by David Walls-Kaufman

A template of Innate Ethics has been a preoccupation of mine for decades, and I’m hoping to complete a book on them soon. The God Gun came from that idea, and blended with ideas of some sort of serious civil confrontation. All of which I feel is nullified by chiropractic answering the call on medical and social welfare spending, and therefore taxes.

The gun looked so toy-like that it seemed all the more sinister.

The Political Officer got up very slowly from behind his desk, staring at the heavy rifle case lain on his desk as if it contained the death of him. He came around with the same stiff edge of caution and dread, switching hands on his long red lacquer cigarette holder. He never took his eyes off the bulky plastic case that obviously held some sort of weapon. The Political Officer, Shirley Folk, had taken up the filthy habit of smoking again, brought on by the stress of the War that had gone on far longer than anyone anticipated. But the old stigma attached to the smoking habit now was mostly gone, since a few higher ups had come to be known to do it again.

            Shirley Folk stared down at the case the two soldiers had carried in. A plain plastic hardshell case. Surprisingly light weight.

            “Open it,” Folk directed.

            After a second’s hesitation, one of the Homeland Security officers unsnapped the chrome cleats. Deep embossed on the lid was the Octavian Arms logo. Just the sight of the logo stirred some animal dread in Shirley. There it was. What the entire upper echelon was talking about. Shirley almost doubted the rumors.

            The gun appeared made of flimsy military green plastic like a toy. Two elongated rectangular pieces with a crude sight array, a rifle stock and a pistol grip. The business end didn’t even have a hole for a bullet or projectile.

            The gun looked so toy-like that it seemed all the more sinister.

            “That’s it?” Folk curtly asked the two soldiers.

            “Yes, sir. That’s all he brought.” The DHS officer said, feeling stupid.

            Shirley held his cigarette holder in both hands. “Bring him in.”

            The DHS officer brought in a plain-looking man in a denim jacket and older jeans and a lovely new pair of Ferragamo loafers that were certainly rare to see these days. Shirley almost scowled. They were the only ones allowed to put on airs with their dress anymore. Their women could wear real fur coats.

            That’s okay. Their time will come.

            The man glanced around the room uncertain who was in charge. He realized it must be Shirley, beside the gun. Shirley noted how everyone in the room was on pins and needles, waiting on his lead. Gone were the days of loose joviality.

            “This is a Psyche-Pulse weapon?” Shirley asked him. The screens on his wrist and his pad winked on. He impulsed them into dormancy again.

            “Yes, Political Officer, it is.”

            “How did you get it?”

            “I was an engineer at Octavian Arms.”

            “Why did you steal it?”

            “Because I am loyal to our side.”

            Shirley’s eyes returned to the object.

            “You know it looks like a toy?”

            “I’m well aware of that, Mr. Folk. But it is the real McCoy.”

            Shirley touched the nib of his cigarette holder to his lips and took a careful, probative sip. “So—how does it shoot?”

            “It doesn’t shoot a projectile per se; it shoots a perfectly tuned electromagnetic signal.” The engineer watched the Political Officer digest this. “I’m told that the signal poses a simple question to the target.”

            Shirley leveled his gaze. “A question?”

            “Yes, sir. A question.”

            “—How does it do that?”

            “It is my understanding it is same as an old-time radio signal.” He hesitated; it seemed so queerly fantastic. “The signal is so perfectly calibrated to the amygdala as to make it past all other biological chatter. And the query is made.”

            Shirley pinched the nib tightly, staring.

            The Psyche-Pulse God Gun. Just too f-ing unreal.

            The next question opened to the dark behind an anonymous door. “And what does it ask the target brain?”

            The engineer hesitated. He cringed at answering out loud. You never knew what insulted these higher ups. “It—asks a moral question. Sir.” He had known this would be the toughest part of the sale.

            Shirley felt the dread again. This is what the intel implied, but never said. As if no one in Intelligence wanted to know the answer. Because how could the other side have this weapon if this were true? People in the Party had chuckled it off. But then, all the horrible disfiguring. The photos were quickly eliminated. Before they demoralized anyone. There was talk that the enemy had been first to make alien contact. This could be disastrous. It could end the war. If only our side had gotten there first. This weapon would stop the Fascists from waltzing into New York or Chicago or Seattle and setting up kangaroo courts for war crimes. Who could explain those injuries?

