Ava stared at the wall, not really paying attention to what was currently on the television in front of her. It seemed like the only thing on anymore was the war and politics, neither of which she cared about. She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes and glanced around at her roommates, hoping one of them would want to do something else, but all of them were glued to the screen. That’s what she got for sharing an apartment with political science majors. She glanced out the large picture window next to her and sighed. It was a gorgeous day and she was stuck inside yet again.
“Stop sighing, Ava,” Christian said with a groan next to her. “You know you can’t go outside until the all clear is given. Why don’t you watch with us and actually learn something for a change?”
“It’s all so ridiculous,” she scoffed. “The United States is way too powerful to ever actually be attacked. The government just wants us all to be afraid.”
Nina laughed from across the room. “If you would actually watch the news while it was on you would know that’s a load of crap.”
“I watch it,” Ava said with a pout. “But it’s all lies. They’re just trying to scare us. And then they have that group come on all the time. You know…. the crazy religious one.”
Nina rolled her eyes. “You mean the Prophets? They’re not crazy; they’re a legitimate political group with supporters in every country of the world. They’re the ones who are providing vital information to our military and government.”
Ava crossed her arms slouched into the couch. “I still think they’re crazy, and they wear those ridiculous robes all the time.”
“Just because they seem strange doesn’t make them crazy,” Christian said trying to smooth things over. “Now let’s just watch the news in peace.”
Nina gave one last disgusted look at Ava before focusing back on the screen and Ava stuck her tongue out at the back of her head. She hated when Nina spoke to her like she was a child. She glanced over at Christian, but he was already locked on the television. Ava rolled her eyes once more for good measure and turned her attention to the commentator on the screen.
“The Prophets announced earlier today that the last remaining powers of the world would need to disarm their nuclear weapons immediately or risk losing the world. Already they have estimated that 47% of the world’s population has been killed since the trouble began three years ago in March 2089, either from the food shortage or the conflict itself. With only 3 continents left, the Prophets feel it is imperative to end the conflict and strive instead for world peace and a unified world government.”
Ava snorted in derision and rolled her eyes at Nina’s glare before looking out the window once more. She couldn’t believe how stupid people could be; don’t they realize that it was impossible for 47% of the world to be destroyed? In her mind it was just more proof that the news and the government were lying to them. Her roommates, however, were clearly eating it up. She was just about to tell them so when she noticed that Nina had started crying. She glanced at Christian and the look of horror on his face prompted her to look at the television screen.
“What…?” She couldn’t even comprehend what she was seeing. The images being flashed on the screen in quick succession were nothing but vast wastelands and mutilated corpses. Christian finally noticed her staring and answered her question.
“The Asian nations finally banded together,” he said as he choked back a sob. “90% of Europe has been destroyed in a single nanosecond. The Prophets say they are pointing their remaining weapons at us and Canada, but they wanted all of us to see the destruction for the first time to try to make the government back down and talk peace.”
There was silence in the room as the pictures continued to scroll across the screen. Finally Ava heard Nina blow her nose and looked over at her. She hadn’t realized that she had been crying too until she felt the tears on her cheeks. She watched as Nina stood up slowly turned off the television. She stared at the two of them before wiping her eyes once more.
“We need to leave,” she said stiffly.
Christian shook his head. “And where would we go? If the Asian nations are about to launch their nuclear missiles at us there’s no place for us to go that will be safe.” Ava said nothing as she looked from one to the other, the horror of the situation finally settling on her.
“There is one place,” Nina said as she walked towards them. “The Prophets will protect us. Remember? They said on the news ages ago that they were building fallout shelters all over the world for those that wanted the protection.”
“Where’s the nearest one?” Ava asked, hopeful that Nina was right. She suddenly wished she had listened to them from the beginning and absorbed everything on the news. She was out of her element and didn’t know what to do next.
“There’s one in the center of the city,” Christian said slowly, “But you know everyone is going to be flocking there and there’s only so much room available.”
“Well then we just have to get there first,” Nina said resolutely. Ava nodded her agreement and stood up to follow her out of the door. Christian sighed but followed them nonetheless.
