> TEOTWAWKI Blog: You Took Away Tomorrow - Chapter 25: Smile for the Flash



You Took Away Tomorrow - Chapter 25: Smile for the Flash

The conclusion to You Took Away Tomorrow! See the index for all of the back chapters.

Chapter 25: Smile for the Flash

              Jack and Tex exchanged looks—both exhausted, both well past any previously known limits.
              “Guess we better go see what all the fuss is about,” Tex said.
              Jack nodded, distracted, looking for any sign of Kyle. He scanned the field cleared around Barry’s retreat, over the tops of the trees and out to the afternoon sun beyond. It was hanging low in the sky. They had an hour or two of sunlight left. The day had been calm in comparison to the previous forty eight hours, but still long and full of hard work. He had no energy left, his mental faculties were shot. There was no way he and Tex could track down Kyle in the next few hours, and it’d be crazy to try.
              “Let’s go have a listen,” Jack said, “Kyle’s on his own on this one.”
              They made their way back to the workshop, feet dragging, their last remnants of energy spent on the jog out to look for Kyle. How Kyle planned to go tromping through the woods, trying to track down Ozzie was beyond comprehension. Kyle was in the best physical shape of the group and he had gotten more rest. Maybe, driven by blind rage, he could do it. Jack knew that he couldn’t—not in his current state. Big Tex seemed barely able to carry his bulk across the field back to the workshop.

