Art Pact 169 - Bomb


We stared at the bomb. I had never seen one like it before - so quiet, nothing like the showy bombs on TV with their blinking lights, their beeping, their rapidly counting down numerical displays. It was as if it were sleeping, and I felt as though we would be OK as long as we did not wake it up. Sandra, more level-headed, simply knelt down and began to inspect the device. She pulled a notepad and a stumpy pencil out of her back pocket and began to make notes and little diagrams on it. Little square pencil boxes, connected to each other by lines with scribbled names following their arcs. She reached out a finger to isolate one of the wires from the rest of its bundle.

"Wait, wait!" I cried nervously. "What are you doing? Don't touch it!"

She looked back at me coolly.

"Why not?"

"Why not? It might go off!"

"It's going to go off," she told me, turning back to the bomb. "I don't think it's a ticklish time bomb." She laughed.

"This isn't a joking matter."

"Oh calm down," she said. She picked up another wire, stroked the length of it with her finger and examined where it was attached at both ends, then made a note on her diagram. "Look, the bomb is going to go off unless we do something about it. You just have to accept that. That means it's up to us three, because there's no-one else who knows where we are or can get to us. Agreed?"

"I.. uh, agreed, I suppose."

"Now, given that the bomb is going to go off, there's nothing to lose in poking around in its innards. If we set it off, well, we just lose a few minutes which we'd only have spent panicking anyway. On the other hand, the only chance we have of understanding this bomb is if we look at it, work out which wires are going where, that sort of thing."

"Do you know anything about bombs?" said Race somberly. Surprised, we looked round to see that he was peering up at us from under his bushy eyebrows, head lifted slightly.

"How long have you been awake?" I asked. He ignored me.

"Do either of you know anything about bombs?"

"Not really," Sandra said briskly. "But I know they need explosives. And a detonator. That's a start, surely."

"Yes," Race agreed. He let his head drop down again.

"So we try to work out which is which," Sandra continued, turning to me, "and then we disconnect one from the other. We could survive a detonator going off, probably. Or if possible, we disconnect the electronics from the detonator, then we've got nothing."

"Except some potentially unstable explosives," Race grumbled.

"Christ, the two of you should start up some sort of fatalist's support group."

"Perhaps we should just let it go off. I mean what is it we're trying to achieve here?"

"Avoiding our death?" I asked, my voice croaking out the last syllable in a hysterically high pitch.

"Impossible," he said. "I don't know if you know this, but we're all going to die anyway. Why not here? Why not now? At least the bomb would make it quick for us. Time won't be so kind, you know. Time will fuck us up slowly, turn us grey and old and ossified. The bomb will spare us that."

"Shut up," snapped Sandra.

"Why fight the inevitable, after all? It just makes you tired, and nobody wins in the long run. The house always wins. Ha."

"Shut up!" The yell was accompanied by the fluttering of paper as Sandra flung her notebook at him. It hit Race in the top of his head, but he did not react. "For god's sake, let me concentrate and keep your stupid self-pitying bullshit to yourself! And that goes for you too," she said, stabbing a finger at my chest. "Bloody hell, perhaps I should let it go off. Shut the two of you up for good. I'm sick of having to listen to you bitch about everything that's wrong with the world." She clenched and unclenched her fists. "Here's the deal. I don't want to hear another word out of either of you while I'm fixing this stupid bomb problem, right? The first one of you to whine about your impending death, I'll throttle. That'll solve your problems and mine all in one go, yes?"

I nodded meekly. Race made no response.

"Good," she said. "Now hand me that notebook."

The order was directed at Race, but since he made no move either way I darted forwards and scooped up the little book myself, handing it gingerly to Sandra as if feeding a sardine to a killer whale. She took it without taking my hand as well, and turned back to her work. I glanced at Race. He was looking up again, face twisted into a vicious snarl. As soon as I saw the expression, though, it was gone - replaced by the sullen look he'd had all the time we'd been with him. He dropped his forehead to rest on his knees again, and the arms wrapped around his shins tightened up slightly.

I examined the room again intently. I guessed (estimating from my own height an arm span) that it was about twelve feet long, possibly eight feet wide, and just low enough that I could touch the ceiling if I went up on tiptoes. The bomb was in the middle of one wall, near the floor, and above us a single light in a heavy armoured cage provided the illumination. There were no windows, and more interestingly no doors. How on earth had Mackerson got us in here in the first place?

I gently began to tap on the wall behind me, listening carefully for anything that would suggest that it wasn't just solid brick - a task made difficult by my fear of disturbing Sandra.

"That's odd," she said. "Come here, look at this."

I turned to see that she was pointing to a single wire. I looked closer.

"Is it just me," she asked, "or is this one going through the floor?"

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