Authors note: The following is the first 6 chapters of fiction entitled "My Time in the Apocalypse" That I am publishing on Royal Road. If you enjoy this please follow me there. https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/59439/my-time-in-the-apocalypse
It’s not every day I manage to get a restful nap. In fact, I can’t recall the last time I got more than an hour or two of sleep without waking up in a panic. Today was different, today I discovered a still functioning survival bunker.
Finding a survival bunker is often a high risk, high reward occurrence. Sometimes empty, sometimes occupied, sometimes trapped. On this particular occasion the bunker I stumbled upon was both vacant and functional, with no signs of recent habitation.
It was a bit of a miracle that I even found the place. I was climbing through some hilly terrain in search of a high point to check my bearings and surroundings when I glimpsed the rusted carcass of a land vehicle. When I went to search it for anything useful my EMF scanner started to click. It was about thirty minutes later that I managed to triangulate the source and another ten minutes to find the bunker.
When I found the reinforced bunker door concealed inside an elaborate false rock formation my heart nearly skipped a beat. The light on the card lock was green, indicating an unlocked security door. This was potentially good news in that survival bunkers are notoriously difficult to break into but also bad news. If the lock was green because someone was nearby, or worse, inside, there could be a high level of trouble.
The bunkers I have encountered in the past with intact doors haven’t had such weak EMF signatures. It usually indicates a worn out power system operating on a trickle of remaining power or a busted bunker retrofitted by squatters. If the weak EMF signal is accompanied by my Geiger counter banging away then it indicates a serious radiological danger. However, the Geiger counter screaming at me would warn me far sooner than the EMF scanner would grab my attention. In this case, a green lock light with low EMF meant the bunker was operational.
Unsure of what to do next I spent some time searching near the rock formation for any trace of people or animals. Aside from some bird nests and scratches on the bark of a few trees nothing screamed danger. At worst, the marks in the bark were either from deer or bear. Deer rubbing the fur off their antlers during rutting season, or bears marking their territory. I made a best guess and went with the deer. With no signs of anything that walks on two legs I went back to the door.
The door moved roughly on its hinges. Years of neglect had taken their toll but the skill of the engineers who designed it won out as it slowly opened. There were no smells of decay or life coming from the other side of the door. If anything, there was a faint antiseptic smell, reminders of a long ago cleaning.
Behind the door was a series of concrete steps leading deeper underground. Hanging from a series of hooks on the interior wall were an assortment of keys and plastic cards. The plastic cards revealed themselves to be access cards for the bunker, three of them. Unlike other cards I have found, these lacked photographs and identification information. A likely indication that the owners of this bunker never arrived to claim it.
At the bottom of the stairs was a small landing area with a solid metal door. This one was locked with a blinking red light on the card scanner. Steeling my nerves I grabbed the door handle. It was indeed locked. The blinking red light on the scanner beckoned me.
I took a swig of water from my canteen and sat down for a minute. I needed to get through this door but if I screwed it up, the door may never open for me. To deal with the stress of the situation I flipped through my collection of key cards.
Most were scavenged from the dried out corpses I encountered in my travels. A few were found inside vehicles or homes. Once I found one that unlocked a safe room hidden in the basement of a house. Unfortunately, those inside the safe room were long since dead. Broken furniture and scratch marks on the interior walls of the room told a gruesome tale. The punctuation mark to that tale, the ceiling joist piercing the body that held the key card, still lay on the upper floor of the collapsed house.
I pulled the three blank cards from my pocket, slowly flipping them over in my hand. I had never encountered unused key cards. Weighing the risks and potential rewards of the bunker I decided to take a chance and activated my cybernetic implant.
A gentle female voice spoke directly into my mind, “Hello Brian, how may I assist you?” At the same time several small transparent screens appeared in my field of vision. One of them, a diagnostic, was scrolling multiple lines of data. Another screen contained a chronometer and location data, complete with a localized map, compass, and nearby life readings.
“Hello Cassie,” I replied quietly in my mind.
Cassie is a cybernetic implant system in my head. Its actual name is CAS, which stands for Cybernetic Assistant System. I took to calling her Cas, or Cassie after modifying the system's speech settings to emulate a female voice.
A few lines on the diagnostic window glowed red. It was not unexpected to see one for the communication system being unable to reach a network. The more pressing alert was related to Cassie’s power system, it was operating on four percent power. I had long since lost my solar charger and only activated her when times were dire or brooked no option for failure. This door was one such occasion.
“Hi Cassie, I know it’s been a while but I think this is one of those make or break moments where I really need your help,” I said aloud. In response, a hologram of a woman in a gray jumpsuit materialized before me.
“System operating on emergency power. Please recharge. Minimal systems active. Data connection inactive. Please state your request.”
“I am inside a secure bunker with minimal EMF levels. The outer door was unlocked but the interior door is locked and blinking red. I found some keys and a few blank key cards by the main door. I need to open this door and get inside in the safest and most secure way possible. Can you provide any scanning information?” I held up the three blank cards to the hologram.
“Processing request.” While Cassie paused I watched the battery meter trickle down to three percent.
