If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I would never have lifted a finger. —Albert Einstein, 1947
General Daniel ‘Ironballs’ Kromleski, USMC, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, turned to the Secretary of Defense—Robert Wizelkowski—and shook his head, inhaling an enormous amount of smoke from an equally enormous cigar; normally it was off limits to smokers—in this section of the Pentagon—but these were anything but normal times. The year was 2045 and the world was on the brink of nuclear disaster, a war from which no one was very likely to survive, and yet those in the know were scrambling to do just that—to survive. The president and most of his cabinet were intending to take up residence in a nuclear submarine the likes of which had never been seen before. Recently completed, it had been on only one maiden voyage but that single voyage had exceeded even the builder’s expectations, along with the scientists and engineers who had designed and developed it. It was—without a doubt—the only chance for survival in the war that was to come. A monstrosity—the size of three football fields—it was aptly named the U.S.S. Survivors and was said to be able to stay on the deepest ocean bottom for twelve months, with no threat to its inhabitants which—due to oxygen and supply levels—had been limited to a strict number of 505 plus the crew of 50 and their families upping that number to 650. The submarine was armed with enough ballistic missiles to blow the entire land mass known as China off the map, which it intended to do, as soon as President Ronald Raygun gave the order, which everyone—in the know—now knew he intended to do. Kromleski opened the door to the Command Center and nodded at several generals and politicians, whom he well-knew were all jockeying for position to ensure themselves a seat on the coming U.S.S. Survivors maiden voyage. Kromleski elbowed the Secretary of Defense, who he had established had had his own seats reserved long in advance—in the ribs—and motioned towards an isolated office in the rear of the room, even as Lt. General Mark Walpin smiled at Bill Mills, the Secretary of State, and nodded towards the two men, then leaned towards Mills and lowered his voice. “Heh, two polocks in a room together, wonder what kinna ideas’ll come outta there, huh Bill?”
Mills chuckled but quickly straightened up—as did the rest of the room—as the president walked in, followed by Colonel Sam Mace, who carried a small black bag about the size of a football, a nickname bestowed upon it a century in the past. The president walked to a podium at the front of the room and raised his hand in the air—motioning for silence.
“Ladies and gentlemen can I have your attention please? Colonel, the football please,” he barked at Mace.
“Yessir, Mr. President, “Mace replied and handed him the bag.
“I have already been in contact with Raven Rock and the nuclear control orders have been sent out to all silos. Ladies and gentlemen we are in a state of war and it is of proportions that I’m sure you are all aware of and we have launched our smart rocks but I must tell you that the majority of the missiles headed our way are already past their mid-course phase. I must leave now—as we are on a very tight schedule—and please, everyone with clearance to Camp David or Raven Rock, please head there immediately.”
President Raygun was just stepping off the podium when a senior white house undersecretary grabbed his arm. “Please Mister President I must get my family aboard the U.S.S. Survivors?”
“C’mon Adam don’t you and your family have access to Raven Rock?”
“Sir, Raven Rock’s history and you know it—those warheads have over a mil-yun megatons.”
The president glanced at his watch and frowned. There wasn’t much time left and he didn’t know how many of those in the room had seats on the U.S.S. Survivors and he didn’t want to start a panic. He glanced at Colonel Sam Mace and barked out an order, “See what you can do Sam.”
“Yes sir,” Mace replied, even as others in the room began mumbling about their respective war lodging’s and how much safer it would be on the U.S.S. Survivors.
As the president exited the room and Mace huddled with the undersecretary and several other pols, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Daniel ‘Ironballs’ Kromleski shook his head and smiled—he had just been awarded three seats on the U.S.S. Survivors, by none other than the Secretary of Defense, Robert Wizelkowski. “You know Bob I was doing a bit of reading the other day.”
“Really, trying something new Ironballs?”
Kromleski smiled—they had been friends for almost a decade—both men were staunch conservatives who knew how to get votes when they were needed. “Well I was going over some policy going back nearly a century, the sixties.”
