The next installment of my science fiction thriller series, The Event.
The RAF maintained two principal Quick Response Alert (QRA) bases in the UK, one in Coningsby just under 200 kilometers virtually due north of London and the primary site at Lossiemouth in Scotland. Each was charged with getting a pair of Eurofighter Typhoons airborne within five minutes of a scramble order. Once they received the go order, these planes could accelerate from brakes-off to Mach 1.5 at 10,000 meters in just over two minutes.
The process was designed to begin at the National Air Defense Operations Centre (NADOC), RAF Air Command, High Wycombe, which continuously monitored both military and civilian radar data for anomalies against standard expectations for the Recognized Air Picture (RAP).
Once a potential threat was noted, a scramble order was passed on to the Control and Reporting Centers (CRCs) at RAF Scampton and RAF Boulmer who maintained direct contact with the QRA pilots and directed them to proceed to specified coordinates.
A classified number of Typhoons from Lossiemouth’s four squadrons that collectively totaled nearly fifty aircraft were also kept on ready status at all times, meaning that the pilots were on call and the planes fully fueled. These additional Typhoons could be airborne in ten to twelve minutes with others from the three squadrons at Coningsby prepped and on standby as well.
At the onset of the event, the RAP had been nominal all morning until 12:00 when NADOC operators watched the radar images and corresponding transponder signatures vanish from their screens along a north/south line moving due west that spanned the entire length of England.
As more data disappeared from their screens, engineers initiated a pre-programmed set of rapid diagnostics while communication officers quickly confirmed that all RAF facilities were experiencing the same moving data blackout.
The situation changed severely when all communication ceased from the secondary QRA base at Coningsby, being located at 0.1701 degrees west longitude and just over 15 kilometers from the Prime Meridian, at forty six seconds past noon. The shift commander at NADOC was informed of the evolving situation within ninety seconds of its inception, and before two minutes had transpired, a scramble order was posted.
At Lossiemouth, the initial contingent of Typhoons took to the air with standard armament. In addition, the potential severity of the threat led the commander to issue a launch order for the secondary aircraft waiting on standby.
Taking off toward the west, the QRA couplet made a wide arc back toward the east and were confronted by a scene that was nearly incomprehensible: planes were vanishing from the sky leaving plummeting bodies behind while directly below on the ground, buildings, vehicles, and every type of infrastructure simply disappeared as if an invisible hand was moving across the land.
The lead plane had no time to avoid intercepting that wall of dissolution and was simply gone, but the pilot in the follow plane put his aircraft in a tight bank, nearly blacking out from the g-force as the event interface approached shearing off the first few inches of its underhanging armament before the jet gradually pulled away and off to the west.
The other Typhoons in the secondary squadron followed suit and were soon keeping pace ahead of the disruption, reporting back to NADOC until it also ceased communication just over twelve minutes past noon.
One of the QRA aircraft was fitted with the latest version of the Rafael Reccelite electro-optical reconnaissance pod that could broadcast live stabilized video imagery via datalink to ground stations and to ROVER (Remote Operations Video Enhanced Receiver) tactical units up to 160 kilometers distant.
RAF stations to the west picked up these images and repeated them throughout the NATO communications network, alerting stunned allies (and adversaries as well) of the existence and nature of the emergency at hand.
Check out the entire Event series on Amazon beginning with:
The next installment of my science fiction thriller series, The Event.
Heathrow airport, the busiest two-runway airport in the world, was positioned just under thirty eight kilometers west of London at -.4543 degrees longitude. The Air Traffic Control tower (ATC) stood 89 meters high, with the control room just below that at roughly 85 meters providing the operators a commanding 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside including a stunning panorama of the London skyline.
Airport administrators enforced an East to West take-off and landing pattern due to the prevailing winds and, with the continuous load of traffic, employed four separate arrival holding stacks: Lambourne to the northeast of London, Biggin to the southeast, Bovingdon to the northwest, and the Ockham Stack to the southwest, essentially putting the Old City at the center of a four-leaf clover with Heathrow being the stem to the west of all four stacks.
Heathrow handled more than 1300 flights a day. At any given moment, each of the four stacks might have six to twelve aircraft in its holding pattern with departing flights taking to the air at the far west side of the primary runway that defined the end of the clover’s stem at a rate of one every 60 to 90 seconds.
