The meeting room buzzed with anticipation as the NASA people made their observations ready. Notables in the room included the heads of several congressional and senatorial projects, the heads of FEMA and the Red Cross, the military and Homeland Security. When President Harrison entered, the show was set to start.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I want to know exactly what we are facing; the steps we need to prevent it and what each of your departments is doing.”
Eric Harrison had been president for less than eight months now. As with most, the lanky, Nevada-born politician was wildly popular before election and now despised by those that expected overnight changes. His platform had been equality for not only men and women, but for races and religions. He had a personal reason for that approach since his wife was black. He defiantly approached racism and vowed to fight it like a man possessed.
In the next few minutes, everything he was working towards would be tested, overcome and thrown to the wayside.
“Mr. President, at zero-six hundred hours today,” said the official from NASA, “our office received a call from a small observatory located in Gainesville Florida. They directed us to observe a flare erupting from the sun that we have determined to be the largest ever seen. We estimate it as an X50 flare.”
“I’m not a scientist Dean,” admonished the President. “Just give me the facts. What in the hell does an X50 flare actually mean?”
“Well Sir,” continued the man, “simply put, it means that the Earth will lose its electromagnetic abilities. Nothing will work…not anything that runs on electromagnetic current anyway.”
Harrison looked around the room, grateful to see as many confused faces as he hoped. He hated looking stupid above everything and the subject of solar flares were well beyond him.
“What do you mean, nothing will work?” he asked. “We’ll lose communications for a couple hours? Maybe cable for a day or two?”
“No Sir,” replied the official. “Our satellites will all be fried, all engines will stop running, our lights will go out and our homes will get cold. Think total and complete blackout.”
“Jesus,” muttered Harrison. “How long will we be offline?”
“We don’t know yet Sir,” Dean answered nervously. “Our estimates are between one hundred and five hundred years.”
The answer hung heavily over the room like a wrecker ball about to smash through the side of a building. Not one person said a word and all eyes turned towards Harrison. The President himself slowly sat down, taking the full impact of the official’s words.
“We’re looking at an almost time machine effect Mr. President,” he said softly. “The human race will be returned to a time before the industrial revolution. Almost everything, every aspect of our lives will change.”
Harrison looked at his military advisors. They never seemed shaken at anything, but this meeting had rattled even the staunchest of them. His eyes moved around the room until they found Harry Withers, head of FEMA.
“Talk to me Harry,” he said. “What can we expect?”
“In all honesty, I can’t answer that Sir,” Harry replied. “This is like nothing we’ve encountered. The only thing I can guarantee is panic. Panic and lots of casualties.”
“Our bunker complex in Kansas is ready to go Sir,” barked one of the men in the military group. “It’s been dubbed ‘Eden’ and there’s already a preliminary supply of goods on site. There are four other sites as well.”
“How many do they hold General?” asked Harrison, already dreading the answer.
“We can take in just under one hundred thousand,” was the quick reply.
The President looked around the room once more. There were more than three hundred and sixteen million people in the United States. Only one hundred thousand of them would meet this approaching menace in even remote preparedness. The one thing Harry was right about was that there would certainly be panic. Along with the panic would come a very rapid breakdown of society. The lawless would rise and take what they wanted, regardless of what they had to do to get it. The populace would be cast into chaos and in no time at all, modern day streets would begin to look like the dirt tracks of the old west.
“We have five days,” said Harrison wearily. “I want a list of the most important people in America today. Not fucking politicians, but really important people. Scientists, teachers, engineers…I want a social network to rebuild this country the right way. I do not want any premature panic either. Not a word of this gets leaked. If I hear so much as a rumor, I will have balls cut off and then bunker privileges cut off too. Am I clear on that?”
All the heads in the room nodded. Nobody was willing to be the ones left out in the long, cold night that was approaching.