The Loyalists

He did his job. He didn’t want to make any waves. And yet.

Herb looked at the dots on the screen. There were seventeen of them. The alarm was sounding. He had his orders. He should flip the toggle switch and turn the key. Either way there would be consequences so he should just do it.

The only problem was, once Herb did what he was trained—and ordered—to do, many people would die. Most people would die. Depending on the response from the other side, everybody could die.

He paused just a moment and a million thoughts rushed through his stressed out mind.

He wasn’t the first person to experience this dilemma. Back in the 1980s, a Soviet official was confronted with a report of incoming missiles. It seemed unbelievable but he was obligated to fire his nukes. Still the guy had a feeling this was a false alarm. He held his fire.

Nobody died, but the Soviet guy wasn’t treated like a hero who’d saved the world. He was punished for disobeying orders. He died disgraced, impoverished and forgotten. Orders were orders.

And then there were the whistleblowers, or “traitors” as they were called. The guy who exposed the classified history of the Vietnam war got off pretty easy. He’d exposed the classified information to the enemy—the American people, it seems (the Vietnamese already knew when and where they’d been bombed)—but later whistleblowers would be arrested, vilified, hunted down and incarcerated. Some were tortured.

Herb had a fight with his wife that morning. The baby was crying and Marge slammed the door behind him when he left for work. Herb started the day in a bad mood.

And now he was faced with this.

Herb wanted to do the right thing. Launching the missiles would be insane. But Herb didn’t want to end up like Stanislav. Or like Karen Silkwood. Or Manning or Snowden.

He didn’t want to go home to an irritable wife and a screaming baby.

He flipped the toggle and turned the key. a few minutes later, half a world away, Dimitri was faced with a similar dilemma and came to the same conclusion.

Dimitri, like Herb, was a loyalist and he did his job. A half an hour later, nothing happened. Ever again.