Like a tiny spark rising from a camp fire, then landing and creating another fire, so were the electrical signals in his mind. Slowly, his brain’s neurotransmitters began to signal one another, raising his consciousness. There was no sensation at first, and then gradually he became aware.
Rick’s mind couldn’t tell him whether he was standing, sitting or lying down. He floated in a surreal pool of sensory depravation. He initially felt the chill of the floor, the cool damp concrete snapping his mind awake.
Lying on the ground, his first thought was, ‘I must be dead. So, this is what death is like…it’s not that bad.’ His mind began to receive signals from the body, not from dopamine induced pleasure, but pain, thumping and throbbing pain making him open his eyes to a totally dark room. Closing his eyes…the darkness was the same. ‘Am I blind?’ Fear swept over him at the thought. Lifting his arm and feeling his face, ‘Where are my glasses?’ An irrational thought.
Gingerly he moved his hand along the dusty floor in semi circles searching for the missing glasses. Feeling a scrap piece of wood, and realizing he was lying uncomfortably on it, he moved his hands further out. He felt the rounded and lugged sole of a boot, ‘the girl.’ Now he remembered where he was.
He touched his glasses, put them on, and opened his eyes again to the same darkness. His body ached as he rolled up to a sitting position. Leaning to one side, he dug in his pants pocket for the car keys. Pulling out the clump of keys, he felt the small pocket flashlight and turned it on. The powerful light filled the entire room with a painfully bright light.
Ricks head hurt and the white light amplified that pain. Images of the interior swam in gut wrenching double vision. The dizziness sent waves of nausea, causing Rick to vomit. Placing the light it on the floor next to the wall blocked out most of its powerful beam, yet left enough so he could see without being blinded.
He looked over at the door he saw that it was closed. Knowing that the radiation fallout from the blast would kill them, he tried to stand and reach his pack. His knees buckled at the effort and he collapsed onto the opened bag. Dizziness and double vision made every movement painful. He reached into the pack for the roll of duct tape he knew was there, he had hidden it from his tape hungry daughter six months prior. Finding the roll of sticky green tape, he slowly got to his knees and tried to stand. Falling against the door, he closed his eyes to stop the dizziness. After great effort, he finally stood, propped up by the metal door.
He picked at the frustrating edge of the tape peeling a strip, to try to seal the gaps between the door and its frame. His hands didn’t have enough strength hands to tear the tape, so taking his pocketknife, he cut and applied it through the double vision. Finished, he sat and closed his eyes, trying to stop the room from spinning. He then realized, he could not hear anything, he was deaf. Deafness didn’t scare him as much as the thought of being blind. He hoped the hearing loss was temporary.
The girl lay crumpled in the far corner, next to a large green water pipe going from floor to ceiling, crawling over, he thought she was dead. Feeling the carotid artery in her neck, he found a strong pulse and saw her chest rise and fall with her breaths…he collapsed alongside of her.
Rick turned off the light and tried to think of his family. Try as he might he could not see his wife or children in his mind. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he cried silently for them.
* * * * *
Colonel Walters and his crew were led six stories below the surface to an expansive area filled with Humvee’s and electric golf carts. An Airman took the crew to their radiation sheltered quarters. Colonel Walters went with another Airman, in one of the golf carts, through an underground tunnel to the Command Center almost one mile away.
The command center of the 341st Space Group was filled with officers and enlisted men, all working at a frenzied pace.
“Colonel Walters,” A tall well built officer said from across the computer filled room
Bill Walters knew that this man was in charge. Walters would bet that the tall, muscular man with the deep voice, at some point in his life was a football player. “General.” Colonel Walters said, saluting.
The Major General returned his salute. “Ted Norris,” he said, foregoing the usual rigid protocol given the circumstances, and offered his hand.
“Bill Walters, Sir. Thank you for letting us land and giving my crew shelter.”
The General spoke with a slightly southern accent. “Well, I couldn’t just let you all fly around until you ran out of fuel, could I? Besides, you might have information that we can use. By the way…” he paused “…it’s good to have you all here. We’re still trying to sort things out.”
Colonel Walters felt completely at ease around this General. “Thank you, Sir. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” The room that was built on huge springs started swaying gently.
“Earthquake. That’s the third one…most likely an aftershock.” The General offered, he continued, “We think that the faults on the West Coast have ‘released.’”
“I’m sure, also Oregon and Washington State. We are trying to analyze data from the satellites, but we are losing them at a rapid rate. The radiation from the High Altitude Nuclear Blast is taking out everything that travels through it and our satellites aren’t shielded. ‘Too much weight’ the engineers told us.”
“What do we know so far General?”
General Norris exhaled slowly and deliberately. “They hit us hard, whoever ‘they’ are. The Pentagon is down, and it’s a given the White House, Senate and Congress is down too. We are trying to establish contact with ‘Raven Rock’ and ‘Mt. Weather.’”
