by Gordon Sun
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Art trekked to the staircase and took the two flights of stairs up to B-1, directly underneath the surface. His brown loafers scuffed the concrete floor as he left the stairwell. At the end of the hall, Art pushed open a set of heavy doors with a grunt.
Inside, Art paused to catch his breath, untucking his polo shirt. The utility space was large and dusty, yet full of activity with the whirring of fans, the rumbling of motors, and the hum and hiss of tanks and pipes. The ceiling lights cast garish yellow pools of light, shadows obscuring wide swaths of the room. The room smelled faintly of oil and bleach.
“Hey, Tim,” Art called out. “What’s the holdup? Did you find something in the ducts?”
No response. Art began picking his way down the path to where the air filtration system was housed. The visibility was poor from the faint mist in the air. He cautiously stepped over loose pipes and cleaning supplies, calling out his son’s name.
After a couple of minutes of exploration, Art stopped at the end of the row, coughing a bit from the dust in the air. Before him was the core of the bunker’s air filtration system, a gray-colored contraption about the size of a commercial refrigerator. Silvery pipes jutted out from multiple directions. A thick yellow instruction manual dangled from a bolt embedded in its surface. An old crowbar leaned against one side.
With the palm of his hand, Art wiped a coating of dust off a readout screen attached to the machine. “WARNING: EXTERNAL CONTAMINATION | CHECK FILTERS” blinked slowly in red.
Something clanked nearby. “Tim?” Art said. No reply. “Hey, Tim, stop messing around and get out here.”
A throat cleared.
Art spun around. A man wearing a portable respirator and white radiation suit stained dark red with dirt stood in the shadows. An old pistol gleamed in his gloved right hand.
“Who are you?” Art stepped forward, but the man gestured with his gun, and Art backed down. “How did you get inside?”
The man shrugged.
“Tim? Where are you?” Art shouted.
As the gunman kept the pistol aimed at Art’s chest, a second intruder emerged from behind a boiler, covered head to toe with a gray gas mask and white radiation suit. The new arrival hefted a large sledgehammer in his hands. Art noticed a wet, dark stain on the face of the hammer.
“Everything good, Cole?” the gunman asked.
“Yeah, Lowell,” Cole replied in a raspy voice. He turned to Art. “Your security’s pretty weak, old man. Guess you think you’re pretty smart not advertising your location by putting up guns everywhere.”
“Ah, lay off him, man,” Lowell replied. “I’m sure he was just listening to his contractors’ advice.”
“Like they know anything, right?” Cole laughed, turning the hammer in his hands.
“Who the hell are you?” Art demanded. “How did you get inside?”
“Does it matter? You wouldn’t recognize us even without our masks,” Cole replied.
“You haven’t been paying attention, Art,” Lowell added.
“How do you know my name?”
“We know all our customers’ names, pal.”
“Yeah, we helped build this place. Part of the crew. So, we know the layout of the place. Security, too.”
“How did you get inside?”
Lowell smirked. “We never left.”
Art squinted. “What?”
“When we finished construction, we all knew it wouldn’t be long before it was going to hit the fan. Hell, they were already conscripting.” Lowell jabbed at the air with his gun.
“We didn’t ask for the war,” Cole said. “So, why the hell should we be sent off to die?”
“Not my problem,” Art growled. He shuffled back, his hand blindly groping for the crowbar.
“Supposed to be three of us here, actually. But Gomez was stuck on another job fifty miles away when the rioting began. By the time he got moving, the first missile wave had launched,” Cole replied.
“We’d already put all your internal camera feeds on loops after we set up shop in the garage. That was easy. We figured we could disable the AI when the storm hit a few days ago, give him some cover,” Lowell said, his breathing a steady hiss. “Too bad it just drew your attention.”
“You disabled the AI? And messed with our security system? You son of a bitch.”