“Scanners are offline at current power level. Accessing stored data on bunkers and key cards.” The power meter dropped to two percent. The hologram disappeared, to be replaced by a small screen of her face. My other screens collapsed on themselves. I was left with two floating screens, one of Cas and the other flashing a power warning.
When Cas is fully powered up she can do a lot of helpful things. When low on power, most of those functions become impossible. For a very long time I had a solar charger that worked great for keeping her topped off. I lost it some time ago and have had to resort to other charging methods such as siphoning power from nearly dead batteries and power plants. If this bunker turned out to be a bust, well, I wouldn’t be seeing Cas for a long time.
“Records show that a red blinking lock light indicates an unclaimed locked door. Inserting a … Warning emergency power at critical level! System shutdown imminent!” With those final words, Cas went dark.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel cheated by the power warning message. Just as Cas was getting to the key (no pun intended) nugget of information, she shut down. It was time to make an educated guess.
I took one of the blank key cards in my right hand and walked up to the locked interior door. I waved it in front of the door, nothing happened. Slowly I inserted it into the card reader.
Startled by the sudden appearance of a soft white light above the door, I jumped back a step. A low vibration shook the floor and a computerized voice began to speak, “Welcome, name of owner, to your new Glasnik Industries security bunker. Please place your right hand on the scanner.” A small glass plate revealed itself to the left of the lock. I placed my hand on the glass.
“Thank you and please state your name.” The voice spoke as the glass panel retracted.
“Brian Delaney,” I said aloud with some trepidation.
The light on the lock turned green and the door clicked and opened itself slightly. A moment later the blank key card was pushed half way out of the lock. I removed it to find my name, fingerprints, and a picture of a rather dirty, disheveled and somewhat startled man on the card. “Wow, it’s just like going to the DMV,” I thought to myself!
Behind the door long dormant lights and mechanical systems began coming to life. “Thank you for choosing Glasnik Industries to be your partner in survival,” spoke the computerized voice. A new, even more computerized voice began to speak, “Systems powering up. Running diagnostics. Alert! Communication system is down. Checking backup communication system. Backup communication system is down. Communication system diagnostic complete. System operational. All external links are unresponsive.” The computer droned on as it went through its powering up diagnostic routine. There were no other failures and the communication links being down was hardly a failure on the part of the bunkers builders.
The furniture was still covered in plastic sheets, as were many of the mechanical appliances. After checking a control panel near the interior bunker door to verify both doors were locked I dropped my pack and lay down on the plastic covered couch. I was too tired to do much more than sleep and I didn’t want to ruin anything clean with the weeks of road crud I was covered in. It wasn’t long until I drifted off into a deep sleep.
I was pulled from my slumber by the sounds of cooking and the scent of fresh coffee. Not the cheap coffee from a can but the rich aroma that only comes from freshly ground beans. The crackling of something in a skillet further enticed me to throw off the blanket and sit up.
I stretched languidly and wiped the sand from my eyes. It was a little past dawn..
The light of the morning sun was scattered by a series of prisms hanging in front of my bedroom window. A few of them were moving in a breeze generated by the central air system, which caused them to cast small dancing rainbows of light on the opposite wall. I reached down for the other pillow, burying my face in it and inhaling deeply. The mixture of fabric softener and perfume caused a weird mixture of melancholy and joy to rise up inside of me.
As I walked into the kitchen I saw my wife carrying two plates of food over to the table. She looked up at me and winked, “I thought I was going to have to call an ambulance. You sleep like the dead!” There was a twinkle in her eyes when she said it.
I poured each of us a cup of coffee and joined her at the table. “What ever did I do to deserve you,” I asked as I gazed at the breakfast before me. My plate was filled with toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs. I held up my mug and waited for her to lift hers as well, “to my beautiful wife and her amazing kitchen skills.” Our cups collided and she smiled, “To my wonderful husband, who lacks any sense of time.”
I cocked my head quizzically at her as I took a drink, “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means you are running late for your interview.”
“Interview? Wait, that’s today?”
“Are you kidding? It’s all you have been talking about since you got the call. How could you possibly have forgotten that it’s today? Wait, don’t answer that,” She joked. “I already set your suit and shoes out. All you have to do is eat, take a shower, get dressed, and head out,” She said all of this while directing my attention to the suit hanging on the wall.
“You really are the best, I don’t deserve you,” I beamed at her.
“Can’t argue with that,” she quipped back at me. After swallowing a few bites of her breakfast she spoke up again, “I was thinking we could see the Johnsons this weekend. Larry and Suzy just got back from their trip and I am dying to find out how it went.” I braced myself. I knew what was coming next. She looked longingly out the window, “Brian, when are we going to go on a trip again?”
This had been a thorn in our relationship for some time now. When we first got together we went on mini-vacations almost once a month. Sometimes something short like a bed and breakfast a few towns away. Other times we went away for an entire week. We drove or flew for most of our trips. We tried a romantic train ride once but it ended badly when an extremely heavy rainstorm washed out several hundred feet of track along a hillside. Half of our time was spent waiting for rescue crews to arrive and ferry us back to civilization.
