Hesitating

I sit in front of the computer, the thoughts whirling through my mind matching the spinning screen saver on the monitor. The bluish glow from the screen is the only light in the tiny, gloomy room. My breath comes quickly, and it feels like the walls are pressing in on me. I have to walk.

I slowly rise out of my chair, and the room spins for a moment. After the blurry shapes settle back into place, I start pacing, feeling the grooves that I have already worn into the floorboards. The smooth wood is cool under my feet.

My mind is torturing me with thoughts, intense, contradictory thoughts that feel as if they're about to explode out of my head. All I have to do is press the button, the small, black button that they have installed onto the keyboard. It seems to stare at me, a tiny evil eye, shining in the dark. "Press the button," they said, "Just press it, and then disappear. No one has to know that it was you who sent the bomb." No one has to know you turned it into a lake!

The bomb is supposed to destroy that country, that "rat hole of terrorists and murderers" as the media calls it. The bomb is supposed to destroy the biggest group of terrorists in the world and be an example to others. I only have to push the button, and millions could be saved. Millions saved . . .

Unbidden, an image pops into my head. It is from a news special, about the refugees trapped in the very country that they have commanded me to bomb. A tiny girl stares out at me from the screen, dark eyes wide. You can tell she hasn't had enough to eat in months, maybe years. A dark, dirty mass of curls crowns her head, looking more like a matted rat's nest placed on her scalp than actual hair. I remember how tears had come to my eyes when I had seen her, how my heart had ached for that little innocent one who had seen so much.

Now, I think about the news special that had come a month later, saying that rescuers had reached those same refugees, and now the little girl and her family were getting help. In my heart, I think of the probably thousands of others like that little girl, others who can't be rescued. If I press the button, they will die, along with the guilty. There has to be another way.

I stop pacing and stare down at the floor, tracing the patterns in the boards with tired eyes. I can't kill innocent people. I can't. Even if I can disappear and no one else but my bosses will know who did it, I will know. And it will haunt me all the rest of my days, waiting in the darkness to pounce. I can't kill innocent people.

But what else can I do? If I don't press the button, the authorities will be on me in a moment. I'm on thin ice as it is, hesitating like this. They don't know that I know that they are watching me, through the one-way wall behind me.

Shaking my head fretfully, I raise my eyes to the wall above the computer, where a decoration of intertwining silver and gold wires hangs. As I eye the round ornament that seems to stare at me accusingly, a slow smile spreads across my face. Giving a firm nod, more for show than anything, I turn and stalk up to the computer, determined.

I move the mouse to stop the swirling screen saver, then pretend to fiddle around with the keyboard, all the while using my body to hide the fact that I am undoing one of the wires under the desk and twining it around a new one. The gold and silver shine in the gloomy darkness under the table. I finally draw back, then reach out a trembling hand, place it on the accusing black eye . . .

And press the button.

Over the ocean, a long black cylinder flies. The wind whistles as it rushes past the lengthy object, the horrible bringer of death. The water rolls and splashes gently below, not knowing what will soon fall down into it. The cylinder changes its course a fraction, then speeds up, knowing that it is nearing its destination. The huge sky, seeming like a giant bowl that curves past way overhead, is reflected in the water, only broken by the dark shape of the cylinder above. Finally, the cylinder splashes into the salty water, sending up a giant spray of droplets that fishermen three miles away will think is a whale. But when they come to investigate, they will find nothing but open sea and sky, not knowing about the disengaged bomb that lies hundreds of feet below them, never to kill again. For to it, innocent and guilty do not matter.