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“We ran out of food at 2:46 p.m. Mr. President.”
“Thank you Violet. Please, call me Frank. I say let formalities die like everything else. How's the surface looking today?”
“No one can tell sir. It's still pitch black up there. The rest of the world must be dead by now. No one has pounded on the airlocks for six months.”
“So we're the last ones on earth?” He asks.
Violet nods and smooths back her black hair with pale hands. Her thirty-something face has begun to show its age. Her hands move down her suit's ruffled wool to rest near her hips. She says, “We could have helped them, sir.”
“No,” Frank says. “Then we would have run out of food sooner.” His prominent brow furrows to make a ledge over the sharp architecture of his chin, cheeks, and nose. He stands up behind his desk to reveal a scuffed pair of jeans. His frown forms crevices all over his face. Though tucked in, his red polo shows small frays and tatters. He puts his hands in his pockets, turns around, and stares at a sea-scape painting on the compound wall.
Violet watches the way his muscles make the fabric move.
“How are the gardens doing?” Frank asks, running a hand over the stubble on his head.
Violet sighs. “We don't know how long the generators will hold out,” she says. “The mechanical engineers are running out of parts. We've used most of the gas too.”
Frank turns around to stare at Violet. She looks into to his eyes for a long time. Neither of them speaks for a moment, but they move toward each other without knowing it.
Frank stops short of Violet and backs up, saying, “Without gas, we have no electricity. Without energy from the generators or the sun, we have no light. Without light, we have no plants.”
Violet breaks their mutual gaze, and looks at the blue carpet. A worn track of muddy bootprints leads from the door to the desk, over gold lettering that says “Subterranean Oval Office.”
“Yes, Mr. President,” she replies.
“So the cosmologists and astrophysicists were right,” Frank says. “The asteroid was God's cue ball. The moon was a 13 of stripes. Earth was the 2 of solids he'd destined for a corner pocket.”
Violet says, “Doctor Burton's calculations say we're still 91 to 94 billion miles from the sun. You'd think God would be a better billiards player. The moon only grazed us. It stole a large chunk of our atmosphere and stopped us from spinning.”
“I know,” Frank says. “But it's all speculation at this point.” Putting his hands behind his back, he begins to pace behind his desk. The office has three plush, leather couches, oak wood furniture, and brass lamps. Pots of plastic ferns and flowers line any available shelf and tabletop.
“Regardless of what happened,” Violet says. “Things on the surface haven't changed in two years sir. Are you still going through with your plan?”
Frank glances at Violet from the corner of his eye and bites his lip before asking, “How many mouths do we have to feed?”
“About 5,000—including essential personnel and their families.”
“Essential,” Frank laughs. “That means nothing anymore.”
“Please don't say things like that sir,” Violet says. “We're finding new routes that bring us deeper underground. Scientists think they can harness heat energy from lava flows and hot springs. We can mine for raw materials and fuel. Then we can grow crops and manufacture again.”
Frank stops pacing and turns towards Violet. His face is placid. Folding his arms and spreading his feet, he says, “None of that matters. We don't have any food. Starving people can't think and move. If I don't go through with this, chaos will reign and the human race will end.”
“We have other options,” Violet says. “Life thrives down here too. We can explore deeper—find alternative food sources.”
“No,” Frank says. “We gambled on growing surface plants down here and lost. We took too many people in and wasted too much time. Now, we only have one option.”
“You're wrong Frank. You're making a choice here.” Violet says. Her stomach gurgles.
Frank stops pacing and gestures at Violet. “Look at you,” he says. “You're wasting away like everyone else. The food rations have slowly starved us for months. What choice is left?”
Violet smirks and squints. “You and your thugs aren't starving,” she says.
“You mean me, the soldiers, and the cabinet?”
“As my assistant, you could have taken the same privileges Violet. We've eaten to have enough energy for maintaining order.”
Violet puts her hands on her hips and bares her teeth. Despite her slight stature, she stands with a warrior's posture. “You still have food left, don't you?” She asks Frank.
“It's for government and military personnel only,” he says. “I've set aside some rations for you to..”
