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CyberWar
May 27th, 2015, 11:10 PM
A thunderous blast. The creaking of girders and cracking of concrete. The rumble of shockwave propagating through the surrounding rock. Lights flickering and people wailing in terror in the darkness.

---

"That was a close one..."

"Think the shelter will hold?"

"Not if we take a direct hit. But downtown and the dockyards must be taking the worst of it..."

As two factory workers exchanged their opinions about the latest in the recent series of nuclear strikes, two women nearby were quietly conversing as well.

"Babushka, I'm so scared!"

"So am I, child, so am I..."

---

The 70-something woman that Marina called "grandma" wasn't in fact her grandmother. She wasn't even a relative or a neighbor. Just another terrified citizen who by a stroke of luck managed to make it into the fallout shelter before the blast doors closed.

Marina, a 19-year-old student in the Leningrad State University, had been on her way to the dormitory. Her best friend Lena was hosting a birthday party at her parents' flat today. Marina had planned to change before attending - she wanted to show off her latest clothing article that was assured to make all her friends green with envy. She had just bought a brand-new pair of jeans - not the cheap knock-offs making their way from China or India, but real, genuine pair of American jeans, courtesy of Uncle Boris, the captain of a freight ship also doing runs to America. Even more ordinary jeans were really hard to come by unless you had friends doing business in the West, even moreso genuine American jeans. The average pair commanded a price of 300 roubles in the black market - the monthly salary of the average Soviet citizen. Then again, Marina wasn't exactly the child of an average citizen - her father was a general, commanding an air force base in the Far North, so her family always had enjoyed certain privileges unavailable to most others.

When the sirens started to wail, heralding the impending armageddon, Marina knew what to do despite her initial shock and terror - high school and university students would take regular civil defense classes, learning things like first aid, air raid and chemical defense drills and shooting AK-47 assault rifles. She knew the locations of fallout shelters within her neighborhood, and it wasn't like they were difficult to find in other places either, each being marked with a special sign, civil defense officers in charge of them directing people towards the shelter in case of emergency.

Not everyone in the city was, however, as well-informed as Marina. There was still widespread panic, thousands shoving towards the lifesaving entrance of the shelter. Marina had managed to snatch this confused, frightened old lady from the street by the arm and pull her in just moments before the blast doors started to close, the civil defense officers being forced to violently beat back those still outside, struggling to get in. It wasn't like they did it out of malice or cruelty, Marina had thought - they had already taken in people well over the designated capacity. As the triple three-foot steel doors sealed one after another, those left outside would remain on their own, the thickness of the doors sparing those inside the horror of hearing those outside bang on them and scream before their demise.

---

"What is your name, child?" the old lady kindly asked, her rough, wrinkly hand caressing Marina's long blonde hair and cheek that appeared pale in terror even in the dim, flickering light of the fallout shelter. While she did appear somewhat disoriented, strangely she seemed unafraid.

"Marina," the girl answered, "I'm 19. I study in the university."

"Marina... Such a nice name! I had a sister named Marina when I was about your age," the old woman said.

"Had?" Marina asked.

"Yes... She died back in the war, during the Blockade," the old woman spoke with a hint of sadness, "Of hunger."

"I'm sorry!" Marina said, "My grandpa died during the Blockade too. Killed in action."

"A lot of good people died back then," the old woman said, "But let's speak of happier things, child. Do you have a father? Mother?"

"Yes! My father is a general in the air force. He serves somewhere in the North. His name is Mikhail, and he is a very kind man. Strict, but very kind," Marina spoke with enthusiasm. Marina took great pride in being the daughter of a Soviet general and hoped to live up to his reputation.

"And mother?" her elderly companion inquired.

"Mama is a doctor in the Navy hospital," Marina said, and started to cry, remembering the nearby workers mentioning that the missiles must be hitting the dockyards, where the base of the entire Baltic Fleet and also the Navy hospital were located.

"Quiet now... I'm sure she made it to the shelter in time," the old woman spoke, pulling Marina closer to calm her.

"How should I address you, babushka?" Marina said, remembering that she still didn't know the old lady's name.

"Evdokia Aleksandrovna", she said with a smile, "But you may call me babushka too, Marina Mikhailovna, it's been a long time since anyone has called me that."

"Do you have any children, Evdokia Aleksandrovna?" Marina asked, choosing the more reverent form of address.

"I had a daughter. Her name was Maria. She died in childbirth, giving birth to my second grandson," old Evdokia spoke, "Two brave boys my Mashenka had. One was named Oleg, and the younger - Vladimir."

"What happened to them?" Marina asked.

