“Folly”

(Original idea used with permission of u/dream_official from reddit’s writing prompts)

All the major television networks received the unmarked VHS tape in their morning mailings via USPS priority. Hastily and inconsistently scribbled on every package in all capital letters were the markings of a seasoned attention-seeker: “BREAKING”, “OPEN IMMEDIATELY!!!”, and “IMPORTANT INFORMATION CONTAINED WITHIN!!!”. Inside was a single piece of paper instructing them to play the broadcast at 10:30 AM that same morning, or the contained threat would be moved forward, giving the otherwise very adolescent presentation some unexpected fluency in network broadcasting logistics.

The instructions were so followed, but with the caveat that ABC informed appropriate Federal authorities and on behalf of all networks, as a good faith liability shield in case the contents turned out to have any substance.

The broadcast started only one minute late owing to a slightly overlong shampoo commercial on CNN. It wasn’t very usual for a young activist, especially a teenager, to blatantly reveal their face like this. Her red curls neatly curtained her smiling gentle expression.The girl talked briefly highlighting the usual pedestrian Cold War arguments for total disarming of all nuclear arsenals. Comment sections from Los Angeles to Tokyo buzzed with the usual support or slander as per the whims of the viewer. However, when she claimed she was a technomancer, the “LOL’s” and shouts of “so cringe” were fairly universal. The video closed with the a simple if not overlay elaborate threat: “In 3.14162 days, every nuclear weapon on earth that isn’t destroyed or launched into space will be synchronously armed and detonated in storage.”

As the broadcast had concluded on all major networks and channels, it was about halfway through being played back for the president, who was immediately pulled aside after returning from Camp David by helicopter. There was a confused and awkward silence before the Secretary of Defense spoke up. “Do we know anything yet about where this came from?”

“FOX got theirs through the mail. Standard brown envelope with no return address.

“Post mark?” The Secretary of Agriculture piped up in her perky, somehow always-optimistic voice.

“Fort Collins Colorado, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything of course. She could be anywhere.” He responded. “We’ve deployed one NEST team on standby in Fort Collins just in case though.

The president spoke up. “Do we think charges of treason are appropriate here?”

“Honestly ma’am, conspiracy to commit nuclear terrorism will be effective enough on it’s own.” The attorney general calmly poured himself a glass of water. “The message has an international focus anyway, and that would suggest against a treason charge. Strictly speaking I mean”.

The president looked out the window at the gate. Already the Peace Vigil guys had rallied up a fine suddenly converted crowd of tourists who shouted at the gates. Secret Service was moving into their peacekeeping positions and giving the usual set of instructions to the huddled masses. “Matthew.” The president demanded without turning her head.

“Ma’am?” the Chief of Staff quickly responded.

“Draft a statement to be read on the lawn in about fifteen minutes when we’re done here. Avoid any use of language that could be perceived as overtly hostile, but make it clear that we won’t be putting up with this either.”

“Of course.”

As Matthew was leaving, General Appleton was running into the room, knocking him slightly off-kilter. “Madame President, one of our Minutemen in the Dakotas has just detonated in its silo!”

She turned. “How is that possible?!”

“It shouldn’t be.”

“The warheads aren’t armed. They can’t arm themselves. They can’t do anything without specific instructions from me!”

“All the same, they have. And it’s stranger than you think” He put the laptop clenched to his chest to the table and showed her the satellite feed from South Dakota. Maroon and yellow swirls circled around the silo hatch rising and creating winds swirling nearby tree liens back and forth. Strange runes appeared here and there as the silo door opened, complete with the usual orange warning lights. Finally, a bright white flash and a view of surrounding farmland getting leveled and burning further out as the mushroom sprouted.

“Jesus H. Christ….what is this?”

“We don’t know.”

“No idea whatsoever, General?”

“Ma’am, I hate saying this sentence out loud it’s so ridiculous, but it’s the only thing I have for you: it looks like some kind of magical engineering. One way or another, he…I mean she has control”

“Is it possible to actually disarm in 3 days?”

“No.” the general said restraining a laugh which would have been appropriate if one of those blowhards on the Hill had suggested the idea without credible threat. At full capacity it takes at least two days to even partially disassemble one weapon and that’s with the actual warhead extracted from its casing. Full disassembly and destruction to the point of the weapon actually being unable to be reassembled or otherwise used takes weeks. Multiply by the number of warheads, around 4,000 by the way, and you see the problem. At full capacity and doing nothing but that and training more teams, we’re talking about years upon years.”

“And what about launching?” She sat at the head of the table, hands trembling and crossed over her face. The cabinet had never seen her like this, and it bothered both them and her.

“Some of the larger ICBM’s can indeed be launched on an extra-orbital path, but we’ll also have a few failures most likely as they were never meant for a full space-bound trajectory. Also, we of course run the risk of China or Russia seeing it as a first strike.”

“Christ, what if they first strike us? What kind of conversations are they having? Oh God, what about the Indians and Pakistan?!”

The Secretary of Defense was pacing up and down the length of the table, glancing out the window at a crowd which was before angry and now showing signs of panic. “Madame President I think what we’re dealing with is a deranged kid who thinks she’s doing the world a favor and has absolutely no clue what the actual engineering is behind what she demands.

“Cliff. You have to find her.” She said with fingers on temples staring straight at the Intelligence Director.

“We’re working on it.”

“No, goddamit!” She stood up slamming the table with her palms. “We—the world even—does not have time for ‘working on it’. We cannot piss around right now. You need to find her yesterday. Do you fucking understand me?!”

He didn’t respond, instead leaving the room with his papers and computer.

“The rest of you…do what he’s doing. Find me some way of talking to this kid. We need to reign her in right now. We do not have an option. Maybe she’ll accept a smaller selection in a space launch as a first measure. We might be able to appease her.”

General Appleton was on his cell phone. “Madame President!” he put his hand on her shoulder to get her attention, which she promptly shoved aside.

“If this isn’t her location, I don’t give a good goddam!”

“Ma’am…SAC NORAD reports that Indian and French silos are fueling.”

As she turned around to face him with tears in her eyes, she caught the distant popcorn sound of automatic gunfire the Secret Service and Park Service police started opening fire as the entrance gate started to collapse.

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