OZEMAN, K woke with a start when drops of water began falling on his face. His eyes squinted in the dim light as he peered about the tiny space looking for the source of what seemed like rain. As he bumped his head on the end wall he remembered that last night he had climbed back into his CubbyBunk head first after a midnight bladder run because the deep end was quieter and KESWICK, R was still coughing up a storm from last week's exposure.
He rolled onto his back and then reached up with his hand seeking the source of the drops; his fingers glided across a moist layer on the slightly inclined concrete above his face and then he realized that his own breath had condensed as dew, apparently thick enough to form drops. That was odd, Ozeman, K thought as he wiggled out of the Bunk, fumbling for foot holds on his way down from his middle berth position.
Dew didn't usually form in this climate-controlled environment, particularly not in a 30-inch clearance. It was a mystery he thought he'd spend all day thinking about until his feet touched the colder than normal concrete floor and his head came out into the fresh smelling hall. Then he realized that it must be either Wednesday or Saturday, one of the two days of the week that the top vents were open. The extra moisture had probably rushed in with the crisp morning air from outside.
Double odd that he would've forgotten that. With the ventilators working at only 60 percent capacity they'd all gotten into the habit of counting down to the “fresh air” days, the days when the smells of the outside world were allowed back into their sterile world, while the must and stale air were flushed from their habitat.
Once again Ozeman, K thought how fortunate they were that the fall-out from that whole Nuclear affair a century back had moved on otherwise they'd all have slowly suffocated down here.
Ozeman, K reached back into his cubby, a middle one, six deep from the core, and pulled his Day Kit from it's slip drawer. He glanced around while putting on the freshly washed and pressed scrubs, zipping up as he counted, for the thousandth time the 45 CubbyBunks in this branch of the hive.
One day, he thought, he'd earn the end spot, a whole 448 cubic feet more than his CubbyBunk, a man could actually stand up in that kind of space! Of course he'd have to do something spectacular for that to happen and spectacular things hadn't happened around here in decades.
Williams, B stuck his head out of his CubbyBunk like one of those small critters they'd spotted last month during their first foray beyond this shelter. He sniffed suspiciously at the fresh air, his nose wrinkled in a frown and then, shaking off the sleep he caught Ozeman, K's eyes, “it's only Friday, what are the vents doing open?”
Ozeman, K stopped and thought about that a moment. It was only Friday. The vents had opened a day earlier than normal. He looked down the hall, out into the main chamber of this habitat, “Maybe the scrubbers are down. Maybe they'll be opening the vents more often.”
Williams, B climbed out of his Cubby and started briskly rubbing out the chill that was sticking to him. “If they're going to do that we'll need to get better blankets or something.”
Three Millies appeared at the end of the hall. Odd seeing Military folk in this habitat, they usually didn't venture outside their own.
Ozeman, K casually, as casually as he was able, drifted closer to them as they waited for the Grid Supervisor to answer the door on his corner unit. He couldn't approach them, they wouldn't like that but he needed to get close enough to hear them, and without drawing attention to himself something else that wouldn't be a good idea.
Using a method that had worked well at last week's Social, Ozeman, K turned with his back to the Millies and as he nodded in conversation with his friends he began to slyly shift his weight back and forth from one leg to the next, taking a half step back each time as he made his way closer to the discussion.
“Ozeman, K!” The shout came from Dawson, V, the Grid Supervisor who was now directly behind him. Had he noticed Ozeman, K trying to listen in? If so it could mean punishment.
Ozeman, K stiffened himself as he pivoted at attention before the Grid Supervisor, but was quite surprised to see the Millies standing over Dawson, V's shoulder. Maybe what he was trying to do was treason? Maybe he was about to be executed?
“Sir?” He gulped as a cold sweat began beading on his forehead.
“You're going with these Men.”
Ozeman, K looked at the Millies. They looked paler than his crew did. The sub-sector must be even darker than this habitat, Ozeman, K had a hard time believing that.
“Sir?” This time is was less a question as a pleading statement.
“You've been transferred. Get your stuff.”
