Art by Melissa Mead
Dharma Dog and Dogma
by Steven Mathes
The door crashes open, shattered by a kicking black boot. The police have cloaking devices, noise cancellation, robots, battering rams, and computerized lock picks--technology. The big black jackboots? Awkward, but what a retro statement. A full fire team of Forces of Order and Security thunders into the apartment, all wearing the boots, their weapons and voices raised, until they see Dobbin brandishing his own classic piece of drama. His thumb presses a big red button.
"Stop!" he says with a grin.
The troops freeze. He sits on an oddly shaped chair, one leg over the arm like a bored monarch. His big German shepherd, Chuck, sits next to him. It stays when commanded to do so--even when someone breaks the door--but the police dog is another classic piece of drama. A part of their vernacular. The dog scares the hell out of the jackboots.
"The button's sensitive," Dobbin says. "It triggers when I release it. It also triggers if I push too hard. I wouldn't try any funny business."
"You don't have to do this," says the sergeant.
The nervous Chuck nudges Dobbin's trigger hand with its nose, wanting reassurance. Dobbin obliges by reaching across with his free hand and scratching its ear. He fears that his dog understands more than these intruders.
"If you kill me, I have to release the button. Our bomb loses the signal. Boom. If you use the neural gun, my hand cramps up. Button goes down. Again, our bomb loses the signal. Same kind of boom. It's pretty simple."
Someone new enters, someone with the same boots, the same black unitard, but with perky red epaulets and a riding crop. Really. A riding crop. He walks with the calm tension of authority, an officer, until he sees Chuck. The huge dog complicates.
"I'm Steve Potts," the officer says. "I'll be your negotiator."
The riding crop is not part of the uniform. Only a ranking Party member could carry something as flashy as that. And his eyes keep glancing nervously at the dog.
"Hi, Potts! Love the outfit."
"Can we talk about your demands?" says Potts.
They know they need to be straightforward with Dobbin, and that's nice, but he has no demands. He never did. All he ever wanted was to make the world better, make people better, make himself better. He finds it difficult to keep a straight face, faced with those red epaulets. Floorboards creak under the weight of those boots.
"Demands? Gee, let me think," Dobbin finally says.
He tries to imagine what he will be like after he releases the button. Already, his pressing thumb has started to hurt--one of those psychological things like an itchy nose when you need a free hand. Come to think, his nose could use a scratch, too.
He wrote the encryption hash that keeps the peace between his button and the nirvana bomb. They could maybe hijack this authentication stream, but that would take a lot longer than anybody has in the here-and-now. Maybe explaining this to Potts would be entertaining, but from the man's look, the explanation would be redundant.
They all understand that one mistake will hasten the ending.
"We've made some arrangements," Potts says. "One of your fellow cultists is coming up to chat with you?"
"Someone who once knew you well. Debbie China?"
They need to stall, to think of something, so they send Debbie; Dobbin will play along. He smirks and points between his legs.
"I'm sitting on it," he says. "It's the chair, the bomb is this chair, in case you were wondering."
"Miss China would like to talk to you."
"Do I hear the building being evacuated?" Dobbin says. "Is this just a ploy to get people out of the building? That would be a waste."
"Why is that?" says Potts.
"Because the bomb's effective range is about a kilometer."
Soon the view in the distance is filled with even more activity. That makes it better. This standoff needed a time limit anyway. The Security and Order Party needs to fulfill its mission with a minimum of disorder but with maximum haste. This flurry of hidden agendas and evacuation is enough to force events. Furthermore: Dobbin's thumb really is getting sore.
The dog nudges again, and it causes Potts to flinch. Dobbin has neglected his scratching duties.
"Look, I hope you won't take this amiss, but I need to move this detonator to my other hand. No need to panic. I don't want to set anything off just yet."
He watches their eyes. They gape at his hands with a combination of fear and calculation. He knows they must have a hundred ways to sieze control of that button. Oh yes, they must have a standard plan for big red buttons. Just one disadvantage of cliche, it fits in the category of predictability. He needs to keep the situation fluid. He needs to keep things moving fast. He needs to challenge the traffic passing through the chain of command.
He slides his thumb half-off the red button, puts the other next to it. He switches hands. It goes smoothly until he thinks he has it, then he trembles, fumbles a little. The detonator almost gets loose, he grabs too hard, pushes the button maybe too hard; he braces for the detonation. Nothing happens, but they all duck.
"Whew!" he says. "Sorry about that!"
Someone whimpers. Still too early for a good yield from the bomb. People who want nirvana want to know that it comes.