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A 1000 word story
I remember sitting in the chopper above downtown when it happened. It looked like another sunset. Ordinary. Safe. That was the worst part—that it looked beautiful. It wasn’t right.
I don’t remember everything they said when the camera started rolling. We had it all planned out, but in the moment, it was just so—so hollow. The city was empty, of course. The evacuation happened weeks earlier, and it went smoothly enough.
There were a few folks here and there who refused to leave. The military expected that, and, honestly, I’m not sure I blame them. Asking six million people to uproot their lives in a matter of days—there’s going to be some resistance.
I’m sure some of them just wanted to face the end on their own terms. Maybe some of them thought it wouldn't happen this time. They’d all be gone now. We didn’t talk about it. Not on the air, anyway.
This was a routine purge. The fifth one that year. They were becoming more common now. Maybe because it was getting easier. People were just used to it. It stopped being a tragedy and became a spectacle.
That’s why we were in the sky that night. To broadcast the fall for the world to see. They get to watch the firestorm roll in from the safety of their own homes: protected by their bunkers and TV screens.
Watching it up close hits differently, I guess. I suppose it forces you to remember. There’s plenty of time for it. The gunships are slow, lumbering things. Like the old street cleaners that would just crawl along the shoulder and be in everyone’s way on the morning commute.
You could hear the rumble of their engines for miles—long before the glow of the cannons. It gave you a chance to reminisce. You could pick out the landmarks. Parks, your office, the museums and restaurants you loved to visit—or never got the chance to. They even turned the lights on one last time. It was a way to say goodbye.
They told us it was necessary. This was a good thing. If we did nothing, then nature would take over. When it was time to go back, the buildings would be unstable. Even without the radiation, places like Chicago would be uninhabitable.
You could already see the signs of that in some of the more remote places—the ones that were the first (and the easiest) to evacuate.
Leveling everything would give us a fresh start. Like a blank canvas. We’d build it better. Clean energy, green spaces. It was something to look forward to. Watch the old world burn away so something new and beautiful could rise from the ashes.
None of us would ever get to see that world. We knew that. At some level, I think maybe that’s why people loved watching the old world burn so much. It made the future feel closer, like the revival of our civilization was somehow within reach.
It was strange to think that there were children in the bunkers who had never seen the sun except through the filter of their screen. Those of us who got to venture to the surface, even for just a moment—we were legends. They looked at us the way we looked at the old NASA astronauts.
Me. A helicopter pilot for the local news, on a pedestal like Neil Armstrong. It didn’t feel right. It’s just earth. I may have been a kid when the evacuation order came in, but I remember those streets. I could pick out the route I walked to school, and the bus stop that would take us to Wrigley. This wasn’t some ancient landmark. This was my hometown, and in just a few hours, it would be gone. Forever.
The orange glow was drawing closer. The deep, rumbling hum of the cleaners was already rattling the frame of the chopper. I knew we’d be fine. This bird was designed to withstand the radiation—and the heat, but it still made your heart race when it finally started.
“The glassing process has begun in the heart of old Chicago. A fleet of cleaners will blanket the city with an assortment of explosives and high-powered lasers engineered to topple the buildings and melt the remaining debris into a level surface. The smooth, resin-like material that remains will one day serve as the foundation of a new city. It will take decades for the surface to become habitable, but engineers are already hard at work drawing up the plans for the new world with construction scheduled to begin sometime in the next thirty years.”
Glassing. It still sounded silly to me. A technique they lifted from Halo of all places. It was effective, though. As the gunships drew closer, the sky started to turn white—something about the extra heat scattering more light. It wouldn’t last, of course. The glassing was thorough, but it stirred up a lot of dust and smoke.
The fumes from the process were toxic, and it messed with the atmosphere in the area. As the city burned, they sky would eventually shift to an unsettling shade of green, and it would linger there for weeks.
There were some concerns about the long-term effects, but most people wrote it off as “tomorrow’s problem.” The general theory was that we’d be underground long enough for everything to stabilize. As long as the air was breathable, we’d be fine. There were drones on the surface constantly gathering data, and research teams analyzing all of it. If anything went wrong, we’d know, and we had plenty of time to fix it.
At some level, that was the attitude that got us into this mess. We didn’t think about the consequences. We didn’t care about the future, because we’d be dead and gone before it ever mattered. All the experts said there was nothing to worry about, but they weren’t infallible, so what if they were wrong?
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