Ozeman, K had never heard of someone being transferred to another habitat. He was stunned.
“NOW!” The Grid Supervisor bellowed.
With a jump he turned and reached into his Cubby removing his blanket and pillow which he stuffed under his arm until one of the Millies piped in, “Forget the bedding, we'll supply you with that. Same with your clothes. Just bring your personals.”
Ozeman, K didn't have “personals”. He looked at the slip drawer and saw the old photo of his Great-Great-Grandfather, Ozeman, B, standing on his farmland near Missoula. Everything else was just stuff, except for the rock he picked up that first time he'd gone outside. He grabbed both items and stuffed them in his pockets and then turned to Dawson, V and the Millies.
With nothing more than a nod to each other the two Millies pivoted and then marched back to the core elevator they'd come out of. Ozeman, K had never been in the core elevator, aside from some maintenance work in other Hives, the Generator Station a mile west, and the two brief forays outside Ozeman, K had never been anywhere but his hive. His head dartted around taking in all the new sights, moving like a cat's head in an aviary, a metaphor that would've been wasted on him since he'd never seen either.
The ride was longer than it should be and Ozeman, K fought panic as the air got thicker, heavier and warmer. The doors opened to an entirely different world, gone were the smooth walls, replaced by bare rock and earth coated in a glittering crystal silicate.
The floors were bare concrete, smoother than any above and he almost slipped walking out of the Core Elevator. His escorts continued as though unaware of his alarm and disorientation and Ozeman, K struggled to keep up with them as they marched down the hall, around and into a larger corridor and then towards a metal gangway crossing the largest space he'd seen since coming back in from outdoors.
The cavern, it was the only word suitable, could've housed the entire colony. The gangway continued three decks over the space for the entire width of the cavern. It had to be more than 300 yards wide and except for struts and supports and reinforcements here and there the space continued on both sides as far as Ozeman, K could see, and then farther into the darkness at both ends.
And filling the space, bumper to bumper if only he knew that term, were hundreds of tanks and their crews pouring over them efficiently making them ready for action.
Was that normal, he wondered? Or were these large dusty yellow monstrosities preparing to go somewhere? Ozeman, K didn't know and suspected he wouldn't as they finally finished crossing the gangway and arrived at the triple lock of something called the “NU EAR A ORY”.
It didn't take a nuclear technician to figure out what that meant, but being one Ozeman, K immediately understood why he was here. He turned to the lead Millie, “I've got no experience with weapons.”
There was zero expression thrown back to him and for a second Ozeman, K thought he hadn't been heard even though the guy was staring right back at him.
He opened his mouth to repeat himself but was cut off by an older gentleman, he would find out later the Captain of the Guard, who read from a paper he was holding, “Ozeman, K. First in class nuclear maintenance apprenticeship, highest grade on record. Commended for rapid identification and response to Core Crisis of 2223. Three thousand six hundred and eight days on the job as Nuclear Technician, currently NT-First Class. One thousand six hundred and fourteen days without illness.”
The Captain of the Guard lowered the page, “Is that you?”
“Yes.” Ozeman, K stammered.
“Is any of that inaccurate?”
“Not that I'm aware of although I haven't been keeping track of my attendance.”
The Captain of the Guard stepped forward, imposing himself on Ozeman, K's personal space, and through clenched teeth, the sort of grimace that should have had a large cigar if such things still existed he spoke while pointing to the large glass wall at the far end of the room, “Inside that chamber are three hundred and forty seven micro-nuclear warheads. Each of them has automatically maintained for the last one hundred and seventeen years. I need to know if the maintenance was done right, I need a human being to tell me that before we put them in use.”
This alarmed Ozeman, K. He'd heard, they'd all heard the stories of the last nuclear war. The idea that they even had nukes was disturbing enough, but the thought that they were about to use them again was chilling.
“We're not…” he choked out, but stopped at the glare he got from the Captain of the Guard. “Who are we fighting?”
Three of the soldiers tensed, prepared to pounce on him and pummel him into submission. Only the shoulder hunching of the Captain of the Guard prevented it. Ozeman, K had no idea he'd come so close.
