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Fifteen Minutes to Power Off

© 2019 CR Britting

To a casual observer, the vast expanse of water might have seemed empty. The sea was flat calm, the skies were dark and the cold wind made the late winter afternoon seem colder still.

Though the sea may have appeared empty, such was not the case, and a closer look would reveal a small, dark object protruding from the water. Furthermore, the object was not stationary but moving, fast enough that it generated a wake in its path. The wake might have have been visible from an orbiting satellite, but the low-hanging clouds made it nearly invisible to the eye.

A military person would certainly recognize it for what it was: The snorkel of a submarine, specifically, a diesel submarine. Unlike nuclear boats, diesel subs get their propulsion from combustion engines, which in turn require large quantities of air to breathe and a way to vent exhaust fumes. Using a snorkel allows the submarine to stay mostly submerged and still run its main engines, making it less detectable. If the sub has to go deep, it must rely on large batteries for power, greatly limiting the vessel’s speed and the time it can stay under water. If conditions permit, utilizing the snorkel allows the sub to use one diesel engine for propulsion and the other to recharge the battery.


About 50 feet below the surface, the sub’s sonar operator, whose job it was to keep an eye on nearby underwater objects, quickly straightened in his seat when a new ‘blip’ appeared on his screen. He watched it for a moment, then keyed the intercom.


“Control room, Sonar.”


“Conn, Aye.”


“Conn, Sonar. Surface contact, bearing 10 degrees starboard, course about 270, distance 8000 yards, speed about eight knots.”


A new voice came over the speaker. “Sonar, this is the Captain. Any other surface contacts?”


“Negative, Sir. Other than him, the scope is clear.”


* * * * *


In the main control room of the submarine, the captain keyed the mic.


“All right, sonar, keep an eye on him. We’re closing to investigate.”


He hung up the mic and turned to Abul, his second-in-command.


“Secure the battery charge. Come right 10 degrees. Full ahead both engines. We’ll close to 1500 yards then take a look.”


Even running at full submerged speed on the snorkel, it them a while longer to close the distance.


“Conn, sonar.”


“This the captain, Sonar. How we looking?”


“Just passing through 1500 yards to target, sir. It’s slowed to 5 knots.”


“Very well, Tran. Thanks.


“All right, Abul. Up periscope, let’s see who’s out there.”


“Aye, sir.” The periscope rose quietly from its well and it took only a few seconds for it to break the surface. The captain trained it around to correct bearing, glanced through it and then changed it to high magnification. Despite the growing darkness, he could see the ship clearly, right where it was supposed to be, and, amazingly enough, on schedule.


“Looks like our friend, Abul. Down scope. Surface the boat. We’ll close to 500 yards and approach on his port side.”


Climbing to the top of the submarine’s sail, the raised structure amidships, the captain lifted his binoculars. Sure enough, it was the Revolution, its decks filled with cargo containers. Nice of them to turn on all the deck lights for us.


He lifted the intercom mic. “XO, give him three on the horn. That should wake them up.”


Abul’s chuckle came through the speaker. “Aye, sir. Three on the horn it is.”


* * * * *


The container ship Revolution was good sized, more than 25,000 tons, and almost 500 feet long. The hull itself was over 20 years old, but the engineering plant had been modernized recently and the vessel was capable of much greater speed than published data suggested.


On the stern of the ship, the lookout had already spotted the sub and was just about to call the bridge when he heard the piercing blare of the horn.


“Submarine on the surface at eight o’clock, sir. Distance 500 meters.”


On the bridge, Revolution’s captain, Dimitri Arnov, acknowledged the lookout’s report and stepped out onto the bridge wing, where he lifted his own binoculars and trained them aft. A signalman had followed him outside, and after a moment’s glance at the sub, the captain turned to him.


“Send the recognition signal.” The signalman raised the small, but powerful light, pointed it at the sub and began to send the recognition code. Seconds later the sub replied.


“Signal acknowledged, sir. Counter sign is correct. Message follows: Will approach on your port side.”


“Very well. Acknowledge.” Then he keyed the intercom. “Bridge, captain. All stop. Launch the small boat, port side. Prepare to receive visitors.”


Another man joined them. His name was Min-ho. He had once been a high-ranking military officer, but that was long ago and today he wore only a heavy sweater and slacks under his coat.


The captain turned to him with a smile. “And so it begins, my friend.”


“It does indeed, Dimitry. Death to the Great Satan.”


* * * * *


The submarine closed the distance and pulled to a stop 60 meters away. The small boat was ready and it wasted little time collecting the sub’s captain. When he reached the main deck, Arnov and Min-ho were waiting to greet him.


“Dimitri, good to see you again,” he said as they shook hands.


“You, too, Karl. And this is Mr. Min-ho, our client. Sir, this is Karl Richter, captain of the Haresh.”


“I hope you had a good passage, captain,” Min-ho said as they shook hands.


“A very long voyage indeed, sir, but a good one. No problems at all and the new engines gave us a bit more speed.”


“Karl, we have additional food and other supplies for you. The crew will start transferring them over right away.”


“Many thanks, we’re going to be pretty crowded after the event and they’ll be a big help. Everything in readiness here?”


“Yes. No sign the Americans are paying us any unusual attention. They’ve no doubt detected us on their satellite, but as far as they know we’re just another container ship carrying a load of cell phones and toys. No suspicious ship or aircraft activity nearby. Let’s head down to my cabin; we have things to discuss.”


* * * * *


After their meeting, the ships turned south so they were facing away from the coast, with Haresh moving further away until after the event. Just after ten o’clock that night activity commenced on the Revolution as, one by one, the fake cargo containers on the rear deck were jettisoned overboard followed by a metal plate covering the deck below. After a brief pause, a missile launcher rose into its vertical position. The missile itself was a big one, with a range of more than 2000 miles, more than plenty for this mission.


Up forward, the remains of the cargo containers were being pushed overboard as well, revealing several large antenna arrays. The control room for them was on the deck below.


Over the next half hour, technicians checked out the missile and determined they were go for launch. On the bridge, Captain Arnov stuck his head into the radar shack.


“Any air or surface contacts?


“Nothing close, sir. Nearest one is 150 miles, heading east, away from us.”


“Very well.” Arnov returned to the bridge and glanced at his XO. “What’s the position of the American reconnaissance satellite?”