"They both died. Little Oleg died along with his father, in a car accident, when he was 10. I was raising Vladimir alone afterwards, but when he was 15, he went swimming with his friends in the Neva and drowned," Evdokia said with a nostalgic sigh, "I must have really done something to upset God with for him to take all my loved ones away before me."

"That's terrible!" Marina almost started to cry again, "How can you still believe in God after such ordeals, Evdokia Aleksandrovna?"

"Of course, I can, child. I know they say it's just ignorance and superstition these days. But believe it or not, back in the war, during the Blockade, there was hardly an atheist here. The fascists were shelling us day and night, and we had no such comfy shelter as this one to hide in, just cold, dank basements. There was no power, no food, no water, no nothing. People ate all the dogs, cats, pidgeons and even the rats, and when there were no more rats to catch and eat, some would turn to eating people. I prayed to God to save me every day. And save me he did. But God is no different from people - for every favour he asks something in return."

"I think you are a very brave and wise woman, Evdokia Aleksandrovna," Marina suddenly said, not sure what prompted her to speak so, "You have been through so much..."

"Don't be silly, child," Evdokia said with a motherly smile, "I'm just an old hag who still believes in silly old superstitions."

Another distant blast shook the shelter, but Marina was now less afraid than before. The presence of old Evdokia, who had seen and suffered so much in her life, somehow made the experience less terrifying.


---


The red Soviet banner fluttered in the mild but chilling breeze blowing from the glacier-clad mountains across the frozen wastes of Novaya Zemlya. Scant snowflakes falling from the sky touched it's silk. The darkness of polar night surrounding it was pierced by the brilliant blue of afterburners and the thunderous roar of turbojet engines, as supersonic strategic bombers took to the sky, each bound to fly across the North Pole and deliver a payload of city-busting missiles unto Mother Russia's enemies. The darkness was pierced in the distance by brilliant light, several pillars of fire rising towards the sky, propelling nuclear death towards it's intended destination.

"It is time, comrade General!"

"Go on, I'll join you in a moment..."

General Mikhail Leonidovich Arkhipov dismissed his personal driver, a private serving his first year of conscription. The boy was from Arkhangelsk, 19 years old and pretty smart. He reminded the General about his beloved daughter, who studied in Leningrad, his long-time home.

Poor Marina, could she possibly live through the coming day of judgement? Millions of Soviet citizens were about to perish today, most probably he, General Arkhipov, would perish too. But too much was at stake now that the dice were finally cast, and if there was the slightest hope to ensure a tomorrow for Marina and countless other Soviet girls like her, then it was his job to make that sacrifice.

Damn Americans... The KGB had already suspected that this "Able Archer" exercise of theirs was just a disguise for a surprise attack!

General Arkhipov stood at attention and saluted the Soviet flag and the last bombers taking off from his airfield. The lads flying those bombers were as good as dead - most wouldn't even make it to America, but the few who would, would inflict unspeakable destruction. For an instant, he wondered whether there's an American general standing somewhere in North Greenland or Alaska, saluting his doomed men as they take off towards Soviet lands with the exact same mission. General Arkhipov had a pretty good idea of who and where could be standing and saluting his men right now - there weren't that many airbases behind the polar circle on either side, and he knew most of their commanders by name.

A chilling breeze and the smell of burnt jet fuel brought General back to reality. There was a job to be done - the greatest of all wars in human history had just began, and he had a commanding role in it to fulfill, whether until victory or bitter end. Knowing the firepower heading both ways at the moment, it was most likely going to be a bitter end for most on both sides.


---


If Nena, a 22-year-old West German student, had known the far-reaching consequences of her prank, she would never have played that prank on her friend Christof. Christof was trying to make a bit on the side by selling helium balloons to children in the local fair, and Nena had decided it would be amusing to cut some of those balloons loose, to "send a greeting to the Russians" in reference to the wind blowing Eastward.

A few swift motions of Nena's hand holding a pocket knife unleashed a swarm of mostly-red helium balloons towards the sky. The balloons would dance merrily in the wind as they rose ever higher, crossing the East German border. Nena laughed at Christoph's frustration, but in the end took pity on him, seeing how unhappy the young lad was, and offered to make amends by going on a date with him.

Most likely, it would have amounted to nothing, were it not for an inexperienced and overzealous early warning radar operator stationed in Western Poland, who mistook the flock of balloons for an eastbound strategic bomber. With tensions already being high as they were, that was the proverbial spark in the powder keg.


---


The red balloons still merrily danced in mid-stratosphere, rising ever higher, when the skies around them began to be pierced by brilliant streaks of warheads making re-entry. Mushroom clouds erupted below, sweeping away the human civilization that had created them in a deluge of nuclear fire, but it mattered little to the balloons - they were created to fly and bring joy.

