The missile silo’s outdated radar screens glowed with small, green waves. Before them sat the Lieutenant with his morning coffee, as he checked the bank of monitors above that read out telemetry for inflight ICBMs. Though useless in the absence of nuclear dispersal, a perpetual watch was posted at the ancient machines.
The Lieutenant relaxed in his chair to sip coffee, kicked up his feet on a second chair before him, and flipped-on a portable television in his lap. The news droned on that the snowstorm above the base was gathering strength. Roads, railways, and airports would be inaccessible for days. He sighed, flipped the channel.
They’d already been trapped for three days, the outside world further away for secrecy’s sake. Even with a full crew on-base, duties kept them from engaging one another. Only briefly did anyone see each other on their ways in and out of the commissary. In most senses, the Lieutenant was completely alone.
A beep sounded from the console. A button in arm’s reach depressed with an uninterested, habitual motion. Moscow’s confirmation required a physical response to relay that someone still lived to watch the screens. Everything was handled electronically, save for this job. Despite forty-odd years of Cold War terror descending into the schizophrenic creation of imaginary lines, every half-hour confirmation was still required.
The signal originated from the main missile-tracking computers beneath the Kremlin, and simultaneously pinged all silos in Russia. The operators then had five minutes to respond, before an alarm sounded. In war-time, confirmation was required every five minutes with only thirty seconds to spare. Any longer might signal a silo had been compromised. Likewise, if a silo registered something, the Kremlin’s technicians would call for on-site verification while alerting military leaders.
But it was peace time. In retrospect, it always had been. The war between nuclear powers had never come. The nuclear holocaust had never engulfed the Earth in the fires of Hell, and now the once-great, Red Republic’s relics simply kept people employed.
It was boring, but the Lieutenant still preferred it to Moscow’s drudgery. Working as a political door-guard was never as glamorous as it sounded. With the general contention between the people and the government in the post-war age, the ignoble politicians felt threatened; even minor ones had four flank guards in each room. To him, it was astounding that such cowards were even allowed to grace those prestigious offices– but such was the way the world turned.
He drained his cup. Stood for the far end of the room and the table there beside the data-analogue recorders whose tapes revolved with lazy, languid repetitions as pointless as his own. He poured himself a second coffee, returned to his seat to reposition the TV.
The confirmation signal flashed again.
Had it already been a half an hour? He pressed it mindlessly, adjusted his feet, lifted his coffee to his lips. The phone beside the console rang. Half-irritated and half-curious, he leaned forward to lift it, carefully juggling the cup and TV.
“Silo 193, data-sector, we need confirmation on bogey at grid 712,” a voice said.
“Bogey, will register on your screen in 3…2…1…now.”
The Lt. saw it. A series of grids beeped in succession from the right screens. They glowed brighter as a dot inched leftward over them, designated RU:1289H-YnD. Cold-war terror was a feeling renewed; launched from silo 128, pad 9, carrying high-yield nuclear ballistics.
“Silo: requesting confirmation on designation RU:1289H-YnD,” the voice stated.
The LT. responded mechanically: “Moscow: Confirming designation RU:1289H-YnD at 19:30. Trajectory: West bound. Acquiring target… thirty-eight degrees, fifty-three feet, fifty-three point three inches North by Seventy-seven degrees, two feet, nine point nine inches West.”
“Silo: requesting confirmation of time to target. One hundred sixty minutes. ETA approximately twenty-two thirty.”
He couldn’t believe his ears or eyes. Was it another test? It couldn’t be, their tests were scheduled for once a month and this month’s had been recently. You never knew when they might drill but–
He stumbled over his words, “Uh… M-Moscow: Tar-target time confirmed: one hundred eighty minutes; twenty-two thirty.”
“Silo: confirmation received.”
The Lieutenant’s terror oozed through the phone in his sweaty palm, “Moscow: requesting interrogative.”
There was a pause. The Lieutenant swore he heard a fearful sigh.
The technician responded, “Go ahead, Silo.”
“Are we at war, Moscow?”
The technician spoke carefully, “That is… uncertain, Silo.”
More than a few thousand miles away, in NATO’s Cheyenne mountain complex, the General’s red phone was relaying a similar conversation. A fearful Master Sergeant stood nearby petrified. Maybe he had misread the radar, or perhaps the instruments had malfunctioned.
