Poetry-Thing Thursday: Coast to Coast

When the daylight is gone,
and the earth has gone cold,
the madness will come,
and take us away.

From sea to sea.
From land to land.
From coast to coast.
We’ll leave hand in hand.

For the satellite’s reign,
will ne’er be the same,
when the sun swallows our sky,
and bakes out our brains.

From heart to heart.
From mind to mind.
From coast to coast.
We’ll love in kind.

And when at last,
Earth’s time has passed,
swallowed whole,
we’ll know for certain,
whom will outlast.

Short story: Blue Collars and No Dollars

I still maintain mental health care is the world’s number one issue. Either the lack of it, or the quality of it– or in most places, the stigma of it. Kind of ironic given the circumstances, but life’s funny like that. Un-life and the ending of life too. We– humans that is– always seem to recognize seconds too late the glory around us; mountain ranges behind misty-veils; ravines cut into sandy deserts; the moon and stars beyond light-polluted cities. We only realize the greatness after its gone… or we are.

Makes you think.

Well, not really, but it should. We should all think.

That’s the mantra of this dying one, anyhow. There’s ravines in me now; crimson rivers flowing through gray mists. Or I think so. I doubt anyone’ll blame me if I’m wrong. Even if they did, I’m as “out of fucks to give” as anyone can be, living or dead. That’s the great truth of my generation. We learned how not to give a shit so efficiently and thoroughly it’s killing all of us off.

That’s the meat of the thing, why I’m shuffling off this mortal coil. Even if I hadn’t finally decided to show myself the door, society would’ve. They’ve been looking for ways to throw me out of it my whole life. Like the billion and more other people, I’m just not quite up to snuff. Seems evolution went and decided brains and brawn weren’t necessary in any quantities for some, let alone equal quantities. Like the rest of my ilk, I’ve occupied a middle ground that can’t really exist in the world.

And now this…

Things have gone to hell. I’d mean that literally if I weren’t so certain hell couldn’t be this bad.

Bitch, bitch, bitch, right? The world’s rough, and you gotta’ be tough to survive, right? Right. So what am I on about? And why? What could possibly be bad enough to make a whole generation show themselves the door like I am?

Well that’s the thing; everything. Everything could be so bad.

From the housing market to the healthcare system, to the job prospects and the outright value of human life in society, it’s all bad. And bad in a way that makes dying preferable, and the only way to make a difference.

We can’t war. Not really. We could riot, and get gassed. We could raise arms, and be utterly run through by the National Guard and various militaries– our elder brothers and sisters, commanded by our parents and grandparents. But rather than resort to fratricide we’ve decided, more one-by-one,en-masse than as a group, that suicide’s the better alternative. The first few of us left elaborate messages and letters. Of course these were only revealed through hear-say and rumor, but ultimately the message was “what other options do we have?”

That’s the sad part of it. If there’s anything more distressing than the rest, it’s that. We have no options left. We’re facing death no matter what. Either by starvation, disease, exposure, or outright murder for daring to want better. We’re all going to die before our time– whatever the hell that means.

Or most of us are. The lucky few suckling the tits of their wealthy-elite parents, or those sycophantic and sociopathic enough to get into the closed circles, they’ll survive. But the blue-collars and no-dollars, in other words the vast majority of us? We’re fucked. Too bad it’s that same elite’s downfall too. In the end, the human race are the ones that’ll suffer most. Admit or not, they’re human too. Our great pain will be over when our great depression ends with us six-feet under.

All told, we’ll have the last laugh. Even if, by some ridiculous stroke of luck, the human race doesn’t end up killing itself off entirely in the wake, the majority will still have died out. Or let themselves out, however you wanna’ phrase it. With us go the hopes and dreams of a better future not involved in maintaining the status quo of wealth v. health, greed v. need.

In other words, gone will be the hope of healing Humanity’s current sadomasochistic streak. Maybe I’m belaboring things. Maybe I’m being vague. I guess that happens when the great beyond’s waxing and the great-whatever-this-is is waning.

