The Red Button

Mike hated his job. The pay was great. Hell for being a glorified button pusher, the pay was outstanding. He had health benefits, dental included, a comfy chair and all the softdrinks the vendor in the hall could provide. It was the retirement plan that sucked. Lately, the hours were shit as well. He didn’t even want to think about his social life, or lack thereof. Yes, work was all-consuming. He groaned inwardly at his private joke.

The overlords stood in a huddle behind him. Most days they strutted around commandcentral like overstuffed roosters, crowing orders inflated with their self importance. They were not really overlords, and this was not really commandcentral, but Mike liked to think of it as such. So did the overlords. Until recently, they really were the leaders of the most powerful nation on Earth. But nature had trumped their sense of control. They had gotten less arrogant as the plague swept through the nation. The more information that came in about infections per capita, the more they closed ranks, exchanging fierce whispering sessions with each other, like jilted girlfriends not wanting to create a scene at the bar.

Mike, knowing he was an “acceptable loss” kept his mouth shut and kept pressing buttons. Even when he saw Kansas City consumed in a wash of red “infection rate” coloring, he had kept his cool. It was only later, in the privy that he slammed his fists into the stall and sobbed silently for his mom, left on her own. Lucy was a tough bird, but that solid red told him she didn’t stand a chance. Then he used the indulgent hot and cold running water to clean himself up and went back to his comfy chair to push more buttons. That was two weeks ago.

Today, he had rolled out of his bunk when the wake-up alarm sounded. Unlike your typical clock radio, this was a real alarm. Some new level of bad had happened, and that meant all hands on deck. Knowing he had 5 minutes to be on the floor ready to act as the good little soldier, he turned the faucet knob for a quick wash. Nothing came out. This was the first sign that the outside world, awash in red was infiltrating the compound. Somewhere in the last month he knew this day would happen, but the fear that came over him was unexpected. He twisted the knob of sharply and dressed in uniform. Deodorant, hair gel and cologne would have to do for the day. Or the week. Hell, why be that optimistic?

In the hallways people rushed past, most headed to the upper levels. Around him he saw hollow eyes and clenched jaws, while he pushed past to head to the 12th floor… down. He looked at the elevator. It had been up and running last night when he left for his mandatory 4 hours of shut eye at 0100 hours, but the sink experience meant he didn’t want to risk it. Guards were stationed at every level of the stairwell in preparation for this eventuality, so Mike took out his ID. When he got to the doors, no one was there.

He finally shook out of his reverie to look around him. In the base there were usually a few people in the halls, moving with purpose to their destinations. Now, there were sporadic pockets of soldiers, grunts mostly, rushing up to the top levels and then dead silence in between. Something was up. There were only a few options left of what that something could be, and Mike had never been an optimist.

He headed to the 12 floor.

When he entered the war room all eyes turned to stare at him. The tension hit him as hard as a punch in the gut. He paused with the weight of it, then moved to his comfy chair. Swiveling he turned to face the overlords and await their command.

“Do it.” one of them said calmly, a statement of fact.

“Sir- the living… I- it won’t… I can’t!” stuttered Stephen. Sweat had soaked through his clothes like he had just finished a marathon. He looked panicky and his eyes scanned the room for an ally. In a room full of officers, men and women sworn to stay steadfast, the best of the best, not one could meet his eye. The exception being the general who had issued the order, and Mike who still had no clue what was happening.

Almost casually the general removed his sidearm, released the safety and aimed the barrel at Stephen.

“Solder, I told you to execute sequence Kilo-Oscar-one-nine-four-five. Are you refusing an order?”

“Sir, please… I don’t-”

The shot sounded, and Stephen slumped over. Not another human had screamed or raised their voice in protest or remorse. The silence hung in the air, stretching time to a painful standstill. The faint sound of crashing from the floor above ended the pause.

The general… General Livolin maybe, turned to Mike. “Execute the sequence.”

Mike swiveled in his comfy chair to face his screen. His fingers flew over the keyboard to type in the series of code. Now all the eyes that had avoided his less than five minutes ago bore into the back of his head. He said over his shoulder, “Authorization?”

General… Lovlett? Livingston? walked over to the terminal, leaned in and typed his password. Then he stepped back leaving Mike to press the final “enter” button. Bastard.

Mike looked at him. Stared into his hollow face with hate and despair. “You are not saving us. You are ending the human race,” he hissed. Then he pressed the button. On the map, the target cities where all the nuclear missiles had been programmed to hit showed their detonation. The room had stopped looking at Mike, they barely noticed him get out of his comfy chair and head for the door. They watched each city light up on the map like a game of Risk. When Mike opened the door wide open to let the bitten in they were too engrossed in watching the remote destruction of the world to see it up close and personal until it was too late.

Art by Kieran Russell

Art by Kieran Russell

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