Light. Actual, natural sunlight. No one on the expedition had ever actually seen the sun. Oh, they had learned all about it in science classes, even made little diagrams of the solar system with that big yellow orb at the center. But to see the sun… No human in 226 years had seen the sun.
The expedition staggered in the blinding light as they slowly worked through the rubble. John Mulligan and his team smiled at one another as their eyes adjusted to the daylight.
“Well, we’re finally here,” Sarah Laughlin, team chronicler, said as she gave John a light-hearted shove.
“First humans above ground in a couple centuries. It’s quite a historic moment,” John smiled back at her.
“Oh I know. I’m rolling as we speak,” she said, nodding to the camcorder in her right hand."
Eli Walker, one of the archaeologists on the team, walked up to Sarah and John, “You know, for total nuclear fallout, it doesn’t look too bad up here. The rubble looks like it’s thinning out.”
“Maybe this area didn’t get hit too hard,” John shrugged, “I’m sure it’s a lot worse where the front-line fighting happened.”
“Yeah, probably,” Eli replied.
The team walked in silence for a while, surveying the damage. Rather, they were surveying the lack of damage. At first, there had been lots of pointing and excitement, and the team had taken a lot of pictures. The longer they walked, though, the more things felt… wrong.
They rested for a few minutes in an abandoned building with a sign that read ‘PAYDAY LOANS.’ John was just about to call everyone to regroup when he heard a sound that was very out of place: footsteps. He cautiously approached the entrance to the building and put his hand on the door to open it.
“Freeze! Put your hands in the air!” a man in black combat armor yelled, pointing an assault rifle at John.
A man. Not a man from the vault. A man they had never met. They had been told there was only one vault and that radiation had killed off the surface population.
“I’m not going to tell you again. Put your hands in the air!” the soldier ordered.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say,” John stammered as he raised his hands. The rest of the team was being led at gunpoint into the front room. They all had the same panicked look on their faces.
“How did you get in here?” the soldier John had met asked angrily.
“I, I, uh, we didn’t get in anywhere. We’re a scouting team from the vault!” John answered, sweat dripping down his nose.
The soldier pressed the butt of his rifle to John’s back and asked again, “Vault? What vault? This is a military training zone. No civilians! How. Did you. Get in here?”
Sarah spoke up this time, “We come from the vault located ten miles southwest of here. The vault that protected our ancestors from the Last World War in 2023,” the soldiers looked at each other, puzzled, so Sarah continued, “You know, the nuclear bombs fell? A lottery chose who got to take shelter in the vault?”
One of the soldiers sighed and took what looked like a communicator off his belt.
“This is Corporal Tennenbaum, authorization code Bravo Tango Sierra One Nine Nine,” he said into the communicator.
“Go ahead, Corporal, what’s the situation?” a female voice responded.
“Yeah it looks like we have a 987 here.”
“Come again, Corporal? It sounded like you said 987.”
“That is correct, a 987. The box has been opened. I repeat the box had been opened.”
Eli stood up, prompting a soldier to push him backward with her rifle.
“Excuse me, but what’s going on here? We’re basically refugees from the war. We deserve to know what happened after the vault sealed,” he demanded.
Commander Tennenbaum shook his head, “There was no war.”