She was an engineer and physicist with an interest in cosmology, an historical discipline forever looking into the past, which is itself forever. Over time and in secret she invented this thing: a device, a button. The kind that you pressed. The button was housed within a box that contained two half-lived and particular isotopes separated by a brittle crystal oriented to the vertical.
The mechanics of operation were simple: depression bore the column down upon the upper isotope, crushing the crystal and bringing it into contact with its lower counterpart. Some might have described the process as brutal but this was refuted by the fragility of the crystal: a slivered boundary; the difference between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
The physics of the mechanism were more complex. Certain calculations based on the properties of the isotopes – as well as those of the crystal – had been made and processed via particularly imaginative formulae, resulting in a number of different hypotheses, all of which arrived at the same conclusion, albeit one that remained untested (1).
The box comprised a lead-lined inner cube and an outer aluminium shell, with four plastic nubbins on the base. The button was made of danger-red rubber and it was protected from accidental activation by a transparent lid that could be locked with a key. It was no bigger than a child’s picture cube and only a touch more weighty (2).
If the existence of the button became known it would be referred to as something grand and destructive, or omniscient and all-powerful (3), but she believed it to be both more and also less than that. The button – like all good solutions – was simple and elegant and it wasn’t so much a question of would she or wouldn’t she, but when, because once such a button has been created how can it not be pushed?
(2) Early plans incorporated a factory reset option, but given the button’s function…
(3) ‘The Doomsday Button’; ‘The ‘Atropos Box’, etc.