Peering out towards the horizon, all I could see through my ash-covered goggles was the devastation from the fallout. It had been nearly sixty years since the total global nuclear war between the Western and Eastern powers had ended. Not even the Star Wars or other defense systems could prevent what seemed to be the end of the world.
My generation has been taught that no one can seem to remember or will say what caused or who launched the first nuclear missiles. There were ongoing rising conflicts, and the rift between the world powers seemed only ever to escalate. Once one launched the initial nuclear warhead, all others followed suit.
When it was all done, World War III lasted less than two weeks. Two weeks in which the world powers launched nearly 17,000 missiles consisting of more than 6,400 megatons of nuclear warheads. The impact of the nuclear missiles wiped out most of the heavily centralized populations globally, including most life in the United States, Russia, China, North Korea, United Kingdom, France, Israel, Pakistan, and India. Within hours, the initial explosions accounted for the initial 3.8 billion dead. As the nuclear warheads made contact, there were blinding flashes of light across the planet, and temperatures at the contact locations became hotter than the sun’s surface. The buildings, trees, people, and any structure above ground at the impact points were instantly disintegrated.
The blast wave the impacts created traveled several times faster than the speed of sound. They blew with the force of compressed and super-hot air, sending rock, gravel, metal, and other debris for miles and caused much of the surrounding areas to be destroyed within seconds of the bombs hitting the ground.
Twenty to thirty minutes after the initial impact, those who survived began to learn they were not the lucky ones. Radioactive ash began to fall for even more miles around ground zero, and those caught in the outdoors quickly perished.
The following 2 billion members of the world’s population succumbed to the devastation of the initial nuclear fallout, including weapon debris, fission byproducts, and radiated soil. Anyone who had been caught in the initial blast zones had been instantly vaporized. Those caught on the outskirts of the initial blast zone seemed to be the least fortunate, as they developed severe radiation poisoning and melted from the inside out over a few days to a few weeks.
Along with this, the electromagnetic pulse that was released by the bombs as they exploded caused all electronics to cease working. Cell phones shut off, lights went out, and planes fell from the sky. In an instant, there were no working vehicles, computers, or internet. The whole world went dark. In a matter of weeks, the world’s population had plummeted from 7.8 billion to just under 2 billion people.
Hospitals in the countryside quickly became overwhelmed, making the once talked about 2020 COVID-19 outbreak seem inconsequential. Over the next few weeks, society slowly broke down as food became scarce and people looked towards survival. The world’s population also continued to dwindle to just over 1 billion survivors.
Dark plumes of smoke rose into the atmosphere and spread across the globe over the next couple of months, dropping the earth’s surface temperature to near freezing and blotting out the sun. Those still alive looked for shelter underground for survival, seeking protection from the planet, which now seemed to want to kill them. The ozone layer became severely damaged, causing an increase in unfiltered and radioactive ultraviolet rays to reach the earth's surface, killing plants and animals alike.
For the others of my parent’s generation who survived the initial weeks and months of the nuclear winter, the impact of the apocalypse only continued to worsen. Blood disorders, tumors, keloids, any number of bodily deformities along with social and mental disorders seemed to become normal.
The ash and debris covered the total atmosphere of Earth, plunging us into perpetual darkness and cold. And that is where I was born, underground in the abandoned Emery Deep mines of what was once Utah in the United States. Now we call the underground expanse Toleran.
Before the devastation, scholars had predicted that the nuclear winter of a full-scale nuclear war would last no more than ten years. However, we are now approaching a bit more than 50 years since humanity restarted the calendar at year 0, and temperatures still hover just above freezing year-round. The sun is still blotted out by the dust, ash, and debris that seems to have become perpetually suspended in the atmosphere. There has been little to no communication with any other surviving communities, if there are any.
Although no one in my community has confirmed it, it is believed that all the world’s major capitals and other areas of impact are still uninhabitable and radioactive. Animals and plant life on the surface are scarce and deadly to eat in the surrounding areas. No one knows for sure, as a few of us now travel topside, and those of us who do, do so in small increments, but there is hope that one of our Topsiders will someday find more survivors.