“It disappeared over the horizon, uh,” the XO glanced at his watch, “seven minutes ago.”


“Very good.” Then he turned to Min-ho. “Ready to proceed, sir.”


“Excellent. May I do it?”


“Of course, sir,” Dimitri said with a smile. “I thought you would like that.” He uncovered a red switch on the fire control console.


Min-ho stepped up to the panel. “I’ve been waiting for this moment a long time.” And with those words, he pressed the button.


Two hundred feet behind them, the big missile ignited, and with an ear-splitting roar, it climbed into the night sky on a pillar of fire. Min-ho grinned broadly, mightily pleased at the fruition of his dream.


Within a few minutes, missile control confirmed the flight path was correct.


“Time to go, sir,” Arnov said to his client, then he picked up the PA system microphone.


“Attention all hands. This is the captain. Successful launch. Everyone muster on the port side for evacuation. Take all personal items, anything that might identify you. Quickly now. We need to be gone as soon as possible.”


By the time Dimitri and Min-ho reached the main deck, Haresh had closed the distance and was alongside. The boat filled quickly and began its short trip to the submarine. One more trip would be needed to get everyone transferred.


“After you, sir,” Dimitri told Min-ho when the boat returned. They descended the stairs and entered the boat. Once away from the ship, Arnov pulled a remote control box from his pocket. He pointed it at the Revolution’s bridge and pressed a button, which activated the ship’s autopilot and set a countdown clock. The ship’s diesel engines revved up and Revolution began to gather way. It would accelerate to 25 knots as it ran southeast, away from the launch site.


* * * * *


About 1100 miles to the northwest, Lt. Colonel Richard Lawton, US Air Force, waited patiently while the machine filled his coffee cup. It had been a slow night. Oh, the Russians were up to their usual nonsense, of course, flying aircraft off the west coast; pretty standard stuff. Things in the Persian Gulf were quiet, too, at least for the moment, and the base was expecting a group of brass from NATO for a tour and a meeting tomorrow. In other words, nothing all that much out of the ordinary.


The coffee machine clicked off and Lawton reached in to retrieve his cup. The watch officer at the North American Aerospace Defense Command headed back to the control room. Another six hours and we can call it a night.


* * * * *


“Hatch secured, Captain,” the XO reported.


“Well done, Abul. Record time, too. Let’s get out of here. Sound the diving alarm and dive the boat. Make your depth 400 feet.”


“Dive the boat, aye, sir. Depth 400 feet.” The klaxon blared for a few seconds, the deck tilted download and they began their descent.


“Leveling at 400 feet, captain,” the XO reported a few minutes later.


“Very well. Turn right to course 270. Full ahead.” They were turning due west.


A moment later the ship telephone buzzed and Abul picked it up. “XO speaking.” He listened for a moment. “Yes, sir. I’ll tell him.” He turned to the Captain. “Sir, Commodore Arnov and Mr. Min-ho would like to meet you in the wardroom when you have a free moment.”


“Okay, maintain course and speed. Call me immediately if anything changes.”


* * * * *


At Aerospace Command, Colonel Lawton pushed through the door and into the watch center. He’d only taken a few steps when Lt. Jean Pearson hurried up to him.


“What’s the rush, Lieutenant?” he asked with a smile. “Is the building on fire?” “


Sir,” she replied. “I have missile launch detection.”


“What?” Lawton replied, all traces of the smile gone. “Are you sure? Show me.”


They hurried over to her console and she pointed to the screen. “There, sir.”


“How long ago?”


She punched a few keys. “Uh, coming up on two minutes, sir.”


“Damn. Impact point?”


“Nothing yet, sir. The machine is still chewing on it.”


He picked up the phone and punched four numbers. “Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I have a launch detection.”


He hung up the phone and turned to Peterson. “He’ll be here shortly. What information do we have? Coming over the pole? East coast or west coast?”


“It’s coming from the Gulf, sir.”


His eyes widened in surprise. “The Gulf of Mexico?” A message appeared on her screen. “Machine says the approximate launch point is somewhere south of New Orleans. We should have an exact location in a few minutes.”


The watch center door burst open and Lt. General Walter Schofield, the ranking officer at Aerospace Command, hurried into the room, accompanied by his aide, Air Force Colonel Ray Johnston.


“Whatcha got, Dick?” the general asked Lawson.


“Sir, we have a single missile launch, approximately two and a half minutes ago, from somewhere south of New Orleans.”


“Impact point?”


“Nothing yet, sir.”


“It’s in the boost phase, sir,” Peterson added. “Speed is still increasing.”


“Hmm. It may be a ballistic missile. Only one though?”


“Yes, sir.”


“That’s strange. I wonder why. What assets do we have available?”


“Nothing close, sir,” Lawton replied, turning to the appropriate page in his briefing book. “We have two Aegis ships on alert. The destroyer Stockton at Mayport, Florida and the cruiser Appomattox at San Diego, California.”


“Let’s get ‘em on the line. If this is what I think it is, we don’t have a lot of time.” General Schofield turned to his aide.


“Ray, put me through to the Secretary of Defense and the White House.”

* * * * *

When he reached the wardroom of the Denesh, Karl Richter pulled the door closed behind him and sat down with his colleagues. Arnov poured him a cup of coffee and passed it over.


“Everything is going well?” Mr. Min-ho asked.


“Just as we planned. We’re far enough south to avoid the event and having 400 feet of water above us is extra insurance. Afterward, we’ll climb back to snorkel depth and clear the area as fast as we can. If we can maintain good speed, we should rendezvous with the Tarpeen around eight o’clock tonight. Have you spoken to them?”


Min-ho nodded. “Yes, they were actually running a bit ahead of schedule, so I told the captain to slow down enough that he doesn’t arrive at the rendezvous point too early.”


* * * * *


About 650 miles to the northeast, at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockton lay alongside a pier. In the Combat Information Center (or CIC), Lt. Denise Forester leaned back and stretched before returning to the screen in front of her. They were receiving data on what looked like a missile launch in the Gulf of Mexico. Wait a minute, the Gulf of Mexico? What in the world…


Just then the phone rang. “CIC, Lt. Forester.”


“Greetings, Lieutenant. Please hold for General Schofield at Aerospace Command.”


Oh, boy. Hand over the mouthpiece, she beckoned to the senior petty officer.


“Chief, please have someone get the Captain and the TAO, on the double. I think something big is about to go down.”


