The Juggernaut — Chapter 8
In the entombed subway car, the hours passed relatively uneventfully considering what had led up to that point. Morgan visited each of the trapped straphangers and wrote down their name, address, injuries, location in the carriage, and whatever food, drink and potential light sources they might have. She also wrote down the details of unconscious and deceased passengers as Dave Anselmi searched them for ID and other items of use. For the latter, Morgan made a diagram of the carriage showing where the deceased had died before Dave moved them up to the front of the subway car to keep them away from the living, as a matter of hygiene if nothing else.
As the hours passed, Heather Grafenwöhr’s contractions became more frequent and painful, and she became unable to keep from vocalising her pain, especially given the lack of anaesthesia. Still, women had been giving birth in conditions just as primitive for millions of years, and none of the paraphernalia that usually accompanied a birth in modern times was strictly necessary. As a licensed doctor, even if his speciality was psychiatry and not obstetrics, Mike had assisted in a few births. While to Heather, it seemed as if her labour was taking forever, to Mike, it was progressing quite rapidly.
“How many other kids do you have, Heather?” Mike asked her after checking her progress a few hours after her labour had started. “It doesn’t seem to me as if you’ve been married to Wolf all that long.”
“This is my first,” Heather replied, currently between contractions. “Wolf and I have been married for fourteen months.”
“Your first?” Mike asked. “Really?”
“Really. I think I’d have noticed, don’t you? Why do you ask?”
“Well, it’s just that it really hasn’t been more than a few hours and you’re well advanced, but first labours usually take around eighteen hours. Women who’ve given birth two or three or even a half-dozen times aren’t usually as fast as this.”
“Is something wrong?” Heather asked him.
“Well… that’s hard to say,” Mike replied. “I’ve heard of first-time births even faster than this that have been complication-free, but not many, even with complications. The best I can say in these conditions is that if something’s wrong, then something’s wrong, otherwise you’ll be fine.”
“That’s no help at all…” she paused. “Oh, shit, here comes another one… AAAaaah!”
Heather screamed almost as rapidly as she could breathe while the powerful contraction lasted, holding, or to be more accurate, squeezing the hands of Sierra and Morgan Scheinberg, whom she had asked for assistance, or at least emotional support, some hours earlier. While Wolf, upon whose lap Heather’s head was resting much of the time, had questioned whether Morgan was old enough to witness the birth, neither Sierra, Morgan’s mother, nor Heather or even Mike had thought it inappropriate. Sierra had already planned that Morgan be present at her own labour. Mike mentioned to Wolf that the more familiar kids were with the human reproductive system and the consequences of ill-considered actions, the less likely those consequences were.
“I certainly don’t want to go through this any time soon,” Morgan had said.
Heather’s baby girl, whom she and Wolf named Suzanne Hildegarde after their respective mothers, was born after about six hours of labour, a remarkably quick labour especially for a first-time mother. Suzanne Hildegarde, who immediately received the nickname “Suzy” from her parents, was in good health, and, after crying a little, soon settled down to suckling from Heather’s breast.
It was not long after Suzy’s birth, perhaps only a few minutes to a quarter hour, when the trapped people heard a low-pitched rumbling. It began quietly, but grew in volume, until it seemed that the rubble was shaking in sympathy. Dust began to filter down through holes in the collapsed roof, and there was the occasional sound of larger pieces of rubble shifting and falling upon the roof, including one piece that was big enough to smash the already-collapsed roof down another few inches and trigger a mini-avalanche of smaller debris that also fell upon the roof.
Then, the rumbling died down rapidly, though not completely, with occasional, brief rumblings frequently being heard, accompanied by an almost constant rhythmic percussive thump, a lot like the sound of an excavator-mounted jackhammer which started up and, save for a couple of brief pauses, continued uninterrupted for quite some time.
“They’ve come to dig us out!” one of the janitors shouted as the rhythmic thumping began.
“What do you think, George?” Mike asked the police officer, having finally become familiar enough to have been asked to use his given name.
George closed his eyes and listened intently, seeming to be almost in a trance
“Well, mister expert?” Linus asked a little sarcastically from nearby.
“Sssh!” the officer responded. “Let me listen!”
Linus sighed, but forbore needling the officer any further.
After a while, George spoke. “Somethin’ ain’t right,” he said. “If that’s a rig breaker, it ain’t pausin’. You’d expect a series of thumps like this, but then it’d pause while the driver shifted position or pushed the rubble aside, and this just ain’t stoppin’ at all.”
“So, what is it, Mister Expert” Linus asked, absently needling the officer again.
“I’m not ashamed to say I dunno,” George said. “But whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like excavators.”
Over the next hour, the intermittent rumblings above grew gradually louder, until they almost drowned out the rhythmic thumping, and gradually, higher pitched sounds began to filter through the rubble.