As they were talking, a female Lieutenant approached. “Sir, we have contact with Raven Rock.”
“Excellent, thank you Lieutenant.” General Norris took Colonel Walters and walked over to the Communications Systems area in the rear of the Command Center. The General picked up a large silver desk microphone and pressed the talk button on the side. “Raven Rock…Major General Ted Norris, Commander 341st Space Wing, Malmstrom.”
The voice came through the desk top receiver. “Lieutenant General Barker, Commanding Officer, Raven Rock. General Norris, what’s your status?”
The General looked at the female Lieutenant “Is this secure?”
She nodded yes.
“General Barker, we are one hundred percent operational. Who did this to us?”
“We are still trying to establish that. There’s a NEST team being assembled now out of Fort Polk Louisiana, they’ll go to Whiteman and St. Louis to obtain samples.”
“St Louis…they hit cities?!”
“Affirmative. We are still trying to get the exact number of weapons involved; right now it looks like at least thirty.”
General Norris took off his glasses, setting them down on the tabletop and rubbed his eyes in disbelief, grief…and anger. Replacing his glasses he picked up the microphone “Sir…you tell me who and get me the launch codes…and I’ll turn whoever did this back to the Stone Age.”
“I should have that information for you in a couple of hours…” the line went silent for a moment “…Do you have any information for us Ted?”
“I have a Colonel here who was commanding a Combat Sent aircraft during the attack…I’ll put him on for you.” General Norris handed the microphone over.
“Colonel Bill Walters, Sir. We were returning from Kadena and picked up the missile as it launched. We observed it through both first and second stage, and then into detonation.”
“Were you able to identify it?”
“Our system gave us a number of possible models, the highest probability being a DF-15, although the flight profile listed another half dozen missiles.”
“What is a DF-15?” The General asked
“The DF-15 is a Chinese single stage, short range ground to ground mobile missile. China has them pointed mainly at Taiwan; they also export them to Pakistan.”
“I thought you said that there were two stages?”
“Yes Sir, that’s why we couldn’t get an exact ID.”
“Do you think it could have been an Iranian or North Korean missile?”
“Yes Sir, the data indicated the flight profile could have been Iranian, North Korean, Pakistani, Russian, Chinese, or Indian Sir.”
“Thank you Colonel…if you come up with anything else, please let us know.”
The Colonel handed the microphone back to the General. He placed his hand over the speaker and said “Thanks Bill, I need to talk privately.” The Lieutenant placed a set of headphones in the Generals hand. Turning off the desktop speaker she then ushered everyone away from his area.
General Norris knew General Barker from their days together at the Pentagon. “Buck, it’s just me you and the fence-post…what the fuck is going on?”
“Ted…this is a real shit sandwich. They caught us completely off-guard. We were so focused on North Korea that we didn’t see it coming from the inside.”
“What do you estimate the casualties are?”
“The estimates are all over the place; however I don’t see how we could have less than one twenty five to two hundred.”
“Yes…and we’re getting no help from the weather either. The last reports we had were of a large low pressure system off the East Coast, which is swirling the fallout and not allowing it to head out over the Atlantic. The folks on the East Coast that weren’t killed in the blasts and the immediate fallout are now going to get a double dose when it blows back around.”
“Jesus…and the West Coast?”
“The West coast isn’t fairing much better I’m, afraid. Those nukes took out Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego…but the resultant earthquakes will probably kill more than those bombs. We have accessed a Japanese seismology computer and they’re indicating those quakes are at least 9.3 on the Richter scale. With the satellites going down it’s not the time to send anything over there for any information…and we don’t have the aircraft available to get an assessment right now.”
“We have the Combat Sent aircraft and crew, would that help?”
“Absolutely…let’s give the radiation a chance to settle down before we send them out…” General Barker paused “…Ted, there’s the other shoe that’s ready to drop. You know that Mt. Weather is searching for the “Acting President.” Right now they don’t know who ‘he’ or ‘she’ is…but keep in mind what Mt. Weather is about.”
“Spell it out for me Buck.”
“Ok, ‘The Continuance of Government Plan’ is a mirror of the US Government housed in the underground facility at Mt. Weather, Virginia. They have every government position duplicated, right down to the Federal Reserve. Now, the acting “Secretaries and Directors” were chosen by this administration, but were not available for public scrutiny…we have no idea who these people are and what their backgrounds are…but they will be running this country, whether we like it or not.”
General Norris took a deep breath. “Alright, I understand what you’re saying…let me know when you’re ready for us.” General Norris shook his head at the horrific news and disconnected the transmission with ‘Raven Rock-Site R’, the mirror of the United States Pentagon.
