Sixty minutes can be a long time or it can disappear in a flash!
A study of time.
He undid the clasp of his watch and placed it onto the top of the grey steel container, where it sat with its round face sitting up pertly, pushing against the leather strap that was still new enough to be stiff and unyielding. He needed to be able to see the bright red second hand as it glided around the white dial, dragging the stuttering minute hand in its wake.
Unknowingly this had become his ritual, just as the layout of his tools had become, but while he subconsciously continued in his orderly encampment around the object of everyone’s attention, his mind was thinking about the inscription on the watch case. It brought a half smile to his otherwise taught face and, for a fraction of a long moment, he basked in a not so distant memory. “John, congratulations on your commission. Love Mum and Dad”. He glanced at the watch again before addressing the now familiar task in hand.
Looking at the long metal casing that sat so innocently in its crater, he knelt down and sat back on his heels, contemplating yet again that such a cold looking object could generate such searing energy. After a moment, as was his way, he reached out and gently ran his fingertips over its surface, caressing it, almost as a lover would tentatively seek the attention of a waiting partner, but this time hoping not to awaken her from her frigid slumber. As he did this, the watch remained cold and dispassionate, relentlessly counting down to an unreachable conclusion.
With all extraneous thoughts tucked away into secret compartments, he dug down into his memory for those institutionally instilled instructions and, as they began to surface and unfold into familiar and comforting patterns, his hands began to move with renewed urgency. The gentle stroking became a controlled probing, that demanded a response and was accompanied by a detectable increase in his heart rate that far exceeded the second hand of his watch.
Tucked just below the skirt of earth, that secured the lower part of the hidden grey cylinder, and with a predictability that gave him both comfort and reassurance, his fingers detected the object of their desire. Withdrawing his hands slowly and with a surgeon’s skill, he reached around to the small square canvas cloth that displayed his gleaming set of instruments and, selecting a bright metal scoop, returned to gently clear away the dirt, revealing a round metal plate and the expected six screws. Still in its place of imagined safety, the watch sat in almost clinical isolation, and displayed a minute hand that was half way into its hourly cycle.
Bearing in mind the distance that it had fallen and the shuddering impact of its arrival, it never ceased to amaze him that these objects always seemed to remain so intact and that the screws on the inspection hatch came away with such ease. Exquisite engineering for something that was designed to last for such a short time. As he looked into the darkness of the gaping void and searched for the set of colour coated wires, he detected a slight scent of newly applied machine oil. Dispelling the distraction, he continued to recall the images so carefully remembered from his training. Time, of course, was of the essence.
All was as predicted and, for a moment, he sat back again on his heels and took a few calming deep breaths, casually noting the damp patches on his camouflaged trousers from kneeling on the damp earth. He reached around to the precisely located canvas square, while looking up at the watch, which marched relentlessly into the future, and, as midday loomed on the horizon, he felt the urge to move a little faster.
The small inspection torch was exactly where his hand expected it to be and he picked it up with a self-assurance that lied, and then he dropped forward to check the contents of the hole in front of him. His instructions were clear. Check and re-check, before making any commitment and do nothing out of the ordinary. If in doubt stop. But of course, time, never stops.
Like arterial highways, the wiring looms snaked into the hidden depth as the harsh light of the lamp cast flickering shadows with each movement of his hand. Peering even closer, he noted the absence of a connection to the impact fuse that was seated snugly into the nose cone. This was unusual and made him pause. Its failure to detonate suddenly explained. A fault of mass production? An end of shift oversight? Other people in other places also under the constraints of time.
Pulling back again, he took another deep breath and contemplated his next action. Visualising the appropriate page in the manual, he spoke the instructions aloud, just to be sure. “Cut the yellow wire and kill the connection.” Once this was done it would enable those, who now hid in silent safety, to remove the inert object in front of him to a place where it could either be examined by inquisitive boffins or blown up in a demonstration of military prowess, but in their time not his.
Replacing the torch, his fingers felt for the black, long nosed wire cutters and he refocused his attention on the coloured wiring, while a small, but persistent, bead of perspiration ran slowly down the side of his clean-shaven cheek to sit in waiting limbo for others to join it. At the same time, but now unnoticed, the black hands on the watch approached a vertical union that silently screamed a warning of a cycle almost completed.
He noted again the small change in the wiring that had been so instrumental in the devices failure to complete its mission and tried to work the consequences back using cold logic. It did not help. How could he determine the outcome of faulty workmanship? He lent forward a little more to get into a better position and as the tip of his cutters reached their destination and slowly closed on the soft outer yellow covering, his eyes instinctively shut, so that it was only his ears that registered the final moment.