“Aye, Aye, ma’am.”


Seconds later a new voice came on the line.


“This is General Schofield. Lieutenant Forest?”


“Forester, sir. I’ve sent for the captain and the Tactical Action Officer. They should be here shortly.”


“Very well. Do you know why I’m calling?”


“About the missile launch in the Gulf?”


“Right you are. In short, it looks like someone has just fired a nuke at us. The computer says it’s heading toward the middle of the country, but there’s no impact point. Not only that, but it’s only a single launch. Does that suggest anything?”


“EMP, sir?”


“Correct again. That’s what I’m thinking, too. How many missiles are ready to fire?”


“Six, sir. All aft. They are SM-2’s, block 3B.”


“Thank God for small miracles. Okay, spin ‘em up, Lieutenant. Right the hell now. Our launch window is very short. Hold the line and I’ll get back to you.”


She glanced at the chief. “Sound General Quarters.” The alarm sounded throughout the ship, followed shortly by the sound of running feet.


She grabbed the mic for the 1-MC, the ship’s PA system. “General Quarters, General Quarters. Man your battle stations. Prepare for emergency SM-2 launch. Clear the deck aft. This is no drill. Repeat, this no drill.”


* * * * *


Damn, that gal’s pretty sharp, Schofield thought as he pressed the hold button on the phone.


“Appomattox holding on two, sir,” his aide told him.


“General Schofield at Aerospace Command. Who’s this?”


“Chief Cullen, sir,” replied a rather sleepy voice. “May I help you?”


“Chief, where’s the TAO?”


“I’m not sure, sir. I think he may be in the ward room.”


“Well, send someone to find him. Right now. How about the captain?”


“He’s ashore with his family.”


Ashore? When his ship is on alert? Schofield felt his temperature rising. “Who’s in charge there?”


“I guess I am for the moment, sir. The Aegis system is down for the time being, something about a problem with the cooling system. They expect to have it fixed in an hour or so.”


“Chief,” the general said, his voice suddenly low and dangerous, “did it ever occur to you that your ship is on alert this weekend? You’re supposed to be ready to fire at a moment’s notice. Someone should have reported the problem immediately, so we could have another ship cover for you.”


The chief didn’t catch the warning in Schofield’s voice and plowed right ahead. “Well, we’re only gonna be down a couple of hours and the Lieutenant said not to worry about it. He’s using the break to catch up on some paperwork.” Cullen was unaware he had just ended that officer’s career along with his own.


Schofield sighed. “All right, Chief. Call the captain at home and tell him to contact me at this number ASAP.”


He gave the man his direct line and hung up, absolutely furious. The general glanced at his aide, who had listened on another phone. The colonel rolled his eyes and shook his head.


“Yeah, Ray. That about covers it. Let’s get Stockton back on the line.”


* * * * *


"CIC, this is Captain Mason.”


“Oh, hello, Mason. Schofield. You guys ready to shoot?”


“Yes, sir, but we don’t have an accurate trajectory yet. Forester’s working on it.”


“Put her on.”


“Forester, sir. The computer can’t decide exactly where the missile’s headed. If we launch too soon, we may not be able to correct the course enough when the SM-2’s get up range.”


“Good point. Hmm. Okay, here’s what I want you to do. Let’s launch three right now. Give it your best guess on the trajectory. We’ll wait a bit longer for the computer before we shoot the others, but not too long or the target will be out of range.”


“Understand, sir. One moment.” She glanced at the captain. “Sir?”


Mason had listened and nodded. “Shoot.”


He grabbed the 1-MC. “Attention on deck aft, launching SM-2. This is not a drill.”


They watched the video monitor as the three missiles rose skyward, one after the other.


“Attention on deck aft. We’ll have a second launch shortly. Remain clear of the aft launcher.”


“Three birds away, General,” he reported.


“Very well, Mason. Launch the rest ASAP. I’ll get back to you when I know more. You’ve got a sharp group of people working for you. Bravo Zulu.” (well done)


The captain hung up the phone and turned to Forester, but she was deep in thought and he decided not to bother her.


Denise Forester had actually run problems similar to this in the simulator and it was just as she told the general. Shoot too soon on an inaccurate trajectory and the bird may end up so far off course it couldn’t be corrected. Shoot too late and the missile would run out of fuel before it reached the target. She waited as long as she dared, then made a final correction.


“Ready, Captain.”




The lieutenant pressed the launch button…but nothing happened.


“Shoot,” the Captain repeated, a bit of anxiety creeping into his voice.


“I’m trying, sir. Something is wrong.”


“Circuit breaker, perhaps? Maybe something popped during the last launch?”


“Could be.” Forester picked up the phone and punched three numbers.


“Aft launcher, FC2 Smith, sir.”


An FC is a fire controlman, responsible for operation and maintenance of gun and missile systems.


“Lt. Forester in CIC. We have a launch failure. You see anything there?”


“Yes, ma’am. I have a fault indication. Looks like the remote firing circuit. I’m working on it.”


“Can’t you just override the remote and shoot manually from there?”


“Gee, ma’am, I don’t know. I’ve never tried that before.”


“Do what you have to, but we need those birds in the air, right now. If we can’t shoot in the next few seconds, we’re liable to lose the whole country. I’m not kidding.”


“Smith, this is the captain. Think son, how can we do it?”


“Oh, yes, sir. Uh, well, maybe if I…yeah, I think I’ve got it. Just need to…”


Forester and the Captain heard the roar of the missile launch through the phone and saw the missile shoot vertically from the tube on the monitor.


“Ma’am, I guess that worked, okay. Do you want me to…”


“Yes, shoot the next one. Quickly.”


In a few seconds, the second missile rose skyward, followed shortly by the third.


“All birds away, ma’am.”


“Excellent. I want you to write up how you did that, and we’ll talk about it later. I gotta go.”


“Well done, Smith,” the captain added as they hung up.


“Lieutenant, do we have control of the missiles?”


“I think so, sir. Aegis sees them okay. Just a few seconds…Oh, yes, there it is. I now I have data links. Looks like we’re good to go.”


* * * *

"Dick,” Schofield said to Colonel Lawton. “Do we have an emergency number for the air traffic control folks?”


“Yes, sir.”


