Elizabeth held up her battery-powered lantern above her head just high enough so its light just barely touched the steel hatch at the summit of the dark cement cylinder. The trembling woman took a step forward to the first steel bracket drilled into the wall that made up the ladder to the surface.
She nervously clenched her stomach and gritted her teeth determined to choke back her tears. With a trembling hand, she reached out and gripped the metal of the ladder in her cold sweat soaked palm. She looked up again and froze when she saw the impenetrable black that obscured the reinforced seal.
Lt Elizabeth Luna and her partner Lt. Edward Adams had been stranded in their reinforced concrete den by an apocalypse that came and went very suddenly. The phone never rang with an order to turn their keys. The computer announced the missile was being launched at a preselected target.
The sirens and the flashing red lights announced the end of the world had come. After a while, the rhythmic screaming faded and petered out like an engine that powering down and the blood red lights shut off.
The mounted phone at their station was their sole connection to the world outside, and it was silent as their hollow silo. They stayed in their hole and waited for some affirmation what they thought happened didn't just happen. But no one ever came.
They could only figure a fiery Armageddon had been ordered by an automated system. For reasons, they would never know. The isolation forcedThe forlorn officers tp become simply humans again. Time numbed their grief and the imperative of self-preservation erased what had been left of them as people before their identities lost all context in a world that no longer existed.
Her sense of time was formed and conditioned by mechanized timekeepers. Without their precise tracking, she had taken to living at the whim of biological necessity. The lightless barren subterranean lair offered virtually no external stimulation.
Waking life was spent in the glow of electric lanterns Only the most basic needs were tended to. Food and a joyless form of utilitarian sex made up just about all of waking life in their 20th century constructed cave.
In her former life, she never had any physical attraction or even deep emotional bond with Lt. Adams. Their sexual interaction had a foundation of morbidity. The prospect of imminent death forced the activation of an instinct built on the continuation of life as a numbers game. It was a subconscious last ditch effort against extinction.
No has ever documented the effects surviving the apocalypse might have on the human body or psyche, but that was the only explanation she had for his rapid deterioration and slow easing into death. They avoided talking to each other about their by-gone world. They revealed their torment only in their sleep when they cried out from the ceaseless torment of their nightmares.
At some point, she opened her eyes and realized she could no longer hear his shallow breathing. Even though the batteries were almost drained, she turned on the lantern so she could make sure. The light revealed chalky white skin stretched over shallow cheeks and thin blue lips.
She gasped at the sight of Adams death mask and scurried to a dark corner. The hardest part about confronting death is not seeing it happen to other people but the way their cold sightless eyes remind you of the shared destination.
The corpse and the dwindling stocks of food were dreadful reminders she would have to act if she had any hope of clinging to life for much longer. This realization was made all the harder to bare by the realization she was pregnant.
She took a deep breath and clenched the metal rung of the ladder just above her head before forcing her trembling foot on the bottom bar. She knew the reason they never left their burrow even in the brief period when they were facing possible nuclear annihilation was the fear of facing what was beyond their protective chambers.
The whole world might be a charred corpse itself, far more gruesome than the silent cadaver laying quietly just a few yards away. Death most likely waited for her outside but her she was sharing a room with it. She clenched her stomach and moved up two more rungs.
The fire city consuming hurricanes from the nuclear testing films flashed through her mind and her heart pounded in her chest. Her body became rigid, and she clung to the ladder so she wouldn't fall. Would there be anything at all outside? The lantern light flickered and shut off for good.
“shit.” she choked.
She furiously pressed the button, but the light wouldn't come back. Frustrated she dropped the lantern on the floor and wiped away the stinging tears welling in her eyes. Suicide had long been the elephant in the room. Something they both knew was one of only a few feasible options, and now it seemed like that's what she was finally down to.
Unless she continued climbing. Starvation and radiation poisoning didn't seem like fates worth fighting for.
There was a small but forceful part of her though that forced the rest of her being to reason those were the most likely outcomes but were they certain? She looked at the hatch and forced herself up towards the rotating lock.
Elizabeth had never died before so she couldn't begin to imagine the suffering she was most likely holding out for, but for some reason, she felt she was ready to pay that price for just a bit more time. It didn't matter if this was a world she would want to bring a child into or even live in.
those choices would be made for her. She grabbed the bar and spun it around. Several preceding clicks that crescendoed into the metallic echo of the lock disengaging. She pushed the hatch open and crawled out into the world.