“I don’t like this,” George Pirelli said, nervously. “It does sound like we’re being dug out… but it’s too fast. Way, way too fast.”
“Too fast?” one of the female janitors asked. “How can gettin’ outta here be too fast?”
“Ma’am…” Pirelli began, then paused, trying to think how to explain himself. “No machines I’ve ever heard of could dig us outta here in under a week, not a hundred feet down, no matter how many of ’em you got — you can only get so many machines in before they start interferin’ with one-another. The only thing I’ve ever heard of that might be able to dig this fast is a bucket-wheel excavator like they have in open-cut mines, but those things weigh over three thousand tons, an’ I can’t see how you’d get one into The City, let alone to us in the time that’s passed.
“Then there’s the speed of whatever’s above us. Too fast, an’ it could crush us or spill rubble on us before whoever’s drivin’ it even realises we’re here. When you’re tryin’ to dig up delicate stuff, you gotta go real slow, maybe even ‘jump outta the machine and pick up a shovel’ slow.”
The sounds overhead continued to grow louder and even more alarming. Metal groaned and shrieked distantly, accompanied by the sounds of rubble and heavy objects falling and breaking.
Mike briefly flicked on a light, shining it through his fingers to reduce its harsh white glare to a comfortable dim red light, and noticed that George Pirelli was shaking and ashen with fear beneath the grime that coated his face. “Are you all right, George?”
“I haven’t heard anything like this since 9–11,” his voice quavered. “I’d hoped I never would again.” He offered Officer Greeney’s pistol to the ex-Seal. “Something tells me we might be better off if there are two people with guns around here, and given your experience, you’re it… unless you’re already carryin’?”
“No, I don’t carry a weapon to work any more,” Mike replied, taking the SIG. “Thanks.”
There was the sudden sound of metal moaning and complaining wordlessly as it was bent by immense forces, right overhead, and the sound of rubble moving. The roof of the carriage lifted a foot or more as the weight upon it was removed, then there was a bang and a shriek as something punched through the metal of the carriage roof and then swept along the length of the entombed car, tearing the sheet metal free as if it was nothing more than alfoil. The roof vanished into a dark night sky that was streaked with the dim light of dust caught in the beams of powerful spotlights. There was no moon, and it was nearly new moon anyway, so there was no illumination but the spotlights and the stars, the latter seeming unusually bright in the clear night sky. The air that rushed in an swirled around was icy and stank of unwashed humanity and burning iron, and dark shapes flickered and wove above them, flashing in and out of the spotlight beams, knocking aside rubble or plunging into it, then drawing back, tearing huge metal girders from the ground that groaned and screamed as they twisted like cooked spaghetti. The shorn-off girder that had trapped Brandon Hall and his dog had miraculously not moved as the carriage roof had been torn away so violently, but then it became apparent that whatever had torn the roof away had been holding the girder steady as the people in the subway car began to turn on their lights. A massive black tentacle darted toward Brandon just as the girder was abruptly yanked away, the tentacle’s end splitting and subdividing into hundreds of thinner tentacles. A few of them glowed cherry-red at their pencil-thin tips, and Brandon screamed as several tentacles, including all of those that glowed with heat and some that didn’t, plunged into the wounds where the broken-off bolts had transfixed him, then withdrew just as swiftly before a mass of tentacles snatched him and his dog away so quickly that they literally passed through the air with a whoosh as wind passed violently between the mass of thin tentacles.
A couple of spotlights, apparently mounted on helicopters, swung about to transfix the scene in actinic blue-white light, while yellow-white light flickered around the pointed top of a towering black shape and yellow-white sparks streamed into the sky away from it, in time with the constant, pounding noise.
Another tentacle darted down the side of the uncovered subway car, while a second darted toward Officer Greeney. Officer Pirelli, revolver in hand, took a shot at the tentacle as it darted toward them, but it seemed to twitch abruptly, and there was a yellow spark on its side and a whine as the bullet ricocheted off the side of it. He fired another shot, the tentacle twitched again, once again deflecting his shot, before the tentacle split into a myriad of smaller strands, cocooning Pirelli, then snatching him away in the blink of an eye.
There was a ‘Brrraaap’ of sound right behind Officer Greeney as another nest of tentacles surrounded him from the front. Several thin tentacles, one of them glowing cherry-red at the tip, thrust themselves into the open wound left by the removal of the rebar a moment before, then withdrew almost immediately, before he, too was whisked away in the blink of an eye, even as he was jolted awake and opened his mouth to scream.