“Didn’t matter anyway,” Lowell continued. “Gomez didn’t have an E38 suit. The idiot actually bought one of those E-Z-LyfeVests you promoted on your dumb-ass talk show. He was a big fan of your stuff. I could never understand why.”
“That E-Z-LyfeVest is a piece of garbage,” added Cole. “He should’ve gotten one of the E38s like ours.” He plucked at his radiation suit, his expression hidden behind the tinted faceplate.
“Gomez got us on radio before we lost signal. He got lethally dosed by the radiation.” Lowell grew agitated, the gun in his hand wavering. Art stood stock-still by the air filtration device, his hand now firmly grasping the crowbar.
“And we couldn’t do anything about it, being here with you all...” Cole fell silent.
“Sounds like he got what he deserved,” Art said. He lunged at Lowell, bringing the crowbar down hard on the gunman’s wrist. Something cracked, and Lowell dropped his pistol.
Lowell cursed, more in surprise than pain. “Get him!”
Cole jumped at Art, who attempted another swing of the crowbar but missed wildly. Cole swung the hammer, hitting Art’s chest with a heavy thud. Gasping in pain, Art dropped his weapon.
The two intruders shoved Art against a wall, raining down punches and kicks. Art fell to the ground, trying to shield his head from the blows.
“Enough,” Lowell spat, picking up his pistol with his left hand. Cole snatched up Art’s crowbar. The intruders moved a short distance away, eyes locked on their quarry. “Now my wrist’s broken. You better have an auto-surgeon unit down here.”
Art’s head throbbed, and he could hear ringing sounds in his ears. Sharp twinges of pain shot across the left side of his chest when he breathed. Propping himself up partway, he wiped his bloody nose with his hand. “Piss off.”
Lowell turned to his gas-masked partner. “Cole, you took care of Tim, right?”
“Go make sure no one else comes barging in.”
“Got it.” Cole disappeared into the darkness.
“What did you do to Tim?” Art snarled.
“You don’t want to know,” Lowell said.
“Goddamn you! Tim! Tim!”
“You know, we were considering just asking nicely if we could stay with you all after the work was completed,” Lowell glowered at Art with cold, narrowed eyes. “We didn’t think you’d kick us out into the radiation fields.”
“Like I’d trust you,” Art hissed. He tried to stand but flopped back down, his lungs burning and his body throbbing in pain.
“We figured as much. People like you never want to share anything.”
“You’re never going to get away with this.”
“Really? It seems like we will. And it’s because you seem like the kind of guy who forgets about the rest of us who do all the real work.” Lowell stepped closer, yellow light glinting off the barrel of the gun. “Well, not anymore.”
“For the umpteenth time, what’s the damn code?” Lowell shouted. Both he and Cole continued to wear their radiation suits, but now each wielded his own pistol. They paced in front of their captives, whose arms and legs were bound securely to chairs with duct tape, in the living room on B-3.
“One of you did something, and now we can’t access security, life support, the medical unit, the weapons, food and water supplies. Everything’s locked up.” Cole leaned close to Janet’s anxious, sweating face, prodding a pistol under her chin. “Was it you?”
Janet let out a muffled gasp.
“What is it? Speak up!” Cole wrenched the towel from Janet’s mouth.
“Goddamn you! You killed my son! You let my father die!”
“He was old. His heart gave out. What the hell is there to say?” Cole shoved the gag back into Janet’s mouth. She yelled wordlessly, her eyes bulging.
“You people are stupid. Whatever you did cut us all off from the supplies, life support, everything. This place is basically just a bunch of empty rooms now. And we can’t go back outside. The closest shelters are all sealed up.” Lowell shouted an expletive. “If you don’t speak up, all of us are going to die here. How about you?” He pulled down the cloth over Art’s mouth.
“That’s the point, dumbass,” Art retorted. “You can’t just take what’s not yours.”
“Yeah? I can’t believe you’d let your family die to make a point,” Lowell said. “Let’s see, including Tim and Bob... five? Five of you, two of us?”