Once outside Ava realized what Christian had meant. The streets were packed with cars and people all trying to move. She hoped most didn’t know about the fallout shelter, but as they got closer she realized how wrong she was. Everyone seemed to be going in the same direction as them and she struggled to keep up with Nina and Christian as they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd. She tried not to look down at the bodies that had already been trampled under the panicked crowd, but she could tell whenever she stepped on something that wasn’t part of the street.
Finally she saw Nina point to a tall building in the center of the crowd and they pushed their way towards it. People were struggling to get through the door and into the shelter, but a massive security team was keeping them back. Ava’s heart sank as she realized they weren’t letting anyone through. She grabbed Nina’s arm but she only shook her head and pushed forward. Ava and Christian followed behind and Ava looked at the scared faces around her all screaming to be let in. A guard stopped them just in front of the door with the butt of his rifle and looked them over.
“Have you been tested yet?”
Nina looked at him in confusion. “Tested?” She looked back at Ava and Christian but neither of them knew what he was talking about either.
The guard rolled his eyes. “Go to the last guard on the end and tell him you need to be tested. Only positive tests may enter the shelter.”
Ava just stared at him until Christian pulled her away with Nina. What kind of test would they have to pass to be allowed to survive? She looked at the guard they were supposed to go to, but all he had was a rifle and a metal box with a hole in the front. He stared at them as Nina told him they needed to be tested and simply nodded.
“Show me the back of your hands,” he ordered as he slung his rifle over his back. He examined each of their hands in turn as he adjusted the dials on the metal box in his hands. When he was satisfied with his inspection he pointed to Nina and instructed her to place her right hand palm down inside the box.
Nina stuck her hand in the box and glanced back at them as the guard adjusted more dials on the top of the box. Suddenly Nina screamed and pulled her hand back to her chest in a panic. Christian grabbed her, startled at her reaction, and examined her hand as the guard stared at the box. Ava looked over Christian’s shoulder and was horrified to see the strange symbol now cut into Nina’s hand.
“You’ve passed,” the guard said simply with a nod to his companion next to him. The man glanced at the box before grabbing Nina and dragging her behind the line and into the shelter. Christian and Ava tried to follow but the guard with the box stopped them as another guard grabbed Christian.
He grabbed Ava’s hand and pushed it inside the box as she struggled. She could hear Nina calling to them from the other side of the guard line and Christian struggling with another guard behind her. Suddenly she felt a searing pain across the back of her hand and pulled it out to see that same symbol as Nina.
“You’ve passed,” he said once again with a nod to the guard hold Christian. The man shoved Christian’s hand in the box and held Ava’s wrist tightly. It wasn’t long before Christian flinched and pulled his hand out of the box, but the symbol on his hand was different from Ava’s. The guard shook his head and pushed Christian into the crowd as the other guard dragged Ava into the shelter.
“Christian!” she called, trying to reach him. But the crowd had already swallowed him and the line of guards was back in place. She peered into the darkness of the shelter and saw a flight of stairs descending into darkness. She followed him down what seemed to be a thousand steps to a solid metal door with the same symbol as her hand painted on the front. He jerked on the handle of the door and pushed her in before sealing it once more. She stumbled to her knees and grimaced as she stuck hard concrete.
“Ava!” She looked up as she heard her name and smiled as Nina helped her to her feet. She hugged her tight, glad for one familiar face, before looking at her surroundings. The room was smaller than she had been expecting, with fewer people as well. She estimated about 100 people were huddled on the floor around her, but the room could have easily fit ten times that amount. The walls themselves were covered in the same, strange symbol that was on her hand and a couple of lights hung from the ceiling, but otherwise the room was bare.
She looked back at Nina as she tugged on her arm. “Ava,” she said as she stared at the door. “Where’s Christian? I thought he would have been right behind you.” Ava felt tears spill down her face as she shook her head.
“They didn’t pass him,” she said quietly as she hung her head. Nina sobbed and they both slunk to the floor as they realized they were never going to see their friend again.