12 The Ride of the Horsemen

The Church of the Holy Spirit was housed in a massive complex fifteen miles from the center of Dallas, an easy drive from neighborhoods of McMansions. Hundreds of acres of land, filled with parking structures, members facilities (including gym, recreation areas, and childcare), and office buildings surrounded a sanctuary that seats thousands. The church broadcasted daily services at noon to millions of viewers via Christian Broadcasting Affiliates.

The congregation wasn’t full for weekday lunchtime services, but homebound and elderly believers tuned in daily. On Tuesday, they got a show they never expected, which is ironic, since the pastor predicted just such an event. You never expect it to happen to you.

“I’m feeling the need for healing,” the junior pastor, his face red, implored his congregation with fervor. “I know some of you out there are hurting…. And healing is at hand. Reach out to the Son of God, who died for you, and turn your back on the evil, sinful ways, that have corrupted your souls….”

There was a scattering of ‘Amens’ around the room, but one, out of tune and late, was louder than the rest. To punctuate it, the speaker repeated himself. The cameraman turned his camera to catch the image of the stunning young man standing to shout his Amen, hand toward heaven, looking rapt.

“Amen, brother! Pastor, may I testify?”

The pastor was taken aback: he wasn’t the plant who was to have been healed live on television. But the minister couldn’t deny this Christian his opportunity to share his faith, could he? The man was photogenic. And looked like he’d be a tiger in the sack, the pastor thought for a second, before he repressed all traces of it.

“Testify, brother,” the pastor called out.

“I … have felt the fires licking at my feet. I was so sunk in sin, I thought I could never escape. I … had sex with men, lusted after boys and girls, I spread my wickedness wherever I could,” the beautiful young man cried out, his voice wavering, apparently on the verge of tears. “I felt like I was trapped in hell’s own prison….”

The minister’s eyes caught his, and he fell immediately under the young man’s spell, lost in his lustrous eyes. “How did you find salvation?”

“I rose up in my little prison, and I said, I’ll escape from this hell….”

“Yes?” the minister asked.

“So I killed my guards and wreaked havoc on the order of things so that I might rise up out of the depths to bring perdition into the world,” he growled, his eyes turning cold and flashing fire. With a wave of his hand the doors around the congregation crashed shut and became immovable.

The minister’s eyes opened wide in recognition. Somehow it never occurred to him that he’d be so beautiful, or have such a fine ass. “Get behind me, Satan!” The young minister cried out.

Sammael’s laugh ripped through the room like a blade of ice. “You’d love that wouldn’t you?” Sammael asked. With theatrical gracelessness, he raised nose to the air and sniffed, before walking over to a young man in jeans and a t-shirt, who stood before him quaking. Sammael placed his hand softly on the young man’s chest and felt him shiver in fear and lust. “Tell me, is the good minister a fine lay?”

The young man was caught in his gaze and answered, “He likes me to be rougher than I want to, and he won’t kiss. I like to kiss….” People around the room were gasping, and casting judgmental looks about. Until Sammael put his hand on the young man’s chin and leaned in to give him the kind of kiss that would make experienced women blush.

“And you’re very good at it,” Sammael said with a hearty smile. “You don’t know what you’re missing, pastor….”

“You have no business here,” the defeated holy man said, his shoulders slumped.

“I do have business here,” Sammael said with glee. “It’s time for a great revelation, and I’ve decided to give Christians the scoop. So, all cameras on me, boys,” he said with a flourish of the hands that brought all cameras to bear on his face. “Please allow me to introduce myself! I am the devil!”

Screams of “Boo!” and “Blasphemer!” echoed around the room. The minister knew better: the beast had known his soul.

Sammael merely smiled. “I expected a bit of skepticism. After all, no one saw me work my wonders on Hart Island, or in the deserts of Africa, or in the fields of Europe. Minister, come to me!” The man stepped down from the stage and walked toward the demon as if under the control of another. Sammael drew him into a passionate kiss, rougher than the one he had given the younger man. “See, not so bad, was it, Rick? Now, watch carefully,” he instructed as he grabbed the man’s chin and twisted hard. The minister fell to the ground, his neck clearly broken. Then with an entirely too pleasant smile, Sammael said, “Cast yourself down … and I shall raise you up!” He waved his hand over the corpse and it began to move.

Indeed, Rick stood before his murderer, and then bowed before him. Before a silent crowd, the former minister, now of his own accord, proclaimed, “You shall be my god!”

