Everything is an explosive. Every thought is a sort of explosion inside the head. When you give me your hand I feel as if something is exploding inside you.
— Karel Čapek, “Krakatit”
The messages start at 10 AM, on the LED ad screens all around the Fuchsia World Mall.
The parking lot explodes.
People run, of course.
Explosions from within the mall. Smoke rises from the courtyard at the center, or traps itself dark behind cracked windows.
Eventually people stop moving. Some have the presence of mind to understand what’s happening, the rest get lucky with shock and concussion, or the inability to move with their new bodies.
The border is delineated by horrified bystanders, clean and unharmed, except for the powderized city drifting into the creases of their clothes and lungs.
Lazur drives into the storm of carcinogens, windshield growing grayer.
The smell of almonds, even half a mile away. A homage to classical plastic explosives, Nobel 808s, and much more than heartbreak.
Lazur parks his car. Rental, because things could always get worse. His second-best jacket, and the shirt he fell asleep in last night. Dark hair slashed with early gray, and blue undertones when the sun hits it.
Car alarms are still going off like crickets of death. The almond cloy is overwhelming this close. At least it deodorizes the bodies.
He shows his badge, dropping it twice. His fingers shouldn’t be this sweaty already.
“He asked for you.”
But even as Lazur says it, he knows. Or they would have asked for a bomb defusal expert closer than a six hour drive. This is a very personal terrorist incident.
He finishes his milk tea and crushes the cup in his hand. He’s about to drop it then remembers the cameras. It might look tough, rolling up the sleeves kind of deal, or it could come off as disrespectful. And littering is littering. There’s already been enough of that today.
Sneakers, sole detached like a skin flap. A handheld console, separated into its individual parts, exposing the rare earth blood minerals. A wedding ring, perfectly lodged in a crack of the parking lot, like it was lost for years and years and years.
His phone buzzes and he almost pisses himself. Through the cracked screen, over the wallpaper of him and his mother at Olive Garden, a notification hovers.
It’s safe for one minute.
He walks past frozen people sitting on the ground, or standing with aching legs, afraid to even kneel. Their eyes follow him. Waxwork museum of 21st century parking lot life. Authentic explosions included.
How does it work? Motion sensors, toggled off? In which case, he could try to save some of these people. Tell them to run.
But if it’s manual, human eyes reflecting security monitors, then that would be a very bad idea.
Facial recognition would be fancy. The one face that won’t blow up the mall. Yet.
He walks past a crater, heat radiating through his sneakers. The blasted asphalt is like volcanic rock.
In contrast, the mall is cool and ice-toned. Aircon draft.
Video screens play commercials as normal. No more hints. Yes, I want a refreshing soda and fries with my mass casualty event.
He can see across the hollow of the mall’s courtyard, stories and stories blown open, black sloughing gaps. People stare down silently.
A mother grips her toddler like she’s going to crush him, trying to keep this panicking nascent mind from reacting normally to terror and setting off the nearest bomb, wherever it is.
Someone is still breathing in the fragments of that heavy mall planter, covered in dry earth and plastic leaves like he dug out of his own grave. Survived the initial blast, but fortunately for the stricken faces around him, he’s lost too much blood to thrash. He just winds slowly like a worm, under the threshold of the bomb sensor.
Then Lazur sees it. Like a dead pixel in the mall landscape.
A black box.
This is the bomb. The one that matters. The others were just setting the stage.
Video screens drain of their commercials, happy families and pristine cars fading to black. The corporations must be divesting themselves from this spectacle.
An unfamiliar voice echoes through the speakers. But a familiar way of saying it.
“There’s enough to send you to the moon.”
The screens turn back on. Grainy feed. But clear enough at that size.
Lazur doesn’t recognize him at first. Broken in a wheelchair. Drooling out the side of a ruptured jaw.
Rubicon could make a very mean, very reasonable bomb from household parts by age ten. They flocked to his fingers like doves.
Money in the blood. Studied at all schools. Studied at none. Took his exams in the warzone. Flying colors, flying viscera. Arms, dealt like hands. Bombs flowed up the Nile. You know idiot savants? Imagine that, but really smart, with no downsides. His car bombs purr like a luxury sedan. Magazine spread, listicle, hottest heirs under 30, until he burnt up.