That was years ago. At some point in the past our careers got in the way. Between scheduling conflicts and trips for work we were no longer able to set time aside for us. We still had date nights every few weeks. Nothing more than going to the theater or dining out.
A few months ago the company I was working for collapsed due to embezzlement among the C suite staff and I was suddenly unemployed. The stress of this unexpected career ending catastrophe only served to add more complications to our relationship.
“Soon. We can plan a trip soon. Let me see how the interview goes and then we can talk about it later,” I offered?
She gave me a mischievous look, “This is the perfect time! When they offer you the job, just tell them you can’t start for at least a week or two. I have some vacation time built up and this is the slow season at work for me. This is our best chance to get away and reconnect with each other.”
I twirled my fork in my hand, small bits of egg hanging loosely. “You’re not wrong honey, you’re really not. Are you sure we can afford it? I haven’t worked in months.”
She walked around the table and leaned in close to my ear, “Brian, I miss you.” Then she kissed me on the forehead and walked into our bedroom.
My heart ached as she walked away from me.
After finishing off my breakfast I collected the dishes and downed the last of the coffee. I grabbed my wife into a long hug as she ran for the door. “Down lover boy,” she grinned in my embrace, “you can’t make me late today, big team meeting. Plus you need to get it in gear for your interview. Remember, two weeks, TWO WEEKS!”
We kissed once and then she was gone. I locked the door behind her and sighed. She was a much better woman than I deserved. I needed to do better.
I glanced over at my suit, it was still wrapped in plastic from the dry cleaners. It was a black suit with a vertical line texture. The vest had six buttons. She had also left out a white shirt with a black and silver striped tie. My black leather shoes were polished to a medium shine, anything higher gave the impression of patent leather.
My old suit, only worn at weddings, funerals, and job interviews. I’m not sure when I last wore it. Hope it still fits!
I sat on the edge of my bed, running my hands through my unkempt hair. I turned and grabbed the pamphlet for Cybernetic Solutions off the dresser. A business card slipped out, it bore the name of the hiring manager Adam Mitchelson. I flipped it over to see my hand scrawled note: October 10, 10AM. I glanced at my alarm clock, 8:14 AM. I had a little less than two hours.
After a quick shower and some personal grooming I was ready to get dressed. I looked over the suit that was still in its protective plastic sheath. “You can do it,” I said the affirmation aloud.
I was dressed and out the door before 9 AM. I took the elevator down and walked across the lobby. “Good morning Mister Delaney, ” said the doorman. “Let me get that for you sir,” he said as he reached for the door.
“Good morning Albert! Do you know what the weather report is for today,” I asked him?
“The morning edition said ‘clear and warm’. A touch of Indian summer perhaps?”
“That sounds fantastic!”
“Right it does sir. Are you out for the day or will you be returning shortly? We have a new resident moving in today so the lobby may be a bit crowded soon,” Albert spoke as he held the door open.
“A few hours at least,” I paused. “You know what? With weather like this I’ll make an afternoon of it. Do you think things will be clear after lunch?”
“Most likely yes sir.”
I smiled and waved to Albert as I left the building. A new resident? That was unusual. Our building hasn’t had a unit change hands in quite some time. I should have asked him which one. Someone moving out should have been a big event, or at least enough of an inconvenience to warrant a passing conversation among my neighbors.
I took the subway for the short trip to the Cybernetic Solutions hiring office. They were a new player in the tech world and were only renting space in the city for a temporary recruitment center. One of my former coworkers was headhunted by them and gave them my name. I received two calls shortly after, one from my friend telling me about his new job and a second from Adam Mitchelson’s office to schedule an initial phone call.
I did well enough with the phone call that his office soon called back to schedule an in person interview, which was set for today.
I double checked the address on the card as I exited the subway station. It was in the old textile district. Long before the world became electrified this district was the center of big business here. It saw even more growth when heavy machinery increased the output of the workers. Eventually though, robotics would ride the technology wave causing manufacturing to leave the city. Now it’s a mixture of artist communes and coffee shops plus one small office of a new tech company. An office that I was quickly approaching.
I exited my slumber with a jolt. Dim lights illuminated the room I was in. The plastic sheet crinkled as I moved. Memories slowly returned to me. I was in a bunker and I was safe.
I slowly surveyed the scene before me, lots of shapes covered in clear plastic. The air smelled clean, if a bit stale. There was a very slight hum in the air. Not enough to be noticed by most people but, I wasn’t most people. Then again, recent events being what they were I may well be ‘most people’ after all.
I straightened myself into a sitting position and rubbed my eyes.
It was hard to come down from full alert but I knew my body and mind needed a break. I had no way of knowing how long my sleep had lasted but I felt rested enough to begin exploring my new domicile.
The room I was in was decorated as a communal living space. There were two couches and a few chairs, all comfortably padded. A small coffee table sat in the middle and a few odd end tables were scattered about. Most of the furniture was orientated towards a large empty space on one of the walls. I didn’t see any indication that something once hung there. From my vantage point on the couch, I could see a kitchen off of one side and several doors on the surrounding walls.
