BOX OF OXEN is a near future science fiction novella that was originally sold to the revived Argosy, but, as Alan Dean Foster recounts on his website, the magazine folded again before the tale saw publication. Novellas are a hard sell in the regular SF magazines(multiple short stories are preferred) and this one had languished a while. Then the e-book revolution exploded on the scene and he decided to give it a try. Kindle offers it for sale at $2.99.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority received letters simultaneously claiming a thirty kiloton nuclear bomb had been hidden in Jerusalem. One and a half times the size of the Hiroshima bomb, it was constructed with weapons grade uranium stolen in Russia and detonation was promised in thirty days unless both sides signed a legitimate peace treaty, one comprehensive and fair to both sides.
It was immediately dismissed by politicians on both sides as a hoax. Each thought the other wanted the half of Jerusalem they didn’t control evacuated so that it could be taken by the other. Once that happened, it would be hard to dislodge the opposing faction. Two weeks later, each side got a package that, when appropriate safety measures had been taken, revealed another letter and a vial that contained a minute amount of that weapons grade uranium.
The truth still wasn’t believed, although each side decided to set up meetings merely to look good to the world at large. And just on the off chance that it was real, the Palestinians wanted that bomb found for their on use. Of course it wasn’t real though. Absurd! the very idea!
Finally, the day before the date, the Russians learned it was all very real. Some of their own people, one a forty year scientist in their own nuclear program, was part of it.
The hunt was own! Forced to work together, both sides have a slim idea of the area it’s hidden.
But two children, a boy and a girl, a Palestinian and an Israeli, friends playing together, have found the bomb and are trapped with it as their hideaway has collapsed from the efforts of bulldozers used to find the bomb. Time is ticking away.
I enjoyed this story. It highlights the idiocy that has been going on in the Middle East for thousands of years and shows no sign of ever stopping. If both sides had only put in half the effort of solving their problems that they do to keep the BS going, life for folks over there would be so much better. There are reasonable people on both sides, just as there are hawks who don’t want peace. The innocent continue to suffer because some can’t let go of old hates.
End of rant.