Estimated reading time — 12 minutes
You have to listen to me, this isn’t right. You can’t do this. You can’t let this happen! Okay… hold on, let me try again. Something different this time, calmer. Explain what’s happening. Okay, my name is Nic. And as of right now, I am the last person on earth.
They called them Quiet Rooms. After the wave came, the remaining cities across the globe pulled together to gather their remaining resources in highly defensible areas. They called them Hub Cities, and the wealthiest of society lived closest to the Hub, and thus, had their pick of the Earth’s remaining resources. This, of course, did not last long. Ten years of feeding the lower southern United States nothing but rice and potatoes saw to it that the class system came to an end in messy fashion.
After the collapse of society, there was a great ravaging, and for a while, it looked as if we would eat ourselves to death, or worse, cannibalize each other. But then, under new leadership, we began consolidating. From the perspective of our leadership, not all mouths were worth the food they would eat. It began with those in the prisons, first those on death row, followed by the mentally insane. Those serving life came next, and not long after, simply committing a crime worthy of jail time all but assured your consolidation.
This is when the Quiet Rooms came in.
No one knows when the law was passed, or who made the final decision, but suddenly, underground facilities began materializing in all major cities, and in every little town. And after several years of quiet construction, small garage-sized buildings began to crop up wherever the construction had ended. Some families received enlistment papers. “The Necessary Draft”, they called it. We always joked later and called it what it really was: a necessary evil. That was until my papers came and I became one of the “Delivery Men”. Our job was simple: wait for orders to arrive, and retrieve someone identified for scheduled consolidation, and take them to a Quiet Room. To resist these orders, and the lawful determination of The Remaining Worlds courts, was a jailable offense, ultimately leading to immediate consolidation.
The first week was the worst. Every morning, I put on my uniform, holstered my regulation bolas, and patrolled the borders of our small town until I was relieved from my post. The times always changed, the hours were inconsistent, and I spent every waking minute wondering, praying and hoping that I wouldn’t get the call. And I didn’t, not for a long time. In the meantime, I continued to enjoy the hefty government check I received each month. I took pleasure in my ability to purchase groceries for my family, or new clothes for my daughter, without the worry of budgeting. I enjoyed the peace it instilled in me. And soon, I became complacent, even trusting, of my government. I trusted that the only people being taken were those who truly did not deserve to stay. They had gone months without ever making me respond to a single order for retrieval. Maybe it would never come, I imagined, and if it did… well, maybe it was for good reason.
And then the day came when I received my first call. My first order for retrieval.
I went to a home, one I didn’t recognize, and, perhaps stupidly, knocked on the door. People poured out of their homes at the sight of me. Not approaching, rather, but watching in terror, disgust and, oddly enough, curiosity. No one knew what to expect, as none of us had ever witnessed this happen before, myself included. And then the door opened, and I saw my “package”: an older man, hard in the face, with an intense stare and a jagged set of knuckles wrapped around the side of his entryway, steadying himself to look at me. He was old but strong, and he looked ready, poised to strike. But he didn’t. He just looked at me and said, “Well, I suppose that’s it then. I’m to go?”
I swallowed what little courage I had available and did my best to relax my vocal cords to say, in what I had hoped would be a determined voice, “Yes. Unfortunately, I believe you are to come with me immediately, sir.” I stammered toward the end, still feeling like some respect was owed, at the very least. I watched his face as he processed the information I had just laid at his feet, and then glanced at the people surrounding us. At that moment, I believe he and I both realized that no one was willing to stop this; they all stood by and watched. They knew what I was here to do, that this was necessary, and that the Remaining Courts had their reasons.
I held out my hand and directed the man to come outside of his home, and he followed suit, after a brief moment of hesitation. He didn’t bother to look behind him and even close his door, as we walked side by side with me, down the steps of his porch. We walked in silence for some time, through throngs of people, none of them doing anything to stop me, or him. Parents running into their homes with their children, others letting them watch, pointing as they told their children what their fates could be if they didn’t behave and wash behind their ears like mommy said. And I, in a strange way, felt proud. Proud of the example I was setting, horrified surely, but still hopeful that there was a reason this man did not deserve to live. And I writhed in those emotions for the duration of our walk to the Quiet Room, until finally, we arrived at that small building, just on the outside of town. The old man paused then, now fear was clearly present in his mind.
He looked at me in desperation and said, almost pleading, “Why me? What did I do?” I was perplexed, I assumed he would know, or at the very least have some idea. When he saw that I didn’t, he looked horribly sad, and said, “I just don’t get it. I know my medications… they’re expensive, but I always pay for them! I need them to help me sleep. The things I’ve done for this country, the people I hurt in other parts of the world, all in the name of my home, I never enjoyed them. They stayed with me, even when everyone else left me. So why, why me? Why not you, or anyone else? What did I do?!” He yelled, and people began to walk over to get a better look. The old man was riling them up, getting them excited as he began to lose control of his composure. He began to look out at them as he spoke now, saying, “You can’t let this happen! This isn’t right! Who decides who goes?!”