My personal story isn’t interesting. It’s the same as so many others of my generation. I grew up poor. Got old, got poorer. Ending up on the street when you’ve been on your way out the door your whole life isn’t surprising. It’s especially not surprising when everyone from your president to your guidance counselors tells you you’re not going anywhere else.

Like I said, not interesting. Far from unique. We never believed we were special snowflakes, but Human Rights didn’t seem like so much to ask for. I guess we were wrong. They were.

So here I am; last train outta’ the station on a one way ticket. Theoretically of course. Trains don’t run anymore. Even if they did, no-one could afford to ride ‘em. We’re all stuck in one place now. We’d walk, but hunger makes us weak. That’s the way they want us.

Soon enough the stray-dogs will be full. For a time anyhow. Then, they’ll starve too. Probably some will survive. They’ll eventually move back to the wild and start hunting again. I’d say football season was over, but the truth is, it was never on. We were too starved to play. Now, we’re just soon-to-be dust in the wind, or blood in the water, as my case goes.

I chose a tub. A full tub of hot water in a hotel-suite. Middle of the night break-ins aren’t expected anymore. I had something of the rogue in my blood, now the water has it. Might’ve been a big timer if the other rogues weren’t all dead before “my time.” Now I’ll be joining ‘em.

But I digress. Warm water’s nice. Plus, less clean-up involved. The coroner’ll just chuck my pruny-ass in a bag and write off the ticket. A few days later, they’ll fry me up in the big oven down the road. Maybe then I’ll finally get to fly, smoke in the sky. You know how they always told you to learn to soar? Dreams and such… like we ever had ‘em anyhow. Now, I’ll be one. At least… the water… is warm….

Poetry-Thing Thursday: As Waters Rise

As waters rise,
cities drown.
The air gets colder,
Society breaks down.

The harshest winter,
known to man,
will leave us all dead,
unless we can,

escape our fate,
by changing our present,
Maybe then our future,
won’t become something
our children resent.

So think of that,
next time you throw,
your trash out,
or your exhaust billows.

For now we have one Earth,
and unless we are careful,
it will be our last–
forever sterile.

So live it up if you want,
but never forget,
it’s not us that’ll pay,
but those not born yet.

Short Story: Aren’t

One hundred and twenty five years. That was how long it took us to go from the most advanced civilization ever known to the brink of complete and total collapse. One hundred and twenty five years. Hardly much longer than a human life-span, really. Maybe that’s telling, but I can’t be sure. Who can anymore? We were poised over a precipice, ready to fall or fly. Beneath us lay civilization’s destruction, above an eternal golden age. Rather than gracefully balance ourselves to preserve our world before learning to fly, we leapt straight off into a swan dive. We wound up battered, broken, dead far below where we should have been.

I wasn’t one of the working class before things went down. That’s not to say I was wealthy, not even close. What I mean is, I wasn’t the group that all of the shit came down on worst. I was just a two-bit drug pusher, running grass, pills, powder– whatever I could. Everyone had to make-ends-meet. Most of the time, too, ends didn’t meet.

I digress. In simplest terms, I wasn’t part of the group about to have the weight of the world on me and my children if I– and my peers– fucked up. Too bad none of us paid attention, huh? What could’a been…

That’s sort the way of things, isn’t it? Human behavior dictates those of us with the most riding on us pay the least attention. Always. Must be a defense mechanism. We adapt well. Too well. Hell, it was the only redeeming thing our species had going. That adaptation certainly back-fires when you’re adapting to shackles around your wrists, ankles, and throat. At that point, adaptation outright is the oppressor.

Hindsight’s 20/20, but I’m guessing that’s where the “Middle-Class” was when things took their turn. We balanced on that precipice’s edge, looked down, then thought, “ah fuck it,” and dove. Things weren’t going great anyhow, and while it was technically the safest, most peaceful time in history, that was like saying a nuclear apocalypse could solve overpopulation. Technically true, but sure as hell not fixing things.