Lazur looks up at the twisted body replicated on every screen. “Can you hear me?”
The shredded mouth moves after only a slight delay. “Yes.” Lazur wonders if they can trace the transmission. Probably. But not in time.
“You look great.”
Rubicon laughs, and Lazur can see how it hurts for air to pass through that surviving lung, up through a patch of miraculously preserved soft throat tissue, wheezing through the broken jaw. Each vibration dispersing through shattered ribs, and finally, amplified through mall-wide sound systems, showing him every bit of grit, an auditory microscope into fried tissue and bone shrapnel.
“It’s my twenty-first birthday.” Rubicon tips back a mini-bottle, brown liquor pouring through the holes in his face. His face contorts with the sting.
Lazur looks at the bomb, that unadorned black box like an alien interpretation of gift giving. “I didn’t get you anything.”
“I disagree.” The screens turn off, leaving error messages tall as trees. Then something clicks and Lazur tries not to flinch. Rubicon’s voice grates from nearby, a hidden speaker, close and personal, no longer audible to the hostages. “Why don’t you take a look. I’m kind of proud of it.”
Natural light falls on the bomb from the open ceiling of the courtyard, cold bright afternoon tempered by clouds. He wonders if it’s going to rain. Probably. But not the way you like to see.
“Can I bring in a bomb suit?”
Silence, susurrus with the dead air of Rubicon’s feed.
“Sure. Let’s embrace the ritual.”
He walks back to the parking lot. As they bring out the bomb suit, a weakness passes through his legs, and he puts his hand on a car hood for support. He thought he was solid. But coming back out was the wrong move. It triggers too much a sense of visceral relief, fakes his body into thinking he survived it, when he hasn’t even begun. When that black box is still there, unopened, fissile with secrets.
Everyone is watching him. He can feel the instability out here, the lack of coordination. So he goes back inside.
The bomb suit weighs 85 pounds. It was comforting the first time he put it on. Everyone wants armor. But now it feels heavy as his soul.
People keep talking at him. Texts, emails, calls. But he knows they can’t give him anything he needs. No amount of research, protocol, international expertise, tech specs, or cutting-edge tools can change the outcome. So he silences his phone.
He waddles toward the bomb. Out of reach of the hidden speaker. All alone now.
He swivels, taking in the mall like a deep sea diver. Those distant drawn faces. All bombs render their surroundings alien. Not just after, but before. Alone with this secret pressure. Inside the veil of its inverted explosion. Before a great noise, great silence.
The suit doesn’t help with the alienation. Xeno-bulbous and oblong, something like those projections of what humans will look like evolved for cars after millions of years. Bomb world neanderthal.
Someone clears their throat. A woman laying against a wall, dark matter drying on her capris. She holds a tablet in her hands.
Lazur stares at her through the spacesuit.
It’s for you, she says in a dehydrated voice, but with some dignity, some subdued spirit of offense. She holds out the tablet.
“Thanks,” he says, not sure if she heard him. He wishes he could comfort her. Or comfort himself. Talk to anyone like a normal person. No. Emotion has a specific atmospheric cost inside this sweltering suit. And if he allows a single moment of softness, he’s fucked. Because humans were not meant to commune with bombs. Hexamine demons, beasts of nitrogen, plastic deities that slowly and instantly invade reality. He has to be a device.
Lazur takes the tablet. Rubicon looks up at him through the faint smears of the woman’s fingers. Tracks of her daily use: scrolling automatically through social feeds, tapping at gacha game rewards, gripping the edges to position herself in the best light for friends, family, a lover.
“How much time do I have?”
“Look at the bomb. Then maybe I’ll tell you.”
Lazur trudges to the black case. He’d hoped that a closer look would reveal new details, but it remains surprisingly minimalist compared to Rubicon’s past work. He can’t see a way inside the monolithic form, it resists his touch, his interpretation. Maybe it’s a joke. A combustible koan.
“Is there a timer?”
“Of course. You need to stay motivated. But it’s not the point.”
“Then what is?”
“Funny you’d say that.”
Lazur sweats, trapped in his own body heat. It’s only going to get hotter. If the suit had holes, it wouldn’t be protective.
