Wednesday, February 16, 2011

For The Greater Good 3


CHAPTER THREE



    Moving his index finger smoothly over the touch-pad on the lap-top computer and then quickly pressing the ‘enter’ button, his task was now complete. Green dashes moved across the bottom of the screen, then disappeared…email sent. The General smiled as the last of the thirty four emailed invoices went out to the drivers.

    The Assassins Mace could have been cancelled or postponed until this moment. They had crossed the point of no return. General Hua closed his email program and opened another, a map of the United States, interfaced with the GPS system. The map showed thirty four small red dots, each representing a nuclear weapon in its pre-positioned placement. The dots, clustered together in areas outside of their targets, would move when the drivers began their attacks.

    Looking at his watch and deciding it was too late to go back to bed and too early to do anything but wait, General Hua dressed, walked outside and began to pace anxiously.

    The pre-dawn sky, still inky black and filled with millions of stars, opened his mind with wonder. “Maybe one day we will rule the universe.” General Hua said out-loud softly to himself with a tone of egotistical seriousness. He thought ‘One day historians will look back on this day and realize that it was today that China assumed her rightful place as the world ruler…we just have to get through this day.’

    The door opened behind Husian as Kang stepped outside with two steaming cups of tea in hand. “Good morning, General.” Kang said, handing him a mug.

    “Good morning Lieutenant, and thank you.”

    Kang said nothing as he gazed towards the eastern sky, sipping his tea. “Is everything all right General?”

    General Hua smiled at his body-guard. “Yes, everything is fine. All of our plans are coming to fruition today Kang.” The General wistfully spoke as he mentally recalled the many years of preparing for this one history-altering-event. Finding a couple of chairs, he and Kang both sat in silence, drinking tea and watching the sky change as dawn broke. Inside the barracks, the men were waking and preparing for the day.

    General Hua said to Kang, “Have the men meet me inside the missile assembly building in thirty minutes.”

    “Yes Sir.”

    Morning meetings are the same anywhere. People shuffle in half awake, pensive about the meeting and anxious to get on with their day. This scene could be from a department store, a real estate brokerage, or a group preparing to push the nuclear button on three hundred million people.   

    “Good morning.” General Hua spoke enthusiastically. “Today is the day that we have all worked for. We have all endured great sacrifice to reach our goals…” the General paused, “…and history will record our actions today as a nation which is willing and able to take the reins of world leadership.”

    The small group, standing in front of the prone DF-15 applauded excitedly.

    “Now, let’s talk about the launch. I want everyone available to help Colonel Li raise and prepare the Dongfeng.  After we launch, two vans will take everyone out of this country and into Canada. Your papers and clothing should be loaded now before we start the launch process. Lt. Kang and Lt. Lee will drive both vans. You are not to stand around and watch the missile fly; once the missile is off the launch pad you will immediately get into the vans and leave. Is that understood?”

    The group nodded yes.

    “The vans have been hardened against the EMP, and should give you no problems mechanically. However, you can expect the thermal light to be substantial, so don’t look into the sky. Do you have any questions?”

    “General, what about you? How will you leave?” Dr Kwan asked.

    “I am going to stay behind to destroy the launcher and make sure the area is sterile. I will follow along shortly; we’ll meet together and celebrate in Canada. If there aren’t any other questions, let’s get started.”

    Jing Li opened the large steel door, exposing the missile to the concrete loading area and the world. Jing had plenty of equipment to work with; more so than was available to him for the previous tests at Qinghe. Every man did as Jing ordered, even the General pitched in to do manual tasks.   

    The final steps were the most nerve wracking. Jing worked the single boom crane, lifting the strapped missile vertically, while the others held nylon straps at varying angles for stability. The missile was gingerly lowered onto the improvised Launch Base and Docking Station, settling into four locking lugs that secured it with a metallic click. The last step was connecting the data cable from the missiles on-board computer to the Control Panel. The thick, black coaxial cable, enabled the flight and targeting information to be entered. Once everything was connected and powered, it could now be tested.