In the last fifteen minutes a dozen launches had appeared, each strategically aimed on American soil to decimate key military installations. Missile interceptors were launched with the entirety of the Air Force and Navy. Marines and Army Rangers were already working in co-operation with the Navy’s SEAL division to plan surgical strikes should the missiles reach their targets. But the President and several, high-ranking, military officials, were fearful of retaliation at this stage: It could be an instrumental malfunction, a sub-routine to test readiness, unintentionally triggered by someone or something. But action still had to be taken, the general population ignorant until zero-hour.
The General lifted a second, black phone to speak with the leader of the Russian armed forces, a man he knew well. He explained the situation, questioned an attack.
The Russian’s earnesty implied no malevolence, “We are reading the same thing on our screens, General. I assure you however, no-one in Moscow has given the order.”
The General replied formally, “I am required to pose this question; Are you being intentionally deceptive?”
He replied with a sigh, the sweat beading audibly on his forehead, “I wish that were the case. It would mean we know what is happening. Unfortunately, all we know is that there have been a dozen, unauthorized launches confirmed.”
“What the hell’s going on over there, Uri!”
“I… do not know, Jack.”
The Master Sgt. interrupted the General, “Sir, we have confirmation of twenty-more simultaneous launches.”
“Uri, what the hell’s going on?”
A second silence, and a remorseful sigh.
In a labyrinthine fallout-shelter, a console spanned a twenty-foot section of wall, divided in two, with large, flat-screened televisions that tracked the number and trajectory of launches. At the right, the Russian’s nuclear battery was zoomed to track across a global view. The other side, blank so far, had “United States” stenciled above it.
A young man in shabby, black fatigues approached an older man, “Mr. Niculescu, we have confirmation of all two hundred and thirty four launches from the Russian side.”
“Good,” Niculescu nodded.
A man appeared behind him, spoke with an American accent, “Alexi, this is a momentous day.”
“Da, it is John,” Niculescu said flatly.
“Deadman’s effectiveness is par-none. I must say; your Soviet predecessors did have us beat.”
“Ah yes, I believe they did,” Niculescu said, once more emotionless. “Soviet ingenuity always triumphed in the face of progressive adversaries. Though I must admit, setting it off was matter of American mischief.”
John smiled, “It was only a matter of a fly-by really. Low altitudes to avoid the radar, and a special package to trigger Deadman’s radiation and seismic sensors.”
He handed a glass to Niculescu, cast a glance around the room at the hundred or so young, shabbily clad men and women there.
“People, gather with me,” He requested. They formed lines before him, distributed expensive champagne into their tin cups. John waited, then, “If I may have a moment.” He cleared his throat, prepared them for his speech. “In the depths of the Cold War, a most marvelous means of destruction was created. Until this day, it went unused but maintained. Codenamed Deadman, this device was integrated into each of Russia’s nuclear-missile launch computers, designed to unleash an unstoppable counter-attack upon American soil should Moscow fall to a first strike.”
His eyes met each of those assembled in turn. “Until today, this system was largely considered a waste of time. But with your help, we have taken the first steps into a new era. Russia will fall once the American’s realize their imminent defeat. The Russians will be compelled to reveal the existence of Deadman in the last moments before America’s destruction, and when this occurs, a fury of retaliation will launch from America’s own soil. The world will wither in the nuclear winter that follows.”
He smiled, reassured, “However, with a million miles of underground complex in place, we will remain unaffected. Soon, we will descend to meet with our families and carry on our lives as the generations continue through the fallout. With the thousands of us here, it should not be entirely different to our lives now.”
Niculescu’s rigid demeanor relaxed as he picked up, “The greatest care and planning has gone into this decision. The most technologically knowledgeable and fore-thinking minds have been added to our population. They will stimulate growth through priceless, expansive research and development labs. We will live off cultured foods, and though there will be little meat at first, in time our cattle programs will thrive. We will be entirely self-sustaining, and in the days when we begin to emerge, each our future relatives will live as kings and queens.”
The two men at the front of the group raised their glasses, chorusing together: “To the future!”
The others echoed the toast at the resonance of their tin cups.