I spied my bag sitting unmolested on the floor and then glanced up at the ceiling in search of the source of the illumination. It was readily apparent that all of the lights were recessed in cracks between the walls and ceiling or otherwise disguised on the floor. I didn’t see any obvious switches aside from the status panel near the door. A quick glance confirmed that both outer doors were locked.
I knew that I had several things to do before I could truly relax. First I needed to ensure there were no hidden dangers in the bunker. Next I had to inspect the power system and find a way to recharge Cassie. Thirdly, I needed to find the bathroom.
The kitchen proved to be more than I could have ever imagined. Along with the usual assortment of appliances it had a stocked larder with enough emergency food supplies to feed a family of four for years. With only myself being here I could eat well for a decade, provided the water system was operational. It wouldn’t be the best food. Who am I kidding, this was a five star restaurant compared to what was outside!
I tentatively tried the sink. Nothing happened.
After going back to the living room I checked the remaining doors. One opened into what looked like a study. The second one revealed a corridor with more doors. The final hatch was of a heavier construction and exposed the source of the background hum. Here was the power and utility room.
There were no plastic dust covers in the utility room. All of the equipment had hazard placards on them. Some warned of radiological or electrical dangers while others contained emergency instructions in case of failure. A small caged-in area contained numerous cabinets and tool boxes. This was the central nervous system of the bunker and I had no idea how to work anything in here. The power plant was nuclear with a smattering of lights on its control board.
I stepped out of the utility room and closed the door. Goal two was in there but I needed to confirm my safety before I worried about recharging Cassie.
The study reminded me of my parents’ house. I could almost see my dad sitting at the desk, leaning back in the leather chair with a pipe, all the while discussing current events with his friends over the telescreen.
The desk was functional but not ornate. The chair was upholstered in a material that looked like leather but would not wear as poorly. The walls were lined with empty shelves, most likely meant to hold books or mementos of the owner. The drawers were not locked and within one I found the owners manual for the bunker. Yet another item for step two.
The corridor contained four more doors. Two of them revealed bedrooms, one with a king sized bed and the other two sets of bunk beds. The third door was a storage room full of wooden crates. The final door concealed a bathroom. Much like the kitchen, there was no working water in there.
With mission one accomplished it was time to figure out how to recharge Cassie. The owner’s manual covered a lot of information complete with pictures and flow charts. It was clearly designed to be used by the technologically challenged. I skimmed the introduction where I learned about the bunkers voice command system. It took a few minutes more to find out that the bunker had a name.
“Petrov,” I called out.
“What can I do for you,” a computerized male voice responded.
“Please set all lights to fifty percent when I enter a room and one percent when I leave,” I said aloud. “Execute this command immediately.” The lights in the living room increased their brightness.
“Activate the water system and run a water purity test. Inform me of the results when complete.”
“Water system has been activated,” spoke the computerized voice,” water purity within acceptable limits. Hot water will be available in five minutes. Flushing all pipes.” At that I heard the kitchen sink come to life.
The surprising sound of rushing water forced me to run to the bathroom. I made it without a second to spare as I sat down on the toilet. I continued to peruse the manual while relieving myself of all manner of waste. I felt a moment of bliss when I recognized the bidet controls.
A cabinet across from me contained numerous towels and personal hygiene products. My heart jumped when I found the toothbrushes and toothpaste. My teeth were in good shape for someone who hasn’t used a toothbrush in years, probably because the things that caused cavities were extremely rare now. My diet was mostly meat with the occasional fruit or vegetable when I stumbled upon them growing in the wild. The processed foods of the past didn’t exist anymore. At least not outside of this bunkers’ larder.
I used the bidet a few times before moving on to the utility room.
I found a few more books in the tool cage. One had to do with survival in a post civilization world. Chapters on foraging and trade dominated the book. Unfortunately the book was written for the kind of apocalypse where the grocery store runs low on toilet paper or diapers, the type of world where most of the government and law enforcement still exist. There were a few useful sections on low technology hunting, gathering and agriculture.
In the back of a book on electronics and power systems I found a set of schematics for a solar energy collection system. Some of the parts would be hard to find but not impossible. Mobile CAS charging was a distinct possibility.
Moving on to the mission at hand I cracked open the books pertaining to the power plant. I had enough of a rudimentary knowledge of small scale nuclear power plants that I could ascertain the system was running properly based on the control board. This was good, better than I dreamed possible. Now I just needed to figure out how to get the power from the bunker into Cassie without killing myself.
“Petrov,” I called out from the couch.
“How may I assist you,” responded the computerized voice of the bunker.
“Does this bunker have any battery recharging systems,” I asked aloud?
“The bunkers batteries are kept to a constant charge via the power plant. All systems in the bunker run on DC power. This model of bunker requires neither rectifiers nor inverters for its power needs. Batteries are running at 95% efficiency,” droned Petrov in his computerized voice.
“What if I brought something with me from outside of the bunker? Is there a way I can recharge its batteries, “I implored.
“This bunker is equipped with a short range power broadcasting system that keeps all hand held devices charged using a resonant inductive coupling system. If you have brought a device capable of this form of connection I can attempt to scan for it,” intoned the computer.
“Petrov, please scan now,” I said while crossing my fingers.
