The Long Watch

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"The Long Watch" is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. It is about a military officer who faces a coup d'état by a would-be dictator.

Originally named "Rebellion on the Moon", the story appeared in the December 1949 American Legion Magazine.[1] It appears in Heinlein's short story collections, The Green Hills of Earth and The Past Through Tomorrow. While it is included in collections of Future History stories and appears on Heinlein's timeline chart,[2] "The Long Watch" does not appear to share continuity with the history, but with Space Cadet published a year earlier.


Plot summary

In 1999, Lieutenant John Ezra Dahlquist is a member of the Space Patrol, an international organization with the custody and, if necessary, use of all Earth's remaining nuclear weapons. A young bomb officer and physicist at the Patrol's lunar base, he is apolitical and is devoted to his wife and young daughter. Dahlquist's commanding officer Colonel Towers asks to meet with him. Towers and others want to overthrow the Earth government, and plan to use the bombs to destroy "an unimportant town or two" so Earth takes them seriously. Dahlquist tells Towers that he will cooperate, but he does not want his family to live in a world run by the plotters and plans to stop the coup by preventing the bombs' use.

Dahlquist enters the bomb bunker, modifies a bomb to detonate by hand, and threatens to blow up himself and the bombs. He negotiates with Towers, pretending to be still naïve; he hopes to give the government time to stop the coup. Dahlquist is growing tired, however, and if he falls asleep the conspirators may regain control. He decides to disable the bombs beyond the plotters' ability to repair them, despite the danger. The only way to do so is to open them up and break the half-globes of plutonium at the core of each bomb. Dahlquist does so, but in the process exposes himself to a fatal dose of radiation. He dies "very happy."

The coup collapses and Towers shoots himself. The Patrol recovers Dahlquist's radioactive body and places it in a lead coffin. As Earth mourns the hero his body is entombed in a marble monument, with an honor guard beyond the limit of safe approach.

Space Cadet

In Space Cadet, Ezra Dahlquist is one of "[t]hose who helped create the Tradition of the Patrol". New recruits view a display about his heroism, "the day shameful and glorious in the history of the Patrol". At every Patrol roll call, his name is called with those of three other Patrol heroes. A skeptical candidate to become a Patrol cadet comments that Dahlquist disobeyed his commanding officer in performing the acts he is commended for, and that if things had gone the other way, Dahlquist would have been deemed a traitor.

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