    General Hua looked at his watch, it was 10:15.

    Colonel Li was concentrating on the small screen in front of him. The data link cable connected the missile and the control panel and ran beneath a farm truck fifty feet away from the DF-15. Jing sat on the ground, protected from the missiles exhaust blast by the truck. Once the computer completed the system checks, he looked at General Hua. “We’re ready.”  

    General Hua had set his lap-top, its small folding dish type antennae sitting on the ground pointed skyward, on top of a five gallon bucket, it contained the explosives necessary to destroy the launch base evidence.  The computer display showed the targets and moving weapons. Three of the weapons had not yet reached their targets, Fort Huachuca in Arizona, Baltimore, and Kings Bay Georgia. Only three out of thirty four. The General looked behind at the two Korean soldiers who would be driving, their jovial mood and smiling faces gone, replaced by their true cold persona. The vans sat idling with the technicians and Dr Kwan inside. Lieutenant Kang nodded at the General, their unspoken communication understood.

    Looking at his watch again, he raised his arm, held it momentarily and then said to Jing, “Launch!”

    Colonel Li lifted the red spring loaded cover protecting the firing toggle, and flipped the switch.

    A slight hissing noise came from inside the DF-15 and then metallic clicks of the locking lugs releasing. The white missile belched an instantaneous yellow-white flame, engulfing the launch base and showering everyone with noxious exhaust and debris. The roar was deafening, the Dongfeng lifted slowly and then leaped into the air, accelerating at breathtaking speed.

    Colonel Li got off the ground, job complete, and into the green van. Lt Kang closed the sliding door behind him. The two North Korean’s then climbed into their respective seats and started the drive. Before reaching the main road, both vans exploded into a huge ball of twisted metal and flame, shredding and incinerating everyone inside.

   The General didn’t look up, he simply said, “Good Bye Jing…people are the weakest links and we cannot risk leaks.” General Hua had to work quickly. He hadn’t practiced with explosives for many years, but knew what needed to be done. Setting the computer on the ground, he took the five gallon bucket and went to the launch base. Reeling in the control panel, he placed it on top of the launcher and started to pack the plastic explosives around it. With the explosives molded in place, he inserted the pencil thin detonators and began to attach firing wires to each of them. Last of the wires attached, he slowly backed away from the launch base, cautiously spooling out wire.

    It was if someone had turned on a thousand flash bulbs at once. Thermal energy from the high altitude nuclear explosion radiated down intense light and heat. In the General’s haste he had forgotten to wear his sunglasses, the light temporarily blinded him. At that precise moment when he thought everything had gone perfectly, that he realized his mistake.        

    The unseen electrical pulse shot across the nation, filling computers and power systems with a killing pulse of energy. The detonators designed to explode with an electrical pulse of a controlled sort, didn’t know the difference between EMP and a car battery. Standing so close to the explosives, General Hua’s body was shredded into a few large and many small pieces.

    The resulting concussion blew the lid down on the lap-top computer.


* * * * *


    The air at 35,000 feet was clear, smooth and cold. Heading east towards Offutt Air Force Base, their home, the crew of the Air Force RC-135U “Combat Sent” aircraft was tired and looking forward to some time off. This crew had spent the last four weeks flying missions along the Chinese and North Korean coasts from their temporary base at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. The Combat Sent aircraft is a highly modified Boeing 707. The 1960’s jetliner which revolutionized world airline transport had been completely remade, at the cost to the taxpayers of almost one billion dollars, into an ultra sophisticated Reconnaissance and Electronic Intelligence gathering craft. 

    “Barb One, this is Raven One.” Major Mike Miller spoke into his microphone as he contacted the Offutt AFB air traffic control.

    “Raven One, we have you two hundred forty miles out at a heading of zero-nine-zero, flight level three-five zero.”

    “Roger Barb One, estimated time of arrival twelve-fifteen hours.”

