Weeping in Ramah
One of the Secret Service agents moved to answer the phone.
“No! Honey, could you get that please,” Richard said, keeping his gun held steady in the face of the chief of his Secret Service detail. “Back away from the phone, pal!” The other agent did as ordered.
“Hello?” Beth said. “General!” she said, then cupped a hand over the receiver. “It’s General Lind,” she said to her husband. “What’s happening, General? I’m sorry, we have...a situation here, he can’t come to the phone. Yes he’s still here,” she said with a little quake in her voice. “I need you to tell me what’s going on.” As she listened, Beth’s face grew ever more fearful. “Excuse me a moment, General.” She covered the receiver with her hand again.
“Honey...he says it’s happening everywhere…disappearances...not just here...our troops.... One of you, turn on CNN!” An agent slowly crossed the living room to the large high-definition home theater system that took up most of a wall. Careful to make no sudden moves, he turned it on.
“...from all over the world,” Christiane Amanpour said in her delicate accent. “Children…missing from their beds.” Her voice cracked, tears welling in her eyes. “Babies gone from their cribs. Entire elementary schools...suddenly emptied.” Her face was inset against a montage of handheld camera shots.
An Iranian woman in a black dress and hijab pressing a little shirt to her chest, her face aimed at the heavens wailing silently in pure anguish. A shaky, low-quality cell-phone video of small desks in neat rows. Piles of clothes in each chair, pant legs drooping down to empty shoes. A husband and wife in London bawling in each other’s arms, collapsed next to a stroller.
“The...Event appears to be limited to...to pre-teen children. My own son…Darius John Rubin...is among the missing.” A tear broke free and ran down her cheek, trailed down her jawline and dripped from her chin unnoticed. “If you still have your children...hold them. Hold them.” She failed to suppress a hitching sob.
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted...because they are no more. They are no more.” Christiane turned away from the camera and buried her face in her hands just as CNN cut back to the studio.
An immaculately pretty young anchorwoman sat alone behind the expansive, sweeping glass-and-brushed-nickel desk, like a captain going down with her ship. She stared helplessly into the camera for long seconds, her perfect cupid’s-bow lips parted, but unable to speak.
“That’s enough, turn it off,” Deming said, lowering his weapon with shaking hands. “...Sorry.” It was the Secret Service agents’ turn to look shaken. “Go on, call home. I need to talk to the General anyway. There might not be a location secure enough to protect us against this.” He went to the phone and Beth handed him the receiver.
“General, this is Deming.” Probably President Deming, he thought, feeling it hit him like a tsunami. Mike and his whole family, gone...plane crashes...oh God no!
“Sir, the news reports are saying it’s only children, but that’s not true," General Lind said. "It hit our forces too. Hard. Casualty rates in some units may be at fifty percent, or more. We’ve been hit in all theaters of operation. So far as I can tell, the Air Force has been hardest hit, especially among officers and pilots, followed by the Marines and the Army. The Navy is in the best shape, and their command structure is mostly intact.”
“Is it the Christians, General? I mean, the conservative, fundamentalist Christians. Protestants.”
“Mr. Vice President, we don’t even know who’s missing, or exactly how many. I couldn’t begin to tell you what their beliefs were. Right now it’s all I can do to try to find out what forces we still have. Except for Admiral Fallon, I haven’t been able to get a hold of the other Joint Chiefs.
“What about the people in your command? Are the people missing the ones who went to Christian Embassy prayer breakfasts?” The silence on the other end seemed to confirm Deming’s worst fears.
“It seems that way sir...but right now my concern is the men and women who are still here. It’s not on the news yet, but there’s rioting in Baghdad and Basra, and attacks on our troops and installations are on the rise. They’re blaming us. Al-Sistani has called for order and a day of fasting and repentance, but Sadr is blaming us. He’s on radio and the ‘net saying we used a new weapon to exterminate Iraq’s children.
“We’re able to defend our bases at the moment because the so far the attacks are small-scale and disorganized. That’s going to change, and when it does we’re going to be cut off from re-supply, and frankly, I think we’ll be overrun. AfPak is the same situation, or worse. I’m requesting permission to evacuate our troops as soon as possible. If we can get moving before the Iraqis strike in force, I think there’s a chance we’ll be able to get the bulk of our remaining forces out intact, but it won’t be easy.”
“General Trujillo is going to be asking us for more troops, not less, especially if his forces have been hit as hard as ours. But if every child in Mexico has disappeared...sir, I don’t think his government will last the day. I recommend we pull back to the border and do our best to fortify and maintain order. To be frank sir, I’m not sure we’ll be able to do that much. Do you have any contact with National Command Authority?”
“So far as I know, General, I am National Command Authority. The Secret Service tells me that President Huckabee and his family are among the missing. Do what you have to do, General. Get as many of our people out of the Middle East as you can. I think we’re going to need them here at home.”
“Do you want me to put our strategic forces on alert, sir?”
“No. Not until we can do it in concert with Russia, China, and our NATO allies. In fact, I want you to shut off our missile-defense radars in Europe and Alaska, and pull back any subs we have patrolling near Russian or Chinese waters. I want them to know we’re not behind this, and we’re not planning on exploiting it to harm their national interests.”
"Sir, are you sure you want to have those radars off?"
"They didn't warn us about this. General, you know as well as I do that our 'missile defense' systems don't work for anything but Raytheon's stock price, and poking a stick at the Russians and Chinese. If they're thinking we might be behind this somehow, and wondering if they ought to launch, I want to give them something they can see that says we're not."
“I have to go now, General. I’ll get in contact with you as soon as possible. Until otherwise directed, you have overall operational command of U.S. military forces.”
“Yes sir.” The phone slipped from Deming’s fingers to rattle in its cradle.
“My God...the whole world is going to fall apart...” Deming said. The chief of Deming’s Secret Service detail snapped his cell phone closed, his face pale.
“Sir, we have to move...”
“Take me to the White House.”
“We can’t go there sir, whoever did this knew to hit us there.”
“Then take me to the National Military Command Center, I need to get on the Hotline to the Russians.”
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