Still standing at the aft rail, Henry Taggart watched the coiling toroidal clouds as they climbed through the stratosphere, the haunting cacophony of perishing souls trapped within now crystallized within his reeling mind. He looked up and saw the B-21s launch a second strike just as the third Russian strike hit, this second wave of hypersonic lances slanting-in to take out Amsterdam – and Taggart groaned as the implications became clear in his mind.
In order to prevent the massive supplies of oil cached in these two ports from falling into Russian hands, in a now all too familiar calculus the two cities surrounding these ports were being sacrificed. As in: blood for oil. As in: for the last one hundred years, the brutal efficiency of this formula had guided human history like nothing ever had before – because as Everett DeGolyer had so cogently explained, oil was power and global dominance of geo-petrochemical production would lead to world dominance. Roosevelt understood the implications all too well; so had Joseph Stalin. The game was afoot, and no points for coming in second place!
Now, even as hydrocarbon emissions were choking off their future, humans were once again willing to go to the mats to control supplies of the stuff – even if this would quite necessarily be the last time humans fought any kind of war at all. If the whole thing wasn’t so sickening, Taggart thought, it might have even been kind of funny. Like the same kind of fun if John Galt was to be suddenly brought to life and Rand’s archetypal Übermench then decided to take out the human race rather than watch it be subsumed in some sort of neo-Marxist non-conforming conformism. Humanity was, after all, a particularly fragile construct – one particularly ill-suited to comprehensive introspective analysis – the sort where deontologists go off on a march to kill millions in the service of an idea, if only because they are so much more efficient at it.
“How wrong we were,” he said to the cobalt-encased, thorium-enriched clouds settling into their familiar mushroom formations over the burning city. He tried to think of the most heart-wrenching example you could find of humanity – say, for instance, a club-footed Sudanese boy of perhaps two years, born with a cleft-palette and no arms, the sort frequently used to attract donors to any of the dozens of charitable organizations founded to help such ‘wastrels.’ Legions of oil companies directing battalions of marching soldiers had ground an endless number of such children into the sand, and all in an endlessly mad search for more and more energy –
But when Taggart joined the Seattle Group he had quickly learned that there was more energy locked inside a single thought than there was in the most devastating hydrogen bomb ever built. He’d laughed at the simple-minded lunacy of the very idea, too – until a freak named Winky had taken him and a gastrointestinally challenged male orca for a five minute spin around Vancouver Island…at speeds in excess of Mach 50. He’d shut the fuck up after that – and started listening…big time. Even as the stomping legions in their Brooks Brothers’ suits lined-up to do battle with the idea. One more time. Because this one was for all the marbles, wasn’t it?
They’d talked about war once, too. He and Winky, that is. And Winky had listened patiently, even tactfully given the circumstances, then he’d turned to Taggart and asked one simple question. “How many wars have been fought since the end of your Revolutionary War – where oil was the principle organizing objective of your intervention?”
Taggart had thought long and hard about that one, then threw the answer “Ten!” out there to hang around in the air apparent, yet Winky had only smiled that patient smile of his before he’d turned and walked off.
“That’s not fair!” Taggart yelled – causing men all around the ‘Special’ hanger at Boeing’s Everett Field to turn and see what this latest commotion was all about –
But by then he and Winky were standing in the History section at the Harvard Coop Bookstore across from Harvard Yard, and Winky had simply pulled a book from the shelf titled A Country Made by War and handed it to him – before stating: “More than 1400 – by Perret’s count, anyway – though my own was a little more aggressive.”
“What? Are you serious?”
“Read it and then go find out for yourself, Hank.”
“Forgot your wallet again, I see? Well then – let me, please.”
Those had been the days, Taggart mused. Winky could appear as anyone, of course, though he usually walked and talked like Cary Grant or Bela Lugosi, depending on his mood and the state of his humor, which, in those days, had been generally playful.
He heard someone in the cockpit and turned to see Mike standing there, looking aft at what was left of Rotterdam, and Taggart saw that the naval officer was finally at a loss for words.
“This is what happens when your best laid plans fall on their ass,” Mike croaked, his voice a parched mirror of his facial burns. “What about Amsterdam?”
Taggart shook his head. “It’s gone, too. B-21s hit it about a half hour ago.”
