tagNovels and NovellasNo Future Ch. 89

No Future Ch. 89


Mark & Molly

This wasn't the first time that Mark and Molly had sat together on the sofa transfixed by the vision of a huge slowly growing and self-enveloping luminescent cloud tumbling ever upwards into the sky into the now familiar shape of a mushroom. This wasn't even the first time that the couple had watched the image of exactly the same thermonuclear explosion, although there were so many others that could have been shown from either the last two nuclear wars or the current one. It might well be that there were other images that were somehow more dramatic, more evocatively posed or in some other way more striking. The most disturbing aspect of the image wasn't so much its cinematic or aesthetic qualities, but rather where it had taken place.

Somewhere beneath the billowing cloud of deadly radiation was the site of what had once been the world's most holy city. And now all that remained of the City of Jerusalem's three or four millennia of history was being lifted upwards above the atmosphere, towards the troposphere and even the stratosphere. The holiest of the Holy Shrines—the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock and Mount Calvary—were now nothing more than radioactive ash being borne high into the heavens to rain down on the Middle East and, depending on the prevailing winds, over Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Unlike the many other cities that had been incinerated, annihilated, vaporised and irradiated, this was one whose name was known to everyone in the world, whose presence would be genuinely missed and for which many people had a genuine emotional attachment. For Molly it was more from her school day memories of having sung the verses of William Blake's Jerusalem. This hymn was performed everywhere in the period of the Government for National Unity as it was just about the only decent patriotic tune that had any relevance to England rather than Great Britain. For Mark, Jerusalem's significance was more in the hazily remembered Easter story whose events took place around an ancient city long since covered by concrete whose foundations had now been uncovered in the most brutal and radical way imaginable.

And now Jerusalem was no more.

If it was ever to be re-inhabited, it would be only after many generations. By then almost everything about the city would be charred, annihilated and perhaps long-forgotten. The spirit of Jerusalem might outlive the city that was now as totally obliterated as Judaism's most sacred temple in the age of the Romans.

Where now in the world was there a place for veneration shared by all pilgrims of the Holy Scriptures, whether the Torah, the Bible or the Q'uran? Certainly not Mecca, Rome or Salt Lake City. Nor, since the many retaliatory missiles hit their primary target, the city of Tel Aviv.

"I can't believe it!" moaned Molly. "I just can't believe it."

"Doesn't the Bible predict that the world will end when Jerusalem falls?" Mark asked anxiously.

"What, in Revelations?" replied Molly. "That's just a load of hallucinogen-inspired bullshit. St John the Revelator was some kind of First Century smack-head. And, anyway, where was the number of the beast, Gog and Magog, and all the stuff about the Antichrist?"

"Maybe the Israeli Prime Minister was the Antichrist."

"Not a very impressive one, was he?"

"I don't like this programme, Mummy," pleaded Monica who was sprawled across her chair in the corner of the living room. "Can't we watch something else? Aren't there any cartoons?"

"Shush, dear," said Molly. "This is history. You'll remember this day for the rest of your life."

"Why?" the young girl asked, unsure of whether she'd missed something important. "What's so special about it?"

"You see these pictures on television," said Mark. "Those are real. That is what's really happening. It's not a science fiction movie. It's a real nuclear war. And it's happening in Israel and Palestine and Lebanon and Turkey and all over the Middle East. Millions of people are dying. It's really very very important."

"It's boring to watch the same pictures over and over and over again," moaned Monica who wasn't at all convinced by her father's explanation.

The days leading to the launch of all-out nuclear war in the Middle East made the actual event seem strangely inevitable. The term 'sleepwalking into apocalypse' had been used again and again by media pundits as a description of how the logic of Israeli and Arab intransigence had driven them inexorably towards this defining moment. It was a cliché that described a real worry and didn't fully express the complexities of a dispute that involved several nations, some—such as Turkey and Iran—who weren't at all Arabic, and amongst which there had been various states of undeclared war for several years now.

The quarrels had become steadily more heated over the past few weeks and months as both sides tried to bring their competing perceived interests to some kind of resolution. Everyone knew that the real catalyst of the conflict was the presidential election in the fragmented United States. The relatively wealthy North Eastern United States and the Western Union were edging towards electing a president who whether a Democrat, a Unity Democrat or a Reformed Republican, was unlikely to be supportive of the increasingly belligerent Republic of Israel. In contrast, the more populous and politically aberrant Republic of North America was becoming ever more gung-ho for the Jewish Cause, whilst manifestly lacking the financial or military muscle to back up its rhetoric. As Israel's sole backer in the world became progressively more impotent, there was a sense that now was the last chance for Israel to employ its formidable military assets before they became obsolescent and useless.

The unthinkable alternative was for the Republic of Israel and its neighbours to compromise and arrive at some kind of mutually advantageous accommodation.

"I should be going to work," said Mark who was now working on a very peculiar workshift to accommodate the time zones of his employers in the Far East. "I could be late."

"I bet there'll be no public transport," said Molly. "And there'll be no one in the office when you get there."

"Why would that be? Israel's thousands of miles away."

"There's a risk of fallout. Internet communication will be flaky at best. Most people will be watching the news at home."

"I know. I know," said Mark. "But I've got to make the effort. I'll have to walk to the office if necessary."

"Best of luck," said Molly sardonically.

