Ten seconds had elapsed since the radio shattered my life with a stark reality: millions of people are going to die, I have to choose, and there's nothing I can do to stop it.
Just minutes prior, our team shared a rare moment of triumph, however fleeting. The Phantom Alliance had finally made a mistake. They exposed their weapon satellite’s position by briefly dropping their cloaking shield. Our SATCOM team had spent months waiting for a break, so when it came, they were quick to radio in a successful lock on the target.
Following standard procedure, I ordered our missile batteries readied for deployment. Our Taurus VI Space Lab was outfitted with two Patriot X2 ballistic missiles, more than enough firepower to vaporize a rogue satellite. Seconds later, a frantic sergeant radioed that two Titan S33D missiles had just launched from the Phantom Alliance satellite. It was immediately all too clear why they had lowered their shields.
“I want to know where those missiles are headed, A.S.A.P! And I mean yesterday, Sergeant!”
We only have 2 missiles on this freaking tub of bolts. One has to be used to bring down the enemy satellite; with the other I can stop one of the Phantom’s Titans, but not both.
"Son of a bitch!"
Spittle launches from my lip, hits the screen in front of me, drawing my eyes to my frothing reflection.
The radio crackles abruptly, “SATCOM Sergeant Robert Decker reporting in with…”
“Spit it out, Sergeant!”
“Ah, yes, sir… missile alpha will hit Washington D.C. in 8 minutes with missile bravo striking New York City about twenty-eight seconds later.”
New York City! Please no.
“Are we ready to fire yet?”
“Two minutes thirty-three seconds, thirty-two, thirty-one, thirty seconds, Captain.”
Two minutes, until we’re ready to fire, five minutes for our missiles to intercept. The Phantom Alliance satellite will be finished reloading their launchers soon, arming for another strike. There’s no time to contact Houston, no time for any discussion or advice, no time to think about my family.
No time for anything other than a decision.
“Let’s be sure we are ready to fire as soon as possible. Target the Phantom Alliance satellite with Betsy and wait on target data for Gladys on my mark.”
The crew had named our two missiles for my two precious daughters, Betsy and Gladys, who are now both going to die.
We’d moved to lower Manhattan just fourteen months earlier. Susan wanted to be close to her mother, and there was no arguing the fact she helped a lot with the girls. I never liked her much, but I was never home and had lost any credibility where family decisions were concerned, especially when Susan put her foot down. Her ‘mad’ face flashed in my mind from when I had stumbled home drunk from that crazy New Year’s party. That was back when we lived in Seattle.
Wishing we had stayed in Seattle isn’t going to help now. Nothing is.
“One minute thirty seconds to full weapon readiness, Captain.”
Betsy had laughed gleefully when I told her about her name painted on the missile. Susan had gotten so mad about my telling her. She was always so maternally strict. I remember Betsy turned serious before she hung up that last time saying ‘I hope you never use it Dad.’
Oh sweetie… Why the hell am I thinking about this now!
I laugh out loud disconcertingly.
“One minute to full weapon readiness, Captain.”
There is no decision. The United States could function without New York City. Washington D.C. is another matter. Even the President’s warning system wouldn’t allow enough time for her to escape, let alone anyone else. Even if the Phantom Alliance would now be irreversibly crippled without their satellite, the country would need leadership.
Not that I have any faith in so-called human leadership.
“Thirty seconds to full weapon readiness, Captain.”
All my military training and discipline refuse to allow an alternate conclusion.
Honor, duty, country; I am a soldier.
“Yes sir, Captain.”
“On zero count, launch Betsy as targeted and launch Gladys at missile alpha, Washington D.C. intercept course.”
“Confirming, sir. Gladys is to target missile alpha in… “
“You heard me. Washington D.C. Let’s not miss our window, Sergeant.”
A cool calmness pulses through me like a warm tidal wave. I reach down into my lower desk drawer and dial a quick combination, Betsy’s birthday. Years of repetitive practice guide my fingers coolly past the simple lock. Deftly, I lift a well-oiled lid, exposing my grandfather’s antique .38 special revolver. There is no reason to check whether it is loaded.
What did I get Betsy for her last birthday? Was I even there? There would be no more.
“Captain, targets acquired and locked. Zero count in ten seconds, eight, seven, six, five… ”
I envision my wife and two girls. I take a last distorted look at my reflection in the smudged monitor.
How many ghosts will haunt my eternity?
“… three, two…”
The missiles will not miss and neither will I.
I love you, my girls. See you soon.