At the onset of the event, planes at the bottom of the Lambourne and Biggin stacks, arriving from across the continent from points north and south respectively, were beginning their final descents toward Heathrow. The view of the sprawling London metropolitan area during approach was said to be one of the most spectacular throughout the world, and passengers were glued to their windows taking it all in when the city below began to vanish along a north/south line that was cutting an east/west swath toward Heathrow.
Coming largely from military backgrounds, most pilots were quick to respond, pulling their aircraft into insanely tight turns in the attempt to head back toward the east. Unfortunately, some planes were simply too close already to avoid crossing the Prime Meridian, and in a fraction of a second, passengers in the jets still on hold observed groups of flailing naked people falling from where they had been sitting in their commuter planes and jumbos just a moment before.
Unprepared for the sudden evasive maneuvers, two cargo carriers collided in a fireball before their momentum carried them into the affected zone leaving nothing but smoke hovering over the safe side.
Alerted by the chaotic chatter, the shift supervisor in the ATC rushed to the wrap-around windows in time to see the entire London skyline disappear as the interface moved through it, and distant planes on approach disintegrating before his eyes.
Initially stunned, his military training also kicked in and he barked orders at every controller to wave off all incoming flights – those from the east to return in the direction they had come to land at other airports, and those from the west to turn 180 degrees and keep going until the situation was resolved. Many of these planes were low on fuel, but had little choice to comply even though time was of the essence. Departing flights were directed to continue westward after taking off at the fullest possible throttle.
Within two minutes after event inception, the tower went silent.
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London, originally built by the Romans at that famous encircling bend in the Thames, had gradually migrated over the millennia until the heart of the modern city stood some fifteen kilometers almost due west from the Meridian Building as the crow flies.
Just east of the Prime Meridian Line, the observation deck had provided an incredible panorama of the London skyline from the Millennium Dome on the right to the odd pickle shaped building oft referred to as “the gherkin” on the left. And in the center, dead on at the end of Greenwich Park, was the grand Queen’s House that we have already established could be seen as missing from the position at Seven Points.
At the moment of inception of the event, London remained initially unscathed, according to several witnesses who had been on the observation deck. Rather, the Vanishing (in the popular vernacular) emanated from the Prime Meridian Line just west of the Dome, “disappearing” all man made artifacts right to left as it went, covering the distance across all of London in just under one minute.
A common element among those few first-hand accounts is the inability of the interviewees to find words to describe the degree of their shock as they followed the progress of the line of dissolution sweeping toward the urban center.
One moment there were skyscrapers, multi-deck cruise ships on the Thames, and traffic rolling down the streets and highways. The next moment there were hundreds of people falling from the sky, sightseers plunging into the river, and car-less drivers and passengers skidding across the road beds before rolling to a stop, limp and lifeless.
The onlookers, for the most part, remained frozen in stunned silence as the plane of disruption moved inexorably across the land, though those who had family and friends in the Old Smoke began to scream and weep, and many fell to the cobblestones that remained beneath their shoes.
Toward the right, in a delayed reaction, two geysers erupted from the river just above the Blackwall Tunnels when the earth, no longer supported by the vanished lining, collapsed.
That, coupled with the rising wails of those who had been on the bad side of the line or had loved ones in the old city drew the rest of those on the fortunate side back into awareness, and the chaos then unfolded as has already been described from the perspectives of Subject Zero and those around him.
As horrific as it was, this eye witness experience did provide the first hard bit of data about the event: it was not something that had happened over a fixed area like the radius of a bomb blast, but something that was still happening: a process with a speed and a direction. It was, in fact, hardly more than one minute from inception until the leading edge of disruption had completely crossed the Old Town and disappeared over the horizon.
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Approximately .25 kilometers into the event zone, at a place in Greenwich Park where seven walking paths converge, some of the dispossessed had heard the helicopter and looked up expecting help, only to see the craft’s dissolution. For the briefest of moments they had remained transfixed, unable to grasp what they had just seen. And then the cries of those around them jolted their attention back to the nearer pathos.
