Monday, January 13, 2020

Everything's Under Control

“Shut up.”

I sealed my lips and held my breath, unaware that I’d been whistling. I often whistled when I was thinking of things that made me uncomfortable, especially… well, I’d rather not say. Just take it as read that I occasionally whistle and don’t realize I’m doing it because I’ve got other things on my mind.

“Why did you stop typing?”

I exhaled quietly and refocused on the task at hand: entering the codes required to arm the missiles. First the codes for arming and missile control, then the code for launching. The fact that I can tap 12,179 keys per hour without mistakes makes me ideal for this particular job. As I finished the arming sequence, I shivered visibly.

“I’ll crank up the heater.”

My jacket was hanging on the back of the chair, and I put it on. It was an old-style brown leather bomber jacket with fake patches from various Air Force groups. The chair, on the other hand, was made of folding metal, just a step above the kind you would sit on at a Deep South tent revival. At least it matched the rest of the shabby equipment and decor in this room — a flimsy desk with aspirations of supporting unknowably splendid architectural drawings, on top of which sat a blocky green screen monitor with equally blocky keyboard. The walls were made of cinder block painted a color that might once have been brighter than the yellow of old, unclean teeth. The humming fluorescent lights nestled in the mostly uniform grid of sound-absorbing ceiling tiles cast a bluish white light over everything. The air was stale, and I was almost certainly imagining the faint smell of ancient cigarette smoke.

“Check the readout.”

I looked at the computer monitor. It indicated that the arming sequence had been verified and that missile control had been enabled. All that was left to do was key in the launch code and I’d be able to go home. How long had I been here, anyway? I couldn’t clearly remember, but knew it had been at least a couple of long, sleepless days since I’d last seen the sun or breathed fresh air. I was certainly thirsty. And hungry. Why wasn’t there a mini fridge in here?

“Goddammit, SHUT UP! And quit delaying.”

Damn, was I really whistling again? And was I delaying? I suppose I was, on both accounts. I pulled the last clear plastic cartridge out of my jacket pocket and quickly snapped it open. The card inside was bright red as opposed to the banana yellow of the previous one. The printing on it was the same firm, bold, black that I remembered from training. I used to imagine that I would feel more hesitant, more nervous, more excited, more guilty, more something when it came time to do my duty. It turns out that something was just… uncomfortable.


I keyed in the launch code. A small light on the wall above the computer monitor began blinking a dull but insistent red. I leaned forward and put my hand on the key sticking out of the mechanism beside the blinking light.

“On my mark.”

Pause. My hand did not twitch.


I rotated the key clockwise. The light on the wall blinked more frequently now. I watched it as the rate of blinking increased, flashing faster and faster until it was a solid, steady, bright pink. Then, without warning, it turned off. The monitor, too, flickered a moment, then went dark. The hum from the lights above was the only sound left in the room. I waited for the inevitable berating for something I’d done wrong.

It didn’t come.

I turned slowly in my chair to look behind me. The other desk was empty. I got up and went to the other terminal. As I approached, I caught sight of something lying on the floor… a body. Blood pooled around the head of the person lying there. A gun was on the ground as well, near the person. The faint smell of smoke still lingered in the air around it. It reminded me of stale cigarettes.

I was whistling again when the MPs finally forced their way into the control room...


This short story/scene brought to you by the following randomly generated writing prompt:

Goal word count: < 900
Genre: Military
Character: a programmer
Material: a jacket
Sentence: “Shut up.”
Bonus: Your character is dying.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether or not the story fits the bill.


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