Art Pact 68

My unique ability (capacity? resilience?) made me the only one who could be dropped into the blast area safely. I don't know whether high command had a backup plan other than throwing lives at the problem, but life had given them a lemon at just the moment they needed a glass of lemonade, so they poured the sugar on me pretty thick.

"You're the perfect"--little pause--"person for this mission," they told me. "Your skills are what we need, and you'll be helping to save lives in the long run."

There was the phrase they love the best: in the long run. In the long run, of course, nothing they did there would matter. It didn't matter the last time I woke up, it wouldn't matter the next time. But they couldn't think that far ahead. I shouldn't have been able to either, but for some reason I could. I wondered if I should talk to someone about that. An expert. The idea was incongruous in a way that I suspected would have been funny if only I could experience humour.

"You have the chance to be a hero," they told me as they were loading me into the plane. I stood on the cargo ramp and nodded, although I knew - and I suspect most of them knew - that I did not want to be a hero. Perhaps it was for the benefit of the others - the first and most obvious backup plan, the soldiers already sitting in the lifter's cavernous interior. I supposed that that must be it. If I didn't succeed, they'd have other poor saps jumping out of the circling aircraft, men and women who unlike me would be just as susceptible to the bomb's effects as the unfortunate bastards on the ground. They'd have to be rammed full of their own patriotism and pride just to give them a minute or two on the ground. It wasn't heroism that made me jump, but a bit of cold maths: better that I do this than they kill another forty or fifty people on the off chance that one of them might be able to get to the control enter in time.

The jump itself was pretty simple - they gave me some extra padding around my vitals and a pair of retro-boots, me being beyond the design parameters for a parachute. The plane swooped down to about five hundred meters - they expected top of the residual cloud being two-fifty - then they just opened the cargo doors halfway and with no ceremony I stepped off the edge and looked down. They'd managed to get me close to the financial district, so I used little bursts from the retro-boots to aim for the top of one of the larger buildings. After falling for about a hundred meters I managed to get square-on to the drab gravel-covered square at the top of the skyscraper, then the rest of the drop was spent burning the boots like crazy. They were powerful, but I still hit the roof fast - so fast that my feet went through it then the rest of me, and I was treated to a crazy view of wires and ducts in the maintenance level before popping out into a penthouse office with a crash and a pile of rubble that had followed me down the hole.

"I'm down," I reported. There was a brief burst of garbled nonsense from the communicator that I interpreted as a confirmation, and pulling myself out of the wreckage I stepped to the window just in time to see the plane zooming away over the city's tranquil skyline. It was the most peaceful place I'd ever seen - still, quiet, the only movement on the streets below the gentle swaying of trees in the breeze. I'd expected the bomb's effect to be more dramatic. I turned up the gain on my ears. There was a gentle sobbing coming from somewhere in the room, and I scanned around before locating the source.

"Are you here to punish me?" he asked. He was wearing a pin-striped suit - as most people did here, he like something out of an old movie. He was curled up in a ball under his desk. I suppose I must have looked pretty intimidating.

"I'm here to stop a missile," I told him. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to leave."

"I deserve it," he said quickly. "If that makes it easier for you."

I didn't know what to say.

"I thought about something I said to my daughter," he continued. "I told her that she and her boyfriend probably didn't love each other. Why did I say that?"

"I don't know," I said. He began to cry. "I'm going to leave."


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