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THE LAST RUN: When The First MIRV Is Cast

A little bit from THE LAST RUN, which is standing ready for release…

TFR Title

“Ah, command, this is early warning,” a voice said over the headset Benchley wore. “Harmony Six, you need to take a look at this, sir.”

Benchley looked up from his console at the rear of the base’s command center. The center was the brain of Harmony Base, where all operations were overseen. A fairly large room, it consisted of a main situation display at the front, which in turn was surrounded by several smaller screens that were readable even from Benchley’s position. Three rows of computer workstations separated him from the display bank, and the center was currently fully staffed with thirteen section operators and the major players on the command staff—essentially, himself and Corinne Baxter, who sat at a second station to Benchley’s left. He cut his eyes toward the main display, which bore a computer-generated Mercator map. It was one of the constants at Harmony Base, for there was no better way to get an idea of what crisis might be brewing than to look at the map that was transmitted to them straight from NORAD, itself located deep in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain. What he saw made him frown. Reaching out from Russian territory were two—no, three, then five!—fingers of light. And as he watched, more fingers rose from inside Russian borders, like great serpents rearing back to strike. But even this wasn’t a great shock; Benchley had seen it multiple times in the past, during training exercises. Which weren’t always announced.

Except to Benchley. And he’d received no notification regarding any pending training drills.

“What’s the confidence of this?” Benchley asked.

“Uh, waiting for verification, but confidence seems high, sir,” said the technician manning the early warning console in the first row. “We’re getting this straight from NORAD.”

Benchley reached for one of three telephone handsets in the console’s desk area before him. One was red, the other two were black. He picked up the red one. A tone sounded when he put the handset to his ear. “This is Harmony Six Actual. Over.” With those words, he was immediately connected to the commander’s desk at North American Defense Command.

“Harmony Six Actual, stand by for Hawkeye Six Actual. Over.”

“Roger that.” Benchley waited as patiently as he could, his gaze locked on the main display. As he watched, several more indications of intercontinental missile launches bloomed from inside the Russian border. So far, there was no response from the U.S.-based missile silos. He didn’t know what to make of that; in previous drills, the response had always been swift, and so far, the mission clock had churned out thirty seconds.

If this isn’t an unannounced drill, we are majorly fucked.

“Harmony Six, this is Hawkeye Six Actual. Marty, you there?”

“Here, sir,” Benchley said to the Commanding General of North American Defense Command, a four-star Air Force officer named Hank Hulse. Benchley had met Hulse only a few times, and he found the senior officer to be one of those commanders who treasured the casual approach when it came to dealing with his subordinates. Even now, Hulse still referred to him as “Marty,” a name Benchley had not answered to since he was ten years old. “We’re seeing multiple launch detections from Russia, but I didn’t receive any notification of any exercises.”

“That’s correct, Harmony. This is not a drill, this is a real-world event. Expect a response in kind as soon as the NCA gives authorization. Ahead of that, I’d advise you to button up, Marty—I’d be mighty surprised if missile defense was going to be able to save the day. This is going to be a real kick in the pants. Over.”

“Hawkeye, this is Harmony Six Actual. I understand that this is a real world event, and Harmony is to activate isolation operations. How’s our copy on that? Over.”

“Harmony, this is Hawkeye Six Actual. You have good copy. Execute your operation plan. Take care, Marty. Hawkeye Six Actual, out.”

For an instant, Benchley just stood there, the red handset pressed against his ear. He stared dumbly at the main display, watching as more missile tracks were added, each one of them climbing in an arcing parabola that would terminate inside the United States. And more tracks popped up, this time from the Pacific Ocean, as the Russian ballistic missile submarines and cruisers there released their own payloads.

It can’t be for real…

And then, launch detections from the United States finally registered. Blossoming upward from Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico, bright tentacles rose from the computer-generated North American landmass. Benchley slowly hung up the phone, then turned to Baxter. She looked at him with a blank face, but her eyes were windows through which her fear showed in unvarnished brilliance.

“Lock down the base,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, as of this time, Harmony Base is going operational. Let’s recall all our people from the surface, and send alerts to our personnel who are off-post. They need to get back here as soon as the possibly can.” His legs felt suddenly weak, and he half-sat, half-collapsed into his chair as alarms began to wail.

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