Zero Node: Chapter 36: "Armageddon"
by Jeff Rand
Battles continue as Winter Campers attempt to rescue more of their fellows from neural virtual reality. Sadly, it doesn't go well for some, and there are fatalities. While the central characters remain alive, we learn of the death of Mr. Horn, among others. (He is known to take risks, and this should be expected.) Also, we learn about two characters who disappeared early in the novel and reappeared in Zero Node. Of course, the author took the liberty of writing one out of the story again in the second novel.
The title of the chapter could apply to the dreary conditions of living underground on Zug Island. It also references the night raids from our heroes as they attack the NVR centers to rescue their families. However, it came to me when I was deciding on an odd name for the NVR child of Steve and Kristie, who we learn more about in Zero Node, putting a new perspective on the reality in Another Ten Seconds. Quentin, the grown son of the Donohues, was named after Quentin Collins, a vampire on the television soap opera "Dark Shadows," popular in the 1960s.
July 28, 2020
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Residents and guests gathered in the theater within the Great Space of Zero Node. Doug Sutton was able to transfer the controls from the once inaccessible control center to the theater. The chromite covered walls were now alive with images of the attack and scenes near the area where the enemy was believed to be hidden.
"We are at war and must defeat this enemy!" cried Ron. "And I don't trust these so-called guests. Everything was fine until Steve arrived here with his cronies." Ron moved to block the entrance to the theater as if to prepare to prevent the guests from escaping.
Keith rose suddenly and pulled an antique revolver from his pocket. "Given the threat from the outside, I thought it might be helpful to carry this weapon I extracted from the archives. Now Ron, I suggest you sit down."
"I don't think you have any bullets in that thing," barked Ron.
"Perhaps we can test it on one of your limbs or would you prefer a bullet in the gut? I'd aim for your head, but the bullet would pass right through the hollow space and damage the wall."
"Enough!" declared Osvath. "Ron, sit down. And K2, put that away."
Wilbur rose to help Ron to his seat, and Michaela faced her father to suggest that he not pursue confrontation. The others would later learn that Michaela shared some characteristics with her dad and brought some of the bows and arrows from the archery range to their quarters to augment their arsenal of defensive weapons.
Osvath continued, "I assure you that these newcomers are not responsible for the attack. Yet we must respond. We might be safe here for now, but they detonated a hydrogen bomb on the surface of the ocean just above us. How many more will they send until they reach us?"
"Didn't we attack them first?" asked Jeff Dryden.
"With a minor military assault," said Ozzie. "But they really struck first and paralyzed our electronics for a time. Now we can't be sure, but it appears they have control of the stockpile of nuclear weapons. Doug, can you give us some insight into your findings?"
Doug asked the group to swivel in their seats and face what they believed to be the rear of the theater. Rather than display the typical Mercator Projection of the earth, the curved surface they were now facing presenting a realistic view of the earth using a modified approach of the Equal Earth Projection first developed in 2018. Doug proceeded to activate chromites with purple dots to show the 262,144 NVR centers across the earth. Then he added green lights to display locations of their defensive hardware. Two red lights marked the location of the enemy in Colorado and North Korea. "We now have control of our defensive forces," he said. "But we have no control over the vast network of NVR centers. We have learned that these are maintained exclusively by what is termed 'The PROGRAM.'"
Once again, Steve began to demonstrate his dominant personality, "I am not sure we should rush to action. Did the rest of you see the picture near their hideout? Doug, can you display the picture taken during our attack?"
Doug complied and displayed a picture of broken concrete and other debris beside a smokey mountain.
"Can you see the blast door in the side of the mountain?" inquired Steve, directing his question to the group.
Tom, who did not usually interject his opinion, joined the fray, "I don't care. We have no choice. We must defend ourselves."
Tom's comment plainly divided the group. Not surprisingly, Ron nodded in agreement. So did Doug and Jeff. Even after the disagreement Keith had with Ron earlier, he gestured his affirmation, as did daughter Michaela. Ethan frowned disagreement, which led his son Leu and the Jeddo sisters to follow suit. Mike showed no reaction.
