Graham rose to leave the holding cell.
“Wait, there is one more thing,” Peggy Lee said. “One more part of my decision not to go through with the bombing that I have to tell you about. Please sit back down.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“It’s you,” she said quietly. “You remind me of my father. I see pieces of him in you, in your actions, your humility . . . your kindness. My father always did the right thing, the honorable thing. He worked hard here and hoped that eventually someone would fix the climate. He did it for us kids, for Ian and me.
“When I met you, I remembered him, and I started to question our plan. As you and I talked, I realized that I wanted to be on your side – my father’s side – the side that strives against the odds to try to make things right. Not destroy. Not kill. But to nurture those of us who are left. When you showed up in the Brain Room, I felt like my father had sent you there to help me. You inspired me to change my mind – to stand up to Ian once and for all. If it weren’t for you . . . .”
Graham put a hand on top of her hands and squeezed. “I’m glad you changed your mind. And I think I understand what you’re going through. We all feel it somewhere in our hearts. Most people try to ignore the despair. But we’re all, in our own way, waiting to see how long humans will last here on earth. And each year, as temperatures continue to rise, it becomes harder to have any hope whatsoever. Sometimes I too think that it would be best if, somehow, we all just disappeared, just to relieve us of our self-inflicted misery and to end the anger and self-hatred that we are all experiencing. When I start to think like that, though, it scares me.”
“But what are we supposed to do? What’s the right answer?”
“I don’t know,” Graham said. “Until recently, I used to buckle down and focus on my work when I felt too discouraged. I would renew my commitment to the facilities and redouble my efforts to make sure that everything was running smoothly. Then if that did not change the way I was feeling, I would watch my old movies and try to forget everything. I would push reality aside long enough so that I could sleep, eat, and live. I just kind of pretended that I was there, one hundred years ago, living my life without the preoccupation of a sick planet and our pending mass extinction. You know, Peggy Lee, I can barely talk about it even now.”
After a moment, he continued, “In the past few weeks, though, it has been very hard to maintain my commitment to this place and to ignore reality. There is something you don’t know, Peggy Lee. It is highly classified information, but I can’t keep it to myself any longer.”
“What is it?”
“The water production facilities are failing. They will stop production much sooner than anyone thinks. Your bombing of these facilities would have caused great misery and death in Southern California, but that’s all going to happen very soon anyway. Perhaps in the next five years. I shudder at the numbers when I try to calculate how many inhabitants of the climate shelter zone will try to escape and run across the desert – and how many millions will just curl up and die right there once the taps run dry.”
“Futility,” Peggy Lee said, more to herself than to him.
“Futility. I never know what else to call it – self-pity, anger, pain, hopelessness, desperation – but then I always come back to the same answer. It’s all of those, but I guess more than anything, it’s the feeling that there’s nothing that can be done to preserve any of the Earth’s treasures – human or natural. You hear about well-intentioned, well-heeled scientists gathering seeds and freezing DNA, but I wonder, for what purpose? When the end arrives, there will be no stage on which any of those frozen, little actors can perform. Our theatre district under the sun is burning to the ground, and there are no feasible means of stopping the conflagration. The news about the facilities does not surprise me. Perhaps the end is nearer than most people think, but how are we to accept this reality? It’s a death sentence for every person we have ever seen, known, touched . . . loved. It’s the end. We are the last drops from the human faucet – inconsequential and waiting to die. Our lives are pointless. Maybe they always were.”
“Maybe, but what about–”
“No,” Peggy Lee interrupted, her voice rising. “I feel ashamed to be human. Despite everything beautiful that we’ve created – art and philosophy, paper snowflakes, dance and music, hang gliding, literature, peanut butter and chocolate, love, language – we have proven ourselves without a shadow of a doubt to be a base, unworthy race of beings who could not overcome our insatiable desire to own, dominate, and destroy the world around us. That to me is just shameful – awful, tragic . . . unforgivable.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks. She pulled away from Graham and buried her face in her hands. Graham swallowed hard. He had heard what he needed to hear. He understood, now, why she had done it, why she had betrayed him. He also understood why she had changed course. There was nothing to be done. Blow the place to pieces; it would not matter. Keep reporting and living life as before; it would not matter. Earth’s current population was simply a disintegrating remnant, the useless, frayed end of what had once been a wondrous tapestry.
He wanted to hold her, but he was scared of her as well. He felt the despair emanating off of her and sinking deep into his bones. He needed to get away from her. He rose silently, and without looking back, walked out the door.