The bomb was bigger than he expected. It was sad that he could expect anything from bombs, but this was his life. A bulb buzzed from somewhere behind him and lit the tunnel with a sickly, pale yellow light—just enough to see what lay ahead. The cylindrical object stretched six, maybe seven feet along the grimy concrete. It was mostly smooth, except for a number of thin wires that poked out from between the long, dull grey sheets of metal casing. Most of the wires looped back inside the bomb, but every so often one of the red or blue wires ended abruptly, dangling in the air. He gave a wry chuckle as he thought about how much these aimless wires reminded him of his life right now—explosive potential, but ultimately going nowhere.
There was an old-fashioned alarm clock welded at a crooked angle to one end of the bomb. By the time he had arrived, both hands of the loudly ticking clock were nearing the large red number twelve—a cliché time to detonate, but at least he knew how much time he had to work with. He squatted on the ground next to the bomb, pushing aside his rough, charcoal-colored trench coat as he watched the second hand race around the clock. He let out a deep breath, forgetting momentarily about the bulky mask that covered his face. The thick lenses instantly fogged up, and he cursed silently. Of course this would happen on a back-to-back shift, when he was already beyond tired.
But this was no time for either pity or excuses. His hand flew to a deep coat pocket and began rummaging around until his thick gloved fingers found the tool he was looking for. By the time he had removed the screwdriver, his goggles had cleared. He glanced at the clock.
Eleven fifty-five and thirty seconds.
He spotted a promising-looking seam in the bomb’s metal casing, just behind the clock. He followed the dark line along the bomb’s circumference until he found a small screw, just above where the bomb rested on the ground. He leaned over the casing and found a matching screw on the opposite side, then quickly got to work removing them both. As he gently pulled away this section of metal, what he saw made him inhale sharply. He coughed involuntarily, which, in turn, made his goggles fog up again. After stilling his breath and letting out another curse, his goggles slowly cleared and he took another, harder look at the bomb’s interior to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating.
Instead of wires, circuit boards, and rectangular explosive materials, he saw what looked like bright furry tails, leathery wings, and glowing spheres—all of which were moving to the same rhythm. Even the spheres. He leaned back and looked at the bomb’s exterior one more time. Everything looked normal on the outside—normal, that is, for a device built by someone who was bent on destruction. But on the inside, it looked like this bomb had hadn’t been constructed from a terrorist’s blueprint, but from a child’s imagination. His eyes fastened upon a bright pink glowing orb, which was apparently attached to a turquoise tail-like apparatus or appendage. He followed the tail—or whatever it was—as it wound its way around other furry tails of different colors, between dark, pebbled wings, and disappeared from view somewhere toward the front of the bomb.
Out of habit, he scratched at his head, even though the metal helmet behind his mask got in the way. Maybe all this…this stuff he saw inside the bomb was a smokescreen of sorts. Maybe it was meant to be a distraction, while the actual workings of the device farther down its length were left alone to continue their countdown to destruction. He frantically searched along the bomb’s surface and found several more screws. One of its exterior plates was next to where a tuft of red and blue wires protruded from the bomb before returning back inside. Gotcha. So, with the blur of a screwdriver, he quickly popped off the adjacent section of metal covering.
His stomach sank. Inside were even more multi-colored glowing orbs, connected by fuzzy tails and thick wings. He’d had it backwards—the wires, it turned out, were the smokescreen. He let the metal plate fall with a surprisingly loud clang on the ground, and then slumped back onto his heels. He hadn’t been trained for this. No one had been trained for this.
Eleven fifty-six and thirty seconds.
He reached his gloved hands up to rub his face, but stopped when he remembered his mask. He slid his hands along the small rivets that studded the sides of his helmet and laced his fingers at the base of his neck. His eyes darted back and forth between the two open panels. He became mesmerized by the rhythmic movement of the fantastic objects inside, and soon found that his own breathing matched their slow, steady pulsing. There was something comforting about its movement, something that reminded him of rocking a small child to sleep.
To sleep—he hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in ages. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he had actually dreamed. But if he were to dream, maybe it would look like this—a jumble of colors and textures and maybe even a loud tick-tick-ticking. Just like this bomb.
BOMB. He shook his head, bolted upright, and checked the round face of the bomb’s clock.
Eleven fifty-eight and thirty seconds.
What? Had he really been staring at this impossible object for two whole minutes? His heart began to pound so hard that it practically rattled his mask. His hand shot into his pocket and groped around until he found the long metal tool he was looking for. Gripping the handle, he extended the tool’s blunt, slightly curved metal end toward a furry, lavender and teal-colored something that resembled a tiger’s tail. In another heartbeat, he felt the thin tool make contact.
The tail recoiled. A nearby wing flexed defensively, and a glowing green orb a few inches away suddenly turned a deep red. The object’s slow, rhythmic beating—or breathing, or whatever it was—quickly picked up its pace. The bomb’s interior was now rising and falling so quickly, he thought it might hyperventilate. And he couldn’t imagine what sort of effect that might have on this baffling device.