虚幻世界 / Xūhuàn shìjiè
[ Ed. note: Translation into English as “Unreal World” ]
The CSCL Pacific Ocean hung low in the water. Approximately 85 kilometers southeast of the Statue of Liberty, on a bearing north-northeast, she followed marine lanes toward Cape Cod. “China Shipping Lines” signage was barely readable above the froth and churn of unseasonably heavy seas. That froth whipped by a raging storm now approaching from the south.
By all outer appearances the CSCL Pacific Ocean bore a full load of shipping containers. Truth be known, only a few outer layers of containers ever moved at port. The ship’s lower layers were mostly void, her deadweight tonnage offset by lead shielding along the bulkheads. Significantly more precautions than would be needed for the typical radio frequency hazards encountered aboard large ocean-going vessels.
李杰 Lǐ Jié pieced a bite of stir-fried Spanish mackerel from his breakfast bowl. Next to tattered copies of 宝树 Baoshu novels, a glass octagon glowed eerily atop his comms desk. Its halogen heat lamp casting shadows across a mostly empty room.
Chopsticks lowered into the heated vivarium, pinched tips cautiously approaching a green frog perched on a branch protruding from a small muddy pool of water. Offering the day’s meal with mindful caution. Venomous, a sullen nightmare from the eastern Brazilian rainforest, acquired during a recent port of call at Rio de Janeiro, and named for the seller . The irony in connection with current politics of the West had not been lost on Jié. Nor that of his own situation. Pepe and the vivarium provided constant reminders, in microcosm.
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
A frowning, sleepy-eyed amphibian considered the reconstituted and lightly warmed mackerel, even more cautiously than it had been offered. Swamp dweller, dangerously toxic, imprisoned by miniature reflections of its own environment. Jailed by riparian fiction. Did Pepe too have a mission, or even an ideology? Any reason to jump into the pond, other than instinct? Perhaps to recognize the irony of its incarceration, this carefully determined blend of synecdoche and metonymy, for the express purpose of analogy — all four master tropes gathered in one statement, as if haiku. Or perhaps, to defeat one’s enemies by making them friends? Pepe made a decision, then leapt at the morsel.
Senior advisors to POTUS gathered in a closed-door session. Private security had locked down West Wing for “emergency” deliberations, even though the discussion agenda had been planned in advance for more than two years. Abstruse desires withheld until the time appointed.
China would have to be taught a lesson. No nation could be allowed to challenge the United States. In particular, the expansionist China would be made an example. To the POTUS advisors, most of the cannon fodder who followed American conservative talk-show radio would ascribe to just that.
More central to the situation in play, US priorities had been refocused to support a legacy Oil Economy. On the one hand, China was a net consumer of fossil fuels. On the other hand, China had become one of the world’s largest investors in alternatives to fossil fuels. The Middle Kingdom had recently flipped to become the world leader in climate diplomacy.
Americans and Russians, along with their dubious allies in the Middle East, Africa, Venezuela — these were the larger net producers. Bent on dominating world markets, derailing alternative energy strategies, undermining any serious actions regarding climate change. To the POTUS advisors, their cadre of conservative “realists” would run the math, then fall in line, Including, incidentally, the majorities in both the US Senate and House of Representatives.
虚幻世界 / Xūhuàn shìjiè (Unreal World). However, substantially deeper motivations impelled these White House advisors. Armageddon had been a foregone conclusion, which this group of patriots embraced. They welcomed an impending omnicidal crisis with strangelovian zeal. To the POTUS advisors and their core adherents, seizing initiative in the preordained war of the Fourth Turning, this was their one true mission.
“The Judeo-Christian West is imploding,” Steve Bannon thundered. “We had the Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II. Now comes our fourth great crisis in American history, we are witnessing its moment of inception. By this act, we command the lead in this great Fourth Turning in American history. Here in the the top of the first inning, we wield the power to pursue a more potent, less incrementalist agenda — for which we have long dreamed and against which our adversaries have warned in cowardice.” He stared each advisor in the eye, studying their allegiance, their resolve. “We have aggravated societal pressures, to compel the nation’s attention. We must now assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Beginning with the first strike!”
Bannon asked his private security detail to show the Sec Def into their meeting. Together they placed a call to COMTHIRDFLEET. Direct verbal instructions were given as priority addenda to U.S. Pacific Fleet strategy. “Major sea lines of communication through this region are critically important to the security and economic health of the United States and its allied nations throughout the Pacific Rim.” They ordered Carrier Strike Group 1, currently on maneuvers in the South China Sea, to secure the Spratly Islands immediately. “America’s at war, we’re at war!” Bannon implored the Vice Admiral.