    “Raven One, temperature sixty-seven and winds are 270 at 15 gusting to 20.”

    “Copy that Barb One.” The Major sat back in the uncomfortable seat and stretched his arms. “Well Mark, looks like a nice day today. I think I’m going to fire up the grill when I get home. What are you going to do?”

    “Play with my kids and…play with the wife.” Capt Mark Cowan said winking his intent to the pilot. “Hey, have you done your taxes yet?”

    “That’s right, it’s April 15th…and we get to live it again.” Major Miller said sarcastically. They had crossed the International Date Line earlier.

    A loud and obnoxious electronic klaxon sounded. Both pilot and co-pilot went from somewhat at-ease to combat ready. Eyes and hands quickly worked the dials and gauges to assess their aircraft’s situation. 

    “Colonel, what’s gong on?” Major Miller spoke through the intercom system to the aircraft commander, Colonel Bill Walters.

    The klaxon was a sound this crew had heard before, but usually in a high threat environment. Colonel William “Bill” Walters walked over to the specialist who sounded the alarm. “Sergeant, what’s up?”

    Staff Sergeant Charles Washington looked up from his computer screen. “Sir, we have a missile launch.”

    “Missile launch? Is this missile inbound?”

    “No Sir…it’s local and looks to be on a vertical flight path.”

    Colonel Walters keyed a microphone to one of the communications specialists. “Get me NORAD.”

    NORAD, or North American Space Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado was contacted “This is Colonel Walters, I’m in command of a Combat Sent aircraft…we are tracking an outbound missile launch…has anyone given notice that there is any testing in this area?”

    The unidentified voice answered “No Sir…we are now tracking it as well.”

    “Sergeant Washington, have you been able to identify this missile yet?”

    “No positive ID yet Sir, the computer says it is similar to a Chinese DF-15, but it also compares in its flight characteristics to a half dozen other missiles as well.”

    “Do you think it could be one of those hobbyists shooting off a home-built?”

    “I don’t think so Sir, this one is moving pretty fast, it’s now at 315,000 feet and climbing.” 

    The unidentified NORAD voice spoke. “Colonel, are you declaring this as a hostile?”

    Before he could answer, Sergeant Washington interrupted, “Looks like it’s slowing down Sir, we’ve gone from 7,100 miles per hour to 6,480 miles per hour…altitude is now...82 miles…slowing down further at 5,975 miles per hour…’ Sgt Washington literally bounced in his seat. “Sir…we have a second stage separation, I repeat we have a second stage separation and ignition!”

    “NORAD we are declaring this as hostile, we have a second stage separation and ignition.” Colonel Walters selected a switch and spoke to the entire crew “Prepare for a possible nuclear event!” 

    Everyone on the aircraft made sure that their helmets and seatbelts were on and tight, while the pilot and co-pilot went a step further lowering their darkened visors.       

    “Altitude is now 185 miles and holding at 6,400 miles per hour.” Washington announced and then paused, focusing intently at the green digital radar image on the screen. “Sir… the second stage is slowing…it’s now…HOLY CRAP, we have det…” his words incomplete as the computer image of the rocketing nuclear weapon detonated.

    The Combat Sent aircraft instantly increased in temperature from the thermal pulse and seconds later the smell of burning wires filled the interior as almost one hundred thousand volts of electricity surged through the copper and gold wiring. Popping noises came from various circuit breakers as they tripped. Buzzers squealed and lights flashed as the aircrafts computer detected system malfunctions.

    “Damage check!” Colonel Walters barked

    Throughout the craft, technicians reset breaker switches in a flurry of practiced action and announced their particular areas status. The Combat Sent had come through the EMP with minor damage, just as it was designed to.

    Colonel Miller keyed his microphone “NORAD this is Raven One…” Colonel Walters paused, “…NORAD this is Raven One, do you copy?”

    The Communications Officer spoke “Sir, NORAD is off the air.”

    “Sir, you need to see this…” Major Miller interrupted, “…you need to see this NOW!”

