They stood on the edge of a cliff, even though they were many feet back from it. It still felt like they were right at the edge.
They held hands. They could hear the cawing of unidentified birds in the distance. How far away? They might be dead soon.
The device marched along: one of them on the wrist of the blonde woman. They were slender wrists, but tanned from the desert sun and scarred from the work with hazardous materials — some of the scars were fresh, and not quite healed yet. It had made the cuts of light even when she was wearing gloves; what was supposed to be safe. But, nobody knew what to expect in this new frontier.
They had asked to view it alone.
If it didn’t go off, they could run. But they wouldn’t get far. There was no where to run for, but miles and miles of sand and shadow. It would all eventually fade to night, and that’s when the toxic creatures would come out. Much more numerous than the water. Or the roads. Or…
She had set her watch not to the time but to a count down. It was The Time; the only time that mattered. Maybe the only time that mattered left to the world. She lifted her wrist up to show the both of them. It went along still. Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick.
“Well,” The man said, with pain in his eyes and throat. It was a distant pain. A dreading of going to school, to work. A dreading of something that was going to come, whether one liked it or not, ran or not, even died or not, “Do you think it will work?”
She was not sure if either of them had shared their true intentions with the other. Even though they were all they had, either one of them could have sabotaged the decision. It would mean a bullet for both of their brains, but /not/ sabotaging themselves would mean something worse. Was it more noble to protect who you loved, or to love who needed protecting?
50 seconds. All that gone. It was worlds in a heartbeat.
She swallowed. Her blond hair fluttered with the intense blinking of her eyes — involuntary. A tick.
He noticed, and grasped her hand tighter. 45 seconds.
Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick.
They were in new clothes, for the first time in weeks. They had been allowed to change for the special case of the test. It had been what they were working towards, what they were forced to. They hadn’t been lovers at the start; not even friends. But the constant threat of death, of torture, made them cling to the only thing familiar. Their love blossomed a lifetime in the month it had taken them to build the Bomb, there, where their kidnappers had isolated them. Where? They did not know, except: in the desert.
Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick.
She let her hand down. It was too painful to watch. But, even ignoring it, even trying to tune in to the birds in the sky or the rustle of the wind and the dirt, it still dripped into their ears like a hot acid and bored right through their brains. The back of their eyes were screaming; every cell was screaming to run. What would it matter?
They clasped hands tightly. It was the only thing that felt real; the pressure. Everything else was distant. Was a dream, being seen through a silk screen and through bad 3d glasses, upside down, flipped, half distorted. She blinked hard. She couldn’t help it. The world was a glimpse, and then only her mind. Light-dark-light-dark-light-dark.
Their love felt real. She felt like, in this moment, he would have done what he had to to save her. But… if they had got the bomb. Who were they? The government? Some runaway faction? Of course they had never told them. If they got it, what would They do? How many other people might die, might not die… or was it only ever them? Was it all simply a test from the Agency, to see if they would die for the secrets. The Bomb was far more powerful than anything detonated, than anything nuclear. It seemed she couldn’t even remember who she had worked for in her far-off real life. It was a day dream and now she was in the gutter.
She wanted to be noble, wanted to know in her heart she had sabotaged it correctly. That it would be a puff of smoke, not that searing light of darkness which was supposed to burn away the earth. But it was the oddest thing — she couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember what she had done; if she had built it correctly. It was all a fever hallucination, her acting instinctively — thrashing away from spiders crawling all around her. She didn’t know what she did. She couldn’t be sure.
And for that matter there was him. What had he done?
Tick Tick Tick
She wished she was noble. She had wanted to be that hero all her life. Now she did not know. She did not want it to detonate. But her brain screamed, from its base, from her million year old ancestors, to save herself. To stop a bullet going down her spine. To stop the blackness. Of what kind?
She was only indifferent. She did not feel which was better. She was the wind. She only felt it moving; not whether coming or going. It never was.
She did not know what she wished would happen. She did not know what would happen. And she did not know what did; whatever it was, it would be just as unreal as this. Her life, like the birds, had already been ended.