assumed that the northern half of Sydney east of Parramatta could be so completely separated from Sydney CBD or the southern half of Sydney.
By 8.30 am in had become apparent that the Sydney Harbour Tunnel southbound tunnel was useless; that Gladesville Bridge would need reconstruction that was going to take at least months; that the main railway line that fed trains not just to the northern regions of Sydney Metropolitan area but to all areas of the whole state North of Sydney was gone, as was the road bridges just to the east of the rail tunnel.
All that was left was the Sydney Harbour Bridge and it had been closed as a precautionary measure. At some point, it would have to be examined in minute detail to check that it had not been sabotaged but at the moment all that was protecting it was a few junior police officers called in from the local patrol areas just north and south of the bridge.
It would not be long before those in authority would find that the protection for the Sydney Harbour Bridge had not been nearly enough nor was it fast enough. The last open means of mass transport between north and south might not be available or even open in the foreseeable future and for reasons that no one except Gareth, his queasy stomach long forgotten, was aware of. The battle for the survival of the last Bridge crossing Sydney Harbour had begun.