How much we fear death.
Dr. Robert Edellman did what any man would do when a pistol was pointed to his temple. He yielded to my request in a desperate attempt to wriggle out of the grim reaper’s hands.
We made an oddest of pair, Dr. Robert Edellman and I. Had we met on the streets a year ago, we would have hardly acknowledged each other. He was a lanky nervous Jew, while I was stoic 6 feet, black man. Yet, here we were, his life in my hands. But then, these were oddest of times that bunched oddest of people together.
A few months ago…
I woke up in a strange sterile room when a steel door at the far end opened with a loud protest. An orderly entered to help me dress up, refusing to acknowledge my stripped body or the strange situation. Heavy haze still lingered in my head. I was led into a room where there were few others like me sitting, facing a large glass wall. Soon the light dimmed and the wall sprang to life.
‘The Colony, The haven’, a voice said.
An enormous dome was projected on the wall.
The voice continued, ‘The Colony is a city built at a depth of 5 kilometers under Alaska, with a 40-kilometer radius. There are wings devoted to nutrient processing, biochemical engineering and research, along with residential and administrative sectors. It has a capacity to hold 1,00,000 humans, who will cohabit the place with the sole purpose of delivering mankind into the future.’
The film went on to explain the miracles of science that had made this possible. Artificial light source, processed air and mutated food, everything that was needed for life to survive and flourish. The relocated humans would be closely watched, their health monitored, their coital habits timed to perfection to deliver fantastic genetically designed offsprings.
The screen faded out with the words, ‘This will be your new home built meticulously to save humanity.’
My thoughts were passive, abnormally passive. The brain received all information in abject toleration. Reciprocity had been neutered.
The wall parted and allowed a small crowd in, headed by Dr. Edellman. That was when I saw him for the first time.
He spoke with a nervous animation, ‘Good Evening, Gentlemen. An imminent threat to mankind has been detected. A ferrous giant is accelerating towards earth at 30000 mph and will reach us approximately in a few months. The mile-wide asteroid, with impact energy of millions of megaton is expected to wipe out any complex living organisms on Earth. But we, the fittest of the race, have been preparing for it for decades.’
Here he stopped expecting wonderment or at least a raised eyebrow. But he knew his motley audience wouldn’t react. He had personally overseen the administration of the drug, G1Rcc2 into our bloodstream rendering us receptive yet unresponsive.
He continued with flamboyance, ‘Men and women with the highest survival and procreational potential will be housed in the Colony until Earth became habitable again, which may take a few hundred years. People, it is on to us now. We are the chosen ones’ he said.
‘Dada, you are my mountain’, she said and dissipated into a fog.
In her four-year-old world, it meant utterly dependable, an exaggeration of, ‘you are my rock’. She had picked up from her playschool.
Naya started to make her appearance, first in my dreams and then in my thoughts. I sensed the drug’s effect waning when my brain tried to process and collate all the information that had been fed to me so far.
Naya, was she wondering why her papa did not return from the hospital that day? My lips quivered.
I had to get her to T21, Terminus 21.
When I was kidnapped from my hospital parking lot, rumours were galore on the internet about a possible collision by Asteroid Natasha MyreM 652. The internet panicked and screamed that the asteroid had escaped from Jupiter Trojans, ricocheted off its gravitational pull and was hurtling towards Earth. Had it not been for its reflective surface, it would have gone undetected by amateurs. The nations were deliberately withholding the catastrophic information from the larger population, the Internet accused.
Official Space Agencies of various countries had not issued statements supporting or refuting it, leaving the information-saturated population to draw their own conclusions. Some believed it and even took to protests. Many mocked at it as another ‘Global warming’ cry.
Now that I knew the truth, I needed a plan, a strategic plan to meet Naya.
That night, I heard cries and whimpers of the new recruits who were accommodated in the many cells that lined the vast quadrangle. I calculated about 500 men and women in the terminus, more men than women. With the drug’s effect dipping, they realized they were kidnapped for relocation to the Colony, while their families were left in ignorance about the looming disaster.
We were summoned to our morning exercises the next day when a towering recruit approached one of the officers and demanded answers. He wanted to know his rights, he wanted his freedom back. He raised his hammer-like fists and threatened the officer. A taser gun made him into a pile of muscle on the floor. Three men dragged him away and we never saw him again. A bunch of recruits approached the band of officers. A few gunshots later, all fell silent. It was futile fighting the officers. They were ordered to be ruthless by Dr Edellman.
Dr. Edellman, Head of T21, was the key to bring Naya here, I realized. With him laid the powers. He was singularly focused on making the human race survive. He took the role of God very seriously, filling up His enormous shoes with arrogance.
I volunteered to help him. We were both men of science, I reasoned with him. A neonatologist like me would know whom to save and whom to let go without being bogged down by sentiments, I said and added that time was running out and he could do with some extra hands. I offered to help with the selection and training of the recruits.
