The Bomb by Neuroticfish
"I wear bomb near to my chest, is it ticking?" asked Mr. Charleston. He still hadn't gotten used to the procedure, but at his age it was hard to adapt. At eighty-four, he could still remember what is was like before they passed the Act.
"No, they don't work like Mr. Charleston. Everything is fine, still primed, but dormant. Full signal strength. You have nothing to worry about."
"Are you sure? I'm sure I can hear it at night."
"I can assure you, nothing is wrong with your bomb Mr. Charleston. Look, I shouldn't do this, but given your age - studies have shown it's been hard to... adapt... I can prescribe something to calm you down, some anti-anxiety medication. If you like."
Mr. Charleston shook his head. "I don't want to be a bother. If you say it's fine, it's fine. Sorry to waste your time again Doc." He moved to get up and I helped him to his feet.
"No trouble at all Mr. Charleston. It's want I'm here for. If you have any further problems, don't hesitate to call."
I watched Mr. Charleston shuffle out of the office and called through to Maggie on reception. "Maggie, cancel my other appointments. Something has come up and I'll be unavailable for the rest of the day."
Hanging up, I took my raincoat from it's hook and left through the rear exit. The rain was pouring down as usual in solid sheets that where slammed into every available surface like wet blankets by the wind. The storms hadn't let up for almost two weeks now, perhaps it was a sign of things to come. With that cheery thought I weaved my way through the back streets towards to old industrial quarter of the city. There, I made my way to the abandoned soap factory that was to be the place where we would change things. I walked up to the battered green safety door and rapped my knuckles in the agreed pattern. A counter-sign was tapped back from the other side in acknowledgement and the door opened. I was greeted by Jane, a short, dumpy red-headed girl. Liberal-arts major, I had first guessed when I met her. Turns out I was wrong and she was a bright young physicist out of MIT.
"You came at just the right time Doc, James is having one of his fits. Come on."
I followed her though the maintenance hallways to the heart of the complex, all the while the mad ranting of James' rhetoric echoing louder and louder.
"It's utter garbage, that's what it is, I tell you! They can't do this. Can't beat, join 'em, is that it? That's total BS and everyone knows it. It's all about control man, control. Who needs prisons when everyone is walking around carrying their own death sentence?" James ranted, pacing back and forth, a gun in his hand.
He'd used to be a lawyer and when we first started this, it was him who'd brought us all together. Nowadays, well, I guess the past had taken it's toll. He'd become more and more erratic, paranoid, obsessive. His career before he'd quit had driven him towards the unsavoury path of fast-track prosecutions and summary executions of 'criminals' by low-yield detonation. It was easy to look away, to just accept it when it was somebody else, but James knew he was responsible for who knows how many deaths. The guilt of it had eaten him up and by now it had almost driven him mad.
He spotted me enter and grinned hysterically. God, he looked terrible. Pale, sweating, his hair a matted mess of greasy brown strands. Even the worst people I treated made him look well.
"Tell me some good news Doc." He stuttered.
"James, you look like ass. Put down the gun, okay?"
He looked at is hand as if realising for the first time what he was doing and dropped the gun on a nearby crate.
"It's working James. It's working."
James broke into a grin. "That's great news Doc, great news. When do you think we can run a full trial?"
"Too early to tell. There are still problems. It's ticking."
"Double-eww. Tee. Eff, guys." Lauren, the red-head, laughed. "Sounds like the signal might be effecting the containment field on the reaction chamber. That ticking you're hearing is the field resetting itself as it hits the safety limits."
"That doesn't sound good."
"Well, it means the signal is working, that we've managed to patch in. Bad news is that the units don't seem to like more than one sync signal, messes up their yield calcs."
"So what?" James asked. "Are we good to go or is there a problem?"
"We're good to go as soon as we get the patches synced up, unless you want to a bunch of nukes with pensions walking around."
I sat down. This was all a bit much. I couldn't believe we'd actually made a breakthrough though. The bombs were meant to be uncrackable but I guess, like anything, they had one tiny flaw that if you were smart enough, you could exploit. When the Act came in, implants of what the military called the Mark V Configurable-yield Detonator, or Cyd, as it became known, became mandatory at birth. Terrorism had taken it's toll and in an act of profound stupidity and short-sightedness, the government had decided that if it couldn't beat 'em, it'd join 'em. If everyone was a suicide bomber, no-one would be. It was mutually assured destruction, the old arms race turned inwards. There should have been riots, protests, civil war, something but I guess being on the receiving end of a terrorist attack too many times and swallowing the spin on the news had made everyone passive. The Act passed and every man, woman and child was weaponised. After so many years, we were finally going to lose the last of the Strapped generation, those born before the Act that for one reason or another couldn't have survived the invasive surgery to implant a Cyd and had to wear them at all times with a dead man's switch. Because they were on the outside, they were vulnerable to tampering and now, eventually, we'd found a way to transfer the control signal away from an implant and piggy back it onto an existing external. Mr. Charleston was my first test subject. As a doctor, I had the access our little group needed. Sure, I felt bad. Mr. Charleston didn't deserve to be on the receiving end of two triggers, but he was old and going to die anyway. If his death could be used to set even 1, perhaps even hundreds of people free from a life under Damocles' sword, wasn't that worth it? When Mr. Charleston died, his bomb would be deactivated and with all the piggy-backed signals on it, all those other bombs would be too. No one would have to live in the fear that at any time, any where, they could be killed by some far off judge and jury, that they could be turned into a nuke on holiday because their government decided it wanted to make a pre-emptive strike and they were expendable.
"Do it." I said.
"Do it. Lets go live, let's do it now. I'm Mr. Charleston's doctor. I can keep an eye on him, make sure he doesn't die, help sort out the bugs. We can't afford to wait for this, we can't afford to let things go on like this any longer."
Lauren looked to James. "Look, I'm an engineer. I'll leave the ethics to the pros. It's your call, James."
James looked at us.
* * * * *
James shot himself when the it blew, the guilt of more deaths just too much to take. Lauren, I had to take care of, she was the only one that knew how our hack worked. If they'd gotten to her, well, they'd find a way to block it.
When I had Mr. Charleston assassinated, we still hadn't figured out the bugs. It'd been a gamble but everything went as planned. Mr. Charleston was stabbed and died in hospital. What was meant to be a routine deactivation, thanks to the hack, had changed from a 0-yield detonation to a 1.5 megaton one. It was devastating and the government had no-one to blame but themselves. They'd built the bomb and they'd blown it up in their own backyard. Over quarter of a million dead to prove a point, but it was the only thing they'd understand. Of course, I was dead, my signal was in Mr. Charleston's bomb along with countless others. My signal would be gone along with the 250000 others that disappeared that day.
As I put the gun in my mouth I remember the oath I took as a doctor. Sometimes doing the wrong thing for the right reasons has to be justified, doesn't it? Somehow, that doesn't make me feel any better as I pull the trigger and become the third person in what I hope to be a long line of those that will finally die free.