    Colonel Walters made his way forward and through the door which separated the main galley and cockpit. “What do you…?” Colonel Walters paused in mid sentence and stared at the large orange and black mushroom cloud boiling up south of Omaha, fifty miles distant, where Offutt AFB used to be. “Jesus”

    “Sir, what do you want to do?” Major Miller asked, trying to focus on the flight and put aside his anger and nausea.

    Colonel Walters had prepared his whole career for military action. Fighting on the ground or against Migs was one thing. However no one had any practical experience with nuclear war. Finally he said, “Put us on a fifty mile racetrack pattern until we can figure this out.” He then headed back into the galley. All eyes were on him. “We’ve been attacked with nuclear weapons…Offutt has been hit…right now that’s all I know. I want everyone on the horn to see who’s around and who’s not.”

    The Communications Officer spoke, “Sir…NORAD and Offutt are both ‘off’, so is Minot, North Dakota.”

    Colonel Walters keyed his microphone. “Major Miller, how much fuel do we have?”

    “We have one hour at this speed, not including our forty minute reserve.”

    “OK, I want someone to find us a place to land.”

    The Communication Officer or ‘Comms’ spoke “Sir, the main facility at Cheyenne Mountain is still operational, I’ve been in contact with their back-up crew.” Comms waited for the acknowledgement from the Colonel and continued “They say that there is a six aircraft package with tanker, call sign ‘Starboard Six’, coming over from Japan…I’ll patch them through Sir.”

    “Raven One…this is Starboard Six.” said the incoming female voice.

    “Starboard Six, we could use some fuel, if you have any to spare.” Colonel Walters asked

    “Roger that Raven One, we are crossing into South Dakota now…I’ll have our Navigator give you a rendezvous coordinate.”

    Raven One and Starboard Six exchanged information and within the hour Raven One was connected to the aerial refueling tanker over the South Dakota Badlands. After taking on enough fuel to continue flying for five more hours; Raven One pulled up in loose formation with six F-22 Raptor fighters and the tanker.

    “Starboard Six, where are you based?” Colonel Walters asked.

    “McConnell, Sir.” Captain Wendy Blake said and continued, “The Raptors are heading to Langley.”

    Colonel Walters looked at Comms, who replied “Sir, McConnell is off and so is Whiteman in Missouri. Malmstrom in Montana is up.” Malmstrom Air Force Base, home of the 341st Space Wing with one hundred fifty Minuteman III ICBM missiles under it’s command.

    “Patch me through to Malmstrom…Malmstrom this is Raven One along with six Raptors and a tanker…we need a place to land.”

    “Sir, we are closed to inbound aircraft.” The unidentified voice said authoritatively.

    “Ok, let’s try this Malmstrom…we have in dollar terms more money in this flight package than most third world countries gross national product. Now, we’ll be more than happy to land at an unsecured civilian airport…you just let us know where.” Colonel Walters checked his anger and frustration with sarcasm, knowing that having a military aircraft like the Combat Sent in an ‘unsecured civilian’ surrounding would be completely unacceptable.

Sergeant Washington, noticeably upset, questioned, “Sir, if we are under a nuclear attack, why would we try to land where there are missiles? I mean, couldn’t we try to land at Eppley Airfield in Omaha?”

    This was the first time that Sergeant Washington had ever questioned the Colonel in this manner. This was the beginning of the remaining military questioning their orders.

    The Colonel took a breath and realized that the ‘war-time stress seminars’ he was ‘required’ to attend said something like this could very well happen. It was starting to play out. “Sergeant, do you know of any other place that has nuclear bunkers?” He paused and said for all to hear, “Even if we were able to land in Omaha, we’re not going to do those folks much good.”

    “Those ‘folks’ are our families, Sir.” Sgt Washington said unapologetically in an angry tone.

    A voice interrupted, “Raven One…Malmstrom is open for you and your flight.”

