All the Worthy People

From writing prompt found here.  Um, warning, discusses the violent end of the world. 

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“You don’t understand!  I’m just an orderly.  There are plenty of doctors, plenty of scientists, plenty of people who can do a lot of good-”

They didn’t sedate me.  I didn’t argue with the point at the time, because if I was only restrained, maybe I could get out somehow, but they had gotten me trussed up really good and they were dragging me onto the ship.

All around me – separated by a very tall fence of chain-link and razor wire – people were shouting that they’d take my place.  I kept adding to their shouts.   Let them go instead of me

They were in a hurry; I understood that.  They were working against a literal doomsday clock; in less than 2 hours, the world was going to end.

Not in some figurative way; the world was going to explode, and everything they couldn’t fit on one of the ten hastily-constructed ships would be gone.

Astrophysicists, xenobiologists, medical doctors; the most knowledgeable mathematicians, literary scholars, economists; inventors of medicines and of machines; people who were brilliant and, as many as they could get, still in their breeding age, harsh as that sounds; everyone that fit their criteria was loaded onto these ships, a balanced load on each one in case any one of them exploded.

For a plan they’d put together in under a week, it was pretty good.

Except that here I was, strapped to a cart like Hannibal Lecter, an orderly at the Memorial Hospital when I knew there were surgeons who hadn’t made the cut.  A college drop-out when I knew my professors were still down there on that time bomb.  A single woman with defective eggs when there were fertile couples who would – who would repopulate humanity and they were all down there.

And nobody would tell me a damn thing.

I kept shouting until they wheeled me into the observation room, and even then I kept going until they actually gagged me.  not sedated me, no.  They plopped me with everyone else to watch Earth start to get smaller.

We were the last ship off.  We were going to watch the planet explode.

We were watching every person who hadn’t made the cut die.

I couldn’t complain anymore, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn away.  I watched as the fire started, every volcano starting to erupt at once.

Near me, someone whispered goodbye.

I squeezed my eyes shut.  All these people were dying because of me.  Even then I knew it wasn’t true, wasn’t fair; at best, one person was dying because of me.  I was a small person and didn’t take up much more cubic or weight mass than anyone else, but all those people.  All the dogs and cats and the little bluebird that sang to me on the way to work and here I was, a failure-

It couldn’t happen.

There were so many worthy people. 

I breathed that out, although the gag, a muzzle over my whole face with a piece between my teeth, made it incoherent.

I can’t live while so many worthy people die.

I’d had that thought before, in the hospital, in the emergency room and while assisting in surgeries.  This person has so much to live for, is so much better than me.  If I get to live, they do too.

This was that on a grand scale.

So many worthy people can’t be dying. 

I think I screamed through the gag. This wasn’t a hospital; I didn’t have to be quiet anymore.

And this wasn’t one death. This was – this was unberable.

I can’t live while they die.  They cannot die.

If I get to live, they do too.

“Holy shit,” whispered the esteemed scientist who had murmured goodbye.

“Dear Lord,” someone else murmured.

“Oh. My God.”  That one was nearly a shout.

The planet was exploding and they were cheering.  People who did not deserve to die, who could not die were –

“Hey.”  Someone tapped me on my shoulder.  “Open your eyes.  I promise it’s okay.”

They sounded like my first-year science professor.  I opened my eyes slowly.

The volcanoes had exploded, all at once, but they had – somehow, impossibly, by some miracle – they had stopped there.  There was a ring of magma clear around the Pacific, a few fires here and there  – but that was it.

Somewhere, a radio came online. “Ark-10, are you there? Ark-10?”

“By gum, it worked.”  It was breathed somewhere behind me.  “You worked, you brilliant girl you.”  I was being hugged.  I grunted, alarmed, distressed, most of all confused.

The world hadn’t ended? The world was – was ending more slowly than we expected? The world was – was what?

Had all those people lived?

Someone fiddled at me. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, here you go.”  The muzzle thing came off.  The straps came off.  Two people helped me stand on my own – after hours in that contraption, I felt woozy, weak, and hardly able to stand, like I’d just worked a triple shift at the hospital.

Like I’d just worked a week of triple shifts while sleeping on the bad couch in the orderlies’ lounge.

Like I’d done that while running a marathon.

I looked at the earth, worked my jaw, looked again.  “How?”  Somewhere in all these genius, someone had to know how to tell stupid me what was happening.

“You.”  Someone else tried to hug me.  Three people blocked their way, and instead someone offered me a hand to shake.

I shook it.  Then I shook another hand.  “Dr. Tyson… hello.  I’m glad you made it onto the ship.”

“I’m glad you made it,” he countered.

“Give her some space, people,” someone else shouted.

“Oh, I’m fine.”  There were hands holding me up, and I wanted the hands to stop, but I couldn’t quite get myself standing up.  There were no chairs in this room.  It was supposed to be a place to stand and bear witness.

Either that, or they hadn’t had time.

I looked at the Earth again.

Some people would still die – worthy people, good people who had done good things – if those volcanoes did anything more, if those fires – how big must they be, to be seen from space – kept burning.

They could not be allowed to die, not while I lived.

I didn’t so much faint as I sat down with a thump that woke me up.  People were around me again, around me, surrounding me, until that calm, professorial voice moved everyone out of my way.

“I apologize for the way you were brought on board.”  He handed me water; I looked to see if someone needed some.

“Drink,” he encouraged me.  “This is for you.”

I sipped the water slowly.  “I don’t understand, I’m sorry.”

“Haven’t you ever wondered why the Memorial Hospital has such a high recovery rate?”

“We have very good doctors.  Had- no.  They still have.”  All those good people were going to live.

“And those accidents the cit transit bus got in, where nobody but you was injured?”

“I’ve got bad luck.  I’m glad nobody else had bad luck, too.”

I took a long sip of water.

“My dear – no.  No, I’m sorry, I’m an old man, and I forget myself sometimes.  Ma’am, you have an amazing ability to force the world to your will  – but only for other people. There was a possibility that you might save the world on it, but everything we looked at, every data point, every injury you had taken, suggested you had to feel that you were not at risk and others were.”

“Millions – billions! – of worthy people, people who had done good, they were going to die!  They might still die!” I protested. 10 million good people was still not enough.  Not faced with billions of others.

“And some would live.  And you- you saved billions of people.”  He patted the air near my shoulder.  “That is why you were here, in the hope – the chance – the dream that what you had done for so many patients at Memorial General, you could do for the Earth.”  He cleared his throat.  “There is – there is a possibility it only worked because you were unaware of it.  If that is the case, I do apologize.  But it was important – to me, to the others on the team – that you be told.”

“All those people,” I said again.  “All those worthy people.”

I believe I lost consciousness then.  But against my retinas, the red of the Ring of Fire still burned.

All those worthy people… and they would live.

 

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