Mike managed one shot at the tentacle that came for him, which, though well-aimed, also merely glanced from the side of it. Then the large tentacle split apart into hundreds of thin tentacles that wrapped around his body. He had expected it to be rough, but while inhumanly quick, it was also quite gentle, the tentacles fitting themselves to his body. What happened next wasn’t quite so gentle, and was possibly two of the most terrifying seconds of his life, including all the times he’d been in combat. The tentacles laid him back so that he was facing upwards, and then accelerated him forward with enough force to squash him into the supporting tentacles, making his eyeballs feel as if someone was pressing them into his skull, and pulling at his skin. In less than a second, icy wind was screaming through the gaps between the tentacles, then the acceleration stopped for an instant as it spun him about with frightening speed so that he was facing the way he came, then applied an equal deceleration, all the worse since he couldn’t see where he was going. Then the acceleration stopped and the tentacles withdrew so quickly that they seemed to almost disappear, and it was only then that Mike realised that he was standing on the ground once more, having been placed down so gently that he hadn’t noticed given the terrifying forces the tentacles had applied to his body.
Mike realised that he was well over two hundred yards away from where he had been less than two seconds before. He could see the pit where the… thing was extracting both people and metal in the light from the helicopter spotlights and the flickering glare of whatever was happening overhead. It looked and sounded awfully like gunfire to him.
As the thing extracted metal from the rubble — Mike was slowly coming to the realisation that there was pretty much nothing but compacted rubble as far as he could see, and not even the silhouettes of buildings other than that one — it tossed the tiny-seeming scraps toward the gaping ‘O’ of what looked like a mouth. The air was filled with the sound of the rhythmic firing of the huge cannons overhead, as well as the sounds of large metal structural members deforming, debris crunching, the shouts and screams of terrified people and the whining chatter of helicopters. The thing delivered Mike’s fellow passengers to his vicinity over the next few seconds, snatching them up, whirling them through the air at a terrifying rate, and then appearing to slam them back to earth. However, the forces it had applied to each individual’s body appeared to have been carefully judged, aside from turning each person’s body, it had only applied its maximal force from behind each individual, perpendicular to their vertical axis, in the direction that the human body was best able to tolerate, and it had set them on their feet, or in whatever other position it had found them, with surprising gentleness. Linus Grissom had apparently been running away when the thing had caught him, and given that when it put him down the head custodian was still running, its tentacles must have been moving with Grissom’s arms and legs throughout the less-than-two seconds his relocation had taken. Pirelli was standing nearby, Officer Sam Greeney, Brandon Hall and his dog were lying nearby, and as Mike looked, Morgan, Sierra, Mark, Wolf, and Heather and her newborn daughter Suzy were all seemingly slammed down nearby, all shaken but apparently unharmed. More people from the carriage were abruptly deposited a little further away, as well as some that Mike hadn’t seen before — quite possibly from other subway cars — and then the thing tore the entire subway train from the ground, its structure screeching, creaking and groaning from the forces being applied to it as it was carried by masses of tentacles that joined up to a single larger black tentacle that dwarfed the subway train in both length and thickness. The train was fed into the waiting ‘O’, and something just out of sight began to tear it apart, chew it up and ingest it.
After a moment’s distraction to gape at the terrifying sight of the thing raking through the compacted rubble and hauling vast chunks of steel out of the ground as if they were spaghetti in a bowlful of bolognese, Mike remembered Sam Greeney and Brandon Hall, neither of whom he would have advised removing the foreign objects that had transfixed them outside of a hospital. He hurried over to where they were lying, on a well-maintained patch of grass, and examined their injuries. Far from having been torn open by the thing’s violence and bleeding their lives out onto the grass, neither man was bleeding at all from their severe wounds. Mike could smell the distinct odour of burned human flesh around their major wounds, and suspected that the thing may actually have cauterised their wounds before moving them.
As Mike looked up from the severely injured men, the thing moved again, the ground shuddering as a vast black shape as tall as a skyscraper moved over the broken ground, huge pieces and chunks of steel still being flung unerringly toward its mouth by the tentacles that seemed slender in comparison.
He was disturbed as an air ambulance and another two helicopters touched down nearby and their crews ran toward the knot of people the thing had removed from the stricken subway cars.
“Okay people!” one of the air ambulance crew members shouted through a megaphone. “Everyone come over here so we can get you triaged and heading toward safety!”
As the President and his advisers discussed the immense problem that Jormungandr was posing for the USA and the rest of the world, scenes of New York City continued to be displayed on the screens in the Camp David situation room. Once Jormungandr had passed over it to the north, helicopters from Jersey City — or what was left of it — and further afield began to fly in toward Central Park. Apparently the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, their respective capitols being far enough from Jormungandr’s path, had jointly organised emergency relief efforts, sending every helicopter that they could muster to the stricken city to begin to evacuate the survivors. While Central Park was largely intact, it was now being occupied by hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, and the infrastructure of the park that had been beneath Jormungandr’s notice and had survived was utterly incapable of handling the demands that the vast crowd was placing upon it, and would have been inadequate even if the rest of the city was intact. People had to be moved away as soon as possible, or else a public health crisis was inevitable. Air ambulances were joined by search and rescue choppers and a large number of private helicopters and emergency management teams began the mammoth task of triaging the survivors of the place that had once been the world’s most populous city. Air ambulances took the most severely injured victims whose injuries were considered to be survivable to hospitals, while more moderately injured people were shuttled to makeshift tent hospitals, at first by helicopter and later by ground as off-road vehicles made their way into the ruined city.