Greenwich park had been a favorite destination for the local population where they might enjoy the open greenery away from the noise and congestion of the city. Children, parents, grandparents, dog owners, lovers, and lovers of nature would stroll through the manicured woods and commune with a slower god than the one worshiped in the urban realm. And this particular day, being the summer solstice, the park had attracted much larger crowds to celebrate near the meridian at noon.
Of these, many were writhing in agony, especially those elderly folk who were now absent their hip and knee replacements, many of whom had fallen hard. Those less affected, were comforting them as best they could, being near shock themselves as their minds recoiled.
Dogs sans collars or leashes ran wildly, driven into a frenzy by the screams of their owners. Some, of a more aggressive nature, tore into others of their kind, and one attacked his master who had previously treated him poorly. A few ran off into the woods, but most remained by the sides of those they loved, whimpering pitiably.
Babies in buggies had fallen to the ground, though none were seriously injured. One infant being carried in a backpack, however, had hit a rock and was no longer moving, his parents stunned, grieving, and holding his limp body tight against their naked ones.
Please note that this report does not include the most graphic descriptions of the injuries, nor linger on the horrendously painful emotions suffered by the victims. Only the minimum details necessary to convey the magnitude and depth of the tragedy are documented, so that we might better prepare.
A hill stands between Seven Points and the Royal Observatory grounds, which includes the Meridian Building, so the people at that intersection in the park could not see that buildings and clothed people still existed there. In the opposite direction, to the north, the Queen’s House complex should have been visible in the distance, but it was gone leaving only a patch of raw earth. This offered a real possibility to the gathering that the entire world had been cast into this condition.
Those who had come to the park alone and were at least relatively uninjured were the first to work past the initial shock and began to ask one another what had happened. Of course, no one had an answer, though some began to speculate that it might have been anything from a judgment of God to an attack by aliens or perhaps the resurgence of magic in the world. But again, reasoning was difficult after such an experience especially being surrounded by the sounds and sights of continuing suffering.
One man, physically fit and in his prime, set off toward Observatory Hill, having considered that the helicopter had existed after they themselves had been struck, so perhaps help might be found in that direction. Another slightly less fit man followed him, striving to keep up. An able-bodied and young athletic woman began to jog in the other direction toward where the Queen’s house had been, in the hope of finding assistance toward the city. But by and large, most of the people huddled together, staying close to their loved ones, and believing that their best chance of rescue was to remain where they were.
Please note that the entire park scenario just presented is taken from a single account from the only known survivor who claims these as his experiences. There is no reason to doubt his story, though being uncorroborated the details likely diverge in the specifics. Still and all, this and the accounts to follow provide our best insight into the personal experiences beyond the more logistic overviews already well-covered in several substantial studies and volumes.
The healthy man soon arrived at the top of the hill, closely followed by his less-toned companion. There, they saw that half the Prime Meridian Building and all other edifices to the west were missing. Those who had been on the second floors of the vanished buildings had fallen some twenty feet from their offices into the cavities where the basements had been, and almost all lay writhing with one severe injury or another, begging for help.
The view back toward the west was blocked by the trees on the hill, but ahead, the buildings, and more important, the observation deck remained intact. Slowly working their way, barefoot, from the raw dirt and then up along the cobblestones and stairs, they both strode with purpose and dread toward the view point.
As they reached the line of small telescopes that had been placed there for the amusement of visitors to the park, they stopped in their tracks. Looking west across an expanse of forest and green, patches of exposed earth were littered with thousands of tiny dots, moving ant-like, where London used to stand.
The athletic man dropped to his knees like a marionette. His companion shuddered uncontrollably and wept openly.
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The morning that it happened there had been no warning, at least according to virtually all credible sources among the survivors. Naturally, there were those who claimed, in retrospect, to have seen signs that might have provided advance notice. But those accounts, it has been determined, are likely nothing more than instances of pareidolia, not unlike the perception of images in the shapes of clouds.
What is almost universally accepted is that it began on the summer solstice at precisely 12:00:00 GMT in Greenwich itself, on the prime meridian that ran, at the time, through the courtyard of the old Royal Observatory in London.
When the sun is at its zenith, the clock is set at noon, and many of those on holiday have stood with one foot on each side of that line of demarcation so that, in an odd twist of the original phrase, they could be photographed being in two times at the same place.
