“Don’t you see?” Lonnie patted the side of the large metal device with a grin on his face. Amos thought the other man resembled somebody praising a prize racehorse, not a friend who may have fallen completely off his rocker. That insane gleam in the eye. That wild tension clear in every muscle in his body. It was easier, too, to listen if he pretended this was about a horse.
“I’m just not sure any of this is a great idea…” Amos shook his head, ready to enumerate the reasons behind his doubt, but Lonnie brushed it away with a wave of his hands. An actual physical movement, as if that made his argument stronger.
The machine was twice the size of either of them, both in width and height. They could have crammed in it together, though the fit would have been tight, and the idea just brought up more complicated issues. As if the stupid thing weren’t complicated enough already.
“Of course it is.” Lonnie assured him. “Look, we’ve gone over…”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong. The theory is sound. I get it. I do. But for fuck sake, Lonnie, you’re talking practical application here.”
“And?” Amos was astounded. He threw his arms up. “AND? And, Lonnie, you’re currently standing in front of a wholly untested device, a thing you got off eBay…”
“No. No. Be fair.”
“Stolen from a lab is hardly better.”
“I know the guy.”
“I’m sure you do. That doesn’t really change the fact that you don’t really know where he got it, or what’s been done with it. And, not to mention, if he did steal it from a government lab like he says, they’re probably going to be looking for it. It probably has a tracking system in it. Lo-Jack or something.”
“That’s why we have to work fast.”
Lonnie was unmovable, they’d been going back and forth all morning. This guy, this scientist or janitor – Amos didn’t know which, and it didn’t really matter he supposed – believed in Lonnie’s plan so much that he’d arranged the theft of the machine. It had apparently already been on a truck to be transported, and this guy had just altered the drop off point with forged paperwork. Not the most complex heist by any means, but it wasn’t like they could throw a blanket over it if somebody came knocking. It was huge. No. Huge wasn’t the right word. It was goddamned massive. An enormous, un-hide-able, un-ignore-able, un-subtle hunk of steel and wires.
Amos was sure that somebody would come knocking, too. The only questions were: how long did they have before then? and would the government come in with massive amounts of guns and threats of violence, or quietly with the intent of jailing the idiots in possession of the machine in a deep dark dank hole that nobody would ever find them in?
“You don’t even know how to work it.” Amos said the thought suddenly and with the hope that it would bring Lonnie back to logic and reality.
“There’s the manual.”
“Of course, there’s the manual.” His shoulders slumped. He kept forgetting the manual.
“Why are you worrying so much? This is the greatest moment of our lives!”
“Somebody has to.”
“Well, don’t. This will be easy.”
“Oh sure. You’ll just pop on back like you’re going down to the minimart and do your thing. Easypeasy. Then what, huh?”
“Then it’ll be done.”
“But you won’t be able to get back! Or something will get screwed up on the transmission and you’ll come out with your brain attached to your butt! Or maybe you’ll set it wrong and you’ll get eaten by a dinosaur!”
Lonnie laughed. Like these were stupid concerns. Like what he was planning was the safest thing in the world. “Amos, there’s a manual.”
“They haven’t tested it!”
“Maybe they did. We can’t know.”
“Yet none of this worries you.”
“I can’t let it. I need to try. If this works, we’ll be striking a huge blow – no pun intended – for the cause. If it doesn’t, at least we tried. Besides, maybe the machine travels too.”
“I doubt it.” He muttered. But Amos saw there were no cautions great enough to dissuade his friend. Nothing he could say to stop this from happening. He sighed, the fight leaking out of him. Lonnie smiled softly, as a parent does to a child that has just learned a hard truth about life. He stepped closer and placed his hands on Amos’ shoulders.
“It’ll be okay. You’ll watch from this side, you’ll see.” Lonnie pointed at the computer. “That will be our link.”
Sure. If Lonnie’s plan succeeded, all media on every available source would jump alive, and he would be able to find coverage anywhere he looked. They’d already queued up several sites, just to be ready. Amos looked from the currently black screen to his friend’s fevered eyes. He could tell that Lonnie was ready.
Everything was ready, it seemed.
“The security…” Lonnie was launching into the whole idea behind the plot again, apparently he thought hearing it for the hundredth time would finally ease Amos’ fears.
“Yes.” Amos interrupted. “The security in the past is far more lax, I know. You can make sure that it stays that way, even with what you plan to do, I know. In theory you’ll be able to get the components and put the bomb in place, and then get to safety. I know. I know. Like I said, in theory. In theory I am on board. In theory, it’s a great idea. In reality?”
“Enough. It’s time to try. Time to do or die, Amos.”
“Let’s just not die, okay?”
