“…This is not a drill. Ladies and gentlemen, I repeat: This is not a drill,” the recorded message repeated itself for the sixth time. “Please head to the nearest shelter. Las Vegas has been targeted and the missiles are on their way and are estimated to arrive at 2:47, local time. If―” The image turned to static. One second later, thunder rolled through the house, shattering two windows. Another two seconds, and the television shut off completely.
“Honey?!” Mallik yelled, “let’s go!” He turned on his flashlight.
“All right, all right,” Angie said, sounding unconcerned.
Mallik ran into the back yard and unlatched the outer door of the fallout shelter. He ran back into the house to rush Angie to the shelter. Mallik sent her first, and she struggled to carry a newborn infant down the ladder. She unlatched the inner door when she reached the bottom. Mallik felt a gust of hot wind and looked up. For the first time, he saw the huge mushroom cloud in the distance―the glowing cloud stood out clearly against the dark night sky.
Three small, dark shapes fell in an arc. Mallik shielded his eyes from the intense light as the first one made landfall. He dropped his flashlight and the bulb popped.
“Shit.” He climbed in and closed the doors.
Bo pulled his car over underneath an overpass. He saw a billowing cloud of smoke about two hundred miles to the southwest. It had lost its distinctive mushroom shape, but he recognized what it was from movies, and three fresh ones were sprouting. He got out of his car and stared with his jaw open. Other cars were pulling over and people were getting out to stare as well.
From behind him he heard someone mumble something unfamiliar―probably some kind of profanity―followed by: “That’s Las Vegas… All those people…” His voice trailed off; he probably knew someone there.
After a half-hour of watching the clouds grow, then dissipate, he realized his radio was still on and crackling loudly. He got back in his car and closed the door, and as he was trying to find a station with clearer reception, he felt the ground rumbling. He guessed it was some sort of shockwave from the bomb. Then a much stronger tremor came and Bo heard a thunderclap. He looked up and realized it wasn’t thunder; it was the overpass cracking in half. He barely had enough time to open his door before the concrete mass slammed down on him, silencing the radio static and causing infinite darkness as it crushed his skull.
Doctor Neil Toric worked all through the night in his spacious laboratory, located in the center of the BioBotics Complex. He was working on a new molecular bonding technique he invented which would create a new kind of steel with organic components giving the steel the ability to regenerate when damaged or dulled.
He was taking a small sample when he heard the announcement: There were another fifteen nuclear missiles headed for major U.S. cities, Los Angeles being one of them.
But it was too late. He heard the boom, then the radio and the lights went out. A few seconds later he felt the shockwave rumbling through his chest and then let out a shriek of pain as the steel was heated by the radiation. He pulled his hand back but the organic components in the steel had already bonded to his hand. The last thing he saw was the metal being absorbed into his hand as his laboratory was ripped apart around him.
Three days later Mallik opened the hatch and took a look around. His house was ripped in half and debris was laying everywhere. He tentatively climbed up and stood at the entrance to the shelter. He felt no ill effects and assumed the bombs had been the cleaner fusion bombs, rather than fission. He told his wife it was okay to come up, but he was wrong. As she climbed up, he saw her skin almost instantly turn red, and he rushed to get her back inside. Luckily, the baby was asleep, and she’d left him inside.
When he got her in the shelter, he saw she was past saving as one of the pus-filled blisters now forming on her face, burst and sprayed him with blood.
He’d forgotten that radiation resistance was one of the many experiments he’d volunteered for while in the Navy. Until now, he didn’t know it had worked.
He watched Angie writhe in pain as she lay dying. The baby awoke and began crying loudly.
Mallik screamed and swore revenge on whoever had started this war―no one deserved to die like this.
Suddenly Bo’s darkness was removed, replaced by a strange image: Five people who seemed to be glowing red from within. Then he realized that the image was only in his right eye and that his left eye was seeing normally. All around he could see surgical tools and even some tools that seemed like they belonged in his garage.
Just then the strange image went black, soon replaced by a bright-green image. His left eye remained normal though. Once again it changed and both eyes saw a normal view.
“What’s going on?” Bo asked, surprised at the strangeness of his voice. He tried to reach up to rub his throat, but he couldn’t feel his right arm. He tried the left and found it was strapped down.
“Relax. That’s a vocal synthesizer. Your vocal cords were damaged and we had to replace them,” said one of the people Bo now realized must be doctors.
“ID in your wallet says you’re Robert Carver,” Bo realized it was a woman speaking. They all wore masks which effectively hid their faces (as well as who was speaking).
“Bo. Just Bo.”
“All right, Justbo. I’ll let Dr. Williams explain your condition,” she said, gesturing toward another person who stepped forward from the group.
“So, Mr. Bo,” Bo nodded in confirmation. “You’ve been in an accident. I don’t expect you to remember it, but―”
“I remember fine. Thought it was thunder. Guess it must’ve been the shockwave,” Bo said.
“Actually, a shockwave would’ve dissipated in that distance.”
“Then what made the bridge collapse?”
