August 6th, 1945 8:11am
I was given a cyanide capsule and instructions to take the secret to my grave. The pill, that pharmaceutical breakthrough was so toxic that once swallowed it would instantly stop all cellular respiration. This little miracle would then block aerobic energy production and hopefully, according to its design, send me into an instant coma. Then I’d break into a violent seizure and if all went according to plan, fall into cardiac arrest and be dead in a matter of minutes.
I’ve tested cyanide capsules like this. Never on myself, of course! Only on test subjects. I’ve observed the drug’s effect on humans and the poisonous black and yellow tube does exactly what it is designed to do. A triumph of chemistry, and one that works quickly. Sitting inside a small metal vial with a screw-top lid, one of these pills waited in the inside pocket of my jacket, ready for its call to action.
The idea is that if I’m captured, the cyanide will kill me so fast that our project, all of our work, will remain protected. No one will ever know what we did. Years of research wiped away instantly with a violent seizure followed by cardiac arrest.
So when the boat reached the island and I stepped into Hiroshima I saw a city untarnished by the fires of war. A place our research was meant to protect. A town crippled with anticipation of an inevitable attack.
The signs were everywhere. A column of soldiers trotting up the road wearing clean, pressed uniforms. Pristine bomb shelters made from cement sat by the roadside waiting to protect however many people could cram into one of those dark stone boxes. Citizens sharpened spears from bamboo, ready to defend their homeland.
I tucked my briefcase under my arm.
The rumor was that the Americans were saving Hiroshima for a special attack, but I would not be there to see it. I planned to be gone by the end of the day. I was merely passing through town. My memory custodian of the secrets I had sworn to protect, and in my pocket, the eternal honor of Japan was stored in an easy-to-swallow pill.
An unmistakable voice. Masaru’s.
“You had no clearance to leave the facility.”
I turned to face my superior officer. “My research has ended, Major. The facility is being dismantled.”
“There is work to be done, Captain.”
“You mean there is work to be erased. Nothing is to remain but our memories. Secrets we must take to our graves.”
Masaru nodded. “My memories no longer exist. They have already been purged.”
As we inspected each other a trio of planes flew overhead. American B-29s on a scouting mission to a nearby city, or possibly observing the weather over Hiroshima. Not an air raid. Air raids always came in swarms. Air raids caused panic: a loud siren followed by a swarm of people running for those flat gray bomb shelters.
These planes were merely passing over our territory, a daily reminder that our American enemy owned our skies.
Sweat dripped from Masaru’s black flattop, and a pair of hairs curled forward towards his eyes. He wore his uniform, and his brass insignia shined, never in need of a polish.
He peered at my briefcase and nodded towards the city. “Where do you think you are going?”
“I’m going home.” Some would say I was a traitor. Others would insist I acted honorably. Both would argue what my actions had done for the good of Japan.
For the good of the human race.
The sound of airplanes faded. It was 8:15 in the morning. I looked over the quiet city and saw its peacefulness, a serenity that represented the opposite of all the terrible things I’d seen during this war. The men shot, the bodies dismembered. Their eyeballs melted, their hair in flames or reduced to stubbles of black ash as the men lay dying, screaming for their mothers. Legs bleeding, fingers and limbs severed.
Would we, the human race, always fight? Would we always try to make ourselves better fighters?
I tried to believe that we wouldn’t. That we were satisfied with the weapons we had invented. That we decided we had gone far enough. Up until 8:15 that morning, I tried to believe we had halted our progress.
Then a flash. A brilliant yellow light.
Mark McGinty‘s work has appeared in Maybourne Magazine, Cigar City Magazine and Germ Warfare. His novel The Cigar Maker won a Bronze Medal at the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Awards and was named Finalist at both the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards and the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards.