The missile silo’s outdated radar screens glowed with small, green waves.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 in-flight 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 re-position 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.
In the vast, underground complex, surrounded by millions of tons of cement and steel, the last of Earth’s civilized inhabitants carried out a quiet, peaceful life. The Complex, built over the waning decades of the Cold War, sprawled outward and downward. At it’s topmost level, an entrance from a WWII-era bomb-shelter offered easy surface-access. The second level of apartments and schoolhouses, sheltered and educated growing numbers of thousands from all countries and walks of life.
The inhabitants did their working, shopping, and fraternizing on level three. This level, larger than the others, consisted of separate sections: an agricultural zone; an industrial zone, and finally a commerce district; where the populous could take in movies, drinks, and if need be, shop others’ handmade wares.
A booming epoch had begun within a planet whose surface had been nearly eradicated. Generations ago, when the Complex’s builders had finished construction, they let loose weapons of unimaginable destruction. They had recruited as many like-minded people as possible to share a new vision for the future. Some declined. The rest moved began their lives anew with a prosperous future.
These foresighted individuals would never again see the beauty of the natural world, but knew their descendants would live a life of peace. In the meantime, they were allowed to bring what they pleased, but tell no-one of the mass exodus. Surprisingly, the plans had succeeded. So far there had been little complication; the greatest mechanics and scientists worked on the fifth and final level, monitoring the systems and when warranted, repairing them.
The original occupants had quickly outgrown remorse and sorrow of the passing of the world above. Many chose to start new families. These children became the first born of a subterranean utopia. And so it went for a dozen generations, the inhabitants waiting patiently for the time when they might re-emerge upon the face of a once-more mysterious planet. Were others left, their generations passed in hiding from radioactivity? It was plausible, but no such observations had been made from the systems-level via their surface instruments. These instruments, designed to withstand the decimation of the nuclear attacks, measured the atmospheric radioactivity, and sensed when living beings were near. In all of the Complex’s history thus far though, there had been no confirmation of life beyond. With their sporadic placement, it seemed unlikely anyone had survived. So they left the hope and uncertainty of Terran lifeforms long behind them, focusing their efforts instead on living to one day reclaim the world.
Within the systems level, science laboratories were established that, even in the time of man’s reign would have put the best to shame. The builders spared no expense in creating meccas of research and development. Of course with all greatness comes minor disruption. The Complex was not with out its disgruntled parties. Those few whom wished to return to the surface, or hungered for more, when offered provision to leave, hastily turned tail. The others, having been given what they wanted, soon wished not to have been. In seeing that each man, woman, and child had their fair share, their own guilt would overwhelm them. With sorrow they apologized, divided the extra share amongst those closest to them.
It was, in essence, a communist state with-in Utopian walls. Everyone was given their fair share, accepted it. There were times of stringent rationing of food, imposed near harvest, but all obliged. In the spirit of things, harvest became a new period of sharing, giving. Families would band with one another to make feasts of their rations, eat their fill, then dividing the leftovers. When harvest was calculated again, the new rationing limits put forth, the sharing period ended with no-one left out. Even among growing thousands, a sense of community was pervasive. Their togetherness as one only served to strengthen hopes for the future and the thoughts of a world ruled by their way of life: It would become the utopia every philosopher and common-man had dreamed of.
So, as more and more decades passed, and the sensors read the steady decline of radioactivity. A meeting of the people was called. The recreation area was re-situated to accommodate the mass. A team of scientists posed the question; Who might be the first to step forward into the new world?
At once everyone spoke, all wanted to go. The head scientist, determined so by his education and experience, reminded them of the dangers they may face. One by one, the voices went silent. In the end, a team of five was chosen, their names picked randomly for their varying positions and experience. Those of the appropriate skill submitted their names to a drawing for their
respective positions. The need for an agriculturalist, a businessman, a strategist, a scientist, and a ‘common-man’ was decided. Each, in their own way, would help to determine the viability of the area chosen for settlement. They would have to reach an agreement on a location, otherwise a better one must be found. Meanwhile, the remaining scientists would hurry their research in developing radiation-devouring bacterium that would cleanse the radiation from the land by eating and excreting the soil, removing its detritus in the process.
With the team assembled, a second mass was held for speeches to thank those they felt grateful for, and take the oath to retain the values of their utopia in their search. They would think only of the others, not of themselves, and at the end of their journey, they would return with a new home.
When the five stood before the ladder to the surface, they began upward without hesitation. They emerged into dim light, looking excitedly among each other. Each one, clad in an oddity of white, plastic-like material, designed to eliminate radioactive penetration. The scientists below clicked through on radios, wished them luck. The hatch to the lower level closed with mechanized movements, and its seals locked in place. The radios clicked through again; the seal on the bomb-shelter’s door had been broken.
With a hiss, click, and the exhaled of gleaming dust upon the air, the door swung wide. The five stepped forward daringly into light that shined from the sky, eager to find a new home upon a long forgotten rock.
The five stepped into sunlight, the world around magnificently colored with a plethora of verdant and earthen hues. The trees, regrown through centuries that had passed, threw shadows over the ruins of once prominent sheet-metal warehouses that had decayed to rusted out skeletons. The sun shone through a missing section of roof around ivy and tall grasses that had reclaimed it and the concrete floor their boots resounded echoed with. They rubbernecked their way forward to a metal door, emerged into full-blown day.
