Washington, North American Republic – 7/4/2076
The Bombardiers wait at the top of the stairs. Sonny Jim and Ronnie, positioned on opposite sides of the stairwell door, nod in unison as Dock and I pass by. They flank us, guns at the ready, eyes scanning their respective halves of the Grand Hall’s wide main corridor. They were nothing before me—grew up together, drafted into the same army combat unit, escaped during a firefight, joined some drifters down in Texas—and they hope to be nothing after me.
As we pass the first set of twenty-ton marble columns, a shadow ringed in a rainbow mosaic catches my eye. Amelia Thoreau is perched in the frame of the massive stained glass window four stories above us. She tilts her head down in respect when she spots me, sniper rifle resting against one shoulder. Somewhere in some pocket of her coat is a picture of her two sons, aged three and five—when she returns to base tonight, after this is all over, she’d like to tell them they’ll have a real home soon. Whether they will or not depends on me.
“Where are we, Murdock?” Aligned parallel with the tenth pair of columns is the rooftop-access stairwell. The builders left it out of the Grand Hall’s blueprints, and someone who believed themselves clever hung a tapestry in front of its door. But I don’t need a map anymore to read these people or their motives or their tricks. “Besides two minutes behind schedule.”
He flicks the emblem on my shoulder. “Diana slipped in and planted the bomb under the stage three days ago. You were right about their response to your capture. It threw them off big time. They didn’t bother scrutinizing an innocuous government secretary. They though they’d caught the whole world just by catching you. You’re—” A wave of static washes out whatever he wants to add, and the clear clicking of Morse code echoes through the hallway. The Royal Flush is all in. Waiting for the July Order.
Sonny Jim unclips the walkie from his belt and replies in kind. Copy that, Dealer One.
I adjust my work-appropriate coat and pick up the pace. It’s a six flight climb to the rooftop, and I’m already two degrees from well done, but I want to be there, watching, waiting, laughing in that moment when those who choked the life out of a continent go up in smoke. I want to hold that detonator in my hand and flick the switch that burns this wretched world away. I want to ignite the fire that will purify everything touched and stained and broken over the past fifty years: Dock’s brother, my parents, the neighbor whose name I never knew, Sonny Jim and Ronnie’s entire family lines, Amelia’s husband…everything.
When we reach the rooftop landing, my foot slips, and I careen into the wall. Dock steadies me before I fall. “Hey, slow down. They’ll be on that stage for hours, blabbing about democracy and safety and vigilance. No point in rushing this. You have five seconds to breathe, Zara.” He motions for Sonny Jim and Ronnie to go ahead, to join the other twenty-seven Bombardiers waiting on the roof, and, tipping their hats in the same second, they disappear across the threshold into an overcast day that will go down in history.
“I know how long they’ll be there. I just want to end them before they start talking. No one deserves to have to listen to another word they say.” Through the rooftop doorway drifts the lows murmurs of a crowd of low-wage workers “cordially invited” to be today’s extras for the annual fake inauguration speech video. “Hey, Dock?” The last fake inauguration speech video.
“Yeah?” He stares out at the overcast world, watching everything and nothing.
“Tomorrow, you want to start a book club?”
He chuckles and turns to give a snide reply. “Sure thing, Za—”
A bullet blows his neck apart.
He collapses in a bloody heap, dead before his knees hit the landing, his spinal chord ripped to pieces by a insignificant chunk of hot metal. Clambering up the stairs is Fat Man, three bullet holes from Amelia Thoreau leaking like rusty faucets down his torso. He huffs and puffs his way toward me, now armed with a semi-automatic. I say nothing and do nothing but wonder how in all Gods’ names that fat fucker managed to get out of the cell. Something whispers, You didn’t lock the door right. I crush it.
Fat Man shoves the gun under my chin. He thinks he has me now, girlie girl, and if I’d retained any ounce of emotion after that sixteen hours behind the couch with a baby blanket wrapped around my head, he’d be correct. Because I’d be crying if I did. I’d be sobbing over Dock’s shot-dead self. But that’s the thing about these people, about these human beings who think they can get away with branding others something else. They don’t know a damned thing about me.
I yank the knife from my waistband and drive it into Fat Man’s right eye. His mammoth body seizes. His good eye bulges. He pisses his pants in his last second of life. Then he tumbles backward down the stairs with such colossal force that the entire Earth seems to shake. He comes to rest at the next landing down, the knife jutting straight up into the air.
Ronnie darts back inside, gun raised to kill, but he stops short at the sight of Murdock on the floor. “Shit. Shit. Shit.” He shoots a frantic look at Sonny Jim, who’s standing in the door to block access to the scene. So the other Bombardiers don’t have to share the pain just yet. So they can’t see my pitiful failure and realize they’re following a person, not a god. “Zara, are you okay?”
“I’m surprised is all.”
He gulps down a bucketful of meaningless apologies. “We’ve got four minutes until the speech. You still want to set the bomb off? Someone else can do it. You don’t have to put it on yourself. Not after…not after…”
“I’ve started a revolution, Ronnie. It’s my job to end it.”
“Zara, you don’t have to do this to yourself,” says Sonny Jim, echoing his partner.
Murdock’s blood spreads across the landing and starts cascading down the stairs. Five minutes from now, when this country is crying is sweet relief from tyranny, it will reach Fat Man’s body—stain it, claim it, devastate it. One way or another, Dock will have his victory, too. “On the contrary, this is exactly what I have to do to myself. Tell them to double check the detonator. I don’t want any more false starts for my ending. This needs to be what I want it to be. I want this to be what we need it to be.”
Sonny Jim glances at Ronnie, who asks, “And what do you need it to be, Zara?”
“A pleasure,” I say, turning away from Dock’s body to face those who’ve followed me to hell and back again. “A pleasure for the Bombardiers to kill them all.”