Mike flipped a few switches but nothing worked now, not even the diesel, so he walked back to the rail and stood there beside Henry. “Looks like EMP took out everything,” he said softly.
Taggart shrugged. “I’ve got a few spares.”
“That figures. What about the sails?”
“Standing rigging is toast, though if I can get up the mast I can rig the main and staysail, enough to get us down the road a little, anyway.”
“I take it you weren’t expecting this?” Mike asked as he took it all in, his voice suddenly full of real sorrow.
But Taggart turned and faced Mike, the anger behind his eyes manifest: “No, I’ve been expecting this my whole life, Mike. In fact, I’m surprised we made it this far.”
Mike nodded. “What’s that old saying? Kill someone in an alley and you go to jail, but kill thousands to the beat of marching bands and get medals. I guess that makes us…what?”
“Irredeemable is, Mike, the word you’re looking for. An evolutionary dead end, and it is time to put an end to this…”
But a series of far away explosions ripped through the air and the two of them turned to watch a number of fighters whirling around tens of thousands of feet above the sea, shooting missiles and firing machine guns at one another in a last ballet of death. Too far away to make out any detail, Taggart turned away from it all and walked back to the cockpit, helped Dina and Rolf get to their feet. Rolf seemed almost in a state of shock as Dina took him down the companionway.
– then he felt Eva in his mind…
‘There is a great evil coming for you now,’ she told him. ‘Get everyone below and prepare yourself.’
‘You are injured. I will help you if I can.’
‘Thanks. I get by with a little help from my friends.’
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’ He felt the lightness in her thoughts, the noble purity, and he smiled – as if he was a flower turning to face the sun.
“You’d better get below, Mike. Now.”
“What? Why? What’s happening…?”
Two of the fighters were locked in a struggle to the death, one diving now, the second turning to pursue…
“I think they’re out of missiles,” Mike sighed. “They’ve been going at one another like this for a few minutes now.”
“Too stupid to know they’re already dead.”
“Homo sapiens…to the very end.” Taggart held onto the backstay, his head turned up to watch this all too familiar scene play out to it’s inevitable conclusion…
An American F15 was trying to turn inside of the pursuing Russian Su-35 when it went inverted in a sudden wingover and pulled-back hard at the apex…but this Russian wasn’t buying the dodge. The Russian committed now and drove his fighter right into the wings of the Eagle, the pilot ejecting at the last possible moment – just before their machines burst into flames and tumbled like falling leaves down to there sunless sea of gritty molten amber.
But Taggart watched the ejection carefully.
The canopy broke away smoothly, the rocket under the seat fired and then the seat fell away from the pilot as the drogue opened. Perhaps a second later the main chute opened and then the man hung there, suspended by his harness…
Until the pilot realized he was falling towards an American yacht.
Which was when he reached for the pistol strapped to his thigh.
And yet Taggart just watched this fall from grace knowing full well what he had to do now.
“Mike? I put a spare sat-phone in the oven. Could you go get that for me, please?”
“In the oven?”
“Faraday cage, Mike. Don’t leave home without one.”
“Power it up, would you?”
He could see the pilot clearly now, see that he was watching everything Taggart and Mike did even as he fell through the gritty amber sky. And he could feel the malice in the man’s livid eyes as the water reached up and plucked him from the sky.
The swim platform worked well enough, and it still supported his weight as he stepped out on it. He flipped the swim steps out and watched them fall into the water – just as the pilot swam up to the stern, an ancient Makarov clenched in one hand.
“Stand back!” the Russian ordered as he reached out for the steps – speaking in Russian, of course.
“Would you care for a towel?” Taggart answered – in Russian.
“Stand back, now! Or I will shoot her!”
Taggart turned and saw Eva standing on the aft deck – but he saw the shimmering pink glow around her feet and knew it was Pinky.
“Oh…feel free,” Henry said, smiling genially at the aviator.
“What? Are you an imbecile? Did you not hear me? Stand back!”
Taggart leaned over and extended his hand. “Perhaps you didn’t know, but your left arm is fractured. Now, take my hand and I will help you up.”
“Stand back! Now!”
