This is a continuation of the story I posted here so I suggest you read that one first so you know what’s going on. This whole thing is based off of a dream I had and although for now it’s just a short story I might see if I can turn it into a bigger story and have it become a novel. I’m on a cross country bus ride right now so I copied and pasted this over from my phone so please forgive any spacing issues or other issues. Anyway, here you go.
Jericho worked. He was the Chief Night Engineer and thus he had been working all night at Drum 074. His shift was almost over though, and soon the Chief Day Engineer would be here to relieve him. He had slept most of the day, as was his custom, but he was still very tired. For the 12 hours that he was on shift, it was all on him, and there were many problems to solve. He didn’t like leaving loose ends for the day team.
The control center where he worked was a small space. He could do most of his work from here though. Much of the night was spent monitoring various systems, then noticing errors or deviations from the norm and taking steps to correct them. Jericho very rarely had to go outside the control center to correct actual mechanical problems, which was good, as putting on all the necessary hearing protection and other equipment was a real pain.
His assistant, Clark, worked at the computer next to him, trying to correct an issue that the oversight computer had identified but could not correct on its own. Clark was good company and Jericho was frequently thankful he had someone to pass the long nights with. When things were slow, the men would talk, mostly about life before the war. By now they had told each other just about everything that two men could share with each other while still maintaining a professional distance from one another. Jericho was Clark’s boss after all.
The men were silent now though, as they worked together on a problem in once of Drum 074’s subsystems. This silence was both a part of their working relationship and mandated by government policy. Whenever any situation arose that could compromise the function of a Drum, the control center had to be “sterile”, meaning only conversation pertinent to solving the problem was allowed. The government was listening, and would know if the night crew deviated from this policy during a time of danger. This was such a time.
Clark broke the silence, “I think I’ve found the problem. This solenoid here is flashing code ‘C’”. He gestured at a display to his right.
Jericho studied the screen for a moment. “Alright, try the rotation procedure. Initiate countdown following next Drum beat. On my mark.”
The men waited a moment. In the control center, far underground, the firing of the guns was softer, but still very noticeable.
The room vibrated sharply for a moment.
Jericho led the countdown and Clark counted with him. When he reached four seconds until the next firing, they both counted aloud together.
“Three, two, one, mark.”
Clark flipped a switch and somewhere, in the vast machinery of the gun, a single piece slipped gently into place.
“Master Alarm off,” said Clark, “System optimal.”
“Acknowledge. Add it to the log.”
Jericho relaxed and turned back to his screen. The problem they had just solved had started off minor, but had been getting increasingly worse every 14 seconds. Had they not found a solution in the next 17 minutes, Jericho would have had to radio Sector and let them know that gun would be going down. This would not have been a huge problem, but Jericho liked to avoid communicating with his superiors as much as possible. Sometimes he wondered if his subordinates felt the same way.
Jericho and Clark were mostly silent now. They were fast approaching the end of a 12-hour shift and their thoughts were on the train ride back to the village and sleep.
“Did you see that the phosphates shipment is late again?” asked Clark.
“Yes, but they’ve been late before. They’ll get here, and then our gun will have all the propellant it needs to keep firing.”
“It’s not just our gun this time though, the whole sector hasn’t gotten their shipment.”
Jericho’s stomach tightened a little at this.
“Well as long as they can get it to one of the guns in sector, we’ll be fine. We just need the one, really.”
Of course, Clark knew this, but Jericho wanted to reassure him. Clark was a little younger than him and sometimes Jericho thought of him as a little brother. Whether Jericho believed this was different. It was what the government had told them at least. Sometimes, Jericho wondered if the government was just lying to the people to keep anyone form panicking when one or two guns had gone down in the past. These things had happened in the past though, and the invaders hadn’t broken through, so he couldn’t be sure. In the end, no one knew what would have to happen for the invaders to break through their wall, besides the invaders, and they were unknowable.
An electronic buzzer distracted Jericho from these thoughts. He looked upat another of the myriad of screens and saw Julia and Gregor, the day team, waiting outside on the surface. Their suits made them look like astronauts, but they would be heading the wrong way if they wanted to get to outer space. Through his screens, Jericho could see that the day team had arrived alone. Having verified this, he flipped a switch on his panel to allow them into the elevator that would take them underground to where the control room was.