Violet says, “Those should go to the children. They're humanity's last hope.”
“Have it your way,” Frank says, staring into her eyes blankly now. “Will that be all?”
Glaring back, Violet says, “Yes, Mr. President.” She turns to leave.
Frank says to her back, “For the record, you've been the best assistant I could ever ask for.”
Violet keeps walking.
Frank's voice grows gentler as he says, “Wait. There's something else.”
Violet stops amid heel-toe stride. She turns around and folds her arms. “What?” She asks.
“I love you,” Frank says.
“I know,” Violet replies. Her eyebrows make a single peak. She looks down and sweeps the carpet with one toe as she says, “If things had been different, I might have loved you too. But I can't now—because of what you're about to do.”
“Violet, please,” Frank says, walking towards her.
She leaves the room.
As Frank makes his way back to his desk, he blinks to keep wetness from invading his eyes and spilling onto his cheeks. Someone raps on the door. The President knows it's not Violet's knock.
“Come in,” he shouts.
A lithe man in a baggy, black military uniform steps into the room. The soldier's combat boots thud against the concrete underneath the Subterranean Oval Office's carpet. He removes his beret to reveal a head of short, gray hair. He has four stars on his lapels. His face is weathered and olive colored. The bags under his eyes are dark. Yet his eyes are wide and aware. He salutes the President.
“President Harding,” he says.
The President turns, squares off his stance, and stands up straight. He brings his right hand up to his head and chops it downward. The soldier follows suit.
“General Hayes,” Mr. President says. “I heard we ran out of food.”
“Yes, sir,” Hayes says. “They ran out, that is. We've still got enough for another month.”
“Have we found any pets or stowaway animals?”
“No, sir. Any sign of animal life disappeared months ago. Once we initiated the Thin Ration Program, people craved more protein. I'm sure you know what came next.”
“That's good in a way Craig,” the President says. “It's a short step from eating a furry family friend to...doing something a little more repulsive.”
General Hayes grimaces. “I wish it could be different sir.”
“So do I,” Frank says. “When we have fewer people, and the food supply is replenished, we'll have more time for exploration. Resource demand will shrink. Then we can worry about species survival. Right now, our main concern is keeping the people we need alive.”
“Permission to speak freely sir?” Hayes asks.
“Go ahead, Craig. And—please--call me Frank. I chose you , rather than the Secretary of Defense, to enact this plan because we served together as Rangers. You're the only man tough and loyal enough to help me go through with this.”
“Thank you, Frank,” Craid says. “You've placed your trust well.”
Frank nods and smiles. Both men relax their postures. “Drink?” Frank asks, turning toward his desk.
“You have liquor left?” Craig asks.
“One last bottle.”
“Let's save it for what we're about to do. We'll need it afterwards.”
Frank nods and turns back around. Staying put with his arms behind his back, he asks, “What were you going to say before?”
“Well...the more food we store, the less people we'll have to explore and think after we replenish supplies. We need to find new ways to live down here...”
“Not you too,” Frank says, closing his eyes and rubbing his neck.
Craig puts his hands up. “Don't get me wrong,” he says. “I agree with your plan completely sir. You can count on me to execute it. We just need to pay attention to who we're taking, and why.”
“I agree,” Frank says. “Has anyone created a list of essential personnel to let the soldiers know who they should take?”
“Uh...no sir,” Craig says. “We hoped you made one though.”
Frank shakes his head. “Your men will just going to have to make judgment calls on the spot then. Hell, they know what everyone does down here, and what we need better than I do.”
Craig says, “I'll begin rounding up the children tonight. I've posted two soldiers at your door, in addition to your usual guard. We expect people to resist, but moving in quickly should prevent violence –for the most part.”
“I wouldn't count on that.”
“Have you told anyone about the plan?” Craig asks.
“No one unnecessary,” Frank says.
Craig raises a suspicious eyebrow at Frank.
“That won't be the reason people resist,” Frank says. “They'll probably assume something bad is about to happen. Plus, they love their children. That's why your men need to reassure everyone that their children will be safe. Maybe some parents will even sacrifice themselves.”