“Get them on the line and have them broadcast immediately to all aircraft in flight over North America. Tell them that we may, may, have an electromagnetic pulse event sometime in the next ten minutes. Aircraft may lose all electrical power and control systems. Probably not much they can do, but a few minutes warning may save some lives. Have them turn away aircraft inbound for the US and suggest they return to their origin if they can or divert to Canada, central America or Hawaii if possible. Have the coast guard do the same with inbound ships.


“And speaking of Canada, alert the Canadian and Mexican authorities as well. This may very well affect them.” He turned to his aide.


“Ray, alert all US military facilities and tell them the same thing. Have them turn off all non-essential equipment ASAP and unplug it where possible. It’s a long shot, but we may save some of it.”


“Yes, sir. Stockton has launched its remaining missiles.”


“Fine, let’s hope at least one of them succeeds.”


Just then the door opened and Brigadier General Harry Donovan, Royal Canadian Air Force, hurried into the room. Aerospace Command was a joint venture with Canada and Donovan was Vice Commander. He was a former CF-18 pilot before becoming a wing commander and then on to higher command. He and Schofield found they had much in common and his integration into Aerospace Command had proven him a great asset.


“Harry, I should have known you’d come in. You get the word?”


“Yes. Possible EMP, sir?” he asked as they shook hands.


“Yep. We’re trying to stop it. You know Dick and Ray, right?”


“Sure. Evening, gentlemen. Is this going to affect Canada?”


“Unknown at this time. It depends on the size of the weapon. The safe bet is to assume that it will, especially areas just north of the border, such as Winsor and London, Ontario, maybe even as far north as Toronto. You should probably put your folks on full alert.”


“Will do.” Donovan turned and hurried to his office down the hall.


“Just a reminder, sir,” Schofield’s aide said. “The president and SecDef are holding on line five. We’ve patched them in and they’ve been listening to the conversation.”


“Great. I hope they approve. It’s far too late to change anything anyway.” He picked up the phone.


“Mr. President, Mr. Secretary. I’m back with you. Sorry for the delay.”


The president’s deep voice came on the line. “Tough times, General. Sounds like we’ve doing about all we can.”


“I think so, sir. A prayer may certainly be in order. If Stockton’s missiles fail and the weapon actually detonates, we’re going to lose almost everything. Power grid, all those big expensive power transformers. Every car, truck, bus, train, every modern computer, almost all the commercial satellites and older military birds as well. Broadcasting stations, too, and most everything electronic. Anything that hasn’t been hardened will go down permanently. The list is endless.”


“Another thing,” SecDef added. “I’m looking outside at the snow falling here in Washington. We’ve got two inches on the ground already and New England is expecting another winter storm as well.” He sighed. “And since it’s only February, we’ll have freezing temperatures for another couple of months at least. No one will have heat and when emergency fuel supplies run out we’ll lose water as well without power to run the pumps. The country will be in deep trouble.”


“Sir,” Schofield said. ‘You might want to alert your emergency management folks. If this thing goes south, there’ll be a boatload of pieces to pick up.”


“Good idea.” For a moment, no one spoke.


“Any thoughts on who did this?” the president asked finally.


“No sir, not yet. All we know is the missile was launched from the Gulf south of New Orleans. Let me check on our current status.”


“You go ahead, General. We’ll be here if you need us. Good luck.”


* * * * *


As it turned out, the Aegis fire control system on Stockton was able to make a course correction for the first three missiles, but the error in the initial heading increased the distance enough that all three ran out of fuel well before they reached the target. The fate of the country now rested on the final three, launched manually by a 23-year-old sailor.


* * * * *


As he hung up the phone, Schofield had another idea.


“Ray, send out a nationwide Emergency Action Notification in the name of the president. Do it as quickly as you can. I don’t know how much time we have left.”


He then turned to Jean Pearson. “Lieutenant, do we know where that missile came from yet?”


“Yes, sir. Computer says a point 200 miles south of New Orleans. My guess is it came from a ship or a submarine.”


“What else?” he turned to the watch officer. “Dick, we need to find that ship. Do we have a reconnaissance satellite in position?”


“Sorry, sir, the KH-12 is below the horizon and won’t be around again for…” he consulted a printout on his clipboard. “Another 50 minutes, at least. Send an aircraft or a helo?”


“Yeah, both. Alert them, but don’t launch until we see what happens in the new few minutes.”


* * * * *


Lt. Forester’s “guesstimate” for the second three missiles was almost perfect, well within the ability of the Aegis system to correct, which it did. Unfortunately, the delay in the launch proved critical. Missiles like the SM-2 must physically hit their target to destroy it. The closest SM-2, the first one in the second group, was within five miles of the target when it ran out of fuel. It coasted on for a short distance before gravity pulled it back down.


* * * * *


On Stockton, Forester turned to Captain Mason. “That’s it, sir. No joy. They ran out of fuel.”


Mason had already given that possibly some serious thought and he picked up the 1-MC.


“Attention Stockton. This is the captain. Our missiles have failed and in about one minute, maybe two, we’re likely to lose power. This power loss will be permanent. Activate all emergency lighting and turn off all equipment. Engineering kill the main breakers immediately. Bosn’s mate, disconnect from shore power. Do it quickly now, folks, we don’t have much time. God help us all.”


He hung up the mic and turned to the CIC crew.


“We're hardened against EMP, but if this thing is nuclear…well, we’ll see. If any of you believe in prayer, this would be an excellent time.


” * * * * *


At Aerospace Command, no one had much to say when they received the bad news. A sense of helplessness pervaded the room. General Schofield glanced up when his aide approached him.




“Sir, Commander Carstairs in on the phone.”




“The captain of the Appomattox. Would you like to rip him a new one or would you like me to take care of it?”


Schofield grunted in disgust. “Well, as much as I’m sure you’d love to do it, I better take it.”


A hint of a smile touched his Ray’s mouth. “Too bad. Line four.”


“General Schofield.”


“Commander Carstairs, sir. You called?”


Schofield took a deep breath, willing himself to be patient. “Carstairs, are you aware your ship is on alert this weekend?”


“Of course, sir. Is there a problem?” The general glanced at his aide, who rolled his eyes again.


“Captain, are you aware your Aegis system is down?”


“Down? No, sir. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”


“Well, it is. And now I have an inbound missile, probably with an EMP weapon on board. Unless we get a miracle, that thing is going to go off in less than two minutes. Your ship could have helped to stop it.”


Silence from the other end.