Their radiation suits, of a thick plastic, and yellow and red in color, were hot, chaffing. A member of the team lifted an instrument to measure the atmosphere. It returned normal. The few, small bounces of needles no doubt came from the sun itself. He gave the signal– a thumbs up– and the others pulled back their plastic helmets, switched off small re-breathers on their backs through devices at their wrists. They looked upon the world with renewed eyes, saw now that the complex of rectangular warehouses, covered in green ivy, was flanked by trees that threatened to topple them. All around were high rock-walls that formed a horse-shoe ’round the warehouses. They stepped for the shoe’s center, looked westward toward its open face.
A small path led outward, wound down and around the mountainous cliffs. They took in the spectacular sight, breathed deep to inhale fresh air that lightly stung their chests. In the untold centuries that had passed, their subterranean lifestyle had only afforded them the fruits of reclaimed and carbon scrubbed air. Here, it was an adjustment just to breathe, but a welcomed one.
A renewed vigor infected the Five and their mission; they must find somewhere not far to establish a settlement. One team member elaborated on the benefits of following the path down the mountain in search of an old settlement, but stayed himself when reminded of their current location: they were atop a range, likely a few thousand feet from the region’s average sea-level. The road could twist and turn for days. The man understood. It would take far too long to blindly follow the road, when there might be a more than suitable expanse on the range itself. They did however, elect to follow the road for a time, and in keeping with the ways of their Utopian society, each one agreed before any of the others would leave. They set off.
The road sloped a short way then leveled off, still far above sea-level. An exploration into a mass of plains between two tree lines that spanned yielded measurements of roughly a mile in each direction. At the furthest edge forward, a remarkable sight appeared. The ground dropped away abruptly, where the Five stopped and sat upon its edge. They looked out on the profundity of what lay below.
The cliff side was staggered, the path winding down for miles. It became smaller and smaller, until merely a line that wound beneath canopies, around forests, and onward into oblivion. The team remarked to one another. This was once their domain; Humanity had claimed it as its own, and when the bombs fell, were whisked beneath it. As if man had been a pile of dust swept beneath a
rug, there was no trace from this point, but the path that had once been a road. It was doubtless that by exploring the nethers of the proverbial rug, humanity’s final resting place would be uncovered.
For a moment, the team was contented to remain and dine on the first meal taken in the reclaimed world. The others in the Utopian complex would enjoy the sight, its borders large enough to house a collective. There was a matter, however, of finding suitable agricultural land. And so, planting a tracking device, linked electronically to their wrist devices, the Five set out to find suitable land.
The path curved around to a second clearing, hidden from them by the orientation of the first, and of a lower elevation. It looked out upon a ruined landscape where, clearly, had been one of the bombs’ striking points. A team member examined the ionization, as the others looked down upon a massive crater, miles wide from end to end and more still from side-to-side. It was as if a large meteorite had struck the ground. Dirt welled up around its perimeter, such that it gave
the appearance of dunes, or waves breaking in a dirt sea. Its inner perimeter, along sloping ground, still scorched over eons from the intense heat that had been released when the missile struck.
In the center of the pit, was a clearly discernible ivy that grew in distinct, unnatural shapes. It hid beneath it, ruins of a man-made structure while the craters outer-banks were much the same as before; charred dirt that morphed into green grasses. Bushes and foliage came next, that towered over the pit. Then, a mass of sprawling trees, roughly a hundred feet high, their girth a fifth of their height.
The Five took measurements, concluding this would be a more than satisfactory place to begin their agricultural pursuits. They planted a tracker, and moved on.
So it went for days. The Five would travel a short way, find a clearing, and once satisfied, plant specific tracker for different tasks. In time, each who spoke were satisfied. The “Common-man’s” advocate found peace in the beauty of their proposed residential land. The “Agriculturist” found suitable land marked to meet their people’s needs, and when the bottom of the cliff-side seemed much nearer than before, the “Business” advocate put forth an idea. Perhaps it would be best to keep their district nearer the complex and their manufacturing equipment within. The “Security” advocate agreed; to mount any defensive encampment much further from the complex, did indeed endanger their ability to defend their industry. This was of course, in speculation that defense might be needed, as save for their underground home and themselves, they’d yet to see a shred of humanity.
When the Five returned bearing news of a beautiful world awaiting them should they choose to nurture it, the Utopians obliged. They moved outward to their assigned areas, began their reconstruction. They re-fertilized the soil, cleansed from its minute contaminants with artificial, microbial life; and planted their crops. They built homes among trees and plains, cleaning and replanting the soil around them. They dismantled a few of the skeletal warehouses, used their components to repair the others, and set about matters of business and defense.
In the years that passed, they were contented to stay upon the mountain. Their harvest traditions, though no longer necessary, were upheld with even greater zeal. Their views, for the first time in the span of Humanity, worked out its flaws to incorporate the compromise of few among many, and vice-versa. While a few did leave to start anew nearer to sea-level, their spirit of cooperation lived on. If one were to wish, in any of their days, to see true paradise, they need only visit the people upon the mountain, and indulge in their way of life.