Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 4

This is the fourth post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, second, or third post in the series.


The girl in the blue convertible frowned. All the garages in her parent’s house were full of cars. She would have to park on the street instead.

“There’s a whole crowd of intelligent, politically important people here tonight,” said a middle-aged woman upon seeing her daughter enter the foyer, “You’ll enjoy it.”

The girl winced. Her mother knew she wouldn't enjoy the party. They both knew it. The barely concealed command didn't take her feelings into consideration whatsoever but it was nothing new, thought the girl.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

A couple of steps into the mix she overheard people talking about the invention. Useless chatter, she thought.

"But it's not useless at all," said a soft voice--evidently spoken by a man on her right. The shock of having spoken out loud what she was thinking quickly faded at the sight of him.

He had a non-existent jaw, not quite concealed by a patchy, white beard. His thin lips were peeled back, revealing slightly clenched teeth. And he had combed his hair over a large bald spot on the top of his head.

"History will change tonight. If we are to concede to the religionists that the actually living should be sacrificed for the potentially so, why should they not grant us the truth that all men are equal--and equally deserving of the life which is in our power to give them?"

As he talked, she stared at his teeth, thinking of one of those old traps made by digging a hole in the ground, placing sharp objects at the bottom, then covering up the opening with leaves and twigs. Then there was another voice.

"The thing is, it's not in your power to give or to take--and, while it may be selfish, people still have a right to their own life. Forcing them to sacrifice for the living is one thing...but for the dead?"

This last comment was interesting, thought the girl, and directly at odds with the principle that the old man's comments seemed to presuppose.

"Not the dead," corrected the old man, "the potentially alive."

The girl saw a little bit of truth in what both had said and set to work the problem out. Her brain moved slowly, the process comparable to pushing a heavy cart, with rusty wheels, uphill. It was not easy, she thought, and probably didn't matter anyway.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

Noting her departure, the old man told his critic to have another drink, then added what the girl had thought but didn't say: the matter actually was decided already.

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