“Sir, I…”


Schofield cut him off. “Shut it, Carstairs. Just shut up. Anything you say now is worthless. When all the lights go off, if they do, you’ll have a long time to think about your ship’s role in all this.”


He slammed the phone back on its cradle. Then he glanced at his aide, who nodded.


“Just about right, sir.”


“Tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow, ask the Chief of Naval Operations to prepare orders relieving him of command. Recommend a court-martial.”


* * * * *


United States Senator Herb Reynolds, one of the president’s main opponents in Congress, frowned in annoyance when the late-night comedian he was watching was suddenly cut off by an Emergency Action Notification. A message followed:




“What a crock of bull,” Herb exclaimed, pushing the speed dial on his phone.


“Jack? Herb. Did you hear the announcement? Yeah, what a bunch of nonsense...Everybody knows that EMP stuff is a…”


He would have said, ‘hoax’, but just then the power went out.


* * * * *


At 12:36:13 AM Eastern Standard Time, the nuclear warhead on Revolution’s missile detonated 250 miles above Kansas City, Missouri. The High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse event (or HEMP) produced a huge burst of gamma rays, which ionized part of the upper atmosphere and produced a much stronger EMP than is normally generated in the denser air at lower altitudes by such weapons as those used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. A huge spike of energy, more powerful than lightning, shot in all directions, instantly destroying or damaging virtually all electronic equipment from the southern parts of Canada to northern Mexico.


Across the country, power transmission lines burned out from the excessive current induced by the spike. At regional power stations, huge power transformers, some of them costing over a million dollars, were destroyed, along with those at substations in neighborhoods everywhere.


Nationwide the power grid was rendered effectively useless. It would remain that way for years, for many of the larger power transformers were no longer made in the USA and new ones would take a year or more to build.


On the east coast, most of the airline traffic had already landed. Aircraft still in flight lost all of their control systems and one by one they began to fall out of the sky. Passengers were plunged into instant darkness and those at high altitude spent a terrifying three minutes as the aircraft plunged downward in eerie silence.


The west coast area suffered worse since it was only 9:30 pm and many airline flights were still an hour or more from their destinations. Control towers and regional control centers switched automatically to backup power and tried frantically to reach the planes they were controlling, to no avail. Aircraft close to an airport tried to stay in the air until they could get on a runway. Others tried for highways and open fields. Some succeeded, many did not.


* * * * *


Ten minutes after the detonation, Haresh rose to periscope depth and extended the snorkel.


“Snorkel extended and working correctly, sir,” Abul reported.


“Start main engines. Full ahead, course 270.”


“Battery charge, sir?”


“Not right now. I’m more interested in clearing the launch point and making our rendezvous with Tarpeen as quickly as possible. How long until the American satellite is overhead?”


Abul thumbed through the printouts on his clipboard. “About 35 minutes.”


“That long? Okay, surface the boat. We’ll pick up a bit more speed by running on the surface.”


* * * * *


Since the attack happened as late as it did, much of the eastern portion of the country was asleep when the power went down and wouldn’t learn of it until they woke up in the cold. Their clock radios had stopped working and their cars wouldn’t start. When they tried to call their offices, the phones didn’t work, either. Nor would their bagel toasters and coffee makers. Throughout the country, emergency services switched to backup generators. A lot of those were many years old and didn’t suffer from the EMP like more modern equipment.


In other areas, backup power failed completely and places like hospitals and police departments lost both power and communications. Police cars and ambulances wouldn’t start and city service vehicles such as maintenance, trash pickup, and animal control were rendered useless. Control systems for sewage disposal also failed.


Those facilities which did have backup power didn’t realize it yet, but their days were numbered. The backup generators ran on diesel fuel for the most part and while they usually had reserve fuel tanks of perhaps 500 gallons or more, that fuel would be exhausted in a week or so and they would be unable to get more. Fuel trucks and pipeline services were down and would be for a long time. Local gas stations had fuel, but no electricity to pump it or run their cash registers.


* * * * *


Much of the US military was not well prepared, either. A modernization program had been underway for some time, but many bases still drew 90 percent of their electric power from local utilities. When those failed, the bases were rendered essentially non-operational. Critical command and control facilities were in many cases “hardened” against EMP and over the next few hours those commanders would struggle mightily to determine what they had left.


* * * * *


At the top of Haresh’s sail, Captain Richter, Commodore Arnov and the two lookouts scanned the horizon for any nearby ships or aircraft, but so far they’d seen nothing, which was a good thing. They’d made excellent time in the last 30 minutes.


“Captain, XO,” Abul’s voice came through the speaker. “Six minutes until the American satellite re-appears.”


“Very well. Secure diesel engines and switch to battery power. Prepare to dive. Lookouts below.”


He glanced over at Arnov who was fiddling with the control box in his hand. “Time to go, Dimitri. Still have contact with Revolution?”


“Da.” The former captain of the container ship pressed a button on his control box. About 40 miles to the east, pre-placed explosives attached to the keel of Revolution detonated. There were a great many of them and together they effectively blew out the bottom of the ship.


“Done,” Arnov reported, “Permission to go below?”


“Granted.” Then Richter pulled the diving alarm and the klaxon sounded. “Dive, Dive, Dive,” he called through the intercom.


“Full ahead. Make your depth 400 feet.” Then he climbed down the ladder and pulled the hatch closed behind him. The deck tilted and in short order, Haresh slipped below the waves. To the east, Revolution did the same, headed toward the bottom of the Gulf, 4000 feet below. Within a minute or two the surface was calm, with no trace of what had just happened.


* * * * *


It was fortunate indeed that Aerospace Defense Command had recently moved back into the Cheyenne Mountain Complex near Colorado Springs, Colorado, precisely because of the threat of EMP weapons. Buried in the heart of a mountain, the facilities were highly resistant to both a nuclear blast and EMP events.


“Sir,” a sergeant told Colonel Dick Lawton, “we have reacquired the KH-12. We should have pictures shortly.”


“Fair enough, sergeant. Thanks.”


Crossing to a small office in the back of the room, he saw General Schofield with General Donovan. They were on the phone and had been working to re-establish communications with their subordinate units. Seeing Lawton outside, Schofield waved for him to come in.


“Yes, sir, I will. Thanks.” He hung up the phone and glanced up.


