by Jonny Capps
500 years after nuclear war, the remaining humans attempt to restore Earth's grandeur.
The lecture had been long and laborious, especially considering that it was given by a holographic head, with very few pauses for questions. Mikhail Ruscov had quite a few of those, but he had never been given the chance to ask them. The evidence that the head had provided seemed irrefutable, and it had been phrasing his statements as though they were facts, rather than theoretic scenarios. Still, some of the figures that he had provided seemed questionable. Mikhail knew that they would come to be eventually, but the time table provided gave Mikhail a bit of pause.
He knew from his study of human behavior that this was where the world had been headed for the past 1200 years, ever since the military started using scientific discovery to destroy things. No matter what happens, everything descends into entropy. He was fortunate that this occurred, actually. Without that idea, he likely would not have a career.
The large, androgynous, head had vanished about five minutes ago, and the six individuals who had been invited to the meeting were still digesting all the information that had been provided.
“So,” Mikhail cautiously ventured to speak first, carefully hiding his Russian accent “I suppose the Illuminati really do exist.”
Joshua Stein looked up at him with a quizzical expression: “That's what you took away from this, pretty boy?”
Mikhail shook his head, attempting to keep his emotions at bay. “Vell (ahem) well, of course there were other things, but those seemed too intense to use as ice breakers.”
“Let's review what we know,” Dr. Bartholomew Fredrix muttered in an attempt to redirect the conversation into a more productive direction. “The six of us, respected individuals in our own fields, each received a summons, telling us to attend this meeting. Once we got here, the holohead appeared, informing us that it represented the Illuminati.”
“--who, up until now, were a clandestine organization that I'd venture to suggest none of us really believed existed,” Mikhail interrupted.
“Yes,” Bart (Mikhail had already begin referring to him as Bart in his mind) nodded. “They've been discussed by conspiracy groups for centuries, but no solid proof of their existence has ever been provided. Now, the head tells us that their true agenda is ensuring the preservation of humanity, which is being threatened right now.”
“That threat has yet to be verified,” Dr. Derrin Flattery objected. “We have only the head's information on that topic, and there has been no solid proof that a nuclear holocaust is on the horizon.”
“The United Front of Janzoon,” Dr. Tenzin St. Crow offered softly.
“Australia,” Dr. Roux nodded. “Ever since they changed their name and political structure about a decade ago, they've been becoming increasingly unruly and secretive about the actions in their country. They have been building a wall around and over their landmass, segregating it from the rest of the world. Perhaps they have a reason for this.”
“The reason is zat they are pretentious assholes,” Mikhail retorted.
“Or, perhaps they know something that we do not,” Tenzin replied.
Mikhail had admired Tenzin's work in biology for years, but now that he was meeting her face-to-face, he was admiring her for an entirely different reason. Her ivory skin and raven hair, combined with her dark eyes and full lips, made it appear as though she had been crafted from fine china. He had watched her gait as she had walked into the room, and the way that she moved suggested that she had dance training, and her frame appeared limber and athletic. She was small, yes, perhaps even under five foot, but that did very little to detract from her allure.
He was very well aware that the way he was sizing her up was crude, barbaric, and borderline-sociopathic. Mikhail justified it to himself by remembering that he had appreciated her research before her body. Still, he was attracted to her, and he already knew that she was attracted to him. Women always were.
“We have six months to come up with an answer,” Derrin stated, bringing the conversation back into focus. “Maybe something will happen in that time to make our decision easier.”
“Exploding kangaroos in the One World Capital building would send quite a message,” Joshua Stein joked.
Mikhail chuckled. His decision had already been made: if the world was going to end, he wanted to help rebuild it. Besides that, he liked the idea of spending more time with Dr. St. Crow.
Derrin and Joshua sat, enraptured despite themselves, by Archimedes' recount of the final war.
“We still have very little information on who threw the first punch, figuratively speaking,” he began. “All we know was that three, nearly simultaneous, nuclear strikes were perpetrated in upper Canada, central Europe, around the area where Poland used to be, and southern Africa. Things escalated quickly after that, with no one taking credit for the attacks, but everyone pointing their fingers at someone else. The presidents of both Northern and Southern America quickly declared that nuclear power should be heavily decreased or eliminated completely, which caused the American people in both provenances to panic and scream foul. Militant groups of hackers and cybernetic terrorists took this as an attack against their rights, and soon, a civil war erupted in the streets, both online and offline. During this entire time, the radiation from the original attacks had continued to spread, almost unchecked. Containment crews were almost useless, since most found that their equipment was insufficient under the conditions.
“About 17 months after the first strike, two additional bombings took place, this time in Southern America and Northern Asia. At this point, the entire world was panicking, searching not only for the culprits, but for a way to rectify the damage. I'll spare you the details, since you're not here for a history lesson. It would be sufficient to say that, within two years, Canada was blaming England, the Americas were blaming each other, virtually everyone else was blaming the Mideast Union, and the world was ravaged with chaos. Then, after four years of madness, the final strike was perpetrated.
“This one was a nuclear carpet bombing of virtually all the heavily populated areas of the world. This one --”
“Hold on a minute,” Josh interrupted Archimedes, holding up his hand like a student in class. “You're saying that the world was pretty much destroyed, right? The Illuminati, who I'm assuming you work for, knew about the attack long before it happened. How could they not know who started things, and in a related topic, why didn't they do anything to stop it from happening in the first place?”
Archimedes frowned, nodding. “Those are very good questions,” he said, after a moment's reflection. “It is curious that a clandestine group with under a million members could not do anything to stop a covert, well coordinated, multiple nuclear strikes. It's also ponderous that they did not announce their disputed existence to respected world leaders, supplying nonexistent evidence to established world leaders, as to the culprits. It's also a crime, now that I think of it, that they didn't charge out onto the streets, wielding peace signs and white doves, in order to stop the riots and madness which the war produced. In fact, one could say that this entire kerfuffle was their fault!”