* * * * *
Rick woke to a gentle shaking, he hadn’t thought he was asleep, but he must have drifted off momentarily. The girl sat up and he felt her silent scream. Though he couldn’t hear her, he felt her body shake and the vibrations from her voice. Sitting up behind her, he put his arms around her as he would his daughter during a nightmare.
Turning on the flashlight, she turned and faced him, still screaming uncontrollably. In the diffused light he saw her face and the black lines down her cheeks from running mascara. Looking at him she cried and he couldn’t hear a word she said.
Taking her by the shoulders he saw her mouthing, “We’re going to die.” Making direct eye contact with the girl he spoke and hoped she could hear him…she couldn’t. Through exaggerated lips movement he said, “No we’re not going to die.” He hoped he was right.
The girl calmed down and they tried to communicate through lip reading and hand gestures. Rick spoke slowly to her, “You and I are hurt,” he said, taking his hand, making a fist and pretending to hit himself on the head. “Understand?”
She nodded yes and swallowed hard.
Rick pointed to his ear. “I can’t hear….can you?” he said, slowly moving his head side–to-side.
Moving her head in the same way as him, she couldn’t hear either. There was some comfort in both acknowledging they had the same issues. Taking the light he said “I want you…” pointing his finger at her, “…to tell me something.” He pointed at his eye and made a circle with his forefinger and thumb. Pointing the light at his eye and moving it away quickly he continued, “If my pupils shrink…” making the finger circle shrink, “…nod yes, understand?”
She nodded yes, questioning.
Rick took off his glasses, pointed the flashlight at the corner of his eye, and moved it away quickly. Making the same circle with his finger and then quickly making a closing gesture…she now understood and wanted him to do it again. He did and she motioned no, his pupil did not close. He then did the left eye…same result.
Replacing his glasses he closed his eyes to stop the dizziness. He asked “Are you dizzy?” He motioned with a spinning forefinger.
“Yes” she said, while nodding.
Taking the light he slowly pointed it at her left eye. The pupil didn’t react to the light, and moving to the right eye, he got the same result. “We have concussions.” He mouthed.
She didn’t understand and shrugged her shoulders.
Speaking slowly and using his fist to show a blow to the head, he emphasized the injury “We…have…concussion.”
“Are we going to die?’ she asked again terrified
Moving his head side-to-side positively, brought searing pain on himself. He said “No, we need to rest.” He placed his hands together on the side of his face as someone would to indicate sleep. Crawling over to his pack, he motioned for her to follow.
Rick unzipped the main sections of the pack and started to pull everything out, setting the contents aside until he found the compression bagged sleeping bag at the bottom. Leaving it alone for a moment, his attention went to the outside rear pocket with the first aid supplies. He looked at the handful of small vacuumed sealed packages that contained pills, reading each. Finding the one he wanted which said ‘perc,’ he took his pocket knife and cut the top. He took two of the powerful Percocet’s, handed them to the girl, and then took two for himself. “Are you thirsty?”
Holding the two white pills in her hand she nodded yes, took the tube from the back-pack that Rick offered and drank from the pack’s water bladder, swallowing the pills. Rick did the same. Undoing the compression bag and pulling out the sleeping bag, he shook it and tried to get it to fluff up. The bag had been compressed for a long time and looked like a long blue flat pancake. It would take its original shape in time. He handed it to her and removed the rolled and sealed sleeping pad still attached to the bottom of the pack. Rick removed the plastic wrapping and unrolled it, opening the vent that allowed air to fill the pad. Rick took this one.
Motioning for her to get both of the fallen candles that the pot smoking kids left behind, she did and he lit one, turning off the flashlight. The room darkened dramatically, changing colors from the pure white light of the flashlight to a soft yellow natural flamed candle. The girl set the candle off to the side, within arms reach, along with the disposable lighter…then blew it out, lying down on the bag. Rick laid down and felt the pills starting to take effect. He whispered a plea, “God, please get us through this…please.”
The Percocets hit their brains pain receptors hard, as they were designed to. The powerful painkillers made it easy for both to fall asleep.
Waking to an intense buzzing in his head, Rick felt like he had the worst hangover headache in his life. The girl also woke, feeling the same. She sparked the butane lighter into life and lit the candle’s wick. Rick sat up and found the package of Percocets and offered her two and he then took another two.
There was no conversation, just pain. Rick slowly closed his eyes while sitting up and felt himself nodding off…the girl blew out the candle and they both drifted off into a drug induced sleep.
* * * * *
“Sir, Raven Rock would like to speak to you.’ The Sergeant said to General Norris, who was watching one of his staff officers trying to gather information from the outside world on what was left of the Internet.
Walking over to the communications area of the Command Center, General Norris took the desk microphone, “General Norris.”
“This is General Barker. The Nuclear Emergency Search Team has made a positive ID on the nukes...they are North Korean.”