Jericho and Clark prepared for the end of their shift. Julia and Gregor had arrived at the control room’s level and were taking off their clunky suits in the adjacent room. A light turned on above the heavy door to the control room. Jericho flipped another switch at his control panel and the door slowly slid open.
“You’re not leaving me with any projects are you?” asked Julia as soon as the door was open wide enough for her to see Jericho.
“No projects” said Jericho with a smile.
“Except for the phosphates being nowhere to be found, you mean?”
Jericho’s smile faded, remembering the phosphates, and for a moment thinking about the long chain of logistics that led to each mine fired from The Drums, the long chain that led to each of the thousands of guns all over the world. The long line of logistics that had so many points of failure and that he had not control over. The long line of logistics, that if it failed, would cause them to be, in engineering parlance, absolutely and royally-
“Yo, Earth to Jerico!” quipped Julia.
“Oh sorry, yeah well the phosphates are a logistics problem and we’re engineers and therefore, it’s not our problem. So no, no projects.”
“If you say so. Well, in any case, what have you got for me?”
Jericho talked Julia through the events of the night, and the messages from Sector, of which there were always a few.
It was cramped with the four of them in there, but Jericho enjoyed these 30 minutes at the end of his work day when he got to talk to Julia. As the Chief Day Engineer, she and Jericho shared a special bond and he could connect with Julia in a way he couldn’t with Clark. As much as he liked talking with Julia though, he was also looking forward to getting some food and getting some sleep. Gregor and Clark had finished their shift change brief and it was time to go. They still had to get their suits on, ride the elevator up to the surface, and take the train into town before they could sleep or eat, and by then they’d only have 11 hours until their shift started again.
As Jericho went to close to the door to the control center, Julia said, “Hey, only another week until we get our two days off. Maybe if you save up some beer credits we could have a party.”
“Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Alright, well I’ll see you in 12 hours!”
“More like 11 hours and 30 minutes now!” joked Clark.
“Yeah, yeah, whatev-“, Julia was cut off by the door closing.
The desert sped past as Jericho looked out the window of the train. They had already passed through the tunnel that led through the mountain near Drum 074, and Jericho had removed his hearing protection. The mountain provided the workers’ village some protection from the noise produced by the Drum, reducing its blasts from an ear-splitting roar to the regular, but still loud percussion that Jericho was used to. It was fortuitous that there was a mountain near Drum 074 as this shortened the safe distance in which the village could reside, which in turn meant that Jericho could get back to his apartment sooner. Jericho was thankful for this. He found himself dreadfully tired and was looking forward to getting some sleep.
Clark was fast asleep across the aisle. Jericho leaned his head against the window. There wasn’t much to watch. The desert was dotted with nothing but shrub like bushes. The sun, blazing overhead as usual, had baked the ground into hard, cracked soil. Heat waves shimmered off the ground in the distance before a far-off mountain range. Beyond it, Jericho could see clouds that would never reach the desert.
Jericho was thinking about the party Julia had mentioned. It would be nice to relax for a bit after a long two weeks of 12-hours on, 12-hours off work. He was also thinking of the phosphate delivery though. Even though it wasn’t part of his work, it concerned him. So many moving pieces had to come together every day, or else it would all fall apart.
Jericho liked to think of himself as a very calm and adaptable person. The truth though was that in these moments after work, he was filled with anxiety. It was like after he left the control center, he was still there. He closed his eyes and saw the control panels, the screens. His mind ran over the night’s problems. The tremble of the gun’s firing brought his thoughts back to the gun itself, firing steadily. And at what? He opened his eyes and gazed upwards at the pale blue sky, all signs of dawn now erased. The invaders were out there, waiting. And for what? They had tried no further attempts to break through in the last six years.
Were they biding their time? Waiting the Earth like a sieging army? Sharks around a diver’s cage. Did they know in their alien minds what Jericho knew? That the whole system, in the long run, was not sustainable. The global government had said that they would only use the guns until they were ready for the offensive. When would that be? How long could they wait with the Devil at their doorstep?
