On the morning of the day Jary Tomlin found the world’s last remaining gun, he and his wife were having an argument in the kitchen. As is so often the case with arguments, it was one they had been through several times before.
Linda was pulling mugs and measuring cups and self-baking cake mixes out of drawers and cupboards and throwing them into plastiboard boxes. “If you’d stayed in school instead of dropping out like a lazy bum,” she said to Jary, “this wouldn’t be happening.”
“I seem to remember you encouraging me to drop out so I could get a job,” protested Jary, as he packed away the coffee machine robot.
“Well you were failing every class,” Linda retorted, emphasizing her point by flourishing a whisk. “If you’d actually ever done any of your homework, things would’ve been different!”
“You wouldn’t let me do any homework,” said Jary. “You kept forcing me to take you on dates to the laser-skating rink, and watch your holovision shows with you, and visit your mother every other day of the week…”
Linda whirled around with her hands on her hips. “So it’s my fault now? I’m the one to blame that we can’t make rent, that we’re getting kicked out onto the street? Go on, tell me how it’s my fault!”
Jary raised his hands defensively. “Don’t bite my head off!” he said. “All I’m saying is if we want to live in nice houses like this one, and buy unnecessary robots to make our coffee for us, then maybe you need to get a part-time job.”
The robot in the box at Jary’s feet beeped and burbled.
“You heard me,” said Jary, giving the box a kick.
Tears flashed into Linda’s eyes. “You don’t appreciate all the work I do,” she said, pointing an accusatory ladle at Jary’s chest. “I’m your wife, Jary. My job is to take care of you. Haven’t I always done that? Haven’t I kept you fed? Haven’t I kept you happy?”
Jary sighed. “That’s not what I mean.”
“Look at the holes I’ve worn in my socks, running around the house every day, making your dinner and washing your laundry and dusting your TV. Look at the holes, Jary!” sobbed Linda. She held up her foot and looked at it herself. “Oh my. I need new socks. And some pants, too, probably.”
Jary rolled his eyes. “You don’t need any new pants. You just bought three pairs last month.”
“What would you know?” snapped Linda. “You’d dress yourself in the same jeans and t-shirt every single day if I wasn’t here to take care of you. Don’t you try to tell me what I do and do not need to buy!”
“You’re impossible,” groaned Jary, stomping out of the kitchen.
“Where are you going?”
“To the garage, out of range of your voice.”
“Fine!” called Linda. “Take the shelves down while you’re out there!”
Jary slammed the door behind him.
The garage was a total disaster. It was supposed to fit two hovercars, but it would have been a challenge to park two hovercycles in it at this point. Jary stood for a minute and let the steam seep out of his ears.
That woman was sapping his life away. She refused to get a job, spent every dime he earned, and didn’t even want to have kids. What had ever induced him to marry her?
He kicked the dusty treadmill that Linda had promised she’d get good use out of, and a side panel broke off. Junk. It was all junk. Jary wasn’t even sure where some of it had come from. Maybe they’d reached some kind of critical junk mass, and it was starting to reproduce. He was sure he’d never seen those laser skis in the corner before.
The shelves along the back wall were layered with boxes and bags. Jary didn’t even know what was in half of them. A couple on the end looked like they might be intended for recyclables, but Jary never put anything in the recycling. Maybe Linda did. Not likely.
The shelves were probably the only worthwhile thing in the whole garage. He’d built them when they first moved in. Oh, what wonderful plans he’d had back then for a neat, tidy garage, with a place for everything and everything in its place. The shelves had been a key element of that vision. Now they just sat there on the wall, looking down over the mess, mocking him.
Well, he wasn’t going to leave them behind for whoever moved into this place next. The landlords could evict them, but they weren’t going to get any free home improvements out of it. Besides, Jary was in a destructive mood, anyways.
He climbed over the old laundry-bot to retrieve his hammer from the crowded work bench along the far wall. He’d been intending to fix that bot one of these months, and sell it once he get it working. Why hadn’t he? All it needed was a new battery, probably.
Hanging the hammer on his belt, Jary leaned a stepladder up against the wall beside the shelves and started bringing boxes down. He found a bunch of scrapbooking materials in one, and a collection of How-To manuals in another. There were a few boxes of pieces for a model train set, and ah ha! The Halloween decorations that had gone missing a couple of years back, and that he’d forgotten to ever go looking for.
