“Where is the rest of your unit?”
The Russian cracked a crooked smile, squirming a bit in his handcuffs. “What unit? I am not soldier, American. I am scientist.”
Captain Brooks stared blankly at the Russian. He’d been found hiding in the abandoned town three miles from the base. He had been almost out of water, and probably wouldn’t have lasted long if he hadn’t been captured. “We’re all soldiers now,” said Brooks. “Tell me where they are.”
“War ends 33 years ago, American,” said the Russian. He paused for a moment, leaning back in his chair. “Everything ends. We try to live. Same as you.”
Brooks leaned forward with a scowl. The missiles had been launched in September of 1983, when he was only a boy. He would have died that day if he’d been home in DC rather than away with his missionary parents in Africa. Now, most of North America, Asia, and Europe was radiated wasteland. The rest of the world, despite fewer direct hits, had also been ravaged by fallout and political and economic upheaval. What survivors remained were left to claw out an existence in the last few pockets of hospitable land.
“Not all of us can live,” said Brooks. “The war is not over. Your people started it, but we will finish it.”
The Russian laughed. “Comrades say the same about Americans.”
“I’ll bet they do. All the recovered data shows your missiles launched first.”
The Russian laughed again, louder now.
“Enough!” Brooks yelled. “Tell me where your unit is!”
“I do not know.”
Brooks gritted his teeth and gave the Russian and punch on the nose. Blood trickled down the prisoner’s face.
“Where are they?”
The Russian hesitated a moment. “Russian soldiers, not my friends. They look for me. I do not know where. Far from here, I hope.”
“Why are they looking for you?”
The Russian laughed again. “I find the truth.”
“What are you talking about?”
The room shook with the sound of a sudden explosion nearby. A klaxon sounded.
“There they are,” said the Russian.
Brooks pulled his radio, looking the prisoner in the eye. A smirk spread across the Russian’s face.
“Report!” said Brooks into the radio.
“Captain,” replied a voice. “Enemy units approaching from the north. We’ve just lost guard tower eight.”
Brooks turned back to the prisoner. “They’re not getting you out of here alive.”
The Russian shook his head. “They do not want that.”
Gunfire rang out in the distance.
“I find their secret. Both wrong about war. You and us.”
“We have data from warning system. System malfunctions. System says you launch first, so we launch. System was wrong.”
Brooks glared at the Russian for a moment, as another explosion pulsed through the walls. Could that be true? Could the world have really ended because of a glitch?
“Comrades try to keep secret,” said the Russian.
“You’re lying. Who would believe you anyway?”
“Data proves it. Hidden somewhere safe. But maybe too late now, I think.”