The Crises - Part Six. The news His Majesty had been taken critically ill stunned the nation. The former UK, even more so the Fed after the monarchical intervention, was besotted with the Royal family with a near cultish worshiping of them arising in the wake of the Dissolution; so the news breaking early that Thursday morning unleashed an outpouring of royalist emotion. Despite the prohibition of unannounced large gatherings, crowds of well-wishers held vigil outside the hospital where the King had been admitted.
Larger crowds grew in the London parks waiting for news; as if some critical mass of people could collectively will their King a recovery or learn some snippet of information that they couldn't as an individual. Impromptu prayer services were held in the hope of invoking divine intervention to counteract the effects of a severe stroke.
All the Fed waited expectantly for the next medical bulletin. At noon a statement was issued; it gave no new information about His Majesty's state of health but it didn't need to. The fact the Crown Prince had for the time being assumed the powers of Regent in his father's stead spoke volumes.
The overwrought crowds broke into unashamed weeping as the implications began to sink in. The Saviour Of The Nation was unlikely ever to be the same man as He used to be, even if He did survive; and at this moment it was touch and go. He'd pushed himself too hard and paid the price of doing so for our sakes.
As the days passed it became clear the Regent wasn't cut from the same cloth as his father. He'd make a good King of course, but he was a more 'hands off' person. He preferred to stand back and delegate more; he didn't share so many of his father's beliefs, nor was so passionate about his father's causes.
It was understandable he should be preoccupied with his father's health for the moment, and so revert from the role of executive Monarch back to the traditional sovereignly detachment in regard to the day to day running of the Fed; but many people believed it was from this pivotal moment the dream of a Camelot Albion began to turn sour.
Given the concern about the King's health and the saturation coverage about it which fortuitously eclipsed the latest statistics showing the pace of recovery had 'slowed', it came as no surprise that international news, and news about Alba, barely rated a mention.
There were occasional items about exchanges of displaced people and harrowing tales from the latest successful refugees. Some people, drawn by family ties or fears of their property being sequestrated by the Alban state, returned to their homeland to face an uncertain future. But the flow of refugees from Alba decreased as the number of available boats to flee on diminished with no-one wanting to make a return journey, and the 'boat season' weather window closing for the winter. Trying to cross the Irish Sea, or hugging the west or east coasts in a home-made boat or stolen dinghy was hazardous at the best of times, but almost certain suicide during the stormy winter. In any case the Albans had converted some surplus fishing trawlers into gunboats and constantly patrolled their border waters; woe betide anyone they caught trying to leave without the correct permit!
All it takes is a quick search and you can find the video taken at long range by a Red Cross ship specially chartered to provide aid and rescue to any craft reaching international waters of an Alban patrol boat riddling a yacht of would-be escapees with heavy calibre machine gun fire, as well as firing rocket propelled grenades at it until it sank - just to be sure - and not bothering to recover the bodies. The Albans would have fired at the mercy ship as well, but it was out of range. The occasional outrage aside Alba was left to itself. Like its unpredictable protégé North Korea, Alba was best steered well clear of if at all possible.
The one person who was not prepared to accept the Alban status quo was Lloyd Farrell. He believed he felt the Power of the Lord move within him once more; this time directing him to strike at North Korea. Their wrongfooting of the Union Treaty Organisation - as NATO had renamed itself to reflect its eastward spread - and Pyongyang's attempt to extend its troublesome influence into Europe could not be tolerated: The North Korean state would have to be not just punished, but annihilated. With their protector, ally, and military supplier decapitated in a surgical strike, the Alban client régime would soon collapse in on itself and all would be well once more.
Farrell had learned his lesson from the Iranian débâcle: This time there would be no threats; no ultimatum. The Lord's Justice would descend upon the godless communists in one mighty stroke of surprise. He ordered his most trusted confidents in his 'reshaped' command to make the plans for the divine retribution in the utmost secrecy. Using the annual Pacific Guardian military exercises with South Korea as a cover he assembled his forces for a lightning strike.
But something went wrong. We don't know whether word leaked out, or the North Koreans suspected an attack was planned. Whatever the reason, the effect was still the same.
