Chapter 32 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At three minutes after four in the morning, The Four knocked again on the door to apartment 412, home of the Android Sisters. This time, after a short delay, Mandy opened the door.

"Oh, hi boys!" she said. "Come on in."

"Who is it?" came a shouted question from elsewhere in the apartment.

"It's The Four," Mandy shouted in reply.

There were some mumblings from the back rooms, giving The Four the impression that they weren't entirely welcome.

"Sorry it's so late," Dave apologized. "We were here earlier, but you weren't home."

"Oh, well, we were out. In fact, we just got back a few minutes ago."


Cindy and Wendy appeared from the back rooms. Cindy was wearing a bathrobe and was drying her hair with a large yellow towel. Wendy said "What brings you boys over so late?"

Peter said eagerly, "We brought you a present!"

Bert, who had once again been carrying the gift, handed it to Mandy.

"Oh, how nice!" she said. "What's the occasion?"

"No occasion," said Dave, "Just a surprise gift. Go on, open it!"

Mandy tore away the light blue wrapping paper. Her excitement faded as the paper fell to the floor. "What... is it?" she asked at last.

"It's an atomic bomb!" said Peter. "Bet you don't have one of those, do you!"

"Oh boy," said Cindy, "just what every household needs." She turned and headed back towards the bathroom.

"Well, that's really quite, uh, charming," said Wendy.

"I think it's very nice," said Mandy. "Thanks, guys. We will cherish it always."

At just that moment, there was a pounding on the door. "Open up in there!" said a gruff voice. Then the door burst open and the three men in dark coats charged in. One of them held up a badge.

"We're from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission," he said. "You are in direct violation of section 92 paragraph 43 of the Thompson/Lewis Atomic Weapons Act. You are under arrest for illegal possession, transportation, and concealment of an atomic bomb." As he spoke, his two associates cornered Mandy and attempted to wrestle the bomb from her. Being stronger than she looked, she put up a good fight, protesting loudly, "Get your hands off me! This thing was a gift! You can't just barge in here and take it from me like this!"

Suddenly there was a click, and everyone in the room froze. In the scuffle, one of the men from the NRC had leaned against the big red button and pressed it in. The various lights on the front panel of the bomb lit up. The big red digital counter underneath the words "SECONDS UNTIL DETONATION" suddenly displayed the number "60," which after a second changed to "59," then to "58."

Cindy broke the silence. "That thing isn't a real atomic bomb... is it?"

Now the men from the NRC swung into action. They produced tools, and began trying to take the steel box apart. The leader shouted, "We've got to disarm it, otherwise it will destroy the whole city!"

The seconds ticked away, as the three men desperately tried to remove the numerous bolts that held the box together. Progress was slow. "Boy, the guy who made this is a real nut," said one of the men. "Why'd he use so many bolts on this thing?"

The Four and the Android Sisters stood off to the side, holding their breath.

At ten seconds to detonation, it became clear that the men weren't going to make it. They frantically redoubled their efforts anyway.

The counter ticked off the final seconds. "3"... "2"... "1"... "0."

The counter stopped at zero.

Nothing happened.

The NRC men continued working away at the bolts, oblivious to the fact that the bomb hadn't done a darn thing.

At last they got the casing open. It was an empty box, with some electronics in the front panel and some lead bars bolted inside to give it weight.

For a long long time, no one said anything.

At last, the three men from the NRC turned to go. The leader said, "Sorry we disturbed you folks. Have a nice night."

A few minutes after they were gone, Dave said, "I guess it wasn't such a great gift after all."

"We'll get you something better at Christmas," said Paul.

Mandy smiled at them. "Thanks anyway, guys. It's the thought that counts, right?"

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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