    “Copy Malmstrom,” Stunned silence and the realization that maybe the Sergeant was right, took a back seat to the job at hand. “Major Miller, make a heading to Malmstrom.”


* * * * *


    Rick woke and sat up in one slow motion. Reaching over to the alarm clock and seeing he had slept past his normal 5:00 am wake-up, he jumped up and quickly put on a pair of jeans. “Hey Linda, I’ve changed my mind, I’ll go to DC with you all today.” A couple of steps later he realized he was alone. “Crap…they’ve left.”

    Down the steps and over to his charging cell phone, he speed dialed his wife’s number…instant voice mail. “Damn-it she’s got her phone off.” Looking at the clock on the kitchen stove, the large green numbers showed 8:15. He knew that the bus left the school at 8:00.

    ‘Too late…might as well enjoy the day and not feel guilty about it.’ He thought to himself. Making coffee in the morning was a ritual and one of the day’s pleasures. It was an automatic process which he could almost do in his sleep. While the coffee was brewing, he stepped out onto the back porch for a morning smoke. The always happy Golden Retriever, Louie greeted him and started swinging his rubber toy…play time, always play time with this dog. “Not right now, boy.” He said, stubbing out the half burned cigarette.

    Pouring the strong black Ethiopian coffee, and sitting in front of the living room TV, he turned to a news station. The attractive blonde co-anchor was in the midst of an interview “…General what’s the military’s assessment of North Korea’s announcement that they are testing a new missile this week?”

    “First I want to say; thanks for having me on your program. The Taep'o-dong 3 is what North Korea is calling this new missile. The last missile, Taep'o-dong 2, was never successfully fired. The difference between the two is that the ‘dong 2’ was a liquid fueled missile and the ‘dong 3’ is solid fuel. What that means is that the North could launch this one with very little preparation time, unlike the liquid fueled ‘2’ which takes a few hours of prep time.”

    “Can this missile reach the United States?” the woman asked.

    If it is a successful design…and if everything goes according to what they have released to the media, then yes, it could very well reach the United States.”

    The interviewer shook her head in amazement, “Is there anything we can do about this?”

    “Well yes, we do have our Anti-Ballistic Missile Shield in place, so the likelihood of a missile reaching us isn’t great…” he paused and continued “…besides, the North and any other country knows that any missile fired at the United States would bring the full force of our own nuclear missiles against them…they would be pounded back into the stone-age.”

    “You are talking about ‘Mutually Assured Destruction.’”

    “Yes…”

    “Thank you for joining us today General…” the announcer said, segueing into another story “…Today the President will address both houses of Congress. Today’s meeting will announce the proposed Health Care Initiative, which would make health care available to everyone, including those here in the United States illegally. We will broadcast this meeting ‘live’ at 12:00 Eastern time. Joining us to discuss the financial impact is…”   

   Rick turned off the show and went upstairs to shower. Standing beneath the hot water pouring from the shower head erased any thoughts about North Korea, the sluggish economy, or any other life-and-death events which he had no control of. Realizing that he was very fortunate to have kids at this late stage of his life, he smiled. Everyone at work thought he was crazy to have one child at forty five…and then another at fifty. ‘Retirement certainly isn’t in my immediate future’ he thought to himself and laughed.  

    Loading up his car with the range bag and heavy back-pack, Rick looked at his watch and saw he was early. He knew that Steve would be late, as always. A stop at McDonald’s for breakfast would burn some time.

    Sitting in his small SUV and glancing at his watch for the third time in ten minutes, Rick looked at the other cars in the parking lot of the indoor Gun Club. There wasn’t anyone else waiting. When they had made their ‘shooting date’ almost three weeks ago, Steve had said he had some friends that would be joining them. ‘Maybe they would all come in the same car.’ He thought.

    Steve arrived thirty minutes late, as usual. The new blue pick-up truck gleamed in the morning sunshine. “Hey Rick, sorry I’m late.” Steve said extending his hand.