So, things could’ve been better. Big deal. Right? Sure, but technology was linking all of Humanity together. Call it the net, call it the web, whatever your rose, it linked everyone. Every person, young and old, stupid or smart, everyone could suddenly share and discuss anything; common interests, opinions, or even arguments, all from the safety of their own homes. Meanwhile, the boxes and “pipes” between they and their opponents kept everyone safe when things went tits-up and people lost their temper. Which they did. Often.

But was it a good system? Sure. Perfect? Of course not. What is? So, Flawed? Again, what isn’t?

It gave us all an outlet; a place to bitch and complain when needed, to learn from when wanted and everything around and in between. The only limit to it, really, was our imagination. It was like a super-power the whole world had access to. It evened the playing field in a lot of ways, made us equal. Offline you were poor, downtrodden, unheard. Online, you and everyone else were at zero.

The problems that led us here, to the brink of extinction, stemmed from people’s adaptations to it. They adapting to being placated, to accepting the world as it was. That bitching and complaining became the sole outlet angry people in a damaged world. People’d log-on, vent, fight, argue, whatever, then be done.

Things started getting out of hand though: people kept doing it as the world got worse. It was like Pavlov’s dog, but the bell never stopped ringing. People became complacent. How we got from that to end of the world wasn’t really a stretch. Politically, the landscape was volatile at the best of times– and completely catastrophic the rest. At its worst it was… well, this about sums it up. Like I said, I was a pusher, so I’m not one to judge. And I won’t for good reasons. So, there’s no reason to judge me either. I’m just calling things as I saw ’em, so maybe one day there’ll be a record.

I knew things were taking a turn when my business ramped up. You can always tell the health of a society by the things it makes or keeps illegal. For us it was grass, pills, chems, anything providing an escape. When your society’s far enough gone that chasing a dragon becomes the international pass-time, your society’s in need of some seriously dire repairs.

Long story shorter; business was booming. Selling happy pills, doubling stock three times a week, and still not meeting demand means your clients are seriously unhappy people. It wasn’t just junkies either. That’s a common misconception in my line of work– or former line of work, anyhow. Junkies can’t afford to feed their habits like the stably employed. Most of my clients were the complete opposite of junkies; good, hard-working people that paid taxes, owned homes, and raised kids. Problem was, they were exhausted. They slogged through daily grinds because it was expected.

Meanwhile, the people supposedly representing their interests– politicians, civic leaders and the like– were ignoring them to the point of outrage. Something had to give. That something ended up being so completely out of our scope of control we’re still reeling from it.

See, the geniuses supposedly representing us let the environment go to hell. Earth was dying. Fast. For years we’d heard how Earth was “afflicted” by our shortsightedness. Bleeding hearts and ultra-blues said it was “bleeding to death” because of us. Granted, we’d industrialized to a point of madness, we never realized we could make such an irreparable impact, let alone that we had. As it was, we were looking to drown in melted ice, or sweat to death in napalm heat-waves unless drastic change came.

People said it was bogus. “Climate-change” was an oxymoron that meant even less to their plebeian minds than “Mother Earth.” But it was getting hotter. The ice-caps were shrinking. Empirical evidence said so. Cold, hard facts said so. Logic and rationality said so. It wasn’t ever going to convince the non-believers though. And unfortunately, most of those non-believers were also in government.

No matter the causes, the arguments, or the disbelief, something needed to be done. Everyone knew it. But we’d adapted. We’d been placated and patronized too long, had spent far too long in virtual worlds. We’d become complacent, adapted so wholly to the disappointment of the real world that we ignored it boiling around us. Literally.

The end came with a series of rash weather changes. The entire North American continent went from a blistering hot summer to– almost overnight– a sub-arctic winter. Latin America and South America got the opposite. It was so hot no-one could survive there. Few did. It didn’t end there though. Technically, it still hasn’t.

