“Did you know they originally built these bunkers in the nineteen sixties and seventies?” Wright asked. He wore ivy green military rescue apparel and rode in the back of a vehicle as it wound its way down an overgrown road. A bisque-like fog hung in the background. His companion stared out the window at the low fog, apparently not registering the words Wright had just spoken.
“Hey, did you hear me?” Wright asked more forcefully.
“Hmm? Sorry, what did you say,” replied Torres, pulling his attention away from the view out the window.
“I asked if you knew these bunkers were originally built in the nineteen sixties. Almost a hundred years ago.”
“Yeah, we all know, it was in the briefing.”
“Apparently,” Wright continued, ignoring the words of his companion, “the government had them built in case of nuclear war or some shit like that. That’s why they were able to get them ready so quickly when this whole thing happened. There are a whole bunch of them, all over. They were just gonna leave the rest of us to die, I guess. Fitting then, all things considered.”
“I suppose so,” replied Torres, unable to match his companion’s indignation. Torres turned his attention back to the window as he squinted his eyes to see through the fog. It didn’t help.
“Hey,” said Wright. “Do you think they’re alive in there?”
“Of course, they’re alive,” answered Torres in a monotone voice without turning back around. He picked up a finger and drew a squiggly line in the condensation on the glass. “That was the whole point wasn’t it?”
“I suppose so. But, can you imagine? Ten years underground? Who would choose that?”
Torres continued to draw on the window with his finger, tracing the diameter of the squiggle until it grew wide enough to peer out through. He stuck his head as close to the glass as possible, still trying to see their destination. Giving up, he leaned his head back against his seat, digesting Wright’s question.
“There weren’t exactly any good options,” Torres replied. “They thought they might die otherwise. They were protecting themselves.”
Wright moved his head halfway between a shake and a nod, then asked, “How old were you?”
“Me? I was nineteen I think. You?”
“Seventeen,” Wright said. “Yeah, I was seventeen. My dad lost it. Started moving all of our shit down to the basement, as if that would save us. Our couch, our mattresses, like twenty buckets.” Wright laughed at this. “Well, let’s just say he didn’t think it all the way through.
“Not all of them chose the bunker you know,” Torres said in a melancholy voice. “Those on the list. I mean, even President Alvarez, who was a senator at the time. She stayed. I’ve thought about it before. What would you have done, had you been in their position?”
Wright wiped the condensation moisture from his hands onto his pants and began picking at one of the seams on his outer thigh as he talked.
“You think about that?” Wright said, surprised. His coworker often acted like he never had a care in the world.
“Yeah, all the time. Don’t you?” Torres asked, his words still unsettlingly void of emotion. “I mean, what kind of leader leaves their people alone during a crisis?”
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Most people have thought about it, I guess I’m just surprised you have,” Wright said.
“As far as leaving people alone in a crisis," Torres said, “I don’t know man. I don’t think it’s that simple.”
“It is,” Wright shot back strongly, startling Torres. “It is that simple, really.”
Torres raised an eyebrow. He’d seen the passion the young man could display before, but never in this context. He had a strong suspicion nerves were the undercurrent fueling the heightened intensity. Nerves regarding what they were about to walk into. What they were about to see.
The vehicle they were in came to an abrupt stop. Torres and Wright turned to look out the window, but the fog was still too thick to see more than a couple meters away. It looked like they were parked at the head of a trail. Large boulders separated the path in the woods from the parking area.
“Looks like we’re here,” Torres said, prying open his door, pushing his helmet down over his black hair, and slinging his equipment over his shoulder. “Come on, officer Wright. Let’s get this over with.”
When the two had exited the vehicle, they looked over their shoulders to see others, in three other vehicles, had done the same. Cautiously, they skirted the boulders and began hiking down a trail a little narrower than the average-sized vehicle. The fog seemed to swallow them deeper and deeper with each step, and their boots trudged through the thick debris on the forest floor that was now only a shadow of a trail.