Jericho’s heart was pounding in his chest now. He shut his eyes tight and tried to calm himself. He had wanted to save up his beer credits for the party but he decided to allow himself one beer tonight. Maybe two. He desperately needed it, as much as Jericho hated needing anything.
The computerized voice drew him back to the train. Clark stirred.
The train slowed as it pulled into the station at the center of the town and stopped. At the doors to the train, Clark bid a farewell to Jericho.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m heading straight to bed,” Clark said.
“I’m going to head to the store, I need to grab a few things.”
“Alright, well I’ll see you in,” Clark checked his watch, “10 hours and 47 minutes.”
“Don’t remind me!”
Clark laughed and headed in the direction of the barracks.
Jericho walked the short distance to the general store. The whole town was built around the train station and the store, with the barracks in a semicircle around them. It had everything the workers might need, from medical services to a small theater where they could see old movies. Most importantly, it had the commissary where the workers could exchange their food credits for a limited supply of food items and their beer credits for an even more limited selection of beer.
Between Government Choice Beer and The Drum Amber, Jericho went with the amber. He was pretty sure it was the same beer in different cans, but some of the workers claimed that they could taste the difference. Jericho definitely couldn’t. He grabbed two cans and headed to the cashier.
“Is this all for you, sir?” asked the smiling cashier, an elderly man likely deemed unfit for any other task in the village.
“Yes, that’s it.”
Jericho noticed his hand was shaking slightly as he handed over the credits. The windows to the store rattled with the firing of the Drum, adding to Jericho’s growing sense of instability.
“Do you acknowledge that consumption of alcohol within eight hours of a work shift is punishable by forfeiture of food credits, incarceration, or death?” the man asked, still smiling.
“Alright then, have a nice day!”
Jericho took the bag with his beer and checked his watch. It read 1018 and 17 seconds. If he got to sleep by 1100, he could sleep until 1900 and then he’d have an hour to get to the Drum. Jericho started walking in the direction of the barracks.
Jericho walked briskly. His anxiety felt like a weight in his chest. He wanted to get to his room so he could lay down, close his eyes, and drink his beer. That would surely calm him down enough that he could get some sleep. He just had to make it to the barracks and it wasn’t far now.
He checked his watch again. It read 1019 and 42 seconds. Jericho took three more paces and stopped dead in his tracks. He had just noticed something horrible but he had to be sure. He looked down at his watch again as the seconds ticked by, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 10:20:00. The plastic bag slipped from Jericho’s hand and fell to the ground. He didn’t notice.
An overwhelming silence pressed against his eardrums. It seemed he could hear his heart pounding away in his chest. Another 14 seconds slipped by as Jericho turned and stared in the direction of Drum 074. It had stopped firing. He waited, staring at the mountain behind which the gun was hidden.
Please God, fire, he prayed for the first time in a long time.
It wasn’t just Drum 074 that wasn’t firing, his Drum as he liked to think of it. He couldn’t hear any of the guns firing.
Oh God, how long has it been?
Jericho stood there, frozen, waiting for the sound that all of humanity had grown so tired of. He thought he might pass out. He felt nauseous. His whole body was shaking. And then he remembered: the invaders, the aliens, the sharks waiting outside the diver’s cage, the sieging army. And he thought of himself, the workers in his village, all of humanity suddenly exposed, the wall behind which they had been hiding for six years crumbling around them. He saw all of this for an instant, the clarity of their situation forming in his mind.
Jericho craned his head toward the clear, blue sky.
For a moment, nothing happened, and in himself Jericho allowed the tiniest spark of hope to linger. Then it was extinguished.
The sky seemed to rend open with a blinding flash. Jericho shut his eyes tight for a moment and when he opened them, he could see what looked like a giant green ball of flame screaming across the sky. It roared as it crossed the sky, erasing the silence left by the ceasing of the guns. Jericho watched in horror as the projectile flew towards Drum 074 and disappeared behind the mountain. For a millisecond, the mountain was sheathed in unnatural green light, backlit by whatever hellish weapon the invaders had unleashed upon the Earth.