Suddenly, everyone in the crowd began to scream and rush for the exits, which would not yield to them. It was then that they were set upon by vampires in waiting, who ripped and tore at their living flesh at inhuman speeds. All while the cameras were broadcasting live. And millions of Christians watched the devil strike at their religion and show no mercy. And many of them took notice that God did nothing. Then they watched their minister follow his new god out of the building, stepping on the corpses of their brothers and sisters as he went.

***

“Go wake them,” Avery said to William after he turned off the video of the scene from the Church of the Holy Spirit, which was now being run on some of the major networks. Reports of sporadic violence were now coming in from small towns and cities across the heartland, and risked spreading to major urban centers.

William ran upstairs and shook Chase and Sebastian awake apologetically. “I’m sorry, but … it’s begun….” He quickly told them what was happening, and Sebastian, feeling much stronger and more rested, rose quickly to his feet.

The boys followed him down to his command center and he demanded a status update from Avery, who explained that the enemy was in and out before they could be targeted. Thus there was nothing to update.

“So he’s just going to get away with this? We can’t stop him?” Sebastian demanded.

“It’s up to humanity now, Sebastian,” a soft woman’s voice spoke from the door behind him. “They can resist him, or they can do his work for him…. And this world will only be the first. World by world will fall before him.”

“Dora,” Sebastian said softly.

The young woman wrapped her arms around him and said, “I’m sorry my friend…. I heard, and I’m sorry.”

“Thank you, but … what are you doing here? We shouldn’t be under the same roof. It’s too dangerous,” Sebastian said, choking back new tears.

“I’ve come to see this young man’s final test and to award him his rank,” the queen of the witches said, smiling at Chase. Though he could not see, he could hear the smile in her voice and returned it. “But you’re right. We shouldn’t tarry long. May we begin?”

Sebastian looked at Chase and saw the boy was resolved, so he nodded, and the group proceeded to the back yard. While the video feed was being set up, Sebastian pulled Chase aside and said, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of these. Be prepared for anything….”

“Thanks,” Chase said softly, and walked out into the middle of the garden. The walls were flanked on all sides by wizards who had come to see this, from the queen’s guard to Christen and Sebastian’s private forces.

“Wizards and witches, we have gathered here today,” the queen began, “to test the skill and power of this young human. His opponent today shall be … Avery Salazar!”

There was a murmur all around as no one expected this. This was to be more than a mere test of skill and all assembled thought Chase would be sorely out matched.

Even Avery, who had seen his attacks thwarted by the boy, was concerned. “Your majesty! Chase is a human, and he is blind. He can hardly be expected to dual….”

“I have heard many unbelievable things about this boy, and I’d like to see them with my own eyes. He is free to withdraw and forfeit his rank, if he likes,” Dora answered.

“No!” Chase said, to everyone’s surprise. “But I would request that William and Sebastian act as my eyes….”

“Fair enough,” the woman said. “Ready?” Chase and Avery nodded. “Begin!”

Avery began slowly and noisily, so Chase would hear him coming. The boy mostly deflected all his attacks, though he was knocked on his back when a particularly powerful spell struck his shield head-on unexpectedly. Then Chase countered by tossing a web of magickal energy at Avery, which mostly missed as Avery dodged. But a bit of it tangled on his leg and began wrapping around. When he reached for it to remove it, it entangled his hand to his arm, leaving the powerful wizard to fight one armed and one legged.

“Duck!” William yelled as Avery threw a fireball that Chase didn’t hear coming, and the boy fell on his back to get out of the way.

Avery raised his hand to attack again, when Sebastian cried out, “Behind you! The QUEEN!” The woman had raised her arm and was weaving an intricate and dark spell, whose energy was fairly humming. Chase was still laying on the ground, his back mostly to her when she released the destructive curse at him. “NO!” Sebastian cried, and as fast as he was, he’d never be able to block it.

The air around Chase pulsed and glowed as he was completely surrounded by an angelic shield. He’d never called the shield up before with such force, and it raced out from him to meet the two spells aimed at him, neutralizing them completely.

As the little teen stood, his eyes glowed as he raised his hands. Blue light began to fill the air around him in a swirling mass he controlled with the tips of his fingers. The vortex was so thick with power that Chase could not be seen at its heart.

The queen looked at Avery with an uncertain look on her face as a weak voice called from the center of the storm, “Do you yield?”

“Never,” the queen answered, casting another spell at the impudent boy. But the dark magick was swallowed up by the light surrounding him.