A large white flower blooms alongside the path, and Wright squats down to cup it in his hand. Torres nudges him with his hip, urging him along.
They continued until they reached towering patina-metal doors encased in a hillside - thick enough to sustain a blast. Foliage grew around them, and rust spread from the outside in like fingered tendrils.
“Wow,” Wright whispered to Torres as they approached, “seeing pictures and seeing it up close are two different things. They fit everything in there? How many are in this one again?”
Torres ignored him. “Hey, what is that?”
A fresh-looking package was attached to the entryway, sealed on all sides with a weatherproof adhesive coating. A large insignia was stamped to the front of the package-a dark blue circle speckled with stars and the word NASA nestled between the slashes of a red chevron.
“It’s a package from the space agency. That’s strange,” Wright said.
“Were we expecting this?” Torres asked loudly to everyone in the vicinity. The soldiers looked to each other for some kind of confirmation, but there were only confused shakes of the head and mumbles.
“I don’t think so,” Wright said.
“Yeah me either,” Torres said, pressing a button on his helmet. “Madam President. I think we have something here.”
A voice came through commander Torres’ headset.
“Zoom in, Torres. Let me get a better look.”
Torres pressed a few buttons on the side of his helmet. An extended silence followed. Then, the president’s decisive voice came through once again.
“Go ahead and open it, commander. Carefully. Let’s see what’s inside.”
“Everyone, back up,” Torres declared loudly, and the soldiers obeyed, each immediately stepping back a few paces. Torres approached the doors and carefully peeled the package off of the door, he then flipped it over in his hands, inspecting it. It appeared to be a run-of-the-mill manila package - the kind rarely used in recent decades. The edges of the package itself were worn, like it had been pried out of an old drawer. But, there was almost no dirt on the outside of the adhesive. It was clean and fresh. The package had been placed there recently.
Torres carefully opened the package. Inside is a recording device, a bound document about an inch thick, and, of all things, a flash drive. The rest is empty.
The other soldiers stare curiously as the fog frames their silhouettes and the trees rustle in the wind.
“Madam President,” Torres says into his helmet. “It’s just a tape recorder, and well, what looks like a flash drive and a bound document of some kind.” Torres sets the contents down on a nearby rock, holding only the document which he flips through as he talks. “I’d say about two hundred pages or so.”
The other soldiers step closer as he sets the document down and picks the tape recorder back up. It was one of those handheld ones - about five inches in length and without any fancy attributes. Just play, record, and directional buttons.
“Well, go on, play it then,” President Alvarez says through Torres’ head set. He is the only one who can hear her voice and he can feel the eyes of all the soldiers watching him. Torres casts a glance to large metal doors. There are people behind them waiting to be released. They have waited ten years. What’s a few more minutes?
Torres kneels down on the ground, and presses play on the device, holding it up to his ear.
“My name is Maggie Osborne,” a voice says from the recorder. The soldiers look at one another with bewilderment.
“That scientist lady?” Wright asks from behind Torres, speaking over mumblings on the recording.
“Quiet, will you?” Torres snaps back as he backs up a second to hear what they missed. He holds out a hand, signaling silence among the soldiers, then presses play once again.
“…is Maggie Osborne. You likely know the name. It’s one of the most well-known in the world, isn’t it? I’m the one you’ve seen on your television, on adverts, in PSAs. Though, I admit I was much younger in most of the footage that now peppers the screens in homes and in lecture halls - exactly ten years younger to be exact. A hero, they say. Please, before you open the doors, listen to my message. Release it to the general public. I want everyone to hear my side of things. After you do, your perspective may change. It may feel as if the earth underneath your feet has indeed shifted. And whose to say it hasn’t, really? That’s what the earth does. It shifts, and we must shift along with it.
Most of the others I mention are gone now, and you’ll find signatures in the accompanying document with the agreement of the rest. I ask you to release it along with the recording. We’ve all decided, well, those of us who remain, that it’s time for the truth to come out.
Consider this my confession. Do with it what you will.”