               The group was gathered around the bunks, one of their little crank radios turned up as loud as it would go. Only Rambo the dog looked up to acknowledge their arrival—the others were too lost in the words spilling from the radio’s speaker. It was Acting President Susan Hearst’s voice again. Before the words even started to form together and make sensible sentences in Jack’s mind, her grave tone conveyed the seriousness of her message.
              “Well what’s the racket about?” Tex asked, leaning heavily against one of the bunks. Barry broke from his attention on the President’s words to explain.
              “The Chinese—Remember how she gave ‘em the 24-hour ultimatum? They’ve clammed up. No responses from them; diplomatic channels are not communicating. Warships in place around Taiwan. She ain’t backin’ down,” he said, then fell silent while the President continued on.
              “—and so, my fellow Americans, pray for our nation today. Pray for our soldiers abroad, fighting to protect our way of life. Pray for our allies. And pray that the Chinese leaders break their si—“
              The transmission cut out. A sudden flash of light burst through the crack in the workshop’s barn-style sliding doors.
Rambo started to bark. A shiver of horror down across Jack’s spine.
“No!” Jack tried to say, but found his mouth dry, his tongue the texture of sandpaper.
              “It’s got power,” Fiona said, frustrated and distracted with the radio, back turned to the door and the increase of light.
              Barry had seen the flash, though, and jumped to the same conclusion that Jack had.
              “They done it!” he growled, struggling to get to his one good foot. Rambo was jumping around, barking frantically.
              Jack fumbled for his walkie talkie, checking it. It was working. He keyed the transmit button, hoping to reach Mike and Esme, currently working the guard shift.
              “Everything okay out there?” he asked. He and Tex were already moving for the door. There was no response from the walkies. They crossed the distance to the door in a pair of heartbeats.
“Guys! Guys!” Mike was yelling, waving his hands and running in their direction as they emerged from the workshop. Both men ignored him—their attention instead drawn skyward, to the second ball of fire that had joined the sun in the afternoon sky. Jack shielded his eyes, unable to look at it directly.
“Is that what I think it is?” Tex managed.
It was. The sphere of hot white energy was a high-altitude nuclear explosion, detonated on the edge of space. Not intended to kill directly, but instead to unleash a massive electro-magnetic pulse over a wide area. The surge of energy—already unleashed—would have fried the power grid and knocked out sensitive electronics in a radius of literally hundreds, if not thousands of miles.
Jack looked at the walkie again. It was still working. That didn’t make sense. If that was an EMP blast in the sky—and he was pretty sure that it was—then why was his walkie working?
Then he looked back to the workshop, where Barry was hobbling out on a crutch and setting loose a torrent of uncensored language at the expanding fireball in the sky. The workshop was big and, most importantly, made entirely of steel. Maybe it had served as a kind of Faraday Cage, protecting the walkie and other electronics from the electro-magnetic pulse?
“Holy hell, look at that!” Tex said, grabbing him by the shoulder and pointing skyward. Not at the fireball, but at something moving. Falling, quickly. It was a passenger jet, way off in the distance, spiraling from the sky. It wouldn’t be airborne for much longer.
Mike was almost to them now. Esme was close behind him.
“What do we do?” Mike asked.
“Get inside,” Jack said, waving him onwards. Mike ran past, not slowing.
Esme threw herself into Tex’s arms.
“This is horrible!” she said, already choking with tears. Tex held her tight.
Barry hobbled up alongside them, watching the passenger jet plummet. They stood there in quiet horror, unable to do anything but watch. In moments, the plane fell from sight, lost behind the towering trees. The fireball was fast fading from sight, the sun reasserting its dominance of the daytime sky.
“If it’s the Chi-Coms and it’s full-scale, then they’ve got twenty or thirty big, silo-based ICBMs they’re probably in the process of lobbin’ over the North Pole at us. Not enough to take out our missile bases, but enough to nuke the major metro areas. New York—what’s left of it, anyways—Boston, Chicago—those places. They’ll probably use their subs for the West Coast stuff—L.A., San Fran, Seattle. They’ve been buildin’ up their arsenal of smaller warheads, too—they might have more for smaller cities. Been a while since I read up on it—I’m not sure,” Barry offered.
“We’ll have some time, right? I mean, we’re out here in the boonies, well out of any nuke’s target area, so all we’ve got to worry about is fallout,” Jack asked.
Barry scratched at his beard.
“Yup. Depends on how many cities they hit, how big the bombs are and if they’re ground or airburst. More fallout with ground burst. First 48 hours are supposed to be the worst, but we should have a bit of time before we need to get buttoned up—maybe an hour? Half hour to play it safe?”
Fiona had emerged from the workshop. She joined Jack at his side, entranced by the fading nuclear explosion in the sky.
“What will we do to them? I mean—what will our counter-attack look like?” Tex asked.
“Well, ya see, the Chi-Coms always said they had a no first strike policy. So this might be their counter-attack,” Barry said, taking a moment to let the thought sink it.
“Whatever this is though, our first strike will be from our missile subs in the Pacific. Then our silo stuff, then our bombers, probably. We’ll wipe ‘em off the map if we need to.”
Jack scanned over the trees. Kyle was out there—not too far off.
“Esme, your radio is fried, right?” Jack asked.
“It stopped working right after,” she confirmed. That meant Kyle’s walkie would be down too. There was no point though—Kyle would have seen fireball and known what it meant. Would he give up the chase and come back to ride out the fallout, or would he continue onwards, heedless of the risk and danger? That was all up to Kyle.
What about Ozzie, the lone survivor of the Neo Nazis? Would he get desperate and try to fight his way into the safety of Barry’s retreat?
 “Did Ozzie know about the bunker? Would he try to come back here to ride out the fallout?” Jack asked.
Barry took a moment to consider it.
“He doesn’t know ‘bout the shelter—I kept that real hush-hush. If it were me, I’d try to find some cave or drainage pipe to hide in. But yer right—we should keep an eye out for him.”
Jack looked away from the sky, down at the AR-15 held in his hands. He hadn’t realized how firm of a grip he had on the carbine—his knuckles were white. Not that the rifle would do him much good now. He was watching the death of his country and all he could do was stand by and watch.
There was a flash in the sky to the east—it lasted for a moment or two and then it faded away almost as quickly as it had appeared.
“There you go. They’re already hittin’ the cities—probably Norfolk. Musta been a big one,” Barry said, as if he’d been predicting the next play in a football game.
They didn’t have much time to prepare for the fallout. Jack looked over to Fiona, standing at his side, trying to be strong.
They’d gone through so much in the past two days--a frantic blur of movement, gunfire, blood and exhaustion. They’d survived so far, but that had only been the very first, tentative round of an all-out war. The fighters tossing jabs and feeling each other out. Now the second round had begun.
Would they be able to survive what lay ahead? Would their small, fractured group be enough to weather the storm?
Jack relaxed his grip on the AR, slinging it over his shoulder and using his other arm to hold Fiona tightly. He stood there for a moment, looking over the forest, listening to the sound of the breeze rustling through the trees, like waves crashing over the beach. The forest swayed gently, branches moving in the wind but roots holding firmly.
Jack drew in a deep breath. The group would have to be strong enough to survive. There was no other option.
“All right. We’ve got some tough times ahead of us and we don’t have much time to prepare. Let’s get moving!”

To Be Continued...

(And yes, the cliff hangers and loose ends are all on purpose. I've got to give you a reason to read the sequel!)