Science Fiction Fiction Speculative

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger Warning: Discussions of death in a way that might be considered offensive.

A large gavel vibrated the tall desk in front of me, and a voice boomed, “Payment accepted.”

A glimmering blue transparent being whose shape resembled that of a tall cloaked nun titled its head downward in a bow before turning to the left and disappearing into the boundless darkness around me. If I were not entirely terrified, I might actually have attempted to make logical sense of the physics of wherever I was. Technically, I was standing upright, but beneath me was the same pitch-black nothingness that surrounded me. I was in a starless night sky, with nothing before me but what appeared to be a ginormous judge’s bench.

“Next!” boomed the voice sitting in the judge’s chair.

I gulped, and willed my feet forward, the briefcase in my hand swinging at my side.

“What can I do for you, human?”

“Uh, hi, yes, Mr. Creator, sir, thank you for seeing me,” I stammered, pushing my glasses up my nose with the back of my thumb.

The human-looking god stared back at me, a portrait of boredom. “I know you humans enjoy wasting your time, but I do not.”

“Oh, uh, of course, sorry about that, sir. Yes, well, I am here to ask for your help, Mr. Creator. I was wondering if maybe you could help, um, save our planet.” I offered a nervous smile. “Please,” I added, clearing my throat.

The god’s face did not change. “And what planet is that?”

I meant no disrespect, but my eyebrow raised reflexively. “Well, I’m a human, sir, so—”

“Humans are found on many planets, uh, Mr…” the Creator looked down at the desk, shuffling through a stack of papers.

“Oh, Settinborough. Mr. Clark Settinborough, uh, well Dr. Settinborough, actually, but really you don’t –”

“Mr. Settinborough, as I was saying, humans are found on many planets, but considering you don’t seem to acknowledge that, I’m assuming you’re from the planet Earth, is that correct?”

One of scientist’s – no, humanity’s – biggest questions answered in a single second. I didn’t even have the wherewithal to process it. Instead, I just blinked uncontrollably and pushed up my glasses again. “Uh, yes, Mr. Creator. That’s correct.”

Looking down at the papers in hand, the Creator said, “And why would I help you save your planet?”

My lips parted, but no words came out. I was a little taken aback by the question. “Uh, well, because it’s dying, sir. It’s getting too hot, sea levels are rising, animals are going extinct…If it continues on like this, all of humanity – well, all of the humans on Earth – will die, and Earth itself will not survive.”

“Yes, I understand what dying is, Mr. Settinborough. Death is a currency here, you know. You are asking for life, did you bring payment?”

I glanced down at the briefcase in my hand. “Uh, yes, I have something to offer—”

“Dead tree skin with doodles on it do not work here, Mr. Settinborough. Life and death, lightness and darkness, those are the universal currencies, and those are the only forms of payment accepted here. Surely, you were anticipating that?”

My head still tilting down at the briefcase, I shut my eyes and let the weight of the words sink in. “We are a hopeful species, sir. But yes, I was prepared to offer alternative forms of payment.” Exhaling deeply, I opened my eyes and looked back at the god before me. “What would it cost to save planet Earth?”

The Creator considered for a moment, then replied, “You are asking for life, and so in return, I must ask for death. It is the only fair request, the only one that ensures balance.”

My heart sunk; I could feel it beating in my stomach. Reflexively, my eyes shut again. “How many?”

The silence was an eternity. It felt like the inner workings of my organs were being projected onto loud speakers.

“One percent,” the Creator said both confidently and nonchalantly.

My exhale was like a dam breaking, and with it, a breeze. Through a relieved chuckle, I said, “One percent? Really? That’s it?”

The Creator simply nodded.

My grin grew wider. “Yes! Deal! I mean, wow, you’d really help save our whole planet for just one percent? Wow, thank you! That’s incred—” And then my brain, my scientific brain, the same brain that had spent several decades researching and running numbers and calculating percentages came to a halting realization. And I froze, my mouth and eyes wide open.