Another laugh as Lonnie picked up the manual. He’d read it already, twice in fact, at Amos’ insistence, and this time he followed the directions in actuality as he read. Switches were flipped, levers pulled, buttons pushed, dials turned. The machine didn’t roar to life, but it didn’t sputter, either. There was a quiet hum and some blinking lights, nothing more spectacular, making the whole ordeal a bit anticlimactic. It made sense, Amos supposed, that in these modern times the machine should be almost silent. People didn’t like noise, and they’d invented ways to live without it. But would it have hurt them to have it beep a little?
Lonnie did the last thing he needed to, put down the manual, then turned to Amos. “Well friend. It’s time. Really time.”
They embraced, Amos’ head whirled, though he couldn’t stomach bringing up his doubts again. It felt like if he did that now, with the machine running, voicing them would seal Lonnie’s doom. He nodded, unsmiling, instead. There were no further goodbyes than that. Lonnie turned and disappeared into the hulking thing, leaving Amos standing in the warehouse alone. The inner lock slid home with an audible click. Then nothing.
Nothing. Was he…?
“Oh, for fuck sake, Amos.” The voice was muffled, clearly irritated. “I’m trying to have a moment of Zen here.”
“Sorry.” Amos backed away. It had been stupid, calling out like that. The panic had overwhelmed him. “Go on.”
The machine did make more noise after a while, and Amos knew Lonnie had gone. He waited another five minutes after it settled itself down just to be sure, then followed the instructions to get the door open. There was no sticky puddle of Lonnie within, which Amos took to be a good sign. Though Lonnie might still be somewhere with a butt brain, or being eaten. There was no way to really know.
His only window to into time was the computer. Amos woke it up and stared at several social media sites, clicked through tabs to news pages, then went back again. All were silent. He glanced around as if he expected the warehouse itself to change. Even his clothes were as they had been. And his hair.
It was sudden. From nowhere, the computer made a noise that Amos had never heard. A special alert flashed across the screen. The National Alert System, it read in bright white across a glaring orange bar. Similar, he thought, to the weather alert system he was used to, just a bit more involved. And news, of course, instead of weather.
As he watched, the screen grew bright with a new image. A rather attractive lady, rather smartly dressed. She was not smiling, did not say her name. It rolled by under her, something like news tickers that had become overwhelming, but it didn’t distort or cover any part of her image. Her face seemed projected, and Amos realized he could see all the angles of her features when he moved. 3D? That was definitely new. He waited for her to speak, which she didn’t do until the attention-grabbing noise ceased.
“Today, on the twentieth anniversary of the worst rash of bombings on global scale, it seems that the terrorist group known as Freedom Now has struck again.” She paused. “Every year, the FN has struck out at a financial institution, beginning with their initial strike of the headquarters for Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Chase, which were followed by the devastation of several smaller locations. After a year, it was Visa and Discover. Letters were sent to newspapers declaring that any companies that immediately did away with credit cards would be spared for at least another year.
“The country’s credit unions were the only ones to agree to this demand. These, it should be mentioned, have always run on a model that the group has agreed with, and have always seemingly been willing to adopt whatever new rules the FN has put forth.
“Attack by attack, Freedom Now has brought down the for-profit banking industry section by section. Toppling even Wall Street within the first five years of their efforts, and destroying the long-held CEO and shareholder glass houses. The government also removed their safety nets, revoking bail-outs and federal reserve insurance backing. This has actually seen a steady incline in not just the country’s economic security, but the whole world’s. Poverty is at an all-time low. This station and its affiliates would like to note here that we do not support terrorist activity, no matter the ultimate outcome.
“It seems that today Freedom Now has finished their mission…”
“Holy shit.” Amos whispered it. The woman was still talking, reading some letter. He didn’t need to hear it. He knew the gist of what it must say. He’d heard and agreed with the plan for so long, that he might have actually inadvertently helped write these communications.
He’d done it. Lonnie had done it. And not just once, like they’d planned. Not just one company, like they’d planned, to teach the world a lesson. All of it. Every single one of them were gone now. The cycle of absurd percentage rates and impossible credit debt was at an end. People would be living within their means. Able to work less and spend more time with their families doing things that mattered instead of digging themselves into holes. Savings accounts would grow. Amos decided he was going to have to give himself a history lesson. He had to know it all. Had to read everything that was out there.
Before he could reach out to the computer to do anything, something hit the smaller person-sized warehouse door. No. Not hit. Knocked. Somebody was knocking.
Confused now, Amos stood and made his way across the building. A longer walk than he remembered it being. He listened to try to identify whoever it was by their voice, but there were no words. Not even a shuffling of feet. Just three normal knocks, then a wait. Three normal knocks, then a wait. He reached the door after what felt like a decade, and finally opened it after a brief and frustrating struggle with the lock. His eyes went wide and his hand dropped.