“That was the Air Force Chief of Staff. Things are a mess and the Pentagon is worried that some of our adversaries will try to take advantage of it. He may very well be right.” He took a deep breath. “Whatcha got?”


“The KH-12 is above the horizon and we should have pictures in just a moment.”


“About time, too,” Schofield replied as he got to his feet. “We need to find out who launched that missile ASAP.” The three officers entered the room just as a picture appeared on the big flat screen monitor on the wall.


“Sergeant, where’s the bird now?”


“Over the east coast of southern Texas and northern Mexico, sir. It’ll be a little while before we can see the area south of New Orleans.”


They waited impatiently for the minutes to pass.


Then Donovan had a thought. “You know, sir. It’s a mighty good thing the KH-12 was on the other side of the world when the bomb went off or we might have lost it as well. We’ve already lost most of the GPS satellites and communications birds. It’s going to be a long time before we put all this back together.”


Schofield nodded, a somber expression on his face. “You’re right, Harry. A very long time.”


A few minutes later the area of interest came into view but they were soon disappointed. The surface appeared empty. “Well, that’s that,” Donovan said in disgust.


“Maybe not, sir,” Lawton replied. “I agree it looks empty. But let’s give the analysts time to go over it more carefully.”


“Why not?” Schofield said with shrug, “we’ve got time now.”


* * * * *


At first, most people thought the power outage was temporary and it would be fixed within a few hours. Only a relative few had seen the emergency action notification and with communications services down they had no way to discuss it except with neighbors who were just as clueless as they were about what had happened. Later, as the day stretched into evening, they shrugged and just went to bed early. They had food and water for the moment and weren’t much concerned about the big picture. Those in colds areas simply wrapped themselves as best they could. Some had fireplaces in their homes and were able to get some heat that way.


* * * * *


The motor yacht Tarpeen could certainly be called beautiful by any standard. More than 400 feet long, it displaced nearly 6,000 tons, making it larger than some warships. Its sleek shape, luxurious interior, and the 15 staterooms made it the envy of the rich and famous.


Less than ten years old, the ship had nevertheless had also received a refit recently, including new engines and navigation equipment. On a raised platform just aft of the central superstructure sat a good-sized helicopter, currently covered by a tarp against the weather.


A little after 8:00 pm, Haresh surfaced nearby, and after establishing communications, came alongside. The plan was for the crews of Haresh and Revolution to move to the yacht. It was a difficult task, limited by darkness, the choppy seas, and the single available boat.


On the bridge, Tarpeen’s captain watched in frustration. It was taking too long and he was anxious to depart for safer waters. Still, the thought of what he was getting paid to be here kept him silent where someone else might have been more vocal with his complaints. He heard the door open behind him and frowned. No visitors were allowed on the bridge; it was a strict rule.


When he turned, however, his expression turned from annoyed to respectful, for the visitor was a woman. Not just any woman either, but the personal assistant to the ship’s owner. Her name was Ming. She was mid-40’s and her short, straight haircut and the severe cut of her clothing suggested a no-nonsense personality.


“May I come in?”


“Of course, ma’am. How can I help?”


“Nothing right now, Captain,” she replied as she walked over to the window. “I just wanted to see how things are proceeding. We are behind schedule.”


“Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid so. The seas are making the transfer difficult and the boat is a small one.”


She glanced at the captain and a look of disgust came over her face. “I told them we should have more boats, but I’m just a woman. What do I know?” She sighed. “How long?”


“About another 45 minutes, ma’am.”


The door opened a second time and Mr. Min-ho stepped inside, accompanied by Captain Arnov of the Revolution.


“Good evening, sir. Welcome back to Tarpeen.”


“Greetings, Captain. Just wanted to stop in for a quick visit. I’m cold, wet, tired and ready for a long soak in the hot tub.”


Ming hurried to his side. “Yes, sir. And perhaps I can prepare you a nice cup of hot tea?”


“That’s a fine idea, Ming. You go ahead and I’ll be along shortly.” She headed for the door and had just grabbed the handle when his voice stopped her. “Oh, Ming?”


She turned. “Yes, sir?”


“Everything ready here?” A very brief smile touched her lips. “Yes, sir. Everything.”


He nodded and crossed to the window, where he glanced outside. “Can’t see much in this blasted mist.”


“Yes, sir,” replied the captain, “but tonight it serves us well.”


“That’s as may be, Captain, but I have an important meeting ashore. How soon can the helo launch?”


“We’re currently too far out, sir. Daybreak tomorrow or a little later should be about right. We’ll be within the helo’s range then and the forecast calls for clearing skies.”


“And not before time, either. I’m really tired of this miserable weather.”


Min-ho left and the two captains shook hands. While the transfer proceeded, they had time for some good conversation, with Arnov kidding his old friend about leaving the navy and the ship’s captain countering by telling him about his luxurious stateroom and six-figure salary.


A bit later Karl Richter joined them and together they watched as the scuttling charges on Haresh exploded. Within a minute the submarine disappeared.


“Sorry, Karl,” Arnov said.


“Yeah,” Richter replied quietly. “At least she served her purpose and we got everyone off.”


Tarpeen’s captain gave the order to turn west and they quickly accelerated to 22 knots, the ship’s maximum speed.


* * * * *


The captain’s weather prediction proved fairly accurate. Dawn was later than usual, but the low hanging clouds had moved off to the east and the mist had evaporated. At 7:00 AM, the crew removed the tarp from the helicopter and prepared it for flight.


Below decks, Mr. Min-ho met privately with his ship captains for a final briefing. “I want to thank each of you for the competent, professional job you’ve accomplished,” he told them. “You got the job done and I’m most grateful.” He bowed briefly. “As promised, you will each have five million dollars deposited into your accounts later today. In addition, you get a one million dollar bonus for a fine job.”


“Thank you, sir,” they said in unison.


“Finally, there’s another two million for your crew members. You decide the best way to distribute it.”


Standing in the back of the room, Ming had said nothing up to this point, but now she pointed to her watch.


Min-ho caught the gesture and pushed back his chair. “Gentlemen, I apologize for having to depart so quickly, but I have an important meeting later today that I really must attend. Thank you again for your help.”


“You’re welcome, sir,” Arnov replied. “And I think I can speak for all of us in saying we’d be pleased to work with you again if the opportunity arises.”


“Excellent. I’ll keep that in mind. Ready, Ming?” They left and as they walked up the hall he turned to her. “And…?”