    Rick shook his hand and then bear hugged and back slapped him, “Nice to see you too bro. Where are your friends?”

    Steve grunted “Ahhh…they are finishing their fallout shelter today.”

    “Fallout shelter? Aren’t they taking this North Korean thing a little too serious?”

    “I don’t know, maybe a fallout shelter would be a good thing for everyone to have.”

    “You’ve got no argument from me on that one. If I started to put in a fallout shelter, my wife would string me up…that is unless Oprah had on one of her shows that it’s in-vogue to have one, then she’d be all for it..”  Rick said laughing

    “What do you think about this North Korean thing?” Steve asked

    “I don’t think they have the range to get to us over here, maybe the West Coast, but not here. Besides, if they managed to reach us, the main target would be DC, right? I’d hopefully have some time to put together a shelter. I’ve got everything I need and have the plans for it in my head, so I would just need a little time. ” Rick said, and then realized in the unlikely event of something happened today, Linda and the kids would be in the cross-hairs of target Number One. He wished they were home.

    Rick and Steve gathered their equipment out of the vehicles. “Holy Cow Rick, is that your 72 Hour Bag?”

    “Yeah, why?”

    Steve showed Rick his bag, which was half the size and weight. “Looks like a 72 Day Bag, not 72 Hours.” He chuckled as he noticed the small axe hanging off the side and the unopened brand new sleeping bag pad strapped beneath the olive green pack.

    “Yeah well, keep in mind I’ve got kids so I have some extra stuff for them.” Rick said as he hefted the bag onto his back and snapped the waist retainer clip. “So, why did you want to do this?”

    “I know it sounds strange, but I had this dream and you and I were shooting while wearing packs…” Steve said almost ashamedly “…besides it’s something different.”

    “Dreams, huh…?” Rick gave him a quizzical look “…that’s not like you.”

    “I know, but it was as if it was real…so I thought I’d bring it up.”

    “Hey, we’re here, so lets do it.”

    Forty five minutes later Rick and Steve left the indoor range and unloaded their gear back into their cars. With gunpowder splattered hands, they shook again, both agreeing to do be more consistent in their shooting practice. Steve drove off and headed towards the freeway.

    Rick sat in his CR-V and let the engine idle as he lit up a cigarette and turned on the radio. “….that’s it for sports. In traffic…there is a multi-car accident on I-695…both the Inner Loop and Outer Loop are at a complete standstill in Towson…our “Eye In The Sky, Jim Simmons has more…” The broadcaster gave the live-feed over to the traffic copter “…Thanks Ron, it is a complete mess on the beltway right now…it looks like a tractor-trailer has flipped on its side and is now on fire…both lanes are at a total stand-still for over five miles in either direction…you’ll definitely want to avoid I-695 now and for the next few hours until they straighten this mess out.”

    What the air traffic reporter didn’t say and couldn’t know was that a hundred yards behind the flipped and burning truck sat a red and white Office Depot truck, hemmed in on all sides with stopped cars, its North Korean driver yelling and screaming inside.

    ‘Great…time for back roads.’ Rick thought, and then recalled a road that would get him out of this area and back home. Rick took the main road towards the wreck, as he had to go in that direction to pick up the back road he wanted.

    Traffic slowed as he headed towards the accident about three miles distant. Seeing a solid line of red brake lights ahead, Rick slowed. Patience in traffic wasn’t one of his virtues. A gap in the middle turning lane opened up, and the oncoming traffic was about a half-block away coming towards him. Without thinking, Rick executed a sharp left turn and onto a road which went directly away from the traffic and the wreck.

    Rick had lived near this area for many years and had traveled on most of the major roads; this one was new to him. The two lane glass smooth asphalt road wound its way through some of the area’s exclusive and ridiculously expensive homes. Rick took his time and gawked at the area…this was one thing that drove Linda nuts.  ‘Rick, keep your eyes on the road.’ He smiled as he heard her in his mind.