He was skeptical but briefed me. Genetic profiles of the population were already available. All we had to do was zero in on people with dominant SIRT6 genes and then after occupational gradation, doctors, scientists and engineers in that order, the recruits fitting the bill would be whisked away to the nearest terminus, the biggest one being T21. Then they would be spiked on G1Rcc2 to calm them down initially, and trained in captivity until the time of departure to The Colony.
Beyond these walls, I heard chaos was unraveling slowly, a total breakdown of order. Pieces of evidence were piling up about a possible disaster, some visible even to the naked eyes, like an orange speck that turned into the size of a ping pong ball overnight and kept growing.
Frenzy took over. Monuments were brought down, monuments were erected. Faith was lost, Faith was regained. Leaders killed people, People killed leaders. Love was discovered, hate was exhumed. With the clock ticking, there was immense kindness and intense loathing, all at once.
Confrontations happened in the T21 too. Many who were brought here forcefully, were resigned to the fate, but to some abandoning their family to be pulverized by an asteroid was sacrilege.
I was threatened, spat on and attacked as I administered various drugs on them, some drugs to calm them down keeping their mental prowess intact and some to make them physically adept for the Colony. We could not dispense off the agitated recruits with the audacity as it was done a month before. It was becoming harder to stream in possible recruits from the neurotic world outside.
I bore it all. I bore it for Naya. The world was not safe anymore for a motherless child. I need to bring her to T21.
‘We are expecting our first kid. Ten years of trying, one miscarriage and many false hopes later, we were blessed and what a time to be blessed.’, a man to whom I was injecting muscle building steroids lamented to no one in particular. This was the opportunity I was looking for.
‘But then, imagine, The Colony has a ratio of 4 females every male. You can impregnate as many as you want. We would be basically cavemen with technology’, I laughed at my own joke.
The next thing I heard was my nose crack and I saw two guards struggling to restrain a man.
‘I have had enough’, I screamed at Dr. Edellman, after the dust settled. ‘Let me have a gun at least’. None of us had access to arms except the officers and Dr. Edellman. He reluctantly agreed to give me one after warning me not to be trigger happy. The perfect gene pool was becoming difficult to procure and train with the situation turning turbulent as the impact date approached.
With a pistol in my holster, I did not have much trouble with the recruits. It was funny how they feared immediate death more to impending doom. But I had other plans with the pistol.
The next day,
I enter Dr. Edellman’s chamber located at the far end of the quadrangle with a request to meet Naya, to hold her in my arms for the last time, before departure.
He was aghast that I even asked. How could I think of trifles when we were burdened with rescuing humanity?
He was sorry he could not help me. However, he let me know that Naya had been transferred to a common Social Security centre where abandoned children were accommodated. For a minute I shuddered. Children, under the custody of unhinged adults, with no system to protect or rescue them.
I pulled out the gun and pointed it to his head.
‘Naya, here. Now’
His fingers searched for the emergency alarm, eyes staring into mine. The whole T21 reverberated with its agitation. Even as guards poured into the cubicle, I knew they would not hurt me. They knew I would not go down without Dr. Edellman. He was too expensive to be lost with the date of relocation nearing and so was I.
Dr. Edellman ordered the guards to get Naya to the T21. For the next few hours, I stood rooted behind my hostage, my whole raison d’etre reduced to the moment I would meet my daughter.
I could see Dr. Edellman break into a sweat as his eyes anxiously darted between the cubicle door and his palms.
The heavy metal gate of the quadrangle unlatched and I heard steps approaching. Did I hear a tiny stride between heavy boots? My eyes teared up. My hands shivered. A familiar voice questioned the men and a happy squeal followed. I asked my hostage to get up and lead the way out of his cubicle. He obliged willingly. The cramped space was too claustrophobic for two men trying to kill each other.
When we stepped out, I saw my daughter Naya rush towards me, her arms outstretched to hold on to her mountain, stolid and immovable, her dada. My aim was perfect as it turned to her and I pulled the trigger without hesitation. She was thrown a few feet back on her track and she fell dead, instant and final.
I must have wavered a sliver seeing my daughter, looking at the eyes that still held the joy, at her lips that still carried a smile and at the blood pooling around her. For, before I could turn the pistol on me, I was overpowered and sedated.
‘Please shoot me’, I prayed.
‘Please don’t make me live with my daughter’s blood gleaming in my hands.’
‘Please push in to the open earth to face His wrath.’
‘Please don’t take me to Lucifer’s den.’
I prayed and I prayed piteously, wetting my cheeks, tasting of my bile, as heavy sleep smothered me.
I knew none of my prayers would be answered.
After all, I was one of the chosen ones.
Photo By: Michael Mims
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