Jary stacked all the boxes on top of his work bench. By the time the shelves were clear, he’d worked up a decent sweat. It felt good, and when he looked up to the empty shelves he got a bit of that original optimism back. Eviction wouldn’t be so bad. They’d find a new place soon, maybe even a better place, and it would be a fresh start. Everything would look like these empty shelves, bare and clean. He’d finally be able to get things organized, especially if he brought the shelves along to help.
Mounting the ladder again, Jary turned his hammer around and started pulling at the nails he’d used to hang the shelves. Most of them came out quite easily. It probably would’ve been smarter to use screws. He’d do that next time. And he’d have to get a stud-finder to make sure he wasn’t just anchoring into drywall, like he’d apparently done in a couple of places when he’d put these up. Oops.
One of the nails, at least, had gone into something solid. It had probably done most of the work of holding all the boxes up for the last couple of years, and it sure was being stubborn about coming out. Jary braced himself and yanked at the hammer with both hands, gritting his teeth.
The shelf came loose and collapsed with a crash. Jary’s momentum carried him off the ladder and he fell onto a couple of garbage bags which, thankfully, were stuffed with old clothes. He blinked and sputtered. Drywall dust showered down around him.
Wrestling himself free of the garbage bags, Jary got back to his feet and looked up. There was a hole in the drywall where the shelf had been anchored. Where Jary expected to see a vertical wooden stud, though, he instead saw a small, horizontal shelf that had been hidden inside the wall, with a little red box sitting on top of it. What was that doing there?
Jary climbed up the ladder and took out the red box. He lifted off the lid just as Linda pushed open the door.
“What’s going on?” demanded Linda. “What was that crash? Are you breaking stuff out here? You look like a mess!”
“I found something,” said Jary, “hidden inside the wall.”
“What? What is it?”
“I’m not sure.” Jary took the object in the box and held it up in front of him. It had a wooden handle that fit nicely into his palm, a short, round tube sticking out in front of it, and some metal mechanisms in the middle.
“Jary,” said Linda, breathlessly, “that’s a gun!”
“You think so?” said Jary. “I thought guns were bigger.”
“It’s a gun, Jary, I know it’s a gun! Guns are illegal! Guns are dangerous! Put it down! You’re going to blow us both up, or set the whole neighbourhood on fire or something!”
Jary held the gun—if that was what it was—gingerly as he climbed down from the ladder. “Don’t worry, I’m being careful,” he said.
“Careful!?” screeched Linda. “A gun isn’t something you can just ‘handle carefully’! We should be evacuating!”
“There’s no need to get hysterical,” said Jary.
“Oh yes there is!” Linda shrieked. “Guns aren’t safe, like peace weapons. They aren’t like Pacifiers or Tranquilasers or Harmony Beams. They’re violent. They’re meant for war, and murder, and killing people!
Jary rolled his eyes. “Does this little thing look like it’s going to just jump up and murder someone?”
Linda just whimpered.
“Fine,” said Jary, “I’ll call the police, just in case.” He put the gun back in its box and carried it into the house.
“What are you doing, carrying that thing around? You shouldn’t even be touching it!” warned Linda. “And don’t get the carpet dirty! You’re covered in dust.”
Jary tried to tune her out as he went into the kitchen, picked up the phone, and scrolled through the contacts list to find the local police department.
The civilian dispatcher who answered the call took his name and address. “What can I help you with, Jary?” she asked.
“I, um. I found something hidden in the wall of my garage,” said Jary. “My wife thinks it might be a gun.”
He heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. “What have… What are you doing with it?” asked the dispatcher.
“Nothing,” said Jary. “I just brought it inside and thought I should call it in. You know, just in case.”
“You brought it inside? Are you insane, Jary? This is a gun we’re talking about! Where is it right now?”
“Beside me on the kitchen counter. I—”
Another voice broke in. “Mr. Tomlin, this is Agent Parsons of the CIA. We advise you to remain in your home, and leave the gun where it is sitting right now. Do not attempt to leave your home, or your actions will be viewed as indicating hostile intent. Our agents will be arriving in approximately 15 minutes to secure the gun. I repeat, we will be on site in 15 minutes. Remain where you are.”
“Um… Okay,” said Jary. “Should I stay on the phone, or…?”
“That’s your call, Mr. Tomlin,” said Agent Parsons. “If you want to talk, we can talk. It’s up to you.”
“It’s just that I’m kind of dirty right now.” Jary plucked a little chunk of drywall out of his hair.
“I see,” said Agent Parsons. His voice had a rasping edge to it. “So it’s like that, then. Very well. Like I said, it’s your call. We’ll be seeing you in 15 minutes. Will you be ready for us?”
