Monday, September 28, 2009

95. Americium


Nuclear Blackmail

"Okay, let me get this straight. You built an atomic bomb."


"Out of smoke detectors."

"No, I only got the fissionable material from smoke detectors. Each one contains a tiny fleck of americium. It's the only transuranic element you can buy at Target."

"How old did you say you are?"

"Seventeen. But I'm advanced for my age. Look, I don't see what's so difficult to understand about this."

"No, of course not. The mayor of New York City being blackmailed by a high school junior? It happens all the time."

"I'm home schooled. I've been working at a college level for some time."

"Look, kid, I gotta tell you, I never heard of an americium bomb."

"That's because mine is the first. Uranium is a lot easier to work with, so the government never bothered. But you can't get hold of uranium legally without a license from the NRC, and the kind of money the Russian Mafia wants is way out of my reach."

"You're in contact with the Russian Mafia?"

"I think this conversation is drifting, don't you? You wanna hear how I smelted the americium into two subcritical masses? Perfect hemispheres, see, because it's triggered by explosive—"

"Okay, kid, let's cut the crap. Just exactly what are you asking for?"

"Um … well, gee. I guess I spent so much time planning this caper, I forgot that aspect of it. I, uh, really can't think of anything I need."

"Is that so?"

"Tell you what, why don't I just go away, and I'll blow up my bomb someplace remote where nobody gets hurt, okay?"

"That's not acceptable, kid. Listen, how about the city gives you our standard visiting dignitary package: Two weeks in a luxury hotel—food, beverages, tips, and platinum blonde triplets included. Sound good to you?"

"Wow. But I don't think my parents would let me."

"Well, what is it you like? Cars? Money? Drugs?"

"To tell the truth, all I really like is blowing things up. That's why I built the bomb."

"So you're a geek, is what you're saying? You don't like normal guy stuff, just all this science shit?"

"You make it sound like being a geek is a bad thing."

"Don't get a hair up your ass, kid, I'm just working out the parameters. Here's my final offer: I'll get you a full scholarship to Cal Tech, find your parents jobs commensurate with their current employment nearby, and I'll put in a good word with the NRC about that license. What do you say now?"

"Really? That's … that's wonderful. I don't know how to thank you."

"You don't have to, kid. Our loss will be California's gain."

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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