The Decision

Daily Special 11: Radar

Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written
4 min readNov 11, 2021

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Photo by Sebastian Mark on Unsplash

Blip.

What was that?

Sasha looked up from the crossword puzzle he’d been working on for the past hour of his shift. He was the only civilian contractor in the rotation and had very little idea what any of the complex equipment in front of him actually did. He was told to watch the screen and call his superiors if there was any issue with the security system. He had a four-hour shift in the middle of the night, the shift that no one else wanted. A glorified security guard, his wife would taunt him. In one of the most important offices in the world, he always wanted to retort, but he kept his mouth shut. No need to stir up trouble.

Blip.

There it was again, that strange blip on the uppermost screen. The radar passed over an object — a very large object — coming out of enemy territory. Whatever it was, it was huge. Massive.

Blip.

No, not massive. Multiple. A group of five objects moving in unison. Sasha felt the acidic sting of bile rising into his throat as he realized what this must be: missiles. Five of them. Headed for the capital, based on their trajectory.

Blip.

Time seems to slow as Sasha threw down his newspaper and reached for the telephone. In his haste, he knocked the receiver off the hook, and it clattered onto the desk with a clang. Scrambling to pick up the receiver, he noticed the other screens remained static. Why had none of the secondary systems picked up the threat yet? The dial tone rang in his ear as Sasha’s finger hovered over number keys.

Blip.

His eyes darted to the radar. The objects were moving quickly, too quickly. There was no time for approval, to wake up his supervisors and explain the situation.

Sasha pictured himself launching into action: using security code to open the lead box on the wall. Pulling the slim sliver key from its velvet pillow. Sliding the key into the keyhole in the centre of the desk, hearing the soft click. Opening the case to reveal the shiny red button. The red button. His palm pressing firmly, authoritatively, downward. The soft click, a moment of silence. Then the wail of alarms, the flashing of red lights. A declaration of war. Nuclear retaliation. Mutual annihilation. Worst-case scenario.

Blip.

Again Sasha searched the other screens. No one else was reporting anything. There was no indication anywhere else that death and destruction were imminent. The dial tone was blaring in his ears. His heart was racing. Sweat dripped down his brow. There had to be some sort of secondary confirmation. The satellite data: nothing. No intelligence reports coming in. No one calling. Could it be a system error?

Slowly, he began to dial his supervisor’s number. He needed to report what he was seeing. If he was too slow, they wouldn’t have time to launch a counterattack before they were all vaporized. But if he was too quick on the draw — his eyes narrowed on the lead box with its alluring key inside. He’d either be a hero, or a war criminal.

Blip.

But why would they launch only five?

Sasha’s finger hovered over the last number to connect the call. Only five. He peered at the radar again. He was told the enemy would launch an all-out attack one day. When it happened, it would be massive. It would be catastrophic. Hundreds of warheads, maybe thousands. Not five in small formation headed for one target. What would be the point?

Blip.

He lowered the recovered and clicked the phone back into the dock. Running a finger along his moustache and praying that he hadn’t just gotten his country, his family, and half the world’s population killed, he picked up the phone again and began to dial another number, one written on the schedule thumbtacked to the wall: maintenance.

A groggy voice answered the phone.

“The radar is experiencing an error. Please send a technician at the earliest convenience,” Sasha said authoritatively, watching the blips pass across the screen. Nothing from ground control, nothing on satellite, no intelligence reports.

Wringing his hands, Sasha waited. When the moment came, he braced himself, as though gripping the armrests of his uncomfortable chair would protect him from the blast. A long moment passed and — nothing.

Nothing at all.

On Remembrance Day (November 11), we have a moment of silence for those fallen in the line of battle. In Canada, “Last Post” is bugled immediately before 11:00 am, and the tolling of the bells of the Peace Tower marks the start of two minutes of silence. This November, I would like to also remember a man whose decision not to immediately report an alarm likely prevented millions of deaths. This short story is very, very loosely based on the experience of Stanislav Petrov, the little-known “man who saved the world.” Petrov’s inaction may have prevented Soviet retaliation to a “missile launch” from the United States that ended up being a computer code error.

Thank you Ravyne Hawke for today’s fiction prompt: “Something huge has shown up on the radar. You decide what kind of radar, what it is, and what it wants, if anything. Write a scene or complete story. / Word Length — up to 1000 words / Restrictions — the word ‘velvet’ must fit into your story.”

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Dr. Casey Lawrence
Promptly Written

Canadian author of three LGBT YA novels. PhD from Trinity College Dublin. Check out my lists for stories by genre/type.