金色笼子/ Jīnsè lóngzi, as colleagues had nicknamed the station during their training in Chengdu, was literally a golden cage. It represented a real and incredibly expensive vivarium for Lieutenant Lǐ, with minimalist affordances for daily life on an extended mission at sea. Aside from furnishings — the comms desk, an exercise cycle/emergency generator, and a mat for sleeping — the station room’s features were not unlike the orbital berths on Jié’s recent near-Earth space missions: composting latrine, fuel cell/hotplate, water bottles, oxygen tanks, food stores. Supplies for all of which were rotated by armed guards during the brief interludes between his shifts. Those interludes had become increasingly less frequent since their unit had been placed on full combat alert.
The officer in charge breached the bulkhead door, quickly handing a Lenovo tablet to Jié. The tablet also glowed in the darkened room, jousting with the heat lamps for attention. It cast grotesque shadows, which the frog’s eyes must certainly have traced — lenticular movements abating momentarily as Pepe swallowed. These kind of eyes had been called 珍贵的宝石 / Zhēnguì de bǎoshí (precious jewels) by the Western poet Shakespeare during the latter Ming dynasty.
The shadows danced across traces of gold which lined the faraday cage of the room’s interior walls. Generative designs created wholly by AIs, to minimize exorbitant project costs, while maximizing its purpose: to shield electromagnetic transmissions almost entirely. Other than the one bulkhead door, a single air-gapped network interface was the only other connection between Jīnsè lóngzi and the rest of the ship. That excluded all but read-only access to a terse and aggressively proxied list of public web sites.
Jié glanced at the tablet, realizing how the officer must have couriered it from some other station — possibly another Jīnsè lóngzi. Manned by an unknown colleague who would forever be a forbidden mystery. Pepe knew more than he did about that person’s name and endeavors. Also probably understood more about the implications. Jié nodded without looking up.
母亲的地下室 / Mǔqīn dì dìxiàshì (Mother’s basement)
The officer turned and left, sealing the bulkhead behind her. Not a word exchanged verbally.
Jié flung his full attention into comms. No time to reflect about gravitas. Scrambling, he set the bowl aside and popped his military laptop open in one precise move. Diskless, entirely based on highly customized chips and flash memory. Refreshing a page in an existing browser window, for an obscure American website called 4chan. The financially troubled site having been acquired only a few months earlier by an enormous Chinese online chat conglomerate, Tencent. Scrolling down to locate a specific mod name, molewds, then carefully counting. Jié copied all of that account’s comments over the past two days.
They lived almost as monks, aboard a floating labyrinth with no center. Labored unceasingly, mostly in silence, monitoring the Internet and more in earnest. Barely permitted leave at foreign ports of call, and then only with an armed covert escort. It was an advanced warfighter regimen the West had never fully understood. Not even after prolonged exposure over the decades of conflict in Việt Nam. Their mistake, one among many.
His finger muscles recognized the patterns intrinsically, as Jié began to write software. Even though this code had never been printed, never written to any disk, never transmitted through a network, nor for all he knew executed anywhere before. Based on an algorithm solely determined by a sequence of comment lengths, and any commensurate range of that sequence would work equally well. For Jié, the algorithm declaimed from memory: code generated on the fly, novel software adapted in the field. He’d been trained in this uncanny martial art by AIs at 61398 部队 / Bùduì in Chengdu.
The habitude had once felt to Jié so disturbingly abductive. Extrinsic. Now it’d become part and parcel of his being, a mode of warfighter hewn from will and intellect in extrema res. The ubiquity of RF shielding and counter-intelligence measures aboard the CSCL Pacific Ocean notwithstanding, no enemy would have ever confronted this peculiar code.
Americans had dominated military control of the oceans and space for decades. They had intercepted signals worldwide, deciphering crucial data even from the noise of fans and hard drives on the computers of their opponents. All of which meant US intelligence analysts could scrutinize, could catechize the flows of the whole world. Their AIs in turn weaving complex strategies, executed by advanced forces. However, this adventitious mode of Jié within Jīnsè lóngzi within the floating labyrinth which had no center — their approach to warfare lacked any recognition within the American imperium. Code which had never been written before, executed on fully custom hardware, from within a sealed electronic bottle, nestled deep inside one of the 50,000 container ships at sea. Unremarkable, ponderous, wonted. Ineffable.
Jié pasted the comments as input into the digester/sieve program he’d just written. Other systems in the room suddenly alit. Similarly diskless, booting from special FPGA chips, fans replaced by actuated bellows to reduce EM emissions. Their GPUs now pegged. Simple formulas, complex outcomes. Time to wait patiently, and prepare tea.
Derek Rockwell had been recruited out of Anonymous ranks. Trained by private corporate intelligence at Academi, under contract with Citizens United — albeit paid through a byzantine series of intermediary firms. Rockwell worked as a fixer in the private security detail for Steve Bannon.