“It seems that the bomb was dropped almost right on top of a relatively unknown fault line which runs nearly all the way through North America. The road you were on is pretty much parallel with the fault for several hundred miles. So on top of the bombs, we’ve been dealing with earthquakes almost up into Canada.”
Bo had heard of the fault line, but he had no idea it was so long.
“Anyway, you were crushed under one of the support beams of that overpass. While your left side was left relatively undamaged, most of your right side was beyond repair. We’ve managed to use what was left of your limbs, and, thanks to the latest advances from BioBotics, restored you as best we could to your original form.”
Bo wasn’t listening; he was thinking about the strange image he’d seen in his right eye. Then the vision in his right eye went out and was replaced by an image of the doctors around him glowing red and orange.
“Ah, I see you’ve figured out how to activate your thermal vision. You also have night-vision, but I suggest you not use it until nightfall―it’s a little bright in here. You have a new arm and leg, each equipped with a high-torque gear system and small hydraulics.
“You also have a small, powerful computer implanted where your right frontal lobe used to be… Oh, and there are experimental nanobots―molecule-sized robots that―”
“Yeah, I know what they are; I watch the Discovery Channel. Tell me what they’re supposed to do.”
“All right, Bo: Their main function is to rebuild your missing appendages. Eventually you’ll have a real arm and leg, and your eye will be good as new. They also have the ability to heal any new injuries. Repairing is relatively simple, so the healing will be very fast. But replacing your limbs could take twenty years, give or take. They are also programmed to maintain your prosthetics and refit them as your new limbs grow inside them. You’ll have more and more flesh and less and less prosthetic. But some parts will remain part of your physiology permanently. Your cranial implant, for example. And when the time comes, you’ll have the choice to keep your prosthetic eye or grow a real one.”
“Great,” Bo said sarcastically.
“Your eye acts like an interface to the cranial implant. A computer screen, in a sense. There is documentation loaded into it with instructions and information,” another doctor said. “You’ll be out of here in a couple more days, and you can peruse it at your leisure.”
“A help file? I come with a help file?” Bo laughed. “And how am I supposed to pay for all this? I’m self-employed; I ain’t got insurance.”
“According to the forms you signed when we brought you in,” the first doctor began, “allowing us to use these experimental techniques on you and granting us the right to study your progress is all the payment we needed.”
“I don’t remember signing anything.”
“No, you wouldn’t. You were barely conscious at the time.”
“Nice,” Bo replied, and shook his head.
Toric awoke from a sleep which beckoned him to return, even though it had already claimed an unknown number of hours, days, or even weeks from him.
He forced himself to full consciousness, only to realize he was looking up at several of the company’s investigators who were wearing their trademark green jump-suits and being supervised by a man in a light blue jumpsuit.
They seemed to be searching through some rubble. He wondered where the ruin had come from, but as one of them moved a large piece of debris he saw what appeared to be a mangled version of his favorite chair and realized he was still in his laboratory. Then he remembered the bomb.
One of them said, “It doesn’t look like he was here when it happened, we can tell Mr. Decker that the bomb did our job for us.”
“Lucky for us; we’ve already done three of these today,” the supervisor said.
“What’s he want this one for?”
The supervisor said, “Mr. Decker had some… interesting projects going on here. Dr. Toric was involved in a few of the original projects, but stopped participating due to ‘moral objections’.” He said “moral” as if it caused a bitter taste to be on his tongue. “Mr. Decker doesn’t want anyone causing trouble, now that the power structure’s gone.”
Toric wondered what they were talking about, of course he was there, he was laying right next to them! He struggled to get up and as he did he knocked a piece of debris loose and sent it sliding down a small pile of rubble.
One of them said, “There’s something under here!” And the rest of them rushed toward the area. Toric stepped out of the way as they started tearing through the debris, realizing as they stepped past him that they couldn’t see him.
He turned and looked through a hole that was once a wall, and saw, two stories below, the investigators’ van parked next to his now-wrecked car. He wished he could get down there and leave this mess behind. He felt his gut wrench and he was standing next to his car. He had no idea how he had gotten to his car―he didn’t remember walking down the stairs, or jumping out the hole in the side of the building. Was he blacking out? No time to check for a concussion.
His car wasn’t as bad as it seemed on first glance, and would probably still run, minus a few windows. Unfortunately, it seemed he’d left his keys behind on the way down here―they were probably buried in rubble anyway.
He looked at the investigators’ van and wondered if it had any keys, then thought, Why would they take the keys? They don’t know anyone’s still alive around here. He got in the van as quietly as he could. When he was inside, he looked at the ignition and saw the keys. He reached to turn the key and was shocked when he couldn’t see his hand. He looked down and realized he couldn’t see the rest of his body, either. As he moved his hand in front of his eyes, he saw the dashboard behind it ripple slightly. His hand became more opaque, eventually taking on its original pigment. As he became visible, he noticed that he was still wearing his clothes and labcoat.