“North Korean!” General Norris was taken back by the information “I didn’t think that they had thirty nukes.”
“The official number is thirty four, and what remains of CIA and NSA say they have up to forty eight.”
“Son-of-a-bitch...!” he said with animated anger
“Targeting information is being sent to you now.” General Barker said
The entire Command Center was silent, listening to the conversation between the two leaders. A Lieutenant Colonel sitting behind his computer spoke. “We have the targeting data, Sir.”
General Barker spoke. “The total response will be fifty weapons, you are sending eighteen…F.E. Warren is sending twenty and Navy, twelve…you are initially sending fifteen with three more at five minute intervals. You’ll see the targets we want to hit twice in the information packet.”
“Yes Sir…after we’ve launched I want to talk with you.”
“Affirmative.” General Barker solemnly continued “Your launch codes are…” three people in the room wrote down the codes.
The activity increased dramatically as orders were being announced, confirmed, and double checked. The group had practiced this drill daily for almost thirty years. People started and finished their careers doing the same task daily, living and practicing for the day, hour, and minute of unleashing the most destructive force known to man.
Colonel Walters stood off to the side out of everyone’s way, watching the flowing precision of the process unfold. Capt Renee’ Wilson approached. “Have you seen a missile launch?”
“No, only on television.”
“Let me explain what’s going on…” she said as she pointed and explained “…right now they are ‘Authenticating ID’s.’”
In the background, snippets of rehearsed conversations were overheard. “Commander Authenticated…Concur…”
“They check each ID card and match it against the ‘biscuits’…” she looked at the Colonel, before he could ask “…the Biscuits are another form of ID that the General wears, it’s a plastic card that has his personal code…he snaps it in two and withdraws the code, kind of like a fortune cookie.”
Colonel Walters continued to watch the process, listening to the Captain at the same time.
“Now that there is Authentication, the targeting codes are inserted into the selected missiles…”
“Why aren’t they pre-set? Wouldn’t that save some time?”
“It sure would, but since the START 2 Treaty we signed with Russia, not only have we reduced the warheads on each missile, but we’ve eliminated the pre-set targeting. However, it only takes a couple of minutes to enter in the targeting codes.” She paused continuing, “The targets in North Korea aren’t something we would normally keep on hand anyway, mainly Russia and China…” pausing again “…Now they are authenticating the Launch Codes, once they’ve authenticated those codes, another set will be sent to each of the Squadrons.”
The Command Center’s noise volume, loud moments earlier, suddenly went silent. “Squadrons, this is General Norris…this is not a drill…I repeat, this is not a drill. You may launch when ready.”
Across the twenty thousand square miles of interconnecting missile Squadrons controlling one hundred fifty Minuteman III missiles housed in underground silos, officers dressed in green jumpsuits inserted and simultaneously turned the keys to unlock and arm their missiles. This task was performed daily as a drill, minutely following the highly detailed checklist in the large three-ringed binders. The difference today; this wasn’t a drill. Someone in North Korea was going to be on the receiving end of eighteen 475 kiloton nuclear warheads from this base, with another thirty two on the way. The final task was performed, and then a slight pause before the ‘button’ was pushed.
Buttons were pushed and immediately the one hundred ton blast door was blown away, uncovering the underground launcher. Once ignition started, the missile was on its own. Flames belched up through the silo and the missile soon shot through, blackened by the heat and exhaust, quickly leaving the tube and arcing through the clear Montana sky.
The radio crackled with the Squadrons reporting that the launch was complete and a success.
“There will be another launch in a few minutes. These will follow a previous strike into the ground, taking out an underground facility.” Capt Wilson stated to the Colonel.
The response in the Command Center wasn’t celebrated, just performed. “Goodbye, Kim Jong-il.” General Norris said, extending his middle finger towards the West. The General turned to his Communications Officer. “Get me Raven Rock.”
The Comms Officer nodded as he had them on line.
“Raven Rock, this is Malmstrom…our package is in the air.”
“Copy that Malmstrom” an unidentified voice said, and then added, “General Norris, General Barker would like to speak to you privately.”
The head phones were added again, external speaker off. General Norris turned his back to his team. “General Barker.”
“Ted, this thing might not be over yet. Both the Russians and the Chinese are saying that if we launch on North Korea, then they will attack us.”
“What did you tell them Buck?”
“I told them not to get in our way…and if they thought that North Korea was such a great ally, feel free to launch at us, we’d be more than happy sending them what the North is receiving in about twenty minutes.”
General Norris chuckled.
“So, go ahead and enter the targeting codes for Russia and China…if we detect a launch, then you’re free to use up to fifty missiles.”
“Roger that General.” General Norris closed the connection with Raven Rock and announced, “Ok people, this thing isn’t over yet. I want fifty missiles targeted for Russia and China…we have those coordinates available, so let’s get to it.”