“All you have to do is get on the chopper, sir. I’ll be along after I complete one more task.”


He gripped her arm. “Time is tight, make it as quick as you can. Be careful.”


She covered his hand briefly with her own and nodded. “Always. Be with you shortly.”


They separated and Ming headed for the radio room. Along the way, she passed crew members from the other ships and it quickly became clear that alcohol was already flowing freely.


“Good morning, ma’am,” the radio operator said when she knocked on the door frame. “I was on deck just a moment ago and the weather’s much better. You all should have a good flight.”


She stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. “Thanks, Mr. Jenkins. Before I go, I need to look at the radio log for the last 24 hours.”


“Yes, ma’am. Just a moment.” He had just turned to the console when Ming pulled a suppressed Glock pistol from her shoulder bag.


* * * * *


Tarpeen’s helicopter lifted off the platform and turned west, toward the coast several hundred miles away. When they were about a mile from the ship, Min-ho turned to the pilot.


“Captain, let’s stop here a moment. Turn us so I can have a last look at Tarpeen.”


“Certainly, sir.”


“Ah, a magnificent sight, isn’t it?”


“Indeed it is, sir. She’s a beauty.”


Min-ho, who was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat on the left side of the helo, turned toward Ming, seated in the back. She held a metal box in her hand.


“Let’s do it.”


Uncharacteristically, Ming hesitated. “Sir, are you sure…”


“Of course,” he replied impatiently. “Proceed.”


“Yes, sir.”


When Tarpeen had her recent refit, a number of large, sealed wooden crates had appeared in the hold. No one knew what they were, but a crew member found some white powder on the floor next to one of them that looked suspiciously like cocaine. That was no real surprise, for the ship had hauled such drugs before. But what the boxes held were not drugs but demolition charges, a large number of them, and when Ming pressed the button on her box, they detonated. As with Revolution, the entire bottom of the Tarpeen was blown out, and in this case, most of those on board were killed outright.


A separate charge, hidden behind the control console of the bridge also exploded, killing the ship captains and the bridge crew.


On the helo, Min-ho watched without emotion as the beautiful 60 million dollar ship turned into a wreck. He glanced at Ming. “No witnesses, Ming. No trail to follow.”


She glanced at the blazing ship. “Yes, sir.”


“No witnesses,” he repeated, and when Ming turned back to him she saw the pistol in his hand. She tried to grab her own weapon, but she had no chance. With a sigh, she pulled her hand away and faced Min-Ho.


"Sir, it’s been an honor to serve you.”


“I’m sorry, Ming.” He shot her three times, the last one into her forehead.


The pilot turned in surprise, “Sir? What’s going…”


Min-ho shot him as well. “No witnesses,” he murmured and took over the helo’s controls himself.


Back in his younger days, Min-ho was a full colonel in his country’s military. He had been a command pilot and had led both an aviation company and later a whole battalion. Time passed and as his responsibilities grew he had to give up flying on a regular basis, but not his love for it. And so he was fully current on the Bell 429 he was flying.


On the Tarpeen, there were relatively few survivors of the explosions and when they ran to the radio room to call for help, they found the operator had been shot and all the transmitting equipment smashed. The ship’s boat had been sabotaged. So had the life preservers. The ship had been working up to full speed at the time of the detonation and the forward speed served to hasten the flow of water into the gaping holes on the bottom.


Tarpeen sank in less than two minutes. As the yacht slid beneath the waves, Min-ho turned the helicopter to the west, headed for a small airstrip on the Mexican coast where he had a jet waiting to pick him up.


Twenty minutes later the KH-12 satellite came back above the horizon to find the sea empty.


* * * * *


Across the affected areas, the power outage entered its second day and with no word from local authorities folks started to worry. Many of them walked to local food stores, only to find they had been picked clean. Windows had been broken to gain entry and in some cases resisting shop owners lay dead at the hands of the looters.


In the same manner, local pharmacies were empty and people who depended on regular supplies of medicines for their heart disease and similar problems grew alarmed at the prospect of their medication running out. By mid-afternoon, a sense of panic began. Homeowners who had stockpiled food for an emergency shared with their neighbors, but as the days turned in to week and it became clear no help would be coming, they grew reluctant to do so, fearing for their own survival.


The early spirit of comradery slowly changed to every man for himself. As the outage entered its second week, fuel for backup generators ran out, and one by one, emergency facilities went dark and ran out of stored supplies and medicines. Across town, water facilities stopped working when the backup power for the pumps failed. With no food supplies or source of water, people became desperate and joined with others trying to find food. That turned ugly in some cases, especially when they felt homeowners was hoarding food for themselves.


Consider the case of the Mayfields. George and Sallie Mayfield, a couple in their late 50’s, resided in eastern North Carolina and had lived there quietly all their lives. They had spent a lot of money for emergency supplies over the years, mainly for hurricane activity, which was almost a yearly occurrence where they lived. Over the last few days, they had given most of their supplies away. One afternoon they heard a knock on the front door and when George opened it, he saw a group of scruffy-looking young men on the front lawn.


“Can I help you?” he asked, dreading what might come next.


“Yeah, dude,” said the apparent leader of the group, a bearded man in his late 20’s. “You got any food?”


“Only a little for ourselves, none we can spare.” He started to close the door, but the man stuck his foot in the doorway to prevent it. He opened his jacket, revealing the butt of a pistol in his waistband.


“Not so fast, Pops. We’re just gonna come in and look for themselves. He glanced back over his shoulder. “C’mon, guys, let’s check it out.” They had used this tactic before, mostly with success, and frightened homeowners could only stand and watch while their already meager resources were plundered. Other cases had required force and that had always ended badly for the homeowners.


In this case, though, they hadn’t counted on Sallie. From behind George, she stepped around her husband and raised the 12-gauge shotgun. It was only a foot from the leader’s chest when she yanked the trigger. Sallie had never liked guns and had refused to practice with the powerful weapon. This was the first time she had ever fired it. Not expecting the big recoil, she was almost knocked off her feet, even as the gang leader’s chest exploded from the impact and he was flung backward onto the ground.


It never occurred to her the shotgun had to be cocked before it could fire again, plenty of time for the gang’s sub-leader to raise his Uzi sub machine gun. With no remorse at all, he emptied half the weapon’s 30-round magazine into Sallie and her husband. Then the gang stepped over the mess on the floor and went back to the kitchen, where they found half a dozen cans of beans, some stale bread and nothing more.


