Glenn Harvey

Nuclear Event Detector

The product sheet is clear: Any claim against a dysfunctional nuclear event detector must be made within 90 days.

Today's sling of speculative fiction, from the always dystopic and despairingly excellent Sam Biddle, is grounded in the very real. The speculation is spun out of an old product spec Biddle stumbled upon, about which I'll only say that he imagines the sort of grimly absurd situation in which you might need to make a claim for a refund against a poorly functioning nuclear event detector. Enjoy.

Nuclear Event Detector
HSN-100001.07.05 Rev 3
Important Notice:
The specifications presented within these data sheets represent the latest and most accurate information available to date. However, these specifications are subject to change without notice and Maxwell Technologies assumes no responsibility for the use of this information. Maxwell Technologies’ products are not authorized for use as critical components in life support devices or systems without express written approval from Maxwell Technologies. Any claim against Maxwell Technologies must be made within 90 days from the date of shipment from Maxwell Technologies. Maxwell Technologies’ liability shall be limited to replacement of defective parts.


-Product spec sheet, circa 2005 AD

He had been waiting exactly 701 hours for her next reply when the cesium alarm went off again and he had to put up the lead panels and lead-lined suit and lead mittens and mask and just sit there, feeling hot and leaden and despairing both God and Maxwell Technologies. He screamed FUCK as loudly as he could, but knew it would only sound like a burp beneath all that lead-meshed protective facewear. If she replied now, while he was wearing these big dopey mittens and big dopey hazmat suit and big dopey mask that fogged up his goggles and forced him to smell the canned corn he’d eaten for breakfast, if she replied right now that was it. If she responded to his messages right now, when he could barely read it through the canned corn goggle fog and could only type out big clumsy mitten-fisted keyboard slaps, he might just give up and strip it all off and run out into the ashes naked and screaming.

After double checking the window shielding he slumped into his office chair and slowly spun himself around until the cesium alarm stopped screeching. This alarm, he decided once and for all, fucking sucked: CESIUM, CESIUM, CESIUM, CESIUM intoned the disembodied, badly synthesized Irish voice from his terminal. CESIUM, CESIUM, CESIUM. Had Ireland made it? Was there someone in an office park in Cork barricaded in a lead-shielded room waiting on a customer support chat listening to a computerized American voice bark at them about strontium levels? Was Cork filled with glo-moles and overturned semis used as shelters? Could you open the door in Cork without cesium dust and bone ash blowing in? Maybe their NED units worked.


Sometimes the cesium alarm went off in the middle of the night while he was dreaming of Patrick and fresh oranges and sky that wasn’t the color of sneaker soles, and he’d just lie there and think maybe a big gulp of cesium wouldn’t be so bad, despite of the internal blistering and gamma ray sickness. Maybe it would be better to gulp down some hot cesium dust blowing through the office park instead of sitting here wondering whether customer support would get to him before the gas raiders and burn-dogs and torture jockeys with half-melted faces and fallout psychosis outside. He was getting into one of his bummer funks and he knew it, grinding his teeth and biting his lip, staring at the customer support chat window and wishing a second apocalypse onto this dumb place, when it chimed.

Good [USERAGENTSELECTOR:MORNING/AFTERNOON/EVENING!] This is Tammy. Thank you for being a Maxwell customer! How can I assist you today?

Hi Tammy I was just talking with Rossalyn can you please reconnect me to her thanks!!

Oh I am so sorry! It looks like your session was reset. We are experiencing an increased support volume today. Sorry for the delay! How may I assist you?

His guts burned and he couldn’t tell if it was cesium or indigestion from the powdered shrimp snack he was tapping into his mouth or just the old feeling of being real pissed off. But there was no point in being mad. It was a miracle, God’s own handiwork, that the gas generators at the office park still hummed and the net satellite dish on the roof still pointed in the right direction most of the time and any packets were able to get in and out of this jerry-rigged bunker to reach wherever Tammy was, presumably somewhere that hadn’t yet been turned into a shitty looking version of hell. How did Tammy get to work? Was she also sleeping in her office and eating powdered shrimp and listening for the footsteps of killers and thieves and baby-merchants crunching through trinitite and scorched brick crumbs and bone?


hey tammy ah OK no prob. OK so I’m having a problem with my HSN-1000

Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that. What issues are you experiencing? We are here to help!

well it’s a NED, it didn’t work so I’m hoping for a reufund
*refund sorry

No worries :) Let me check into that for you. I am so sorry you’re having trouble with your HSN-1000! What issues are you experiencing?

well like I said it’s a nuclear event detector and it didn’t go off
like not even a beep, not sure if it was supposed to beep or what but no alerts at all
as far as anyone heard
so like everyone here is dead
there might be someone downstairs I heard some weird sounds a couple months ago
my boss (terry) might be alive he said he was going out to look for gas but that was a while ago and he said I better get this refund process going while he was gone
or he was gonna be pissed haha
so anyway I have the email receipts somewhere
are you there?