The North Koreans had always expected they would fight the United States again at some point in the future. They had prepared for the inevitable conflict for decades by building an ideologically committed army and digging deep into the earth. Their bunkers, weapons factories, and command systems were difficult to reach using even the most powerful conventional penetrating bombs. They'd studied their enemy intently, knowing the US' motivation and strategy almost as well as the American generals. They had plenty of time in which to develop counter strategies, and create armed forces and weapons which, although they weren't up to the cutting edge standards of the US, were good enough to do the job. As events were to prove an over-reliance on technology was as bad as not having enough of it when the fighting became confused and visceral.
The North Koreans Kept It Strictly Simple whenever they could; partly out of necessity, partly due to ideology. Though they knew they couldn't win a full-scale war against the United States, they hoped their reliance on simple, robust weapons would keep them fighting long beyond American expectations; and so threatening such heavy losses as to deter the imperialist aggressor or blunt their attacks if that were at all possible.
The DPRK were also fortified by the realisation if - or when - war started, it would be a fight to the death. This fatalistic belief underscored their war planning. With everything to lose and nothing to gain from holding back the North Korean military was a booby-trapped bomb, primed to explode when the fuse was triggered. And detonate they did.
As soon as the DPRK general staff were warned of the United States' intentions, they launched an all-out pre-emptive strike in an attempt to destroy as many of the forces they expected to be used against them. At once, the South Korean capital of Seoul came under pulverising attack from the 10,000 mortars which were ranged against it. The port of Pusan, through which the American war effort would be resupplied, was destroyed by a low-yield nuke.
As the airbases in Osan and Wusan scrambled planes into the air they came under short-range nuclear missile and chemical drone attack. From tunnels stealthily dug under the DMZ, the North Korean army burst out into the south with frightening speed.
The Republic Of Korea forces had been at an increased state of alert as a result of the Pacific Guardian exercises, but because they and the South Korean government, had been kept in the dark about Farrell's plans, they were caught off guard by the speed and ferocity of the North's riposte. They quickly regrouped but found themselves facing not only the regular North Korean army, but teams of special sabotage forces disguised as civilians.
The nuclear decapitation attacks Farrell had ordered struck home almost without interception, but too late; the enraged tiger that was the DPRK army had been turned loose. Though The Great Marshal, Kim Jung-Un, had been successfully eliminated, this too had been anticipated and planned for. With no Supreme Command to issue orders, the lower echelons fell back on their sealed contingency instructions; to go on an all-out rampage of destruction, regardless of the cost. They duly obeyed with enthusiasm.
It was the crew on board the International Space Station, preparing for an emergency return to earth, who first noticed what had been unleashed by those posthumous orders. As soon as the news of the war broke Ground Control; correctly anticipating that the conflict would reach into space, ordered the astronauts to prepare for an emergency evacuation.
As the emergency power down protocols were being implemented, prior to boarding the Crew Return Vehicle for re-entry and landing in Kazakhstan, a scientist who was monitoring a screen displaying the fast approaching Korean peninsula for any possible danger saw the scale of the war's insanity. On that night much of the north and east of Korea was covered in cloud. This was illuminated from below by the lightning like flashes of the ongoing war. But it was the intense intermittent pinpricks of light in the cloudless part of the country which attracted his attention.
He had no way of knowing, because it was a secret that had been well kept, that he was witnessing the operational debut of North Korea's arsenal of micro nukes.
The Red Hornet was the North Korean version of the American Davy Crockett nuclear mortar. Man portable; with a range of two miles, and a selectable yield of up to the equivalent of twenty tons of TNT, it was a way of putting usable nuclear destruction in the hands of an infantry unit. Though each unit was only issued a handful of the weapons, that was all they needed. The US and ROK armies found themselves facing fast moving special forces, eager to engage their enemy with nuclear force at extremely close range: To 'grasp them by the belt buckle' so closely that providing air or artillery support risked horrendous friendly casualties. Wherever the defending forces tried to consolidate themselves they were wiped out by fanatical soldiers heedless of their own lives.