An hour later, when the last missiles stopped flying, the balloons were still dancing in the winds of stratosphere. Some had popped in result of ever-dropping pressure, while others were still holding on.

The ionization of the atmosphere and the radiation trapped in the Earth's magnetosphere from high-altitude blasts created some truly wonderful auroral displays all over Northern Hemisphere that day. But on the ground, there was nobody left to see them.

Only the 99 red balloons that kept floating high in the summer sky.

ismith
May 28th, 2015, 06:11 AM
I enjoyed reading this story. Very well done!

Bevo
May 29th, 2015, 12:50 PM
What a green piece of writing!
For a short story it was complex with three scenes all tied together, the balloons I could not see until it was mentioned. Using the balloons in this dark grey story in my mind made the red pop.

It also reminded me of the song from the 80's 99 Luft Ballons, had a crush on the singer LOL!

Nice job!

CyberWar
May 29th, 2015, 03:20 PM
The character Nena who cuts loose the balloons in the story is a reference to the singer Nena, who performed the song and was 22 or 23 in 1983, when Able Archer exercise almost started a nuclear war.

Bevo
May 29th, 2015, 04:55 PM
Amazing, I thought it was just a song, I need to listen to the words in English to hear the story.

Thank you!

Mesafalcon
June 2nd, 2015, 05:29 AM
"Marina," the girl answered, "I'm 19. I study in the university."

"Marina... Such a nice name! I had a sister named Marina when I was about your age," the old woman said.

"Had?" Marina asked.

"Yes... She died back in the war, during the Blockade," the old woman spoke with a hint of sadness, "Of hunger."

"I'm sorry!" Marina said, "My grandpa died during the Blockade too. Killed in action."

"A lot of good people died back then," the old woman said, "But let's speak of happier things, child. Do you have a father? Mother?"

"Yes! My father is a general in the air force. He serves somewhere in the North. His name is Mikhail, and he is a very kind man. Strict, but very kind," Marina spoke with enthusiasm. Marina took great pride in being the daughter of a Soviet general and hoped to live up to his reputation.

"And mother?" her elderly companion inquired.

"Mama is a doctor in the Navy hospital," Marina said, and started to cry, remembering the nearby workers mentioning that the missiles must be hitting the dockyards, where the base of the entire Baltic Fleet and also the Navy hospital were located.

"Quiet now... I'm sure she made it to the shelter in time," the old woman spoke, pulling Marina closer to calm her.

"How should I address you, babushka?" Marina said, remembering that she still didn't know the old lady's name.

"Evdokia Aleksandrovna", she said with a smile, "But you may call me babushka too, Marina Mikhailovna, it's been a long time since anyone has called me that."

"Do you have any children, Evdokia Aleksandrovna?" Marina asked, choosing the more reverent form of address.

"I had a daughter. Her name was Maria. She died in childbirth, giving birth to my second grandson," old Evdokia spoke, "Two brave boys my Mashenka had. One was named Oleg, and the younger - Vladimir."

"What happened to them?" Marina asked.



There is a dialogue tag after every single thing that is said here.

Technically not a flaw, but if you are sensetive to patterns in reading, it just goes :

said-spoke-said-asked-*insert something you thought of to mix it up (like inquired instead of asked)*-asked-said when you look at the writting from a bird's eye view.

How to cure this? When it is is clear who is saying what, simply omit a dialogue tag from time to time. Or start with the tag in front if you have multiple characters.

Marina adjusted her collar and asked, "what happened to them?"

ACB
July 6th, 2015, 12:24 PM
Wonderful characters, insightful setting, you've put some real thought and effort into this, well done, great read.

At the beginning of the second section, I did feel as though you had fallen into the double-adjective trap (easy to do, I catch myself doing it all the time):



The red Soviet banner fluttered in the mild but chilling breeze blowing from the glacier-clad mountains across the frozen wastes of Novaya Zemlya. Scant snowflakes falling from the sky touched it's silk. The darkness of polar night surrounding it was pierced by the brilliant blue of afterburners and the thunderous roar of turbojet engines, as supersonic strategic bombers took to the sky, each bound to fly across the North Pole and deliver a payload of city-busting missiles unto Mother Russia's enemies. The darkness was pierced in the distance by brilliant light, several pillars of fire rising towards the sky, propelling nuclear death towards it's intended destination.


When describing a non-character situation, we can often want to put in every detail that comes to mind, to lay the scene out as faithfully as possible, but that often simply comes across as telling and not showing. It seems like there would be a better flow with some of those adjectives taken out. The detail doesn't have to be lost though, often another well-crafted sentence can have the same effect, without the focus being on the words!

Beautiful story, regardless.

