Kuwanger.net

Crystal Flash

by Kuwanger

based on an idea by http://it.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=168520&cid=14050620

many thanks for suggestion and comments from RocketR

The narrow grey hallow echoed with the sound of footsteps, frequently accompanied with the sound of squeeking shoes. It had quieted down greatly since the school bell had run. Young Wishookie slipped into her History class, unable to find a seat near one of her friends. Her teacher, dressed in his usual striped-brown tie and a sweater coat, this one a light blue, spent a split second looking her way while marking another tardy for her in his gradebook, not slowing down a bit in his lecture. A boy sitting to her left, whose name she couldn't quite remember that moment, whispered, "Nice color. Red this time?" /I wish today was over already,/ she thought.

Suddenly, there was the loud crackle of the intercom. "I have...I have an announcement to make," said a disembodied voice. Wishookie recognized it as the Principal. She wondered, /why is his voice so whispery?/ "There's been an attack. A...there's...excuse me." The intercom went silent. Seconds passed. Wishookie's history teacher was tapping his finger on his gradebook. Wishookie looked around the room, noticing some of her friends in the corner quietly chatting. She wondered how long until Mr. Wenton would call on them to be quiet. Several more seconds passed. Still, the intercom was silent.

Another voice could be heard on the intercom. "I'm sorry. Mr. Ness isn't feeling well. I can't say I'm feeling so well myself," said the woman's voice. /Why was the Mr. Ness' secretary on the intercom/, wondered Wishookie. The woman continued, "There's been another attack. A nuclear attack. There's...there's reports that there's now nothing left of New York but a mushroom cloud." The quiet chatter of Wishookie's friends fell silent. The boy next to her let out a breath of air as if he'd been punched. Wishookie's history teacher, who had been looking towards the clock, turned his eyes towards the classroom, his finger was frozen in mid-tap.

"I don't know what to say. This is...this is absolutely unimaginable," said the woman's voice. Wishookie heard the trembling of her voice and felt a little cold. "We need all students to meet in the gymnasium. Teachers, please lead your students there." The intercom was dead again. The whole classroom was silent. The students sat there, and Mr. Wenton seemed to be looking absently into space. Nearly a full minute passed--Wishookie had begun starring at the clock after the first few seconds.

Wishookie spoke up. "Mr. Wenton, aren't we going to the gymnasium?"

"What? Oh...uh..yes, yes. Class, please follow me to the gymnasium." Mr. Wenton walked outside of the classroom and began his way down the hall. Wishookie rose from her desk as well and walked towards the doorway. As she began to step through the doorway, she saw Mr. Wenton coming back to the class. He passed Wishookie and beckoned his students to follow him. More of the students came out of their dream-like state. /They're really dazed,/ though Wishookie. Mr. Wenton ordered everyone to stand. Those who didn't were called on by name and told them to stand.

With the whole class standing, Mr. Wenton again ordered the students to the gymnasium. He told everyone to grab someone's hand and buddy-up. Half way to the gymnasium, the intercom sprang to life again. Again, it was Mr. Ness' secretary speaking. "Stop! Wait! Go back to your classes. We need everyone to remain calm. Please wait for further instructions." Wishookie noticed her voice had changed. It now sounded more like that of panic.

Looking around her, she saw the dazed march of her classmates and those from other classrooms. /Why is she so paniced?/ Mr. Wenton called and ordered everyone back to the classroom. Most of the class turned around, but Mr. Wenton had to personally run down and drag back some still dazily walking forward. Once back in the classroom, the students sat and Mr. Wenton went back to standing at his post in front of the classroom.

Minutes passed. Students not completely dazed began making small talk to pass the time. From time to time, Mr. Wenton would grumble at the class to quiet down. Several more minutes passed, and Mr. Wenton went back to tapping. The school bell rang, and several students reflexivly rose. Mr. Wenton told them to sit back down. The second shool bell rang. Still, the intercom was silent. Mr. Wenton began shift a bit where he stood; he grumbled again at the class. He began lecturing again, but less than ten minutes in, the intercom came back to life again.

"I'm sorry." It was Mr. Ness again. His voice wasn't crackly anymore, though it did seem a bit sadder than his usual self. "I'm sorry. There's...there's been a second attack." There was a short pause. /Surely the second would be much less damaging./ "There's...Paris is gone. The official statement from the White House is that it appears that a terrorist organized had bought and planted two black market nuclear devices. There's no word on the casualties, but they aren't hopeful. There's...well, I don't know what to say. School is cancelled for the day. You can go home. The buses should be arriving in ten minutes."