Multiple witnesses have confirmed that a tourist (his name is not known, so we shall refer to him as Subject Zero) was straddling the two-tone steel ribbon embedded in the cobblestones that denotes longitude 0’0’’0’’’, and it was at that exact moment when our star reached the apogee of its arc across the sky that it occurred.
Just before, all was as normal as it can be at an English destination, and in the next instant, everything changed. Subject Zero’s sister, who was standing in the previous hour, snapped a commemorative picture, then stared at the frozen image on her screen, unable to process what she saw there.
Shaking herself loose from that impossible visage, she raised her eyes to gaze on her brother who, indeed, was still astride the meridian, fully clothed on her side of the line and fully naked on the other. It appeared as if he was wearing half a suit of clothes, severed vertically down the middle. Those who later examined the clothing reported that it appeared as though it had been cut with a laser, so straight and fine was the edge of the separation.
Subject Zero himself, focusing on presenting a foolish expression for his friends back home, was momentarily unaware that anything was amiss. It was the combination of his sister’s shocked stare and the slight breeze tickling his windward side that caused him to look down, freeze in incomprehension, then leap back away from the meridian, toward his sister. Jostled by his movement, the clothes on his leeward side fell off, leaving him fully exposed, but also offering the first indication that, other than his pride, Subject Zero was unharmed.
Before either of them could begin to parse what had happened, their attention was jolted to shouts of alarm, mostly coming from beyond the meridian on the leading-hour side to the West. There, the scene was an experiment in chaos. Everyone, as far as the eye could see, was completely naked, looking frantically around in terror, and beginning to run toward the trailing hour side where everyone was still clothed (except, of course, for Subject Zero).
Those that crossed the line did not regain their clothing, and those that ran across to help the others lost theirs, as well as their purses, wallets, cameras, phones, jewelry, tattoos, dental work, and breast implants. In short, any material object that had been fashioned by the hand of man had simply ceased to exist. There were cries of shock from some and cries of fear from others (though strangely, no immediate expressions of pain).
Perhaps the most unfortunate of the lot was the chief gardener for the Observatory grounds who ran across the event plane to assist those in need and almost instantly dropped dead on the spot from an apparent heart attack. It was later confirmed that his pacemaker had simply vanished from his chest as he passed into the affected area. How this was determined will be addressed in the appendices to this report. For now, we must consider even more momentous diversions from the norm.
Initially, of course, everyone was focused exclusively on their own well-being or that of their family and friends. There were, however, a few independent and/or lonely souls who had come to the grounds by themselves. With no one else there to hold their attention, they were the first to look beyond their own needs and notice that it was not only personal effects that had vanished, but the buildings, walls, cars, and roads were all missing as well. There was little time to speculate, however, as those who had already recovered their wits were on the move en masse on both sides of the meridian.
The terrified throngs on the event side of the line rushed forward like stampeding cattle, seeking refuge among those whom they could see on the trailing side who were still in the world as it always had been. They were almost mindlessly driven to seek protection or a reconnection with their kin who were frantically waving them on or, for those who were more forward-looking, by the concern that whatever had happened was just the beginning of something even worse.
Regardless of their motivations, they charged forward, but with the pavement missing as well as their shoes, many of them fell in front of the frenzied crowd as they stepped on sharp rocks or tripped on stones or hobbled themselves in gopher and mole holes that had lain under the road unseen.
As they fell, they were overrun by the mob behind them, and in short order the multitude was swarming over the growing human breakwater to the horror of those whose loved ones were near the bottom of the writhing heap.
Those on the normal side now saw the tsunami of humanity press forward. The first to project the likely outcome began to back away from the line, then turned and ran toward their cars which had been parked in the overflow lot, mostly. Attracted by the commotion around them, others made the connection as well, and soon there was a second wave also crashing over anyone who fell before them, no longer considering themselves more fortunate than the terrified souls in the oncoming crush of naked bodies behind them.
At some point the slowest of the clothed were overcome by the fastest of the naked. Those with tendencies toward hypochondria worried that the afflicted might be contagious and tried to beat them back with cameras, purses, and all the other accessories they possessed that might be repurposed as weapons against those who had lost theirs.