Despite the US having air superiority and the aid of drones, Red Hornet detachments were hard to locate or engage until it was too late. The DPRK forces swept south knowing the more territory they gained now, the greater their advantage in destabilising the defence, and the stronger their bargaining position in any peace settlement. Not that the war was likely to end in a ceasefire and peace talks; things had already escalated way beyond that.
American missile strikes had reduced North Korea's main cities to a radioactive shambles, while the DPRK forces were taking their berserker nuclear, chemical, and biological revenge on the south. The North Korean retaliation extended as far as Japan, with a salvo of ten missiles launched against her. Two failed during their boost phase due to technical problems; three others were shot down, and fortunately for Tokyo the warhead meant for the city centre failed to detonate. But south-western Tokyo, as well as the port of Kobe suffered direct hits; and the island airbase at Okinawa a near miss, though still striking close enough to render the base usable.
The remaining missile struck the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power station complex, unleashing a nuclear disaster that would make Fukushima seem insignificant by comparison.
The conflict spread up into outer space. The GPS satellites the US military depended on were far too high in geosynchronous orbits for the North Koreans to destroy. But they targeted, and in one case succeeded in destroying the lower orbiting reconnaissance satellites, creating a cascade of space debris which endangered more satellites - military and civilian - as well as the ISS, though by then its crew had managed to safely escape back to earth.
While all this was happening a 'failed' North Korean satellite which had been launched many years ago reappeared as expected on the US Space Command's tracking screens. What wasn't anticipated was instead of one object, it had now split into three, and all of the vehicles were deorbiting, heading for widely spaced impact points over the western United States. Two of the warheads were intercepted and destroyed by SpaceCom's orbital weapons systems. The third, aimed at California, got through and detonated in the upper atmosphere.
The EMP the explosion generated was severe, but not as bad as been feared in the pessimistic speculation of the worst case fear mongering. Over the preceding years enough EMP-resistant equipment had been installed to soften the worst impacts of the attack, but large sections of the power grid were knocked offline, and it would take days if not weeks to repair the damage. For a people unused to living without electricity the outages would prove hellish and often fatal.
At about this time the first Black Dragon attacks were noticed. They were initially dismissed as the North's feeble attempt at a cyber weapon; a nuisance but nothing more. Some of the more supremacist elements in the Farrell junta openly mocked the Dragon, claiming its initial ineffectiveness as proof decades of conformist thinking had left the hidebound communists mentally unequipped with the imagination only a free society could provide to create an effective virus. Only later, as the Dragon evolved into potency were they to realise what had been unleashed.
But problems with the interconnected computer systems the world depended on were the least of our worries at that moment; for China was becoming involved in the Korean conflict.
As surprised by Farrell's attack as the rest of the world China's reaction soon changed to one of anger. How dare the US act in such a provocative way in her sphere of influence! Though Farrell's military cabal were sensible enough to route their attacking aircraft as far away from Chinese airspace as possible; inevitably that amount of air movement near to the Chinese border with North Korea was bound to provoke a response either by error or design.
When the Chinese air defence command detected an elderly B1 bomber with a malfunctioning radar jammer on a high-speed course which would soon take it into their airspace they didn't wait to see if it was en-route to a target in Korea or was about to extend the attack to the territory of Pyongyang's greatest ally and protector. They dared not wait to be sure, because by then it may be too late to act, and who knew what that lunatic in the White House had planned? The Chinese shot the plane down and so joined the war against the United States.
Here in the Fed, news of the attack broke in the early morning as many people were travelling to work. While commuting we watched with incredulity the live feeds of the war from surveillance cameras, or the panicked phone videos of the destruction half a world away beamed to our mobile devices before the Korean networks broke down. We were stunned and frightened by Farrell's crass stupidity: The crazy bastard had gone and done it again! We didn't know the full picture of what was going on, but immediately our concerns turned to the Albans and how they would react to the attack on their Big Brother.
