The Sound of Silence

Class assignment that's supposed to be a fictional piece about the discovery of a scientific invention. I chose to write about the atomic bomb, because I'm not all that interested in science. I'm much more interested in the human motivation behind the discovery than the actual eureka moment. The quote at the end is real, the Manhattan Project is real, and the name of the protagonist is real. Everything else is complete fabrication.

Robert and Marie sat on the beach, the warm sand burned the backs of their thighs, the gulls cried above. The perfect stillness of the day stretched out before them, endless as the ocean itself, brimming with possibilities. He leaned down to smell Marie's long blond hair. As she looked up and smiled, he heard it. The sound began in the distance, faintly ominous. Marie didn't hear it at first, she was still smiling and gently patting her pregnant belly. He looked around and saw that no one else seemed to hear it. Gradually he relaxed back into the sand, curling his arms protectively around his wife. Then the sound returned, louder this time, clear in its intent.

The air raid siren grew in volume, until Robert could physically feel the vibration in his bones. The smile slid from Marie's face, and her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. She mouthed the words "What is it?" Robert opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He saw with dread how the other people on the beach were finally beginning to realize the severity of the situation. Towels, coolers, and yellow sand pails lay abandoned as husbands grabbed their wives and mothers snatched their children. Everywhere people called frantically for loved ones who had wandered off before all of this confusion began.

Robert turned back to Marie who was struggling to her feet. He grabbed hold of her arms to steady her and finally found his voice. "We need to get out of here!" he said, and Marie nodded. She allowed him to lead her back towards their car, placing complete trust in his ability to protect her. He knew better. Over and over in his head played the refrain he'd been hearing since he started work on the Manhattan Project. "What happens if they make it first?"

In his mind's eye he could see his supervisor, General Hodgkins, pacing around the tables in the laboratory. "Do you think they would hesitate to use it on us? Do you think any of them give a good goddamn about your precious little families? Get it through your heads, gentlemen! We are dealing with madmen who must be stopped! You think they're not working on the same types of weapons? That fuck Hitler would love to find something to melt the meat off your bones. So don't give me that bullshit about ethics and 'what if' scenarios! The only 'what if' you need to be concerned about is 'what if' they make it first!"

They did. Oh dear God, they did make it first, thought Robert as he sensed what was coming. He stopped, Marie's hand dropping from his own. She turned to look at him, and that was when he felt the shockwave hit. Intense unimaginable heat flooded through him, searing him to his bones. He heard the screams, saw Marie fall to her knees, her beautiful blond hair melting away from her skull, exposed white bone gleaming in the sweltering air.

Robert sat bolt upright, slamming his head into his heavy gray desk lamp. His assistant Gerald looked up from his paperwork. "Having that dream again, Robert?"

Robert groaned and rubbed at his scalp. "It's all I ever dream about anymore. I keep thinking about what Hodgkins said. What if they do come up with it first? Do you realize what the ramifications of that would be? No one has ever created a weapon like this before. To harness the power of nuclear fission and direct it at a target? The world will never be the same."

"Well," mused Gerald. "Better them than us."

And when the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated in the deserts of Los Alamos, Robert Oppenheimer spoke with reverence. "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

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