James Axler – Parallax Red Parallax Red
James Axler – Parallax Red Parallax Red
Washington, D.C., had been dead for a very long time. How long and what had killed it was still a matter of conjecture.
In predark days, some opinionated and learned people put forth persuasive arguments that Washington, the capital city of the most powerful nation on earth, had expired spiritually and morally sometime after World War II. The means of death was attributed to a confusing variety of blunt political instruments, wielded either by liberals or conservatives, foreign interests or government bureaucrats themselves.
The arguments and accusations ceased abruptly on January 20, 2001, at 1200 p.m. EST. The one-megaton blast in Washington, D.C., on a presidential-inauguration Saturday, pretty much decided the question of the city’s living or dead status. The detonation of two other nuclear warheads in and around the District of Columbia left no leeway for further debate. The citizens of Washington, D.C., liberal, conservative, independent or apathetic, perished so thoroughly it was a question for statisticians whether they had ever lived at all. Of course, the question was never addressed because no statisticians remained to conduct the necessary surveys.
The complete and utter destruction of the city began a chain reaction, and by 1203 p.m. World War III was in motion. Within the next six hours, the face of the world disappeared beneath soaring fireballs and vast mushroom clouds. By the end of that Saturday afternoon, the nuclear winter began. Massive quantities of pulverized rubble had been propelled into the atmosphere, clogging the sky for a generation, blanketing all of earth in a thick cloud of radioactive dust, ash, debris, smoke and fallout.
The exchange of atomic missiles did more than slaughter most of Earth’s inhabitants. It distorted the ecosystems that were not completely obliterated and sculpted the face of the planet into a perverted parody of what it had been.
After eight generations, the lingering effects of the holocaust and the nuclear winter were more subtle, an underlying texture to a world struggling to heal itself except in Washington, D.C., where the injuries had never healed, but simply scabbed over.
Only a vast sea of fused black glass occupied the tract of land that once held the seat of American government. Seen from a distance, the crater lent the region the name by which it had been known for nearly two centuries. Washington Hole was a hellzone, still jolted by ground tremors and soaked by the intermittent flooding of Potomac Lake. A volcano, barely an infant in geological terms, had burst up from the rad-blasted ground. The peak dribbled a constant stream of foul-smelling smoke, mixing with the chem-tainted rain clouds to form a wispy umbrella stinking of sulfur and chlorine.
The smell was so cloying and so fetid that new arrivals found it necessary to wear respiration masks until they grew accustomed to it. Of course, there weren’t many new arrivals. The shanty towns that once ringed the outskirts of Washington Hole had been razed long ago, during the first year of the Program of Unification. Most of their inhabitants had succumbed to rad sickness years before. The former District of Columbia fell under the jurisdiction of Sharpeville, and the baron was not inclined to abandon any piece of his territory to squatters, even those that he would have had difficulty giving away.
Although the center of Washington and all of its suburbs had dissolved in the first three minutes of the nukecaust, the outer rim still contained a few crumbling ruins. Beyond the shells of buildings lay an expanse of rolling tableland, broken by ranges of hills. To the north rose a rampart of tumbled stones.
The landscape lay dead, lifeless, except for an advancing mechanical movement.
Stenz slid back the Sandcat’s canopy and poked his helmeted head out, inhaling a whiff of the astringent air. Coughing, he fought back his gag reflex and resisted the impulse to rub his irritated mucus membranes. Sweat flowed like water down his cheeks. He endured the discomfort silently. A Magistrate who had twice been cited for meritorious service had to endureat least that was the constant claim of Ericson, his division commander.
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