The class exhaled. Paris was gone. Wishookie tried to roll her mind around the idea. She'd never been there. She was planning to at least visit it once when she older. She had at least some plans to visit it, unlike New York. But, now it's gone? /Why is it gone? Why was New York...made gone?/ Wishookie rose from her chair and left the classroom with all the other students. She walked out towards the buses, still carrying her History book, which she never took home. She got on her bus, sat down in her usual seat, and then she blacked out.

***

Sunlight poured in through the white curtains of the east facing window. It crept across the bed, until it shown in the young girl's face. With her eyes still closed, she rolled over to get away from the light in her eyes. But turning over did not avail. Opening them, she turned back to see the sun. It was morning, and today, Wishookie was going to have to get groceries.

It had been a solid two weeks since the attacks against New York and Paris. While there had been constant caualty reports on the news, Wishookie had generally tried to avoid them. The numbers were too staggering to contemplate, and thinking about it too much made Wishookie woozie. The United States and France had both declared war and marshal law near simutaneously, dropping nuclear bombs in several places throughout the Middle East believed to be partially or fully responsible for the attacks and sending forth the army to quell riots whereever they could. Since the attacks, however, the rest of the world seemed to be rather quiet.

Rumors were circulating, of course, and Wishookie had heard them. For the first day or two, there seemed to be a terrorist nuclear attack in every major city in the world, with virtually all such rumors quickly recinded in under an hour. With school suspended until further notice and most stores a mess from looters, finding food became a chore which took up most of Wishookie's day. Most days her father would go with her, though sometimes it would be her young brother and mother. Today would be another trip with her father. His job was suspended as well. The only private sector jobs that still seemed to be going were freight. But with looters seemingly become more bold every day, it seemed only a matter of time before the flow of truck drivers would stop.

That's why Wishookie's father said it was important to stock up now. "Wooskie, don't forget that canned goods are top priority."

"I know dad," Wishookie would answer. Electricity was sporadic at best, and althought the family Already had enough canned meats and vegetables to survive a solid two months, Wishookie's father thought it best to have an additional three months, at least, for the coming winter. When winter broke and spring arrived, they could always try forriging again. And they could start a garden, just in case.

Dressed in double layered clothes, like her father, Wishookie went out carrying her brother's baseball bat. Her father carried a hunting rifle--he had bought it more for a display in the den. Walking down the street--gas stations had run dry before the second day was over--Wishookie and father headed towards the industrial sector. Perhaps they'd find a warehouse that hadn't been looted already. All the major food packing plants had already been gone through, and most were for foods that needed refrigerated, anyways. Their hunts had lately been focusing more on larger warehouses which carried all varities of goods.

While it was slow going through all the crates--the invoice computers were password protected, and it wasn't like there was power to use them anyways--it also could be very rewarding. Though they weren't focused on getting electronic goods or the like, every once in a while they'd stumble across a small gadget, like a battery powered GPS locator, that they'd realize might come in handy later. Besides, anything remote big that was carried off would be a big sign that'd insure if they ever come back that the place would be trashed. They had to be very careful to only take the little things that would fit in their clothes without looking too suspicious.

While going through a stack of crates with mostly uninteresting stuff, Wishookie and father hit the motherload, a crate full of smoked sausage, cheese, and crackers. There was enough to last them at least a couple weeks, and they'd easily be able to fit them all in one trip. Wishookie began stuffing her shirt with sausages when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head a little. Walking towards her was a heavy-set man, shotgun in hand; he was learing at Wishookie, though Wishookie could tell he had more interest than that. "Dad!" cried out Wishookie. Peter grabbed his rifle and turned towards where his daughter was looking.

"You're a naughty little girl, stuffing sausages in your pants. No wonder you always look a little plumper whenever you leave a warehouse," said the heavy-set man.

"Who are you? Why have you been following us?" asked Peter.

"Just another looter, looking for a little grub. Of course, I'm always up for a little live meat as well." He smiled towards Wishookie.

"This is our find. Go find your own." Peter waved his rifle a bit, beckoning the man away. The man made a few steps forward.

"I don't think so." The man turned the shotgun towards Peter and fired. The man crumpled towards the floor, as the rifle bullet tunneled through his forehead and out the back; for an instant, Wishookie saw the man's face go blank, in an almost peaceful bewilderment. Wishookie turned towards her father, and just as suddenly turned away and started vomitting. She fell to her knees, began crying, and held her upper body upper by bracing her hands to the cement floor. Wishookie sobbed in deep breaths, with large sucking gasps beginning each cycle.

Racing through her mind, Wishookie kept wondering why she was crying. Why can't I see? Slowly, the water stopped blurring her eyes so much, and she could see down to the cold cement floor. She saw her hands and knees sitting partially in a splatter of vomit. Why am I sitting in vomit for? Closing her eyes, she rubbed off her eyes on her right and left sleeves. When her sobbing finally stopped, she stood up and tried her best to wipe the vomit off her hands and knees. Looking forward, she saw the heavy-set man lying on the ground, a pool of red around his head. Not looking around, she walked past the heavy-set man, careful to avoid the red pool, and out of the warehouse. When she got home, all she could do was hug her mom and hold her.

