In the dream I had, I was on some kind of technical support team, and we were in a building with computer screens all over, trying to troubleshoot a problem which an American SSBN was having out in the Atlantic. One of its Trident missiles was reporting errors with some kind of problem in the interface between the missile's CPU and the submarine's computer. The tech team was myself and five or six other guys and women, all in our twenties. The team was mostly American but there were a couple of Danes on it as well. We went through several series of checklists item by item while talking via satellite to the crew of the missile sub.
We tried several different tricks with the missile’s software, trying to get it to calm down, but nothing seemed to be working. What had started as a minor tech support call was slowly becoming serious as more and more systems in the screwed up Trident were either reporting fatal errors or were caught in a loop- coming online, failing, and resetting themselves over and over again. Then the Trident's propulsion system suddenly started going through a self check, and the missile crew of the submarine started freaking out on us. If the missile's engine lit off and pushed it through the top of the launch tube, it could sink the sub. Either that or the fuel in the Trident could just explode, creating a chain reaction in the other 23 missiles which were all nestled closely together. That would be bad.
So the leader of my tech team told the crew, okay screw this, jettison the Trident, and we'll explain away the financial loss to the Navy on the grounds of safety. There was no danger of the missile taking off because there was no guidance software loaded in its CPU. Ever since the end of the Cold War, the software was never loaded, nor were targets chosen on American missiles- this was a gesture of trust towards the Russians. As far as the tech team was concerned, our misbehaving Trident was a just dead bomb. We needed it off the submarine because the fuel on board was a potential danger to the sub. It had nothing to do with the nukes on the pointy end. The nukes would have to be retrieved from the seabed someday, but that would be the Navy's problem.
The submarine came to launch depth, and we told the missile crew to try to wipe every bit of software on the Trident, whether it was malfunctioning or not, just to make sure nothing weird would happen when they spit the thing out of the sub. They did so and jetissoned the Trident. Bizarrely, the Trident's first-stage engine fired as soon as it was free of the sub. We caught a view of the missile arcing upward and over the horizon from a feed from the submarine's periscope camera. Everyone yelled "holy shit!" at once. There was a moment of horrible silence, then phones were ringing everywhere and everyone was going crazy trying to figure out what had happened. I felt like I was out of my body, watching what everyone was doing with a strange clarity. After about five minutes, the guy on the phone with the US Space Command confirmed that 4 of the 10 MIRVs on the Trident had separated. The other six were still attached to the rig of the Trident’s third stage, which was being dragged back to Earth by gravity. They would burn up harmlessly, we hoped. What about the four? Clean separation. It looked like they were heading to targets in Southern Russia, but the Air Force still had to crunch the trajecories to make sure. One of the other guys had been paging through a Navy technical manual for the Trident missile. It was a huge three-ring binder which was frayed with age. He said "Oh my god," quietly, but in a way that instantly shut everyone else up.
"The Tridents were built in the late 1970's," he said. "All the software the Americans have added to them since then has been one kluge on top of another, but they never changed the basic specs. We weren't looking at the original hardware specs when we were troubleshooting this problem. The original ROM chips were still onboard that Trident. Since the missile’s CPU couldn't find any targeting data or programming when the jettison brought it online, it returned to its boot state and read its BIOS for instructions. It says here some of the original ROM chips had targeting information burned into the chip. It wouldn't have been erased when we wiped the software."
I could literally feel my body turning to ice. True shuddering fear racked my body, as my heart skipped its beat for what seemed like a very long time. My arms dropped to my sides from the keyboard, and if I hadn't been sitting, I'd have fallen on the ground. The guy talking to Space Command said in a strange voice. "The Air Force has good tracks on the remaining MIRV's. They're all targeted for Southeastern Europe. The first one in Bucharest in twelve minutes, then Constanta, then Odessa, then Tel Aviv…"
"What the fuck!" I yelled. "Why the would the Americans have wanted to waste Tel Aviv back in the 1970's?" But it didn't really matter why. There was nothing we could do. There was some hope that the buggy 1970's era software would fail to set the nukes off when they landed, but that was a pretty faint hope. We kept going through the tech specs in hopes of coming up with something, but we would find nothing and we all knew it. Someone asked if anyone had heard from the Russians, to see what they would do. But we all knew what they would do.
Then one of the techs said, "hey, I just lost my connection to Boeing Seattle." I saw that some of my internet connections had gone down in the last few moments as well. Little green "FAIL" icons were appearing, one after another, all over my screen. "Can someone ping Seattle for me?" She asked. "I'm not getting anything." I tried pinging Seattle and got another fail.
"Nothing." I told her. "It's not you, so it must be Seattle." Then I realised what I had just said. Oh holy Jesus. I pinged Boston. Nothing. I tried New York. Nothing. Toronto. Nothing.
"Guys." I said, my voice shaking. "The whole backbone is going down. I'm not reaching VAXen anywhere right now." The Internet was originally designed to survive a nuclear war. The only thing that could take whole sections of the backbone down was if every single Cisco and VAX server in several entire cities were suddenly turned off at once.
"I've still got Martin-Marietta," said the girl who had wanted Seattle before.
"They’re in Georgia. Southern US." I told her, took off my headset and started walking out of the building. "They haven't been hit yet."
I walked out of the large, white, box-shaped building under a brilliant field of stars. I realised I was in the industrial section of Long Beach, California. I looked up at the stars, and after a few seconds, found what I was waiting for. It looked like a shooting star, but it was slower and brighter. It burned steadily white, heading from north to south, like someone was drawing a chalk mark across the night sky. I was surprised it wasn't moving faster. Ahead of me, to the north, were the lights of LA. The chalk mark drew a perfect line, straight towards the city's heart.
This is the end of the world. It's really happening, I thought. I was horrified at first, but then I felt a strange rush, like a religious elation. The only other time I've ever felt that rush was when I saw the twin towers explode on TV. I had been horrified at first, and even a little nauseous. Then when I heard the Pentagon was hit, it changed to a (very brief) sick elation. This is not happening! I thought. This is too fucked up to be happening… but it is happening and this is for real and I'm watching it, and this is what the end of the world feels like, and what the fuck, just what the fuck… It's a feeling that doesn’t translate well into words. That's what I was feeling in the dream, too.
The last thing I saw was the slow shooting star dipping down towards LA on the horizon, moving faster in my vision, and brightening as the descending RV struck thicker atmosphere close to the surface. Then my vision flared and the sky changed from black to white. There was no sound.
The dream continued. It was very strange from this point forward though. I knew it had been many years since the bombs had dropped. I saw myself from the outside. I was much older and had dark grey eyes instead of brown, but it was still me. The brilliant flash of the explosion, which I had stared at years before, had changed my eye colour. I must have been blind for a long time, and everything still looked sort of overexposed and washed out in an orange-blue haze. I was wearing an outfit made of some kind of semi-opaque blue synthetic fabric, and I was standing near a road waiting for someone to pick me up. I could tell the scene was southern California desert, but it was cold, not hot. There was a building which I had walked out of, but it was strangely shaped and I couldn't see it clearly. It was low and bunker-like, covered with mirrors or solar panels. The cars on the road looked odd and boxy, and low to the ground. They made a strange whirring noise as they drove by. I noticed there was no exhaust or smell of fumes as they passed.