Life After Death

Story Samples

“How does someone decide who lives and who dies?”

“Sir?”

“Just musing, Lieutenant. I apologize.”

“Of course, sir.”

“But that is the problem, isn’t it? How do I make that decision? How can anyone make such a salient decision? The fate of humanity…of our entire species, rests upon the list of names I turn over, does it not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then, how do I be fair?”

“I don’t—”

“Should I be fair? Should I choose people because they deserve to go? Or because they have the most money and contributed more to the cause? Fifteen million people, all of whom want to live.

“Part of me wants to choose people by lottery. Just toss all of the names into a hat and take the first fifty I come across. I could have you draw the names.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What is it, Lieutenant? You sounded hesitant.”

“I wouldn’t want that responsibility, sir.”

“Ah! That’s perfect! Of course not, but you understand my predicament? You can see my difficulty?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do I pick doctors so that they can heal the sick? Should I choose psychiatrists to heal the mind and make the journey easier? Politicians and lawyers to keep the peace? That was a joke, Lieutenant, you can relax. Of course I’m not picking lawyers or politicians.

“But, should I choose children? They have the best chance of survival long term, and they are the most resilient…then again, they are the least capable of defending or taking care of themselves right now. They need care and guidance. They also aren’t reproductively mature, which means even more years before they can multiply to replace losses.

“But, the bigger question is: how can I not choose children? At least half of the names on this list are under seventeen, so how can I possibly ignore them?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“We can’t only send children, right? Maybe half children. This is too difficult. Too abstract. Perhaps I should employ mathematics and economics to the decision. There has to be statistics modules for handling something like this.”

“Maybe not this, sir.”

“How do we make a society of fifty work until they can find somewhere new? Especially when those fifty people are leaving their loved ones behind. Behind to die. How, Lieutenant?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“You look tired, Lieutenant. Do you need a break?”

“No, sir. I’m all right.”

“You can set your gun down. It looks heavy.”

“Begging pardon, sir, but I’d rather not.”

“Come now, you can’t truly think I’m at risk, in here? In my own chambers behind the barricades? Surely, I’m safe?”

“I hope so, sir.”

“Did you put your name in?”

“I did, sir.”

“How would you feel if you weren’t chosen? If I didn’t select you?”

“I know I won’t be on your list, sir.”

“Why do you say that?”

“My education, sir. The ones you chose will be above a high school diploma.”

“Yes, but we do need people like you to keep the peace. Would you like if I chose you?”

“I would sir, but I would prefer—”

“…yes?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I was speaking out of turn.”

“Come now, say what you intended.”

“I would like to be chosen, of course, but I would prefer that my daughter goes.”

“Let me…ah…yes, I have her file right here.”

“Yes, sir. I wrote the application myself.”

“It says she suffered Candidiasis as a baby.”

“Yes, sir, she did.”

“And her mother passed on when she was four.”

“Breast cancer, sir. She fought hard.”

“Of course. You have my sincerest condolences, Lieutenant.”

“Thank you, sir. Do you think they can take her?”

“I will do my utmost to make it possible.”

“That’s all I ask, sir.”

“But would you really want her to go?”

“Sir?”

“It is doubtful that we will all die soon. Those of us left behind. Perhaps we could live another ten years before the final collapse. Wouldn’t you prefer that she stay?”

“Of course, sir.”

“I wouldn’t want to take those years from you.”

“I understand, sir.”

“It’s a bit chilly, Lieutenant.”

“No, sir. Don’t get up. I’ll start a fire.”

“Ah, thank you. My old bones are feeling the weight. It’s so much colder now than when I was young.”

“I wouldn’t know, sir.”

“Of course not. You’re too young. But I remember. The warmth. The food. Everything was so much more complete then. Barely a care in the world. The only thing I remember being cold was the war.”

“What’s so funny, sir?”

“A cold war. The idea is simply preposterous. Did you ever hear of it?”

“I think in our classes it was mentioned.”

“I think this is something similar. This situation.”

“Sir?”

“In a war, everyone knows which side they are on. They hate it, people die, but they know where they stand. Their lives are surrounded by it, and the only thing they can do is push forward to win.

“But in a cold war, everyone is afraid of what could happen. The people who might die, because it isn’t assured. It isn’t fact, but only one possible reality. That’s worse, I think.”