“Very well,” he called, drawing his hands inward. William, perceiving what was about to happen, fell to the ground on his face, followed shortly by Sebastian and Lt. Spencer. Suddenly the vortex of blue flame exploded outward in all directions at a terrifying speed. All around, wizards and witches were blasted against the walls of the garden, against the house, against vehicles. The queen was knocked off her feet and into a wall nearly forty feet behind her.

Only Chase remained standing, and he dropped his arms, finished. “Are you alright, William?”

William rose to his feet and ran to the boy. “I’m fine…. Sebastian and I, and Lt. Spencer got down in time. Everyone else will be okay when the shock wears off. Avery and the queen will probably need some Aleve,” William added with a laugh. “That was amazing!”

“I wouldn’t have, but … attacking a blind kid from behind isn’t very nice!” Chase answered with a weak smile, and William helped him sit down.

Some of the queen’s men helped her to her feet and she walked up to Chase, William standing by him. “How dare you?” William demanded in a loud voice.

“I am … truly sorry,” the woman said, bowing her head slightly, “but it was the only way….”

“The only way to what?” Chase asked.

“To complete the test,” Sebastian interjected. “When you matched Avery, the only way to raise the test to the next level was to add a second Marshal to the contest….”

Chase wore a look of confusion on his face. “What does all this mean?”

Smiling at the cameras, the queen took his hand and helped him to his feet, “It means that, for the first time in a thousand years, there is a third Marshal of the wizards, my lord, Grand Marshal!” With that, the queen and all the wizards under her command, dropped to one knee and bowed to Chase.

William leaned in and whispered to him, “They’re all bowing, your Excellency,” the last bit with a teasing inflection.

“Please, please rise,” he said, his voice faltering. “I assure you, your majesty, I am not what you think I am,” he added, his voice faltering.

“My dear boy, you have just defended yourself against two of the most powerful wizards and witches of all time! Without the benefit of sight! I assure you, you are not what YOU think you are!” With that, the woman added, “I apologize that we do not have your uniform ready, but we’d only anticipated a lower rank, my lord!”

Chase just nodded. “If this is your way, then I accept it,” he said.

At last, the queen smiled and curtsied. Turning to William and pinning an insignia on his collar, she said, “Colonel, take your husband inside. He’s tired. We’ll leave your uniform with the High Consul….” With that, the crowd disassembled and the queen and Avery retreated with Sebastian to his office for a conference before her departure.

William, meanwhile, helped Chase upstairs and onto the inflatable and snuggled up next to him. “I AM tired,” Chase said. Then he giggled. “She called me your husband!”

Taking Chase’s left hand in his own so that their rings were touching, they both felt the vibration of the energy as the two rings met. “It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Chase sighed, as he put his head on William’s chest. “What are we going to do?”

“I don’t know…. There’s a limit to what we can do here to help,” William said.

“I know. They can reach us at home if they need us, but…. Don’t you think everyone is safer with us here?” Chase asked.

“No, I don’t…. Anything they do to our loved ones to hurt us … it works even if we’re not around. Better for the bad guys because we aren’t there to protect them,” William said.

“If Sebastian’s okay, I just want to go home,” Chase said, running his hand over William’s stomach and squeezing him.

“Alright,” William sighed from the warm tickling feeling generated by the light touch of Chase’s hand. The boys relaxed and later William went to get Chase a snack. Finally he was getting his energy back, and the boys went down to find Sebastian, who was sitting alone in his office with his back to the door.

“Sebastian,” Chase said hesitantly, causing the vampire to turn in his chair and look at them blankly for a moment before coming to himself. “Are you alright?”

“No,” he said with a sad smile that bespoke a deep weariness. The ancient vampire was feeling every second of his millennia weighing on him. “But I’ll make it. He’s out there somewhere…. He may be beyond our reach, but he’s out there!”

William nodded. “Chase and I are feeling a little … homesick, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot we can do here, right now….”

“Of course,” Sebastian said, rising and putting his arms around the two boys. “Thank you for all you did…. All you tried to do.”

“You’ll call if there is anything else we can do?” Chase asked, worried for his friend.

“I promise,” Sebastian said, smiling and giving him a peck on the cheek. “Now go, and try to forget all this for a while…. Maybe go on vacation?”

“We couldn’t,” Chase said. “School….”

“Forget school,” Sebastian said. “You can always make it up! Go, have fun, maybe a tropical island beach, you and your family! Take your friends too!”