    Taking his eyes off the homes, he closed the distance behind a slower late model dark green Volkswagen Jetta. The Jettas rear was covered with bumper stickers, which Rick started to read. ‘Animals Are People Too’…’Be Kind To Animals, Don’t Eat Them’…and many more of a similar theme.

    “Hippies” Rick said out loud scornfully.

    The road descended down a small hill. Rick forgot the billboard Jetta and looked out at the new development on his right. A group of about eight or ten large new homes in the half to three quarter of a million dollar range sat within spitting distance of one another. At the bottom of the hill, running beneath the road, a swale for the expensive homes drainage. Rick noticed a teenaged boy walking along a well worn path towards the bottom of the drainage area.

    The light was intensely bright and illuminated everything for what seemed like many seconds. Ricks first thought was that he had gone through a red-light camera, but he was nowhere near one of those in this part of town. Immediately after his thought, the Hondas engine coughed and stopped.

    “Shit…!” Rick felt the steering become much harder, as did the brakes. Applying full brake he skidded into the back of the stopped Jetta, bumping it gently. “What the…!”

    Rick put the CR-V into park and tried to restart it…nothing. It cranked but didn’t fire, and the radio was filled with static. Unbuckling his seat belt, removing and pocketing his keys, he got out of the CR-V and shook his head in confusion. This car was one of the most reliable he had ever owned. Rick walked to the Jetta and heard it crank and…nothing.

    Knocking on the drivers’ window gently with his knuckle, the girl inside opened the door. “Sorry” they said to each other in unison.

    “Are you ok?” Rick asked

    “Yes I’m fine…I don’t know what happened to my car…I just spent eight hundred dollars having this car fixed…and now it just stopped.” She said with a mixture of frustration and anger.

    “Mine stopped too…” Rick looked up the road, a very expensive Mercedes Benz was stopped in the middle of the road, its male driver standing outside shaking his head and trying to dial a cell phone, unsuccessfully. “…You’re sure you’re alright?” Rick asked as he noticed her dark brown almost black hair with the unnatural red dyed streak along one side and tiny pony-tails jutting out at all angles. The girl also had a thick lip-ring and a smaller one hanging out of her left nostril.

    “Yes I’m fine…” she unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the dead car. Looking up, she said, “…what’s THAT?” pointing up and behind Rick.

    Rick turned around. Looking up towards the west, he saw the very large cloud. It was a perfectly clear day and this was the only cloud in the sky, a very high altitude swirl of ionized blue, purple, green and yellow-white mass. Rick blinked as he started to remember something he had read, and then the sound hit them. A large, deep, explosive ‘BOOM.’ The detonation from many miles away sent its concussive shock wave across the land. The sound was felt as the windows on both cars and ground vibrated. The larger concussion was immediately followed by three more very distinct reports.

    It was like a light going off in his head. “SHIT…we’re under attack…” Rick said as he turned back to his car.

    “What...? What do you mean...? An attack from who?” The girl questioned nervously.

    Strapping on his pack and wrapping the strap from his range bag over his shoulder, Rick paid her no mind, his own thoughts racing. Turning back to her and trying to speak calmly, he said, “I think we are under a nuclear attack.”     

    She stood frozen, like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights.

    Rick turned and started to leave.

    “Where are you going?” She questioned, obviously frightened

    “To find shelter…” He turned back towards her. “…well, are you coming or not?”

    The girl reached inside her car, taking her purse and following Rick, her stylish combat boots sounding loud on the pavement.

    Fast walking back to the swale, Rick climbed over the guard rail and side-stepped down to the bottom of the hill. Unseen from the road were numerous drainage pipes, discharging water from the previous nights rain. The pipe that ran beneath the road was concrete and large, almost five feet high. Rick ducked his head and walked along one side of the flat bottomed culvert. A trench ran down the middle and had a stream of water flowing through it. Half way through, he stopped, the girl just stepping inside following close by.

    “There was a kid that came through here a few minutes ago.” he said to her.

