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Walking Time Bomb, Pt 2 of 3

As Johns had been on his way to patch up a general down by the AFT (the Afghan Freedom Theater) he was traveling with his full field surgical kit. As a result, Johns lay suspended, looking superficially like a deranged sunbather on an odd white chaise lounge, with the exception of being surrounded by electronic equipment and several mirrors on stands. This position allowed him to cut through the abdominal muscle without it being tensed up, a state of affairs that would have made his task far more difficult.

Johns cut down through the abdominal wall from right to left. Pain flashed visually like an exploding claymore underfoot, despite the painkillers and anesthetic (or maybe because of them). For a moment Johns' concentration slipped but he fought he way forward to the cockpit of consciousness and held on, lest the knife he was using to open his stomach slip and do unrepairable damage to his insides. And after the white flash, a red one; blood ran from his abdomen as he cut down, no local could stop that flow. Johns clamped the fold of abdominal skin and peered down within, searching for the nanobomb's core.

Johns used the suction tubes from the battlefield kit to remove the blood just long enough to look in the two or three most likely places. Although this was his own stomach he was looking into, and though the pain plus painkillers tempted him to succumb to unconsciousness, he was able to hold on. Periodically he was able to disassociate the pain that was over there from the visuals which were over here, so that the surgery appeared to be happening to someone else, the pain some random external distraction.

He found his mind wandering, though in a healthy way, operating in the background while he dug around searching for the main core. Although removal of the core would not defuse the bomb (which was himself, after all), it would prevent the nanobomb from growing any stronger. As he extended the main incision and searched, he found his mind translating that searching into a metaphorical search into his own past, searching for what had brought him here, to this place and to this point in his life.

Where did it begin? In the mess tent at lunch time? No, that's when the bomb was planted. His mind swam, trying to keep focus while not being overly focused on the horror and the pain. Where were the seeds for his life's mission laid? What started him on the trajectory that led him to this point? It had been earlier in the morning, in the bunk getting up this morning. No, wait: It was his teen years...but the symptoms were already visible by then: running for student council president, intense training in boxing and then beating the hell out of the football toughs when they started picking on a few nerds. Two of the punks ended up in the hospital for nearly a week. He got in trouble with the school administration, but there was so much support from most of the students as well as the parents that they ended up giving him a token suspension for a few days, despite the fact that he had more or less waited for those punks to do something, practically stalked them for a week or two. Come to think of it, he had seen the toughs waiting that afternoon and had hung back, letting his geeky friends go ahead, drawing the toughs into an attack. Johns jumped in just at the toughs started shoving his friends, and he didn't say a word. His mind at just about shut down as he went into battle, smashing noses and cheekbones, breaking arms.

Johns looked up at the surgical gear and saw what must have been a few pints of his blood coagulating on the scrubby dirt below. Johns paused and looked up at the overcast sky: It was not uniformly overcast but rather, lighter patches could be seen as well as some cloud textures. Within a few hours it could break up. Johns looked down at his open, clamped abdomen, and black and red gash in the world. It appeared to be opened up to the sky, telling its secret to a vast silent partner that could be fully trusted to be discrete.

Johns brought a light nearer and saw what looked at first to be some feature of the stomach wall. On closer inspection, however, it was a thin tendril, snaking off to the duodenum and, beyond, the large intestine. By carefully tracing this tendril he should be able to locate the nanobomb's core, which was the brains of the bomb, to the extent the nanobomb had any centralized functionality. Even within the core the bomb--himself--could explode unless the tendrils were removed.

John cut further to the left and could not help but think that he was insiding himself out...with the growing flap of stomach skin clamped over, the incision was no longer a hole in his stomach, but rather his insides were now fully exposed. John traced the tendril and then held it with a clamp. Blood flowed continuously, now, though with clamps and suction he could just keep it to the level where he could search for a minute or two.

The disassociated part of Johns' mind thought again and moved back, earlier than high school, into childhood. What had made him what he was? His parents had been overacheivers of a sort, both extremely successful. At the same time, however, they had both emotionally abandoned both him, his two sisters and two brothers. Both parents had outside affairs and substance issues, but there was the feeling of their absence in the home. He always remembered both of them trying to get un-entangled in their kidly affairs, the mother on her way to tennis lessons or social events, the father rushing to "catch up on work", which most of the time actually meant working very late, but occasionally meant meeting his long-term mistress. Both parents punshied them for bad grades but rewarded them with money or videgames when they got good grades or performed whatever extracurriculars were necessary to get them into a good college.

As Johns was the oldest it was his job to be a sort of protector, almost an additional parent. He made sure his siblings did the right thing, returning found items or admitting neighborhood wrongs. Johns also was their protector, fighting and inflicting punishment on any child, even those much older and larger, for any abuse they might attempt on his brothers and sisters. Come to think of it, that was an odd role for a child to play...what made him feel he had to do that? And meanwhile, he did very little for himself. He rarely played wioth friends, aside from his brothers and sisters. His only sport was, eventually, boxing. As his brothers and sisters grew older they eventually came to resent his interference in their lives, and they pushed him almost completely out of the social circles or other activities. They hurt him, and only now, under this sky, with his innards exposed, did he understand...they had developed actual content in their lives. He had not. He had nothing to live for, only battles to fight against.

And there it was: a small, hexagonal nodule. The bomb core. Very carefully, he clipped the three tendrils he found emanating from the core, and then slowly drew the core out. Theoretically, it was still something of a danger, and re-ingestion could restart the bomb process all over again.

Johns threw the core into the sand by a mirror stand and began to remove the tendrils.