“Scanning now,” responded Petrov. “A single medical grade device has been found. It did not provide an identifier. Would you like to add this device to the bunkers broadcast power system,” asked the computerized voice?
“Is this device located within my body,” I asked?
“Please add the device and commence charging,” I said while pumping my fists.
I spent the next hour in the shower. It had been so long since I had seen soap and hot water in such a perfect combination. My clothes weren’t exactly in a heap on the floor, the road dust and sweat had accumulated to a point where they looked like an invisible man was wearing them. They would pay a visit to the laundry area I found in the utility room.
After showering I donned a very comfortable cotton robe. When I glanced in the mirror I almost didn’t recognize myself. Between the absence of grime and lack of proper nutrition I looked terrible. My skin was stretched tight over my face. The rest of my body was skinny without an ounce of obvious fat. I looked like a featherweight bodybuilder just before weigh-in.
Once I left the bathroom and its steamy goodness behind I explored the master bedroom. I found some sturdy clothing designed for men and women who valued function over form. I was not going to win any beauty contests wearing this stuff but it was very high on the utilitarian and durability scales. Most likely these jumpsuits were all the rage in apocalypse planning when the bunker was built. Multiple velcro pockets and small loops were around waist level. They were of a drab gray and I found them to fit me well enough. With an extra pair of socks I was able to make the boots fit to a level that I found comfortable. With basic clothing figured out it was time to hit the kitchen.
The pantry was full of a large assortment of freeze dried supplies. Some things were in cans while others were in plastic bags. The basic philosophy behind the packaging appeared to be based on an expectation of a family size of four people. There were no single serving containers. I may be able to reseal some things but I got the impression that if I opened the ‘freedom mac n cheese’ I would be eating all four servings before moving on to something else.
The names on these items were hilarious. Between the ‘freedom fries’ and ‘independence coffee’ there ran a wide gamut of patriotic puns. I was never very political before the fall but I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at ‘Honest Abe’s baked beans’ just because they had a picture of a dead president on them.
I did find one box marked as a sampler. It contained a few single serving packs and I brought that one out to the kitchen.
“Petrov,” I called out while rummaging through the box.
“How may I assist you?” Responded the computerized voice.
“How do I use the food in the pantry? Is there a box I put it in? Do I just add a drop of water?”
“The food supplies are freeze dried and require reconstitution with water. Instructions are on each package. The vendor also provided an informational video, would you like me to display it?”
An informational video? This could be very entertaining. “Yes Petrov, please run the video for me.” I saw a bright light come on in the living room. It was at this moment that I realized the furniture was pointed at a hidden screen in the wall. I lunged onto the couch and prepared myself for some pre-apocalypse comedy.
“Welcome patriot, to Fort Strong Victory foods,” a middle aged man boomed from the screen, all the while surrounded by flags, guns, and military style crates. “We are so thankful that you have chosen us as your provider of safe and efficient nutrition to see you and your loved ones through the impending apocalypse.” The man went on and on for about ten minutes comparing his product to the lesser quality products of his competitors. While it was funny, I really wanted to eat and he hadn’t even come close to the part where he explained how to turn the packets into palatable food.
“With the deluxe Family Freedom collection of food you will find a sample box. Along with that is a large wooden crate of apocalyptic survival tools. Inside is a mixture of wilderness survival and food preparation gear,” The man spoke while various crazy items appeared on the screen.
“Petrov, pause the video,” I said aloud. The video stopped.
“Petrov, is there a crate of… apocalyptic survival tools somewhere in the bunker?”
“Yes. That crate can be found in the storage room. Would you like me to activate its finder tag?” Responded the bunker.
Finder tag, what is that? “Yes Petrov,” I said while walking towards the storage room.
When I opened the door I noticed a light blinking in the back of the room. Upon closer inspection it was attached to a wooden crate with a flag in the shape of a muscular arm. The words ‘Fort Strong apocalyptic survival tool collection’ were clearly printed on the side. I struggled for a minute to get the crate off of the shelf. I spied a handcart by the door and used that to wheel the wooden box back into the living room.
Once back on the couch I used the small crowbar attached to the handcraft to open the supply box. Numerous smaller containers with stylized military stenciling filled the large crate. “Petrov, resume video playback,” I commanded.
About thirty minutes later I had extracted the items I needed and returned the rest to the storage room. Armed with several pots, pans, and utensils I proceeded to reconstitute a sample of the ‘freedom mac n cheese’ and a generous helping of the ‘independence coffee’.
I have to say that the food was not terrible. Seeing as how I was a starving man, my quality standards may have been a bit on the low side. The macaroni tasted like the cheap boxed mac and cheese I ate when I was a kid. The sauce still had a few clumps but those were more like ‘flavor zingers’ than anything else. The bigger test was the coffee.
The aroma smelled like coffee, which is not bad for instant coffee. It reminded me of the crystalized emergency coffee we kept in the apartment for when we didn’t have enough time to brew the real stuff. I didn’t add anything to it even though there were sugar and powdered creamer packets available. The taste was decent. It reminded me of diner coffee that had sat in the pot too long and been reheated once or twice.