Taggart sighed and took a step back, then he watched the old Russian Colonel struggle up the steps while trying his best not to show overt disgust. “Would you like a towel now?” he just managed to ask.
The Russian, speaking through clenched teeth and with sweat running down his forehead into his eyes, snarled now. “No! Get back or I will kill all of you, now!”
“Not to put too fine a point on things, Colonel Peskov, but this is my vessel and you are my guest while here.”
“No! You are MY prisoners! Now, step back, but…say? How do you know my name?”
“Your gun, please. Give it to me.”
Furious now, Peskov took the pistol and placed it about a foot in front of Taggart’s face and pulled the trigger.
Except Taggart reached out and twisted the pistol free of Peskov’s hand, then tossed it into the sea. “We have a physician onboard if you’d care to have that arm looked at.”
“You are my prisoner! You do as I say!” Peskov commanded, now in rough, heavily accented English.
“Or, would you please just shut the fuck up?”
“We win, see?” Peskov shouted, pointing at Rotterdam’s feraly glowing remnants. “You understand? Russians wins again!”
“Okay, Anton, you asked for this, so hang onto your britches…”
They were in a woman’s mind now, seeing the world through her eyes. Running along the Martynova Boulevard in St Petersburg, the river off to her right, her two small boys running just ahead…
“Those are my grandchildren!” Anton cried. “How can this be?”
Only Peskov could hear the air raid sirens wailing all around them now, then the fear in all their voices as they ran for the shelter near to subway entrance – then the hideous, shrieking howl of a million souls perishing as a small sun erupted a mile above the city center…
Only Anton Peskov could see and feel the primordial fear in the wildly beating heart of his youngest daughter, then – through her eyes – he watched the all-enveloping fusion blast that came calling for the only three people left in the world he could honestly say he still loved…
…and in the time it took to sigh they were gone, and in the next instant they had been reduced to black grit that had somehow been fused to the pavement – like shadows painted on concrete…
And Anton Peskov fell to his knees, his bunched fists pounding Time Bandits’ deck, murderous rage welling in his heart. “I will kill you all with my bare fists,” he howled, the burning pyre of St Petersburg flickering in his eyes –
Yet in the next instant his eyes were focused like laser beams – attached to the re-entry cone of a MIRV boring through the atmosphere just above Moscow –
“No, this can not be! This must not be!”
As the MIRV mechanism deployed, all 28 warheads blossomed from behind the cone, each independently programmed warhead streaking down to impact on a prominent cultural landmark in the heart of the city…
Only now he had a God’s eye view of the moment, looking down on the city of his youth as the first 28 warheads hit, then another and another 28, until all that remained of the city was a seventy mile wide slag-heap filled with a seething lava-like substance that bubbled away in the night. Nothing at all remained of the city and the culture that had defined his people for hundreds, if not thousands of years…
Consumed with fiery rage, Anton pulled himself erect and beat his chest with his good hand. His eyes full of grief for the dead, he turned on Taggart: “Think of all the children! The grandchildren – that you have just murdered!”
Taggart walked over and stood by Peskov’s trembling body, then he pointed at Rotterdam’s amber-glowing grit. “See the children over there, Anton? Can you feel them now? The grandchildren and grandparents and all their history – gone now, because of what you did here today? Can you feel them now? Here? Right here?” Taggart said as he ran his fingers through his hair and pulled it down for Anton to see, the sweat on his fingers speckled with little obsidian flecks of grit. “See them, Anton? This is all that’s left of them now. All their hopes and dreams, all that they were or might ever be…here they are…one last time and just for you!?”
“What are you talking about, you fool?”
“Here they are, Anton. Their remains, falling from the sky – right now. On you. Right on your head, Anton, and there, right on your face and in your eyes. Can you not feel them, Anton? Can you not hear their screams?”
As the realization began crowding out every other thought Taggart watched the man go mad right in front of him. Peskov ran his hand through his own hair and he felt the grit on his fingers, under his fingernails, then he heard the millions of screams as the warheads blossomed overhead. And each little fleck of grit became a life’s blood on his hands until the man’s soul literally withered and burned out there on the aft deck, then the shell of the man stood there in mute grief as the ironies of his inherent contradictions consumed him.
© 2020 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next chapter will drop as circumstances permit.