“Ionia is a failed state. Not in definition but in spirit. They spy on us, they track us, they inspect our mail. Always their eyes are on us, always they are searching for any sign of activity that does not perfectly suit their dogmatic ideals. This cannot continue! We, the proud Ionians of the Liberation Movement, will take a stand! Only from the destruction of the old can a new, better, free Ionia rise up from the ashes. We will tear down this mockery of a nation and rebuild a home we can be proud of. The end is a new beginning!”
“The end is a new beginning!” As one, hundreds of voices yelled in response to the voice of the Liberation movement’s great leader, Altin Cavar.
To Yiannis and Sophia Cirillo, the atmosphere in the otherwise silent truck was the same as the one in the recording they had just listened to. It was motivating. It filled them with courage - and courage was something they now needed. Their time had come. They were almost at Kudin’s city centre. Soon their mission would be complete. They would be heroes.
There was no space for doubt now, yet the parents still had room for concern. There was empty space in the cab of the truck that was supposed to be occupied by their daughter, but Eliana was not there.
“Are you sure we shouldn’t find her?” Yiannis asked again from his place in the passenger seat. It wasn’t the first time such a phrase had left his lips since they left the home they were renting that morning. “Should we have even brought her with us? This isn’t her fight.”
Without taking her eyes off the road, Sophia responded. “This is everyone’s fight. Besides, isn’t it better for her to disappear with us than be left alone to suffer the abuse of loyalists for our actions?”
“What if she gets far enough away to survive?”
“She won’t. She’s a child with no money in a city where she knows nobody. It’s not possible.”
The truck drove over a particularly large pothole with a thunderous thunk. Both of the truck’s occupants instinctively jerked their heads back to the trailer trailing behind them - to the location of their precious, dangerous cargo.
“Careful,” Yiannis yelped automatically. They had been told that such things were not likely to cause them problems. Even on a suicide mission though, it was hard not to be jittery when your vehicle was harbouring a nuclear warhead.
“Relax,” Sophia replied, “The scientists know what they’re talking about. We have nothing to fear from a few bumps on the road.”
The weapon had been quietly stolen by agents loyal to the Liberation Movement during a relocation. Now the Ionian government was sure to be watching the skies for the missile, but they would not see it there. People far more scientifically gifted than the Cirillos had carefully rigged the weapon to be detonated with the push of a button. All they had to do was drive it into the middle of an unsuspecting city and press the switch.
That was a matter easier said than done, in Yiannis’ mind at least. He lacked his wife’s unflappable nature and the responsibility of their mission was weighing on him, making him jittery with nerves and excitement. Eliana’s absence was only magnifying his worries. She really should have been there with them, where it would be quick.
“I just wish we hadn’t parted on such bad terms. She always seemed to understand the mission, what we have to do to free our country. I had hoped she would understand.” Yiannis picked up from where the conversation had abruptly stopped.
“We’ll all be together again soon,” Sophia said, “We will all be together in heaven, welcomed there as martyrs and saviours. Eliana is afraid, she hasn’t had the time to come to terms with this like we have. When we are together in paradise though, she’ll see that the mission was always just.”
“You’re right. You’re always right.” Yiannis smiled at his wife. He had always admired her undying faith and her bravery. He wished he could have shared this moment with his daughter, yes, but there was nobody he would have wanted by his side in that moment than Sophia.
The truck continued on through the streets of Kudin. They drove carefully. They did not rush. They obeyed the rules of the road meticulously. It wouldn’t do to be pulled over and have to detonate the nuke prematurely. It would be even worse if they had an accident and were not able to complete their objective at all. If an impact like a crash truly wouldn’t set off the bomb, it had to be triggered by them. If they did not succeed, they would be captured and the movement’s plans would be exposed. There would be no greater shame than failure.
Onwards they drove towards oblivion. They passed other vehicles and pedestrians. All of them unaware of the impending destruction that would be unleashed upon them. In a matter of minutes, they would all be dead. They too would be martyrs for the cause. Their deaths would be the building blocks that a new and better society would be built upon. Their sacrifices would be honoured for generations to come. They would give their lives for a free Ionia. Unwillingly certainly, but that didn’t matter in comparison to the greater good - the future.