“Sebastian?” Chase asked, his concern deepening.

“Just think about it?” Sebastian asked, trying not to plead.

“Alright,” William said. “We’ll think about it….” Chase’s face contorted but he didn’t say anything, and the two departed via the portal to Chase’s back yard.

When it closed behind them, Chase, sounding very despondent, said, “He thinks we’re going to lose…. He wants us to enjoy the time we have left….”

“I don’t think so,” William said softly. “I think he thinks you’re next.” And they didn’t know which idea was more appealing.

***

Back in his office, Sebastian picked up his phone and dialed a number he’d only used once in many years. The old man picked up and answered, “Petrus Marcus D’Angelico….” He sounded older than the last time they spoke, and only weeks had passed.

“Father Peter? It’s Sebastian….”

“Sebastian,” the old man said. “The Holy Father was an unhappy man after your last conversation,” he added with a grim laugh.

“Have they looked over the intelligence I provided?” Sebastian asked.

“Yes…. They were in doubt until the events of recent days. The revelation of the Beast has, of course, confirmed everything you warned us of.”

“I’m sorry, my friend,” Sebastian said, “I truly am…. What will the Church do? Will they agree to work with us?”

“The Holy Father has summoned all available Cardinals who can reach Rome within the next two days to a conclave. They’ll decide then,” Father Peter sighed.

“That’s too late! By then … he may have done irreversible damage!” Sebastian fumed.

“The Beast will not rest,” the man agreed. “If there was anything I could do….”

“Do you still have full access to the Vatican archives?” Sebastian asked, cautiously.

“Full access,” the man acknowledged, the question lingering in his tone.

“As I recall from my days in the archives,” Sebastian began.

“You were a naughty boy,” Father Peter replied with a laugh that made him sound, momentarily like the teenage seminarian Sebastian had known.

“I wasn’t alone in that, I recall, Peter my friend…. There was a special archive dealing with the fallen….”

Father Peter sat silently for a moment, before responding, “I’ll go and retrieve the material—research for the conclave. I’ll call when I have it….”

“Thank you my friend…. I’m sorry to have to ask you to betray the Church,” Sebastian said.

“It is not I who has betrayed the Church, Sebastian,” the old man said firmly. “And, ironically, it may be you who will save it….”

After their farewells, Sebastian turned his attention to reports flowing in by the hour from around the world. Spontaneous outbreaks of disease, crop disasters, border skirmishes and civil unrest. Sammael was making people think prophecy was being fulfilled before their eyes, stoking them for Armageddon. And at the moment, it looked as if, one way or the other, it was the end of the world as we know it.

***

That night, after they had talked to Chase’s parents about what had been going on, William and Chase lay in bed and talked. “What should we do?” Chase asked. “Should we try to talk everyone into leaving everything behind?”

“Do you think they would?” William asked.

“Some would…. Mom and dad would,” Chase said.

“Could you really leave your friends behind? Carl and Edward? Matt?” William asked.

“Maybe they’d come?” Chase asked, not really believing it. “No, I couldn’t….”

“So we stay here, and do our normal thing, and do our best,” William said, drawing him into a tight hug.

When they returned to school the next day, they were met by excited hugs from their friends who were in the know about their situation. But overall the mood was somber. People were afraid, tense. Kids huddled together and talked quietly, the normal din of the lunchroom subdued.

Overnight, terrorist bombs had destroyed border crossings between Gaza and both Israel and Egypt, breaking the blockade. And the disease spreading through Italy was identified as a bioweapon developed in the former Soviet bloc, a weaponized flu virus. Russia was providing countries with the information they needed to produce the vaccine, but it would take weeks before production could begin and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions would fall before a world-wide rollout was completed.

CNN was playing on a television in the corner of the cafeteria and students huddled around as the grim news got grimmer. The United Kingdom initiated an isolation, banning traffic into and out of the British Isles and placing the populace under martial law. There was talk that the United States might follow their lead, and all available national guardsmen and reservists were being called up in anticipation of that decision.

What was not being reported was that the military threat level, for both the conventional military and the strategic air command, had been raised to DEFCON 3, and heightened security measures were being put into place at American military installations around the globe.

***

Late in the afternoon, Father Peter made a call to Sebastian to let him know he had retrieved all the material he thought might be relevant from the Vatican archive. Shortly after that, the man wrote a letter of resignation and placed it on his desk, before stacking the books in a little duffle bag. Avery was in and out of the Vatican in moments, and the old priest was gone, leaving behind a life of service to the institutional Church.