Josh sighed and sank back into his seat. “You're being sarcastic,” he noted.
“Extremely,” Archimedes confirmed. “The Illuminati have existed for multiple millennium, operating in secrecy, with the sole purpose of preserving humanity, usually taking actions in order to protect humans from themselves. You were a result of them taking those actions.”
“Vell, zat is fascinating,” a new voice, complete with a heavy Russian accent, graced their ears. “Could you, maybe, have waited until we were all present before you began to explain zhe situation?”
Both Derrin and Josh looked toward the voice, which came from the door that lead to the chambers. Standing there was a tall, slim man, with long, dark blond hair, piercing, blue eyes, and a stern look on his handsome face. Following him was Claire Roux and, upon seeing her, Derrin jumped from the couch. He advanced on her quickly, stopping short of sweeping her into his arms like a long-lost lover, containing himself to only a brief hug.
Claire returned the hug tightly. “I'd suggest that maybe we're being too intimate,” she said, her face buried in his chest, “but based on what we just over heard, intimacy is least among our problems.”
“I do hope that you are not expecting to hug me as vell,” the Russian said in an icy tone, but with a slight touch of humor thrown in for flavor. “Intimacy has yet to be a problem for me in at any stage, but I usually prefer it with people who are significantly more attractive than you.”
Derrin released Claire from the embrace, and nodded to the Russian. “Good morning to you as well, Ruscov.”
In their six months of preparing for this project, Derrin had only really become familiar with a handful of his fellow sleepers, among those being Claire (who he had already counted as an associate), Bart, and Mikhail. They had analyzed the situation, discussed options, and shared ideas. Of the six parties, only two of them were without doctorates: Mikhail and Joshua. Derrin understood why Josh had been added to the group, since a new world would probably require a good cartographer, but he had his doubts about Mikhail's inclusion. It was clear that they would eventually need a governmental system, and a specialist in political science and sociology made sense, but that seemed pretty low on the priority list, at least when the world was just beginning. Add to that Ruscov's polarizing personality, complete with condescension, elitism, and chauvinism (which, when combined, kind of made him a complete dickbag), and Derrin's doubts about him seemed justified. While he, Bart, and Claire seemed to be a good fit, Mikhail was unwilling to work with anyone who did not either worship him and his ideas, or who he did not want to sleep with. The only justification that Derrin could make was genetic diversity. He was Anglican, Bart was African, Claire was Caucasian, Josh was Jewish, Tenzin was Tibetan, and Mikhail was Russian. The diversity wasn't complete, and Derrin wondered if the Illuminati could not have found an equally qualified Arabian or Native American who would have been a better fit, but the decision had not been his to make. After Derrin got used to his jarring social faux pas, he found that he could appreciate Mikhail's insight a bit and, when he could not, Derrin simply ignored him.
“If the three of you would like to join us,” Archimedes called out to them “I would like to continue with the tale of humanity's great tragedy. If you would like me to begin again, I have that ability, but --”
“-- Ze Earth is dead,” Mikhail interrupted him as he, Derrin, and Claire walked to the couches and joined Josh, sitting across from Archimedes. Derrin sat between Claire and Josh, and he was surprised when Claire placed her hand on his leg. It was a welcome sensation, and Derrin translated it as a need for added security. He forced himself not to have a reaction, but the thought that he had not been with a woman, sexually, in over half a century did creep into his mind.
“That's incorrect, Mr. Ruscov,” Archimedes replied, with a cocky, self-assured smirk. “Humanity is practically dead, or at least seriously endangered, but the Earth is fine. While you four were sleeping, I have been awake, monitoring the environment. Radiation levels reached an acceptable level, slightly over 100 years ago. Since that time, the Earth and it's ecosystem has repaired and begun to rebuild itself. It isn't the Earth that you remember, obviously, but it is your home now. Each of you was selected, because of the unique skill set that you'll be able to bring to restructuring. Dr. Flattery, your inclusion is based on both your mechanical engineering abilities and survival skills. Dr. Roux, your medical training will likely be invaluable to the success of this project. Mr. Stein, you will—”
“I'm here to make maps and gather information,” Josh said, with a roll of his eyes. “Ruscov's probably here to, I don't know, be an asshole?”
Mikhail laid a hand on Josh's shoulder, causing him to jump and squirm away. “You are a very tiny man, aren't you?” he asked, chuckling.
“Mr. Ruscov is here for social purposes and, eventually, the political aspects of the new world,” Archimedes resumed his briefing, after rolling his eyes and sighing. “Syracuse is a fully equipped base, and I will make sure that your every need is provided for. As you are all still in your robes, I suggest that you first find your way to the bedrooms, where you will find wardrobes, specifically tailored to your individual tastes and dimensions. Now, if you don't mind, I've had about as much of this pleasantness as I can take, so I'm going to go… do something else entirely.”
With that, Archimedes vanished. Claire yelped a bit in surprise, tightening her hold on Derrin's calve briefly, while Mikhail scowled and stared at the area where he had formerly been seated.
“He is a computer, yes?” Mikhail asked after a moment of dumbfounded blinking.
“A rather obnoxious one at that,” Josh replied, nodding.
Derrin turned his head to look at Claire, who did the same toward him. In her eyes, he could see fear and intrigue, and maybe a bit of excitement at the prospect of the new project. Of course, he may as well have been staring at his own reflection. This was indeed a brave new world, and he was one of the first colonists. For the second time since waking up, he prayed to an unnamed god, asking that it would have mercy on their souls.