NUKES 1  ·  NUKES 2  ·  NUKES 3  ·  NUKES 4  ·  NUKES 5  ·  NUKES 6  ·  NUKES 7
NUKES 8  ·  NUKES 9  ·  NUKES 10  ·  NUKES 11  ·  NUKES 12  ·  NUKES 13

chapter fourteen
Part Six

Slumber seemed to take him too quickly lately, as though the rumbling of a machine were all it took to quiet him internally and sedate his higher mind. Yet despite this each lurch and jostle would awaken him enough to map where they were, if not where they were going.

It had quite honestly felt as though he'd been like this for weeks and maybe he had. Each time, the quiet of the convoy as it stopped prompted him to hyper-alert status for reasons he didn't know, and as he looked around all Ozeman could wonder was why no one else ever seemed to need sleep.

It was during one of these brief moments of alertness that Ozeman found himself drifting between the concern that their actions would lead to a much larger nuclear exchange which might trap his people below ground forever; and worry that they wouldn't be successful in delivering their First Strike as planned, thereby losing the element of surprise.

It seemed an odd contrast of worries but no more so than Ozeman's desire to return to the comfort of the dingy, dreary Colony and it's illusion of normalcy. Where he once longed to escape the repetitive boredom of colony life, he now feared he'd already spent too much time among the Hawks for his soul.

He startled awake again, unawares he had drifted off, clutching at the side rail beside his little seat in this Command Tank. Which one was it again? It didn't matter. He clutched and tried to remain in his seat as the lumbering multi-ton beast drove over another hill.

The inclines these vehicles could tackle without stopping boggled his mind and as they crested each one and came down the other side Ozeman fought a wave of nausea that wouldn't have been out of place on a sailing ship in rough seas.

Quickly the tank turned and then an odd noise, a set of gears grinding, sure sign the tank was switching to reverse, sure enough that it was followed instantly by a lunge in the opposite direction as the tank lurched backwards a few feet and then came to the sort of halt normally felt when one hits something solid.

The flurry of activity inside the tank alarmed Ozeman and he wondered what he'd missed while the crew worked hard and fast to rotate the firing turret above them. The Tank Commander, a scraggly 2nd Lieutenant, fumbled blindly by his feet in a nearly vain effort to release the clasps holding the Nuke in place before hefting it to his lap while barking orders to his Gunner to get the flaps open.

Ozeman almost yelled at the Commander to set the Nuke's switch properly, as he'd instructed everyone, but he held back when he saw the L.T. remember, reach and respond as required. Ozeman sighed in relief but quickly that feeling evaporated when he saw the Coolant in the canister begin to leak out the bottom of the Nuke and over the Lieutenant's hand.

The corrosion of that liquid ate through to the bone instantly, so fast the Tank Commander didn't have time to react, but Ozeman's heart raced as he realized they were all trapped inside the confines of a now radioactive vault and the Nuke, leaking as it was, wouldn't detonate properly, if at all.

The only casualties of this mission would be themselves, consigned to a slow and painful death as their internal organs turned on themselves in reaction to their exposure.

But the Lieutenant seemed oblivious to that as he managed to jam the cartridge in the firing slot and the Gunner quickly cycled through the lock and load sequence, pausing long enough to hear the Commander give the “Fire” command at which point the whole of their universe shuddered.

A moment later the distancing whine of the ballistic was replaced by the deep, resonate shudder of a low yield micro-nuke exploding some six thousand yards away.

It was then the Tank Commander began to feel the pain of the corrosion, as damaged nerve endings finally responded, and he began to scream. There was nothing anyone could do, which didn't stop the Gunner from standing as though to open the top hatch, which he did, before Ozeman could warn him off.

Their calculations wrong, the prevailing winds were blowing in their direction instead of away, which caused the choking, dark grey dust to swirl inside their tight chamber. Ozeman knew it didn't matter, they were dead anyway, but the culmination of events conspired to drive everyone to panic.

It should've been a relief, a promise of a quicker end to their own suffering, but in the midst of the grey cloud Ozeman's eyes were drawn to the faint green glow of a second Nuke, which thanks to an internally controlled timing board was quickly counting down to detonation. He moved in slow motion at the realization of their impending demise, scrambling from his seat to try and reach it, with the false hope of disarming it in time despite its blissful promise, but he wasn't fast enough and when the counter reached zero his universe reset.

“No!” Ozeman yelled, lunging from his seat as the Deuce lurched to the left. The Sergeant sitting beside him caught him before he fell too far.

“You alright, Lieutenant?”

Ozeman was sweat soaked and breathing hard but he nodded as he retook his seat and peered around. Everyone in the back had witnessed his outburst but most shrugged it off as a dream and went back to what they were doing, which for many was napping.

Ozeman glanced at the Local Action display to see where they were. They were still deep in the Far-Go bound tunnel by the looks of it but the Deuce was slowing and then veered off, starting down a branch line, away from the rest. He continued to study the board as four tanks and two more Deuce's followed them, slipping free from the long convoy of craft. Apparently he wasn't due at the mythical Kingdom, apparently they were going elsewhere.

Ozeman leaned back, sullenly shaken by his visions and confused why no one else seemed to have similar concerns.

* * *

When the tunnel diggers were carving out these subterranean highways they would on occasion set up camp in the tunnels rather than turn around and head back to the nearest base camp. To accommodate both their digging machines and the meager tents they soon began to plot their stop zones and then bored the machines wider in these parts to create the space they needed.

These wider patches rapidly took on an air of practicality, they provided for turn-arounds to get the transports back, and after completion created points where slower vehicles could stop and permit others to pass, or re-align the sequence of vehicles.

One such was the place the mini-convoy used for camp that night. Ozeman didn't know that this was the last stop before their destination, or that morning would bring the biggest surprise yet.

* * *