As the first brick flies out of my hand, toward the old warehouse wall, I think, “Have I ever been this mad before?” And I think, is this a side effect of Computronium, too?
Then, another brick, an empty gas can, an old car bumper. I am furious. FURIOUS. Anything laying around, I throw it. A tantrum, a collapsible table that is right in front of me. Another brick. I pick up a box. It’s heavy. Heavy is good. Heavy throws far, goes far, throw it high, it goes where the crows are.
Right as I wind up to throw the box, my brain tells me what it is. But I am already on to throwing something else, and it doesn’t quite make it through to my consciousness.
What does hit me is the fear I see. In Robbie’s eyes. All over Joanna’s face. The way NineNineNine turns and ducks, shoulders up near her ears.
Even, from Rufus.
It surprises me to hear Rufus trying to calm me, saying, “No – Sean. Stop – that’s — No don’t…” He trails off as the box goes flying. The way Rufus winces makes me wonder if it’s a box of explosives.
From Jan, I see sympathy.
But from Anna. No. No sympathy.
Anna and SeventyNine, enemies to their death, together laugh at me. My brain understands that Anna must have predicted this outcome. She must have said, “When he realizes you’ve given him his drug, he will flip out.”
But, what the fuck, SeventyNine? I thought you were on my side?
And Anna was right. The only thing that could bring me back from that distant lonely land I had been inhabiting was more Computronium. It’s also the thing that keeps me isolated and addicted.
And, after I’ve exhausted myself, I stop, and collapse onto this warehouse floor and I say, “What is this, anyway?”
SeventyNine says, “What is what?”
I say, “Where are we?”
SeventyNine says, “It’s a warehouse. Rufus and Anna lured us here –”
That’s when Anna cut him off. She says, “We brought you here because here we are safe.”
As she speaks, Anna begins to strut. To pace. She digs into a small purse, and worse, pulls out a cigarette and this long cigarette holder. She lights the cigarette, an addiction I now get after my week of no-Computronium sweat. Anna then pushes the end of it into the holder and begins to smoke. And pace. And speak.
She says, “We brought you to this warehouse because The Undersecretary cannot trace us here. It’s one of the last places.”
TwoZeroEight says, “The Undersecretary knows we are here –”
Anna jumps her, “I know he knows we are here. I am not stupid. I said here we are safe. For a day, at least. We can plan. It’s one of the last places where we can plan. That’s what I mean, you little twerp.”
Anna didn’t say twerp.
I almost ask the question, but Joanna gets there first. She gets there first, because my mind is racing right now. My brain feels like a thousand Cray supercomputers competing to solve the world’s most important problem all at once.
Joanna says, “How is my boss involved with this?” Joanna’s boss is the Undersecretary of the Department of Energy, a mid-level bureaucratic government position. Since Joanna is my boss, the Undersecretary is technically my boss, too.
Anna answers Joanna with a question, “How long has Undersecretary Jefferson been at his position?”
Joanna says, “He was Undersecretary when I started nine years ago.”
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Anna says, “Aaron Jefferson has been the Undersecretary to the Secretary of the Department of Energy for sixty three years.”
Joanna says, “That’s impossible, he can’t be more than 40 years old.”
Anna says, “My point exactly. He’s nearly one hundred years old but looks like he’s 40. He’s in the exact center of the US Government in order to give him the access he needs to corner the market on Computronium, without losing his job every four years to the next cabinet. He’s smart enough — because he has enough Computronium — that he has remained in that position since the Kennedy administration.”
Joanna says, “Impossible.”
But, SeventyNine says, “No, this makes sense. In his position, he oversees all of the country’s nuclear arsenal, has access here in Nevada and doesn’t raise eyebrows as new presidential administrations come and go. No one pays that close attention to mid-level bureaucrats. Especially if those bureaucrats have Computronium. Undersecretary Jefferson is practically untouchable. We’ve never even considered him.”
TwoZeroEight shakes her head and whispers, “Genius.”
Then Robbie says, “What is Computronium exactly?”
Ironically, it seems Computronium can not help me understand Computronium. Because, I don’t know.
TwoZeroEight says, “Sean, we need your help. But, it’s best if you are in the dark on the nature of Computronium.”
I say, “You can’t be serious.”
TwoZeroEight says, “Yes, I am.”
I say, “Then, I’m out.”
TwoZeroEight says, “Everything depends on this.”
“Then tell me what this is!”
TwoZeroEight grunts and turns to SeventyNine who nods and then stares at the ground, as though unable to look at me.
TwoZeroEight says, “Okay. Sean Harley, you are number 1000. Remember that. It’s important. It’s your code name. You are the first four-digit. You are one of us in the Membership.”
I say, “Whatever. Tell me what Computronium is.”
TwoZeroEight says, “You are a Member now. Do you understand the commitment?”
I say, “The next words you say better be a description of Computronium, or I’m leaving!”
SeventyNine says, “Computronium is –” He pauses, then says, “Computronium is a radioactive fulgurite.”
Joanna, Robbie and Jan are all listening. Suddenly Jan turns to me. She says, “Wait – that’s what I said. Sean, remember?”
I nod. Back on the day I was given Crazy Rock, Jan took one glance at it and had called it a fulgurite. I remembered that, but I didn’t understand what it meant.
I say, “Fulgurite. Fine. I still don’t understand. I googled it. All it said that fulgurite is sand fused into glass by the heat of a lightning strike. What does that have to do with anything?”
SeventyNine says, “So, Computronium was created during US Government nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, here in Nevada. A nuclear explosion creates a storm – lightning mainly – and this nuclear lightning created the fulgurite. After all, as you say, fulgurite is just fused sand or rock, welded by the heat of a sky-to-ground lightning strike. But, because the lightning was generated by a nuclear explosion, those rocks were … changed.”
I laugh, “No, seriously.”
Everyone is dead serious, even Anna. No scoffing or mocking. I look at Rufus, NineNineNine, TwoZeroEight. Frowns. Wrinkled foreheads. Fear. I say, “So, this shit – Crazy Rock – Computronium is created by a nuclear lightning strike?”
Then Robbie says, “So, this shit’s been laying around the desert for 70 years, waiting to be found?”
Anna laughs and says, “Oh, no. No, no, no, no. All the Computronium has long since been collected from Area 51.”
Robbie says, “Wait –”
Anna continues, “Yes, the famous Area 51. Now you really know why it was restricted. Computronium is the reason America made it to the moon first? It’s how America won the Cold War.”
Joanna says, “So, that’s it. Russia wants all the Computronium to become a superpower again?”
Anna says, “No, you fool.”
Robbie says, “No — Russia could just make their own. Right? Or China – Or …”
Joanna cuts in. She says, “Oh God. North Korea. And Iran.”
Anna says, “Everybody. Computronium is the new ICBM. And no country has any. Only the Arcana has Computronium. And, Undersecretary Jefferson is about to wield that power.”
SeventyNine says, “Until Sean came along and reacted so strongly to the Computronium, we were powerless. Now, I think we have a chance to stop him.”
Written, Produced and Narrated by Hans Anderson
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