(As We Know It)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In a small bunker at the end of the world, two soldiers and a chef spend their days witnessing the apocalypse. As they witness comets, tsunamis and atomic monsters tearing the world apart, they question just how real their world is, and whether this is something they can live with.

Submitted: June 01, 2011

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Submitted: June 01, 2011



This world had been killed a thousand times over. Its corpse absorbed the blows like a piece of beef taking hits from a tenderiser. It was something to see.
Lee sat in the bunker and watched the world burn. The window was of a meter thick military made transparent material; the light it let through cast a sickly yellow pallor into the room.
In a world falling apart, everything was temporary. And as far as he knew, he was in the last bastion of stability.
“Look at it out there,” he muttered, “Just look at it.”
“You look at it,” the curt reply snapped behind him, “Same goddamn sight every day. You'd think you'd be bored of it already.”
Lee turned and saw his Sergeant, Price, rolling his eyes.
“But it's amazing,” he gasped, turning back to the sight, “I had no idea.”
“Of course it's amazing,” Price said, playing it cool, “It's the end of the bloody world. What did you think it'd look like?”
Lee didn’t have much of an answer. He sat there in awe, and finally mumbled, ”There's so much. Look at it.”
“You look at it,” Price growled, feigning annoyance. He was forty-six to Lee’s twenty-two, and he liked playing the gruff Sergeant. Lee had just the right mix of naivety and pep to make the dynamic work.
The boy was right though; it was something to see. From the mountain bunker, they could see for miles, and everything in view had been destroyed. Meteors strafed the ground in sharp bursts, the seas boiled and dared to engulf the cities, and the monsters moved throughout, ambling forward like bored titans.
“Morning Vinnie, Lou.”
It was Price’s turn to look behind him, and he saw a third man shuffle forwards behind him, garbed in a shabby dressing gown.
“Sergeant Price, Keaton,” Price warned, bristling. There was nothing about Charlie Keaton he liked. His slumped posture; the inconsistent hours he kept; worst of all, the attitude. “Why aren’t you dressed yet?”
“How are the monsters today?” Keaton asked, ignoring the question. The bunker flashed yellow as a ferocious wall of flame struck, illuminating the room but leaving it unharmed. The military knew how to make tough places. Shame they didn’t know how to make them comfortable.Lee jumped back from the fire, his mouth wide in amazement. He knew the flame wouldn’t penetrate, but some reflexes don’t go away.
Except for tightening his grip on his rifle, Price didn’t react.
“The big one’s cranky today,” Keaton said, stifling a yawn.
“Late night, Keaton?” Price asked.
“My body clock's screwed, man. No day; no night. It's just lights on, lights off. You’d think I would have adjusted after a while.”
“The soma should have fixed it,” Price said, “Have you checked your dosage? It's regulation to do so every four weeks.”
Keaton waved a hand, dismissive. Price growled again.
“Sometimes I wonder how they let you in here in the first place,” he said.
“Well, for one,” he quipped, “I cook the best goddamn risotto you'll ever eat. I guess top brass like it, not that they've ever said. I use extra salt,” he added, leaning in for effect, “That regulation enough for you?”
“Just get to your post,” Price snapped, “We're coming up to lunchtime.” Keaton yawned again, stretched like a cat, winked at Lee and strolled out.Price watched him leave and shook his head. “You don't like him that much, do you?” Lee said.
“He's a fucking disgrace.”
“I think he's okay,” Lee said affably, “Gives this place some character.”
“Don't you go listening to a single thing he says,” Price warned, “He's a civilian, and a troublesome one.”
Keaton shortly returned, now fully dressed, with a pot of tea on a tray, half a dozen mugs arranged next to it. He approached the dumb waiter next to Price, placed the tray inside and closed it. He pressed a button, and the dumb waiter descended.
“What do you think it's like down there?” he asked.
“I'm not paid to ask questions like that,” Price said, trying to smother the conversation.
“I reckon it's like the end of Dr. Strangelove,” Keaton replied, undeterred, “There's probably a hundred of top brass, with half a dozen concubines each, slowly rebuilding the population.”
“Wouldn’t suck,” Lee said, his face lighting up.
“Just doing their bit for the human race,” Keaton deadpanned. Lee chuckled.