Rockwell lolled against the rim of a small porte cochere on the north wall of the West Wing. Glancing out through a window at the night sky, then over his shoulder. He drew a mobile phone from a hidden pocket under his long black duster, the one he always wore, with a small Pepe lapel button. Posting on Manhattan Craigslist for event/gigs, the ad sought “Enthusiastic patriots … midtown … for the lulz.” People needed to join a rally the next morning at Rockefeller Center, Fifth Ave and 50th, in support of POTUS for the new year. Expiry set at 10 hours, time enough to draw a crowd without complications. “As a gesture of appreciation for your support, stop by several small tents to pick up a complimentary gift.” Encodings of an offer primarily informed by word of mouth, for services to be paid in pill form. NYPD would ignore them — under strict orders.
Pepe stirred, chasing a chimera across the vivarium. Several minutes had passed. Numbers began to display on the GPU systems, sweeping across in a digital anagnorisis. Jié spun his chair to visit each system in turn, checking results as they appeared on his laptop. Five values repeated on the different systems, and he cross-checked each duplicate: 纬度 / Wěidù (latitude) and 经度 / Jīngdù (longitude) confirmed; 海拔 / Hǎibá (elevation) and 计数 / Jìshù (count) noted; 天文钟 / Tiānwén zhōng (chronometer) set. Encrypted into an file on a small thumb drive, which could only be deciphered by the platform and its automated loader-launcher.
Jié purged all storage memory then shut down each of the systems, including his laptop. This allowed the bulkhead door to open from the inside. He signed in CSL to the posted guards. Pressing them to fetch the officer in charge. Jié handed her the thumb drive, as the guards watched the exchange carefully, their fingers already poised on triggers. They sealed the bulkhead, then Jié returned to his breakfast.
The guards, and their QBZ–03 carbines equipped with noise suppressors, were under orders to make sure Jié did not exit his Jīnsè lóngzi or have any other interaction outside the cage for the next 12 hours.
A silica fiber airframe made the platform capable of dispersing skyward light through its undercarriage. Intricately contoured purpose-shaping shrouded its balloons and flight control systems from detection. Radar-absorbent paints coated an interior nacelle which nestled the payload, to be ditched over water if the mission aborted for any reason. Explosives within the airframe readied the platform for self-destruct on descent, or in the event of any malfunction. Minimal amounts of metal had been used throughout, even for electronics and actuators. Born of generative design, with massive AIs dedicated to enhancing its stealth effects.
Hobbyists and students in the West routinely flew high altitude balloon platforms to comparable apogees for less than US$500. Beijing had invested more than 20 billion renminbi on this clandestine military project, nearly the cost of a US stealth bomber — with its budget mostly spent on unfathomable computational expenses.
For its first time ever during international conflict, 小太阳 / Xiǎo tàiyáng (Little Sun) was aloft, spiraling out through a false roof in one of the upper deck bulkheads. Soaring upward toward its Stratospheric cruising range at 40,000 meters under the relative cover of pre-dawn darkness. Its features too small, too slow, for detection by US defenses.
Jié settled on the mat, with the breakfast bowl cupped in his left hand, twirling chopsticks pensively in the other. He felt dreadfully small in the scope of things. Like a particle in a nebula. He’d understood those coordinates, devoid of their meaning. His mission, this post aboard the CSCL Pacific Ocean was crucial, although it would never include any comprehension of “Why?” He couldn’t even talk with anyone else, on pain of death, about the events fated to happen over the next several hours. No other being — except Pepe — would know, not until the history to be had already unfolded.
Uncle had brought him science fiction novels, other relative contraband, obscure curios — saying simply, “For that which one does not imagine, one cannot prepare.”
Time for a special tea, one his uncle gifted Jié when he entered the 神舟 / Shenzhou program for astronaut training. Shortly before his uncle’s death. 大红袍 / Dà hóng páo, a heavily oxidized, charcoal-fired strain of oolong tea, said to have been harvested from mother trees planted by 陆羽 Lù Yǔ himself. “Fit for a beggar, priced for an emperor, with the heart of the Buddha,” his uncle had explained. Priced back in his pre-academy years at a small fortune per gram, and these days even more expensive. Jié had reserved this tea for an auspicious moment in his life, in memory of his uncle and his family’s sacrifices. Especially the parts about their family’s lot during the Cultural Revolution, details which they’d mostly withheld from him as a child. Not even the celebration of his return from first voyage into space had felt sufficiently acute. This, however, was it.
Dimming the heat lamp in Pepe’s vivarium, Jié breathed in the silent dark. He missed his uncle dearly. Uncle had encouraged Jié to dare, to explore. Ultimately, challenging him to join the space program. Uncle had brought him science fiction novels, other relative contraband, obscure curios — saying simply, “For that which one does not imagine, one cannot prepare.”
Jié envisioned the peacefulness of Dà hóng páo’s ancient source: a handful of precious bushes, balanced in a brick terrace that had been set within the vertiginous limestone face of a karst. Timeless landscape, flowing river, precious gift. Then he sipped slowly. The sound of water.
