There is a sudden disturbance originating from China that has many around the world panicking. What happened? And how do the world leaders respond to the situation?
En route To Beijing Capital International Airport
Captain Burke could feel the goosebumps crawling all over his body, accompanied by an involuntary shudder. He glanced over at his co-pilot, hoping that he hadn’t noticed anything; the pilot-in-command had to maintain his composure. But the situation was highly unusual and extremely disconcerting. Just a few minutes ago, Captain Burke had been getting directions for his approach to Beijing Capital International Airport. His controller stopped speaking mid-sentence and from since then was not responding to hails.
“This is really weird. The radio doesn’t seem to be out because I can hear the static. You hear it don’t you? But nobody’s answering! And not just this frequency…all the other frequencies that we have for China Air Traffic Control!”
His co-pilot, David Byrnes, nodded his agreement. “Almost like they got up and just walked off their jobs,” the co-pilot expressed his opinion. Byrnes’ uneasiness was quite evident; the bewilderment and fear was coming through in his voice. Captain Burke knew he had to come to a decision quickly.
“Okay I’m going to radio an airport outside of China, just to be 100% sure it isn’t our radio that’s on the fritz,” he informed his co-pilot. He went to the frequency for Incheon International Airport Control and identified his flight and stated his need for assistance.
“Incheon Airport Traffic Control. State your problem,” a voice came back over the radio.
Changsha, Hunan, People’s Republic of China
“And that was built in ninety days? Do people feel safe living in that thing?” Nicole was feeling a mixture of awe, skepticism, and a little bit of derision as she contemplated the sight that her fiancé was streaming to her from his smartphone. Her knowledge of construction techniques was next to zero, but it didn’t take a genius to figure that ninety days for the construction of an 838 meter structure could very well equal sloppy workmanship. Sure, it was a feat, but she was not impressed.
“Well the majority of it was built as modules in the factory and then the parts were assembled on-site. So technically it took more than ninety days. As for whether it’s safe, I wouldn’t bet my life on it. But you have to admit, there’s some serious boasting rights that come with successfully building one of the world’s tallest skyscraper in ninety days, safety be damned,” Jake’s feelings towards Sky City were skewed more towards awe and curiosity.
“Soooo…you’re gonna go in? Have a look around?” Nicole could sense it. Jake wanted to get in there and scrutinize everything. Extreme curiosity was one of his quirks.
He pretended to think about it, which made her chuckle because she knew he had already made up his mind. “Yeah, why not! I read that it’s pretty spacious. Basically a city in a skyscraper. It has a hotel, a hospital, schools, shops, its own sporting facilities…anyone living there doesn’t really need to leave there!” He continued like this for the next few minutes as he hurried towards the base of the imposing structure. “Okay so here goes!” Jake held his smartphone camera up to show her the top of the building from where he stood. “Wow you can barely see-” The blue and white of the sky and the steel gray of the building gave way to a flurry of color and motion and then black accompanied by the sound of something hitting the ground.
Nicole winced at the sound. “Ouch!” She expected the video call to end but it continued. She relaxed a little, seeing that the phone seemed to be intact. “Jake? What happened there?” There was no noise at the other end, not even the cursing that usually came after someone dropped something expensive. “Jake? Is everything okay?” Still no answer and no signs of movement. Nicole began to worry.
Barcelona, Province of Barcelona, Spain
It was approaching 4 A.M and Enrique was still awake. The usual suspects were to blame: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. It was just force of habit; there wasn’t anything really novel on the social networks anymore. There were a lot of distractions that he had gotten used to. He would spend hours talking to friends, playing games, browsing videos and photos until he got bored enough and decided to stop fighting the urge to sleep. He would resume the cycle the next day. There was always a new set of photos and videos and posts to look at.
Tonight, Enrique was playing games; he had gotten bored with talking to most of his friends and had decided to distract himself, every once in a while pausing to respond to a friend or to see what new photos or videos were circulating. He wasn’t a fan of Twitter, but it had its uses; he often argued to his friends that Twitter tended to have a faster information dissemination rate than Facebook. If there was a major occurrence, chances are tweets would surface before, and spread faster than Facebook posts.
Something caught his eye on Facebook; a post originating from a tweet popped up on his news feed, ‘Can someone plz explain what’s going on in China? Some weird shit’s going down out there.’ Enrique followed the trail back to Twitter, searching for the conversation surrounding the tweet he had just seen. There weren’t many details to be gleaned from the conversations. There was talk of people being cut off mid-communications with people in China…or disappearing. The rest was babbling; people saying their usual OMG’s and WTF’s and what have you. He searched for tweets containing the word ‘China’; there were many tweets expressing similar bewilderment at whatever was going on. Posts began to pop up on Facebook over the next few minutes. By then, all of Enrique’s friends had gotten wind of the trending topic, either independently or through Enrique.
