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Resolve, in Four Heartbeats

Kell Rajasalu is an Estonian who writes things. Sometimes they are stories, other times software and yet other times role-play games. Kell has also been published in Estonian science fiction magazine Reaktor.

It starts like this: I've just reported for an ordinary Saturday shift, exchanged nods with Khairi, and then my heart seizes. The pain lances through my rib cage. I have time to think, a heart attack? and then I collapse and don't think much at all.
But it is not a heart attack. After an eternity I realize I'm on the floor and Khairi is crouching over me, scanner in one hand, hypo in the other.
"Four minutes, fifty-five," she says. "I can see nothing out of order except for the pain. Psychosomatic?"
"I guess," I say.
She offers me her hand and pulls me upright. "Don't worry. No war has been declared yet. I'll get you water or something. You're very pale."
Khairi goes to get water. I test my feet (shaky) and my heart (shakier. For a certain value of "shaky" and also a certain value of "heart." And "my"). The moment she's in the bathroom, I run.
I know what it was. Not a heart attack.
In reality it started like this, I know: everyone in the room full of grim resolve that it was time to stop playing nuclear chicken and start playing nuclear bombardment. Everyone, but President and Jack most of all. Steely-eyed stares. Regretful, serious nods. And then, cold silence. Surely everything was quiet when the moment really arrived.
I hope it was.
It went like this: Jack, dead on the floor. The President, staring at him and her hands, because she thought she was killing him for something and discovered that she had killed him for nothing. All the reasons slipping through her fingers like so much blood and offal.
I can almost imagine it.
Some aide, venturing a careful "is it possible that someone was holding his heart in trust?"
The President, snarling that this would be treason. Or maybe asking for an actual medic to verify that there really was no capsule with the launch codes, it hadn't grown into muscle or slipped in the blood spreading on the floor. Or maybe just nodding, yes it was possible.
I don't really want to imagine it, of course. You can only hold someone's heart in trust if you love them and whatever really happened, this is constant: Jack handed the President the knife, and they shared a look, as only an executioner and a lamb to the slaughter can. Then she used the knife.
You've got to understand death if you're starting a war, you see.
I suppose it really started like this: me and Jack arguing about the good old knife doctrine, together in the dark, in the sticky-warm bed. We never were good at pillow talk.
We were getting nowhere, really, because Jack argued the party line, that the President only deserved to start a war if she could look an innocent person in the eye and then kill him and I kept saying that it didn't really matter, because if she had resolve enough to start a war, then she would have resolve enough to kill someone. Can't be in politics without some ugly, military resolve.
You are military, Jack said. Where is it?
My resolve is not to start a nuclear holocaust, I said. That's where it is. How does murdering one man qualify anyone to kill millions, anyway?
Jack went really quiet then. I should've figured something was up. But I was warm and content and unguarded. Not very observant.
I want to say that in a kinder world he would have said something like, marry me. Or even just, I never thought of it this way. But I don't believe in a kinder world and what he really said was, I adore you.
My heart twitched and I said, I love you too.
He really did love me. That wasn't a lie. But it was multitasking.
However it started, it ends like this: they catch me on the bridge to the great north, right on the border. I've passed through the checkpoint on our side just fine. I have not yet reached the other. This space, over a raging river right before the falls is a nothing in between. No country.
They don't even have jurisdiction here. But not having jurisdiction has never stopped any of us patriotic civil servants, has it? We are such a great nation.
One of them yells my name over the roar of the water. "Hands in the air, stay where you are!" she adds.
I turn, slowly enough to not get shot immediately. The soldier is a nondescript serious woman in a generic red uniform. No insignia. We both know who she is. Who sent her, anyway, which is the only thing that matters.
I can almost see the future. I am not as brave as Jack, so I will cry and beg when I really see the knife. The President will not even spare me a glance. She's already a murderer. If she has to kill me to get Jack's heart and make her first murder count, well, that's an exercise in collateral damage. There is a lot of that waiting in the more distant future. I'd be extra credit, really.
I look over the soldier's shoulder and think, I am dead already. My own heart became a mess of bloody meat on a nice white carpet somewhere. The thing beating in my chest is Jack's. Its rhythm is steady. Jack was never terrified, so of course it is.
I think, he adored me.
I think, my resolve is not to start a nuclear holocaust.
The river is cold and fast, full of rocks and falls and who knows what else. It could be days before they find the body, and by then the capsule in the heart will hopefully be broken to the point of unusability, nuclear codes as illegible as the rest of me.
The woman tries to tase me. I jump.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 9th, 2018

Author Comments

This story is inspired by Roger Fisher's proposal that the nuclear codes should be implanted in a capsule near a volunteer's heart. If the President wanted to use the codes, he'd have to kill the volunteer with his own hands. Apparently his Pentagon-employed friends' reaction to this idea was "My God, that's terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the President's judgment. He might never push the button."

- Kell Rajasalu
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