Robert Buchanan sat in a wooden chair with his back to a cold cinder block wall awaiting his end. He knew this end would be neither delayed nor suspended. As he waited, he began to recall happier times, before the insanity of these final days had consumed him.
At first, the dank smell of his surroundings interfered with his ability to fully escape into his memories, but eventually all awareness of his cramped quarters dissipated and he found himself a child again, lying within his mother’s comforting arms. She was stroking the unruly tufts of hair that had always crisscrossed his forehead and humming a tune. She was beautiful and so young — could his mother have ever been so young? His sleepy gaze settled on a golden lock of her hair that reflected the warm sunlight, but the sad realization that he would never again experience such comfort and security broke his hold on this memory.
“Oh mother, what have I done to deserve this fate?” Robert asked of the vanishing phantom. “And why must I wear the blood of so many to my grave?”
The need to confront reality was again delayed by warming rays of light, this time cast by a spectacular sunrise over a pearl white beach. Robert raised his hand to shade his eyes from the brilliance of the light as he scanned the panoramic view of waves crashing in a steady rhythm. He remembered this time and place. This was the morning after his wedding, the first day of a week spent in paradise with the second women he had ever loved. They had made love late into the night. The lingering memory of his bride’s body close to his was reinforced by the shock of sensation he felt as she slipped her arms around his waist and nestled her chin on his shoulder.
“What a beautiful life,” she reminded him, “and we’ll share it forever.”
Rather than experiencing the pleasure he’d found in these words on that beach long ago, her words sliced through Roberts heart jolting him back to the present.
They were coming for him. They’d be here soon. There’s no more time.
Robert’s heart raced with anxiety as his life flashed through his mind in a frantic attempt to elicit a few more moments of peace from loving memory. He pleasantly recalled graduating top of his class from Harvard Law School. He briefly replayed the ceremony during which he was made partner at his first law firm. A series of successful campaigns for elected office paraded through his mind, but none of these memories could drive away the pain and hopelessness that consumed him.
Then his mind came to rest upon the first time he held his daughter. She was so small, so delicate, and so full of life. At no other time was he as proud as the day he first laid eyes on her. And she had grown to become a loving daughter and beautiful young woman.
All too soon, his overwhelming love for family, wife, and daughter turned to debilitating pain as he realized the part he must play in their deaths. “And terrible deaths they are likely to be, and by these hands.” he intoned softly, raising his hands before his eyes. With these words he realized he would find no more solace amongst his memories.
Returned to his confinement, Robert looked away from his hands which had assumed the shape of an animal’s claws — claws to be used to tear and rend, to escape. But there was no escape for this animal.
A sharp knock on the door was quickly followed by its opening and the entrance of two gray haired, hardened men garbed in formal military dress.
“Mr. President,” the second man into the room began, “satellite recon has been confirmed. Surveillance and most ballistic defenses are being knocked offline. Although we retain sufficient resources to verify that multiple forces have launched full scale assaults, most focused on this country, insufficient resources have survived to respond purely defensively. If this nation and our people are to have any future we must immediately launch a full scale offensive response against all nations involved in the current hostility and those likely to be drawn in.”
As Robert remained stunned by the announcement he’d been awaiting all morning, the messenger felt compelled to include: “As we discussed earlier sir, this is a total response, the ultimate response, but it is our only hope for rebuilding a future from the pieces that survive.”
Robert knew all of this based on weeks of briefings and discussions of worst case scenarios.
“Implement all counter measures. Take all defensive and offensive measures available. Launch everything.” Robert responded wearily.
As his military messengers wheeled from the room to carry out his final order he found himself pondering – so, this is how the world ends, not with a whimper but a bang.