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Coldwar

Honi Soit Writing Competition Fiction Shortlist

July 1, 1958

Endless expanses of blue and palm trees concealed arrays of tropical huts resting on the picturesque Pikinni Atoll. Gentle coils of wind weaved their way through the lush greenery, humming against the hundreds of propped motion picture cameras lining the shores of its perimeter, erected on poles and poised for action. They teetered in the wind strangely, like a shifting barrage warning visitors to beware.

**

Puzzlement filled the room as the Pikinnians sorrowfully deliberated. Who was this strange man that demanded ‘voluntary’ evacuation? What exactly was wanted with their island? US Navy Associate Joseph Morrison examined his fingernails nervously.

“It is for the good of mankind. To end all wars.”

At least that is what he had told them. 

The Marshall Islands lay calmly, isolated amongst the vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean. Pikinni remained nestled at the northern end of the Ralik Chain; an elusive slice of tropical paradise. However Pikinni’s selection was not due to its natural beauty, instead the fact that it remained segregated from international traffic.

167 Micronesian locals. Easily moveable.

Referring to biblical stories the locals had learned from Protestant missionaries, Morrison told them they “were the children of Israel whom the Lord saves from their enemy and leads into the Promised Land.”

Hours later, the Pikinnian’s hesitantly accepted the request. Whilst Morrison hurriedly escorted the last wide-eyed natives aboard the US Navy Landing Craft to travel 200 kilometers eastward, a local remained on the island, etching a message onto the wooden exterior of his home. We leave knowing everything is in the hands of God.

**

Morrison cringed as he sat inside the U.S.S. Bowditch’s drafting room. He should have been feeling excited. Ecstatic even. The US Navy had requested his support specifically, with the size and scope of “Operation Crossroads” on the Pikinni Atoll far exceeding any earlier cooperative projects he had been associated with.

But the preparatory process had been cruel, merciless, inhumane. Memories persisted of experiments undertaken as the US attempted to rapidly expand its nuclear stockpile; his colleagues called it “The Arms Race”. As a devoted Christian man, he understood the immorality in his actions . . .

**

April 15, 1955

The ‘Home Sweet Home’ sign affixed to the white picket fence remained motionless. Inside the newly built household, so too was the washing machine, the television, the Ford Falcon, the untouched cans of food. A smiling family sat around the dinner table in silence, their eyes twinkling and porcelain skin glistening. Throughout the affluent neighbourhood, the residents of Survival Town posed comically. Upheld by poles, in rows along the Nevada Desert. Staring blankly to the sun as if in an ancient ritual. Frozen in time.

Three miles from the blast zone, Joseph Morrison, surrounded by anticipant nuclear scientists and shatterproof glass, gave the all clear.

The walls of the towns’ buildings suddenly shone blindingly bright.

Silence.

A convulsing surge of wind exploded outwards, over the red sand and into the urban landscape, pulverizing all it encountered. The unsuspecting mannequins were propelled with the shockwave; their plastic faces melting and disfigured. Hard radiation mutilated artificial eyes. Radioactivity slowly mutated the pores of live animals caught during the blast, seeping through skin, organs, bones, rupturing and destroying every cell it contacted.

Morrison stood in the viewing chamber, horrified at the sheer power of the blast.

**

8.00am. 1 hour remaining.

In the drafting room at Pikinni, the operations’ publicist appeared in the control room, thrusting a copy of USA Today onto the table in the center of the darkened expanse. Morrison glanced down at the title reading “The World Awaits for Compromise between Our Plan for Controlling Atomic Energy and that of Soviet-Russia.” Lies. More lies. He knew that compromise was never part of the plan. To assert dominance over Eastern Communist regimes? Maybe. Compromise? Not likely.  

He imagined an identical laboratory, filled with rival scientists at the opposite side of the world, hidden amongst the mountains of the USSR. Russian newspapers probably preaching similar stories: “Ensuring Eastern survival against American aggression.” 

**

8.30am. 30 minutes remaining.

The oversized digital clock fixed to the wall spewed blood red light throughout the dimmed room. Naval personnel were scattered around the throbbing light, motionless and silent, blankly staring with anticipation as if the nuclear fission chemicals had somehow meddled with their brain and removed their ability to speak.

Sweaty palmed, Morrison rechecked the operations’ status. 95 ships situated on the lagoon to test durability to withstand impact: finished. 150 airplanes on islands’ airstrip to examine stability: complete. Live animals positioned and harnessed on shore to study impact on organisms: ready.

Everything had been so meticulously premeditated that they had not allowed for the most basic variable: Mother Nature. The wind had shifted to the West. Towards inhabited islands. The calculated fallout prediction had failed. If the detonation eventuated, human fatalities would be inevitable.

On the Pikinni Atoll, two natives remained, unaccounted for during the evacuation procedure. They chattered unsuspectingly in Marshallese to one another, their loose fitting Chuuk dresses rippling in the wind like the calm waves that lapped the islands shore.

**

8.55am. 5 minutes remaining.

Militant Commander Vice Admiral William Blandy’s hand lingered above the small, red switch. Rushing from his laboratory office, the enduring silence was interrupted suddenly as Morrison burst into the room.

“Commander! The airstreams, they’ve shifted.”

“The wind is always changing, Joseph.” Blandy muttered.

Morrison searched the room of indifferent faces for support.

“Sir, the natives! They’ll have no ide-”

“Enough! We cannot evacuate them in time.”

“So postpone the operation! People will be vaporized!” Morrison yelled.

Decolourising to an even darker red, the glowing numbers refigured.

9.00am.

Ignoring Morrison, Blandy bent over to speak into the control-panels’ microphone.

“Finalise preparations. Detonation in thirty seconds.”

Images of horror from the Nevada Desert blast plunged into the forefront of Morrison’s mind. Melting faces. Blistering skin. Irreparable damage.

Protective tinted goggles were distributed as Blandy swiped the switch forcefully, his face-hardened into a determined frown.    

**

The two native Pikkinians appeared microscopic from the B-29 Superfortress plane as it passed over the atoll. Their bronzed skin seemed to disappear amongst the copper-coloured sand. As if they were just another fragment of the island. As if they didn’t exist.

Then, the world stopped, and exploded.

The atoll disappeared within an inferno of light, erupting brighter than the sun.

Silence.

Whiteness.

Slowly, a writhing and deformed cloud spewed towards the atmosphere. Like the overflowing of boiling water, the fiery mass preceded by a cloud of vaporized steam swelled outwards at terminal velocity.

Ninety minutes later, aboard the Daigo Fukuryu Maru, nicknamed the ‘Lucky Dragon’, a new type of rain descended from the sky. Mingling with the frothing water like primordial soup, the nearby beach sand faded to a lifeless grey.

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