“Nineteen-Sixty’s—whew—long time ago, huh?”
“Yeah—know what I found? They had figured out a way to deter nuclear war.”
“Oh? A deterrent to nuclear war, are you kidding?”
“No and it worked, come to think of it. Till now, that is. Yeah, they called it Mad, hah!”
“Yup, M period, A period, D period,” the general rasped.
“Yeah, what’d it stand for Dan?”
“Mutual assured destruction,” Kromleski said, shaking his head.
“It sounds like they were way ahead of their time to me Ironballs.”
“Yeah, way ahead,” Ironballs replied, mad now himself
Some day the earth will weep, she will beg for her life, she will cry with tears of blood. You will make a choice, if you will help her or let her die and when she dies you too will die. —John Hollow Horn, Oglala Lakota, 1932.
“ … Someday, science may have the existence of mankind in its power and the human race will commit suicide by blowing up the world.” —Henry Adams, 1862.
The party continued unabated and everyone seemed outwardly happy. The U.S.S. Survivors was in the deepest of what had—at one time, many centuries ago—been the deep blue sea, and it was heading deeper; no one—not even the captain or anyone in the crew— knew exactly where they were, it was all done by computers, but they did know one thing, they were—ultimately—headed for the deepest part of the ocean known to mankind, where they would sink to the bottom and take up refuge for a period of approximately twelve months.
The U.S.S. Survivors was filled to capacity, and then some—700 human bodies—fifty over the capacity the scientists and engineers had figured to be the absolute maximum if there were to be enough oxygen and supplies to survive for the twelve months that they had deemed long enough before even considering an attempt at resurfacing, but then many of those same engineers and scientists, knowing full-well the outcome of the nuclear war underway, had demanded entry to the U.S.S. Survivors and it had been touch and go for a few harrowing hours, as several of them had forced their way aboard, armed with nuclear weapons themselves. But, the president—a former five star general in the Army—had eventually prevailed, disarming the men but ultimately allowing them a place aboard the submarine.
“ … the survivors would envy the dead. —Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Soviet Union, 1962.
General Daniel ‘Ironballs’ Kromleski sat in a corner and stared at his hands. He was no longer happy that he had gotten he and his wife and daughter aboard the U.S.S. Survivors, for he was well aware that the end was near and took little solace that it would indeed be the end for everyone else in the submarine, as well as the entire human race and the planet formerly known as the earth. Kromleski glanced at Colonel Sam Mace and scowled—he never should have passed the football to the president—and the president never should have delivered the gold codes to the nuclear command posts around the world—and the commanders at the regional commands never should have carried those nuclear control orders out. But, then—what had he done—what had he done? He felt like standing up and screaming it out, what had they all done? Insanity, that’s what it was—absolute insanity—and here he sat, as all around him members of what had once been known as the human race celebrated. Celebrated what? Were they actually celebrating suicide?
Kromleski glanced across the room at Thomas Connelly—an engineer and scientist who he respected as few others—and when Connelly caught his eye he knew Connelly knew the truth also. He had first met Connelly in Georgia, where Connelly had been an aerospace engineer at Lockheed Martin—in Marietta—and Kromleski had been the second in command at a large base there. They had resumed their friendship several years later when Connelly headed up a large nuclear project at Lockheed’s headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland and Kromleski had been reassigned to the Pentagon. Kromleski knew Connelly to be a sensible man who well-knew that the earth as they had known it would never again be a reality; it would be thousands of years before the radiation would allow anything to survive, much less the earth itself. He stood up and walked past a politico’s wife, who was so drunk she apparently didn’t realize she had taken her clothes off, or perhaps she did, Kromleski surmised, as he watched her leading another general into a back-room. He nodded at Connelly and Connelly returned his look of disgust. They stood together watching what was fast becoming an orgiastic circus, and Connelly swallowed a mouthful of whiskey and groaned. “You know we’re dead, don’t you Ironballs?”
