--MARCH 4, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 391,284,125--
“If you do not aid us in our battle…” A glance at the teleprompter. “We will all die? Hold on, that’s messed up!”
Behind the podium, Vice President Jeremy Axford shifted on his feet and sighed. “President Nelson, please continue.”
“Right, right, right.” President Lucas Nelson took a deep breath and exhaled. “Almost three centuries ago, our forefathers wrote…” Another pause. “We the People. We must unite as one, so we can… live up to that. Wait, why--”
A coworker sidled up to Carrie King, watching the TV with amusement. “He’s ridiculous.”
On the other side of Carrie, another coworker scowled at the TV. “That’s not a good thing.”
“It’s pretty funny. Typical of a stand-up comedian.”
“Come on. Even President Lee was better, and he caused this whole mess.”
“Are you kidding? He deactivated our missiles because he thought that would forge peace!”
“Well, at least he understood how government functioned. President Nelson doesn’t!”
“Unlike him, the Senate can’t impeach President Nelson. He hasn’t committed any crimes.”
“But he’s messing everything up!”
“He’s okay, for someone who got thrown in on a whim.” He turned to Carrie. “Hey, what do you think?”
Carrie ignored him. She wanted no place in this conflict. If she wanted to stay alive, she had to avoid conflict. Conflict would kill. It had already killed her parents.
--MARCH 17, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 386,319,241--
“First day of work. We took attendance, and when we called your name, you ran away. Two weeks later, you spilled coffee on the ground, and a coworker reminded you to clean it up. We found him later on the ground, unconscious and bloody. Today, three months after the last incident, you’ve completely ignored a deadline. Ms. King, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Carrie remained silent. This was a conflict. Conflict was bad. To get out of conflict, all she had to do was stay quiet.
“If you don’t give a suitable answer, Ms. King, I will have to fire you.”
Carrie bowed her head. Her voice came out hoarse, less than a whisper. “I’m scared.”
“That is unacceptable, Ms. King. How could you be so scared of your own boss to completely ignore a deadline? How scared would you be to knock out a sensible worker who was only trying to help? Why would your own name scare you?”
Did he not hear her right? She should repeat herself, but louder. “I’m scared.”
The man across from her sighed. “Ms. King, as the manager of this company, I have more to do than deal with your fright. I have decided that the best course of action is to draft you into the military. You have demonstrated excellent physical ability on your escapades. It wouldn’t be any trouble for you.”
“No!” Carrie shook her head frantically.
“I’m afraid so, Ms. King. We put you on probation for your previous incident. As such, rules dictate that you must leave. I cannot make an exception. The army has looked over your profile and accepted you. They need as many soldiers as they can get, what with the attacks. You’d fight for your country. Is that not enough?”
“You won’t.” Her manager laid a few papers on the desk. “These describe your next course of action. I wish you luck on your future journeys, Ms. King.”
Carrie’s hand shook as she dragged the papers off the desk and pushed herself up off her chair. She staggered out of the office, letting the door close behind her.
She was as good as dead. If the army didn’t kill her first, the opposition would.
--JULY 2, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 358,843,179--
“WE WILL WIN THIS WAR!” President Nelson slammed his fist down on the podium. “We have developed new weapons and missiles! We will destroy the invaders! We will prove that we are in control! We are number one!”
The cameras cut out, and President Nelson turned to Jeremy Axford. “How was that?”
“We can air this take. It’s better than the other fifteen takes.”
“Yes! Woo-hoo!” President Nelson skipped away, humming “We Are The Champions”.
Mr. Axford sighed and shook his head.
--JULY 4, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 357,261,947--
“Our goal is simple!” General Richmond shouted. “Hold off the enemy. Don’t let them break through. Understand?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!” the army chanted, saluting. Carrie only mouthed the words. If she shouted, she could attract attention.
It was her first battle out on the field. Unfortunately, it was also one of the most important battles ever. The army had to stop the invaders from breaking into the country through the Atlantic Ocean. If the attackers got through, they would have a clear path to the capital. If they didn’t, the missiles and new weapons would destroy the invaders.
Countless soldiers lined the fields. That was an advantage. No one would notice her in the sea of faces.
“Remember, today we are celebrating the anniversary of our independence! We must make sure that we can celebrate yet another anniversary for the years to come! That starts now!” General Richmond yelled. “Soldiers, to formation!”
