The big Ship was moored at the mouth of a vast estuary, gently rocking on a
light swell. Overhead there was a clear blue sky, the golden sun hanging high over the
horizon and a few cotton wool clouds, drifting across the bay on a cool breeze. The cries
of Gulls carried far from their nesting in the cliffs at the mouth of the river. A single sleek
craft detached itself from the side of the Ship and sped, seemingly skimming over the
tops of the waves, quickly covering the short distance to the estuary, and disappearing
into the unknown that lay beyond. On board the smaller craft was a team of four
explorers, explorers of this strange new land and that once belonged to a long dead
They had navigated the river for three days now. Around them the lush green
banks seemed to almost meet at some points as a great green canopy of foliage closed out
the sky, only to open up again at the next bend, letting the hot sun beat down once more.
Wild animals could be heard crying out in the starless nights and fish and other creatures
chased the wake of their craft. From time to time large creatures like Dolphins leapt in
front of the craft, seemingly playing with the explorers. As they rounded another bend the
current suddenly gathered pace and they were tossed about as their light craft bobbed
over some white water rapids, finally coming to a bone jarring halt on a short sandy
beach. Just at the top of the beach they could see the remains of an ancient building, the
first sign of civilization that the expedition had come across. They were almost overcome
with excitement. Messages were sent urgently back to the Ship and they rushed over to
the ruins. Stepping inside, there was little left to see. Centuries had passed. A few rags in
the corner, an old table, the remains of a stone fireplace. Sitting in a chair at the table
were the mummified remains of a being, and on the table a metal box, and beside it a
rusted ancient weapon. One of them inspected the box for a few minutes, then carefully
levered it open. As he did so, the rust that had held it there for so long finally
surrendered, and the box disintegrated into a small heap of rust – but not its contents.
Sealed tight in an airless plastic bag, there was a notebook. That was all.The explorers
rigged a portable chamber and then once safely inside the chamber,
the bag was carefully cut open and the book removed. It had survived the centuries well.
They opened it and gazed almost reverently at the ancient handwriting. The linguist of the
expedition began to read, for he knew this language, had studied it for more than twenty
years, hoping that one day a moment such as this might be his. This is what he read.
"This is the journal of George W Andrejasko. My folks were originally from
Poland, damn lucky to get out as Hitler’s tanks rolled in – but you don’t wanna read
about that old stuff, that’s long gone. I guess whoever you are reading this, you might not
even know where Poland was or who Adolf Hitler was, but that’s a no nevermind –
Poland is a long ways from here and Hitler was one evil son-of-a-bitch.
My Father and his father before him were eternally grateful to Uncle Sam (that’s
what we call the President of our great country) so they named their sons after US
Presidents. I got George Washington. If you are reading this now, it is my hope that you
are in my far distant future, and that you have not had to endure as have I these past thirty
four years. Many people thought the end would come with some mad dictator like Hitler,
or maybe it would be the Russians – hell we all thought it would be them for a while, or
the Chinese, or the Iraqis. In the event it was none of them and I guess the end came
about because of a cup of Starbucks and a dumb Polak. Of course, you may never have
heard of Starbucks and you may have never tasted coffee. Well let me tell you, coffee
was good. You must forgive my rambling, but I am old now, old and tired and I need to
get things done and things said before I go – wherever I am due to be going that is.
I guess I was lucky. I managed to get out, to get here, and I survived pretty good.
For a few years I had more food than I knew what to do with. Now ain’t that a surprise ? I
used to go visit the nearest shop and stock up. Tinned goods, I have found, last years
beyond the date imagined – so who dreamt up that little gem of consumerism then, sell
by dates ? Pah! Well, in time the close by shops became empty and I ventured to the edge
of the city. Weren’t much left of the city, just a few craters, but a heck of a lot of Malls
around its edge, and not too many customers neither. At first I had a bit of trouble from a
few roaming gangs but Mr Browning ( that’s my gun right there on the table) took care of
that. No, I never killed nobody, enough dead already I reckon, just a few warning shots is
So I made out okay. Now this place, in which you find my journal was the Gate
House to the North American Defense Command - NADCO. After NATO kind of fell
apart, the USA went its own way about things and on the other side of the water, well
they all found themselves in a kind of a situation. The Europeans got themselves some
kinda Army together, though I have to tell you it was never up to much, and we took little
notice on account of the fact that we had trouble enough of our own. Seems like when we
whupped old Saddam back in zero three we stirred up a whole heap of trouble. The
Koreans and the Chinese were bustin’ for a fight, so in the end a whole new arms
program got signed off by Congress, and this here is where we kept the Big One, the
Nukes. The actual place, the place where I worked, is way below the ground – used to
take me twelve minutes, going down, to get there. I guess it may still be there, but I sure
as hell didn’t try to get back in. I may be old now but I remember the actual day it
happened, as the say, like it was yesterday – ain’t likely to forget it neither.
