Something So Terrible



Scene Title Something So Terrible
Synopsis There is no need to imagine anymore.
Date September 29, 2020

The snow-capped peaks of the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains are bathed in the light of a shimmering aurora. Scintillating curtains of vibrant green light cascade down from the heavens like the hem of a god's robe, tipped in vibrant shades of pink. In the valley between the mountains, the city of Lhasa has stood for over two-thousand years. Even at night the city's history is evident in the sweeping architecture of hillside temples juxtaposed against the bare concrete of modern skyscrapers.

Many of the more than three-hundred thousand citizens of Lhasa are out in the streets tonight. Some are gathered on the rooftops of their homes, looking up at the startling display of light that has descended over the city. Traffic has stalled on some streets, motorists pulled over to the side of the road to bask in the spectacle. Auroras are uncommon in Lhasa, but ones this vibrant and so prominent are almost unheard of. On one garden rooftop a family is gathered together, watching the sky with bright smiles. Two young children stare up into the spiral aurora's glow, reflecting green and pink in dark eyes.

The stars seem brighter tonight.

One of Lhasa's most prominent cultural sites looks particularly beautiful when framed against the auroras. The Potala Palace, a more than three hundred year old clifftop fortress, stands stark in shades of white and brown against the aurora. Once the winter palace of the Dalai Lama and the fabled home of Bodhisattva AvalokiteĊ›vara. It looks otherworldly tonight, cast in so many shifting bands of color reflected from the heavens. But the palace is silent against the mystery of the heavens, offering no insights to those within as to the nature of the celestial occurrence.

With so many eyes on the city, so many cameras raised to the heavens, the sudden pulse of darkness that swallows the city is unexpected. All of the lights in the city go out one at a time, spreading out from a central point somewhere near the Potala Palace. A young man recording the sky with his cell phone finds it simply turn off, and no matter how many times he tries to turn it back on, nothing happens. His attention is brought back up to the sky when another bystander on the street shouts in alarm and points up to the sky. It's then that he sees something, tucked into the crux of the spiral aurora. A blot of darkness.

People come out of their homes when the power goes out. Cars on the street stall dead, refuse to turn over. Motorists step out of their vehicles and look up to the sky, to the growing sphere of darkness at the center of the aurora. When a ring of fire eclipses around the edges, a wave of dread comes over the city so fast it feels like everyone collectively holds their breaths. A nighttime eclipse burns impossible at the crux of the aurora, the darkness trembles and quavers, and the ring of fire surrounding the aurora drips down toward the city like a single tear of white-hot flame.

But as it falls from the heavens that streak of fire moves like a perfectly vertical lightning bolt. The people of Lhasa stare wide eyes as the line of light streaks down from the heavens to the palace. That collectively held breath turns into a gasp.

Their faces are illuminated by a blinding flash.

And then

Three Hours Later

Tibet Autonomous Region
People's Republic of China

September 29th
11:37 pm Local Time

A plume of smoke a thousand miles high twists up from the Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains.

From the air the city of Lhasa is impossible to see through the choking black smoke. The helicopter circling the site does not have a clear place to land within the city, but as it begins its descent through the clouds, choking flakes of ash cloud of the windshield. Wipers intended to keep rain clean streak paths of visibility through the growing layers of ash. A passenger in the back of the helicopter leans against her window, looking down at the glow of fires burning within the city. Ash collects on the edges of her small, round window. She can't help but think it is the end of the world. Her is a name printed in pinyin across the right breast of her jacket.


As the helicopter descends deeper into the ash, the orange glow illuminates the smoke and bathes everything a brilliant crimson. The helicopter descends through the cover of the smoke, tendrils of ash twist away from the rotors and the engine chokes and whines.

The city of Lhasa is gone.

Shu-Fen presses herself up against the window, stares wide-eyed, and then hauls the side door open to lean out for a better look. Squinting against the embers drifting through the air, she sees the outskirts of Lhasa bathed in flames. The city is on fire and those fires are rapidly spreading. But Lhasa City is simply not there. It isn't as though the city was destroyed, there are no cellar holes, no flattened homes, no eviscerated skyscrapers to say this was the massive explosion that the outskirts of the city suggest. There is simply a spherical crater where Lhasa was, cut perfectly into the ground and glowing on the edges with the heat of atomic fire.

Cupping one hand over her mouth, Shu-Fen looks at this impossibility with unblinking eyes watering from the smoke. Reaching inside of her jacket she retrieves her phone, opening it and placing it to her ear and dials in a call.

"«It's gone.»" She says in shaky disbelief. "«I said gone.»" She has to reiterate.

"«No, there's not even rubble. The city looks like it was scooped out of the ground.»" Shu-Fen says with a cough between her words, the ash and smoke burning her lungs. "«The rest of the city is on fire. Impossible to assess survivors. This does not look like any known conventional weapon.»"

The helicopter continues its descent, following the burning rim of the crater and over the perimeter of neighboring buildings outside of Lhasa-city proper. "«We need a complete lockdown of the area. No one in or out, terminate all media outlets discussion of the topic. Prepare a spin-up story, military weapons accident, whatever you need. We cannot let anyone inside.»"

The helicopter lands on the roof of a skyscraper just outside of the burn zone of Lhasa's outskirts. Shu-Fen leaps out of the helicopter, rushing to the edge of the roof to look out over the burning city. "«No,»" she says to whoever is on the other end of the line, "«there's no aurora anymore. Even without the smoke.»"

Shu-Fen stares at the destruction, unable to fathom something at this scale that wasn't caused by a nuclear weapon. But nothing leaves hemispherical holes in the earth so uniform and glowing hot. Forgetting for a moment she was on the phone, Shu-Fen says "«I'll follow up shortly.»" She terminates the call before fully listening to what the party on the other side of the line was saying.

Jaw set, Shu-Fen swallows back a tightening knot of anxiety in the pit of her stomach and steels herself in the face of something so terrible…

…that it is beyond imagining.

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