July 9, 2012, 08:00GMT

Norfolk, VA, United States of America

in other news today, riots continued across Chinese cities including Hong Kong and Beijing, killing thousands and wounding tens of thousands…

Alex Helio looked up for his morning coffee, bleary-eyed, at the CCTV on the ship's bridge. As chief petty officer, the bridge of the Ticonderoga missile cruiser USS Portland was his duty station for that morning. The camera panned over a surging mass of humanity from the vantage point of one of the mega-skyscraper's top decks. The tiny pinpoints of humans below were fed to his eyes in real-time with about a ten second delay, accounting for the ionosphere and the satellite signal decoding.

paramilitary responses have increased as the financial district of Hong Kong was briefly held by rebels, shutting down the markets. The DouGuoMen, or All Nations, has demanded livable food and fuel prices for all Chinese. The Chinese government has declared that they will not tolerate demands from rebels and have sent in several PRC infantry platoons to restore order.

'Jesus,' muttered Alex into his cup of bitter sludge, the word's utterance causing a small ring of circles to expand and contract in the coffee.

The camera view switched to an earlier taping; it was still dark and early so the first four floors of the burning skyscraper made for some incredible footage. Pieces of burning paper fluttered in the air like dying birds, and embers showered down onto both people and concrete. The rioting crowds around the building prevented emergency vehicles from getting close enough to put out the fire. Tear gas was fired from SWAT teams riding on top of the hook-and-ladder trucks into the middle of the crowd. The rioters began to slowly disperse as the caustic chemical blew in sheets over them, and the vehicles rode forward to the burning building with their spray-nozzles gushing foam.

Alex's head hurt. It was raining outside, the soft patter beading up against the Plexiglas overlooking the forward deck. He glanced at his watch to make sure it really was the ungodly hour of 04:03 local and then sighed. It was going to be a long day. The TV program broke away from the scene and a chipper blonde began to extol the virtues of a new toothpaste. Great. She looked just like his Christine.

'Sir,' at the voice, he turned around. A young enlisted man was at the hatch leading into the ship. 'Yea?' He swiveled in his chair to eye the man better.

'Are you seeing this?' the young man nodded towards the CCTV. 'I'm watching it live on my laptop.'

'Yeah, I'm seeing it. Not liking it, either.'

'Did you hear the rumors that China is gearing up an amphibious carrier group to secure oilfields in Saudi Arabia?'

'Nothing but rumors, sailor, nothing but rumors,' Alex said with an calm ease that he didn't feel inside.

'I mean, the situation is pretty bad there. People starving, no-one able to get around because of no gas, riots, the only guys in China who can afford food is the military and the government. And they are desperate to get their citizens under control.'

A graphic flashed up on the CCTV. CNN had already designated a catchy logo that zoomed in, spun and than settled in the corner. 'Crisis in China,' was what they were calling it. Alex wondered which poor intern thought up the graphic and coding for it and than decided it was probably some big-wig somewhere. A talking head came on and gave a brief hook about more live video after the break.

'See?' Alex pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the set, 'If it was really important, they'd designate the channel to this alone with no commercial breaks. Like in 9/11. I was in high school for that, nothing but CNN for the next week straight.'

'I was five. I remember the towers falling but not much else.'

'Honestly, there wasn't much but that from what I remember.'

'Well, sir, I'm going to go. Let me know if you want or need anything.'

'Will do. My replacement comes at 08:00. It's going to be awesome to get some sleep.'

Alex watched the sailor go back down the hatch and blew on the steam off the surface of his coffee. Yea, 9/11 had full coverage. So did the second gulf war. Those were both events which America was directly involved in. Alex had a feeling that this, before it was over, was going to require America's attention, too.

July 9, 2012, 13:30 GMT

Washington, DC, United States of America

Christine swatted at the alarm clock by her bed that buzzed and shook the bedside table. She palmed it to bring it to her eyes (damn, she needed glasses, but her vanity required contacts and lasik was too expensive) and saw the glare of 9:30AM in her face. Great. Lovely. Thursday was so close to Friday but not quite. She closed her eye for a few seconds, wishing herself back to sleep but than brought herself fully awake. Up and at 'em she thought.

She stumbled from the bed and walked into the bathroom, shedding her panties along the way. She hated sleeping with a bra on because it pinched and felt uncomfortable. Naked, she glanced vainly into the mirror. She still had it at 27, not bad. Victor, her cat, meandered into the bathroom seeing she was awake. He began to run figure eights around her bare thighs, his whiskers scratching against her stubbled legs. Ick, stupid cat.

'I already fed you,' she automatically said out loud to his constant plea for attention. 'last night,' she added under her breath incase he understood her and pointed out her brazen lie. She started the shower and gave him a handful of food out of his metal food container. He immediately lost interest in her and began to munch and purr contentedly. She scratched Victor behind the ear, feeling his rumble through her fingers. Dumb cat.

After five minutes the shower went ice-cold. The solar panels must not have gotten as much electricity yesterday as she'd thought they had. Great way to start the day. She was still completely sudsy so had to finish the shower as quickly as possible in a stream of icy cold that raised goose bumps all over her body.

At 10:05 she was out the door and on her bicycle to go to work. She waved hi to her next door neighbor who was walking his bicycle along the pathway down from his front lawn. As he mounted the bicycle and headed uphill he yelled over his shoulder, 'Have a good day!' She nodded and said, 'Same to you!'