All the shifting weather caused hurricanes in wall-life formations across the Atlantic. The wall advanced on Europe but met monumental cold fronts from Europe’s sub-arctic winter. The wall blew back toward North America. In a stroke of ungodly bad luck, the storms combined to form one storm that was Earth’s Great Red Spot. Funny thing is, so far’s we know, Jupiter’s storm wasn’t formed from our ignorance. Still, it’s out there even now, drifting along the Atlantic as if patrolling the waters between continents.

After that, weather prediction went out the window. Seasons changed. There was no longer a specific few but rather one, totally unpredictable one. The Earth’s place in its orbit around the Sun seemed to have no affect on it either. With that uncertain nature, came the chaos of the people subjected to it. People protested, rioted in some places. It was too little too late. The damage was done.

All we could really do afterward was try to survive its aftermath, but without proper seasons or stable climates, global harvests disappeared. Survivors rationed dwindling non-perishables. Food labs sprang up in vain attempts to fight our fate. Unfortunately, the damage to the world’s power-grid made power so scarce the projects were DOA. The erratic nature of the sun’s appearance, too, meant solar power was completely unreliable. Days or weeks of sudden darkness killed off any remaining hope.

With no way to ensure crops grew, starvation ran rampant. The world was war-torn, places mid-battle, missing, destroyed. The human race was one bad day away from total annihilation– or rather, is. And it’ll come, trust me.

It’s just as well. We had the world and destroyed it. My guess is the Human-race was some grand experiment set up and let run. The experimenter definitely deserves marks for effort, but loses on account of the extinction thing. Then again, it’s not the scientist’s fault when the experiment fails. That’s just the way of things: they are, or aren’t. Soon enough, we’ll be “aren’t.”

Short Story: All The Angles

Everything’s perception. Or a matter of it, anyway. I knew that even then. I know it more now. For the bulk of my life I’d been learning more and more about perceptions, perspectives. The “views” of situations. The “angles,” as some would say. The “spin” others called it. So, when the end of the world was in sight, I’d seen it coming.

How? Simple: over years of training to recognize varying angles, I learned one simple reality. That, as it happens, is the reason people are told to examine things from multiple angles. That, as it happens, is to learn to distinguish fact from fiction. In simplest terms, by viewing all the angles, we humans see the truth– because it’s consistent no matter the angle.

So before belaboring the subject any further, let’s just say, I’d learned to see well. In all respects, I had keen sight. I saw the proverbial tidal wave from far off. It had been rising for months. The tides had been drawing back. Little-by-little, the sands lengthened. Day in, day out, the water receded.

I suppose this build-up lasted years, really. There’s some argument there, no matter the angle. One could argue the first moment after the previous tidal-wave was the true start of the next’s build-up. Conversely, the build-up could’ve been said to begin the moment before the wave first struck the shore. No matter what side you viewed it from though, a single fact appears; world’s-end was coming.

No matter the arguments about it, the build-up did have milestones. Those stones are obvious, in reflection. Even then, there was a scent to them– like oncoming rain, but the bad kind that makes you dread breathing.

Politically speaking, world’s-end was the result of a misstep. The Americans had always had two left feet. They’d proven, time and again, their “moral majority,” was anything but. No matter the angle, they were shown to be prone to making missteps. Everyone’s bound to make ’em though. No harm, no foul, right? Especially when glass-houses and stones are so plentiful, right?

Maybe. That’s an argument for another day. Or not– after all, the world’s over, and there’s no-one left to argue. Semantics. The point: the Americans started it. They’d made their mistakes. Those mistakes piled on. Often. In the end, they found themselves with a third-world dictator in charge.

At least, characteristically speaking.

The man wasn’t really a third-world dictator. He could’ve been. Everyone agreed on that. The angles too. Speculation says we’d have been better off if he were. He wasn’t. Problem was, America was still a super-power– or as much as there remained one in those days.

