Great War

There was a downside to the Nobbys – black spots that Naomi and her uncle Bobby had drawn all over the page. They were indeed points of possibility, from which any image could appear spontaneously, but they were also holes into which objects could disappear. They were points of both creation and destruction.

Naomi pulled up her socks and smoothed her hair. “What are you doing?” asked Bobby.

“I’m going into the drawing,” she said. “To look around.”

“Wait a minute,” said Bobby. “Let’s think about this first. What’s happening in there? We should know before we go back.”

Naomi pushed her nose up against the drawing. She was looking too closely, thought Bobby, she must have weak eyes. Did she need glasses already?

She said, “They look like holes when you look closely. Not like mole hills or star…” Bobby half-turned his head and said, “Sshh! Listen! Can you hear something?”

Naomi half-turned her head the other way, trying to mirror her uncle. She heard rumblings far away, like flour sacks hitting the ground every few seconds. She wondered, what are these tha-booms?

“Get down!” said Bobby as he felt a wave of hot air rush across his fingers. It seemed as if the air pushed first one way and then the other. He also felt a blast of heat, and tiny sharp fragments. “Ow! Ow! Ow!” he said, pulling back his hands. Naomi had already ducked under the table.

Bobby looked into the drawing and saw a black ball with a wick at the top, a classic cartoon bomb which makes a spiky flash saying “Boom!” But it also had a long fuse running along the ground, which joined with other fuses coming from other bombs, all making a thick tangle heading off towards a nuclear reactor with the tri-lobed International Radiation Hazard sign. It seemed these small chemical explosions were part of a larger system to trigger a nuclear explosion.

“Stay under the table!” he shouted at Naomi, and entered the drawing. He smelled cordite and a chilli tang. The site of the nearest Nobby was a blast seat – a point of detonation and destruction. He wondered what had been destroyed at this dark heart of explosive power. There was no obvious wreckage to show type, quantity, or quality of explosive used, not that he was any expert; what he knew was by watching footage from Iraq and Afghanistan. He looked for evidence of mechanical stress, penetration of projectiles, pressure damage, and other explosion-generated effects. Exothermic reactions of explosive materials provide sudden violent energy release. There is no mistaking a bomb.

“Uncle Bobby! Can I come out now?” Naomi’s voice was faint, but audible in the drawing, as the rumblings were far away.

“No! Stay where you are!” he shouted.

He wondered what had been destroyed here. Was it an actual physical object or just its image – this was a drawing after all. He saw another Nobby and walked towards it, crushing loose mortar fragments and crunching glass. This Nobby was different. Its blackness was diffuse.

If these blasts had occurred already, then how had they affected the nuclear reactor? Had it been destroyed, and its radiation released? Bobby checked his hands to see if they were flaking or glowing. They seemed quite hairy but otherwise fine.

He recalled a news item about Thermobarbaric weapons, which produced a vicious combination of negative shock waves and extreme temperatures, incinerating objects immediately. It was a way for governments to kill people horribly yet claim that they were acting morally, because it was a “conventional weapon”.

Bobby felt a great separation in the drawing. It seemed that great powers had assembled into opposing alliances, with black and white pulling apart. Buildings were standing and trees were lush but humans were absent. Some wretched plot had been hatched. Was this drawing a place of secret destruction?

He fell to his knees unexpectedly. He felt overwhelmed and lost. This was a future battlefield where millions, even billions, could be killed by the press of one button, but “valuable infrastructure” preserved. What future was there for anyone?

A little hand touched and then held his hand. His niece Naomi had entered the drawing. She smiled and he smiled. He laughed and she laughed. Her mouth was a little black hole full of everything, including words of innocence and dreams of truth.

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