Race to Refuge

It’s just another early Saturday morning in Seattle for UW student Ryan Palmer, slumped asleep over his laptop after a late night of studying, when an incessant banging wakes him. It’s his girlfriend, Amy, demanding he turn on his TV to verify something she heard while out jogging. They’re both shocked to hear “due to the Chinese missile attack, the president has ordered the United States Armed Forces to DEFCON level two. All military leaves have been canceled and personnel have been ordered back to their units.” Less than an hour later, the young couple learns that China and North Korea have launched nuclear missiles —a Seoul-based correspondent updates the crisis on a dorm TV when the screen suddenly goes blank — and by the time they’re out of city traffic, they learn that Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam in Honolulu has been immolated and American troops in South Korea are under attack.

When they stop at a rest area, a police officer alerts them that a fuel tanker was hijacked just east of Spokane. As they pass the city, they hear that Russian forces have just breached the Ukrainian border, raising the specter of two NATO collective defense situations. A retired ambassador tells a radio interviewer, “I believe we’re witnessing the start of the third world war.” A few moments later, their phones deliver text messages that a ballistic missile strike is imminent, along with a radio Emergency Alert System alarm, and a few minutes later, just before they cross the Idaho state line, a Pentagon correspondent is cut off in mid-sentence. The anchor calmly states they’ve lost contact, but Ryan realizes, No, your Washington correspondent is dead.

Not far into Idaho, the Jeep runs out of gas, and Ryan and Amy set off on foot. However, she moves ahead of him as he adjusts his backpack and bugout bag, and when he hears Amy scream, he rushes to find her held at gunpoint by a childhood friend. Jeb is surprised Ryan’s alive, having assumed he died Sunday morning when Seattle was nuked, and declares Amy’s curiosity will result in their deaths. Will they really die in the Idaho countryside, with Ryan’s home nearly in sight, or will his stalled text message finally reach his parents in time?

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