Manhattan Project

The empty streets of Manhattan, Kansas, captured on live internet video cams, seemed surreal to Connor Embleman. Not a living soul stirred in the city that, one week earlier, was home to fifty-six thousand people. Though the streets were absent any traffic, stoplights continued to function, one of the only ways to tell that some of the video feeds—the ones with no trees, no bushes, no movement at all—were not simply still shots.

As fire chief of the Manhattan Fire Department, he had been among the last to leave the city in the wake of the mandatory evacuation order. He—along with Cage Mackey, the chief of police, and the director of emergency management, Sabrina Sammons—had argued against an evacuation.  No solid evidence of a real and imminent threat had been presented to them. The mayor, though, told them the matter wasn’t up for debate. She suggested to the three of them that they not go on record opposing the evacuation. If something did happen, she said, their opposition would destroy public faith in their leadership and ability to protect the public.

Neither the mayor of Manhattan nor the governor of Kansas had ordered the evacuation. The recommendation to  evacuate came from the Pentagon and was ordered by the President of the United States. Contrary to the hundreds of rumors flying at breakneck speed across the city and, indeed the world, the threat was not Al Queda or ISIL.

Shoko Matsumoto, the leader of a Japanese group that called itself Bushidō, issued the threat. Bushidō was formed in 2011 to exact revenge for what Matsumoto considered the most egregious acts of terrorism ever committed, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Bushidō had issued direct threats before, but those threats had not made their way into the public discourse for many reasons, not the least of which was the consensus among terrorism experts that the group did not have the capacity to carry out even small-scale attacks.

The consensus about Bushidō’s impotence quickly changed with the detonation of a small nuclear device on Clipperton Island, an uninhabited coral atoll south of Mexico and west of Guatemala.  The blast took place forty-eight hours after a message was delivered, by courier, to the offices of the Consulate General of the United States in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  The message read as follows:

In two days time, Bushidō will detonate a nuclear device on Clipperton Island to demonstrate our ability to carry out our objectives.

Following the detonation, Bushidō will carry out an act of retaliation and revenge against the United States for its brutal slaughter of innocent Japanese in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you follow our instructions, there will be only one act of retaliation and it will be on a far smaller scale than your attacks on our people.

We intend to repay the fruits of your Manhattan Project with our own Manhattan Project, the destruction of Manhattan, Kansas. You must accept the destruction of Manhattan, Kansas as the punishment for your country’s unspeakable deeds. If you allow the destruction to take place without attempting to find our devices or evacuate the city, the score will be settled.

However, if you attempt to find our device or if you attempt to save your people through evacuation, we will visit on you an even more horrific event, death and destruction beyond anything your country has ever witnessed, the total obliteration of another Manhattan, the Manhattan in New York.

The detonation on Clipperton Island was not noticed by the public, nor reported by the media. It was noticed, though, by the U.S. government and the detonation was detected by major global powers including among others Russia, China, Japan, and Germany. Diplomatic channels quickly assured news of the blast would not be disclosed.

Following the President’s order to evacuate Manhattan, Kansas, a second message from Bushidō reached the Embassy of the United States in Ottawa, Canada.

Bushidō is disappointed in your failure to follow our instructions. Shortly after you receive this message, the city of Manhattan, Kansas will cease to exist. One day later, New York City and, specifically Manhattan, will pay for your President’s bad faith decision.”

Connor Embleman’s eyes were on the monitor when the image of empty street disappeared, replaced by broken, chaotic black and white lines.  Sixty miles away, sitting in the Topeka Fire Chief’s office on Southeast Jefferson Street, Connor felt the concussion of the blast.

In Washington, DC, the President of the United States watched as a video feed from a camera trained on Manhattan from thirty miles away displayed the brilliant blast and the ensuing mushroom cloud. The moment the explosion took place, her eyes widened and her lips parted slightly as involuntarily she sucked in air.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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