“Don't get distracted,” Price warned them both, “Lee, do your checks.” “Okay, what’s first,” Lee said to himself, picking up his clipboard and starting to write. “Ah. Meteorites.”
“Six since last count,” Price reported, “Getting smaller, but should still be considered dangerous.”
“What's a non-dangerous size for a meteorite, Lou?” Keaton teased, “Is there a certain threshold, or can you give it some leeway?”
Lee repressed a grin. Price noticed. “Isn't there some cooking you should be doing, Keaton?”
Keaton shrugged and walked out.
“Next: tectonic movements,” Lee continued, “I got the volcano eruption from last night, plus the tsunami from this morning.”
“There was a tsunami?” Keaton cried, rushing back in, “Holy shit. Did it reach the base?”
“That's classified,” Price warned.
“Come on, I'm right here,” Keaton moaned, “Who am I going to tell?”
“It reached the base,” Price said, giving in.
“Washed right over us,” Lee put in, “Scariest thing I've ever seen. Would give me nightmares for sure if I didn't have the soma.”
“Soma,” Keaton scoffed, “Ha!”
“You know why we take it,” Price told him, “It's regulation, to cope with what's going on out there.”
“That shit turns us into zombies, man,” Keaton said, “Stops us dealing with the world. Or end thereof.”
“It doesn't seem to have affected you, does it?” Price growled.
“Must be my irrepressible personality,” Keaton retorted, “What's your excuse Lou, your mum put it in your bottle, or did you pick up the habit when you signed up?”
Price started. Lee jumped in the way, just in time. “What's next on the list, Sarg?” he asked Price. Price's eyes remained fixed on Keaton. “Hostiles,” he said. “Monsters!” Keaton cried, in mock terror.
Lee shot Keaton a look that read 'I'm trying to help you here!' Keaton shrugged, grinned, and loped off.
“You shouldn't let him antagonise you,” Lee told his sergeant, daring to break rank.
“Why do you care?” Price snapped, hurt, “I thought you liked him.”
“I do,” Lee admitted, “But you're my sarg.” Price couldn’t help but smile.“And I don't want to have to keep the peace between you two,” Lee concluded, “Just ignore him if you can't get on.”
“I'll try,” Price said, “No promises.” They were silent for a moment, then Price added: “He is particularly weird today though.”
“Yeah,” Lee agreed, “Anyway, hostiles.”
Price checked to see if they were alone. They were. He grinned, visibly relaxing. “Monsters,” he smiled, dropping the terminology, “Okay, there was the two Mothras from this morning, a kraken that washed in from the tsunami, and that momma 'zilla who tried breathing fire on us five minutes ago.”
“I'd never have figured you for a Godzilla fan.”
“It's why I signed up. How cool is it when they fight?” Keaton re-entered, a tray of appetisers in his arms. Price instantly regained his stiffness.“... And one second level reptilian biped hostile,” Price finished, resuming the façade of professionalism.
“You and your terminology,” Keaton sighed, setting the tray down, “I dunno why you don't call it a Godzilla and be done with it.” He walked out. Lee raised an eyebrow at his sergeant. See? Price considered this as Keaton returned to the dumb waiter with another tray.
“What do you miss about before?” he mused.
“We're not supposed to talk about before, remember?” Price reminded him, “Regulations.”
“I miss bars,” Keaton said, ignoring him, “Booze. Women. Good times. Can't believe we'll never see that again.”
“Keaton!” Price snapped, “We. Don't. Talk. About it.”
“Why not?”
“You know why,” Price explained, “The soma only deals with so much. It's no good remembering.”
“I miss TV,” Lee said, suddenly.
“Lee,” Price said.
“That's the spirit!” Keaton cheered.
“And football.”
“Vince, c'mon...” Price pleaded with Lee.
“And fooling around with my girlfriend,” he added.
“Lee!” Price shouted, shaking Lee’s shoulders, “For god’s sake, get a grip.”
Lee got a grip.
“Sorry,” he said, sheepishly.
“It's okay,” Price said, “Double hit the meds tonight. You'll be okay.” Turning to Keaton he said, “As for you…”
“Me?” Keaton said, innocently, “The fuck did I do?”
“What the hell do you think you were doing?” Price shouted, reverting to sergeant mode, “You know why we don't discuss before! That's why the rules are there: to protect us. Same as the soma.”