“And once the kids are commandeered and corralled?” Craig asks.
“You...just...go after the adults as planned”
“Sir,” Craig says, assuming a stiff stance again. “I'm still confused about who should live or die
Frank shakes his head. “I don't know dammit,” he says. “It's too late for all that. Tell your men to use their judgment.”
Craig scowls and says, “We beat that kind of decision-making out of soldiers during basic training, PT, and special ops initiation. Every military man down here ranked among the best in the US, but, still, they carry out orders better than they make tough moral decisions.”
“If they can't think, then maybe they should turn the guns on themselves,” Frank says.
“What?” Craig asks, his eyes wide.
Frank walks up to Craig and grins. The President's teeth are still white. He claps Craig on the shoulder and laughs. “Just kidding,” he says.
Craig relaxes and smiles.
“You scared me for a second there,” Craig says.
“I know,” Frank says. “I was just kidding. Hell, I'm one of you Craig. Remember the Iraq wars?”
“Of course, sir. I saved your life more than once.”
“Come on,” Frank says. “I returned the favor.”
Craig says, “I know.”
Both men are silent as the memories of a past on a far away earth flicker over their brains like supersonic slide shows.
“I wish we had time to talk about the days,” Frank says.
“It's best not to think about them too much,” Craig replies. “America is gone, and so is that life.”
“I want to help your men,” Frank says. “It's my duty and responsibility to go out there and help you do your job. I gave the orders.”
“No,” Craig says. “Your task is to lead—as always. Please stay here while we follow through with the plan. We don't need a dead President to add to the chaos.”
Frank sighs and nods. “Fine,” he says. “Get on with it.”
“Permission to leave, sir?” Craig asks. He salutes again.
Frank does the same, and says, “dismissed.” On his way out, General Hayes turns around. “One last thing, sir?”
“Yes,” The President says.
“Forgive me,” Craig says. “I have to make sure...”
Frank rolls his hands over each other. “Spit it out,” he says.
“Do you really want to leave this kind of decision in the hands of my men?” Craig asks.
The President nods and looks in Craig's eyes. “Do it,” he answers.
Craig nods, spins on his heel, and walks out.
Mr. President hears the echoes of children screaming and their parents yelling through a heating vent near his desk. He reaches for a bottle of scotch in one of his desk's hidden drawers. The scotch lies next to a Desert Eagle .50 caliber automatic handgun and a smaller Beretta 9 millimeter pistol. He removes the guns and the bottle, and sets them on his desk.
Soon, the compound is eerily quiet. The children's corral must be somewhere nearby. Mr. President can hear the little ones moaning and whimpering through the vent. “Hell must sound like that,” he says, taking a few gulps of scotch. Half the bottle is already gone. “Some of you will go back to your parents,” he tells the air duct.
He nearly laughs and cries simultaneously as he says, “Most of you will be eating mom and dad.”
The gunfire starts. Mr. President hears no single shots. However, many guns pop in unison. “Wait a minute,” Harding shouts and stands up. “The soldiers aren't supposed to shoot the captives. That ruins the mea...” The president imagines the prisoners being executed and butchered into chunks. He runs over to a plant in the back corner of his office and vomits on it.
As the bile clears from the President's throat, random shots echo through the hallways. Screams, and then chants, begin outside. The smell of gun smoke leaks through the vent and under the door. The chanting comes closer. Hundreds of voices cry, “We survive together/America forever.” Mr. President stands up and grabs his guns. He opens his door to check on the soldiers assigned to guard him.
One soldier in black looks back at the President. “President Harding,” he says. “Get back inside sir. Something isn't right. We haven't received any com updates about General Hayes' force.s”
A boom sounds from the other side of the room. The door opposite the Oval Office's entry breaks apart. What appears to be the fork of a big, machine lift rips through the rest of the door then disappears back into the corridor outside. “Come in my office boys,” The President says to the soldiers. “We'll make our last stand there.”
“Sir,” the other soldier says. “Our task is to guard you until we die.”
