The narrow corridor got stuffier as the seconds ticked off. Kevin’s sweat beaded on his forehead, stained the back of his shirt. Valerie leaned against the wall, away from Kevin.
“It’s not working,” he whispered. “You sure it’s the right door?”
Valerie crouched. “Reach up and feel the name plate,” she whispered. “Feel the letters. What are they?”
He lifted his hand, patted the door, stopped. “Umm, OK, feels like C, O, then something… then another O…”
“Connors Demolitions, as advertised,” she whispered. “Now, back to work. Remember what I told you. Nice and easy. One pin at a time. Can you tell which ones feel springy?”
“I think so,” Kevin whispered.
“And the clicks when they set?”
“Yeah. Yeah, here’s one!”
“You’re doing fine. Keep constant tension on the pick, don’t try to force it,” she whispered.
Footsteps echoed through the building.
“Shit,” Kevin whispered. “Is that a guard?”
“I’ll take care of him,” Valerie whispered. “You concentrate on that lock. After it opens–”
“Detonators are in the cigar box in the top right desk drawer,” Kevin whispered. “I remember.” She heard him swallow, smacking his dry lips. “What… what are you going to do with him?”
“The guard?” she said. “Why do you want to know?”
“Well…” He paused, straightened his back. “Umm…”
“You wanted to strike a blow for Mother Gaia, didn’t you?” she said.
“Umm… yeah?” he whispered and stared over Valerie’s head.
“Second thoughts?” she said.
“Umm… no?” he said, his voice quivering.
She rose from her crouch, pirouetted in silence, and tip-toed down the corridor toward the guard’s desk. It was Larry’s turn on night duty, you could always count on Larry’s prostate to send him to the can every half-hour like clockwork. That, and a cigarette at quarter-to and quarter-past.
She could almost taste the smoke of Larry’s cigarette as she walked toward him. Bumming a cigarette off Larry was never a problem.
Kevin’s hand shook as he poured nitric acid into the glass bowl. The mixture seethed, an orange mist rising above it.
“You sure this is safe?” he said, his voice muffled by his respirator.
“I hope so,” Valerie answered.
Kevin’s hand drew back. “What do you mean, you hope so?” He turned to Valerie, his expression hidden by his goggles.
“I hope you did a thorough job, washing all that glassware,” she said. “TNT is a pussycat if it’s pure. If you left any dirt in there, we’ll have pockets of unreacted dinitrotoluene, and that stuff will detonate if you look at it crosseyed.”
Kevin took a breath and resumed pouring.
“Where’d you learn all that?” he asked.
“Premed,” she said, and turned away to hide a smile.
“How much farther?” Kevin gasped.
“Two miles,” Valerie answered. “And lose that scared-shitless look. If anyone sees us, we’re hikers.”
“With enough explosives to blow up a small town,” Kevin said.
“You did remember to put the detonators in your pockets, right?” Valerie said.
“Yeah,” Kevin said.
“You sure?” Valerie said. “‘Cause if you fall down, and they go off in a backpack full of TNT…”
“I’m sure,” Kevin hissed between his teeth.
“We could have done this yesterday,” Kevin said. He slapped a putty-like blob onto a girder and reached into his pocket.
“STOP!” Valerie bellowed. “What did I tell you? Set all the charges first, then go back and attach all the detonators. You’re making mistakes, and that’s after a good night’s rest. If I was tired, too, I might not catch them all. Now, take another charge of TNT and put it –” she pointed to a girder junction farther up “– there.”
“Shit,” Kevin said. “I gotta climb that?”
“You gotta climb that,” Valerie said.
He pulled himself up, his feet scrambling for a ledge. “We’ll set it off tonight?”
“Tomorrow morning,” she said.
“Be warmer if we shared a sleeping bag,” he said.
She sighed. It never failed. Sooner or later, they all got around to that.
“I won’t be sleeping,” she said. “Gotta check placement one more time.” And this time, use real plastique with real detonators, she added silently.
He sighed and resumed climbing.
“Now?” Kevin said.
Valerie nodded. Kevin pushed the plunger.
The flash seemed too small, as did the cloud that rose in silence from the base of the transmission tower. Kevin’s face quirked.
“That’s–” he began.
The wall of sound hit them then, a palpable avalanche of roar and thunder, slamming air from Kevin’s chest and plastering his face with clumps of topsoil. He jumped to his feet, tearing off his goggles, spitting the dirt jammed in his mouth. In the distance, the tower listed slowly, then gathered speed and fell, another cloud of dust rising at its impact.
“Boo-yah!” Kevin shouted, and danced a clumsy jig. “Take that, imperialist polluter bastard pigs! Strike a blow for a green Earth!”
Valerie applauded with all the sincerity she could muster.
There was an email from Connors in her inbox:
“Well done! I don’t know how you manage to low-ball, but it isn’t by cutting corners. I have another job next month: Williston Electric just completed their wind farm; they need the old smokestack taken down. I hope you bid.”
Her phone rang. She picked it up.
“Hi,” the voice on the phone said. “It’s Kevin.”
“Kevin, listen,” she said, “I asked you not to call –”
“Just wanted to thank you,” he said.
“Think you got your money’s worth?” she said.
“You kidding?” he said. “Can’t wait to tell the guys at work tomorrow. Best. Vacation. Ever!”
The author is a Codex and SFWA member with publications at NATURE, Ideomancer, UFO, DSF and other markets. He also know not only what “Kazka” means in the original Ukrainian, but can also tell a number of “Kazky” in the same language.