June it was. A bright, fabulous June. Summer around here was always warm and
then once in a while we got a real dandy of a Summer, and that year was a dandy alright.
I remember the day too, it was a Monday, a Monday because I had been off fishing all
weekend up in Maine and just got back in time to start work, racing through town,
grabbed a Big Mac from the Mall up on South Street, and a coffee to go from Starbucks
at the visitor center here – I cannot abide that dishwash they serve up in the burger place,
but the burgers are fine. Now we had rules and the fact is that nobody was allowed to
take food or drink into The CommCen, but most folks did on account of the fact that the
machines down there vended garbage and the nearest one to us was way back on level
eight. The canteen wasn’t that much better either, and expensive, well it sure was that, in
spades. Security sometimes got a buzz on and took everything away, but it weren’t often
so we just smiled on those days and put up with it, ya see. We all had to get along and do
our jobs I guess, so most days we would pack somethin’ t’eat in our tool boxes.
I rode the elevator as usual, finishing my burger before we hit level twenty
four, my stop. ‘Course, by then the coffee was cooled right down, even Styrofoam cups
couldn’t keep it hot in the cold air conditioned atmosphere down there. But that was a no
nevermind too. We had us a fix for that. Ya see I worked in maintenance and we had an
industrial oven that we had to use for some of the stuff we did, and it was as good at
warming coffee and take-outs as it was a curing adhesives and all kind of stuff. Like most
things, it weren’t rightly allowed, but nobody complained ‘cept when the odd mithering
health and safety guy came a-snooping. So, first job of the day was into the workshop,
toolbox on the bench, turn on the oven and while the oven gets hot, why , take a dump of
course and read the news, what else does a man do first thing ? Our John was the regular
en-suite deal you might say, saved a whole lot of ID checks going to the John way back up
on level eight where the crap vending machines were housed.
I had just got myself settled, opened up my ‘USA Today’, when the alarm went
off. I was none too pleased about that I don’t mind saying, but an alarm is an alarm, (and
a job is a job), so I hitched up my pants pretty smart and went back into the workshop.
The panic was all over my monitor screen so I took the printout, grabbed my toolbox and
lit on outta there. Some kinda trouble upstairs. Upstairs. Strange thing that, there we were
– the Lord knows how deep underground, but the Computer room was right above ours
and we always called it '‘upstairs'’. Well I got there in about three minutes flat which was
real fast in anybody’s words, but I still got a whole heap of crap from the duty Officer,
but I paid him no nevermind too and got right to it. Now the one job I really did not like
was to work in the crawl space under the floor, but that is where the problem was and that
is where I went. I already had a good idea of what was what because those printouts were
mighty smart things and in a minute or two I was over what should have been
‘Multiplexer C6’, ‘cept it weren’t. Whatever that box of gizmos was, it was not ‘C6’. So I
looked at it a while and then I figured that the printout said this was the problem so hell,
let’s take a look. I balanced my toolbox to one side and opened it to get a screwdriver,
which was when I remembered my Starbucks was still inside. So I took it out too. Shit,
after the earful I had just taken, it was gonna taste good even cold. Well I had the cover
popped off in a few seconds and what I saw inside kinda took my breath away.
To this day I have no idea what that thing was; all I could see was what looked
like hundreds, maybe thousands of tiny beams of coloured light all sorta shimmering and
bouncing around in there – looked like something out of a Spielberg Movie. And that was
when it happened I guess, the end of the world I mean. As I reached back for the cover
(that I had dropped to one side), I knocked over my Starbucks, and in it went, right into
that mess of light.
