This story is by Maxwell Long and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Jeff set his crudely modified AR-15 on the table before he sat down. The Global War had been inevitable. Europe had been quickly overrun, and the US had turned a blind eye to the impending conflict. Shortly after, the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Liberal use of atomic weapons plunged the world into total devastation.
Jeff had been at work when the sirens went off. His thoughts had turned immediately to his wife, Nicole, who was at home about 35 miles southwest. The company Jeff had worked for back then had taken over the old Saturn V launchpad in Cape Canaveral, and rebuilt it after years of lying dormant. He was taken to the nearest BunkerCorp bunker on base immediately. Jeff could only hope Nicole had made it to their community’s bunker in time.
BunkerCorp was a government contractor that had built giant underground bunkers capable of withstanding nuclear holocaust. At least they had turned out to be a quality product thought Jeff, laughing under his breath. Focusing his attention back on the task at hand, Jeff hovered his finger over the switch, closed his eyes, and, ‘Click.’ He noticed the blip on the screen. It worked!
Jeff had spent the last week hunkered down in the Beach House, old home to the Apollo astronauts, working on a radio receiver. He had a radio, but had never had any luck reaching anybody. This receiver would allow him to pick up other radio signals, increasing his chances of finding people, bringing him one step closer to Nicole. Since he knew the area well, he was able to rummage the parts and tools needed from the workshops around the base. He had built a self-sustaining compound at the Beach House keeping him safe from raiders and mutated wildlife.
He reveled in his accomplishment by wiping the sweat from his brow and looking at the blip on the screen, which was his own radio. “I’m coming for you Nikki,” he said. He was about to turn it off when he heard another beep, off beat from his radio’s blip. His heart jumped. Could he have found another signal already? Sure enough, there was a blip just north of him. He would set out the next morning at first light.
Completely overgrown with vegetation now, Phillips Parkway could only be seen by a trained eye. The sun was coming up over the barren wasteland as Jeff started north at the suggestion of his receiver. He made it just past the railroad when the signal started to veer west. Could this be coming from LC39A, the old launch complex that had first sent men to the moon? The same one that later held Jeff’s old office? He started to walk faster and faster, breaking out into a run.
Following the signal, he made his way up the long sloping pad deck and down to the bottom floor of the offices underneath. He had always known these were down here, but never spent much time exploring them. Most of them had been abandoned decades before Jeff worked there. The signal had lead him to a dead end, an empty hallway.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Jeff said. In his frustration, Jeff kicked the wall, and a panel fell to the floor with a crash. Jeff looked around to make sure he hadn’t alerted any tunnel mutants. After a few seconds of silence, Jeff was able to move. The panel revealed a steel door, about three feet by three feet, sealed with a chain. Luckily, the chain was no match for Jeff’s bolt cutters. With a quick snip, Jeff was on his way through the small tunnel.
Finally, at the end of the tunnel, Jeff stood up to get his bearing. He could now hear the gentle hum of a generator, and what he saw was eerily impressive, a laboratory. It was in quite a state of disarray with definite signs of a struggle. Upon further exploration, he uncovered a large pod. It looked like a very early model cryogenic preservation pod. Although bigger and much more complicated than the ones he had worked with, Jeff was able to easily figure out how to start the revitalization process.
A few seconds of clacking on the keyboard, and Jeff was able to run the initiation program. Suddenly, the pod awoke, and the fluids lines started humming. With some gusts of smoke, the top of the pod hinged open. Behind the window he saw a person!
Much to Jeff’s surprise, the man started pressing buttons inside the chamber as if this was routine. The shield rotated away, and Jeff jumped back, pulled his weapon, and aimed it at the pod. The man stood up, stretched, and let out a massive yawn. As he was pulling wires and tubes from his body, Jeff squinted and noticed something weird. This man looked…familiar. Not the same familiarity as that of an acquaintance, no, this was more like that of a celebrity.
The man noticed Jeff’s hostile stance and jumped in surprise. With his hands up he said, “Please sir, I mean you no harm!”
“Who are you?” Jeff asked, not retreating his position.
“Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Neil Armstrong, and I – “
“Bull shit,” Jeff said.
Looking around, Neil seemed confused. “This place has seen better days, where is everyone?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about man, there hasn’t been another person around here for a long time.”
