“No one’s sure where it came from. All we know is that we first became aware of its existence when most of the town collapsed into this sinkhole.” Sanda Monaghan, an adjunct with the EPA, stood on a promontory overlooking the former village of Newman’s View.

Monaghan’s guest, Otis Bernat with the nearest CDC field office, shrugged. “It just looks like water.” To be sure, the sight of the ghostly remains of a small town that had mostly been consumed by a sinkhole was not a pleasant one, especially where roads pitched into an abyss ten feel below or building halves hung in the balance with the better part of their mass fallen in and disappeared.

“We think it has some similarities, and that it’s mostly oxygen and hydrogen. But there’s no way to be sure.” Monaghan lit a cigarette, which Bernat found rather odd for someone from the EPA to do.

“What do you mean, there’s no way to tell?”

Monaghan picked up a nearby branch, heavy with dead leaves, and hurled it into the sinkhole. Rather than sinking, when it struck the surface the entire structure abruptly became transparent and melted into the pool as if it had always been part of it.

“Holy Mother of God,” said Bernat. He put a twist of chewing tobacco in his cheek with a trembling hand, which Monaghan found rather odd for someone from the CDC to do. “Everything it touches does that?”

“Everything,” said Monaghan. “Our probes just make the problem bigger.”

“But wait,” said Bernat. “It’s touching the air, and it’s touching the dirt.”

“That confused us for a while, too,” said Monaghan. “Near as we can tell, it is continually sublimating and precipitating hydrogen and oxygen from the atmosphere, and that chemical reaction presents some sort of barrier. And there seems to be some kind of a protective, vaguely crystalline salt that forms naturally when it’s in contact with acidic soil.”

“Roof it over and throw away the key,” said Bernat. “There’s your solution.”

“What if the roof falls?” laughed Monaghan ruefully. “If it overflows its current capacity by much, it’ll devour more of the town. You think the sinkhole was this big when it started? Half its size is our own meddling.”

Bernat was quiet for a moment. “Is it expanding on its own?” he asked softly, one eye on the ocean visible over intervening hillocks.

“About a foot a year, more in years with a lot of rainfall,” Monaghan said. She lit a fresh cigarette with the butt of the old. “Assuming we don’t muck it up ourselves any more than we have, it will reach the ocean in less than a century. And then…”

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