            Shirley sat on his desk beside the case. “You don’t seem to be all that confident in telling me precisely how this thing works.” 

            The engineer coughed into his fist. “Well, sir, Octavian keeps all departments separate. I worked on what looked like calibration. The most difficult part.”

            “How so? Why—would that be?”

            “Well, the difficulty in getting the full attention of the subconscious. In making it see that a decision must be made.” He knew this was hard to follow. And that doubt could not be far behind. “You see, the entire theory behind this weapon is that there is a universal right and wrong, Good and Evil, and it is in this context that the gun allegedly makes an inquiry past the individual’s preferences.”

            Shirley squinted confusedly. “But that’s bullshit. That can’t happen.”

            “I don’t believe it either, sir. I’m just reporting what is said.” No one interrupted, so he went on. “The target is made to ask themselves if they have led a worthy life, if the causes they support are moral—” He could see flame creep into Folk’s neck.

            Shirley waited for the part that had dropped off. “And?”

            The engineer screwed his head sideways. “The gun asks if the individual is not making the world a better place, then why not—get rid of themselves?”

            Shirley painfully let out a breath he’d held for a minute.

            Did that explain the wrenching disfigurements?

            “They get rid of themselves?”

            The photos had been only too vivid.

            “And—where does the bullet come out?”

            “I don’t want to be held responsible for wild war rumors, sir.”

            “Well, how do you test it?” Shirley demanded. “Do you use animal subjects? They don’t do anything evil.” Shirley’s mind pushed away the images.

            “They say the brain rebels against itself. I have no idea how to test it, Mr. Folk.”

            Shirley leaned over his desk, stonily uncomprehending. He looked around as if for his cigarette holder that was still clenched in his left fist. “Mr. Okonye, I’m sure you’ll be well compensated by stealing this little device. But I’m beginning to question your entire story here. How could this thing do what you say?”

            “There is an assumption on the other side about an internal moral construct. For example, if you remove politics from a situation it becomes clear what the moral thing to do is.” Okonye could see Folk needed more. “If we fail to live a healthy lifestyle then the body drives us toward breakdown and faster aging. Their claim is that all of that is accelerated somehow with the gun, sir. That’s all.”

            “I see. That’s all,” Folk repeated.

            He thought about what the other side said about moral relativism.

            The engineer shut up. He let the Political Officer rummage among the pieces for those he preferred. Folk sank into his desk chair. He looked over the gun case at his Captain by the door, wondering what he made of all this.

            The Captain said to Okonye, “But where does the power come from? It looks like the bodies are exploded.”

            “It comes from the person.” Okonye paused. “Our body uses fantastic amounts of energy to run itself. Something like—a person could light up New York for a year. I figured we could duplicate the weapon, and program it with our moral code, then we could tip the war back in our favor.” He realized suddenly what he had said.

            Shirley straightened himself deliberately. What reason did Okonye have for thinking they were not winning the war? Did it look that bad from the outside? Was it the rumors about this gun? Shirley started to wonder if he believed this entire story. “I just want to know how you managed to steal this.”

            “I snatched and grabbed it.”

            “So, they know you took it.”

            “Now they do.”

            “Any way it’s not the real thing? A plant?”

            The engineer shook his head. “They would’ve had to suspect me. And I’ve just never given them any shred of reason to.”

            “What is the power source?”

            The engineer made a sheepish face. “A 9 volt battery.”

            Shirley’s sneered. “A 9 volt battery? I’ve seen what this thing can do!”

            The engineer didn’t know how to respond.

            “Then how are you sure of any of this?”

            The engineer’s shoulders twitched. “Mr. Folk, I did the best I could.”

            Folk put up his hand to shut him up. He pulled out the stub of his cigarette and laid it in the heavy amber ashtray. “Mr. Okonye, have you tested it?”

            The engineer didn’t budge. He hadn’t dared.

            Folk regarded his two Homeland Security officers. “Go to the stockade. Round up some POWs and bring them in.”