Father Peter stepped into Sebastian’s basement in front of Avery, who carried the books, and gasped. “Somehow,” the old man began, “I am never prepared, though I know to expect it. You’re as lovely as the day we met….”

Sebastian hugged the old man and gave him a familiar kiss on the cheek. “It has been a long time, old friend,” Sebastian smiled.

Turning to Avery, the old man explained, “This is the smile that nearly stole my heart from the Church as a boy!” Father Peter had been a teenager, a high school seminarian just beginning to explore his calling to the priesthood when he met the dark and mysteriously beautiful boy he now knew as Sebastian.

What had started as a friendship blossomed into a young romance, and Sebastian had more than once wondered whether the seminarian was the one. They’d been lying in each other’s arms looking up at the stars when Peter had made his choice and let Sebastian go with a kiss.

The whole thing welled up at once in Sebastian’s tumultuous soul, and he half smiled, half sobbed, “I … found what I was looking for, Peter! His name is James,” Sebastian said, grabbing a photograph from his desk of the boy with his mother. “He loved me….”

Father Peter’s eyes filled with misty sadness as he asked, “What happened, Sebastian?”

“Sammael, the Beast, has taken him,” Sebastian said.

“Mother of God,” the old priest replied. “Perhaps something in these will help us retrieve him,” the man said, abruptly pulling the heavy books from the bag Avery deposited on the table. “Let us hurry….”

The three men split up the books and scanned them as fast as they could, working late into the night.

By the next evening, one thing had become clear. They could not defeat Sammael as he had planned. His rough plan was to capture Sammael in a magickal trap and have Chase used the annihilation matrix to destroy the demon. But all the literature showed that, while the procedure might work, it would fulfill Sammael’s plan. In fact, it would be the easiest way to do so. To destroy Sammael completely would so destabilize the balance between good and evil that all the worlds would come off their axis, like a top that begins to wobble. Hell, maybe that was Sammael’s plan: a universal suicide bombing.

“So the only way to stop this apocalypse is to convince the humans that, no matter what, they just have to keep taking it on the nose and not do anything that would destroy their world,” Avery asked, incredulous.

“It’s the best we’ve got now,” Sebastian said.

And another evening deepened the darkness. Shots were fired across the Korean DMZ, wounding a South Korean commander. His troops returned proportional fire, killing three of the North’s soldiers.

Meanwhile, red-hatted cardinal’s began arriving for early morning mass at St. Peter’s before conferencing with the pope. Most of the men wore masks, because of the flu that had arrived in Rome.

***

As the grey haired potentates of the Roman Church argued from their ancient seats about how to respond to the crisis which could no longer be ignored, the doors burst open with a resounding crash. A tall, gorgeous young man in a white robe burst into the room, his shoes clicking heavily on the floor as he walked into the midst of the unofficial conclave.

“What is the meaning of this?” the pope’s chamberlain called, rising to his feet. With a wave of Sammael’s hand, the man was forced back into his ornate wooden seat.

“Who are you?” the old pope asked from Saint Peter’s throne.

“I,” the young man began and paused a long time, as his entourage entered and flanked him, plague and famine to his left, war to his right, as he giggled almost innocently, “am the star of the morning….” Again he paused, looking around, before adding, “whose coming was foretold in your prophecies,” breaking off again with a mad giggle. Once more he looked around, looking suddenly very serious, and each and every man saw that his eyes were pools of burning fire. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to say that,” he said, cackling madly now. It was clear that whatever facade of human rationality he had constructed, his grasp on that mask was fading into his natural, irrational passion for chaos and destruction.

Rising resolutely, the pontiff called out in thickly Germanic Latin, “Get behind me, Satan!”

Sammael’s grin dissipated instantly. With the roar of a thousand lions, he cried, “SIT DOWN, PRIEST!” The very force of the sonic wave knocked the man into his seat. Panic set in around the room, as the cardinals looked to the door for security. “Your nearest guards are … incapacitated…. And YOU men look to the guns and sabers of the Swiss Guard for your salvation! Should you not look to heaven? Where is your God, priests? Where is HE now? Mundus senescit, gentlemen! The end of all things is seriously fucking nigh, so now is your chance! Hail … Satan!”

Again, the pope struggled to his feet. “How dare you come into this place and demand worship!”