Kromleski rubbed his eyes and spied the Secretary of Defense, his long-time friend Robert Wizelkowski, and remembered a discussion they had once had, seeming to have been long ago in the past now but in reality the same day the football had been passed. “Did you know Tom that way back in the Nineteen-Sixties they had a name for what we’ve done? They called it Mad, Tom. M period, A period, D period.”
“Really, what’d it stand for Dan?”
Kromleski grinned harshly at the truth of what he was about to say. “Mutual assured destruction,” he growled.
Connelly grinned despite himself but his soul felt totally dead, drained and devoid any longer of even the slightest of human emotions. “Sounds like they were ahead of their time Ironballs,” Connelly croaked, hollowly.
“Yeah—way ahead,” Ironballs replied, beyond mad now, as his very soul cried out for a word—any word—that could describe what he felt—but there was no reply—for his soul was dead and so his husk of a body, which now reacted as it had unwittingly and unknowingly been programmed to, settled for being mad, just as it had settled for—and taken its part in—the destruction of Mother Earth, which Kromleski now realized the earth had truly been, having heard the term many times at environmental protests, usually by the few Native Americans still among the living, but discounting it, as he had discounted all sanity over his long military career, the only way he could justify all the orders he had given, orders that he now knew had meant—and would now mean—the death of literally billions of human beings—not to mention the animals and every other form of life known on earth. And so, he now accepted being only mad and, as he gazed at Connelly, both men wondered how long it would be—before the end—the absolute end of the world—came?
Connelly—whose minor in college had been religious philanthropy, inhaled deeply—feeling—sensing that the end of the world was near, as his hands began shaking and his entire body began trembling, he stammered: “God Ironballs, this is the Armageddon,” causing Kromleski to sneer at his friend.
“Yeah—right—it’s the Armageddon alright. So, if it’s the Armageddon—like you say—where’s the good?”
“The good?” Connelly replied.
“Yeah, where’s the good—where’s God—the Savior—where’s the good in this Armageddon, c’mon Tom, this is man-made and you—of all people—should know that?”
Connelly scowled and his shaking continued. “No, the Lord Gee-zuz is coming back now Dan—I know it—I just know that—now.”
Daniel “Ironballs” Kromleski, shook his head but said nothing. He was out of words, he was a soldier first and last and he had been ever and always faithful to that as his Marine Corps motto had demanded of him. He was a success in life he knew he was, as he silently—mentally—went over his past life. He would die just as he had lived, he silently decided: ‘”with no fear and no expectations of any “promised land” or anything else”‘—even as Tom Connelly shook and trembled, as he awaited his Lord and Savior.
Keith G. Laufenberg has been writing for over 30 years and has had over a hundred poems and short stories published. His work has appeared in such magazines and journals as: AIM Magazine; Amaterasu; aaduna; The Maryland Review; Spoiled Ink; Down in the Dirt; Pleaides; The Oracular Tree; Prole Magazine, Pulp Empire; NuVein;The Pink Chameleon; Mobius Magazine; The Washington Pastime; Rymfire Books; One Million Stories; Euonia Review; Short Story.Me; The Spillway Review; Author Trek; Struggle Magazine; NeonbeamMagazine; The Write Room; The Corner Club Press; Pot Luck Magazine; OMG Magazine; An Electric Tragedy; Write from Wrong Magazine; The Fine Line; Danse Macabre Magazine; The Whortleberry Press; The Ultimate Writer; Fringe Magazine; Northern Stars Magazine;The Writing Disorder; d.ustb.in; The Phoenix Magazine; The Legions of Light Magazine; KZine Magazine; The Earth Comes First; et al, and he has also had 2 novels published: “Miami Rock” and “Semper-Fi-Do-or-Die”, both in 2007 and he now has three other novels and five books of short stories on Amazon Kindle which can be assessed at his website: www.kglaufenberg.com