Angel101
July 8th, 2015, 01:24 PM
Interesting story. There were parts that seemed unnecessary, though. For example, I would cut this section altogether:


The 70-something woman that Marina called "grandma" wasn't in fact her grandmother. She wasn't even a relative or a neighbor. Just another terrified citizen who by a stroke of luck managed to make it into the fallout shelter before the blast doors closed.

Marina, a 19-year-old student in the Leningrad State University, had been on her way to the dormitory. Her best friend Lena was hosting a birthday party at her parents' flat today. Marina had planned to change before attending - she wanted to show off her latest clothing article that was assured to make all her friends green with envy. She had just bought a brand-new pair of jeans - not the cheap knock-offs making their way from China or India, but real, genuine pair of American jeans, courtesy of Uncle Boris, the captain of a freight ship also doing runs to America. Even more ordinary jeans were really hard to come by unless you had friends doing business in the West, even moreso genuine American jeans. The average pair commanded a price of 300 roubles in the black market - the monthly salary of the average Soviet citizen. Then again, Marina wasn't exactly the child of an average citizen - her father was a general, commanding an air force base in the Far North, so her family always had enjoyed certain privileges unavailable to most others.

When the sirens started to wail, heralding the impending armageddon, Marina knew what to do despite her initial shock and terror - high school and university students would take regular civil defense classes, learning things like first aid, air raid and chemical defense drills and shooting AK-47 assault rifles. She knew the locations of fallout shelters within her neighborhood, and it wasn't like they were difficult to find in other places either, each being marked with a special sign, civil defense officers in charge of them directing people towards the shelter in case of emergency.

Not everyone in the city was, however, as well-informed as Marina. There was still widespread panic, thousands shoving towards the lifesaving entrance of the shelter. Marina had managed to snatch this confused, frightened old lady from the street by the arm and pull her in just moments before the blast doors started to close, the civil defense officers being forced to violently beat back those still outside, struggling to get in. It wasn't like they did it out of malice or cruelty, Marina had thought - they had already taken in people well over the designated capacity. As the triple three-foot steel doors sealed one after another, those left outside would remain on their own, the thickness of the doors sparing those inside the horror of hearing those outside bang on them and scream before their demise.

Honestly, I feel like you could incorporate this backstory somehow into the dialogue between Marina and Evdokia, making for a shorter and cleaner read. I didn't really understand the point of breaking it up this way. We get Evdokia's backstory in the dialogue, so why not Marina's? Not that you should stick it all in the dialogue, though. Even adding some details in the narrative as you're developing their scene would help.

I also didn't really like the scene with the General. To me, it didn't add much to the story and probably could have been shorter.

I did, however, enjoy the section with the red balloons. For me, that contributed more than the rest of the story -- it added a layer of meaning. I like the image of these fragile, bright balloons floating through the horror in the sky and somehow making it. It works very well, so great job there. I wish that it was just an image, though, instead of having a backstory and a character who releases them, a character who seems otherwise irrelevant, except for what you mentioned about the song. The image of the balloons is more compelling than the reference that exists in the name of the character.

You are more than welcome to completely ignore this, but if I were the one rewriting this, I would probably do it all as one scene with the final image of the red balloons at the end. I just finished reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, which switches perspectives and scenes in a similar way, but the difference is that each scene adds a layer of meaning. There are images in each part that have metaphorical value to the overall narrative. The switching itself has meaning. The effect here isn't the same. None of us are Pulitzer-winning authors, of course, but what I really mean is that I didn't understand the role of the switching in this story.

It's well-written, though. I enjoyed reading it. Good work!

Bay

John Oberon
July 8th, 2015, 06:19 PM
Really? A bunch of balloons start Armageddon?

Sorry...that made my nonsense-o-meter spike. Need something just a tad more plausible.

By the way, how did the old lady know Marina's last name? Marina never mentioned it.

McCacks
July 8th, 2015, 06:22 PM
I have to agree with John, some of this was quite nosensicle. Just work over it again and again and fix thr problems

scrub puller
July 8th, 2015, 10:02 PM
Yair . . .

Every writer has to develop a 'style' and 'voice' in order to relate a story or events in a realistic and engaging manner.

Apart from some obvious problems with the premise as noted by John Oberon the story (to me) comes over as flat and toneless.

A lot of time and effort is evident though and the tale has some form and structure. It needs to be rewritten with attention to word arrangement, tags (as mentioned buy others) and the word count drastically reduced . . . probably by at least twenty percent.


We all have this problem of deciding on what is of interest to the reader or what is "padding" and it all comes down to what the reader is trying to relate . . . is this story about Armageddon or some Chicks designer jeans?


Cheers.