            The Captain hesitated. “But, sir—”

            “Are you reconsidering my order for me?”

            “Well, sir, it’s just that, when the war ends—”

            “They used the weapons on us!”

            The Captain hung by the door.

            Folk exploded. “You can be my test subject, Mister!” The Captain nodded and the two soldiers hurried out. Folk stewed over their conduct. This War.

            Folk, his Captain, and Okonye waited. Folk stared at his platinum cigarette case in his hands. Okonye refused to lower his eyes and look suspicious. He wondered if he would have done this all over again had he the chance. Would the blasted thing even work? The last two years of the War, he had longed for this day to get back with his own side and steal something for them that would get him noticed. A cottage on the Hudson. Even just a car. Really, he had hoped for much more. Now, he felt you were better off never bringing yourself to their attention.

            They heard the approaching scrape of heavy chains and boots on the scarred wood floor. Into the office stepped five POWs, American GIs. All of them had bruises and cuts on their faces from going through it. One fellow’s eye was puckered fatty white with a rind of purple. Their skin and hair were dense with muck and stink. The smell of long unwash and thick adrenaline from uncertainty stabbed the room with vile putridity as they were forced in front of the desk.

            “Oh, ho-ho!” Shirley Folk laughed, covering his mouth against their smell. “Enjoying your restful stay, gentlemen?” He mocked them, but a part of him cringed at the conditions for these POWs that were never going home unless they lucked out on a prisoner swap across the DMZ. The worry hole crept into Shirley’s gut again of the wrong side winning, of holding people accountable for what they had done.

            What we’ve done. And they know us now.

            And now they had this weapon. 

            The American GIs looked around, gauging the situation. A Political Officer with full Party insignia and bars. The cigarette holder from Hogan’s Heroes and the flesh of the Party elite with well enough to eat every night.

            Shirley saw the soldiers spy the weird plastic gun. He also saw how the dingus fazed them a bit. He hitched up his hip and placed it on the corner of the desk. The name tag said “Bailey” barely legible under grime on the battle jacket of the captain. “I want you gentlemen to help me with something. If you cooperate, I can arrange for you to be separated from the other political prisoners and given special quarters.”

            Captain David Bailey had whispered to his men coming down the hall to stand up straight; don’t slump. Your last weapon was the look on your face. It was the last “fuck you” you could lay your hands on, after all they’d done.

            “You’ll have more to eat,” Folk added casually.

            “You can spare more roaches?” Bailey said.

            Bailey had thought every day in captivity about another captain in another war. Every day, they beat that guy. They crushed his hands and fingers so that he would never be able to hold a pen right for the rest of his life, and how the turncoat press working for these guys back in the day had mocked him for it, like they always mocked you, when he ran for political office. David Bailey always wondered what he would do if they gave him that same offer like that guy, to get out of the POW camp if he left his men, him an admiral’s kid. That other guy never folded. He gave them the finger every day. And they beat the shit out of him for it.

            Bailey had never known precisely what he would do or say. Since he figured his “countrymen” were most likely going to kill him anyway.

            “We’ll stick with our guys. We do think you should let us all go and end this stupid war you started.”

            “We didn’t start it. You did. You racists!”

            Folk wondered which way to go with this guy. He could have the useless piece of shit taken out and shot. “What are we fighting for? We’re countrymen!” He patted his hand casually on the plastic top of the dingus.

            Bailey shrugged, not looking at the gun. “Maybe because we won’t kneel?”

            Folk smiled as if he liked this guy. But he didn’t. Something in him could not stand it when they said something clever. “Do you know what this is?” Folk watched Bailey look at the weapon for the first time.

            Bailey got a quizzical look. “A God Gun?”

            “That’s right. I want to test it on your men.”

            Bailey noticed how the civilian in the Ferragamo’s stiffened at the idea of playing witness to something like this. “You want me to pick my own men?”

            “You’re afraid of it, then?”

            “No. I’m not afraid of it. Why would I be?”

            “So, you don’t know that much about it, do you?”

            Bailey half squinted at the Political Officer.