The videos were what got Enrique worried. Judging from the origins of the videos, the disturbance was on a massive scale, affecting most if not all the countries sharing borders with China. Confusion, fear, people trying their damnedest to flee from something unseen. That was the scariest part about it; no matter how hard he looked, Enrique could not see what they were running from. ‘What the hell was going on?’ Enrique felt the chill of fear run up his spine.
Ft. Meade, Maryland, United States of America
Everybody was on high alert; a little more than an hour ago, the NSA lost contact with several assets in China. The CIA reported the same problem. The NSA immediately diverted much of its substantial electronic surveillance capacity to monitoring for communications using the word ‘China’. Judging from the content of the traffic they were intercepting, whatever was going on, it wasn’t about them; it wasn’t a perfectly executed operation by the Chinese to neutralize all spies.
There were tweets and posts describing scenes of chaos that started at the borders of countries adjacent to China. There was no definitive picture of what had happened but the prevailing claim was that the Chinese had disappeared into thin air. There were no videos that directly confirmed these assertions, but there was ample footage of people fleeing; the common thread in all of these videos was that everybody seemed to be trying to get as far away from China as possible.
The Directors were reluctant to take the word of civilians in good faith, despite the overwhelming number of communications that claimed essentially the same thing. They needed intel from their agents on the ground, something which would be difficult without blowing their cover; after all everybody else was heading away from the Chinese border. Besides, there was a limit to the amount of intel a field agent on the ground could gather in the limited time they probably had before the countries sent armed forces to China’s borders. It was time to send in the drones. Meanwhile, the President needed to know of this disturbance while the agencies worked to obtain a better picture of the situation for him to analyze.
White House, Washington D.C., United States of America
President Ramsey sat behind his desk, his eyes closed and his fingers massaging his temples. It was his way of relaxing, and preparing his mind for another round of frenetic activity. By now, the members of staff had gotten used to his quirk, no longer asking him if he was okay. Tonight, he was doing his calming routine for longer than usual; he was feeling unusually tense for some reason.
The phone rang, pulling the President out of his trance. He allowed the phone to ring one more time before reaching for it and putting it to his ear, all the while staring at some invisible object in the middle distance. Even the most casual observer would’ve noticed when whatever the caller said grabbed the President’s full attention; his eyes darted down to stare at the desk and he sat up and forward quickly, gripping the phone perceptibly tighter.
It was the Director of the NSA, General Hayden Westerfield. “Sir, we seem to have a situation in progress in China. All of our assets in China disappeared off our radar simultaneously and we haven’t been able to regain contact with them. And Sir, we have…” he paused and took a deep breath because he knew what he was going to say next would sound outrageous, “there are many communications claiming that people at all the borders saw others in China just disappear into thin air. We don’t have any confirmation of this from any of our own assets but our satellites and drones are painting the same picture for us right now. So far, we haven’t seen any sign of humans inside China.”
It took some effort for the President to avoid vocalizing the questions that were racing through his mind: ‘Who is behind this? What do they want? Will China be the first and the last?’ He couldn’t expect Director Westerfield to have these answers for him. Instead he made a mental note of these questions to ask them in a more appropriate setting. “National Security meeting in thirty minutes,” he said, then hung up the phone.
The President wanted to stop in to see his wife before he went to the Situation Room, so after calling his secretary with the orders to apprise his National Security team of the impromptu meeting, he quickly made his way to the Executive Residence. She was in the bedroom reading a book.
The President’s eyes usually showed a deep focus that commanded the attention of those he looked upon. Right now, his eyes were glassy, unfocused, as if he was in a daze. The First Lady knew instantly that something had thrown him off his game. She smiled and beckoned for him with an outstretched hand. He strode to the bed and took her hand, sitting down beside her as she scooted over to give him some space. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, for starters…seems like I won’t be sleepin’ with any hot chicks beside me tonight,” he quipped with a weak smile plastered across his face. She smiled back, then waited for him to get to the main problem. He sighed, “Something very strange is going on in the China region. How do you explain thousands of reports that people inside China’s borders just…disappeared into thin air?”
Cleo searched her husband’s face for a second or two before saying anything. “What? What do you mean by disappeared?” A laugh of incredulity escaped her lips. ‘This must be some kind of prank’, she thought, but even as the thought crossed her mind, she remembered the look on her husband’s face as he entered the room. That wasn’t the look of someone who was making jokes, and saying that one billion people disappeared wasn’t even good material for a prank; there had to be a logical basis to the joke to make it believable. “Aaron…people don’t just…disappear,” she stated, her tone modulated to sound like she was reasoning with a child.
The President simply shrugged. What else could he possibly say to make her believe him? He couldn’t believe what he’d just told her!
