The Smart Bomb
Richard K. Weems
You ever have one of those days?
Glasses perched atop my explosive warhead, I fold the morning paper over itself and await still my morning brisket to reheat. I wish ill things upon this toaster oven, with its sluggish nature and lack of even the slightest sophistication. Still, I will not have a microwave in the place--such a false fear it is, its radiation harmless though always trying to hum a facade of disaster.
Roaches crawled about inside the door of the microwave I once had (aptly named Norman). They thrive on those silly little rays; they sprouted new legs and growths and clambered happy as you will when the interior light came on.
The ones in uniform, milling about in the crawlspace just outside my window, listening to me through devices taped up in every niche of my little home, interrogating my discarded orange rinds with microscopes for the residue of secrets that were shredded when this project got started--they are documenting my every move.
07:45:38.2: removes glass, subsequently rubs eye.
07:45:43.1: looks down approx. 4.7 cm to left of left leg to linoleum floor. (The spot there from last night's pasta?)
They chatter like insects, their proboscises clacking with delicious regularity, when I make the slightest move contrary to their computerized itinerary.
The news is the same every day--hell, hand baskets, etc. I am growing convinced that the newspapers are recycling the same pictures using microbit technology. The smiles, for sure, look all the same.
There is little more to do than await the completion of the brisket and look out the window. A fine view--I look out into the steel box that encases my abode, its walls a little over a foot from my window. The uniformed ones wriggle along with their gadgets of measurement and detection. When they need to peek through my window, they don plastic eyeglass frames with rubber nose and bushy mustache attached. Either they don't want me to be able to recognize them when I get out of here (and get out of here I must, eventually--what good is imprisonment without any hope of release?) or the noses are some kind of olfactory enhancement device used to confirm what can only be determined by smell.
In any case, they're taking notes.
Every day there is also a visit from Dr. Corn--a nice man with a nice name, though prone to questions. His arrival is always preluded by a buzz from the uniformed ones. They scatter from sight when Dr. Corn opens the door to come in. Dr. Corn too dons the false eyeglass/nose/mustache apparatus, though it seems to create discomfort in him while he sets up the chessboard. He always adjusts the apparatus as though it doesn't fit right.
"They haven't yet adjusted the arms on those things?" I sit back and cross my arms the best I can over my cylindrical chest.
"Standard issue," replies Dr. Corn. Self-consciously, he pushes on the end of his nose.
"I could probably take a stab at it myself," I say. As small and scrawny as my hands are--not designed for any kind of heavy manual labor, apparently--they are quite useful for glasses. Instinctually, I seem to know that I would be good at opening small doors, letting myself in through relatively small hatches, disengaging alarms.
"That would be wonderful," Dr. Corn says, a slight smile as he studies the board, though a move hasn't been made yet. "But I'm afraid I'd never find the same pair again. They pile them all into a bin we're supposed to take from on our way in." He then immediately looks about in a worrisome manner, as if he might have revealed more than he was supposed to.
The phone rings. I am hesitant to answer. It is always some mathematical formula they want me to solve, or a voice quiz they want me to respond to.
Since Dr. Corn is here, I decide to comply and I pick up the receiver. A prerecorded voice tells me:
Assess and transfer graded simulation, in order of security necessity, the following items:
--F-22 modeling/simulation and test concept development
--Joint Advanced Distributed Simulation (JADS) Joint Test (JT) support
--Electronic Combat (EC) OT&E test concept assessment and development support for B-1 DSUP, F-22, B-2, and F-15 TEWS
--Nuclear survivability support for MILSTAR and Global Positioning System
--B-2 Data Reduction and Analysis System (DRAS) development and implementation
--Automated Software Evaluation Tool Set (ASETS) development and implementation
--Air Force Operational and Logistics Information Systems (IS) test planning and execution support
--Cheyenne Mountain Upgrade (CMU) OT&E planning and execution
Just to get them away, I tell them all I know, the words coming out more by rote, it seems, though I'm sure I've never spoken them in that order.
Funny: Do memories have footnotes?
Then, as always, comes the series of questions, all 163,482 of them, asked in that same monotonic manner, the long sequence of stuttering tones with which I answer in kind, answering their queries again in nanoseconds flat.
"Most adequate," says Dr. Corn. He moves a pawn, to his misfortune. I see victory in 36 moves.
I begin my assault. "A wonder how often they forget all that," I say. I wonder for a moment, as Dr. Corn makes his next, predictable move, if I should offer the poor man some sympathy, a chance to extend the game a bit further for fun's sake, but this idea is consumed immediately by a series of fail-safes and lockouts.
I will beat Dr. Corn in 34 moves. Now 33.
Dr. Corn advances a bishop. 32. "They forget nothing, Beauregard, my son." (Such an endearing term, this, and it gives me pause.) "They are merely testing you." 31.
"And why do they continue to test me..." 30. "...when I get it all right every time?" 29. 28. 27. 26, 25. 24. 23. This must be a good question to keep him preoccupied so long. He takes a moment to choose his words before he makes a studied, brilliant posture--impressive, though futile. 22.
"They must know that you can give the information in a moment's notice," he says. 21. He makes his move (20) with prideful deliberation. 19. "They must know that at any time, any given moment, all your circuits are intact and ready to carry out your orders." There is a hint of futility now, and now we're down to 18. Now 17. It must be tough for him to keep a raised chin as I bang out moves that counter his thoughtful constructions.
He ponders again. 16. 15, now. He deliberates before 14, his finger pressing on the top of his poor, doomed knight's head for a good, full breath before lifting it. No more knight: 13.
"But there is nothing to forget," I offer. "My memory sits in one place at all times, in the corner of my sight, it seems, useless until I'm given orders to retrieve it, and then it rolls out by no will of my own, a stream I can only sit back and watch as it flows exactly as it has every time before. I can't see where any errors would occur in such a system." 12. 11. Dr. Corn shakes his head--he's become far too much into his game. Like the other times I beat him decisively, he is taking it all too personally. This is just a game, after all. Perhaps what bothers him is that I hold no respect for him as an adversary.
"We must be sure, Beauregard," he says, studying the board for some hope of escape. The only one he has is the only one I allow. 10 and 9.
"You don't test the toaster oven," I accuse. "Damned thing. I'm nowhere near a brisket right now, and I starve."
"Patience, patience." Dr. Corn is far from consoling.
They have no power over me. This realization is clear and shuttering. A million circuits become available to me, switches and digits the uniformed ones and Dr. Corn hoped I'd never see. All the same, I understand their fear, understand their reasons for holding so much back, all this power I can feel brimming inside of me. I pity them.
Dr. Corn cannot have seen the change in me. He sways not an inch form his posture of near-defeat-but-not-giving-up. What an image of him it will be to have burned into my memory. 6, with 5 right behind.
"All in due time," Dr. Corn mutters.
He has no idea.
Richard K. Weems (email@example.com) is a writer out of southern New Jersey. His work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Pif Magazine and elsewhere. Occasionally, he can be found on the FM airwaves, making a lot of noise in honor of his father.
InterText Copyright © 1991-2000 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 9, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1999 Richard K. Weems.