Wilbur, who had impressed Steve as being a moderate, spoke next, "We need to defend ourselves."
Steve responded quickly, "Can't we at least try to negotiate a truce?"
After a momentary pause, a message flashed on the wall, "Attention! Zero Node, you have 48 hours to declare your unconditional surrender!"
This prompted Mike to make his own declaration, "Steve, there is your answer. We must defeat the enemy, not just for our well-being but for the sake of the world."
The newest arrivals to Zero Node had to become more than guests for the response to the enemy. This would not be a matter of protecting their own lives. It would take extraordinary measures to destroy the Node buried deep in the Pacific, perhaps requiring an event of greater magnitude than the asteroid strike millions of years ago that scientists believed to wipe out many of the earth species, including the dinosaurs. Yet, aside from the thirteen inhabitants of Zero Node and the enemy forces, it would be likely that the other eight billion humans housed in NVR centers would die, effectively adding another species to the extinction list.
Four teams were formed to address the issues most critical to success. Doug Sutton and Jeff Dryden would repair the submarine, as it would be the only means escape should the worst occur in Zero Node. Ethan and Leu Rein joined Markie and Danielle Jeddo to inspect Zero Node itself. The environmental systems had to be working for thousands of other species. In addition, there were numerous human artifacts to protect. The team assigned to wage another attack on the enemy called themselves "The Artillery" and included Ron Olds, Tom Wilder, and Wilbur Noonan. Keith and Michaela King set aside any differences with Ron to join the team. Perhaps the most important assignment fell to Mike Osvath and Steve Donohue. They had to find a way to protect the NVR network from falling into enemy hands.
After brief discussion among the members of the artillery, Keith shared some information he gathered from the Zero Node library. The enemy's base was Cheyenne Mountain just outside Colorado Springs. Aside from Zero Node, it was perhaps, the most protected installation on earth, designed to withstand a nuclear blast.
"Perhaps we can detonate several nuclear missiles at this location," remarked Ron.
"That might work," responded Keith. "But we do not have any nuclear missiles. They are in the hands of the enemy."
"Maybe we could break into his system and take control of them," countered Ron.
"We have less than two days or less than a proday, as you would say. I have another proposal. Do we have control of large airplanes, such as 747s?" asked Keith.
Wilbur felt obliged to comment, "Given my ancestry, you would expect that I am a student of aviation. Keith, you might recall that most 747s were mothballed in the twenties. However, there are a number of 787s near Seattle that we can operate remotely. We also have control of military aircraft, including 80 B-1 bombers in the Dakotas."
"That might work. There is a heavily fortified blast door serving as the entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain bunker, followed by a second blast door further inside the mountain. All we have to do is blast through them," came the response.
"I don't see how that is possible," said Wilbur.
"One of the most horrific events in my lifetime occurred on September 11, 2001. You know this event and saw the World Trade Center literally dissolve. I propose we use the same tactic by crashing planes, fully loaded with fuel directly into the blast doors. A series of crashes should generate enough heat and energy to melt through the doors, especially from a B-1 bomber."
"Yes. I would agree that a B-1 bomber hitting the door, fully loaded with fuel, and travelling at Mach 2, would cause serious damage," responded Wilbur.
"Perhaps we could do the same to Korea," said Ron, visibly excited at the prospect of doing real damage to the enemy. "We control a large fleet of Russian aircraft at Irkustk near Lake Baikal."
Steve and Mike worked non-stop with the software trying to take control of the NVR centers. After many failed hours, they were not able to have any effect on the centers or their residents. However, they did eventually reach a breakthrough in being able to monitor the vitals of individual people. Unfortunately, these people were identified with a long string of digits, and they were not able to pinpoint their friends and families. The surrender deadline was fast approaching.
The artillery team moved 162 aircraft to the site formerly housing Denver International Airport. The runways would be long enough for the B-1s and give them enough time to gain speed before crashing into Cheyenne Mountain.
"I hope we don't destroy all of our American military planes. What if we get attacked by the Russians?" joked Michaela.