“You killed my family, I didn’t.”
“Last chance, Art. You’re the one who signed the contract for the bunker, so we know you were in charge down here. You’re going to tell us in the next thirty seconds the code to reactivate all the systems down here. Or Zack, he’s next.” Cole leveled his gun at Art’s surviving son.
“Screw you, man,” Zack said.
“Clock’s ticking, Art,” said Lowell. “I promise we’ll make everything quick. No one’s going to suffer.”
“Go to hell.”
“Seriously? You’re just going to let Cole shoot—”
The adjacent rooms — the kitchen, dining room, and lounge — suddenly plunged into darkness.
“What the hell was that?” Lowell growled.
“Don’t know, man,” Cole said.
“Building defect,” Art snarled. “Your handiwork.”
“That’s BS. There’s something—” Lowell was interrupted by the sound of two gunshots, the reports reverberating through the room. A table lamp shattered into fragments, dousing most of the remaining light. Cursing, Lowell fired several shots blindly into the darkness before retreating behind Art. “Cole, what are you doing? Don’t just stand there! Don’t—”
“Looks like you don’t know how to count,” Art hissed.
“Over there.” Lowell looked around, finally spotting his partner. Cole was sprawled on the floor, blood seeping from a large head wound. His pistol lay nearby. “Cole! Bro!”
“I told you.”
“Bro! No! Dammit!” Lowell crouched behind Art, peering over his shoulder. “Whoever the hell’s out there, you have ten seconds to drop your weapon and walk out, or Art gets it! I’m not going to miss from here, even with my bad hand.”
Lowell began counting down from ten. Art turned his head, trying to face the remaining gunman. “Thanks.”
“Thanks? For what?”
“For this.” Art pushed off with his feet, launching himself and his chair with as much force as he could muster straight into his captor. Lowell cursed, discharging his weapon as both he and Art fell to the floor in a tangle. The gunman howled as Art’s weight shifted onto his broken wrist.
Cursing, Lowell looked up in time to see the muzzle flash of another gun in the darkness. A new pain seared his neck and chest, and his voice gurgled as he tried to speak. His body went numb, the pistol slipping from his grasp and clattering on the floor.
Michele stepped out of the shadows into the dimly lit living room, both hands grasping a 9mm pistol. She quickly walked up to Lowell, who was weakly twitching in place, and kicked his gun away.
“That’s enough,” Michele muttered, stashing her pistol into a holster on her hip. The intruder could only gasp in agony, blood bubbling from his mouth.
With substantial effort, Michele dragged Art, still bound to the chair, away. It was only after cutting away his restraints with trauma shears and he flopped out of the chair that she noticed fresh blood welling out of an abdominal wound. Art groaned.
“Oh, dammit,” Michele said, rolling Art onto his back. She hastily cut up a part of Art’s shirt, wadded it into a makeshift bandage, and pressed down on the gunshot wound. Blood soaked through the cloth and bubbled around it.
“What are you doing?” Art’s face was turning pale, sweaty.
“Trying to stop the bleeding.”
“Forget it... I can’t feel my legs. He shot me... in the back. Bleeding out of both sides.”
“I just need to get you to the auto-surgeon.”
“That auto-surgeon was meant for... minor injuries. This... this is anything but. Won’t work. Besides...” Art coughed weakly. “It’ll take too long... to start up all the systems... and the unit’s on B-four. Can’t... get down there in time. Just... help the others.”
Michele stared at him. Finally, she fashioned a new bandage from Art’s shirt, compressed it on his wound, and placed his hand on top. Hurrying over to Zack, Michele loosened him from his bindings. “Here, take these shears and get your mom free.”
“It’s fine. Just help your mom.” As Michele went back to Art’s side, she glanced over at Lowell. He had stopped breathing, his eyes staring lifelessly from behind the mask of his portable respirator. A large pool of blood had formed around his head and neck. Her gaze returned to Art’s face. “You’re safe now. It’s okay.”