The quiet room quickly erupted with orders passed and received, confirmations and acknowledgments verbally spoken.
The General motioned to Colonel Walters to come over. “Colonel, after this thing is settled down I want you and your crew to take your aircraft, along with the tanker and fly around the country…see what damage has been done and report to General Barker at Raven Rock. I’ll make a call over to Hill AFB in Utah for you both to land and top off with fuel.”
“Sir, do you think Russia and China will retaliate?”
“No I don’t think they will. They’re not stupid. They know if the same thing happened to them, they wouldn’t hesitate to launch, and we wouldn’t get in their way. Besides, do you think that they’ll risk having their country leveled because of North Korea?”
* * * * *
Rick lay sound asleep, no dreams, just nothing but sleep. The girl nudged him, “Hey… wake up.”
His eyes opened to the dim candle lit room, as he tried to get his mind to work. Sitting up rubbing the sleep from both eyes and stretching, he said “Did I just hear you?”
“Yes…I can hear.” She said, smiling.
“This is excellent...!” Rubbing his unshaven face, “…How long have you been awake?”
“I don’t know maybe an hour or so…you snore.”
“No I don’t.” Yes he did, as his wife pointed out to him frequently. Rick looked the girl, with her blackened cheeks from the smeared mascara and wondered if he might look as bad as she did. “We haven’t been properly introduced. “ Rick said trying to bring some sort of civility into their bunker. “My names Rick…Rick Martin.”
“Melissa…Melissa Simmons.” She offered her black finger nailed hand and they shook, politely like complete strangers joining together for a business meeting would.
“It’s nice to meet you Melissa…although I wouldn’t think that meeting someone during the end of the world would be pleasant.”
“Same here, do you really think that this is the end of the world?” She questioned apprehensively.
“I don’t know about the end of the world per se, but probably the end of our world as we know it...By the way, how long have we slept?”
“I don’t know, those pills you gave me really knocked me out. The second ones not only took the edge off, but made me some crazy dreams. I haven’t slept like that in years.”
“Me too. With a concussion, the best thing is to rest. My head feels pretty good, but I do feel like I’m a little hung-over.” Rick looked at his watch, “Good Lord…” shaking his head, “…my watch says it’s 2:05…the date is the 18th…” he paused and tried to recall the recent timeline. “…ok, so we were bombed on the 15th right?”
Melissa nodded “We’ve been asleep for three days?”
“Ok it’s now 2:07.” His watch wasn’t digital and didn’t have a ‘day’ feature, only analog hands with a date window. He wound the hands forward past 12:00…no date change. “Ok, so it’s 2:07 am…the nuke went off at about 12:30 on Wednesday the 15th…so today being Saturday the 18th, we’ve been out for about 62 hours…” he smiled, “that’s good news!”
“Why is that such good news?”
“The further we are, time-wise from the blast, the better our chances of survival,” he paused, “are you hungry?”
“Starved…what do you have?”
Rick took the pack and started to empty all of its contents. Separating the food from everything else, he said, “Looks like four MRE’s, four double portions of freeze dried hiking meals, and four single portions of freeze dried meals.” He paused to hold up a vacuum sealed pouch, “Wow, I forgot about this, a package of rice and bean mix, some nuts, candy, four packages of soup, four hot chocolate and six beef bouillon cubes.” He moved the food off to the side and started to separate and inventory the remaining contents of the pack.
“What’s an MRE?”
“They are called Meals Ready to Eat, basically military rations. I have a main course of chicken and rice, side dish of applesauce, crackers with cheese spread and a cookie. There’s also a powdered drink and packet of coffee and sugar.” He held one out to her.
Melissa paused and then reluctantly accepted.
“I saw the bumper stickers on your car…are you a vegetarian?”
“Yeah, but I guess now I can’t be too picky.” She said, examining the box and reading the content listing.
Rick tore into his package. “We have to be really careful with our food and water from here on out. I’m going to have my main course now, but set aside the other stuff for later.” He opened the chicken and rice packet, devouring the contents.
Melissa did the same; there was no indication of disdain from it being an animal product.
When he finished, Rick took the small towelette in the package and wiped his face. There was dried blood from under his nose, which really didn’t surprise him. “Melissa, you have streaks of mascara on your face.”
Looking surprised, she wiped her face she asked, “Did I get it all...?” she hadn’t and continued to wipe. “So Rick, where do you live, I mean, where did you live?”
“Perry Hall, about fifteen miles from here, and you?”
“Maybe a half a block back. I rented a small apartment over a garage in a very nice house,” she spoke quietly, “I was leaving to go to the store…and then…this happened.” Her voice trailed off softly in a despondent whisper.