“Take the suit off,” Rubicon says.
“I think it looks good. Kind of suave and sexy.”
“It won’t help you. Not with the ordinance I’m using.”
He leans against the bomb for support, cooking in the wearable sauna, dizzy, dizzying, dizzier.
“I’ve established that you have nothing to gain with the suit. And you’ll be more dexterous.”
The crip fuck is right. It won’t do shit. He needs his most important organ to breathe. Has to think his way out of this. He takes off the suit, getting a blast of that cool mall air.
He gets out his kit. Lays down his spudger. Wire cutters. Hex key. Hemostat. Cold chisel, made of beryllium copper to avoid sparking.
“That won’t help either. It’s solid state all over. A hundred failsafes.”
Lazur believes him. Rubicon tired long ago of the usual games. His last bomb was a gauntlet, testing every principle of bomb defusal, taking him through a history of explosives. Black powder, nitroglycerin, gelignite, dynamite, vintage plastic. A gift basket, a sample platter, a greatest hits anthology. It was almost interesting, after a career of defusing the same entry-level pipe bombs and garden-variety plastic explosives.
The point is, Rubicon doesn’t repeat himself. A pivot to minimalism makes sense.
Lazur runs his hand across the case. Smooth all over. Well-machined but betraying nothing. Then he walks around the bomb, and finally sees it. A hole. Like a large headphone jack.
Maybe it emits something. A gas? That would reach a wide area.
He shines a penlight inside. The inside looks coated with some kind of rubber. There’s a fissure at the end made of a similar polymer, a smaller hole within the hole.
“Lean the tablet.”
“What?” Snapping. Irritated.
“So I can see you.”
Lazur picks up the tablet. He thinks about tossing it over the edge. But it would be a pointless defiance. And with how much Rubicon is talking, maybe there’s a negotiation angle after all. Or maybe the shattered anatomy just makes him look vulnerable. Unless the blast scrambled his brain, this is the same person, the same choice of weapons. Except both are scarred and obfuscated, skin as inscrutable as this bomb.
Lazur places the tablet against the glass railing. “Do I get anything for that?”
“I’m not the Nintendo Power hotline. That’s what people your age used, right?”
“I don’t play games.”
Crackling laughter that turns to coughing. “I thought I’d get to use this body more. Or I never thought of it at all. Same thing.”
Rubicon sounds wet and clogged. He spits on the floor, his saliva disappearing off-screen. The background is painted black. No hints to location. But probably in the same state, judging by latency.
“I had a dream I was kissing someone. On a roller coaster. The roller coaster wasn’t moving. It was inside a mall. Maybe that’s why I chose the location.”
“It’s a nice public place. Lots of people.”
“See. You get me.”
“I woke up and my face hurt. It’s shocking, forgetting what shape it is now. I realized I’d never kiss anyone again. After a certain point of ablation, it’s just meat pressing against meat.”
“I didn’t do that to you.”
“When you raided me, I was on a three day coke bender, up all night in my workshop. I panicked. Touched the wrong thing.”
“How do you know I was there?”
“Because my bombs didn’t go off. The ones that were supposed to protect me.”
“I’m not the only defusal expert in the world.”
“I think you knew my personality. Knew what to look for. Understood my sense of humor.”
“I was just one person, doing my job.”
“If it was just that. I could forgive you. But I think you weren’t just a hapless little technician bumbling along. I think you showed them where I was.”
Lazur doesn’t answer.
“You could feel it, couldn’t you? In the guts of my last bomb. I was too forensically generous. Not enough details sanded off, too many exotic, hard to source ingredients. I overshared. I was just so excited to finally have an audience that could understand me.”
“Looking at it made me sick.”
Excitement breaks through Rubicon’s fractured face, facets of flushed skin. “I made you feel something.”
“Just another night at the opera.”
“I wish I could have shown you what I was working on. But the only pieces remaining are inside me. Embedded around my skeleton.”
“Tell me about this one.”
“You know how it goes. Debris will rain for miles around. Cancerous materials will jet through the city. Radiation—“
“It’s a dirty bomb?”
“Like a witch’s cauldron. I put everything in it.”
