The Bomb

Everything changed when Wal-Mart got the bomb. It showed up in Sporting Goods one day, in a case fronted by bulletproof glass and locked with a key that only the managers held. Nuclear Device, the warning label said. Keep away from children. Wear protective equipment.

Wal-Mart also sold protective equipment: hazmat suits, lead shielding, big oven mitts with the symbol for radioactivity stenciled on them, squeezed into the space between the sleeping bags and the survival stoves. You could pick up your suitcase nuke, your protective equipment, and your survival gear all in one go.

Jemmy also picked up a couple of fishing rods, some standard flies, and a tackle box while the nervous-looking clerk was waiting for the manager’s key. She pitched them into the cart on top of the hazmat suits and the sleeping bags, and then stalked off down the aisle featuring yoga mats and Pilates balls, in search of some other unconsidered supply need.

The manager showed up after two overhead calls, raising his brows when the clerk stammered out what we were looking to buy. “You know there’s a seven-day waiting period on the purchase of personal nuclear devices, right?”

I took my paperwork out and pushed it across the counter. “Background check, license to carry, and statement of intent. Our application’s in your files.” I knew it was. Jemmy had spent five hours talking to the Feds on Thursday; I’d come home late and only been there for two of them. Standard procedure, the man in the black suit told us. Just making certain we weren’t deviants or terrorists.

Just making certain we wouldn’t blow up anything important with our suitcase nuke, like what was left of the country. It was probably better that Jemmy had the first three hours; she’s much smoother of a talker than I am. We might not have gotten approved if I’d been the first contact, but Jemmy knows just what to say and how to say it.

Witness me, buying a personal nuclear device at Wal-Mart, knowing that nothing she’d told the Feds could possibly be true, still not sure why we were really taking the bomb with us or where we were going. I smiled at the nice manager and waited for him to finish getting through all the papers and wondered if we were going to blow up the country or not.

Jemmy came back, holding a bottle of DEET and a can of SPF 30, and made them bounce on the sleeping bags. “What SPF do you need to avoid radiation burns?” she murmured casually, and then leaned on the counter and watched the papers being shuffled. I’d never seen a manager spend so much time on paperwork, but I don’t suppose I blamed him.

Finally he looked up and met our eyes. “Looks all right,” he said after a moment, and took the manager key and unlocked the bulletproof glass. A minute later, Jemmy was nestling the orange-and-yellow box in a cocoon of sleeping bags and big mittens, and I was signing my name on the bottom of a charge slip with more digits than I’d ever seen at Wal-Mart before.

It was a suitcase nuke. It wasn’t a cheap nuke.

Jemmy smiled a cat-content smile at me as we loaded the gear into the back of the Explorer. “You did good, you know.” She reached up, running her fingers over the back of my neck, making me shiver a bit. “You did really good.”

I almost slammed the back hatch, but then I saw the flash of orange and yellow and closed it very carefully. “Where are we going?”

“Nebraska,” she answered blandly, just like she’d told the Feds. “The border zone.” And then she grinned. “For starters.”

I felt a chill slithering down my spine, but halfway down it turned into a tingle, and I knew I was grinning almost as widely as she was. I thought about the hazmat suits and the sleeping bags and the fishing rods while I buckled my seatbelt — safety first — and then I thought about the rifle case lying on the floor of the Explorer with its latches locked.

“We’re going out, aren’t we?” I was beginning to understand. Jemmy tilted her head ever so slightly. “Across the border.”

Her fingers slid over the gearshift knob like a caress. “All the way to Sin City itself.” The Explorer glided out of the parking lot, and she fingered the collar of her uniform, undoing the top button, accelerating. “I just want to have a little fun.”

We were on the interstate heading west at eighty miles an hour before I could think of anything to say. I stared at her profile and thought about the border zone that stood between us and Sin City and about the decade-long firefight between the Feds and the anarchists on the other side. I thought about the rifle case, and the soft clink of ceramic plates under my uniform shirt, and about the illusion of safe passage.

“What’s the nuke for?” Jemmy licked her lips, the cat-content smile coming back, and I knew I didn’t care what she had in mind for me. I just wanted to be part of her plan. She cut off a Volkswagen and reached over to rest a hand on my knee.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

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