Rick nodded, he missed his family and questions like this brought up a lump in his throat. The meal and the remnants of the pain killers made him tired, he lay on the mattress pad, staring ahead and hurting emotionally.
Melissa lay on the sleeping bag, facing away, and started sobbing softly.
Rick blew out the candle and also cried, finally falling to sleep.
They both woke within minutes of each other. Rick lit the candle after sitting up, his mind and spirit swirling with demoralized pain.
Melissa mirrored his mental state. “So, what do we do now?” she asked.
Looking at her and feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, “We survive, day by day; we do everything we can to live.” He said, not really believing his own words.
“This isn’t much of an existence, is it?”
Rick didn’t reply, shaking his head no. Their depression was numbing and weighty, making normal thought and conversation difficult.
“Rick, is this luck? Or some sort of coincidence?” Melissa paused “I mean, why are we alive and they aren’t?”
Rick exhaled loudly. “Good question. I guess the survivors of major disasters, or wars ask the same thing. We’re like the people who survived a plane crash where everyone else was killed, only this time it’s a city and possibly our country…” thinking silently he continued, “I don’t know why we’re alive Melissa, I really don’t.” He sighed deeply, “You know, when I was sleeping I had really vivid dreams, I saw my family and millions of others…they’re all dead, but they’re in a better place and in peace.”
“I saw my family too…same dream. I guess the question is, what is the purpose of our being alive? Look, when I was in my apartment, I had this crazy urge to get out and go to the store for some soda. Now, I really don’t drink soda, but it was as if someone was pushing me, dragging me out the door…” her voice trailing off.
Rick shared his story about Linda and Laci’s field trip to Washington DC, shooting with Steve with the filled back-pack, the accident and then the wrong turn onto this street which was now part of their shelter. “Coincidence? Or something else?” He asked.
“Well, I guess that you didn’t take a wrong turn…you took the right turn,” she paused in thought, “Rick, do you believe in God?”
“Oh yes…but I’ve never been able to grasp that the God who made the Universe would actually have anything to do with me…I’m just an ordinary guy. Do you believe in God?”
Melissa grinned and nodded yes. “I don’t like what He does sometimes, and I really don’t like those…preachers with their mansions and millions of dollars,” Melissa’s anger flushed her cheeks, “I shouldn’t get started on this.”
Rick smiled. “For a hippie you’re pretty cute when you get mad.”
“Shut up…jerk.” She said smiling back at him.
The room quickly went silent as they thought about their immediate situation. Coincidence or Divine Providence? Then the depressive thoughts of the world outside their protective concrete walls. Depression crept back into their minds, weighing them down, body and spirit.
It was as if a light bulb went off in his head. “This sucks Melissa, we have to stop it.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Us…” using his hands to motion to them both “…this place and our situation. Look, you and I are both pretty depressed about this whole thing, right?”
“Well, if we just sit around dwelling on the past and our situation, we’re going to work ourselves into a really deep blue-funk.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Anything…we have to work our minds and our bodies and start thinking about moving forward. I’m going to start by making a cup of coffee, want one?”
“You bet…um, Rick…”she paused “…where do we go to the bathroom?”
He sighed and thought. “Use that white plastic bag…maybe we could make the area behind the water pipe our toilet area,” he said handing her the bag and a half filled roll of toilet paper from the pack.
Taking the bag and paper, she disappeared from view and said from behind the pipe. “You’ve got just about everything in that pack, are you some kind of ‘survivalist’?”
Rick untied the small axe from his pack and said, “Not really, a few years ago I got involved with some people on the Internet who were into ‘survival’ and ‘conspiracies’ pretty deep. I thought about our situation, you know, Bird Flu, Economic Collapse, Nuclear War, and the like. I thought that if something happened, then it would be just my bad luck to live through it,” he said smiling. “Anyway, I decided to start putting some things away, and one thing led to another.” Using the sharp axe he started to shave off slivers of wood from a scrap piece of lumber.
Melissa reappeared, all smiles, “So, what can I do to help?”
Rick took the wood shavings and opened the small metal folding back-pack wood stove, setting it by the door. He thought for a moment, “How about drawing a calendar?”
“Good idea. How long do you think that we’ll be here?” She asked, looking on the floor for a rock to scratch some lines on the concrete wall.
“At least three weeks.”
“Three weeks!” she said, surprised.
“At least three weeks, maybe more,” he paused, assembling the water filter and inserting one of the rubber tubes inside the water filled garbage bag. “…I wish I had something to gauge the level of radiation, three weeks might be too soon, but from what I’ve read, the radiation levels should be decreased enough so that we can leave then.”
“Well…how much food do we have?”
“I figure we have enough food for a week. We have enough water if we use a half gallon each per day, for twenty one days.”
“What are we going to do about food?” She asked, concerned.