Then an enormous upsurge of metal, fire, and Earth flew into the air, flying well over the mountain in a magnificent explosion. It kept rising.
Jericho could do nothing but watch as a shockwave moved over the side of the mountain facing the village and raced towards him. He had just enough time to see every window in the store shatter before the shockwave hit him. It lifted Jericho off of his feet and he flew backwards through the air. He landed hard on his back and felt the air rush out of him.
As he lay there, coughing, trying to breathe, he saw another projectile racing towards the Earth. This one struck the mountain and the entire mountain exploded, sending rock, some of it molten, in all directions, including towards the village. As the debris flew in the sky, it blotted out the sun, and Jericho had the sinking realization that the debris was flying towards him.
Jericho rolled onto his stomach, scrambled to his feet and started running for his life. For the first time, he noticed his surroundings. Workers were scrambling into the barracks and hiding under vehicles. Among the din of the destruction, he thought he heard people calling out to him to get inside. He had seen the mountain though and knew exactly where the next projectile was headed.
He sprinted past the barracks and headed out into the open desert beyond the village. He could now see long green comets of flame or maybe, probably, plasma raining from the sky in all directions. Some were going over the horizon, some were hitting the distant mountains.
He heard another roaring noise now, it seemed incredibly close behind him. He turned just in time to see the train station disappear in an incandescent green ball of fire. The plasma shot out in all directions. Human figures were briefly lit against the glow of the plasma before it consumed them. The barracks tore away from the ground and disappeared as the blast swept over them. The tendrils of energy rushed out towards Jericho. In an instant another shockwave was upon him, and it lifted Jericho into the air and tore his clothes to shreds. He hurtled, tumbling violently along the ground, and felt his ribs crack.
The cacophony of the attack had been replaced by a dull ringing in his ears. He looked back and saw scenes of horror playing out in silence. The village, or what remained of it, was afire. No buildings stood. In the distance, he could make out a person on fire. They flailed briefly and collapsed. Ejecta from the many impacts had now completely obscured the sun and a grotesque twilight had fallen over the desert. In the other direction, green fire continued to rain down in all directions.
The faces of his friends, his coworkers, the store clerk all flashed before him. Julia, Clark, Gregor: they were all surely dead, vaporized, crushed, or burned alive.
This was, at long last, too much for Jericho to adapt to. As he looked back into the open desert in front of him, he saw green fire raining down in a line. Miles away now, but getting closer every second.
They’re carpet bombing us.
He looked around for some place to hide, for a rock to scurry under or a trench to hide in but he found nothing. It was just open desert and shrubs. His mind no longer seemed capable of thought. Jericho, the engineer, who had been so smart, who had been so instrumental in saving his portion of humanity, was now reduced to a single, animalistic instinct.
He began digging at the ground, furiously. He had nothing but his hands with which to dig and the ground was very hard. The incoming projectiles crept closer in the distance. His fingernails tore off one by one as he dug frantically, but Jericho was oblivious to this, just as he was oblivious to the burns on his back. He kept digging and the fires crept closer. The heat of the carpet bombing was reaching him now. There wasn’t much time left and soon the fire would be upon him. He was nothing but an animal with a mind, nearly naked, digging with hands that nature had long ago evolved beyond the need for digging. The next round of explosions were very close now. The hole he was digging was just large enough to fit his body in. It was very shallow. He didn’t think it would be enough. The ground shuddered with an explosion far to Jericho’s left, and another followed in a line that if continued would leave very close to his position.
Jericho threw himself into the hole and waited for his probable death. He was nearly naked, badly burned, and the skin had rubbed off of his fingers as he dug. He laid there face down in the shallow pit and crossed his hands over the back of his head. He pressed himself into the ground as hard as he could, as if trying to disappear into the ground.
He had time for just one though, an image really, of a cockroach, hiding in the dark places of the Earth, trying to evade death.
That’s all we are, all we ever were, he thought, something to be crushed, exterminated.
An incredible roaring filled the air, loud enough to break the through the ringing in his ears. It sounded like it was right above him.
Jericho shut his eyes tight and waited.