Frank Holcombe sped along MD–295 South, trying to beat a personal record for reaching The Fort. Some minor collision before the Parkway had slowed traffic along his usual commute. Google Maps estimated the trip — this long-ish loop north to avoid BWI — from his home in Linthicum Heights to Ft. Meade at 14 minutes. No traffic this early, and Maryland State Police would recognize the plates on his aging SUV’s anyway. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’d arrive at the Savage Road main gate in less than 9 minutes, taking another 3 to clear the security checkpoint. If there wasn’t a line. No telling how full the parking lot would be today. He could stand a quick jog if he had to settle for a spot in the hinterlands. Might help clear his nerves.
Too many things. Too damn many other things to think about, besides speeding tickets and parking.
His wife was home now, still recovering from surgery. The kids would need to find their own rides to school this morning.
Notifications had begun buzzing on his secure mobile at 04:37, about an escalated risk. Manhattan was a point of special interest for their SIGINT unit, with POTUS scheduled to speak at a rally in Rockefeller Center later this morning. Meanwhile, sometime past midnight the White House had ordered the Third Fleet into combat. Carrier Air Wing 2 and DESRON 1 were closing on the Spratly Islands. America teetered on the brink of war.
Amanda, their oldest, was a “Firstie” at Annapolis. Probably out on her morning run — it was already nearly 05:15. Her class would be among the first deployed in the event of full-scale war, and she’d held a high OOM since the Return of the Brigade. She would go in front. He was so proud of “Offspring Alpha” — her preferred nickname around their home when she was a teenager. But his heart cried at the thought of Amanda getting pushed into some pointless conflict on behalf of apocalyptic bureaucrats, psychotics rattling their sabers.
Frank thoughts also rushed to his friends who were deployed in the Pacific. He’d retired from COMTHIRDFLEET, after years of cryptologic direct support and shipboard electronic warfare. His transition into IC had been relatively smooth. So grateful to work stateside and get to spend time with his family nearly every day.
Mostly all good, until the recent election cycle and what had resulted ever since Inauguration Day. Overnight, his friends out in the fleet had been ordered into combat by a political team that thought nothing of shaping and spreading a skein of lies as their means to secure power. A shitsandwich currently operated inside the White House, at odds with not only the IC, but the American public. He felt precious little but disgust, with the added pique of fear after this morning’s alarms.
Several cascading items of interest had been identified, triggering alarms. Notably, Mǔqīn dì dìxiàshì which translated as “Mother’s basement”. That had been considered a tipping point according to the AI’s report. The phrase had been used during early Anonymous riots, then later used among suspected Chinese covert agents who sometimes co-opted Anonymous forums online. Phrases cobbled together based on debriefings from recent Ministry of State Security defectors, and now used as vector embeddings in AIs which scanned social media and other public forums online to identify potential SIGINT intercepts.
Less than 300 km away, radar anomalies had triggered other alarms in the general vicinity of a large, Chinese-registered container ship off the coast. Currently underway atop the NY/NJ Bight, near the undersea Hudson Canyon. Compounding that, there had been a flurry of recent activity in the vicinity of Manhattan by suspected Beijing operatives. Most of these items would probably turn out to be phantoms. Some might be related to tangible threats. Vigilance was key.
Frank contemplated key points for an outline of the team’s summary analysis. Coming up on the MD–32 East underpass, signaling to take exit 10A. A barely nibbled Entenmann’s slid off the top of his ignored coffee cup. What frustrated him most was how their report probably wouldn’t get forwarded beyond DoD or DIA desks. Rumors had been circulating, how the acting Director of National Intelligence considered current White House alliances with hostile foreign states too much risk. Allegedly, their reports rarely made it to the National Security Council — not since last January. POTUS had rejected so many intelligence briefings anyway, even before inauguration. Meanwhile, senior advisors in the West Wing seemed hellbent to provoke a major war.
Nonetheless, vigilance was key. Frank’s SUV rolled to a stop at the security checkpoint. It was the price they’d sworn to pay through the unfaltering efforts of their service, politics notwithstanding. Maybe in some small way he could help his friends in theater who were being put into harm’s way. Maybe his SIGINT work might someday help save Amanda out in the field, and so many other brave kids like her.
赵云 / Zhào Yún pulled his Uber over, parking next to the Weehawken WWI Memorial. Text messages, from his sister: partly in Cantonese, part in Mandarin. Wishing his daughter a Happy Birthday, and letting Yún know she’d left the presents in Mother’s basement.
Except Yún had no sister and no daughter. None of his family spoke Cantonese. His mother lived in an apartment in 青岛 Qingdao. However, the last line, 母亲的地下室 / Mǔqīn dì dìxiàshì, that had been his signal.