Those struggling against the flow to reach those dear to their hearts were picked up by the leading edge of the wave and pressed backwards against the Prime Meridian Building, a museum designed to be bisected by the line, and as the swirl of humanity circled ‘round it like water in a river encountering a boulder, those terrified souls eddied past the side to discover the edifice had been severed along its midpoint leaving nothing on the leading side but a footprint in the soil where it had once stood.
In an office on the second floor of the unaffected part of the building an administrator had been gazing out toward the meridian when the event occurred. He had turned away in disbelief, shaken his head, then returned his gaze to discover that everything was still missing.
Finding his voice, he had called to his associates who joined him at the window and verified what he had seen. Being this troubled modern age, the first assumption was that it had been some sort of terrorist attack, and so a previously choreographed plan was initiated by the designated safety officer for the building.
While one clerk ran to lock the door, another called the nearest constabulary to report the incident. Receiving no signal and realizing the phone service may have been disrupted in the area of the damage, she entered the secondary contact number, which went to a station on the untouched side.
Naturally, the officer on the other end of the call assumed it to be a prank, sternly threatened arrest, and hung up. Soon, however, a flood of additional calls prompted him to send a car to investigate whatever it was. This radio traffic was monitored by a local news crew and reported to their station, which dispatched an already airborne helicopter to provide live video.
Outside, the crowd moved on, primarily toward the parking lot and the associated public transportation connections where some had already started their cars and sped at a dangerous pace toward the exit. Perhaps two dozen vehicles made it out before the first collision occurred, which prompted several more in succession until the path was blocked completely.
Some tenacious drivers chose to set off across the lawns and over curbs in order to connect with the open road, while others raced around in circles, looking for a way home. Due to their state of mind, a number of those running for their own cars were struck and some even killed on the spot. One naked man from the event side arrived at his car only to realize he no longer had his keys.
Of the score of cars that had gained the road, roughly half had their homes or accommodations on the normal side of the line and sped off toward them. The other half, realizing they might no longer have a place to stay, called relatives to arrange refuge, soon discovering no connection to any numbers toward the west but reaching their startled relations toward the east. A few escapees simply set off cross country on foot to put as much distance as they could between themselves and what had just happened. Others simply crumpled to the ground, too shaken and dispirited to do anything further to help themselves.
Above, the news helicopter buzzed onto the scene, banking to linger on set shots of the chaos to be used in the upcoming live broadcast before flying on toward the Prime Meridian Building that early reports coming into the station identified as ground zero of the disturbance.
Turning sharply to set up a reveal shot for the switch to live, the “Eye in the Sky” flew just above tree level toward the historic monument from the east side, rising up above it at the last minute until the full expanse of the disaster could be seen stretching out toward the horizon.
The landscape looked as it must have millennia ago: rolling hills, some wooded, and the Thames winding its way to the sea. Across the expanse, hundreds of naked people were running or crawling or wandering aimlessly in circles.
The news crew, though hardened by years of covering devastating situations, was stunned into silence and, without thinking, powered on right past the building, and over the meridian line. As it passed, the helicopter and all the gear inside were simply erased as they crossed the event plane.
All that emerged on the other side were the pilot, the cameraman, and the newswoman, still in sitting position, fully nude and without any means of remaining aloft other than inertia, which quickly diminished in the face of friction from the prevailing wind. Comprehending their plight at almost the same moment, all three frantically flailed their limbs as they described a perfect ballistic path from some two hundred feet elevation to their impact point on the ground.
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Consider now that all that has been described so far occurred within the first fifteen minutes after event inception. In that quarter hour, these scenes were repeated in every city, town, neighborhood, home and farm house affecting everyone at work, at school, at play, on the road, on the water, in the air, or under the ground.
A swath of land representing one percent of the planet’s surface had been wiped clean of every sign of human habitation save the footprint left upon the earth when all that we created had vanished. There were exceptions, however, and those would come to light as the event continued toward the west – exceptions that gave us a fighting chance to preserve something of our culture and make a stand for survival.
Attempts were made to peer into those areas of devastation so as to better understand and prepare should the phenomenon remain on its current course. The military was providing continuous video feeds from planes on both sides of the event: those patrolling north and south along the safe side, and those pacing the leading edge as it sped quickly toward the Atlantic.
