There are few things in the world that frighten me more than the launch code. The damned launch code. Oh, at gut level there are of course other things that just terrorize me: losing Jennifer, or something bad happening to Stephen. But those ten characters just burned themselves into my brain cells.
Every night I see it. Every night I see the panel with the characters spinning like mad, and every night I relive how Joshua found them, one after another. How everyone just went silent when the tenth character clicked in place. I can swear so many breaths not taken created a vacuum. And then Joshua continued playing alone, his simulations drawing more and more and more power from the complex just to kill thousands of millions of pretend humans, until all the screens went out and sparks flew all around us.
All the screens but one.
I think he did it on purpose, just to remind us. To let us know that some stupid officer had forgotten to imprint into his learning routines just how important human lives are.
Yes, I was there, and right then I was talking to Joshua and the professor, and it was terrible and scary and amazing. We were so young, Jennifer and I. After that, my life was a whirlwind of activity, until I ended up working as a civil consultant, and somehow not only did I manage to convince Jennifer to stay with me, but we also had Stephen.
But _I amar prestar aen_, the world is changing. My using that sentence is proof. There’s no SAC anymore, there’s no NORAD. Perestroika and Glasnost came and went, the Berlin Wall fell, the Cold War ended. Did it? We still have the potential to destroy life in the planet. I won’t believe it’s over until it is, or until I die.
And through it all, there was the code. I saw it in front of me when I woke in the night, sweating, whether it was winter or summer. At one point Jennifer stopped waking up in haste, and I had a music player — how those have changed as well! — with chill-out music to relax back to sleep. Before even it was called chill-out.
I was there, of course, when Joshua was dismantled. It had to happen, obviously, what with computers evolving so fast. That was the excuse and I went with it, but the truth was that I hated him. I hated him for making me think of him as a him and not an it. I hated him for what he had done to me. I thought I could sleep with him gone.
Because Joshua had opened my eyes to the real world, to the terror out there. Where someone like me didn’t dare to tread, for fear of the ice being too thin. No, for fear of reality, the frail reality that meant that we spent decades on the brink of destruction. Not that it has got much better, mind you.
In days like today, alone in a hotel room, I think of telling it all. Call a journalist and spill the beans. People have the right to now, and there’s not even a mention to the incident in the Wikipedia. But I’m a coward. I’ve always been. I think of Jennifer, and Stephen, and what could happen to them if I spoke. And in the end I huddle in a corner of the room and cry, and I never do anything about it.
And the code stays there.
The prompt this week was to start the story with that first sentence, “There are few things in the world that frighten me more than …” In this case, this idea was the first I had. Sometimes I will think harder before writing and try to find a second or third option, but often I follow my instincts and work on the first thing that comes to mind until it is developed into a 600 words-long story.
But there’s a catch this week. Bonus points (not that anyone is looking) if you know the very obvious reference in this story. Ah, it shows my age…