“Soma,” Keaton sniffed with contempt, “Soma's bullshit, man. Let me tell you something about soma.”He ran into the kitchen, returning with a sock in his hand. It was full of something.
He turned the sock upside down. Hundreds of small blue pills spilled out onto the floor to Price and Lee's horror. “Soma doesn't do jack shit for anybody.” Keaton said, defiantly.
“My god,” Lee gasped.
“That's about three months worth,” Keaton said with pride.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Price said, disgusted.
“Nope,” Keaton grinned, “Now, I've gotta say it's brought on a lot of clarity. See, I've come up with a little theory. Wanna hear it?”
“He's mad,” Price warned.
“Hear him out,” Lee said, “He's not dangerous.”
“Cheers, Vinnie,” Keaton said, “Now, I reckon the so-called powers that be, top brass, aren't here. Maybe they're dead; maybe they went off into space, I don't know. But they're not in this bunker.”
“See?” Price scoffed, “Mad.”
“Have you ever spoken to them since you got here?” Keaton asked, “Heard them? Seen them?”
“Well, no, I - ”
“Exactly,” Keaton smirked.
“Keaton, c'mon, they're top brass,” Lee reasoned, “Just cos they - ”
“Now, I've been testing this theory for a while now,” Keaton interrupted, “I've been adding spice to their food. A little at first, but recently, it's been a shit load. And today's the big test day. Wanna see my big creation?”Keaton continued to talk as he walked out. Price and Lee watched him.
“Where’s his boot?” Lee asked. True enough, Keaton was only wearing his left boot. His right foot was exposed, pinkies and all.
“How do I know?” Price snapped, “He's lost it. We'll have to subdue him.” Keaton marched back in wearing a proud expression. In his arms was another tray. On the tray was a plate of mashed potato, with, of all things, a black military boot turned upside down in the middle of the mash, poised like a submarine’s periscope.
“This regulation enough for you?” he smirked.
“What's going on, Charlie?” Lee asked Keaton.
“If there's anyone down there they'll have to say a few things about this.”
“Keaton, you fucking disgrace!” Price yelled, “Do you think top brass are gonna stand for this insubordination? Do you think I will?
“I think you will,” Keaton said, calmly, “I think if you take your head out of your soma filled arse, you'll want to know. What's so wrong with that?” Price couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He turned to Lee for support. “Well it's not like we've ever seen top brass since we've been here,” Lee said, considering the idea, “It wouldn't kill them to come up, at least once.”
“Lee, no,” Price pleaded, “He's a loon. He's off the soma.”
Keaton inserted the boot and mash into the dumb waiter and pressed the button. It descended.“Wait'll they get the turd crumble for dessert,” Keaton smirked.
“This is insane,” Price spat.
“It's more insane to believe you've never questioned it,” Keaton replied. Price had started to pace, his world steadily unravelling in front of him.
“I'll prove it to you,” he said, trying to convince himself, “You can't insult them like this. They're top brass. I'll go and tell them.”
“Fine,” Keaton told him, “There's no one there though. Let us know how it goes.”
“You don't know. You can't prove it.”
“Okay then, let's experiment,” Keaton said, “You go down. Find top brass. I'll go up and leave.”
“Leave?” Lee asked.
“Yeah. Monsters? Meteors? Tsunamis? Bollocks. It's a big joke,” Keaton laughed, “We're just rats in a maze. This is the military; they can make us see what they want, especially with the soma. I'm off.”
He went to the main hatch, punched in a code.
Price ran to another door and did the same. He took a last fleeting look at Lee.
“Sarg?” Lee asked him.
Price's door opened to blackness and he ran inside, rambling. The darkness consumed him.
“And he called me crazy,” Keaton scoffed.
His door opened. Wind and dust howled in, penetrated by a glimpse of sunlight.
“Coming, Vince?” he asked Lee.
“I'm gonna stay put, Charlie,” Lee said, unsure of himself.
“Suit yourself,” Keaton shrugged, and left through the hatch.
Lee stood in the middle of the bunker, an open door on either side of him, one letting in light, the other leading to shadow. All around him was the hundreds of blue pills.
A third door opened behind him. He turned.
”Oh,” he said.

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