Rick had pumped some water into one of the nested cooking pots and started a tiny fire in the stove. The flames licked around the bottom of the pot as he fed tiny bits of wood into the growing fire. The warmth was welcome; Melissa scooted over and put her hands up against the flames. “We, or I should say, I, will go outside and find something…I’m sure that I can find something to eat in one of those houses, or what remains of them.”
The water began to boil. Rick took his insulated stainless coffee cup and emptied the pack of instant coffee, handing it to Melissa. Refilling the pot and the fire, he made one for himself, drinking from the pot.
Melissa was deep in thought, drinking the instant coffee was a pleasurable remembrance of the recent past.
Rick drank his and lit a cigarette. Not having a cigarette for a few days made him lightheaded from the nicotine jolt. “Is the toilet paper in the back?” He went to the makeshift bathroom, finishing what the coffee and cigarette started.
“So, have you ever thought about ‘The End of The World?” he asked returning from his morning constitution.
“Actually I have, and I figured that nobody would live through it, especially not me.”
“Funny isn’t it?”
“You and I stuck together like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you know, you being…”he decided not to say what he was thinking.
“Being what?” she commanded.
“A hippie,” he said smiling.
“Hippie? And you’re a redneck jerk.”
Rick grimaced, “Ouch, that one hurt.”
“I’m sorry” she said apologetically, their name calling game over.
“No problem…I am old.” He said, smiling.
“How old are you?”
“Fifty two…and you?”
“Twenty five…” she paused and changed the subject. “You don’t look fifty two…Rick, what do you think it will be like outside?”
“I really don’t know. If our past is any indication, then I think that maybe people will separate into groups. There will be people that want to do what’s right and good…and then there will be others that won’t give a shit about anything except their own deSires. I doubt there will be any police or anyone to keep those people in check. So, if before all of this someone had the inclination for stealing, murder or worse, then the collapse of our civilization will bring their moral degradation out into the open.”
Melissa thought about what Rick was saying, becoming scared at the prospects of the world outside.
“Think about it for a minute Melissa. What if you went up to a group of people, you know, ‘Redneck Neanderthal in-breeders,’ and they say ‘Hey lookie here, a Hippie chick.’ They might hate you just on your appearance…and shoot you…or worse.”
Melissa chewed her lip nervously, her lip ring moving slightly.
“Then again, maybe everything will be alright and there won’t be any problems like that…I’m just thinking negatively, sorry if I upset you.”
Melissa nodded. “It’s ok,” she sighed deeply, “I think you could be right. It might be horrible outside.”
Melissa started to draw a large rectangle, making squares for the days. Rick handed her his watch, he wasn’t interested in the date or time right now as they had a long way to go before they were even half-way through their split from the world outside. He started to inventory all of the contents of the back-pack and the range bag.
Their conversations stopped as they worked on their tasks, when finished, they ate the remaining foods from the opened MRE and took a nap.
* * * * *
The Lieutenant sat up from her cubicle and looked around the Command Center, eyeing General Norris, and said into the desk-top microphone, “Hold on Sir, I’ll have him over in a minute.” Walking a brisk pace to the General, the shapely officer interrupted, “Sir, you have a call from General Barker.”
The tall General seemed to take half the steps that it took the Lieutenant to arrive at the same destination. “General Norris.”
“This is General Barker…General Norris you are ordered to stand down from DEFCON One to DEFCON Three. You are also ordered to remove the targeting information from the missiles under your command, per the Acting President of the United States, Mr. Howard Engstrom.” General Barker passed on the order as succinctly, without any emotion.
“Yes Sir.” The order would be followed to the letter.
“General Norris, as you might have guessed, we now have an Acting President. You will receive further information that the President and his Advisors deem necessary to pass along.”
“Yes Sir. General Barker, may I speak freely?”
“No you may not…not at this time General Norris.” The abrupt response was unnerving. “I’ll call you after I’ve briefed the other Force Commanders, I will answer any questions you might have then.” The line went dead.
Ted Norris had known Buck Barker for years. They played football during the same years in college and their wives were great friends. Something wasn’t right, but he wouldn’t push it right now. The General passed on the orders and then slowly walked to his small room. Unlocking and entering the concrete room slightly larger than a walk-in closet, Ted took off his shoes and relaxed on the tiny military issue bed. Looking at his wife’s photograph on the bed-side table made him homesick for her. Even though she was only fifteen miles away, Madeline had a calming and centering effect on him, as wives usually do, especially after twenty five years of marriage. She had her way of cutting through the chaff of the world and getting right down to the heart of any crisis, be it personal or business, and Lord knows he had been through a few crises in his career. A knock on his door broke his mind from Maddy. “Enter.”
1st Lieutenant Becky Hotchkiss opened the door. “Sir you have a fax.” The Lieutenant handed him the paper.