“Worse than war, sir?”

“Worse is not knowing. Not knowing if tomorrow you will be in war. If you are in war, then you simply buckle down and deal with it, but not knowing if the decision you make cause millions of people to die…

“I don’t envy the decisions those leaders had to make, knowing that one wrong word could mean so many deaths.”

“That’s a terrifying thought, sir.”

“It is, isn’t it? But, this is far worse than that. One wrong choice and I could doom the entire future of our species. We could cease to exist. Snuffed out of the galaxy. Doomed in our final hours by the wrong choices of one person.”

“You won’t choose wrong, sir.”

“How can you know that?”

“I have faith.”

“Faith. I haven’t had too much of it these days.”

“Sir? May I ask a question?”

“Of course, Lieutenant.”

“Did you put your own name in?”

“I did not. Even if I weren’t already too old for the trip, I would certainly never select myself over another.”

“Exactly, sir. That’s why I have faith.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. It means a lot.”

“Of course, sir.”

“That fire is wonderful. I feel so much better. Could you make it a little bigger?”

“We are out of wood, sir.”

“Ah, I understand. Then I suppose I had best hurry and finish.”

“There’s no rush, sir.”

“There is, unfortunately. The longer I dally, the more unrest there is outside the barricade. If it reaches a boiling point, you know what will happen.”

“It won’t come to that, sir.”

“It will happen either way, Lieutenant. They don’t know how limited the spaces really are. How few we can actually take. Right now they have hope, but I will have to take that hope away from them. And you know what will happen then.”

“Don’t talk like tha—”

“They will storm the complex. They will need someone to blame. Someone to punish. They will need blood.”

“You don’t know—”

“I want you to promise me something, Lieutenant.”

“Sir?”

“When I give you this list, you will dispatch every man at your disposal to gather all of the people on it. Breathe not a word to anyone until the chosen are on the shuttle and on their way. Not the names, nor the number.”

“Of course, sir.”

“When they realize it is over, and that they are staying, they will come. They will come for me. I want you to promise, Lieutenant, that when they do, you and your men will not fire upon them.”

“Sir, we cannot—”

“You will not kill any of them, and you will allow them to take me.”

“Sir…”

“I know it is difficult, Lieutenant, but I need your word. I will not give you this list until I have it.”

“I promise, sir. If they come, then I will lay down my weapons and let them take me as well.”

“You and your men may leave…”

“We will not.”

“There is no need for you to stay...”

“If they do come, like you fear, then you shouldn’t die alone. Not after what you’ve tried to do.”

“I…I don’t…”

“I pray it doesn’t come to that.”

“I hope not. I’m not afraid of death, but I hope you’re right.”

“Me too, sir.”

“…Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir?”

“I cannot choose your daughter.”

“I know, sir.”

“I just…I felt you should know…”

“I appreciate your honesty, and I understand. She’s a good girl. I wish she had a better life.”

“I wish for that as well. I think I am done, Lieutenant. With the list.”

“You have chosen fifty?”

“Forty-nine. I have left the last space for you to pick. I cannot choose your daughter, but if you would like to send her, I will not object. Or, if you would like to choose yourself. Who would you like to send?”

“That’s difficult, sir.”

“It is, indeed. Would you like me to add her to the list?”

“I don’t think it would be fair.”

“You don’t need to be fair.”

“Can I select at random?”

“Of course.”

“That way everyone has an equal shot. For the last spot. No favoritism, only blind luck.”

“Yes, that would be the kindest way. Equal opportunity selection.”

“Perhaps then they might be more forgiving for not being chosen, knowing that everyone stood a fair chance.”

“Yes.”

“They might even forgive you.”

“Do I deserve it?”

“Everyone does, sir.”

“From people, or from God?”

“Both, sir.”

“And how should I ask for this forgiveness, Lieutenant?”

“Easy, sir. You just fall to your knees and open your heart. You are a good woman, sir, doing the best you can with the hand you were dealt. God will hear you.”

“Will he forgive me?”

“Of course he will, sir. But, that isn’t the problem.”

“It isn’t?”

“No, sir. The question is will you forgive yourself?”

“I don’t know, Lieutenant…”

“I don’t know.”