There was panic as Jormungandr slithered back into the heart of New York’s high-rise district and began to fire the large rail guns in its tail while huge tentacles sprang forth from its gaping mouth and began to extract the twisted metal bones of the flattened skyscrapers from the rubble and feed them into its maw. However, Jormungandr seemed no more interested in the people in Central Park than before, and when it became clear that it wasn’t hunting people down, instead pretty much ignoring them entirely, a few people moved closer in case any survivors it might find in the rubble needed help to get clear of it.
The first time Jormungandr actually found people — a few people who had been protected by the bodies of cars in an underground car park — the people watching it were surprised when Jormungandr seized the survivors immediately, and even more surprised after Jormungandr had seemingly whipped the helpless survivors around at an incredible speed and had apparently slammed them back down onto the ground that the survivors were physically none the worse for their terrifying journey, and that some of the survivors who had suffered severe injuries had even been given quick, rudimentary first aid that meant that they were no longer at risk of bleeding to death.
To human eyes and emotions, Jormungandr seemed like a petulant child at first, snatching people up, whisking them through the air and slamming them back down as if grumpy that these humans had had the temerity to have been in its way, but the more people watched — and experienced — it, the more they realised that the thing wasn’t petulant at all, just fast. Inhumanly fast. It was picking people up and cradling them more gently than a mother could hold her own child, and while it was subjecting the people it seized to large accelerations, calculated later to be on the order of 25g, it was doing so carefully, only subjecting its passengers to that acceleration in the direction their bodies were best able to tolerate, then placing them back on the ground so gently that after the massive forces to which their bodies had previously been subjected, its passengers hardly noticed at all.
It also seemed that it wasn’t only concerned with humans, Animals of all sorts were also extracted from the rubble and placed safely away from wherever it was extracting steel; cats, dogs, birds and other pets, but also quite a number of rats and mice.
At one point, it had uncovered a group of survivors and was plucking them from deep within the rubble when some of the debris at the edge of the pit from which it was extracting them suffered a structural failure that unbalanced the rubble atop it, with hundreds of tons of debris beginning to tumble into the pit and onto the survivors. Apparently the thin tentacles it was using were inadequate to the task of supporting the falling rubble, but a large tentacle that was working several hundred metres away abruptly dropped the steel it was extracting and whipped across to the falling rubble in less than a second, trailing a sonic boom behind it before slowing abruptly to support the rubble, making contact with the rubble so gently that the concrete didn’t even emit any extra dust, then, once the last of the survivors had been extracted a couple of seconds later, the large tentacle abruptly whipped back to the steel it had been lifting, trailing another sonic boom as it moved, catching the tangle of debris in mid air and continuing to propel it toward the gaping maw, as the debris it had caught was released to continue its previous course into the pit.
Jormungandr didn’t seem to be interested in every survivor, however. As it continued to extract steel from the rubble, quite a number of human forms became visible, only to be apparently completely ignored by its questing tentacles. Few of these people could have survived the maelstrom of steel, rubble and tentacles that moved around them, variously falling from the debris or having rubble fall upon them, but a few were miraculously harmed no further despite Jormungandr’s indifference toward them.
However, it soon became apparent that any living thing that Jormungandr ignored was either dead or as good as dead. Some bodies had fatal wounds made several hours ago, and had died before being disinterred, and some others appeared to have been alive when Jormungandr had found them, but had suffered injuries that would not have been treatable even had they been in a hospital at the time they were injured. Of these, many appeared to have died as a result of further trauma following Jormungandr’s failing to remove them as it had others, but some were recovered still alive. However, it quickly became apparent that if Jormungandr failed to rescue a person when it had the opportunity to do so, then that person was as good as dead anyway given the circumstances. A few might have been saved had local hospitals remained intact and heroic efforts made, but even then they would have been only a shadow of their former selves, and given the numbers of the injured, the resources to save them were no longer available, given that only those with a good chance of survival could be treated.
The realities of post-disaster triage meant that there were a large number of living people who had been fatally injured and could survive with proper care, but could not be treated due to the shortage of medical personnel and facilities and the fact that to give them the proper time-and-resource-consuming care would doom others who were also mortally wounded but who could be treated more quickly by lesser trained personnel using fewer resources. As it worked through the rubble of New York, Jormungandr itself was effectively contributing to the efforts to triage the survivors as it placed those who might survive well away from the area in which it was working, but it was distressing to many rescue personnel to see it ignore people, even living people, and to do nothing to prevent their deaths when it saved people right next to them.