Mark nodded with resignation and sidled out of the cramped living room. As he walked towards the front door of the apartment he could hear Monica's voice still whining: "Are you sure we can't watch cartoons, Mummy?"

Having said that he'd walk to work if he had to, Mark was more or less obliged to do so when he walked to Holloway Road underground station and found it closed. A hastily scribbled note announced that normal services would be resumed as soon as possible, but gave no indication as to when that might be. Fortunately, it was a dry if somewhat windy day so Mark was able to walk the six or seven kilometres to the office without too much discomfort.

It was a bizarre experience nonetheless. London was eerily quiet. There were very few cars, bicycles or horses on the road and those who were sitting inside the few pubs that were open were viewing the same film footage of Jerusalem's final moments that Mark had just been watching at home. Even so, Mark was careful to stay as visible as he could under the faltering streetlamps and as far from the shadows of the early autumn dusk as he could. There were those who wouldn't care whether bombs were landing in London itself and would show no compunction in murdering a vulnerable pedestrian for something as petty as a mobile phone or an overcoat.

When Mark finally arrived at the offices of Sig Mu Inc. he was almost surprised to find that the doors were open and that the receptionist was sitting at her desk. But then it was likely that, like many ancillary workers in London's offices these days, she couldn't afford a home of her own and slept in a small dormitory in the office block's basement.

"Many people in tonight, Ophelia?" Mark asked after he'd swiped his security card at the entrance and let the body scanners trace his contours to confirm that he wasn't carrying any weapons.

"Not many," said Ophelia. "It's all what's going on in the Middle East. Look, the Israelis launched a missile at Ankara but it's been intercepted. Baghdad wasn't so lucky."

"Are there any cities left in Israel?" Mark asked, while looking at a map on the television screen which displayed a map of the Middle East with little mushroom clouds slowly pulsating over various points.

"I don't think there's been any more launched towards Israel for several hours," said Ophelia. "Perhaps it's all over."

Mark strolled over to the escalator and punched in a code that allowed him access to Sig Mu's offices on the twenty-fourth floor. Ophelia might well be right. If the last two nuclear wars were anything to go by, although the last happened when he was only very young, the pattern would be an abrupt exchange of nuclear warheads, followed by a few stray explosions and spasmodic retaliatory launches from hitherto unknown missiles silos or other launch pads, and then a kind of radio-silence as the nations who'd just destroyed themselves and one another came to comprehend the true horror of what they'd just done.

Mark was assured by the television commentators that the days, months and years to follow were certain to follow much the same pattern as that after the last two nuclear wars. No one could be really sure how things might turn out but there would be little value now in launching more nuclear weapons, even assuming that any were still in reserve. As a deterrent to attack, the formidable nuclear arsenals of the Middle East had quite clearly been a total failure. As a method of cataclysmic destruction on a scale that the newscasters already claimed exceeded by several factors the first two nuclear wars, they'd unequivocally demonstrated the hell they were capable of unleashing.

As Mark sat at his desk, he studied his e-mails while also keeping an eye on the news broadcasts his fellow employees were also watching. Naturally, there was the tardy release of a notice from the company's Pyongyang head office which announced that due to the real risk of radioactive fallout on all European offices, especially those in the Mediterranean Union and the South, employees would be excused from attending work for the next week. Time taken off would be deducted from annual leave.

"What do you think this fallout will do?" wondered Olaf who normally worked in the secure office at the end of the corridor but was today wandering aimlessly around Mark's section. "Will it make my hair drop out?"

"Not much danger of that happening to me," joked Mike as he patted his bald pate. He was one of half dozen or so other people in an open plan office that normally accommodated several hundred.

"It's best to stay indoors, it says here," said Mark who indicated the health advisory leaflet attached to the company e-mail. "The main risk is cancer and radiation sickness. It also recommends filtered water and oxygen masks."

"Where the fuck are you supposed to buy an oxygen mask?" exclaimed Mike. "The last one must have been sold weeks ago."

"It's the nuclear winter we've got to worry about most," said Olaf.

"Nuclear winter?" said Mike. "What kind of shit is that?"

"Well, not nuclear winter so much as increased cloud cover," Olaf corrected himself. "Nuclear winter is for the big one..."

"The big one?" Mike queried.

"You know, when the big nuclear powers, like China, Russia and Germany, let theirs off. You know like in the last century when it was between the Soviet Union and the United States..."

"Neither of those countries exists anymore," Mark pointed out.

"The nukes still do," said Olaf. "Anyway, it's all the dust and debris and shit that the nuclear clouds put into the sky and block out the sun and make things fucking cold. That's what a nuclear winter is. You've seen the news programmes. There's been a fuck of a lot of bombs going off. It's gonna be real crowded up there in the upper atmosphere. All the stuff that goes up has got to come down, but before it does it spreads across the sky and blocks out the sun..."

"That'll be a change from all the global warming shit that causes all the droughts and floods and heat waves," said Mike.

"Yeah, whatever," said Olaf. "So, even though we're fucking hundreds of kilometres away, we're still going to suffer. Fucking radiation and freezing winters..."

"...And mutations, cancers and health warnings on everything imported from the Middle East," chimed in Mike.

"Yeah, whatever," conceded Olaf. "We're gonna suffer for years to come!"

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