That moniker had been fading. The world was industrialized. More than it had ever been. The African bush had freshly-paved asphalt. Desert oases had turned to fuel stops.

In other ways, the moniker was as strong as ever. Most of all, with regard to militaries. Those of keen sight saw where madness might form. Those without, sensed its death-toll in the air’s copper-taste. Whatever the angles of the human species’ end eventually show, they’ll agree it was spectacularly dreadful.

Surprisingly, the cause wasn’t full-blown nuclear war. People had come to expect that. Personally, I was somewhat looking forward to it. It wasn’t zombies either. Another thing we’d come to expect. Then again, there were enough of those walking around– we called them voters.

No, in the end, it was just missteps and mistakes. Nuclear weapons were involved, but not in the apocalyptic exchange we’d expected. What happened was this:

The US screwed up. They sent the CIA into the mid-east to do some things. Secret things. Eventually, the CIA used what they’d gained during that doing of things to send some mercenaries to North Korea. Those CIA “assets” had a period of doing, too. Somehow it was learned the assets were CIA, and were wreaking havoc on the “glorious leader.”

North Korea was angry. North Korea was “Best Korea.” Best Korea made threats. China disavowed Best Korea. Everyone had known Best Korea had nuclear weapons. They weren’t much. “Baby’s first” nukes. Then again, a nuke’s a nuke, right? Right. Dangerous. Deadly. Best Korea’s nukes couldn’t go far. They didn’t need to.

Best Korea, in its infinite wisdom, nuked Other Korea. Specifically, Seoul. As it turns out. Baby’s first nukes were enough to completely irradiate Other Korea. The world turned against Best Korea. They were finally tired of Glorious Leader’s shit. Both he and Best Korea were wiped from the Earth like shit from a bunghole.

This was a problem for one, simple reason; the US was not involved. Russia was not involved. China was not involved. Although, China wanted to be involved, they weren’t. Too many people owed them too much money. They didn’t want to owe them more. Unfortunately, wiping clean the shit hole that was North Korea had shown the allied-nations, spearheaded by the UK, that they had power.

The UN didn’t quite like that. China didn’t quite like it either. The US liked it even less. Russia only pretended to like it because the US didn’t like it, but privately condemned it too. Soon enough, the UK and its allied-nations thought being able to wipe clean parts of the world without Super-power assistance was a pretty good thing. Everyone else still didn’t like it.

So what happened? How’d the US screw that up? Well, the US had a third-world dictator as President. That meant a super-power was being run like a third-world country– even deeper into the ground than it had been. In the process, it racked up a sizable debt to all of the other nations on Earth.

And, another misstep and mistake later the angles come in again. They’re important here. Regardless of arguments, they all show one thing: a mistake was made. China got pretty pissed about that mistake. Because China was pissed, Russia was pissed. Because China and Russia were pissed, the UK and its allies acted like they weren’t pissed. Actually, they were pretty pissed too.

The UK. They’d done a lot for the US. Naturally, they decided to show how big a fuck-up the US had made. They did so by tanking the US economy and liquidating the assets leveraged against the US debt to the UK. Russia and China, smelling money, did the same thing.

The UK got angry: they’d been trying to prove a point. Russia and China were being bullies. America was now a depressed wasteland. It had become the third-world country its president always hoped for. Incidentally, he died of a kind of dysentery not found in first world nations. Irony is delicious that way.

Anyway, the UK, Russia, and China decided to argue for a while. Then, they decided they were all angry with each other. Then they decided to fight over the scraps of the US. Then they decided to fight each other in Europe. By the end of it, 98% of the world’s population had been conscripted, drafted, and killed in the longest, bloodiest war ever conceived.

No matter what angle you look at it from, that’s pretty amazing. All that death. All that chaos. All that civilization. Gone. Beautiful, in a way.

Bonus Poem: 200 and Counting

200 and counting, human years do I mean.
Awakened half-dead to a world once seen,
as progress and virtue now contaminated, unclean.
Where is the hope which we all wish to glean?