Lazur looks at his tools. Blank. Nothing. Useless. Maybe if he had colonoscopy equipment.
“It’s beautiful how such a tiny quantity of materials can blight so much land, for so long. Dominating the chromosomes of our fellow man.”
Lazur doesn’t respond.
“I’m going to find the room you’re hiding in, and I’m going to shoot you.” And all the bombs will unvomit themselves, and all the people will come back together.
“Maybe.” The lazy word hangs there. Rubicon doesn’t need to say anything else. The bomb is right there, total and commanding.
“You could have done something with your life.”
“Shut up, dad. This is what I’m good at.”
“Blowing people up isn’t a career—”
“It created your career.”
“Another victory for democracy.”
“Tired macho quips won’t get you out of this.”
“I feel tired.” He thought Rubicon’s death, supposed death, would end it. But every suspicious bag on the subway was full of fear, his pores rewired to pump rookie sweat, virginal trembling in his wire cutters.
“You look tired.”
4th of July, on a date, baseball at night, the sky full of burning worms, popping and crackling with their consumption of the air, their gnashing of bismuth trioxide. How could fireworks be that loud, were they always that loud? Surrounded by thousands of mannequins, cheering coming from loudspeakers. He excused himself to the stadium bathroom and hid inside a stall, finishing his beer in quick, automatic swallows. It tasted like aftermath. He walked home, lost, unable to find the way back to his seat. She never texted him back.
“You eating okay?”
Potato chips. Moldy takeout. An insidious lack of appetite. As if waiting for something massive and inorganic, pica for rubble.
“I could order you a pizza—“
“Are you fucking me here?”
Lazur grabs the tablet. “Is there a point to trying, or not?”
Rubicon leans back in his wheelchair, a defensive posture, or simply too weak to keep his spine erect. “There is a point. If you can find it.”
Lazur kneels down, trying to feel under the bomb. Flush with the floor on every side.
“How are you since the whole explosion thing? I feel like we have so much to catch up on.”
“Fine. Just beautiful.”
“I saw on social you’re not with that one lady anymore.”
“That’s not your business.”
“You probably brought home too much baggage. Pent up. Waiting to explode.”
“I never hit anyone.”
“You have no idea what my private life is like.”
“You can tell me if something is wrong. You know how compromised I am morally. It’s like having a therapist.”
“I’m not the fucked up one. I’m cleaning up your mess.”
Wetness shines on Rubicon’s lip-chasm, pink where the tissue is still alive. “It’s not a mess. I worked very hard on it, very carefully, on every detail—“ Spit catches in his throat and he coughs.
“Choking on me?”
Rubicon wipes his face. “I could ask the same thing.”
“You didn’t give me anything to work with. This is just a nihilistic fuck me.”
“It’s not.” Rubicon leans forward in the wheelchair, and Lazur sees it. The lopsided cant in the boy’s spine, the wrists too weak to stabilize without pain. It must have taken many painstaking hours to make whatever this bomb is. He looks like he’s going to say something else, but he just hangs there, in a helpless vibrance of neuralgia. He sounds like he was accused of faking his homework.
“I know,” Lazur says quietly.
“I think a lot. About what I make.”
“You’re good at it.”
As in all things, the instinct. Don’t let it blow up. Things or people. The slightest vibration of molecules can build to an irreversible and shocking outcome.
Rubicon hangs his head, letting the saliva drip until he can talk. When he does, a strand of clear drool hangs from his tattered lip. “Thanks?”
“But it’s not enough. Not after what happened to you.”
Silence from the tablet.
“You can’t catch up anymore.”
Wet rasp. “Can you?”
“I have a real job. Helping people. Not blow up. I believe in something—“
“Sure. Casimir Pulaski with wire cutters.”
Rubicon assumes a posture that might once have been insouciance, but now comes off as muscle memory for a body that no longer exists. He reaches offscreen and Lazur hears the click of a keyboard.
The mall screens turn on. A red countdown.
It doesn’t matter what he does here. The elements of cheap, scalable annihilation have entered this reality. Bombs blowing through the world like storm clouds.