In contrast, the civilian world was provided little in the way of new video information other than that supplied by the fleet of television helicopters flying just outside the disrupted zone, using their maximum telephoto magnification to capture scenes of the unfolding pathos.
Though some turbojet helicopters were capable of reaching an altitude of more than 7,500 meters, the news gathering variety could hover at only half that, but still giving their cameras a potential horizon of more than 200 kilometers from London, theoretically allowing them to resolve images in Cardiff on the west coast.
In practice, however, haze, dust, heat waves, and the thickness of the atmosphere at an oblique angle over that distance reduced the practical range to something less, especially in terms of details. In addition, the rate the event interface was travelling had already put it beyond the horizon before it could be seen.
As a result, as the second quarter hour of the event began, the only images publicly available were of the destruction in its wake and were distant, muddy, and low resolution, giving the emotional impression that this was the aftermath of a localized disaster that had already happened.
This all changed for viewers still glued to their televisions when a jumpy shot covering the whole of Spain as seen from above with a hand-held camera filled their screens. The image zoomed into a blur, then gradually came into focus revealing the event interface, seen diagonally from upper left to lower right, as it moved inexorably westward across Madrid.
Shortly after the first military video from London was arriving in the United States, a ground controller at NASA had directed the crew of the International Space Station to point their camera out the window as they approached the Iberian Peninsula and, remembering the tragedy on 9-11, had passed it on in a live feed to new agencies, without considering the panic it might generate.
Like an invisible eraser, the event passed over Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport wiping it clean, then continued through the suburbs toward the heart of the old city. There was no dust along the interface line and no rubble behind: the buildings and infrastructure were not disintegrating, just ceasing to be.
Fortunately, the resolution was not sufficient to see people falling from newly non-existent buildings and planes in the same manner as London, but the impact was palpable as celebrated landmarks such as Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, the Royal Palace, and the Plaza de España were easily identifiable from space one moment and gone the next.
The International Space Station, like most payloads, was placed into orbit traveling from west to east to take advantage of the sling shot effect of the earth’s rotation, not unlike a playground merry-go-round, saving on fuel and thereby allowing greater weights to be lofted.
Circling the globe every ninety three minutes, it approached the interface line at approximately 28,000 kilometers per hour, bringing the two headlong together in just under five minutes at which time the signal was lost.
Just below New Zealand lies the Antipodes Island Group – so called because they are the nearest land mass to the point on the globe geographically opposite to that of London. And it was in New Zealand proper, forty-five minutes later at the Mount John University Observatory, that one of its five telescopes, following the projected path of the ISS, was able to capture a silhouette image of astronauts’ nude bodies as they transited the moon.
When the space station went dark, it was assumed by most that NASA had cut the signal, but the public had seen enough: something horrible, inexplicable, and unprecedented was happening in Europe. What if it didn’t stop there?
In contrast to the event’s straight line, panic spread out from London like a bomb blast in all directions at once. Those to the west who had not yet been deprived of their televisions ran from their homes in absolute terror that was more intense with increasing proximity to what was coming.
First thoughts were to bring their families together or hunker down with friends. Some never made it to their front door. Others made it through the broadcast before their screen and everything else vanished around them.
Those quick on the draw immediately made contact by cell phone and arranged gathering points. For most everyone else, the cell system became so overloaded that within seconds it was impossible to make a connection, cutting communication long before the event arrived, adding to the panic already at work.
imagine the mental state of those who had now seen the effect of the event, it’s present location, and the direction from which it was coming. Nothing had yet been published about natural items remaining, nor that new things could be created in the event zone after the interface had passed. All anyone knew at that time was that everything of a material man made nature was soon to vanish from their world, and those they cared most about were in imminent peril.
Manchester was gone as well as Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Liverpool. Glasgow was wiped clean, then Gibraltar and Tangier in quick succession. There was no time to consider the loss of art and architecture nor of family albums and traditions. All was lost in scant minutes and all that was left were suffering and fear.
Flying over Dublin and Lisbon a line of jet aircraft could be seen, a mixture of military and civilian craft that had been quick enough to get in the air before the event arrived and fast enough to stay ahead of it, looking much like a bombing raid from World War II.
