Author: Aric Coppola

The machine whirred and abruptly stopped. It had never stopped on its own before; it had to be told to stop. Yet now, the machine had come to a halt.

“What did you do?” Alphonse asked, peering over his computer.

“Me? What did you do?” Marie asked, staring over her own computer, nostrils flaring.

“Nothing,” said Alphonse. “I was the one who turned it on.”

Marie stood up and walked across the laboratory towards the machine, Alphonse at her heels.

They stared at the readout on the computer terminal: .000000000000000000000001.

“That can’t be,” said Alphonse. “C’est impossible.”

Marie ignored him and punched a series of numbers into the machine’s keypad. The machine’s digital readout went black and then showed a long readout of equations and commands. “There,” she said. But as soon as she’d spoken, the terminal again read: .000000000000000000000001.

“Can we reproduce it?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said. “It was the simplest one yet.”

Alphonse’s bottom lip quivered. “I can’t believe it. That was it? That was all? That was the solution?”

“Yeah,” she said. “It seems so.”

Alphonse straightened. “We must inform the directorate. Secondary tests must be conducted immediately, and then the public has to be informed so that—”

Marie grabbed his wrist. Her grip was strong, surprisingly strong, much stronger than most prize-winning physicists.

Alphonse peered into her bloodshot eyes. Behind the red twists of veins and the cool blue irises, there was real-time processing. It wasn’t an unfamiliar look. He’d seen this every time they’d made a breakthrough together. And yet this time, there was something eerily different about her gaze.

“What?” he asked, suddenly feeling uneasy, the excitement of their discovery slipping.

“No,” she said. “No one can know.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, face reddening. “It’s the solution to all of it, Marie, all of it. If we can reproduce this at scale… that’s it! You know that’s it!” He wrenched his wrist free of her grip and tried to rub away the blossoming bruise she’d created.

“Non,” Marie whispered.

A small shiver ran up Alphonse’s back. “Non?”

Marie turned from him abruptly and slid into the chair at her own computer terminal. Alphonse hovered behind her.

DELETE CODE 33.1.18, she typed.

“What are you doing!” He reached across her, panic setting in fully now. “You can’t do that!”

With the push of her index finger, she pressed a single key. The screen went black.

“Vous êtes fous! Why would you do that? What is wrong with you?” He ripped her from her chair and flung her body to the tile floors. “You’re crazy!” he cried, spittle flying from his mouth. “Why, Marie? At least tell me why!”

Marie the brilliant scholar, and even more brilliant scientist, stared up at him from the floor. For the first time, Alphonse saw exhaustion in the woman’s gaunt face.

“Because,” she said simply.

“Because why, Marie? We’re all going to die because of you.”

“I know,” she said, eyes watering. “We deserve it.”