He started the van, and started backing out. The men in the lab scrambled over the rubble and looked down at him through the hole in the wall. By the time they got to the ground floor, he was already leaving the parking area. As he drove away, he saw the man in the light blue standing on the road watching him leave.
Toric knew they would try to find him, so he headed south toward the woods that had appeared in the last five years. There was an experiment meant to test a new super-growth gene that the GenTek engineers were working on. Unfortunately for them, an oak forest had overgrown half the city. He hoped their mistake would save his life.
Mallik got inside his Humvee after clearing some debris from the hood. He started it and was grateful that his wife made him buy a house so far out of town. As he was Pulling out of his driveway, he saw his neighbor across the street, Kajok, gathering some rolled maps from the debris.
Mallik realized that Kajok and himself were probably a large percentage of the survivors in the area. After all, they were attacked in the middle of the night; most would’ve been sleeping. Luckily, Mallik was an insomniac.
e pulled up to the curb in front of Kajok’s house.
“Kajok!” Mallik said through the rolled-down window. Kajok looked around for a half-second as if trying to locate the sound.
“Oh, Mallik… Glad to see you made it. Where’s your family?” Mallik was also glad to see someone else had made it, though he couldn’t remember Kajok―or anyone in the area, for that matter―having a shelter.
“Nerrik’s in the back seat,” Mallik paused. “Angie didn’t make it.” He cleared his throat. “Come on, man. I know a safe place to go.”
Kajok bent over, apparently reaching for another map, and picked up something next to it. Mallik saw the object glint in the sunlight before Kajok slipped it into his pocket.
Kajok got into the back seat of the Hummer and sat next to Nerrik’s car seat. Mallik’s son slept quietly. Kajok tossed his maps into the cargo area behind him.
They headed north toward Johnston. It was a new city, owned by a private citizen and sold bit by bit. Although the city was still in the first stages of construction, its underground areas―said to be shielded from radiation―were complete.
After a week of regenerative treatments, physical therapy, and training on how to use his new hardware, Bo was released from the hospital in Salt Lake City. The hospital had expedited his release to free up space to treat other, more severe victims of the bombs.
He drove south in his rented van, toward his home in Browse, a small town in Utah that almost no one knew about.
About two hours into his long drive he heard an announcement on the radio that Salt Lake had just been destroyed. Apparently the attacks were still happening intermittently. Anyone who held a grudge against the US was taking their opportunity, according to the radio.
“So much for monitoring my progress,” he said. He never was a fan of experiments.
As he listened to the announcement, he saw a billboard proclaiming Johnston to be the safest place to raise a family (“Coming soon!” it declared in bright colors), and thought that he had heard of it. So he decided he would stop there and figure out what to do.
The sky was beginning to darken from all the smoke and dust.
Just inside the gates of Johnston, which Mallik had forced open with his Hummer, Mallik was setting up his collapsible transmission tower that he kept in his Hummer to see if he could locate any other survivors. He was interrupted by a blue, nineteen-eighties van that was approaching along the freeway.
Kajok was standing well away, fiddling with a thin leather shoelace. He looped it around his neck and dropped it under his shirt.
Mallik watched as the van followed the off-ramp which led directly to Johnston. The van came to a stop ten yards from Mallik’s position and a dark-skinned man stepped out and stared at Mallik with one glassy eye. Then Mallik noticed that all the places on his right side not covered by clothing, were metallic. Meanwhile, the man had approached Mallik.
“Hey, friend,” Mallik said reaching for a handshake.
Thunder rolled across the sky.
“I don’t do the whole ‘friend’ thing,” the man said, not even feigning interest in a handshake.
“Well, I do,” Mallik said, again glancing at the metallic hand and withdrawing his own. “Name’s Mallik.”
“Bo,” the man said bluntly. “What’re you doing here?”
“Well … Bo, I’ve been trying to reach other survivors,” Mallik said, mimicking Bo’s anger.
“There prob’ly ain’t too many.”
“Just before the radio went out, heard a report saying that we’d launched all our bombs, but couldn’t seem to destroy enough missile sites. More missiles were coming in from every direction. In fact, I even saw a couple mushrooms in my rear-view as I was headed here.”
Mallik glanced over Bo’s shoulder. “Well, Bo, I think we may not be the only survivors after all,” Mallik said, pointing to two other cars that pulled into the parking area.
Mallik could tell that at least two of the passengers were injured. He looked at Bo; Bo shrugged and apparently decided to drop the attitude. They both walked toward the newcomers’ cars together to see what they could do to help and find out who was joining their motley group.
Mallik reached into the back of his Humvee and produced a can of spraypaint.
As Mallik passed the open gate, he spraypainted a symbol on it: A downward-pointing arrow with a flat line at the top, and two crossing lines through the center.
Kajok looked at it. “Wh- What’s that?” he asked Mallik.
“My symbol, I guess,” Mallik tossed the spraypaint can to the side. “And maybe the symbol of whatever survivors are left.”
Kajok involuntarily raised his hand to his chest and stared at the symbol.
Large, heavy raindrops began to fall.
© 1996–2009 JCRogers