2046 - India, between the cities of Agra and Gwalior
It was on my ninth day without sleep when I started to see them everywhere. On my rounds, I saw Anya lying alone on the southeast deathfield, only to run over and find it was someone else. I saw Sati carrying water to the survivors beyond the fence, only to discover it was a child who belonged to another. I saw Hema lying on a bed in tent 443, only to find the bed empty when I drew near. Over and over they appeared until it happened. Blood spilled from my nose onto my white coat. I fell to my knees, clutching my chest. Finally, we would be reunited.
Six days had passed since the bombings stopped,six days since we even begun to get a handle on the aftereffects of our nuclear fallout. We were set up on a large open field,sixty kilometers outside the restricted radiation zone of Agra, just off Highway AH43 and walking distance from the Asan River. Most survivors walked in groups of hundreds from the affected provinces of Haryana, Jaipur, and Harit Pradesh to reach our military field hospital and processing center, now the largest in the region. They were directed here by radio, leaflets dropped from scout helicopters, and the military’s radiation inspection caravans sent north to survey the damage.
The mission was straightforward but far from simple. As the Principal Medical Officer, my job was to lead a team of hundreds of military medics and volunteer civilian doctors. We processed the survivors as they arrived, assessed their medical condition, helped the acutely sick, soothed those near death, and directed the strong towards the military-run survivor camps set up further south on the outskirts of Gwalior city—the safe zone.
I had worked in field clinics throughout my career with the Indian Medical Service, even as a child when I worked for my father as his personal field medic assistant. But neverhad I seen a sight like this. Our field hospital had close to five thousand beds. Meanwhile, our aerial survey drones assessed the number of survivors waiting outside the hospital to be well over three hundred thousand, all lining up along the highway, a mass stretching for kilometers whose numbers grew by the hour. Without more resources from central command, disease was sure to spread among those waiting outside and an angry mob would surely follow.
“Kedar, I got word from the general,” said Lieutenant Jeet Chakyar, meeting me under the shade of the medical command tent. He was assigned to me as my military liaison by General Nathawat himself.
“More of everything, I hope.”
“Four trucks worth of beds and supplies. He said that’s all he can send today.”
“Did you tell him about our small line up outside?”
“He said the same numbers are being counted at all eleven field hospitals near the restricted zone. The evacuation is going well.It’s just our logistics. They’re still a mess.” The blasts from the nuclear missiles intercepted in flight near the Pakistani border rained an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that knocked out most of the telecommunications, electricity and general electronics networks throughout North India, most of Bangladesh, and the easternmost region of China.
“We’ll make do, I guess. Those extra troops that came in this morning should help keep things calm for another day or two.” A drop of blood dripped from my nose onto my medical tablet. Things were getting worse. I pulled out a handkerchief and pressed it against my nostril. “Sorry, Jeet. What about site three?”
“The diggers are almost finished.It’ll be ready early tomorrow morning. For now, we have enough room in the fifthmass grave for about another five hundred, so we have time.”
I emptied my last two pills of Modafinil from my pill box and swallowed them dry. The caffeine pills stopped working three days ago and I had been awake and working for eight days straight. “I have to make my rounds. Walk with me.”
We left the command tent and started on my hourly inspection route. Our first stop was the field on the southeast corner, closest to the river. This was where those most affected by the radiation lay on bed sheets beneath the sweltering summer sun—what limited tents we had were reserved for those with over a fifty percent chance of recovery. Some of the survivors’ loved ones tended to them, but most lay alone, their internal organs only hours away from failing. I made sure they all received a generous helping of morphine to ease their passing before we wrapped their bodies for disposal under the cover of night.
Five minutes to the north was the volunteer command tent. Thousands more family members joined the thousands still recovering in the nearby medical tents. Afraid of being separated and aware of the limited space, family membersagreed to volunteer their services by collecting and purifying the river water, then distributing it to the growing crowd outside the hospital. Some also helped with the building of new tents, the carrying of freshly delivered supplies, andthe organization of prayer services,while the strongest were burdened with loading the dead into transport trucks at nightfall.
Jeet and I then walked northeastto the processing point. Well over a hundred troops guarded the field hospital’s outward fence, while a team of over two hundred medics and lieutenants organized a long line of inspection tables on either side of the highway road. Luckily, the nuclear EMP had disabled most of the cars in the region so we didn’t have to worry about civilian traffic. The line of survivors was allowed through one by one whenever a table opened up. The healthy continued their march to Gwalior with the water trucks. The sick stayed behind in the waiting field to be processed for care when a sickbed became available. The process didn’t stop.We couldn’t afford to take a break, so we kept the line moving around the clock from the very moment the hospital began its operations.
“Reza!” I called out, claiming the attention of my processing supervisor. “What is our status?”
“Sir, we’ve been processing up to nine thousand people per hour for the past five hours.”
“That’s a large spike. What happened?”
“The heat, Sir. The healthy are finally declining their right to a medical screening, so we’re now able to move more people through the checkpoint.”