Cleo sat back, trying to absorb the implications of what her husband revealed to her. “That’s…how is that even possible?” she squeezed his hand. He shrugged again, just as clueless as she was. They sat in silence, contemplating the impotence of man against this incomprehensible force, while finding comfort in the physical contact. “So have you figured out how you’re going to deal with this?”
He took a deep breath before answering her. “I called a National Security meeting. The question that immediately comes to mind is if others are at risk. And we have to do something about all those weapons that are just…there. Other than that…the best I can do is deal with things as they come.”
Cleo nodded in agreement. “I can only imagine the confusion on the social networks. Hmmmm. And what about the people who saw what happened? This could get really bad, Aaron. I mean…yeah it’s bad already with people just disappearing, no explanation. But China? That’s like…I don’t know…taking the wheels off a moving car? This is not good!” she gesticulated wildly as she gave voice to what had just dawned on her. The President caught her hands and rubbed them soothingly to calm her thoughts. She suddenly looked at him and asked, “If who or whatever have so much power, why not just wipe us out? Why disappear one billion plus people?” Then she looked away and was back in her own thoughts.
‘Very good point,’ the President thought. He mentally chided himself. He was looking at things wrong. Frankly, if whoever was responsible wanted to, with the kind of power they would’ve had to use to disappear one billion plus humans, they would’ve wiped out the entire human race. He was wasting his time brainstorming on how to stop them. He needed to focus on what was humanly possible: minimizing the chaos that was bound to follow. He gave his wife a peck on the forehead. “Thanks!”
She looked at him quizzically, not saying what was on her mind, but it was obvious. He simply laughed and got up, signalling that it was time for him to leave. He was still holding the First Lady’s hand, reluctant to break the soothing contact. She didn’t seem keen on letting go either.
“Aaron. You’re afraid, aren’t you?” she asked him.
He took a long deep breath. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.”
She pulled him back in for a hug and a kiss. “You’ll figure things out. You’re our President because millions of people believe in you. I believe in you!” she presented him with her most reassuring smile.
The President stared at his wife solemnly. “It’s not impossible that millions of people ticked the wrong candidate box by mistake though! And let’s not even…” he let his statement hang.
“Clown!” The First Lady laughed as she playfully slapped the President on his shoulder. “Just lead. That is all they expect of you.”
“I’ll do my endeavor best.” The President got up and strode to the door. He paused at the door and said, “Glad I married you. See you…whenever,” shut the door and walked away.
White House, Washington D.C., United States of America
The President strode into the Situation Room and immediately started enumerating his objectives, meanwhile gesturing for his National Security team to remain as they were. “Okay folks. Here’s what we need to know. What exactly happened in China? Is it an isolated incident? If not, can we figure out when it will occur again? Is it safe for humans to enter China? Are the countries who share borders with China attempting to exploit this event, whatever it is? North Korea especially. As for who is responsible, well…I have a feeling that won’t be answerable any time soon.”
“So far we haven’t observed any signs of humans in the places where they are expected to be. We haven’t searched every inch of the place but I’d have to say that China seems devoid of any human inhabitants,” Director Westerfield answered the President’s first question. Satellite imagery and drone surveillance footage underscored his conclusion; location stamped videos showed abandoned vehicles, dropped phones, and other items of technology left unattended. Surveys of several plane crash sites showed the debris of human paraphernalia but a notable lack of humans. The only signs of life – or death – in the case of some hapless creatures, were animals milling around aimlessly or the corpses of animals that got caught in the aftermath of accidents caused by suddenly unmanned apparatuses.
“It’s almost like they had a billion man rapture,” the President murmured under his breath. The room went silent, but briefly; the President asked the next question. “Okay let’s work with the assumption that every human in China disappeared? From what we know so far, is this phenomenon isolated to China?”
The NSA Director spoke up again, “Tentatively, I would say yes. All the communications that triggered alerts in the context of this phenomenon had China as their subject. If there were…raptures outside of China, they got hidden in the noise generated by the main event. We’d have to do some work on the ground to be absolutely sure. And that would take a while.”
“Everything went crazy all along the borders with China. Right now, we’re getting reports that people are trying to get as far away as possible from the Chinese border. With all that confusion it would be difficult to say the least, to find out if anybody outside of China went missing due to this…Billion Man Rapture,” CIA Director Ethan Sharpe chimed in to elaborate on his counterpart Director’s assessment of the matter.
The President thought about the problem for a few seconds. “Okay. China clearly was the target for whoever engineered this. I could ask why, but that too is a question I doubt can be answered right away. If there were other raptures outside of China they would be exceptions rather than the ‘norm’, for what it’s worth given what we’re dealing with. So the question would be ‘Why them?’ Maybe a pattern would show up with these people. It would be easier if we were to pool our resources with China’s neighbors.”
“We also need to worry about the abandoned nuclear reactors,” Secretary of State Sonia Rosa said.