He thinks of the soul that enters each bomb, to act as its detonator, its tripper, some vital link in the mechanism. Surrendering to this bright new form as it explodes from the hyper-flagellating vest around your chest. Trading a dim, anonymous, interminable life for a single brilliant inversion of your hell.
We are in a labyrinth and the string that leads us out, is two strings, red and blue.
Rubicon leans forward. A scrap of blond hair falls over his eyes and he forks it to the side with his fingers.
“Did you mean it?”
“That I’m good.”
Lazur thinks of the delicate mechanisms he balanced his very sweat against, trying not to contaminate them with his perspiration, rapt with surgical flow, discovering these new bodies of blast. “Sure.”
Rubicon looks away, then his head jerks back, the scar tissue on his neck restraining him like a collar. “I’m a little embarrassed now. It’s a different kind of bomb.”
“It’s not as sophisticated as the others I made for you. It’s just. Different.”
“I’m still good at music. I’m just trying a new instrument.”
“Got it. No judgment. I’ll leave that for the war crime tribunal.”
…your body is a sleeping explosive, and even the faded, trembling hand of Mr. Paul contains more explosive force than a capsule of melinite. You lie motionless in an ocean of immeasurable, unanalyzable, unutilized forces; you are surrounded not by the walls of the room, quiet people and the rustling branches of trees, but by an ammunition store, a cosmic magazine prepared for the most frightful deed. You tap matter with your finger as if you were testing casks of ekrasite to see if they are full.
— Karel Čapek, “Krakatit”
Lazur stares at the bomb. It yields nothing. He feels like he’s going crazy.
“What did you mean, different?”
“Well. Most of it is incredibly powerful explosive. No surprise. Packed very tight. Very dense.” Rubicon looks excited. Like he’s talking about a particularly potent bullion. “The rest is diagnostic machinery.”
“You won’t need your tools for this. Well. Maybe your tool. In the vernacular sense.”
“What the fuck.”
Lazur looks up at the hostages looking down at him. They’re like eerie statues.
“If it receives your DNA in seminal form, the bomb will shut off.”
“Come on, Lazur. Your biological clock is ticking. Haha.”
“This is a kid’s edgy first art project, except I have to stick my dick inside it—”
Rubicon reaches for the webcam, and for the first time Lazur notices his pinkie and ring finger are missing. Rubicon brings it close to the ruined valleys and rivers of his flesh. “You think anyone is ever going to look at this body and think of me as a kid ever again?”
“I know. A real boner killer.”
A hostage clears their throat somewhere above. Lazur leans over the bomb, eyes shut. Machined smells. Workshop taint. A whiff of almond.
Rubicon rests his hand on the arm of the wheelchair. His thumb is missing too. “What’s the play, Lazur?”
Lazur runs his finger around the bomb’s hole. Maybe he can jerk off instead. Push his cum inside—
“That won’t work. I thought of everything. You have to physically nut in the bomb.”
Hostages sit in front of a Build-a-Bear. One of them is still standing, his pants dark down the front. He stares at Lazur, or maybe he’s been dissociating all this time.
“Remember. The first part of fucking a bomb is acceptance.”
“You didn’t give me enough time.”
“A red-blooded Polish-American hero like you should have no problem fucking a bomb.”
“You don’t know what color my blood is.”
“A watery translucent effluvia. Microplastics and ennui.”
Lazur watches the red numbers change, huge like this is some event he couldn’t possibly have anything to do with. He wants to be one of the people waiting for him to fix this.
“I know you’ll do it,” the ruined mouth says.
Lazur covers his face, breathing through sweaty palms.
“Because you’re the best.”
Lazur goes into a shop and drags out cardboard cutouts. Anime girl with jeweled sword, exoskeletoned star marine, some kind of edgy furry mascot. He never really played games. They’re just some dumb shit he never learned about and probably never will.
He positions them around the bomb. A startling sound comes from the hidden speaker. He pauses, then realizes it was Rubicon laughing. Like someone trying to play a smashed violin.
“You’re really going to do it?”
“You’re so dedicated to your job.”
Lazur rests his arms on the bomb like he’s going to eat a sandwich on a transformer box. Just a working stiff. Hopefully. Can anyone see what he’s doing? His lower half is hidden from the Build-A-Bear refugees. And the rest of the hostage panopticon is pretty far away. He just has to, there, unzip, snake it through, keep his pants on. Lean on the bomb, all casual.