“Thank you Lieutenant.”
“Is there anything I can get for you Sir?”
“Thanks, I’m fine.”
Lieutenant Hotchkiss, or “Hotass,” as some of the men nicknamed her behind her back, turned and left. Ted thought that if he was twenty years…make that twenty five years younger and not happily married, he have a go at the attractive raven haired Floridian.
Sitting back on his bed and placing a pair of dime-store reading half glasses on the end of his nose while turning the gooseneck reading lamp towards him, he read the fax.
_ _ _ _ _
FOR THE GENERAL PUBLIC
To the citizens of the United States of America;
It is with great sorrow that I am writing this to you. As you know, our nation has suffered a devastating nuclear disaster in recent days. Many lives have been lost and many more hang in the balance. At the same time the damage wrought on our environment is unprecedented in the history of the world.
I am at this time, with the powers vested in me, declaring a National Emergency for the Continental United States and our territories. I am placing the Federal Emergency Management Agency in charge of all relief, rescue and restoration. All National Guard and Police units will report to their posts and wait for direction from FEMA. Military units, both active and Reserve, not directly involved in National Security, are to be called up and will assist if need be.
To the citizens, I am asking that you refrain from any activity that will detract your Government’s efforts in restoring this country. Illegal activities such as looting, rioting, price gouging, black-marketeering and hoarding will not be tolerated. The penalties for such actions will be swift and severe. I am urging you to stay in your homes and refrain needless travel, this will save valuable resources.
With your help and support we can take the steps necessary to restore our great country.
Howard Engstrom, Acting President, United States of America
_ _ _ _ _
“What the hell is this crap? Disaster!” Sitting upright at the edge of his bed, one of the two telephones installed in his room buzzed. It was the secure line. “General Norris.”
“Ted…it’s Buck. Did you get the fax I sent to you?”
“I just finished reading it. Based on what I just read, you’d think that we had an accident, not a nuclear attack.”
“No shit, I thought this was pretty strange too, until I finally spoke with Mt. Weather and the new Chief of Staff for the President,” he paused, “The President is pissed that we responded the way we did against North Korea.”
“What were we supposed to do?” General Norris said, his voice and hands shaking angrily.
“They’re pissed at the fallout from the attack; it seems that Japan and South Korea were hit pretty hard with radiation from the fallout.”
Shaking his head, “I’d like to know how we could have done it any differently…I mean I don’t want to use nukes any more that anyone else, but when we are attacked…” his voice trailed off.
“Look, you’ve got no argument from me. Our mandate and orders are, if the Elected President is killed and there is no one to replace him, like what happened, then we are free to respond, in the manner we did.”
“Ok, so what’s done is done…we can’t undo our response…so any intel on the North?”
“They won’t bother anyone for a few thousand years.” General Barker said smugly.
General Norris smiled, “Serves those bastards right.”
“There are some other developments that I want to bring you up to speed on…” he paused to gather his notes “…right after the attack on us and our response, Syria decided to launch a Scud missile chemical attack on Israel,” pausing again, “Israel knocked their missiles out of the air and launched their own attack on Syria. Damascus is now a parking lot.”
“Jesus…maybe now those Arabs will learn not to fuck with the Jews.”
“Yeah well, the International Community is going crazy with our response and Israel’s.”
“What about the attack on us?” He spoke incredulously.
“Funny you bring that up…I had two calls, from Russia and China, before our response against the North….they were all nicey nice…‘we’re with you, and we’d like to lend our assistance; blah, blah, blah…” he paused, “You could almost hear the champagne corks popping in the background…” pausing for a deep breath, “…no one wants to talk about the attack on us. It’s almost like we deserved it and should just accept that as fact. Now everyone is more concerned about the radioactive fallout that is damaging the environment. Anyway, it seems that everything settled down when the Acting President came on the scene.”
“What do you know about him Buck?”
“Mr. Howard Engstrom, Secretary of Education, and number sixteen on the Succession List. Acting President Engstrom was schooled at Cambridge and has been with this administration for the entire term. Mr. Engstrom surfaced two days after the attack, he was in Tehran, Iran attending some sort of conference.”
“Yeah, it seems that Acting President Engstrom is a bit of an International player, like his predecessor.”
Ted Norris groaned audibly.
“I don’t know what was said to China or Russia, but they are also standing their forces down. Anyway, it seems that our immediate concern of an attack from them is over. Now that being said here are your orders…this isn’t to be changed or countermanded unless it is from an Elected President, understand?”
“You are to secure your base and the missiles…period. No one, I repeat, no one is to take command of your facility…this isn’t Pakistan, General…no nukes are to get into the hands of anyone except you and your people. Now, with FEMA in charge, things might get a little strange on the outside…your business is with your missiles, understand?”
“I understand perfectly, General.”