“How say you all?” Sammael called out with a laugh, examining the face of each man. The pope looked scandalized as three of the men rose and approached the demon and knelt down, kissing the hem of his robes. The thunder of boots reached him as the remnant of the Swiss Guard arrived. Sammael just smiled at them and said in his faux-innocent voice, pointing at the rest of the cardinals, “These men are trying to kill the pope….”

The Swiss Guard slaughtered the cardinals loyal to the pope to the last man, before Sammael released the control he held over them. With a wave, Sammael called out, “Good day, your holiness…. I leave you to preside over the end of your Church….”

The old man cried out after him as he walked out, three former cardinals trailing in his wake, “We shall rise from the ashes, stronger than before, and shall remain long after you are returned to the pit….”

Sammael turned and sneered at him like a petulant child. “We shall see,” he said, stomping his foot, causing the ground beneath his feet to shake. Large pieces fell from the ceiling, some crushing the bodies of the dead, others killing and injuring soldiers, leaving the pope in the midst of destruction.

***

A few moments later, the commander of a Chinese submarine was walking from his quarters to take control from his XO when he was ambushed by a horrible demonic woman. In an instant, she was in his head and had control over him.

He walked onto the bridge and announced. “I have word from Beijing that the United States and the South have attacked North Korea. We have orders to engage naval forces off the peninsula. Our targets are here and here,” he said, bringing up two ships on the display, an American cruiser and a South Korean destroyer. This is not a drill.” For a moment, claxons sounded and the Chinese sailors manned their battle stations.

If they had been trained to think critically and question orders, they would have noticed that the naval force they were about to engage was not behaving defensively, was not on alert. As it was, they were just glad they had an easy mission. The submarine emptied its torpedo tubes all at once and began reloading. Both targets were hit entirely unawares, and a second round of torpedoes were in the water before anyone could respond in a significant fashion. Both ships were sunk, and other nearby vessels were incapacitated as the Chinese submarine slipped back into the gloomy deep. But not before its signature was detected by a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine, which fired two torpedoes after its target, sinking it to the bottom. Then the submarine surfaced and relayed its data to Pacific Command.

Shortly, American and allied forces across the Pacific were raised to DEFCON 2 alert status, and the Strategic Air Command put long range bombers in the air so they wouldn’t be caught with their pants down again. Within hours, chaos was breaking out in the United Nations as irrefutable evidence was presented that one Security Council member had, without provocation, committed an act of war against another, as well as another member nation.

“Mr. Secretary General,” the Chinese ambassador began, “this incident is a terrible accident…. The offending vessel has been sunk. There is nothing to be gained by the United State’s provocative new alert status!”

“Provocative! Provocative!” yelled the South Korean ambassador. “You sank two ships killing thousands of sailors, and you say we are being provocative by trying to make sure this isn’t repeated? And are we to believe that this is not some plan, coming hours after an aggressive act across the DMZ initiated by the NORTH?”

The American ambassador was rising when he was caught off guard by an urgent message via his earwig. “Gentlemen! Gentlemen! Pacific Command has just informed me that two missiles were fired from within North Korea just moments ago…. One appears to be headed toward Seoul, the other toward our base in Okinawa.”

“This is an act of war,” the Japanese ambassador shouted. After a few minutes of angry shouting, the room began to fall silent as messages began to be transmitted to the ambassadors via pager, cell, pda, etc.

“Mr. Kharkhov, where will Russia stand?” the American ambassador demanded, as intelligence confirmed the appearance of a mushroom cloud over the capital of South Korea. If the missile intercept system in Japan missed the incoming device, thousands more American troops, as well as many Japanese civilians, would be incinerated.

“Russia understands that you cannot stand by in the face of this unprovoked aggression. Russia stands ready to offer material support for military action against North Korea….”

The Chinese ambassador rose angrily and said, “China demands an immediate investigation. How do we know that this is not some kind of ruse? We will veto any premature action against our historic ally….”

The American ambassador arose angrily and said, “Veto away, Ambassador Chen…. But your nation’s ally has aggressed, with weapons of mass destruction, against us, on the same day that your navy ‘accidentally’ sank two of our warships…. A United Nations with a Chinese veto is no United Nations…. Your diplomatic credentials have been revoked, and agents are standing by to escort you to the nearest airport!”

Following the dissolution of the old United Nations, ambassadors from the nations allied to or sympathetic with the United States, South Korea, and Japan met privately to hammer out a plan for an international response.