He listens to the wet mouth sounds of Rubicon’s existence through the tablet.
He tucks himself back into his pants and zips his fly.
He finds a small half-used bottle of warm moisturizing lotion next to the cash register of a store selling gag gifts.
“Good idea. I didn’t make it self-lubricating.”
Another laugh. He recognizes it this time. That busted xylophone of teeth, a single lung’s worth of air, and the tongue, bright and pink and intact, struggling not to fall out of the mouth.
All bravado aside, he doesn’t feel good. He just needed to feel like he wasn’t helpless, so he did those things, without emotion, to shut that kid up. But now he’s here. And the pop culture cutouts surround him like a praetorian guard, and the lotion rests on the bomb, a little hair smeared on the side. How long has it been warming in that store, soothing the hands of a teen cashier with dermatitis?
He unzips again. In trying to keep his crotch hidden from the hundreds of hostages, the tip of his cock brushes the rubber rim of the hole. He wonders what it feels like inside. If it will chop off his dick. Spew acid. Roast him like a sausage.
Is that Rubicon’s style? He likes big explosions. Or he did. His artistic direction has clearly changed. After all, he lived through an explosion. Got to feel it intimately in his muscles, bones, nerves, for the first time.
“Better pop before my bomb does.”
“Don’t talk while I’m doing this.”
“They call it total body disruption. What a bomb does to you. Chunks. Gibs. Meat cloud. I was in awe when I read the term. Twelve years old.”
Lazur closes his eyes, trying to regulate his breathing.
“What are you thinking about? What’s your go-to?”
Scanning for images.
“You probably need ol’ reliable for this one. The stuff that gets you off when you need to fall asleep.”
Get out of my head, you fuck.
“You know the first thing I jerked off to?”
“They didn’t mention it in the briefing.”
“The first thing I ever jerked off to was Kajaki.”
“I didn’t think anyone else saw it.”
“Yeah. You never meet anyone who saw it.”
“They can’t handle the circus.”
“Halfway through I started laughing and couldn’t stop. I felt like I was going crazy.”
Talking takes Lazur’s mind off everything, allows his body to work. So he lets himself speak naturally, aimlessly, knowing he needs to relax on the deepest level. “I always wanted to watch it again. I don’t know why. It made me so sad. It was horrible. But it was perfect.”
“We should watch it together sometime.”
Lazur is barely inside the bomb orifice. Feels soft enough.
“Dirty bomb,” he whispers.
Dirty little bomb…
“Krakatit, Krakatoa, Kajaki, kraken, Krakus…death is in the K’s…the STOP…the voiceless velar plosive…are you voiceless, Lazur?”
“Please be quiet. I’m trying to concentrate.”
“Maybe I lied. Maybe I went small and cozy. Packed it so you’ll survive.”
“Anyone ever tell you how nice you are?”
“Maybe I want you to feel it too. What it’s like. When the blast births you into a new body.”
Lazur gives the wheelchair-bound form a look, and Rubicon cringes. Lazur realizes that disgust is burning from his face.
Eleven minutes. Lazur jerks off, trying not to be too obvious.
“I made the interior extra nice for you. I didn’t want you to have a hard time in front of all these people.”
“Right. Then the razors come out, and the scorpions.”
“It’s not a fucking Saw trap. It has bezels.”
“The silicone is medical-grade.”
“Did you go inside? Was that you going inside?”
“So fucking stupid.”
“Look around. Then tell me how stupid this is.”
The dead bodies do lend an air of gravitas. Lazur presses flush against the bomb, trying to conceal his penetration. He exhales at the sticky feeling of his cock embedded in a high-yield, block-leveling explosive.
“Why are you doing this?”
“I’d already tested your technical strength, took you through the intellectual games—“
“It wasn’t a game to me.”
“If you wanted to help people, you could have become a plumber. A nursing home aid. A shit scrubber.”
Lazur pushes a little deeper, trying to relax. The bomb hasn’t cut his dick off yet.
“But you became a bomb technician. You headed straight for the alien apparatus, the archonic convergence of it all. The screaming edge of the future.”