Boeing’s 777 was one of the fastest commercial jets, cruising at Mach .84, and capable of maintaining Mach .89 for sustained flight. Other planes of less speed were gradually overtaken by the interface, and as their tails dissolved they fell from the sky only to be vanished completely before the wreckage could hit the ground. This provided a good, though tragic, indicator of the speed of the event itself, but as of yet, there was no centralized information center to which it (and hundreds of other observations) could be reported. That would soon change in the second hour.
As the first hour closed, the event line had moved past Ireland to encroach on the coast of Iceland, and farther south, it was bearing down on the Canary Islands and about to leave the African continent to plunge into the Atlantic on its way west.
Though the event was clearly progressing from east to west, the Prime Meridian, being a line of longitude, runs north and south from Greenwich all the way to both poles.
Above the UK, the Meridian crosses the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, the Greenland Sea, and the Arctic Ocean, terminating at the north pole. Unlike Antarctica, which is a continent, there is no land mass at the north pole. Rather, it is covered by an extensive ice sheet some one to four meters thick in most places and up to twenty meters in depth at pressure ridges. The size of the ice varies by season, covering all the water between Canada and Russia during the winter and, with global warming, shrinking enough to allow open navigation around the edges by September.
At the exact moment the athletic man arrived at the Observation Deck, the Russian government lost communication with two Dolphin Class and one Borey-A Class nuclear submarines traveling under the cap together at a cruise depth of two hundred meters as part of the year’s Umka (Polar Bear) artic exercise being held in the vicinity of the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
In a previous year’s effort, the pack, as part of a contingent of more than six hundred military and civilian personnel had become the first to simultaneously break through the artic ice from below within a radius of three hundred meters and sought now to duplicate the achievement. Communication was never reestablished.
Southward from London, zero degrees longitude stretches over the English Channel and then through France, Spain, the Mediterranean Sea, over another leg of Spain, and back into the Mediterranean Sea.
Along this span, Bordeaux in France and Valencia in Spain bore the initial brunt of the event in their respective countries, but unlike the situation in London, zero degrees longitude falls just east of those two cities, so rather than bisecting them, both metropolitan areas were completely demolished in the same manner as the English capitol within moments of inception.
In each case, therefore, there was no immediate support network directly to the east, and the entire infrastructure had been removed in an instant. With no prior warning, more than one million urban dwellers and two million more in their extended metropolitan areas fell naked into a stone age equivalent world filled with the dead and injured and with no means of protecting, clothing, or feeding themselves, much less assisting others.
The Meridian ran more than thirty kilometers to the east of what had been the city center of Bordeaux, and without any means of communication there was no way to know that safety lay in that direction. Panic quickly ensued, exacerbated by the dissolution of the three major psychiatric hospitals that surrounded the downtown.
Though this report strives to include only descriptions of specific scenarios witnessed first hand by those who had experienced them, from time to time it serves to diverge from that restriction to outline the larger narratives in play that day.
Therefore, in order to understand the extraordinary forces that worked against our response to the disaster, for a moment imagine yourself as one of the citizens of Bordeaux – instantly surrounded by a barren landscape, absent of all familiar landmarks, feeling in a very real sense as if you had been transported to another planet: no resources, no sense of what to do, no explanation of what had happened.
And then, in scant moments when the initial shock wore off, to realize you were surrounded by heaps and mounds of writhing, screaming people. And even if you were uninjured or even at home, your spouse might be at work, your children at school, your mother at the care center. You had no idea how to get to them or to check on them, no idea what was going on, and no way of finding out.
Returning to eye-witness accounts, in Valencia, the situation was even worse, though that seems beyond imagining. Like London, Valencia was built by the Romans and had become Spain’s third largest city, three times the size of Bordeaux, and generated more than half the GDP of the country through its port at which the entire infrastructure had just vanished. Boats, trucks, trains, planes, and cars had ceased to be in an instant and thousands of people were plunged into the water both near and very far from shore.
The event line was more than twenty kilometers east of the coast, so not only was there little hope for those in distress, but no rescuers from the safe side could reach them. Those few ships in the area that tried, crossed the line and sank, adding to the tragedy. Incredibly a few strong swimmers were able to make their way to ships in the safe zone or back to shore toward the west, which did not substantially improve their situation.