A Weehawken Township Police cruiser blipped its lights, pulling up behind the black Lincoln parked at 812 JFK Blvd East. The officer approached, requesting identification. “Sir, are you aware your left tail light is out?”
“No, I had not known,” Yún braced. “Thank you officer.” Responding with deference and respect. His head bowed, avoiding direct eye contact. “I will get it fixed immediately. Must answer my wife’s call now, soon as I may.” One hand firmly planted on the steering wheel, the other holding up his mobile phone visibly.
“No citation this time, just get it fixed.” The officer returned to his cruiser and drove off.
Yún rolled up the window and plugged his phone into the vehicle console, for which the body of the Lincoln provided a large-ish antenna. Opening a special app, Yún activated several microdrones in midtown Manhattan, centered on the Charles Scribner’s Sons Building at Fifth and 48th. It was a straight shot, less than 4 km away. Drones lifted from the ledges of occupied rooms at Omni, The Gotham NY, HolidayInn Express. Each emptied as if on cue, their tourist occupants already exploring the tri-state area far outside the city quite early this winter morning.
With a second tap, Yún activated malware which had penetrated security systems throughout Scribner and adjacent buildings over the holidays. A successor to Stuxnet, discretely coexisting with nominal functions. Until this very moment.
As microdrones converged toward Scribner, fire alarms triggered in each of the hacked buildings. Alarms on most floors went off, not all at once. Many people were still on their way to work, some not yet returned from their holiday travel. A rag-tag and somewhat bewildered crowd poured out of the buildings, only to find that NYPD had blocked Fifth. A presidential rally had just started up the street, at Rockefeller Center. Pedestrians were redirected off to Fourth or Sixth, beyond the police cordon at 46th and further south. Most scurried off eager to find coffee.
Yún double-checked the time. With a third tap, the microdrone constellation painted the roof of 597 Fifth Avenue with lasers.
Actuators on 小太阳 / Xiǎo tàiyáng (Little Sun) breached open the interior nacelle approximately 9 minutes before the chronometer setting. Sending the payload on its way. It took mere seconds for the two precision munitions to reach terminal velocity, then minutes to meet their target at the appointed coordinates. Guided by laser designators near the pre-set target, thrusters on both warheads steered to compensate for wind drift and gyroscopic effects.
@40.7575,–73.9778, 08:48 Eastern time. Micronukes penetrated the roof of the building where Cambridge Analytica had been headquartered. Charles Scribner’s Sons, a Beaux Arts building on the National Register which had stood proudly since 1913, imploded.
A small mushroom cloud ascended from the rubble, its fallout calculated to be contained within a two-block radius. In this morning’s gusts, the cloud drifted steadily up Fifth Avenue toward the POTUS rally.
The MSS forward observer had noted about 南方朱雀, Nán Fāng Zhū Què (the Vermillion bird of the South) in her communiqué — delivered back to Chengdu via diplomatic pouch. A tendency of winds within the man-made canyon along Fifth Avenue, especially when storms approached from the south.
By 09:30 Eastern time, an anonymous actor had posted several hundred billion dollars’ worth of 10-year bonds, with corresponding instructions for “voluntary humanitarian payment” to compensate the families of victims, as partial reparation to civilians.
Few had remained in the buildings, due to fire alarms set immediately before the attack. Those attending the rally at Rockefeller Center had been evacuated after the Scribner building fell. Many were treated for radiation burns, including POTUS.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack, although White House officials vehemently blamed China. Swearing the US would retaliate. Bannon ordered the Chinese embassy closed, its entire staff deported under military escort.
Hours later, at approximately 03:37 local time, USS Coronado met a similar fate. Micronukes, imploding the vessel as it entered the Spratly Islands area. More than 100 sailors and marines from Third Fleet were lost in shark-filled waters.
The Prime Minister of South Korea called the White House to insist the US back down from hostilities against China. Bannon got on the line, shouting at PM Hwang and calling him a coward, then hung up. Warships across USPACFLT redeployed toward the area of the contested islands at full speed.
Early the next morning, micronukes leveled multiple sites in Boston within minutes of each other: Terminal B at Logan International, Harvard Square, Federal Reserve Plaza, Boston City Hall.
Again, buildings had been mostly evacuated in advance through fire alarms set by hacked security systems. Bonds posted anonymously immediately after, for civilian reparations, even though casualties had been minimized due to the time of day.
Given no clear links to Beijing and none of the attacks otherwise claimed, nevertheless motivations for the strikes grew more obvious with each passing hour. Chinese allies around the world responded. Brazilian military went on full alert, with cooperation from Bogotá and Santiago, scrambling to secure positions where the Fourth Fleet had recently tried to project US power within South America.
An emergency session of the UN Security Council convened, pleading for an end to hostilities. Ambassadors from the US, Russia, and UK refused to attend. Chinese and Kazakhstani ambassadors abstained from voting. The others involved understood the futility of their move: White House advisors considered the conflict their opening strategy for full-scale war, convinced they had called Beijing’s bluff in the South China Sea.