I started to shake. I knew what was about to happen, I knew what was coming if I didn’t stop him from inciting a riot. I knew what awaited everyone in this town if they tried to fight the system put in place, and to my family. “Stop resisting, or I will be forced to use… um, force,” I stammered out. At this, the old man did not back away, but instead took a step closer before I screamed, “Are you really going to be this selfish?! Can you really not see how dangerous this is for everyone here?! What do you think happens to them if you don’t go, or what might happen to me and my family if I don’t deliver you?! Did you ever think that maybe you need to go so the rest of us can stay?” And at that, everyone stopped, including the old man. And when he saw that he had lost them, he looked down in a deep, hollow sadness, and turned again towards the doors of the Quiet Room. We walked slowly together to the doors, where he and I scanned our IDs, until the doors opened and revealed a small completely bare chamber, with no windows, doors, or otherwise other defining features. A negative space, filled with darkness and blank walls and floors. The old man looked at me, and I at him. We were both terrified, but then he began to walk forward, almost at his own surprise. He stopped in the center of the small chamber, and just stared back at me. Nothing happened as we stared at each other. A hole didn’t open up into the bottomless pit in the earth, and gas didn’t begin to flood the chamber. Nothing happened until, finally, I began to close the door.
The old man’s eyes widened, but he did not stop me. Instead, he stood, watching me, as I closed the door, the last thing I remember seeing, was his one eye, staring back at me in the darkness. One steely gray eye. And then the doors were closed. And I went home. Nothing else, no more pomp and circumstance. The checks kept coming, and eventually started getting larger, and I kept patrolling. People seemed, at ease suddenly, as if a weight had been lifted. Someone had been chosen; no one else need worry any longer. And I, I was their hero. The one who protected them from the old man’s fate. And then the second call came. And it was like the first time all over again, everyone held their breath as I made my way to my package’s address. When I knocked on the door this time, there was an audible yelp from the inside, as a woman cried out in surprise, and terror, likely. And then the door opened, to a man, in his 30s like me, with a young boy next to him. The sound of his wife crying behind him in the living room echoed into the entryway.
He looked at me, up and down, as if to ask me what I was doing there. But then he said, “Who? Who are you here for?” And I thought for a moment, nothing I received ever made it clear that I was supposed to be picking up one person or another, just the address. I looked at him as I came to that realization and he came to it with me. He grabbed a suitcase next to the doorway, and called his wife over, tousling his son’s hair with a smile on his face. “Come along my love, we have a trip to go on. Did you prepare your bag like we talked about?” he said to his wife from over his shoulder. I heard her choke, but then come around the corner, putting her hair behind her ears as she openly wept, holding a small case in her right hand. They walked out together, holding the hand of their son, who looked near catatonic. He had no clue what was happening, or perhaps knew exactly what was coming but wasn’t able in his youth to process it. We walked together to the Quiet Room, with no interruptions, like before. We scanned our IDs and the doors opened, and inside, where I expected to see bones, or some rotten, bloated carcass with some foul creature lurched over it, there was nothing. The same emptiness as before, just an empty room. The family looked at each other, confused (and possibly relieved), and then slowly, with the husband leading the way, nearly dragging his wife in with him, stepped into the room, and began to hold her in his arms, along with his son, as he stared out at me. And again, I closed the door, and remembered the look of his face as the door shut. And all was quiet once more.
This was the procedure for a long time, we would go a few months of quiet, peaceful rumination, counting our blessings and appreciating the time we had with our families. I began to feel a sense of real purpose in my duty as a Delivery Man. I was helping people live fulfilled lives, making them safe from the dangers of those that are hiding in the shadows, waiting to be consolidated. And he was there to get the job done, and provide that sense of security to his family, and the people of his town. He was its protector, and it was his to protect. And soon, the man began to receive more calls. And he would always respond, in the dead of the night, or at the crack of dawn. And soon, he began to deliver his packages to their Quiet Rooms, twice a day, every day, for weeks. And soon he began to notice the way the town was flourishing. The remaining people now left behind, small in number though they were, led extravagant and lavish lives. He himself had enough food in his fridge to have a barbecue every day for the next month. Homes began to become larger, taking up the empty space where their neighbors had once been. A source of stable income became a pass time instead of a necessity, most people having enough in their savings to live like this for the rest of their days. And each day, after it began to slow down significantly, everyone else, much like Nic, began to hope that the following day would see someone else leaving.