    It was then that they both heard sounds coming from behind a steel door on the opposite side of the tunnel. Rick took a big step and crossed the running water. Pounding on the door with his fist; “Open Up!”

    The muffled sounds inside definitely startled its occupants. The door slowly unlatched and then opened inwards. Rick stepped up and over the threshold and stood inside the dimly lit room, the pungent aroma of burning marijuana hung in the stale air. “What are you kids doing here?” he asked

    “Are you a cop?” the one nearest to him asked, moving his greasy long blonde hair around his ear and out of his eyes.

    “No I’m not” Rick said authoritatively

    “Dude, we’re outta here…” all three kids took off, pushing the girl aside in their haste to exit.

    “Idiots…” Rick said as he took off the range bag and then the pack. The kids had a couple of candles burning, which threw off a pale yellow glow. Opening his pack and feeling around on the inside, he withdrew a small roll of black contractor grade garbage bags. Stepping through the doorway and into the culvert, he shook one of the bags open.

    “I need your help.” He didn’t wait for an acknowledgement as he handed her the thick, opened garbage bag. “I want you to hold this open while I scoop water into it, ok?”

    She nodded yes and held the bag

    Taking a white kitchen garbage bag rolled up inside of the larger black thirty-five gallon bags, he bent over and started to scoop water from the culvert’s stream. Hefting the bag after one scoop and trying to judge its volume, he dumped it into the larger black bag. Working at a frenzied pace scooping and dumping, he paused after seven scoops. “I think this is about seven gallons or so.” He said, setting the white bag down while taking the larger one from the girl and carrying it inside. “Would you clean away this area “…he said motioning to an area away from the door “…make sure there aren’t any rocks or glass or anything that could poke a hole in the bag.”

    The girl got on her knees and swept away the debris. “Why do you think that we’re under a nuclear attack?”

    Rick tied the bag into a knot and went back out into the drain, taking another black contractor bag with him. Shaking it open and handing it to her, he said, “Well, here’s why. First of all, do you remember that light? Unnatural to say the least, right?”

    She agreed by nodding.

    “We had the bright light, then both of our cars just stopped. Now it might be coincidence, but there was another car ahead of us that was also stopped…so I don’t think it was a coincidence...” He said pausing momentarily, wiping the sweat from his eyes and continuing to fill the bag “…then there was the cloud. That cloud was from a very high altitude nuclear detonation, which caused our cars to stop…its called EMP, Electro-Magnetic Pulse. It means that high voltage shoots through the air and zaps almost all electronics…” pausing again and dumping more water “…then we both heard and felt the concussion from some very large explosions. I’m betting that they were nuclear.”

    “Nuclear…? So are we going to die from the radiation?”

    “That’s why we’re here. We need to put as much material between us and the fallout.”

    “And if it’s not a nuclear war?”

    “Then we …or actually I, will look like an idiot…” pausing again as the bag was now filled with another seven gallons “…I’d rather look like an idiot than be killed from radiation fallout.” He took the bag inside and came back out with the last bag.

    “You don’t actually plan on drinking this water, do you?”

    “I have a filter in my pack, it’ll be alright…” he said scooping and dumping more water “…the human body can go for a while without food but you won’t last very long without water.” He said finishing the bag and taking it inside. The girl followed.

    Setting the water down next to the other two bags, Rick turned to shut the door. At that moment the explosive force of nine-hundred thousand pounds of TNT detonated from the Office Depot truck stuck in traffic nearly five miles away. The thermal projection illuminated the culvert and interior of the room with a light that was as bright as multitudes of welding arcs; instantly followed by the blast wave.

    Rick saw everything in slow motion, the light penetrating the culvert and room, then the unseen blast which violently shook and tore every cell in his body. The steel door flung back into him with such force it sent him crashing into the concrete wall. He tried raising his arm to block the inevitable crash; however his motor response was also in slow motion as he smashed into the wall and landed full force on the floor.

    Everything went black. 

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