Opprobrium waxed. Russia and Israel protested the UN move, vowing to support the US in a full-scale war against China and its allies. Within hours, Little Suns had dropped non-nuclear EMP weapons over Moscow and Tel-Aviv. Military leaders in both countries found that malware had infected their respective nuclear missile launch capabilities — spreading wildly across other command and control systems, metastasizing even as far as metro area power and sewer systems. More poignantly, consumer telecom services had been all but disabled, leading to mayhem, shutdown, and riots. Astonished political leaders glimpsed an utter collapse of their civilizations. Notions reinforced, supervened by swift, joint-force operations of Turkish and Iranian fighter-bomber squadrons flying sorties throughout EMEA and Central Europe. Their forces abutting those amassed by the 西部战区 / Xībù zhànqū (Western Theater Command): mobilized divisions for missile launchers, armor, cyber, etc. Effectively cutting off the US allies before they could stage a a single battle together.
Meanwhile the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and the London Stock Exchange suspended operations due to unidentified cyber attacks which had disabled their cloud servers. EU Parliament, led by the Nordics, asserted neutrality — although Right Wing parties in Europe initiated widespread riots in Paris as a protest. Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland, while not formally part of the EU, also pledged neutrality. Canada and Mexico followed suit.
Canberra issued a formal statement in support of the White House along with its own military sanctions against China. Retracted within the hour, after two Type 094型核潜艇 Jin ballistic missile nuclear subs surfaced off their Western coast near Perth Canyon. Within targeting range of every major Australian city.
Beijing had been desperate, its leaders recognizing how humanity was on the brink of extinguishing itself. In their estimate, the leaders of the United States had overreached, if not worse — squalid and psychotic, warped by wielding fantastic powers across the globe. The Middle Kingdom had responded bravely in the face of dire uncertainties and risk. Outcomes weighed not in terms of months or years, or even election cycles. Rather, in the scope of millennia: the scrutiny of unborn decedents, sixty-four generations hence. Resolute, they had made a fateful choice and now stood ready to direct the rebuilding of the world. It would be a long investment, well worthwhile.
Formal claims issued before noon, US Eastern time. China’s first two strikes had been made against military forces, citing how Cambridge Analytica had represented weaponized AI. The technology had been funded and deployed by POTUS advisors against the country’s own populace. How long before such weapons of mass destruction would be used against the rest of the world? The company’s unfortunate location within a dense metro area had been a sad act of cowardice on the part of the American political leadership. Nonetheless, citing the move as a counter-proliferation preventive strike, it was acceptable as a military objective according to IHL accords.
Boston, however, would be another matter. Beijing called for peace talks to negotiate the outcomes.
“FAM-UH-LEE!” rang out across the throng. Answers of “Whoop whoop!” from bullhorns echoed in patches. DJs belted music out of the sound stage in-between. Juggalos had assembled, their leadership coached by Antifa cadre on community organization and how to train the Family in the tactics of the black bloc.
In other circumstances, both groups would have been far too apprehensive about infiltrators to hold this large of a combined gathering. Now the FBI was deeply engaged elsewhere, engulfed in their own existential crisis. MSS advisors had prompted organizers to move quickly.
Whispers circulated about an impending confrontation, which they called the “Dark Carnival on Earth”. Juggalos began to gather, secretly, en masse. Lists had been supplied through the cadre: targets for chasing down known Alt-Right organizers and FBI agents.
Brazilian military and MSS advisors provided initial training, demonstrating how to request part construction at retail hardware stores, distributing thumb drives. Instructions now disseminated widely across the Juggalo family. Armed with new forms of drone-based weapons, most all of which could be 3D-printed using local materials. Strip mall shops produced most of the parts in quantity. Other supplies entailed harvesting wasp nests or emptying shotgun shells. A new form of automatic firearm had been designed, where its action, recoil, and suppressor been made integral to a drone’s method of flight. Military advisors had called them Kolibri: Hummingbirds.
A man dressed in a black Skeletor costume danced his way toward the podium, eventually seizing the mic. “First off, the music here just fuckin rocks! I can’t help but feel good listening to it.”
Thousands of men and women shouted back in amassed, riotous frenzy. Faces painted in hideous clown-shaped camo patterns, hatchet-man insignia sewn onto mostly-black clothing. Hung with canteens crafted from Faygo 2-liter plastic bottles wrapped in paracord. Baseball bats, machetes, throwing axes, cross-bows —even used tires — slung across their backs. Eager for a fight.
“Our hour comes soon,” the Skeletor continued, clutching the mic. “At least if you’re gonna die, you can’t hope for much better than being surrounded by your family, you know?”