After cleaning up I decided it was time to see if the bunker’s wireless charging system actually worked. Last time I used CAS she had shut down due to low power. If she turned on at anything higher than 1% power I would be in good shape. I slowly reached up and pressed the button under my right ear to activate the implant.
At first, nothing happened. I tilted my head back and stared at the ceiling. Despair replacing the warm feeling of food in my belly. Then I saw the blinking light at the edge of my peripheral vision.
Multiple screens popped to life in front of my eyes. The battery light was amber instead of the usual red I had been seeing every time I turned her on.
The warm voice of Cassie entered my mind, “System powering up. Wireless charging system active. Battery level at 15%. Local communication links available. Do you wish to connect to Glasnik Industries bunker?”
This was a first, I couldn’t recall Cassie ever mentioning a local connection like this before. “Is it safe?” I asked her.
“My firewall will contain any known intrusions or viruses,” she replied.
“What is the benefit of connecting?” I queried.
“Connecting to the local system will allow me to control the system directly. The local system’s AI will be put in a dormant state,” she answered.
Sorry Petrov, “Make the connection,” I commanded.
I expected some noticeable change in the bunker. Lights blinking or dimming, perhaps a digitized gasp as Petrov was supplanted by Cassie. Nothing happened. It was a bit of a let down.
“I am here. The survival bunker systems have been absorbed.” There was a brief pause. “System logs indicate that the activation of the bunker was sent over a secure broadcast. There is no record of a response being received. All bunker communications systems are now on lock down as per your standing instructions.”
Oh no. This was bad.
CAS has some built-in broadcast interference systems and I had instructed her early on to automatically block communication systems until being told to allow them. If the bunker sent out an automated activation signal there was a chance, however slim, that someone might have been listening. If they were, the security of this small slice of heaven may be in jeopardy.
“Cassie, are there any above ground sensors attached to the bunker?” I asked aloud.
“This bunker has a small array of environmental sensors. There are two external cameras that monitor the hidden entrance. There is also a wide area audio sensor attached to the exterior surveillance system. There are no proximity alarms,” CAS responded.
“Are you able to boost any of your scanners now that you have assumed control of the bunker?”
“No. The bunkers systems are too simple. I have managed to increase the efficiency of the wireless charging system. My batteries will be at capacity within 90 minutes.”
“What is the current range on your scanners? Do you have enough power to maintain a wide scan while recharging?”
“Yes. I can run a wide scan and operate the dampening field while recharging with no appreciable impact on recharge time. I have also found most of the items needed for a solar charging kit within the bunkers inventory. I will activate box beacons where appropriate.”
“Do you think we are safe here?”
“I have calculated a 90% safety rate within the bunker. This calculation assumes no interception of the bunkers activation broadcast by hostile forces. In the event such entities become aware of us we must evacuate immediately.”
“Please go through the bunkers inventory and make a list of items to pack in a bugout bag. After I pack everything I am going to get some sleep. Please let me sleep as long as you can. If you detect any intelligent life forms approaching, awaken me.”
Within seconds I had a packing list on a screen in front of me. It consisted mainly of food items that were low in mass while high in calories. A few of the items I laughed at, among the pre-collapse survival supplies, were also listed. I hurriedly assembled the items before collapsing in the bed.
As I lay there on the cusp of sleep I suddenly remembered something. I leaped out of bed and ran to the study.
I pulled open all of the desk drawers before I found the one with a false bottom. I carefully reached underneath and used a pencil to push upwards from below. It was a good thing that I did because I heard the sound of a spring giving way before the pencil snapped. The drawer was trapped and would have cut off my finger if I had used it to lift the false bottom.
Using the slightly shorter pencil I popped the false bottom to reveal a pistol and several boxes of ammunition.
Pistol was the wrong word, this was a relic of the war to end all wars. It was a dark black M1911, a .45 caliber handgun that was sought after by collectors and military style survivalists. This was a gun that had stood the test of time and the one in the drawer was a no frills stock version with a handful of magazines and at least 200 rounds of ammunition.
This gun hadn’t been on the inventory list. I suspected it was included as an extra part of the patriot package that stocked the pantry with survival food. I expected to find a .30-06 in the study as well but I didn’t. I looked everywhere such a rifle might be hidden but still came up empty.
With my search complete I moved the .45 and its ammo to the bug out bag and headed off to sleep.
When I awoke several hours later I was surprised to see that I had slept for a solid six hours. I couldn’t recall the last time I had slept this long. After relieving myself in the bathroom I walked into the kitchen in search of coffee.
“Cassie, can you give me a status update,” I asked while preparing a single serving of the survival coffee.
“All systems are performing within expectations. The wireless recharge has completed. No intelligent life forms have been detected within one mile of our present location. Numerous game animals have been passing through the area while you slept.”
I sipped at the freshly reconstituted coffee as I flopped down on the couch. “Have you intercepted any broadcast traffic of note?” I asked.
“Background radio traffic is minimal and distant from us. I do not believe our security has been compromised. While you were sleeping I cracked the last of the bunker’s secure storage systems. There is a model 1911 .45 caliber handgun in the study protected by a finger slicing trap. It was not listed on the main manifest.”