Now I’m not too sure about the next few minutes. There was a brilliant flash of
light that had every colour you can imagine and I daresay a few that you cannot. Klaxons
were going and people were shouting. All I could see was that damn light and for a while
I feared I might have been blinded. I do recall hearing the Defcon 1 alert, and I had only
heard that once before in training. Somebody came down for me and dragged me out, and
the next thing I’m in the elevator heading back up with an MP on either side of me. By
the time we made it back up topside, New York San Francisco and Salt Lake City had gone. Salt
Lake City ! Now who the hell had a Nuke with that two bit Mormon pisshole on its nose
? Well somebody did and they let it go. England went soon after. Not London or
Manchester, England, all of it. Bang. Gone. Start to finish it was about seventeen
minutes, nearest I can figure. Seventeen minutes that wiped out every Captial city in the
World, and hundreds smaller places. From the first strike we made, courtesy of Starbucks
Coffee, to the last missile fired from the Korean Orbiting Platform.
And there's a thing too.Those sneaky Koreans had got their missiles up there in space right under
the noses of the International Space Project that built the 'Star Traveller'. Lord knows
where the brave people on that journey will end up, but I pray to God it ain't back here.
Excuse me, I'm ramblin' in a bit, now where were we ? Yep, I had just got outta the base.
Folks was running this way and that and other folks was piling into anything with wheels
on and heading on out of there and in all that confusion I soon lost my guards and lit on out too.
I spent a couple of years in a cabin I found high up in the mountains, but I
got so lonely up there that it hurt. Now don't get me wrong here, I'm a man that likes his own
company but to see nobody , to hear no other voice, not ever, well that gets
to a man, even a miserable old fart such as me. So I came back to face whatever, but the surprise was, there weren’t nothing to face. I never had me a wife – oh yep I like the
ladies as much as the next man, but I have my own way of doing things and that's how I
like things to be done. It seems that the ladies don’t care much for my ways and that's
fine with me. Anyways, I liked the company of the guys I worked with and like I said,
my own company between times - guess that's why I lasted so long on my own. Even a guy like
me needs to shoot the breeze from time to time though, but I never did after that day.
The Nuclear Winter that all the so called experts predicted would follow an all out
Nuke war never really happened. Oh sure, the whole temperature was down by maybe ten
degrees, all year round, and the seasons – if you can call them that – were all kind if
confused, but Nature is a powerful Lady, and after about five years things got pretty
much back as they were before. I was wrong about England too. I managed to get a radio
set working and it turned out that a tiny bit of England down South, called ‘The Lizard’
(wherever the hell that is) was now an Island, and on it was a place called Goonhilly.
Now Goonhilly was some big Brit tracking station and we got talking over the air waves,
then the third winter came along and none of them made it through – dot a damn one.
They all got sick and one by one, they died. I never heard another soul on that radio. Just
static. I don’t know what happened to all the other people in the World, I truly don’t.
You wonder how I could live with myself doncha ? More than a few times I sat
here, right here, with the muzzle Mr Browning in my mouth, but I never could do it. I
know maybe I should have, but I couldn’t and that’s a sad fact. I’d like to say I am sorry
but how do you say sorry you blew up the World, the whole goddamned world. Well I
did, and hell, I am sorry, truly sorry. Amen to that, and may the Lord forgive me, as I
feel I am soon to find out. I hope that whoever, shit, whatever you are, you take a liking
to our old Earth and you do something good with it, something better than we did,
because I guess we had our shot at it and we fucked it right up."
The writing ended there.
The explorer’s home planet was in a distant galaxy. There, the history of their
people was taught with pride in all the schools on both of the two continents that,
together with hundreds of tiny Islands, comprised the land mass of the planet. Its twin
suns and three moons were at such fortunate orbits that the climate was temperate, yet
no intelligent life had evolved. The whole civilization was descended from Extra-
Terrestrials who, it was known, had crashed onto the planet some 900 years ago, counting
the year as 415 Earth days. Their craft itself was carefully preserved and every day an
endless stream of pilgrims would file past in awe and respect, seeing their forefather’s
tiny ship for themselves, the Ship of the Founding Fathers. The whole driving force of the
united people was to recover the technology of that craft and then, one day, to find and to
return, home. The discovery of minerals with properties unknown to those original
spacecraft builders had led rapidly to a technology far beyond that of the crashed ship.
The Star Ship that had been moored at the mouth of the river was now floating
silently a few meters above the building. The explorers returned to their landing
pod and lifted gently up from the beach, hardly disturbing the silver sand and ascending to the
opening in the underside of the Star Ship overhead. Such was the property of its outer skin
that it appeared to ripple and in the light breeze. The markings on its underside that had been
copied so carefully from the emblem on the Founding Father’s craft seemed to flow and wave as
if they too were caught in the wind.
The Stars and Stripes had come home.
(c) Mike Houghton 2005/2007
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