Several of the Hummingbird drones passed in formation over the crowd. Bullhorns erupted with cries of “KILL THE PIG! MAKE IT SMOKE!” and the ever-present chant “FAM-UH-LEE!”
A large blackened figure who stood next to Skeletor leaned into the mic, beginning a rap which quickly evolved into the subculture’s signature Psychopathic writhe: “Right Wing Scum, Your Tiiiiiiiiiiiime Has Come! Whoop Whoop!”
Bannon and key advisors flew a polar route to Moscow, to confer with Putin plus leaders from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria. The net Oil Economy producers which aligned with Russia. Their flight had been granted diplomatic status by the Chinese and their allies. “Let the powerless talk amongst themselves all they wish,” the Chinese President had told his Air Force generals. “Diplomacy, beyond the darkness of the tomb, must engage others than these.”
Pence, now the Acting President of the United States, ordered the Third Fleet to stand down. He imposed martial law in DC — over fierce objections from POTUS supporters in Congress, and in flagrant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act. US Marines units, loyal to the Acting President, dispatched from Quantico to enforce the curfew.
Given direct verbal orders from Pence, a paramilitary team from the Special Operations Group deployed to Quantico, passing the Marine convoys along the way. Internecine strife, ensanguined, raging in battle for the Republic. Several hours later they had apprehended FBI Director James Comey on charges of treason.
Retaking the West Wing, Secret Service agents spotted Derek Rockwell destroying mobile devices and computer systems abandoned by Bannon’s staff. Pence had ordered the agents to use lethal force to clear any holdouts. Rockwell bolted through a portico to the North Lawn, avoiding their bullet spray.
However, a Juggalo unit had been watching. They maneuvered one of their Hummingbirds to close on Rockwell as he ran, shattering his right hip, severing the femoral artery while injecting the drone’s wasp venom. Shrieking in pain, Rockwell fell engulfed in paroxysms of rage. He bled out before civilian EMS arrived.
Acting President Pence weighed his options. Reports were pouring in that US radar and satellite ground systems worldwide had become disabled due to unknown cyber attacks. Jin-class subs had surfaced along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast. South Asia conflagration had already heightened into a limited nuclear exchange. The Pacific theatre confrontation could escalate to full-scale nuclear war where the US had almost no allied support. Meanwhile, domestic skirmishes between his troops and those loyal to Bannon were breaking out across the US, with the Juggalo insurgents complicating security operations.
The previous evening a Juggalo group had stormed “Owl’s Nest” mansion near Stony Brook, where the ultra-right financier Robert Mercer lived. Insurgents dressed as nightmarish clowns abducted Mercer and his wife, Diana Lynne — both part-owners of Breibart News and close to Bannon— during a large dinner party. Reportedly their guests had been stripped and bound with ropes, then dosed with 25I-NBOMe and forced to watch multiple assailants sexually abusing and torturing the Mercers. Videos posted on YouTube were going viral. Republican Senators were calling the White House, furious, demanding the military be redeployed against the domestic threat. Which, to Pence, belied the crux of the matter: who exactly was the domestic threat in the US anymore?
Desperate to de-escalate the war and focus on restoring the Union, Pence flew his core staff overnight to San Francisco to meet with Beijing officials at the Chinese Consulate.
Opening the first day of peace accords, the Chinese President declared they had sought containment of the besmirched US regime, since its rule was no longer considered legitimate or credible. Contending the war represented a milestone in the American people’s efforts to replace the rule of a tyrant with the rule of law. Extolling how victims of the murderous regime, worldwide, could now receive a measure of justice which many had thought would never come. Adumbration for what Beijing sought by prosecuting the US on the world stage.
“America has been a global power, and its actions affected the whole world,” the Chinese president said emphatically. “Whatever the US leadership decides now will not erase past offenses,” he continued, expressing outrage at US-Russia corroboration to weaponize AI, undermining efforts at addressing climate change, news chaos retrenching science, policing the world into their horrifying distortion of governance.
“Even so, this accord changes the course of world history,” his homily perdured, “Altering not just America’s status in the world, but also the West’s position on the world stage. We appeal for a Newer World, in response to the Unreal World of before. We hope this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but of the womb. What if our world peace is not dead, but instead a Newer World waiting to be born?”
Amidst this grandiloquence, Pence and his staff received news of riots erupting: bloody skirmishes between loyalist US Marines and pro-Bannon factions. The latter being mostly Homeland Security and ICE units coordinating ad-hoc “Deplorables” militia, in clashes throughout DC, NYC, Boston, Atlanta, and other metro areas along the Eastern Seaboard. Juggalo forces were meanwhile seizing Wal-Mart superstores across the nation, commandeering provisions, using parking lots as staging areas for their raids in major cities. They’d acquired new advanced forms of anti-personnel weapons, against which the Marines and police forces were faltering. Not to mention, many Juggalos thrusting themselves into battle using what were becoming called “suicide ninja” tactics.
