By Lonnie Benson
The air was as cold and bitter as a witch’s tit. A few figures made their way through a tunnel that might have once been a hallway, full of random urban debris and dust that reflected what little light peaked through the cracks from the outside.
It was deep into the 21st or maybe even 22nd century, but it really didn’t matter. The Second Nuclear Age had become every bit as empowering as optimists had hoped, and yet as bad as was feared in the Cold War. The world wasn’t scoured entirely with scars from nuclear bombs, yet nuclear winter blanketed the skies of earth’s major cities, destroyed as a result. Interestingly enough, it was thanks to sabotage by an independent group of terrorists that were vehemently against the new popular energy source. Manhattan, for instance, got nearly all of its energy from Enercom’s conveniently placed nuclear reactor right in the middle of the island.
For decades, the reactor and administration buildings proudly stood with the rest of Manhattan’s famous skyline, a beacon of truly clean energy. The conglomerate was the first to insist and implement a new way of harnessing the power of the atom, proving it to be the most stable with the highest output yet—so safe and controlled, that it could efficiently and inexpensively power all of New York City (and then some!) right in Manhattan, with virtually no threat to its inhabitants. Many independent groups insisted that it was spewing out radiation that would eventually spread globally, infecting untold numbers of humans and other animals in ways nobody was ready for. The busy businessmen, natives of the island, often and reluctantly carried Geiger counters as they flooded and raced the streets on their way to and from meetings, unsure of how safe it could ever be to be so close to a nuclear power plant; yet, none ever even blipped in the running history of the plant. It truly was every bit as safe as was promised!
The determined ecoterrorists knew better. There had to be some undetectable radiation given off. There is no free lunch, and no fathomable way so much energy would and could be produced so cleanly. They knew better! They spent decades planning to topple the energy giant, insisting on rectifying the corruption Enercom spread as it quickly rose to the top. All of their infiltration missions had failed, and no evidence could be found to pin against Enercom. Why would the top floors of the Enercom building be so heavily lead-lined though? Why did the corporate bigwigs insist on bomb-proofing much of the top half of the skyscraper during construction if it was so safe? What were they hiding, and why? The constant espionage of the 13 Chimps unearthed nothing sinister, and there simply was no secret plot unearthed…so they did the most reasonable thing an ecoterrorist group would do. They blew it up.
Nobody knows or remembers who struck first of the various nuclear-capable countries, but it seemed to happen all around the same time. The 13 Chimps saw their window of opportunity and smashed it with a sledgehammer. As with the majority of the United States, Manhattan wasn’t ravaged by nuclear weaponry, or infested with radiation, but ecoterrorists are nothing if not determined, so they fixed the problem by destroying the reactor from the inside out. It was almost poetic really, as they sacrificed their lives to achieve their penultimate life goal, perpetuating the mutually assured destruction that already shifted the world everywhere else.
The initial explosion of the reactor, (or quantum mechanics or something—most of the science nerds had retreated or perished, so nobody really knows) rocked the island, decimating everything within a few hundred yards that surrounded it; everything, of course, except for the shining beacon of hope that was the seemingly untouched administration building.
Actually, it was somewhere in the remnants of the reactor that was shining. With a thick soup of black overcast preventing any sunlight through, the unnatural illumination was the only light source for the island. Those Geiger counters did come in handy though, as survivors quickly noticed that the beams of cracked light that showed the way to the only truly safe building around also contained annoying amounts of radiation. The convenient hand-held devices would crackle whenever someone wandered too close to a nook or cranny that radiation stalked in. Science had fortunately blessed the so fortunate, lucky survivors with RadAway, nifty spongy packs that absorbed harmful radiation before it would ravage the body. They initially sold well, but the public had little use for them.
Occasionally, the figures would find some of them scattered amongst the rubble. Sometimes there would be one or two stashed in a drawer or cabinet somewhere, but they were just temporary band-aids until the gang made it to the remaining Enercom structure. They would search the rooms of the hallways, but ultimately, they found their misery merely delayed by each discovery, returning to the hallways of buildings once thriving with life; once stuffed with pedestrian passers-by, but now decrepit and aged.Would they ever make it? And if they did, what then? What would they find at the top of that tower? Were there more survivors that were unscathed, or could they be some of the last living animals on the island? Would it matter?