            Folk nodded. “What does it do? Genetically recognize you all?” Shirley stopped. That was a good idea. He saw Okonye snared by that idea too. That made more sense than the other thing. But then, how would they know if you were a traitor switching sides? And the other side also believed that they had scientific proof that ideological decisions, just like everything else, trickled down to DNA.

            Is that how this thing works?

            Creepiness crawled up and down Shirley’s spine. That must be it! That made more sense than there being a real God with real good and evil imprinted on the world. That crap was just to demoralize the enemy. Well, two could play at that game.

            “Pick out two to test it on.”

            “You think I’m going to help you?” Bailey said. “No matter what I do from here on, you’re swinging on your own noose for this one, pal.”

            Shirley felt his anger boil. He couldn’t stand it when they thought they were smarter than you. He snatched the weapon up and threatened the POWs with it, feeling ridiculous since he didn’t even believe the thing worked. The POWs looked at him in the same way, wondering what they should do. “What is it called?”

            “It’s called a Psych-2,” another POW said.

            Folk pointed at the door. “Let’s go outside.”

            The group reassembled in the parking lot. Shirley saw the houses down the block where people might be watching. Two sandbagged machine gun emplacements and razor wire atop the high fence guarded the headquarters. Three troop trucks stood in the lot. Shirley directed the men to head behind the troop trucks where no prying eyes could see. He didn’t even trust the men behind the sandbags. 

            “You POWs, stand against the wall.”

            Bailey and his men ranged along the wall.

            Shirley studied the gun, confusedly. “This is how I shoot it?” He’d never been to a basic training. He’d been meaning to learn ever since the election was suspended due to tampering. But they had been fighting ever since.

            “May I?” Okonye said. He made his way over, reaching for the safety.

            Shirley watched with keen interest as the switch clicked.

            “You’ve got it ready now.” Okonye stepped away.

            “This is the trigger?” Shirley directed the toy gun at the soldier on the end. The soldier stood in antique leg irons and manacles found in the basement. He looked at Bailey and thought of his wife and four kids in Indiana in case this went very wrong. From the first day he had feared leaving his kids without a dad. He thought of his oldest boy, Jacob Jr., not knowing for six months now where his father was, or whether he was even alive or dead, because these guys used everything on the hog but the squeal to mess with their enemy.

            “I miss you, Jake,” he said aloud. “I love you, son. Know that I woulda come back, if I could. I love you all. Rayna. Lester. Miller. Honey.”

            Shirley jerked at the trigger.

            The God Gun gave three indications that something had happened—the plastic trigger clicked, an orange light blinked, and it vibrated.

            The soldier stood, unharmed.

            Private Jacob Javitz heaved a huge sigh and shut his eyes. I’m still here. He felt inside for anything. He was okay except for his left knee jangling from fear.

            Shirley jerked the trigger again. Click, buzz, slow orange light. He rattled the end in disgust. “What the fuck? Look!” He squeezed the trigger again. “It is a toy! It’s a freakin’ toy or a plant for a stooge like you!” He said angrily to Okonye. He aimed at the next POW in line, who put up his hands. “Look! Look!” He jerked the trigger. Click. Buzz. Slow orange light. “Nothing! Fucking nothing happens!”

            Shirley laughed. He shook the toy worthlessly.

            “It ain’t shit! . . . It ain’t dick!” He pointed the dingus at Okonye’s feet, who put up his hands and took a step back. “Look at this stupid thing! Are you the stupidest asshole that ever lived?” Shirley shook the gun like an empty water pistol. He chuckled in relief that the weapon wasn’t real. “A 9 volt battery.” Maybe it doesn’t have a battery? He opened a slot on the pistol grip. It had a battery. 

            “Watch me kill myself!” he said.

            Shirley Folk brought up the business end to his jaw and squeezed the trigger.

            Everyone heard the cheap plastic Click!

            The ground bounced. A flash-corona of red-purple vapor replaced the top half of Shirley Folk’s body, knocking back the men around him. The explosion was muffled like a stick of dynamite in a safe. The black dress uniform had stretched and torn in wet, searing pieces around a trunk that had popped like a massive popcorn kernel. A hissing lump with legs slumped where a “man” had been.

            The “God Gun” hung from a pustulant hand.