After he finished addressing the soldiers in the dining hall, Graham went back to his quarters to clean up. As he showered, he pulled small bits of dried blood from the hair around his ears. His nostrils too were filled with clotted blood. He blew his nose into his hands and salty, bright blood began to pour anew from his nose. The water at his feet turned red, then eventually it became pink, and finally after about ten minutes, it ran clear again. The bathroom filled with thick steam, which Graham breathed in. His shoulder was sore from the fall, and his rib still hurt from Ian’s boot to the solarplexis, but otherwise he was physically no worse for wear.
After he got out of the shower, he realized that it was nearly midnight. He did not know what to do. Surprisingly, he did not feel tired. He wanted to talk to someone about what had happened – only one person came to mind.
He left his quarters and went down to the holding cells. As he passed holding cell A, he took a look inside through the small window in the door. Ian was lying on his side on a narrow bed, facing the wall. He will go to prison for a very long time, Graham thought – probably for life, whatever that meant now. There were many people like Ian – people who felt guilty about being human, ashamed of humanity’s central role in the pending destruction of life on earth. In fact, almost everyone Graham had ever talked to about the future of the planet felt a deep-seated (sometimes deeply repressed, but still present) sadness of some form or another, but people like Ian turned that sadness into anger, self-loathing, and an overriding hatred of the human race.
Graham could partially understand Ian’s feelings. He felt angry every time he read a scientific article updating apocalyptic predictions of skyrocketing heat and rapidly disappearing species. He, however, viewed present humans as caught in a trap – a trap laid years before by the selfish desires and lack of foresight of many generations of people. The culprits are all long gone now, but they left a legacy that will last forever. Every person alive now simply had the misfortune of being born during the last few decades of life on Earth. Ian’s fury was understandable. Graham, however, could not justify his desire to punish Earth’s current population for humanity’s past sins. Graham thought: aren’t we all suffering enough as it is?
He then walked down the hall and looked into holding cell B. Peggy Lee was sitting on a chair next to the bed, looking blankly at the door. She immediately noticed Graham’s face in the window. She waved and motioned for him to come in. He opened the door with his recovered pass card and stuck his head into the cell.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Tired, confused . . . but relieved somehow – relieved that it’s all over, I guess. I don’t know.” She cast her eyes downward, and he could see that she was aching inside. “Won’t you please come in here for a second?” she asked.
“Mind if I sit down?” he asked as he entered the room.
“Please do. I have a lot of things I want to tell you.”
He sat down on the edge of the bed, rested his elbows on his knees, and leaned forward. His clasped hands were only inches away from her knee. “Well?”
“First, I want you to know that I didn’t think that our operation was going to go down like that. The plan did not involve killing anybody . . . well, at least not directly, I guess that would be more accurate. But when we got to the Brain Room, Ian decided he wanted the two soldiers to be killed in the blast. He said that he wanted to see their blood – their “guilt-ridden” blood, as he called it – splattered all over the room. So he was going to tether them to the console where my bomb was placed. He said they deserved it.
“Just before pulling the hoods over their heads, I looked into the soldiers’ faces. They were so frightened, and their eyes screamed at me for mercy. I put the hoods on so that I wouldn’t have to look at them anymore, but as I prepped the bomb, I couldn’t get their young faces out of my mind.
“Before we came here, I of course understood that taking out the water production facilities would result in casualties in Southern California. But all that death was somehow theoretical, like I was reading about an event in the past. Death was the ultimate goal of the operation, but it didn’t seem real to me. When I looked into those soldiers’ eyes, however, I realized that I just couldn’t go through with it. Something major shifted inside of me. I guess the gravity of the situation finally hit me full force. I read a story recently about poor children in Los Angeles who only get a small amount of water each day from the local water dispensation office because most of their ration had been sold into the black market. Further, it told of families that desperately pool their water together and carefully distribute every drop so that some members of the family – the children usually – will survive, while others voluntarily risk becoming dehydrated, drying up, and dying. As I attached wires on the bomb, I wondered how bad it would get if we succeeded in disabling the facilities. How much suffering would there be?
“And then, I thought ‘Who the hell am I to decide who should live and who should die?’ My beliefs are but a whisper in this tempest. Soon we will all be gone. And there is nothing to be done about it, so . . . .”
“So, you decided not to blow up the Brain Room,” Graham said.
“Exactly. I knew in an instant that I just couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t want to go down as a mass murderer. It was, is, and always will be the actions and decisions of men before us that caused this disaster – those ignorant, naive, greedy people who muddied our atmosphere, changed the ocean currents, and eliminated the rains. They did it,” she said forcefully, her voice rising with emotion, “those idiotic fools smiling contentedly in their graves, not the poor souls who now inhabit this rapidly disintegrating planet – this hot death row of humanity. They ignored the warning signs. They continued their antiquated, destructive ways long after it was clear that they were upsetting the balance. They did it for profit, for self-aggrandizement – they did it to add more cars, more helicopters, more castles, more of everything to their fiefdoms. They knew what was happening at the end of the last century. They just avoided reality and pushed forward, burning coal and oil, driving, driving, driving – littering the skies above with imperceptible poisons, all the while sealing our miserable fates, their own grandchildren and great grandchildren. And what is our fate, you ask: to watch in the mirror as humanity’s face grows gaunt, sallow, and lifeless, in other words, to stand witness to our own extermination.”
“So then what did you do?” Graham asked.
“I walked over to Ian and told him that I was having second thoughts. He looked at me with such a strange, distant look in his eyes. I think he was weighing in his mind whether it would be easier to break my neck right then, or to intimidate me into continuing to help him set up the bombs. I guess he chose the latter. He told me that there was no room for second thoughts and to get back to work. He’s got a lot of anger, and he scares me – always has – so I stopped talking. As I armed the bomb, I was trying to think of a way to sabotage the plan and get Ian out of the way, but he was watching my every move. Then you showed up, and I had hope.”
“So you saved me,” she whispered. “You saved my soul.” She grabbed his hands in hers, her fingers warm on his skin. He felt a jolt of desire charge up his arms. Despite everything he was still crazy about her. He looked into her face. She no longer exuded that energy that he had noticed throughout her visit. She was exhausted and broken now, but he still could not help himself. Even her betrayal could not extinguish his feelings for her. His anger was gone. He wanted to run away with her, but he knew that there was nowhere they could run. There was no way off of the Platform without detection. He still loved her, but having her was now more impossible than ever.
“Why did you plan it in the first place?” he asked, replacing her hands in her own lap. He still wanted answers. “And why did Ian say ‘Do it for Dad’?” Graham needed to know what she was holding inside. There had to be something there – something important.