***

Wishookie and her mother waited in line. Her little brother was with their neighbors--the male one knew her mother well. Wishookie mentally cringed. It was six months since they had moved from Oregon to California. Her red hair had grown out, and her mom had her trim it short. It was only a month since California officially announced seceeding from the United States. With such a vibrant and self-sufficient economy, many tried to rush into California before and after its secession, looking for work or welfare. But without many areas to export to, the job market was saturated and the borders had been closed. Wishookie and family were one of a lucky few to make it into the state.

Even though her mother worked, there wasn't enough money to go around. Schools were suspended in California too, except for those able to pay. Perhaps with state assistance for food, she and her brother could go with the newly created excessin of her mother's wealth. She knew all too well that if things did not go well, she would begin working soon. Would she have to take up her mother's job? She cringed again.

Starring out into the cloud filled sky, there came the low hum of planes overhead. She looked towards the west, saw the reflection of the sun's light, and smiled. They were one of ours. Perhaps they were sending support to aid Nevada in the fight. "We're all in this together." Wishookie knew the slogan was corny, but it was also true. The only chance California had was to aid Nevada in the fight against Washington.

Oh, but the fight against Washington had come so fast. California and the United States had negotiated for months. It had even looked like some sort of agreement was about to be reached. The United States needed the stability of a strong economy, and it seemed clear that they were willing to make many concessions. But in the final week, the talks dissolved. And California made good on its threats. If there was anything that was certain, the United States would not stand for a desolution of the Union.

But many states in the west seceeded as well. Emboldened by the California, and realizing that surely the United States would try sanctioning or some other economic methods to force California to relent, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona seceeded together to form a trading block with California. It was then that the shit hit the fan. Washington was determined to fight to keep the Union together. What else could they do?

But many states, especially those bordering the southwest, were far from determined to fight to the death. And while they did offer their states to launch attacks--like they had a choice--recruitment was near nonexistant. And the black market trade of luxury goods from California continued. Looting, after all, doesn't last forever.

Since the wars start, there'd been hardly any direct bombing against California. News reports spoke of fighting focusing on the more eastern states, and even that consisted more of bombing infrastructure than either side's army. But with the US running out of hard targets, it was only a matter of time before they either went for deeper bombing ranges or went full out on the Southwest Militia.

Wishookie felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to the face of her mom. She still looked sad. Wishookie and mom moved forward in the line. Only maybe half a hour more. Maybe an hour, tops. The sun slowly moved its away across the sky, peaking out from the grey clouds as it went. Wishookie wished she had an umbrella.

Looking farther in the line, she noticed that there was an argument near the assistance window. Over the chatter of those in line, it wasn't at all clear the words being said, but the message soon became clear. The window's shutters were closed, and the sign on the outside prominently read: "Sorry, we're closed."

"I guess we're not going to any support today, sport. It's late. Maybe they'll have something tomorrow."

Wishookie nodded her head, even though she knew inside that this was the end. She'd have to get a job. And if she had her way, it'd not be what her mom was doing. Thinking of tomorrow, she said, "Mom, I just remembered. Kim was wondering if I could spend the night. Would it be okay?"

"I don't know, honey. We have to get up early to check tomorrow. Will you be up in time?"

"Sure. I'll be fine." Wishookie hugged her mother.

"Well, I guess it's okay. Just be sure to call me when you get there."

"Okay. Goodbye." Wishookie hugged her mother and ran off. She sure would miss her brother, but she knew this would be her only chance. She had to have a chance.

***

The morning air was crisp. It was always crisp. The fog rolled in under the bridge and over Wishookie. Was that a reflection of the sun in the water? No, no. It was too foggy for that. It must be an overhead light.

Wishookie rolled over, using her jacket to keep her hands dry. It would be time for work soon. Gutting fish wasn't glamarous. In fact, since doing it Wishookie had decided to give up eating fish. She hoped she'd never have to work at a butcher shop. She didn't want to get sick of the smell of beef and pork too.

Speaking of pork, thought Wishookie. Wishookie put on her jacket and walked up the embankment. Walking towards the docks, she spotted a vendor selling hot dogs. They only seemed to not come out in the dead of night. /Perhaps that is when they transform./ Wishookie giggled. The men at the plant sure do make up the silliest of stories.

But, it was easier to think up silly stories than to think of the war. The bombing had come closer to home. Well, it came closer to Wishookie's new home. She hoped her mom and brother were okay. She promised to herself that she'd visit them. Maybe next month. Would the war be over, one way or another, by then? Surely when it was over she could visit.