As she rode to work in the street she saw scores of others bicycling in a fashion that reminded her of Canberra, Australia in an apocalyptic '60s movie called On The Beach. A few motorcycles puttered along but the majority of the traffic was human-powered. With gas at 15 dollars a gallon, it had to be. The city was much more livable, she had long ago decided, without cars in it. The majority of 'city noise' was attributable to motorized traffic. The whooshings-thowp of air as a car passed by, revving of engines, horns- all were replaced with the much more civil hissing of bicycle tires and elegant ringing of bike-mounted bells. Everyone went through biker's ed now, just as those of her generation had been the last to go through driver's education. Two rings, passing on the left; one ring, turning right, lots of rings, attention. And the air was cleaner, too.

She parked her bike perpendicular to the wall in the garage, the front-tire hanging from the c-shaped catch in her vertical spot. Nice. Ten minutes before 10:30, opening time. She entered into the pedestrian flow going up and down the stairs and got off at her floor.

She walked into the office with her head held high, ready for another day's work. 'Good morning, Eric,' she smiled to the spiky-haired, earring-toting intern. He noticed her and gave a friendly pause in his head-nodding as he sorted papers: he constantly wore wireless ear buds for his iPod nano. Apparently it was coming back in style, in a retro-fashion. Now that made her feel old. She remembered when CD players were the new thing, pushing out tapes.

She walked back to her corner office and booted up her computer. That was the other good thing about 15 dollar gas, being able to sleep in. She remembered when the business day started at 8:30 but overhead was way too expensive to start in the early morning before it was light completely. Same went for the winter evening hours- shorter workday all around. But the less mandated office hours didn't equate into fewer tasks, she sighed to herself, as she dug into her morning batch of Emails.

July 9, 2012, 19:00 GMT

Washington, DC, United States of America

'Mr. President, we have satellite pictures proving that the Chinese are putting together two amphibious task forces.' The general pushed a sheaf of papers in front of him over the other side of the oval office desk. 'Here are the latest birds' views. One through four are of the first task force, five through ten are of the second.'

President Obama flipped through the papers. The first set of pictures showed a vast number of crates being loaded onto cargo ships and the second set showed military vessels alongside a quay being loaded and fueled.

'We estimate that they will be ready to be underway in about seventy-two hours, tops, from the amount of cargo waiting to be loaded at their current rate of operation.'

Obama tapped the first set of pictures, 'Why are these suspect? They look civilian to me.'

The general cleared his throat before answering, 'Well, sir, know two brigades of light APC-type tanks went out on an exercise awhile ago and they haven't shown up again in their base as of today. And this dock area we're looking at has been clear of cargo since that exercise, which is highly unusual: its commercial space leased for loading WalMartesque Chinese-made goods onto cargo ships. Millions of dollars a day to operate, completely stone dead for weeks. Now today these containers show up on several trains and the area is crawling with PRC military units. I think we can say we found those two mechanized infantry brigades.'

'Surely they don't have enough firepower to conquer someone in the middle east…'

'Ah, you are indeed correct in that assessment, sir. However, our boys have said that they plan on seizing one of the oil-producing refineries, in particular that one which processes 10 million barrels a day. Its about twenty, thirty square miles of facility right along the coast. Two mechanized units would do nicely to secure and dig in and they would get all the air support they need from these guys,' the general tapped the second set of photos with the military ships, 'including a nice air defense umbrella.'

'But, even if they capture the facility, they'd only get that ten million or so barrels plus whatever is in the middle of being refined. What good would that do?'

'Well, Mr. President, that foothold would allow them to expand out to the oil fields just north and east, all within 15 to 20 miles of the facility. If they're really careful they could capture all the tankers and rigs intact. All they would need is the people to run them, so if they brought a few dozens engineers and technicians with them badda bing badda boom, their own little national direct pipeline. Besides, worse comes to worst, that facilities' ten million barrels a day is, oh, about half our current daily consumption; to put it bluntly, they'd hold the facility hostage to ensure that they got the extra amount they need.'

Obama sat back in his chair and looked at the pictures in front of him. 'And, what, exactly, is that amount? By our most realistic measures?'

The general wrinkled his nose in professional distaste at what he was about to say. 'About ten million barrels a day.'


'Well, sir, we can blow it now or tell the Saudis to shut it down…'

'No, completely out of the question. We have no breathing room in the international economy- everything is teetering as it is. The UN projected petrochemical allotment plan is to be followed to the key or else our world-wide civilization won't bridge Peak Oil into the renewable era. The US is lucky enough to have started converting its infrastructure when it did, or else we would be in the same boat as those poor bastards in China. Riots, starvation, massive unemployment…'

'That's precisely why they're doing this sir. The big cheese over there figured out that they're going to go down the toilet by unsanctioned revolution so they have one last shot at staying in power- by grabbing that oil facility and greasing their economic engine.'

'Do the Saudis know this is coming?'

'Not yet. We wanted to get the okay from you before we told them we know this for sure.'

'And Israel?'

'They own the birds we got these pictures from. And they already pledged support on our side if we're up against China in a toe-to-toe slugfest.'

'Jesus fucking Christ. I'm not going to be the president who either launches the world into global depression or starts World War three.'



'I hate to correct you, sir, but down at the DoD we say the Cold War was three, the global war on terror was four, and this would be five.'

'Whatever. Get me the Saudi Ambassador on the phone.'