Not getting the joke, Ron responded, "I hardly think that will be a problem. Besides, we'll be destroying Russian planes too."
Keith had to sacrifice six 787s before he got the right flight path to hit the blast door with maximum impact and avoid other obstructions. Then he programmed this flight path for the remaining aircraft. The assault on Cheyenne Mountain commenced as planned, with aircraft spaced apart to give some burn time for each crash. Three dozen planes crashed into the blast door over a period of 12 jiffies.
When the team viewed the scene from a helicopter hovering near the mountain, they were pleased to see the blast door had been replaced by smoldering debris. Keith knew it would be more difficult to destroy the secondary blast door. Yet he determined the optimum flight path into the tunnel from various drawings and diagrams available from the Zero Node digital library. The team would now be blind to the effects from this second phase of the attack.
Steve and Mike were exhausted from their failure to gain control of the NVR centers and were visibly irritated with each other as they stood impotent in the Zero Node command center. Steve lashed out at Mike, "I always thought you were an idiot! You let this happen!"
Mike yelled back, "I am the Infinite Wisdom!" He paused and added, "You wretch!"
As Mike stood facing Steve and the display panel in the control center, a scanning beam shined in his direction and landed on his face. Seconds later the display flashed two groups of symbols. The first included the characters they had seen earlier in the strange language. However, the second read "English."
"English," Mike repeated.
Immediately, a new message appeared. "Welcome Infinite Wisdom. You answer correctly. You now have manual control of the PROGRAM."
The artillery team waited for a response from the enemy. Hearing none, they proceeded with the attack on the North Korea site. Now Ron and Tom assumed control to bring 66 heavy Russian bombers into position. They had the precise location of the missile launch from the enemy but lacked other details. For this assault they would crash the planes across the area in rapid succession. As in Colorado, they were able to view the field of destruction from a hovering helicopter. Ron was very pleased with the results.
The helicopter monitored the area as the fire continued to burn across the landscape. The team was still transfixed on the burning debris when they observed a large slab of the wreckage move to the side. A missile launched and 46 minutes later the airbase in Irkustk. Russia was obliterated from a nuclear explosion.
A new message now flashed on the panels in Zero Node, reading, "Your attack was ineffective. You have four hours left to surrender or face complete annihilation."
Once again, everyone gathered in the theater. The results were mixed. Ethan and his team reported all was well in Zero Node. Doug and Jeff also reported positive results with the submarine. Most surprising was the report from Mike Osvath when he learned he had control over the NVR network by just saying five words. Sadly, the artillery team reported that the enemy could not be stopped and had shown the ability to destroy the earth with nuclear weapons.
No one wanted to talk about surrender, so Ethan made it a point to indicate that it was midnight on the outside and either Saturday or Sunday depending on where you were in Zero Node. It was time to celebrate a midnight mass. There were no objections, except Osvath pointed out that he was from a reformed faith and not a Catholic. Ethan told him that he could refrain from partaking in the host, but the wine was not actually alcoholic.
The mass proceeded without incident and everyone present felt obliged to offer words of prayer. Ethan still had the Bible he found in Tuktoyaktuk, Canada and proceeded to read again from the Book of Revelation. Here he read the verses of the end times and the Battle of Armageddon. Though he had made no assumptions as to how others would interpret its meaning. Perhaps the prophesy was coming true and they were part of the battle. If they were facing these evil powers, they only they could do was trust their faith. They would surrender.
Doug was able to activate a keyboard on the wall of the theater. Steve sent the message, "We surrender. Can we meet face-to-face?"
A response arrived quickly, "Agreed - In two hours."
There was some discussion as to who would lead these talks. Steve and Mike were quick picks, but everyone wanted to be a part of it. Finally, Steve declared, "We must proceed with caution. K2 and Ethan should join us since they have the most experience on the outside."
Two hours later everyone left, while Steve, Mike, Keith, and Ethan stood in front of the panel in the theater to show their faces to the enemy, ready to declare their unconditional surrender. Moments later, they were astonished at the faces of the enemy.