“No use dying right now,” Mr. President says. “Come inside. They won't be able to forklift this door open. The ceiling isn't high enough to fit that machine in here, and the whole office is blast proof.”
The soldiers are kneeling now. They aim their weapons at the door. Two grenades fly into the room. One bounces off Violet's desk. The other hits the ground and ricochets up toward the soldiers. Mr. President slams his door closed.
The two ensuing booms send a shock wave through the Oval Office. Smoke billows around the edges of the door. Mr. President hears one of the soldiers screaming. Two gunshots silence the unknown soldier forever. “I didn't even ask for their names,” The President says. He'd met everyone in the compound, but five-thousand names were hard to remember.
He walks back to his desk, holding whiskey in one hand, and a Desert Eagle in the other. Sitting down, he thinks of Clint Eastwood and General Custer. These are the idols of his past.
Someone knocks on the door. “Violet?” Frank asks quietly. “That's her knock,” he says to himself, nodding. “She betrayed me.” He fires a thunderous warning shot at the wall next to the door.
Everything is silent, until a chorus of voices begins to sing America's national anthem. Something heavy hits the door, in rhythm with the music. Not long after the singing stops with, “Land of the free/and the home of the brave,” the door breaks off its hinges. The president's desk phone rings at the same time.
Ducking behind his desk, Mr. President answers, “Hayes is that you?”
“Yes, sir,” Craig answers. “We've been...held up, but we're on our way now.”
“There's an angry mob about to tear me to shreds in here,” the President says, aiming his handgun at the gaping doorway. Smoke still obscures his view into the next room.
“We're almost there,” Craig says. The line goes dead.
Franks finger squeezes the trigger in anticipation. He wonders if the mob will blow him up too.
Instead, Violet appears in the doorway. Frank's shaky finger eases off the trigger. “Violet,” he says. “I don't want to shoot you and your buddies,” he says.
Violet says, “I don't want to blow you up either Frank.”
“What are you doing here then?”
“Your soldiers disappeared,” Violet says. “We're here to find out where you're hiding the food rations and take you hostage. The less you resist, the less time this will all take. Keep in mind that the outcome is inevitable.”
“Why you?” Frank asks. “You were always so loyal to me.”
“Your plan was foolish,” Violet says. “This is what's left of America. We live or starve together. No one has a right to life more than anyone else. If someone dies naturally, that's different. We will all give ourselves to our families, but not before our time is up. We've got to find new...”
Frank hears scuffling and the sounds of hard things hitting flesh in the antechamber. A few grunts and yells ensue. Violet disappears into the beyond the doorway. A minute later, Frank's guns are now both trained on the opening, until Craig shoves Violet through the door. He has zip-tied and gagged her.
“Your assistant, Mr. President,” Craig says, smiling. “You shouldn't have told her about the plan sir. She's a bleeding heart.” He walks up and stands next to the President. All the ranking military officers assigned to carry out the President's original plans follow the General into the Subterranean Oval Office.
“What's going on?” Frank asks.
“We made a few decisions,” Craig says. “Just like you told us to.”
The officers line the walls of the room. They all wear their formal Army, Navy, Marine, and even Air Force uniforms. Hundreds of badges, rank pins, and patches shine in the Oval Office's light. Craig is the only officer still dressed in a black, baggy combat uniform. All the officers have sidearms too.
“What the hell is going on?” Frank asks, looking at Violet. She only answers with afraid eyes.
“Your cabinet, the remaining judges, and most of the congressman have been eliminated and stored as food stuffs in the freezers,” Craig says. “Don't let their sacrifices be a waste. As for us...” Craig waves his hand around the room and stands at attention.
Violet's eyes widen. She shakes her head and issues a gag-stifled scream.”
“Company preeesent!” Craig shouts. The officers, including Craig, put their guns to each other's heads in a perfect criss cross pattern.
All the marines in the room shout, “Semper Fi!”
The rest of the officers yell, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”
General Hayes says, “Fire.”
Copyright 2009 Timothy E. Miller
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In : Stories
Tags: president government military army navy air force marines uniform catasrophe apocalypse survival sun earth moon food eating subterranean oval office caves heat energy crops end world
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