Colonel Stephenson looked grimly down at the radar.
"15 seconds to impact," she said. "14... 13... 12..."
She gave up counting down. New York was reduced to a raging fireball without even the dignity of having its final countdown read out.
But Stephenson had other problems - missiles were raining down across targets in South Dakota, North Dakota, Norway, London, Washington State and Washington DC. She knew that whatever she pressed or didn't press the next series of bombs would be released from the stockpile beneath her feet ready to strike Tehran and Pyongyang. She knew that as soon as that happened, Moscow would be forced out of its neutrality and then you could kiss goodbye to the whole of Canada and everything from Vermont to North Carolina. That in turn would lead to Britain getting involved and firing at Beijing, which would in turn lead to... at this stage it was all being done by computer. Once this level was reached no human being could stop it. The series of alliances which had been designed to lead to a permanent balance of power (and therefore perpetual peace) had been held together by, and wired up to, a whole series of unthinking, unfeeling machines that worked only on solving problems relating to each scenario that occurred according to a series of sequential tactical programs.
Stephenson felt a kind of calmness come over her. The last 48 hours had consisted of crisis after crisis and very little rest. In a sense her entire 16 years in the military had been one long crisis. Now she'd be able to sleep forever. She'd find out what happens to you when you leave this realm. There was now nothing to do but to sit and wait. She estimated that she had about two minutes left to live.
She decided to find out whether any part of the Earth had any kind of a future.
The computer offered her a blue circle that went round and round really slowly.
"This program is not responding. Reboot?" suggested the computer helpfully. Colonel Stephenson swore.
The program resolved itself. It showed one remote island in the middle of the Pacific. If there were any humans there, their prospects were good. She checked to see if anyone lived there.
"This program is not responding... kill this page?" asked the computer. Stephenson killed the computer and died swearing.
"You looked better without the beard, Richard," said Jenny. "It's kinda irritating."
Jenny's baby, Erica, started howling.
"Like that isn't irritating?" asked Richard. "I'm going for a walk."
"Try not to fall in again!" teased Jenny. They both remembered how a massive wave had hit the island without warning shortly after they'd first arrived on the island, accompanied by a roaring sound and a flash in the sky. Richard had fallen into the water and had had to be rescued - to his embarrassment - by Jenny. She had laughed a lot. He hadn't. He'd tried to move away from the topic by wondering aloud what the bangs and flashes had been that day and why there'd been that terrible wave and why the ground had shaken so. But everyone else had kept bringing the conversation back to how amusing it'd been that he'd fallen in.
Little did they know it but the rest of the world had gone while their little community with their eggs, their multivitamin berries, their homespun concrete houses, their waterfall full of fresh water and their new child would survive.