“We appreciate your sacrifice,” said the young man, trying to muster up a smile, just as he was trained to do. Hand on the shoulder. ‘Nice touch, it’s the little things that matter,’ his instructors would say.
“Yeah” said the dead man, “I know, I’m doing my country a great service, right?” The dead man did not seem convinced. “Let’s get on with it.”
“You’re going to walk through the blast doors, which will seal behind you.”
“Seal behind me. Got it.”
“Right. Take your first left, travel down the corridor, through a set of double doors. Swipe the key card to gain access.”
“And then through the double doors, 10 meters down the hallway, the control room is on the right. We’ve been over this and over this.” Let’s get on with it, the dead man’s eyes pleaded.
The young man looked away from the dead man at his mentor, and shrugged. His mentor closed his eyes and nodded his head. Get on with it.
The dead man looked up. A drop of sweat ran down the tip of his nose, and hung suspended from its end like an icicle. “Once I’m in the control room, there is a computer console in the center of the room, right?” The drop of sweat fell mercifully to the floor.
“Right,” the young man said, straightened up as if remembering his place in this encounter, “and we’ll give you further instructions from there.”
The young man closed his eyes. Took a deep breath. This was his first time to work with an immortal. It was not at all like the films he had seen. The immortals in the films were larger than life. Confident that the end of their lives had meaning, purpose. That their sacrifice would allow them to live forever as heroes to their fellow man. Their families would want for nothing.
There were strict rules about who could qualify for one of society’s most venerable jobs since human overpopulation reached a critical point almost 50 years ago. One had to be of sound mind and body, no history of criminal behavior, pass a psych test, and most importantly, an immortal must be willing to die.
Not this guy. He looked sick, not at all like the immortals in the films, who looked to be chiseled from wood, and spoke eloquently, saying things like, “The sacrifice of my life is a small price to pay for my fellow man” and so on.
The man sitting before him was suffering, and could hardly be called an immortal. He was brave, sure, but there was a frailty about this man that made the young man nervous. If the reactor could not be shut down, man people would die. Lethal doses of radiation would spew from this facility for years. At the moment, only the inner part of the facility – behind the blast doors – was bathed in a lethal dose of radiation. And if someone could access the terminal in the control room and input the shutdown sequence, the reactor could be safely powered down, and the crisis averted.
The dead man could still hear the faint echoes of the briefing he received earlier…
“…and for security purposes, the system was constructed such that a human has to physically be present in the control room in order to shut down the reactor through a biometric hand scan. Because of the biometric reader we can’t send in a robot to do it. Our techs have authorized your handprint in the mainframe, of course. When the reactor first went critical, the operators were panicked. They looked at the dosimeters on the wall and ran before they reached a critical level.”
The young man flipped the page on his clipboard, said, “Totally understandable, of course. Who wants to die from radiation poisoning, right?” He laughed dryly. “It’s a very shitty way to die.”
Everyone looked at the young man giving the briefing, then at the immortal. The young man’s mentor raised his eyebrows, looked upward, and shook his head slowly, and seemed to say, ‘this guy is fragile. Do not panic him. We cannot find a replacement in the next two hours.’
The young man straightened, “Anyway, so they ran. And the reactor will soon go critical unless someone can shut it down. We need you.” The young man looked away from the clipboard from which he was reading, saluted, said, “We appreciate your sacrifice.”
“Shitty way to die.” thought the dead man. Better than bone cancer? Yeah, I doubt it. Did they screeners know? Maybe. The dead man knew he was a dead man in maybe a year tops. So what the hell? ‘Make the ultimate sacrifice for my family, they’ll want for nothing, least I can do,’ he thought. Let’s get on with it.
“Sir? Sir? So you’re ready then?” the young man asked. He tried to smile at the immortal, just as he had been trained. ‘I almost admire this guy,’ the young man thought.
“Yes, I’m ready.” The dead man looked up. “Tell my family…” the dead man began. “Nevermind.” The dead man tried to smile. This was the last day of his life.
After today the dead man knew he would live forever.
An original work of short science fiction by J Steven Perry