Only a few blocks from the docks, she passed a small seconnd-hand electronics store. It was always fun to window shop, so Wishookie spent a little time inside looking at the radios and the TV sets. Flipping through some of the channels, a news bulletin appeared on the screen. It was from a station in New Mexico. That was weird. Normally it was hard enough getting channels from farther up California.

Every once in a while the picture would crackle. But what showed up on the screen was clear, none the less. "This just in. We have unconfirmed reports that Washington has been attacked," said the news anchor. Wishookie rolled her eyes. /I wish,/ she thought to herself. "It is believed a radical group based in California is responsible for theattack. One moment."

There was a moment of silence as the news anchor held his hand to his ear. "My God!" The news anchor's face went slack. "We've confirmed that the attack is real. It was another nuclear attack. There's no word if there's any survivors." Wishookie placed her hands to her heart. /What could this mean?/

She thought back to her wish and scoffed. She hadn't meant it. /How could Americans attack other Americans, and with nukes of all things?/ She corrected herself. /How could Californians attack Americans? There were millions of civilians who lived there. How could they?/

Her mental rambling was broken when she caught one of the words the news anchor was saying. It was something about the President. "...and the President has confirmed that he plans to respond in kind with force. Those of Congress who were out of Washington at the time, and the Vice President who was also thankfully away on business, have recovened at an undisclosed location.

We tune in to the President live, now."

"People of the United States. I am here to confirm that we will not bow to terrorism. We must strengthen our resolve against the terrorist Californians. And we shall let it be known that such acts will not be tolerated. Moments ago, I authorized the use of the full arsenal of the United States. Currently, there are ICBMs inbound to strike key targets of California. They will know what it means to defy the will of the American people."

Wishookie's heart ran cold. She turned around to see the shop owner, a shortergray-haired man. He too was clutching his chest, but he had pinned himself up againstthe far wall.

ICBMs. Was it matter of minutes or seconds? How could she prepare? She had hardly even lived. She was't involved in any terrorist group. Why was she to die?

Standing still, Wishookie turned back to the news anchor, whose face was covered in disgust. It was then that Wishookie knew. It was the nuclear blast that allowed her to see the program. But all of California's nukes, and really all the nuclear bombs in the southwest, were of older design. They didn't enhance broadcasts. They totally blocked them out. It was only the newer models, stored in areas like North Dakota, that would actually enhance the reflection of electro-magnetic radiation.

The President must have known this. How did she know this? Her mind went a little blank. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she knew she knew. She knew they knew. It was some sort of conspiracy. But why would the President conspire? It was theonly way to take care of California without worry of a total backlash. But that's insane!

Wishookie heard many voices in her head. Some were quiet and mellow. Others were loud and irrate. But she could all distinctly understand them. And they all heard Wishookie. What was this? Was this what it felt like to die? No, that wasn't it. Some of the bombs must have already gone off. All that coherent radiation was even reflecting the almost undetectable pulses of their minds. All were one and one were all. And she knew that this day would not come to pass.

***

Wishookie felt a little woozie. She sat up in her desk and looked up to see Mr. Wenton still lecturing. /Was I drooling?/ She tried to wipe her mouth clean without drawing attention. She looked around the classroom. For a moment, almost everyone but Mr. Wenton looked to be daydreaming, and then it went away. The intercom came to life. "Sorry for this interruption, but we've an announcement to make." Mr. Ness' voice sounded very calm and strong, like usual. It sounded odd to Wishookie. Mr. Wenton began tapping on his gradebook.

"We're happy to announce awards for the..." A higher pitched voice could be heard, muffled in the background. "Uh, well, it seems it's for good conduct of some nature. In any case, after class would the following people please come to my office: ..." Wishookie's mind began to wander as the names were read off the list. "..., Wishookie Owens, Mr. Wenton, ...". Wishookie looked over at Mr. Wenton, who looked a bit puzzled back at Wishookie.

"..., Missy Bradshaw, ...". Wishookie looked over at Missy, who was sitting across the room. /She wasn't daydreaming either,/ Wishookie thought. "..., and Tyler Beckons. Again, please report to my office after class if your name was called." Wishookie looked over at her friends, most of whom were giggling and looking in her direction. /Why am I being called to the office?/

Wishookie felt someone pinching her ass. "You didn't think you'd get out of it that easily, did you?" Wishookie smiled at the voice and turned. To her left was Tom, her boyfriend. She put her hands to his heart. She wobbled a bit in her chair and felt a little light-headed.

"You weren't sitting there."

"I wasn't?" he asked.

"Don't worry. It doesn't matter. The important thing is we'll be around to get married."

Tom looked into her eyes, past her red hair, and simply smiled, having not a clue what Wishookie meant.

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