The President watched all of this on his situation room monitors as his aides attempted to contact the Russian and Chinese governments. With Moscow and Beijing both in much the same condition as Washington DC, it wasn’t an easy task. All the old phone numbers and hotlines to those governments were dead, and there was little left of the US Department of State, either in the US or abroad, really only the staff of the various surviving embassies and offices in Chicago, Miami, Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Saint Petersberg consulate eventually reported that the Russians appeared to have sorted out their leadership following the demise of the majority of their government. After days of uncertainty as representatives of increasing rank were found, one minister of the State Duma had been found holidaying in the wilderness of the South Ural Nature Reserve, a relatively young woman by the name of Kseniya Zharkova, who had been sixth in line for the Presidency, and it was pretty certain that no higher ranking persons remained alive. Rich wanted to know everything he could find out about this woman before he spoke to her, and wasn’t disappointed when the Saint Petersberg consulate forwarded an electronic dossier.
The successor to the Russian Presidency appeared to be a very pretty young woman, with mid-length white-blonde hair, blue eyes and an oval face that made her look angelic and innocent. However, her dossier revealed other facts too. She was 36 years old, a former state prosecutor and judge, and had fought off at least one close-range assassination attempt by mobsters who opposed her prosecution of their comrades, as well as avoiding several bombs targeting her, and she now travelled only in armoured vehicles and with an armed bodyguard. She was reputedly a very capable jurist, and won a high proportion of the cases she had handled. She spoke a number of languages other than Russian, including fluent German and English, and a little Czech and Japanese.
She had also been featured in a half-dozen porn shoots in Czechoslovakia featuring herself and her husband, made between 2002 and 2003. She divorced from her husband in 2004, and there was a note that he had died in a skiing accident in 2011, and she had a son born in 2004. She was also a devout Russian Orthodox Christian.
Other notes suggested that Kseniya was well aware of her own beauty, and played upon it in order to get others to underestimate her. She had quite a following on the internet, particularly in China and Japan, and was the subject of a number of anime-style likenesses.
However, the whole file was flagged for personal sanctions; Kseniya Zharkova was under sanction in the USA, by executive orders from President Obama, for her role in the recent annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, on the grounds that her acceptance of the position of head prosecutor in Crimea under Russian rule constituted the exercise of governmental power without the authority of the legitimate government of the area, namely the Ukraine. Any assets that Ms Zharkova had in the US were frozen — not that it appeared that she had any — and she would be denied entry if she attempted to set foot on US soil. Similar sanctions had been applied by the EU, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and Japan.
The situation in China was much less clear. The Chinese government never really made its internal workings known to the rest of the world, and what was left of the Department of State could only guess what might happen based upon precedents and guesses. It was unclear which members of the government were even still alive — all that could be said was that China still appeared to have an executive leadership, given that disaster relief in the ruins of Beijing was progressing in an orderly and organised fashion, but all that anyone who would answer could say is that the orders came from higher up the chain of command, but ultimately from whom or where no-one was saying, and further enquiries were politely rebuffed. The best information that anyone had came from a US consular official in Shanghai who, when speaking to the province’s Peoples Armed Police commander’s personal assistant, heard that lady mention “the General” in a way that suggested that this ‘general’ wasn’t a PAP general at all, but someone more important, and then when she asked the PA about the ‘General’, the PA made an awkward, unconvincing show of not knowing, clearly flustered at having made a slip rather than remaining calm and coming up with a plausible but uninteresting response that would have better covered her slip. When the consular official got to see the commander — much sooner than expected — the commander, when questioned about the ‘General’ merely responded that “China has many generals, which one are you asking about?”
“Can you send a message to the Chinese government through whatever channel seems best — I’m sure that the consulates will have a better idea of what that might be than me — and tell them with my compliments that Jormungandr appears to be firing upon strategic rocket forces in their nation at present?” Rich asked his aides.
After receiving acknowledgement of that order, Rich went on, “Now, please put me in touch with the Russian President, if you can.”
Captain King was about to mention that it was still some hours before dawn in western Russia, but considering that there was a large daylight clock on the wall of the situation room and that it was an emergency situation, she decided not to point out the obvious, and after a pause, simply acknowledged the order, “Yes, Mister President.”
Rich noticed the pause. “Was there something, Captain King?”
“I was going to mention the time in Russia, Sir,” she replied. “But considering…” she waved toward the screen showing New York.
Rich snorted in understanding. “Carry on, Captain,” he instructed her.