Poisoned by radiation, a cry-ogenic dream,
I search for gradation in what ominous I deem;
to follow the dog or to leave it I seem,
to recall that a fall was lonely downstream.

A world once burned up in lust,
from a greater than great, quite dismal distrust,
it cost us a fortune greater when lost,
but the masters have gone, are now turned to dust.

Now minutes between men and women adorned,
by the punctual gun-fire of early morn,
but battles to wage are an acceptable thorn,
for part of a world that is bred but not born.

And when night-fall comes with a beacon of light,
ahead a dominating, large diamond site.
A green jewel of modern, machined upper-class,
that to decayed folks is a pain in their ass.

Is it a friend or foe, a lover or tribal,
that I meet just upon my arrival,
for I know the Piper of the marble,
papers are often on the lips as a garble.

Japanese robots and synthetic fear,
swirl ironically in the air,
while no-one else is really quite clear,
of what it is that’s in the water ’round here.

Mutated husks from captives retrieved,
stolen at night, just like the thieved,
whose hounds howled with greatness but weaved,
alerted that others were madly aggrieved.

To run or to fight, the eternal questions,
when faced with this world’s endless distractions,
To wish or to hope are both useless abstractions,
when cog and sword form metal contraptions.

A final repose is all that there be,
when the fires of synthetics are all that you see,
For the Railroad is hidden and so is its plea,
And they’re simply of no further uses to me.

So after 200 years and some change,
We’re back to warm fires and home on the range,
while around us doth nuclear fission estrange,
the past and the future from the present’s dog-mange.

Short Story: The Flash

The Flash

There was a flash like lightning. It lit the sky as daylight in pre-dawn. The momentary brightness gave way to a mushroom cloud of misery. As if meant to since it’s formation, the world changed in a blink. The nearest of its victims were vaporized. They were the fortunate ones. For what came next was a truth that mankind could never own up to; we are cowards, fools, children.

I was stationed near the far-edge of the blasts’ radius, just outside the critical radiation zone. I learned the truth of our nature first hand, saw its repercussions with my own, shielded eyes. Leader of my squad, and like them, clad in air-tight kevlar that stunk like week-old sweat even before our dirty flesh inhabited it. Had the enemy smelled our advance after the flash, the vaporization, the change of the world, they’d have surrendered for posterity’s sake– likely only as a bargaining chip to make as all shower, shave, have some R and R.

But war doesn’t allow for time-outs. That was something that had been drilled into the head of every recruit long before they’d ever joined the fight. Two decades of ground fighting saw the propaganda mill run like wild fire. Every standing wall left was blanketed with the colorful, subtle manipulations of a psychological war of a nation against its own. In a way, no one blamed them. It was the only route left to attempt to keep the peace. There was no longer order, only camps for the refugees, sick and dying. Meanwhile, cities that had stood the test of eons became the central zones of conflict. They were gone. Eradicated. All in a flash.

Our men on the front-lines hadn’t stood a chance, but neither did the enemy. That was the point. The particular phrases used? I remember them as if they’re etched into the blood on my hands: “Expendable assets,” “Acceptable Casualties,” “Cold Calculus.” For a layman they were confusing, but for a soldier they all meant the same thing; the men and women out there in the thick of it were to be sacrificed. The armchair generals had seen to that. They had watched from on-high, strategizing, and in a single thought, sealed the fates of those both friend and foe– sealed the truth of humanity’s cowardice.

Safely hidden away with the other officers, they made a “calculated decision.” Bullshit. They killed millions, raped the earth’s face to save themselves. That was all. My unit was sent in for “damage assessment and clean-up.” Euphemisms for confirming what we already knew, and murdering the poor bastards that hadn’t already been burnt to charred husks. Friend or foe, it didn’t matter, they were to be “neutralized.” I guess for some it would have been the final kindness we could grant.

