We Never Thought About What We Were Doing
The Enola Gay. Alan had visited it many times in the past, but he felt like he’d never actually seen it until today. He wasn’t entirely sure how he got to the museum, he’d left his house and started driving, next thing he knew he was paying for parking and walking to the museum, his hand buried deep in his coat pocket.
He remembered reading a book about the Manhattan Project decades ago when he was an undergraduate at Princeton. It’s true that every physicist reveres Albert Einstein, but it’s also true that most physicists lust after the Manhattan Project. It was a time of pure unfettered scientific advancement. Money flowed like water and brilliant groundbreaking ideas fell from the sky like rain. It was an environment that never existed before or since, a unique Golden Age of Physics.
These last few hours one phrase had been running through Alan’s head non-stop. It was a quote he’d read from a comparatively minor Manhattan Project physicist – or maybe he was a chemist. He said that in those days there was so much exciting work to do, and so many amazing discoveries being made, that they never thought about what they were actually doing until it was too late. They all knew they were building an atomic bomb, but they never thought of the moral implications of unleashing that demon upon the world. There were anecdotes that after the Trinity test some of the scientists nearly went mad from the guilt.
Alan had a friend in college who was a history major and a science buff, and they would talk for hours about the history of science. On the subject of the Manhattan Project his friend would only say, “During the Manhattan Project unregulated scientists were put in charge of scientific advancement. The world learned never to do that again.” Alan always thought it was complete rubbish – and still did – but now he finally saw his friend’s point.
How was it that the scientists who built the Bomb aren’t considered mass murderers? Why are they not looked down upon the way we look down upon the chemists that invented mustard gas? Is it only because we won the war? As his sweaty hand clenched tighter in his coat pocket, Alan wondered if he would be looked upon favorably by future generations.
For five years he’d worked on the Zero Point Project, attempting to extract vacuum energy from space. If it worked he would give humanity free and limitless energy from devices the size of car batteries. Yesterday his team discovered that it did work – far better than they’d anticipated. It turns out that once you begin extracting vacuum energy it’s really hard to stop. They’d meant to pull one cubic micron, but a cascade effect converted several cubic meters of vacuum into pure heat, destroying the entire desert test facility and leaving a crater a half mile wide, killing eight technicians. Of course bombs were always a potential application they were working on, but now it seemed like it might be the only feasible application.
There was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, he’d worked closely with a team of fifty for five years, and they had briefed countless scientists outside their organization in the name of oversight. Yes, he had destroyed his personal notes this morning, but there was nothing there that his team couldn’t work out within a few weeks; they were, after all, the best the nation had to offer.
But even if his absence would do nothing, he couldn’t stay. The yield calculations they’d done after the test were undeniable; a bomb one quarter the size of the one the Enola Gay dropped would be entirely capable of destroying a city the size of New York, leaving a smoking crater and a low amount of fleeting Hawking radiation. There would be no fallout and no contamination.
There would be no reason not to use it.
Alan kept his eyes on the Enola Gay, but focused past it, through it. He felt he could almost see its soul if he blurred his eyes just right. In that museum at that instant he felt a stronger connection to that plane than he had ever felt to another living person, and he realized that may have been his biggest problem his entire life. He never thought about anyone, even himself. He single mindedly pursued discovery.
He never stopped to think about what he was actually doing.
Alan’s fist clenched tight around the grip of the handgun as he pulled it from his coat pocket while keeping his eyes focused through the plane. He opened his mouth, and for the briefest moment tasted gunmetal.