“I’m trying to understand.” With his cock soft in the interior of a doomsday device, Lazur feels the sudden urge to fight for rapport. Hey, turn off the bomb. Please? For the sake of whatever delusion you’ve invested in me.
“Only you understood the ones I made before. All that effort that dissipates into nothing—”
“We should have told their families it was just a dissipation.”
“Sure. Families. Neat concept.”
Lazur humps the bomb. Hard to concentrate with the timer hitting ten minutes. “Tell me about the bomb.” As long as Rubicon is still on the line, the fantasy of negotiation can live. Someone that could make it all stop, even if he won’t.
“I wanted to make something high-concept. Less obscure.”
“An accessible bomb for your average guy.”
“I think everyone watching will get it.”
“I’m just a low-concept guy in a high-concept world.” Lazur humps faster, trying to get enough friction. If he loses momentum he’s fucked.
“You’re a component in my bomb now.”
Rubicon freezes. Wondering if he’s fucking his way to some kind of ironic twist.
“Don’t worry. You can be an off switch. With the right aspiration.”
Hump hump hump. A little pinching. He adjusts. Squirts more lotion on. Still not hard enough. He always jerked off with TV in the background. He needs to distract himself.
“So you’ve just been convalescing this whole time?”
“My dad left me a lot of money.”
“I hate guys like that. Letting their kids grow up to be narcissists.”
“What kind of dad are you?”
“I’m not in the right profession to have kids.”
“Well. I can’t think of a more public demonstration of your virility.”
“Sure. Fuck off.”
“You should thank me for all the pussy coming your way. You could repopulate that whole parking lot.”
“I don’t even remember to water the flowers.” Dead and brown in his mother’s garden. She’s not mobile enough to go out there anymore, so it’s okay. Just another private desolation.
“It eats away at the nerves. The work we do. Are you taking something for it? Modafinil?”
“Tea and modafinil.”
“It’s more than some get.”
“Bet you never thought to bring Viagra.”
Hump hump hump.
“What usually works for you? What’s the trusty fallback?”
All Lazur can see is the countdown, slicing red through the dark.
“Try boobs. That’s pretty classic.”
The trophy wife of a politician came home one night with new tits. Implants done in water gel explosive. Her breasts exploded in his face while he was motorboating her. Charon drove the rest of the way.
Lazur shakes his head, trying to clear the memory of that room. A drop of sweat hits the bomb, trickling down the side.
One night at a bar he went to the restroom and saw an actual glory hole. He stared at it, stupefied, as it started swallowing the universe. His pants were down, his bladder just emptied. Someone was definitely on the other side. All he had to do was turn and insert his Molotov cocktail dripping with vodka piss.
Instead he took out the red marker in his pocket, and around the hole he wrote:
FRONT TOWARD ENEMY
He grinds his hips into the bomb. A tight, public, clinical fuck. It feels so bad, to fuck like this. Deep bad in his brain. Sick and doomed world. These people weren’t having a good time before. They’ll have a worse time after. If they survive.
He already gets performance pressure with the lights off, with a single person.
Can’t do it.
This is forced. The thought clarifies for the first time. Everything is unpleasant, everywhere, so it took time to get it. But it fucking hurts, being forced. Not just pushed toward something, dragging his feet, but slammed, slotted, burnt, expended like a piece of machinery.
“Are you crying?”
“I am perspiring from my forehead.”
“You look really messy. Like you’re having a bad day.”
“I need. To concentrate.”
“What do you even think about in this situation?”
“Just the usual standbys.”
Rubicon leans toward the webcam, coming into mutilated focus. “I don’t think you are.”
“I’m thinking of a landscape where everything moves at a normal speed.”
“It’s nice.” But it’s not enough.
“I think you’re fading.”
“I’m fine.” Expired Modafinil and milk tea. The only hope now is adrenaline.
He slams into the bomb, hard enough to bruise.
Can’t do it. This dick-killing world. Everything is so weak and insufficient. Everything but this bomb.
He sees it now. Even before, he was slipping. Losing nights. Jumping at percussive sounds. Coming back from each mission, less than. He was always a guy being inserted into things.
“You’re thinking about running.”
He is. It’s only natural.