“I intend to be,” said Jary.
“I assure you that we, too, will be ready.”
“Er,” said Jary, “great, I guess.”
“This is not a game, Mr. Tomlin,” said Agent Parsons. “Remember: 15 minutes.”
Jary hung up. “That was weird.”
“What did they say?” asked Linda. “Are they coming here?”
“Yeah, in about 15 minutes,” said Jary. “He was very clear on that point. I’m going to go rinse off all this dust before they get here.”
“Ah, oh,” Linda moaned, “why did this have to happen to us? And right in the middle of all our packing, too.”
“It’s fine,” Jary assured her, already on his way to the bathroom. “I’m sure it’ll only take a minute or two to deal with.” He ran the hot water, hopped into the shower, and began scrubbing his head.
Two minutes later he heard someone pounding on the door. “CIA! Open up, Jary Tomlin! We know you’re in there!”
Jary shut off the water and hopped out of the shower, muttering to himself. “Fifteen minutes? Doesn’t the CIA know how to tell time?” He ran a towel over himself as quickly as he could. “Linda, get the door!”
Linda poked her head into the bathroom. “I’m scared!” she said.
“Well I’m wet!”
The pounding continued. “Open the door, Mr. Tomlin!”
Jary sighed as he hurriedly pulled on his underwear and pants. The fabric stuck to his still-wet skin. He dragged a shirt over his head and trotted into the kitchen to retrieve the gun.
“Last chance, Mr. Tomlin! Open this door right now!”
“I’m coming!” Jary called. He jogged up the front door, turned the handle, pulled the door open, and held the gun out in his palm.
He was greeted by half a dozen imposing CIA agents in dark suits and sunglasses with very serious expressions on their faces and Pacifiers in their hands. Each thumb-sized silver peace weapon was pointed straight at Jary. The front yard was ringed in by a telecopter, two SWAT helivans, and at least two dozen nervous-looking police officers.
The CIA agents looked down at the gun in Jary’s hand and smoothly, slowly, began to back away.
“Here it is,” said Jary. “It isn’t mine. I just found it.”
“Steady now, Mr. Tomlin,” said one of the agents, a black woman who was holding her hands placatingly out in front of her. “Let’s not make this any more difficult than it has to be.”
“I don’t want things to be difficult.”
“Good,” said the agent. She licked her lips. “Good,” she repeated. “I’m Agent Smithers. Can we talk? All I want to do is talk.”
“Sure, yes,” said Jary. “Let’s talk.”
“Why don’t we talk inside,” suggested Smithers.
“Fine,” said Jary.
“Okay, I’m going to come towards you, and I’m going to keep my hands out in front of me, where you can see them. Why don’t you lead me to a couch, or a table, or really anywhere you’ll feel comfortable.”
“Um,” said Jary. “Okay.” He brought Smithers into the front room. She sat down on an easy chair, seeming decidedly uneasy about it. Jary put the gun down on the coffee table and sat on the couch.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking,” said Smithers. “You’re trying to make a statement. You want to shake things up a bit. I get that.”
“I… What?” said Jary.
“I don’t know where you got this gun. The technology for making them has been lost for decades. But here we are.”
Jary wrinkled his forehead. “I just… I found it in my garage.”
“Uh huh. Really, it doesn’t matter where it came from, Mr. Tomlin. That isn’t why I’m here. All I want is to get the gun out of your hands without any bloodshed.”
“That sounds very reasonable,” said Jary.
“Good,” said Smithers. “So, down to business then. First, let me turn this off…” She reached into her jacket, took out a small audio recorder, and thumbed a switch. A red light on its side blinked out. “I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we’d prefer not to have a record of these negotiations,” she said. “Official policy states that we do not negotiate with terrorists.”
Jary’s eyes popped open. “With what?”
“Now, here’s the really good news for you,” continued Smithers. “I don’t actually work for the CIA.”
“Well, I do, but not only for them. I’m here on behalf of a foreign government. Exactly which government is not your concern. Suffice it to say that I think your interests and our interests align in this scenario.”
“We want this gun, Mr. Tomlin. It is of extreme value to us.” Smithers stared at Jary intensely. “The Global Disarmament accords did their job well. Too well, we think. Look at us, armed with nothing but Pacifiers and Peacemakers and other pitiful nonsense. All that hype and rhetoric about Mutually Assured Destruction means nothing now. With this gun in our hands, there would be nothing ‘mutual’ about it. You may have your demands, Mr. Tomlin, but we have much larger fish to fry.” Smithers paused. “And I’m not saying that because we’re a coastal nation. I mean, we might be, but we aren’t necessarily. Water-related metaphors exist in landlocked countries, too. We might have lakes.” She frowned. “Don’t read too much into that.”