“You're a civilian. You are not familiar with the way things are done here.” The Captain of the Guard motioned to the Millies, “These people don't question orders here.”
“But I'm not one of them.”
“You are now.”
A chill descended on him. The term he was looking for was 'drafted'. The word he kept thinking was 'trapped'.
“I don't know anything about these systems, it'd be like working in the dark.”
The Captain of the Guard turned and grabbed the Maintenance Manual. He handed it to Ozeman, K and then, while he gave the young tech his instructions the Captain of the Guard guided him to the Nuke Suit Locker.
This room was particularly interesting to Ozeman, K. The suits were much thicker and in much better condition than the ones he used to maintain the Power Core up top. You could feel the heft of the lead in them, and there was a Spray Wash pad right outside the pressure seal that would ensure any material he carried back out would be washed away before he even disrobed. This was much safer than above.
Ozeman, K moved closer to the glass and looked inside at the row upon row of cases, each holding a warhead with the potential yield of 50 kiloton's.
“How much time do I have?” It was a valid question, particularly with that mobilizing army out in the cavern.
“I need twenty five viable warheads by the end of the week.”
Ozeman, K looked through the glass again. Depending on the condition of those cases and their contents he could make that by the end of day, or not at all. He turned to look at the assembled. They weren't worried he'd say “no”, apparently he was the only one in the room who didn't know that wasn't an option.
With the resignation of a person condemned to certain death Ozeman, K moved to the Nuke Suit Locker and began assembling what he needed to enter the chamber.
“I thought you didn't know anything about these systems?”
Ozeman, K looked up at the Captain of the Guard facing his wry grin with cynicism, “they covered this stuff back in class, just never thought I'd need to know it.”
He continued dressing. The sooner he got this over with the better, hopefully none of the cases were leaking. He'd seen radiation poisoning take someone, it wasn't pretty and it didn't look pleasant.
Fully suited, Ozeman, K turned to the revolving door that would be his portal inside. He began to step toward it and almost fell at the extra weight the suit put on him.
The hatch was opened, the neutral seals collapsed and in seconds he stood inside a room that hadn't had a human visitor in over a century. The air, though circulated just like every place else in the colony, seemed cooler and fresher but carried on it the coldness of an oiled, mechanical environment.
Ozeman, K watched his meter as he made his way deeper into the room. No sign of leaks, no apparent dangers at all. If the meter wasn't registering the light waves he'd have worried it was broken.
He stopped dead center in the room and turned, as the whirring and sliding noise of movement startled him. At the far end mechanical arms were collecting one case and moving it from it's prescribed slot, bringing it out onto a table in the center of the room. Seconds later the case was opened and the mechanical arms quickly worked on the unit, checking, repairing and where need be replacing components.
In less than five minutes the case was reclosed and being returned to its housing while the unit continued to display its findings on the monitor at this end of the room. A detailed examination to be sure.
The device then returned to it's housing where it scrubbed and replenished itself before moving onto the next unit in the line and repeating the same task. The methodology was pretty easy to follow and the device continued to move up one unit at a time from the place it started.
Ozeman, K had no interest in rushing or interfering, so he turned and moved to the case farthest from where the device was working. He hefted the case from it's slot and struggled with it over to the counter at this end, where he plunked it down, less gently than he hoped, and proceeded to open the case in exactly the same manner as the device had.
It took him a few seconds to figure out the timing mechanism, and understand the arming mechanism, but he recalled that information much faster than he thought he would, and didn't refer to the manual the Captain had given him once.
In no time he was working through a string of verifiable diagnostics, confirming the integrity of the device and even estimating the realistic yield of this device.
It was, though aged, in perfect working order.
Ozeman, K looked up and around at the rest of the cases in this room. If even half of them were still viable there was enough power in that room to vapourize their entire colony, even from this subterranean section. To think, they'd been living on top of this all this time without any idea.
He shook himself from his reverie and went back to work. Daydreaming wasn't the sort of thing one did when working with HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE ORDINANCE.