Fortunately they didn't open a nuclear second front as we feared, but instead - seeing the way that the war was likely to go - took the opportunity to quickly and brutally purge their Korean 'advisors'. The technical specialists were given the option to stay in Alba and lend their expertise to the regime, or to be interned pending their return to Korea - should that ever be possible - or join their senior officers in a mass grave they were forced to dig themselves. Unsurprisingly they chose to work for their new masters. As the Black Dragon virus became established and grew in power, the problems with live news feeds became ever more common. But what was becoming evident was what remained of North Korea was winning a kind of pyrrhic victory.
The second half of the Korean War was far from being over. The UN desperately tried to arrange a ceasefire; not between the remaining North Korean forces and the United States, but between the United States and China. The Chinese were so enraged by the US' conduct they put their strategic nuclear forces on launch alert with a view to publicly naming American cities for destruction; aiming to prompt a Secession War style panic if Washington refused to back down. In addition they also began to ready an even more destructive weapon; the US Treasury Bond.
All it took were a few semi-official whispers China was planning to sell some of its holdings of the incalculable American debt for confidence - what confidence was left - in the dollar to evaporate. The financial noose China had around the neck of United States was pulled ever so slightly tighter, and the effects were immediate.
Thanks to President Farrell's edicts what had once been one of the more open and transparent governments in the world is now one of the most secretive. Anyone who leaked or talked out of turn knew the fate that awaited them. So everyone was caught by surprise when in an address to the nation due to be made by President Farrell; Victor Hernandez appeared instead.
He announced President Farrell had been taken gravely ill, so he had assumed the office of President. Lloyd Farrell's state of health was critical, and likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future, so Hernandez's elevation would effectively be permanent. The new President also explained the North Korean regime had been successfully dismantled at some considerable cost, but the world was now a safer place without that rogue state in existence. At this time most military operations in Korea had now ended; and in discussions with China it had been agreed a joint resolution would be put to the UN Security Council. The motion would place the reunified Republic of Korea under a 'temporary' Chinese protectoracy, with international supervision of future disarmament, decontamination, and reconstruction.
The world sighed with relief. A wider nuclear war had for the moment been averted. Then the questions began as to what had really happened to former President Farrell, his family, and many members of his staff. The official explanation was his family wanted to withdraw from public life while they supported him during his illness; and the missing staff members were being detained indefinitely while investigations into allegations of corruption in public office were pursued. None of the unaccounted for have been seen or heard from since.
There are various theories as to what became of them. Some say Farrell is still alive and living in a secure mental institution or black hole of a secret prison. Those who believe him to be still alive are in a minority. The more credible view is the gunshots heard in the White House grounds at the time weren't those of a secret service bodyguard shooting dead a Korean sympathiser who intended to assassinate the President, but the long overdue and necessary executive ending of a threat to global peace. There is speculation it was President Hernandez who personally put the Mad Dog down in response to a private message sent to him by the Chinese: Farrell's removal from office by any means being the quid pro quo demanded for a peace settlement.
With Farrell removed from the world stage both America and China stepped back from the brink. The dumping of US bonds ended, the markets stabilised, and humanitarian aid was rushed to the Korean peninsular. Meanwhile analysts took stock of the most disastrous of any American presidency. Farrell's legacy was a ruined Arabian Gulf with many of the oilfields still burning and too dangerous for anyone but the suicidal to consider trying to re-enter. The remnants of both the Palestinian fighters and the Israeli Defence Force were engaged in vicious hand-to-hand battles over the remains of what had once been Israel. Korea was reunified but ruined; Japan suffering from the after effects of multiple nuclear strikes.
As for the United States, it was poorer in both monetary terms and international influence. Its west coast was struggling to overcome the effects of the EMP strike, as well as expecting the radioactive fallout from Japan to arrive on its soil within days. The Black Dragon was growing in strength despite all efforts to contain and destroy it. Oh, and not forgetting the extinction of the founding democratic principles of the nation. Truly the presidency of Lloyd Farrell would go down in history as an unmitigated catastrophe.
Yet from the Crises a bizarre optimism began to emerge. The world had faced down Doomsday not once, but twice. The worst had happened, yet we'd survived. Things couldn't get any worse now. The future, if not bright, had to be better than this. The only way from here was up.
That may have been true for the rest of the world; but we in the Federation were yet to experience an insidious problem of our own creation.