I stopped her with a wave of my hand, “I found that before I took my nap. Did you see anything about hunting rifles?” I asked.
“No. The only other item of interest I found was an evacuation pod hidden in the wall of the study, it is designed for one passenger. It is a single-use item.”
I leaned back and stared at the ceiling. My stomach grumbled. “Cas, are there any entertainment videos on the bunkers server?” I asked. All the while thinking about my food options back in the kitchen.
“I found several feature films and a series of survival training videos. I can also display the external camera on the viewscreen mounted in the wall,” Cassie replied as the screen on the wall flickered to life.
“Display the external camera feeds,” I said as I walked back into the kitchen to rehydrate some corned beef and hash.
The next few days were a blissful break. My days largely consisted of eating, sleeping, and taking very long showers. I started putting on weight. I discovered that mixing the powdered coffee with a few pinches of the hot chocolate mix created a very drinkable beverage. Even the food could be improved by mixing different packages together.
On the third day I assembled about 90% of a solar power collector. There were a few parts that I still needed but the core of the device was ready.
I watched all of the feature films once and dipped my toes into the survivor training videos. Oh how wrong the creators of these shows were. They were preparing for a Holywood apocalypse instead of the Silicon Valley one we got. In all fairness, not even our best science fiction writers predicted the end of days I was living through.
It was a good week before CAS noticed an uptick in radio chatter. The external sensors didn’t detect anything unusual so we continued to operate in a slightly wary state.
A few days later CAS interrupted me during my sleep cycle.
“Brian, two unknown people have entered the range of my sensors. I do not have a visual on them,” the words she uttered took me from sound asleep, to groggy, to high alert in a matter of milliseconds.
“OK Cassie. Put the external camera feeds on the wall and I will be out there in a minute,” I said while reaching for the jumpsuit and boots.
About two minutes later I was preparing some coffee while taking furtive glances at the camera feed on the living room wall. They had not yet entered visual range. “What are they doing CAS?” I asked.
“Both people appear to be heading directly towards the bunker. Neither is heavily armed yet both have high energy signatures,” she began. “They appear to be searching for something. I will boost audio once they come within range.
It felt like an eternity as I waited for the cameras and microphones to reveal their presence. Once they did a cold bead of sweat ran down my back, shaking me to my core.
The approaching duo wore bizarre clothing that did not fit with the environment. One of them was wearing a clown suit and an old brown cowboy hat. His companion sported a pair of jeans with a leather jacket over a white t-shirt, his hair was done up in a greasy pompadour. They didn’t so much walk as glide across the forest's surface. They carried small packs on their backs. On their approach, one of them stopped and used a pair of binoculars to look around. After a moment they continued walking forwards.
“Cassie, should I be evacuating right now?” I asked while glancing about for the bug out bag.
“Any attempt to exit through the bunker doors would lead to contact. I will open the wall that leads to the evacuation pod. Please put your supplies within the pod’s storage box and prepare to escape,” She said.
After stowing my bags I ran back to the couch to keep an eye on the two interlopers. They were fast approaching the range of the audio sensors.
The two men strode lazily through the forest in the general direction of the bunker. They walked in a way that suggested they were standing still while the world itself did all of the moving for them. They looked so much alike that they could have been twins. The only thing that distinguished them to the casual onlooker was their bizarre clothing choices.
The clown spoke first, “Are you sure it’s around here? My system has been on the fritz since we passed that broken fence.”
The greaser didn’t so much as turn his head as he responded, “My system is acting funky too but I checked the map when we left the road. It’s somewhere in these woods.”
As they approached the rusted out wreckage of the land vehicle they both stopped and looked around. The man in the clown suit was looking at the display screen of a small handheld device in front of him. He spun around once and then moved in a sideways circular way before coming back to a stop. The other man spoke up, “do you think someone already completed the mission?”
“I doubt it,” the clown said, “hardly anyone runs this anymore. It was blind luck that we just happened to find that working terminal at the main Glasnik office. That place hasn’t given up a lead in years and now a fresh one pops?”
“Then what’s with the bugs? Should we reconnect?,” Asked the greaser.
“You think the world is glitched?” Asked the clown.
His friend quickly responded, “well it can’t be our rigs. There is no way we are both experiencing the same problems on separate rigs.”
Neither of the men moved as they spoke. It was like two mannequins were holding a conversation in the middle of the forest. “Look,” said the clown, “I only have so much time before Karen calls me down for dinner. To be perfectly honest I wasn’t expecting a long run with you tonight. If you want to jack out we can but, I don’t know when I’ll have time to get back on and finish this with you.”
The other man suddenly squated, “I get it. Let’s just do this then. Lock and load?”
The clown was suddenly holding an oversized rocket launcher. The other man had a grenade in his hands.
“I guess that’s a yes,” said the greaser. “I’m going to toss a cocktail of EMP and frag grenades where I think the marker appeared on the map. Keep an eye on your HUD, then we’ll crack this egg.” With those words they both glided backwards as a collection of spheres went arcing through the air.
While CAS’s dampening field was strong and the bunkers builders were smart, they were no match for the explosive force unleashed by the two men. For the merest of milliseconds the dampening field wavered just enough for the two visitors to find the entrance hidden in the rock. After a few rocket blasts the fake rock formation and the outer door were shattered.