Art let out a short wheezing chuckle. “Yeah. Have to say... I told you...”
Michele shook her head. “Just can’t let it go, can you?”
“It... it’s who I am.” His breathing grew labored. “Just... be careful. It’s going to get... worse. Out there.”
“Don’t worry about it. No one could possibly survive outside—”
“No! Listen to me... I was... wrong about you. You’ve got... what it takes. But my wife... Zack...”
“We’ll be fine, Art.”
“If anyone’s still... they’ll... be desperate. More... can’t let your guard...”
Zack and Janet crouched down beside Michele, tears streaming down their faces, and took Art’s hands in their own. Michele moved away to give them space, as he took his final breaths. “It’s going to be okay,” she murmured to herself.
“Excellent, Zack,” Michele said, her face illuminated by the glow of the command center’s monitors. “I think we got everything up and running. Security, armory, life support, heating and cooling...”
“You’re sure?” Janet asked, her tone exhausted. “We didn’t overlook anything inside?”
“Yeah. You were with us. We did a complete sweep of the bunker. Every possible place checked. It’s the three of us now.” Michele placed a comforting hand on Janet’s shoulder. “You did great.”
“I just... I don’t think I’ve processed everything just yet.” Janet shook her head. “We need to get back to a sense of normalcy first. Then...” She trailed off, looking away.
“I understand,” Zack said. “There’s only one thing left to do now. A proper burial for our family. As they deserve. We’re just going to do a quick check first, to make sure it’s safe, okay? Mom, don’t worry.”
“Let’s get this done,” Michele said. “I don’t think any of us want to drag this out.”
“Yeah.” Zack began entering in commands at the workstation. “I’m pulling up live feeds now, Michele.”
“Thanks.” The views for Cameras #3, #4, and #7 came up first. “The front lot’s clear. Hey, what happened over there?”
“Yeah. The smoking crater. Didn’t that use to be your neighbor’s house?”
“Um, something like that.”
“So, both our neighbors’ homes are gone? When did that happen?”
“Who knows. We’re so far underground, just didn’t notice. Hey, the other feeds are up now.”
“Thanks. Five, six, eight... they look fine.”
“How about Camera Two?” Michele frowned, tapping on the screen. “What’s wrong with the feed? It’s all staticky.”
“Maybe? Could be anything. The weather’s so unpredictable nowadays. Maybe the camera got some of that corrosive dust inside.”
“Crap. Can we replace it?”
“Yeah. I think it’s a plug-and-play model, but we’ll still have to go outside.”
“Okay. We’ll look in storage for replacement parts—”
“Michele, Zack, you may not want to do that.” Janet’s tone was flat.
“Huh? Mom, what do you mean?” Zack said.
“Camera One.” Janet pointed a quavering finger at the screen.
Michele and Zack looked at the feed for Camera #1. Two figures, both masked and clad in dirty radiation suits, strode with purpose toward the disguised entrance to the bunker. Each wore a backpack and carried large duffel bags in their hands. They stopped several feet from the entrance, dropped the bags, and took out a few packages.
“Zoom in,” Michele said. “What are they holding?”
Zack adjusted the camera, focusing on the interlopers’ hands. One of them held a screwdriver and wire cutters, while the other carried a length of cord capped with a metallic tube.
“What’s that? What are they doing?” whispered Janet.
“I think they’re trying to get inside,” Zack murmured.
Michele tensed. “Zack, go to the armory.”
“I said, go to the armory. It’s down the hall. You’re going to want guns for yourself and your mom. And bring some clips.”
“Pistols. They’re all the same. Actually, both of you, go now, arm yourselves, and bring extra clips back. Hurry.”
As the others rushed out of the room, Michele watched the two masked figures continue their work outside. She took out the 9mm that she’d used a couple of days ago, laying it on the workstation. “It’s going to be okay.”
Copyright © 2020 by Gordon Sun