THE RED BUTTON

He couldn’t stop pressing it. The simple black box with a shiny red button, small enough to hold in the hand, had the tactile addiction of a retro game controller and the power rush of an atom bomb.

Sitting in the gloom of the bunker he needed the button. It was his link to the world, his way to control it. The world flickered in front of him. It covered one whole wall of the war room, the digital map glowing comforting LED embers. 

Arrows on the side of the box let him move around the map – he could zoom in or out and pick a country, county, state, city, town, farm, island – one click would select, two clicks to arm up, the third click was the big one, whammo said the clown.

“You’ll go blind.” Hennessy was standing over him. He’d dozed off again, finger on the button without anything selected and the map had started flashing, digital lightning bolts bringing room service.

“Chicken,” he said, wiping the drool away. Hennessy was one of the original agents who’d rushed him to safety and months later his suits were still pressed and shoes shined. The agent’s straight back made him feel small and food helped. 

“It’s not time yet,” said Hennessy. “Remember the ration? Only three meals a day now.” They stared at each other in a pointless Mexican standoff. “Probably shouldn’t have blown them up if you’d wanted faster service.” 

They both looked up at the map. Half the American states were blank, still recovering from his spell of launching retribution onto towns and counties who’d voted against him. 

Hennessy sighed. “Ok. You can eat after you’ve seen the angels. They’re on their way down.” He turned away.

He pointed the button at Hennessy’s retreating back, clicking furiously, but the agent didn’t break stride. The button didn’t work on real people. 

He span in his chair, alone in the war room, and stared up at the map. Hennessy was from Scotland. That was why he’d hired the insolent Celt originally. Maybe. Some days he couldn’t remember hiring him at all. Scotland. He fingered the button as the idea formed.

Scotland brought memories of his own family. The last contact was a shrieking phone call during the Big Panic. It wasn’t even his daughter, but the least favourite son wanting his diapers changed.

They were fleeing incognito – some doofus had the spark to disguise the limo with Greta and Kamala stickers that were a red rag to the hog wild Proud Boys who drove them off the road, hee-hawing with hateful delight. “Don’t they know who we are,” was the final panicked scream before the phone went dead.

THE EVANGELICALS WOULD ALWAYS LOVE HIM, IT WAS EASIER TO DOUBLE DOWN ON A MISTAKE THAN ADMIT IT MADE

So he sat alone, three Maccie D’s a day and a Colonel’s Bucket as a weekend treat. That was why the button was so important – he did not need the world on that map, but he needed the world to know him.

Human contact consisted of his bodyguards and whatever loyal pilgrims braved the wastelands to pay homage each week. He smiled. The evangelicals would always love him, it was easier to double down on a mistake than admit it made.

“The imperfect lamb may be a wolf, but let that wolf’s fangs be fighting for his flock to the last…”

Ah, the angels had arrived. There were only three evangelicals today, but two of them were young and female and flanked their brimstone father, long white robes thin enough to show the curves beneath. 

He tottered up to their warm embrace. Such hook-eyed adoration was one of the few things worth putting the button down for.

“God has sent you to us, to suffer for us, to bestow our rightful vengeance on the world, to purge the socialist demons from this greatest of lands…”

The preacher’s shovel hand landed on his forehead with forceful vigour. “Ye who shall be a warrior raise your mighty sword.” The nymphs’ fingers were softer, starting with his shoulders and working their way down. He closed his eyes and let their adoration lap over him.

“The hallowed flames of righteousness shall burn eternal and engorge all those who embrace ye…” 

Their touch made him stronger, such pure, absolute, unquestioning worship could only raise him up. They’d risked their lives and travelled so far for him, they would do anything for him, he could do anything to them. Their love rose mightily inside him, he opened his eyes and looked down, expecting to be amazed by his own mighty tumescence.

There was nothing there. 

It was a phantom. 

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