“And the sick?”
Reza shook her head. “Only about forty per cent are now being cleared to walk the rest of the way to the Gwalior hospitals. The rest aren’t strong enough.”
I felt my shoulders growing heavier. “And to think it was eighty percent just two days ago.” The last ones out were almost always the ones most exposed to radiation.
“The radio says the fallout ash and particulates should settle in another day or so. After that, the trend line should rise back up. The problem is space.” She looked at the field of ailing survivors behind the fence. Twice volunteers had to move the fence forward to fit the growing numbers of the sick and dying. The waiting field was now twice the size of field hospital itself.
“Jeet, when are the Vidarbha doctors expected to arrive?”
Jeet checked his tablet. “Four hours, Sir.”
To Reza, I explained, “When the doctors arrive, I’ll have them work the waiting fields. Half those patients just need prescriptions so that should open up some space.”
“Understood.” She then gave me a knowing look. “Sir, there’s something else.”
I leaned in to whisper, “News?”
“Tent 149. Bed 1894.”
Sometimes it’s amazing how many people run to you for answers, orders, and requisitions signatures when you’re trying to get somewhere. It took nearly twenty minutes to reach the tent Reza directed me to and my heart could not stop racing. She knew to alert me when specific names appeared on the survivor registry or walked through our checkpoint. It was an abuse of power. But I needed to know. I could not sleep until I knew.
I followed the number tags as I walked down the long row of medical beds. Eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four, the patients stared at me as I passed by. One-seventeen, one-eighteen, one-nineteen, this row all seemed to suffer from broken bones or non-mortal flesh wounds—a good sign. One-forty-seven, one-forty-eight, one-forty-nine, and there he was.
“Kedar! Praise the gods I found you.” Uncle Omi lay with a bloodied bandage on his head and a cast on his left hand.
I grabbed my uncle’s e-files hanging from his bed’s intravenous stand as two nurses passed by. “Anya,” I said quietly. “Did she get my warning? Did they leave in time?”
“My wife. My children. Kedar, they are alive because of you.”
I checked to make sure the patients around us were sleeping, before leaning in. “Uncle. I will not ask again.”
The styptic pencil burned horribly as I pressed it against my inner nostril. The nosebleeds began to return every few hours. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.
As the night hung over the hospital, I isolated myself inside the busy command tent. Hiding behind a curtain, I sat at my desk, swallowing far too many pills of Adderall. This was the first moment I stole for myself in days and I took the opportunity to weep for the first time since it all began.
It was supposed to be just another border skirmish—an aggressive surge of military armour crossing our bordersthat our forward military divisions could hold off until our air support mobilized. This time was different. Our satellites picked up movement inside their nuclear ballistics bases. That’s when central command ordered everyone to assemble at the western front.
I was stationed inside Bangladesh helping with the humanitarian relief efforts from cyclone Vahuk when General Nathawat called to warn my family. He said I only had twenty minutes to get everyone out. I can’t remember how many calls I made, but Anya was the only one who didn’t pick up.
By the time our medical caravan reached the field hospital, the few pieces of non-logistical news the military radio shared indicated that Pakistan had fired first. Our laser defense perimeter shot down most of their missiles at the border, but a few penetrated deep into Central and West India. The provinces of Jodhpur, Punjab, Jaipur, and Haryana were the worst affected. New Delhi is gone. The Taj Mahal is in ruins, resting as a tombstone near the crater where Agra once stood.
General Nathawat confided that Pakistan fared much worse. They had no advanced ballistic defenses. But, he also said that the extent of the destruction India wrought would stay classified until the military’s emergency command was confident Pakistan would never again pose a permanent threat.
Years will pass before the dead are counted on both sides. Those not immediately killed by the nuclear blasts, but close enough to feel its radioactive effects, would die in a matter of weeks to months from various forms of cancer and organ failure. Many others living in the far west and north of the country—those living behind the military’s restricted radiation zone—would also struggle to survive from a lack of basic resources until government services returned to their area.
If only the Pakistanis could feed their own people without having to threaten India for what was left of our water reserves. To think they would resort to this! What were they thinking?
I checked to make sure the patients around us were sleeping before leaning in. “Uncle. I will not ask again.”
His face turned solemn. “After she left my home that afternoon, Jaspreet told me Anya took Sati and Hema to see a play at the Shri Ram Center in the city. … I thought you knew. She said you bought the tickets.” His eyes welled with tears. “Kedar, I’m sorry. I tried to call her on the highway out of Delhi, but she didn’t pick up. It all happened so quickly. There was no time.”
“Tell no one of this,” I said, with a cracked voice. “ … Omi, give my love to Jaspreet and your children…I fear I might not see them before you’re discharged.”
WWIII Climate Wars series links
WWIII CLIMATE WARS: NARRATIVES
Southeast Asia, Drowning in your Past: WWIII Climate Wars P9
South America, Revolution: WWIII Climate Wars P11