He could see it in their eyes every day he did his patrols, they would watch him, and silently urge him to get rid of someone, anyone. To just go and knock on someone’s door, and get rid of them. Consolidate them so that those left could have more, he saw it. He knew it. But Nic was a man of principle, he was not a vigilante, handing out justice wherever he saw fit. He was a man of law and order, and he would await his orders. And soon, as he knew it would, they began to come in. His neighbors dwindled down slowly, to ten, and then in one evening, to seven, and a month later, down to three, until one day, almost without the Hero realizing, He and his neighbor were the only ones left. And he smiled, and waited, knowing one day the order would come, that he need not rush. But then one season came, and so did the other, and the order never came. And The Hero waited, but still no call came. No order was given, and each day his neighbor began to look at him in hatred. The Hero began to fear for his life, for the safety of his property, and his family. He would watch his neighbor each night, making it known that he was in his sight, that he would not be caught unaware. But after the fourth night of not sleeping, The Hero realized he needed to do something, something had to give.
He made the call. He walked to his neighbor’s home, he knocked on the door, and he looked him in the eye and said it was his time to be delivered. The Neighbor looked at The Hero. His eyes were filled with anger, streaming with tears, his face turned down into a hideous grimace. The Hero hated him, and so he demanded that he go with him to be delivered, and the Neighbor complied with the orders given to him. They walked together, The Neighbor seething in the Hero’s shadow, until they arrived at the Quiet Room, where The Hero once again, opened the doors for what would be his final delivery. The Neighbor looked at The Hero, looked behind himself, back at the city, and said, “Is this… right?” The Hero said nothing, he knew The Neighbor, already knew the answer, and when he didn’t respond, The Neighbor stepped inside. And the Hero closed the doors.
It was quiet. And every day, The Hero would wake, and do his patrols. His family, distant and fearful. And despite knowing there was no one else to deliver, The Hero always waited for another call to come. Waited for them to send him somewhere far away, in some other part of the world where others needed delivering. He knew one day, the call would come, as it always had before. And right he was, but only partially, because while he did get the call, the address of the family that he was to have delivered, was that of his own. He slowly made his way down the stairs, looked his wife in the eye. He had forgotten her name, but she cried now. Cried as she realized that he was in his uniform, his bolas in his hand. And his children sit at the table, crying as well. He hadn’t realized how grown they had become, or for that matter, remembered that there were in fact two of them.
His wife began to weep and beg, she fell to her knees and thrashed her fists against the floor as she asked The Hero for what she believed was Mercy, but the only mercy The Hero believed in now, was the mercy granted by those who were ordered to be consolidated so that the rest of the world, could go on living peacefully. And this was the final test. A test to show he was worthy of putting the world before his own happiness. To prove what he always knew, that he, was a Hero. And he used this fact, to give him strength as he bound his family together using his bolas, and dragged them out to the Quiet Room, where he would complete his duty.
Weeping now, The Hero pulled his family as they thrashed and cried out against the restraints that bound their arms and legs together, into the light-less chamber. They called out to him, called him a name he did not remember, but he had to push them out. He knew what he was doing, was right, no matter how much it hurt. And with what was left of his strength, he pushed, and with a solid effort, sealed the doors in front of him, and screamed out in agony, as he lost everything he loved. He wept for a long time, until finally, he began to come to terms with his sacrifice. He stood up and began to walk away from the Quiet Room, to await his next orders, when suddenly there was a thrum beneath his feet. And he turned to look behind him, and what he saw confused, and rattled him. Behind the Quiet Room, the ground had split open, and began to reveal a strange obsidian-like material, protruding up from broken earth. The shape of it was strangely uniform, and it was accompanied by a loud whining sound, as the ground beneath my feet began to rumble even more violently. And then, slowly at first, but then rapidly, the Quiet Room began to rise.
I watched in awe, as a structure began to reveal itself, hidden deep beneath the earth, and rise high above my head height, before revealing clear glass. And inside, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. In a brightly lit white room, I could see my family. They were looking at me with hatred in their eyes, just like the people I had delivered. And they were standing in a large living space, with verdant and lush greenery surrounding every corner, like a localized terrarium. But then it wasn’t just them, it was others too. People I had delivered, I had sent to be consolidated. And they all looked at me with hatred, and slowly, I began to realize the structure was continuing to rise, now out of the ground, and into the air. I looked in terror, as I began to understand, that I was being left behind. And then, I saw him, The Old Man. His steely gray eyes looking back at me. And I flew into a rage.
I screamed as the ship began to lift into the air, taking the remaining survivors of this planet to some other distant inhabitable planet that could support them. I did not scream as I watched in silence, as other ships began to lift into the skyline, from towns and cities hundreds of miles away from me, as what remained of humanity, fled the dying world that they had abandoned me in. And then I sat in silence until no more lights were visible from my meager view of the skyline. And I sat still, very still.
I’m the Hero… I saved the world…
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