“You’re cutting it really close. Even if you escaped the immediate explosion, you’d have to outrun the blast radius.”
Dick soft. Thirty seconds.
“Maybe you could make it. Depends how the explosion propagates. It’s all so chaotic and unpredictable, isn’t it?”
His legs tense, to run or fuck, he doesn’t know.
“On the other hand, you’ve been exerting yourself. And you’re not young anymore.”
Can’t see. The countdown blurs into red bokeh. He turns, fumbling for his zipper.
“Going to leave all these people to die?”
A cool breeze falls from the sky, passing through the colonnades of each floor.
He looks at Rubicon’s face, really seeing for the first time. He always hated shock images, but it’s like how you can look at your own shit in the bowl because it came from you, this is personal, I did this to you, fuck you, I broke your face, I broke your skeleton, nothing could dominate you more completely than that explosion, shockwaves fucking you in the bone marrow, punished on the molecular level, rattled and shook and crushed in the hand of God, you’re a warning, a message, I did this, you submitted to me down to the last atom in your body.
Lazur is so hard his cock can barely fit in the hole, the suction and grip blurring his vision.
“I did this to you.”
Weakness flits through that face, exposed where it can move through the scarring.
“I broke you. Like a toy.”
“Don’t say that.”
“I took your fingers. I twisted your spine.”
How long did you lay like that, before your people got you? Like a shattered horse, the shape of you permanently punched out of alignment. Do you still have chips of that original building in you? The one I ran my hand along, finding my way through a dark hallway, cool hard concrete, smooth as the devil’s skin. They couldn’t take everything out. Not without tearing even more of your nerves. You don’t have many to spare.
You can’t close your mouth all the way because of me. I fucked you. I broke your body. You’re crying now. You can’t even see me anymore. I see you. Every inch of your subtotal body disruption. I can look as long as I want, you’re just a picture on the image roll, hand clawed, chest caved in, crying tears that can’t even make it down your face without falling into the holes, I did that to you, you’re the only thing I’m allowed to ruin, I fucked—
White hot phosphorous jets from his phosphenes and he shoots inside the tight rubber hole, hot seed draining into the guts of the bomb, diagnostic machinery vibrating at the reception of his load, setting him off again, and in that climax he opens, deeper than skin, one with the bomb, mall spiraling around him, this entire building and all its souls held intact by his surging load, by the mere drip of his foreskin into the bomb’s cunt—
When he opens his eyes, the tablet is dark. The screens are dark. The sky is cloudy.
His cock slips out of the hole and he falls against the bomb, legs shaking. He struggles to pull his pants up and the dribble of semen on the mall floor feels more obscene than anything that came before. But they’ll probably waive the sex offender laws for this one. Yes, I exposed myself to multiple children, your honor, but their molecular integrity was at stake…
His phone is blowing up.
Someone walks past him, covering their child’s eyes. Others join the silent migration. Soon, he’s the only one remaining.
He walks through the abandoned food court. Plucks a sugar-glittering churro, sips someone’s untouched orange slushy, plunges a fistful of fries from a kid’s meal into his mouth, grips a buttery pretzel like brass knuckles, picks orange chicken from the heated trays, cummy fingered stirring the queso dip, too many wet sounds, he collapses behind a cash register, listening to the muzak, which never, ever stopped.
I can feel you sobbing out there, tears zig-zagging down the ruined landscape of your cheeks. Total boy disruption.
You’re already thinking about your next bomb. I can’t stop thinking about it either. You tease my tight urban densities, drip hazardous chemicals through my logistic centers. My brain has become a list of parts and projections, the way I used to think about my favorite sports teams. You can barely fall from your wheelchair but they’ll have to put the mandatory handcuffs on you, and you’ll look up at me with that pathetic face, chained by those broken wrists, stuck in the exact second before ignition, your detonation denied, knowing I ruined your explosion just before you could release.
The countdown continues, in this red world.
He racked his brains in trying to decide whether the potential explosive energy of the organism depended upon the presence of certain enzymotic or other substances or on the chemical composition of the cells themselves, which constituted charges par excellence. Be that as it may, he would have liked to know how that dark proud girl would explode.
— Karel Čapek, “Krakatit”