It wasn’t much longer before they were pulling up at an intersection. This intersection wasn’t like the others that came before it though. This was special. It was as close to the geographical centre of Kudin as one could get in a car.
Tall, important-looking buildings rose up on all sides. The offices of businessmen, bankers and lawyers, most likely. The traffic lights were red, pedestrians walked across the street in front of the cars in a hurry with places to be. Unbeknownst to them, none of them would make it to their destinations. To them, this was just a normal day, crossing a normal patch of road. None of them knew that the very ground they tread on had long been marked to become one of the most important places in human history.
“Should you do it, or should I?” Sophia asked, looking across at Yiannis.
Yiannis gulped in the air, feeling the pressure catching in his throat. He couldn’t back down now. He’d come too far. How could he give up when they were so close to making a real difference? Especially with Sophia looking at him with such steel in her eyes. “I can do it.”
He opened the glove compartment and pulled out the detonator. It was a small, cylindrical electronic box with a single button at its tip. Yiannis had almost laughed when he first saw the device, and in that moment he was struck with the same compulsion. He couldn’t risk chuckling a little.
The device looked almost exactly like something you’d see in a cartoon or movie. Yiannis wondered if that design choice had been intentional. If it wasn’t, was it that way out of necessity or was it a subconscious thing? Was this just how things that set off weapons of mass destruction were supposed to look? It didn’t really matter. He wasn’t going to get the chance to ask. In just a moment, he would push the button and his life would be over in less than a second.
“If you can’t do it, I can.” The voice had come from Sophia, of course. She was the very picture of calmness but for the intense resolve in her eyes. She was committed.
Once again, Yiannis was struck with an intense wave of admiration for the woman he had chosen to spend his last living moments with. He wouldn’t let her down. “No, I can do it. Let’s count down from ten.”
“Okay,” Sophia said, “Count it in. We’re about to make history.”
Yiannis nodded. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
He took one last deep breath and started counting down. “10… 9…”
Sophia reached out and grasped Yiannis’ free hand. Her darker fingers mingled with his pale ones, the inverted omega tattoos sported on the tops of their hands facing away from each other.
The traffic lights had turned to green and a discordant chorus of car horns were blaring behind them. The Cirillo’s could barely hear them. They focused on their own counting, on the critical moment they were sharing together. Nothing beyond the boundaries of their truck mattered anymore in that moment.
“6… 5... ”
Behind them a car door slammed shut angrily and footsteps and heavy footsteps could be heard approaching them. A deep, booming and furious voice yelled at them, growing louder with each step. “Hey, asshole! The light’s green! Move!”
Neither Yiannis nor Sophia made any move to acknowledge the inconsequential noise beyond the cab’s walls. He wasn’t important. They continued to count, even as he reached them.
The man was outside Yiannis’ window now, banging on the door and peering in at them. He screamed threats and obscenities at them. He even tried opening the door, but it was locked. The pair in the truck didn’t even acknowledge him. The countdown continued.
“The end is a new beginning,” Sophia said, a single tear of joy dropping down her cheek.
Yiannis pressed the button and the sound of the man screaming and shouting outside the car stopped. The sounds of the car horns behind them stopped. Everything went white. In an instant, everything within a two kilometre radius of the truck was simply gone, vaporised by a plasma fireball. Everything even remotely flammable for nearly fifteen kilometres in every direction was suddenly ablaze. In milliseconds, hundreds of thousands were dead. That was just the beginning of the horrors that unfolded in Kudin. Over the next seconds, minutes, hours and days, millions more would be dead and countless others injured.
Meanwhile, some distance away from the immediate blast radius, a twelve-year-old girl was hurriedly backing away from the window of the house her parents had rented temporarily. Tears born from a mind-wrecking combination of fear, grief and guilt streaming down her face as the horizon was blotted out by a blinding white light and her vision went dark.