“Well, that was a bust,” someone said. The crowd murmured in agreement and they headed to the house next door.


Incidents like this became more and more frequent, especially when the gangs realized local national guard armories were unguarded. While some had been well secured and were impossible to break into, others were not and before long they obtained military rations and added M16 rifles, light machine guns and grenade launchers to their arsenals.


The situation grew even worse over time and in many parts of the country, anarchy ruled. In the big cities, gang activity had already been a problem and it quickly became severe. With police effectiveness severely curtailed by lack of communications and working vehicles, the gangs roamed freely, looting stores and homes. They often set fires which burned out of control, since fire departments were unable to respond.


When local food supplies ran out, the gangs moved outward, into the country. In a number of places, the news was not all bad. Some vehicles, especially the older ones with without computers, still worked. Finding fuel for them quickly became an issue, though, and so their usefulness was limited. In other places, fearful citizens would often band together to form vigilante groups to combat the gangs. In some cases, they were successful, sometimes not.


In other situations, these groups would show up at military installations. They carried all the supplies they had and offered to join with the troops to defend the base. For the most part, this help was accepted and the civilians placed themselves under the control of the base commander and were especially helpful in building fortifications against the gangs.


America’s friends around the world attempted to help as best they could. Canada and Mexico were unable since their border areas had affected by the EMP. Not only that but after a short period of time, they faced waves of refugees from their big neighbor next door. Food producing countries south of the equator, where the growing season was active sent food ships to the north. Japan, Germany and South Korea were particularly helpful as well and sent thousands of vehicles to help get things going again. Helpful as all this was, American port facilities had been crippled by the lack of power and working cranes and other vehicles As a result, unloading the supplies was difficult and distributing the supplies which did get ashore was also a challenge, because most long distance trucks and trains were not working, either.


China, seeing the loss of so much business from American markets, agreed to assist and sent engineers to help evaluate the power grid and what might be needed to get it going again. That would be a daunting task.


The country suffered greatly and would continue to do so for the foreseeable future.


Authors Notes:


And so the story ends, leaving more questions than answers. Who was Min-ho and why had he spent over 150 million dollars to destroy America? What would America look like after a year of no power, water and food? And could such a weapon as described here really take down virtually the entire American society?


As you’ve seen, America’s power grid is absolutely critical to our way of life. Without electric power, the country reverts back to the 1870’s: Stagecoaches, horse-drawn wagons, steam powered trains, no refrigeration and cooking over an open fire. Certainly primitive by today’s standards. (and can you imagine life without your cell phone and the Internet?)


More importantly, the loss of the power grid would make it impossible to sustain a large population like we have today. That’s why some experts have suggested that upward of eighty percent of the US population could die within a year of a powerful EMP event. It is indeed a frightening possibility. Is it any wonder our adversaries such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are known to be developing EMP weapons? Imagine what might happen if that egotistical madman in North Korea launches such a weapon from the deck of a cargo ship in the Gulf of Mexico—exactly the same scenario as in the story above. We’d have only fifteen minutes, maybe less, to react. If that possibility doesn’t scare you, it should.


Of course, there are many who disagree with such an idea, such as our friend Senator Herb in the story. They view EMP as an unlikely possibility. “That’ll never happen,” they say. “Why spend the billions of dollars required to deal with it when the money is desperately needed elsewhere?”


Apparently, people who feel this way are willing to bet the survival of our country and 80 percent of our population on it. Nor is a nuclear explosion the only cause of a massive EMP. The earth often experiences the effects of large solar flares on the sun which sometimes disrupt satellite communications and cause power outages. Now imagine a huge event, one many times stronger than what we see on a regular basis. Such massive events are exceedingly rare, but they do happen. In fact, the last large event was in July 2017. That’s right, just recently, the sun experienced what’s called a “massive coronal ejection.”


A giant burst of energy was ejected from the sun and passed through earth’s orbit just before the planet arrived. Had it happened a few weeks later, the wave would have hit us directly, with devastating results. Another large event happened back is 1989, in Canada, when Quebec’s power system was affected causing billions of dollars in damage. And back in August 1859, a truly massive event burned up telegraph wires in Europe and North America, started fires and gave electric shocks to the telegraph operators. It was the largest such event in recorded history.


If this is potentially so scary, what’s being done about it? Very little. Talk of such things has been greeted largely with a yawn. Not long ago I wrote my congressman to express my concern about it. A couple of weeks later I received a call from one of his staffers, who told me the congressman was aware of the issue, but there was “very little interest” in congress for doing anything about it. Yep, very little interest.


Another opposition to strengthening the power grid comes from the big power companies, who see it costing them billions. And, of course, those companies donate heavily to congressional election campaigns. What do they expect in return? It seems pretty obvious.


Enough. You get the idea: This stuff is really important. Below are some links to more information if you’re interested. This article, somewhat dated now, is about former congressman Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., who was a leading congressional advocate for EMP action. What he has to say may concern you, as it should.


As noted, the article is somewhat dated now, and there have been some improvements since then, in particular in the military. Still, much remains to be done. Bartlett recalls a Tom Clancy 1994 novel called, “Debt of Honor” where a terrorist flies a hijacked 747 into the capitol building during the State of the Union address, effectively decapitating the American government in just a few seconds. Many scoffed at such a scenario. Or rather, they did until 9-11. Now it doesn’t seem so far fetched at all. Bartlett reminds us that we buy fire insurance on our homes against an event that will probably never happen. Could it? Possibly. Could an EMP event occur? Possibly. Now think about that guy in North Korea with the nuclear bomb. What’s he going to do with it? Shouldn’t we buy insurance?


The next article appeared in the Washington Examiner and is an interview with former CIA director James Woolsey and two of his colleagues. There’s also an interesting video, too. Fast forward to 4:15 for the start of Woolsey’s remarks and to 13:10 for the good stuff. (The audio is a bit garbled, apparently from the original recording, but it’s still worth a listen.)


Finally, here is a short article from the UK Telegraph discussing the history of solar flares. It has an excellent picture of a coronal ejection.


Caveat: I am not an expert on EMP or the effects of it. Nor am I an expert on the state of the US Military. My intent here is simply to help raise awareness of EMP and the effect it can have on the future of our country. I hope we’ll wake up and start doing something to protect ourselves.

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