“That was weird. Right after I tossed the grenades my system started working again and now it’s down? What about you, did yours do the same?” asked the greaser.
“Yeah, looks that way. At least we found the bunker, right? Now we find out what sort of goodies are lying inside for us, “ said the clown as his oversized launcher was replaced by an assault rifle.
The second man was holding a long crowbar while making a beeline for the broken door. “Looks like that door will need a little bit of effort to open. You know, now that I think about it, this might not be a bug. This could be some high security bunker that no one found in the initial raids. We could be looking at some serious bragging rights once we get inside.”
“Just open the door,“ said the clown, “Karen just gave me the evil eye from the kitchen.
After prying the twisted wreckage of the outer door off of its hinges the two descended the stairs. A light with no discernable source illuminated their path down. They stopped at the bottom when they encountered the locked inner door.
“You see that red light? That means this bunker is operational and likely untouched! Aren’t you glad you came on when I called you?” asked the greaser.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. It does feel good to have something new and interesting happening. When I think of how much time I sank into this system a few years back, it feels good to know that the devs are still thinking of us,” replied the clown.
I sipped my coffee while the two strangers entered into audio range. I stared intently at their costumes and faces. “CAS, am I seeing what I think I am seeing?” I asked nervously.
“Yes. The two men appear to be visitors.”
Visitors. It was a term coined years ago when strangers from another world began appearing. In the beginning they were helpful and kind. They brought all sorts of technological advancements and my world entered a booming economic age. My former employer, Cybernetic Solutions turned out to have a visitor benefactor. It was all roses back then, but every rose has its thorn.
The thorns in this case were ruthless and bloodthirsty. The visitors didn’t bring war to us, they brought destruction. Each visitor was stronger than an armored brigade. They were more stealthy than a flea in a mountain of brown rice. The only thing that gave them away was their laziness. One such example was on the display in front of me.
“CAS, are they both wearing default skins?” I asked all the while knowing the answer.
“Yes, with some very minor variances and clothing choices,” CAS responded instantly.
“Well girlfriend, it looks like we have to leave,” I said just as a rocket launcher appeared in the clown's hands and the video feed went dark. I downed my coffee and ran for the evacuation pod. “Do you have our parting gift prepped and ready to go?” I asked while strapping into the pod.
“Affirmative. It will take 15 seconds for this pod to clear the blast area,” replied Cassie in a matter of fact tone.
“Wait. My body can’t handle that level of acceleration. There is no way I will survive going from zero to mach 3 in 15 seconds. Is this an evacuation pod or a coffin,” I said with great trepidation as the door of the pod closed around me.
“Glasnik also had a visitor on its corporate board, “ said Cassie in an attempt at a cheerful voice. “The G-forces and sonic booms created by the pod’s rapid exodus from the bunker are all accounted for in the engineering documents. You are perfectly safe.”
“How can you know that Cassie?“ I asked while holding my palms against the inside of the pod’s closed door.
“Because we have already launched,” she replied.
“You see that? The lock just turned green. Did you do that?” asked the clown.
“No, my systems are still all wonky. I couldn’t pick a lock with anything less than a grenade,“ his friend replied.
As the door opened they both walked in. They were so distracted by what they saw that neither one of them noticed the inner door close and lock behind them.
“Can you believe this,” The greaser said? “It looks like this bunker was never used, everything is still covered in plastic!”
“Not everything,” said the clown while pointing at the empty coffee mug on the table by the couch.
Both men suddenly went into a crouch, holding their weapons at the ready.
“Anything on your scanners?” asked the clown.
“Nothing but intermittent static and blips on mine. Wait,” The jacket wearer paused. “Why are all of the alarms suddenly pinging on my HUD?”
Those were the last words spoken in the bunker before it was engulfed in a nuclear explosion caused by the reactor’s self-destruct system. The bunker, along with the two visitors, were reduced to a radioactive crater several hundred feet across. The shockwave devastated an area covering approximately 25 square miles.
As the two visitors were engulfed in the blast a geyser of weapons and junk erupted from their broiling bodies. The deathly vomit existed for less than a second as it too was burned up in the fireball.
A world away two men were violently kicked from their virtual reality rigs. Warning alerts of ‘CONNECTION LOST’ and ‘CHARACTER FILE PERMADEATH’ floated in front of their eyes as the view of the bunker quickly went white and then vanished completely. Both men tossed off their headset and called each other on their commsets.
“What the hell just happened? I just got a character permadeath message,” said the man on the receiving end of the call.
“No kidding, same here. I guess we should have bugged out when the game started to glitch? I mean, that was years of playing that character and now it’s gone?”
“No way man. I’m going to file a complaint with the devs. There has to be a backup somewhere of our characters.”
“Let me know how that turns out. I have to go eat,” he paused for a second, “Oh yeah, Karen says hi and wants to know when you are going to get a girlfriend so you’ll stop stealing her husband.”
“Tell Karen that I just can’t quit you.” They both hung up. One man walked off to eat dinner. The other started looking for the dev’s contact information.