January 2

National Science Fiction Day (unofficial, US)

Birthday of Isaac Asimov


“Are all the safeguards in place?”

The technical assistant nods her head. “Even as we speak, the passcodes have changed thirty-seven times.  Thirty-eight.”

She points to the sealed dome above the red button, then closes the high security briefcase.  Metal latches click loudly into place with the whirr of tiny tumblers.  She hands the briefcase to the President.

“How do I open it?”

“It will respond to your voice,” the technical assistant explains.  “The briefcase is actually a small, sentient robot.  As such, it will follow Asimov’s three laws of robotics, including the first:  that is, a robot may not participate in the injury of a human being.”

The President lifts his arm up and down, testing the weight of the shielded case.  “Well, wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?  If I, uh, really needed to use it?”

“This setup has always worked well for us.”  The assistant winks almost imperceptibly.  “It might be why we’re still here.”

“Just to be clear:  there’s no way anybody can get into the case.  Ever.”

The assistant hesitates, then offers a carefully phrased answer.  “Correct, nobody can get inside the case.”


“They could still bypass the safeguards.  We live in a complicated world.  All our passcodes and programming provide a solid illusion of security.  An illusion.  If people only knew…”

“Knew what?”

She explains.  The outlined process is unusual, not likely to occur to anyone independently.  But the steps would actually be very simple to carry out.

“That’s ridiculous,” the President says with an uncharacteristic stammer.  “Anybody could do that.  They wouldn’t need to know the passcodes.  They wouldn’t need to open this briefcase, or even be in the same room.”

“The same city, the same state, the same country…”

“All it would take is one person who wanted to end the world.  They could do it instantly.”

“Yep.  A few keystrokes.  As quickly as thinking about it.”

The President took a deep breath.  He turned to the sole TV reporter and the camera operator, granted this exclusive interview.  “Well, it’s a good thing we’re on tape delay.  Edit that section out, would you?”

The briefcase begins to vibrate.

“We’re on tape delay, aren’t we?”

The reporter grimaces and shrugs his shoulders.

A muffled beeping within the case grows increasingly rapid.