But before he could turn to lead his army into battle, he staggered forward and crumpled. The soldiers in the front gasped. Carrie heard cries of “He’s been shot!”
They weren’t safe. Someone was attacking them.
Carrie wasn’t safe. Someone was attacking Carrie.
Five seconds passed. The soldiers stood stock still, staring at their fallen leader. Before they could step forward and command themselves, gunfire broke out. All around her, men fell.
Gunshots. Gunshots everywhere.
“Up there, in the trees!” someone shouted, above the screams and cries. Carrie’s eyes flitted up. Shapes, concealed within the shadows, leapt from tree to tree, firing whenever possible.
Fifteen seconds. More fell by the second, trying to arrange their formation and hold off the attackers, as per orders. It didn’t work.
Seventeen seconds. Carrie knew what she had to do.
She clutched her gun close to her chest, spun on her heel, and sprinted in the opposite direction. Bodies littered the ground, obstructing her path. She heard a bullet rain down far too close to comfort. She had to run faster.
Carrie sped up, leaping a couple feet with every stride. She had to get away. That was all that mattered. Only she mattered.
Little by little, the sound of gunshots faded away. She had escaped the worst of the carnage, but she wasn’t safe yet.
She ran past small villages and towns ravaged by the attacks and into a dark, dense forest.
She slowed to a walk. The gunshots were far behind her. Silence met her ears.
The gun clattered to the ground. Carrie didn’t pay any attention as she paced the forest. She was safe, and that was all that mattered.
Exhaustion pulled at her, inviting her to a casual visit for some afternoon tea. Where she might stay for a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days.
She accepted the invitation and collapsed.
--JULY 5, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 298,196,375--
“President Nelson?” Mr. Axford said.
Lucas Nelson read over the news report again, eyes boggling with every word. “This is real?”
“Not fake news?”
“Not fake news. I assure you that this is real. Photos of the battle site match these descriptions. Our enemies are approaching as we speak.”
“Then just nuke them!”
Mr. Axford scowled. “President Nelson, this is not a comedy show. This is real life. If we nuke them where they stand, we will kill hundreds of innocent civilians. Possibly even thousands. We can’t risk that. We will be overrun for sure.”
President Nelson looked down and sighed.
“What is your decision?”
For once, he knew what he had to do. He lifted his head, eyes locking on Mr. Axford’s. “Get the guards ready. Defense formation. Warn all civilians in the path to evacuate. Our last stand will be here.”
--JULY 7, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 226,433,971--
“I am speaking to the whole country when I say that we must band together to halt our enemies in their tracks!” President Nelson yelled. “They are at their breaking point. If we work together, we will stop them, and we will save our nation. Even if your leadership crumbles, that doesn’t mean that you crumble. We are the United States of America! United we stand!”
“UNITED WE STAND!” the crowd chanted.
President Nelson stepped back. He had motivated the people to fight for their country. The rest was up to them.
--JULY 8, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 211,847,315--
“What about Jeremy--”
“...The White House? Capitol Hill?”
“Burned to the ground.”
“So what now?”
“We do what we must. We protect our country.”
--JULY 9, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 201,645,321--
Carrie tore across open, empty country.
It felt good to run. Away from society. From civilization. From danger.
If she made it to the Great Plains, she’d be okay.
That was a long way from where she was, but she’d make it.
“Stop right there, miss!” someone shouted from behind her.
Somebody else was here. That spelled trouble. She had to run away from the voice. From people.
“Miss, if you don’t stop, I will shoot!”
He wouldn’t. He was a coward.
Carrie wasn’t a coward. She was smarter than everyone else. She knew how to stay away from danger. She knew what to do to protect herself. She knew how to stay alive.
If she stopped, she would face people. She would be in danger. She would die.
So she ran. Ran fast. She pushed herself to her limit and then even further.
The bullet was faster.
--JULY 15, 2045, TOTAL POPULATION: 202,163,529--
The smoke cleared.
Along the East Coast, men, women, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, and everyone in between took a step back, surveying the empty, rolling battlefield before them.
Their enemies were gone. Vanquished. President Nelson’s last words about standing united together had worked out in the end.
The government was gone, but they could build it up again.
A whole new life awaited the remains of the United States, as a reward for protecting their nation.
It was time to enjoy it.
It was time to live.