It took a few minutes before one of the situation room screens changed to show an old-fashioned padded armchair standing beside a fireplace complete with a real log fire. The armchair was empty, but it was less than a minute before a young-looking woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, wearing a rather old and worn white silk nightie that really didn’t hide all that much of her body at all walked into view and, ignoring the padded armchair, sank down on the expensive-looking woven rug in front of the fire screen, lying on her side with her head propped on her left hand. The camera tilted down a bit, apparently at the hand of some unseen individual. The woman’s face matched the photos of Ms Zharkova from her file.
“Good evening, President Atherton,” the lady said with a distinct, cultured Russian accent. “You seem to have me at something of a disadvantage, since I was asleep when your urgent call came through.” She gestured at her translucent nightie, brushing its material with her fingertips, the movement emphasising her breasts even more, but also showing the shadow of the crucifix that lay between them.
“My apologies for waking you at such an early hour, President Zharkova,” Rich began.
“Accepted, though I’m more properly acting president,” she replied quickly. “Still, given the informality, please call me ‘Ksyusha’, or better still, ‘Ksenyechka’. ‘President Zharkova’ sounds so stuffy, don’t you think?”
Rich was a little surprised when a man’s voice sounded through his bluetooth earpiece, and it took a second before he recognised the voice of Captain Donald Utkin, the Camp David Russian translator. “‘Ksyusha’ is pretty informal, but ‘Ksenyechka’ is very intimate, maybe inappropriately so,” he said quickly.
“Well, Ksyusha,” Rich replied, “if we’re being informal, please call me Rich.”
“‘Ksyusha’, not ‘Ksenyechka’, hmm?” she asked rhetorically, then continued without pausing. “‘Rich’, not ‘Richie’, President Atherton?” she went on to ask flirtatiously.
“I’ve never let anybody call me ‘Richie’, Ksyusha,” Rich replied. “Not even my dear departed mother. And I think I’ll stick with ‘Ksyusha’… at least until we’re… better acquainted,” he smiled, flirting back a little.
“Oh, dear,” Ksyusha blushed and fanned her face with her hand. “Maybe I’d better not talk to you, Rich. God knows I’m a wicked sinner, but if I keep talking to you, there will be no end to the penances Father Mykhailo will give me,” she referred to her confessor, but her tone was still flirtatious.
“As much as I’d like to continue this conversation, Ksyusha, I have urgent business to discuss that affects both our nations,” Rich said seriously.
“What could be more important than fostering… relations between us… our nations, of course,” she was still flirting.
“Surely your advisers have made you aware of Jormungandr?”
“Jormungandr?” Isn’t that a devil from Viking myth?” she asked a little more seriously. “My son and I — and a few friends — were on a camping and skiing holiday in the Urals, and we only heard about the bombings two days ago. We spent most of yesterday in helicopters or visiting refugee camps.”
“I’ll see if my people can send you a quick summary,” Rich said. “This is rather urgent.”
Captain King was prepared, and superimposed a number of short video clips of Jormungandr over part of the video feed to Russia, including Jormungandr eating the Seoul Express, as shot by Sven Nyland’s smartphone from the ship’s lifeboat, Jormungandr rolling over the Statue of Liberty and Battery Park, drone footage of the brief, disastrous failed airborne counter-attack, More drone footage of Jormungandr continuing to roll over Manhattan as it counterattacked the 174th Infantry’s 3–314 regiment, Jormungandr returning to the ruins of New York and beginning to extract steel from the ruins as its tail rose high into the air and began firing, and finally images of the violent destruction of the Minuteman silos. All in all, the clips ran for about two minutes.
Kseniya watched intently, and when the clips were finished, said, “I saw some of that… You mean that this isn’t… Hollywood?”
“Precisely, Madam Acting President,” Rich said grimly. “Those were clips of an entity that we’re calling Jormungandr, it has flattened New York like a kid pushing a lawn roller over an ant hill, brushed off airborne and land-based counterattacks with ease, and it has destroyed the US’ entire complement of land-based ICBM regiments in a single strike, and the reason I’m calling you now is that as far as we can tell, it has launched a similar attack against the land-based nuclear missile forces of Russia and China, and its projectiles are, by our calculations…” Rich looked at the clock and did some quick subtraction. “A bit less than fifteen minutes from impact, so might I respectfully suggest, in the interests of both Russia’s and the world’s hope of safety, that you get any mobile missile forces Russia still has moving right the hell now!”
Kseniya sat up straight and gaped at her screen for a couple of seconds before she suddenly dropped any pretence of flirtatiousness and rapped out a series of what sounded like orders in Russian.
“President’s orders,” Captain Utkin translated in Rich’s ear. “All mobile strategic missile forces to decamp instantly and put as much distance between themselves and their bivouacs at the highest possible speed in the most convenient direction. Personnel at fixed strategic missile sites to evacuate immediately.”
The response from some person who was off-screen sounded like an older woman, and didn’t really need translation, “Da, Madam Prezident.”