“Is there a problem, Mr. Settinborough?”

“Millions,” I whispered. “One percent of us, well, that’s millions of people, sir.”

The Creator nodded again. “It is. But it would mean saving billions, and your beloved planet.”

I considered this. Statistically, it made perfect scientific sense. One percent, relatively speaking, was nothing, hardly significant in some cases. But here, it was life-altering. Millions of lives altered. But for the sake of billions… for the sake of survival. What the Creator asked for was both dirt cheap, and extremely expensive.

“As I said before, Mr. Settinborough. I do not like to waste time, and I do not bargain. What will it be?”

I was shaking now. “I’m sorry, Mr. Creator, sir. It is a lot to consider.”

The Creator’s face softened for a moment, and a sense of understanding briefly revealed itself. “You know, I know the Creator of your planet, and I can assure you the intention was never for so many humans to inhabit it. Even with one percent gone, there will be so many of you left, you will hardly notice.”

I imagined my kids gone. My wife gone; my best friend; their families; my parents; all the people I would notice gone. The loss of them morphed into the thoughts of strangers, and those strangers losing family members, and those people losing more family members, and on and on until empathy coursed through my veins like a steady flowing river.

“How will they die?” I asked. Not that it mattered. Maybe it did; I wasn’t sure.

The Creator shrugged. “I’ll consult with Nature. That’s not really my department. I just accept the payment.”

The answer didn’t hurt, but it didn’t help either.

“And you’re sure you can’t accept cash?” I offered, half-heartedly.

The Creator laughed loudly. “You humans do have a great sense of humor, I’ll give you that. But no. So, what will it be?”

This kind of decision deserved a lifetime of consideration. But I didn’t have that. So, I squeezed my eyes shut and blurted out, “Deal!”

I hoped I would feel a sense of relief, but instead, I heard a loud bang! as the Creator’s gavel slammed onto the desk. “Payment accepted.”

As the being before me had done, I tilted my head in a bow, and exited the darkness.

In an instant, I was back in my home, sitting on the couch next to my wife, who was scrolling through an article on her phone. I could hear my kids playing with Lego in their rooms down the hall.

“This is crazy,” my wife muttered to herself.

Feeling so happy to see her, I wrapped my arm around her shoulders. “What’s crazy?” I asked, planting a kiss on her temple.

“There's something going around. Seems like a lot of people are getting sick.” My wife shrugged nonchalantly, and clicked her phone on lock. She set it down on the ottoman in front of us, kissed my cheek, and got up from the couch. “What do you want for dinner?”

My body stilled, and my breath quickened. I slowly reached for my phone in my pocket. I unlocked it, and opened up my Settings application. Before I could stop myself, I turned off my news notifications with one swift swipe. Slipping my phone back into my pocket, I called out, “Pizza sounds good.”

August 19, 2022 04:12

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Ken Cartisano
22:29 Nov 23, 2023



AnneMarie Miles
22:47 Nov 24, 2023

Thanks for reading, Ken!


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Carolyn McBride
13:15 Nov 18, 2023

This was really unique and I enjoyed it a great deal. I'd never considered that solution to saving the planet. Thank you for giving me something new to consider.


AnneMarie Miles
14:56 Nov 18, 2023

Thank you for reading Carolyn! And for bringing me back to this story. I hadn't thought of it in some time.


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16:35 Aug 22, 2022

This is a well-put-together story. I enjoy the scene from the first part as the imagery you used helps the reader envision the unique surroundings. I think death as payment is a really cool concept. Also, it's nice that this story incorporates the issues of climate change and goes on a very abstract way of solving it, the solution including one individual making a very tough choice. Your story did not lose my attention at any point, the writing flowed very smoothly, great job!


AnneMarie Miles
19:38 Aug 23, 2022

Thank you for these words, Daniella! And for taking the time to read my story. I was worried about writing this one, and those are usually the ones most worth sharing. Looking forward to sharing more of each other's stories in the future!


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