When we made our advance through the furthest ruins, the buildings were largely intact. Or at least, as intact as decades-long bombing-runs, bullet-holes, and shrapnel could keep them. There were no windows, but you could sense where the refugees and soldiers had been. The former used scrap material to barricade windows and holed-walls. The latter left bodies, sandbags, spent ammunition and magazines in their wake.

The furthest outskirts of the blast were like wading through a physical history of the last twenty years. Bodies both decayed and fresh mingled with the skeletons of the long dead. The flies and other insects peppered the air as if a great plague had been unleashed. The buildings’ colors and brick were faded, pocked and divoted with destruction across their faces. Everywhere there were signs of scavengers– over turned bodies, out-turned pockets, emptied infantry packs. In this land, nothing was a sacred but survival. And now, because of us, even that had been hallowed.

When the clicks of the Geiger signaled the first reaches of the radiation, the sky was still dark. The land was silent. I doubt that even had anything survived in that place it would have been so bold as to make noise. My unit was silent but for the weary progress of our feet through ash and ruins. We had nothing to say, but our collective breaths of awe and disgust bled through our helmet comms. It was enough to tell that we were all present, accounted for, and mirrored one another’s sentiments.

It was almost dawn when we came upon a survivor. Though I hesitate to call her that. She was clearly dying; blind, dehydrated, irradiated, and burned all over. She heard us before we saw her, began to scream and wail for help. We found her under the rubble of a tin shack, its hot roof collapsed atop her. She begged for mercy, amnesty. At that we saw the tattered remains of her uniform. What hadn’t burnt into her skin was clear enough to denote that she was the enemy. Even so, we had our orders and none of us had the gall to tell her the truth.

I pulled the trigger myself. One round to the forehead. Her pain was over in a second. Mine had just begun. All of ours had. We had no idea what we’d find moving forward, but the scene of the woman became the exception.

What few people we did find were all dead. Most were civilians– refugees that had stubbornly refused to leave the war-zone they’d once called home. All middle-aged and more hardened than not. Their corpses were emaciated, soot-blackened, probably had been for longer than they’d known. It was saddening, but disappointing most of all. The groups here no longer knew why they were fighting. The militaries of both sides had long run out of volunteers, turned to draftees to do their dirty work. I doubt a single soul in that blast had any stake in the fight.

The Geiger was red-hot when we hit the first wave of vaporized buildings. They were mostly ash. Fires blazed across the horizons in every direction, had already begun to spread to the buildings behind us. The heat inside our suits increased ten-fold, threatened to bog us down with exhaustion and smother the life from our cowardly bodies.

There were no survivors this far in, only corpses. Each was more decrepit than the last. Charred skin turned to gooey mush nearer the blast’s epicenter. The bones of the dead obliterated inside from the force of the shock-wave. What few, mangled husks could be accurately identified as humans were little more than containers of meat for their cooked organs and powdered skeletons. The terrain had changed too. There were no longer even hints of buildings, just upturned and cracked earth. It formed hills and dirt dunes, all brown and black, composed of scorched elements that could no longer be identified as specific. Be they human, building, foliage, there was no way to tell.

It took nearly a full week to sweep the entire blast zone. We were fortunate enough in our suits’ designs that we could sleep comfortably in them, were allowed a fresh supply of oxygen from re-breathers in the helmets. I’ll never forget the last day though.

We’d just begun the last leg home when we came upon the corpse of a charred-black woman. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen. More than likely she was one of the escort girls one side or the other brought to base for the pleasures of the men and women there. In her arms was the tattered remains of a swaddled infant. My unit stared at the scene, the greenest of us audibly sniffling over the comm.

We knew then what the rest of the world learned in that one, solitary act of inhumanity. We were cowards. Monsters. Everything our species had grown to become, all of its greatest endeavors, its most humbling mistakes, meant nothing. We were children who’d burned ourselves with fire. With little more thought than cold calculus, and the sacrifice of acceptable casualties, we’d given into darkness with a single, atomic flash.