Valencia was also home to Spain’s largest prison at Picassent, and in that community to the south of the city center, inmates and guards without uniforms to identify them mingled with each other and eventually with the general population. There were several reports of violent attacks there on uninjured survivors which may have been perpetrated by those whose mindless rage had caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.
From the Mediterranean below Valencia, the Meridian heads into Africa, across Algeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Togo again, and Ghana once more before plunging into the Atlantic Ocean.
The initial incursion of the event along the Prime Meridian in Africa fell largely in sparely populated areas. Still, tribes of nomads and many small villages in the Sahara were struck.
Perhaps one of the most fortunate was the oasis of Tabelbala in southwest Algeria. With a population of just over 5,000, it was an agricultural community in which more than ninety percent of the homes had drinking water and electricity.
Though hit hard by the loss of their infrastructure, the readily available water and crops (more than 100,000 date palms) as well as an estimated 3,500 sheep, 10,000 goats, and 5,000 camels, left the settlement well positioned for survival and some degree of continuity in its social and economic traditions.
As we shall later see in South America, those tribes and villages considered least advanced by the developed world often fared far better than their more modern brethren.
To the south of Ghana, the line plunges into the Southern Ocean for more than ten thousand kilometers before concluding its arc at the south pole. The only landmass the Prime Meridian touches in the southern hemisphere is Antarctica.
And it was there, at the bottom of the world, that a minor phenomenon would eventually provide the first small insight into the event process.
The United States had maintained a base at the geographic south pole since 1956, though the original base was abandoned in 1975, due to drifting snow. It was replaced in that year by a geodesic dome that was itself replaced in 2008 resulting from a crack in the dome caused by pressure on the foundation. Since 2008, the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station has maintained a summer population of approximately 150 with a few dozen “winter-overs” usually totaling around 40.
The geographic south pole is the common termination of all lines of longitude which meet at the point where the axis of the earth’s rotation intersects its surface. This is not at all the same as the south magnetic pole, which has slowly meandered over the continent in a roughly east to west direction and currently resides off the coast.
There is a third south pole as well – a cute candy cane striped post with a round silver ball on top – that sits just a few yards in front of the station as a photo opportunity for visiting dignitaries who do not wish to make the trek out to the actual geographic pole some distance away.
Relative to the station, the geographic pole shifts at approximately ten meters per year, as the ice cap slowly flows over it like a glacier. In fact, the location for the station had taken into account this drift so that it would pass directly over the pole. At the time of the event, that latitudinal nexus has already moved through to stand some four hundred meters from the ceremonial pole and was getting father away every season.
To commemorate that spot for those intrepid enough to make the trek, a sign was erected and then moved as needed for accuracy, leaving markers of its previous positions to illustrate the path of the ice cap.
As it was a point of interest, several engineers had set up a year-round wireless web cam to broadcast the sign in sun and storm while documenting hardier polar tourists who made the effort to see it.
Being exactly at the pole, Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station was graced with six months in which the sun never sets and six months of complete darkness. While London was celebrating the summer solstice, Antarctica was enduring its winter solstice.
Though no tourists are allowed during the winter, the web cam engineers had equipped the sign with a low-power LED just bright enough to make it readable, but dim enough not to overpower the spectacular Aurora Australis, commonly known at the Southern Lights. This provided a captivating view and at any given time of day several hundred internet viewers were tuned in to enjoy the show.
Immediately after the event initiated in London, comments posted on the web cam’s page claimed an unusual occurrence was visible on screen: one edge of the sign appeared to be gradually disappearing – so slowly in fact that the progression at the edge of the disruption was barely discernable.
The communications officer on duty noticed the increased comment traffic on the web cam page and examined the image for himself. He had no explanation for what he saw. There was no disruption of the image of the aurora and the rest of the sign appeared as it should. But the one edge was continuously, almost imperceptibly, vanishing.
He quickly reported this discovery to the web cam crew who, after viewing the video, set about donning their winter gear for a trek to the pole to see for themselves. Later, their actions would come to provide one of the contributing factors to our survival.