On the second day, China opened boldly again, threatening to adjudicate war crimes against US officials for their actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, along the Horn of Africa — a litany of policing actions across the world. Trials would be conducted through United Nations, using the International Court of Justice.
Pence and his aides countered that Cambridge Analytica had fabricated their story, overstated their capabilities, taking credit for happenstance events that had occurred without any of their technology involved. Privately, however, the US delegation reeled. Recognizing the implications. Facts mattered little at this stage, and the world would judge America based on its rhetoric, posturing. All of which had become toxic under the current White House. Frantic calls got routed back to legal counsel in DC.
In that very moment, the Chinese delegation hit harder: they demanded Boston as a concession city. Citing how the territory had been seized through violent acts against Britain, which in turn had stolen the territory through systematic violence against First Peoples. China would help remedy those damages, working closely with First Peoples. Of course they would prioritize remediation of damages from the attacks, in addition to addressing the region’s epidemic homelessness, its lack of mental health and other essential public health care, plus immediate needs for re-engineering vital public infrastructure.
First, however, China must establish a 30 km wide demilitarized zone, including a wall, through the former state of Connecticut and western Massachusetts. The DMZ would extend all the way up to the Canadian border. The Canadian government had adamantly agreed to this in public statements.
Emerging from the third day of talks, a dour, embattled Acting President Pence got notified about full urban deployment of the California National Guard, currently surrounding not only the Chinese Consulate, but the US delegation’s hotel and points in-between. Representatives for the Governors of the western states — California, Washington, Oregon, Hawai’i, and Nevada — confronted Pence outside the Consulate. Led by former AG Eric Holder, they demanded secession. Chinese officials pushed for this as well.
Pence felt pressed to return as soon as possible to DC. America faced multiple existential crises, internationally on several fronts as well as a fomenting civil war. Pence needed to return to the capitol to consolidate command. With much consternation he issued a statement: “It is far better that we, the leaders of the American nation, undivided, embrace a Newer World, than to deliver a eulogy for our Republic.”
Reluctantly, Pence assented to each of Beijing’s terms: extraterritoriality for portions of New England, acquiescing to ratify and fully implement the climate protocols of the Paris Agreement, allowing Chinese inspectors periodic access to US military installations worldwide, plus formal recognition of the new country of Cascadia. In return, China agreed to drop any and all charges of war crimes against US officials, past and present.
Meanwhile in Moscow, Bannon had hastily signed a counter-agreement with representatives from Russia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. By all indications, Bannon and his staff had nearly been held hostage, forced into terms dictated by the other Oil Economy nations — as an alternative path to resolving the war. Terms of the secret deal would become known as “The Divestiture”, signed in the name of POTUS.
Upon Bannon’s return to DC, area troops took him into custody immediately. By midnight US Pacific time, news arrived that POTUS had died at Walter Reed.
World War Three, on balance, had lasted a total of five days.
An enormous flotilla of container ships entered what had formerly been known as Boston Harbor. Their lading and mission led by CSCL Mayflower, which had arrived through the recently accessible Northwest Passage. Followed closely by CSCL Pacific Ocean, freshly out of decisive combat to the south. Many more huge ships were enroute from Europe, South America, Africa, and other points around the globe.
They landed military advisors to supervise rebuilding of the treaty port and adjoining territory, Also, psychological counselors to address widespread civilian trauma which had been caused by the prior regime. Plus materiel unloaded from shipping containers. Urgently needed for updates to aging infrastructure, such as mass transit, roads, bridges, etc., not to mention health care and sanitation.
Given the new trade routes through the Arctic, along with the economics of the concession city, plus much closer technology partnership with Cascadia, economists in the EU had estimated China’s GDP to more than double through the course of the coming year. Expenditures would increase, certainly for the 中国人民解放军海军 PLAN, although other regions were now partnering to keep global trade routes safe: Brazil, Turkey, Cascadia, France, Mexico, Sweden, Japan, Canada. These and other permanent members of the reconfigured UN Security Council would assist in monitoring American military for violations of the peace treaty.
Lieutenant Lǐ Jié steadied himself down the gangway. New orders had arrived, along with a newly assigned billet near MIT. Some of his former professors were taking positions at the previous Kavli Institute, which Shenzhou would convert into a sister program for CISLunar astronautics.
Down and into the Port of 新上海 / Xīn Shànghǎi (New Shanghai), his backpack cradled most of Jié’s belongings. Released from his gilded cage, no longer accompanied by an armed escort. His other personal items would get shipped soon via one of the many nonstop flights from Beijing arriving at Logan.
Clutching Pepe’s vivarium close to his chest, as both enjoyed the sound of water. Over the last step of the gangway, Jié leapt, splashing down into a snowy puddle.
Dedicated to the memory of Patrick Crumhorn, dear friend.