Terry was almost certainly dead, killed in a manner that he himself would probably have described as “completely fucked.” That time he lost his phone: “This is completely fucked.” When he realized someone had scratched his new Mazda he’d sent out an all-staff email, subject line: “This is completely fucked.” On Salad Saturdays the complex would put together a little salad bar for people who had to come in on the weekends and the ratio of leafy greens to dressing was always out of wack. “This is completely fucked,” Terry would say as he walked from salad station to salad station. Terry was kind of a dipshit and, if everyone was being honest, had started to go deranged with power after the first EMP storms cut outside juice and the landlines, explaining that we few left in the office park could only assume that this was one of the “last remaining American power structures” and “crisis demanded leadership.” Terry once spent an afternoon doing the rest of the cocaine he kept in his filing cabinet and drafting a PowerPoint that made the case for his spot in the presidential line of succession, but that was right before the EMPs hit so he never finished it.


That was “completely fucked,” for sure. We got a few computers back online but Terry had lost his draft and he gave up put his head in his hands for a while and said he was heading outside southbound to look for gas by the intersection. We said, Terry, we got plenty of gas in here, enough to keep the generators running at least, and hey, Terry, the satellite modem still works, let’s just take it easy here for a little while longer. Now Terry was probably scratching his skin off from cesium poisoning or being used as human furniture by one of the local strip mall warlords. Still, Terry was technically in charge, and his orders were clear: Let’s get that refund going while I’m gone.

Sorry for the wait again! We are experiencing increased support request volume at the moment.
Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that. If you can give me your order number I can look into that right away.

He didn’t have the order number. He didn’t have the box, or the manual. He didn’t know where the NEDs had been installed or who installed them or when. He remembered Lucy smirking a lot about them at an all-complex meeting. Lucy was a big smirker. At one of their last meetings Lucy had handed around printouts of the HSN-1000, pointing to its marquee features (“Detects ionizing radiation pulses,” “Adjustable circumvention period,” “Radiation hardness guaranteed”) and smirking about how this was a relatively cheap way to make sure they’d make it underground to the shelters before all the rest of the fuckers. “This is a layup. It’s a must-do. And besides, it’s best practices.” Terry was moved to the point of tears.


I’d also like to check some things out. Do you have the unit(s) in front of you? Let’s make sure those connector pins are properly seated hmm well they’re installed outside No worries! :) I’ll wait right here, just let me know when you’re back I don’t think I can go outside Terry told me to stay here also the cesium, columns of flame, etc No worries! :) Did you receive an error message or diagnostic tone? well like I said there was no beep, no sound at all, mostly a lot of rumbling but that’s it

Had there been a beep? Truth be told, he didn’t know he was supposed to have been listening for a beep. Lucy, who considered the idea of buying the NEDs her “brainchild” and really liked throwing around the word “brainchild” and smirking, had been immediately vaporized in the first strike, and the sounds he remembered from that moment were not so much beeps and diagnostic tones but the pressure bursts sounding like cannons, the thick whistle of boiling blood, the sound of metal against metal against glass against concrete, the grinding and pounding like a galactic storm overhead. Lucy smirked a lot but he missed her, God he missed her, he missed being smirked at and he missed Salad Saturday and he missed taking home some of the excess dressing because well, who was going to miss it, and he missed Terry’s dipshit emails and being able to go outside.

He missed sounds that weren’t distant moans and nearby gunshots and collapsing highways downed by aftershocks and he missed the radio. He missed looking at websites and chatting with people besides Tammy and that guy from FEMA who’d completely lost his fucking mind but still DMed him sometimes with water purification advice and lewd poems.

He was going to ask Tammy where she was, if he could come to her, if she would wait for him, if they could try to make it together, wherever she was, please God would she wait for him and love him and help him, it didn’t matter about the NEDs, it was OK, it was too late, they were probably out of warranty, it would too hard to mail something to Maxwell Technologies that was coated in radioactive soot, and besides all of the mailmen had been drafted into the Missile Corps, it was OK, Tammy it’s OK. The screen refreshed and he didn’t see Tammy, or Rossalyn, or Waleed, or anyone representing the technical support team at Maxwell. Before he could squeeze his eyes shut he saw a blank screen and before he could put his hands over his ears he heard the cesium warning.

Good [USERAGENTSELECTOR:MORNING/AFTERNOON/EVENING!] This is Howard. Thank you for being a Maxwell customer! How can I assist you today?

He wrapped himself in the lead-lined blanket and put his lead-lined mitts back on and lay down and waited for Terry in the dark.