“Have any of the bordering nations made attempts to enter China?” President Ramsey asked.
“So far all we’ve seen are flyovers from the nations that have drones. There aren’t any significant personnel movements towards the Chinese border. Most if not all of the border guards fled with the civilians and it seems like the chain of command has collapsed pretty much everywhere,” Director Westerfield reported.
“The national leaders are probably doing the same thing we are doing right now. Plus they have to decide how to deal with the civilians’ reaction to the rapture event,” the Secretary of State noted. Director Sharpe backed up Secretary Rosa’s point with intel from his field agents stationed in the different countries.
“Okay we need to decide on how to proceed. Top priority is to secure China’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and its nuclear reactors as smoothly as possible. We cannot do that if the other nations think we are trying to occupy China. So I’d like to open a dialog with all affected parties to create an alliance of sorts to secure anything in China that may prove deadly for all of us if they end up in the wrong hands. Any thoughts?”
Secretary of Defense Hendrick Ballmer stepped in with his suggestion. “I believe we should convince them to work with us to secure the nuclear reactors to avert environmental disasters and to neutralize them as targets for theft of nuclear material, as well as China’s WMD arsenals for destruction under supervision of the United Nations.”
“So can humans enter China without getting ‘raptured’?” the President used the air quotes gesture as he said the last word. He would not mention this to his team but it had occurred to him that whatever happened to the billion disappeared could have actually been beneficial for them; the same could not be said for the remainder of humans on Earth. The ‘billion man rapture’ would almost certainly trigger regressions in human society.
The CIA Director sighed and shrugged helplessly as he answered the President’s question. “That is something that I think can be answered only by testing it. And even then, we can’t be sure that hours, weeks, months…some random time later, that there won’t be a recurrence of the phenomenon. We’re dealing with a total enigma right now, and the only the way to find out more about it seems to be to scour China for clues. Which, I should add, may be weakening even as we speak.”
The President nodded, appreciative of Director Sharpe’s candor. “Okay so does anybody else have an alternative plan of action to consider? Or anything to add to Secretary Ballmer’s advice?”
Director of National Intelligence Ian Galbraith had something to add to the Defense Secretary’s suggestion. “We should try to collaborate with the most affected nations to assemble a combined team to enter China. We should try to pool our Intelligence efforts too. While we’re assembling the team we can use our respective drone assets to monitor the borders and sensitive areas for infiltrators.”
“How would we deal with North Korea if they become a problem?” Vice President Sewell asked.
National Security Advisor Helen Clay replied, “If we are able to bring the other affected neighbor countries into agreement with our plan, we would have more power with which to influence North Korea to fall in line. It would be ideal to get all of the countries working with us, but I’d say Russia, India, and Pakistan are the ones we would really want to have backing us.”
After asking for further input and receiving nothing more substantial, the President called for a quick vote to see who had reservations with the new plan; there were no opposers. He got on the phone and made the necessary calls, arranging for a video conference with all of the targeted leaders in addition to the heads of the Western allies. North Korea participated in the conference; its leader made vague claims to not being interested in stealing any ‘weapons of mass destruction’ from China. He also promised to contribute personnel to the expeditionary effort.
Before closing off the conference and putting into motion the United States’ portion of the plan, President Ramsey made sure to relay some parting words to his fellow leaders and other audience. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “while thinking about the nature of this phenomenon, this…rapture as some may call it, something occurred to me. One billion plus people disappeared into thin air, no warning, no chance of resistance. This says to me that what or whoever is responsible for this is on a level of ability and power that we cannot begin to understand. I can’t help but think that if they wanted to eliminate all of us, we would be gone without a chance to fire a single shot. But the fact that they didn’t destroy us, the fact that they disappeared one billion plus people instead makes me feel that they have other agendas besides the outright extinction of mankind. They are watching us, they are studying us to see what our reaction will be. Ladies and gentlemen, let’s show them what humans are made of.”
President Ramsey took their silence to mean that they all agreed with his sentiments.
It took me quite a while to rewrite this chapter. The more I thought about details, the more I realized that my original portrayal of events was probably quite inaccurate. I got quite a bit of help from two of my friends, who helped me to think even deeper about some of the details of what probably would occur in the aftermath of this mysterious, frightening event. Still, I feel I may have missed other details. What do you think?
Do you think any of the scenarios needed to be fleshed out more?
Do the flow of events seem logical to you?
Does my description of how people would react seem logical to you?
Is it okay that I didn’t do any fleshing out of the characters?
Did the narrative bore and/or confuse you in any way?
I did quite a bit of research on different details relevant to the chapter such as the structure of the United States National Security Council, the responsibilities of its members, air traffic control procedures etc etc. Can anyone who has more knowledge of these things give pointers? I’m trying not to abuse my artistic license.