It was a secular age. The International Interdiction Against Organised Religion, passed unanimously by the world’s 347 ruling members of the Global Governing Body in 2150, had seen to that. Therefore, according to orthodox atheist thinking, war was impossible. As all right thinking people knew, religion was the predominant cause of conflict. God was a childish fairytale and Man was free to live in peace.
And yet the nuclear missiles remained – and remained in a state of readiness.
“They’ll never be used. Their very existence ensures that,” Enlightened Man oxymoronically proclaimed. But without religion, other causes of irrationality will inevitably arise.
Far from the eyes of the global media, a charismatic leader came to power in a forgotten corner of the old Soviet Republic. Such was his personal magnetism that his people were delighted to cede him control of their one working atomic weapon. But charm and insanity can be two sides of the same coin, and Leoniv Maskutin had some serious issues about the world’s rejection of his artistic talent in his early 20s. It was a chance remark by a journalist, about finger painting, on 21 September 2072, that tipped him over the edge. He pressed the button at 9.27 pm, Moscow time.
Missile defence systems around the planet sprang into action. Everything was automatic, and Rational Man watched in horror as mutually assured destruction seemed to become a reality. Of course the bomb shelters and bunkers had all been demolished or turned into tourist attractions long ago. There was nothing to do but panic, or calmly accept your coming fate, depending on one’s personal psychological makeup.
And then a voice like thunder spake:
“STOP! ENOUGH! This free will business has gotten completely out of hand. I turn my back for a few centuries and look what happens!”
The missiles appeared to be frozen in space at the feet of an enormous figure of an elderly man in a white robe, with long flowing grey hair and a beard to match. Though aged, his vigour and strength were painfully apparent.
“It’s Gandalf,” cried many, but most knew better, as an inner voice told them just who they were looking at.
It was a religious age. Houses of worship of all denominations were continually full and the people of earth were God-fearing to a man. They had no choice. Volition was gone – as were the weapons.