After Neil showed Jeff identification, he recounted his story: After the first experimental moon base, Leto, was successful, BunkerCorp teamed up with the government to build a second, more permanent base on the moon, codenamed Artemis. Neil was supposed to lead the construction on the moon, but before the mission, BunkerCorp hijacked the operation. He was secretly put in the cryo pod, and was supposed to be woken up a year later to investigate their evil plot. Neil was surprised when Jeff told him that the world had been informed that the astronaut hero was killed in 1970 in the failed moon mission, and no attempt for the moon was made again.
Jeff told Neil about the Great War, and that in 2047 the world was destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. He had only survived because he had been taken to a BunkerCorp bunker. Everyone with him had long since left or died in the ferocious mutated wild of the devastated world. He ended by telling Neil that he was looking for his wife, Nicole. She had been taken to a different bunker when the bombs dropped.
Just then, they started to hear voices. “What the hell was that?” Jeff said.
“Those sounded like BunkerCorp retrieval units,” Neil responded, all the blood gone from his face.
“A retrieval unit?” Jeff asked.
“An android of extraordinary power used to tie up their loose ends. We need to get out of here. How are you on ammunition?” replied Neil grabbing a gun and ammo clips from a nearby locker.
“I’ve got one extra clip. What’s going on?”
“You’ll need these,” Neil told Jeff, pointing to the locker full of magazines. “They must know I’m still alive. They are here to kill me.” Neil snapped a clip into his gun.
They rushed out of the lab the same way Jeff came in. They turned a corner to find the stairwell to the top of the pad deck. If they were lucky, the retrieval unit would look around the lab, giving them just enough time to get away. They could escape through the fence on the east side of the pad, although it was over a quarter mile from where they’d emerge.
Quietly, they opened the door to the pad, both of them squinting at the sun, now high in the sky. The coast looked clear, and they slowly exited the building and started east. Not three steps out, a calm, deep voice called to them.
They both stopped cold in their tracks, afraid to turn around.
“We are here to bring you in for debriefing. Please comply or we will be obligated to use excessive force.” The cold voice said.
“This is it.” Neil whispered under his breath as he clicked off the safety of his weapon.
This made Jeff’s heart jump into his throat. He wasn’t prepared to die today. He should have never stayed here. He should have went back to his house and set up there to find Nicole.
Neil turned around, and Jeff followed his lead. “What do you want from us? I was never briefed by you, therefore I will need no debriefing.” Neil responded to the man. Jeff could see him now, he was in a long black leather trench-coat with a high-and-tight haircut, wearing retro-futuristic sunglasses.
“You will come with us. This is non-negotiable.”
“Non-negotiable? I don’t do non-negotiable,” Neil retorted. “Consider this the opening of the negotiation.” With that, the bullets started to fly. Jeff and Neil ran toward a nearby pump skid while the androids were looking for cover themselves.
“Are you serious Neil?” Jeff asked.
“All they meant by debrief was kill. At least this way there’s some hope!”
Jeff couldn’t argue with that logic. He crouched behind a rusty water pump and started to think. He knew this pad like the back of his hand, after all, he did help design the fluid systems all those years ago. Then, he noticed that the androids were only about ten yards from the pyrophoric burn-off area. The lines leading up to it were always bled in, and had manual override valves in case of an automation failure.
“Neil, get them over those pipes and cover me, I’ll do the rest!” Jeff yelled to him.
Neil nodded, and Jeff took off. First he ran to the pneumatics control panel and activated it. Now it was time to get to the pyro panel on the other side of the pad deck. Neil was doing a great job focusing all of their attention on him, and he was managing to push them toward the pipes.
Jeff headed across the pad in a dead sprint. Making it to the panel he turned some valves, supplying high pressure to the primed line. He just hoped there would be enough there to ignite when exposed to the air and fry their circuits.
“Jeff, now!” Yelled Neil.
Jeff noticed the androids were in position, and he flipped the last valve open. Fire erupted from the pipes enveloping the androids. Neil ran up and planted two bullets each firmly into their heads.
“That takes care of that,” Neil said, out of breath. “Just in time too, that was my last clip.”
Jeff walked up alongside Neil as he picked up a device from a bag one of the androids dropped. Jeff took it, typed something on it, and gave it back to Neil.
“There,” Jeff said, “I just sent the message that the retrieval was complete. That should buy us some time. For now, we should look through their files to see what they were up to. Maybe we can get some information on what’s going on. Let’s head back to the lab to use the computers.”
“Jeff, let’s come back tomorrow. It will be a few days until BunkerCorp realizes the mission was a failure and sends someone for us. For now though, I’m famished. Do you know where we can get some food?”
Jeff nodded, and they turned and started back to the Beach House.