Jary said, “What?”
“You want numbers? I’ll give you numbers. How about a million dollars?”
Jary sat up a little straighter. “A million?”
“Ten million, then. We aren’t some poor, backwater nation. Or maybe a back-land nation. What I’m trying to say is we have resources. But not that many resources. Enough resources. Stop trying to make me slip, Mr. Tomlin. I’m not telling you anything more than you need to know.”
Jary blinked and looked down at the gun. What in the world was going on?
“Wait! Last offer!” said Smithers. “Twenty-five million dollars. We’ll walk out of here together, you and I, take that telecopter in the front yard, and jump away to Rabat before they know what’s going on. Or to any other city. Whatever city I’m from. Because maybe I’m not from Morocco. But I could be. But maybe I’m not.” Smithers bit her lip.
Twenty-five million dollars. Jary surreptitiously pinched his leg. Nope, he wasn’t dreaming. The things he could do with twenty-five million dollars… But from the sounds of it, that would mean giving the gun to Morocco. Should he do that? They seemed to want it really badly. Was it really that powerful of a weapon?
“Um,” said Jary, “what happens after you get the gun?”
“Whatever you want,” said Smithers. “You fly away free. You can even keep the telecopter.”
His own telecopter? It was like a childhood fantasy come true. “That sounds… really good,” said Jary. “But I think maybe I should talk to my wife.”
Smithers leaned forward. “Certainly,” she said, with a Cheshire grin. “Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
“Linda!” called Jary. “Linda, where are you? Come in here!”
Linda peeked her head in from the kitchen, behind the couch Jary was sitting on. “Yes?”
“I need to discuss something with you,” said Jary. He turned around to look at his wife. “This lady says…”
As soon as Jary had turned, Smithers pounced. She flung herself forwards, grabbed at the gun, and crashed through the coffee table. Jary was so startled that he tipped the couch over backwards. Linda screamed.
Smithers came up with the gun in her hand. “Ha! Now the tables have turned!” she crowed. “You should have taken my offer, Mr. Tomlin.”
“I was going to!” squeaked Jary, raising his hands above his head.
“Too late now,” barked Smithers. “But you’re coming with me anyways, both of you. You’re going to be my insurance policy until we get on that telecopter. Get in front of me. March!”
Jary and Linda scurried ahead of Smithers as she led them to the front door.
“Open it,” ordered Smithers.
Linda slowly turned the handle and pushed the door open. The CIA agents and police officers in the yard were instantly alert, raising their Pacifiers.
“Nobody makes a move!” shouted Smithers. “I’ve got the gun!”
There was a collective gasp. “Veronica, no!” cried one of the agents. “What are you doing?”
“I’m securing the future prosperity of Morocco!” boasted Smithers. “Or maybe some other country. Morocco might only be an example. You’ll find out soon enough! Don’t try to track me when I leave, or else.” She waved the gun in the air.
Smithers glared evilly. “I’ve got hostages, and I’m taking them to the telecopter. First person to make a move gets to experience the full destructive power of this marvel of pre-Disarmament technology!” She prodded Jary and Linda with her free hand. “Move,” she commanded. They began taking slow steps across the yard towards the waiting telecopter.
A young, steely-eyed police officer waited until they were just passing by, and swiftly raised his Pacifier.
Smithers whirled on him and pulled the gun’s old-fashioned trigger with an evil, triumphant grin. There was a loud BANG, and the officer was knocked over backwards.
“Ooh, ow!” moaned the officer. He sat up, holding his shoulder. Blood was streaming out between his fingers. “Ooow.”
Smithers looked at the gun in her hand and furiously spun Jary around to face her. “That’s it!?” she bellowed. “That’s all this gun does?”
Jary shrugged meekly. “I don’t know! I just found it!”
The CIA agents, several of whom had dived to the ground when Smithers fired the gun, were getting back to their feet.
Smithers defiantly raised the gun in front of her. “You’ll never take me!” she cried, and sprinted towards the telecopter.
Four Pacifier beams struck her at once, and she and the gun disintegrated into a neat little pile of dust and salt.
“Interesting,” said one of the CIA agents.
“Very interesting,” said another.
“I guess it really was quite a small gun.”