After the sounds of someone crossing the room in haste and opening and slamming a door that wasn’t covered by the camera at the Russian President’s end of the link, Kseniya continued. “Russia thanks you for your concern and your warning,” she said formally.
“I just hope that it’s enough,” Rich replied. “We’ll send you what we have on Jormungandr, but I have a feeling that we didn’t get through to you in time.”
“Is it really that bad?” Kseniya asked. “It looks like a big snake.”
“That’s no snake, ma’am,” Rich said grimly. “By our calculations and observations, it’s a billion and a half metric ton machine, armed with hyper-velocity cannons and possibly missiles carrying compact high-powered fusion bombs, able to brush off an airborne attack by some of our best fighters and bombers without taking so much as a scratch in return, as well as shooting down artillery shells in-flight. One of our Raptor pilots described it as ‘a seventh or eighth generation enemy’. Earlier today, it flattened New York City, just rolled over it and crushed everything in its path flat, and now it has returned to Manhattan and is busy digging up and eating all the metal it can find and appears to be firing it at you and the Chinese.”
“I saw some of that on the television, but I thought that it was a Hollywood movie and turned it off,” Kseniya admitted. “We were on a camping and skiing holiday in the Urals when Moscow and the other places were destroyed, and I haven’t even had time to find out exactly what happened. I just thought ‘Probably radical islamist terrorists again’ and as soon as we got back, I went to offer my sympathies to the survivors.”
“I didn’t have that luxury,” Rich said. “I’m a native New Yorker, and I set up shop as President there after DC was destroyed, and the Secret Service evacuated me right out from in front of the thing. That sort of thing really gets your attention!”
Before the destruction of Beijing by Jormungandr’s nuclear missiles, China reportedly had a policy of not storing its nuclear warheads in the missiles intended to carry them to their targets, save in times of elevated military readiness. However, Jormungandr’s attack on Beijing was considered just such grounds for an elevated state of alert, and China’s missiles had been armed. Given the apparent origin of the missiles in the north Atlantic, and since China had more missiles than nuclear warheads with which to arm them, the Chinese military had chosen to arm its longest range missiles, the DF-5B liquid-fuelled silo-based missile, solid-fuelled DF-31B missiles in both silos and mobile Transporter-Erector-Launchers (TELs), and the more advanced solid-fuelled DF-41 missiles, also based in both silos and TELs.
The DF-5 series of missile had once been stored in mountain tunnels in their TELs, but because they were liquid-fuelled, they had to be carried out of their tunnels and fuelled before they could be fired, a procedure that takes 30 to 60 minutes. By placing them in silos, they could be maintained in their fuelled state for considerably longer periods of time, allowing much more rapid launches.
However, ICBM silos have the disadvantage that they are fixed, and enemies with satellite-based cameras can see them and target them. China’s solution to this was to dig a lot of shallow holes and emplace duplicate headworks on each, making it effectively impossible to tell from above which were real and which were fake. The advantage of mobile TELs is that they cannot be counted upon to always be in the same place, making counterbattery strikes upon them more difficult, but they also have the disadvantage that the missiles’ avionics packages must be more complex, to allow for a variable launch position, but compensating for this also gives the advantage that — unlike the US Minuteman-III missiles — they can be rapidly re-targeted.
However, Jormungandr’s targeting problem was simplified by the fact that it had a vast number of spies on the ground — or not too far above it — in the form of birds, right across the globe. Pretty much no matter where any nation had tried to hide its land-based ICBMs, a number of birds were nearby to report them. Additionally, China’s dummy ICBM silos were sufficient to fool satellite observation or even observation from lower-flying aircraft or nearby vantage points, but they were not sufficient to fool close-range observation by birds that literally walked or hopped on the silos themselves. No human paid any attention to the birds in the vicinity of the silos — they had always been there — and the birds did nothing unusual to attract attention. However, even casual observation by the birds could detect things like rusty — or absent — hinge pins to the silos’ double doors as opposed to the better maintained hinges on operational silos, as well as being close enough to smell the difference between an empty hole and one with a missile in it, leaking small amounts of liquid fuel or out-gassing from their solid-fuel rockets. Likewise, TELs, either in garages or out in the wilderness, were also easily spotted by the ever-present birds.
Senior General (Retired) Wang Jun*, a distinguished-looking and energetic but almost completely bald man of seventy-one years of age, looked out from his office in a nondescript building overlooking some of China’s “Second Artillery” forces some kilometres distant. He mused upon his recall from retirement from his post as the Central Military Commission Leader in charge of the Second Artillery at the mandatory age of 70, and upon the current situation. Despite nearly two whole years of retirement, General Wang was still just as fit as he had been while officially in the service, and his uniform still fitted his lean frame, having been worn to Party meetings on a regular basis. The only sign of approaching infirmity was the black eye-patch over his left eye, which remained in place in the absence of any visible means of support.
