Coins clicked onto the countertop beside a knot of red balloons. Nena and Carlo watched anxiously as the storekeeper counted out the change before sending them on their way with a smile. The two children ran with joy in their hearts through the streets, leaving an air of bliss that cut through the tension taut over their heads.
Ninety-nine red balloons held by rocks waited in the field just on the edge of town; the fruit of their day's labor. Giggling, they ran to and fro, releasing the balloons all at once into the sunny summer sky. As the last drifted into the bright abyss, the two danced together beneath the red cloud. Faces appeared in windows, hearts eased ever so slightly by the sight of childhood innocence.
Within concrete confines, a green blip appeared on a scope. Pulled from his nervous boredom, the soldier sat up and watched as the radar swept around once more. The blip grew. Heart leaping into his throat, the man called for his superior. A stern face hurried over, its eyes piercing the glass glowing in the dark room. The chief hastily returned to his desk, grabbing a red phone.
Ninety-nine high-ranking men rushed into their generals' offices as phone lines lit up. The command buildings were alight with activity as staff darted back and forth, their work kicking the bases into frenzied motion. Troops charged out of their buildings, grabbing weapons and armor as tanks and trucks roared to life. Hangar doors flew open as jets blasted down the tarmac and into the summer sky.
On the other side, warnings flashed on computer consoles left and right. Analysts shouted updates as more phones keyed up and radios crackled. From base to base, alarms blared and equipment fired up. Soldiers dashed to their stations, racking rounds into their rifles as hearts raced. Planes screamed over the countryside, now bustling with camouflaged activity.
Ninety-nine officials in both capitals strode into their offices, now beseeched with reports and procedures. Calling amongst themselves in a disciplined panic, their orders rattled down the chains of command to catch up with the soldiers already running to establish the front. Warnings echoed across the continent, drowned out by the thunder of the war machine.
Beneath the summer sun, the jets closed with one another. Trails twisted through the air, ending with clouds of black fire. Cannons pounded into the sky, their salvos obliterating the countryside miles away. Tanks blasted across green meadows, their chorus backed by the incessant drone of gunfire. The two sides collided with immense force, pushed by reinforcements rushing in from both directions.
Ninety-nine missiles across the world launched into the warm sky, sirens howling in every town as they soared across the tranquil atmosphere. Men fell, tanks burst, jets crashed, buildings collapsed, fire spread, smoke rose, bunkers shut, and from the summer heavens descended countless pre-programmed warheads with one sole purpose.
Wandering the ash-covered ruins beneath a grey sky, Nena found a red balloon caught on the wreckage of a cutting-edge warplane. With an unconcerned hand she reached up and pulled on the string. For several moments she stared at the impossible messenger of the distant past. Carlo's face swam from her memory and floated atop reminiscent tears. With a summer's smile she let it go.