As his new assistant entered the room, past two soldiers who were setting up a pair of flood lights on tripods, General Wang turned to face her, the hands which had been clenched behind his back coming forward, and he began to throw the balled-up piece of paper that had been in his right hand into the bin, but stopped himself, flattened and smoothed it back out quickly, and tossed the hand-written memo form face-up onto the table.
“Where’s the camera, Lieutenant Hu?” he asked quietly in Mandarin.
“Right here, Paramount Leader Wang,” she replied in the same language, pulling out her smartphone, a Huawei Mate 9 Pro.
“Please, just ‘General’,” he asked in a slightly plaintive tone that suggested that he was beginning to get tired of asking. “I haven’t been confirmed by the Politburo.”
“Yes, General Wang,” she acknowledged.
“Are you sure that thing will work well, Lieutenant?” he asked. “It’s so small, it’s like a toy.”
“It’s the very latest thing, it was only released in November,” she reassured him. “It will do the job.”
“All right,” he said, and checked his watch. “It’s time. When I say, I want you to begin filming me, and don’t stop until I say — or interrupt either — no matter what might happen,” he instructed her, then emphasised, “No matter what, Lieutenant Hu Ya, that’s an order.”
“Yes, General,” she acknowledged.
The two soldiers finished setting up the lights, turned them on, adjusted them for the best effect, then saluted and left the room.
The General stood in front of the window that overlooked the Second Regiment’s base. The Lieutenant raised her phone and started the camera app. It was an overcast morning outside, and combined with the light from the two floodlights, the lower levels of light outside ensured that the General would not appear as a dark figure against a bright background. The lieutenant adjusted some of the app’s settings. “I’ll begin recording in five… four… three… two…” she didn’t say the last two numbers, and just nodded as she touched the Record soft-button on the screen.
“I am Senior General Wang Jun,” the General began, speaking mandarin, “currently acting as commander in chief of the Peoples Republic of China, until such time as the apparatus of government can be re-formed after the attack which has crippled the governments of the paramount nations of the world. I have just received the new American President’s warning that the entity known as Jormungandr has launched an attack that is probably targeting the strategic armaments of the PRC, and for that warning, I give the most sincere thanks, both for myself and on behalf of all China.
“However, it is with a heavy heart that I must order China to take action. Sun Tzu wrote that when matters are desperate, then one must fight. China’s Second Artillery force is under attack, and to do nothing would be tantamount to surrendering that force to the enemy. The doctrine of war dictates that China must counter-attack before the means with which to do so is lost. It is regrettable that the enemy sits in New York, yet it has demonstrated undisputed control of that territory. Our scientists have informed me that the weapon which destroyed Beijing was unlikely to have been made by any nation on earth. One may assume, then, that the Enemy that occupies New York also launched that attack, and has used atomic weapons against the People’s Republic without provocation. This constitutes an attack that must be answered.”
Outside, a number of sirens began to blare, as the double doors of a number of the missile silos visible from the window opened. The missiles inside the silos rose slowly as the hoists inside them raised the missiles to launch position. The phone camera had a short lens, and the missile field was little more than specks in the background. Since Chinese silo-based missiles were all variants of designs that began as TEL-launched designs, they were actually far easier to re-target than the US’ Minuteman-IIIs.
Tears began to drip from the General’s good eye, but other than that, his face remained impassive. “It is deeply regrettable that if this action succeeds, many innocent Americans will die, but even should we fail, it is better that we have done something rather than allow the enemy to succeed unopposed. Should the Enemy be defeated and I still live, I will willingly surrender myself to American justice to answer for the deaths that my actions have caused.”
Outside, the Chinese missiles began to rise into the sky on pillars of flame and smoke. The general paused while the roar of the rockets died back down as the rockets travelled away from their launch sites.
“That is all,” he finished.
Lieutenant Hu stopped the recording and lowered her phone. “You can’t give yourself up to the Americans!” she protested.
“I can and I will, Lieutenant Hu,” the General wiped his cheek. “The deaths of non-combatants must be accounted for, and ultimately the decision to launch was mine and mine alone. There is no Politburo to share the blame, and no one person is indispensable to the People.”
“You are our leader, General,” the Lieutenant argued. “The people need you right now.”
“True, but it is my job only to protect the people and restore the Party. I am no Mao Zedong, others can take my place. When I have accomplished my duty to China, then all I will have left to do is account for my crimes to the Americans,” the General’s tone was that of one who would brook no further argument. “Now, Lieutenant Hu, please encrypt that video and send it by the proper channels to the Americans, and then let us join our fellow soldiers in evacuating.”
* Naming in this document follows the Chinese pattern of surname followed by given name; the General’s family name is Wang, and his given name is Jun.